26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– I give notice that I intend to move the following motion:
That the Senate considers that the Government has failed to give any proper explanation or excuse for the untrue statements on VIP aircraft and accordingly that
the Secretary of the Department of Air be called to the Bar of the Senate, by summons under the hand of the Clerk of the Senate, to give evidence upon the matters contained in the resolution of the Senate of5th October 1967 relating to VIP flights and upon the circumstances relating to the tabling of documents required by that resolution and upon those circumstances relating to the giving of answers to questions asked in the Senate in relation to VIP flights and to produce all relevant records in his possession, custody or control; and
the calling to the Bar of the Senate of the Secretary of the Department of Air be fixed for 11.30 a.m. on Friday, the 3rd November 1967 and be made an Order of the Day for such day.
– What is the motion?
– I intend to propose that motion unless the Leader of the Government agrees to its being proceeded with forthwith.
– I object to its being proceeded with forthwith.
– The Minister will not agree to its being proceeded with forthwith?
– I think we should follow the normal course. The Leader of the Opposition will have to propose the motion.
– May the Senate hear this conversation?
– I was objecting to the matter being proceeded with forthwith.
– Is the Leader of the Opposition talking to the Leader of the Government alone?
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving forthwith the motion of which he has just given notice and such motion taking precedence of all other business until disposed of.
Does the Leader of the Government agree to that? If he does not, I want to speak to it.
– The honourable senator should do what he thinks best. He has proposed a motion. He should not ask me what to do next.
– As a matter of courtesy I have asked the Leader of the Government whether he would agree to this motion being dealt with forthwith. Since he has given no indication that he will agree to support the motion which J have just proposed- that is, that the matter be dealt with forthwith - then the motion must be argued. One would have thought that the Government, which has claimed all along that it has nothing to hide, would be only too anxious to have the matter ventilated in the Senate and that the appropriate course would be followed.
– Mr President, I rise to a point of order. I suggest that what we are debating now is a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders and that the debate and material which should be put before us should be such as to endeavour to show why there should be a suspension of the Standing Orders for the matter to be dealt with now, without anybody’s having had a chance to study it, or to show why there should not be the normal notice that the Leader of the Opposition will propose his motion on the next day of sitting. I suggest it is out of order for the substance of the matter to be debated at this point.
– I submit to the Senate that there is no substance in the point of order; that every reason can be given why this matter should be dealt with right now rather than being left so that it will not be dealt with before the Senate rises. I submit that every reason can be advanced why a matter which concerns the integrity of a government ought to be ventilated in the Houses of Parliament and ought not to bc buried in the notice paper. f am in the course of giving reasons why it ought to be dealt with. I am entitled to advance every reason showing the urgency pf the matter; every reason showing that he integrity of the government is in question, that the circumstances call for a Ventilation of this matter at the earliest Opportunity, and therefore that the motion if which I have given notice ought to be dealt with immediately.
– The debate on the motion for the suspension of the Standingrders must be confined to the stating of Reasons for and against the proposed suspension. No matter that cannot be so related can be discussed. I uphold the point of order.
– Consistent with what you have said, Mr President, I shall deal with the points which disclose why this matter should be dealt with now and why other business should be postponed until it is dealt with.
– I draw the honourable senator’s attention to the fact that the matter under discussion is the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. The giving of information is not permissible. We are dealing only with matters connected with the suspension of the Standing Orders. The honourable senator must confine himself to those matters.
– The reasons I give for the suspension of the Standing Orders are these: Firstly, no more ‘ important issue can arise in the Parliament than the integrity of a government, and that integrity is in question here. It has been admitted elsewhere that no proper explanation or excuse has been given for the untrue statements made to the Parliament and to the nation. It is quite clear that the statements that have been made are untrue.
– 1 rise to order. I submit that it is debating the substance of the matter at once to suggest that- it is quite clear that some alleged statements are true or untrue. The honourable senator is expressing his own views instead of merely putting forward general reasons.
– Then I shall reply without pursuing the matter in that way.
– ls the honourable senator speaking to the point of order?
– Yes. A matter of substance is sought to be dealt with by me in the Senate. I submit that there should be a proper explanation of what Senator Gorton says are allegedly untrue statements but what a Minister in the other House has admitted were errors. A Minister of the Government has said that we will not clear this matter up until the Minister whose responsibility it is to administer the Department of Air is available to give us the required information and perhaps to look into the circumstances surrounding that situation. 1 have given notice of a motion that is designed to have an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the giving of statements to the Senate which, whatever the Leader of the Government may think, a great number of people including Ministers and, I understand, the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) concede to be untrue. Any motion which is designed to clear up that situation at the earliest possible opportunity is one which is deserving of the support of the Senate and deserving of the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable it to be dealt with promptly. Otherwise the nation and the Parliament are left in the situation where there are no answers to the questions which have been asked.
I would put it as a reason for suspending the Standing Orders to deal with this motion promptly that, first of all, the motion is one which, if carried, will require the attendance of the Secretary of the Department of Air before the Bar of the Senate on Friday next at 11.30 a.m. I say that it is urgent that that be done and it is necessary, therefore, that this motion be brought on right now in precedence to other business in order that the Senate may obtain the answers to various questions which concern the Senate and have never been answered. I say that the Senate would be entitled to proceed with all expedition and - this is what this motion suggests - to carry a resolution directing the attendance of the Secretary of the Department of Air so that we may obtain the answers to questions such as when the Leader of the Government was informed by the Department of Air as to when the records were available, lt is important that we have this matter dealt with as soon as possible so that we may get answers to the various other questions that may trouble members of the Senate and the Senate collectively; so that we may get an answer as to what was done by the Secretary of the Department of Air when an article appeared in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ of 28th May 1966 accusing the Prime Minister of a policy of suppression in relation to the records of passengers and records of flights on the VIP aircraft; so that we may know as quickly as possible why it is that the Department of Air did not immediately, upon the accusation made-
– I raise another point of order. I suggest that what the honourable senator ought to be putting to the Senate is the reasons why it is necessary to pass a resolution designed to lead to answers to these questions today instead of following the normal practices of the House and asking for leave to move a motion t’omorrow. I suggest that what the Leader of the Opposition is doing is seeking to introduce the substance of his debate and not confining it to the one point of why we have to suspend the Standing Orders in order to discuss this today instead of following the normal practices of the House and asking for leave to move the motion tomorrow.
– This matter may easily be resolved if the Leader of the Government is inviting me to have the matter dealt with on the basis that it would proceed tomorrow. If he is doing that, if it is a matter of asking for leave and the Government will support the matter being dealt with tomorrow, I am quite happy to accept that.
– Speaking again to the point of order, it may sound a reasonable proposition as we hear it fall from the lips of the Leader of the Opposition but what I am saying is simply this: The normal practice would be for him to give notice of motion in respect of something that he wants to do tomorrow. That would be in accordance with the normal practices of the House. I am not going to go any further than to say that that is the normal practice, because what we are faced with now is a top secret document brought in and not shown to me or anybody else in the Senate previously. If that is the practice that is going on, I will say no more than that we should follow the normal practice of this Senate.
– Order! What are you speaking to now, Senator? I must uphold Senator Gorton’s point of order and draw your attention once again to my ruling that the debate must be confined to reasons for and against the proposed suspension. No matter may be discussed unless it is so related.
– I thank you, Mr President, for your ruling, and Senator Gorton for his observation. He has indicated a good reason why the Senate should suspend the ordinary order of business because there has been no hint from him, despite what I thought was his invitation, that this matter will be dealt with before the end of this week or regarded in any way as an important matter by the Government. Apparently the Government is prepared to take the stand that it will not facilitate the investigation of these matters by the Senate. It will not even facilitate the discussion of the motion to bring the Secretary of the Department of Air before the Senate. The policy of suppression which the Government has been following-
– I rise to order once again, Mr President. There is absolutely no truth in the suggestion that a policy of suppression has been followed by the Government. There has been a debate in this place and in another place. What is being debated now is whether we should suspend Standing Orders.
– That is argument; it is not a point of order.
– Order! Senator Gorton is in order. Senator Murphy should take my advice and confine his remarks within my ruling.
– It is necesary that the motion to suspend the Standing Orders be carried by the Senate because the Senate has not been told the truth of the matters surrounding the giving of untrue statements to the Senate. There has been no truthful and full disclosure to the nation and it is necessary that immediate steps be taken to suspend the Standing Orders in order that a motion may be dealt with to bring before the chamber apparently the one person in the country who should be able to throw some light upon the matters which are referred to in the resolution. Surely the Senate should be given the opportunity, by a suspension of the Standing Orders, to deal with a motion which is of such an important character that it calls for the bringing” before this Senate of the person who can throw some light on the matters that are concerning the Senate and the nation.
Those matters are of the utmost gravity. They concern the integrity of the Government; they concern the integrity of a Minister; they concern the integrity of officers in the Department. I submit that the Senate should support the motion to suspend the Standing Orders in order that this matter may be debated. Why would anyone want to prevent the Senate from dealing with a motion of this character which is directed towards the calling of the Secretary of the Department of Air before the Senate to disclose what information he has. If there is nothing to hide, why should the Standing Orders not be suspended? Why should the Government: not do that in order thai this motion may be passed as quickly as possible and the Secretary of the Department of Air brought here to give the answers which the whole country wants to hear?
I would ask that the Senate not. allow the information, which undoubtedly would be available from the Secretary of the Department of Air, to be kept from the nation any longer. That involves a motion being passed to bring him here and it would require a suspension of the Standing Orders in order to deal with the matter, unless the Government is prepared to facilitate the dealing with such a motion. Apparently, from the attitude expressed here, every endeavour will be made, every advantage will be taken of the Standing Orders and every possible device will be used in order to prevent persons who could tell the nation the truth from coming before the chamber. Apparently we cannot get the truth from the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) because he is out of the country in Uganda. One would think - ‘and this bears on the necessity for the suspension - ‘that the matter which is concerning the Parliament and the nation is far more important than the matters which have been dealt with in Uganda and that the Minister could readily be replaced by some other person if that were necessary. But since that is not being done and since apparently, he is taking his time about making some explanation to the Parliament, and since the days of the session are drawing to a close, every opportunity that is available to us to get the truth as quickly as possible should be taken advantage of. If is a sorry day for the Parliament and the nation if the Government seeks to prevent the truth coming out.
– I oppose the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. No reason has been advanced to us why there is urgency for a suspension of the Standing Orders to discuss a matter. Of course it is an important matter which has been brought forward. But normally in this place matters which are not even of great importance are circulated among members of all parties so that they can study them, so that they can consider them, so that they can discuss them and so that they perhaps can make up their minds about whether they want to allow a suspension of Standing Orders or whether they do not want to do so in the future. Indeed, it is customary to have some information and some chance to consider what is being brought before the chamber. But on this occasion this has not happened. What has happened on this occasion is that although this matter is supposed to be so important that it merits the suspension of Standing Orders, so far as I know nobody in this chamber was given a glimpse of what it was proposed to do until a minute or two before the motion was laid on the table by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy).
I say with some regret that quite clearly it would be extremely wrong for this rather meretricious flashy manoeuvre to succeed and thus foist this matter upon a house of parliament without any of the members having had a chance previously to study it. No reason has been advanced why it is so violently urgent to have a discussion on this immediately instead of possibly later - and I say only possibly later - but there is every reason, I suggest, to every fair minded person why a discussion should not proceed immediately on this piece of paper being thrown on the table and the arguments and the implications in it being not previously available to any honourable senator in this place. Consequently I oppose the motion tor the suspension of Standing Orders.
– 1 support the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). I believe there could be no better reason for supporting it than the speech we have just heard from the Leader of the Government (Senator Gorton), which has indicated no prospect that wc will have an opportunity to debate the substantive motion of which Senator Murphy has given notice this afternoon. The reason for Senator Murphy’s motion is the gravity and the urgency of the substantial matters which, under your ruling Mr President, we may not canvass at length. They are grave matters. The integrity of the Government is in question. When a motion involving the integrity of the Government was moved in another place yesterday all other business was suspended. The notice of motion was treated as a motion and a lengthy and vigorous debate ensued on the proposition.
We are not prepared to have the Government stonewalling on this issue. It is reasonably apprehended by honourable senators that, in the normal course of events, we will probably finish this sessional period by Friday next. We will not allow the Government to bat out time until stumps because these are matters which must be cleared up. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), whose lack of frankness with the Parliament, and particularly the Senate, is under attack, is not here. He is in Uganda, so we want to ask the Secretary of the Department of Air some very searching questions as to the circumstances in which this Parliament was misled.
If ever there was a matter on which it would be proper and desirable for the Government to say: ‘Very well, you regard this matter as important and the Government regards it as important so we will accept your challenge to discuss it’, this is it. Indeed, the Government really should assent to the Secretary of the Department of Air being called before the Senate. It should not be opposing this motion; it should be supporting it so that the Senate-
– Mr President, I hesitate to interrupt too often but I raise a point of order. The honourable senator is not speaking to the motion that Standing Orders be suspended.
– Order! Senator Cohen, you are departing from the lines of debate that I have laid down.
– I am not.
– You are. You will be in order if you observe my ruling that you must not debate matters other than those related to the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders.
– I do not canvass your ruling in any way. Mr President, but I submit I am entitled to show reasons why the Senate should proceed to discuss this motion immediately.
– You will be in order if you do that.
– In doing th;it. I submit I am entitled to indicate the gravity and the urgency of the matter. I certainly would not attempt to cover all the material and the evidence that we would raise in the substantial debate because I could not hope to get through so much in a matter of minutes while speaking to a procedural motion of this kind. However, I suggest I am in order in directing the attention of honourable senators to the fact that if the Senate does not insist upon an immediate, or at any rate an early, debate on this question we will not have the debate unless we keep the Senate in session - the Opposition, of course, would not shrink from that - beyond the expected time of finishing. We must not allow this Senate to be robbed in any way by the passage of time of its opportunity to test this matter at the earliest possible moment.
In my submission it should be upon the Government to indicate cogent reasons why this should not be regarded as an urgent matter. Unless it can do so. there is no reason why the Government, following what was done in another place yesterday, should not be prepared to proceed with the debate immediately. I strongly support the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
– 1 too wish to support the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders to permit the substantive matter to come before the Senate today. It is my firm belief that no business should be transacted in the Senate until the integrity of the Government has been cleared. I do not think the Government has grasped the significance of this. I think it has taken the view that by the effluxion of time - by the Senate going into recess - it will be able to brush off the demand of the public for a complete clarification of the issue. A lot more than that is involved. The matter of VIP flights has gone past the stage of questions being asked by honourable senators and answers being given by a Minister. The Senate has been unable to obtain true information in reply to questions asked and as a result of debate. The Senate is being treated with contempt by the Government in its refusal to allow this matter to be cleared up. There is every reason for the matter to be over and done with. The Government, according to its own lights, has nothing to hide. Why will it not allow this matter to proceed and to be cleared up once and for all if it has nothing to hide? We on this side of the House and the people of Australia generally have a very strong suspicion that the Government is still hiding much information that it should have produced on demand as a result of a resolution of the Senate. The Government is treating the Senate with contempt. It is trying to stall for time so that the Parliament may go into recess and so that the matter may be shelved altogether. The principle involved is far too important to be treated so lightly. I believe that the Standing Orders should be suspended and that the matter should be proceeded with forthwith to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.
– The matter of VIP flights is one with which I have been very closely associated. Indeed, I believe that I asked the first question about it. In May 1966 I asked a question about what I believed to be the misuse of a VIP aircraft on a flight from Essendon to Perth when Mr Arthur Calwell, Mrs Calwell and members of the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party were passengers. I received the reply that records were not available. Hence I am intimately concerned with the question of VIP flights.
I cannot support the resolution for the suspension of Standing Orders. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) has approached the matter in a fairly clumsy manner. If the honourable senator was in search of or in need of the co-operation of the Senate, with a view to expediting a debate on this important matter, at least he should have conformed to the traditional practice of courtesy and should have informed the Leader of the Government (Senator Gorton) and myself as to what the official Opposition planned to do and the terms of the motion he intended to propose. If the Leader of the Opposition cannot recognise the value and the merit of following such traditional practices, he must be prepared to put up with the repre.cussions or results of such failure on his part.
I am opposed to the suspension of the Standing Orders in the circumstances. I cannot accept the view that the matter is as urgent as has been presented by the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cohen), particularly in the absence from Australia of the vital witness in the matter - the Minister for Air (Mr Howson).
– Will the honourable senator support me if I move that the Senate should meet next week?
– I will support the honourable senator only when he is sane, sound and wise in what he has to say. As I was saying when I was rudely interrupted, in the absence of the’ vital witness this matter does not present itself to me as being one of great urgency. We have heard the Senate discussing subjects which have been described as matters of urgency, which have taken up 7 or 8 hours of the time of the Senate, but which were so much piffle. We also have recollections of the Senate being convened for a special sitting of one day, which cost the taxpayers $12,000, to consider an important and urgent matter relating to posts and telegraphs in respect of which the ultimate result was that members of the Opposition walked out of the chamber when the vote was taken. I have recollections of those alleged matters of urgency.
In this instance I believe that there are no grounds for the suspension of the Standing Orders. I believe that if the Standing Orders are complied with a debate on this matter will take place in good time. It is suggested that in the absence of the person who is answerable to the Parliament we might bring the Secretary of the Department of Air to the Bar of the Senate. I do not propose to debate that suggestion or the motion in which it is contained. I will confine my remarks to the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. But I believe that that procedure would be unfair to the person whom it is proposed to bring to the Bar of the Senate. It is most unfair and cowardly to suggest that, in the absence of his Minister, he be brought here to give evidence. That does not appeal to my sense of fair play.
– I support the motion. It may not be fair to bring a civil servant to the Bar of the Senate; but neither is it fair for the Government to hide behind the absence of the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) who is responsible for this matter. There is no reason at all why he should not have been in the Parliament to answer the charges that have been made against him. I am surprised that Senator Gair should allow pettiness - that is all it is when he says that he was not told what the motion was; I was not told either - to override what is really the major issue. I am not referring to the VIP flight issue at all. I believe that it has just about had it. I am referring to the credibility of the Government. That is a very serious and important issue. The point is that, if there can be brainwashing- let me call it that in order to conform with your wishes, Mr President - in regard to VIP aircraft, one wonders how much brainwashing is going on in regard to Vietnam.
– Order! That matter has nothing to do with the motion now before the Senate.
– We have before us a censure motion which calls for the Secretary of the Department of Air to be brought to the Bar of the Senate. There must be some reason-
– We are debating a motion for the suspension of the Standing
Orders. The honourable senator was not here when it was moved.
– No, I was not, but I happen to be here now. I am grateful for your help in correcting me.
– Order! Senator Turnbull, you will address your remarks to me.
– Yes, Mr President. I am pleased to be corrected.
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. I respectfully ask you to point out that when you address a senator he must resume his seat. It may be only through ignorance that that is not done, but it is a rule of the conduct of the Senate that when the President addresses a senator that senator pays his courtesy to the Chair by resuming his seat. 1 hope that all senators will conform to the decencies of the Senate.
– The point of order is upheld. I call Senator Turnbull.
– Thank you, Mr President. I am pleased to hear the former President speak. Unless the Standing Orders are suspended we cannot get to the bottom of this question of the credibility of the Government. I know that Senator Gair has said that the Senate will take up the motion in time and that we will get to the bottom of the question. But in what time will we do that? The Senate will adjourn on Friday and will not resume until February, Nothing can be done in the meanwhile.
– What about opposing the adjournment motion on Friday?
– That would be a very sound idea. I think that the Parliament should resume next week because it is such an important matter. It may cost about $12,000 a day for the Senate to meet, but the Government does not seem to worry very much about the cost of conducting a referendum in between elections when it could have been held at the same time as an election.
– Order! The honourable senator is straying right away from the subject of the discussion.
– I am referring only to what Senator Gair said.
– I rise to a point of order. I wonder, Mr President, whether you could explain, for the edification of honourable senators, in which way Senator Turnbull is out of order whereas Senator Gair was in order in referring to the use of VIP aircraft by Mr Calwell?
– Order ! I am not going to elaborate on my ruling for your benefit, senator. If you do not approve of my ruling, you know what to do about it. You may take exception to it.
– The other reason why I wish to support the suspension of Standing Orders is that I read in a newspaper this morning a very serious statement about the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gorton). I hope that he read it. It said that he knew at 2.15 p.m. about the answers that I was given at 3 p.m. If that is true, it is exceedingly serious. I hope he denies the accuracy of that report, because we have great regard for him. lt is one of the matters that needs clearing up and is one of the reasons why I support the motion.
– 1 have listened to the debate, in between the various challenges and discussions of points of order. 1 am one of the senators who voted for the disclosure of the information about VIP planes. To me the question has become one of paramount importance to the Senate as a House of Parliament. At first the information was not given, was not proposed to be given, and then it was given. All sorts of statements have been made as to whether the information was available. Ultimately it was given in a certain way. As there is doubt about the honesty of certain members of the Government, this matter should be cleaned up properly. I understand something of the ordinary feelings of people. If we try to stop a probe of this matter to a proper conclusion, the people will become suspicious and concerned that there may be more in it than possibly there is. This Parliament is the paramount institution of this country. When Parliament asks for certain information I believe that it should be given to it. When a doubt is cast seriously upon the actions of certain people in regard to the supplying of information, this Parliament should have the power to pursue the matter to the end in order to find out the true situation. [ think it is most unfortunate that the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) is not in Australia at this time. My own view is that he should have been sent for in order to have this matter clarified. If the Parliament is to rise at the end of this week, 1 believe the best course to follow would be to call the head of the Department of Air to the Bar of the Senate and to discuss the matter with him. So far as I am concerned, Parliament is the representation of the people. It is entitled to be told the truth and to know what is going on. Parliament is the supreme body, so far as I am concerned. It should not be thwarted in an attempt to get the truth and a complete answer to this question. Some Government supporters may believe that this matter is not of very great importance to the people. In my opinion it seriously concerns the people because of the doubts cast upon the truthfulness of the Government. For the reasons I have given - on the basis on the right of Parliament to arrive at the truth - I will vote for the suspension of the Standing Orders.
– I regret to hear the viewpoint that has been put by Senator Wood because I believe that the motion forshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) should be considered with much greater deliberation and much greater depth of thought. This matter came before the Senate originally in the form of questions about the use of VIP aircraft, and the information sought was denied. That concerned the Senate. Then a statement was made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and the insufficiency of that statement did not satisfy the Senate. So the Senate resolved, with my support, that certain papers should be tabled. Any continuation of the hue and cry that has gone on since last Friday about discrepancies in answers to questions depends upon a complete examination of papers that have been tabled. These have been under scrutiny by various members of the Senate. I for one acknowledge that, hour by hour, I have been preoccuped by the Bills which have been before the Senate and have not had the chance to peruse those papers. Any judgment that I make as to the accuracy of any Minister’s answers depends, I think, upon the real interpretation of the documents.
To have haste in this matter would be totally contrary to principles of the practice of any law that Senator Murphy and Senator Cohen might seek to invoke on this issue. If one proposes to take measures to reprimand or require dismissal, the first thing to do is to give notice so that those concerned will have an adequate opportunity to prepare their explanations. The motion we are discussing proposes that the period of delay that is required by the Standing Orders should be dispensed with by the suspension of Standing Orders so that the substantive motion could proceed insianter. That is totally revolting to my idea of giving proper consideration to an ordinary measure in the House, let alone one affecting the integrity of a Minister of the Crown. I refuse to prejudge a Minister in his absence, and in his absence I refuse to abridge the Standing Orders in order to facilitate subpoenaing his subordinate to give evidence before the Senate without adequate opportunity for the preparation of that evidence. I go further and say that this would be the height of unwisdom in the interests of a chamber which I, not alone and not the least, have championed in order to have its status and authority recognised to the extent that when we say that papers shall be tabled they are tabled. Doubt was expressed about the efficacy of our motion for the tabling of the papers but f give the Government the due that it never questioned its responsibility to comply with the motion. The Senate now has that acknowledgment and to overreach the situation by going further and, not for the gravest of causes, subpoenaing the head of a department to give evidence before the bar of this House is the sort of exertion of powers that leads to their eclipse. I have been jeered on both sides for restraint in the exercise of those powers, but I ignore those jeers. But to suggest that in these circumstances we should suspend the Standing Orders and proceed instanter with matters of this character that should be reserved for the highest and most critical occasions is to me the height of unwisdom in the exercise of senatorial powers.
If we are to undertake an inquiry into the truth or otherwise of the Minister’s statements, I for one will need a week to peruse the documents and give them calm reflection, and then 1 would hope that we would not proceed in the hurly burly of public debate where witnesses can be made ribald and the truth can become obscured by passion. 1 would hope that we would go about it by appointing a select committee, quietly, with the partisan element subdued, painstakingly to produce, as we do in our select committees, a fair representation of fact, because that is the creed that the Opposition is now espousing and of which Senator Turnbull becomes the arch disciple. A fair representation of truth is the creed upon which they are supporting themselves and attempting to disparage the Government. 1 therefore suggest, Mr President, that a fair representation of the facts of this matter and a scrutiny of the accuracy of the answers requires that we take an adequate and patient opportunity first to peruse the documents, then if unsatisfied to see what decision the Minister comes to and then, if we are still unsatisfied, to promote a select committee and examine the accuracy of the statements. The only reason against taking that painstaking course, Mr President, is that there is an election in the offing, and I despise the attitude that will parade the cause of integrity of Ministers with regard to truthfulness as a mere election expedient to obtain headlines through the Press.
– I despise it and I insist that the only proper course for the Senate to take is to say that we will not suspend our Standing Orders. If a motion comes before us in accordance with the Standing Orders we will deal with it. I for my part cannot be challenged for failing to deal with it resolutely but fearlessly. We should examine the truth and give a fair opportunity to Ministers who are absent and their subordinates who are here to examine anything that, is being said in this respect. It is on that basis that I urge the Senate not to indulge in these election tactics, to get back to a basis of fairness and a cold consideration of the facts, and demand of the Government, if the occasion requires, an acknowledgment of our right to have proper information.
– Yesterday afternoon-
– The Minister for Air is only the fall guy for the Prime Minister in this.
