26th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) look the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Army a question. Does the Minister agree with the statement of an Army spokesman as published in today’s Melbourne ‘Agc’, that the waking of Simon Townsend was in Townsend’s own interest, in order to see that he had not done himself any harm or that he had not become claustrophobic? Is not the imprisonment of a young courageous Australian under conditions tha! could cause claustrophobia-
– Did the honourable senator say ‘courageous’?
– Yes. He is courageous despite all he is suffering, ls not the imprisonment of a young courageous Australian under conditions that could cause claustrophobia to the extent that he might harm himself contrary to the Australian system of punishment and humane treatment? ls not imprisonment with such possible consequences a form of psychological torture?
– 1 did not see the statement in the newspaper that the honourable senator mentioned. I understand that this is a matter for the Military Board; it is not a matter for the Minister for the Army or for me as his representative in this chamber. But, Mr President, 1 am at a loss to understand the attempt to make this young man a martyr or the description of him as courageous. This is a man who is not prepared to defend his family; he wants other people to do it for him, yet the honourable senator labels him as courageous. The Army is one of the Services entrusted with the defence of this country, and 1 strongly deprecate any attempt on the part of politicians to interfere with the Army.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. Has the Minister seen an editorial in today’s ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ in which the treatment of a genuine conscientious objector, Simon Townsend, is described as military madness? ls the Minister aware that this technique is similarto that used by the Gestapo and the Japanese to break down and brain wash political prisoners, and that it is a monstrous, undemocratic technique? ls the Government so our of touch with basic human rights and the dignity of man that it will tolerate such treatment in this country?
– I refer the honourable senator to the answer that 1 gave to Senator Cavanagh, when I said that this was a matter for the Military Board.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In view of the widespread complaints as to the inadequacy of the shipping service from the rapidly developing northern part of Tasmania and the contention by people directly interested that, even with the addition of the’ new Bass Strait ferry ‘Australian Trader’, the service would still be inadequate, especially should the present rate of development continue, I ask: Would it not be preferable to anticipate this position and make plans accordingly now, remembering that the sea is Tasmania’s only means of freight communication with other States?
– 1 am aware of the honourable senator’s interest in the maintenance of adequate shipping facilities between Tasmania and the mainland. This is of great importance not only to Tasmania but to the mainland of Australia. I will raise the matter with the Minister for Shipping and Transport and obtain an answer in writing for the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army and follows questions asked of him by Senator Cavanagh and Senator O’Byrne. 1 ask the Minister whether there is anything in the Australian Military Regulations which enables an Army officer to administer this barbaric, archaic and sadistic treatment of waking every half hour a man who is trying to sleep on a concrete floor with only a groundsheet under him? If not, will the Minister issue instructions that this sort of treatment must cease forthwith and will he order the courtmartialing of any officers who have exceeded their authority under the Military Regulations? Finally, if this is considered to be a matter for the Military Board, will the Minister inquire of the Board why it tolerated this sort of treatment being meted out to Australian soldiers for so long?
– The answer to the first part of the question is no; I am not aware of the Regulations.
– The Minister would not understand them, either.
– I have had a tittle experience of them. The answer to the rest of the honourable senator’s question is no. However, the hardship that this man may be undergoing is not a patch on the hardships that some of the fellows who are fighting for Australia are putting up with at the present time.
– fs the Leader of the Government in the Senate in a position to inform the Senate how much it has cost the taxpayers of Australia to bring Mr McEwen, the Minister for Trade and Industry, back to Australia from Geneva, where he was attending an international sugar conference, and to transfer Mr Anthony, the Minister for Primary Industry, from “ Australia to Geneva as a replacement, merely to enable Mr McEwen to play Prime Minister during the 2 or 3 weeks absence of Mr Gorton, and particularly for the purpose of preventing Mr McMahon from being Acting Prime Minister? ls there a precedent for such a waste of the taxpayers’ money? Does Mr McEwen regard the sugar talks in Geneva and the interests of the cane growers, particularly in Queensland, as secondary to his own personal animus and private political ambitions? Finally, why did he send a boy on a man’s errand?
– Much of the honourable ‘senator’s question is, in truth, offensive, and T deprecate that portion of it, particularly the reference to the Minister for Primary Industry, who is in fact a very worthy representative of Australia and a person who has perhaps a greater knowledge of the sugar industry than does any other Minister or member of this Parliament. He and his family have been associated with the sugar industry for very many, years. I do not know the cost of Mr McEwen’s return to Australia, but it seems to me to be a rather superfluous point because Mr McEwen was naturally coming back to Australia. There are precedents for the Deputy Prime Minister coining back to Australia when the Prime Minister has been absent.
– Quote them.
– There are quite a number of precedents for it. 1 think it would be quite wrong to suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister holds any improper motives in coming back to Australia at this time. As Deputy Prime Minister of Australia he has to assume the responsibility of Prime Ministership when the Prime Minister is absent from this country, doing a job for Austrafia overseas.
– Will the Minister for Customs and Excise refer to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, whom he represents in this chamber, an article appearing in yesterday’s edition of the ‘Australian’, in which Mr Graham Keen, the chairman of the Shipping Section of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce, expresses dismay about delay in answering the requests of the Section for restoration of regular K Line services to Port Adelaide? Mr Keen is reported to have said that the ship for the next sailing is already in Brisbane, and that a decision on whether it will carry on to Port Adelaide from Melbourne will have to be taken quickly. Advice I have received from South Australian shippers this morning indicates their vital concern as to’ whether they will1 be able to fulfil contracts on this run with commodities that other States cannot, supply. Will the Minister seek an immediate decision in this matter from the Minister for Shipping and Transport?
– I have not seen the article referred to by the honourable senator, but I am aware that questions have been asked before in the Senate about the establishment of satisfactory shipping services- between Adelaide and other parts- of the world, including South America. The honourable senator has asked whether a particular ship is to be sailed from Brisbane around to Adelaide. I ask the honourable senator to place his question on the notice paper and I will obtain an answer for him as soon as possible from the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– J preface my question to the Minister for Supply by referring to his announcement that a $600,000 contract has been awarded to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd for the local production of micro-electronic devices. I ask: In view of uncertainty, about the long-range future of the Weapons Research Establishment and projects of the Department of Supply in South Australia, will the Minister investigate to what extent specialist departments can share in the manufacture of such devices?
– In the first placeas the honourable senator knows, we have just completed renegotiations whereby the United Kingdom and Australian Governments ure to share’ equally the cost of the joint project :tt Woomera, lt is true thai the joint use of the Research and Development Section nl Salisbury will be phased out and the United Kingdom Government will contribute on a decreasing basis to the total annual cost. The activities of that . section will ultimately come within the complete responsibility of the Australian Government and will bc directed towards development of our own defence and other associated technological studies. As to the new contract involving $600,000 for development over 3 years of local production of micro-electronic devices for defence application, it is expected that other groups will ‘ approach Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd in order to use its facilities, to develop their own studies and to conduct their own tests. Up to the present lime no such facilities have been available in ‘Australia. In the. past, designers of micro-electronics could make a study, but the results of the study would have to be sent overseas for testing and evaluation: The great thing about this contract is that we are establishing in Australia, through AWA. a complex which will enable not only government departments and the Weapons Research Establishment at
Salisbury but also private enterprise to take advantage of this great new development. In that regard this is a very important contract for Australia. If honourable senators have not yet received a copy of my Press statement in connection with the matter, I hope that it will be available to them before the end of the day.
– My question is’ directed to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Is it a fact that customs and excise officers in Victoria have found that in a number of hotels in that State beer has been diluted with water? Is it also a fact that the Collector of Customs in Victoria advised the President of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Hotels Association of this matter on 12th December 1967? Can the Minister advise the Senate why this information has only just been made public; why the Collector of Customs, in correspondence, indicated that no action will be taken for a breach of section 60 of the Beer Excise Act 1901-66. and why no prosecutions have been launched? In the public interest will the Minister table in the Senate the names of the hotels in which this offence was delected?
– The accusation thai is’ made against the Department of Customs and Excise dates back prior to my taking over this important portfolio and therefore I have not complete knowledge on which’ to base the answers that the honourable senator would like me to give or that I would like to give on this subject. Therefore L would ask the honourable senator to place his question on notice and I will obtain the information from my Department.
– ls the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry aware of a report in today’s Press concerning the annual meeting of the Australian Industrie’s Development Association at which the president of the Association, Dr Barraclough, criticised the possible classification by the Tariff Board of industries into low, medium and high tariff brackets? Is the Minister aware of the reasons for the criticism? Does he take seriously the President’s comments that the classification could seriously affect the share values of existing industries and unbalance the future pattern of investment, and also that while direction of investment may or may not be a desirable thing it certainly is undesirable if it is carried out by a body which bears no responsibility for the consequences of its actions? Does the Minister feel that any weight should be attached to the president’s comments? Could the Minister supply an answer to my question No. 251, notice of which was given on 2nd May this year and which refers to the same subject?
– If the answer to question No. 251 is not available today, I shall certainly make some inquiries and attempt to get a quick reply for the honourable senator. The other question which the honourable senator asked in relation to the classification of tariffs and the implications this could have for the economy was a most comprehensive one and I am sure that the honourable senator will agree that question time does not lend itself to giving a considered reply to if. But I do recall that the Vernon Committee dealt with the classification of tariffs in its report. A very strong argument was put for the proposition that we should attempt to have a broad banding of classification of tariffs, whether this banding be in three levels, six levels, twenty-six levels or whatever number it might be. Let us face it. The facts are that we have a fantastic number of classifications. lt is beyond the ken of an ordinary person who is not trained to give a ready interpretation of a tariff classification. In various Tariff Board reports that have been tabled, there has been a move towards the broader banding of classifications with respect to the various items and, speaking personally, I hold the view that this is very desirable. I do not think that the over-definition of items helps industry. On the contrary, I feel that it tends to raise complications. My personal view is that the position could be better met by a reasonable broad banding of tariff items. The question which the honourable senator asks is very wide indeed, It touches the. very root, of our tariff policy and I think the honourable senator is entitled to a considered reply from the Minister.
Senior FITZGERALD- I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories. Was the
Minister for External Territories expressing Government policy when he announced that public servants in Papua and New Guinea would soon be employed on a 5-day week? If this is correct, will similar conditions apply to all Australian public servants, including Post Office employees? If so, could the Minister advise when these conditions of employment are likely to commence?
– Quite properly, any question about a statement made by a Minister should be directed to that Minister in order that he may reply direct to it. I will therefore direct the honourable senator’s question to the Minister concerned.
– In view of the statement by the Minister for Customs and Excise last week that most matters involving the censorship of European films were under control, I ask the Minister whether he has read a film review in the publication ‘Nation’ of. 25th May which referred to delays associated with the release in Sydney of the film ‘Muriel’ which was co-produced by a French-Swedish group. Since the film was produced in 1963, is this delay in its release due to censorship difficulties or domestic differences with commercial distributors?
– 1 have seen the article to’ which the honourable senator refers. The film ‘Muriel’ was first imported by United Artists (Australasia) Pty Ltd in 1965. It was passed in that year by the Censorship Board as being unsuitable for exhibition to children and was therefore classified as A. I am not aware of any hold up of the film for exhibition in Sydney, due to censorship regulations.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for the Army advise the Parliament whether the bread and water punishment now being experienced by conscientious objector Simon Townsend is the normal treatment for all conscientious objectors committed under Army regulations to the Holsworthy detention camp, or to other detention camps?
– No, 1 am not aware of the position.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. Does he know whether the Australian Army Provost Corps still has stocks of ball and chain, leg irons and racks?
– I think that question is a frivolous one. 1 do not propose to spend any further time on it.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is there any probability of my question No. 252 being answered, as it has been on the notice paper under various guises for nearly 17 years? Can the Minister give me some hope that an answer to it will be given before the end of my term in the Senate, or must ], like’ another maiden lady in vastly dissimilar circumstances, go forth forever unknowing?
– In view of the rather dramatic appeal directed to me by the honourable senator for whom we all have a tremendous regard 1 will endeavour to obtain an answer for her before she leaves the Senate.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the unfrank and unhelpful answers given by the Minister representing the Minister for the Army to a number of questions asked by honourable senators concerning the detention of the conscientious objector Simon Townsend at Holsworthy. I ask the Leader of the Government: Is it the Government’s attitude that this is not a grave matter requiring immediate correction? Does the Government seriously contend that waking a man up every half hour throughout the night is not an unconscionable form of psychological torture redolent of the atmosphere of a police state?
– The situation is that Senator McKellar represents the Minister for the Army who is in another place. The Minister for the Army was asked a question in relation to this matter in another place and he gave a reply. Senator
McKellar, very properly, will refer the questions directed to him to the Minister for the Army and if there are any supplementary answers to be given he will give them. The fact of the matter is that T would reply in identical terms to those used by Senator McKellar: The question of detention is a matter that the Minister for the Army has indicated will be referred to the Military Board. I think that is a reasonable reply to give in the circumstances. That does not terminate the matter. Stemming from that, of course, subsequent questions can be directed in the future.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for National Development refer the Senate to any substantial statement by the Minister for National Development, or a senior Minister, stating the attitude of the Government to the continuation of the work of the organisation known as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority? Can he indicate to the Senate whether the Government expects to retain the Authority as it is constituted at present, or whether the work that the Authority is intended to carry out in the future will be different in any way?
– Several statements have been made by the Minister for National Development in relation to the Snowy Mountains Authority. As the honourable senator well knows, the Snowy Mountains scheme was built by contractors under the direction and supervision of the Authority. The Government’s intention is to keep on a large force in this section of the Authority to look at various projects throughout Australia and in adjacent territories. lt is interesting to note that at least a dozen projects are now being examined by the Snowy Mountains Authority. The total value of those projects will be in excess of $50m. It is interesting to know that at least 200 people will be retained by the Authority to look after this development section of the organisation in relation to the construction of essential works in Australia and/or its territories.
– Has the Minister for Customs and Excise seen a report to the effect that Broken Hill! Pty Co. Ltd intends to export overseas part of its share of the Bass Strait natural gas supplies? If the Press report is correct, has BHP made an application for an export licence? Are the resources of natural gas in Bass Strait sufficiently in excess of Australia’s requirements to allow export overseas? If an application for an export licence has been made by BHP, has the Minister agreed to issue an export licence?
– I have seen the newspaper statement in connection with this matter. The Esso-BHP group, 1 believe, intends to export what is known as liquid gas, which goes away in containers. As to whether there are sufficient quantities of gas in Australia to allow this, 1 would say that the gas finds in Bass Strait are of such significance that Australia might well be looking for export markets. On the question of whether I have received an application for an export licence in relation to gas from this field, I have to answer in the negative, but this would first have to be looked at and processed by the Department of National Development which, if it was satisfied, would make a recommendation to me to issue a licence for export of this material. If the Department of National Development saw fit to recommend that gas found in Bass Strait should be exported, I should willingly grant a l’icence because such exports would provide extra revenue for Australia.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Further to the answer to my question on notice, No. 68 of 8th May, in which it was stated that the Commonwealth and State Committee of Decentralisation had met on only two occasions since its formation in March 1965, is it a fact that it is the Commonwealth Government’s prerogative to convene meetings of the full Committee? Is it also a fact that in January this year the New South Wales Government requested that a further meeting of this body be held and that so far there has been no response by the Commonwealth Government to this request?
– I recall giving an answer to the . honourable senator on this matter. As lo the new aspects that he raises, the facts are not available to me. I shall make some inquiries and 1 hope to give him a prompt reply.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Repatriation been drawn to a newspaper report alleging that the Returned Services League Congress had passed a motion of censure of him during the weekend because of a statement contained in the ‘Repatriation Newsletter’. Has he received any notice of censure and is he able to inform the Senate what has been the cause of the attitude of this representative group of ex-servicemen?
– I have not received any notice of censure by the body mentioned by Senator Marriott. According to a newspaper a vote of censure of mc was passed at a meeting a few days ago. I understand this came about because of a statement that 1 made in Melbourne recently when I addressed the -1968 Federal Conference of the Australian Legion of ExServicemen and Women, and which was subsequently printed in the monthly Repatriation Newsletter’. My statement was as follows:
The ex-servicemen, a-:id particularly those disabled in the defence of their country, will always have a place of honour in the Australian community, Bui. I believe the time has came for all ex-servicemen to make a realistic reassessment of their own position, and that of any group to which they may belong. Soon it will be 23 years since the end of the Second World War and the part that Australian lighting men played in that conflict is fast becoming a part of history. While those days seem very close to many who wore uniform, th;y are remote-or merely events to be read about or seen on television by. very many people in Australia. We. should bear in mind that almost 60% of the Australian work force is now under 40. What knowledge can they have, and what interest can they be expected to have in events of almost a quarter of a century ago?
Are ex-service organisations doing - enough to make the public aware of their members’ needs? Are they going about this in the most effective fashion? An objective approach- is needed to the reasons for the system of repatriation and the very large expenditure that is required to maintain this system.
That is what I said.
– Someone must have written that speech for you.
– The honourable senator might think so but he is incorrect. That .is what I said in the hope that it might be of some assistance to the organisation I addressed and to the other ex-servicemen’s organisations in Australia. The complaint was made by a body in New South Wales which objected to my advising it at its last conference to exercise its influence to encourage the building of more war service homes in New South Wales instead of palatial ex-servicemen’s clubs. The president of that body only recently suggested that all ex-service members of the Government should ‘be horsewhipped. But in spite of the censure motion that was carried against me and in spite of any censure motion that may be carried against me in the future, I wit! not be deterred from endeavouring to do the best that I can for the people whom that organisation and the other sixteen ex-service organisations represent. Nor will such motions deter me from saying what I think should be said in their interests.
– Where did the Minister representing the Minister for the Army obtain the information that he gave in reply to my previous question that Simon Townsend is not prepared to defend his family? Is Simon Townsend not now courageously defending the right of conscientious objectors to obey their conscience despite the threat of military torture?
– The only answer I can give is that I think it is pretty obvious that Townsend is not prepared to defend his family since he has refused to obey his call-up notice. That is plain enough for me and it is plain enough for the rest of Australia.
– My question also is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. Bearing in mind the Minister’s statement that the practice of waking a military prisoner every half an hour during each night that he is in solitary confinement is a matter for the Military Board, I ask: Is the Minister aware that regulation 361 (1) of the Australian Military Regulations states that military prisons and places of detention shall be under the control of the Military Board and that orders and instructions in relation to management and discipline may be issued . under the authority of the Military Board? Are we to assume, therefore, from this regulation, that the Military Board at some time in the past has authorised the administering of this barbaric type of punishment of waking a man every half an hour during each night that he is in solitary confinement to see that he has not escaped, that he has not injured himself and that he is not suffering from claustrophobia? If so, will the Minister inquire when such instruction was issued by the Military Board?
– All I am prepared to do is to refer the question to the Minister for the Army to see whether he can provide a reply.
– My further question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, ls he confident that the further activities of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority have full constitutional authority? Is he aware of the bases of the charges that will be levied on the Authority’s outside clients?
– I cannot answer the latter part of the honourable senator’s question in relation to the charges that the Snowy Mountains Authority makes to outside clients. 1 believe they would be sufficient to recoup the costs in which the Authority was involved but nothing much more than that. The other part of the question should be directed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General because it is a legal matter and I do not propose to answer it.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government. Is it correct that the Government has agreed to set up an inter-departmental committee to inquire into, the cost of petroleum products to the Australian consumers following’ the large increase in resources of Australian indigenous oil? If so, will the Minister table the terms of reference of the interdepartmental committee?
– It is a fact that legislation was passed -here and in another place in relation to off-shore oil. It is also a fact that we have a Senate Select Committee dealing with the matter. An interdepartmental committee would not function on the basis of terms of reference. It would be concerned with matters affecting various departments, and it would be undertaking studies and preparing recommendations for consideration of a government. Therefore, an inter-departmental committee would be distinctly different from a committee of the Parliament. I am not in a position to answer in relation to the activities of interdepartmental committees, which are going on from day to day, from month to month, and from year to year. For instance, if there were some matter in my Department in which in my opinion other departments might have an interest. I would tell the officers of my Department to ask officers from the other departments to discuss it with them. That is the way an interdepartmental committee functions. The Government is examining the current situation in relation to off-shore oil. and I do nol think it is appropriate for me to say any more at this stage.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. On the motion for the adjournment of the Seriate on the night when we last met, 16th May, 1 asked the Minister to investigate a complaint that on that morning a number of men in Army uniform had alighted from an Army bus and ripped signs from a bus parked outside the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. J indicated that in my view this was a serious matter. Has the Minister an answer to my question and, if not, when will he have an answer?
– I undertook to get an answer for the honourable senator, and an answer has been provided for me. An investigation was made into the incident in question and, as far as it has been possible to ascertain them, the facts are as follows: A group of young soldiers, some of them veterans from Vietnam, did take exception to anti-war signs on a bus parked outside the Australian War Memorial. Three of the four signs, which were loosely affixed to the bus, were removed without any significant damage and were handed to the driver of the bus. Some members of the trade union party commenced to harangue the soldiers on the merits of the war in Vietnam, and in the debate which ensued, I understand that the trade unionists were in no way handicapped in expressing their views. The small group of soldiers withdrew but about 10 minutes later had to move to their assembly area to take up duty. As they passed the demonstrators’ vehicle, they were accosted by the members of the trade union party and the debate was reopened. As the position was explained, a bus load of school girls nearby apparently set themselves up as adjudicators - and they would probably be better than some members of the Opposition at that. Far from taking exception to the attitude or arguments of the soldiers they appeared, on my information, to find in favour of the point of view of the soldiers. An officer and a warrant officer who came on the scene ordered the soldiers to board their bus. which they did, and they departed leaving the trade unionists in possession of the field. On the facts as given to me. I am unable to find that any offence against military law occurred, and it is not proposed that any further action be taken in the matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. I ask: Is the Simon Townsend, about whom questions have been asked today and who is said to be under military detention, being detained as a conscientious objector? If not, why is he under detention?
– The fact is that this person has made two applications to be adjudged by the courts to be a conscientious objector. In September 1965, in dismissing his appeal1.. Judge Curlewis said:
Reviewing the whole of the evidence-
And I emphasise the word ‘whole’ -
I have come to a firm conclusion thai the appellant’s belief is not a conscientious one. lt is one that he has adopted as a matter of convenience.
This is the courageous individual who has been referred to and the senator who applies the word ‘courageous’ to Simon Townsend will be adjudged by the community on his standards of courage. Before this appeal was heard by Judge Curlewis;
Townsend had admitted that he had written articles expressing the view that the law relating to national service should be obeyed. After he failed to convince Judge Curlewis, he made another application - in December 1966 - and the second application was judicially dismissed in May 1967 and again in December 1967.
– On what grounds?
– On the ground that the court was satisfied that his objection was not a conscientious objection.
– How would the court know?
– lt is an indication of the ignorance of the honourable senator who interjects when he asks: ‘How woul’d the court know?’ I am speaking of a court of law before which the appellant had a full opportunity to submit all the evidence that he wished to submit. After consideration of the whole of the evidence, the judgment of the court of law was adverse to this person who is now categorised as a conscientious objector.
– 1 ask another question of the Minister representing the Minister f»r the Army. In view of the fact that it is the Government’s stated policy, as announced in today’s Press, to submit another amendment to the National Service Act to take cases such as Townsend’s out of the hands of military authorities and place them in the jurisdiction of civil courts, will the Government consider making such an amendment retrospective so as to include Townsend’s case?
– The administration of the National Service Act does not come within my province but if the honourable senator would like to put the question on the notice paper I. will see if an answer can be provided for him.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Army whether Simon Townsend has been imprisoned in the guardhouse at the Bardia Barracks, Ingleburn, New South Wales, and, if so, for how long? Is that guardhouse 7 feet by 4 feet 6 inches and is it steel lined and subject to draughts? Is such treatment of a courageous Australian in keeping with the high ideals for which we claim to be fighting in Vietnam?
