28th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Magnus Cormack) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I understand that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has a statement to make.
– Yes, Mr President.
– Welcome home.
– Thank you. I inform the Senate that the Minister for Labour, Mr Clyde Cameron, left Australia on Saturday, 26 May to attend an International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva and to look into labour matters in London and Europe. He is expected to return to Australia on 8 July. During his absence the Minister for Repatriation, Senator Bishop, is Acting Minister . for Labour.
– I present the following petition from 17 citizens of the Commonwealth:
To ‘the Honourable The President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Tasmania respectfully showeth their objections to the proposed Legalisation of Abortion on Demand.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate in Parliament assembled should reject any Bill which ls] introduced and which would provide for abortion on demand, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
A petition in identical terms was presented by Senator Murphy.
– I present the following petition from 9 citizens of the Commonwealth:
To the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia, respectfully showeth: For many years Volunteer Firemen in the State of New South Wales have been most critical for having to pay income tax on income derived from services which they render to the New South Wales Fire Brigades.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate and House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to: Grant Volunteer Firemen in the State of New South Wales employed in the New South Wales Fire Brigades tax exemption on earnings of Volunteer Firemen ‘ on a similar basis to that granted to members of the’ Citizens Military Forces in accordance with the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936-1970, Part III, provision 1 (s)., and your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– 1 ask the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence: In view of the discrepancies concerning the number of naval persons not wishing to sail on HMAS Sydney’ if it is to take part in the protest against the French nuclear tests, will the Minister put down a statement listing the numbers and the designations of those involved and the reasons for their not participating in the operation?
– 1 say firstly that a few are involved. Some applications have been approved as coming within the criteria which the Department and the Minister state to be necessary for such persons to be released. I shall ask the Minister for Defence to give as quickly as possible the information which Senator Withers requests.
– Mr President, my question is addressed to you if you will receive it. Is it a fact that the President and the Speaker have informed a journalist that he is to be excluded from the Parliamentary Press Gallery? Is it a fact that the power to effect his exclusion rests only with the President and the Speaker? ls it a fact, as has been alleged, that the exclusion has been decided upon without giving to the journalist concerned the opportunity to have a charge formulated against him, to hear the nature of the charge and to be heard in response to what is alleged against him? If so, why has the journalist been denied this opportunity?
– I would be grateful if Senator Greenwood would allow me to defer answering his question until after question time. I have a prepared statement which I shall read.
– My question, which relates to the suggested wool bond scheme for wool growers, is addressed to the
Minister for Primary Industry. I ask the Minister whether this matter was raised at a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council and whether the Minister instructed his Department to investigate the proposal. If so, will he tell the Senate what stage the investigation has reached and whether there is any indication that the scheme has merit in it?
– 1 have no recollection of the wool bond scheme being raised at the last meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council.
– I am asking.
– I have no recollection of it. In fact, I think that I am correct in saying that it was not. I am unable to say any more.
– Can ‘ the AttorneyGeneral inform the Senate of the progress made to this time in the preparation of proposed amendments to strengthen trade practice laws in this country?
– Yes, f can inform the honourable senator. A great deal of progress has been made and an enormous amount of work has been done in this difficult field. It has reached the stage where a Bill has been prepared. It is ready to go through the processes of the Cabinet, its committees and so forth. If those steps can be negotiated there is no reason why the Bill cannot be introduced in the Senate in this present sitting period. For any number of reasons no one can be certain as to the legislative program but as far as the preparation of the legislation is a matter for the Attorney-General, his officers and the Parliamentary Counsel is concerned, that work has been completed.
- Mr President, I address my question to you or to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, whoever you think is appropriate. I refer to the fact that it was agreed that the Senate should sit at 11 o’clock on Tuesdays, lt is well known by all honourable senators that a fog is usual at this time of the year. Is it not possible for it to be made definite that we sit at 11 o’clock, fog or no fog, so that those who do not travel here on Monday will have no excuse?
– The answer to the question lies. in the fact that the Senate did meet at 1 1 o’clock.
– Since the question has been partly directed to me also, I say that nothing can be done about the fog which occurs outside and very little, I think, can be done about the fog that occurs inside.
– Has the attention of the Attorney-General and Leader of the Government in the Senate been drawn to reports that Mr Milte, adviser to his Department, is to be appointed to head an” Australian federal bureau of investigation at a very large salary? Can the Minister inform the- Senate whether these reports are true? <..
– The report I saw on Sunday was -a little like one of* those stories about something being approximately true; but . when one goes through every part of the story one finds that nothing in it is correct. The reality is that there is no. such office. I saw a figure mentioned in the Press - they dreamed it up somewhere- indicating that a salary of $55,000 or $65,00,0, , was to be paid to the occupant of an office which: has not yet been created. No consideration has been given to the appointment of . any person to fill the office which has not yet been .created. Several months ago I saw that . the Press had appointed a . Sergeant Arantz to., the same position. I do. not think if is .fair to the persons concerned to name them , and .to say that they have been appointed to positions such as this. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to people that they should’ be ‘selected and spoken of as if they had actually been appointed to an Office which has not yet- been created. 1 imagine that those ; 2 persons and others would have professional or other vocations to follow. It seems to me to be hardly a proper course to start to nominate persons to fill positions which have’ not ‘ yet been created and to speak as though they have been actually designated in some’ way ‘.When ‘the matter has not even come up for consideration. Does that sufficiently answer the - honourable senator’s question? I deprecate that kind of Press speculation. I thank the honourable senator for asking me the. question. If, he would like to ask me about another 50 or 60 such misreports in the newspapers, I think I would be able to tell him that they have just as much truthful content as this one.
– I direct my question to the Attorney-General as I believe he is an expert on this subject, but he may prefer to hand it on to one of his colleagues. I refer to the reported intention of mainland China to continue with a program of atmospheric nuclear tests in spite of objections raised by the Minister for Overseas Trade during his recent visit to that country. Can the Minister say whether this situation is likely to interfere with future trade relations with China? Can the Minister say whether the Australian Council of Trade Unions is likely to impose sanctions against China similar to those imposed against France? As China does not recognise the International Court of Justice, what does the Government propose doing to prevent future tests being carried out by China?
– 1 cannot answer all of those questions because the answers depend upon the decisions of other bodies. All I can say is that the Government is opposed to the carrying out of atmospheric nuclear tests by any country. It has made its position clear in the United Nations. It has made its position clear by a special protest to the People’s Republic of China. Where it has been able to do so by the invocation of a particular treaty the Government has proceeded against the Republic of France in the International Court of Justice. No such treaty exists as between the People’s Republic of China and Australia. In any event, it is the subject matter of consideration by the International Court of Justice. I think’ it ought to be made clear that the Government and, as I understand it, the Opposition - except for several members who appear to be pursuing a course which is contrary to the general view of the Opposition and more in line with the attitude of those who support the right of the Republic of France to conduct these tests - hold the united view that the tests should not be conducted. In every way that is open to it the Government will pursue that course.
– My question, which is directed to the Attorney-General, concerns recent publicity about the appointment of Mr K. Milte to carry out an inquiry into tha Northern Territory Police Force. I ask: Is it a fact that Mr Milte’s appointment was made in the same way as appointments of this kind normally would be made? Is it a fact that his name was submitted by the Attorney-General’s Department, along with 3 others, to the Northern Territory Legislative Council, which chose Mr Milte from the list provided to carry out the inquiry?
– My understanding of the matter is that several names were submitted to the appropriate body in the Northern Territory and that Mr Milte’s name was among them. Mr Milte is a man of considerable qualification. It was, I suppose, no accident that he was selected. I do not wish to go into the question of the relative capacities of the other persons. It is a matter for those in the Northern Territory who have the responsibility of choosing to select the person that they want. If one person is not satisfactory to them they can, within reason, choose the person they want. I think there was some suggestion, either in tha Press or elsewhere, that somebody ought to be brought to Australia from England. Leaving those considerations aside, it is a matter for those in the Northern Territory to pick the person they want. The sooner they make up their minds no doubt the happier they will be; and so will everyone else. I think that the policy which has been pursued on a personal basis by some persons of attacking individuals and trying to deprecate them or of conducting vendettas ought to cease.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade. Is the Minister aware that Australia’s trade with Taiwan has doubled in the last 2 years to some $90m? For many reasons, including that of trade, and following the statements of the Minister for Overseas Trade as reported yesterday, will the Government reconsider its attitude towards Australian trade with Taiwan and appoint trade commissioners in an endeavour to establish better trading relations and facilitate the opportunity for the development and expansion of trade with that country, which has deteriorated during recent times because of the Government’s policy?
– I would be reluctant to comment at the present time on what I understand is a Press report on such a controversial matter. I certainly would not do so until such time as the Minister for Overseas Trade has returned from overseas. 1 have no doubt that he has given all of these factors his most serious consideration and that on his return he will be in a . better position to advise not only me but also the Parliament as to where Australia’s true interests lie with respect to trade in that area.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Repatriation. Is the Minister aware that Australian citizens who are selected as members of the State police forces to serve abroad in the United Nations peace keeping forces are not covered by repatriation benefits while others fulfilling a similar role in a military sense are covered? Does the Minister agree that there is no real difference between the 2 roles? In view of the Government’s deep commitment to supporting and upholding the principles of the United Nations, will he take steps to correct this anomaly so that all Australian citizens who serve abroad in peace keeping forces under the sponsorship of the United Nations will receive full repatriation cover?
– This matter has been considered on a number of occasions, including one fairly recently, by the present Government. The position is that it is not possible to extend the provisions of the existing Repatriation Act to the people to whom Senator Devitt referred, unless he nominates a very special case, because those provisions make it clear that the work of such people must be in association with the armed forces in special areas. However, there is an act of grace provision in respect of some civilians but they must also be supporting the armed forces to some extent. If Senator Devitt will give me the particulars of the case which he has in mind, I will have the position examined again.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade. Is it a fact that the Joint Australia/New Zealand Pea and Bean Panel which was set up to regulate imports of both commodities to Australia, has not met for approximately 12 months? Can the Minister indicate the date of the last meeting of this panel? If the panel has not met for approxmately 12 months,, does it mean ‘that all pretence of regulating imports of these commodities into Australia has been abandoned? Will the Government, in the interests of its own producers, give earnest and serious’ consideration to using its Department of : Overseas Trade officials as the regulating authority for these imports rather than a panel the majority of which have a direct vested’ interest in importing into Australia as many peas and’ beans as possible? ‘ ‘
– I think all honourable senators will be aware of the very great interest that Senator Lillico has had in this matter.
– All Tasmanian senators have had an interest in it.
– All Tasmanian. senators have had an interest in it for’ some time. I advise Senator Lillico that the Australian Pea and Bean Panel met in Melbourne on 9 October last, and the Joint Australia/New Zealand Pea and- Bean Panel met on 19 October in Canberra. At the joint panel meetingguideline estimates for imports of frozen peas and beans from . New Zealand for the calendar year 1973, were discussed and agreed upon. The Department of Secondary Industry has maintained a close watch on imports. As they have not ‘ exceeded those guidelines and as New Zealand has experienced a relatively unfavourable season, there has been no need to call a meeting of the Australian panel. The next meeting will be held some time in August, prior to the next meeting ‘of the joint panel which is scheduled for late August or early September. As the panel system appears to be operating satisfactorily at present I see no reason why the system should be changed.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Works in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Urban and Regional Development or Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Conservation. I refer to statements made in South Australia at the weekend following a meeting of the mayors and officers of the Spencer Gulf cities which referred to the deterioration in quality of River Murray water from the MorganWhyalla pipeline. Firstly, will the Minister send for and examine the statements? Secondly, will he see that some investigation is made of these claims, and will he let the
Senate have the results of this investigation? Thirdly, will he arrange for a re-examination of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution, particularly the reference to what is described as the Pels scheme and for the Senate to have some information on the steps taken to provide higher quality water for South Australia in the future?
– I have not seen the statement but I will get a copy of it and see that it is brought to the notice of the responsible Minister. There is current and continuous investigation into the quality of the River Murray water. Many problems have to be investigated and overcome. On the question of re-examination of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution I cannot be precise. I do know that it has been examined and in fact is still under examination by the Department of the Environment and Conservation.
– My question to the Minister for Primary Industry follows a question 1 asked last week. Did the Government promise prior to the last election to make long term low interest loans available to the rural sector? Is the report correct that $20m is to be made available through the Development Bank at the going rate of interest of 7 per cent to 8 per cent to rural industries? If so, why the change of policy? Is it not a fact that for many years since the last war loans have been made available to the rural sector through trading banks and the Development Bank al concessional interest rates?
– Prior to the last election the then Opposition gave no such undertaking. The present Government’s policy was spelled out clearly in the now Prime Minister’s election speech in December in which he said that rural finance would be made available at the lowest possible interest rates. One would assume from the nature of the question, and from other questions which have been asked about this matter, that the previous Administration had a wonderful record in respect of low interest loans. That of course is simply not true. I remind the honourable senator of one or two things that were said last year by my predecessor, Mr Sinclair. For example, in a speech which he gave at the University of New England on 15 September 1972 he said:
The objective of reducing the annual repayment burden of borrowing is more effectively met by lengthening the term of loan than by reducing interest rates.
That statement was reiterated by the Leader of the Country Party, Mr Anthony, in the House of Representatives only last week when he said:
Again, let there be no doubt as to where the Country Party stands on this issue. I have said repeatedly in recent years that I believe that the term of a loan is far more important than the interest rate.
He went on to make further statements which supported that contention.
– What is your policy? We know what our policy is.
– I have just said what our policy is. In a Press statement which he issued on 10 November 1970 the then Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Anthony, when talking about loans for the farming community, said:
This further development will be important for a large number of producers but it must recognise the fact that provision of finance has to be based on sound economic principles; that it is no service to anyone to lend him money his business is incapable of repaying.
The essential point in this whole question of rural finance is that research that has been done shows clearly that the greatest benefit which will come to borrowers in the rural sector is from long term loans, not from low interest rates. This is the very point that we made in our policy speech. Interest will be at the lowest possible rates. Naturally, we do not want to lend money at interest rates which are in excess of what the rest of the community pays. It is wrong to imply that the previous Government did something more than the present Government is doing.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity of Minister for Customs and Excise. Is consideration being given to changing the basis for valuation for duty on imports which, for a great many years, has been the selling price to the customer or the current domestic value in the country of export, whichever is the higher? Is there any truth in the rumours that the Government proposes to adopt a c.i.f. basis in line with the rules of the Brussels Customs
Co-operation Council or that it proposes to compromise by adopting an f.o.b. basis and eliminate the comparison with the current domestic value? Moreover, is it true that the Government proposes to adopt the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade code for anti-dumping administration, which would considerably reduce anti-dumping duties in comparison with those applicable under the relevant Act as it is currently administered? In line with the policy of open government, will the Minister make public the details of any alternatives to the present- arrangements which are under consideration in both these matters in order that the issues involved may be examined and commented upon by local manufacturers and importers before any Government decisions are made?
– The honourable senator raises a question of the utmost importance. The Comptroller-General of Customs in only the last couple of weeks attended a conference in Japan of customs authorities. I think that was the first time that an Australian delegate has attended such a conference. The very question of the basis of valuation, whether it be c.i.f. or f.o.b., was raised at that conference. My understanding is that on the Australian initiative a study has been commenced of this very question and the- possibility of alternatives being available to various countries instead of one course only being open to them. Some of the other questions which the honourable senator raised were discussed also.
If it is convenient to the honourable senator the Comptroller-General might be able to answer these questions with some precision when the estimates for the Department of Customs and Excise are being considered. My understanding is that it is intended that the estimates for that Department shall be dealt with this evening, if the Senate so decides. I will ask the Comptroller-General to attend. He may be able to outline the latest position on these subject matters with more precision than I am able to do immediately. The Comptroller-General discussed this matter with me last evening. I am able to say that in general the subject matters have been raised and discussed. I will ask the ComptrollerGeneral to attend the Estimates Committee hearing, if that is the convenient course, so that more light can be thrown on this subject which is of the utmost importance to people in the commercial community.
– I address my question to the Minister for Works in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I refer to the expressed intention of the Commonwealth Government to take over direct responsibility for Aborigines throughout Australia. Will this be done only with the full concurrence of each State Government? Will introduction of legislation designed to: facilitate the transfer of State officers involved in the administration of Aboriginal affairs be deferred until such time as all States are prepared to accede to - Commonwealth Government proposals?
– As! I understand the position, the Prime Minister is writing to the State Premiers on this matter in an effort to reach agreement. I am advised that trie intended takeover in each State will only be with the consent of the ‘Government of that State. Already a request -has ‘ been received from one State’ for the Commonwealth Government to take over certain State powers concerning Aborigines. I believe that the request was for a takeover of this power from 1 July. The consent of the- State Premiers will be required to implement this proposal. Some amendments will be made to ‘the Aboriginal affairs legislation. . ;::
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for’ Primary Industry, follows on the question asked by Senator Maunsell in regard to rural, finance. I hope the Minister will not blush if I say that he gave a somewhat propagandist reply to that question. Can the Minister tell me as a fact whether the Government has” considered proposals to establish a rural . Bank to finance rural industry?’ If so, has a decision been reached? If not, when might , we expect a decision to be announced?
– The, Government has been considering the question of rural finance and, as. I indicated in answer, to a question last week, I expect to make, an announcement this week on the Government’s decision. The Government’s policy will, be to expand the activities, of the Commonwealth Development Bank for. the purpose- of. providing finance for rural .primary producers, and this will be done in conjunction with the normal trading bank system, as has been the practice in the past.
I reiterate that the Government’s policy is to assist rural industries as much as we possibly can with, loans which are designed to allow them the maximum flexibility and to give them the greatest benefit. That can be done by providing long term loans. These are statements of facts; they are not intended to be propaganda, but if I am asked questions which are intended as propaganda, honourable senators opposite must expect the appropriate answers.
– In asking a question of the Attorney-General 1 refer him to an earlier question asked by Senator O’Byrne. ls it intended, in the course of the trade practices Bill which the Attorney-General proposes to introduce, to revive the old Australian Industries Preservation Act which, I understand, was introduced, by that great liberal, Alfred Deakin? If not, is any variation intended in the old Deakin Act which was based - I think from recollection - on the old Sherman anti-trust legislation?
– 4 think I can safely end without breaching any of the usual rules about this matter say that what was indicated in the pre-election proposals of the present Government is to be carried into effect in the Bill, that is, the proposals are a modernised version of the old Australian Industries Preservation Act. As the honourable senator is well aware, that means that they are close m concept to the United States legislation. In the sense that the rule of law will be pursued, the tendency will be rather to make the law operate directly upon transactions and the conduct of citizens. In other words, there will be a rule of law stating that this is what you do or not do, rather than a bureaucratic mechanism which has to be negotiated before one knows what is permissible and what is not permissible.
Having said that, I indicate that because in the modern world there needs to be scope for rationalisation in some areas and perhaps scope for exemptions, there will be an administrative method of permitting exemptions or authorisations or clearances in cases where it might be considered that the rigour of the law ought not to apply to a particular transaction or in some circumstances. As the honourable senator has properly said, this means, in effect, a return to what we consider was a much simpler and better expression of the law than has been pursued over recent years. That method of stating the law was substantially upheld by the High Court, and it is proposed to pursue those lines.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is it a fact that the Government intends to combine the Department of Civil Aviation and the Department of Transport? If this is the case, does the Government realise that Australia is the sixth country in size and in order of achievement in the civil aviation world; that it has a very proud record and that therefore, without doubt, civil aviation warrants a department in its own right, as it always has had? Does the Government feel that the 12,500 people working in civil aviation will think that amalgamation is a good idea when they contrast it with the creation by this Government of 10 new Government departments which do little else but create confusion?
– There is much about this matter that I cannot answer because firstly, a question of Government policy arises and, secondly, I do not know how the people engaged in civil aviation feel about the matter. The Government proposes to appoint a committee to make an in-depth study to see whether it is possible to combine the 2 departments.
– Through you, Mr President, I would like to ask a question of the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange.
– The Chairman of the Committee has left the chamber. However, it is permissible to ask a question of an honourable senator who is responsible for some of the business of the Senate. I shall call you when Senator Rae returns.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He will see that the notice paper contains not less than 35 questions which were placed on notice during the months of February and March, and I guess that twice as ma ay questions have been placed on notice in the last 2 months. Will the Minister concentrate upon the urgent need, if honourable senators’ questions are a reality, to give prompt answers to questions placed on the notice paper?
– You took 2 years to answer questions.
– I hope that the Minister will ignore the interjection, as I do.
– It is important that questions be answered and I am indebted to the honourable senator for raising this matter. He will be aware that in this chamber far more questions are asked and answered than is the case in the House of Representatives There are only 6 Ministers here, and if I had to hazard a guess I would think that on the average they probably answer 10 times as many questions as does the average Minister in the House of Representatives. They also have the enormous task of representing other Ministers. I think the honourable senator is right in that questions ought tq be answered. However he will understand that a great deal of other distractions prevent Ministers discharging questions from the notice paper. I will endeavour to do my part and will bring the matter to the attention of my colleagues to see whether we can accommodate the honourable senator and ensure that questions are answered a little more speedily.
– Through you, Mr President, I would like to ask a question of the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange. Can the honourable senator inform the Senate when the report of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange - it is now 3 years since it commenced hearings - will be tabled in the Senate? Is the report likely to be tabled this session? Is the Chairman concerned that the Committee’s report is becoming known as the Kathleen Mavourneen report - it may be for years, it may be for ever?
– Following the course adopted last year, I shall refer this matter to the Committee for its view on the reply which should be given to the Senate:
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Is it a fact, as has been alleged, that the Prime Minister is anxiously awaiting an invitation from the President of the United States of America to visit that country? If it is not a fact, will the Prime Minister issue a public denial of newspaper stories which, by alleging that he is awaiting an invitation, are demeaning to the Prime Minister of this country? If it is a fact, will the Prime Minister, as a step to improving relationships with the United States of America, publicly make amends for the abusive attack on the President by 3 of his Ministers earlier this year?
– I nave not noticed any anxiety on the part of the Prime Minister on any subject. I doubt whether he is showing any anxiety in the respect that the honourable senator suggests. I will mention the matter to him. If he thinks that the honourable senator’s question is worthy of some reply, no doubt that may be forthcoming. I understand that it is the practice of the Prime Minister not to answer the constant Press speculation which is made about the many activities in which he is engaged. No doubt that is the reason for the Prime Minister’s consistent refusal to deal with speculation. The explanation that he has given publicly on many occasions is that if he were to start by answering one piece of Press speculation it would mean that he would have to answer all of it. However, 1 will mention the matter to him. If he thinks that some answer should be given to the honourable senator’s question, no doubt he will give it.
– My question is in relation to the use of VIP aircraft by officials of political parties. It follows upon a Press statement that in one of his impending visits abroad the Prime Minister will be accompanied on a VIP aircraft by the Federal President and the Federal Secretary of the Australian Labor Party. What is the justification for the use of VIP aircraft by persons who are not personally associated with the Parliament? I ask that we have set out for our inspection the conditions which determine the use of VIP aircraft, by officials of political parties.
– I think that question should be directed to Senator Bishop who represents the Minister under whose control VIP aircraft come.
– I think that that particular question comes under the responsibility of the Prime Minister.
– In that case I call the Minister representing the Prime Minister.