– I. will not refer to Senator O’Byrne. We are sorry for him - all of us. Yesterday afternoon I was approached by a member of some prominence in the Australian Labor Party who asked what would be the attitude of my party if this matter were raised this afternoon. Senator Gair had a similar approach from another prominent personality in the ALP. Our answer in each case was the same. We said that if the ALP had a proposition to make today and gave us notice of it, we would give it consideration. This afternoon Senator Gair and I walked into the Senate. We had not been informed of the intentions of the Australian Labor Party. The attitude being adopted by the Opposition is that unless we of the Democratic Labor Party are prepared to support something of which we have no prior notice and which we have had no opportunity to consider, we do the Australian Labor Party an injury.
I was in this Senate for 6 years during my first term and the custom was that if a motion of this sort were to be moved by any party, notice was given to the other parties. Senator McKenna was unfailing in that courtesy. But since Senator Murphy has led the Opposition he has given us that courtesy on some occasions but not on others. If tactically he thinks that is the right thing to do - to put something up without telling us about it - tactically we think the right thing to do is to say that we will have nothing to do with it until we have had time to consider it.
– The honourable senator is running away.
– Our friend Senator O’Byrne says that we are running away.
– Like his Party did over the postal charges.
– As Senator Gair points out, on a previous occasion we fell for the idea that one could trust the ALP in these matters. We supported it - I will not go further into that matter because Senator Murphy has turned to Senator O’Byrne and suggested that he should raise a point of order. I congratulate Senator Murphy on that further example that he is a great protagonist of freedom of speech.
I believe in playing politics as hard as anybody, but what is the essence of the motion? It is a proposition to have a discussion upon a vital issue in the absence of the only person who now can give the evidence on which to make a decision. The Minister for Air (Mr Howson) is in Uganda. I think he should be here. I think the Government erred in not demanding his presence here on an issue of this importance. But he is not here. How are we to reach any conclusion in his absence? If the ALP or other people were to suggest that we should meet, say, next Monday and examine the matter, there would be something in the suggestion. But instead the proposition is that after- this matter has been worn nearly threadbare in another place yesterday, we should have another discussion purely for the sake of the electors; we should have another discussion today which can get us nowhere. All we could do would be to rehash what was said yesterday in the other place. It is suggested that this is the right thing for the Senate to do.
Listed for discussion today are 18 or 20. Bills. The Petroleum Bills alone should take a fortnight to discuss. All of these Bills will be rushed through the Senate in the next day of two, yet we are asked to spend about 3 hours this afternoon discussing an issue which, as far as we can ascertain them, have all been placed before us. I suggest that the proper time to have discussion on this matter is when the Minister has returned and explained himself, if he is able to. I doubt whether he can explain himself, but at least he is entitled to have the opportunity to do so.
It will be a very unusual occasion on which I will support a motion such as this, brought before the Senate without people being given any notice, and particularly in view of the fact that the views of Senator Gair and myself were sought yesterday, when we made it perfectly clear that we would give no blank cheque. We made it perfectly clear that if we were going to be bound to follow the suggestion we would at least require notice of it. The Australian Labor Party was never left in any doubt. We told representatives of the ALP bluntly that if they had a proposition they should let us know what it was, but they refused to let us know. They turned down our suggestion, but then they come into this chamber and adopt an attitude that they have a grievance because we are noi prepared to give them a blank cheque. If those are good tactics then I have never known anything about tactics.
– This is a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. You, Mr President, have allowed in this debate a reference to the absence of the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) in Uganda. I feel that it is my obligation, and I am sure that all honourable senators on this side of the chamber and those opposite who have spoken will agree with me, to make it perfectly clear that Mr Howson is in Uganda as the Australian representative at a meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It should also be made abundantly clear for the record that at the last meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association last year it was decided to set up a working party to consider the problems of the Association, which is composed of representatives of eighty nations. Mr Howson, as the Australian representative, was given the great honour-
– I rise to order, Mr President. I cannot remain silent, however nicely the Minister is speaking about his colleague. You ruled very early in this debate and on more than one occasion that honourable senators must speak to the resolution. I suggest with great respect that if the ruling is good for some honourable senators it should be observed by all honourable senators.
– -Speaking to the point of order, Mr President, I do not challenge your ruling, but I draw your attention to the fact that almost every Opposition speaker, and also Senator McManus, made a passing reference to the Minister for Air being in Uganda. If there is any decency in the world, if there is any decency amongst parliamentarians, I believe that I should be allowed an opportunity to explain why the Minister for Air is in Uganda. I suggest with great respect that I should be allowed to continue.
– Order! The point of order taken by Senator Kennelly is completely in keeping with my earlier ruling which was that the debate must be related to the suspension of Standing Orders. 1 do not depart from that ruling. When honourable senators departed from it on two occasions it was due to provocation by interjection. If honourable senators interject and provoke a speaker to turn on them they will get into trouble, lt is very hard for me to keep the debate on an even keel when there are interjections. I suggest to Senator Anderson that if he observes my earlier ruling he will be fairly close to the mark.
– I shall observe your earlier ruling, Sir, by following the pattern of other honourable senators who have spoken. Senator Cohen and Senator Murphy in speaking on the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders said that the Minister for Air was not present. I think it is proper, fair and decent that I should say that the Minister is in Uganda as the Chairman of a working party of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and is giving a report to the Association.
– Mr President, is the honourable senator entitled deliberately to flout your ruling?
– Order! No, he is not.
– That is all I ask.
– Order! In my judgment the Minister is not flouting my ruling, but 1 ask him to remember what 1 ruled and to observe it.
– I have almost concluded. 1 say in accordance with my understanding of your ruling, Mr President, that the Minister for Air is in Uganda as the representative of Australia and he will be back shortly.
– I support the resolution moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). I propose to make some comment on what was said by Senator Wright. The honourable senator said that we should not deal with this matter with undue haste, that it is a matter which is serious and therefore should be given great and. lengthy consideration. In normal circumstances this would be a completely proper view for any lawyer or any court to take, that there should be adequate time to consider any matter so serious as this before any determination is mads. But I believe there are very good reasons why the matters to which
Senator Wright has referred are subject to other considerations which are more weighty. The first need for haste in dealing with this question arises from the fact that this is not merely some normal action coming before a court of law but involves the credibility of the Government itself. If there is in question the credibility of the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), the Government as a whole or an individual Minister it is a matter of the utmost seriousness, not only for the individuals who are particularly involved and against whom aspersions have been cast but also for the whole country.
It is an impossible situation to say that it is quite conceivable that some deceit has been practised by somebody or other - it may have been the Prime Minister, it may have been another Minister or it may have been the Government collectively - but it will take up some time before we work out exactly whether there was any deceit and, if there was, who was deceitful. One may be able to do this in some sort of civil action before a court, but we cannot allow the affairs of the nation to be conducted in the circumstances where there is a great doubt in the minds of the overwhelming majority as to whether there has been a deliberate deception practised by the Government as a whole or by individual members of the Government. Senator Wright said also that he does not believe that the Standing Orders should be breached. The proposition from the Leader of the Opposition does not call for a breach of Standing Orders. There is a provision within Standing Orders that in certain circumstances they may be waived so that other matters can be dealt with. What it is proposed should be done is something which frequently comes before the Senate and is something which frequently is done by the Government. On numerous occasions Senator Wright has supported a proposition that Standing Orders be suspended to allow some other matter to be dealt with.
We believe that in the present circumstances there is a situation of urgency, a situation which needs to be dealt with quickly. Nothing could be more important than a state of affairs in which the honesty and the integrity of the Government is in dispute, and that is what is in dispute at present. Senator Wright has said that he does not want to find the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) guilty and he believes that if we hasten on this resolution we will be hastily finding him guilty without consider-;’ ing the matter adequately. We will not be finding anybody guilty of anything by accepting this proposition. The Minister for Air would not be found guilty of anything by a resolution that the Secretary of the Department of Air be summoned to appear at the bar of the Senate. Nobody could be found guilty of anything by carrying such a proposition.
– 1 rise to order to stop the wide ranging debate which Senator Kennelly also sought to stop. 1 suggest that we come back to the reasons why we should suspend Standing Orders.
– Speaking to the point of order, surely Senator Wheeldon is stating an answer to what was put by Senator Wright. Reasons were given by Senator Wright as to why Standing Orders should not be suspended. Senator Wright related his remarks to the motion in stating what from his point of view were absolutely good reasons why there should not be a suspension. Those same reasons for not suspending are now being rebutted by Senator Wheeldon. His remarks are directly related to the grounds which were advanced by Senator Wright. 1 suggest, Mr President, that Senator Wheeldon is complying entirelywith the rulings which you have given.
– Order! My advice to Senator Wheeldon is to follow my original ruling on this matter. 1 remind honourable senators that it is not clever to get round my ruling. It is your responsibility to give your assistance, if you possibly can, in upholding normal procedure and behaviour in the Senate.
– I shall certainly do that, but with respect I point out that I fail to see in which way I was departing from your original ruling. I felt I was dealing, as logically as I could, with points relating to the urgency of this resolution which had been referred to by Senator Wright.
– You were very close to the edge.
– I will thank you, Mr President, if you will point out to me subsequently if I go over the edge but, as 1 understood the matter, my remarks were completely within the terms of the motion. The only other aspect to which I wish to refer relates to the urgency of this matter. Conceivably, various explanations could be given as to why certain information was provided by the Prime Minister. Conceivably, the Prime Minister could have been misinformed by the Minister for Air, and conceivably the Minister for Air himself could have been misinformed by the Secretary of the Department. There is a certain measure of suspicion involving all three people but possibly no allegation of dishonesty should be made about all or, indeed, any of them. It is important that these questions be dealt with urgently. Although the whole matter could not be clarified by having the Secretary of the Department before the Senate without the Minister for Air himself being heard, here or elsewhere, at least part of the problem could be unravelled because honourable senators would have the opportunity to examine or cross-examine - whichever term we wish to use - the Secretary of the Department of Air.
This matter becomes particularly urgent when one realises that this is the last week of the sittings of the Senate. We will not be sitting next week. If we call for the appointment of a select committee and if that select committee takes as long as do other select committees to reach a determination, this matter could go on for weeks, months or even a year during which time the people of Australia would not have an answer to the question whether there has been some dishonesty on the Government’s part or elsewhere. I submit that these are urgent matters. Senator Wright referred to the forthcoming election and said that in some way that affects the urgency of the matter. In my submission this matter should be clarified before an election is held. Tt should be clarified with urgency because within a democracy it should be the duty of the Parliament to see that when the people are called upon to vote at an election they know whether the Government for which they are asked to vote has been acting honestly or dishonestly. Such a proposition as thas been moved by the Leader of the Opposition would assist the people of Australia to make that determination and so. far from detracting from the urgency of the motion, adds to the urgency of the resolution.
– The Standing Orders of the Senate are pretty clear. They are designed for the very real purpose of providing time to consider matters which come before the Senate. For many years now - 1 have been here for 17 years - the business of this House has been conducted on the basis that the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition notify the parties on proposals they intend to advance. Since Senator Murphy has been the Leader of the Opposition I have mentioned his gross discourtesy to the Senate, to the Government, to the members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party and to the Independents in introducing matters to the Senate for instant discussion without having provided any notice as to their content. As the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair) has said, the Leader of the Opposition may consider those to be good tactics. Let me say to him that I do not think they are good tactics. He might win today but he will lose tomorrow. The business of the upper House of this country should not be conducted on the basis of denying the Government, for some snide reason, an opportunity to consider a matter that is to be advanced. On this occasion the Leader of the Opposition did not want to give the Government, time to consider the matter because his case is not sound. 1 hope he will learn that standards of courtesy have been built up in this Senate over the years and that when one assumes the leadership of the Opposition, or of the Government, one must adhere to those standards and conduct the proceedings of the Senate with them well in mind. Only thus can both sides of the Senate give full consideration to any proposition that comes before it.
The proposition now before us is that there is some reason why we should suspend Standing Orders. I cannot imagine why the Standing Orders should be suspended for the purpose of calling the permanent head of the department to the bar of the Senate while his Minister is overseas. No greater injustice could be perpetrated. No one with the rules of common decency before him would adopt such a course ot behaviour. For the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that we should adopt his proposal - and do it in haste without full consideration of the matter and without all honourable senators having had an opportunity to put a considered point of view - shows clearly the shallowness of the proposal.
The Opposition believes that its proposition should be accepted now because a Senate election is to be held soon. For that reason it has endeavoured strenuously to make every pennyworth of political capital out of this matter. Of course, it has also endeavoured to use this matter to avoid coming to grips with the real problem facing this country - the defence of Australia and the war in Vietnam.
– That must be in order.
– That is not in order. Have you completed your speech, Senator Henty?
– Then you will not pursue that line of argument.
– Very well. I agree entirely with Senator Wright’s submission that no such proposition should be dealt with in haste; that we should give proper consideration to any motion in this upper House, whatever may be its source. The Standing Orders are here to enable us to follow normal procedure. Giving notice of a motion is the normal procedure. If the Leader of the Opposition places his resolution on the table of the Senate we will have an opportunity to see what it is all about. Quite frankly, I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will, if I may so put it, grow up and become a little more mature in his judgment. I hope that he will treat the Senate as a mature House and follow the normal procedures which were set so worthily by his predecessors.
– I want to add only one or two words to this debate, because I think we have lost sight of the motion. Whether it is desirable to bring the Secretary of the Department of Air before the bar of the Senate is a question to be debated on a subsequent motion. The motion now before us is that the Standing Orders be suspended to permit the Senate to consider whether the Secretary of the Department of Air should be brought before the bar of the Senate. Although the question of bringing the Secretary of the Department of Air before the bar of the Senate has been the subject of the debate, it should not have been. To refuse to suspend the Standing Orders for the purpose of discussing this matter is to refuse to the Senate the right to discuss whether it is desirable to call someone before the bar of the Senate in the absence of his Minister. In all decency the Standing Orders of the Senate should be suspended to allow a proper debate to take place so that honourable senators will not be restricted by rulings as to whether the bringing of someone before the Bar of the Senate is proper.
– Why not give notice of it for tomorrow?
- Senator Murphy has given some indication that he will accept that proposal if the Government will agree to the matter being brought on tomorrow. He has made that suggestion. I suppose that we all have decided on the course of action that we intend to take in regard to the motion, but side issues have been introduced to try to justify our stand and to boost our morale. The Leader of the Opposition may have been discourteous in not giving prior notice, contrary to precedent, of what he intended to do, but in his reply he may state why notice was not given. I believe that some justification will be established by the Leader of the Opposition. If he has erred, is that a sound reason for voting against the motion?
– This is not the first occasion on which Senator Murphy has taken such action.
– If the honourable senator takes such action on every occasion, must not the Senate consider the issue on its merits? Senator Gair said that some time last year he wanted to obtain some information about the Australian Labor Party’s use of the VIP flight and that the Minister told him that the information was not available. Is it not important to Senator Gair that he was misinformed and was given incorrect information? The stage has been reached now that the Senate knows that the information is and was available, but now because someone acted wrongly in not giving him prior notice of the motion the honourable senator is not prepared to stand up for principles and justice. Surely the Australian Democratic Labor Party’s attitude to this question, in the absence of any other reason, is one of grasping for any excuse to follow a line that the Senate knows is not correct.
The simple issue is this: If misleading information was given to the Senate how important was it? Will anyone in this chamber say that this was not an important matter and that no untruths were told in answer to questions asked in the Senate? Should not the Senate get down to the roots of the matter to see that those who are responsible no longer occupy positions where they can continue to convey untruths to the Senate? The fact that untruths were uttered in this chamber in answer to questions has been acknowledged by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt). The Prime Minister said that he wants to consider where the mistake occurred - that he will discuss with the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) where the mistake occurred.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin)- Order! How the honourable senator relates that statement to the motion I find it difficult to understand. 1 ask the honourable senator to return to the subject matter of the motion.
– It is difficult to relate the remarks of other speakers to the motion. The whole question is this: Why bring the Secretary of the Department of Air before this House while his Minister is away? Some admission has been made of misleading information having been given. Everyone would agree that the person who supplied the misleading information should not retain his position. The motion seeks to give the Senate the opportunity to find out who was responsible for giving the misleading information. The Senate does not know whether it was the Minister for Air, the Secretary of his Department, someone down the line in the Department, or someone higher up than the Minister. Everything is being done to prevent the Minister from being called before the Bar of this House. The Prime Minister has a responsibility to clear up this matter and to see that the Minister is back in Australia for the purpose of giving the information that the Senate seeks. To send a VIP aircraft over to Uganda to bring the Minister back to Australia in time for the Senate to question him may not be a misuse of the VIP flight.
The Senate has no alternative to agreeing to the motion. As Senator Wheeldon has said, the issue is a very important one for the people to consider at the forthcoming election. The Government should explain to the people of Australia how any mistake has occurred, if one has occurred. The Government’s reluctance to make this evidence available to the Senate and its reluctance to give us an opportunity to see if someone from the Department can supply the Senate with the explanation suggests that there is a lot more to hide than has been stated already. 1 return to this point: Let us decide whether the Standing Orders should be suspended for the purpose mentioned. Then let us debate whether the Secretary of the Department should be called before the bar of the Senate without restrictions being placed on the debate.
– The Senate is discussing whether or not the Standing Orders should be suspended. I am not in favour of suspending the Standing Orders in this case. I wish to make four points. Firstly a need for urgency has not been proved. The second point is that other forms of the Senate could have been adopted equally as well. Our Standing Orders would give the Opposition the opportunity to discuss the matter fully. The Opposition contends that it is being prevented by the Standing Orders from debating this particular matter. If the Opposition had used the correct forms of the Senate it would have had every opportunity to discuss the matter. Thirdly, up to this point of time in all these discussions the Senate has acquitted itself with honour. The Senate has performed its task within these walls, and the public outside appreciates that fact. I would not like to see the image and the good work done by the Senate destroyed. Let us preserve that image and not destroy the very thing which we wish to uphold. The final point I wish to make is this: To call the Secretary of the Department of Air to the Bar of the Senate at the present moment would not be doing justice to the individual concerned. I would not agree to such a course. The Opposition prides itself on wanting to see justice done. Do not let us fall into die error of bringing this roan to the Bar of the House to be questioned. I ask honourable senators opposite to put themselves in the position of the Secretary. In my opinion, the Secretary is not the man to be brought to the Bar of the House. The Senate must show some sense of justice to this man, whoever he may be. For that reason, if for no other, I would not agree to the suspension of the Standing Orders.
– I want to speak briefly in the debate. Several speakers have tended to become carried away by some emotional issues. The motion is that the Standing Orders be suspended for the purpose of debating a particular subject. On this I strongly support the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). If this motion is carried and if the Standing Orders are to be suspended, there must be some firm reason for doing that. On behalf of the Opposition and in support of the case made by Senator Murphy, I submit that the subject matter that is the reason for the motion to suspend the Standing Orders is of sufficient importance for the Standing Orders to be suspended. The Government is resisting this motion. So it is obvious that it regards the subject matter as important. Of course, the Opposition believes that this is a very important matter. If that were not so this motion would not have been moved.
I submit that the very fabric of the Parliament is at stake. We asked for certain information over a period of many months. Originally we did not receive the information. When we did receive it we had good reason to believe that some of it was false. 1 will bow to your ruling, Mr President, and not use stronger language than that. It is significant that we received this information after we had been told that it was not available. By some sort of coup the Leader of the Government (Senator Gorton) was able to provide all the documents.
After yesterday’s debate in another place and after the debate in this chamber last Friday it is obvious that this matter has become one of very great public importance. Nobody is worried about the use of VIP aircraft for proper and legitimate purposes. But we are worried about the Parliament being held in contempt by the Government parties. I was surprised to hear Senator Henty talk about gross discourtesy.
He gave one of his emotional displays. He suggested that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate should grow up. Let me suggest that one of the problems that are worrying Senator Henty is that the Leader of the Opposition is more than a match for the Leader of the Government or any other member of the Government parties. That is why Senator Henty is so disturbed. No discourtesy was intended by our Party.
If this motion is followed through to its logical conclusion the Secretary of the Department of Air will be called to the Bar of the Senate. 1 do not know why members of the Government parties are shedding crocodile tears and saying that it is not right to do that in view’ of the fact that the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) is overseas. The Government has had an opportunity to bring the Minister home. It could have sent one of its VIP aircraft to bring him home. It has sent VIP aircraft away far greater distances and for less reason than in this case. I repeat that no discourtesy was intended by anybody. On behalf of the people of Australia we intend to get to the bottom of this matter. The Government will be forced to tell us the truth whether it likes it or not. Another suggestion that has been made is that the matter should be allowed to take its natural’ course. That would suit the Government’s ends. The Minister for Air could come back next week and make a wishy washy statement apologising for his actions and those of somebody else; the heads of a couple of public servants could roll; and that, the Government would hope, would be the end of the story.
We believe that this matter is so important that the course that we propose should be taken. If members of the Government parties are worried about the Senate election coming up, I suggest that they will make bigger political fools of themselves at this time by not giving in. The Leader of the Government should have acceded immediately to the request made by the Leader of the Opposition. In other words, he should have agreed to the suspension of the Standing Orders. If the Government resists this motion, it does so only because it has something to hide. If that were not so, it would have come out in the open and said: ‘Yes, we want a full scale debate. Wc want to get to the bottom of this matter’.
Let me point out where the Government originally went wrong. I am not blaming the two Ministers in this chamber who are involved. Apparently they were supplied with false information. But it is significant that they made a couple of faux pas. Finally I refer to the go-go statement that Senator Mattner made a little while ago. He said to us: ‘You are depreciating the prestige of the Senate’. I say this to members of the Government parties: ‘If you refuse to debate this matter you are treating the Senate with contempt; you are treating the Parliament with contempt; you are treating Her Majesty’s Opposition with contempt; and you are treating the people of Australia with contempt’. I suggest that the motion should be carried.
– I will speak only briefly. I oppose the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. Most of my reasons have been given already. The first thought that crossed my mind when this motion was moved was: Is there not any sense of fair play at all? Yesterday in another place the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) made it clear that he would be seeking from the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) on his return to Australia replies to some of the questions that were still in doubt. So what is the good of trying to bring the head of that Minister’s Department to the Bar of the Senate when the Minister is absent from Australia?
– Why not. bring the Minister home?
– 1 ask for your indulgence, Mr President. Four or five speakers on the Opposition side have condemned the Prime Minister for not bringing the Minister for Air home. I ask that I be allowed to give the reason for his not being brought home. It is that he is the chairman of the working party of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting in Uganda. He was appointed to that office last year. He had to give a report to the meeting. That is the reason why he cannot be brought home.
– Order! The Minister may make only a passing reference to that matter.
– I will stop at that point. Some people had asked why the Minister was not brought home and I thought that in fairness to him I should say what I have said.
– 1 am not asking that the Minister for Repatriation be restrained from explaining the reason if he feels that he should do so.
– The Leader of the Opposition will not ask that anybody be restrained-
– Order! I will be the judge of that.
– The only sensible course to adopt in this matter is to do as the Leader of the Government has suggested. The situation with which we are faced today would have been very different if the Senate had not had an opportunity to debate almost the same subject for 2 or 3 hours last week and if the occasion for a debate on it had not arisen in another place yesterday. I remind the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the Opposition that, contrary to what has happened today, the Leader of the Government gave the Opposition every consideration and every opportunity to debate the matter. A debate on the matter in this chamber today would be only a rehash of what was said here last week and what was said in another place yesterday. 1 believe that in fairness, not only to the gentleman whom it is suggested we should call to the Bar of the Senate but also to the Minister for Air. this motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders should be soundly defeated.
– I support what the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) has said. Everybody should agree that the Senate should have an opportunity to canvass a matter of urgency such as the one that has been proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. He represents a substantial section of the Parliament. He represents the alternative government in this chamber. He has taken action in other places to try to solve the problem about which we are talking. We know that it is an urgent matter. Speakers from the Government side of the chamber have said that it is not an urgent matter and that it can be dealt with when the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) returns from Uganda. You have allowed this point to be canvassed, Mr President. They have made it clear that no early action will be taken to bring the Minister back to Australia so that he may make a statement and clear up this problem which is of great public concern.
Not only members of this Parliament are concerned about the matter that we want to canvass and test in the Senate today. All of the people of Australia are concerned about it. As everybody knows, nearly every newspaper in Australia is carrying cartoons lampooning the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) or the Treasurer (Mr McMahon). If the cartoons were collected together they would make a best seller. As Senator Wheeldon has said, the credibility and reputation of the Government are at stake. Why should not the Senate vote on the matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate? Let the Senate decide whether it is appropriate to bring the Secretary of the Department of Air before the Senate. Let the matter be debated. Let the Government then react. If the Senate decides to support the motion of which the Leader of the Opposition has given notice, let the Government then reconsider whether the Minister for Air should return from Uganda. In this broad situation the Leader of the Opposition has put to the Senate that Standing Orders should be suspended.
Honourable senators on this side of the chamber were able to hear the exchange across the table between the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gorton) and the Leader of the Opposition. As I understood it, Senator Murphy offered Senator Gorton an opportunity to say that the Government would list this matter for discussion tomorrow and there would then be an opportunity to test in the Senate the view that the Secretary of the Department of Air should be called before the Senate. What is wrong with that proposition? I put to the Senate that a very important matter of principle is at stake. The reputation of the Government has been challenged. The Parliament ought to be able to test any point of view put by any member; this principle is not limited to the view of the Leader of the Opposition. When the Leader of the Opposition argues a point of view or presses for a discussion on a matter of urgency, all honourable senators should take notice of what he says. The Government should provide facilities for the matter to be decided. It does not follow logically that all honourable senators would support his viewpoint. In this debate it has become evident that the senators of the Democratic Labor Party are not prepared to consider supporting the Leader of the Opposition because they were not advised immediately before that the matter was to be brought on.
– That is not the only reason I advanced.
– It was a strong reason. I suggest to Senator Gair that it was the strongest point he made - that he had not been consulted on the question. Senator Gair, irrespective of that situation, still has an opportunity to say whether he thinks the Government is in the wrong.
– Order! 1 do not think the honourable senator should be canvassing Senator Gair’s point of view. I have been as tolerant as I can. I ask Senator Bishop to confine himself to the subject.
– I bow to your ruling. Mr President. It is difficult to keep to the subject all the time. I will summarise my remarks. This is a grave matter which concerns the Parliament and the Government. It concerns the Opposition, but above all it concerns the Australian people who must be quite confused about the use of VIP planes. In this situation the Senate should be allowed to test the motion of which Senator Murphy has given notice. The Government could quite easily and quickly respond to what Senator Murphy has said. If the debate cannot be held today, the Government could agree to its being held tomorrow.