– I think it would be fairly obvious that I would not know the dimensions of the building referred to by the honourable senator. After all, if a man will not obey orders, he will get no sympathy from me. I make that point clear. If the honourable senator would like any information about the dimensions of the building I will see whether I can get it for him. I have not been in the building.
– I preface my question by reminding the Minister for Works of his reply to the question asked by Senator Marriott, in which the Minister stated that Mr Townsend - a man 1 do not know - had legally applied to be relieved of military duties because of his conscientious objection to military alignment. Does the Minister agree with the treatment being meted out to this conscientious objector - irrespective of his qualifications - who is being confined in a cell measuring 9 feet by 9 feet?
– A minute ago the measurement was given as 7 feet by 4 feet 6 inches.
– The Minister for Repatriation and other honourable senators opposite are laughing. My information has been gained from the daily Press. Reports have stated that the cell measures 9 feet by 9 feet. I may be incorrect. If so, the Minister will correct me. Press reports have stated that. Mr Townsend was awarded solitary confinement in a cell measuring 9 feet by 9 feet, that he was subjected to a diet of bread and water and awakened every half-hour by a military guard wishing to see that everything was all right with the prisoner. Does the Minister agree with this barbaric eighteenth century treatment being meted out to an Australian citizen?
– I am minded to say that questions couched in vituperative epithets of the type used by the honourable senator are regarded by me as out of order. However, as a matter of courtesy, I wish to say in answer to his inquiry as to whether I agree with the form of punishment that before I would answer such a question, I would want to verify the facts. I have not had such an opportunity. Secondly, I would consult the appropriate militarylaw on the subject and that has not been and is not my responsibility. Insofar as my responsibility is to represent in the Senate the Minister for Labour and National Service, I have given to the Senate detailed particulars of the man referred to by the honourable senator, so far as the administration of the National Service Act is concerned. If the honourable senator wishes me as a Minister to give the opinion that he requests and places his question on the notice paper, he will get my opinion in due course.
– I have a final question which I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. I read in this morning’s Press a report that an Army spokesman had said that one of the reasons for waking Mr Townsend every half-hour was to see whether he was suffering from claustrophobia. I ask: How would the sentry know whether the prisoner was suffering from claustrophobia and what would have been the treatment? Would he have released the man from the confines of his cell, or would he have just knocked him on the head?
– It is quite obvious that the honourable senator has asked a hypothetical question which does not deserve an answer; nor will it be answered.
(Question No. 28)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply: 1 and 2. Queensland and South Australia alone have legislation providing for the registration of specialists. Western Australia has a registration system which is limited to specialist services under the State workers compensation legislation.
The Medical Acts of Queensland require that, to be registered as a specialist surgeon, a medical practitioner must hold a recognised postgraduate qualification In surgery, and, in addition, he must have served either:
To be registered as a specialist surgeon in South Australia, a medical practitioner must hold a postgraduate degree or diploma in surgery which is recognised by the Medical Board of South Australia. He must also satisfy the Board that he has gained special skill by practising exclusively as a surgeon or by practising in surgery and partly in such other branch of medicine as the Board may approve. Alternatively, he may be registered as a specialist surgeon if he holds, or has held, an appointment as a specialist surgeon in a hospital approved by the Board for such period as the Board determines or is, or has been,engaged in practice as a specialist surgeon for such period as the Board considers adequate to confer skill in the speciality.
I understand that the qualification of Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons is awarded on the results of examination, but additionally the candidate must have spent at least 3 years in surgical appointments at recognised hospitals.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Has any action been taken by the Australian Government to bring about a reciprocal agreement with the Government of Malta on social service benefits, similar to those which operate with the United Kingdom and New Zealand?
– The Prime Minister has provided the following reply to the honourable senator’s question:
This matter, which was recently raised with the High Commissioner in Malta by the Maltese authorities is being considered at the present time.
(Question No. 74)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
American advertising company?
– The Minister for Trade and Industry has provided the following answers to the questions:
1963- 64- £A6,000
1964- 65 - No payments
1966- 67 - No payments 1967- 68 - No payments
Total payments to the company since -
(Question No. 77)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Has the Australian Government joined with the British Government, the United Nations, other nations of the world and prominent world leaders in protest against the hanging of political prisoners by Mr Smith’s Government in Rhodesia? If not, will the Government direct such a protest on behalf of the Australian people to Mr Smith and call upon him to reprieve all other political prisoners under sentence of death?
– The Prime Minister has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
On March 7th the Australian representative stated in a speech to the United Nations Committee of Twenty-four that the Australian delegation shared the dismay of the other delegates of the action referred to.
(Question No. 87)
asked theMinister representing the PrimeMinister, upon notice: Is Australia at war?
– The Prime Minister has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
On15th March 1966 in reply to a similar question without notice by Mr Calwell my predecessor stated that this country is engaged in a number of limited operations with military forces and that it is not technically in a state of war. So far as the Government is concerned this statement still represents the position.
(Question No. 89)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice:
Is it a fact that citrus and dried fruit growers from the ‘Sunraysia district of New South Wales and Victoria made representations to the Commonwealth Government and the three participating Stat: Governments seeking a full inquiry and investigation into evaporation and salination problems associated with the construction of the Chowilla Dam, before any expenditure was undertaken on the project?
– The Minister for National Development has provided the following answer:
In recent years various growers’ committees in the Sunraysia area and in particular the Sunraysia Salinity Committee have made a number of representations to the Commonwealth: no doubt similar representations were also made to the three State Governments concerned. The representations asked that water storages in the upper reaches of the Murray should take precedence over any revival of the Chowilla project and that the project should not be committed until the salinity problem in the Murray had been overcome. In the Committee’s view Chowilla would seriously increase first salinity, secondly flood danger and thirdly humidity - which could be critical at fruit drying times. It was partly as a result of such representations that the River Murray Commission engaged consultants to carry out a full investigation of the salinity problem.
(Question No. 138)
asked the Minister representing the Minister-in-charge of Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister-in-charge of Aboriginal Affairs has supplied the following answers:
The determination of policy in what is a new field for the Commonwealth is, as honourable senators will realise, a matter requiring consider able study, investigation and consultation prior to Cabinet approval.
(Question No. 171)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Has the Minister examined the economics of the Government financing the care of the chronically ill and dependent section of the community instead of providing assistance through the hospital and medical benefits organisations?
– The Minister forHealth has furnished the following reply:
Several of the benefits provided under the national health scheme for the chronically ill are made available through channels other than the medical and hospital benefits organisations. Such benefits are made available through the pensioner medical service, the arrangements with the States for the free hospitalisation of pensioners classified as public ward patients in public hospitals, the nursing home benefits scheme and the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Another example is the maintenance and allowances payments made under the Tuberculosis Act. Nearly $184m is being provided through these schemes during the current financial year, much of it for the chronicallyill and quite apart from the benefits paid through the medical and hospital benefits organisations.
The honourable senator will be aware that it is the Government’s intention to introduce proposals to remove from the minds of Australians the fear of the economic consequences of protracted illness. In considering these proposals, carefull consideration will be given, of course, to the best method of payment of any benefits to be provided, always bearing in mind the Government’s long-standing endorsement of the principle of selfhelp, including voluntary insurance.
(Question No. 188)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers:
It was never intended that the drought assistance arrangements should provide employment grants of a more general character. If municipal or other authorities have works projects that would give employment to those locally unemployed, this is a matter for works programming and should be dealt with accordingly. It is relevant to observe in this connection that the Loan Council places no limit on overall borrowings by authorities with annual programmes of $300,000 or less and has approved substantial additions this year for the larger authorities.
While the changed circumstances resulting from the improvement in seasonal conditions in Victoria have created some temporary difficulties, it seems reasonable to expect a strengthening of the general employment position in that State in the coining months.
(Question No. 214)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answers:
A constant check is kept on the proportion of the sexes among migrant arrivals, andmore particularly the proportions of single men and women in the ages at which most first marriages take place and their ratio to comparable groups in the Australian population as a whole.
In addition to the specific answers requested a comparison has also been presented of the relative numbers in Australia’s population as a whole of single males aged 18-32 and single females aged 16-30 - the age groups in which 92-95% of all first marriages take place.
The large numbers of displaced persons who arrived in Australia between 1947 and 1962, combined with the effects of the’ low birthrate experienced during the depression, were responsible for the deterioration in the ratio between males and females evident in 1954. By 1961, the situation had improved considerably and by 1966 the ratio between single males aged 18-32 and single females aged 16-30 was virtually the same as it was in 1947, i.e., before large-scale migration had started.
(Question No. 220)
– :I desire to ask the
Minister representing ‘ the Minister for External Territories question No. 220, standing in my name on the notice paper. It reads:
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Order! The honourable senator will just ask the Minister to answer question No. 220.
– I prefer to read the question.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - No. I ask
Senator Wright 10 read the answer.
– Why can I nol read the question?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- lt is not the practice, when we go off the air, to read questions on notice. There is a whole series of questions on notice to be answered.
– Is there a standing order which prevents my reading them?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - No, but this is the practice of the Senate. The usual practice is for an honourable senator just to name his question and direct it lo the Minister.
– Under those circum stances 1 am not allowed to read the question?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- The honourable senator is allowed-
– But you are refusing me permission.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- No. 1 am just following the usual practice. (Question No. 220)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
– Mr Barnes has now supplied the following answer:
I and 2. The Papua and New Guinea Tariff (Dumping and Subsidies) Ordinance has been in force since 17th May 1966. To date there has been no cause to invoke the Ordinance.
(Question No. 225)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The Minister for Trade and Industry has supplied the following answers:
(Question No. 235)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Territories has now supplied the following answers:
(Question No. 240)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers:
(Question No. 255)
SenatorMULVIHILL asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
Will the Minister seek information, through Australia’s diplomatic post in Rangoon, to ascertain the prospects of release from prison of U Kyi Nyunt, President of the International Union of Socialist Youth, who was arrested in March 1962 when a military government was imposed by coup d’etat in Burma?
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply:
U Kyi Nyunt, President of the International Union of Socialist Youth, was released from prison on 12th October 1967.
(Question No. 265)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Is the Government happy about being granted observer rights only at the coming peace talks at Paris
– The Prime Minister has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The talks in Paris are at this stage between representatives of the United States and of North Vietnam. The Government has made arrangements for suitable liaison. A senior officer of the Department of External Affairs and former Ambassador in Saigon, Mr H. D. Anderson, has been sent from Canberra to maintain constant contact with the leaders of the American delegation. Whether it will be necessary to do anything more will depend on future developments.
(Question No. 267)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following replies:
(Question No. 81)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers to the honourable senator’s questions:
– On 27th March Senator Bishop ‘ asked me the following question:
My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry. Has his attention been drawn to reports that several large Japanese electrical firms intend to operate near Sydney assembling Japanese manufactured electrical, radio and television parts into appliances in competition with Australian manufacturers who are now using Australian produced parts? The report stales that the firms will be wholly owned and controlled by Japanese. In view of the Government’s attempts to develop Australian capacity in electronic equipment for the defence forces and for general economic reasons, will the Minister investigate the matter and take whatever action is necessary to protect Australian manufacturing capacity and potential?
The Minister for Trade and Industry has now supplied the following information:
The Australian electrical industry is assisted through the customs tariff to meet competition from imports. Protective duties are imposed on imports of complete appliances and on a wide range of imports of components and parts. Should the industry make representations establishing a need for a review of the duties, consideration will be given to referring the matter to the Tariff Board or, if appropriate, to the Special Advisory Authority. To date, the Australian industry has not requested a review of the duties.
– On 9th May Senator Turnbull asked me the following question:
I address a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. On 28th March 1 asked a question concerning the Developing Countries Protocol to the Berne Convention. Further to that, I now ask: Why was not (he Australian Society of Authors consulted before civil servants and diplomats drew up the document giving up our authors’ hard earned rights?
The Prime Minister has supplied the following information:
The Australian Society of Authors was asked, by letter dated 8th May 1967 from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, for any representations which it might wish to submit in respect of any of the matters scheduled for the programme of the Stockholm Conference last year. The Society replied by letter dated 3rd June 1967 to the Attorney-General, stating its views on a number of matters, including the Protocol Regarding Developing Countries. The Society specifically criticised the loose drafting of a number of the terms in the draft of the Protocol which was to be considered by the Conference. In consideration of the Protocol at the Stockholm Conference, the Australian delegation supported amendments which had the effect of removing specific difficulties referred to in the Society’s letter. The Australian delegation also supported moves to ensure that the author’s right to an adequate remuneration for the use of his works was recognised by the Protocol.
(Question No. 207)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
Is it a fact that in the United States ofAmerica -
If so, does the Minister still subscribe to the principle of DC9 two-man crew complement?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers:
During consideration of the crew complement required for DC9 aircraft, my Department noted the established fact that the aircraft is operated throughout the United States and the rest of the world with a two-pilot crew. Notwithstanding this fact, the Department carried out an extensive independent investigation of all factors related to the crewing of the aircraft before arriving at the decision that it could be safely operated with a crew of two pilots. 2. (a) 1 am advised that there has been no move by pilots in the United States for re-evaluation of the DC9 crew complement.
I atn satisfied that the two-pilot crew provides an adequate level of safety for DC9 operations in Australia.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - In reply to the point of order raised by Senator Cohen, I would say that there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent an honourable senator from reading his question. But as long as I have been in the Senate it has been the practice, when we are off the air, for the honourable senator who is called to say: ‘I ask the question standing in my name’, and for a Minister then to be called to give the reply. I followed this procedure today. If Senator Keeffe had persisted in reading his question I think I would have let him read it but I suggest that the Leader of the Government (Senator Anderson) and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) discuss this matter with the President. Perhaps it may then be referred to the Standing Orders Committee for some final solution.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Yes.
– I move:
Tuesdays 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. 8 p.m. until 10.30 p.m.
Wednesdays 2.15 p.m. until 6 p.m. 8 p.m. until11 p.m.
Thursdays 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. 8 p.m. until 11 p.m.
The purpose of the motion, as on previous occasions, is to avoid if possible late sittings at night, which none of us want. We feel that we are not at our best collectively and individually when we sit late at night. This proposal has been the basis of discussions between the Whips and it follows general practice. If the proposal is approved we shall save about31/4 hours duringa working week. I am sure that it would be in the best interests of the Senate to do it in this way rather than have sittings which continue late at night. Honourable senators will notice that we do not propose to sit later than 1 1 p.m.. subject to any adjournment debates after that time. Normally we sit till 1 1 p.m. on Wednesday night in any event. We seek to sit until 1 1 p.m. on Thursday night because we will be dealing with Government business at the end of a session. We shall gain sitting time by continuing the afternoon silling until 6 p.m. instead of finishing at 5.45 p.m. The big crunch is in starting at 10 a.m. on Thursday instead of 1 1 a.m. I think it is in the best interests of the management and conduct of the Senate during the remaining sitting days that we follow this procedure.
SenatorO’Byrne - Do you expect the Senate to continue sitting until13th June?
-I have told Government senators, and J think it has been conveyedto Senator O’Byrne, that we expect to rise on 13th June. We are dependent on what happens in another place. If things go favourably in the other place in relation to time we possibly could rise a week earlier. In fairness to the extraparliamentary commitments of honourable senators it would be better to plan at this stage on the basis that the Senate will rise on 1 3th June. 1 have given an assurance to the Leader of the Opposition and to all other honourable senators that as soon as I am able to pinpoint the actual date I shall inform the Leaders and the Whips.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Customs Bill 1968.
Excise Bill 1968.
Distillation Bill 1968.
Canned Fruit Excise Bill 1968.
Coal Excise Bill 1968.
Beer Excise Bill 1968.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1967-68.
Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1967-68.
Supply Bill (No. 1) 1968-69.
Supply Bill (No. 2) 1968-69.
Naval Defence Bill 1968.
Bill reserved for Royal assent.
Debate resumed from 15th May (vide page 1041). on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Cohen had moved by way of amendment:
At the end of the motion add - ‘, but the Senateis to is of opinion that a Joint Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the desirability and practicability of removing the Australian Post Office from the administrative influence of the Public ‘Service Board and of establishing a public corporation to control the business of the Post Office’.
– I was speaking on this matter last some 13 days ago and I must say that in the mists of time most of the original argument 1 wasadvancing seems to have been lost. Never mind. I shall do my best to resume it. it seemed to me when we began to talk on this legislation and to read about it that quite some content of it was perhaps non-political and that one could be prepared to argue on the merits of the case, discounting strong political attitudes that might be held on other more contentious issues. The Bill, as I mentioned in my previous remarks is concerned with the carriage of mails and with making sure that this facility can be insisted upon. It deals also with damage to lines and underground cable’s and the remedies necessary to apply to try to reduce this damage. Repair of this damage, as I mentioned earlier, is a fairly heavy operating expense of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. In this Bill and. in two other Bills which are before the Senate - the Overseas Telecommunications Bill and the Post and Telegraph Bill (No. 2) which deals with the financial position of the Post Office - we have areas which are of common concern to us all.
In my previous remarks 1 drew attention to what I believed to be the rather strange position that we had to consider on the first Bill, which really deals only with the carriage of mails and damage to cables, an amendment dealing with the financial structure of the Post. Office and its operations. Senator Cohen made the point that this had to be done because of the provisions of the Standing Orders. We had a little exchange across the Senate which at one stage verged on the slightly dangerous, but we overcame that. Looking at the matter further 1 find that from standing order 195 one can draw the conclusion that it is necessary to debate a change in the financial position of the Post Office on the Bill which really relates only to the carriage of mails and damage to cables. I content myself with saying at this stage that this is one of the strange anomalies of parliamentary practice that, still mystify me.
The Post Office is a huge enterprise. When we talk of the Post Office we are talking of something which is beyond comparison with any other undertaking in the field of private enterprise in Australia. 1 suppose most of us look upon the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd as the largest private enterprise operating in the private sector. It employs 49,800 people but the Post Office employs 116,000. As at 30th June 1 967 the fixed assets of BHP at depreciated values were $676m while those of the Post Office were $ 1, 568m. The Australian Post Office is a huge operation, much greater than is realised by many people who talk about changing it. We hear talk about how they would run the Post Office if they were given the job and how they would change the present method of financing. They fail to realise the immensity of the task of changing a public enterprise as large as the Post Office.
In this debate we are really concerned with the first Bill listed for consideration. Most of us have in our minds, as the main points behind the proposed amendment, the financial structure of the Post Office and its responsibility to the Public Service Board. I am addressing myself to those issues with, I hope, the consent of my colleagues. If we want to discuss this question seriously, as I believe we should, the nearest analogy to the proposition to make the Post Office a corporation responsible only to the commissioners of the corporation who themselves would be responsible for its finances and for the employment of labour, is to be found in the BHP organisation. Although that company is, I imagine, the largest private company in Australia it does not offer a comparison in size. Tt is not half as big as the Post Office.
I suppose the nearest comparison to the Australian Post Office is the British Post Office which is operating along somewhat similar lines to those now proposed. If we wanted to have a public corporation as proposed, we could look at the British Post Office as a model. We would not look at the American undertaking, lt could not be regarded as a similar organisation because a great deal more of telecommunications in America are conducted by limited liability companies operating in franchise areas. The only comparable organisation is the British Post Office.
We must first ask this question: ‘Do the people who propose this amendment want the corporation to pay interest on its capital funds?’ A month or so ago the Post Office published a series of tables relating to its business. On page 6 it stated that it set up its accounts in two forms. Tables 1 to 6 show the operations of’ the Post Office as a business undertaking and tables 8 to 10 show the operations of the Post Office in the form of Treasury accounting. Item 11 on page 12 of the publication reveals that the Post Office pays interest on its capital funds. Interest totalling $69,029,052 has been charged to the accounts and the average rate of interest over the whole amount is 4.983%. The British Post Office also pays interest. It was required originally to earn 8% on its funds but it is now being compelled to raise its sights to 81%.
To those people who believe that the idea of a corporation is good, worthy of examination and thought and of being regarded seriously 1 say: ‘Please resolve in your mind whether you want the corporation to pay interest on its funds. If you do, at what rate do you think the interest should be levied? Or do you believe it should not pay interest?’ I repeat that the Australian Post Office now pays interest at the rate of 4.9% and the British Post Office pays interest at the rate of 8i%. We have heard debates in this Senate chamber on other occasions during which k has been stated strongly that the Post Office should not pay interest. It would be very difficult to have a. corporation with the huge investment mentioned earlier that did not pay for the funds involved. That consideration is vital to the case of those who want a corporation and should be settled first. That aspect has rather worried me.
I have had the figures contained in the tables analysed. If we set up the Australian Post Office as a corporation and required it to pay interest on its funds at the rate paid by the British Post Office, which is a reasonable proposition, the corporation would need to increase its revenue immediately by $72m per annum to cover liability for interest on the funds invested. We would also have to ensure that the corporation paid sales tax of approximately $5. 5m per annum, customs and excise duties of $2m per annum and pay roll tax of $8. 5m per annum, a total of $16m. Therefore the corporation would have to examine its ability to increase its revenue by $88m per annum. If that proposition ever saw the light of day at this stage of our existence it would force an increase in Post Office charges for practically every service it renders the Australian community. That is why I believe that at this stage of its existence the current operations of the Post Office with the financial charges that have been recommended are best suited to our development.
If we had the time to inquire of the Post Office we would be told of the areas of unprofitable development in which it must engage in providing a public service such as the extension of telephone lines in unpayable areas and the provision of facilities in post offices in centres so small that normally they would not be provided. That aspect would not arise if the Post Office operated as a corporation or as an organisation in the private sector of the economy. In the new scheme of things proposed in the amendment, who would be responsible for the unprofitable development that now takes place in the Post Office?* In a corporation such as that proposed who would answer the questions raised so often in the Senate and in the other place about the extension of telephone lines and telephone services, about television and about postal deliveries? What Minister would rise to answer the questions that are now answered by the Postmaster-General in another place, questions that have been directed to senators and members by the electorate? The proposal before us would put the PostmasterGeneral’s Department outside the ambit of parliamentary influence. At this stage I would regret that.
The proposal contained in the Post and Telegraph Bill (No. 2), which we will come to in due course in the strange convolutions of our operations, suggests a method of accounting which will place the Post Office, as far as possible, on a private accounting basis. I do not think anyone would quarrel with that. It is a sensible proposition. It gives to the people running the show better control of the accounting system. Revenue will go into a trust account and expenditure will come from a trust account. That will mean that the people in charge of the Post Office, who may be called ‘overall general managers’, will have day to day information about income and expenditure, and those charged with spending money will have a closer relationship with those charged with collecting money. That is a good scheme. The Post Office will also have to make provision for its own superannuation liability and interest on its funds.
The only other comment I should like to make is that honourable senators could, with profit, study the report of the Post Office and the method of business accounting indicated in table 1. It will be seen that in 1967 the total Treasury provision - really money provided by the Australian people - was $ 1,596m.
The amount of funds provided from accumulated profits had been only $37m over the period, so the figures of total funds contributed to the business by the Australian community from taxation and loans through the Treasury disclose that substantial money has been provided to the Post Office to run its business. The accumulated funds are not very great, and a substantial amount of that money is invested in the fixed assets of the business. As far as I can see, from the operating point of view the Post Office operates on fairly slender resources. In fact, it looks like fairly good financial management to me; the Post Office seems to have the money owed to it fairly well balanced by the money that it owes. However, it should be kept in mind that the Treasury investment, largely by loans and from accumulated profits, is mostly taken up by the fixed assets of the business. Honourable senators may look at the accounts if they wish. They will see that, as was mentioned in a previous debate last year, :he Post Office had started to sl’ip back, and (hey will see that in 1.965-66 all services combined lost $124,000, and in the last year of reporting, 1966-67, the combined operations lost $21m. The most substantial loss occurs in the postal section, and not in the telecommunications section. The total funds provided by the Treasury are mentioned in the accounts, and the total amount of interest which is charged is stated. Also, the interest for the year is stated.