– Thank you, Mr President. The honourable senator asks for a statement of the conditions which control the use pf VIP aircraft and the entitlement of persons to be on them. I think that the honourable senator is entitled to that. I will see that the statement of those conditions is supplied in the Parliament. Honourable senators are aware that this has been a very vexed question in the Senate. It was the subject of a great deal of discussion a number of years ago. My understanding is that a statement of the users of the VIP aircraft is tabled in the Senate from time to time. Certainly, the manifest or list of passengers is tabled whenever it is asked for. If the honourable senator wishes, that could be brought up to date and a statement of the conditions of entitlement in respect of particular persons and categories of persons such as the honourable senator mentioned could be supplied. I think that the honourable senator is entitled to a statement of the basis upon which such persons would travel on VIP aircraft. I will see that it is obtained for him.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral consider and treat as urgent an investigation into telephone tapping at present and in the past by State authorities in contravention of Commonwealth law? Will he give equal emphasis to an inquiry into alleged telephone tapping and communications surveillance by private undercover groups in the area of commerce and industry?
– This is a very vexing subject. I think that a few weeks ago a question was asked of me in the Senate about what is popularly called telephone tapping. The Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act provides that there shall be no interception of telephone conversations except with the authority of the Attorney-General, unless in an emergency. I have indicated enough to show the number of authorised interceptions. I thought that that was important; not that it should be given regularly but at least it indicates that the amount of authorised phone tapping was very slight. It is my recollection that as at about the middle of March there had been fewer than 20 authorised phone tappings throughout the whole of Australia. That shows that the number was of a very small order. It was intended to put to rest some of the apprehension that there might be authorised phone tappings numbering hundreds or perhaps thousands under the provisions of that Act.
There has been evidence of illegal phone tapping. A member of the Opposition in another place recently brought to my attention an incident in a State where, apparently, police authorities were engaged in tapping which on the face of it appeared to be contrary to the Federal Act. There are Acts in the States which purport to deal with what is known as bugging devices and, in some ways, this enters the field of telephone tapping. It is clear that no phone tapping is permissible except under the authority set out in the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act. The honourable senator asks what is being done about unauthorised tapping. As I say, this is a very vexed subject. I think there is a great deal of substance in the suggestions which are being made in the newspapers and elsewhere that unauthorised phone tapping is occurring on a scale which dwarfs authorised phone tapping. I am causing investigations to be made of this. It is quite clear that the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act is being flouted. The law ought to be enforced in the interests of citizens because it is quite clear that the privacy of persons is being interfered with. From time to time evidence is given in matrimonial proceedings and sometimes in criminal proceedings which indicates that the law is being broken. Apart from that, I would think that the law is being broken in other respects. I hope to make a further statement on the matter to the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General. I refer to the unfortunate drowning yesterday of 4 Sydney diving instructors while exploring an underwater cave in the south-east of South Australia. I remind the Attorney-General that 9 people have met their deaths in this tragic way in
South Australia during the past 4 years. I remind him also that recently this area was declared safe for experienced divers by the South Australian police divers. Can the Minister inform me whether there is any code of safety in the States governing underwater exploration? If there is not, is it within the competence . of the Attorney-General to discuss this matter with his State colleagues with the object of providing a uniform safety code to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future?
– I do not know whether there is such a code and I am not sure about the question of competence but in a matter such as this I do not think anyone should dwell upon ceremony. If lives can be saved by the introduction of some safety code I think this course ought to be entered upon. I shall take up the honourable senator’s question and discuss it with the appropriate authorities in the States to find out what the position is. If we can initiate some action which will help in saving life, I think that ought to be done, irrespective of what might be the appropriate division between the States and the Commonwealth in regard to this matter.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General and it concerns telephone tapping. Owing to his absence abroad the Attorney may not know that telephone tapping has been given great prominence by the ever popular ‘Four Corners’ program of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which has said that it will continue to give prominence to this facet of Australian life. ls the Attorney-General able and willing to inform the Senate whether, once an authorised person has been authorised to tap a telephone, there is any limit on how long that authorised person can tap the telephone concerned?
– Yes, I am. I indicated a few weeks ago that the authorisations which are given to tap telephones are given for a limited period. In fairness to preceding administrations, it is necessary to understand what is involved when one receives a list of the number of authorisations that have been given. It would be erroneous to assume that the authorisations were all in respect of different persons or different telephones. It would be most unwise and unjustified to make assessments as to the number of telephones tapped from a simple statement as to the number of authorisations given because there is a limit on the time for which a telephone can be tapped. It may well be that one telephone had been the subject of a number of authorisations.
But the problem of telephone tapping in Australia ought to be understood as not really a problem of authorised telephone tapping. The number of authorisations given under the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act is really minimal. In this country, as I think in every country which has a telephone system similar to ours, a serious problem of unauthorised telephone tapping has resulted from technological advances. It would be much better if attention were focused on the reality that unauthorised telephone tapping is the problem. It is clear from technical advice which has been given that the methods of intercepting telephone conversations are comparatively simple. It is abundantly clear, if one talks to those who are expert in telephonic communications, that this can be and has been done. A great deal of unauthorised interception of telephone conversations has been going on in this country for a long time. It is a problem that exists not only in Australia but also in other countries. I understand that it would be extremely costly to devise a system which would prevent unauthorised telephone tapping. Nevertheless the problem is one which will have to be faced.
Let us understand what the problem is. It is not one of authorised tapping. It is almost ludicrous to regard that as a problem. As I have said, as at March there were fewer than 20 authorised tappings under the Act throughout the whole of Australia. Anyone connected with the telephonic communication system will confirm that a great deal of unauthorised interception has been going on in Australia. As Senator Georges indicated in an earlier question he asked of me, this matter is being investigated. In the interests of the privacy of citizens and the integrity of their communications, enforcement of the Telephonic Communication (Interception) Act is overdue. That enforcement needs to be in relation to the activities of not only private persons who might be engaged in that unauthorised tapping but also authorities who are not authorised to do so under the federal Act.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I think it is appropriate to that portfolio. To what extent does the Government propose to enter into the private enterprise section of drug manufacturing in Australia? Does it aim for government monopoly in this field?
– Yesterday the Minister for Health announced a plan that the Government has in mind for going into the business of producing cheaper pharmaceutical drugs under the national health scheme. It is not the intention of the Government to establish a complete governmental monopoly in this field. I point out to the honourable senator that a total of 93 per cent of the business in the pharmaceutical drugs field in Australia has been going to overseas controlled companies and that the greatest source of profit to these companies in Australia has been from the operations of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The Government intends to establish an Australian pharmaceutical commission as a statutory authority. It will operate in amalgamation eventually with the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, and in competition with private enterprise drug firms, thus keeping healthy competition alive in the industry and reducing the cost of drugs to the Australian taxpayer.
- Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the notice paper.
– Earlier today Senator Greenwood asked me a question concerning a matter which arose as a result of some correspondence in one of the metropolitan newspapers. He prefaced his question by drawing my attention - quite properly - to the powers that reside with the Presiding Officers to deal with certain matters. I reply to that specific prefatory question by saying that the authority of the Presiding Officers to take the action that has been taken stems from the. Standing Orders, from practice and from the powers that reside in the Presiding Officers to maintain the proper functioning of Parliament and its precincts, including matters of security.
When Senator Greenwood asked his question I said that if he were agreeable I would deal with the substance of his question by reading a statement which it is important that the Senate should have, and I now read it.
Following references in the Press to the withdrawal of a Press Gallery pass to Mr B. Everingham, I inform the Senate that Mr Speaker and I have decided that Mr B. Everingham, the representative of radio station 2SM, will not be issued with a Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery pass for 1973, This decision arises from an incident in November last when Mr Everingham was found in the suite of rooms at Parliament House of - the then Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives without authority and when no members of the staff were present. The matter was investigated by the Commonwealth Police with the authority of the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, not as stated in a Press report of yesterday at the instigation df the President of the Senate and the then .Speaker. It was by the then Speaker, unilaterally following police inquiries, Mr Everingham^ Commonwealth Police pass was withdrawn.
Mr Speaker and I . have carefully studied the police report and we have interviewed Mr Everingham who, subsequently, made written submissions and representations to us. Mr Speaker and I regard Mr Everingham’s explanations as unsatisfactory and his action in entering an unoccupied office without permission is, we consider, unacceptable conduct for a Press representative in Parliament House. Accordingly, we have directed that Mr Everingham’s Press Gallery pass should not be renewed for 1973. As a result, Mr Everingham will not be entitled to any of the privileges associated with the Press Gallery, and this, includes accommodation and a seat in the Press galleries of the chambers. However, the withdrawal of Mr’ Everingham’s privileges will not prevent his employers, the broadcasting station 2SM, from being represented in the Gallery.
I further inform the Senate that Mr Speaker and I have received letters, dated 25 May 1973, from Mr Everingham and from the Secretary of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, concerning procedures in determining this matter. In replying to these letters we have affirmed, our belief that the police investigation and our own inquiries, including consideration of Mr Everingham^ written representations, warrant the action which we have taken.
– On behalf of my colleague the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) and for the information of honourable senators, I present the report by Professor John Bloomfield on ‘The Role, Scope and Development of Recreation in Australia’.
– Pursuant to section 52 of the Commonwealth Teaching Service Act 1972, I present the report on the Commonwealth Teaching Service for the year ended 31 December 1972.
– Pursuant to section 134 of the Superannuation Act 1922-1971, I present the fiftieth annual report of the Superannuation Board for the year ended 30 June 1972.
Report of Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence
– Pursuant to the resolution of the Senate of 14 March 1973 I lay upon the table of the Senate the statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Whitlam) relating te the report on Japan of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the report of the Australian Arbitration Inspectorate for the year ending 31 December 1972.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the reports of the Australian delegations to the International Labour Conference Fifty-sixth Session - 1971 and Fifty-seventh Session - 1972.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the report by the Bureau of Transport Economics on freight transport to north-west Australia, 1975-1990.
– Pursuant to section 13 of the Law Reform Commission Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory I table in the Senate the following 3 reports of the Law Reform Commission of the Territory, namely, a report on the land-, lord and tenant law in the Australian Capital Territory, a report on the management of the property and affairs of mentally infirm persons and a supplementary report on Imperial Acts in force in the Australian Capital Territory. Copies of each of these reports have been distributed to honourable senators. For convenience, the supplementary report on Imperial Acts has been printed together with the principal report on that subject which was tabled but not distributed on 24 October 1972. I seek leave to make a short statement on the. reports.
– ls leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The Law Reform Commission Of the Australian Capital Territory consists of Mr Justice Blackburn of the ACT Supreme Court as Chairman, Professor Atiyah, Dean of the Faculty of Law in the School of General Studies at the Australian National University and Mr N. M. Macphillamy, a Canberra solicitor. The Commission was established by the Law Reform Commission Ordinance 1971, and its first 3 reports were tabled in the Senate on, 24 October 1972. They related, respectively, to Imperial Acts in force in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales Acts in force in the Territory and Civil Procedure in the Court of Petty Sessions of the Territory. Owing to printing delays, ‘ copies of the report on Imperial Acts have only recently come to hand:
As I have indicated, this report has been printed for convenience together with the Supplementary Report on Imperial Acts, in the one cover, and copies of this publication will be available to the public from today. The report on New South Wales Acts in force in the Territory is still with the printer but is promised very shortly, and it will be available to the public immediately it is printed.
The report on Civil Procedure in the Court of Petty Sessions was distributed to honourable senators in duplicated form at the time it was tabled, and printed copies have been available for some time. The Government has announced its decision to implement the recommendation in this report for a small claims procedure. This procedure will enable claims up to $300 to be handled with a minimum of formality and expense. The 2 reports in addition to the Supplementary Report on Imperial Acts that I now table are on the following 2 matters, referred to the Law Reform Commission on 17 September 1971:
Whether it is desirable that the Landlord and Tenant Ordinance 1949-1957 be amended so as to make provisions for the recovery of premises other than prescribed premises, and if so what the nature of the provisions should be; and
Whether and in what respects the provisions of the Lunacy Act 1898 of the State of New South Wales, in its application to the Australian Capital Territory, relating to the management of the property and affairs of persons who are mentally ill needs to be amended.
In its report on landlord and tenant law in the Australian Capital Territory the Commission recommends modernised provisions to deal with the recovery of non-‘prescribed’ premises, that is, business and other nonresidential premises. In its report on the management of the property and affairs of mentally infirm persons the Commission says that the law on this subject is in substance mostly satisfactory for the time being, but that it should be replaced by a single piece of legislation in modern, intelligible language. A feature of the present law is that mentally infirm persons in the Australian Capital Territory may be admitted, pursuant to an agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments, to mental hospitals in New South Wales, whereupon the property of such persons comes under the control of the Protective Commissioner of that State. The Law Reform Commission recommends the continuation of this arrangement for the time being, having regard to the expertise built up by the
Commissioner and his staff, and to the comparatively small number of Territory estates involved. At the same time, the Commission recommends certain improvements to the law, including a. provision for a mentally infirm person to request the Protective Commissioner to take control of his property without the need for the person first to beadmitted to a mental hospital.
The Commission’s Supplementary Report on Imperial Acts is a very short one, drawing attention to 3 Acts to which reference was omitted in the principal report. The 3 reports are being studied by my officers and those of other Ministers having responsibility in relation to the matters dealt with. I present 3 reports of the Law Reform Commission of the Australian Capital Territory.
Ordered that the reports be printed.
– For the information of honourable senators I lay upon the table copies of letters exchanged during the process of termination of the United Kingdom-Australia Trade Agreement.
Report of Public Works Committee Senator POYSER (Victoria)- In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969-1972, I present the report relating, to the following proposed work:
Modernisation of HMA Naval Dockyard (Stage 1) Williamstown, Victoria.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That business of the Senate, notices of motion 1 to 6 and Government business, order of the day No. 1, be postponed until the next day of sitting.
– by leaver - I move:
That Estimates Committee A have leave to meet during the sitting of the Senate this day.
In explanation, I inform the Senate that the other estimates, committees have concluded their consideration of the Additional Estimates for 1972-73. Estimates Committee A still has the estimates of 2 departments to examine. The intention is that Estimates Committee A will commence sitting at 7.30 p.m. in Senate committee room No. 1 to complete its inquiries and to prepare its report to the Senate. I assume that that is the decision of the Committee or its chairman.
– ‘Will the Opposition signify its agreement to that proposal?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 22 May (vide page 1773), on motion by Senator Willesee:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Treasurer, Mr Crean, stated in his second reading speech that inflation was one of the worst problems facing Australia today. He said:
Inflation has been a world-wide phenomenon. A large number of governments believe that it has now become the most formidable and intractable problem of economic policy.
With that sentiment one will find oneself in agreement. In all the Treasurer’s public statements - one might include the second reading speech - he has pledged to fight against all inflationary pressures with, of course, the notable exception of wage pressures. I think some facts of Australian inflation are worthy of being recounted to the rather small group of senators interested in this vital problem. The inflation rate in 14 developed countries has been an average of 4.75 per cent in the period 1967-72, whereas in the same period in Australia the inflation rate has been 4.6 per cent. The yearly inflation rate figures were: 1967, 3.7 per cent; 1968, 3.8 per cent; 1969, 4.4 per cent; 197.0, 5.3 per cent; 1971, 6 per cent; and in 1972, 5.9 per cent. Any competent observer would understand, therefore, that it is true that inflation has been a world problem. It is equally true that under the previous Government the Australian experience was better than the world average.
The Treasury round-up of economic statistics of February 1973 - published under the authority of the current Treasurer - noted that the consumer price index figure had risen by 1.2 per cent in the December quarter. Equally, it noted - and these are the current
Treasurer’s own authoritative words - that over the year to the end of the December quarter the increase in the consumer price index figure was 4.6 per cent. In the preceding year the increase was 7 per cent. Again, any honest observer will agree that under the previous Government inflation had been declining. I emphasise ‘had been declining’. Those are the current Treasurer’s own words. We have yet to see the final figures for the first 6 months of the Labor Government’s administration. It is only 2 or 3 days before that 6-months period is up. Some figures are being released. The Bureau of Census and Statistics bulletin on the costs and prices index for March 1973 indicated a rise of 2.7 per cent in the index between December 1972 and March 1973. This is an annual rate of more than 10 per cent, and I believe that the position will substantially worsen. I think that there is an overrun yet to come. Like the Treasurer, I am extremely concerned, but I have, I think, a more positive approach to the problem than he and his Government have. I believe that there is much worse yet to come and I think it is largely because of the acts of the current Government that much worse is yet to come.
There are many other factors in inflation but the Government has indicated that its attack on inflation is limited to an attack on prices without any consideration of other inflationary factors. Of these, both wages and the rate of Government spending cannot be ignored. In all its policies, including support for a 35-hour working week, the Government has turned a blind eye to these matters. The fact that inflation is most markedly affected by cost pressures is well borne out in contentions that were outlined in recent submissions to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), to which many honourable senators on both sides of the chamber will have had access. Page 2 of the document to which I have referred indicates that the Governments announced policies of increased leave and other benefits to employees and increased Government expenditure, however desirable they may otherwise be, must undoubtedly increase upward pressure on prices. The evidence available to the institute shows unquestionably that inflation in the Australian economy has been brought about by cost pressures rather than by excessive demand. This was the case at the time when this report was compiled.
The evidence also shows that these cost pressures, in the main, have come from wage increases, increases in public sector charges and, to a lesser extent, increases in the cost of imported materials. It is often suggested - and this is the main purpose of this piece of legislation, if one can call it that - that profit margins tend to increase in periods of rapidly increasing prices. This is the contention of the Labor Party and the basis of the curent policy. The analysis that is available shows that this has not occurred in Australia. The conclusion is based on the fact that the share of the gross national product received by companies as gross operating surplus has fallen significantly in the last few years while the share of the gross national product going to wages and salaries and supplements has correspondingly increased. So policies that have this sort of superficial appeal of squeezing profits look attractive to people but really they are not effective in the context that the percentage of profits has been a declining percentage, and the Government is not attacking the real problems. Therefore, in due course the Government will get itself in further substantial problems. It will “ reduce the rate of investment, it will discourage growth in the economy and it will put itself under pressures of employment. In due course the Government will find itself in a lot of trouble.
Honourable senators opposite might think that this is a political speech, but I am not making it in quite that sense. I am saying this because I want to emphasise, as will my colleagues, that fundamentally- this is an extremely bad approach, it is mistaken in its emphasis, it is unwise and it will have very drastic consequences in the future. We want to issue what is,- in our view, a considered series of warnings. We believe that the Bill represents the motley and mish-mash approach which the Government is adopting. We believe that the Government’s speech was fairly useless, Unproductive, basically misleading. It had strong overtones of the Laski London School of Economics which might have been relevant in the year 1930 but which are not relevant at the present time. We -believe that this is a pusillanimous proposal. But on the other hand, concern about inflation is not a Government monopoly. We have had concern about it and, as I demonstrated earlier from the Government’s published record, the rate of inflation had been declining under the previous Government and our record regarding inflation, on a world comparison, was extremely good. Price rises worry us just as much as they worry anybody else, and we wish to halt them, but we wish to do it sensibly and positively.
The Treasurer said one thing which was worthy of note, that inflation is a problem with which we all are concerned. We quite agree with him. We certainly are all concerned about it. But why does he single out 350 companies to take the full brunt of the responsibility for halting inflation when it is not the responsibility of those companies alone? We on this side of the chamber have been concerned all our lives, and we remain concerned, for the thrifty and productive people in society who are affected very adversely by inflation and who will be affected ‘ by the consequences of this very unreal piece of legislation. We do not believe that any intelligent approach to inflation and its control oan afford to ignore matters such as wages, hours of work and ‘productivity levels. In respect of all these things the Government has taken a very unsound attitude.’ It has given undiscriminating . support to all pressures for wage increases ‘ and shorter working hours without regard to comparable increases in productivity.
AH honourable senators will, have had circulated to them through the normal processes of the mail some figures relating to the cause of inflation. I will not deal, with the whole matter but in the document ‘ there is a summary on page 1 which ought to be noted. Between March 1967 and December 1972 price and productivity increases would have justified a wage and salary increase as high as 38.7 per cent. In the same period, average weekly earnings per employed male unit increased by 61.5 per cent’. The increase in average weekly earnings was 22.8 per cent in excess of prices and productivity increases.
– What was the period?
– March 1967 to December 1 972. Having dealt With that matter I shall pass this document to the honourable senator. It is very illuminating and demonstrates the broad theory that . I put to the Government about economic management. Substantially it is this: There has now been built up in society a 22.8 per cent lag which is to be caught up in further inflationary processes because the Government will .not accept the fact that cost increases, productivity and wages are inter-related and must be considered together. This Government also has ignored the fact that under the previous Government, in its 22 years of management in what I call a market economy style as contrasted to this Government’s style, the average level of Australian wages had reached number 3 in the world on real comparison. Therefore the average wage-earner in this country had been brought up to. a fairly substantial level of wage prosperity in the relative world scene. At the same time we had held our inflation rate below the 14 world country average.
We of the Opposition also believe that the Government has ignored totally the inflationary role in the public sector of the economy. The Government sought to have those matters excluded from consideration by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Prices but the Senate - 1 think wisely - adjusted that proposal in order that the Committee would consider the effect of the public sector on price increases. Apart from such matters as Public Service salaries and hours about which the Government has been very ad lib - it really has been most liberal; anybody who asked could have - and the effects that such considerations given to the Public Service have on the total economy, the Government has ignored its own role as well in the direct promotion of price increases due to various forms of indirect taxation. The Commonwealth Government must have due regard to its own total expenditure and its demand on available resources. I seriously put to the Government, which claims to be responsible, that what we have is a cost inflation system which is yet to develop its full run. This is yet to come. It is beginning; it is discernible. The apparent inflation rate in the Australian economy today would be about 8 per cent to 9 per cent, but 1 believe that by the end of this calendar year we will see a higher rate than that because of what I call the over-run of the Government’s decisions and the overrun between wage increases and productivity. The Government has launched itself on an extravaganza of demand which is yet to affect the figures.
The proposals of this Government to spend money across the board and put a strain on demand are yet to be seen in the Australian monetary and economic system. This is part of the problem that was not considered in the speech by the Special Minister for State (Senator Willesee) relating -.to this Bill. The Government has not shown any regard for what will happen because ‘ of its actions. The Government should also consider seriously the fact that it is involved in a. mixed economy and that it cannot do things’ without regard to the whole, impact that its actions .will have on the economic system. It is necessarily an economy iri which the public sector and the private sector must march side by side. ‘Regard must be paid to -what each sector is doing and the burden must be shared equally. The resources of both sectors must not be committed beyond their capabilities. This is what is happening at the .present time.
The matter cannot be considered in isolation. The Government cannot single out, ‘as it is trying to do, 350 companies and expect them to carry the whole responsibility that belongs to the Government, the public sector, the public service and everybody else in this country. The 350 companies that are mentioned in the broad are to be made the scapegoats.’ The Treasurer himself does not know how many companies are involved because many do not make public the figures which would make such a judgment possible- unless, of course, he has access to the figures of the Taxation Office which he ought not to have under- our system of . propriety in government. So the Opposition believes the’- Government has decided that the victimisation < of -350 companies is. to become a substitute for a program of economic responsibility on. its part. We take the view that business people are entitled: to be treated as honourable people, and not as rogues. We say this to the Government seriously: It ought not to single out business people to take the whole, burden of its attack and complaint.