– I will have no difficulty in keeping to the terms of the matter before the Chair. It is simply that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) desires to have the Standing Orders suspended. The Standing Orders, which I hold in my hand, were brought into force as at 1st January 1966, so .they cannot properly be regarded as old fashioned. They are really up to date. Standing order No. 104 states:
Notice of Motion shall be given by the Senator stating its. terms to the Senate and delivering at the Table a copy of such Notice, fairly written, printed, or typed, signed by himself, and showing the day proposed for bringing on such Motion.
That is the regular pattern of Senate procedure. An orderly procedure is laid down through all 451 standing orders of the Senate. I refer now to standing order No. 448, which states:
In cases of urgent necessity, any Standing or Sessional Order or Orders of the Senate may be suspended on Motion, duly made and seconded, without Notice: Provided that such Motion is carried by an absolute majority of the whole number of Senators.
The onus is on the Opposition to make absolutely clear that this is a matter of urgent necessity in relation to which standing order No. 104 should be disregarded and that the procedure laid down in standing order No. 448 should apply. 1 have listened patiently for 11 hours. I have heard many speakers from the Opposition but not one of them has laid down that we are discussing a case of urgent necessity which would warrant departure from all the safeguards established over hundreds of years of parliamentary practice. The Opposition believes that they should be swept away this afternoon, without even written notice being circulated to honourable senators of the motion of the Leader of the Opposition. Possibly such notice has not been signed by the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that there is no point in the motion and accordingly that it should not be agreed to.
– in reply - Senator Laught has adverted to the Standing Orders. He read two standing orders. He can be assured that the Standing Orders were complied with. There was a signed notice. This matter has taken an extraordinary course. There was a debate in the Senate last Friday on VIP aircraft. Then, of course, the matter was raised yesterday in the House of Representatives. It is clear from what was said there - I do not think anyone would deny it - that the matter has not been cleared up. If anyone believes that this is not a matter of urgent necessity, he must think that we have reached a deplorable situation in this country. Apparently Government supporters believe that it is no longer a matter of necessity that the character, reputations and honour of the Ministers of the Crown be cleared at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Senate is likely to rise this week. The Minister for Air (Mr Howson) apparently will not be back in Australia until next Saturday. I do not know whether communications between Australia and Uganda have broken down. T understand that plenty of nights are operating between Uganda and Australia. There are plenty of ways of getting from Uganda to Australia messages which might assist in clearing the character and honour of the Minister. From what has been said, the Minister for Air is leading a working party of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association - of all bodies. It is apparently thought that it is more important for the Minister to stay there and not to be replaced by someone, or not just to leave Uganda and allow the working party to carry on without him. It seems that that body is more important than this Parliament.
– Order! I cannot allow the Leader of the Opposition to continue on that subject.
– In the view of the Opposition it is critical that this matter be cleared up at the earliest possible opportunity. It is a matter of urgent necessity for the people to know whether they can trust Ministers of the Crown. If anything is more a matter of urgent necessity than that, I should like to hear of it. I think no other question is more important in this country at the moment than whether the Ministers of the Crown can be trusted and whether responsible government is operating properly in the community.
I do not think there has ever been a situation to parallel the present situation in which it is admitted that untrue statements have been made. It is admitted that there has been no proper explanation of them. One of the Ministers who are vitally concerned is over in Uganda. Is the Senate to rise on Friday without an opportunity to have the facts put before it by the Minister? If the Government and the Minister are not going to tell the Parliament, the Senate must find out for itself. The next person, and the person who presumably has the facts, is the Secretary of the Department of Air. The Government could easily avoid this situation if it would go about the matter in the right way. It could bring the Minister back and tell the nation that the Parliament is going to be kept in session until the matter is cleared up. There are quite a number of ways in which the matter can bc dealt with. As far as the Opposition is concerned, we will not relent in pursuing this matter.
There are difficulties, and we have had 0 face them. I have said that this is a matter which concerns the privileges of the Senate. In a sense, it is contempt of the Senate. Last night 1 indicated to the Leader of the Government that 1 intended to move something today on the question of the privileges of the Senate and I got the indication from him that no assistance whatever would bc forthcoming from him. lt is true that the motion which has been foreshadowed today is not based on privileges as such. The reason for that is that there are great technical problems in bringing such a matter on in this chamber. That is one of the reasons why senators were not informed beforehand, and the answer to the Australian Democratic Labor Party members is that they were spoken to before about this matter. Senator O’Byrne assures me that he spoke to Senator McManus and that Senator McManus said he would wait to sec the motion before deciding whether to support it. As a matter of fact, now that honourable senators have raised the matter. 1 can tell them that in the circumstances in which this Opposition was placed there was simply no time whatever to circulate the substantive motion. But this ought not to be treated by any senator as a reason for opposing the motion to suspend Standing Orders. No-one would contend that that motion should have been circulated. If the motion to suspend the Standing Orders were carried, there would be ample time to debate this matter.
A number of grounds have been put forward. Senator Wright spoke about prejudging the issue. What nonsense. There is no suggestion at all in this motion of prejudging the issue. The proposition is to call the Secretary of the Department of Air before the bar of the Senate so that the facts may be obtained from him in a public place, with the safeguards provided by the membership of the Senate Constitution as it is. The Senate would be acting in a public way and through its President. To suggest that a public official should not be called before a body such as this is an extraordinary suggestion. It is commonplace for public officials, including high public officials, to be brought before the courts of the land by summons or subpoena. Even a magistrate could call the Secretary of the Department of Air before him if that became relevant.
– That is the business of the court.
– And it is the business of the Parliament to find out the facts. The facts are being held back from the Parliament by the Government. Why were not we supplied with these facts? Why is it that those responsible did not try to ascertain the course of events in the Department of Air? Why has this affair been allowed to go on as it has done? We have not had any proper explanation at all. The Government is going to let these sittings of the Parliament run out without the facts being brought forward. Why is not Parliament, in that situation, entitled to find out the facts for itself? It is as simple as that. If the Minister is going to stay in Uganda, then we have to do the next best thing, lt is deplorable that in this situation the Government has not shown that it is prepared to take every step possible to see that this mutter is completely ventilated and the whole of the facts brought before the Parliament and the nation so that we can then judge who is at fault.
When I gave my notice of motion I was aware that the Minister would not facilitate the matter coming on immediately. Had I not moved for the suspension of the Stand? ing Orders, the notice of motion would have gone on to the general business programme and would have been buried there. What is the point of talking about trying to do something extraordinary? At least it was not possible to prevent discussion of the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. I am well aware that an absolute majority is needed to pass this motion and that some senators are overseas. The Minister and the Government have taken every opportunity to see that this matter is buried. If this is the Government’s idea of the proper exercise of responsibility it is nol something that will commend itself to the people of Australia. Why should any senator not be prepared to debate a motion that the Secretary of the Department of
Air be brought before the bar of the Senate? Let us hear the arguments both for and against his being brought here. Why should any senator consider that this question is not sufficiently important to be discussed right now? Have we reached the stage where the honour and integrity of Ministers of the Crown are only secondary considerations? is that the position we have reached? Is the determination of this matter something which can be relegated to the bottom of the business sheet to be dealt with next February or March? That will not satisfy the Opposition. Whatever course can be taken by us to ascertain these facts, to have proper explanations made to the Parliament and to determine which Ministers can be trusted will be persisted in by us until we get satisfaction.
That the motion (Senator Murphy’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
In cases of urgent necessity, any Standing or Sessional Order or Orders of the Senate may bo suspended on Motion, duly made and seconded, without Notice. . . .
There arc 27 ayes and 26 noes. As the motion has not been carried by an absolute majority of the whole number of senators, the question is resolved in the negative.
– How did the Leader of the Government find out that the answer which was given to the Senate about records of passengers carried on VIP aircraft flights was incorrect, and precisely when did he discover that?
– I would like the Leader of the Opposition to be a little mora explicit as to the particular question to which he refers and at this point of time I would point out that I am not prepared to accept a blanket statement that answers given are incorrect. To what particular question does the Leader of the Opposition refer?
– A question that was asked by Senator Turnbull and answered by Senator McKellar. The answer stated that no detailed records had been kept of who travelled with an applicant on a particular flight.
– This answer that no detailed record had been kept as to who travelled with an applicant on a particular flight referred to passengers. In the case of Senator Turnbull there was a request for information as to the number of passengers or the types of passengers who travelled with an applicant. There are no explicit, complete, accurate, detailed records, and such records as there are have been produced. The Senate will be able to see that they are not detailed, explicit and accurate. For example, we had the case where Mr Cyril Wyndham was supposed to be travelling with Mr Whitlam, and intending to, but in fact was not in the aeroplane when it took off. There are many other instances that people can see. Indeed, I think the Senate will probably find that they are not complete records but such as there are have been presented to it. That is what I would reply to the honourable senator. In relation to the rest of his question I would say that apart from Senator Turnbull’s asking questions a House of the Parliament was asking certain questions - not quite the same - and although replies to Senator Turnbull’s questions were not my responsibility I thought it was my job to make inquiries as to information requested by a House of the Parliament. I made those inquiries and I found that there were partial records and I accordingly told the Senate.
– I referred earlier to the allegation in the ‘Age’ that the Minister knew at 2.15 that these records were available, although the Minister representing the Minister for Air said at 3 o’clock that no records were available. The Leader of the Government has just said that he made it his business to find out. When did he find out? Let us not get onto the issue of whether the records are complete. When did he find out that there were any records at all?
– 1 would have thought that it was perfectly obvious to the Senate and to Senator Turnbull that I knew records were available when I tabled such papers as I tabled in the Senate, because I indicated to the Senate at the time that information on the other matters about which the Senate had asked was available and could be produced with some dissection. Incidentally, I notice that some play has been made on my statement that they could be produced with some dissection. Some attempt has been made to pretend that that was incorrect and misleading in some way. I hope that no honourable senator thinks that; because if he looks at the flight authorisation book he will see that the times of take-off and the duration of flight do need dissecting from all the other material provided in the book and he will see, if he looks at the passenger manifests, that dissection is needed because the questions asked related to Ministers and members of Parliament, and some other manifests were included.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation a question. Can he explain why returned national servicemen who have served in Vietnam are not entitled to war service land settlement loans in Queensland?
– On the information available to me the matter raised seems to be on a land settlement scheme for returned servicemen administered by the Government of Queensland. As I understand the position those returning from service in Vietnam are not eligible under this scheme. On this aspect I can only suggest to the honourable senator, therefore, that the matter be taken up with the Queensland Government. So far as the Commonwealth administered War Service Land Settlement Scheme for national servicemen is concerned the Government has given very careful consideration to the question of introducing a scheme on similar lines to the War Service Land Settlement Scheme which was introduced following the 1914-18 War and reconstituted after the 1939-45 War. As far as national servicemen are concerned there are reestablishment benefits which already apply to them. However, in relation to the current conditions of both national servicemen and members of the regular forces it is important to note that the periods of service are fixed - there is none of the indefiniteness of a ‘for the duration’ enlistment. Against this background and bearing in mind the very small numbers of national, servicemen and members of the regular forces who would be suitably qualified for land settlement, the Government has decided not to re-introduce a scheme along the lines of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme.
– I ask the Leader of the Government a question supplementary to the questions by Senator Murphy and Senator Turnbull. When did the Leader of the Government first become aware that if the Senate wished to have the names of passengers on VIP flights they could be provided after a little more dissection? When did he first become aware that those passenger lists were in existence?
– I am unable to give a precise time, but it was not very long before 1 informed the Senate that partial passenger lists were in existence.
– I ask the Leader of the Government a question on the same subject. Did I understand the Minister to say in reply to Senator Turnbull that he knew of the existence of some record of passengers on flights when he tabled the first lot of papers sought by the Senate’s resolution? Therefore was he aware that the Minister representing the Minister for Air was giving incorrect information to honourable senators last Wednesday?
– The honourable senator heard quite accurately what I said and in my view interpreted what I said completely inaccurately. I repeat that when I tabled the papers in the Senate immediately after question time on whatever day it was I intimated that other information which the Senate had sought would be available with some dissection. That is perfectly clear and obvious. I said that I would seek to getit should the Senate want it. The answer provided by the Minister for Air for Senator
McKellar was that no detailed records of passengers had been kept - passengers are the only overlapping thing. This was not provided by me and indeed in my view it is not incompatible with the fact that there are records - not detailed, not accurate, not necessarily complete, but some that 1 was seeking to get.
– I ask the Leader of the Government a question. In view of the fact that there are about 36 Bills to be dealt with in the Senate, will the Leader of the Government indicate whether the Senate will sit on Saturday next in order to deal with this legislation? Many of us have urgent appointments to keep.
– I am not able to give an indication to the honourable senator on this matter at this stage. It will be a case of seeing how rapidly the Senate progresses and how it wishes to deal with the business before it. I will have to answer the question later.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Air. The Senate is entitled to know the answer. When will the Minister for Air be back in Australia?
– I am not sure, but I understand that the Minister for Air will return on Friday or Saturday. I do not think the Leader of the Government has the precise information.
– That is so.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Can he assure the Senate that employment standards of members of Australian maritime unions will be protected in view of the present impasse between the Burns Philp company and the Commonwealth Government in relation to shipping subsidies and the threat of the company to register certain vessels in nonAustralian ports?
– I will refer the question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport and obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– 1 ask the Leader of the Government a question. Some notice of my question was given in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald* on Tuesday last. Who prepared the information for the answers given by Mr Holt to the famous question asked last year by Mr Daly about VIP aircraft and who prepared the information given in the answer by Senator McKellar last Wednesday, which I referred to in my earlier question?
– I am unable to say who prepared the information which eventually reached the desk of the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives. Such information as I secured I obtained myself, but I cannot say who provided information to other people.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Science. By way of introduction I refer to a news item on the ABC this morning which in general terms, as 1 understood it, said that a noted overseas education authority in commenting on education and research warned against the practice of carrying research to the point where it is no longer useful. Has the Minister seen a report of the address in which this statement or references to it were made? As the speaker later urged the importance of both teacher training in education and a study of the humanities, can the Minister say whether in the very extensive Government programme on education some recognition might be made of the point raised by the speaker?
– I have not seen a copy of the report referred to by the honourable senator, but I have no doubt that Sir Hugh Ennor, the Permanent Head of the Department of Education and Science would have seen it, would have studied it and ultimately will discuss it with me. I think that perhaps what one does about it would come into the realm of policy rather than information.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government as representative of the Prime Minister.
What was done by the Prime Minister by way of action following the article by a senior journalist, Mr Cox, in the Melbourne Herald’ of 28th May 1966 when he accused the Government of practising a policy of deliberate supression of the records on VIP aircraft and said it is now clear that full records and costs of the flight could be easily maintained? He referred in his article to the policy of supression and to Mr Holt saying that no records were kepi of persons who used the planes or where they were flown.
– 1 think that if any honourable senator wanted to ask a question to which he needed a genuine answer as to what the Prime Minister did about a particular matter he would be better advised to ask it in the House of which the Prime Minister is a member so that he could give an answer for himself. There would be no difficulty about that and it is no use honourable senators opposite pretending that there would be difficulty in arranging for one of their Party to ask for that information directly from the man from whom they want it. An expression by me on the action he took would be opinion. I think that an honest approach to this would be to arrange for the question to be asked in another place.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Can the Minister say whether, either before or at the time he became aware of the existence of the VIP flight records which in fact were tabled by him in the Senate, any other Minister and particularly the Minister representing the Minister for Air, or the Prime Minister were aware that these documents were in existence? Further, can the Minister explain why certain knowledge was apparently in the possession of a senior political journalist but apparently was not in the possession of Government Ministers?
– I do not know what knowledge is referred to as being in the possession of a senior journalist, but if the reference is to a report which has recently been quoted I would not regard that as being knowledge or as being accurate or factual. The question I have been asked bears upon whether I think the Minister knew at the time I tabled papers that they were in existence. Let me cast the honourable senator’s mind back to the situation. The Senate asked for certain information. It received documents answering most of the heads of information under which information had been sought. At the same time it was informed that information which had been sought under other heads but which had not been tabled was available and would if necessary be procured. That statement was not made by me as an individual; it was made by me as a member of the Government and as the representative of the Prime Minister. The full information was presented by me as the Prime Minister’s representative and he knew that 1 was presenting it.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, ls it intended to require the Minister for Air to return to Australia before the Senate goes into recess to explain why misleading information was given in regard to VIP aircraft?
– I believe that the Prime Minister has made a statement on this matter. This is not a matter for me. lt will be up to the Prime Minister to decide when he wants his Ministers to return.
– Will the Minister for Repatriation investigate the possibility of providing more comfortable air transport for wounded servicemen returning from Vietnam? To achieve this, will the Government charter fast jet aircraft from commercial airlines or, alternatively, use suitable planes, when such are available, from the VIP fleet?
– The honourable senator would know that this matter is not one of repatriation. The transport of wounded soldiers is a matter for the Minister for the Army. This subject of medical transport has been discussed in this place and there is no need to go over it again.
– 1 address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. When was it decided that the Minister for Air should travel to Uganda? What is the nature of the business on which he is engaged there? Would the Government be prepared to make inquiries into airline schedules to ascertain whether it is possible for the Minister to return to Canberra before the rising of the Senate and the House of Representatives?
– The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association at Us meeting in September and October 1966 appointed a working committee which met in March this year. Mr Howson, the Australian representative, was appointed as Chairman of that committee. His presence in Uganda at present as the Australian representative is also sought as chairman of the working committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He is reporting’ to the 13th meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association the results of the working committee’s deliberations. This is a field of activity in which Mr Howson has taken considerable interest for a number of years.
– I ask the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Air whether last Wednesday, 25th October, in replying on behalf of the Minister for Air to a question on notice by Senator Turnbull, he said as reported in Hansard:
No detailed records have been kept of who has travelled with an applicant on a particular flight.
Was that statement correct or incorrect? If it was incorrect, when and from whom and in what circumstances did the Minister first become aware that the statement was incorrect? Finally, did the Minister take any steps to find out how he had come to be supplied with incorrect information.
– The reply to the question came to me in the usual way. lt was supplied by the Department of Air. Whether it was correct, partly correct or incorrect I am not in a position to judge, lt is not my province to check the correctness of answers supplied to me by Ministers whom I represent in this place, nor do I suppose it would come within the province of a Minister who represents me in the other place to check the correctness of answers supplied to him by my Department. What was the second part of the question?
– When you found that it was incorrect did you take any steps?
– Senator Gorton has already pointed out that this answer was not wholly incorrect. Admittedly it was partly incorrect and Senator Gorton gave the reasons for it being partly incorrect.
– Has the Leader of the Government seen a statement by the Singapore Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, to the effect that should South Vietnam fall to the Communists Malaysia and Singapore would, within 2 or 3 years, go through the Communist mincing machine? Does the Minister believe that that statement lends strong support to the Australian Government’s commitment in Vietnam?
– I have seen the statement referred to and indeed other statements made by the Prime Minister of Singapore in his present tour of the world which is designed, as I understand it, to see what protection he can get against the dangers he fears will follow if South Vietnam is allowed to be overrun by Communism. He pointed out, I think, that will was needed to resist aggression from the north. He was disturbed about a possible erosion of will. I believe that it is in our interests, as well as in the interests of our children, that our will should be strong and not vitiated or swamped by trivia.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Air obtain from his colleague before the Senate rises a statement on the mix up which has caused the answers that he supplied to us last Wednesday to be partly misleading?
– I will have a look at the question to see whether the Minister for Air can provide the information sought by the honourable senator. If lt can be provided, I will obtain it for him.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government. Is there a parallel between the present situation of the Minister for Air and that of Mr Profumo when he resigned from his position as Minister for War in the United Kingdom Government? Was not the resignation of Mr Profumo dictated by his error in providing incorrect information to the Parliament rather than by his involvement with Miss Keeler? To what extent are such precedents normally followed in Australian parliamentary practice?
– I think it is true to say that there is no parallel whatsoever between the case of Mr Profumo and the position of the Minister for Air. I point out that in Mr Profumo’s case the question of his association with Miss Keeler was not the issue. The issue was that he told an untruth to the House, knowing at the time that it was an untruth because it related to his own actions and his own whereabouts. All that has been alleged here so far is that the Minister for Air has provided some information which is misleading. There has been no suggestion that anything he said was untrue and was known by him to be untrue at the time he said it because it related to a matter within his own knowledge. That is why 1 resented, and still resent, the unfounded charges of ‘liar’ which have been thrown around in this House.
– My question to the Minister for Education and Science relates to certain statements which have appeared in the Press to the effect that the provision of grants for the erection of science blocks is coming to an end. Will the Government consider making grants for the provision of library facilities at all schools, as this would help to foster the humanities in the same way as the building of science blocks has helped with the education of students in scientific subjects?
– The provision of grants for the building of science blocks is not really coming to an end. The scheme has been extended for another 3 yean. It is true to say, however, that it looks as though at the end of that 3-year period most, if not all, of the outstanding requirements will have been met although no doubt new schools will be appearing as time goes on and there will be a requirement for laboratories. The scheme has not been completed but it is within sight of breaking the back of the task it set out to do. No action has been taken as yet in regard to the provision of libraries by a somewhat similar scheme.
– The question which I address to the Leader of the Government arises from Senator Sim’s question in which he interpreted a statement by Mr Lee Kuan Yew as supporting the American position in Vietnam. Has Singapore sent any troops to serve in Vietnam? If not, has it made any other material contribution to the war in Vietnam?
– I understand that Singapore has not sent any troops to Vietnam. Indeed I seem to remember a newspaper report - this is all I have to go on - that Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that he would like to know more about the will of the Americans to continue to resist this aggression before he took such action.
– My question to the Acting Minister for External Affairs follows those asked by Senator Sim and Senator Wheeldon. Is the Minister aware that the Government of Thailand has chosen to increase its forces in the Indo-China Peninsula in support of the war for freedom there by 1 2,000 troops?
– I am not completely aware of that in the sense that I remember getting official information of that kind, but I have in my mind the belief that the statement is correct.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Air. Is it not a fact that all along, the responsible officers of the Department of Air have been’ well aware that passenger manifests and flight authorisation books existed?
– I should think it would be obvious to anyone that I would not know what the officers of another department would know or would think.
– My question is also addressed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Air. Bearing in mind the statement made by the Leader of the Government earlier today that no explicit, complete, accurate and detailed records are kept on VIP flights and passenger lists-
– I said passenger lists, not flights.
– Well, passenger lists. Will the Minister be prepared to issue an instruction to the Department that, forthwith, explicit, complete, accurate and detailed records and passenger lists are to be maintained at all times?
– The honourable senator has asked me whether I am prepared to issue an instruction. Of course I have no power to do that. If he meant to ask whether I would suggest to the Minister for Air that that be done, the answer is No. I do not interfere in another Minister’s department.
– Does the Leader of the Government recall that I aasked him a question - it does not appear on the notice paper - relating to the. number of British troops involved in the Vietnam war, whether they were operating from Hong Kong and whether some of them had received American decorations? The Minister said that he would obtain the information. I remind him that I would like to have it before the Senate rises.
– I am sorry that I have not obtained that information. 1 am glad the honourable senator has reminded me. I will hurry up and see what information I can obtain for him.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport seen a statement, which was reported in the week-end Press and made by the Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways, Mr K. A. Smith, who said that with the completion of- the standard gauge railway he envisaged Adelaide as the industrial and commercial centre of Australia, communicating with the east, the west and the north? Does this statement indicate that early moves are contemplated for the completion of the Adelaide-Port Pirie standard gauge railway?
– I have not had the advantage of reading the statement made by Mr Smith. In view of the implications of the question, 1 ask the honourable senator to put it on notice.
– I direct to the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question following upon the question asked by Senator Cotton about the statement of intention by the Government of Thailand concerning the war in Vietnam. Has the Minister seen the statement made by the democratically elected Prime Minister of Sweden condemning what he described as American aggression in Vietnam and calling for a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam?
– No, I have not seen that statement.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer again to the VIP passenger manifests and flight authorisation books. Will the Minister say whether he was aware of the existence of both or either of these on Tuesday, 24th October 1967, during the time when questions upon notice were being answered and when Senator Hannaford suddenly collapsed? If not, will the Minister frankly and with the utmost precision say when he first became aware of the existence of those two documents or either of them?
– On the Tuesday to which the honourable senator refers I was aware that some records were kept because some extracts from those records had been compiled and prepared to provide an answer to Senator Turnbull’s questions and partly to answer questions asked by other honourable senators. At that point of time I was not aware of the particular books from which the extracts had been taken, but I was aware that records of flights had been kept because the extracts were prepared from tabulations. The other question asked of me was whether I was aware at that time that passenger manifests were kept. To the best of my recollection the answer is ‘No, I was not’.
– When did the Minister find out?
– I am not prepared to be cross-examined as to the particular time. I found out some time before - not long before - I informed the Senate.
– Is the Acting Minister for External Affairs aware of the fact that early in April this year the Russians and their Communist allies voted against a resolution to send a peace mission to North Vietnam and South Vietnam and that this resolution was supported by Australia and all the people of the Western world - indeed by all freedom loving peoples?
– The Australian Government, as would the governments of all other freedom loving peoples, would agree with the sentiments expressed by the honourable senator.
– 1 ask the Acting Minister for External Affairs whether the Australian Government is at variance with the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr Holyoake, who last week said that a further pause in the bombing of North Vietnam should be considered, provided the initiative came from the South Vietnamese Government. Since the newly elected President of South Vietnam has already proposed a bombing pause as a peace initiative, I ask whether if it were not for the reluctance of the Australian Government some real progress towards peace would be possible.
– The answer to that question is No. It is ridiculous to assume that reluctance on the part of the Australian Government should affect progress towards peace. First of all, the cessation of military effort would be to the detriment of our own and other troops. Secondly, no indication has been given - all evidence is to the contrary - that if action detrimental to our own troops were taken it would lead to any peace talks which we desire but which Hanoi has refused to have.
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate give an assurance that he will facilitate a debate on the motion of which Senator Murphy gave notice this afternoon before the end of this sessional period?
– No. The honourable senator asked me whether I would facilitate a debate on the notice of motion which Senator Murphy gave. I will not give any assurance.
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate inform honourable senators whether proper steps will be taken to table in the Senate any explanations given by the Minister for Air of the matters relating to VIP aircraft which have been the subject of consideration as soon as such explanations come to hand and in such circumstances that the explanations may become the subject of debate in the Senate?