The bone of the argument is this: Would we in the Senate be justified at this point of time in agreeing to an amendment which might bring about a proposal for the autonomy, in a financial sense, of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which made it a corporation that would be forced, as far as T can see, to increase the charges to the Australian community very heavily indeed, and would remove the PostmasterGeneral’s Department very much from the area of having to do the unprofitable development work and would also remove it from the area of parliamentary question, supervision and control? I believe that the present proposal for more independent financial accounting of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is a fair proposal for that Department and at this stage of our existence in this country. Therefore, J am unable to support, the amendment.
– I propose to deal with the Bill in two ways. First I shall deal with a number of recommendations that the trade union movement has made regarding the proposed amendments, and then I shall support what Senator Cohen said when he moved his amendment on behalf of the Opposition. I leave aside for the time being what Senator Cotton has said. When Senator Cotton developed his argument on 15th May it seemed to me that he came down rather positively against the idea of forming the Post Office into a corporation, and today to some extent he softened his approach by putting up two propositions which would, of course, concern the select committee if the Senate sets it up, as I hope it will. The question whether the Post Office as a corporation would suffer a great number of increased charges because of the need to raise money, as against the great disadvantage that it now suffers in not being able to carry on long-term planning, is a matter for evaluation, and my colleagues and 1 suggest that this issue should be left to such a committee as is proposed by the Opposition.
Though the provisions of the Bill have been dealt with in another place, the arguments against some of them ought to be repeated here so that the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) may give to them the sort of consideration that has previously been given. Let me say that, quite early in the piece and before the Bill was debated, the members of the industrial committee in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department had some reservations about the legislation. The Minister has said that the intention of the Bill is to bring the Post and Telegraph Act up to date, and he mentioned a number of amendments which will achieve this purpose. For example, one provision deals with the carriage of mail by sea. In explaining this, the Minister said that it arises mainly from an incident last year when a vessel, which was departing from Australia for European ports and would have been able to deliver mail there before Christmas, departed before the mail could be placed on board. One of the purposes of the Bill is to provide certain strictures to prevent this from happening again. The Minister also drew attention to the history of postal legislation in Australia and referred to the traditional concept that ships must carry mail.
Proposed new section 66 introduces a new provision, that the master of a vessel, or the person in charge of an aircraft, carrying mail from outside Australia must deliver the mail to a person authorised, and a penalty of $400 is to be provided for non-compliance wilh this . provision. Also, proposed new section 67 (4.) provides that when the Director serves notice in writing on the mater of the vessel to deliver up the mail and the master, does not comply, he is liable to a penalty of $1,000. Under proposed section 68 power is to be given to detain the vessel, and the section specifies the steps to be taken, the actual process required for this action,, to secure the mails, including, in proposed section 68 (2.) the use of reasonable force to prevent any person from obstructing the carrying out of directions for the delivery of the mail and to ensure that the vessel does not depart from the port without the mail.
This amendment has been considered by all of the postal unions associated through’ the Australian Council of Trade Unions and, though they accept that there is a legitimate intention and purpose in this provision and they can see the need for prescribing some law to stop vessels which would normally be required to carry mail departing from the country without it, they are concerned about the provisions which give great and sweeping powers to the Department. For example, an officer of the Department may detain a vessel; he may board a vessel with such persons as he thinks necessary; and may use and authorise the use of reasonable force to ensure that the directions given by him are carried out effectively. The unions concerned are apprehensive and concerned as to whether an officer of the Postmaster-General’s Department would use this power in the event of an industrial dispute, and this is the first issue thatI posein relation to the amendments to the Act.
Honourable senators must consider these reservations by the trade union movement which represent the views of the workers in the industry. It should be noted that the Post Office, with about 100,000 workers, has almost half the total number of Commonwealth employees, and that these pieces of legislation are brought down against the background of the last national postal stoppage, when this sort of circumstance was considered from day to day.However, it should be observed that, fortunately, the necessity for action such as that envisaged in the Bill was obviated by the fact that the Postmaster-General and the Australian Council of Trade Unions conferred directly with the unions concerned. In those circumstances, the situation that I am now putting to the Minister did not occur, but it could occur in the future, and there ought to be some guarantee that the ordinary means of settling disputes will be used, so that there will be negotiations and there will not be the ready recourse to thel’aw as provided in the Bill. Of course, we put these observations to the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme). and 1 think I would be wise to quote what he said, as reported at pages 1072 and 1073 of Hansard. This is what he said when replying to the debate on the Bill in another place:
Honourable members will appreciate that during the Post Office dispute in January we tried to use the norma] facilities for the movement of mail. The railways are common carriers and are contractors to the Post Office for the movement of mail. We delivered mail to the railways and when railway employees said that they would not handle it because it had been handled by other than union labour we did not insist on our rights under the law. We accepted the situation and no effort was made to insist upon railway employees handling mail. Exactly the same situation prevailed in relation to mail at the wharves, or more particularly to mail carried by aircraft There are members of the Transport Workers Union working on the tarmacs who are not members of the Post Office section of the union. There was no attempt on the part of the Post Office to force the issue on the tarmacs.I point out these things to indicate that there is no desire on our part, as may have been felt by some members of some unions, for these clauses to be regarded in any way as an endeavour to overcome the problems which arise in an industrial dispute.
One of the issues that we are concerned about is that this sweeping power I have referred to may be used unwisely. We hope that it will not be used unwisely. The Minister should repeat in this chamber the assurances’ that were given in the other place by the Postmaster-General.
The Minister said that changes were to be made to Part II to remove some outdated handling provisions. One example given was that special lockers must be pro.videdon vessels for the storage of mail. He said this was now considered to be impractical and was to be eliminated. The Minister also said that the requirement that a ship’s master offload the mails before reportingto Customs was out of date because of the fact that nowadays the Customs officers board vessels before they enter port. There is also recognition of the carriage of mail by aircraft. This is the first time that such recognition has been given.
There are two other important amendments to the Post and Telegraph Act and they relate to the protection of property. I refer to the proposed sections 139b and 139c. Proposed section 139b reads: (1.) Subjectto this section, where -
The Minister has given reasons why responsibility should be placed upon any person who, wilfully or not, interferes with departmental property and causes damage. However, a defence is inserted by proposed section 139b (2.) This provides that liability to pay for damage is qualified if the person concerned notified the Department that work was being done and permitted an authorised officer of the Department to be. in attendance. What we are concerned with is that section 139b can place an undue liability on the worker. For instance, if an operator of an earth-moving machine, a lowloader or a similar vehicle is acting on behalf of a contractor and the contractor does not take the necessary action to be informed of any departmental equipment or installations in the area where work is to be done, the operator should not be liable to pay compensation for damage. This operator is only a servant of the employer. There should be some clear indication that the person who is responsible for instructing the employee to do certain work is responsible for compensation in the event of damage.
Another circumstance which I want to refer to is the case of a householder. We all know of cases where persons who occupy or own homes unwittingly interfere with departmental installations when doing alterations or gardening work. These installations are seldom well designated. There are no signs to show that a cable runs along a fence line or across a lawn. It seems to me that where damage is done in those circumstances the householder should not be liable for compensation. However, compensation could well be demanded in cases where proper signs, designations or plans indicate clearly where such installations are because there would be an obligation upon the householder to avoid them.
– Sometimes a householder cannot know where the installations are.
– As Senator Toohey has indicated, a person may not be in a position to be aware of installations. He may be simply the occupier of the house. There are instances where, because of obstructions, the telephone connection to one residence is from the house next door and the occupier of the house is not aware of this fact. In such circumstances if the occupier damages connections or cables he should not be liable to pay compensation. If the Government insists on the liability under proposed section 139b (2.) it should have a clear policy of providing signs and designations for all installations.
Proposed section 139c provides for the recovery of costs where telegraph lines are realigned or removed to allow for activities such as road widening undertaken by authorities which are not at present under any statutory obligation to meet such costs. The Minister said that the main reason for this provision was to ensure the co-operation of the statutory authorities concerned. It may be a very good move to introduce a law which will place an obligation on a local government authority which proposes to undertake, say, road construction, to ascertain from the Postmaster-General’s Department the exact location of underground cable ducts and so on. But this brings the question of co-operation into focus.
The Minister said that this provision has to be made so that there will be cooperation between the Department and the various authorities carrying out construction work.I want to point out the lamentable lack of co-operation amongst various departments. This does not apply only to Commonwealth departments. There is a great absence of preplanning in relation to new roadways and works. For example, we all know of cases where new roads have been constructed and after they have been paved and rolled another authority comes along and rips out large sections to make modifications which should have been planned and carried out before the road was completed. Obviously there is a case for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to integrate its work with that of State and local government authorities to ensure that there will not be afterthoughts. This would eliminate some of the need for compensation.
Another amendment proposed by the Bill is the bringing up to date of the definition of telegraph lines to cover such things as cable ducts and manhole covers. He also indicated that the statutory height of cable and telegraph lines would be lowered from 18 ft lo 16 ft. The Minister pointed out that, generally speaking, the maximum height of vehicles in all States under existing traffic laws is 14 ft 6 in. Increased penalties are provided for some offences against regulations. We make no objection to the penalties provided for abusive and obscene telephone calls. That completes my comments on the provisions which seem to impinge upon industrial matters. I ask the Minister to consider what has been said by the Postmaster-Genera! in another place in reassuring the Opposition of the administrative aims of the measure, and pointing out that, it is not the intention of these provisions to have an impact on industrial relations.
I wish to refer now to the remarks of Senator Cotton. We of the Opposition believe that there is great need for a move as outlined by Senator Cohen in his motion, which states in part:
But the Senate is of opinion that a Joint Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the desirability and practicability of removing the Australian Post Office from the administrative influence of the Public Service Board and of establishing a public corporation to control the business of the Post Office.
In recent years there have been very wide public discussions about this matter. They reached their peak during the debate last year in the Senate on the legislation to increase postal charges. At a later stage the Senate debated the disallowance of certain postal regulations. Even before that, fairly important moves were made overseas in support of the idea of the setting up of a corporation to conduct the Post Office in other countries. Since Mr O’Grady retired from the Post Office he has made a number of. comments on this aspect. Those comments have received the consideration of the Senate. Senator Cotton has spoken against the idea of the establishment of a corporation to conduct the Post Office. I want to make it very clear that the Opposition is prepared to accept the recommendations of a select committee if one is appointed to inquire into the matter. There is evidence of wide support for the establishment of a corporation. The people to whom 1 have referred have indicated the disabilities from which the Post Office is suffering.
Senator Cotton posed two general objections. He feared that a corporation which had to raise its own revenue would incur heavy increases in costs which would be passed on to the community. He said that this in itself was a good reason why a corporation should not be established. His other point related lo the possibility that members of Parliament may not receive from a corporation the ready and quick consideration that their queries now receive from State Directors of Posts and Telegraphs. I do not think that proposition is very sound. Members of Parliament would make representations about services to the community as they do now in matters concerning corporations.
On the first point raised by Senator Cotton, he stressed the financial disabilities which might arise for a corporation which had to raise its own funds on a market already heavily weighted against borrowers. Mr O’Grady has pointed out the great financial disabilities arising from the present situation under which the Post Office is subjected annually to budgetary considerations. The Postal Department cannot plan for long term development and manufacture of equipment. It must place piecemeal orders with manufacturers, lt cannot plan its works over a period of 10 years, for example. Honourable senators - including. I think. Senator Willesee - have cited cases of large quantities of materials being held up year after year because the financial arrangements for the Post Office are approved only annually by the Government. That in itself is a good reason why a corporation should be established.
A substantial body of opinion, including the opinion of Mr O’Grady, to whom I referred earlier, supports the establishment of a corporation to conduct the Post Office. The United Kingdom Government has decided to take that action and other countries have it under active consideration. I think there is only one trade union concerned with the activities of the Australian Post Office which does not favour the setting up of a corporation. The other trade unions in recent years have strongly advocated such a move. The staff associations of the Post Office support the idea, and not only for reasons of technical efficiency. One of the strongest claims of the unions is that the present set up and control’ by the Government inhibit the satisfactory industrial arrangements which should operate in such an important organisation. Over 100,000 workers are concerned in the industry and their viewpoint should not be disregarded.
Fairly strong support has come from the Press and the public for a change in the situation which has faced the Post Office in recent years. The pattern is currently developing whereby every 3 years the Post Office has a fairly significant loss, except in one section of its operations which must carry the other sections. Some of the problems which have arisen in the Post Office provide great weight for the argument that an examination should be conducted by a select committee. I again point out that the select committee we are advocating would not be comprised only of members of the Opposition. As with other select committees, the Government would have a majority of members. Those members would be in the same position as members of the Opposition to receive and sift the evidence on whether a corporation could efficiently conduct the Post Office.
In 1967 modifications and improvements in postal techniques were effected. In that year particularly there were many complaints about machines not working efficiently and damaging mail, because of defects in administration. There was great discontent amongst Post Office staff because of the inability pf the Postmaster-General to resolve rates of pay with the postal Unions. The dispute with mail van driversis a recent illustration. Post Office employees must have recourse first. to the Public Service Board, then to the Public Service Arbitrator and then to the Commonwealth Conciliation. and Arbitration Commission. It is an unwieldy system. Although the Postmaster-General may be satisfied that there is a need to adjust rates of pay or to provide for new classifications, he cannot act without coming up against the barrier of the Government.
Mr O’Grady, a former DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs, has pointed out ways by which the Post Office may be made a more efficient organisation. In the recent postal dispute the Australian Council of Trade Unions persisted with the claims of unionist’s. It used its good offices to cooperate with the unions and to some extent with the Government. Through its efforts a solution was found. The machinery of the Post Office has not worked satisfactorily under the present set up and a change ought to be made. It is obvious to the Opposition that a change in the industrial field should be made to provide a better form of administration. If established a corporation could plan many years ahead for its technical development. It could provide a series of steps to meet technological changes. As a business undertaking it could arrange rales of pay and settlement of disputes with unions more quickly than these things can be arranged at present.
I have referred to the international moves being made in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Sweden and Japan. Those moves seem to lend support to the proposition that a corporation ought to be established. In addition the more current developments in the Post Office have meant that techniques have improved rapidly over the years. Mechanisation has come about. The process of mechanisation and the technical advances which have been made require new machines, new devices, new instruments and new methods. It seems to me that the argument advanced by Mr O’Grady in the past was a good one. His argument was that if the Government knew its requirements for the next 10 years it would be easier for the manufacturing capacity of Australia to meet those require1 ments under a corporation rather’ than to have to rest upon what the Government might do with the Post Office budget at the end of each financial year. In all the circumstances it seems to me that what has been proposed in relation to the Bill does not involve any great changes being made.
I shall mention now certain clauses of the White Paper on the reorganisation of the Post Office in the United Kingdom. Paragraphs 17 and 18 set out the position of the corporation in relation to Parliament. Paragraph 17 states:
The constitution and- responsibilities of the Corporation will be embodied in legislation. Its accountability to Parliament will be different from that at present. There will no longer be a Minister answerable to Parliament for its day-to-day activities. But both Houses will have the opportunity to consider the Report and Accounts of tha Corporation when these are laid before. Parliament every year. The work of the Corporation will be .subject to scrutiny by Committees of tha House of Commons. Increases in the total amount it may borrow will need to be approved by. the House of Commons.
Paragraph 18 states:
The Minister responsible for the Government’s functions in relation to the Corporation will ba answerable to Parliament for the discharge of these functions and for the exercise of his powers.
Paragraph 23, which deals with charges and conditions, states:
Subject to these general considerations, the Corporation will itself have statutory power to fix charges for its services and facilities and the conditions on which they are to be provided. It will be required to publish these charges and conditions.
Paragraph 26, which relates to the powers of the corporation, states:
The Corporation will borrow long term exclusively from the Minister, and will be empowered to borrow temporarily from the Minister or with his consent from other persons. The Treasury will be able to guarantee short term borrowing from the banks under this provision. Total outstanding borrowings in addition to the opening capital debt will be given a specific limit. As hits been said earlier, any increases in the total amount which the Corporation may borrow will need to be approved by the House of Commons.
Paragraph 27 states:
The Bill will confer various ancillary and general powers on the Corporation, . including power to manufacture anything used in connection with the exercise of its powers. The Corporation will also have power to form subsidiaries and to engage in joint undertakings with other organisations. Tt will be expected to consult the Minister if it proposes to undertake on a large scale any manufacturing work which the Post Office had not done previously.
Those are some of the basic provisions under which the United Kingdom corporation has to work. That brings me to the main issue that seemed to be worrying Senator Cotton in his reply to Senator Cohen. The situation is that the Government still thinks that the establishment of a select committee should be opposed. I have given a background to the kind of problems that have been posed. I have referred to the general lack of efficient operation, of the Post Office, a history of some damage to mail and- certainly of bad industrial relations. The Opposition has referred to the bad industrial relations and Mr O’Grady also has made a fairly strong point in relation to that matter. In addition the international trend should be considered. That trend is towards the establishment of a substitute organisation which can run its own business and plan ahead without being inhibited by government financial arrangements.
I would like to quote what Mr O’Grady said because it seems to me to point more strongly than anything I can say to the res trictions which are imposed at present. I refer to the observations he made on 30th October last. Referring to industrial questions he said: lt is true, of course, that so far as wage-fixing is concerned we differ in important regards from Britain and from most other countries. We have here a very well-established system of conciliation and arbitration, which binds practically all private employers of labour.
The Post Office was subject originally only to the Public Service Arbitrator for matters of conciliation and arbitration but, with recent changes in legislation, the Post Office finds itself in a situation where the final determination of many of it staffing problems is left to a number of outside bodies.
The Commonwealth Public Service Board, for example, has a very great amount of power indeed, in fixing the salaries, classifications and so on of purely Post Office staff. The Department of Labour and National Service also has a great deal of say in these matters on the general excuse thu! it is essential to maintain some reasonable measure of uniformity with other employers of labour. The Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator has his powers and overriding all of this is the Full Court. lt would seem that if the Post Office is lo be made into a truly business undertaking, the number of outside bodies having a say in such important matters should be reduced to a minimum. 1 believe the Post Office should have only two bodies concerned - the Post Office managers themselves and the Full Court. There should lie no other intermediary because this at best results in prolonged delays and at worst causes unnecessary friction between employees and management.
He went on to cite further examples of the financial disabilities and the lack of ability to plan, which are too extensive for me to quote, but he made an important point about the manufacturers in Australia at the present time. He said:
Manufacturers in Australia have a great deal of interest in the progress of the department and most of these manufacturers have surplus production capacity. They could make more telephones, more cable, and more radio equipment - more of the bread and butter items - with very little increase in their overhead charges - just a matter normally of having staff working over longer hours or hiring a few more people.
Australian manufacturers suffer a real disadvantage in that they are producing for a relatively small market. It would pay some of these manufacturers .to invest in a public corporation through some form of loan because they would immediately begin to see a greater volume of orders flowing back to them.
He went on to report on the kind of disadvantages which arise from this kind of planning. That is the outline, 1 think, of our position regarding the first question I posed. I have referred , to the issues which might arise and which might have some industrial significance. My comments have been in support of what Senator Cohen has said. The Opposition adopts the view that, while we favour a corporation, we are prepared to let the matter be argued before a joint select committee. There seems to be every reason why such a committee should be appointed. Together with honourable senators opposite, we would have an- opportunity to test opposing views and we would also have the opportunity to test the validity of the worries expressed by Senator Cotton.
– lt appears, from Senator Bishop’s remarks, that the Opposition has no quarrel with the Post and Telegraph Bill now before the Senate. But Senator Bishop has raised some qualifications. Therefore it is not my intention to discuss the Bill but rather to discuss the amendment moved by the Opposition which, because of the Standing Orders, has no relationship to the Bill that we are discussing. The amendment can be discussed only in relation to the form of the proposals that the Government has put forward to effect some changes in the Post Office. It is towards this question that 1 propose to direct my remarks. I think that the Post Office is recognised on all sides of the Senate as a business enterprise. The Government has made proposals which will be discussed in this chamber to give the Post Office a business charter. It is intended that the Postmaster-General, in consultation with the Treasurer, will require the Post Office to pursue a policy aimed at achieving certain financial1 results.
When considering the Post Office, it is very important to remember - I think this is of vital importance - that it has a responsibility to provide certain services which are essential in the national interest even though they may be commercially unattractive or uneconomic. The Post Office is responsible for the continued provision and improvement of communications essential to the continued growth of an expanding economy. Despite the criticism which has been levelled at it, possibly sometimes justifiably so, 1 do not think it will be argued that the Post Office has not done a magnificent job over the years. If we care to examine the statistics we shall find that the services provided throughout Australia have improved at a tremendous rate. But, to conduct its functions property, and for those functions to be readily understood, the Government has recognised and acknowledged that the Post Office requires a relatively simple financial system which has some flexibility.
Hitherto, the system has been rather complex. While it has been possible for the Post Office to operate under it, it has not been conducive to efficient internal management or - and I stress this - effective parliamentary control. If the proposals which the Government brings forward are accepted, the revenues of the Post Office will be treated in a far different manner than they have been in the past. Quite apart from assisting the Post Office management, it will be capable of more effective parliamentary control because Parliament wil’l be in a position to make a far better appraisal of the financial performances of the Post Office. The White Paper which it is proposed will be presented each year will give the estimated financial results, the capital expenditure, the sources of funds and the general works and services upon which financial expenditure has been incurred. There will be a single line appropriation which will make the accounts readily understood by everyone. lt is rather interesting to note that these proposals follow very much the lines of those adopted by the United Kingdom Government in 1961. In his second reading speech, the United Kingdom PostmasterGeneral stressed the obligation of the Post Office to provide the community with services which, though uneconomic, were in the interests of the community. If this is true in the United Kingdom, it is even more so in Australia where we have vast distances, a scattered population and long lines of communication. Here it is more essential to provide mail services, telephone services telegraphic services and so on without an overriding regard for commercial considerations. In my view, these decisions must be matters for Government policy, subject to parliamentary supervision and control.
The amendment under discussion, which seeks the establishment of a select committee to investigate the setting up of a public corporation has certain attractions. From a purely selfish point of view, it may well have attractions for the Government because il will certainly relieve the Government of much of the responsibility it has today for policy. Senator Bishop laid great stress on industrial relations, on which he is an acknowledged authority, but I am not so sure that we would find that industrial relations would improve under a statutory corporation, indeed, I think that in Australia the lesson has been rather the other way. Many of our corporations have had a great deal of industrial strife and one is inclined to feel that they very often become rather isolated from reality. As 1 have said, the suggestion submitted has certain attractions about it but, on balance - and I speak on balance only - in view of the conditions that exist, in Australia today, and in view of the development that is required, I think it is doubtful whether a statutory authority or public corporation would achieve the results that we all desire.
Senator Bishop and, I think, Senator Cohen mentioned the move in the United Kingdom to set up a statutory authority to govern the Post Office. With great respect to Senator Bishop, I suggest there is a vast difference between conditions in the United Kingdom and conditions in Australia. The United Kingdom is a developed country. It is closely settled with large centres of concentrated population compared with our great distances and isolated centres of population in Australia. I doubt whether any country in Europe has conditions similar to ours, and I do suggest that comparisons of this nature are invalid.
My main concern at this stage of our development is that a statutory authority or public corporation, whatever you like to call it. would be isolated from the close scrutiny and control of Parliament. Having to achieve certain financial results, as any public corporation must, it would be far less sensitive, on balance, to the needs of isolated areas for new or expanded services. It would tend, I think, quite naturally, to concentrate on the more profitable areas. 1 think most members of Parliament, certainly in the larger States, anyway, find that a considerable proportion of their work consists of making representations to either the Postmaster-General or the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in their State on behalf of their constituents. Most of us have very close personal relationships with the Directors and senior officers of the Post Office in our respective Stales. I have no doubt that this direct contact has proved of great value in enabling us to obtain essential services for many people much more quickly in a great number of cases and I doubt whether the relations between members of Parliament and a statutory authority could be as close as they now are between (he Minister and the officers of the Department. 1 am open to be convinced to the contrary, but I seriously question that we could achieve the same results as we do now as quickly as they are achieved today. Many of us know that quite frequently we have replies to our representations within 24 hours with the result that people in great need have telephone services installed quite quickly after having been told that they must wait for some months. It is because of these close relationships that we achieve these results. I seriously question whether we could achieve these results if we had to deal with an isolated public corporation. The temptation for it would be to decide propositions on their commercial attractiveness rather than on the need to provide services over the vast distances in this developing country.