I want to refer to some of the achievements of the Australian economy during the last 20 years, lt has been an economy operated substantially in the sense of the market force. During those 20 years the Australian gross national product multiplied 9 times. The amount of revenue received by the Commonwealth for the purpose of spending for the Australian public multiplied 10 times. Exports multiplied -16 times. The Australian overseas debt for 1972 was at about the same level as it was in 1947. The overseas reserves of this country would cover imports for 13 months instead of 6 weeks as previously. Real wages had risen to a level which placed them third in standard in the world. The ownership of motor cars- and homes had increased tremendously. That is what the market economy did for Australia and the Australian -people. During that time a great number of large companies now singled out for attack have played a most responsive, reliable and effective role in helping that growth, enabling living standards to rise and, in their own style, contributing to government revenue. We believe that they are now being made scapegoats. They are to be attacked to further the case of a socialist ideal which is quite unreal in the management of a mixed economy in which due regard should be paid to al] the pressures and influences that should operate in such a management scene and in such an economy.
Here are some specific examples of problems and difficul ties that the Bill as now constructed will create: Firstly, J will deal with sales tax. A major part of the cost of a glass of beer or of a packet of cigarettes is sales tax. The margin of profit on each item is very small. Under the Bill, a lc increase in the price of either, after an increase in sales tax, needs to be referred to the Prices Justification Tribunal. I ask honourable senators to consider the number of cases that will be involved. Think of the problem of retailers. Large retailers carry tens of thousands of items in stock. Under the terms of the Bill, an increase in the price of any one item can be taken under the scope of the Tribunal’s investigations. This will lead to a progressive phasing out of items on which the profit, margin :s small. The total sales do not justify the paper work of investigation by the Tribunal. This is what I call an umbrella situation. There accumulates under a given company with sales in excess of $20m a year a great range of supply from all kinds of other unattached companies that do not in any way belong to that company which they supply. That great range of items produces a turnover of $20m in one company. The. company is not responsible for the price increases of all its suppliers. But the price increases accumulate under its umbrella and it becomes responsible for those increases. All the other companies under that umbrella are not liable.
We could have a theoretical case in which company Y manufactures a motor car. The sales of that company may be. $20m a year. Therefore, it comes under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. But it draws its supplies to make the motor car from a great number of small sub-contractors or large sub-contractors all of whose sales are below $20m a year. Those sub-contractors may make tyres, wheels or axles. Those parts are all brought in and the car is put together. Company Y is liable because the price . may have- to go up. But the tyre manufacturer, the axle manufacturer and the body manufacturer is not liable so he is able, to put his price up. This is a situation of complete lunacy. That is all one can say about it. It is just madness. 1 ask honourable senator’s to think about perishable goods. Especially under seasonal conditions, and bearing in mind that large retailers also sell fruit and vegetables, many perishable goods vary in cost from day to day and from week to week. It will not be possible to make small price changes given the delays which -this Bill causes. The result will be that many items just will npt be stocked or the prices of those articles cannot be varied downwards in times of excess supply as now operates in a normal market situation. Then there are the considerations, of; overseas companies.. Do companies with small sales in Australia - of under $20m - but large sales overseas come within the scope of the Bill? If they do not small local firms could be disadvantaged. If they do then many other problems will, arise. Then I ask honourable senators to think about hotels. Does a large chain of hotels or motels, have to justify a rise in meal costs or laundry costs every time it increases its prices? I ask honourable senators to think about sub-contracts. Where a small firm supplies a large firm with any item and where that small firm increases its price without the need to refer to the tribunal, the large firm will be precluded from passing on that cost. It may just as well decline to buy from that supplier. In the end under that process that supplier, small as he may be, could be forced out of business; he will have nowhere to go. These, are a series of examples to demonstrate the unreliability, the unreality and the unworkability of this Bill and, if I may say so, the victimisation it makes possible.
Then there is the matter of confidentiality. The Bill provides for no confidentiality of information. Even if information is given in confidence it can be reproduced in the Tribunal’s reports. The staff of the Tribunal is not stated to be pledged to keep confidentiality of evidence. Then. there is the general matter of evidence. Any party which is accepted by the Tribunal to have a right to appear before it may call any. witness which that party -likes, almost regardless of relevancy. Under these conditions in any case involving any part of the building industry Mr Mundey could be accepted as part to the proceedings. He could call the general manager of L. J. Hooker Ltd and cross-examine him. Equally some company could call Mr Hawke to answer questions about the finances of the commercial enterprises of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I am sure that the Government did not contemplate these things. Many of us have done a lot of work on this matter. As we have worked on it, thought about it and looked at it we have become increasingly apprehensive. We think that this thing is an unworkable disaster. What are the qualifications for Tribunal members? The Bill is quite deficient in stating that there are no qualifications for Tribunal members at all. Since one person can sit as the Tribunal it is conceivable that Mr Hawke, Mr Mundey or Mr Carmichael could sit as a one-man Tribunal. Maybe that is not intended by the Government but under the legislation this is a possibility.
I ask the honourable senators to. think about auctions and tenders. Some industries, particularly the building industry-!- this is another umbrella sort of situation - depend upon tenders to a very great extent. Does the Bill imply that all tenders for similar work which are higher than previous tenders have to go to the Tribunal for approval before being submitted? That is what the Bill implies. Maybe this is not intended but this is what can be read into the Bill. Let us look at the scope of the Bill. Many of the larger companies are exceptionally diversified. Yet provisions in the Bill mean that an increase in one aspect of price could lead to an investigation into another part of the company’s activities. For instance, in relation to one company an increase in the price of a certain wine could lead to an investigation into other parts of the company’s activities in producing cigarettes. A price in wall board manufactured by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd could lead to the Tribunal looking at the sugar contracts with the Queensland Government. I think the Bill needs to limit Tribunal investigation strictly to matters which bear directly upon the pricing of goods or services. Of course, these are not defined.
This Bill is an attempt to have what I call a prices policy without an incomes policy. Most overseas countries have failed when they have had a prices-incomes policy except on a very short run level: Here we have a prices policy without an incomes policy. Most countries have even gone the next distance and had a prices policy plus an incomes policy and found that in the long run this has not worked. There was a short-run period when this was attractive and looked useful but mostly it has had to be dispensed with. Just as a case in point, a country with one of the lowest inflation rates ‘ of the developed countries is Germany which consistently refused to have a prices-incomes policy. So we believe that the Bill is- doomed to failure not only for that reason.. but .also because.it seeks to avoid dealing with the whole problem anyway. The Bill* does provide for substantial delays. It provides .for inordinate delays to be caused by - the: Tribunal because if it decides that the information it has received is not yet sufficient it can prolong its investigations., The Bill does not provide a reasonable protection to companies which surrender papers by providing: that the Tribunal must return them within a- certain time.
Let us contemplate a situation which could happen under the Bill: A large company In the market has a certain’ product for which it gets a very small return and -wants to increase its prices. The Tribunal says ‘No’ or delays the inquiry. The large company then decides that it is not worth being in ‘that sort of business and drops out of it. This1’ may lead to ‘a large number of small firms increasing their prices without’ having to’ go to the Tribunal. Then there is the question- of -supplies, which really is relative. A large ‘company which did not want to be the subject’ of public odium which was not properly its responsibility, would perhaps decline to carry a particular line of products that caused it problems. It would not stock or sell that line but would just remain out of the business and leave it to somebody else, or somebody else would go out of business. The proceedings of this Tribunal, as they go on, will become an awful and immense time-consuming nuisance. I had some experience, in price control’ long before I came here in the early days of Commonwealth price control. I .was involved in an area of government where this was being handled. Those who saw it working and saw its proliferation and ramifications realise that it was practically a total disaster. It did not solve the problem; it led to .immense abuse and unfairness. This is the sort of thing the Government is heading into. here.
On the other hand, we as an Opposition take the view that the Labor Party said in its policy speech that it intended to establish a Prices Justification Tribunal, and that being the case it could be fairly stated that the Government had put the Australian public on warning, the Australian public had supported the Australian Labor Party and it had become the Government. Therefore, the Government having said that it intended to establish this Tribunal, we should simply say at this stage that we do not oppose the Bill. But we want to make certain things very clear to the Government. We issue a very clear and a very firm warning that we reserve our right as an Opposition, irrespective of what the Australian people might have voted for, to take this matter under consideration at any time if it is shown that this Tribunal is being used as an instrument of unfair, unreasonable or impractical policies or if any attempts at victimisation or intimidation are made.
I understand that the Government is circulating an amendment the purpose of which is to try to improve some of the obvious defects of the situation. We will study that amendment carefully and we will deal with it when it comes up at the Committee stage. We reserve our position in relation to this Bill in the future. We will watch the progress of the debate. We will watch the progress of the legislation. We will watch the actions of the Tribunal. We will be very vigilant indeed because we do not like this situation one little bit. We believe the Bill, is doomed to failure. In our view of the Labor Party does not have the moral courage to attack inflation root and branch but rather it is bound to obey forces which, in the national interest, should have their policies, prices and practices subject to the same sort of investigation as this Tribunal will impose on 350 companies, many of which have added greatly to our living standards and our material progress over the years. We think this situation is very unfair. We think h is very unwise. I think I could sum up by saying that we regard the Bill as an act of legislative lunacy.
– Order! I understand that the Whips have agreed with the consent of their masters, the Party leaders, that they should deal with domestic problems which they have. It is therefore, my intention to suspend the sitting of the Senate now.
Sitting suspended from 12.44 to 3 p.m.
– It is apparent from the fact that I am following another Opposition senator in speaking to the Prices Justification Bill that the supporters of the Government are not anxious to speak about this important matter. That is probably indicative of the fact that honourable senators opposite are experiencing great difficulty in advancing any reasonable comment on the Bill. I have no knowledge of any commercial expertise which exists within the ranks of the supporters of the Government - I am not being critical of them for this - which would enable them to make a reasonable comment on the Prices Justification Bill.
This Bill is of immense importance to the Australian community. I should imagine that a general aim by the Government to control rising prices would achieve the full support of not only members of Parliament but also the business community, particularly those who are being severely affected by the escalation that is occurring daily in the cost of goods and services. Although rising prices over the past years have done some harm to this country, we have not reached the rate of inflation that has affected other countries. Over the last 10 years of the previous administration there was an average annual rise of about 3.4 per cent in the cost of goods to the consumer in Australia. That was a rise with which we were able to cope. A comparison of the situation in Australia with the situation overseas during the last 10 years will reveal that Australia has had a lesser rate of inflation than America, Britain or any similar society. Of course, Australia was not under the present Administration at that time.
The Treasury Information Bulletin’ of April 1973 indicates that the Australian community is facing a grave problem at the present time. On page 24, that document states that the consumer price index for the March quarter rose by 2.1 per cent compared with a 1.2 per cent rise in the December quarter. That is an enormous rise. If one were to multiply the 2.1 per cent rise during that quarter by 4 one would be able readily to distinguish the fact that we are headed for a rate of inflation of something in excess of 8 per cent this year. I have said in the Senate on several occasions that by the end of this year we will have a rate of inflation of at least 10 per cent or 12 per cent. That will be of enormous harm to industries, large or small, and to workers, irrespective of whether they are in receipt of high or low wages. To those individuals in the community who are on fixed incomes it will be a complete disaster.
I have great sympathy for those individuals in the community who were a little thrifty during their working life and who put aside some funds hoping for a return to them in their later life that would enable them to enjoy some pleasures. It will be a complete disaster for those members of the community, whether they be bank officials, postal officials or anyone else who has retired on a fixed income if that income is eroded by a rate of inflation that is approaching 1 per cent a month. The document to which I have referred goes on to point out that the March quarter rise is the highest for a March quarter since 1952, which is over 20 years ago. I must say that, irrespective of the actions of the previous Government and regardless of what has led to the situation that is before us at the moment, it is in the interests of the whole community to attempt to assist the Government in holding down prices because inflation and escalation in costs feed upon each other. The Government has encouraged more money to be made available throughout the community. It has also encouraged the building of more homes with the very praiseworthy objective of providing houses for people who are in need of accommodation. But the situation has arisen in Australia where demand is now outstripping production. The result is a lesser ability for purchasers to obtain a go’od deal.
The happenings in the building industry, and in the business sector which owes its existence to the building industry, are the truest barometer of the Australian economy. I believe that they demonstrate that prices are getting completely out of hand. I point out to the Government that some action is needed on its part to attempt to control the forces which are creating the demand and which are creating the escalation in costs. I have mentioned the belief that I hold that there is little ability within the Government ranks and that its supporters cannot justifiably claim that they have sufficient knowledge of this field of business to know what is required of them. I wish to make the point that industry has stated that there was no consultation between the Government and any area of industry or with any industry association before the Government put forward its proposal for the establishment of a Prices Justification Tribu nal. That is regrettable, lt is regrettable that the Government should head along on a particular course without consulting those who may be able to put forward ‘solutions to the problems confronting us.
I have mentioned that there was under the previous Administration an average rate of inflation of about 3.4 per cent per year over . the last 10 years. Although 1 have not presented them to you for your, examination, Mr President, I. will be seeking during, the course of my speech on this Bill to incorporate in Hansard several.. tables which show the rate of inflation over a particular period. I recall that on a previous occasion when I showed to the Chair papers that I intended , to seek to have incorporated in Hansard I was told that that arrangement had been cancelled. I have since noted that some honourable . senators have asked for documents to be incorporated in Hansard. Perhaps that is the situation today.
– Order! One of the problems that can arise in the publication of a daily Hansard is the printing of the complicated tables that have been incorporated by honourable senators. That is something which is always in the back of my mind when 1 ask . honourable senators about the documents, they wish to have incorporated in Hansard. . So, when you get around .to that, let me. know.
– I will be getting to the point fairly soon. The first table is from a basic paper which was produced by the Legislative Research Service. I think that all the tables which I have come from that Service. The first table relates to inflation and unemployment in Australia. At this point I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard this table which contains only about half a dozen lines.
– We will leave that until later. In the meantime, would you let me have a look at it so that I can obtain technical advice on whether it is possible to incorporate it, in the context of the daily Hansard?
– It would be interesting to know when the Chair last asked a member to do that, but I certainly will do that. I will provide these tables to you and discuss them as I go. The first table indicates that the annual increase in prices in 1968 was 3.1 per cent, in 1969 it was 2.9 per cent and that the average from 1962 to 1972 was 3.4 per cent. The period referred to was a time when the previous anti-socialist Government was in power. The table indicates that during that period unemployment as a percentage of the labour force was 1.23 per cent. I think that we should attempt to achieve that goal in the community. No matter what arguments may have been raised about the economic policies which were produced under previous Prime Ministers, those facts indicate that the achievement in relation to unemployment was one which we should hope to achieve at this time. At the moment I do not think it is quite possible that we will achieve it this year or in the next few years, with a moderate rate of inflation.
It appears to me that the Government, in bringing forward the proposal to set up a prices justification tribunal, overlooked what has been the major factor in relation to the escalation of prices which we have seen and which the Government, by the Tribunal, hopes to control in some way. The cost of goods produced in Australia over the past years or the cost of goods imported has generally been on a fairly competitive basis. I have an abhorrence of businesses which can say that they are monolithic and which control the absolute manufactured cost and the eventual retail price of their goods. As far as I am concerned, a monopoly in any field is as bad as a dictatorship. I believe that in areas of prime importance in relation to the cost of goods in Australia a great responsibility has been demonstrated by some of the larger organisations which have the ability to monopolise in production and in stating what the retail price will be. The core of the problem over the past years, particularly the past few months, has undoubtedly been the escalation in the amount of wages that are paid. I would encourage the payment of adequate wages at any particular point because I think the community benefits greatly from that. The retail stores benefit greatly. Any manufacturer who is seeking to produce goods must benefit from the fact that the highest possible salary or wage is paid to individuals.
In the past few months this Government had demonstrated a tendency to say to the arbitration court that it does not oppose arguments that there should be a $13 a week rise. This is what the. Government did at the last national wage case bearing before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Perhaps the Government feels that it may gain popularity, by . doing this. The Government has decided .that the return to Commonwealth public servants should, be. escalated greatly. I refer to the comment over the weekend that the level of academic salaries will rise by 23 per cent or 24 per cent. Here is a problem which eventually must flow through to other areas in the community. The Government has indicated that it is in favour of granting a 35-hour week. An enormous burden of calculation of cost is thrown on to the producers in the; community. The Government has already introduced 4 weeks annual leave for its public servants. There is no doubt that that benefit will flow on to the State Public Services.
There will be a demand for this from comparative areas such as banking and insurance, and large employers in various sectors of industry undoubtedly will receive demands for a similar benefit. An extra week’s annual leave for employees of any sizeable employer is something which has to be met by a calculated increase either in present turnover or in the margin which the employer is getting on the resale of his goods. That margin is gained by the manufacturer either attempting to produce his goods at a lower rate or attempting to get a higher percentage in the margin of profit that is available between wholesale and retail prices. So one must seek to increase the volume of sales of goods that one produces. Because the market in Australia is moderately small and is not as great as the market in like countries, businesses have great difficulty in justifying fully how they are to compete at this time without increasing margins or without increasing prices.
I could go further and speak of the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill which the Senate has on the notice paper. I do not know whether the Government believes that provisions of the type contained in that Bill will apply only in the Commonwealth, but I believe that they will flow through to similar employees in State organisations. State governments will have to grant increased compensation benefits. To some who are in industry it sounds so stupid to be saying to any employee: ‘If you are sick for a week, do not worry about it; you will be on full pay*. I spent sufficient time working on the wharves and in other places in Victoria tq know that industries are pretty tough. In some instances an employee gets a great deal of encouragement not to come back to work if he is getting the full amount that he would have been getting, if he were at work anyway. What will happen when private industry has to go to its. insurers to attempt to cover that situation? Compensation insurance, rates for employees will double. I would be surprised if they do not treble. My view is that prudent private industry must seek to make provision in its books at present for such a provision.
It is quite ridiculous for us to be saying that we will set up a prices justification tribunal which will have such a confined area of responsibility as is proposed by the Bill and think that it will do anything to curb prices in the community. In actual fact, the Bill is a complete disaster. While we encourage the Government to take some steps, if it can see wisdom in those steps, to hold prices down at a reasonable level a study of this Bill gives us little hope that the Prices Justification Tribunal, when it is set up, will work in any way in the interests of the Australian population. I believe that the Opposition has taken the right decision in relation to this Bill. The decision was a fairly difficult one to take. The Opposition will not seek to amend the Bill. If it attempted to amend what is contained in the Bill it would be assisting in making the greatest hotchpotch of a prices control measure that could ever be seen.
I see that the Government in its wisdom at this very late hour, and not in the House of Representatives after having had an argument there, has now produced into the Senate an amendment. I was one who was flying around in the fog over Canberra this morning. I noted that amendment only 10 minutes ago and have not had time to read it. I hope I shall be able to do so while I proceed with the comments that I have to make. However, if there is within that amendment something which puts some force into the Prices Justification Tribunal or something which may make it work better, I would certainly be in favour of it.
It is interesting to note what has been said by responsible people within the community on the Bill that is before us. I note, firstly, the fact that there has been comment by the Institute of Directors in Australia, a body which certainly has some responsibility for employment in the community and the members of which, as citizens of Australia, have some obligation to act responsibly. Sir Robert Crichton-Brown of the Institute has said that price control has not been a successful method of fighting inflation in other countries and is not likely to be so in Australia. He went on to say that the establishment of a Prices Justification Tribunal appears to be a complete fiasco in bringing about what the Government proposes. I note, secondly, that
Mr G. R. Mountain, Chief Economist of the National Bank of Australasia Ltd, has said that for overall control of inflation there would be a virtually useless squeeze on one section of the business community, on just a few business enterprises. Honourable senators will have noted the various comments that he has made. The Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Ltd was more critical. In fact it slammed the economic policies of the Government. It said:
It’s time the Federal Government paused for breath and asked itself what pattern of development it has in mind for Australia and its economy. Up to now the Government has given no real indication as to what is the real answer to that question.
This comment goes on to deal with the great disadvantages that can be seen in the proposal to set up a Prices Justification’ Tribunal. Next, Mr Neville M. Blyton of the Australian Chamber of Commerce ;had some very interesting comments. He said:
Hesitancy which still remains in some ‘ areas . of private investment despite a rapidly inflating economy is, I believe, a reflection of the concern felt by many business people that the Importance, of the basic consideration’s is not fully understood and accepted. Rather there is the appearance of’ a preoccupation with, the manifestations of inflation rather than. with its root causes.
I have indicated what I, believe^ and what many others , in the community who have the responsibility; for running a- business believe, to be the root causes pf inflation. The root causes of inflation are. not being attacked by the present Government. Mr Blyton went on to say: . .!.-.
Once embarked on a program: of . prices justification there would, I believe, be strong and continuous pressure for its operations, tq. extend to an everwidening group of products, In the ultimate, price control means total economic control !One might readily believe’ that the Bill - put forward by the Labor Government is designed to produce just that proposition, that is, .total economic, control - socialist control. That would be the policy of the. present Government. The Bill before us is a’ 14-page document and approximately 4 of those pages refer to the Tribunal’s activities.. About 75 per cent of this Bill deal’s . with ,the protection, rights, actions, procedures arid inquiries which are to be extended and taken’ by the Tribunal. I reiterate that the most important matter of describing what may be acceptable to the Government or to this’ Tribunal so far as increases in costs are concerned is not mentioned. Only approximately 4’ pages of the Bill are devoted to describing anything that a person who may come under the requirements of this Bill can gather from its contents. It appears to me that this is to be just another tribunal. I hope, that it will have some force in the community but it appears to me that the Government will be setting it absolutely impossible tasks. The tasks that are set out in the Bill and those to whom they refer can be found, firstly, in clause 5. One notes the companies to which this Bill applies. I was greatly concerned why the Government would choose an amount of $20m turnover for a company or a group of inter-related companies and to say that they are the companies to which this Prices Justification Tribunal will refer. It appeared to me that, in ignorance, the Government must have plucked an amount out of the air and said: ‘This is a fairly large organisation. This is one which either in manufacturing or in retailing should come under control’.
Knowing the provisions of the Bill, I ask: Where does that take one? Does it take one to a situation where, say, a large retailing organisation such as the Myer Emporium Ltd must submit to the Prices Justification Tribunal every price increase that it wishes to make? Retailing is a particularly difficult field and one which pinpoints the very great problem that is involved here. I have noted in the reading that I have been able to make of it that the amendment apparently aims at the very great problem which obviously was involved when this Bill was before the House of Representatives. 1 note what the amendment seeks to say. I should like to quote it for I think it is worth including in my speech:
In clause 18, after sub-clause (7.), add the following sub-clauses:
The Tribunal may, by resolution, authorize the Chairman to exempt a specified company, or companies included in a specified class of companies, either generally or otherwise, from the application of this section and may. by further resolution, authorize the Chairman to revoke such an exemption.
An exemption, or the revocation of an exemption, under sub-section (8) shall be in writing and a copy of the exemption or revocation shall, be published in the Gazette, and such an exemption or revocation takes effect on the date of publication of the copy.
Evidence of an exemption, or of a revocation of an exemption, under sub-section (8) may, in any legal proceedings, be given by the production of the Gazette purporting to contain a copy of the exemption or revocation.
I did not mention that this amendment may refer to any company but I must say that I am completely dismayed and that I lose some sense of reality about what the Government may indicate to the Tribunal it should do, namely, that any company, specified or otherwise, should be exempted from the investigations of the Tribunal. I think that must be ons of the most blatant and irresponsible amendments that has ever been brought forward on a matter before this House. I go no further than to say that a government wishing to bring in a Prices Justification Bill and then to move an amendment to that Bill which says: ‘Companies having a turnover of more than $20m will, at our discretion, be exempted from investigation’ indicates the enormousness of the problem which now confronts the community.