– I do not know what the circumstances will be. The normal course of events is for statements made by Ministers to be tabled in the Senate. Normally a statement which is regarded by the Leader of the Opposition as being of such importance would be tabled in the Senate. I do not know whether the object of the honourable senator’s question is to ascertain when such a statement would be tabled. I do not know when such a statement will bc made, but I can assure the honourable senator that it would be tabled.
– Has the Acting Minister for External Affairs noted a statement made by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in the United States of America that organised demonstrations against the commitments of the United States and her allies in Vietnam that took place throughout the world last week only encouraged the North Vietnamese to refuse to negotiate, thereby prolonging the war?
– 1 have seen that statement, which is an expression of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s opinion-. As 1 have pointed out in the Senate before and as, 1 think, most honourable senators on both sides believe, peaceful demonstrations by people should be allowed as long as there is no violence, blocking of traffic or things of that kind. On the other hand, my own view is that demonstrations so organised do lead, and have led, the authorities in Hanoi to gain a wrong impression of the views of the vast majority of the people not only of the United States but also of Australia.
– Who first informed the Leader of the Government in the Senate, whether as a result of questions or otherwise, that the passenger manifests and the flight authorisation books or either existed, and when?
– To the best of my recollection the information on the flight authorisation books as such was given to me by a Royal Australian Air Force official not long before I brought the matter before the Senate.
– I again ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate, in the interests of everybody, including the Ministers concerned-
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - Order! Will the honourable senator please ask his question.
– Without using these vague expressions will the Minister tell us, with the utmost precision and without leaving the answer so that it could be construed as a matter of days, hours or minutes, when he was informed that these passenger manifests or flight authorisation books existed?
– I am not prepared to be tied down to any accuracy in my answer. I do not want to state an exact time, because if I were half an hour out undoubtedly I would be accused by the Leader of the Opposition of telling lies.
– Was it days?
– No, it was not days. 1 am not prepared to get down to a particular time. It was a matter of hours rather than days.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether I am correct in understanding that on the day on which all these questions were answered in the Senate he produced all the records which are in question, which are all the records that have come to his knowledge and which reveal the original details, documents and records that were in the possession of the Department of Air. Is it not a fact that the Leader of the Government produced those records before any question as to the detailed accuracy of the answers was raised by the Opposition?
– The answer to that question is Yes. Honourable senators will remember that certain factual records going a certain way were produced and that at the same time the Senate was fully and freely informed that other heads of information that had been asked for did exist and would be provided upon request. Honourable senators will remember that that was done and that that information was given to the Senate by me on behalf of the Government - being all the information in our possession - not under duress but long before there was any question of a motion being moved in this place to force us to do that.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, follows a reply which I received yesterday to a question I asked some time ago. The Minister for National Development stated in that reply:
In November J966 the Commonwealth Government indicated that it considered that a decision on provision of finance for stage 2 of the Ord irrigation project should be deferred until further experience was available from irrigation farming under stage ], which was undertaken as a pilot project.
Now that 12 months has elapsed and the area has had a most successful year, will the Government give urgent and favourable consideration to any plan for the early completion of the Ord River scheme as an integral part of northern development?
– Senator Tangney has always evinced a great interest in the Ord River project. I understand that facts and figures on the progress of the project are given to the Minister for National Development. I do not know what the present position is, but if she puts her question on the notice paper I will see what the Minister for National Development can tell me about the stage that has been reached in the Government’s consideration of the second phase of the project.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Will he ask the Commonwealth Public Service Board to inquire into the staffing arrangements of the Department of Air in order to ascertain which officers are responsible for maintaining what records of that Department? Will he ask the Public Service Board to ascertain who in. the Department requisitioned the Commonwealth Government Printer to print the VIP aircraft passenger manifest forms of the type tabled in the Senate last week, and when the forms were printed?
– As Minister representing the Prime Minister I would not undertake to ask the Prime Minister to take the action suggested by the honourable senator.
– My question, which is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, relates to the Emerald irrigation scheme that has been proposed by the Queensland Government. Has the Federal Government yet made a decision to assist with this scheme? If it has, has any announcement been made to that effect?
– The question of going ahead with particular schemes of the kind mentioned by the honourable senator is a matter of policy. The honourable senator would not expect to receive an answer on a matter of policy at question time.
– When did the Minister for Air leave Australia?
– To whom is the question addressed?
– It is addressed to the Minister representing the Prime
Minister, who is also the Leader of the Government in the Senate. When did the Minister for Air leave Australia? Why was no explanation given by him of the untrue statements made to the Senate? What attempts have been made to obtain an explanation from him in the meantime?
– J cannot remember the exact day on which the Minister for Air left Australia, but that information could be provided to the Leader of the Oppostion with great precision. I think it was on Monday of this week, or perhaps it was last week. But the Leader of the Opposition can be sure that it was before anything of significance in relation to this matter occurred.
– It was probably Monday, 23 rd October.
– I believe that it was about that time that the Minister for Air left Australia. He being in Uganda and there being an Acting Minister for Air, the Acting Minister has been making statements, as have other Ministers, on what the Leader of the Opposition persists in describing as ‘untrue statements made to the Senate’. The Senate has been provided with all the records and all the information on this matter. The sole justification for the accusation that untrue statements have been made to the Senate is one sentence to the effect that detailed records of the passenger lists have not been kept. There are some detailed records, but they are not accurate and they are not complete. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to regard that statement as untrue, that is his business.
– I am very perturbed by the answers given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate in regard to the point of time - to use his phrase - at which he obtained knowledge of the fact that passenger lists or manifests existed. For the sake of his own reputation and in all fairness to him, this matter must be cleared up. I ask him this question: At what point of time before Senator McKellar , answered my questions was he made aware that there were any records, whether complete or incomplete, detailed or not detailed?
– The answer is: At some point of time-
– Before or after?
– Before I came into the chamber and tabled and gave that information.
– In view of Senator Turnbull’s question and the answer to it, I put this question to the Leader of the Government: Why did he stand by while the answer was given by Senator McKellar although he was aware that the passenger manifests and flight authorisation books existed?
– I did not have knowledge of the words that were to be used in the answers to questions given by Senator McKellar. But, even if the words were given the sinister connotation that the Opposition seeks to give them, there appeared to be no need to be too disturbed because the Senate could not have been misled by the words for more than a matter of minutes, as I was to stand up and table information and to say that the other information existed. In fact, that could hardly be said to be standing by and not correcting information, unless the Leader of the Opposition thinks that I should have jumped up straight away.
– Will the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Air ascertain for the benefit of the Senate who was responsible for preparing the answers to questions about VIP planes that he gave to the Senate last Wednesday?
– I am prepared to do that. I have followed the same procedure on every occasion that I have been asked questions which concern the departments of Ministers whom. I represent in this chamber. It is my practice to go to the Minister concerned to obtain the answers and I am not prepared to vary that procedure.
– Was not the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware last Tuesday afternoon, before the answers to questions on VIP aircraft by Senator Turnbull were actually given by Senator McKellar, , or after the death of Senator Hannaford, that he had in his possession the answers which were given the next day by Senator McKellar?
-I understand that Senator McKellar had them in his possession.
– I had them. I put them in my safe and left them there until the next day.
– Did not the Leader of the Government have copies of the answers?
– No. I did not have copies, andI did not have the answers in my possession either. They belonged to Senator McKellar. Is there another question that the Leader of the Opposition wishes to ask me?
– Will the Minister reflect upon his last answer?
– I will reflect upon it. This illustrates the sort of thing that the Leader of the Opposition apparently is trying to do. To the best of my knowledge I did not have copies of the answers in my possession. To the best of my knowledge Senator McKellar had the answers in his possession. This point is not very important. It does not seem to me to be particularly significant, but to the best of my knowledge that is the situation as it existed. Is an honourable senator now to rise and say that there were some copies of the answers somewhere in my office? I do not know whether that was so.
– Did not the Leader of the Government show copies of the answers to me last Tuesday afternoon? I put that question in fairness to the Leader of the Government.
– I did show the Leader of the Opposition some information that was to be tabled. It is possible that in that information may have been copies of the answers. Those things were not my own. They were copies - if they were copies.
(Senator Webster having addressed a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate)
– Order! The question is out of order.
– Can the Minister rep resenting the Prime Minister assure me that this is still a chamber of deliberation and debate, or is it to be a court room?
– I think the proper answer to the question is that we can leave it to the Presiding Officer, I hope, to see that the Senate does not develop into a court room, which it should not be. I am sure that the President would not allow it to become a court room.
– In view of the bungle over the VIP squadron - a matter on which the Prime Minister admitted to the Parliament that false information was given - will the Leader of the Government, who represents the Prime Minister in this chamber, failing the return of the Minister for Air before the Senate goes into recess, accept the situation and apologise to the Senate on behalf of the Minister for Air?
– I rise to a point of order as to whether it is proper that an imputation should be made about untrue statements. I remind the Senate of a statement on this matter made on 25th October by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. When tabling papers in the Senate on the afternoon of that day, the Minister said:
The information provided in these papers gives the date of travel of all flights during the period requested by the Senate, with the exception of flights last September which can be compiled, the VI Ps engaging the aircraft, the person who authorised the flight, the port of embarkation, the ports of call, where the aircraft was stationed when the flight took place, the journey undertaken, the number of passengers and the number of crew.
The Senate could be said to have asked for more information than that.
The information tabled does not show who the passengers were; it shows only the number of passengers. But if the Senate wished to have the names of the passengers, they could be provided after a little more dissection. Nor does the information tabled provide the time of takeoff or the duration of the flight. Again, should the Senate require that information, it could be provided.
Later that same day the Minister made a further statement of which I wish to remind the Senate because it has a bearing upon the imputation of untruth. This is a question of truth, and truth can easily be distorted by lifting one single sentence out of context. I ask the Senate to bear in mind when hearing this imputation of untruth that later that same day, after voluntarily making that statement, the Leader of the Government said:
The Senate will recall that I said that should the Senate wish it this other information would be provided, and I understood the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) to indicate that he thought the Senate would like to have the additional information. As a result of that, and because he represents a considerable section of the population, I have tabled the actual passenger manifests.
A little later, he said:
I have tabled the flight authorisation books.
Truth has to be considered not in the isolation of one segment, but as a whole transaction. The Minister voluntarily indicated that other information could be given after a little more dissection. When it was indicated to him that the additional information was desired immediately instead of waiting for the dissection, he tabled the original documents. I submit that an honourable senator is completely out of order in imputing untruths to Ministers either here or in another place.
– It is strange to hear from Senator Wright the suggestion-
– Order! Is the honourable senator speaking to the point of order?
– I am. It is strange to hear a senator who, earlier today, opposed pre-judging a matter now pre-judging an answer to a question. As a matter of fairness to himself I suggest that Senator Wright read the admissions that were made by Ministers of the Crown in the other place that an error has been made - that wrong information has been supplied. The information was false. Whether this was deliberate or not, Senator Wright may have one view and others may have another view. Whatever view we may have as to deliberateness or intent, I think it is accepted on all sides that a false statement was made.
– Will Senator O’Byrne ask his question again?
– In view of the bungle over the VIP squadron - a matter on which the Prime Minister admitted to the Parliament that false information was given - will the Leader of the Government, who represents the Prime Minister in this Chamber, failing the return of the Minister for Air before the Senate goes into recess, accept the situation and apologise to the Senate on behalf of the Minister for Air?
– It is peculiar how the use of a word can distort its meaning and how a word can be used as a witch word. I am asked about ‘false information’. The words ‘inaccurate information’ would have the same connotation. If it is inaccurate information to which the honourable senator is referring then I suggest that the use of the words ‘false information’ in this context tends to mislead. However, it is for him to make his choice of words. The Prime Minister has indicated that he felt that some of the information provided was inaccurate and he hoped that the Minister for Air would confer with him and discuss it. I do not think it is up to me or any member of this Senate to take the course suggested by the honourable senator.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether any contact has been made by or on behalf of the Government with the Minister for Air in Uganda concerning the incorrect answers given by him to the Senate on the subject of passenger lists on VIP flights. If so, who contacted the Minister? When did he contact the Minister? What was the answer he obtained?
– No contact has been made with the Minister for Air by me. I suggest that this is another question which, if an answer is sought, could be asked of the Prime Minister as head of the Government.
(Question No. 12)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: 1 to 4. There has been consideration among interested departments of the question of assistanceto Australian inventors.
Examination of this matter has not yet been completed. 1 will inform the honourable senator of any decision taken by the Government in the matter as soon as possible.
No. 2 BASE HOSPITAL, INGLEBURN (Question No. 263)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Army has provided the following answers to the honourable senator’s questions:
Opinions from these sources particularly physiotherapists indicated that hydrotherapy was not strongly favoured and was seldom required. All soldiers who required hospital facilities beyond those providedat 2 Military Hospital are referred direct to the Repatriation General Hospital at Concord and it is pointed out that this hospital which handles a wide variety of physiotherapy cases does not have a hydrotherapy pool.
If either centre were to require such a facility it could use the pool at the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Centre at Mt Wilga or those at other major hospitals in Sydney.
(Question No. 289)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answers:
(Question No. 315)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
What was the amount of royalties collected by the Government on bauxite, iron ore, coal and copper, respectively, for the year 1966-67?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer:
Royalties are received by the Commonwealth Government from mineral production in the Northern Territory. In 1966-67 there was no production of coal or bauxite and no royalty was received. Production of iron ore commenced in 1966-67 and the first royalty payment will be received during 1967-68. In copper-producing operations in the Territory, gold is usually produced as a co-product and royalties are charged on the value of the combined production; receipts in 1966-67 were $55,841. Royalties were also received in respect of gold, $23,822; manganese ore,$30.820; and other minerals, $114.
(Question No. 330)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers:
(Question No. 386)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice:
Are Australian troops in Vietnam under the control of Australian commanders at all times or do they come under the overall control of American commanders?
– The Minister for the Army has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australian forces are responsible to and under the operational control of the United States military authorities. Overall command of units and personnel, however, remains with the Commander, Australian Force, Vietnam.
(Question No. 341)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air, upon notice:
With reference to the diagram appearing on page 47 of the Civil Aviation Report 1966-67 outlining the distribution of maintenance expenditure, what were the individual grants for aerodromes in New South Wales which are included in the 251 intermediate aerodromes?
– The Minister for Air has supplied the following answer:
Thirty-nine aerodromes in New South Wales were included in the 251 intermediate aero dromes mentioned in the diagram and these, together with the maintenance expenditure on them, are listed herewith.
Many of the licensed aerodromes in New South Wales have been developed over recent years by the provision of paved runways and therefore the maintenance costs are relatively low.
(Question No. 394)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice:
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers: 1 and 2. It is incorrect to state that the application of existing road safety measures has failed to hold the upward trend inroad fatalities. The tentativefigures for year ended 3 1st July . 1967 show a drop in the aggregate fatalities of fortytwo from 3,193 to 3,151. The accident fatality rate has also fallen in the past year from 8.3 to 7.8 per 10,000 registered vehicles. From these tentative figures it would appear that the rate of 7.8 is the lowest rate recorded since the inception of the Australian Road Safety Council in 1947 when the corresponding rate was 14.0, and there has been a fairly steady reduction since then.
Proposals for the convening of special conferences with wide representation have been considered from time to time by the Australian Transport Advisory Council. In view of the expert advice on general road safety matters available to the Australian Transport Advisory Council through its specialist committees such as the Australian Road Safety Council, there would appear to be little advantage at this stage in convening a conference on the lines suggested by Senator Morris.
(Question No. 400)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works, upon notice:
In relation to the amounts paid to consultant engineers by the Department of Works in the last financial year:
What amounts were paid to primary consultants?
What amounts were paid to secondary consultants, such as consultants to architects on building structures and services?
– The Minister for Works has supplied the following answer:
The whole of the amount of $2,605,301 under Division 600/2/15 was paid to primary consultants. In accordance with the appropriate scales of professional charges the primary consultant is reimbursed a percentage of the fees he pays to secondary consultants, other than structural engineers, engaged with the approval of the Department.
The approximate percentages of the payments in 1966-67 to the various classes of consultants were:
The actual amounts paid to primary consultants as reimbursement for portion of the fees paid to secondary consultants could be obtained onlyby a detailed cost analysis of each architect’s account.
(Question No. 401)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works, upon notice:
In relation to the Cockburn Sound feasibility study:
What progress has been made?
What Australian staff is engaged on the study?
What overseas staff are engaged on the study? and
What arrangements will be made to ensure that designs will be carried out in Australia?
– The Minister for Works has supplied the following answers:
Reports on Items
– I present the following reports by the Tariff Board:
Musical instrument cases.
Photographic and cinematographic goods.
Tractors, engines and other parts.
Pursuant to Statute I also present a Special
Advisory Authority report on the following subject:
Safflower seed oil.
– I present the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works relating to the following proposed work:
Development of airfield pavements and extensions to terminal building at Adelaide Airport.
I ask for leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The summary of recommendations and conclusions of the Committee is as follows:
-I present the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works relating to the following proposed work:
Site preparation for failure domestic terminals and additional roadworks in the north-west building area at Sydney Airport.
I ask for leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The summary of recommendations and conclusions of the Committee is as follows:
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1967-68.
Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1967-68.
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 3) 1967.
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 4) 1967.
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 5) 1967.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Motion (by Senator Anderson) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a first time.
Senator PROWSE (Western Australia) (5.37] - I seek to avail myself of the traditional privilege of speaking on the motion for the first reading of a money Bill, to refer to the subject of probate or, as it is often known, estate duty. I want to refer to this matter because 1 think it is of very grave concern, particularly to the primary industries at this time. Probate tax was introduced in this country primarily as a war time measure in 1914. It was increased in its incidence in 1941 to meet the obligations incurred as a result of the Second World War, so we see that in its origin and in its present incidence it was a war time measure, but it has continued to be imposed. I feel that it is time we had a hard look at the effects of this tax upon the economy and particularly upon the rural industries. It is all very well to say that probate tax brought in $41,533,748 in the 1965-66 financial year and to say that if we did not get the money from this source it would have to be obtained elsewhere. This is broadly true, but we need to examine carefully the very considerable economic disadvantages of this tax. Firstly, most people try to avoid having to pay it and there are many legal means by which the incidence is lessened. These devices are not costless and many are wasteful administratively and otherwise.
Here I would like to refer to the second reading speech of the Minister for Supply (Senator Henty) on the Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 4) in which he referred to certain aspects of the effect of the withholding tax. He pointed out that the Government was altering the incidence of the tax because of the fact that there were available legal means of avoiding the very high tax of 42% and it was in fact found advisable to reduce that tax to some 10%. Exactly the same argument can validly be adduced in relation to the incidence of probate tax at this time. But there are many other aspects of the apparent worth of probate tax to the overall economy. By allowances for insurance premiums designed to offset probate tax considerable amounts are lost in income tax which should be set off against the amount and the benefit seemingly received as revenue, but above all there is a very real need to examine the effect of estate duty as a disincentive to investment. The rapidly escalating rates of tax must cause any person contemplating investment to pause and consider before doing so. Particularly does this apply to long term investments which do not show immediate revenue earnings but show a longer term capital gain. These are in the main the sort of investments that Australia so badly needs, for if the investment itself is not to be eroded seriously by estate duty the annual cost of protecting the investment must be offset against the possibility of making any profit at all from the enterprise. It is hardly consistent to talk about encouraging Australians to invest under the present circumstances. But, Sir, I am particularly concerned by the fact that there has been no change in the rates of probate tax since 1941, despite the rapid depreciation of money values since then and the rise in the valuation of estates, bringing them into a very much higher tax bracket.
The effect is most marked in relation to primary industry.
If one examines the Forty-sixth Report of the Commissioner of Taxation for the year 1965-66, under the heading ‘Taxation Statistics’ one finds that although the number of taxpayers described as primary producers is 6.5% of the total they pay 9.6% of the total tax. This seems reasonable enough, but when one looks at the breakup of the figures showing probate paid by taxpayers classified as primary producers one sees that they paid 34.5% of all estate duty. In other words 6.5% of the taxpayers paid 34.5% of the duty. It is obvious that probate tax is rapidly becoming a tax on primary producers. The reason is not far to seek when one considers the rapidly escalating capital figures upon which estate values are calculated. If one examines a typical case, this is brought sharply into focus. In 1941-42 when the rates were fixed, a property valued for probate at $50,000 would have been a fair sized economic living unit. It would have paid first of all a State tax - taking the Victorian figure - of $3,850 and it would have paid a Commonwealth tax of $1,481, or a total of $5,331. This is some 10.6% of the estimated value of the estate.
However, this same estate in 1967 - and we must remember that it is still only providing a reasonable living for the person operating the property - which in 1941 paid 10.6% of its value, will because of the escalating scale of taxation and the inflation of values pay $45,000 in State tax and $27,125 in Commonwealth tax, or a total of 36.06% of the valuation of the property. I took a theoretical increase of four times. In many cases the escalation has been more of the nature of five times. In that case the total tax payable would be 39.05% of the value. It is clear that because of the failure to adjust these probate tax scales this tax now has the effect of a capital gains tax. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in giving an answer to a question in another place recently gave some very effective reasons why the Commonwealth did not propose’ to introduce a capital gains tax. Yet we continue to suffer what is in effect a capital gains tax in the form of estate duty. I know that many people do not have much sympathy for a person who has to pay a considerable amount in estate duty. This would be understandable in the case of a person who was to receive, say, $200,000 in cash benefit. He would have to pay about $72,000 and could pocket the rest. That would be a relatively simple transaction, but it is a different thing altogether when a young man inherits a property supposedly worth $200,000 and has to find $72,000 which he has not got. Short of disposing of his assets on the market, provided he can find a buyer at that figure-
– Yes, and at that time, he is in difficulties. He must borrow $72,000. In fact, this property could be carrying a substantial debt already. But if he could find the money he would have to find subsequently some $5,000 a year in interest. I submit that a property of this kind at this time cannot economically bear a burden of this nature. The $5,000 that he pays in interest would be a deduction for income tax purposes and the loss to revenue over a period could erode the whole of the sum that is now being claimed in probate duty.
So when we do an economic analysis of probate tax and pay regard to the net result to the economy we can have grave doubts whether this tax is soundly conceived from the point of view of the revenue. I know that we will be told that in most cases this particular farm would be divided as to its capital value into the hands of two or three persons. This undoubtedly is done wherever possible, but it is done to reduce the incidence of probate tax. I submit that in exactly the same way as the Government found it advisable to reduce the withholding tax rate from 42% to 10%, there is a valid case for examining the possibility that at a lower rate of tax the net result to the Treasury would be as great or greater than at the present rate.
I want to refer particularly to the effect of the payment of probate tax in cases of untimely death. If we look at the tables we find that the amount of probate paid by people who died when under the age of 50 years last year was only 4.2% of the total. So it would not be very difficult to wipe out all probate payments on deaths under the age of 50 years because it is in this area that a very grave hardship is being done to young widows with families. I have one particular case in mind of a young man who died of cancer at 42 years of age. He left a widow and six children, the youngest being 18 months old. The effect of probate was to demand a sum of money the payment of which created an intolerable burden of hardship on that family. There was a time when people who robbed widows were considered to be the lowest of the low, but today the Commonwealth assumes the role of the despoiler of the estates of widows and children. I think we should look very hard at the intention of probate tax in these situations.
The incidence of probate tax on primary industry is virtually insupportable. Primary industry is endeavouring to compete on world markets against ever increasing costs. Probate tax is an avoidable impost on primary industry. The only way open to farmers to reduce their unit costs is to increase their holding and subsequently their output in relation to their costs. To do this inevitably means increased capitalisation and increased capitalisation means that increased provision must be made for probate. This increased provision for probate on an escalating scale offsets the benefits derived from increasing the size of the unit to bring about more economic production. There is a sense of frustration in primary industry today. One has only to look at price movements over the last 4 years to see what is happening in primary industry. Net farm income in Australia over the years has been as follows’: 1962-63, $1.120m; 1963-64, $1.392m; 1964-65, $1.249m; 1965-66, $1.014m; 1966-67, $1.153m. Since 1962 there has been a decrease in net farm income. But if we look at estimated rural debt we find that the figures are: 1962, $l.049m; 1963, $ 1.088m; 1964, $1.152m; 1965, $1.300m; 1966, $1.4 13m. The estimated figure for 1967 is $ 1.587m.
So while estimated net income has declined, estimated rural, debt has increased by about 50%. Having regard to the figures we may ask: How long will it be before the bubble of these inflated capital values upon which probate is assessed bursts? The facts which I have put before the Senate clearly establish a prima facie case for a very careful examination of probate tax, particularly with regard to its incidence on primary industries. I feel that it would be to the advantage of Commonwealth revenues if a careful examination were made of probate taxes throughout the whole community. I believe that we as a Government are actually losing money by the imposition of this tax which, over the years, has decreased in the percentage realised until last year it amounted to only . 8% of total Commonwealth revenue. But its incidence in respect of primary industry is increasing relatively. We need to look very carefully at the operation of this tax.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
Mr President, this Bill provides for the validation, until 30th June 1968, of Customs duties collected in pursuance of Customs Tariff Proposals Nos 19 to 22 inclusive which have been moved in another place since the 4th October last. Honourable senators will recall that three tariff bills have just recently been debated by the Senate relating to matters introduced prior to 4th October. It is not possible to examine these important matters with the care they deserve before the Senate goes into recess and the Government proposes the debate be deferred till the autumn session. This Bill validates the collection of duties to enable the enacting Bill to be introduced at that time. I comment the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 31 October (vide page 1948), on motion by Senator McKellar:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Keeffe had moved by way of amendment:
At end of motion add ‘, but the Senate is of opinion that the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967 should be amended to provide that -
in order to end the discrimination against consumers located in central and north Queensland because of the geographical location of Brisbane in the extreme south east corner of the State, the seaboard towns of Rockhampton and Townsville be included in the base price system applying to Australian capital cities as well as Launceston;
the costs of any additional freights associated with the inclusion of Rockhampton and Townsville in the base price system be borne by the Queensland Government from the substantial profits made annually by the State on the central and north Queensland Railway Divisions, so that these costs are not in any way made a charge against the sugar industry which is already being charged excessive freight rates in central and north Queensland; and
clause 10 of the principal agreement be deleted as it is meaningless unless specifically defined, particularly as substantial losses are being currently incurred by sections of the sugar industry due to the low price on the world free market’ -
-I had almost concluded my remarks when the second reading debate was adjourned yesterday. It might be as well for me to repeat the few points I made. Paragraph (b) of the proposed amendment seeks to have the Commonwealth Government tell the Queensland Government what to do about rail freights. It should be obvious to everyone that that is beyond the powers of the Commonwealth Government. Paragraph (c) of the proposed amendment seeks to delete clause 10 of the principal Agreement which is contained in the 1962 Act. We believe that to do so would be an unwarranted interference in an agreement between the Queensland Government and the sugar industry. Clause 10 of the principal Agreement is in these terms:
The State shall on behalf of the Australian cane sugar industry accept responsibility for any loss arising from the exportation of surplus cane sugar from Australia.