In the years immediately ahead many matters will require the making of policy judgments. One such matter that comes to my mind is the need for the equalisation of telephone charges as between country areas and metropolitan areas. In metropolitan areas a person can make a call for 4c and speak for as long as he likes. In many country areas the initial charge covers only 3 minutes, after which an additional charge is made. In some countries - the United Kingdom, for example. - metropolitan calls are metered and after 6 minutes an additional charge is made. I believe that such a system has great merit. But it requires a heavy capital expenditure. Whilst I believe that such a system is desirable, I certainly would not press for it at the mom;it. *I consider that there are more urgent, requirements in order to provide the essential services over the vast areas of Australia. That is the type of policy judgment that will be required in the future. I believe that such policy judgments can best be made by a government and not by some authority which, quite naturally, will count the cost and the income if it has to achieve certain results.
For those reasons, at this stage 1 do not intend to support the amendment. Whilst we in Australia may well move towards a public corporation in the future and whilst it may be advisable in the future to set up a select committee as proposed, I cannot accept the view that we have yet reached that stage. We must recall that in 1961 the United Kingdom introduced proposals similar to those being introduced by the Australian Government now. It has taken the British about 8 years to move to a public corporation. I come back to the point that I made earlier: I cannot accept the validity of the argument that the United Kingdom is an example to us in this matter. I say that because of the vastly differing conditions in the two countries. - 1 can imagine that if a select committee were appointed at the moment there would be great differences of opinion, which would seem to me to be insurmountable, among its members. For example, the Opposition has always opposed the payment of interest by the Post Office. Yet a public corporation would have to pay interest. I understand that the . present proposals in the United Kingdom are for a 2% return in respect of postal, matters, after meeting interest and depreciation charges, and an 8i% return in respect of telecommunications. This is a matter on which there is an historic difference .of opinion between ourselves and members of the Opposition. lt is also worth noting that in the last financial year, the Australian Post Office lost $21. 5m. If it were a public corporation and had to meet the financial objectives set for the British Post Office, on present figures an increase in income of about $72m would be required. The Post Office as a public corporation would become liable to the payment of a number of taxes to which all statutory authorities are liable and to which it is not liable at present. For example, it is estimated that sales tax would cost $5. 5m, customs and excise duties $2m and pay-roll tax $8. 5m. Some statutory corporations have to pay income tax. Whether that would apply, to the Post Office .is a matter on which I would not express an opinion. In respect of. those matters alone the Post Office would have to meet greatly increased charges. One could suggest that that would necessitate increased charges to the public-
Mr O’Grady has been quoted as saying that the .Post Office could go on to the market and borrow money. The figure that has been suggested is $200m a year. I suggest that it would have great difficulty in borrowing money. It would have to compete with existing borrowers. Our loan market today is very heavily loaded. There is hardly room on it for a new borrower. One rather wonders about the attitude that would be adopted by some of our State corporations, such as the State electricity commissions, which are already borrowers; if a new borrower came on to the market. Therefore I question whether there is any justification for the proposition that the Post Office would bc able to borrow on the loan market. 1 do not believe that it would be able to. T believe that it would still be subject to Treasury handouts, if you like to use that word.
One prominent member of the Opposition. Mr Crean, is reported to have saidI do not quote this against the Labor Party - that he is a great admirer of the Public Service form of operation for the Post Office and is not a great lover of what is called the public corporation device. So at least one leading member of the Labor Party has some doubts about the wisdom of establishing the Post Office as a public corporation.
– The reason for proposing a select committee is to find out about these things.
– If Senator Gair had been listening to my argument he would have heard me say that I, did not oppose the setting up of a select committee in the future, but the arguments in favour of establishing the Post Office as a public corporation are not strong enough at our present stage of development, for the reasons that I have given, which he may or may not wish to accept. Regardless of whether he accepts them, I put them . forward as valid arguments.
As the Postmaster-General has said, the Government is not adopting an ostrich-like, altitude to this proposal. The Government’s attitude, which I accept and support, is that we in Australia have not reached the stage where we should establish a public corporation to control the Post Office. I do not believe that it would bring the benefits- that must surely be the major criterion: - that the present system is bringing to the Australian public and will bring . after the passage of the Bill which is to be debated after this
Bill and which will set up a new system of management and administration in the Post Office. I believe that that system will go a long way towards improving the managerial and financial efficiency of the Post Office.
The day may come when an amendment such as that proposed by the Opposition could be accepted and the Parliament could, with some advantage, consider whether a public corporation should be established to control the Post Office. But I do not agree that we have reached that stage yet. As I said earlier, the development of Australia requires policy decisions and policy judgments. I believe that this requires parliamentary control and supervision. On the whole the present policy has served us well, ft seems to me that in the foreseeable future that is the policy that will bring the greatest advantage to Australia. Therefore I do not support the amendment moved by Senator Cohen.
– 1 support the amendment moved by Senator Cohen, for many of the reasons for which Senator Sim refuses to support it. The investigation that he believes is desirable should be made as soon as possible and not in the dim future, because it is obvious to all honourable senators that while the Post Office is doing a remarkably good job in some aspects of its administration it is doing a very bad job in others. 1 wish to speak in specific terms of the treatment that rural telephone subscribers in many parts of Australia are receiving. Perhaps a committee of the nature suggested would be able to show quite clearly that policies now followed by the Department in relation to many rural subscribers should cease. I refer particularly to the raw deal that has been and is being given to rural subscribers in relation to the upgrading of their services to connect with rural automatic exchanges.
We have had no clear explanation from the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) as to why this policy is followed, but on examination we find that 3% of subscribers are being grossly discriminated against by being forced to pay very considerable amounts of money in order to have a service from an automatic exchange. This upgrading is being done without the overall consent of all subscribers in an area. In many instances amounts in excess of $2,000 have had to be spent by a single subscriber to continue to have the use of a telephone that might have been installed 30 or 40 years previously. Some formula - I have not been able to find exactly how it operates - is applied to subscribers in these areas. In broad terms we are told that the further one lives from an established rural automalic exchange - henceforth 1 shall refer to it as an RAX - the more one has to pay, but this does not work out with any accuracy. Some persons living 24 or 3 miles from an RAX pay for the installation of the service while others who are 7. 8 or 9 miles away have the installation free. This is purely the luck of the draw. It is a lottery that operates on the basis of the geographical1 location of the RAX service and is dependent on the site chosen and the direction in which cables are Tun.
We on this side of the chamber - and, indeed, many Government senators - believe that this is an unjust imposition on rural dwellers. Protests have come from many parts of Victoria and other States. It would not break the Postmaster-General’s Department if the wishes of these 3% of subscribers were met and all conversions to RAX services were completely free. From a ministerial statement that was debated last year we found that it would cost about S2m per annum to provide these services free to all subscribers. The report of (he Post Office for 1967 discloses that there was a profit of over $2m in that financial year on telephone and associated services. In the previous year the profit on these services was $ 10.2m. I assume that: there will be a rather extensive profit in the current financial year because charges have since risen. Higher fees are being paid also for telegrams and postal services. This leads me to believe that the profit this year will be from $10m to $12m. From this amount 3% of the total telephone subscribers are asking for $2m.
The Postmaster-General has never been able to put any real argument for the continuation of this policy other than to say that the Department cannot afford to pay this amount of $2m a year. A spurious argument has been put before the Senate that if this is done we will -find ourselves in the position- of having to ‘find an additional S90m to make retrospective payments to persons who have already met these charges. T remind the Senate that when the Opposition asks the Government to make pension increases retrospective we are met solidly with the argument that this kind of action cannot be taken and retrospectivity cannot be granted. We do not believe that this argument in relation to a retrospective payment of $90m is sound. It is advanced purely in an endeavour to provide an explanation for an action that is unexplainable
In the Estimates debate last year the matter of the Cope Cope exchange was raised in this chamber, lt was pointed out that 17 subscribers were to get the RAX service free and 19 were to be charged amounts up to $2,000. I find now that’ 15 of those subscribers have successfully hung out against the Department and are still connected - in many cases quite satisfactorily, because they are getting a 24-hour service - to their old exchanges. In any event, they could not afford to pay the high charge imposed. A very recent case is that of (he Shelford RAX, 67 subscribers to which will receive the service completely free of charge while 9 are being asked to pay up to $2,000. I have a protest from the Warracknabeal Shire Council in Victoria, asking that something be done. A minority of the subscribers in the Shelford and Cope Cope exchange areas are being asked to meet fantastic costs. Many of these persons have been forced to go into great debt even to stay in existence. We have had the worst drought in the history of the State of Victoria yet the Department is asking up to $2,000 from subscribers in order for them to retain services which they already have from other exchanges. This is a burden that they cannot carry. Many have had to seek drought relief because they are almost broke.
This system is detrimental to a very small section of the community. 1 understand that before the installation of these rural automatic exchanges the Department calls a meeting of subscribers in the area, puts the case to them and advises that an RAX service will be installed. After the matter has been examined by the subscribers there is great ill feeling amongst neighbours in the community because a percentage will receive the service free while others will not receive it unless they find large amounts of money. This kind of thing is not good for the community because naturally it gives rise to differences of opinion. It is easy to see why subscribers who are forced to meet these charges find themselves at odds with those who receive the service free of charge. In many cases installation of the service depends on whether a sufficient number of subscribers in the area are willing to have the service installed. If 50% of subscribers will get the service free of charge and 50% will have lo pay. a conflict arises immediately as to whether those who have to pay are prepared to accept the admittedly better service that will be available to them.
I do not think anyone quibbles at the fact that the Postmaster-General’s Department has improved services in many parts of Australia. We hope it will continue lo do so in every respect, but we do not think a system should be in operation whereby a few subscribers because of the high costs, may hold up a project when others can get the service free of charge.
– Does the honourable senator believe there should be a flat rate of charge for telephone services throughout the country areas?
– Does the honourable senator mean in relation to calls between persons?
– I certainly do. As I have said before in this House, I think the service should be rationalised. The PostmasterGeneral has told us that the farmers themselves can carry out the necessary work, that they will be given any advice required and that the only cost will be the cost of their labour. Let us examine the position. In the first place the farmer who undertakes to put up the poles, string the wires and do all the necessary work will spend a considerable amount of time that he could well spend on his farm. That covers the aspect of cost.
The major point, however, is that no farmer has the proper facilities or training that are necessary to do the work in an efficient manner. Linesmen employed by the Postmaster-General’s Department are provided with helmets, gloves, rubber mats, cranes for lifting the poles and setting them into holes, posthole diggers, safety belts and everything associated with the job. They have attended a training school to fit them to become skilled linesmen. All safety precautions are taken. For instance, a great deal of (raining is given so thai there will bc no danger associated with the erection of lines close to electricity .services. Linesmen are trained to use skilfully and properly the equipment provided for them, yet the Postmaster-General- asks farmers to do the highly skilled work that linesmen are trained and paid to do. Let no honourable senator try to tell mc that a farmer coming off his block or from his cowyard or from his orchard can do the highly skilled work that linesmen do so efficiently.
I appeal to the Government to assist this section of the community which is suffering a definite and obvious injustice. Senator Webster is one of many honourable senators who have taken a very keen interest in this matter and ] am sure we are all agreed thai there is an obvious injustice. It is obvious also that the Government has not answered the questions that have been raised in this House on a number of occasions. Recently the Postmaster-General wrote to the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) in another place following the honourable member’s representations on behalf of some constituents at Shelford. The Minister took a full page to say exactly nothing. I am sorry that so much time was occupied by a typist typing a letter which gave no indication of any solution to the problems that had been raised. This is what the Postmaster-General said, in part:
I am afraid I cannot see any easy solution to the problem you have written lo me about. We have tried to rationalise the system as generously as possible, but the fact remains that, in order to secure or continue basic telephone service, the poison living distantly from his exchange is required to subscribe more in terms of self-help or money than the person living closer to the exchange.
As I indicated earlier, that is not even an accurate statement of the position. I repeat what 1 said earlier - many subscribers are getting this service free of charge while others who live closer to the exchange have to pay for it.
Another aspect not taken into consideration is that as services improve and cover a wider range more people have to pay. For instance, a rural automatic exchange service installed 5, 6 or even 7 years ago would cover 30, 40 or 50 subscribers. Today more subscribers are being attached to the RAX service and the paradox is that they are being required to pay because a greater number of people distant from the exchange are being attached to it. Although the service may appear to be expanding and developing, the people concerned are at a disadvantage because technological advances are making the service available able lo a greater number of people.
A great deal of money is being expended - rightly so - on the extension of the subscriber trunk dialling service, trunk line facilities and many other services. Speaking from memory, 1 think capital expenditure last year on telephone services was about $240m. In comparison with that colossal sum of money, a mere $2m would provide the people in country areas with a free service. We on this side of the chamber believe that the Government should drop its present policy and implement a policy which will give every subscriber equal sei«vice at equal cost.
– ls the honourable senator aware that four Victorians have had their telephones cut off because of the Government’s policy?
– Yes. That information was contained in a reply the honourable senator received from the Minister not long ago. Four subscribers had their telephones cut off because they- could not afford to pay the high fees. I ask the Government to drop its present policy and to introduce a policy which will give the people concerned a telephone service free of charge.
– We have before us three very interesting Bills which are . being debated collectively. The first deals largely with machinery matters except in one respect.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m. (General Business taking precedence of Government Business)
– Earlier today I moved a motion, which was unanimously agreed to, for the re-arrangement of the sitting hours for the remainder of the sessional period. 1 have since learned that because the terms of the motion became effective immediately considerable inconvenience has been caused, in relation to tomorrow particularly. Therefore, without prejudice to the motion, 1 move:
That the Senate, at its rising today, adjourn until 3 p.m. tomorrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– In the absence of and at the request of Senator Murphy, I move:
The motion calls for the appointment of a select committee of the Senate to inquire into the desirability and practicability of establishing a national organisation to deal with the effects of natural disasters, and in particular those arising from fire, flood and drought. Like the ten plagues of old, there are perhaps ten identifiable forms of natural disasters which from time to lime overtake some countries or some areas in the world. One can describe them ‘ as Hood, fire, drought, famine, earthquake, tidal wave, storms, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and avalanches. Australia is by no means immune from the impact of such natural disasters, particularly those arising from flood, fire and drought, and the purpose of this motion is to invite the Senate to examine some of the facts in relation to these natural disasters in Australia and to suggest that what is needed at the present time is an investigation into whether some form of national disaster organisation should be established after proper inquiry into the various functions that such an organisation could undertake. This is not a substantive motion for the appointment or the establish ment, of such an organisation; my colleagues and I seek to have a select committee of the Senate investigate the matter and furnish a report so that we can see where we are going.
The idea is not a new one. lt has been put forward on other occasions by colleagues in this chamber and in another place. Senator Tangney, according to one report in an impeccably reliable newspaper, has, by way of questions and speeches in this chamber, on sixteen occasions in recent years raised the question of a national disaster fund, as she put it. The Opposition Whip in another place, the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie), and the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Beaton) have on occasions given voice to some very coherent thoughts and arguments in favour of this proposal, and it has been canvassed by prominent people outside the Australian Labor Party. 1 have found in my own journeyings in various parts of Australia that wherever the proposal has been put forward it has been well received, particularly in country areas afflicted by drought. The Government has nol” in the past moved to appoint such an organisation. The Government has rather taken the view that it ought to proceed on an ad hoc basis, dealing specifically with specific disasters when they arise. The main complaint that we have about this ad hoc approach to the problem is that improvisation is not of much comfort or relief to people who are overwhelmed by such a disaster as bush fire, flood or drought, and what we want to see is a national organisation which would be equipped to handle these problems on a permanent basis.
If there is one thing that we can be absolutely certain of in Australia, it is that there will be more droughts. There is a high probability that “there will be more bush fires and that there will be more floods’, and when any one of these three scourges occurs it not only does untold damage to individuals but also is a national calamity of the first magnitude. It is very important that we . look at the problem calmly and without too much partisan debate, to see whether we can all agree in this Senate that it is desirable to appoint such a select committee to make this inquiry. For my part, I hope that the Senate will agree unanimously to the appointment of this committee and that it will do so without too much delay so that we can get on with the job of making a thorough investigation.. 1 would remind the Senate that it is not so very long since the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Henty, in answer to a question, said that the question of a national insurance fund, as he put it. to cover calamities had been constantly before the Government, but it had great complications and the Government had not yet seen fit to adopt such a proposal. I am encouraged to think that perhaps on this occasion we will have some support from the Government itself as well as from some other senators representing other interests, and that by the time this debate concludes we will have some consensus amongst us that it is time to move to the appointment of a select committee, because we do not want recurring droughts, recurring floods, and recurring bush fires, with a fading of the public’s memory as relief is given after each disaster. People get used to the fact that the drought or the flood is over and there has been relief and mitigation. A patient who has been very ill and makes a recovery does not often think back on the limes when he was ill, and certainly other people forget that he was ill. That is just what happens in the case of natural disasters. 1 shall nol. weary the Senate with a great deal of detail on the subject, but Australia has had many calamitous bush fires. Honourable senators will recall Black Friday, 1.1th January 1939, in Victoria, when about 70 people were killed, 1,300 homes were destroyed, and damage totalled $20m. in modern terms. In New South Wales in 1944, and again in 1957, hundreds pf homes were destroyed in the Blue Mountains. In Victoria in 1962 and 1965 disastrous bush fires occurred, and we recall only too vividly the tragic events in February 1967 in Tasmania where the bush fires resulted in 62 deaths and an enormous amount of damage to property, livestock, fodder, homes, factories and other buildings. The Commonwealth has paid a great deal of money to the States for bush fire relief. On more than one occasion my colleague Senator Mulvihill has directed attention to this important problem.
In due course I want to deal wilh the question of drought. It is somewhat ironical that Australia, which is one of the world’s dry continent’s, is - at times troubled by floods. One can look back to as recently as March of this year when the cost of floods in the Northern Territory ran into a couple of million dollars. Floods that occurred last - year in Queensland caused damage, including the cost of restoration, amounting to $1.5m. lt is true that on such occasions money has been provided by the Commonwealth to assist the States, but the sort of thing that the Opposition is complaining about, and which I think emphasises the importance of setting up a national disaster organisation, is that we never know how a crisis is to be met when it arises. The States are always short of funds and are always looking to the Commonwealth for assistance. Al present when a calamity occurs we find that, weeks pass during which we are met with headlines proclaiming that Sir Henry Bolte or some other Premier is looking to Canberra for assistance. The Slates wait and wait for assistance but it is not necessarily the Federal Government’s fault that it is not forthcoming immediately, lt is because there is no ready made machinery or organisation to cope with a specific calamity when it arises.
– Who should contribute to this fund?
– That is one of the things that the proposed select committee should investigate.
– Does the honourable senator have any ideas?
– l, personally, do not have many specific ideas. I know that in other countries contributions in the form of insurance arc made by primary producers. There is a calamity insurance fund in operation in New Zealand. There is a noncontributory scheme in operation in the United States of America which is. known as Federal Disaster Relief Assistance. I have in my hand at the moment the text of President Johnson’s report to Congress on the operation of what, is known as the Federal Disaster Act. Public Law 81875, which provides a uniform and continuing means of assistance by the Federal Government to States and local government authorities threatened by or suffering from the effects of a major disaster.
– This is exactly as we do it now.
– But the Government does not have machinery to act immediately. The machinery is called into existence after the event has occurred. On each occasion the Government has to work out some kind of arrangement. There should be an established procedure and an established basis upon which the Commonwealth would contribute, say Si for SI or a $1 for $2, wilh the States. This machinery should be permanent. Although its functions might be many and varied, the organisation would not need a huge stall’. This is the type of thing that the proposed select committee could investigate. Such an organisation could have a research arm to look into a score of different problems, some of which were suggested in a recent valuable speech in another place by the honourable member for Bendigo. The research arm might have the task of co-ordinating and stimulating research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, universities, other research institutions, farmers’ organisations and so on. into problems of rainfall, weather forecasting, farm water supplies, primary industry insurance, drought insurance and other subjects. I believe that a very valuable contribution could be made towards Australia’s national life by an organisation of the kind that we envisage being recommended by. the select committee that the Opposition would like to see established.
– Would the honourable senator conceive of this as a Commonwealth body without the co-operation of the States?
– No, I would not. I would call it a national disaster organisation. I assume that it would he financed by the Commonwealth but that it would be established and operated in co-operation with the States. I am not saying that it should not be a Commonwealth-Stale body and I certainly did nol exclude that possibility. I would not favour a top-heavy body with no arms and with no basis in the individual States.
– Would that not be a matter for the select committee?
– Yes. I think Senator Greenwood raised the proper question of what problems would be investigated by the proposed select committee. The resolution is framed in terms that are sufficiently wide to enable all these various suggestions to be considered.
– Would the national disaster fund be wide enough to embrace the Australian Labor Party disaster?
– That is not the kind of problem 1 was thinking of.
– The Opposition would need a lot of select committees on that.
– 1 assure honourable senators that we woul’d be very selective in choosing the members of such a select committee. Let us consider for a moment the problem of droughts.
– Does the honourable senator visualise that individuals will be contributing?
– 1 do not exclude that.
– :It would be not unreasonable.
– lt would be not unreasonable that some individuals should contribute if they were to get direct benefit. In the 100 years between 1855 and 1955 Australia suffered seven major droughts. The first recorded drought was in 1789, only one year after the beginning of European settlement ‘ in Australia, lt is estimated that between 1855 and 1955 the mainland States of Australia - for some reason or other my figures do not include Tasmania - have lost .132 million sheep through drought. If we add to that the losses’ in grain production and the actual losses in human life we get some idea of the wholesale damage that ‘the drought, years have done to our economy. On 4th May the Federal Treasurer (Mr McMahon) said that the drought will cost farmers about $660m this financial year and that it will cut rural production in 1967-68 by an estimated 11%. Other estimates are that the drought has reduced the Victorian and South Australian sheep population by more than 4.5 million in the past 8 months - up to February or March of this year - and is expected to cut wheat production in those two States by about 70 million bushels. The Premier of Victoria, : Sir Henry Bolte, stated that the drought had cost Victoria $8m. The Opposition’s point is that the Government should not continue to play this by car but that there’ should be some kind of. permanent organisation to deal with the problems as they arise. We should take into consideration not only the primary effects of major disasters but also the secondary effects. The consequences to the community are enormous when there is a drought that lasts many months. For example, there is a substantial fall in the purchase of new motor vehicles and farm machinery with resultant unemployment at the factories that produce them.
As I said earlier, there is some form of national1 organisation that is equipped to handle this task in other countries, such as New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United States of America. 1 referred to the position in the United States. In 1965 alone a total of $US 124m was allocated from the President’s disaster fund. The United States fund does not necessarily lay emphasis on the same disasters as we have in Australia. Hurricanes are the major form of disaster in the United States. The total damage attributed to Hurricane Betsy, which, to use President Johnson’s words, was a giant among natural disasters, exceeded $US1.4 billion. The United States has also had a number of droughts, it is apparent that under the Federal Disasters Act in the United States there is cooperation between the Federal Government and the States. The machinery is constantly on call in the various States.
I do not believe that it is necessary to labour unduly the central point 1 wish to make. I have suggested that the Federal and State govern’ments have a positive responsibility to take the necessary steps to alleviate the effects of natural disasters such as droughts, bush fires and floods. There should be an organisation the constitution, aims, terms of reference and financing of which should bc subjects for discussion and recommendations by the proposed select committee. We want less improvisation and more planning to meet emergency situations.