The Opposition has indicated that it does not intend to oppose the amendment or the second reading -of the Bill. Having seen the amendment, I am dismayed that the Government should even contemplate saying that it will in certain circumstances exempt a particular or specified company or companies, including a specified class of company. I hope that when the Minister in charge of this legislation replies in this debate he will give the Senate a thorough, sound and sensible reason why this amendment should be put forward.
Perhaps it could be said that the large retailing organisations for which this Bill imposes an insurmountable problem have suggested to the Government that some provision certainly should exist whereby the proposed Tribunal can exempt price increases of a certain class. For instance, wisdom would dictate, I think, that this Tribunal should have the opportunity, in respect of a rise of more than 7 per cent or 8 per cent in respect of a certain class of wages in the community in the preceding 3 months, to determine that a company on which that additional wages bill is imposed and which faces enormous costs in the production of goods or has a high labour content in the reselling component of its goods is justified in increasing its margin or its retail price as, otherwise, it would go out of business. I would not suggest that the Government is anxious to see any private industry go out of business in this country. It would be wise for this Tribunal to have the ability to take such action.
Upon written notice from a company that it proposes to increase the prices for a range of its goods by, say, 5 per cent, the Tribunal could consider the proposed rises. If the Tribunal does not answer that notification within 21 days or perhaps a month of receiving it, the company should be able to increase its prices by the amount proposed. For instance. if a company said that it intended to increase the price of its steel by 50 per cent in the next month, it would be reasonable for the Tribunal, as suggested here, to write to say that it opposed such a rise and that it wished to hear the facts on the matter from that company. That company would then be prohibited from increasing its prices until the matter had been determined. If in actual fact a number of minor price increases were proposed - and these have escalated certainly in the past’ few months - the Tribunal should be able to indicate by not replying to a notification within a certain period that the company has the right to increase those prices.
I ask the Senate to note that in the case of one company in the retailing field in Melbourne some 3,600 applications per day would need to be made to this Tribunal in respect of increases in the cost of items which are supposed to be specified in this Bill. It would be a sheer impossibility for the Tribunal ever to work in such circumstances. That example indicates the position faced by one large store in Melbourne. The volume of business and the variety of goods in other stores should be noted. For example, the average large retailing firm handles approximately 200,000 items. Clause 16 of this Bill provides:
The functions of the Tribunal are to inquire and report to the Minister, in any case where the Tribunal is required to do so by the Minister or the Tribunal considers that it is desirable te do so, whether the price at which a company to which this Act applies supplies or proposes to supply goods or services of a particular ‘ description is justified and, if the Tribunal is of the opinion that the price is not justified, what lower price for the supply by the company of goods or services of that description would be justified.
One sees quickly what this clause proposes. The point I make is that the clause refers to goods of a particular description. Nowhere in the Bill is a definition provided of what are considered to be ‘goods of a particular description’.
– A rat trap.
– The honourable senator was quite right. I hope that Hansard was able to capture that appropriate remark. The fact is that this Bill prohibits a rise in the price of any one of those 200,000 items handled by a reasonably large store in Melbourne which will need to be notified to the Prices Justification Tribunal for. decision
I am the manager of a retailing organisation which does not have a $20m turnover. An organisation such as the one in which I am interested or the Australian Council of Trade Unions store in which Mr Hawke is interested and which obviously- would not have a $20m turnover is completely exempt. Let us assume that the cost of toothpaste rises or that the price of Dunlop tyres is increased. Let us not forget that Mr Hawke said that the Australian Council of Trade Unions would put the Dunlop company out of business unless it allowed the ACTU store to sell its products at a retail price it determined and not at a notified resale price. Mr Hawke and his store will be able to increase the prices of these goods sold by his store without reference to the Tribunal. But the bigger companies in our community will not be able to do so. Companies with an annual turnover of $15m or $10m will be completely free to increase their prices whenever they wish to vary them. But large organisations will be in a different position. I ask the Minister in charge of the legislation to inform the Senate of the reason for or the sense in such a proposition.
The Bill does not specify the type of goods that would be described as being of a particular description. The Minister knows as well as I do that industry has raised this question itself. It has asked what is meant by ‘goods of a particular description’. Does this phrase mean a particular class of goods, such as a motor car in respect of which up to 50 variations on the basic unit are available? I refer to such additions as mud flaps, specific types of tyres, additional chrome strips, additional headlights or a radio? Is the Tribunal to determine whether a retailer will or will not be able to increase the price of a vehicle to which extras are added? This is a most important matter. It ls imperative that the Government, having had conveyed to it by the Minister the various comments which have been made in the. Senate in the course of this debate should describe thoroughly to the business community what ‘goods of a particular description’ are.
I indicated at the outset of my speech that I wished to incorporate a number of tables in Hansard. I note that the chair is now occupied by the Deputy President. I have argued at times that business leaders in our community adopt very responsible attitudes. I have found that major companies have not pursued wide-ranging increases in prices. I believe that the general escalation of prices by the business community has been particularly moderate. This has not been the case in respect of charges for services from many governmental operations. Mr Deputy President has indicated - and I think that probably this is the first occasion within the last few months that this has happened - that the documents should be given, to the Chair prior to their being incorporated. I see that Mr Deputy President shakes his head. I hope that is right. I will forward to you, Mr Deputy President, the documents that I wish to incorporate and you can view them. They have been compiled by the research section of the Parliamentary Library and refer to consumer items, retail prices of food items, index numbers of clothing, medical benefit costs compared with the consumer price index, doctors’ fees in Sydney, and price variations in chemicals, steel and agricultural earnings. There is also a table which indicates the average weekly earnings per employed male unit. I also forward to you, Mr Deputy President, a document headed ‘Table 1. Inflation and Unemployment in Australia’. It is the table to which 1 referred previously when Mr President was in the Chair.
Mr Deputy President, whilst I wait for your comment on my request to incorporate those documents in Hansard - and I believe they will be acceptable - I indicate that they refer to simple items. They show that within the Australian community over a 10-year period there has been an escalation of approximately 94 per cent in average weekly male earnings, but the price of not one item in those documents has escalated anywhere near that figure. I think the highest increase is approximately 60 per cent. I am very proud to refer to butter, as no doubt honourable senators opposite are, and if my memory serves me correctly the price of that item during that period has increased by approximately 24 per cent, while, as I say, wages have escalated by 94 per cent.
It is wonderful that the average worker in Australia enjoys this buying ability for goods he did not have 10 or 15 years ago, but there should not be any criticism of price rises when the business community is able to demonstrate that although it has met the extra costs of various attractions for labour, such as increased long service leave which was introduced recently, improved workers’ compensation benefits, and an extra week’s annual leave, the prices of goods ha ve. hot escalated nearly as much as average weekly male earnings. The average worker in the community has a greater buying power today. Mr Deputy President, I think that the tables that I have sought leave to incorporate in Hansard justify the price rises that have been requested by various sectors of the community in those particularly important areas of production in Australia.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - I am seeking the advice of the Principal Parliamentary Reporter as to whether it is practicable from a Hansard point of view to incorporate these documents.
– What I am saying reflects the views of the Victorian Premier who has said that there needs to be communication and discussion between the States and the Commonwealth as to how they may seek to control escalating prices. Undoubtedly, the increase in the Victorian Premier’s own State wages bill will be the greatest escalation in costs that he will have to face within the next 2 or 3 months.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! Senator Webster, in regard to your request to incorporate these documents in Hansard, I propose to put the question for leave to incorporate them, subject to examination by the Government Printer to see whether it is technically possible to do so. Would you be so kind as to seek leave on that basis?
– I acquiesce in your suggestion.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Is there any objection? There being no objection, leave is granted subject to the proviso that the documents are acceptable to the Government Printer. (The documents read as follows) -
– There are some areas of concern in the Bill with which we are dealing. 1 have mentioned the type of company to which the Bill applies. It applies only to companies which have a turnover in excess of $20m. To me it seems a farcical situation - and 1 do not know whether the Government intends to amend that part of the Bil) - even to attempt to investigate, as the Bill envisages, the price of goods and services of a particular description, such as that given in clause 16 of the Bill which refers to the functions of the Tribunal. This indicates the difficulty of trying to investigate rises in prices of some 200,000 items which an average large store in Victoria may handle. The very fact that smaller stores would not handle the same number of items makes it nearly an impossible task to try to adopt a sensible approach to investigating increased prices of goods sold in the community. I refer to clause 19 (1) and (2). Sub-clause (2) states:
If the Tribunal is of the opinion that the company has failed to provide the Tribunal with sufficient information to enable the Tribunal to complete its Inquiry and report within the period. . . . lt goes on to state that the Tribunal can extend the time before it gives a company approval to increase the price of its goods. I do not know who drafted this measure but that is an absolutely ridiculous provision. There is no definition of the words ‘sufficient information’ in this Bill, so how is a retailer or reseller or manufacturer to know what is meant by ‘sufficient information’. If there had been provided with the Bill a document describing what ‘sufficient information’ means, when the Tribunal got into action a reseller could know adequately what he has to provide and so control his own affairs.
– As the clause is drafted, the Tribunal has the right to form an opinion, and that opinion has to be conclusive as to what is sufficient information.
– That is quite right. It is impossible for one who comes under inquiry by the Prices Justification Tribunal to know what the Tribunal requires or when the Tribunal will approve of any increase in the price of goods. I have great misgivings concerning clause 20(1), (2) and (3). Apparently anybody can be a party to giving evidence before the Tribunal. Whatever information is given to the Tribunal is made public. I do not think that that is the right procedure for this Tribunal. Confidential information will be given regarding the percentage of costs that may be applied to a particular item - whether it be in advertising or in the provision for employees or in the promotion of goods. These matters are the subject of very close and personal scrutiny by a company itself. The Bill provides that if a company does not give this information it is liable to a fine of $1,000.
I note in this Bill that it is possible for the Tribunal to require a company to produce any documents, and one clause contains the word books’. No period is given within which those documents or books should be returned to a company. It makes the whole Prices Justification Tribunal, in my opinion, something of a joke, if the Government cannot see the wisdom in the suggestion that the powers of the Tribunal must be confined and that copies of books or books of original entry or secretarial notes, or whatever they might ‘ be, must be returned to a company upon its written request or some such notification..
I view this Bill with great despondency for the business community. It will affect very greatly the Australian manufacturing content in goods which are sold on the Australian market where there can be a simple procedure for importing goods and reselling them at a justifiably high percentage markup. This is certainly not in the interests of the Australian manufacturer. It will not become evident before any such Tribunal. The fact that the Opposition is not opposing this Bill is not an indication that it; does, not have complete despair about the ability of the Government to think out any reasonable approach to control the escalation of inflation within our community at the present time.
– When the Federal Treasurer (Mr Crean) introduced this Bill he stated that it was designed to help to overcome inflation and that it was directed towards improving the functioning of the market. I think it would be agreed from the comments of those honourable senators who have preceded me in this debate that it will be very difficult to find improvement in the market and in the commercial sector if this Bill, as it has been designed by the Government, is implemented and comes into operation. The proposed Bill would create confusion and uncertainty in the day to day business operations of the commercial sector. Many of the anomalies within the Bill and the difficulties under which the retail sector of our community would function have been stressed already by other honourable senators. I want to speak briefly as one who will be serving on another committee which has been designed by the Government to assist in alerting the community attitudes regarding prices and their structure at the present time. I therefore speak as someone who would share the feeling that inflation is of major importance in our economy and that there needs to be a community attitude about it to assist the Government in policies which may need to be undertaken.
It has been said quite freely that overseas experience shows that prices and incomes policies have not worked. There are various attitudes to be stated in this regard. There are things that can point to the way in which the United Kingdom and the United States of America have had short term experience of these matters. Perhaps we in Australia need to design something uniquely Australian to deal with a particular situation. Why did the United States and the United Kingdom introduce short term policies with regard to prices and incomes? ‘ They had several reasons. Briefly, we could point to the fact that there were severe balance of payments problems and they had to be seen to be doing something about that economic situation. The United States freeze in 1971 for 90 days did prove that inflation could come down in the short term, but immediately after lifting that freeze the inflation went up and, if looked at in the longer term, the freeze had no ‘effect.
Australian inflation results from ;cost pressures and not demand pressures. It seems remarkable to me that when we talk about cost in regard to this present Bill, introduced, by the Government, we seem to be talking only about profit. We do not seem to be talking about the components of cost. It should be realised that the consumer price index includes components which have shown that the greatest increases affecting that index can come from the public sector and Government policies. If we consider some of the costs and movements in rail fares, transport charges, Post Office charges and services we realise that- Government policies also need to show responsibility and restraint when we are talking about the consumer price index. There has been a situation of excess liquidity in Australia and at the present time there is an unfortunately low level of private sector investment and confidence. This Bill does nothing to enhance that situation. It is debatable whether a prices and incomes policy could - contain inflation over the longer term but perhaps we need .to consider that aspect in many contexts and in many ways as a measure which needs to be accepted by the Australian community., But. ..does this
Bill do this? The Treasurer has said that it is a multi-pronged attack. This form of attack is one which we have seen to be administratively unworkable. It has been stressed that the Bill will apply only to the larger companies, so there we have a discriminatory policy, feeling that if we approach larger companies only we will force them into some restraints which may not be accepted by the rest of the community. It seems to be overlooked that there is such diversity in the operations of some of the larger companies and that this Bill would have such a limited application that there could not be the overall effect on prices that one would expect to see.
We see an enormous bureaucratic monstrosity being set up under this Bill - a Tribunal with no limitation on its numbers, with no qualifications for their expertise and having almost unlimited capacity to question and disrupt the commercial decision making which needs to be undertaken. Is it understood that retailers having sales of $20m per annum account for only 25 per cent of Australian retail sales? Do we understand that there is a remaining 75 per cent of retail sales which are transacted by thousands of smaller retailers who could not come within the provisions of this Tribunal? Do we understand that 75 per cent of the purchases by one large retail group over the last year came from manufacturers or suppliers who are not subject to this Prices Justification Bill? Can the Government not envisage how limited will be the effect of this Bill and yet how disruptive it can be in the way in which it is designed to operate?
I spoke a little earlier about looking at costs. If we do this we must surely look at wages. They are the essential element of the cost of any goods or services. We have had the various decisions of our wage fixing tribunals. We know that we have a system of collective bargaining and we know that Australia has a unique system of arbitration and wage fixing. Yet we do not seem to be facing the reality that it is not a matter of attacking price or profit; it is a matter of looking at the source of price, and that is cost which must include wages. The real challenge that is now facing all sectors of the community is to find a way to halt the spiralling costs which are so rapidly overtaking each income received and which are widening the gap between the ability of a fixed income to provide essential services.
Unless we attack the cost increase we will find that our inflation is a monster within our economy. Perhaps we should be exercising a social conscience as werealise that people on fixed incomes, on pensions, are: ‘affected so much by the gap between what can be bought and what is the value of that particular commodity. We say that we can increase wages because we like to feel that the Australian sector has desirable conditions of work but surely we must understand that a responsibility attaches to this, and that responsibility is the effect on the price of each commodity which finds its way into the market place.
This Government consistently talks of profit margins and seems to feel that it is the profit margins which have the only effect on prices. The cost inflationin Australia has resulted in squeezed profits. This has been statistically’ measured, and alarger share of the gross national product is going to wages and salaries and to supplementaryincomes. It is not going into profits. The figures which Senator Webster who preceded me, sought to incorporate in Hansard undoubtedly will show that profits have diminished within the last 3 years when measured against that sector of the grossnational product which relates to wages. These facts should be inescapable when we are discussing inflation, thecontrol of costs and the advisability of> having policies which may assist in its containment.
If we look at the functions of the Bill we are faced with many realitieswhich show us. that not only is it the old price fixing bogy which the people of Australia rejected so many years but also it is, the introduction of measures which are discriminatory and which have many difficulties in their operation. We have already had referred to us the clauses of the Bill that deal with goods of a particular description. But goods of a particular description have no minimum or maximum amount attached to them. It is on the total sales of the company or. group of companies that a limitation of $20m has been placed. If we were to have this limitation on goods of a particular description for a large amount such as $5m we might be attempting to give consideration to goods of a particular description rather than to price movements of any commodity within a large retail company.
Another area of difficulty to me is the function of the tribunal and the way in which it can delay’ decisions by seeking whatit regards as relevant information and, in essence, creating a freeze on the selling of a commodity until it is assured that it has the information which it seeks. This was referred to by the Treasurer as being a voluntary system of price justification and restraint. It would seem to me that that voluntary system would be overtaken by the provisions of the Bill, the way in which it would function with the company records and accounting and the way in which a company would find its method of costing and pricing disrupted under the terms of the Bill.
The clauses which relate to the surrender to the Prices Justification Tribunal of the books of account of a company seem to me to go beyond the intention stated by the Minister as to the way in which this Tribunal would work. I wonder whether it is realised thai not only is it the costing of the commodity under reference to the tribunal that needs to be surrendered but also the books of account of the company and any records which are considered relevant by the, members of the Tribunal. This seems to me to ask companies to communicate to any person the records of the entire company functions which may have no relevancy to the price justification which is sought. I imagine that this requires a revelation of confidential information which should be limited in the interests of commercial competition, commercial enterprise and the usual functioning of a company in regard to its private records and those things which need to be kept confidential.
There are many areas in which we feel this Bill ought to be amended if it is to function as part of a commercial area of industry. But if we were to attempt to amend this Bill presently being debated we would find so many difficulties that it would become unrecognised as an instrument of government. There are many ways in which commercial interests have pointed to the difficulties. Yet this Bill was introduced without reference to the commercial sector of the community and without reference to those people who need to undertake the sort of operations which are envisaged within it. I wonder whether this is an example of open government, seeking the co-operation of the community in regard to measures which need to be taken in the interests of the community?
A difficulty is envisaged in the function of the Bill with regard to new lines which are introduced on to the Australian market. Here again, we find the difficulty that companies would have to face in order to have a price fixed for a new item which had not been sold previously. It is another difficulty in administration and commercial decision taking. Clause 18 indicates so many ways in which a company would need to justify its prices increases that ‘1 find it very difficult to talk about it at all objectively and still remain a member of the proposed Committee who will be seeking information which may be of assistance to it in collecting the facts which show the reasons for price movements in Australia. As I think was stated earlier, even increases that are the result of Government decisions would involve many applications to the tribunal. They would involve such things as minor increases in sales tax, excise, any government levies and stamp charges. However small, they could relate to increases in prices and would through the decisions of government have to be justified as a price increase. I wonder whether this was envisaged?
We feel that there should be the basic protections which we understand in our community with regard to inquiries and people who are subject to inquiries and judgments as a result of inquiries. There should be a right for officers of a company to be present during the whole of a hearing, to be legally represented, to cross-examine witnesses and to be informed of evidence or information obtained directly or indirectly by the Tribunal. These are important matters to the functioning of society as we know it. They are important to any company which would be cross-examined by this body.
As I said earlier, there will be an involuntary 3-month freeze on prices because of the way in which it is envisaged that the Tribunal will operate. Because although the Tribunal must complete its inquiry within 3 months it can then ask for sufficient information to be presented. Again, this would result from the action of one member of the Tribunal seeking more information and preventing the company from trading as it had intended to do within its normal pricing arrangements. There are many aspects of the Bill which lead me to feel that the Government has not thought through its provisions before it was drafted. I understand that the Government sees it as one way in which it may approach the present economic climate of price movements in a continuing upward spiral. Of course, it is debatable whether a prices and incomes policy can contain inflation over the long term. Perhaps senators on this side of the Senate have felt that at least it must be tried. But we did not envisage that a bureaucratic monster such as this would be one of the ways in which it needed to be tried. We do not see how this Tribunal would be of assistance in determining how prices could be contained, how there could be co-operation between the community and commercial interests and government in this matter, relating one to the other and each accepting some responsibility for its actions. I see this as a Bill which will have my reluctant support. I see it as an instrument of government and as part of Government policy, and perhaps I see it as a way in which the Government thinks that it ought to relate to the community.
– I think that this Prices Justification Bill is proof that the Australian Labor Party leaders resemble the Bourbons in the sense that they learn nothing and they forget nothing. They have produced in this legislation before the Senate what must be regarded as an economic fizzer. Perhaps one of the most damning criticisms of the whole legislation is the fact that although Opposition speaker after Opposition speaker has pointed out the defects in the legislation, not one single solitary Government senator has risen in his place to justify this piece of Labor Party folly.
– Why do you think that is, Senator?
– I think that they realise the Bill is incapable of being defended on logical grounds. The measure is clumsy, vague and unworkable. It is true that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) mentioned the matter on a number of occasions during the Federal election campaign and it is reasonable to assume that the Australian Labor Party has a mandate to bring in a Bill called the Prices Justification Bill. But details were not given to the people. We had no idea - to use the words of Senator Guilfoyle - that this economic monster would be created. The Opposition does not intend to oppose the legislation. We believe that it is unworkable. If we tried to amend it and put it into sane form it would mean that the Bill would have to be withdrawn and redrafted. It is such a mish-mash - I understand that that is the in word at the moment when one wants to speak about a mess - although that description was applied quite unwarrantedly by the Prime Minister to members of the Opposition in this chamber. I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, although some governments make it very hard, and I like to think that the Government is genuinely concerned about controlling one of the greatest problems which the country faces at the moment, that is, roaring inflation. But if the Government is genuine and sincere it is difficult to understand why it has not attempted a freeze on prices and wages if the desirable end, controlling inflation, is to be brought about.
Without going fully into the details I point out that the Bill simply states that any company of a particular type - that is one with a turnover of $20m or more a year - must give 21 days notice to the Tribunal of its intention to increase the prices of goods. If the Tribunal does not take objection to the proposed increase within 21 days the increase may go ahead. However, if the Tribunal decides that it will conduct an inquiry it has 3 months in which to conduct that inquiry and another fortnight in which to make its finding known. Let us take the Myer Emporium as an example. If it wants to increase the price of bobby pins by 2c it has to take an exercise in economic futility which may well last for 5 months. One of the more irritating - or perhaps ‘sinister’ is the proper word to use - aspects of such an exercise is that the Tribunal is able to inquire not only into the cost structure of the bobby pin market but also inquire into the grocery section of the merchant, and into the hardware and softwear sections.
The Tribunal is entitled to go through all aspects of the company’s books. It may even say: ‘You are making a good profit on the grocery lines. I think you can carry this increased cost in regard to bobby pins’. Many cases of corporations are affected by the seasonal market. Let us take a classic example given in a newspaper a week or so ago - a motel belonging to a chain with an annual turnover of more than $20m. It serves bacon and eggs for breakfast. As the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) knows, the price of eggs is a variable factor. It can go up and down. It is a seasonal cost. The large motel must give the tribunal 21 days notice if lt wishes to increase the price of breakfast by a few cents. Smaller motels which are not plagued, shall I say, by a $20m a year turnover have no such restriction. There we have an unfair sense of competition. I think one only has to recite the circumstances to see what an absurd proposition is emerging.