Clause 3 of the Sugar Agreement Bill seeks to ratify the Agreement between the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government.I have been informed that any amendment of the Bill would destroy the whole Agreement. For those reasons the Government cannot accept the amendment proposed by the Opposition.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
– Clause 4 of the Agreement relates to sugar prices. The 1962 Agreement, which was to run until 31st August 1967, set down certain prices for sugar. The price for grade 1 sugar was approximately £90 a ton and the price for grade 2 refined sugar was £88 a ton. The new prices will be $206.72 for grade1 sugar and $201.60 for grade 2 refined sugar. Has the Government carefully investigated the needs of the industry? It is proposed to grant an increase of1½c a lb on the 650,000 tons sold on the domestic market but the northern growers claim that their basic costs justify an increase of 2c per lb. I am not satisfied that the Government has taken sufficient interest in this industry which is in a parlous position at the present time. That is why I am quarrelling with the prices.
We are grateful for small mercies in my State. We have had to be because since 1949 the Liberal-Country Party coalition has been in office and members of those parties are not always aware of our needs. The Commonwealth Government has arbitrarily wiped its hands of any export losses that the industry may suffer. It is now suffering terrific losses overseas. The 650,000 tons are sold on the Australian market at a price which gives almost a satisfactory return, but this must be considered in conjunction with what happens to the surplus which has been built up since the industry expanded in 1963. Previously production was between 1,500,000 and 1,600,000 tons. It is now between 2,200,000 and 2,300,000 tons. Somewhere near 500,000 tons is sold to the United Kingdom at a preferential rate which was determined some time ago for a number of years in advance. What will happen to our sugar industry if the United Kingdom ever enters the Common Market? Everyone knows that the United Kingdom will not be able to take our sugar unless a special provision is included in the terms laid down for her entry permitting Commonwealth countries to sell their surplus agricultural products to the United Kingdom at a preferential rate. Everyone knows that that is not likely to be permitted.
Through the years the Commonwealth Government has done very little to protect this industry. Something over 300,000 tons, varying in quantity from year to year, is sold to the United States at a preferential rate; a certain quantity is sold to New Zealand; some is sold to Malaysia and Singapore; on occasions some is sold to Hong Kong and on rare occasions some is sold to Canada. At the present time something over 500,000 tons is sold to Japan at the world price which, on 20th October, was £Stg19.10 a ton. This is approximately half the cost of production. Honourable senators will realise the parlous position in which the industry finds itself in those circumstances, apart altogether from the effects of the drought which was experienced in a number of sugar areas a couple of years ago. Despite that, the Commonwealth Government has blithely said that the State Government will bear any losses associated with the export trade.
Not so many years ago when Japan came into the market an agreement was entered into to supply that country with 350,000 tons of sugar annually. What should have happened if the Australian Government, as well as the Queensland Government, had been really interested in the industry? They should have negotiated a price which would give the growers and, in turn, the millers an assurance of adequate returns for their investment and for their endeavour. But it was agreed to sell at the world price. Subsequently Japan increased her imports of raw sugar so she is now making a lot of profit out of Australian sugar. I am not quarrelling with what Japan makes out of Australian sugar because, by and large, Japan makes it out of her own people. Within her boundaries sugar bears one of the highest taxes of any country in the world.
The Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government were neglectful of their responsibilities in not negotiating a price sufficient to provide a reasonable return to our growers, millers and those engaged in the industry. I am grateful that Japan takes such a large quantity of our sugar because we would have nowhere in
Australia lo store it if we did not have a market for it. Whether the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) has been as energetic as he might have been in attempting to assist the industry over the years is questionable. The industry has been in a difficult situation for some years now because the International Sugar Agreement had failed. Every few months the statement has been made: ‘The industry will pick up in a few months.’ The Queensland Government was condemned in certain quarters following a commission of inquiry headed by Mr Justice Gibbs, which suggested an expansion of the industry. The industry was expanded, lt is questionable whether, if the sugar price does rise, the expansion would have been justified. The Australian industry has proved that it can supply sugar, keep up the supply and be constant in its approach to exports. Ninety-five per cent of Australian sugar is produced in Queensland, the remaining 5% being produced in New South Wales. The Sugar Agreement provides that Queensland shall compulsorily acquire the sugar produced within her boundaries, and the State has agreed to purchase the 5% produced in New South Wales.
But this is not of much consolation to those who are engaged in the industry at the present time, particularly those who entered the industry when expansion was embarked upon. The people in the sugar industry who are suffering most are those who entered the industry when it was expanded. Certainly the price for sugar appeared favourable then; it was over £stg100 a ton. Those people entered the industry full of hope, thinking that they would do well. They set out to acquire and develop land. They bought equipment and built homes. Most of those people went on to so-called new assignments. I wish to make it quite clear to honourable senators what a new assignment is. The newcomers in the industry buy a piece of land and on this particular piece of land sugar is grown. That land is termed assigned land. A farm is given a sugar peak, each farm having its own peak. Each mill that makes raw sugar has an allotment for its particular area.
The future for the sugar industry looks particularly parlous. The Federal Government has not recognised its responsibility. It is quite easy to say: ‘Let the State bear the loss’. I heard Senator McKellar, Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry and the former Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Adermann) say that the Commonwealth is granting Queensland a loan, in two allocations, of $35m. But the loan has to be repaid. In the interim interest has to be paid. What will happen to those people who have borrowed money if they cannot repay their loans? It is all very well for honourable senators opposite to say that I am looking for special consideration for the sugar industry. Special consideration is extended to many areas and many industries in the south. Many industries are afforded extraordinary tariff protection. It may be said that, the Government, by this Agreement, is paying a price which is higher than the world price for sugar. Admittedly that is so. In crises and emergencies the Australian sugar industry has produced sugar at a price lower than the world price and the Australian people have benefited. Over the last 50 or 60 years the sugar industry has been responsible for Queensland’s coastal development. More important, than development are the settlements that have grown along the Queensland coastline because of the industry.
Honourable senators opposite talk of the development at Weipa. The wealth that will flow from the bauxite deposits at Weipa will entail only a comparatively small settlement. The same consideration applies to the deposits of coal at Moura and Blackwater. Development will take place at those centres and tremendous wealth will flow from that development; but only comparatively small settlements will be established. The sugar industry encourages real settlement and people are important, particularly in the northern part of Australia. Yet the Government goes along casually and without a full investigation says: ‘What is the minimum that we can give?’ It has been determined that an adjustment of costs amounting to 2c per lb. in the north and 1.5c in the south would be justified. A rise of 2c and 1.5c respectively would help the industry in some small measure and it would not involve a tremendous amount. That is why I believe the Commonwealth Government, the Minister for Trade and Industry and the Queensland Premier have failed this industry. I want to register my disapproval of their action.
– This Bill is very pertinent to the State which I represent. I do not for one moment understand why the Opposition has moved an amendment. The Opposition agrees with the Bill in principle but is trying to draw some red herrings across the trail. I do not intend to speak at great length on the Bill. It has been explained very clearly by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who represents the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony). Most of my life I have been interested in the sugar industry; indeed, I have taken as much interest in it as has any other honourable senator. It is one of the most efficient industries in Australia. The people in the industry at no stage have asked to be given free grants; that has never been their request. The Bill seeks approval of a Supplemental Agreement between the Commonwealth, the State and the industry. If agreements in business and other spheres could be operated on the same basis as that on which the Sugar Agreement has been operated, Australia would be a very happy country. The industry, the State and the Commonwealth have agreed to the increases set out in the Bill.
I went to the Queensland sugar areas some time ago, and I have had many appointments with the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) to help solve the problems of the industry. As the Minister stated in his second reading speech, the Commonwealth intends to lend a total of $35m to the State of Queensland. That amount is not just a free grant, as some people in a socialistic community would like it to be. The people in the sugar industry do not want a free grant. That is what they told me when I was in Queensland. They want assistance, and that is what the Commonwealth has given them. It agreed to lend them $20m and now an additional $15m, with an extension of the period of operation of the Agreement. The Commonwealth Government has done extremely well in this respect. Figures have been quoted to show how much sugar is sold by Australia and how much is consumed by Australians. Those figures do not bear repetition; I am not here to repeat them. The Commonwealth Government, as the Opposition agrees, has done a magnificent job in supporting the industry, which is one of Queensland’s major industries.
It has been stated that the industry supports 30,000 people. That statement is very far from the truth if one considers the large number of people who are dependent on its ancillary industries. The figure of 30,000 is a bare minimum. Many of the people engaged in the sugar industry to whom I have spoken are in dire straits. The report of the commission of inquiry headed by Mr Justice Gibbs, which conducted an investigation into the industry in approximately 1962-63, was approved by the State Government and the industry. Nobody could be expected to know what would happen internationally. The Federal Government has made and will make every effort to protect and help this industry. I do not think there is any need for me to speak at much length on this matter. The Opposition agrees with the Bill in principle. The amendment that was moved was cut to pieces by the Minister for Repatriation. I am sure that the people in the industry in Queensland are quite satisfied with what is being done under this Bill. I support it.
– I did not intend to speak again on this Bill, but in view of the remarks made by Senator Heatley I am compelled to do so. He has painted a picture of tremendous prosperity in the sugar industry in Queensland. That is a deliberate untruth. Every small farmer is on the verge of bankruptcy because the Commonwealth and State Governments cannot secure a reliable market for sugar. It is true, as Senator Heatley said, that two loans have been granted to the industry. The original loan was of $20m and the second one was of $15m. During Senator Heatley’s speech I interjected and asked what rate of interest was being paid on this money. Each farmer who makes use of this money will have to pay an exorbitant rate of interest on it. Let me remind the Government that in many instances the money is not going to the farmers but is helping out the people who are already well established in the milling sector.
I submit that a completely erroneous picture has been painted by Senator Heatley because he happens to be a member of the Government team for the coming Senate election. He is endeavouring to bolster the affluent section of the sugar industry in order to grab a handful of votes in the hope that he can retain his seat in the Senate although he is in the third position in the Government team. Recently a prominent cane grower in the Burdekin delta area told me that these days the success of a cane farmer is judged by the amount of the overdraft that he is able to sustain with his local bank. I suggest in all sincerity that this industry is staggering at the knees.
The figures that I quoted last night are correct in every way. They show that because of the competition that is coming from some developing countries the sugar industry, instead of developing into a stable industry, is going down the drain because of the mismanagement of the State and Federal Governments, both of which are Liberal-Country Party governments. The position calls for a greater degree of attention to the industry on the part of those Governments. I again remind honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber that the sugar industry needs to be supported because it is the main industry sustaining the economy of the coastal areas of north Queensland. I hope that nobody will be misled by the happy go lucky speech that, we have just heard from Senator Heatley.
– I refer first of all to some of the observations made by Senator Dittmer. He said that he was not satisfied that the Commonwealth Government had taken sufficient interest in the sugar industry. I do not believe that that statement can be sustained by reference to the facts. The two loans made to the industry have been mentioned. The decision to make them was made after consultations between the sugar growers and representatives of the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments.
– Why did not the Government make a grant to them, as it does to some of its friends?
– I thought Senator Keeffe had made his speech. An amount of $20m was made available in 1966. A further $15m was made available in 1967. The rate of interest is the medium term bond rate. No repayment of these loans is required before 30th June 1971. The sugar growers did not ask for a grant. They asked for a loan more or less on those conditions. That was what was decided upon.
I did not hear Senator Heatley make any suggestion at all that the growers were prosperous, indeed, we all know that for the last couple of years they have been far from prosperous. They were prosperous a few years ago. One only had to go to the sugar growing areas to see that. I had the opportunity to see cane being grown around Cairns some time ago, and around Mackay and in northern New South Wales more recently. The suggestion that the Commonwealth Government is not interested in the cane growers cannot be substantiated in any shape or form.
– I did not say that it was not interested; I said that it was not sufficiently interested.
– I am sorry if I misquoted the honourable senator. He is quite right. My note is that he said that the Commonwealth Government had not taken sufficient interest in the cane growers. That is a matter of opinion. About 30,000 people are directly employed in the sugar industry, but it supports about 200,000 people. Far too many people are engaged in it for any government, not to take an interest in it. Inevitably it must have quite a large effect on the economy not only of Queensland but also of the Commonwealth.
Australia is fortunate in that Japan is taking about 500,000 tons of sugar this season. I think Senator Dittmer said that he felt that the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) could have taken more interest. I will put it that way; I am not sure that they were the exact words. I remind honourable senators that a few months ago Mr Sinclair, who is the Minister assisting the Minister for Trade and Industry, went to London to take part in negotiations on sugar. In a very hard bargaining conference he put up a performance that earned him the admiration of everyone who was present at the conference.
– It was a great effort that produced no result.
– He did not achieve all that he wanted to achieve, but at least he put up a good fight for the sugar growers.
– What did he actually achieve for them?
– I thought Senator Dittmer had also made his speech. If he will listen to me I will try to answer what he said.
– What did he actually achieve for the growers?
– If the honourable senator would like to make another speech I will sit down. If he does not want to make another speech, will he please listen to me? At the present time a conference is being held in Geneva on the same subject as the London conference. The people who are attending it are endeavouring to agree on a new sugar agreement.
Last night I mentioned that the price of Australian sugar had dropped disastrously. In 1963 the sugar producers were receiving £Stg105 a ton. By June 1967 the price had dropped to the incredibly low figure of £Stg12 a ton. Obviously, no industry could carry on in those circumstances. Because of the change in market prices the growers asked the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments whether assistance could be granted to them. They did not ask for the grant that Senator Keeffe suggests should have been made to them. They asked for assistance in the form of the loans that have been made to them. We must pay full tribute to them for that. Over the years their industry has been characterised by self-help. The magnificent shipping terminals and the large, modern sheds that hold a very great quantity of sugar were built from contributions made by the growers themselves. They are not people who are not deserving of help. They are doing a magnificent job for Australia. In the Agreement that we are asked to ratify in this legislation the Commonwealth Government has done the right thing in providing assistance to the industry.
– The Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) mentioned in passing that when the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair), who assists the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen), was overseas he did a lot for the sugar growers. I want to ask the Minister what results were obtained in terms of money or assurances as to the future security of the industry. As I understand the position, the sugar growers are still extremely perturbed about their future financial security. Officials of the various organisations associated with the sugar growers cannot see any real improvement for them for some years. The Minister for Trade and Industry is in control of exports and in some measure handles incoming and outgoing trade. I thought that he would have shown some astuteness or foresight in relation to the Sugar Agreement, lt was agreed 3 years ago that Japan would take a minimum of 350,000 tons of raw sugar. That amount has since been increased to over 500,000 tons.
With his wide experience and his knowledge of the ups and downs of international trade, particularly in primary products, I would have thought that the Minister for Trade and Industry would have been astute enough to suggest through the Queensland Government to the sugar industry that it should have negotiated a price which would have assured for the growers the costs of production and manufacturing plus a reasonable profit over a period. Perhaps he could have suggested it even to the present Premier of. Queensland. I appreciate that the Premier is not very astute and that no one by any stretch of imagination even in the greatest charity would call him clever or astute, but everyone claims - I do not know whether it is true - that the Minister for Trade and Industry is an astute man. I would have thought that it was his responsibility to make that suggestion through the Queensland Government to the sugar industry.
As I said earlier, the Minister referred a short time ago to the results achieved by Mr Sinclair, the Minister who assists the Minister for Trade and Industry, for the sugar growers in his recent deliberations overseas. I know of no sugar growers who acclaim him for what he has done. No one has said that he did not spend his time on the job. No one has said that he did not try hard. Perhaps the Minister is possessed of more information of what Mr Sinclair did than I am. He may be able to inform the Senate whether Mr Sinclair came back with an assurance as to when there will be stabilisation; whether the Brazilians are likely to be throwing more raw sugar on to the world’s markets; whether West Pakistan is likely to decrease its exports of sugar; and when another international sugar agreement will be concluded which will provide for the Australian sugar growers reasonable prosperity and security for their industry.
– I would like to say firstly that the meeting attended by Mr Sinclair was, I believe, called in a hurry. If that was not so the necessity to have the Minister there arose very urgently. Mr Sinclair left Australia at very short notice to attend that meeting. I am asked to say what he achieved in actual terms of money. I am afraid that he was not able to achieve very much in that respect.
– Or security.
– It is all very well to say that the Minister should have done this or that. Any party to an agreement has more to contend with than trying to get what he wants for his country. Agreement must be reached with other people in all the circumstances. Mr Sinclair was able to pass on to the United Kingdom, for instance, knowledge of the importance of the sugar industry to Australia and the effect on that industry of entry by the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community.
– That did not stop the United Kingdom trying to enter the EEC.
– I do not think anything will stop that. Senator Dittmer continues to interject. I heard the honourable senator in silence. He is usually a courteous man and I think that on this occasion he might listen to me. If he does not want to hear the answer, that is all right with me; but I am prepared to give it. I have pointed out one of the beneficial results of Mr Sinclair’s trip abroad. The representatives of countries at international meetings are all out to drive a hard bargain. They arc acting in the same manner as arc the representatives of Australia. They want to get the best conditions they can for their own countries. It is unfortunate for Australia that we did not get better results. I again inform the honourable senator that a meeting is being held in Geneva at present and we hope that something more will come out of it.
I noted Senator Dittmer’s remarks about Mr Nicklin, the Premier of Queensland. Irrespective of the honourable senator’s opinion of Mr Nicklin, he seems to have brought rather good government to Queensland. Senator Dittmer and Senator Keeffe are interjecting. They do not have to agree with me. I have the same right as they have to voice my opinions. The opinion I have given of Mr Nicklin must have been shared by a large number of Queensland people or he would not now be Premier of Queensland. Again Senator Dittmer is interjecting. It is obvious that he is in an argumentative mood tonight. That does not deter me.
Senator Dittmer wondered why the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) had not shown more alertness - he did not use that word, but it will suffice - in relation to the position into which the sugar industry was moving and why the Minister did not take steps to avoid it. I am very glad to hear a tribute paid to the Minister for Trade and Industry. He is recognised as one of the world’s best negotiators. I think even Senator Dittmer would agree with me on that, outside the chamber if not inside it. Mr McEwen was aware of the trend, but here again it is not a question alone of what Mr McEwen would like for the Australian sugar growers. The point is what he can get for them, lt is as certain as the rising of the sun tomorrow that in negotiations between countries each representative does the best he can for his own country. Australia’s representatives, no matter how hard they try, are not always successful. I think I have answered the honourable senator’s questions.
– I do not think I can be fairly accused of speaking in this debate because of a personal or ulterior motive. It seems to me to be time that a few more things were said. All of us who know anything about the sugar industry are aware that it is going through a very bad time.
– I rise to a point of order. To what section of the Bill is the honourable senator speaking?
– Order! The honourable senator is speaking to the Schedule.
– He did not say so. I am not asking you, Mr Chairman; I am asking the honourable senator.
Order! The Schedule to the Bill is being debated at present.
– I fully realise that.
– Why did the honourable senator not say so?
– I merely want to follow up the remarks that have been made by Senator Dittmer and Senator Keeffe, on the opposite side of the chamber, and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and Senator Heatley on this side. In my remarks I am not going outside what they said. I regret that Senator Dittmer is so disturbed by my rising. Perhaps he is disturbed because I am about to relate some facts. I appreciate that the present price for sugar is unsatisfactory.
– The honourable senator was to build a sugar mill at Cooktown. What happened?
– If the Chairman will let me, I will tell the honourable senator what happened. The present price for sugar is very bad. Early in 1963 the Gibbs Commission investigated the sugar industry with the knowledge that sugar was bringing a very high world price. Indeed, at that time the world price was higher than the home consumption price. As a result of the findings of that Commission, assignments were increased. The Chairman of the Commission was Mr Justice Gibbs, one of Queenslands’s most careful and analytical judges. He had assisting him experts in the field of sugar. On the indications at that time, it appeared that the prosperity of the industry would remain very high. As Senator Keeffe has said, I appeared before this Commission and I did put up a case for the development of the sugar industry in the Cooktown area because it would have helped Cooktown had prices remained good. But, contrary to my belief, contrary to the belief of the members of the Commission and indeed contrary to the belief of everybody, there was a sudden collapse in price with the result that today this industry is struggling very hard.
– That is not what Senator Heatley said.
– Yes it is. The real reason why I rise is that I do not think it is fair to misrepresent what the honourable senator said. Senator Heatley made his point quite clearly. I do not think it is desirable, when we are dealing with any industry that we should consider its position at any isolated period. In the broad, this has been an extremely prosperous industry and I am one who believes that it is going to become extremely prosperous again. 1 do not think there is any industry, certainly not any primary industry, that does not go through periods of great success and periods of depression. This is because primary industries in particular are governed by world demand. The present depressed price of sugar is the result of the circumstances I have outlined. How long the world surplus will persist, I do not know. Nor does anybody else. But I cannot sit in my place and hear it said that the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) has not done everything in his power to help this industry, not just in 1 year but in every year for a long time now. In almost every instance he has been successful. One cannot go to conferences where world prices are discussed and win every time. Honourable senators opposite know that just as well as I know it.
There has also been criticism of the Queensland Premier and the Queensland Government. This criticism, too, has been most unjust. The Queensland Premier, Mr Nicklin, has worked constantly and earnestly throughout his long political life and especially during the last 10 years as Premier. He went overseas on behalf of the industry recently. But not only Mr Nicklin and the present Queensland Government have worked for the sugar industry. I admit frankly and openly that all the governments that we have had in Queensland have worked hard for the industry. I know too that for longer than I have been interested in politics - and that is at least 25 years - the Agent General for Queensland in London has specialised in helping the industry. He has attended international sugar conferences and I would say that he has devoted more attention to the interests of this industry than he has to any other task he has had. It is most unfair to be critical of those people who have devoted almost the whole of their lives to furthering the interests of the industry merely because at this point of time we are facing overall bad prices due to the world surplus of sugar.
The Bill provides assistance to the extent of He per lb. That does not seem to be very much, but it represents something like $26 a ton which does mean a great deal to those engaged in the sugar industry. This will be of great help, as have been other advances and other financial assistance generally. I am sure that the industry will be helped greatly in bridging this very serious period. But let us be under no illusions. Although this industry is struggling today I am quite sure that within a reasonably short space of time, and largely as a result of the work being done at international sugar conferences by Australian representatives, the industry will be rehabilitated. I hope it will be because, to a great extent it is the backbone of Queensland. It is certainly the backbone of the coastal areas of that State. It also means a great deal to Australia in that it is a good export earner in normal periods. I do not think that the present low world prices can be blamed on anybody in Australia. I am sure that a little bit of common sense injected into the debate will make people realise that it is far from the truth to suggest that anyone here is to blame.
– The sugar industry is something that I. can claim to know a little about. Everybody knows what a great industry it has been, particularly in Queensland, and what great value it has been to Australia as a whole. No industry in this country is better organised than the sugar industry. It has been efficiently administered and it has functioned very successfully over the years from the time of the introduction of the Sugar Acquisition Act.
As a Minister and Premier of Queensland over a period of 15 years, it was naturally my responsibility to take, in common with my colleagues, a very close and intimate interest in the sugar industry. In 1953 I had the privilege and honour of representing Queensland at the International Sugar Conference held in London when, after, 1 think, about 6 weeks of negotiations, we succeeded in arriving at an international sugar agreement which meant so much to the industry in this country. It was not an easy task and it was a great experience for me to be one of the number of representatives of the various sugar importing and exporting countries. The difficulty that was experienced in obtaining an agreement on that occasion could not be imagined by anyone who was not there. An agreement of this kind is not just something that is arrived at without argument or without very careful negotiation. On that occasion, we from the Parliamentary sphere had the assis tance of men who know this industry backwards - men like Mr Pearce of the Australian Sugar Producers Association Ltd and the late Mr Ronald Muir of the Queensland Cane Growers Council. Sir David Muir was also there. These men had given their lives in an administrative capacity for the cane growers organisation and the millers organisation and they knew the industry thoroughly. Let me say at this stage that the sugar industry of Queensland owed a lot to the United Kingdom because at that time particularly if was important to reach an agreement with the United Kingdom as it was one of the great markets for Queensland sugar.
It is to be regretted that this great and prosperous industry is passing through a very critical stage. 1 suppose it is common when an industry gets a setback such as this industry is experiencing at the present time for people to look for the causes and the reasons. A lot of criticism has been levelled against the Gibbs report on the question of the expansion of the industry. Expansion was justified because of the boom period not only in Australia but in other parts of the world. Cuba had ceased to be a competitor with Queensland in the sugar market because of the international upset in that part of the world. But I feel that a policy of gradualism - if I might use an expression of an old political leader of mine of many years ago - might have been the wisest policy to adopt. If the expansion had taken place on a gradual scale rather than in the manner in which it was carried out, perhaps the industry would not have been so seriously affected as it is today. However, that is not the major cause of the critical state that the sugar industry is in at present.
– This is hindsight, despite the quality of the committee which investigated the industry. Would that be right?
– Yes. The committee investigated it and made certain recommendations which were given effect. Nevertheless, I express my own personal view. I suppose some people would regard it as audacity on my part to put myself up as an authority. But I repeat that I think the expansion should have been taken more gradually than in an overall fashion as it was recommended by the committee that investigated the industry.I say that with all due respect to the committee. However, let me say that the whole position is due to a loss of markets and a steep reduction in the price that sugar growers can obtain for their product in overseas markets. This is something that was unexpected. It was not anticipated. It came suddenly. Like all things that come unexpectedly, the impact was all the greater for that reason.
We can only hope that a new international sugar agreement will be reached and that the price of sugar will increase. 1 am afraid that unless that takes place the sugar industry will have to undergo an overhaul and we will see some marked changes in one of the great industries of Queensland - if not the greatest - which has contributed a great deal to the economy of this country. These are essential requisites for the rehabilitation of this industry. While it is unquestionably helpful for the Commonwealth and State Governments to make loans and grants to tide this industry over the period that it is going through, until such time as we can work towards a successful and fruitful international agreement it is not of much use to say that governments can go on handing out grants or loans to an industry, in other words propping it up indefinitely, because no industry can succeed finally by just being propped up by government subsidies or government aid.