I hope that the subject will be approached by all honourable senators on the basis that it is much too important to be brushed aside as bearing any kind of partisan imprint. It ought to appeal to honourable senators who come from country areas and who are familiar with the problems of the man on the land, what drought means to a small farmer and the significance of water conservation in a continent like Australia - the driest of the continents. These problems shriek for some kind of long term planning in their solution, lt would not be possible for a Senate select committee to find a quick answer and for all future calamities to be averted. We are dealing primarily in this motion with the need for an organisation to counter the effects of natural disasters, and in particular those disasters arising from fires, floods and droughts. Relief through financing and planning is involved even in such areas as transport as it is necessary to move stock in times of drought, flood or fire, lt may be necessary to carry them long distances overland by rail or road. These are problems that would properly be investigated by the committee we have in mind.
– The honourable senator has not mentioned cyclones which distinguish the State from which I come.
– I mentioned hurricanes. I am aware that Queensland has recently suffered from a cyclone, the name of which 1 have forgotten. I meant no disrespect to Senator Gair by not mentioning cyclones, nor any disrespect to any other honourable senators by not mentioning volcanic eruptions. We are concerned with a vast problem. It would be a real challenge to honourable senators who were given an opportunity to serve on such a committee to see what recommendations they could produce. A number of honourable senators wish to speak in this debate. 1 hope the subject will be approached in such a spirit that we can reach agreement. It is clear that the problem of natural disasters will be with us forever. We never will be able to prevent these disasters. We can do everything possible through research to discover ways of preventing them, but primarily we must look to alleviation of distress and to restoration of some element of normality and serenity to areas ravaged by disaster. For the reasons 1 have advanced I commend the motion to the consideration of honourable senators.
– I have listened with interest to the remarks of Senator Cohen, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, regarding this motion. I wish first to study the terms of the motion closely. lt states, in part:
That a select committee of the Senate be appointed . . .
I am not sure that a Senate select committee would be an appropriate body to study such a question, even if its appointment were agreed to. The Senate is a House of review and a House to look after the interests of the States, but I am not sure that it is appropriate for it to appoint a body to investigate natural disasters.
– The Liberal Party in Queensland has stated-
– I do not know that the subject has more application to one State than another. Senator Cohen has pointed out that this is a matter for nonpartisan consideration. I do not wish to approach the subject in a partisan manner, and I will not do that. I am discussing the matter quite logically and, I hope, quite soundly. The motion continues: to inquire into the desirability and practicability . of establishing a national organisation-
I doubt that the Senate is qualified to enter this field at all to judge the desirability and practicability of this scheme. To my mind that is debatable. The motion concludes: and in particular those arising from fire, flood and drought.
When one considers the other types of disasters that can be experienced in Australia it seems that the terms of the morion have not been very soundly thought out. Reference was made by interjection to cyclones when Senator Cohen was speaking. Perhaps the members of the Opposition who drafted the motion are not aware of the effects of cyclones on the eastern coast of Australia. I hope that some day they will visit the areas affected by cyclones, but I hope that they do not come too often - the cyclones or members of the Opposition.
– Which would the honourable senator fear most?
– 1 would prefer the cyclones. Senator Cohen said that Senator Tangney has brought the matter of natural disasters to the attention of the Senate on sixteen occasions, and on each occasion the subject was discussed. 1 am an admirer, of Senator Tangney, but she is not. the only person to have raised this subject. Mr Nicklin, a member of the Australian
Country Party and former Premier of Queensland, raised this subject years ago at a Premiers’ Conference. Amongst the people attending that Premiers’ Conference were the then Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, Sir Thomas Playford of South Australia, Mr. Cahill of New South Wales, and the then Treasurer, Mr Harold Holt. At that time the question was raised of who would conduct a national organisation to deal with the effects of natural disasters. Mr Nicklin and other Premiers of that time, after discussion with the Prime Minister and Federal Treasurer, could not’ agree on a definite basis on which such an organisation would be conducted. It appears to me that the doubt has existed from time to time over many years. I am rather sympathetic to the idea of an insurance scheme, but let me ask this: Who would contribute to the scheme?
Last year there was a flood in north Queensland which mainly affected sugar growing areas. Flood and cyclone damage to north and south east Queensland between March and June 1967 was estimated by the Queensland Government to cost, for personal distress payments and restoration of government and semi-government assets, a total of $3,227,065. In this particular case the approach made by( the Commonwealth Government was to provide financial assistance. That has been . the approach made by the Commonwealth Government since this type of disaster first arose. The States assess the damage and make an approach to the Federal Government. Last year the Queensland Government made such an approach. The matter, was raised in this House. The Commonwealth agreed to match the State expenditure dollar for dollar for the amount I mentioned, $3,227,065. The contribution of semigovernmental authorities was a matter for the State to decide. The Queensland Government has estimated that the total Commonwealth contribution will be $1,288,536. To date the Commonwealth has paid a total of $892,168 to Queensland. Further payments are being made regularly upon the request of the Queensland Government. That has been the approach of the Federal Government to date. I do not say that I go along with the. attitude, that what has happened before- should be continued. I . say that what has been practised and proven to date has been proven satisfactorily.
– If the members of the Liberal Party in Queensland could hear the honourable senator say that, they would say that his speech is a disaster.
– I am not concerned about that. Senator Cohen compared our position with that of foreign countries. The foreign countries he mentioned have totally different problems from ours.
– Senator Keeffe is like Clem Jones-
– I will not be provoked. Senator Cohen, referred to the United States of America, England, Japan and so on. Very briefly the honourable senator mentioned that those countries have schemes afoot to cover these natural disasters. That may be so. But they have a different form pf government. They do not have a group of States which have the democratic right to apply to the Federal Government for assistance. In this respect Australia is very fortunate. Senator Cohen also referred, to the need to prevent recur-* ring disasters. I do not think that matter comes within the terms of the motion before the Senate. To protect ourselves against the recurrence of flood, drought or fire does not come within the terms of the motion which we are discussing tonight. In my opinion that matter is in a completely different category. Senator Cohen mentioned droughts. Let me refer to the combined Commonwealth payments in respect of natural disasters from 1949 to 1968. In 1949-50 the Commonwealth provided $223,000. I will not state all the figures. .With the concurrence of honourable senators. 1 incorporate in Hansard a table showing total Commonwealth payments in respect of natural disasters 1949-50 to 1967-68.
I cite the final estimate for 1967-68, which is $27,800,000. The table shows what the Federal Government has done to date. In regard to other payments made by the Commonwealth Government, $43m has been paid to the States during the financial years 1965-66 and 1966-67 to cover drought, floods and bush fires in Tasmania. I will not attempt to break down these figures because I think that honourable senators would know of the payments which have been made to the respective States.
In addition the Federal Treasury has made available to the various States that have been stricken by natural disasters the benefit of certain taxation measures. The State Governments - I think it has been laid down - are responsible to assess the damage. The motion before the Senate proposes to establish a national body to wander about and assess the damage and the repayments necessary. Under the present scheme the States make an assessment and then make an appeal to the Federal Government. Surely this is more practical than setting up federal body to sit 1 do not know where - perhaps in Canberra, Sydney or Brisbane. After a disaster occurred, it would go out and make an assessment. To my way of thinking the States are much better qualified to assess the damage that has been done to local authorities and State Government facilities, to assess a calamity, to advise the Prime Minister or his Department and then appeal for assistance. To my way of thinking- - and it is purely my way of thinking - the Prime Minister has the staff at his call to send out and confirm the assessment made by the Slate Premier and his staff. I do not think that the present system can be improved upon at all. Other ways in which the Federal Government has assisted to date can be summarised very briefly. The Commonwealth has provided quite substantial carry-on grants for the restoration of capital assets. The- idea that the Federal Government could insure all assets whether they be private, governmental or otherwise is completely contrary to my way of thinking in view of what has happened up to date.
There is another body which covers this field. I refer to the civil defence authority through which representatives of the Slates and the Commonwealth regularly make recommendations. Certainly, as Senator Cohen has said, these are ad hoc meetings, but they have proved very influential and consequential to date. Let me put it this way: Last year when we had severe floods in the sugar zone of Queensland, if the Commonwealth Government had asked the people of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to pay an insurance premium to protect the sugar growers of north Queensland against such a climax, what would have been the reaction from the people of those cities? If we asked the urban people to pay a premium to protect the rural people of the
Commonwealth against a national catastrophe, would not they ask: ‘Why do they not look after themselves? Why do they not insure themselves?’. I think that would be their attitude. Again, if we asked the rural people to protect the city people against a minor flood which, to the city people would be a national disaster, what would be the reaction? How do we determine what is a national disaster? 1 think this is a matter that can be determined only on a Commonwealth basis. I cannot see that there is anything practical that can be achieved by the appointment of a select committee in this field. What has been done to dale by the Treasurer has been satisfactory. I would have to hear a lot of much stronger argument lo convince me that a select committee would be qualified to pass an opinion on this particular subject. Therefore. I cannot agree with the motion.
– I am very happy to support the proposal put. forward by Senator Cohen. For many years now I have spoken in this chamber on the necessity for the setting up of some kind of national insurance authority to assist people in limes of national disaster. 1 have already told the Senate on a previous occasion of how, many years ago - 1 think it was back in 1947 - 1 visited a town in the North West of Western Australia just after a cockeyed Bob had passed through. When I mentioned ‘cockeyed- Bob’ on that occasion the Chairman pulled me up, thinking that 1 was speaking disrespectfully of a former member of another place. He did not realise that a cockeyed Bob wis not a politician but a localised cyclone.
In a few minutes, that cockeyed Bob destroyed quite a large portion of the town including a business into which two young ex-servicemen had sunk all their gratuity, their deferred pay and everything else that they had. They were left with nothing. People might well ask: ‘Why did they not insure?’ They could not insure because the premiums required to insure against a national disaster were too high for them to meet after having put their all into their business.
– Do you classify that as a national disaster?
– No, but this type of thing, when multiplied a number of limes, becomes a national disaster. There is no
Statein Australia which is immune from national disaster. As a matter of fact, among the many questions I have asked on this matter over the years, one which I asked in 1965 bears repeating tonight because it indicates how every State of the Commonwealth has felt the need for legislation such as this or the need for establishing some kind of national disaster fund over the years.
The question I asked was:
These were the answers which I received to those four questions:
In the year 1949-50 the amount spent on the various States as a result of national disaster was £223,000. By 1967-68 that amount had increased to $27,809,000. I ask the Senate to note that every State of the Commonwealth has felt the need at some time or another to call upon the Commonwealth for assistance as a result of flood, fire, cyclone, tempest or some other national disaster. I know that in my own State on one occasion bushfires were particularly bad. I speak of the Dwellingup fires in which a small township in which ] had lived was destroyed. The school thatI attended, the church at which J worshipped and everything else was swept away in a few minutes by bushfires. We have seen the disastrous effects of bushfires in Tasmania. Victoria, and, in fact, every State of the Commonwealth.
asked how the people of Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne would react to the fact that they had to pay out to help in cases such as this.I say to Senator Heatley that the citizens of Australia have already shown by their voluntary gifts in all these cases that they are fully aware of the plight of their fellow Australian citizens irrespective of. which State they come from. In addition to their voluntary donations, they have contributed indirectly by way of taxation to the lump sums which the Commonwealth has paid to the various States involved. So this is nothing new for the people of Australia. They have become used to having to help out in times of disaster. 1 do not think they feel that this is a burden on them. They thank God that they are not the ones who have to receive the gift and that they have been spared from the national disaster. They are quite willing to help.
But we believe that the time has now come - in my opinion it came a long lime ago - when all of this national disaster relief should be placed on a proper basis by the implementation of a scheme such as the one that we had during the war years. The War Damage Commission was set up to guard against damage that would come from warfare. Luckily, there were not many places in Australia in which war damage insurance had to be paid out. 1 tried to get the War Damage Commission extended into peacetime, but there were many other problems in the immediate post-war years.
– Does the honourable senator remember what the war damage insurance rate was?
– No,I would not know. The problems that confronted the government of the day immediately after the war included the resettlement into industry of more than one million service men and women and the transition from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy. This was one problem that was left unresolved.
A national disaster fund has been set up in New Zealand. I sent away for and received a lot of literature on this subject. I passed it on to the Government a few years ago. I received an answer to a question from a Minister, I think it was the present Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), but I would not be sure of that. I know that Senator Henty came into the act in 1965. I asked him whether further consideration - at that time I had been raising this matter for about 15 years - could be given to the establishment of a national disaster fund. He replied:
As indicated in previous replies to similar questions asked by the honourable senator, the establishment of a national disaster fund has been considered on a number of occasions in recent years, and the matter has been raised at Premiers Conferences, but an acceptable basis for such a fund has not been found.
Therein lies the crux of the motion that we have moved tonight. If the Government, with all the other jobs that it has on hand, cannot find a basis for setting up such a fund, why cannot the Senate set up a committee that can investigate all aspects of this matter, study the legislation that is in force in other countries and present a plan to the Government, which might then find an acceptable basis upon which such a fund could be established?
I have asked dozens of questions on this subject. Not one of the answers that I have received from Ministers over the years has stated that such a fund is undesirable. All that the Ministers usually say is that they cannot find an acceptable basis upon which to set one up. That is why we say that a select committee could help the Government to find such a basis. Unfortunately, New Zealand has experienced a national disaster in the form of earthquakes in the last few days. 1 do not know whether other senators heard the news item that I heard. It was to the effect that the people of New Zealand did not require Red Cross assistance from Australia because they had their national disaster fund to deal with the economic side of the disaster and their own Red Cross to deal with the rest of it.
I remember that one Minister - I have taken this matter up with so many Ministers that I get them confused: so this one will have to remain anonymous - told me that it was much easier to set up a national disaster fund in New Zealand because that country had the specific and ever-present danger of earthquake damage. We in Australia are very fortunate in (hat we happen to be just outside the earthquake perimeter that stretches from Japan around to New Zealand.
– We had one in South Australia.
– Yes, but not with the great loss of life or of the magnitude of those that have been experienced recently in Japan and New Zealand. New Zealand, the United States of America and Austria have national disaster funds. The Austrian one is in respect of floods. Over the past 2 or 3 years we in Australia have experienced great droughts. Recently I attended the opening of Prince Philip’s Commonwealth Study Conference in Sydney. Prince Philip was congratulated on having brought an end to the drought. But somebody suggested that he should recognise his limitations because we did not want to have a flood. This is the strange thing: In one State of Australia we can have drought conditions while in other parts we have flood conditions. But they are all parts of Australia. No matter what the cause of the national disaster is, it brings distress not only to the economy of the country but to the people of the country who after all make up the nation.
Recently I received a letter from tha Country Regional Councils Association of Western Australia. Last week at a meeting in Bunbury, which Senator Scott will know quite well, the’ Association again asked the Commonwealth to set up a national disaster fund. The letter states in part:
The steep increase in payments by the Commonwealth as set out in Table 49 quoted by the Federal Treasurer on the occasion of the Budget 1967-68 clearly illustrates the necessity for the provision of a fund. The Country Regional Councils Association of Western Australia and the South West Regional Council solidly support the establishment of a national disaster fund.
That letter refers to the payments by the Commonwealth. I do not for one moment decry what the Commonwealth has done, in this regard. I agree with Senator Heatley that the Commonwealth has always come to the assistance of the States when it has been approached by the State governments.
– Not always.
– Well, on the majority of occasions, I will put it that way, on which the Commonwealth has been approached by the State governments it has assisted. But there is still a long way to go
In that regard. We do not believe that this matter should be left to the whim of the government of the day. We should get up a statutory organisation which can deal with this matter immediately, once a national emergency has been declared.
Such a national disaster fund could be built up on the lines of the New Zealand one. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that New Zealand has special problems with earthquakes, it has set up a fund to deal with national disasters and one of the first tasks for the select committee would be to discuss how that fund works. In fact it is run by a commission which consists of the Minister of Finance, the Secretary to the Treasury, the State Insurance General Manager and four other members appointed by the Governor-General. So New Zealand, with a much smaller national income than ours, has set up a commission of seven members to deal with this very important problem. That commission took over when the War Damage Commission went out of operation in 1944. In the years since then - for nearly a quarter of a century - it has carried on to the satisfaction of the New Zealand people and it has not lost any money in the process. These are matters that the select committee, if appointed, could well investigate.
In 1965 a public meeting was held in New South Wales. I think it was called by the Country Party. I know that it was a Country Party member of the New South Wales Parliament who wrote to me about it. As a matter of fact, I was asked to attend the meeting, lt was a meeting of various local authorities in country areas to discuss this very matter. 1 asked the Minister representing the Treasurer this question: ls it a fact thai, owing to widespread interest in the setting up of a national disaster insurance scheme, a conference is to be held at Casino on Monday, I 11th October, and that’ several shire councils and the New South Wales Department of Agriculture will bc represented? Will any observers be appointed to the conference from any Commonwealth Department? If not, will a report of the conference be obtained for the information of the Senate on this vital matter?
The Minister replied:
A report that such a conference is being arranged appeared in the Press on 20th September 1965. The Commonwealth Government, however, has no official knowledge of the conference and the question of Commonwealth representation at the conference has not arisen, lt will’ no doubt be for the conveners of the conference lo decide on the disposition of any report that may be prepared.
Perhaps those who convened the conference should have invited representatives of the Commonwealth or sent a report to the Commonwealth Government. I do nol know what happened but surely the Government could have shown a little interest in that meeting of State instrumentalities and found what they were doing in this matter lo which we had so often directed attention in the Senate and on which so many hundreds of .thousands of pounds - millions of dollars - had been expended by the Commonwealth Government- in piecemeal relief.
I shall not go into the whole question of how the proposed committee should be set up. I will not bc here to see it. lt is the job of other honourable senators to ensure that something is done’ in relation to this matter and who is better qualified than the Senate to deal with a matter of national importance? I have shown that every State in the Commonwealth is at some time or another affected by a national disaster. These are events for which we cannot be completely prepared. If .people thought that a bush fire would raze their town at a certain time they might be able to do something about it, but these things just happen. Governments can take, various steps to mitigate the results of drought by the provision of drought relief and can take precautions by providing for conservation of water and adequate water supplies. These things can and should be done. But when we come to the tin tacks, of the situation we are. dealing with human beings. First, we are dealing with. their lives; the lives of many people have been lost in national disasters. Secondly, we are dealing with their hopes, which are shattered when (heir homes and properties are destroyed. Thirdly, we are dealing with the future of their children.
Particularly, we are dealing with people in outback areas of this, vast country. I would not speak ill of. the dead but I can remember quite well that on one occasion when I brought this matter up in the time of Senater Sir William. Spooner he said that people who go to live, in outback areas should know what, they are up against and should prepare accordingly . by insuring themselves against such things. As I said, such u philosophy offered very little hope and if we wanted people to go out from the towns to develop outback areas we must do something to ensure that everything is not ruined for them by a national disaster. These disasters can strike also in the cities, as wc have seen. Bush fires can get out of control. We know what happened in the southern part of Tasmania and elsewhere when national disaster struck.
I put this matter to the Senate with all the sincerity that T. can command. We are not asking for the provision of a big slice of Government revenue to be frittered away on some wildcat scheme. We are asking for a committee of the Senate to be set up. Surely persons who are qualified to be members of the Senate are qualified to investigate these national problems. . Who could do it better? I submit that a committee of the Senate should be established to investigate possibilities and methods of setting up a scheme to protect the public of Australia against national disasters of which we have hud a great number over several decades and for which we should make adequate provision for helping in every way we possibly can in the future. I therefore commend the proposal to the Senate. I hope that it will be adopted, that a committee will be appointed and that at last some good will come from a proposal that I have been hammering in the Senate for 22 years.
– The subject matter under discussion by the Senate is one which unquestionably merits the consideration of (his Parliament. National disasters in. various forms have overtaken all States of the Commonwealth at some time or other. I listened very attentively to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cohen), to the very practical and cautious approach by Senator Heatley, and to the speech by Senator Tangney who has been propagating this idea, as she said, for 22 years. The matter is one that we must examine very carefully. It is not sufficient to say that every aspect and every factor of this matter should be left for the Committee that we appoint to examine and to make the subject of a recommendation. As members of the Senate we must first examine the matter ourselves and ascertain whether an emergency insurance scheme - call it what you will - is worthy of the consideration of a select committee. I am not saying that members of the Senate are not qualified to examine this matter but let us first examine it here and convince ourselves in the first instance that this is something that is within the realms of practicability.
Insurance against floods, cyclones, fires and droughts is a very big undertaking. We must ask ourselves: Who will contribute to an insurance fund? Will it be confined to those who are most likely to be affected by drought, Hood, cyclone or any of the other disaster from which we suffer from time to time? Or is everybody in the community to make a contribution to a common fund from which people affected by these calamities will be compensated. Indeed, when we take a broad view of the impact of droughts, floods and cyclones, not one section of the community is unaffected. Let us consider, for instance, the droughts from which we suffer greatly, not only in the State I represent but also in New South Wales and, every 40 years or so, in Victoria and other places. The effects are borne not only by graziers in a particular drought stricken area but also by every section of the community to which the economic consequences flow. They can be seen in the industrial and metropolitan centres in the form of unemployment with consequent loss of spending power. Floods have the same progressive effect on the community at large.
Senator Tangney said that we are already paying taxes from which relief is given to the States to offset the effects of droughts, floods and cyclones, but if we are to implement a general policy of insurance as we did in wartime we have an obligation to tell the people that they will be required to pay some additional taxation as a contribution towards offsetting the effects of national emergencies. However, someone must first classify a national emergency.
Is drought in a restricted area to be regarded as a national emergency? Is a flood in a district as a result of a swollen creek to be regarded as a national emergency? Of course it is a national emergency to the people immediately affected. We have only to remember what Senator Tangney said about the village in which she was reared and the church in which she worshipped to realise that most things are valuable in a relative and sentimental way and that any affliction is a national emergency from the point of view of the people immediately affected, but is it a national emergency so far as the Commonwealth is concerned? We must view this matter broadly and examine it closely to ensure, in the event of our favouring this proposal, that we give some guidelines to any committee inquiring into it. Do not let us be shortsighted about it because we cannot afford to be shortsighted.
An elementary principle in life is that we have an obligation to protect our own interests. That is our first duty. Those who are not prepared to do so must suffer the consequences. Consider the man who is improvident enough to neglect to take out insurance cover on the li it:e cottage and its contents that he has worked so hard to obtain. He takes the risk, and in the event of fire he gets nothing, lt is a national crisis for him but is it of concern to o:hers who live near him and who have made some sacrifices to keep an insurance policy alive and have assumed some responsibility for the preservation of their properly and its contents?
Honourable senators would nol be any closer to the people of this country than I am but. they would know as well as I do that things like that occur. Let no-one try to tell me that the ‘ preservation of one’s personal property should not have a very high place in the order of priorities. I know how close people have to live because of inadequate wages and salaries but I have found that those who neglect to take out insurance on their properly find money for other things which have no relationship to their security and the few possessions they have gathered together by their hard work and sacrifices.
The same position applies in the matter of drought. Despite all the advice that has been given to people on the land over the years, honourable senators know as well as I do that many people suffer unnecessarily from the effects of drought because of their failure to accept advice with regard to the overstocking of their properties. It has been and will continue to be a real problem. 1 have travelled to the north west and central west of Queensland on many occasion in drought time and I have seen beasts strewn all over the land, dead and dying from thirst and hunger. Young people who have invested their earnings and have gone into heavy debt to grazing and finance companies and banks have been stricken year after year by successive droughts and the few head of stock that they have been able to hold back or could not afford to send to agistment have died or have been eaten by dingoes and dogs. One can imagine their feelings. They are men who are required to have more than one heart and more than the normal strength and fortitude to withstand the effects of a drought which can cover a wide area, particularly in a State like Queensland, and in New South Wales and other places. A drought of that magnitude is a national tragedy.