One of the more difficult aspects to understand is why the socialist approach always attacks inflation from the wrong end. It always attempts to control prices without attempting to control the structure which goes into prices, lt makes no attempt to control wages. lt makes no attempt to reduce prices by increasing productivity. The only real way to reduce prices in a free enterprise society - and we still have a chunk of free enterprise left in this society - is to offer genuine incentives and by an improvement in productivity. 1 am prepared to concede that price control can and will work in war time. This is a time when the community is prepared to surrender many of its rights and privileges and to put up with all sorts of difficulties in Order to defend the nation. But of course in war time everything is controlled - prices, wages and supply of materials. I think it is a mournful commentary that when Mr Menzies - as he then was - introduced the national security legislation at the time of the last war under which the price control ordinances were enacted, every member of the Labor Party voted against price control. 1 do not know what has come over the Labor Party in the interim. It is difficult to understand why it does not contemplate the price and wages freeze tried by what might be called conservative administrations in both the United States and Great Britain. It is my belief that the controllers of the giant unions who control this Government would not allow such a course. We have not forgotten the $25,000 bribe paid by the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union to the Prime Minister for the promise that there would be no sanctions in future industrial legislation and no prosecutions. We have to make this plain to the community. As I mentioned the only real control in a private enterprise society is the reality of competition.
Professor John Jewkes is the Jeavons Professor of Economics at the Manchester University. ‘His classic ‘Ordeal by Planning’ described what happened when a socialist government in England attempted to turn that small country into a Utopia after the last war. He cited one example which I think disposes of the idea of planning without proper production. He said that the island of Great Britain was almost composed of coal and surrounded by fish and that it would require an organising genius to produce a shortage of both. Professor Jewkes says: Unfortunately in Great Britain we have this type of socialist genii in our midst’. While this Government bows down in servile prostration before the large unions - usually left dominated - and while it goes into the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court ito obtain increased wages and to shorten hours, and while it thinks it can control inflation by directing its penal sanctions against 350 Australian companies, it is very difficult to give it the benefit of the doubt and to take it seriously. The increase in the cost of living in the last quarter under this Government was 2.1 per cent - the highest for 21 years. It does appear - since 1 cannot regard this present instrument as a valid weapon in the fight - that we will have raging inflation by the end of the year. The Government has brought in this toy cannon to deal with the monster. That is as sane as bringing in an arquebus to shoot down a B52 bomber. Honourable senators opposite would remember - probably many of them favourably - Professor Hans Arndt-
– Heinz Arndt.
– I thank Senator Wheeldon for correcting the christian name, but 1 am glad to know that he recognises the gentleman to whom I am referring.
– Only with some difficulty.
– I think the honourable senator will recall the description. Professor Arndt was the economic adviser to the Australian Labor Party. He is the economist who said a few years back that the Labor Party had had no progressive economic ideas for 25 years. Perhaps Senator Wheeldon might recall that Professor Arndt resigned from the Australian Labor Party over Mr Whitlam’s genuflection to Chairman Mao when he visited Communist China. As I say, like the Bourbons, the Labor Party does not learn anything from history. Some time back I had some remarks to make to Senator Poke, but he is occupying the Chair at the moment so I do not wish to conduct a conversation with him about the last time we debated a form of price control in this chamber. Honourable senators will recall that at the turn of the 4th century the Roman Empire was in sore straits economically. The prices of silver, gold and corn were skyrocketing.
– Was is not homosexuality that caused this?
– The empire was having difficulties with homosexuality at the time. I am speaking specifically in regard to the work of Emperor Diocletian in the year 301 A D. when he issued his famous edict. I do not think honourable senators opposite should treat this matter so humorously because it is extremely serious and it shows the extent to which even a totalitarian organisation was prepared to go in an attempt to control prices. Diocletian could scarcely be regarded as a soft character. He issued his famous edict on prices whereby he endeavoured to fix maximum prices in detail for all varieties of goods. He did not talk of particular descriptions such as the Bill does, but it then fails to give a definition. He fixed maximum prices in detail for all varieties of goods, including gold and silver, and also, I repeat, maximum wages by day or piece work for all kinds of services. Diocletian was a tough character and the penalty for exceeding this price or withholding goods from the market was death. Although there were many executions, the edict proved a failure. It was unenforceable and he was unable to control inflation by means of the edict. There were heavy imports of corn which came from Libya, but the price fixed by the Emperor was less than the merchants had to pay for the product. Accordingly the corn was sold from under the counter and a black market was created. Then began, I suppose, the first of a whole list of failures at price control right down through history. I repeat that even though the penalty for non-compliance was death, price control failed to work.
Then 500 years later the Emperor Charlemagne tried the same thing. He also was unsuccessful. Centuries later in Elizabethan England an attempt of this type was made to control prices. Again it was unsuccessful. The German city states of the 16th century also tried price control. This again was a failure. Then the American colonies tried it. Again it was a failure. It was abandoned by them all. History has proven that that type of control succeeds only in producing planned shortages. This Government is entitled to its Prices
Justification Tribunal because, as I said earlier, it claims that it has a mandate in relation to it. Without debating that matter of fiction, it is a challenge which we do not propose in this instance to take up. I simply say we will not stop the Government from going off on this futile economic frolic, knowing full well that in the interests of Australia it will be forced to take an interest in the only real controller of prices, namely, productivity.
The Bill itself requires any company which has a turnover of $20m a year to give 21 days notice to the Tribunal if it proposes to raise prices. 1 have made earlier reference to this matter. I come back to the extraordinary delay which may take place in regard to raising the price of certain items. There must be a number of motor car firms which have a turnover of more than $20m a year. Mr Acting Deputy President, what do you think happens to the value of a secondhand automobile which is standing in the yard of a large dealer who has to wait 5 months before he can have its price fixed? Surely this is grossly unfair and can work very grave hardship. It is abundantly clear to me that this Bill was drafted by the ghost of the late W. S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. No other outfit, not even this Government, could concoct such a mish-mash, such a gallimaufry, without this type of Gilbertian inspiration.
– We have heard some very good speeches from this side of the chamber in support of the Prices Justification Bill, pointing out that the Bill is really hardly worth supporting because it will not achieve the results which the Australian Labor Party originally assumed it would. This Bill provides for yet another tribunal to be set up, thus adding to the mounting number of statutory bodies and independent committees that have been set up since the present Government has come to office. In fact, I think since that time about 33 other such bodies have been set up at tremendous cost to the taxpayers of Australia. This tribunal may even duplicate to a degree the work of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices. I would like to refer to one or two comments concerning that Committee that were made recently by Sir Norman Young at a meeting. He said:
We are to have a Federal parliamentary committee on prices under the chairmanship of Mr Hurford, the member for Adelaide, a committee which, on Mr Hurford’s own admission, will possess no statutory powers but which, as he says hopefully, will operate by intimidating the particular business interests marked out for attention under a threat of a Government sponsored consumer boycott of the goods in question. For the purposes in mind Mr Hurford is hoping to establish an extensive spy system from the ranks of the unhappy housewife and the disgruntled shopper.
He commented also that in his opinion the parliamentary Committee had no power.
– Who said this?
– Sir Norman Young. The honourable senator should know him pretty well.
– Who is he? I have never heard of him.
– He happens to be the managing director of South Australian Brewing Holdings Ltd and he has some interest in this matter. He also said that the Committee did not have the capability to deal with this extremely complex question. Recognising the fact that the Opposition has appointed some very competent people to this Committee, it might have some chance of being effective. The experience in other countries has shown that this sort of tribunal has failed. I recall the United Kingdom found that the inflationary trend did not change significantly by instituting measures similar to those we are discussing at the moment. The President of the United States did halt rising prices for a limited time last year only to find that soon after this trend lapsed and the inflationary trend went on as usual. However, we must support the Bill because we believe that something has to be done in an attempt to arrest the tide of inflation. Even if the course proposed is to introduce legislation which is intimidatory up to a point we will go along with it.
Like previous speakers, I believe that without effective control of wages and imports this Tribunal will have little effect on price levels in Australia but will have a major effect on a manufacturer’s business by slowing down any proposed price increases. This will have the inevitable result that manufacturers will tend to raise their prices or attempt to raise their prices earlier in the future. I want to illustrate what 1 mean. When we consider the provisions of the Bill we appreciate that this could possibly be so because the Tribunal will have 21 days from the date on which a company notifies its intention to raise its prices in which to serve a notice of an impending inquiry. The Tribunal will then have 3 months in which to complete an inquiry and furnish a report to the responsible Minister, who in turn will have another 14 days in which to make the report public. So there could be a delay of well over 4 months before a decision is made on whether a proposed price increase is to be accepted, rejected or amended. That will place manufacturers and retailers in a most difficult position. Perhaps I could illustrate the point I am making by asking the Senate to envisage what could happen to a company that wishes to retail, for example, bikinis, which, I am led to believe, are seasonal garments - if they can be described as garments. If a price increase were contemplated that company would be in no position to place the forward order that is necessary to secure stocks of this article from the manufacturer. That would flow on and create problems in the manufacturing industry as well.
I also wish to question the penalty provisions of the Bill. The Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) .probably will be able to clear up this matter for me when he replies to the speeches of honourable senators. Is a $10,000 fine to be imposed on a company for non-compliance with respect to one article only or will it apply to a group of articles whose price increase is contemplated? I would appreciate it if the Minister were to clarify this important matter when he replies to the speeches of honourable senators. Whilst the Act will apply to a relatively small number of companies - 1 think about 350 or 400 - and will in fact discriminate against the larger companies it will also take in an almost limitless number of commodities. Where an inquiry is held into a particular manufactured article which is sold through a large retailer, that retailer also will have to apply for any increase which he deems necessary, unless the Government intends to select only major commodities. If it does not do that, I believe that the volume of paper work will bog down the tribunal. 1 wish to return to the address by Sir Norman Young in which he referred to the establishment of the Prices Justification Tribunal. He said:
The real humbug of the Prices Justification Bill, however, lies in the fact that any decision which the Tribunal reaches on a company’s application to have a price increase dealt wilh has no legal force.
If that is not so, perhaps the Minister will clear up that point for Sir Norman Young. Sir Norman went on to say:
The Tribunal informs the Minister of its findings and the Minister then informs the Press. If a company is satisfied that its proposed price increase is justified, despite a contrary view by the Tribunal, the company can implement its own decision; but only after it has awaited the outcome of the proceedings before the Tribunal.
In other words, the Prices Justification Bill is founded on the improper and unsupported assumption that Australia’s largest companies are charging too much for their goods and services. And the Government, having no power to fix prices, has decided to embrace an undisguised policy of intimidation.
Sir Norman also said that the Government is creating a political smokescreen in the form of this Tribunal, which can make little or no contribution to the solution of the problem of wages chasing prices. He said that that is not only bad politics but also bad government at a time when real leadership in this area might be expected to attract the co-operation of all the parties which have responsibilities to discharge.
I also wish to refer to another matter concerning the penalty provisions of this Bill. The penalty suggested in the Bill for noncompliance with its provisions is, according to my understanding of the situation, $10,000 for each offence. I hope the Minister will give me further information on that aspect. If a clerk who works in a large firm, such as David Jones or Myer’s, were to make an error in the preparation of a submission to the Prices Justification Tribunal would that be taken to be non-compliance? If 3 of a range of, for example, model gowns were missed from the schedule would the firm concerned be subject to the penalty of $30,000? Those are questions that must be answered. It may be the intention of the Government that any number of errors in a schedule should be regarded as only one offence, but I do think that the Minister ought to clarify that matter for the benefit of the people who are most concerned about it.
– The Senate is at present debating the Prices Justification Bill 1973. To use the precise words of the Treasurer (Mr Crean), the Bill is ‘one element - but a very important element - in a broader strategy’ by the Labor Government in seeking the control of prices. It conforms with a variety of quite unqualified statements made by the Australian Labor Party last year when in Opposition that, given a mandate to govern, the Labor Party would put an end to inflation and would do so within the powers available to the Commonwealth Government. I have repeated that claim because I think that the Parliament and the people of Australia are going to see in the months ahead a series of alibis and I predict that there will be a seeking of powers of reference under the Constitution because of the failure of price control programs. I repeat that throughout last year the Labor Party said: ‘Put us in and we will stop inflation’. We now have before us the Prices Justification Bill, which has been brought forward as, in the Labor Party’s words, a very important element in a broader strategy to control inflation.
It is interesting to note the various instruments in the symphony orchestra as named by the Labor Party. Firstly, the Treasurer has said: ‘One of the instruments we have used already is revaluation’. I wonder whether anyone can point to prices which have in fact been steadied or lowered by revaluation? I know that the minerals industry can show the scars on its nose. I know that primary industry can point to the suffering which has been inflicted upon it. But it seems as though this instrument has in fact played a rather flat note in the orchestra so far. It has been said that the second instrument is restraints on overseas borrowings. It is true that overseas funds are falling at a very considerable rate at the moment. But this has all happened - the revaluation and the fall in overseas borrowing - against the background of continued inflation. The third instrument that has been named and already used by the Labor Party is restraints on domestic borrowing by calling up the statutory reserve deposits. A fourth one which is still in its swaddling clothes, as it were, is the Joint Committee on Prices. So far those measures have been taken against the background of inflation that has been rapidly worsening, particularly in the last quarter.
A number of other instruments in the orchestra have been foreshadowed. One relates to that lovely, euphemistic word tariffs’. I remind the Senate that last year the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, said that his Party would act on tariffs and would reduce the surplus tariff content throughout Australia. It will be interesting to see what happens. There is a great conflict already between various sections of the Labor
Government as to the philosophy on this, and there is quite some danger that the careless and violent use of a tariff reduction policy could bring about in this country great damage to the manufacturing industry which is a substantial employer of labour. It has been said that the other instruments are to be the restrictive trade practices legislation and consumer protection. All these things are being foreshadowed now. They are the weapons which are to control inflation.
For about 15 of the last 18 years in which a Liberal government was in office in this country inflation was at a level which was among the world’s lowest. This fact was recognised by the present Treasurer. He recognised that throughout the 1960s inflation in this country ran at 2£ per cent. In a recent speech he said that 2i per cent is very acceptable, ft ought to have been acceptable because it was running at the lowest rate of any industrialised country in the free world. At the same time the real wages of the Australian people were increasing at the highest rate. This morning Senator Cotton made a very important point when he said that the Australian share of real wages had improved at a rate which was the admiration of the world. I make the point that for almost the whole of the period of office of a Liberal government inflation was fully under control and was running at a level which has been identified by the present Labor Treasurer as highly acceptable and at a level that was envied by the free world.
During that decade and a half there was never a need to resort to the kind of controls and the kind of weapons that have been called on now. Let us get this quite clear. There was no need for these socialist controls. We, with a Liberal philosophy in this despised free market economy which the Labor Party seeks to stamp out, were able to bring about what the Labor Treasurer recognises as being the ideal condition of inflation. The Government is in a great dilemma today because it needs inflation running at the existing high rate to finance its Budget and its loan expenditures. It needs inflation. Its Budget is geared to that. The then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, in foreshadowing how he would finance his programs, said that the inflationary upsurge would help to take up the slack. We look at this Bill against the background that for a very long period Australia has had the ideal conditions of anti-inflation without the need for all these blunt weapons. That is the background.
What does the Bill seek to do? It seeks, by indirect means - by delays, by duress, by discrimination and by victimisation, particularly by deliberate delay and by deliberate duress - to bring about a short term freeze. It would have been far more honest if the Labor Government had said to the people of Australia: We will try to solve the problem by doing half of what the United Kingdom and America tried’. They put a 90-day freeze on both prices and wages. The Bill seeks to put, under the carpet, a 90-day or even a longer freeze - a 5 months freeze - on one section of the problem alone, that is on prices. It seeks to do that, and it can do that by the delay mechanism and the timetable in the Bill. It can do that, but it does not in any way do what the United Kingdom and the United States of America did, that is, to freeze both wages and prices. It seeks to freeze prices in the most arbitrary way. I think this must be the most Heath-Robinson mechanism that any government has invented. I think Senator Jessop described something of it. Let me analyse this. The Bill proposes to set up a prices justification tribunal, and this is its nature: A chairman, a deputy chairman and an unlimited number of members, part dme or full time. There is absolutely no definition of their qualifications. They need have no qualifications at all. There is no definition of the type of people who are to inquire into the justification of prices. They have none prescribed.
There is no limit to the number of members and, extraordinarily, no measuring sticks or no guidelines laid down as to how these people who will be sitting in judgment shall arrive at what is a fair price, a price which can be justified and a price which cannot be justified. It will be entirely up to them. It will be entirely an arbitrary decision on their part. It will be a decision against which there will be no appeal. But it is more ugly than that. Not only is it an arbitrary decision which is capable of being made by people who are quite unskilled in arriving at these decisions and who are not necessarily tutored or educated in any way in the sophistication of business processes but, the decision having been made, it. can be used as a form of blackmail and victimisation by publication. The publication says: ‘We, the Tribunal, have sat in judgment on this firm, and we say that this firm was not justified in increasing its price’. The firm can do nothing at all to try to have this decision rectified or to appeal against it. There it is, a straight piece of arbitrary judgment without appeal - in fact, a libel against which there is no appeal.
Not only are there no desiderata - no considerations to be taken into account to decide what is a fair markup or what is a fair margin of profit - but extraordinary things can happen. It matters not that a State government may, by its own measures of price control and by its own instruments, have established already that a particular commodity has a fair price. That is not to be counted and not to be recognised. The process has to be gone through, although another sovereign authority, which is most likely better equipped than this Tribunal will be to sit on these matters, has said that the commodity has a fair price. Very significantly, there is no exclusion with regard to taxes or additional taxes which may be put on by State, Federal or local governments. There is no question at all that they can be passed on automatically. There is a deliberate situation, by the exclusion of that or by the silence on that, in which these things may be frozen, and frozen into the cost and not passed on.
I foreshadow that the Government, which has said that it does not intend a raid on income tax to get this extra money in the coming Budget, will make a severe raid on all forms of indirect taxes, despite the fact - it is well to remember it now - that indirect taxes hit the small wage earner and the poorer person harder than they hit anyone else. They are regressive taxes in every sense. I predict, Mr Acting Deputy President, that you will see this Government going against every princip’e of progressive taxation and then trying to use a device for the time being of saying: It wi’l not hurt, because we will try to put it in mothballs and to freeze it for a short period’. But that is for the future. There is no recognition, as Senator Cotton pointed out, of perishables that can change in price from day to day - vegetables, fruits, meat and other commodities that come to the stores and which change, as they must, because of the ordinary seasonal conditions. Yet a period of at least 21 days must elapse before the prices can be taken up.
Let us look at this. Before - a new product - there are many, thousands of new products daily - or before an existing product can be varied in price, a manufacturer must write to the Tribunal and say: ‘I request permission to put up the price’. A period of 21 days then elapses. If he has heard nothing at the end of 21 days - he would have a much more benign faith in Her Majesty’s Post Office and Her Majesty’s mail than most of us concerned with this - he can proceed. But if not, there could be a period of 3 months or more in which the Tribunal solemnly sets about working out whether the price rise is justified, by demanding books and records, by holding in public or in private at its own whim inquiries at which people who claim an interest are to be given representation. This would be a bonanza for the accountants, the lawyers, the trade unionists and anybody who wants to get a toehold in the door; a bonanza indeed for bureaucracy. After that, when the Tribunal has reached a decision, a period of 14 days is required during which it must send its report to the Minister, and then another period of 14 days in which the Minister must publish the report. After all that is over, even if the Tribunal says: ‘We do not feel that this is justified’, the manufacturer can, on the face of it, still put up his prices, the fact being that there is an implied blackmail, an implied duress, by the Tribunal saying: *We are publishing the fact, we are exposing you as one who intend to put up your prices even though we say - we do not even have to justify why we say it - that you should not do so’.
Honourable senators have pointed out that an ordinary departmental store might carry 100,000 or even 200,000 different products. That number does not even differentiate between size, colour and other differentiations, so there might be 500,000 differentiae of products all with differentiae of prices. A major departmental store in one working day could get upwards of 14,000 purchasing invoices across its desk, many of them multiple invoices, at least one-third or one-quarter of them containing variations in prices. So that in any one day a large store has some thousands of references to make clerically to this Tribunal. If one multiplies this situation one will see from some 300 or 400 different directions in the community daily, some tens of thousands of applications coming to this Tribunal. A massive sorting of applications will be -involved because many of them will be duplications, many of them being for the same product from different stores. There will be literally tens of thousands of applications a day. Yet it is solemnly said by this Government that 1, 2, 10 or 20 people will sit solemnly and process these applications and make a value judgment on which ones they will examine because in their judgment those which are naughty, or perhaps naughty, will be examined, and those which are not will be let in over their shoulder. These people must be so wise that they can understand the process of either growing, in a primary industry sense, or manufacturing in the secondary industry sense, products through production, wholesaling and retailing with all the variations that come from the nature of the product, its durability, perishability, the cost of storing it, the difficulty of its presentation and the need for advertising or otherwise. These very wise people will do this and make their decisions.
Of course, the position is clear. What they will really do is use this device in a discriminatory way to say to particular sections: ‘We will delay your putting up of prices for a period of 3 or 4 months’ which is, of course, a price freeze, lt is important to keep in mind, if anyone sees any virtue in this, that the price freezes, and wage freezes, that were imposed by both America and the United Kingdom failed entirely. All they did was to gain a pause for a moment, and then the acceleration went up in exactly the same way as before. So this proposal is pretending to the public to do that which is impossible to do.
Let me look at this. Apart from that mechanism which I have described this mammoth paper war, a bureaucratic paranoia, as it were, because of bits of paper busily coming through Her Majesty’s mail every day means a proliferation of the Government bureaucracy which in itself is an aggravation of inflation because the increase in the public sector in recent months has been a significant increase in that regard. There will be an enormous increase in clerical work in every manufacturing firm and departmental store because of the necessity to process everything from a bobby pin to a toothbrush. Everything must be carefully coded and looked at against the fact that if one makes a mistake one faces a $10,000 fine. To that must be added the extra costs that must come because of the need for storing goods for long periods in warehouses and in retail stores; all of this adding to con sumer costs and, of course, causing damage to perishables which cannot survive the 21 days.
I know that it has been argued in another place that this is aimed at the large firms. That argument is very popular. Those who argue thus say in effect: ‘Let us look at the 350 or 400 firms which have a turnover of $20m. It looks as though we can do some bloodletting among those firms and it will not hurt them’. I want to carry that argument further. Apart from the serious discrimination which has, in fact, forced a firm which has an overall turnover of $20m to do these things, another firm with a turnover of $19m escapes the investigation while all the little firms that are not in the $20m bracket completely escape it. So Senator Jessop’s preoccupation - I do not blame him for it - with the bikini industry means that a big firm such as David Jones Ltd or the Myer Emporium Ltd or perhaps - who knows? - Bourke’s Melbourne Ltd must justify the putting up of prices for its differentiated products for the new season, but the small firms can cheerfully go ahead and sell them without that trouble. This is extraordinary. I suggest to honourable senators that those who believe that this is solely an attack on the big firms fail to understand the elements of the construction of production and distribution in Australia. Consider any one of the big outlets such as Woolworths Ltd, G. J. Coles and Co. Ltd, Myer’s or David Jones. The fact is that they are supplied by some thousands of traders most of whom are small operators.
I have said in this Senate a number of times that Australia is a country of small industries. About 90 per cent of our manufacturing industries employ 50 employees or fewer. The bulk of the people who supply to retailing outlets are either primary producers or small manufacturers who operate on a very narrow profit margin indeed. Those who know the purchasing policies of the big retail outlets are aware that those policies could be described as being very keen. They are very keen purchasers and they tend as far as they can to buy the whole output of small manufacturers. The mark-up of the small manufacturer is often borderline.
What will happen as a result of the introduction of this Bill? In a week or 2 weeks the Government will put the squeeze on 300 or 400 firms. The natural reaction straight away, and the one which the Government no doubt wants to encourage, will be to try to cut back on prices. As soon as a big retail outlet sees an invoice which suggests that a price will be higher than the price last charged, it will argue that the price should be cut back. The squeeze will go back from the big firm on to the thousands - indeed tens of thousands - of small manufacturers in Australia already operating on a narrow profit margin.