An elementary principle in commerce is to produce something that you can sell at an economic price. If you cannot sell what you produce you must produce less or go out of business. I cannot for the life of me foresee that the Queensland sugar industry will meet that fate. Nevertheless, many people are associated with the industry and they are having a particularly bad time today. I would venture the opinion that very few cane growers in Queensland today would be required to pay income tax on their present earnings. I believe that if an economic survey of the industry were carried out that would be confirmed. Naturally, that situation brings about a great measure of unrest among those who have been engaged in an industry for so long. That is understandable. But those who are engaged in the industry must face facts. The boom that they had for so many years could not be expected to go on forever.
I believe that many of them accepted this boom period as something that would continue indefinitely and I think that those who control the industry in the State, too, believed it. Their confidence in the matter of expansion was based on that. So we can appreciate their great disappointment and their terrific reaction to the sudden drop in the world price of sugar and the curtailment of markets.
The price of sugar in Japan has been quoted here tonight. Whilst on paper it looks reasonably good, those people engaged in the industry believe that Japan should be required to pay more for its sugar. Whether Japan is prepared to do that, 1 do not know. That is another matter for negotiation. I rose particularly to say that little is to be gained by blaming the Commonwealth Government or the State Government or, for that matter, those associated with the industry. I could not bring myself to believe that any Government would be so inept and could so lack understanding that it would forsake an industry that is of such importance to the State and also to the Commonwealth. Those who are closely and intimately associated with the industry are just as confused on this matter as are many cane growers. I have discussed this matter with men associated with various facets of the industry.I have asked them what can be done to help them. They say that if they can get financial accommodation to tide them over the present period they are hopeful that an international agreement will be reached, opening up once again the markets that they previously had. In conclusion I say that we all could work for the common good of the industry. In this way we could achieve something and our energies would be better employed than in throwing bricks at those who are giving some aid.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMANOrder! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKellar) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 25 October (vide page 1644), on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– It is an utter disgrace and a wretched shame that with the Senate due to rise in a couple of days’ time - that is, if we are to portray to the people of Australia the sins of omission and commission of the Government over the years - we should still have before us 33 Bills for our consideration. Some of those Bills are particularly important and involve the destiny of this country. I have in mind the Petroleum Bills which deal with oil and gas and their transportation. These measures will be rushed through the Senate. If we come back next week to debate them we will not have time to tell the people of Australia the full story about this Government. 1 do not accuse anybody of lying about VIP aircraft. It is not my way to accuse a person unless I have proof, but I must say that the Government has not been adroit in handling this matter.
Under this Bill the Government proposes to charge pensioners $10 for a hearing aid. But what a tremendous amount is wasted on VIP aircraft. Originally the seven new VIP aircraft were to cost $ 11.4m; now they are to cost $22.2m.
– Are we debating the National Health Bill?
-I am talking about the $10 which the Government will charge pensioners and comparing that with the amount that is wasted in other directions. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) said that the cost of operating the VIP fleet was $450,000 last year. This year it will be greater and next year still greater. Then the Government will have the 60-seat BAC111 aircraft. What it wants with 60- seat aircraft when it has to charge pensioners $10 for hearing aids I do not know. The Government has said that 36,000 pensioners will benefit under this legislation. If they all can afford to pay, the Government will obtain $360,000 for the hearing aids provided. I am appalled at the extraordinary waste of public money. There should be more economy in the use of VIP aircraft. I do not think anyone lied. I cannot credit that a Minister would lie on an issue like this but I am astounded at the Government’s casual approach to the expenditure of public money. Surely people elected have a responsibility to see that the tremendous funds under their control are spent efficiently. Apparently this Government has no intention of handling public money carefully. Money is literally thrown about. Where the expenditure of public money is involved stringent conditions should be applied, even to the Governor-General. He should be told that he may have a VIP aircraft only under certain conditions. Ministers should be able to use VIP aircraft only for specific purposes and not willy-nilly.
I commend in some measure the Government for its consideration of pensioners but in this Bill we see once again the haphazard approach that has become the hallmark of this Government. The Government deals with one feature here and another there, but never seems to adopt an overall approach to the health of the people. Under this Bill bearing aids will be provided to pensioners at a cost of $10 each. We have been told that the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will provide these aids. The Bill provides that the Minister, through the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories or by such other means as he deems fit, shall provide these hearing aids. I assumed originally that the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories would supply all of the hearing aids provided under this Bill, but. having regard to representations made recently by the Associated Chambers of Commerce on behalf of hearing aid firms, and the agitation that has taken place, I am wondering how many hearing aids will be supplied to pensioners by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories and how many by private hearing aid companies. I do not suggest that the hearing aid companies are crooked. I think many are estimable but it would be interesting to know details of their investment and their return, because the charges they make for hearing aids seem particularly excessive. It is difficult for anybody to buy a hearing aid for less than $120 andthey often cost as much as $250 or $300.
However, it is not my job here tonight to attack hearing aid companies. I am pleased to know that the Government is to provide hearing aids for pensioners and that by and large those hearing aids will be supplied by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. 1 now pose the question: Where do the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories stand? This Bill provides the Government with a great opportunity to expand this worthwhile instrumentality. It has done magnificent work in past years and practically all its staff are well qualified to fulfil its purpose in rendering aid to the people. The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories attend not only to hearing aids; they can also play a much bigger part in providing a service to the community. Noise is playing a greater role in the life of practically every individual and more and more research will have to be done. The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories are already able to do some research in relation to the noise nuisance and their facilities could be extended to enable them to do more. This organisation has also moved into the field of ultrasonics in medicine and so it provides a grand opportunity for the Government, now that it is embarking on this expanded programme, to enlarge the facilities of the instrumentality to enable it to fulfil a worthwhile job.
Recently country branches have been opened and service has been rendered in country areas, but this will have to be increased if the instrumentality is to provide a worthwhile service to the people. It is of no use saying that in the capita] cities and the large country cities people can get hearing aids. I should like to know how it is intended to provide a service in smaller centres. Is it intended that there should be visiting audiologists who will do the work among smaller communities and attend to the fitting when the aids are provided? Is there an intention to have more types of aids in order to meet the wishes and the needs of all in the community? It must be borne in mind that it is not much use having only a standard approach to these problems. Individuals have different preferences. I believe that it is the responsibility of any instrumentality or firm to try, if it is at all reasonable and within the economics of the situation, to meet the needs of the individual. I hope that those in charge of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will be seised of this responsibility and have a desire to meet the wishes of individuals.
Why the Government has to collect $10 for each aid I just do not know, lt has been said that if an individual pensioner cannot meet the charge of $10 for the aid a concession can be made, even to the extent of making no charge. But there arc some points to be borne in mind in relation to this aspect of the scheme. Will special officers be appointed to determine the rights of those who apply for an aid? Surely the Government does not believe that people will apply for a hearing aid and have one merely for the pleasure of owning one. I can understand that if a person has been supplied with a hearing aid and is casual about the way he treats it it might be necessary to ask him to pay for the next one or to pay something towards the cost of repairs made necessary by his carelessness or neglect. But why the Government should want to collect $10 on each aid issued I just do not know. We have been told that 36,000 aids are to be fitted within a certain period. If the charge is $10 for each aid a total of $360,000 will be collected. That sum is practically nothing when compared with a Budget of $6,483m. Yet that $360,000 will be collected from some of the most underprivileged people in the community. That is what the proposed charge really amounts to.
If ever there is a pound of flesh or a dollar to be collected the Government will collect it from those who are least fortunately placed. I ask the Minister on what basis the determination will be made of which people will not have to pay this charge. I remind honourable senators that a person will not own the aid for which he has paid $10. It has been estimated that the cost of each aid produced by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will be anything from $22 to $40, which is quite different from the amount paid to commercial organisations who sell hearing aids. Private organisations claim that the aids that they supply are better and more elaborate, they claim that they are more artistic and more appealing to the individual. But apparently those who receive an aid from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories are eminently satisfied with the service they receive and the aid that is provided. Does the Government regard this $10 as a form of rental rather than as a purchase price? Is there a time at which a person has to return an aid? If it is returned because for some reason it is not suitable or has become defective the Government will replace it with another aid free of charge.
But what happens, I wonder, if a pensioner who has been issued with an aid dies? Does the Government’s representative go out and ask for the aid and take it back? Is it then given to someone else or are the parts used for another aid? Is this going to be the approach to this problem? I just do not know. The Government is taking the attitude that it will not sell them but will charge each person who receives one $10.
We commend the Government for its approach to this matter, piecemeal though it be. But I suppose the underprivileged should be grateful for small mercies; at least the Government expects them to be. The Opposition is appreciative that some service is being given to a section of the community. However, we plead with the Government to recognise that it has an opportunity now to expand the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. It is no use private organisations which sell hearing aids commercially outside the ambit of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories saying that this measure is a socialistic experiment or is an indication of socialistic expansion. There is now a great opportunity for the Government within the ambit of its own authority and within its own instrumentality to expand an organisation which is worthwhile, one which will play a part not only in providing a service to those who have impaired hearing but also in conducting research into noise and ultrasonics which now play a great part in medicine. This matter is in the hands of the Government which 1 hope will be sympathetic and realise its responsibility to the people. I trust that it will expand this service to the people and expand also the facilities of the Laboratories of which we are all so proud.
We commend the Government for what might be called an enlargement of the schedules to the Bill and the inclusion of certain medical procedures. But again I criticise the Government for placing us in this invidious position in which we have to curtail our speeches, simply because the Government has been so neglectful in arranging its business. Not only on this occasion but in previous years it has seen fit at the end of a session, as we are striving away and passing Bills all hours of the night in as short a time as possible, to bring on debates on important pieces of legislation. lt is estimated that we have only two days in which to finish the session, but we have yet to deal with 33 Bills. Some are particularly important. Some affect employment conditions of people, such as those in the stevedoring industry, and there is legislation relating to the exploration for and exploitation of petroleum products off the Australian coast and the transport and disposal of those products. We have yet to deal with all sorts of Bills and the Government secs fit to push these matters through at the last minute. It is of no use blaming the Opposition for this situation because we have not spent very much time on matters which we regard as important. This situation results from a lack of planning by the Government in the early stages of the session.
– I am glad that at last I have found one area in which I can agree with Senator Dittmer. I agree with him that the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories do an excellent job. I agree with him that the Government in introducing this measure is giving great help to very many people in this country. I do not agree with him on the extraneous matters which he introduced. However, I do not propose to refer to them. I propose to say a word or two about hearing aids and to make a few comments in reply to statements made by the hearing aid section of the Chamber of Commerce. I preface those remarks by saying that for many years 1 have had great admiration for the Chamber of Commerce and I still have. I believe that the Chamber has done much. It has been very great and very good, but I am bound to say that I cannot agree with its attitude in relation to hearing aids. Perhaps I look at this problem somewhat differently from members of the Chamber of Commerce and possibly from many members of the public because I have been inflicted with this problem for 25 years and I know that it is a very considerable problem for anyone.
It is a great social problem because if one is partially deaf one misses a great deal of general conversation and this, either in the home or when one is engaged in other activities, can be a most unhappy experience. I know that frequently I miss what is said and when I ask people to repeat it I very often run up against an attitude of impatience because 1 have not heard what was said in the first place. I suppose that is understandable but I mention it because it is something that is experienced by thousands of people in Australia.
Now let me refer to those within the pensioner group. Very few of them are totally deaf. Many of them are just deaf enough to be conscious at all times of the disadvantage and they gradually fade from general social life because of the embarrassment they face. I know that that is so, ao t only from my own experience but also from what very many people have told me. Perhaps they realise that 1 have a more sympathetic approach to their problem than has the average person because I am one of them and 1 experience the same things as they do. There must be many thousands of people who know that they have a hearing deficiency but refrain from buying a hearing aid because it involves quite a substantial outlay. Rather than spend the money to huy a hearing aid from any of the commercial firms they put up with their deafness. I am not in a position to judge but I do not know pf any commercial firm which is not ethical. A hearing aid costs a good deal of money and I think the pensioner says to himself: ‘I am not very deaf and rather than spend this amount of money I will put it into something else and put up with my deafness’. This Bill will benefit pensioners who have adopted that attitude so I am very much in favour of it and support it strongly.
I think I should comment on the material which has been sent to us by the Chamber of Commerce. I do not accept some of the statements in it as being correct. First of all, perhaps I should say that I have been deaf for 25 years, lt is a war injury and has been recognised by the Repatriation Department as being war caused. When I entered public life immediately after the war I thought I would like to get a hearing aid so 1 went to one company and inquired about them. I was given splendid help and attention and I bought a hearing aid which, I think, cost me about £80. I was not altogether satisfied with it after a while so 1 went to a different firm and bought another hearing aid which cost £120. I have tried various other kinds including that which is attached to spectacles. They are all helpful but they vary in their degree of helpfulness. When 1 heard that the Repatriation Department proposed to introduce the Calaid I became very interested at once because its principle appealed to me. lt fits in the oar and faces forward. I wear one frequently and honourable senators will have seen it if they are at all observant. The Calaid gives one an opportunity to locate the source of a sound infinitely better than any other hearing aid I have used.
In obtaining this aid from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories I have mct with nothing but courtesy and assistance. Other people to whom I have since spoken have said that they have received similar treatment. I do not believe it would be possible to get better service anywhere than one gets from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. Nor do 1 believe it is possible to get a better hearing aid. I disagree with the argument advanced by the Chamber of Commerce to the effect that you take one kind and if you do not like it that is the end of it. That is not so at all. This Bill makes it possible for a patient, after having been tested, to get a Calaid which fits in the car or, if his hearing loss is too great to be overcome by the ear attachment such as 1 wear, he can get a body unit. On the ear attachment are two adjustments. If I want to do a bit of study here I turn the volume down to low, I do that, for example, when Senator Dittmer is speaking. If I want to hear a particular contribution to the debates I turn the volume to high and I hear very well. T can hear Senator Cavanagh who does not speak loudly. Rather facetiously I have illustrated the difference in the volume adjustments. As I have said, this Bill makes it possible for a person to obtain a Calaid with the high and low volume adjustment or, if the hearing loss is great, one can obtain a body unit which will amplify infinitely more than will the ear level fitment.
I have indicated to the Senate that T have tried, I think, almost every aid that is on the market. Now I am using the Calaid, the identical unit to that which is to be issued by the Department. It is the best unit I have ever used and that, coming from a person who has been using different types of aids for 25 years, should convince most honourable senators that the aid is reasonably good.
– Is that one made at the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories?
– Yes it is.
– Then it must be very good; it came from another Socialist undertaking.
– I do not know whether the honourable senator was in the chamber a little earlier when I said that my deafness had been accepted as a war caused disability. I have worn other types because 1 preferred to do so at that stage but this one from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories is the best [ have ever had. 1 return to the material which has been sent out by the Chamber of Commerce. I have here a telegram, lt refers to the establishment of a complete monopoly. Of course that is not true. No pensioner will be forced to go to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. If he has the money he can still purchase where others have purchased their hearing aids. The Bill provides assistance if a person does not want to spend the money purchasing another kind of hearing aid, but I would recommend that he try this kind because if he does he will not want to buy another. This Bill does not set up a monopoly nor does it deny pensioners a freedom of choice, as this telegram suggests.
Many other statements have been made and 1 will refer to them briefly. I assume that, all honourable senators have received a copy of the pamphlet on the National Health Bill hearing aid scheme, as distributed by the Hearing Aid Distributors Section of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. Many statements are made in that pamphlet. This is one statement:
The Federal Government’s policy as shown by the Minister’s second reading speech is to provide no alternatives for the pensioner and to deprive him of any freedom of choice.
I believe that I have adequately answered that suggestion. The pamphlet also states:
The private enterprise hearing aid industry would: Provide its nation-wide facilities of premises, equipment and skilled personnel.
The pamphlet implies that such facilities would not be available through the Department of Health and the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. That statement is quite wrong. The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories are established in every capital city and have offices as far north as Townsville, which is within the ambit set out by the Chamber of Commerce.
The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories are providing and will continue to provide an outstanding service. If a pensioner has an aid and something goes wrong with it that pensioner can send it to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories to have it repaired. The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories guarantee to repair and return each unit the same day, provided the damage is not excessive. If an aid fell into water and was entirely damaged, such damage would be serious. But ordinary repairs would be carried out on the day that the unit was received and it would be posted back the same day. That is an excellent service. I do not believe that any of the private enterprise hearing aid providers would give a better service. The pamphlet also states:
Under the Bill the pensioner will be directed to a Government servant and a CAL room where he will queue up and be mass processed through the system.
The people who now get these aids number thousands and they include many returned servicemen. Those people do not have to queue up. They may have to wait for a while if they take a unit in to be repaired, but that is only natural. The service provided by the Laboratories is equal to that provided by private enterprise. Many other statements are made in the pamphlet. I do not intend to deal with all the claims made. One claim is as follows:
With the many private firms in the industry, the pensioner can make an appointment, consult a branch office near his home and be given attention, courtesy and skilled service in properly and scientifically planned laboratories designed for customer comfort.
The pensioners will get that service from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. It is interesting to note that most of the people who are trained in the private enterprise field have been trained frequently under the guidance of technicians of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. If CAL technicians are capable of training the private enterprise fitters, engineers and others, surely they are capable of doing such jobs themselves. Later on the pamphlet states:
Without accumulators, the calaid models virtually ‘chew up’ batteries, loading the pensioner with more costs.
That statement is quite wrong. I use my hearing aid probably more than most people use theirs. It is hardly credible that a battery fits into the ear piece, but it does. A battery lasts me approximately 10 days. Each battery costs 33c. I use my hearing aid more than an ordinary person would because I have mine on all the time so that 1 do not miss what is said. If I were not in this sort of life probably a battery would last up to 3 weeks, with reasonable care. That is not an illustration of a hearing aid chewing up batteries. The statement in the pamphlet is exaggerated. The pamphlet refers to accumulators. If one pays up to $300 for a hearing aid from private enterprise one could get a hearing aid that could be plugged into a three-point socket and charged from the ordinary domestic electric power. Many of the aids provided do not have such an attachment. The pamphlet also states:
Research by more than SO overseas companies enables the Australian industry to stock and fit the latest developments in hearing aids.
There is a catch in that statment. Most of the hearing aids that are available are superseded each year; a new model comes out almost every year. As car models change each year so do hearing aids. After 2 or 3 years the original aid is obsolescent. Occasionally parts for the original hearing aid are not in stock. This situation does not and will not apply to the aids supplied by the Department. The aids provided by the Department cannot be improved much. Ultimately they may have improvements made to the internal fittings. But if that happens, under the terms of the Bill a pensioner could have his aid repaired free of charge, except in cases of wilful or careless damage. I could quote a number of other examples that are mentioned in the pamphlet, but I will not. Private enterprise makes a feature of the 12 months free service that is given. That is very good, of course, but it does not compare with the service given by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. They give free service throughout the life of the unit and of the person. That service is far ahead of a 12 months free service.
I believe that, in introducing the Bill, the Government has revealed a very deep understanding of a problem which, unfortunately, too few understand. I can assure honourable senators who know deaf people who do not want to spend or cannot afford to spend from $160 to $300 for a hearing aid that they can recommend, with the greatest of confidence, that their pensioner friends should get one of these units. There are three grades of Calaid units - the low volume, the high volume on the ear level, and the stronger unit which is fitted to the body.
I congratulate the Government most warmly for introducing the Bill. As with other Bills that it has introduced, it will ot get a great deal of thanks, although I must confess that Senator Dittmer was mot generous in his comments tonight. Whilst the provision of hearing aids may not be costly in comparison with the provision of other facilities, the Bill will alleviate the position of the older person who has lost a great deal of hearing and will make him infinitely happer in the evening of his life. I again congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Bill.
– My remarks on this Bill will be very brief because some of the points that I intended to raise have been covered by Senator Morris. Obviously he has had a good deal of experience in these matters. We must respect the way in which he covered quite a number of points. Like other honourable senators, I received correspondence from the hearing aid distributors section of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. Senator Gair and I thought that we should submit it to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). We did that. He was good enough to communicate with us and to offer us a reply and comments on a number of the statements that had been made. As we have received those comments it is not necessary to refer to them now.
However, I have received a letter from a constituent who apparently is engaged in this business. He mentions two points which I will raise in the hope that the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represents the Minister for Health, will furnish a reply to them. The first is that the two types of hearing aid that will be available from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories are a model T, which is an outdated and poor style, and a model E, which is an all in ear model. I think Senator Morris dealt with one of those models. Apparently, on the basis of his own experience, he disagrees with the submission that I have received. The other point is that there is quite a number of different types of hearing aid and that under this Bill people will be restricted to two types. Those are the only points on which I would like the Minister to comment.
Let. me say that the hearing aid is a tremendous boon. Many pensioners must not have been able to purchase one because they did not have enough money. The principle behind what the Government has done is very good. Senator Dittmer asked why people should have to pay even $10 for one of these hearing aids. I hope that people who can show that their circumstances are really necessitous will receive hearing aids free of charge. However, all in all this is a very progressive move. The Government is trying to help people to obtain hearing aids, lt is to be commended for acting in this way. I should like to hear the Minister’s comments on the two points that were made.
– This legislation will bring great benefit to quite an extensive section of the community. The provision of hearing aids to pensioners and their dependants is an important breakthrough in social services and health legislation. In the past many people have not been able to afford the excessive charges that have been made by many of the people in this business. That problem has now been solved by the development of this new technique, the Calaid, by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories.
At present the Laboratories are able to supply hearing aids to a big section of the community including deaf school children, pre-school children, repatriation cases, serving members of the defence forces and people undergoing rehabilitation training and treatment. This service will now be extended to persons who are in receipt of an age pension, an invalid pension, a widow’s pension, a Service pension, a tuberculosis allowance or a sheltered employment allowance. Another important feature is that the dependants of those pensioners will also be entitled to the new service. This is an important development in the availability of social service benefits
Under the National Health Act, which should continue to be developed. This benefit will be welcomed very warmly throughout the community.
I refer now to the Schedule to the Bill which contains a considerable number of rates of Commonwealth benefit for professional services. Many of the items in the ophthalmological section of the Schedule come into the field of the optometrist. A grave anomally exists in the National Health Act. It has persisted since the Act became law in 1953. It is unique in that it arises from the existence of a common field of practice traditionally shared by optometrists and ophthalmologists. Before 1953 an optometrist had a certain status in the profession. He could refer patients direct to a specialist. A patient seeking an opinion or aid in respect of his eyes had a . freedom of choice as to the practitioner that he consulted, without any economic prejudice. He still has a freedom of choice, but not without economic disadvantage.
Most people consult optometrists in order to have their eyes tested for defective vision, although many people consult optometrists to obtain an opinion on the condition of their eyes. Since 1953 a patient has been at an economic disadvantage if he consults an optometrist because if he is referred to a specialist he is able to claim only a lower rate of benefit.
– A contributor receives less reimbursement.
– That is so. This matter should be examined closely by the Government because it represents an injustice to a very respected section of the community.
– What the honourable senator has said is not quite so. The patient could be referred to a general practitioner who would refer him to a specialist.
– That is right. The general practioner really would not. know as much about eyes in particular as the optometrist. At the present time the optometrist actually has to be partly dishonest. He does not want to worry the general practitioner, so he just telephones the general practitioner and says: ‘I am sending this patient to an ophthalmologist’. This anomaly needs to be rectified. Optometrists are men of very high repute in the community. They have been deprived of a status that they have earned over the years by their studies. They are qualified men. They have all the qualifications required to practise. The National Health Act. has had the effect of degrading them in the eyes of the community. 1 am able to speak about this matter only because ophthalmological benefits are prescribed in the Bill. This little understood section of the legislation is encouraging a back door method under which the optometrist has not direct access to the ophthalmologist in that the patient is deprived of the refunds that he can receive under the medical benefits scheme if he is referred to the ophthalmologist by a general practitioner. ft has been said that the Australian Medical Association has taken a very strong stand to exclude optometrists from having direct access to opthalmologists by referring patients to them. If the anomaly is corrected it may bring about a much better relationship in the profession. It is an exclusive profession which is extremely important. I was most interested to hear Senator Morris when he was speaking of the problems associated with faulty hearing. Amongst God’s greatest blessings to man are the powers of hearing and sight. It is grossly anomalous that people associated with the profession of optometry should be placed at a professional disadvantage. I hope that the Senate will take note of what I am saying and will, on the next occasion that the National Health Act is amended, correct the injustice that was done to optometrists in 1 953. It should be made possible for them to refer patients directly to specialists - opthalmologists - so that patients can get the full concessions available to them.
Representations have been made to me by the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce in respect of hearing aids. The representations have made no impression whatever on me. I think the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories have made their way by the way they are made. It is a wonderful organisation which provides- facilities of the highest quality to the community. I feel certain that the people who are making the representations are only looking for an opportunity for entrepreneurs, to get in amongst the pensioners and share the advantage that the Government is giving to them. 1 hope that the Bill is passed in its present form. I hope that all the people throughout country who suffer the big disadvantage of imperfect hearing will gain the benefit that is available to them. I hope members of this Parliament will do their very best to acquaint with this legislation the various associations that look after aged people and pensioners generally. They should be informed that by an application to tha local office of the Department of Health they can go through the necessary procedure to obtain hearing aids. Senator Dittmer referred to the economics of this measure. I hope that the time is not far distant when the charge of $10 can he dropped. Most other services are available to age, invalid and other social service pensioners at low cost. A hearing aid is quite a considerable benefit. The first move has been made to make hearing aids available. I hope that the next move will be to make hearing aids as readily available to pensioners as are medical and hospital services. I approve the procedure. I believe that it is a great step forward in the widening of the health services of this country in conjunction with our social services for under-privileged people. Support for the measure from this side of the Senate is guaranteed. It is a move on the lines of our policy. We would like to see similar assistance given in a much wider field. However, the Government is realising the great need for these services.
– We should be grateful for small mercies.
– Yes. It is a little help. I hope that the Government will continue to move on these lines and to extend this section of the legislation. Perhaps it could reduce the more wasteful, costly and aggressive side of its policy. I personally commend the Bill.