I do not know whether the farmers and graziers organisations make insurance cover available or whether the men on the land have anyone to turn to on such occasions. If they have not. some form of organised insurance should be established to help them because in an arid Stale like Queensland the men on the land are faced regularly with difficulties. I recall visiting the Longreach district some years ago when it was in the throes of a drought which had continued for about 5 years. 1 was reliably informed that the younger school children had never seen rain. However, at the weekend when I was in the town of Longreach the drought broke and it poured rain which continued for days. Not being very modest I look credit for the rain. On that occasion 1 saw holes in the ground that a body more abnormal than mine could get into without difficulty. One wondered whether grass would ever grow there again. However. not long after the rain fell, the holes closed up and the Mitchell and’ Flinders grass commenced to show itself again. Unfortunately not enough city folk go to drought-stricken areas of Australia to learn of the vicissitudes and adversities suffered by people on the land over a long period of drought. Floods are in a’ different category. They come suddenly and unexpectedly. They destroy, it is true, and the power of water is almost unlimited. Though floods do not last so long as droughts, they are very destructive, as arc cyclones. Each of these things totals up to what I term a national emergency, but let. us be able to define what is a national emergency and what is nol. and let us encourage people to have some idea of selfsupport and self-aid. Nothing wins support more’than evidence of self-aid. People have to be taught to aid themselves or to form themselves into organisations for community interests and for the benefit of the whole community. I am afraid that this country is suffering from a spirit of mendicancy.
Too many people in Australia today in ail sections of the community - it is not conlined to the working class people at all - have a spirit of mendicancy. There is a dependence on governments for assistance and aid. and we have to get away from it. That is not the spirit that built Australia. lt is not the spirit that characterised the lives of the pioneers of this country, who came out here and went into virgin country without any government subsidies or government aids. They stood up against all the vicissitudes and adversities without any appeal to governments. They cut a niche and they made history in Australia, a virgin country. That pioneering spirit is still alive, 1 believe, in most people, but if governments go on encouraging people to lean upon them all the lime, the pioneering spirit will soon be destroyed.
Of course, Commonwealth governments will come to the aid of State governments and municipal authorities in particular circumstances, and so they should. When Senator Tangney said that the Commonwealth has always done that, I interjected, Not always’, because f can speak with some experience, having been Premier and Treasurer of a State, and I know what has happened when we have made application to Commonwealth governments, irrespective of party. Sometimes you do better with one side than you expect to do. and you do poorly from a party from which you do not expect such poor treatment. Sir Thomas Playford used to say that he always did better out of Chifley than he did out of Menzies.
– Who didn’t?
– Well, in Queensland our record was different. We could not take a trick from Chifley, and we got less from Menzies, so the difference was not very much. However, I was saying that not in all cases has the Commonwealth come to the parly in relieving the financial stress of drought or floods. There was evidence, as far as my Government in Queensland was concerned, that there was some measure of favouritism and discrimination, and probably that is one of the best arguments used tonight, not so much in support of the appointment of a committee of examination as in support of a common fund so that there would be some uniformity or some formula for the distribution of funds in the event of flood, drought, cyclone, or any other form of national disaster. 1 should like to think that the committee appointed by the Senate would be successful in establishing guide lines or a basis for such a fund, but 1 am hesitant to support the motion for the reason that I do not think the practicability of such a proposal has been thoroughly and completely examined.
– That would be the committee’s job.
– I have been on a few committees and 1 know how committees can get bogged down on inquiries. I should like to see first of all an inquiry undertaken by the Government of what schemes already exists for the relief of flood and drought in various parts of Australia, to ascertain what provision already exists in this connection, and then for the Government to determine whether this is adequate or inadequate. If it believes that it is insufficient, then let a committee set to work to find out the ways and means of setting up a fund for meeting the cost of national emergencies ‘ such as drought, flood and cyclones, so that the formula can be spelled out and the procedures enumerated.
– A half hour of excuses to tell us that you will not support what you believe in.
– 1 do not make excuses, and my reputation will support that. I am probably in a better position to make a statement on this than is the honourable senator from South Australia, whose experience is very limited and, I should say, in most cases very clouded and warped. 1 am speaking as one who has had responsibility, who knows what it is, who has been inundated with requests from people in time of drought and in lime of flood, and who has then been required to appeal to the Commonwealth for aid.
– Well, why do you not do something about it?
– I believe that I have done something tonight by my contribution here, by trying to tell people, not only in the Senate but also outside this chamber, that it is necessary to build up a spirit of self-reliance and self-protection and to get away from this attitude of mendicancy in every phase of life. That attitude is growing very fast and to a dangerous point. There are people in the community who are just waiting for the day when they will turn 65 and receive a pension. What an outlook. Poor as it is, that is the position.
– The honourable senator has advocated this fund, has he not?
– No. 1 said that it was worthy of consideration.
– The honourable senator advocated it during the last Senate election campaign.
– I said that it was worthy of consideration.
– The honourable senator was widely quoted as supporting it.
– The honourable senator is telling an untruth if he says that.
– I said that the honourable senator was widely quoted as supporting it.
– The honourable senator is telling an untruth if he says that because I have had my reservations about it.
– The honourable senator disappoints me.
Seater GAIR - I cannot help it if I disappoint the honourable senator by trying to put him on the right track. Does the honourable senator want to set up a select committee that will wander into the far west and into the flood areas?
– Does the honourable senator not believe in select committees?
– I believe in select committees but in moderation.
– The honourable senator is a member of three select committees.
– Of course I am on three. Is the honourable senator objecting to that? She probably is.
– No, I do not care.
– I would not have been on any if I had been left to the democratic spirit of the Australian Labor Party. So do not raise that point. Of course I am on three select committees and I am giving the best I can. My attendance at these select committees compares favourably with that of any other member.
– I would like lo see the honourable senator on this one.
– I will not serve on any select committee unless I believe that it can do some valuable work. I counsel the Senate to defer any decision on this matter and to examine it more thoroughly before throwing any onus or responsibility on a select committee. I would not care how smart the members of such a committee were or how many Queen’s Counsel were members of it - personally 1 would sooner have a few firemen, bricklayers and others-
– Railway men too?
– Yes, railway men, but only good, bright ones. In conclusion I submit that the decision to set up a select committee should be deferred. The Senate has a lot of select committees on hand at the moment. As worthy as this matter is for discussion, I think that we should examine it more thoroughly and find out what relief already exists for floods and droughts, which are the principal disasters. It is true that there was a large fire in Hobart not so long ago and that in recent times Victoria has had periodic outbreaks of fire, but floods and drought, are the principal disasters. We should ascertain what forms of insurance exist at present and decide how the Government can supplement existing schemes. Then we could decide the terms of reference. of a select committee. These should be such that the committee could bring forth practical suggestions that would be of value in the solution of the problem which the Government must solve.
– 1 have listened with a great deal of interest to the debate on. Senator Cohen’s motion for the setting up of a Senate select committee to inquire into and report on national disasters, and in particular disasters arising from fire, flood and “drought. I have listened to the debate with a completely open mind. I have heard two members of the Australian Labor Party, one Government supporter and the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair) speak on it. Obviously it is quite easy to get up and make statements that will appeal to a lot of people in Australia. Everybody will agree that in times of. drought we should be as helpful as we can to those who suffer loss: that in times of fire we should look after those people who have been burned out, and that in times of hailstorms and flood we should look after those people who have been affected. From this it is argued that we should have a national disaster fund.
– The motion is for a select committee to discuss whether we should have such a fund.
– Yes, and we are discussing what the proposed select committee should do and how it should operate. This is a matter that interests the Government and the Senate. When 1 was younger I was interested in hailstorm insurance for fruit growers. I was growing fruit at Bridgetown and at first the growers were able to insure their crops for 3 months at a premium of 24% of the value of the crop. After we had been hit by hailstorms in the first year the insurance company, put the rate up to 5% and when we had been hit again the second year the rate went up to 10%. The Bridgetown people and the people in the south west of Western Australia thought that there should be a coverage for hailstorm damage throughout the whole of Australia - a national insurance fund - as they could not afford to pay the 10% premium. But we found that even the people in areas of our own State which were not subject to hailstorms did not want to be in such a fund. Senator Gair was mentioning certain parts of Queensland-
– One cannot even get storm and tempest insurance in some parts of Queensland.
– This is a problem. Certain parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory have not had rain for 7 years and the people living in those areas are all for a drought relief fund; but the people who are paying high prices for land in the higher rainfall areas of the south west of Australia and on the east coast are not anxious to contribute to a drought relief fund.
– But they may be interested in a fire fund.
– These people may want to contribute to a fire fund. 1 am not suggesting that they would not. lt should not bc forgotten that the Commonwealth Government has come to the help of people affected by disasters - particularly those affected by the recent drought in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. In the last couple of years - particularly in relation to New South Wales and Queensland - the Government has undertaken to provide all the funds needed to finance certain drought relief measures which the Commonwealth and the States have agreed are necessary. The Commonwealth Government has also agreed to reimburse in full the States of Victoria and South Australia for expenditure incurred after 1st October 1967 on drought relief measures that are similar to those adopted in New South Wales and Queensland. In those two areas there have been two of the most severe droughts ever experienced in Australia’s history. Drought conditions were suffered even in the Australian Capital Territory and it was necessary to impose water restrictions in Canberra. It is estimated that in 1967-68 drought relief measures will involve Commonwealth expenditure of about $19m. For the 3-year period ending on 30th June next, it is estimated that the total cost of the measures will have been about S59m. Large amounts of money have been made available to the States to help people in areas stricken by drought.
– We agree with the Minister.
– J cannot understand Why it is necessary for the Senate at this stage to set up a select committee to inquire into measures necessary to combat the effects of natural disasters, because our efforts could be better directed towards helping people affected by droughts, floods, or fires, f think Senator Tangney will agree with me that the setting up of a national fund in itself will not make more money available for a particular area of Australia affected by drought, flood, fire or hail. When the Commonwealth Government has been approached by the States to provide assistance for organised drought relief to the stricken areas, it has co-operated. It will go down in. history that this Federal Government, in conjunction with the State governments, has a. record in respect of drought relief measures that will compare favourably with that of any previous government since federation.
– There have been more natural disasters in recent times.
– I do not know whether that is so. There has been a very severe drought over the past 2 or 3 years on the eastern seaboard and in South Australia; Tasmania has experienced its worst bushfires, and as Senator Tangney knows, in the last few years Western Australia has suffered from the worst fires ever known in Australia. Notwithstanding all that, the Commonwealth Government today through Treasury and other officials is well aware of the need to come to the assistance of the States in helping people affected by natural disasters. That being so, I do not think I can agree to support the motion to set up a select committee.
– The Minister should put it on a business footing. He is a businessman, lt should not be left to chance at the time of each natural disaster.
– The honourable senator is saying that farmers and pastoralists should be told to contribute to a drought relief fund.
– lt would be a national fund.
– They would contribute together with the rest of the nation. 1 do not deny that.
– The Minister should read the motion.
– I have read the motion. Many people will contribute voluntarily to assist people affected by disasters, but they may nol like to contribute to the same extent if there were a compulsory increase in income tax to meet the cost of relief measures. Senator Cohen has not said where the money for relief measures is to come from, or how much is to be raised.
– The Committee would have to do that.
– We are discussing what wonderful work the Committee will do. We have to come down to earth. The honourable senator has just said that I should act like a businessman. I am a businessman and 1 want to know how much it will cost.
– Ask the Committee.
– Oh yes. Senator Cohen did not mention whether he or the
Labor Party would be prepared to support an increase in income tax of 1% or 5% in order to meet the relief commitments. Honourable senators opposite have not mentioned that. They say that we should ask the committee.
– President Johnson uses portion of the existing gasolene tax in the United States for certain types of disaster relief.
– That might be so. I will not deny it. Probably our situation is different from that of the United States, I do not believe that in this respect one can properly compare one country with another. New Zealand has an earthquake fund to which the people contribute. They are anxious to contribute to that national disaster fund for earthquake relief. Why is that so? Because everybody in New Zealand may be affected by earthquakes. If only one island were subject to earthquakes, probably the inhabitants of the other island would not be so keen to contribute to the fund. That principle applies throughout Australia. The governments in Australia are well aware of the tragedies of natural disasters, but it may be that many areas would not be prepared to contribute towards ‘ financial assistance for affected areas.
People in drought affected areas have ;o agist or sell .their stock. Sometimes it is necessary to shear their sheep twice in one year. When the drought breaks it is necessary for them to restock their properties. The Federal Government has made available to the States large amounts of money at interest rates of 3% or Repayments of the last loans made to Victoria and South Australia will not begin until 1970. The loans extend for a period of 7 or 8 years.. Annual’ repayments are to be made.
– Does the Minister not think that is a good idea?
– It is a wonderful gesture by an understanding Commonwealth Government to make that money available. No more money will become available through the setting up of a select committee. With the funds, available, the Commonwealth Government is providing assistance for the people affected by natural disasters. It appreciates the importance of keeping the people on their properties.
Senator Tangney is well aware that some people have spent all their lives on their properties. Without the sympathetic treatment offered by the Commonwealth Government they would have to walk off their properties.
– Does the Minister not agree that the proposed committee could co-ordinate all these matters and bring them before the. Senate?
– <1 do not believe that a committee could do any more than is being done. 1 have given a lot of thought to this aspect. I have listened to the arguments of Senator Cohen and Senator Tangney. I agree with the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair) that taking all things into consideration, a select committee set up to travel throughout Australia to find out the existing problems could produce no better solution than the measures adopted by the Federal Government at present.
– Why not try?
– I cannot see any reason why we should. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate has not said what he thinks the scheme will cost. What are the problems associated with the scheme? There are thousands of them. Honourable senators opposite have not said that all Australian taxpayers must pay an extra 2% or 3% in income tax. At the moment the Government is handling the scheme within the resources that are available to it. I think that this in itself is of great significance to Australia. Other speakers have referred to the concessions for people who have been stricken by the recent drought. Fodder and water have been transported to drought affected areas. Starving stock have been moved out of such areas. The Government has made particular freight rebates applicable to stock going in and out of a drought affected area. Details of the subsidy arrangements vary from State to State. However, in broad terms, it can be stated that a drought affected farmer who purchases fodder for his starving stock has to meet only 25% to 50% of the cost of rail transport of the fodder. In many cases fodder is being brought to drought areas from other States, including Victoria, South Australia and even Western Australia.
Other problems are associated with drought. When there is a drought in a parrticular area the local authority may find that there is a lot of unemployment in that district. The Commonwealth Government has come along to the party and said that it will make further moneys available to the States to help that local authority to create additional employment so that, people can be employed on local government works within the drought affected area. I have given this matter very deep thought and 1 must say that I would like to hear further argument from honourable senators opposite as to why a select committee should be appointed to inquire into national disasters and whether, if such a select committee is set up, it can come down with a better solution for the people concerned, the people who are suffering, than the solution that the Government has been able to achieve during the drastic periods of drought, fire and flood that have been experienced recently.
– I am rather, surprised to see speakers from the other side of the Chamber - most of whom are business men and are supposed to ha.ve’ more interest, in and knowledge of business matters than we on this side have - being afraid of the adoption of a plan to deal with national disasters. Some speakers have said that the problems involved would be too intricate for the Senate. The Senate has appointed committees before. There are three or four operating at the moment. What did the Senate know about the metric system or the problems associated with containerisation and the search for off-shore petroleum? The appointment of committees to inquire into those matters has been supported by honourable senators opposite. “
– Do not forget radio and television.
– I was trying to think of the television committee. All those committees were supported by honourable senators opposite. I want to know why they have balked at this one. According to the newspapers and all the publicity agencies, the subject of natural disasters is the best known and the most ventilated subject in the country. I have a list of cuttings from various newspapers over the last 12 months demanding the establishment of a national disaster fund. One cutting states that Mr Barnard urged the establishment of a fund. Other cuttings refer to Mr Whitlam and the late Harold Holt, the former Prime Minister, who made a wonderful speech on this subject. 1 think Senator Gorton, as he then was, also made a speech on the subject. Senator Sir William Spooner was always talking about it. As soon as the Opposition puts the proposition to the Government it gets cold feet.
I am surprised at Senator Gair’s attitude because 1 am certain that it was a part of the policy of the Australian Democratic Labor Party at the last election to establish such a fund. I cannot understand why the honourable senator does not support the motion now before the Senate. In a sense he does support it. He said that the Senate should have a look at the matter, but after somebody else has looked at it. 1 thought that that was an extraordinary proposition. The honourable senator said that before this committee is appointed a kind of departmental committee should be set up to find out what we are going to examine. What the honourable senator said was very interesting. I think that is what he was getting at. He was making heavy weather of his speech when he tried to find a way out of his troubles. 1 know that the DLP favours this proposal. I know that the honourable senator supports the idea of a plan to raise the finance for a disaster fund. Honourable senators opposite should assist honourable senators on this side of the Senate to appoint a committee to examine the question. The United States of America, England, Canada and other countries have such a fund. In this country ways have been found to avoid the setting up of such a fund. The same kind of things that were said about national insurance are still being said. In the days of the Chifley Government everybody claimed that the Government could not raise the money to establish the National Welfare Fund.
– What would the honourable senator do with the money now?
– I am not arguing about that. Everybody said that the Chifley Government’s proposal would not work. Honourable senators opposite would not attempt to interfere with the National Welfare Fund and all that it implies. It was established by an Australian Labor Party Government and probably with support from the other side of the House in those days - I do not know. But many of the conservatives of the Liberal Party of Australia were opposed to doing anything like that. Nobody wanted national welfare.
I have heard speakers in this debate say: Why cannot the people affected by natural disasters look after their own insurance?’ That is an awful thing to say to people who are supporters of the Australian Country Party and who are bankrupt every 3 years. Every 7 years in the Hunter River area there is a new community of farmers; the others have all1 been washed out. Honourable senators opposite tell them that they ought to be able to look after themselves without having a national fund and too much paternalism, as I think Senator Gair said, in these things, 1 know that self help is necessary, but in the interests of this country there should be national responsibility for disasters that occur. I have heard it said also by honourable senators opposite that we do not have many disasters. If that is so, it will cost us less. Thank God we do not have many disasters. Therefore we will not need such a large fund. I do not think that that is an answer at all. .
I would like to deal now with war damage insurance. Whoever queried how the Government was going to raise that money? I think that the money for that scheme came out of the gross national product, but nobody queried it. Millions were spent on war damage insurance in New Guinea. If war had come to this country the money would have been spent here and honourable senators opposite would not have been asking how the Government was going to get the money. The Government’ would have got it. The same sort of situation is involved here, but to a less extent of course. We should thank God that we are a protected country that does not suffer the great hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters that are suffered by other countries. But we do get floods, we do get fires and we do get droughts. We suffer almost continually from either one or the other in this country. And there is no national organisation interested in the problem. We on this side are not saying that the Government does not provide funds. It does. lt provides funds for assistance in connection with minor disasters and disasters that are not so minor. It has done this in New South Wales, and I speak particularly of that part of the State from the Hunter district north which 1 know so well. All we say is that the method adopted by the Government might not be the best way of giving assistance - that the Government might be wasting money.
Senator Scott is leading for the Government in this debate, lt is not often that one gets such recognition and 1 am glad to see the honourable senator taking part in these discussions. He read out a long list of figures to emphasise what, the Government had done. What he says is true, but the method adopted might not be the best one. The committee which we propose could examine whether it is the right method. After all, that is just what the other select committees that we have set up are doing.
I am surprised that Senator Gair should oppose the establishment of the proposed committee. I thought he would support our motion because if ever a proposal has received public support, this one has. I could have brought into the chamber with me a whole heap of files on this matter but I would not worry honourable senators with them. This is a question that is being debated publicly.
I rose to speak mainly because 1 was rather concerned about a statement made the other day by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) who is a man for whom I have not. a little respect. I know him very well. I know that he is a very liberal minded man on many matters. But, the other day, when it rained and the drought was broken, the first thing that William McMahon said was: ‘Thank goodness the drought has broken, lt will save the Government $30m.’ That statement was broadcast over all the radio stations and published in all the newspapers. I got the impression that what he meant to say was: ‘Here is $30m for kitty. Here is $30m that we have not got to give to the farmers.’ What he should have said was: ‘Thank goodness we have saved $30m. We will put it away in kitty for the farmers. They will not need it now but we will put it aside in a national disaster fund and keep ; it. for the day when a disaster might overtake us.’ ft is all very well for speakers on the Government side to ask glibly: ‘Why cannot people look after themselves?’ I am shocked sometimes when I note the lack of sympathy on the Government side of the Senate for the man on the land. Some honourable senators opposite may be shocked to hear me say that.
– I am shocked to hear you say it.
– Never!therless, it is true. I do not know why that should be so. I go round the country and talk to many working farmers who do not vote Labor. I do not know why’ they do not vote for us but’ vote for this Government which has no sympathy for them and which is not interested in them-.
– That is not fair comment.
– I will let it go at that. Within the last 2 or 3 weeks a woman has moved into the block of flats next door to me to live. She left 6,000 sheep dead on- a property. They died as a result of drought. She could not get one penny from the Government to help her slay on the property. She saw no hope for the future. That is ‘only one case. We have only to read the country newspapers lo see how many similar cases there are and to appreciate how people are protesting everywhere. I do not think that this Government is any longer a government representing the man on the land: 1 think it represents the establishment- ‘
– What is the actual protest?
– That farmers have been bankrupted by the drought and have not been able to get any assistance to stay on the land. What is the Government doing for them? it gives them no hope whatever. If the Government supported the establishment of the proposed committee, the first thing these people would say when they read in the newspapers tomorrow morning that a committee was to be set up to examine the situation would be: ‘Thank God they are going to do something at last’. The Government must demonstrate that it is interested not only in their position today but also in protecting these people against the effects of future disasters that might happen.
There are a great number of people on the land. This is partly because of the Labor Party’s policy. Sometimes 1 am inclined to feel that this policy has been wrong. I- refer to the policy of breaking up big estates and putting more people on smaller areas. This Government has followed that policy also and by it we have almost created a profitless, landless peasantry in the country areas, lt is possible that the farms are too small. 1 remind the Senate that leading spokesmen for the farmers have said that nobody can make a living with less than 4,000 sheep. Sir William Gunn said that only a few days ago. Therefore, it is possible that the Government might soon have to do with the sheep areas what it is proposing to do with dairy farms - amalgamate the holdings with a view to keeping people on the land. In fact, I know that a piece of legislation for doing this on the north coast is in cold storage at the moment. That is the general proposition which the Government is going to put up.
I suggest that the Government should support the establishment of the proposed committee because the proposition is good business. The modern world talks of dialogues. If we continue to talk about the problems of the farmers the farmers will feel that we have a continuing interest in them. Senator Scott said what I thought was a rather mean thing to say about committees similar to the one we propose. He said: ‘We do not want committees galloping all over the country examining this and examining that’. But that is not what these committees do. It is my view, indeed my experience, that the Senate has gained greatly in prestige since adopting the committee system of examining various problems in a non-partisan, way. There is a lot to be said for having an all-party committee of the type we propose examining the problems confronting the man on the land while at the same time trying to work out with the financiers and other people concerned the best way in which a fund can be established to assist the sufferers from national disasters. It is time we abolished ad hoc meetings of State instrumentalities which rush here and rush there and give a small handout perhaps to the south coast and then to the north coast.
There has to be a system of good management of farm relief established in this country. That is all the Labor Party asks. The Government has supported the principle in setting up four or five other committees which have worked successfully. 1 cannot sec why the committee we propose could not work equally successfully. I emphasise that the original purpose of setting up these committees was to enable these matters to be examined in a non-partisan way. The Government has supported that principle in the past and I ask honourable senators on the Government side to support the establishment of the committee we propose now.
– I was surprised by some of the comments that Senator Ormonde made, particularly his references to shock. I was shocked by his accusation of lack of sympathy for the mau on the land. Surely, as he has moved around the country and particularly around his Slate as a senator, he has seen where the great measure of the Government’s support comes from and has come to know perfectly well the support that country interests have given to the philosophy of government that has been propounded by the Government over the years. That philosophy certainly has not displayed a lack of sympathy either from the man on the land or for the man on the land.
I wish to give my attention for a few minutes to the matter before the Senate tonight, which is a proposal for a select committee. The Senate will be aware of the terms in which the motion is couched. We have been asked to give consideration to the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the desirability and practicability of establishing a national organisation which, if it were set up, would have the opportunity and the duty to deal with i he effects of natural disasters, particularly those arising from fire, flood and drought.