I predict that if this policy is maintained in an insensate way as it is proposed by the Bill at present, 2 results will follow. First, quite a number of small manufacturers will be driven out of business while others will amalgamate. Secondly, it will force immediate action by some small manufacturers to sack the marginal person in the employ of each company. The result will be a victimisation of manufacturing firms. Industrial unemployment will follow. It must. Does the Labor Government suggest for one minute that the 90 per cent of Australian industries which employ SO people or fewer are big profiteers? Does it do that? Does it say these kinds of things? 1 suggest that these industries operate from narrow profit margins. If the Government presses on against the small manufacturers, as the big retailer must as a result of his first frustration or as his first attempt to save himself from a paper war, which, is Heath Robertson in its invention, the effect will be to reduce the profit margins of small manufacturers - or perhaps to eliminate them. Small manufacturers will need to reorganise or go out of business. 1 predict that the Australian worker will suffer as a first step from this legislation and that in any case, in the long run, the legislation will not work.
The provisions of this legislation lend themselves to every kind of nasty suggestion. The Tribunal does not have to say why it has told one firm ‘You go ahead and sell’, but said to another firm ‘We are going to investigate you’. The implication is that there will be discrimination and victimisation. This belief will be there the whole time. Is it to be that if the price of bobby pins is challenged with respect to one retail outlet, the sale of bobby pins from all 300 or 400 outlets under scrutiny will be arrested for the moment? A mammoth organisation will be required to achieve that.
In any case, in common with Senator Webster, I find grossly obnoxious the amendment proposed by the Government. It is a sort of latter day amendment which is to give to the
Tribunal, again as an arbitrary power without any need to justify to the public what it has done or what it is to do, the right to exempt a specified company or companies either generally or otherwise from the application of clause 18. One might give to the Tribunal powers to be able to say of a particular commodity: ‘We have investigated this commodity and, for the time being, you have the franchise. Go ahead’. But the Tribunal will be able to take a company - in most cases these will be companies with a multitude of products - and say to it: ‘You are exempt’. The Government proposes to give to this Tribunal powers that no Parliament in the land should give. The onus is on this Labor Government to say what it means by granting this trend of extraordinary power.
– This might improve its funds.
– Throughout the whole of this prices justification structure runs the fact that if such a company is a good boy it might escape attention. We must bear in mind that a Minister can refer to the Tribunal a particular price. He can intervene to say Have a look at the price of chewing gum’ or perhaps say ‘Look at the price of hair nets’. He may do this for no stated reason; it is an arbitrary judgment on his part. There is an implied blackmail, such as the implied duress every time that a Labor Party leader sends out an appeal for finance, and signs it himself, which in essence says: ‘The presence or absence of your donation will be noted in this little transaction’. Throughout the whole of this structure runs the fear of patronage, the fear of discrimination and the fear of victimisation.
– You are holding up the Parliament.
– I acknowledge the last interjection of the series In the course of my last remarks. If as the Labor senator says we are holding up the Parliament by debating a measure which his Government says is a most important element in the strategy of combatting the most important domestic issue in this country today, all I can say is that those Labor senators who have remained abysmally silent in the course of this debate today have a queer twist to their priorities. Their silence is obvious because this structure is indefensible.
Those who talk about price controls should look to the views of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Last year or the year before, the Labor Party said that the then Government had been slow to join OECD. It said that Australia must belong to that body. It was said to be a most important and vital organisation whose pronouncements were fundamental. Let me pronounce a fundamental pronouncement of a week ago from the OECD:
Grandiose claims should not be made for the role of price control in restraining inflation.
The rest is silence. So much for the OECD. With respect to those who talk about these kinds of price controls, Senator Cotton made the point this afternoon that it is interesting to note that throughout the world those countries with the lowest rate of inflation are the countries that are distinguished, funnily enough, by the absence of these mechanistic price controls. Where is price control in West Germany, the vibrant country which is setting the pace in the control of inflation? Where is price control in Italy? Where is price control in Belgium? Those 3 countries, I think, are the 3 industrialised countries today with the lowest inflation rate. Where was price control in Australia for the 15 years of the last 18 years in which this country set the lowest inflationary rate in the world of an average of 21 per cent per annum? Where was the need for it?
Why is it that every time a socialist party gains government it must set up bureaucratic mechanisms? It is the mechanisms that are the end and the goals, not the issue itself. In other words, the socialists are so engrossed in setting up socialist mechanisms that they forget whether it is productive to do so. Nowhere in the world have these kinds of mechanisms succeeded; nor have the freezes that have been imposed in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. As soon as the socialists talk of profits, we should keep in mind that from 1950 to 1971-72, the proportion of the gross national product occupied by wages has risen from 57 per cent to 61.5 per cent. Over the period of office of the former Liberal Government wages kept rising as a share of the gross national product. In the same period, profits as a proportion of the gross national product fell from 33 per cent in 1950 to 29.5 per cent a year ago. In the time of a Liberal Government, wages moved upwards as a share and led Professor Henderson, who is now conducting the poverty inquiry, to talk of Australia being amongst the most egalitarian countries; a country which he said in his book had no poverty in the ordinary sense because of the equality of sharing of wages and salaries in this country. Here was a time fulfilling the very things that the Labor Party said ought to be the criteria.
But if one tackles profits, if one merely worries away at profits, what one will do in the end is a very interesting thing. The amount of Si, 400m, or thereabouts, which company tax returned last year came from a levy of 47.5c in the $1 on company profits. Profits are important because they are the mechanism whereby Consolidated Revenue gets its money with which to pay pensions and to build houses, hospitals and schools. What a socialist government can never understand is that profits are the wholesome instruments of government. A country that is making a healthy rate of profits is making an increasing rate of Consolidated Revenue, and if this is so, Australia can distribute equally amongst the Australian people the real earnings of Australia. So if today we take into consideration the indirect benefits that flow through State and local government instrumentalities to the Australian people, the average family receives back in services and handouts about the equivalent of the average weekly wage. Approximately $5,000 is coming backwards in an equalisation.
If Government supporters attack profits and try to suppress profits and initiative, as they are doing now with oil search, all they will do is to reduce the slice of the cake that the little person can have. They are not hurting the big person at all in this regard; they are attacking the little person. The little person in Australia can thrive only if Australia is profitable. Let me pull this together by saying that the . Government foreshadowed this measure when it was in Opposition and in its policy speech and in the Governor-General’s Speech. Therefore, the Government is fully entitled to bring this Bill in to set up the Tribunal and to endeavour to make it work. So the Opposition will not oppose, by vote, this measure.
What the Opposition has said - and every Opposition speaker has said this - is that this is a disastrous form of mechanism. It is, at its kindest, a cynical pretence. If the Labor Party really believes that this Tribunal will work, this shows a naivety and an ingenuous approach to an economic problem. If, on the other hand, as I believe, the Government is cynically erecting this Tribunal as a front, as a pretence, and that another series of alibis are to come up in a few months time - all sorts of appeals to referendums and all sorts of appeals saying: ‘We would have done it but the wicked States frustrated this’ - it will fail. Incidentally, there was no mention of this all last year or in the policy speech or anywhere else, but I can hear it like the echo, a narcissus syndrome; -1. can hear it in the distance. There are some things that I wish 1 did not hear. Here, silence is a delight to listen to; there is no doubt about that. I foreshadow that this proposal will fail; it must fail. It is presented to the Australian people as though it were an attack on the legitimate people to be attacked - the big wealthy companies. On analysis, it will be shown to be - and within weeks this will happen throughout Australia - an attack on the tens of thousands of small manufacturing companies and the small farmers who provide the goods, fruit, vegetables and canned goods that appear on the grocery shelves. It will be an attack on them, a squeeze on them that they cannot withstand.
I am not one who has in the Senate risen and made any kind of an unqualified attack on wages. I have always believed that the Australian worker was entitled to the highest real wages that this community could possibly afford. I am a firm believer in the arbitration system and in the vigour of industrial unions in the contest to achieve real wages. But in every way this Government is attacking the concept of productivity; it is attacking the concept, of the control of inflation. It has never related wages to productivity, which is something that it must do if it is to protect the ordinary family or the ordinary wage earner. This Government has gone out of its way to destroy skill, lt is trying to go for flat rate increases instead of percentage margins for skill. It has set out to destroy everything that approaches the context of fixing a price in a sensible way. The Government’s Conciliation and Arbitration Bill will be a major stimulus to inflation.
The former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, when asked in a television interview before the election what would happen to strikes in Australia, what would happen to industrial unrest, admitted that they had caused the increase in inflation in the last two or three years and said: ‘They will not occur under Labor because we know how to get along with each other’. The situation is very interesting. At the present time, right across the board there is an upsurge in industrial unrest of a record kind. In our term in government we had a record period of industrial peace. The whole period in which we had a 2i per cent average yearly increase in inflation was a period in which, I remind the Senate, the great trade unions of Australia, through the Australian Council of Trade Unions led by Mr Monk, worked on the principle of industrial trade unionism. Inflation was inflamed on the day when Mr Hawke and his left wing brought in this approach to political unionism - using unionism as a weapon of the aggrandisement, the power politics of union leaders. What has happened in Australia is that unions today, with the blessing of this Labor Government, are working towards the power politics of their leaders and against the interests of the ordinary worker. These things cannot be gainsaid because they are the very elements of the problem. If the Labor Government were really interested in tackling inflation, it would tackle productivity. It, would look to rewarding skills; it would look to making sure that it encouraged skills; and it would look to helping the thousands of little industries that I have described which will be crippled in the months ahead, lt also would look to helping to achieve industrial peace by conciliation and arbitration, and certainly it would look towards providing margins for skill and the proper use of contracts, not towards the abuse of day labour. It would certainly not put up a pretence.
I conclude by saying that this measure cannot work. Nowhere in the world has such a measure worked. It is, in itself, based on a corrupt principle - a principle that a group of people, without any necessary skills, can arrive at decisions arbitrarily and then publish those decisions without there being any appeal, and can in fact blackmail retailers and manufacturers without there being any recourse to justice. I repeat that this is the Government which paid lip service to freedom, the liberty of the individual, the right of the individual to natural justice. If it is natural justice to set up an arbitrary tribunal such as this, then I do not know the meaning of the words. The day that this country will overcome inflation is the day when a government restores conditions of industrial peace and passes on real wages, and restores the conditions of productivity which existed for more than three-quarters of the duration of the life of the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. No amount of mechanistic socialism can do anything but aggravate the problem. This Bill is a device to freeze; a device of duress. It cannot succeed.
– I have no respect for this sort of legislation. This Bill is founded on the improper and unsupported assumption that all of Australia’s largest companies are charging too much for their goods and services. The Government has no power to fix prices, so it decided on a course of what I regard a* intimidation. This Bill certainly is not the creation of people who have had experience in trade and industry. In my opinion, the whole concept of the provisions of the Bill has no practical or fair base. Everybody in Australia today realises that our biggest threat is inflation. It has an impact on every person in the community, most especially on the wageearner, on the recipient of a benefit, on the person who lives on a given set income from week to week and month to month. Inflation cannot be overcome at the end of the processes of industrial and economic activity. Inflation must be tackled at the beginning of the industrial and economic processes.
This morning I -listened with great interest to Senator Cotton refer to a graph in the June edition of ‘Australian Industries Development Association, Bulletin No. 242’. This chart shows the position very clearly. This morning Senator Cotton referred to it succinctly as giving the main base from which inflation has come. This graph is worth referring to again because it clearly shows the main cause of inflation. Between March 1967 and December 1972 - a period of 5 years - price and productivity increases would have justified a wage and salary increase as high as 38.7 per cent. Average weekly earnings per employed male unit increased in that period by 61.5 per cent. The increase in average weekly earnings was 22.8 per cent in excess of price and productivity increases. Anybody would concede that in that situation there has to be price increases. There is no way out of it. This Government must realise that it must take off the heat and the pressures which lead to an inflationary situation. Inflation has been an aggravating problem through the years. Until the last couple of years we had an average increase in inflation of not more than 3 per cent per year. That rate was sustainable and, on world viewing, was a very gratifying level. We could carry it within the economy and ensure to the recipients of wages the ability to buy reasonably. The prices of goods and services were in relation to that increase and were sustainable.
We find now the suggestion before us that there should bc a tribunal, not consisting of people skilled or trained in interpreting price increases. Single members of the Tribunal could look at a certain industry. There is no guideline or general background determining what is reasonable and what is not reasonable. An arbitrary determination is to be made. If a price increase is found, in lite opinion of the Tribunal, or a sub-committee of it, not to be justified, the Tribunal has no legal authority to do anything about it except to advertise the fact in the Press. Therefore there is a situation of blackmail or intimidation in a way which is most unfair to commerce and industry. That is why I said, when I rose to speak in this debate on this Bill, that I have no respect for this sort of legislation.
The companies affected directly by the proposals in this Bill are those which have a turnover of more than $20m a year. There are about 350 companies or organisations in Australia which come into this category but there are thousands of smaller businesses which supply goods to those major companies. Those smaller businesses can increase their prices in their own right without reference to anybody, except in States where there is price control. In South Australia we have price control on certain articles, but there we have pretty firm guidelines and the system is well set up constitutionally, as much as I do not like price control as such as an economic measure to ensure the retention of low price levels.
– They do not freeze goods if they are needed, as is suggested in this Bill.
– That is the point. The smaller companies which supply the big organisations can increase their prices. The man who retails them - the man who takes them from the smaller company - is forbidden to increase his prices perhaps for 3 months. This means that the big man will not purchase from the smaller man until a determination is made about the price he can charge for the increased cost of that article from the smaller man. So there is a direct impost of hardship on the small manufacturer. This will not assist the small businessman; it will hurt him greatly. It will cause a fantastic amount of concern and book work for the big organisations, and possibly they will defer handling certain articles while the little businessman bears the whole brunt of the matter at the beginning.
This is ill-conceived legislation. It is an intrusion into the processes of the normal economic management of our businesses. .1 wonder sometimes why such definite animosity is expressed about the word ‘profit’ and about making a profit. As Senator Carrick said a short time ago, there would be no revenue for the Government to do the things which are so necessary and so beneficial for the public at large if there was no profit. Companies, no matter how big or small, pay about one half their initial earnings into the revenue. Then there is payroll tax, sales tax and a number of incidental taxes down the line, all of which provide to the Government the means by which it can do the things which governments are expected to do for the whole community. In my opinion it is wrong to regard business, commerce and industry as an ogre intent on creating ‘hardship and harm to the people in general. This Bill, of its very conception, cannot do anything about the major problem of inflation. It is unfortunate that this sort of buck passing that is occurring by the introduction of this legislation even should have been thought of in the first instance, lt is a system of intimidation and blackmail and an unfair imposition on commerce and industry. lt has been said that we could get on quite well without the so-called profitable organisations and that they could do with less and less profit. Those of us who are engaged in business know that in the process of receiving less and less profit, unless plant and equipment can be maintained reasonably well, prices cannot be held down nor can the company concerned compete. There is a necessity at all times for business to generate sufficient replacement capital to maintain efficient companies. If we start dealing with the problem from this end of practicalities, considering the profit bases from which cheaper goods can be produced, continuity can be preserved and we will be working from a sound base. But to come in at the end as this confounded Bill does and put a stopper on prices in the way it does is utterly ridiculous. I have no respect for this. The Government is completely illadvised. I know that this is the policy of the Government. It was announced that a Prices Justification Tribunal would be introduced. I am quite certain that it is not thought out with any degree of basic concern as to whether or not it is a goer. It is one of those things that sound good.
It is quite easy to say that we will control costs so as to arrest inflation or that we will do this or that. What is the present situation with regard to inflationary movements? The present inflation rate is 10 per cent per annum and it will be higher. This must have a bad impact right throughout the community. This legislation will only aggravate the situation and the difficulties for business in times of inflation. It will not do anything of benefit. I have no desire to speak any longer on this matter. I just wanted to record my attitude to this sort of legislation. I regard it as puerile, futile, most ill-conceived and not in the best interests of the economy as a whole.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Order! Before I call the next speaker, I wish to inform the Senate that the Government Printer has advised that he was able to accept Senator Webster’s table for incorporation in Hansard.
– I rise to indicate the attitude of the members of my Party, the Australian Democratic Labor Party, to the Prices Justification Bill. I say at the outset that we will not oppose the Bill and that we will vote for it. But we are of the opinion that unless side by side with this measure there is some attempt to prevent collusive practices between major employer groups and monopoly unions, which result in increased prices. This Bill, as proposed, will have no effect whatever on the problem of inflation to which the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) referred in his second reading speech. I do not propose to go into any detail on the Bill. Every economist of note has expressed opposition to it. One Opposition speaker after another has covered the whole area of the Bill. What I want to say is that the Democratic Labor Party Leader (Senator Gair) wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) suggesting that he might incorporate in this Bill proposals which were in a Bill that I introduced on behalf of my Party back in October 1972. It was a Bill to restrict increases in prices of certain goods and services resulting from the making of industrial agreements between employers and employees.
I say at the outset that my Party accepts the principle of genuine negotiation between unionists and employers and believes that wage increases are often perfectly legitimate. But what we say is that every consent agreement reached between unions and employers, whether made privately or within the arbitration system must be registered with a commissioner for trade practices. It is a well known fact that unions in monopoly positions and employer groups in monopoly positions such as in the stevedoring industry, the metal trades industry and other key industries enter into consent agreements. The employers know full well that they can pass on the cost of the additional wage rises or improved condition costs by way of increased prices. If the Government wants to tackle inflation, we say that one of the first steps that must be taken is to prevent these practices from continuing. I repeat that we are not opposed to consent agreements. What we are opposed to is collusion between employers and employees when the employers know full well that they can pass on the increased cost. Because of that, I on behalf of the Democratic Labor Party introduced a Bill in October 1972. We reintroduced the Bill in the present session and it is on the notice paper. We offered it to the Government on 2 occasions. Since the Government has not accepted those proposals, whilst we will not vote against this Bill, I think I ought to remind the Senate of some of the provisions of the Prices Limitation Bill that we proposed on 31 October 1972.
– Does the honourable senator refute Senator Carrick’s fears? Is he with us on it?
– I am only with the Government to this extent: We believe that every consent agreement made between unions and [ employers, whether made privately or within the arbitration system, ought to be registered with a commissioner for trade practices. Where it can be shown that increases in prices following such agreements were not brought about by them, they would be in order. But where the employer concerned could not prove that price increases made, say 200 days after the completion of the agreement were not the result of such an agreement he would run the risk of a fine of up to $10,000. Had our Bill been accepted by the Prime Minister - it certainly was not - we believe it would not have affected the capacity of unions to negotiate freely within the arbitration system. It would not have limited the rights of unions to demand either increased wages or better conditions. But it would have required increased wages or the cost of improved conditions to come out of the profits of the employer concerned and would not permit them to be passed on to the consumer by way of increased prices.
I repeat that unless this Bill contains such provisions as I have outlined, it will not be effective. As I said earlier, while we will not vote against the Bill - we will vote for it - we will subsequently press to introduce the Prices Limitation Bill in order to limit price increases. Having said that, I repeat what I said at the beginning of my remarks: We will not vote against the Bill. We agree with what the economists have said about it. But since the Government claims to have a mandate, we are prepared to let the Bill pass and will vote for it.
– In reply - Some questions were raised in the course of the debate. Senator Webster asked why the exemption is to be included as an amendment to the Prices Justification Bill. That will be explained, really, when I introduce the amendment. But, briefly, it is to ease the administrative problem of companies, and of the Tribunal, in relation to many products of different kinds, mainly in departmental stores. Several representatives from these stores waited on the Treasurer (Mr Crean). He saw the weight of their argument. But perhaps we can leave that until I introduce the amendment and I can make the explanation then. Senator Webster also asked whether the Tribunal could extend the time of its inquiry if companies had not provided the Tribunal with sufficient information. He asked how the company would know what would be sufficient information. That clause is a safeguard against companies deliberately withholding information so that they can take advantage of the time limit.
asked whether the $10,000 penalty provided for in clause 18 could be applied against each article or a group of articles. He asked whether it was $10,000 for each offence. The penalty for non-compliance, which is failure to notify or increasing the price before the prescribed period has ended, is $10,000. This means that the fine of $10,000 is for each sale at a higher price. The Opposition has taken the attitude on this Bill that the Australian Labor Party has a mandate for this type of legislation but, at the same time, it made it quite clear that the Opposition distrusted the legislation and thought that it ought not to be introduced at all. That is the clear line of division between the Opposition and the Government. I do not want to take the same amount of time in presenting the other side of the case as did the several honourable senators opposite who presented their opposition to the Bill, although the Opposition is not going to vote against it.
There has been a bit of confusion. From time to time honourable senators have been referring to this Bill as being a price control Bill. Senator Laucke made the point that it was unfair to ask people to reduce their profits or their prices. 1 think this overlooks the other side of the picture which is that it is also unfair if big companies get themselves into a situation where they, in turn, can be unfair to the people to whom they are selling goods. There has been some criticism of the fact that we have confined this Bill to 325 companies. Honourable senators have asked: Why .not the rest?’ Obviously, if we included everybody, the Tribunal would never get around to doing anything. The administrative task would be just impossible. That number was fixed because it was thought that that would bring in something which was controllable and something which would have an effect if this legislation were to work. This is new in the field of Australian law. lt will be a new experience and it may well be that there will have to be amendments to the proposed legislation. Not at any time has it been claimed to be a panacea. One thing with which we are in agreement is that inflation is one of the things in the world today to which the economists do not have an answer. All we are saying is that we are going to try, in some way, to stop the rate of inflation which applied over the last couple of years of the last Government and which is continuing. This is one way of attacking the problem.
I freely admit that this legislation is new in the Australian context. I suppose it is a trial. But it is not of much good for all of us to agree that inflation is bad and that runaway inflation finally does not do anyone any good. We should realise that all our lifetimes we have lived in an inflationary situation. We. have also lived in a deflationary situation and we do not want to go back to those days when prices were low because so many people were unemployed and there was poverty and misery throughout the nation. It seems to me that the economists have not found the answer. At the same time we would like those things we desire and we would like to be able to guarantee what the rate of inflation will be. The Opposition does not intend to vote against the Bill. I shall move an amendment which will go some way towards meeting the criticism of the Opposition. As I will explain in the Committee stage, this amendment has come about because business people waited on the Treasurer and he felt that the weight of their suggestions ought to be reflected in the legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to speak to clause 6 very briefly. We wish to get through this Bill in the minimum amount of time. One might note in the process of this discussion that this is a very important measure. The Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee), in his second reading speech, mentioned how important it is. But no speaker on behalf of the Australian Labor Party has sought to illuminate the scene in slightest degree, except for a brief speech from the Minister when he closed the second reading debate. I suppose one might say that it is impossible to defend the indefensible. 1 was going to speak to clause 5 which deals with the companies involved whose turnover exceeds $20m. But the Minister in his second reading speech explained the reason for this clause. Therefore I do not want to delay the Committee.
Clause 6 (2) states:
The members shall be appointed by the GovernorGeneral. 1 rise to say that it seems to me a strange thing that no attempts have been made to set out the qualifications of people who are to be appointed to a tribunal of this importance and magnitude. Nobody has said that these positions should be restricted to people who are economists, lawyers or people involved in the world of the trade union movement. No qualification or descriptions of any kind are mentioned. It seems to me that this leaves the way open for a strange series of appointments. Will the Minister assure the Senate that some regard will be had to capacity when people are appointed?