Senator TURNBULL (Tasmania) [9.561 - I congratulate a private enterprise Government for bringing in a Socialist measure. This Government believes in private enterprise, but this Bill must be abhorrent to everyone who believes in private enterprise. I support the Bill. Senator O’Byrne did not have the correct story about optometrists. I send many people to optometrists without referring them to opthalmologists. Perhaps the honourable senator could have raised the point that an item should be included in the Schedule to cover patients who consult optometrists. I am all for that. Such an item is missing from the national health service and I think it is to be regretted. It is a common enough occurrence for people to see optometrists but they receive no Commonwealth benefit Some medical benefits funds allow a rebate but no Commonwealth benefit is paid.
Senator O’Byrne said that optometrists are being denigrated because they cannot send patients direct to opthalmologists. That is not quite correct. My view is not coloured by the fact that I am a general practitioner and receive income in this respect. The point I wish to make is that among the people who consult optometrists there are many who have something wrong with their eyes which requires attention by an opthalmologist. I refer to medical problems. Such people who go direct to optometrists must be sent to an opthalmologist and then referred back to a general practitioner or physician. I think it is only proper that an optometrist who sees in a patient’s eyes a defect requiring first the attention of a general practitioner should sent that patient to a general practitioner. The condition may be caused by hypertension, diabetes, chronic nephritis, or one of many diseases which cause eye conditions. Opthalmologists would refer such patients back to physicians. I think the system should remain as it is, but an item should be included in the national health service to cover optometrists. I am all for it.
I turn now to item 1 of the Schedule, the Commonwealth benefit payable in respect of a visit to a doctor’s surgery. Today it is wholly worthless. I have raised this point before but we have never had an answer from the Minister. Originally the Commonwealth benefit was 6s. Today it is 80c, an increase of 25%. The average weekly earnings of the public have been increased by from 60% to 80%, the basic wage has increased by about that percentage, and parliamentary salaries have been increased by over 100%; but the Government persists in holding the Commonwealth benefit at the low figure of 80c. It is completely wrong. In the social services field the Government starts at a basic figure and never moves very far from it. Government supporters say to the public: ‘We introduced maternity benefits and child endowment.’ But they forget to say that inflation has caught up and the benefits are practically worthless. A benefit of 60c as first introduced should be worth now about $1.20 or $1.30. Government supporters throw up their hands in horror at the Frankenstein they have created because of increased costs. The Treasury will not permit these payments to keep up with the inflation that the Government itself has created. For that reason, item 1 still stands at 80c when it should be $1.20 at least. If it were $1.20, and the benefit societies were paying 1± to H times the Commonwealth benefit, then this would meet the doctors’ fees. The officers of the Department of Health set up a scream when doctors put up their fees, but I have never heard any officer of the Department saying that his salary should not be increased. Every public servant is quite happy to have his remuneration increased, but if doctors put up the fees the officers of the Department set up a scream and hold up their hands in horror.
Another factor to be considered is that many of the medical benefits societies are able to pay more than the li to li times the Commonwealth benefit, but the Government will not allow them to do so. 1 have raised this matter on five or six occasions and every time the Government says it has no control over these societies. This is utter rot. The Commonwealth Government has complete control over them. It is in a position to tell them what to do. It could easily say to them. ‘You can give as much rebate as you like’. And that is how it should be. If the Government wants competition between hospital and medical benefits societies, then surely those societies which are prepared to pay more than li times the Commonwealth benefit should be allowed to do so. But it would seem that the Government is terribly scared that the small societies will go to the wall. Why should they not go to the wall if they are not able to keep up with the benefits offered by other societies? The Government has never answered this point. I know that the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who is in charge of this Bill in the Senate, does not administer this legislation, but I can never get an answer as to why the Commonwealth Government inhibits those societies which want to pay more. Do not” tell me the Government has nothing to do with the matter. The Government has everything to do with it. The Government controls the societies inch by inch and cent by cent. It therefore has every right to tell them that they can give as much as they want to give so long as they are solvent. So long as they are solvent, there is no reason why the contributors should not get back more for their money than they do.
[10.2] - in reply - I thank honourable senators for their support of this Bill and their willingness to give it a speedy passage through the Senate, but I do wish to reply to one or two matters which have been raised. Some of these points arise from a letter which has been received by some honourable senators from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce relating to hearing aids. First let me say that 1 think we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Senator Morris for his very worthwhile contribution tonight which was based on his own personal experience. That contribution did clearly demonstrate the value of hearing aids and the appreciation that is felt of the service given by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. To those of us who are not so conscious of the work of the Laboratories his remarks have been most valuable. 1 come now to the points arising from the letter written by the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. The first matter mentioned was freedom of choice. As has been rightly said by Senator Morris, pensioners will not be compelled to take hearing aids from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. They will be free to consult private firms if they so desire, in the same way as they have always done. The scheme which this legislation seeks to bring into operation need only be availed of by those who desire to take advantage of it. Under this scheme, the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will offer to hire hearing aids suited to the individual’s hearing deficiency for a hiring charge of $10. I think all are agreed that this is an excellent provision. I reiterate what has been said by some other speakers. This charge covers free maintenance and repairs as well as the issue of replacement aids as necessary for the lifetime of the recipient. As Senator Morris has said, this service will be of very great assistance.
There has been some comment about the service given by the Laboratories. I am informed by my advisers that very few complaints are received from ex-service personnel and children who are at present being fitted with Calaids. I would remind the Senate that over 20,000 hearing aids have already been issued. I am informed that there have been no complaints about the service given by the Laboratories. Senator Morris spoke most highly indeed of it. In the letter to which reference has been made, the Calaid has been described as rudimentary. This is just not so. Both Calaid models - the T and the E - are high quality instruments with performances at least equivalent to that of the best commercial aids there are. The essential characteristic of any hearing aid is the provision of adequate amplification of important speech sounds to suit the needs of individual persons. This is obtained with the Calaid by the careful selection of the best components available for assembly and also by proper design of the electronic circuit. The Calaid E is designed for medium degrees of deafness and is being successfully fitted to the majority of repatriation beneficiaries tested by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. The Calaid T is designed for the more severe cases of deafness.
Here 1 might reply to the point raised by Senator McManus about there being only two types of aids. Let me say in explanation that the Laboratories have concentrated on what are the most effective types of instruments. These two models are the most effective. The Calaid T is an efficient hearing aid particularly for people who suffer from severe loss of hearing as more power can be supplied to give greater amplification of sounds. Honourable senators will understand that this is important in itself. The Calaid E is an aid which is more suitable to persons with lesser loss of hearing. lt has the advantage of better directional location of sound with no interference from clothing noise. The other one, the Calaid T, is worn on the ‘body and consequently there is more interference from clothing noise. The other types of aids which are fitted to spectacles or suspended behind the ear would require a diversification of manufacture and effort. For that reason, it is considered more beneficial to concentrate on manufacturing the two types that have proved so valuable in the past, particularly to children. As the records show, a great number of children have benefited from these aids, as have repatriation pensioners. The object of the Government’s scheme is to provide those pensioners who need them with high quality aids at minimum cost and with no subsequent charge for repairs and service.
The letter sent out by the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce makes reference to the qualifications of the staff of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. I should like to inform the Senate that the Laboratories train psychologists and subprofessional staff to high departmental standards to ensure that the service given is uniform on a nation wide scale. Members of the staff of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories have also given lectures at the Institute of Technology. Sydney, in training courses for audiometrists who are employed by the industry. The staff of the Laboratories is widely recognised as being the most competent in Australia in the field of counselling and rehabilitation services. In fact its activities have been emulated by some Slate public hospitals which up to now have provided aids to needy patients. I think that answers the points raised in the letter which honourable senators have received.
Senator McManus also referred to the problem which might confront aged pensioners who are unable to pay the $10 hiring charge. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has stated that the Department of Health will deal with cases where a pensioner claims that payment of the charge would cause serious hardship to him. Such cases should at the discretion of the Laboratories be referred to the Department of Social Services. This is another point that has been covered. Should a pensioner be suffering hardship to this degree the matter willi be reviewed.
I should like to reply to the comments made by Senator O’Byrne and Senator Turnbull in relation to the position of optometrists under the national health scheme. The Minister for Health has informed me that information obtained by him suggests that it is rather exceptional for optometrists to refer patients direct to ophthalmologists. If this is so, few patients would benefit from an extension to optometrists of the referral rule by practitioners. On the other hand if it were recognised in the National Health Act that patients referred to specialists by optometrists should be accorded the same benefits as patients referred by general practitioners, this would open up the whole question of referrals of patients by other paramedical persons such as physiotherapists, nurses and chemists. A widespread change of this nature could have a significant disorganising effect on the practice of medicine in Australia. It is for this reason that the Government strongly believes that the matter should receive a great deal of study and consideration before there is any alteration of this kind to the Act. In making the point that this is a complex matter which needs a great deal of careful study 1 do not want to leave an impression that the door is closed firmly against any possibility that such an alteration would ever be acceptable. The Government has shown its willingness to go into close consultation with the professional bodies concerned to explore the advantages and .the problems that such an amendment would have for patients generally. I shall personally bring these matters to the attention of my colleague the Minister for Health.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I read the speech of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) wherein he stated that the legislation would be administered sympathetically in relation to the charge of $10. The implication was that pensioners who could not afford it would not have to pay. I should like to know where the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will obtain the authority to forego payment of the $ 10. Proposed new subsection (2a) of section 9a reads:
Subject to the next succeeding subsection, a hearing aid shall not be supplied in pursuance of the last preceding subsection unless a charge of Ten dollars is paid to the Director-General by or on behalf of the pensioner, or arrangements for payment of that charge arc made to the satisfaction of the Director-General.
I cannot find a provision that confers on the Minister, or on the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories through the Minister, authority to forgo the $10 charge. I should be grateful if the Minister would indicate under what provision that authority will be derived.
[10.16] - I am informed that the financial relief provided to pensioners who cannot meet the required outlay for a hearing aid will be provided out of a Department of Social Services vote which makes provision for compassionate allowances and other payments under special circumstances.
– The Minister for Health will have the authority and payment will have to be made from the Department of Social Services vote to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. That will be the transaction?
– I understand from the previous discussion that all hearing aids will come from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, but the Bill does not state this specifically. 1 take it from the comments of the Minister that practical application and the fact that the charge will be $10 will make it imperative that the aids come from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. This has relationship to the question that the Minister has just answered. I should like to know what will be the amount of compensation paid from the Department of Social Services vote to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories to make up the value of a particular aid.
– I am not quite certain of the point that the honourable senator is making. The payment that will be made from the Department of Social Services vote to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will be $10. Did the honourable senator think that it would be some other amount?
– I thought that the question raised by Senator Dittmer might refer to the loss that would be sustained by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories due to its providing these hearing aids at $10 per unit. My interest is centred on the matter raised in the correspondence that we have all received. We should perhaps take more recognition of the costs in this connection in the private enterprise field. Suppose the actual cost of one of these units to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories happens to be $60. We propose under this legislation to make an a:d available at a rental cost of $10. In what way is compensation to be made to the authority? There may be some way in which this service can be extended so that private enterprise organisations can come in. My mind has been alerted to this matter because the Bill does not state that the units will come only from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. In fact the Bill provides that:
The Minister may, through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories Act 1948 or in any other way, arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids . . .
I was quite heartened by the fact that other laboratories may be included. My question relates to the possibility of extending this provision in the future. I am directing my thoughts to the way in which compensation will ‘be made to any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories Act 1948.
– I thought it was clear that the $10 would be paid out of the social services vote and any loss sustained by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories would be made good out of the National Welfare Fund.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [10.21] - Perhaps I did not fully understand Senator Webster. I now appreciate the point he was making. What 1 said earlier was correct: The amount paid out of the Social Services vote to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories will be the $10 which normally would be paid by the pensioner. The balance of the cost of the hearing aid over and above $10 will be met from the National Welfare Fund.
– I would like to raise three matters. Clause 3 (2.) states:
The Minister may, through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories
Act 1948 or in any other way arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids.
I, like Senator Webster, have difficulty in understanding the significance of the phrase or in any other way’. That phrase seems to indicate that it is possible for the Minister to arrange supply of hearing aids other than through the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories.
– I was hoping that was so.
– I appreciate Senator Webster’s purpose. I am so often pleased to find myself in pursuit of an inquiry of common purpose with my colleague. Senator Webster. Will the Minister explain the significance of the expression ‘or in any other way’?
My next query relates to clause 4. Why is ‘professional service’ not to include a medical service specified in items 630 to 660? I would like not a detailed answer but a general indication of the significance of that clause.
I refer now to the Schedule which is contained in clause 5 of the Bill. What is the general effect of this substitution of a new Schedule for the old? What is the general effect of the substitution of the whole series of completely unintelligible expressions of medical jargon? In saying that I seek not to reflect on the Minister or the Parliamentary Draftsman. One can never be expected to understand the detail of this Schedule which contains such expressions as lymphangiography. I obtrude on the Senate my aboriginal lack of understanding of such medical terms. Will the Minister indicate the general effect of the substitution of the new Schedule for the old?
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [10.25] - The new Schedule is a consolidation of all amendments to the Schedule of the principal Act and takes in the Minister’s determinations which have been authorised under the Act. It is in effect a tidying up of the Schedule by consolidating all previous amendments. Senator Wright referred also to the expression ‘or in any other way’ appearing in clause 3 (2.). I am informed that these words appear in the section of the Act under which assistance is provided by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories for children. The honourable senator asked whether the Government would use the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories or any other laboratory to provide these hearing aids. My information is that at present the Government has no intention of having these hearing aids provided except by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories.
– I would like to know whether under this legislation there is any likelihood of these hearing aids being supplied eventually by private industry. Earlier I understood the Minister to say that where a pensioner could not meet the cost of SIO the amount would be paid out of the social services vote and the loss sustained on the supply of these articles would be met by the National Welfare Fund.
– That is correct.
– Am I correct in assuming that there are two areas of loss in the supply of these articles? If so, what is the anticipated cost to the National Welfare Fund in the supply of these articles? Suppose these articles cost $60 under normal circumstances. They are to be rented to pensioners for $10, and where this amount cannot be paid by a pensioner it will be met from the social services vote. The balance of the loss incurred by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, which undoubtedly would not be called on to cany the loss, would be met by the National Welfare Fund. Assuming 20,000 instruments are supplied, the cost to the National Welfare Fund will be significant. If in, say, the next 12 months a hearing aid is developed that can be marketed cheaply I would hope that private industry could be called upon to supply some of them. I would hope that the term ‘or in any other way’ would hold out some hope for private industry in this regard.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [10.30] - If 1 could refer firstly to the point mentioned last by Senator Webster, I would prefer to describe this as a benefit. It is a health benefit or a social service benefit which is met from the fund which provides for persons who are receiving special assistance. As I mentioned earlier, if because of hardship a pensioner cannot pay the $10 the hearing aid will be provided from the funds appropriated for the Department of Social Services for compassionate allowances and other payments under special circumstances. From that fund will come the $10 with which to pay the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. Reference was made also to the balance of the total cost of an aid over and above the $10. That amount is met from the National Welfare Fund, so as was said by the honourable senator two funds will be affected by this. The honourable senator mentioned also clause 3 (2.) which states:
The Minister may, through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories Act 1948 or in any other way, arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids . . .
He asked whether the Government could not make this benefit available through other suppliers. Whatever the Government decides to do in future will be Government policy, but at present it has no intention of making this scheme extend to the supply of aids through organisations other than the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. Whatever happens in future will, as I say, be a matter of Government policy.
– If I am in order in doing so I should like to refer to the Schedule to the Bill, not in regard to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories ‘but with reference to the payment for professional attendances by specialists. I have found in the past that there has been a very big gap between reimbursements from the Commonwealth and medical funds and the fee charged, particularly where specialist treatment is involved. I believe that this probably stems from a variation in the amount charged by specialists. I notice in section 14 of the Schedule, item 14 refers to professional attendance by a specialist in the practice of his specialty where the patient is not referred by another medical practitioner. For each attendance the Commonwealth benefit is 80c. Quite often a person may have a second visit to a specialist without being specifically referred to him again by an ordinary medical practitioner. He may just return for a check up or because there has been a recurrence of an illness. I should like to know whether the original reference to the specialist by a medical practitioner still applies.
The first professional attendance by a specialist where the patient has been referred by another medical practitioner attracts a Commonwealth benefit of $2.50 but for subsequent visits the benefit is 80c. If the original reference to the specialist still holds a patient would receive reimbursement of $1.20. I should point out that in my view even the benefit of $2.50, together with the amount paid by the medical benefit fund, will not cover the cost of the visit. I should like to know whether there is any prospect of the referral applying to subsequent visits so that patients may attract the higher benefit. Also, is there any prospect of the benefits being increased? I believe that they have remained at almost the same rate since the beginning of the scheme. In my view specialist treatment is one of the most expensive parts of medical treatment.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [10.34] - First I should like to revert to the point raised by Senator Wright because I now have the original Act before me. Clause 4 of the Bill amends section 19 of the principal Act by substituting new item numbers. The effect of section 19 (2.) is not changed. Perhaps I should inform the honourable senator that section 19 of the principal Act provides that the Commonwealth benefit is not payable where medical expenses are payable to public hospitals and it refers also to professional services and what is included in that term. Senator Tangney spoke about benefits. In reply to her question I point out that the Commonwealth and fund benefits are based on the fees most commonly charged by doctors.
– Could the Minister convey to the Committee whether we can lay any weight at all in the words ‘or in any other way’ which appear in clause 3 (2.). The sub-clause states that the Minister may supply through the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories or in any other way. Can the Minister indicate whether at some future time the Government may change its policy in this regard?
– If I may clarify the position, there is expressed in the Act the provision that the Minister may, through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic
Laboratories Act, or in any other way, arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids. Senator Webster has raised what I believe was a most thoughtful inquiry as to whether it will be possible in future for private industry to compete with the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories so as to provide an equivalent aid at a lower cost. He has asked whether the words ‘or in any other way’ provide authority for the Minister to arrange the supply of hearing aids for pensioners not only from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories but also from the industry. If that were the true interpretation of the Bill it would enable us to give the best of both worlds. We could supply that which is now at a lower level of cost from the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories and if in future competitors could provide an equivalent aid at a lower cost then it could be obtained from that source. I am most grateful for this inquiry from Senator Webster which may serve to elucidate the measure that we have before us.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [10.38] - Senator Webster asked what amount will come from the National Welfare Fund for this scheme. I have been informed that the initial costs for the first 3 years are estimated to be $1,600,000. I refer again to clause 3 (2.) in which appear the words ‘or in any other way’. I believe that this does provide authority for the suggestion raised by both Senator Wright and Senator Webster. However, the present intention is as the Bill stands to have the scheme carried out through the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 October (vide page 141.3), on motion by Senator Henty:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This Bill which seeks to amend the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act flows from undertakings which were given as long ago as .1 964 when the Government, in introducing amendments to the Act, said that it considered further amendments would be necessary and that it would bring them down as soon as possible. The Bill will do three things. Firstly, it will increase the monetary benefits at present provided by the Act; secondly, it will vary the format of the Third Schedule to the Act which sets out the compensation payable in respect of specified injuries; and, thirdly, it expresses the sums of money in the Act in terms of decimal currency.
The Opposition is not satisfied with the Bill. We agree that many improvements have been made in the legislation but it is certainly not the best Bill relating to Commonwealth employees compensation which has ever been introduced into the Parliament. At one time the Commonwealth Act was the best in Australia but over recent years various State committees and authorities have considered State compensation scales more regularly than has the Commonwealth and have increased them to such an extent that the Commonwealth has been left behind. The Opposition believes that there has been loo much delay in presenting these increases. As I will point out later, many State Acts are better than the Commonwealth Act in almost every respect. Some even have provisions which do not exist in the Commonwealth Act. In one respect the Commonwealth legislation contains a provision which is the worst of its kind. That is the provision relating to the use of superannuation payments and defence forces retirement benefits to make up amounts of compensation.
In 1964 Senator Henty when introducing amendments to the Act had this to say:
In conclusion, 1 wish to say that, arising out of various suggestions that have been made from time to time both in the Senate and in another place, in representations to the Treasurer (Mr Harold Holt), and from experience in administration of the Act, the Treasurer has under consideration a number of administrative amendments to the legislation.
He went on to point out that it was unfortunate that they could not be introduced then. At that time the Labor Opposition had proposed a number of amendments and was ready to go on with them, but decided not to do so in view of the undertaking given by the Government. When presenting this Bill on Thursday 19th October last Senator Henty said:
In conclusion, I wish to inform the Senate that the Government has now virtually completed its examination of the many other proposals for amendment of the? Act put forward by honourable senators and other interested parties in recent years, lt was earlier hoped that it would have been possible to introduce further amending legislation giving effect to the Government’s decisions before the end of this session. I regret to say that this will not now be possible.
There we have a promise made 3 years ago that the Government would bring down a comprehensive set of amendments, not only to provisions relating to sums of money but also to other specified sections, which has not been honoured. What I am about to say in relation to the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Bill applies equally to the Seamen’s Compensation Bill which has already reached the Committee stage of debate. In another place these two Bills were joined for purposes of debate. The Opposition intends to seek to amend both Bills. The proposed amendments are in similar terms so, unless the Minister objects, when we come to deal with the proposed amendments to the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Bill we can deal automatically with the Seamen’s Compensation Bill.
As I have said, at one time the Commonwealth had the best workers compensation legislation in Australia but many States have now gone ahead of us. The Opposition believes that we should attempt to improve the Act although we have no intention of picking the eyes out of the legislation. In looking at the legislation we have done what the States have done - we have fried to be reasonable in our proposals. They are designed to bring the levels of compensation more in line with those which apply in the States, particularly in relation to partial and permanent incapacity.
– Does the honourable senator have information as to the maximum amounts payable in the States? 1 Senator BISHOP- -Yes. In Tasmania the payments were adjusted recently and the
Commonwealth’s proposed compensation of $10,000 has been exceeded. In Tasmania it is $10,437. I have been informed that other States are considering further adjustments. In South Australia it was hoped to adjust the legislation during this sessional period but it has not been done.
– Does the honourable senator know the present amount in South Australia?
– Yes. It is $12,000. The Opposition decided to take a fairly centre line with its proposals. That is why we are not moving for an amount in excess of $10,000 which is the amount provided by the Commonwealth compensation table to dependants on death. In New South Wales the amount is $8,600 plus $4.30 a week for each child under the age of 16 years. In Victoria the amount is $9,000 plus $200 for each child under 16. In Queensland it is $7,700 plus $270 for each child under 16, with the provision that payment for a student child continues after the child has reached 16 years of age. In South Australia the amount is equal to 4 years earnings plus $220 for each child under 16 with a minimum payment of $2,200 and a maximum payment of $12,000. In Western Australia the amount is $10,000 plus $220 for each child under 16 years of age. In Tasmania, as I have just mentioned, the amount has been increased to $10,437 with $257 for each child. There was also a multiplier which was adjusted on the old formula according to the basic wage but since the introduction of the total wage concept the multiplier has been altered and related to that basis. The present Commonwealth payment is $8,600 plus $2.25 a week for each child under 16. During the debate in another place in relation to the amont for children under 16 the Minister gave an undertaking that the Government would continue this payment for student children above the age of 16 years. That is a good thing. But if the Government could go that far it could just as well have amended the section to which I have referred. For example the Opposition has decided in the circumstances not to move to raise the limit above $10,000 but to move to increase the amount of medical benefits payable under section 11(2B.) of the Act, which at the present time is £500 or $1,000. It is a very small amount. Five of the States provide a larger sum than that. The Opposition has decided that the amount ought to be somewhere between the highest and lowest amount provided in the States. The Opposition intends to move an amendment to make the amount $2,500, which is the sum at present payable in New South Wales and Tasmania. But five other States have better provisions than this. As I have mentioned already, the Opposition believes that the proposed basic lump sum benefit is reasonable and it will not seek at this stage to have it amended. But it draws the attention of the Government to the need to make the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act the best Act possible.
Section 11 of the Act provides for what is called in compensation language an amount for medical expenses. The amount set out in sub-section (2b.) is £500; it is to be converted to $1,000. Both the Victorian and the South Australian Acts provide for reasonable medical expenses. If an injured worker can prove that he spent $100 or $10,000 on medical costs he will be paid the amount he spent. Those Acts contain extra provisions which are not contained in the Commonwealth Act. The South Australian, New South Wales and Victorian Acts provide amounts for repairing artificial aids and for renewal of artificial aids which have been damaged or broken because of an accident. That is the level to which the Commonwealth Act should go. The Opposition hopes that in the future the Government will move towards that level. I know that the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) has said in another place that these moves will be considered. I hope that when I have finished the Minister for Supply (Senator Henty) will repeat what was said in another place.
Some of these matters are being actively considered, particularly the provision that the Commissioner may under exceptional circumstances increase the amount payable. The Opposition believes that the Government should increase the amounts and not leave it to the Commissioner’s recommendation. In relation to medical expenses, let me refer to an answer which was supplied by the Minister for Health recently. The Minister gave these figures for hospitalisation costs in public wards:
No charge is made in Queensland because public wards are free. A recent publication from the Health Benefits Council, which was issued to all honourable senators, contains certain figures in relation to public hospital fees. I have not had time to check the figures. The publication states that public ward fees were increased by 33i% from 1st November 1964 and by 25% from 1st September 1966, a total of approximately 58%. The Opposition believes that the Government should have increased the amounts at this time. The Opposition believes that the Third Schedule - the specified injuries schedule - is not as good as is provided in Tasmania. The Opposition does not intend to move an amendment, but it points out to the Government that proposals are under consideration in Western Australia, for example. That State will consider its amounts in the light of the action taken by the other States in the meantime.
The main thing about these amounts - most of our amendments are based on it - is the relationship between the payments made for an injured man, his dependent wife and child, and the basic wage. In 1964 and even prior to 1964 the practice was, as the Minister said, to relate the payments to the basic wage. Because of the different interpretations of the basic wage, and because the basic wage now has vanished and has been replaced by a total minimum wage the amount of which is different to what the Government has used, I want to explain why the Opposition seeks to alter two amounts. The Minister said:
As honourable senators will be aware, the weekly payments were fixed in 1964 to provide a total amount for a man with a wife and one child equal to the 1964 Federal six capitals basic wage. In reviewing the rates at this time the Government concluded that the amount payable to an employee should be increased to $25.35 or 75% of the current equivalent of the 1964 basic wage. The Bill so provides. The amount payable for a dependent wife will be increased to $6 and the allowance for each dependent child to $2.45, making a total weekly payment for an employee with a wife and one child of $33.80.