In a country such as ours it is natural (hat the theme of thinking about natural and national disasters should run predominantly with this triple thrust of fire, flood and drought. Let me say at the outset - 1 hope 1 will have an opportunity to develop this in due course - that, if we are to have an organisation dealing with disasters and therefore with measures to prevent those disasters as well as measures for rehabilitation following those disasters, surely we must move beyond this group of three. Whilst we recognise the terror pf them and the great impact and effect that they have had on our economy and on our whole life, it is also true that other disasters have brought their own havoc, destruction and depression and have cost Australian lives. Surely, if anybody is keen on establishing an organisation to deal with natural disasters, it must be set up in such a way that it can cover more than the matters that have been put forward by the Opposition tonight.
My friend the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott) drew attention to the occurrence of frost in particular circumstances. He said that the frost occurred for a number of years, or at least on more than one occasion. That is probably not a major trouble, but the whole emphasis in the motion is on natural disasters, particularly those arising from fire, flood and drought. I am aware that members of the Opposition are cognisant of the fact that there are other disasters in our national life. Undoubtedly, if the proposed committee were set up, in due course it would have to deal with other disasters. But, as I have listened to the points of view that have been put forward tonight, I have not detected any guidelines that the committee might be given in this regard.
Let me look at the four main features of the motion. Firstly, it refers to ‘desirability and practicability’. Secondly, it envisages the establishment of a national organisation! When one is dealing with a national organisation, other facets come into the discussion. Thirdly, the motion envisages that the proposed national organisation would deal with the effects of natural disasters. Fourthly, as I have already stated in some detail, fire, flood and drought are mentioned specifically.
One assumes that the proposed committee would present a report stating whether we need a national organisation to deal with these disasters or whether sufficient arrangements already exist to meet the case and therefore no organisation is necessary. I put to the Senate tonight my view that sufficient argument has not been produced to disprove the assertion that sufficient, arrangements already exist to meet the case. Speaker after speaker has detailed certain sets of circumstances, but no-one has pointed out convincingly, that the present arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States, with the care that the Commonwealth gives to national emergencies through the States, is proving insufficient.
I am not in a position to examine the constitutional aspects of this involved problem, but honourable senators will be aware of the section in the Constitution relating specifically to the States. An examination of that section will show very clearly that there is a border between the area in which the States operate and that in which the Commonwealth operates. If it is envisaged that there will be an organisation that will work on a national basis, then some formula or some pattern of regulations and rules as to areas of work that are acceptable to both the States and the Commonwealth has to be worked out. If we can move across into certain State areas, Slates may object if money is spent on relief in a particular disaster area, and who knows that some future government will not use. this opportunity to take certain control measures, maybe to ensure that certain sales are made in the Commonwealth’s name so that there can be some kind of repayment? But no guideline on this aspect of the matter before the Senate tonight has been brought forward as something that merits the support and sympathy of the Senate.
In recent years the Commonwealth has been using a wide variety of avenues in its policy on the provision of assistance in respect of natural disasters. I think it would be true to say that the Commonwealth policy has developed to the point where in respect of any major disaster the States are assured of generous Commonwealth assistance in meeting expenditure for both relief and restoration. I back that up by referring to the assistance that ‘ was’ ‘ provided in respect of the Tasmanian bush fires, lo which reference has been made earlier tonight, and in respect’ of the recent drought throughout Australia. As’ regards lesser or minor disasters, it’ seems reasonable to expect the States to accept not only the administrative responsibility but also, if it is at all possible, the financial responsibility for providing relief .’
Let us consider the two key words in the motion. I referred to them earlier. They are ‘desirability’ and ‘practicability’.. The first point that I make iri relation to the desirability of establishing a national organisation to deal .with the effects of natural disasters is that it must be judged principally on .how effective the established arrangements, which have been in existence over the years, are in meeting the problem. The practicability of establishing such an organisation must depend on the function that it is expected to perform. When someone is trying to persuade people to support the appointment of a committee that will examine something I for one - and I know others too - would like to have at beast a speculative rundown of the kind of subject (hat it might examine and the kind of function that it might be expected to perform. Under present arrangements in Australia the primary responsibility for providing relief and assistance - both financial and material - following some disaster rests with State governments which, of course, have a sovereignty of their own and would be the last to wish this to be reduced in any way. Therefore when they can do so they are not only ready but also willing to provide such relief. This arrangement follows a kind of constitutional division of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the Stales.
Another aspect needs to be considered. We are looking at the matter from a practical point of view. In a practical sense surely the State governments are in the best position of any authority to assess conditions and then make judgments on disasters within their own boundaries. Having made the assessment and judgments they are in a better position than anybody else to assess the needs of those who are affected by disasters. However, while the primary responsibility to provide financial assistance rests with, the States, for a good many years the Commonwealth has recognised thai: the States, as a result of the way in which our system has grown, have only limited financial resources on which to draw. This fact imposes particularly heavy burdens in States like Queensland where a big drought has involved many thousands of people and in Tasmania where a bush fire wrought such havoc among so many people. When a disaster has been of a large scale, requiring not only a large relief expenditure but also considerable investigation and complicated treatment, the Commonwealth has assisted the State concerned in arranging relief.
In recent times the Commonwealth has made considerable sums available for relief in cases of’ natural disaster. About $43m was paid to the State’s during the financial years 1965-66 and 1966-67 to meet the cost of- assistance to those affected by drought and floods in New South Wales and Queensland and the bush fires in Tasmania to which I referred. In the current financial year drought relief assistance has been extended to Victoria and my own State of South Australia. It is estimated that total Commonwealth expenditure on disaster relief in 1967-68 will be about $30m. This indicates that an organisation exists for examination of a particular disaster situation. Reports are received from the States and the Commonwealth renders help.
We could not pass this point of the discussion without pointing out that primary producers affected by drought have been assisted indirectly by a large number of measures and in a variety of ways at local level. I return to the reference I made at the beginning of my remarks and say again that in the arguments that have been put forward we have unfortunately not had any set of guide lines. If we appoint a committee to inquire, surely there would have to be some established rules of operation, some boundaries, some summits in relation to costs of alleviation of distress or of repairs. Areas would have to be defined. That which applies to north-western Australia would not necessarily apply to a disaster in a built up area around Sydney. A drought condition in Queensland is very different from a flood condition in the southern part of the country. Looking to the future, what would we describe as a natural disaster? Am I stretching the definition too much when I raise the possibility that in 10 years or so it might include the crash of a huge aircraft with a great company of people aboard in a crowded area with the loss of 300 or 400 lives? Natural disasters take toll not. only of property, equipment and income but also, most importantly, pf lives. These matters need to be established. I know that a committee as proposed would give them due consideration. They need to be put forward as distinct possibilities.
In the present situation that we have been discussing there is no set general rule for drought relief provided by the Commonwealth to the States. The basis is one of flexibility. Each case is considered according to its merits and according to the circumstances. Because of this the present arrangements, I submit, have a degree of efficiency which obviously the people of
Australia have appreciated and from which they have benefited in particular situations of difficulty. The Commonwealth has provided financial assistance to help State governments in a number of ways. For the purposes of this debate I should like to mention three particular categories of relief measures.
The first, which is fairly obvious, is emergency grants to those who suffer personal loss as a result of a particular disaster. In addition to the immediate relief of distress, which is always an important factor in a natural disaster, this assistance may be used for making essential repairs to enable life to carry on with at least some degree of normality, and for replacements to provide reasonable living conditions. The second category of relief is the provision of money for the States to help peopl’e to carry on in their own vocations until conditions improve. One thinks in terms of flood, fire or even frost. This assistance has taken a number of forms, one of principal value being in the form of low interest loans to persons particularly affected. The third category - probably the most important and most difficult of all because if paints a larger canvas - is the provision of funds for the restoration of major capital assets that have been destroyed or damaged as a result of disaster. Since 1950 the Commonwealth has been prepared to assist the Slates to meet the cost of restoration of large Stateowned assets that have been damaged by some disaster or other, particularly where the amounts involved are very large in relation to the State’s financial resources. This is a matter of some importance.
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.
– It is rather ironical that a week after the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) has returned from representing Australia at an international human rights conference in Teheran the Australian people have been shocked to learn of the type of treatment meted out to a young Australian who is courageously standing up for his ideals and his beliefs. Despite the fact that this afternoon the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) in another place announced that the Military Board had directed that the practice of waking every half an hour prisoners in military corrective establishments under solitary confinement should cease, the stage has been reached where the whole aspect of military punishment and detention has to be reviewed, not only by this Parliament and by the Military Board but also by the people of Australia, especially in these days when Australian civilians are being handed over by civil courts to the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army.
Having spoken to the young man Simon Townsend last night and despite what Government members may say or think, I have come to the conclusion that quite clearly Townsend can be regarded as a political prisoner in a military corrective establishment. I for one am not satisfied that the mere cancelling of this barbarous, heinous and archaic practice of waking a man every half an hour is sufficient to show that the Army has modernised its methods of punishment. It must be patently clear to every thinking Australian that what has happened to this young fellow Townsend is a disgrace to the Australian Government, a public scandal and, as the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ said this morning in its editorial, a case of military madness.
When I first heard that this young man was being awakened every half an hour I could not believe it so my colleague, the honourable member for East Sydney in another place, Mr Devine, and 1 applied to be allowed to see the young man held in custody. At first we were refused permission to do so by the Secretary of the Department of the Army. Upon appeal to the Minister we were given permission late yesterday afternoon to see Townsend in the presence of the commandant of the Holsworthy military corrective establishment. We were told that we would not be allowed to sec his cell or the type of incarceration to which prisoners generally are subjected but we would be allowed to see him in the office of the commandant of the establishment and to ask him certain questions.
Wc went to the Holsworthy camp last night and during the course of a discussion with the commanding officer I was concerned to learn that the allegation that Townsend was on a bread and water diet and that he was sleeping on a concrete floor in a cell 9 feet by 9 feet with only a ground sheet underneath him and four blankets over him was correct. Equally I was alarmed to have confirmation of the allegation that at every half-hour throughout the night commencing at 8 p.m. and going through until 6 a.m. the next morning the duty non-commissioned officer, as though he was the Florence Nightingale of Holsworthy, ostensibly ensuring the welfare of the prisoner but of course not clad in nurse’s garb but in a military guard’s uniform, and not carrying a lamp because a light was outside the cell block shining on the prisoner’s face while he lay on his bed in the cell, would knock on the young man’s door, demand that he get out of bed and stand up and say: ‘Private Townsend. SUS’ - meaning soldier under suspension - “28 days detention. Sir’. Townsend asserts thai he refused to say that and instead said: Simon Townsend, conscientious objector. 28 days detention, Sir.’
Al 6 o’clock in the morning the blankets arc taken away and only a bucket is left with him in the cell for personal hygiene purposes. There is nothing for him to sit on and nothing for him to read. He is issued with a pair of sandshoes to put on his feet, and all he can do is walk or stand in his cell because, as 1 have said, there is nothing left in it on which he can sit. Then at 7.30 at night his blankets are returned to him and the long hard night begins once again.
How can the Minister for the Army, as he did this morning, say that this kind of treatment was meted out to the prisoner to ensure that he had not escaped and that he had not injured himself? What audacity it is for an unnamed Army spokesman to say that, this was done to ensure the prisoner had not developed claustrophobia. Then this Minister for the Army, a boy in a man’s job, naively adds, as reported in this morning’s ‘Sydney Morning Herald’: ‘But there is no intention to torture him an any way.’
As I have said, I went to the Holsworthy military establishment last night with the honourable member for East Sydney because of the extremely large number of telephone calls that I had received yesterday morning, many of them from prominent clergymen in the Sydney metropolitan area who complained about the allegation that this young man had been placed in solitary confinement on a bread and water diet and that he was being subjected to a type of punishment that would not be the lot of a murderer, a rapist or any other violent criminal held in a civil prison.
Despite all that the Minister has asserted the plain fact, of course, is that it was torture - torture of such a serious nature that if continued could amount to a systematic assault on young Townsend’s sanity. While in solitary confinement he was being subjected to a form of what is commonly called ‘brainwashing’. Solitary confinement, a bread and water diet and especially the cumulative effects of the deprivation of sleep can make a man so subject to suggestion that he is likely to lose his normal critical powers and believe whatever he is told. A prominent university lecturer in psychology has told me that there is plenty of scientific evidence to support the general principle of the effect of stimulus deprivation in conditions of exhaustion and lack of sleep. It is wrong, it is scandalous and it is disgraceful that this kind of treatment can be meted out to any military prisoner. But for hearing it with my own ears from a senior Army officer and having it confirmed by a prisoner in a military establishment. I would not have believed that this kind of thing could have happened ‘ anywhere in Australia.
Therefore, I should like answers to the following questions which I pose to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army: Firstly, how many others in addition to Townsend have been subjected to this form of sadistic, callous and archaic human indignity? Secondly, why was this young man put on a No. 1 restricted diet- of 1 lb of bread with water and not on the No. 2 diet which consists of bread, porridge and margarine or butter during the day; bread, meat, potatoes, rice and of course water for dinner in the evening; and bread, porridge and margarine or butter for supper? After this man had been in the custody of the Army authorities for a mere 3 days and had not carried out what was regarded by the commandant of the camp as a lawful word of command, he was given the most savage punishment that could possibly be meted out to him by putting him on the solitary confinement No. 1 diet of I lb of bread a day and as much water as he liked to drink.
My third question is this: Where in the military regulations is the punishment of waking a man every half an hour between 8 o’clock at night and 6 o’clock the next morning provided for? I have read “the regulations closely and I cannot find any authority for any person in a military establishment of this nature to mete out that kind of treatment. I challenge the Minister to state where that regulation can be found. Now that Townsend has made another application, as 1 understand he has, to the civilian court for recognition as a conscientious objector, 1 ask: Will the Army hand him over to the jurisdiction of that court pending determination of his application? lt is obvious that the whole blame for this shocking blot on Australian civil liberties and human rights must be sheeted home lo the Minister for the Army, despite the statement made here today that the matter was one for the Military Board, because regulation 30 of the Australian Military Regulations clearly gives the Minister power to give directions to the Board. Regulation 30 provides:
Subject to any direction which may from time to time be given by the Minister, the matters- for which members of the Military Board shall be responsible shall be determined in accordance with the following principles. …
The regulation then sets out that the Adjutant-General shall in general be responsible for the provision, enrolment, allocation and discipline of members of the Military Forces and, among other things, the administration of military areas, military and martial law, and the drafting of military regulations. So, ‘ quite clearly, under the Australian Military Regulations the Minister has the power to give any direction which he thinks should be given to the Military Board. Under a series of weak Ministers, the Military Board has been able to become a law unto itself. The time is long overdue for its powers to be revised by this Parliament and for the rights of Australian citizens and servicemen ‘ to be more adequately protected: If- we do not. act now, if we do not look closely at this matter, we will soon be a truly military police state.
Now let me say something about Townsend’s veracity. He struck me as not being one who would indulge in exaggeration in any manner at all. Indeed, he told us in the presence of his commanding officer - and I do not think he was inhibited in any way by the presence of his commanding officer - that, apart from this period of solitary confinement and this shocking awakening every half hour throughout the night, he felt that he was being fairly treated having regard to the system under which he was being detained. But as I sat and spoke to him, in my mind I put my young son in his place and I thought to myself how proud I would be if my boy could conduct himself with such undoubted courage and obvious sincerity when it would be so easy to give in and conform to the military society and atmosphere by which for the time being he was surrounded and in which he was incarcerated. While Senator Wright might cast doubts upon Townsend’s sincerity, as he did this afternoon, and while Senator McKellar might query the bona fides of this man’s courage, as he did this afternoon, let me say to them, using the words of the poet Bracken:
The poisoned shafts of falsehood and derision Are oft impaled gainst those who mould the age.
– I want to refer to another matter that arose in the course of the debate earlier this evening. ‘ However, it is different from the subject matter on which Senator McClelland has addressed the chamber and I do not want to prevent any other honourable senator from speaking on it. If another honourable senator wished to speak on that matter, I could speak later.
– The honourable senator may continue, but he cannot speak again in this debate.
– Then I shall raise the matter that I wanted to raise. In the course of the debate this evening on the motion which 1 moved for the appointment of a select committee of the Senate to inquire into the practicability and desirability of setting up a national disaster organisation. Senator Gair addressed the Senate and indicated some reluctance, to put it mildly, about supporting the proposal.
– On a point of order, Mr President, is it not out of order to discuss a debate that is current in the Senate? The debate on Senator Cohen’s - notion has not yet finished.
– Order! Senator Cohen is in order.
– What 1 have to say is more or less by way of personal explanation anyway, Mr President. When Senator Gair was speaking f interjected and asked: Have you not supported the establishment of a national disaster fund yourself?’ In reply he accused me of making untrue statements. I said at the time that there had been some public notice of his advocacy qf such a proposal. Again he accused me of not speaking the truth about the matter. I have made some investigation in the meantime and I find that the facts accord with my own recollection of this matter. In the short time available to me 1 have obtained copies of two national newspapers of 7th November 1967, the ‘Courier Mail’ and the .’Canberra Times’, in both of which there is an account of the Democratic Labor Party’s policy speech delivered in Brisbane on the night of 6th November 1967, and in each report there is a reference to the fact that the Democratic Labor Party wanted a national disaster fund for flood and droughts. I hope that, when the occasion arises, Senator Gair will withdraw any inputations of untruthfulness against me. and I hope that the next time he speaks on an important matter he will try to remember what he said in his last policy speech.
– Mr President, I shall not wait until any future occasion to deal with this matter; I will deal with it now. It is true that the policy of the party which 1 lead in this chamber subscribes to a national emergency fund, and nothing I said tonight repudiates that. But what I said tonight qualifies the timing of it. I said that, before the Senate decides to appoint a select committee to examine the possibility of such a fund, we should ascertain further information regarding the practicability and the feasibility of it, and we should lay down lines on which any committee should function, with a view to making a report to the Senate in this connection. My speech tonight was not opposed- to the motion at all. It merely called for deferment and for greater examination before we proceed to do something that at the present time we know little or nothing about. I advocated also that in the meantime we should preach a policy of less mendicancy and more selfreliance in every field of community life in this country. I said they were the principles of the Democratic Labor Party. I also wanted someone to define for me a national emergency. In my speech tonight 1 posed a few questions which might cause a bil of thought amongst those who share my view that in a really national emergency we might have a common fund from which we could draw, but we cannot have parochial adversities, and vicissitudes classified as national emergencies. That was the .text of my speech tonight, ft is not in conflict with the policy that I have enunciated.
– It is- very wrong to accuse me of untruthfulness.
– The honourable senator said that I had frequently advocated this. I said that he should tell the truth. -
– Let the record speak for itself.
– I take this opportunity to repeat my attitude on this. I do not think that there is any cause for me to apologise to the honourable senator but if I felt that there, was I would readily do so.
– Mr President, I wish to’ support the remarks made by Senator McClelland in relation to the Simon Townsend case. In view of statements that were made here at question time this afternoon, 1 feel it is appropriate that a letter. which this young man wrote to the Australian. Press ought to be read to the Senate. Derogatory statements have been made here and in another place with regard to the character of this young main. I think that if we hear his letter we will realise that he is a. man of sincerity who is fighting for a “right in which he believes; that he is entitled to fight for this right and that he is entitled to ordinary, common justice. This is what Simon Townsend wrote ; only a few days ago from his prison cell:
I am writing this from a cell in ,the. guardhouse of Bardia Barracks, Ingleburn, NSW. The cell is eight shoes long by five shoes wide (about 7 feet by 44 feet). It is steel lined and a -draught blows through and -it is cold. The thick grey paint on the steel hasn’t quite obliterated the etchings of sonic past prisoners: ‘Pte Anderson goes on strike 21/2/63’, I love Christine’, and ‘The Rebels,”56” ‘. More recently, in the grey paint, ‘ a Private Hartwick has declared ‘I hate the Army’ and Dusty’ has made 20 small strokes and the proclamation ‘1 day to go’. Wishing to leave my markalso I’ve used the inclined edge of a one-cent piece to carve: ‘Wars will cease when men refuse to fight’.
All that scratching filled in a few hours in this lonely, boring hole, but as I survey my handiwork again 1 wonder vaguely if a soldier was locked up with these eight words for a few days, whether they’d make an impression.
If 1 didn’t believe those words and insist on acting them out, I wouldn’t be here now.
Nearly 3 years ago 1 decided 1 was a Pacifist - that 1 believed war was a crime against humanity, that 1 could not take, part in any war, or preparation for war and that I should help to remove the causes of war.
A few months later I helped establish the Sydney Conscientious Objectors’ Croup, which helps intending objectors sort out and clarify their thoughts through weekly discussions.
During 1966, a magistrate and a judge refused to exempt me from compulsory military service because I was ‘not sincere’. I’d managed to ‘fool’ hundreds of other people, but not those learned men of the Bench . my family (none ot whom are pacifists), friends (a tiny minority who are pacifists), many journalist colleagues and lots of acquaintances, including psychologists, academics, politicians, and a few soldiers, had all been ‘fooled’.
Driven by this ‘insincerity’-
And he put that word in inverted commas - . . 1 openly refused to take a medical examination ordered by -the Department of Labour and National Service, and consequently, in early 1967, I spent a month in Long Bay Gaol, Sydney.
I applied again to a magistrate for exemption. He made no judgment on my sincerity, but refused the application on a technicality. I appealed to a judge - who started the case by relating his own war service and telling of his present work for a semi-military organisation - and he declared me, in effect, some kind of giant hoaxer with a martyr-complex and a desire to stir up trouble.
During these years the hoax had Included chairing weekly meetings of the objectors’ group, extensive reading both for and against pacifism, speaking publicly and writing about my beliefs and acting as legal representative in court for six other objectors; but what took most time, energy and patience (and probably was most important in the pacifism cause) . was the dialogue - when you’re a ‘conchie’ everyone wants to know why and most people want to talk it over.
Continuing the ‘hoax’-
And again he used, inverted commas - . . in February I again refused to take a medical and in March I defied an order to report for military duty. I was charged with these two offences in the Special Federal Court, Sydney, last Wednesday, May 15th, and was committed into the custody of an Army officer waiting in the court. I disobeyed his order to accompany him and he’ called on two Commonwealth Police who escorted me, an arm each, to a car- outside. On our way to Eastern Command Personnel Depot, Watson’s Bay, the officer told me I was under close arrest.
That night I slept in a room guarded by eight soldiers, two of whom, in rotation, had to stay awake.
On Thursday I had a long chat to the Army Psychologist and did one of those circletheyesornoquestionmark tests with questions like ‘Can you stand as much pain as others?’ (I circuled the question mark. How the hell would I know how much pain others can stand? From movies? And does ‘standing pain’ mean without wincing, without crying, before fainting?) The psychologist thought 1 was pretty stable. My conscientious objection was an administrative matter, he said.
A little later the Regimental Sergeant Major ordered me to draw and sign for army clothes. I refused. He told me the possible consequences of disobeying could be imprisonment and ordered Ale again to draw the clothes and again I refused.
A summary of evidence was taken by the officerincommand and I was remanded for court-martial.
On Thursday evening I was brought, in a cage on the back of a utility truck, to Ingleburn and locked in this cell.
My continual requests that my family be told of my whereabouts were politely noted, to be referred to someone higher up who was always away’ or ‘busy’ or ‘trying’.
T realised I was being kept incommunicado, lo avoid any publicity or demonstrations.
I was getting pretty miserable. No one was allowed to converse with me, T had nothing to read but a book of psalms, no pen or paper and I was kept locked up except for shower time and three short exercise periods a day.
Then late Saturday my younger brother and girl I’m to marry turned up. My brother had sought help from Gough Whitlam and the Member from East Sydney, Len Devine, and eventually the Army Minister, Mr Lynch, had ordered they be allowed to see me.
Suddenly 1 was allowed book and writing equipment. I’d refused to wear a uniform or army pyjamas and so had been living, day and night, in one suit and one set of underwear; this morning, Sunday, my girlfriend returned with fresh clothes.