– In passing - although it has nothing to do with the clause - Senator Cotton said that no Labor Party senator had got up because one could not defend the indefensible. The fact is that 1 asked for no Labor speakers to get up. I knew that the Opposition had a series of speakers. Frankly, 1 thought it had more than it would have when it was agreeing with the Bill. But we know the situation before us. There are ;i lot of controversial Bills to be considered. We can talk about sitting right through the winter and all the rest of it but, in practical politics, we ought not to do that. 1 have asked honourable senators to hold themselves back. It is merely a question of time. Senator Cotton has pointed out that the members of the Tribunal shall be appointed by the Governor-General and referred to the fact that we have not laid down guidelines. The types of people for whom we are looking are pretty obvious. At the same time I think it would be limiting if we started to match accountancy against economics and experience in trade against somebody else. The honourable senator asks for an assurance that qualifications will be taken into consideration. 1 give him that assurance.
– I regret if 1 am causing any inconvenience but 1 have been out of the chamber for only 5 minutes and during that time the Committee proceedings commenced. I refer to the definition of services in clause 3 (1). It states: services’ includes the rights or benefits provided under an agreement for the performance of work (otherwise than under a contract of service), whether with or without the supply of goods; 1 call attention to the exclusion of a contract of service and to the inclusion of services and goods. I point out that in regard to the area of services and wages we will be dealing next week with a Bill which is designed to dismantle all control and which will produce chaos. Under this Bill we are imposing an arbitrary system upon the sale of goods and the supply of services. Secondly, in regard to sub-clause (2) of clause 3 1 point out that neither paragraph (a) which refers to goods nor paragraph (b) which refers to services includes a reference to prescribed supply. I ask the Minister to indicate to the Committee what areas of supply of goods and services he has in mind for the prescribing to be excluded from the Bill? I heard Senator Cotton make reference to perishables. I heard references to other types of goods and services throughout the debate. I would like to have an indication from the Minister of the 4 or 5 areas which it is proposed by regulation simply to exclude from the Bill.
– I, too, was absent from the chamber during the few minutes when the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) replied to the second reading debate. Can the Minister put on record the reason why the Government has selected a $20m minimum limit in relation to the turnover of companies whose price rises are required to be investigated? Does the Minister appreciate the fact that if a company selling identical goods has a turnover of, say, SI 5m a year it can vary its prices of those goods upwards or downwards as it wishes without any reference at all to the Tribunal? Can the Minister indicate the thinking of the Government in that regard? While I am on my feet, may I just mention that the Minister said that the Opposition was supporting this Bill. The Minister knows very well that the Opposition is vehemently opposed to this Bill.
– I said all that in reply to the second reading debate.
– No, the Minister did not. He said a moment ago that the Opposition was supporting this Bill. I just want to be sure that the Minister knows that the Opposition is vehemently opposed to this Bill in the very many areas that have been pointed out. The fact is that we are not opposing the Government’s introducing this measure, but we have pointed out-
– I said exactly that in my reply.
– I do not know whether the Minister replied to all of the matters that were raised. Judging from the few minutes that the Minister took to reply, he certainly did not have the opportunity to do that, but if he says that the Opposition is opposed to this Bill but nevertheless is allowing the Government to have the legislation passed, that will be more like the position.
– I said everything that Senator Webster asks me to say in reply to the second reading debate, so I do not think I will worry about that. Senator Wright asked what type of goods might be prescribed. Of course, this is a matter for the Tribunal itself. The provision to exclude by regulation specified goods and services provides flexibility to deal with situations or problems likely to be revealed by experience. For example, this provision will be effective if it transpires that application of the measures to, say, financial institutions is difficult and/ or unnecessary. I understand also that the Tribunal may decide to prescribe such things as perishables and secondhand goods, which immediately come to mind.
Senator Webster virtually asked me to repeat what 1 said in my reply to the second reading debate. He asked why $20m was chosen. I said it in the second reading speech; I said it in reply to the second reading debate; I will say it again now: The limit of $20m has been struck to ensure that the scheme will be administratively manageable and yet bring under scrutiny prices charged by the major companies which are the price leaders in the community and whose activities can have a significant impact on price levels generally. In relation to Senator Webster’s example of a company with a turnover of less than $20m a year being able to charge higher prices without going to the Tribunal, I would suggest that if a company is charging a lower price than another for the same product, that is the company which will get the customer.
– I wish to refer to clause 4 of the Bill, because in that clause the draftsman has used the awkward method of reference by simply saying that certain provisions relating to holding companies and related companies are to be found in the Companies (Life Insurance Holding Companies) Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory. I have with me a copy of that Ordinance and the Minister can see the bulk of it. People who have to administer this legislation have to get hold of a copy of that Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory because the draftsman has not transcribed into this Bill 2 pages of the description to be found in this bulk. I would have thought that that is a wholly inconvenient method of legislating.
– I move:
In clause 18, after sub-clause (7), add the following sub-clauses:
The Tribunal may, by resolution, authorise the Chairman to exempt a specified company, or companies included in a specified class of companies, either generally or otherwise, from the application of this section and may, by further resolution, authorise the Chairman to revoke such an exemption.
An exemption, or the revocation of an exemption, under sub-section (8) shall be in writing and a copy of the exemption or revocation shall be published in the Gazette, and such an exemption or revocation takes effect on the date of publication of the copy.
Evidence of an exemption, or of a revocation of an exemption, under subjection (8) may, in any legal proceedings, be given by the production of the Gazette purporting to contain a copy of the exemption or revocation.’
In moving this amendment the Government is taking into account various representations it has received concerning the Bill. The Government recognised, when it introduced the Bill, that there could be room for improvement, as the Bill broke new ground and we could not be certain that it would meet all eventualities.
The amendment proposed will enable the Tribunal to exempt a company or companies, either generally or in relation to particular goods or services or classes of goods or services, from the requirement to notify the Tribunal of proposed price increases and proposed prices for new products, and to refrain from implementing the proposed new prices for up to 21 days. This will provide scope for overcoming a potential problem for companies such as department stores, and no doubt some manufacturers, selling many thousands of products of many kinds. There could be a large administrative problem for such companies, and for the Tribunal, if a price clearance had to be obtained for every one of the great number of items handled by such companies. There could also be problems if the companies had to refrain from putting the goods on sale until a price clearance was obtained from the Tribunal. There would be a particular problem in relation to perishable goods, such as meat, poultry, vegetables, and so on. These are seasonal goods whose prices vary frequently, and which would be unsaleable if sales were delayed for up to 21 days. The proposed amendment would exempt the company or companies concerned only from the requirement to notify new prices and not implement them for 21 days.
It would not except such companies from the Act as a whole; the Tribunal would still have the power to inquire into their prices if it so wished.
– I take it that we will deal with that amendment in sequence when we are dealing with clause 18 in Committee, and I imagine that there is a seconder for it.
– We are dealing with the Bill as a whole, so we can deal with any clause.
– - When speaking to his amendment did I understand the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) to affirm to the Senate that it would not be possible for the Tribunal to exempt a particular company. I think the Minister used those words in the last half dozen lines of his explanation and they sounded quite attractive to me. I wonder whether the Minister can confirm that he indicated that a specified company could not be exempted and that in actual fact the Tribunal would have the opportunity to investigate it.
– I said that the proposed amendment would exempt the company or companies concerned only from the requirement to notify new prices and not implement them for 21 days and that it would not exempt such companies from the Bill as a whole, but that the Tribunal would still have the power to inquire into their prices if it so wished. Was that the point Senator Webster raised?
– That was the point I raised. It was very hard to read that into proposed sub-clause (8) of clause 18, which reads:
The Tribunal may, by resolution, authorise the Chairman to exempt a specified company. . . .
Perhaps I should explain my views about this Tribunal. I am attracted to the view that in relation to a particular item, whether it be tomatoes which are going to rot or some other line of goods, it may be wise if the Tribunal were able to exempt a company from having to submit a price.
– But it will have that power by regulation under sub-clause (2) of clause 3.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wriedt) read a first time.
Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania- Minister for
Primary Industry) (8.4)- 1 move:
That the QUI be now read a second time. 1 seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
This Bill is designed to. amend the Wool Industry Act 1972 to incorporate the arrangements to apply in 1973-74 for the financing of wool research and promotion and to meet the costs of administering the marketing functions of the Australian Wool Corporation. The Government has reviewed the proposals on this matter endorsed by the Australian Wool Industry Conference for the triennium 1973-74 to 1975-76, and decided that the only course it could justify in the current circumstances was to adopt measures to apply for 1973-74 only. The Government however is proceeding with an examination of measures appropriate for continuing longer term programs.
Wool prices have improved markedly during the current season and this significant change in- the wool market has highlighted the impact which unpredictable and uncertain variations in the proceeds from the wool tax can have on budgetary programs. Experience in both the current and past trienniums demonstrates also the difficulties arising from inescapable increases in salaries and other costs which become more uncertain the further ahead programs are planned. Because of these factors, the financial commitment over a triennium tends to be inflated to ensure that adequate resources are available when various adverse effects coincide and markedly influence the budget. It was felt that the measures proposed earlier and endorsed by the Australian Wool Industry Conference would have imposed on the Government an unwarranted burden arising from the need to cater for unpredictable adverse variations in the different segments of the Budget.
The proposals endorsed by the Australian Wool Industry Conference were considered by the Government also in the context of the general principle that measures to . assist industries should ensure that the benefits are received by those producers in most need of help. It is appreciated that the present prices are providing welcome relief for wool growers who have experienced depressed incomes and a heavy debt burden in recent years. Nevertheless, prices have recovered to relatively high levels and the value of wool production has risen to an estimated $ 1,329m in 1972-73 from $664m in the previous year. Thus values compare favourably with prices realised in the years when the industry alone financed expenditure on wool promotion. For these reaons the Government considers that in 1973-74, wool growers should finance a greater share of the expenditure on research and promotion and that its decision to provide $22m for this purpose and for the cost of administering the marketing functions of the Australian Wool Corporation represents a reasonable balance in the circumstances.
The decision to provide measures for one year only should not be interpreted as any weakening of the Government’s resolve to develop an arrangement incorporating all the advantages of forward planning and continuing longer term programming, and overcoming many of the difficulties involved in this procedure. The Government is examining ways and means of developing both the research and promotion programs on a continuing longer term basis and account will be taken of views the Australian Wool Corporation and the industry organisations may have on this matter. An overall expenditure of $43. 8m is planned for 1973-74 to cover the costs of the approved programs for research and promotion and to meet the administrative marketing costs of the Australian Wool Corporation. This expenditure is to be financed by the Government contribution and by the proceeds of the wool tax. To provide the amount of revenue required from the wool tax, its operative rate is being increased to 2.4 per cent of the gross value of all wool shorn and sold whether at auction or otherwise., effective from 1 July 1973. Currently, a tax of 1 per cent is imposed on all shorn wool sold and a levy of 0.4 per cent is collected on all wool sold by auction. Of the total revenue derived from the tax in 1973-74, a minimum of $20m is to be used to finance expenditure on wool research and promotion.
As I stated earlier, the Government will contribute $22m to the financing of the programs. The 1973-74 budget does not involve any drain on the income and reserves of either the Wool Research Trust Fund or the Australian Wool Corporation as has occurred in recent years. However, these reserves would be available to meet any deficit which might arise if the inescapable increases in the costs of the programs prove to be greater than anticipated or the revenue from the wool tax is less than expected. Conversely, should a surplus become available from the proceeds of the wool tax, this is to be allocated to the Wool Research Trust Fund and carried forward to help finance expenditure in future years. The overall expenditure provides for a research program of $ 12.6m which will enable the quantum of activity to be maintained at its present level in the fields of production, textile and economic research provided inescapable rises in costs do not exceed the average for the current 3-year period. In addition, a sum of $29. 4m is being allocated for wool promotion through the Australian Wool Corporation and the International Wool Secretariat. Provision of $1.8m is made also to meet the costs of administering the marketing functions of the Australian Wool Corporation imposed under the Wool Industry Act 1972.
No change is being made in the present responsibilities for administering the wool research program specified in the Wool Industry Act 1972. However, the Government considers that every opportunity should be used to strengthen and develop the co-ordination of research activities undertaken by the various organisations receiving support from wool funds. The Government welcomes the attention given to this matter by the Australian Wool Board during the present triennium and account will be taken of these views in examining arrangements which might be developed for operating longer term and continuing programs of research and promotion. The provision of $29.4m in 1973-74 for wool promotion in Australia and overseas will enable the Australian Wool Corporation to meet Australia’s share of the International Wool Secretariat’s budget, after taking account of savings flowing from the revaluation of the Australian dollar in December last. The Australian contribution to the IWS, whilst large, should be viewed against the estimated value of exports of wool and processed wool of $1,5 13m for the current year. The allocation for promotion must also be balanced against the dimensions of the task being undertaken by the IWS in encouraging the use of wool in an international textile market which is so large in comparison with the volume of wool products sold.
During a recent visit overseas I had an opportunity to review with the Chairman and the Managing Director of the IWS, the activities of this organisation. In particular, I considered how the functions of the IWS are integrated in servicing the wool textile industry in a fashion similar to that used by manufacturers of man-made fibres to help the users of their products. In this manner, the development of new products and the imparting of new properties to wool products are directed specifically towards retail requirements and consumer demand. Technical advice is constantly provided by the IWS in various countries on mill re-organisation and modernisation and the specialised treatments and processes such as for permanent creasing, shrink proofing and machine washability of wool products, are being extended under trade mark and licence control, by the IWS, in the various countries where it operates. These activities of IWS are concentrated on the 4 main end uses of wool - carpets, women’s outerwear, men’s outerwear and knitted outerwear, excluding children’s wear. No change is being made in the responsibility of the Australian Wool Corporation, under the Wool Industry Act, for funds spent on promotion both in Australia and overseas. However, the activities of the IWS have been under intensive review during the current triennium and the Government is examining the results of that review to ensure that every effort is made to further improve the performance and effectiveness of wool promotional activities in the future.
When this Bill was being debated in the House of Representatives, claims were made by speakers for the Opposition that the Government’s decision on the arrangements to apply to the programs of research and promotion were made without consultation with industry leaders. These claims are without foundation. Prior to the announcement of the final decision on the matter by the Government, I made myself available to represen tatives of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. I met these representatives in Melbourne and heard their points of view. It was claimed also that the Government was restricting the research and promotion programs to one year, thus making forward planning virtually impossible. If those Opposition speakers had taken the trouble to listen to, or to read the second reading speech on the Bill delivered by the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) they would have noted clear reference to the Government’s intention to develop forward planning arrangements which “ would overcome many of the difficulties involved in the present procedures. I trust that honourable senators opposite have paid heed to my earlier statement that in addition to approving arrangements for 1973- 74, the Government is examining ways and means of developing the research and promotion programs on a continuing longer term basis.
It was even suggested by Opposition speakers that this Government had broken an undertaking given by the previous Government to the Australian Wool Industry Conference concerning the financing of programs of wool research and promotion for 1973-74 and beyond. Whatever offer the previous Government made to the wool industry was certainly not brought before the Parliament, and it therefore remains a matter between the previous Government and the AWIC. However, I draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that the programs of research and promotion previously endorsed by the AWIC for 1973-74, are retained intact by this Government’s decision, the only aspect altered being the basis of financing them.
I now turn to the amendments to the Wool Industry Act 1972 required in terms of the Government’s decision. The Bill provides for amendments to Part I of the principal Act which are of a machinery nature. Part II of the principal Act is amended to delete the existing provision whereby the Corporation determines and collects from brokers the amounts which they deduct from the proceeds of wool sold at auction to enable the Corporation to meet the costs of administering its marketing functions. The need to delete this provision arises because the levy deducted by the brokers is being consolidated with the previous wool tax imposed on all shorn wool sold at auction or otherwise to provide funds for wool research and promotion. Part III of the principal Act is amended to authorise payments to the Corporation of funds for promotion and marketing administrative purposes, and to the Wool Research Trust Fund for wool research. Any income received during the year in addition to amounts required for the approved programs of expenditure will be paid into the Fund to help as necessary to finance future programs. Provision is also made for the payment of $22m as the Commonwealth contribution in 1973-74. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Wriedt) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of all or several of the Wool Tax Bills (Nos. 1 to 5) being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of all or several of such Bills together in Committee of the Whole and as would prevent the reading of the short tides only on every order for the reading of the Bills.
WOOL TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 5) 1973
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Motion (by Senator Wriedt) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a first time.
– I am sorry to have to interrupt the events of the evening but back benchers have had very few opportunities this year to address themselves to matters of national importance. I believe that the Health Insurance Planning Committee report is a matter that comes within that category. No one seems to have taken any notice of the report. As there is no chance to debate it, because a motion to take note of it has not been moved, and as there does not seem to be any chance of the Senate resuming the debate on the Address-in-Reply, the only chance that I have of speaking on a matter which I think is of great importance is by adopting this tactic of talking on a money Bill. Therefore I am using the ruse of speaking on the motion for the first readings of the Wool Tax Bills in order to speak about national health insurance.
I am not making any political attack on the Health Insurance Planning Committee report, but I believe that the time has come to raise a matter in respect of national health. All of us should adopt the slogan that it is time. It is time not only that our national health system, whether it be the insurance system or the system of medical or hospital care, was improved but it is time that the patient was considered. The report, which has been circulated to all honourable senators and to all doctors, does not make one iota of reference to the patient, and I am vitally interested in the patient.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott) - Order! There is too much audible conversation in the chamber.
– I hope that they will get interested in a minute. I am just leading up. The patient has been neglected completely in the report. It is the report of 2 Ph.Ds. Anyone can be a Ph.D. these days, I understand. I do not want to denigrate the gentlemen who prepared the report because they have done a good job. I am not denigrating the report. I am not attacking it. There are a lot of good things in it. But it appears to have forgotten the patient. The report seems to deal with whether the doctors are getting too much money. That is the first thing. The second question which the report seems to pose is: How can we attack the health benefit insurance companies? How can we do something about the hospitals? But there is not one word about the patient. This has got me to such a stage that I feel I have to speak.
I have six or seven points to make in regard to this report. Firstly, let me deal with the propaganda about the medical profession. Each honourable senator has his own private general practitioner. I am certain that if I asked each honourable senator individually not one would deny that his doctor is a good fellow, that he has a lot of faith in his doctor and that he thinks his doctor is worth the money which he is paying.
– He cannot cure my cold.
– You did not come to me. The point is that each honourable senator has faith in his doctor.
– You charge too much.
– Only milage. The, report is an attack on GPs. That is what I want to deal with. Basically the report is an attack on the GPs. lt is really a question of threatening them by telling them that they will have to toe the line and do what we tell them. Our advice is based on the contents of the report. There were no medical men on the Health Insurance Planning Committee. It was comprised of Ph.Ds and so on. The threat is this: ‘If you do not do what we tell you to do we will, in effect, ruin your career because you will not be able to practise’. Let us have no 2 ways about it. If the Government denies the GP his right to prescribe pharmaceutical benefits for the patient, then obviously the patient will say: ‘As much as I love you, dear doctor, I will not pay you $8 to $10 for a prescription when I can go next door and get it for $T. So the threat is there; there is no doubt about it. T think it is wrong. If the Government wants a national health scheme, the first thing it must have is cooperation, and it is not co-operation when its spokesman says: ‘We will hit you over the head if you do not do what I tell you to do’. If it were for the good of the patient, I would be happy to hit doctors on the head; I think many of them need hitting on the head.
We hear this propaganda of half truths. There is no doubt that someone in the Department of Health is a very good public relations man and that he is feeding the. Press with statements about how much doctors are earning and so on. Let the Government put its money where its mouth is. It talks about this money, lt has said. I think, that $50,000 is the average income for a doctor. The problem for the public is that it is confused about GPs and other practitioners. When a statement is made that doctors are earning $50,000 a year, the public thinks that all doctors are earning such income. The $50,000 a year income is earned by surgeons, radiologists, pathologists and so on. The GP does not earn that sum. When the Press statement made on behalf of either the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) or the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) is boiled down, it shows that the average annual earnings for a GP is $30,000 a year. Right. F tell the Government: ‘Now put your money where your mouth is, give every GP in this country $30,000 a year and they will all join your scheme because you know damn well that very few GPs are earning such a sum’. If the Gov ernment believes the myth that GPs are earning $30,000 a year net - they are taxed on that $30,000 - then give it to us and we will all join the scheme. Who would not join the scheme for a payment of $30,000 a year, for working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, for not working on the weekend and for being paid overtime if he has to work at weekends? It is so much nonsense to talk in that way about the poor GP. 1 know that he is making a lot of money, but so are many other people. We members of this Parliament are not doing too badly. I say to the Government: ‘Give us $30,000 a year and there will not be one GP who will not want to join the scheme’. But the Government is not prepared to do this. The Government makes insidious innuendoes against doctors. It says: ‘They are all money grubbers’. Some are as are some of us in politics and some people in other places. No matter where one goes, there are money grubbers. Nevertheless there are some doctors with humanitarian principles. The Government continues to denigrate the doctors, saying that all they want is money. Right. I am now giving the Government the chance. I do not think for one moment that there will be. one doctor who will refuse to join the Government’s scheme if it is prepared to pay them. The Government ought not continue to hand out the propaganda that doctors are making $30,000 a year net if it is not prepared to pay the doctors $30,000 a year, or even a bit less; - I would be happy about that - providing also that we receive superannuation benefits, and a 5-day working week with hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Give us that salary and those conditions and we will join the scheme straight away.
Here I should like to refer to a very interesting chart on a comparison of professions drawn by an accountant who is concerned with taxation problems. He makes a very good comparison of the professions. The ones I want to compare are the doctor and the public servant. The chart shows that the doctor works 3,825 hours per annum whereas the civil servant works 1,511 hours per annum. On the net income per hour worked - appreciating that the doctor earns a lot more than does the civil servant; another graph shows that the doctor earns say $15,000 taxable income per annum compared with the public servant earning $6,000 per annum - the public servant hits the top. His net income for every hour worked is $5.12 per hour while the doctor’s net income for every hour worked is $3.27. These are facts that nobody can deny.
– How do those rates compare with that for a lawyer?
– The lawyer is not too badly off. Only solicitors are shown on the chart. A solicitor works 2,623 hours per annum and his net income per hour worked - he is third on the list - is $4.25. He is way ahead of the doctor. I ask for leave to incorporate these charts in Hansard so that honourable senators may have a better understanding of the figures. There is a table of comparison of professions and the charts. I do not know whether the charts can be incorporated in Hansard, but certainly the table can.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott) - Before I ask whether leave is to be granted, I point out that incorporation of the table and the charts will depend on the facilities available to Hansard. Is leave granted?
– Where does the information come from?
– It was prepared by an accountant who gave an address to a meeting of general practitioners who then published it in their magazine.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The table reads as follows) -
– Based on net income per hour worked, the doctor should be entitled to increase his fee by 105 per cent to give him equality with the public servant.
My second point is that there is nothing in this blueprint for the future of medical services, or health insurance as it is called, because health insurance is tied up with the future improvement of medical care. AH that has been done in this proposal is to computerise what it will cost hospitals, health insurance companies, the commission and so on, but there is not one iota about the good of the patient. Let me warn the Government about the cost of this scheme. It has been assessed that it will cost $840m, but this cost is already out of date because it was assessed on the present schedule of fees which is to be altered within the next few days or few weeks. If the cost was estimated to be $840m then, I do not know what it will be in future, but obviously it will rocket upwards as the scheme comes into being.