The relationship to what was the basic wage is the same as it was in 1964. The Government at the time introduced the six capitals basic wage figure and made the amount of $33.80 the maximum weekly amount for an injured employee with a wife and one child. The present Bill has used the basis of the old basic wage of $32.80 and added $1 because the recent decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission referred to $1. What the Commission did not do was to retain the basic wage; it abolished the basic wage and determined that the wages paid under Commonwealth awards should be expressed as total wages at an increased amount of $37.35. Honourable senators will see that the Opposition has based its amendments on the adjusted amounts in the tables. I cite clause 6 of the Bill, which alters the First Schedule, as proof. In the main these amounts are related to the basic wage. Consequently the Opposition proposes to seek to amend those amounts.
I do not intend to give other than a broad general outline of the position. The Government ought to be moving towards the best of the workers compensation Acts in Australia. Certain Commonwealth departments specialise in this field of workers compensation. I do not know whether honourable senators have seen the conspectus issued by the Department of Works in January 1967. Many departments are in a position to give out very quickly information about levels of workers compensation. I have had the privilege of sitting on workers compensation committees in South Australia and of recommending legislation. I can say that most of the State bodies work more regularly and are quicker in proposing legislation. That is the broad position. The Opposition is concerned about the delay that occurs. There should be no delay. If a Commonwealth employee is injured, the hardship inflicted on his family is greater than if he were covered by a State Act.
I referred earlier to a matter which concerns me and which I raised shortly after the ‘Voyager’ tragedy. It relates to a provision in the First Schedule to the Act. In 1964 I directed the following question to the Minister representing the Treasurer:
Would a Commonwealth employee totally or permanently incapacitated for work by injury be subject, under the First Schedule of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, to a reduction in the amount of compensation or injury payable on account of an entitlement to superannuation or extended leave benefits?
I also asked what the position of a survivor of the ‘Voyager’ tragedy would be. The Minister representing the Treasurer supplied the following answer:
Under the provisions of paragraph (1a) (b) (ii) of the First Schedule of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act the Consolidated Revenue portion of pensions granted under the Superannuation Act and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act are taken into account in determining weekly compensation payments. Any benefits due by way of extended leave or furlough are independent of, and not affected by, compensation provisions . . .
Should any case arise of the termination of the engagement of a survivor of the ‘Voyager’ tragedy on. medical grounds attributable to that event, and the serviceman concerned is in consequence granted a Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund pension, paragraph (1a) (b) (ii) of the First Schedule of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act would be applicable.
I put it to the Government that it is high time the Act was changed and made a model Act. I hope that as a result of the representation that have been made to the Government not only by members of this Parliament but also by worker organisations the Government will follow up the amendments contained in this Bill with the ones that it has said that it will bring forward. I hope that when it does that it will give consideration to the amendments that we will propose to this Bill and to the last point that I mentioned.
– I am sure that the Senate has listened with great interest to what Senator Bishop has said. I rise to express this point of view: We are dealing with the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act. We are endeavouring to adjust the scales of compensation to present day values. The best indication that I can give of the adjustments that are being made is that the total benefit, which since 1964 has been a maximum of $8,600, is now being raised to $10,000. But 1 rise to speak because I fully support the view that the whole Act requires the scrutiny of a thoughtful committee consideration not for the purpose of simply making larger adjustments because of the effects of inflation but in order to bring the modern social outlook to bear on a proper assessment of the compensation that should be paid to the victims of industrial accidents.
My theme is that industry can be made efficient only if it is recognised that its primary obligation properly to compensate victims of casualty must be adjusted to the modern outlook not merely in terms of allowance for the effects of inflation but having regard to a proper sense of justice to the industrial casualty or, if the accident is fatal, to bis dependants. I need only pose the problem of the dependants of an industrial worker being confronted in these modern times, after his death, with an existence on a payment of $ 1 0,000. That dismays me when I compare it with the case of a family in which the casualty has been caused by what a court in its common law jurisdiction might adjudge to be some fault or negilgence and in which the death compensation that would be recoverable according to the earning rate and life expectancy of an average industrial breadwinner would be anything from $25,000 to $40,000.
I know that our side of politics has adopted a conservative approach, obviously based on the cost to industry. But 1 rise to say that what is wanted in regard to this legislation is a thoughtful review of all of the scales in relation to not only the effects of inflation but also our present social services outlook. In the military service field I have stressed the urgency of the need for a revision of compensation for casualties. Likewise in the industrial field 1 am of the opinion that’ the community must accept a greater obligation to compensate a man who is injured at work or the dependants of a man who is killed at work than it does in the case of the ordinary social service victim who is in another field. In my view, the efficiency of industry depends upon that obligation being accepted. If a person cannot prove negligence the total amount that can be recovered by a dependent family, even under this Bill, is only $10,000 - not even the cost of a modern cottage.
It is not good enough just to say what the States are doing. It is necessary to give thoughtful consideration to the proper relativity between payments under this Act and modern recoveries where a jury or judge considers that there has been sonic fault. I have had some experience in this jurisdiction. One must be prepared to accept the criterion that where there is no fault the limit may be $10,000, but where there is fault ordinary recovery may be from $25,000 to $40,000. It is a narrow distinction. That is the problem that I believe a committee of this House ought to accept as its duty to assess. The matter should not be dealt with simply by a piecemeal adjustment according to inflationary values.
– An inquiry should not be limited to monetary values. I think the whole system of compensation payments to Commonwealth employees should be widened.
– I do not quite understand that interjection. I do not reject it. I regret that I just do not understand what Senator Willesee is putting. In the field of industrial compensation there is in the modern outlook a more special obligation to recognise the needs of dependants and disabled victims than there was when the idea of workers compensation was originated, before common employment was abolished and before we accepted the general system of social services. I have advocated the same point of view with regard to Service casualties. I have put forward a viewpoint that on general thinking we ought to rationalise both fields. As honourable senators are aware, the Government has announced an adjustment in favour of service casualties in a war zone, but there has been no rationalisation in the home service zone.
Senator Bishop referred to the casualties of the HMAS ‘Voyager* disaster. There are discriminations there. Discriminations that are unjustifiable and proceed because of neglect to revise the law are damaging. Senator Bishop also referred to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund and superannuation pensions which accrue to Commonwealth employees. He referred to a reconciliation of those benefits with compensation payable under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act. Today there is a common desire to do justice in this field, but if a claim is made to duplicate these benefits it could damage the cause. Of the benefits payable out of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, 70% of the cost is borne by the CommonTreasury. Of the benefits paid to public servants under the Superannuation Act, 70% of the cost is borne by the Commonwealth Treasury. If a claim is made to duplicate and to add the full Commonwealth employees compensation benefit, it will introduce a sense of resentment on the part of a Commonwealth employee who does not become entitled to defence forces retirement benefits or payments under the Superannuation Act. A reconciliation to do justice as between those classes will add to the general cost of industrial compensation rather than bring about a duplication of benefits.
For the present, this legislation supplies immediate needs in the limited sense to which I have referred, but it leaves unsolved the general problems I have mentioned. In my view they can be solved only by the deliberations of a committee to reason them through and to bring forward a new idea - a new basis whereby industrial casualties will be much more amply rewarded, but not doubly rewarded so that resentment will be created between the two categories within the general class of industrial injuries.
Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) ti 1.1 6] - When the Australian Labor Party considered its attitude to this question it was on the understanding that the pur- pose of this legislation was to increase the rates of compensation and that the Government recognised the need for an overhaul. We understood that general amendments would be brought down during this session to establish a new basis of compensation payments. Only recently we have heard that the amendments to establish a new basis will not introduced during this session. By interjection Senator Willesee said that the whole system of compensation needs to be reviewed. He said it is not only a question of a review of payment; it is a question’ of a review of the system of payment of compensation. For example, an applicant for compensation must establish three things. First, he must establish that his condition ‘ is due to an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.
– The Act stales: ‘or in the course of his employment’.
– That is not in the Commonwealth Act. It is in the South Australian Act and many of the State Acts at present. I have noticed that it is repeated in the amendments to this legislation.
– My advisers tell me that this Bill states ‘or in the course of his employment.’
– 1 see now that that is so. Many injured people cannot establish that their condition is due to an accident. Back injuries can result over a number of years even though no accident has occurred. A man can be incapacitated but unable to claim compensation. This legislation has particular interest for me because for 16 years as a union official I made claims for workers compensation. Today from under the foundations of the Adelaide Post Office has been taken an urn that was placed there 100 years ago. In it were placed coins and newspapers. They are being replaced by coins and newspapers of this time, in the Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ of 2nd September 1891 the following report appeared:
That Cavanagh happened to be my grandfather. He lingered on for 4 years, incapacitated and an - invalid as a result of this back injury. He then passed away and left a widow with two sons to bring up and educate. At that time there was no workmen’s compensation although the injury was sustained while working on a Commonwealth building - the Adelaide Post Office which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its construction today.
– It was a State building in those days.
– It may have been. 1 was pleased to hear Senator Wright’s views on workmen’s compensation. I, too, have made a study of this matter. My idea of the development of workmen’s compensation is that the Government should introduce or amend legislation according to the demands of public conscience. In order to learn something of the history of workmen’s compensation it is necessary to look first at Great Britain where, with the establishment of factories and the employment of large numbers of people as a result of the industrial revolution, the number of injuries received by workers caused such a public outcry that there were many moves within the British Parliament for the introduction of some scheme of workmen’s compensation. Through the development of efficient legislation governing factories and shops, and because of the requirement that safety guards be attached to dangerous machinery, it has been possible over the years to reduce the numbers of accidents occurring in industry.
Today many people do not appreciate the need for or the value of workmen’s compensation legislation until they themselves are injured. I submit however that whereas at one time governments improved workmen’s compensation legislation only because of public pressure, the aim today should be to make available the highest benefits that public conscience dictates. As Senator Wright has suggested, we can gauge public conscience by taking account of awards of damages by courts for injuries sustained in road accidents, and of pay ments ordered under the law of torts for wrongs done to persons. Comparable rights should be available under the workmen’s compensation legislation.
Before the original legislation was introduced in the United Kingdom, the only action available to workmen was that provided by the well known principles of common law under which a person who is guilty pf negligence is liable to make good any pecuniary damages suffered by any other person as a result of that negligence, provided such negligence can be proved against the individual concerned. Under common law, too, a person who commits a wrongful act by means of another person is liable for any damages sustained as a result of that wrongful act, again provided that the wrongful act can be proved. Another legal maxim was . that a personal action died with the person entitled to maintain it. Therefore, in .the early industrial days in England, although a claim for damages could be made under common law if a person was injured as the result of the negligence of some, one, if that person died before his claim could be established before a court, or if he was killed in an accident, the claim died with him.
The next development was the introduction of Lord Campbell’s Act of 1896 which permitted the taking of .an action within 12 months .by the executor, or administrator of the deceased person’s estate where negligence had resulted in death. That was possibly the first attempt to amend the law for the purpose of granting some benefit by way of damages, to the next of kin of a person who had died as the result of someone’s negligence. -Another principle of British law at that time was that if the injury suffered was the result of a wrongful act which amounted .to a felony, the civil action for damages was postponed until the offender had been prosecuted and public justice thus first satisfied. As in those days it was doubtful whether, a person could be punished twice for the one offence, in those cases where the negligence causing the injury amounted to a felony no claim could be made for damages even under common law.
Then there was the doctrine of common employment. This doctrine was clearly explained in a case’ with which Senator
Wright will be familiar, lt was the case of Priestly versus Fowler. It was heard in 1837 and arose from the over-loading of a butcher’s cart. In that case, a butcher’s cart had been overloaded and the foreman of the shop sent a workman out on it. The cart capsized and the workman was injured. The court based its decision on the doctrine of common employment, under which if- the person occasioning and the person suffering the injury were fellow workmen engaged in common employment the employer was not responsible. This doctrine of common employment was invoked in a number of cases in England where claims were made against employers -because of the negligence of another worker. Under this doctrine the employer escaped liability.
Following this the Employers Liability Act of 1880 was introduced. As a result of a number of conferences seeking improvement in matters relating to compensation, a committee of the House of Commons was set up in 1877 under- the chairmanship of Sir Henry Jackson to consider the question of workmen’s compensation. That committee would not recommend a Bill for the total abolition of the doctrine of common employment but did recommend that the existing law should be changed so as to make the employer liable for the acts of the person who was designated as the ‘vice master’. Vice master’ seems to have been defined in a Bill brought down by the Government in March 1879 but read only a first time. That Bill provided that a corporation should be liable for injuries caused by the negligence of its manager or managers in relation to workmen in the employ of the corporation. The Bill was withdrawn on 30th July of the same year but was reintroduced into the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor in February 1 880 and referred to a select committee which never met. In 1880, the British Government passed the Employers Liability Act which became operative as from 1st January 1881. That Bill was to operate for 7 years except in those cases where actions had already been commenced at the date of expiry of the legislation. This can be regarded as the first workmen’s compensation act. lt imposed liability for injury caused by any defect of machinery or plant, but its operation was limited to certain industries, mainly the coal industry. Liability was limited to accidents caused by defects in machinery or plant which had prior to the accident been brought to the notice of the employer, or a person superintending, or any person whose orders the workman was bound to obey, and to those cases where the injury was the result of an act of omission by any person in the service of the employer done or made in obedience of by-laws of the employer.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I know that honourable senators are not particularly happy about adjournment debates at this time of night but the Government is probably less happy about the urgency motions that the Opposition moves from time to time. This evening I want to canvass some of the problems associated with the projected sale or lease of the Canberra Abattoir to private enterprise as a going concern. The first paragraph of a Press statement which was embargoed and ‘ issued by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) on Monday, 22nd August 1967, reads:
The Government has decided to offer the Canberra Abattoir tor sale or lease to private enterprise as a going concern. This was announced tonight by the Minister for Health, Dr Forbes
This matter has caused a lot of worry and misgiving amongst the local population. Particularly has it perturbed in a very deep way the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council. So that honourable senators will have a clear picture I propose to read in toto a number of paragraphs and parts of several other paragraphs of a report compiled by the Advisory Council on the ‘ Government’s proposal to sell or lease the Canberra Abattoir. It reads:
The ACT Advisory Council at its meeting on 7th. November 1966 decided to conduct a public inquiry into the Government’s decision to sell or lease the Canberra Abattoir. This decisionfollowed correspondence between the Ministers for Health and Interior and the Council. The question to be decided was: Is. the proposed sale or lease of the Canberra Abattoir in the public interest?
I shall have some more to say on that matter in a moment. The- report continues:
On 7th June 1966 the Minister replied that the report was confidential and would not be made available to Council.
On 18th August 1966 the Minister forwarded to Council a letter from the Minister for Health concerning the future of the Abattoir stating that the Government had decided to sell or lease the Abattoir and giving its reasons for doing so.
Council, on 30th August 1966, discussed the letter and again asked for the interdepartmental committee’s report and stated that it felt it was its duty to examine whether the Government’s proposal was in the public interest. Council also stated that if it was again refused the report it would feel obliged to conduct its own inquiry. On 1 2th October 1966 the Minister forwarded a further letter from the Minister for Health refusing Council’s request and stating that the Government was satisfied the proposal would have no adverse effect on meat supplies for ‘ local consumers.
That is part of the report of the Advisory Council into this matter. Today my wife visited the shop of one of the popular butchers in the suburbs to which Canberra housewives go. These are the prices that were listed:
These are the current prices for those cuts of beef, etc. within the Canberra area; they may vary by a cent or two from shop to shop. Suppose that this Abattoir is disposed of to private enterprise and assume for the purposes of this exercise that the sale has taken place and is to operate as from 31st December next. I suggest in all sincerity that the prices as at 31st March next year are likely to be of this order:
My suggestion that these overall increases in prices would take place may cause some amazement but I venture to say that experience over many years has shown that where public abattoirs or abattoirs operating under these circumstances have been disposed of to private enterprise this invariably brings about a monopoly - and a decision by the operators to increase prices. It is true that there might perhaps be . some slight reduction in January 1968. This will be given as a fillip to the people who the operators hope will be gullible enough to accept it as an indication of an intention genuinely to reduce prices. I have referred to part of the Press statement issued by Dr Forbes. It continues:
Dr Forbes said the interdepartmental committee which was appointed to study the future development of the Abattoir had considered that the undertaking could, be more appropriately conducted and developed by private enterprise than as a government instrumentality.
Let us have a look at the Minister who made this statement. Can we believe what he says? Can we ‘ not imagine that some outside force might be operating on him to bring this decision about? Could he be persuaded to change his mind? After all, he was once Minister in charge of another portfolio. On 27 th October 1964 he made a statement at the 49th Congress of the Returned Services League at Hobart in relation to the likely composition of the future army of this country. The substance of his statement oh that occasion was that there was no need to introduce conscription as the voluntary system worked very much better. I cite this example to show how unreliable this Minister is. A few clays later his statement was repudiated by the then Prime Minister of this country. Is he now operating with the backing of the Government or is he making this decision himself on one of the harebrained schemes that he has been known to initiate from time to time in this portfolio and in his previous portfolio’. I think that that is enough to discredit the Minister.
Another point that has activated the minds of members of the Opposition and particularly of members of our Rural Committee who have had an opportunity to study in detail this decision to dispose of the Abattoir to private enterprise is the secrecy associated with the interdepartmental report. Were the people who. made this report qualified to make it? The Minister claims in his Press statement that he has the backing of the Government. In view of what I have just said about a previous public statement by the Minister there might be some doubt about this. Why should there be secrecy in relation to the report itself, if this is the basis on which he is making his decision? Why has not the Advisory Council the right to examine this report? Why has the report not received some sort of public airing? Why have not the recommendations been set out in detail in some public way? Why is the Government running this matter in the way it is running the VIP flight show, suppressing as much information as it possibly can in order to confuse the electors of the Australian Capital Territory? Certainly the Government will not lose votes in the Australian Capital Territory in the coming Senate election because the people of the Territory are disfranchised under the Constitution.
Let us examine the backing for the local abattoir. Its retention is supported by the Queanbeyan Municipal Council, the Yarrowlumla Shire Council and to a large degree by the Master Butchers Association, the Queanbeyan-Canberra graziers organisation and associated bodies. If the Minister has based his decision on a secret report, why are we not told the details of it? Under the various ordinances and by-laws, the course I am taking now is the only one open to us to bring this matter to the attention of the public of Canberra and surrounding areas. The Abattoir is supported by the people of the Australian Capital Territory and by the Australian Capital
Territory Advisory Council. Senator Wilkinson will go into some of these matters which I have raised in greater detail. Support for the retention of the Abattoir was almost unanimous in the Advisory Council. Almost every other responsible body in the area supports retention of the Abattoir. I ask the responsible Minister to make available to the Senate or to the Advisory Council the interdepartmental report. Let us not have any cloak and dagger activities on the part of the Government. I urge the Government to persuade the Minister to stay his hand in this matter at least until the matter has had a public hearing and until the Senate or perhaps both Houses of the Parliament have had an opportunity to discuss it. At least let the Government wait until the Advisory Council has had an opportunity to examine in detail the inter-departmental report.
I make these observations in all honesty and sincerity. 1 hope that for a change the Government will do the right thing on this occasion.
– I would like to clear up one point about my dealing with these matters in detail. I have enough material with me to take up an hour of the Senate’s time, but I do not propose to do that. If Senator Wright was a little worried that I might speak in detail he can be assured that 1 will refer only to relevant matters.
This matter of the Canberra Abattoir has been of considerable concern for some time, both to the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council and the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), lt became evident some little time ago that the Minister would investigate the situation to see what might be done about the abattoir. It was decided to set up an inter-departmental committee to inquire into all aspects of the matter. At this time the Advisory Council, quite rightly, asked for permission to present its case to the committee and to be present at hearings so that it might know what matters were being discussed before the committee. This request was refused. The Advisory Council then sought to obtain a copy of the committee’s report in order to see whether the inquiry had been properly held. This request also was refused. The Council then decided to hold its own inquiry and it approached the Minister for funds for this purpose. Funds were not made available and after discussing the matter the Council decided to go ahead and hold an investigation. The Council’s report on its investigation is thorough. The Council’s case for the retention of the abattoir is well presented. The Council’s report should bs considered along with that . of the interdepartmental committee. Tt is interesting to see that one group came to the conclusion that the abattoir should be retained and the other came to the conclusion that it should be sold or leased. The Council contends that it should know what is going on.
Criticism has been levelled at the statements released by the Minister for Health. The Advisory Council contends that they incorrectly present the facts of this matter. One of. the interesting aspects, to a person interested in rural matters is that the amount of meat processed by the abattoir is determined by the Commonwealth Statistician on the basis of the number of animals slaughtered and the average weight of the animals. On this basis 42% of the meat for Canberra goes through the Canberra abattoir. But the Advisory Council went to the biggest user of the abattoir and from his audited statements it ascertained that the abattoir supplies about 59% of Canberra’s needs. This estimate is based on actual weight. Contradictions of this kind, which appear throughout the two documents, bear investigation.
In his Press statement issued on or about 17th October the Minister said:
The abattoir was not being utilised to even ils present capacity. Less than 50% of the meat-
He has gone from 42% to 50% : consumed in Canberra was slaughtered and processed at the Canberra abattoir. Although additional capacity was available, the major present operator at the abattoir, who was virtually the sole operator, was not slaughtering the whole of his meat in Canberra. He had been importing meat, in carcass form, not only from Cootamundra and Goulburn which were relatively convenient, but. also from Adelaide, Sydney, Gunnedah, Wagga and some of it from Queensland.
I would like now to quote from a report of the 555th meeting of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council held on 23rd October, some 5 days after the Minister’s Press statement. At page 7 of the report the Chairman, Mr Pead, said:
The Minister has been scarcely fair, and in fact misleading, when he states that the major present operator of the abattoir, who was virtually the sole operator, was not slaughtering the whole of his meat in Canberra.
He then goes on with the quotation to which I have just referred and continues:
Lel me deal with each of these towns in order from the information supplied today by the operator in question and let me also supply some additional information for the Minister.
Dealing with Cootamundra it is over two years since the operator imported any meal from that source and even at that time he was only importing pigs because the Canberra Abattoir did not have a pig scudding machine. A scudding machine incidentally is to remove the hair from the pig.
Goulburn - it is four years or more since he has had any meat slaughtered at that centre.
Adelaide- he has never imported carcass meat from that area.
Nor has he imported it from Sydney or Wagga.
With regard to Gunnedah - he imported meat from there ‘ for the first time about two months ago . when he purchased 58 grown cattle and because of road transport restrictions was forced to have them killed at the Gunnedah Abattoir.
His reference to Queensland dealt only with veal. Apparently everybody in this area gets his requirements of veal .from. Queensland. This is. the sort of thing that is found when we analyse the report and compare it with the only two statements which have been made by the Minister. Although this is the only material to which we. can refer we. find these discrepancies. It seems to me that the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council should be given an opportunity to see this confidential report sp that it can be. satisfied about the situation with regard to the Canberra Abattoir or can put an argument to the Minister to show that the report which was presented to him was misleading. I feel that this is. the only thing that can be done. The Canberra Abattoir is important to the people of Canberra. As Senator Keeffe has pointed out. there is no question that costs will rise with the sale of the abattoir. The. question of chilling arrangements and so on should also be dealt with. However, I do not propose to weary the Senate with that. I believe that the only way in which’ we can get satisfaction in the present situation is with the presentation of the full facts of the report which should satisfy the Advisory Council or at least give it an opportunity to reply to the Minister.
[1 1 .53] - Honourable senators have referred to a very- clear and lengthy -statement concern^
Ing the Canberra Abattoir made by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) on 17th October. I felt that this was a very clear statement which I thought would have answered many of the points which had been the cause of concern. I have noted the points which were raised by Senator Keeffe and Senator Wilkinson. I shall bring these matters to the notice of my colleague, the Minister for Health.
– I want to speak briefly tonight on a matter which, strange as it may seem. I mentioned also in this place on 12th October 1966. On that occasion I drew to the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior the considerable delay which had been associated with negotiations between the Department of the Interior and the New South Wales Government on the transfer to the New South Wales Government for use as park lands an area of land formerly occupied by the Army. I had in mind specifically the Georges Heights region on the Sydney Harbour foreshores. When we look back on what has occurred even this week we can understand some of the concern about the Opposition seeking additional Senate inquiries. The fact that it was necessary for me to repeat my remarks of 1 2th October 1966 in the debate on the Estimates on 21st September is an indictment of the Government for its procrastination in dealing with this matter. If the transfer of land were a subject which had the complexities of the F111 in the field of aviation or some of the aspects of nuclear science where perhaps some national secret were involved I could understand the delay, but there should be no difficulty about this. I am glad to see that two Ministers who represent New South Wales are now in the chamber to hear these remarks. No doubt they have read the latest report of the State Planning Authority of New South Wales in which there is reference to an increased population in capital cities. One of the points hammered in the report is the need for adequate recreational areas. But the matter goes deeper than that.
In the Federal system under which we labour it is necessary for State and Federal authorities to bargain on financial responsibility. Only today the Premier of New South Wales expressed concern at the existing Federal financial structure and we know that his views are shared by many others.
But I am particularly concerned with the last reply on this subject that I received from Senator McKellar who said that the matter has not yet reached finalisation, but is reaching finalisation. In a matter involving the transfer of land from the Commonwealth to the State of New South Wales I would not expect the Minister for the Interior, the New South Wales Premier or the New South Wales Minister of Lands to be present at all discussions, but if I were the Minister for the Interior or his counterpart in the State I would not allow this sort of thing to go on for 12 months being used as a glorified political shuttlecock, which is all it can be called. There has been no result from the discussions. If governments cannot solve these minor problems, how do they manage with major problems? There is agitation for a decision on the transfer of this land from the parks and playgrounds movement in Sydney and a host of supporting bodies. I. suggest to the Minister that if we cannot have the iron curtain lifted from these negotiations it may be necessary to call for another Senate select committee to inquire into this matter. I would derive pleasure from being a member of a committee which could ferret out the facts and bring people from the Department of the Interior to find out why it has taken so long to arrive at a decision. I believe that it is not necessary for me to add to the remarks I made in October last year. I await with extreme interest the answer that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) will give me on this occasion.
– I regret that my answer on this occasion will be very similar to’ my answer on the last occasion. I assure the honourable senator that there has been no procrastination. The transfer of this land from the Commonwealth to the State involves an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State. I should think that the honourable senator would know that deals of this kind are not very often negotiated quickly. The information which came to me as late as this evening is that negotiations are still going on. They have been protracted, but they have not yet reached the stage where a public announcement is possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12 midnight.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 November 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19671101_senate_26_s36/>.