Except for a flustered officer who took a stick from under his arm to shake it in my face and say loudly, ‘You’re in the army, son, and it’s “Yes SIR!” ‘ I can’t complain about the soldiers I’ve come in contact with, who have treated me as fairly as possible. 1 wish not to dwell on the absence of principles of British justice in the Australian Army, but this taking away a man’s privileges before he’s convicted seems an incredible infringement.
Personally, I’m resentful that I’ve been placed in ‘close arrest’ instead of ‘open arrest* (which means I am trusted to stay on the barracks) when I have given every indication that I have no intention of escaping.
T am going to see thus out. I have never intended to and I never will obey military orders. The Army doesn’t want me of course but it can’t ‘lose face’ by dishonourably discharging me now. I expect a sentence in Holdsworthy Prison and maybe even further court martials and sentences.
The ‘hoax’ goes on…..
Of course, he is now serving the sentence that he referred to in that letter. It is not so very long since the Army water torture case when it was clear that there had been a condoning of the breaking of Geneva conventions. I am not so sure that this case does not break some of the standards laid down by the United Nations Organisation in relation to the humane treatment of prisoners. I think this matter would stand a much stronger investigation and it may be that the Department of the Army, the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) and perhaps the Government will be found guilty.
This case follows a long succession of similar cases. We had firstly the case of William White, who fought through every court as a conscientious objector, and won. Then we had the inhuman treatment of Gunner O’Neill, which was another matter on which this Government fell down. There was then the case of Denis O’Donnell, who only a few months ago went through all the courts and as far as the Privy Council but was unsuccessful. Now we have Simon Townsend. But in addition to these people, how many others have been improperly conscripted into the Army in direct contravention of their conscientious beliefs against war in total or against a particular war? How many hundreds or perhaps thousands of young men are on the run in this country dodging the draft because the Government will not listen to their pleas that they oppose a particular war or that they do not want to fight in any war? The fundamental right of every human being is to act in accordance with the dictates of his conscience. But the Government does not seem to recognise this.
It is significant, too, that many young conscripts who go into the Army, reluctantly on their call-up, some 3 months later believe that they are going to save Australia for democracy or that they are going to save the world from Communism. They believe this because of the Government’s extensive brain washing system. 1 think that every member of this Parliament and the public ought to be given some idea of the system that the Government uses for this brain washing. The detention treatment in 1968 when technically this country is at peace, even if the Government is engaging in private wars, and the methods by which the Government carries out the detention treatment are worse than they were during the period when this country was struggling for its survival. On many occasions I have been in the vicinity of Army detention camps, either as part of the guard or on inspection tours during the war years, and I did not see the inhumane treatment that is being meted out today, particularly to people who do not believe in war. The Australian Labor Party has frequently criticised the whole system of conscription, as the Government applies it. It has become a lottery of death. One person has to face a call-up while eight others escape. We say that there should be no conscription for this war, but if the Government persists then it has a moral obligation to see that those people who do not desire to participate in the Government’s private war have the right of conscience not to participate instead of being hounded as they are at the moment.
In the last 14 days twenty-three Australian soldiers have been killed and eighty wounded in this famous war in which the Government is trying to get Simon Townsend lo participate. Almost half the .casualties that [ mentioned are lads in the prime of their life who have been called up and forced to participate. For twenty-three of them their worries are over because . they will not be able to participate further in this war or in any other war in which the Government might desire to participate.
– Nor in the peace.
– Nor will they be here, as my friend. Senator Cant has said, to participate in the peace. It is significant that, in relation to this rotten commitment in which we are engaged, at the preliminary peace talks Australia is not participating. The Government has been allowed to sit on the sidelines with an observer and that is a big concession for both the .United States of America and North Vietnam to make to the Government. But that is the only participation that the Government has been allowed. When the first peace moves were made the Government was not even told that they were about to take place. Of course the Government was thrown into a real flurry when the President of the United States of America announced that he was no longer a candidate for the Presidency.
– What subject is the honourable senator bearing out?
– 1 am bearing out the subject that Simon Townsend is quite correct in his refusal to participate in this war and in his claim, which 1 believe to be sincere, that he is a conscientious objector and objects to all wars. But the position is even worse. Some unnamed South Vietnamese President some years ago somewhere along the line, according to honourable senators opposite, invited us to participate in this war by sending troops there. Nobody can remember the name of the President. Honourable senators opposite have not been able to tell us this. Tt is significant that South Vietnam, which is the country that is supposed to have given us the invitation, is not taking part in the peace talks either. Whose war is it? The Government wants to send these unnamed young men. whose names will he drawn in future ballots, and people like Simon Townsend, to light there. J believe that the attitude of the Minister for the Army, of the Army itself and of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) who represents the Minister for the Army in this chamber, has been unfair. Some people today have coined the phrase that there are many people who would like to lynch Lynch. If- the Minister for the Army keeps on making booboos of this nature there is no doubt that his own Government colleagues will lynch him politically for sure.
This afternoon the Minister for Repatriation answered criticisms in questions in a very vague way. The Minister was not sincere. If there had been stocks or a guillotine to which young Townsend could have been sent, I am sure that the Minister, by his demeanour, would have been delighted to send him there. The- Minister has a long history ‘of’ neglect of returned servicemen from two world wars and the Korean war, as well as those who are lucky enough to survive the Vietnam war. But the Minister wants to keep on condemning more young men to the foulness and the vileness of this private conflict in which the Government- is engaged. Is the Government afraid to let young Simon Townsend go?
Is it afraid to let all the other young conscientious objectors go? Was it afraid in the case of Denis O’Donnell and young William White? Is it afraid that if it lets all these people go half of the Army will go with them; that the morale of the Army is so bad, particularly amongst the conscripts, that they will all leave? If the Government is not afraid why does it not listen to the conscientious objections of these sincere people, let them demonstrate their feelings and let them go? I submit that the Opposition has made out a case. I submit that it is brave young mcn like Simon Townsend. William White and Denis O’Donnell who are carrying the torch for democracy in this country.
– I will be very brief because most of the replies that could bc furnished to the arguments that have been raised tonight - and they were arguments that were raised earlier today at question time - have been answered already. Once again we have seen the Opposition rising on behalf of the wrongdoer. I do nol know how many times I have seen this happen since 1 have been in this chamber. The Opposition’s view seems to be to forget about those who are wronged and to spring to the defence of the wrongdoer. Where we are going, in a society with an inclination such as this, I do not know. We heard Senator McClelland say that he would be very proud to have a son acting as Simon Townsend is acting. All J want to say is that if 1 thought a son of mine would act like that I would be sickened to the very soul, .and that applies to every decent person in Australia.
– I would be very proud if my son acted like Simon Townsend.
– I am not surprised to hear that from the honourable senator. We had detailed explanations given of the actions that were taken regarding the bread and water incident. Allegations were made that Townsend had been brain washed. No instances were given. I suggest that it is just a figment of the imagination on the part of those who suggest it. I do not think that I will say any more. The questions asked by Senator McClelland can easily be answered, provided the honourable senator puts them on the notice paper at question time or at any other time. There is no need for the honourable senator to wait till question lime. The honourable senator can obtain answers if they are available. 1 propose to treat the rantings of Senator Keeffe with the contempt that they deserve.
– I think there are one or two things to say about Simon Townsend in reply to what the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) has said. It is not so much a question of whether we want a son to follow the precedent established by Simon Townsend but whether he is a man who is following his conscientious beliefs. Last weekend I saw a film in my home town called ‘To Sir With Love’. It dealt with the adolescents of society. It was a most powerful propaganda film on the methods of reforming a particular element of society. The teacher instructed his pupils that such people had to be recognised as adults and as the equal of anyone else in society. The instruction given to him was that after giving the matter full consideration and deciding what he thought- was right he should follow his convictions no matter what the penalty might be. Irrespective of whether the person concerned might be my son or someone else’s son, the point here is that the individual about whom we are speaking believes that what he is doing is right.
Senator Wright said today that a court did not believe that this man sincerely held conscientious objections - that he claimed these conscientious beliefs purely as a matter of ‘convenience. I remind the Senate of the case of William White. At his first trial he was unable to convince the judge that he had sincere conscientious objections. He was sent to some sort of detention establishment but, as a result of the attitude that he adopted, he convinced the judge at his second trial that he did hold conscientious objections, and the judgment given in that case has been quoted as a precedent in other cases since then.
Townsend says in the letter that Senator Keeffe read out that he had no particular beliefs in connection with this matter until 3 years ago when he became what he calls a ‘pacifist’. He then began to believe that killing was wrong and that engagement in war was wrong and he then organised an organisation of conscientious objectors which has been in existence from that point on. Because of the propaganda that he engaged in and because of his associations and his method of approach to other members of the community since the formation of that. organisation, I think we can readily accept that this man now conscientiously believes that to follow a military command is wrong.
But apart altogether from whether he is right or wrong, apart altogether from whether he is a conscientious objector, let us examine the question of fit punishment of any member of the armed services who disobeys a lawful command and let us consider it in the light of circumstances in 1968. Is the punishment being suffered by this man the treatment that should be given anyone who is a prisoner of any Army detention establishment in these days? That is the question that must be answered. Does the Department of the Army agree that this is fair treatment to give an offender against Army regulations? Will the Department say that? If not, will it say that this type of thing will not happen again?
On 7th May 1968 Senator McClelland asked the Minister for the Army for the number of personnel detained in detention establishments of the armed services. He asked how many servicemen were detained in military detention centres in the years 1966 and 1967. The reply given was that from July 1965 to June 1966 there were 469 offenders in military detention centres, that between 1st July 1966 and June 1967 the number was 69(3 and. that between 1st July 1967 and 31st December 1967 the number was 344. Senator McClelland also asked how many servicemen at any time during the period of their detention had been ordered to be placed on a bread and water diet. The answer given was that from 1st July 1965 to 30th June’ 1966 there were 105 offenders placed on this diet, that from 1st. July 1966 to 30th June 1967 the number was 37 and from 1st July 1967 to 31st December 1967 the number was 3.
I remind the Senate .that in the year 1965-1966 there were. 105 servicemen placed on the bread and water diet. I know that in my State years ago this punishment was abolished as being inhuman treatment of prisoners, even though they may be murderers or rapists. I now ask: Does the Government favour placing a man on a bread and water diet, whatever the crime, as a method of correction in military establishments? Will the Minister answer thai? Must we attack the Government? Or can we have an assurance from the Government that this, method of punishment of Army personnel will be abolished?
Senator Keeffe ‘ quoted from a letter written by a man who was detained at Ingleburn camp in New South Wales. He was confined in a guards house, 7 feet by 4i feet. Senator’ Keeffe says that the letter was written on Sunday 1 9th May. Amongst other things, that letter states:
On Thursday evening I was brought in a cage on the back of a utility truck lo Ingleburn and locked in this cell. lt is clear, therefore, that at least he was in this 7 feet by 44 feet cell from Thursday until Sunday. 1 do not know how much longer he was there.
– Not all day.
– Let us see. He goes on to say: 1 was getting pretty miserable, no-one was allowed to converse with mc.
He said in the letter that he was given three short periods of exercise during the day. That is all the relief he got. In all seriousness 1 ask: ls that the proper way to treat anyone these days, no matter what the offence might be? It is no use saying that there are more honourable men in the Army. The important point is whether this is the proper treatment to give any man who falls foul of the Army regulations no matter what the offence is. Again I ask: Can we get an assurance from the Minister that he will see to it that treatment more in conformity with what is recognised in civilian prisons today will be meted out in future?
As to conscientious objections, let me say at once that if a son of mine held certain beliefs which he conscientiously felt were right, 1 would be proud of him if he fought as courageously as Townsend did to uphold his beliefs, irrespective of whether I agree with those beliefs. I think Townsend put up a courageous fight. By its treatment of him, the Government has now made this man the leader of conscientious objectors throughout Australia. By the propaganda in which he has engaged, by the advocacy he has adopted and especially because of the treatment meted out to him by the Government, this man has now become the leader of a force which will continue to grow. No mailer how the Government may amend the National Service Act, these men wil’l stand upon their rights and will fight to uphold the principles in which they believe.
– I would not have spoken on this motion for the adjournment of the Senate had Senator Cavanagh not treated us to his speech. I regret that he has joined the numbers of the Opposition who wish to reflect upon, their offspring for their own purpose of political subversion of military discipline. As to the appropriateness of the punishment under discussion I submit it would be more characteristic of the judicial and British approach if people sincerely wishing to get at the basic facts would consider the appropriate regulations and then give themselves a little time to judge the situation. 1 have told the Senate that that will be an exercise for tomorrow as far as I am concerned. But I cannot sit silent in my seat here -and hear people on the other side of the chamber suggest that this is a police state or a military state.
– The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ says it is.
– The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ - or Senator Turnbull. What rubbish an interjection of that sort is.
– So does the Melbourne Herald’.
– Or the Melbourne Herald’ either. This man is a journalist. Senator Turnbull comes in with the hue and cry that the newspapers have said that he is a conscientious objector. The people who are raising these matters are men who sit in a House of Parliament in a British community. They are impertinent enough to suggest that this man is a conscientious objector and that because he is subjected to discipline it indicates a military or police state.
This is his record: In July 1965 he registered for national service. As he stated in the court at the time of his first appeal, he wrote articles on national service after the Act came in, stating that it was the law and therefore it must be obeyed. He did not express any thoughts against national service. He later realised that it would interrupt his career, cause him inconvenience and force him to do things that he did not necessarily want to do. He later joined the conscientious objectors group - describing himself as leader - and the Vietnam Action Committee. In September 1965 he lodged a conscientious objection claim, which was dismissed by a magistrate in April 1966. A magistrate is usually entiled to some respect in a ‘British country. An appeal then was taken to a judge - no less distinguished a judge than Judge Curlewis. He dismissed the appeal in September 1966, stating:
Reviewing the whole of Iiic evidence, and I emphasise (he whole, I have come to a firm conclusion that the appellant’s belief is not a conscientious one. lt is one that he has adopted as a matter of convenience. .
In November 1966 Simon Townsend failed to attend for medical examination, but stood outside the premises with a placard and handed out pamphlets. In December 1966 he lodged a second application for exemption as a conscientious objector. In January 1967 he was prosecuted before a court of justice, convicted and fined for failure to attend medical examination. He failed to pay the fine and was imprisoned. I suppose that is what he is referring to when he says in his letter, which has been read to us, that he spent a month in Long Bay.
In May 1967 his second application to be considered as a conscientious objector was dismissed, again , by a magistrate. He lodged an appeal.. In June 1967 he was invited to attend tor medical examination, but he refused, staling that he did not wish to undergo a medical examination which could result in his being released from the obligation to serve for some reason other than conscientious objection. In December 1967 his second appeal was dismissed by a court of justice. He failed to attend for a medical examination on 16th February.
On 22nd February the Army issued a call-up notice stating that he should report on 11th March. On 15th May he was prosecuted for failure to attend for a medical and failure to obey a call-up notice. He was convicted and committed to the custody of the Army. He has the impertinence to express surprise that he was committed under close arrest. On enlistment he was found to be physically fit and fit for service. On 16th May, in the spirit of the following passage which has been quoted from his letter: ‘I have never intended to and I never will obey military orders’, he refused to obey a lawful command in the Army. Apparently, from his letter, that command was to take an issue of clothing, the absence of which Senator McClelland has the im- pertinence to suggest is a matter that should contribute to our sympathy for Townsend. Townsend was then sentenced by court martial to 28 days detention. Those who will account that man as a courageous young Australian are entitled, to their opinion. But the Senate should join in the view that it is shameful that in this chamber there are men who hold that view.
– 1 am one of the shameful men about whom Senator Wright has just spoken. But I am not as shameful as the people sitting on the other side of this chamber. 1 ask them to stand up and say straight out whether they believe that this method of punishment is humane. That is the basis of the whole argument. I am not interested in whether this man Townsend is a conscientious objector or not. I do not understand conscientious objectors’. 1 do not quite know how they tick. But if they have faith in something, whether it is religion or something else, and if they stick to it, then I give all the more credit to them, although I do not understand them and I do not want to have a bar of them. I do not intend to stand up for this man dr any other man if he is a conscientious objector. That is his personal problem.
But I do rise in this chamber to criticise the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) who has been so critical of the Government in other circumstances but who tonight has become the greatest defender of the Government. He would have us believe that he is a great advocate of liberty, yet he stands up and slates us because we have certain beliefs. Are not we entitled to them? I will not be sidetracked by suggestions that the issue is whether this man is a conscientious objector. Let us forget about whether he is a conscientious objector. Will you, Mr President, or any Minister or other honourable senator on the other side of the chamber stand up and say that he believes that the treatment that has been meted out to Townsend is correct and humane? The. Minister for’ Repatriation (Senator McKellar) is happily lounging in his seat. This is not his fault.
– At least I am in my seat much more often then the honourable senator is in his.
– Apparently the Minister is saying that 1 am not happy, or something. I do not quite understand what he is talking about. The poor Minister. I am sorry for him. The whole force of the VIP aircraft issue hit him. Now the Army is hitting him right and left. He has to stand up and defend these things although he knows nothing about them. lt. is not his fault. I sympathise with him. Nevertheless he is the Minister representing the Minister for the Army.
Although the question that 1 directed to him this afternoon may have seemed facetious, there was a lot of truth in it. He was not game enough to answer it. I asked him whether he knew if the Australian Army Provost Corps had any stocks of ball and chain, leg irons and racks, ls there much difference between putting leg irons on to a person and confining him in a cell 9 ft by 9 ft and depriving him of food? ls there any difference between those two things on the principles of humanity? The Minister may stand up and say that 1 am being facetious. 1 was not being facetious. 1 was trying to attack the Government for its lack of humanity. Every honourable senator on the other side of the chamber, except the one whose attitude is so cynical that the only thing he can do is sneer at anyone who opposes the Government, will agree that this treatment is inhumane.
– I was only laughing at the honourable senator.
– 1 am happy to be laughed at, but- 1 know that the people of Australia will support my attitude rather than his attitude on this matter because the whole of Australia is horrified by this treatment. When I mentioned an editorial, the reply was that it was written because Townsend is a journalist. Let me say that at times I, too, have my arguments with the Press. Nevertheless when it suits the Government it is quite happy to say that the Press represents public opinion. Every editorial in newspapers over the whole of Australia is against the Government in regard to this matter. Government senators should not try to sidestep the issue by reference to conscientious objectors, lt is the treatment of this man that we are complaining about. Not one person in Australia will support the Government in regard ro the treatment that has been meted out. I directed the Minister’s attention to the fact that an Army spokesman had said that they had to look at this man every half-hour to see that he was not suffering from claustrophobia. I asked what would they do and how would they find out whether he was suffering from claustrophobia, when they got him off the ground, made him stand and the sentry asked him his name. How could the sentry know whether the man was suffering from claustrophobia? What more stupid, puerile, futile statement was ever made than that statement by an Army spokesman?
Let. us assume that the sentry with his full military powers realises thai the man is suffering from claustrophobia. What is he to do? Let him out of the cell? Was I being facetious when I said that ‘he could knock him on the head? Would you let him out? Would you believe him? Of course, von would nol. What a silly, stupid statement that was. What makes the Government, ridiculed so much by the people of Australia is the fact of people making such statements. The Minister, instead of saying: I will look into this and stop this inhuman practice.” tries to make excuses. Every Government supporter tries to make excuses for these people by sidestepping the issue and saying that this man is acting against the law. This sort of thing is not done to criminals but the Government does it to this man because a political assassination is what it wants.
We have these people who are objectors, whatever their reasons are. Whether or not: this man is sincere I do not know; 1 do not have any knowledge of it. Surely this is all the more reason why the Government should set up some organisation such as a peace corps. It should do this for two categories- conscientious objectors and persons who are medically unfit to carry out the defence of Australia, as it is called by the Government. Surely a peace corps would be the answer for these conscientious objectors. They would still have to serve their period of 2 years but at least they would be doing something useful and something in which they believe rather than being treated like this. We are told that this man has to be awakened every half-hour but that is not trying to bend him.
– It is brain washing.
– That is not the word. They have not the time to brainwash him. Anyone who reads the leading articles in all the newspapers will see what 1 mean. What you are trying to do is to break his spirit, lt is psychological, ls that not the way the Communists acted and is it not the way the Fascists acted? They kept people awake all night. One senator said: ‘He could sleep in the day time, couldn’t he?” That is the humanity that we have. If it is true that they had to look into his cell every half-hour to see that he had not escaped, through where would he have escaped? Through what entrance could he have escaped? So they look in to see that he has not escaped. Could they not have a little light in his cell and a hole in the door to look through, as there are in other prisons in order to see whether a prisoner is inside his cell, without having to wake him and make him stand to attention? Even then the Government is contravening its own regulations. Senator Wright tells us about Australian Military Regulations and Orders. Why does he not read A M R&0 168-1 think that is the correct number - which says that a prisoner shall Ite inspected every 3 hours.
– Nobody would expect you to know.
– All right. At least I do know that there is an AMR&0 provision in regard to this matter and I am informing the Minister so that he will know. 1 think it is number 168 but he can find out with his wide knowledge of the Army.
– Al least every 3 hours.
– I am quite happy to be corrected if it says ‘at least’, but 1 understood it to say that prisoners shall be looked at every 3 hours. All right, if it is at least every 3 hours’ the fact that you make it every half-hour does not alter the case at all. What is the difference between this and the argument we had recently about the torture of the Vietnamese, lt is no good getting up, as the Minister did, and saying that people on this side of the
Senate always support wrongdoers. It is not support of wrongdoers; we are suporting justice. That is what I understand people on this side are doing. You on that side are the people who applaud the treatment of a woman prisoner, saying that she was not tortured. A couple of cups of water were poured down her throat and you say there is nothing wrong with that but you accuse the Opposition - and 1 presume myself - of wanting to support that woman.
– We said that the Army had dealt with the matter according to Army law.
– But you supported them. The first statement of the Minister himself was that there was no truth in it. I do not warn to keep going and neither does the Government want me lo keep going but there is one thing that has not been said. When will you change the regulations? If it is true that this son of treatment is the only treatment they can devise in an Army camp - call it a corrective camp if you want to; military prison is the only term for it - it is time somebody had a look at the regulations and changed them. But for heaven’s sake do not accuse the Opposition, or anyone else who wishes to speak against the treatment that was meted out to this man. of being Communists - that is the only word you have not uesd tonight - and do not say such people must be against the Government because they want to support somone who is suffering as a result of inhumanity.
– Senator Wright was brought into the debate because of Senator Cavanagh and I have been brought into the debate because of Senator Wright. I do not intend to carry out a retrial of this gentleman as Senator Wright did. I think that he placed too much emphasis for a lawyer on several of the things that he said, but even if Senator Wright was correct in everything that he said and was underemphasising or understating his case it still begs the question of whether this is the type of punishment that should be meted out to this prisoner. Let us for the moment agree that the emphasis that Senator Wright placed on these matters is correct. If at the lime of the Gunner O’Neill incident or at the time of the water torture anybody in this Parliament had said that this Government would be condoning the action of the military in putting a person in a 7 by 41/2-foot cell, leaving him there to sleep on a groundsheet, waking him every half-hour, making him stand to attention, and then giving as the reason that this was for the good health of the gentleman and that they were worried about his claustrophobia - 1 would think that if one had claustrophobia he would be better off asleep - if anybody had suggested this at the time of the torture incident he would have been accused of indulging in fantasy, of drawing the long bow, and trying to put lies into other people’s minds.
The fact is that this has happened. When 1 first read of it I thought that it just could not possibly be true and that it was fantasy. The fact is that this is what the Government is condoning. I do not care whether the retrial that Senator Wright has con ducted here tonight is correct. I am not entering into debate as to whether this man is guilty or innocent or whether or not some punishment should be meted out. But I will . not sit silently here and let the Government get away with condoning, by wriggling around questions, this type of punishment meted out to fellow Australians. What I want to hear is whether the Government is going to instruct the Army - and presumably the Air Force - to carry out this type of punishment in the year 1968. I do not care whether this person is guilty of this or of something else. I want to protestagainst this inhuman form of what is - whether you like the word or not - torture 1968 style.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 May 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1968/19680528_senate_26_s37/>.