My third point is vital to myself for I have been practising and preaching this for 35 years. It is the denigration of the poor. I do not mind the Australian Medical Association, formerly the British Medical Association, not supporting me but I do object to the Labor Government not supporting me in my objection to the fact that a poor person may not have the treatment of his own choice. I think that is criminal. I wrote a paper on this subject which 1 delivered to a medical congress in either 1948 or 1958 - I cannot remember which year it was - the whole point of which is that if a person has enough money, he is entitled to have his own GP treat him. If that person has to enter hospital, he is entitled to have that GP treat him in a private hospital. In other words, the law recognises that the GP is good enough to treat that patient in a private hospital, but if that patient goes into a public hospital - finish. Down comes the clamp and the Government tells the GP: ‘You are not allowed to treat your own patient in this hospital. We know better than you do. We have our own specialists in this hospital. They are better than you are and they will treat the patient’. That is what I object to most strongly in this scheme. There is nothing in it which will help to get rid of this philosophy that if one is poor, one may not have the doctor of his choice treat him in a hospital. I object to it. T think that everyone objects to it.
Why do persons choose to go to private doctors? Most senators in this chamber attend private doctors. They visit them for a number of reasons including the fact that they believe in their doctor or because it is convenient to visit him. If one is sick and one has enough money, one can enter a private hospital. The private doctor will follow his patient to that hospital and treat that patient there.
This is not the case with those who are poor. If a patient is poor, that patient has had it. Here am I attacking a Labor Government for doing the very thing that it should not be doing. The poor should have the same rights as the rich. What I object to most strongly in the report is that the poor are denigrated. The Government is doing this all the time.
I do not mind the Australian Medical Association attacking me on this subject that used to be its policy. It has changed now. The AMA has actually discovered that perhaps I was speaking the truth. The AMA has changed. But until the last 4 or 5 years it has always attacked me because it is specialist oriented. It believes that the specialist is the best one to treat a patient. At least 60 per cent of people who enter hospital need GP treatment only. Why then does the Government denigrate the poor? Why does it not allow the poor to have the same treatment as richer citizens are allowed to have? The treatment of the poor is the worst basis of this scheme because nothing is done about that problem.
In fact, in this scheme, the Government proposes to make the situation worse for the poor. It will not allow anyone other than salaried doctors to treat them. Salaried doctors will be appointed. The Government will not allow GPs to have a say in the treatment in hospital of their own patients. This to me is a disgrace. It is a shame on the Australian Labor Party that this situation is not recognised. It is all very well to say ‘We are giving them specialist treatment; specialist treatment is better’, and so on. Why does the Government allow the rich to be treated by their GPs? It does not mind that honourable senators are treated in hospital by their own doctors hut this scheme denies this privilege to those who cannot afford to pay. This, I think, is wrong. The Government should do something about this situation.
My fourth point in relation to the proposed national health scheme is that the Government proposes to do nothing to help to increase the number of GPs in practice. Do not get away with the idea that there are plenty of GPs practising. Let me give the Senate an idea of the situation. There is a locum practice in which I am interested. I was informed in a telephone inquiry I made that the medical practice in which I am interested is serviced by a doctor. Opposite is a doctor of 72 with an Indian partner. Around the corner from this 72-year old doctor is another doctor of 72 years. This was the situation in a country town. When those 2 doctors each of 72 years go, who will attend their patients? Are we to increase the number of foreigners in this country so that we have someone medically qualified to mind those patients, or are we to do something to make .sure that people who wish to become GPs and to treat people in Australia will be able to do so? Do we not want Australians to be doctors and to treat our people? Or is the Government happy with a position in which people from foreign countries with medical qualifications treat our own people?
Another result which will flow from this report is that an increase in the number of GPs will be prevented. A shortage of GPs exists now in the country. This shortage will become greater and greater. It will become so acute soon that the Government will have to rely on foreign doctors to run its health service as England does.
– What about optometrists?
– The optometrist can speak for himself. I am talking about medical practice. One of the reasons for the decrease of the number of GPs in practice is the differential in fees. I have been doing locums. I go into country areas. GP doctors there are operating on people. They are entitled to do so. Their patients want them to operate. There is no one else to operate on them. The surgeon in the country is the GP surgeon. He operates. He receives $X for his work. But if a GP surgeon has a senior degree, he receives two or three times more than $X for performing the same service. Is that reasonable? Is it fair? What does this mean? It means that a person who has graduated from medical school promptly goes into specialisation. This again means no GPs from medical schools.
– Is that not a fault of the training of those doctors lit university where they are encouraged to specialise?
– Yes, but not completely. As the honourable senator says, training has a lot to do with it. But, in the final analysis, these people are not oriented towards providing GP services.
– That is right.
– Even if they are oriented in that way, they would not go into general practice because they can earn extra money by being specialists. An extra- 2 years study is involved-
– With qualifications, but sometimes without them.
– The others have not the qualifications but have the experience. I do not wish to bring my own case into this debate. For many years I operated. 1 had no senior degree then. What I have now is not really a senior degree: it is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners degree. But I operated. I am entitled to operate. People ask me to operate. They are prepared lo pay for my services. Why should 1 be paid less than a specialist who has a senior degree?
– Put it another way: Why should the specialist be paid more than you are paid if you can do the job as a GP?
– That is right. Why should he be paid more? I do not mind which way it works. All I want is the abolition of this differential. If that is done, we will have more GPs and medical students prepared to go into general practice.
– Do you support the honorary system?
– No. I think that these doctors should be paid. I agree that there should be what are called visiting medical officers. Whether they are paid or give honorary services is a different matter. I believe in that visiting system, lt could be a fully salaried system such as the system that Newcastle has always had. This means that there may be 4 physicians and 4 surgeons on full salary working in a hospital getting all the experience while the rest of the doctors in Newcastle are not getting that experience. This is harmful to 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the population which is treated outside that hospital, lt is good for those in the hospital but it is bad for those outside that hospital.
A salaried service on its own means the honorary system or the visiting system, if we like to call it that. The visiting system requires that the honorary will be paid. If he is allowed to visit, he learns more, gets ‘more experience and gains more practice. This experience is spread through the community. In other words, there may be 20 honoraries at a hospital doing medical work. They come to that hospital twice a week. Under the new scheme, full time salaried officers will provide 10 sessions a week as against the present 2 sessions a week, so only one-fifth of the former number will be needed. Fewer people will be properly trained and able to spread their knowledge in the community.
The other matter that 1 wish to mention is the unreferred specialist item. I am not sure whether it is in the Health Insurance Planning Committee report or whether I heard it from someone in the department concerned. A special item is about to be introduced in medical benefits for unreferred cases handled by specialists. The basis of any health scheme, as has been proved throughout the world, is the general practitioner and referral from the general practitioner. If that scheme is not followed, medical costs rise immediately. If people are allowed to attend a specialist ait any time without first going through a GP service, people will do this increasingly and costs will be higher. Until the present, no item has been provided by way of medical benefits for unreferred visits to specialists. There has been no special item for unreferred cases handled by specialists.
The public does not realise the difference between a consultant and a specialist. A consultant is one who will only see cases referred to him. A specialist is one who specialises in a special field but is happy to see anyone off the street. Patients do not need to be referred. The only time when GPs know that these doctors are specialists is when they ring up and ask for referral forms for one of their patients. Specialists are the people who are prepared to take patients off the street. They charge an extra amount. They charge a specialists fee. This is the reason why half truths and propaganda are heard about doctors not keeping to the common fee. 1 know that a number of doctors do not charge the common fee. But the situation is aggravated by the fact that thousands of people visit specialists on an unreferred basis. Each specialist charges a specialist’s fee. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the common fee for the service is $4. The specialist charges a fee of $12 for the same service. The charge by the specialist is shown in the computer as item 1 because it was an unreferred service. But item 1 is the code for a GP consultation. Each such visit is shown in the computer system as a GP charging $8 more than the common fee for the service performed. Of course, what the propagandists in the Department of Health forget to point out is that thousands and thousands of people go to see a specialist without being referred and the specialist charges his specialist tee which is 2 or 3 times more than the common fee. It is shown as item 1 in the list of general practitioners’ fees.
Whilst I am dealing with the common fee, there is another error here in that the computer does not differentiate between common fees charged in the surgery and the other fees that are charged for consultations outside the normal hours. They are all shown as item 1 and therefore this boosts again the number of cases in which the common fee is not charged.
– Should not the whole fee structure be looked at again, because there will be innumerable anomalies there?
– I cannot agree more with Senator Jessop. But that is not what this insurance report is doing. All it is doing is helping to create a shortage of general practitioners. The first matter is the denigration of the poor and the second matter is the lack of inducement for doctors to enter the medical profession as general practitioners. 1 asked a question regarding the number of medical practitioners employed by the Commonwealth Department of Health in the last S years. The number employed in that period has increased from 180 to 309. The number based in Canberra has increased from 30 to 75. To me this is a scandal and it should be investigated. But this is happening before the new national health scheme has come in. When one considers that the number of medical practitioners in the Commonwealth Department of Health has increased from 180 to 309 in 5 years, one wonders whether, if those extra 120 to 130 doctors went into general practice, perhaps there would not be a shortage of general practitioners. But we are saying: ‘Join the Commonwealth Health Department. You are assured of safety, you are assured of superannuation, you work only 5 days a week, you have to work only from 9 to 5, you get 4 weeks annual leave and you get sick leave’.
I do not blame these dropouts from the medical profession. Most of them - not all of them - have been failures in general practice and they join the Department of Health for the sake of security. I do not blame them at all because this is something that they now have. But to me it is absolutely criminal that in 5 years the number of medical practitioners in the Department of Health who are based in Canberra has more than doubled. I return to the report. The third thing wrong with it is lack of coverage of ancillary services. My optometrist is gone, but he provides one of these services.
– I am here.
– Thank you. Here we have a blueprint, a chance, an opportunity to make something of our national health scheme, which is what the Labor Party has believed in for years and what it has been talking about for years. But when the Labor Party comes into office as the Government, all it is worrying about is national health insurance and whether it will cost $X, $Y or $Z. There is nothing about the patients. Why does not the Government include in its national health insurance dentists, physiotherapists and optometrists? Why does it not bring a complete national health insurance scheme? If it is going to introduce a national health insurance scheme, it should bring in a complete scheme. Instead, what the Government is doing in this report is saying that it will nationalise medical services. There is no doubt whatever that in this report the Government has harmed itself because it will not come out and bring in a complete medical report. It will nationalise the rest of these ancillary services because it is saying: ‘We are not going to let any health insurance funds exist; we are going to abolish them’. So no one can get health insurance to cover these ancillary services which are so vital to the Australian people. Why did not the Government do something about these ancillary services? It had the opportunity to do so. It has been given a mandate to do something about ancillary services, but it is not really caring about them as much as it should. Instead, the Government is frightening off all these people by saying: ‘Right, we will do something for them through a national service, a salaried service’. Of course, that is the end.
The Government is killing private health insurance; it says so in this report. I have no time for the health insurance funds. Those honourable senators who served with me on the committee which inquired into this matter know that I have never supported the health insurance funds. But if people want private health insurance, why does not the Government let them have it? Why make this sort of niggardly attack on everyone who does not see eye to eye with the Government? There is a place for private health insurance to cover the services of optometrists. Therefore, we Ought to have private health insurance. People want to go to dentists, chiropodists, physiotherapists and many other people who provide ancillary medical services. But the Government is killing private health insurance in this report. That is another feature of the report.
This is strictly my own point of view and it has nothing to do with the national health insurance scheme, but 1 also want to see something done about the propaganda that comes out about people who cannot afford to pay medical fees. We read it in the Press. I condemn the Press for the propoganda it puts out that people cannot afford to pay fees. This is utter nonsense. It does not matter what the common fee is. I do not agree with doctors who charge more than the common fee. I think the common fee is ample. But if doctors want to charge more than the common fee and they think people will pay it, let them do so.
I am not attacking the common fee. Before the common fee concept was introduced, in my practice 1 never charged what would have been called the common fee. I was in a group of 4 doctors, and we always charged 50c, or the equivalent of 50c, more than other general practitioners in Launceston were charging. I started in that practice with one partner and then there were 2, 3 and 4 partners. Our practice grew because of the fact that we gave a service; it did not matter that we charged more than other general practitioners were charging. If one gives a service it does not matter what the fee is. 1 think that if one is prepared to give a service one is entitled to charge whatever fee one likes. If people cannot afford to pay that fee they can go to other doctors; they do not have to go to the doctors who charge more than the common fee.
There are public hospitals. If the State and Commonwealth governments are not prepared to provide proper outpatient departments, that is their fault and the blame rests with them. People want to go to private practitioners. It is no good for people who go to private practitioners to say: ‘I am charged $4.50 but someone else charges $3’. They do not have to go to the private practitioner who charges $4.50. But they do not want to put up with the service that they receive at a public hospital. They do not want to be in queues. They do not want to have to wait to see a doctor. They prefer to pay extra in order to see a private practitioner.
I think that since the national health insurance scheme was introduced, the number of people who cannot afford to pay for medical services is roughly 3 per cent to 5 per cent of the total, which is negligible. The point is that we must stop this propaganda in the Press. The Press is publishing this propaganda all the time that people cannot afford to pay for medical services. People can afford to have their couple of cans of beer; they can afford to have a man come in to repair a television set. They can afford anything like that, but they cannot afford to go and see a doctor. People can make a choice between doctors. If people like, they can shop around, lt is always the people who can afford to pay who suddenly squeal. People who live near an aerodrome squeal and say: ‘What have you got the aerodrome there for? Move the aerodrome. I want the best benefit’.
I will close now because I have dealt mainly with the health insurance scheme. I want to mention several other points which are irritating doctors at the present time. I will be brief. The first refers to the computer system in regard to checks on doctors. Big brother is watching every general practitioner in this country. There is a computer service, and it checks on every person whom a doctor sees. A doctor is then sent round to these doctors who may be doing what is called over-visiting. Probably some doctors are overvisiting. I have noticed this myself when working as a locum. I have thought that these doctors were over-visiting, and I have been a bit horrified about it. But there is a second thought on this matter. I cannot really ask honourable senators to try to imagine that they are old age pensioners - old women and old men living on their own - but if they were, would they not want a doctor to call to see them?
– Once a week, or something like that, and he charges for it.
– No, the Commonwealth pays for it. Now, Senator Primmer, let us concentrate on you. Go and see some of the pensioners for a change and ask them what they want to do about it. They will back me, not the Government. I have seen some of the doctors who visit these people two or three times a week. I think that is preposterous. Once a week may even be slightly too much. But these pensioners have nothing to live for. They live in misery. Very few doctors are prepared to visit them and when they do.the visit is recorded on the computer and the doctor is ticked off by the Commonwealth Department of Health: ‘You have been seeing the pensioner every fortnight instead of going every 3 months’.
– Could not that service be provided by a social worker or somebody in that category?
– No. Somebody has to order the medicine.
– For how long has that been going on?
– It has been going on for years. I am not denying that some of the doctors are overdoing it. But do not blame all the doctors just because a few doctors overdo it. There are black sheep amongst politicians as well as amongst doctors. Do not tell me that just because one does it, the whole lot have to be castigated and branded in the same way. I have criticised doctors for what happens. I have said to pensioners: “You do not need a doctor for another month and I will tell Dr so-and-so not to come for another month*. The patient has replied: ‘Oh no, he always comes every fortnight and I am looking forward to his visit’. The pensioners want this but Government supporters sneer and say that it is on the Commonwealth. I could not care less. If I was a general practitioner with my own practice - I am only a locum nowadays - it would not be worth my while to go out of my way and see a patient for $2.65. It would cost more than that for petrol and so on. It would not be worth your time.
– I think that some doctors walk.
– How many of them walk around? Tell us a few facts and figures. Come on, tell us. I admit that there are doctors who overdo it. I am not denying that. I have a letter here from a doctor who was ticked off because according to the computer he made too many visits. He was told that he had seen 233 active pensioners in the previous year. Of that number 30 were seen once and 164 were seen 8 times in the year. About 80 per cent of the work related to 39 patients. I worked it out that the doctor had seen those people 2.6 times a week. At first I thought: My God, he is overdoing this a bit’. However the fact is that there are many more than the 600 on his list whom he had not seen. If he really had wanted to slug the Government for his 164 pensioners that he saw only 8 times he could have seen them 26 times, which would have been reasonable, say once every fortnight, or even 12 times. As I have said, he saw only 39 pensioners at the rate of 2.6 visits a week. This was in the eastern surburbs of Sydney where a lot of pensioners continue paying their hospital insurance and go to a private hospital. The Government does not realise how many people do this. I see a lot of them. He saw 39 of them 2.6 times a week. He could have been seeing a lot of those patients daily and that would have spread the average from 2.9 to 5 or 6.
– You said that they go to private hospitals. Are they taken as in-patients?
– Yes, as patients. They go into private hospitals as patients. A lot of pensioners continue paying their hospital insurance.
– You say that they are insured and, in addition, they have their pensioner medical card?
– Yes. The hospital insurance carries them and they can go into a private hospital and pay the doctor by means of a pension voucher. That is a common thing. This is one of the irritations I said that doctors are suffering because they are overvisiting pensioners. I ask Senator Primmer to put himself in the place of a pensioner of 70 or 75 years who is wanting treatment. I ask him to think about that for a while.
A statement was issued by the Department of Social Security or the Department of Health - I am not sure which - complaining about repeat prescriptions. Let me tell the Senate that this is a damned nuisance in any medical practice. It has been the practice for a pensioner to ring the doctor or to send someone to the surgery with a message saying that he wants so many tablets. Usually there is a shopping list of five or six types of tablets. The doctor writes the prescription and when the pensioner comes to pick it up he signs the pension voucher for $2.60 or $2.70, whatever the sum is. Private people ask for a script but the doctor cannot charge them because they have not come to see him. The Department of Health has now made a statement about pensioners who have been using this facility for years. Sometimes they have to use it because they cannot get to the surgery. I asked one pensioner why he did not come to the surgery and he said that the bus ran only at such-and-such a time and he could not come. It is easier for a pensioner to telephone or to send someone to get his drugs. So the doctor has to sit down and write out 2 prescription forms sometimes, because they are allowed only 3 prescriptions on each form, ls not the doctor entitled to make a charge for that service? Why is the Government so heartless? Does it really believe that this practice should be stopped? It is saying that it must not be allowed.
What are the doctors to do? They will tell the pensioners to come to the surgery, see the doctor and sign the voucher. I do not say that this should be carried to the extent of the practice relating to private scripts but there should be an item in the national health scheme to cover people who want repeats but do not want to see their doctor. This happens time and time again. They just want repeats because under the new law the number of tablets has been restricted. In the case of Mogadon, for example - a sleeping tablet - people are allowed only 25 tablets. There is ail this talk about drugs, but at the age of 60, 65 or 70 years what does it matter if a person takes a sleeping tablet every night. Heavens above! People are allowed only 25 tablets and if they want a repeat they send for it. The doctor has to sit down, get out the patient’s card, put the information on the card and write out the prescription but he is not allowed to charge. Most doctors have a fee for writing out prescriptions, so why not include it in the national health scheme? If the Government only knew what it was doing, lt takes longer to write out a prescription on a telephone request than it does for the doctor to see the patient. If the patient comes to see the doctor, he has the empty bottle in his hand or he has a list of tablets and asks for them. The doctor then writes out the prescription. If the patient telephones, the doctor has to get his nurse to get out the patient’s card, he has to read it, write down the information and then arrange for the prescription to be sent to the pensioner. Do not say that the doctors are trying to diddle the Government all the time. They have their problems just as the Government has problems. But does not the patient count? Does the Government never think of the patient?
– The patient does not count very much if a doctor takes less time seeing him than it takes to write a prescription.
– You do not understand medicine. Hundreds of patients, thousands of them, go to their doctors for repeat prescriptions. The honourable senator would not deny me that statement, would he?
– Well, that is all right. That is all that the patients want.
– Surely it is quicker to write out a prescription than it is for the patient to get to the surgery.
– All right, then the Government should include a special item to cover this. I am not arguing about it.
– If they ask for a repeat prescription you would give it automatically.
– Yes, on most occasions, particularly when I am acting as a locum. I have to do it. Even the regular doctor does it. Suppose that the patient has blood pressure or just cannot sleep, he writes and ask for the repeat prescription so the doctor provides it.
– Would you not take his blood pressure?
– You would need to take it only every month. I have spoken for longer than I intended but there are 2 other things to which I want to refer to. One is the freedom to prescribe.
This is the other matter that is irritating the general ‘ practitioners: The Department of Health tries to ensure that they are not capable of prescribing. Do not let honourable senators say that general practitioners overprescribe. If they want to know the truth, I can tell them of many cases of old people, especially pensioners, who come to doctors and ask for seven or eight tablets. You say to them: ‘Why do you have to have them?’. They say: ‘Because my specialist gave them to me in hospital’. These people have got to the age where they think these tablets are the only things that will keep them alive and they are damn well going to have them whether you like it or not. It is no use saying: ‘Get off those tablets. You do not need them’. The old person will say: ‘My specialist ordered them at the hospital*. The Department of Health denigrates the general practitioner all the time. I have raised this question with the department before. I know that not one honourable senator, if his child was suffering from asthma, would deny that his doctor was the one who should prescribe. But honourable senators do not help me on this matter. They let the Department of Health get away with what it is doing.
Let me take the case of the drug Intal which is the drug I have been thinking about. I would have to obtain a special authority if I were to treat the child of an honourable senator with that drug. I may have been treating that child for years, not the Commonwealth Department of Health doctor in Sydney, Hobart or wherever he may live. I am the doctor who has treated the child. Yet I have to write to that other doctor in Sydney or Hobart to get permission to prescribe the drug. I asked about this matter during a committee meeting in Canberra. I was told that 19,000 special authorities had been requested for Intal.
– Was that used for children?
– Yes. It was used mainly for children. I said: ‘That is a lot of special authorities’. I asked how many had been refused and was told none. Was not this an exercise in bureaucracy? Every doctor has to write in for his prescription but they will not be refused. So why write in? Why not let general practitioners order it when they know that this is the treatment that is required. The drug is included in the national health scheme list.
– It is income for the Postal Department.
– It may provide income for the Postal Department but it makes a lot of work for the doctor. Sometimes, the patient has to wait. This illustrates the stupidity of the position and bureaucracy at its worst: If the doctor does not write the exact words required - for instance, that it is a case of chronic and intractactable asthma - he will not get the prescription. The Department of Health doctor will ring up or send back the request with a query.
– Senator, have you ever had a special authority refused?
– No, but I had one queried. I telephoned the departmental doctor and ticked him off. I think he thought that as I was a senator he had better give it to me. None has been refused. But the Department does write back and say that the doctor has not written the exact words shown on the screed. For years, doctors have been lying. That applies to every doctor in this country. There is not one doctor who has not lied by putting ‘SP’ or ‘specified purpose’ after certain drugs during the last few years. The Department of Health knew it. A person may come to me with a particular disease. I may want to order that person tetracycline. It was an SP’ drug but now it is not. We finally got through to the Department that this was so much bureaucracy. But by God, it took 10 years to do it. A person may come to me who has pneumonia. I may think that tetracycline was better than other drugs for him. I have to write ‘SP’ or ‘specified purpose* because I should have ordered one of the sulpha drugs. But if I asked a patient: Would you like a sulphar drug which may or may not- cure you or tetracycline which will cure you’, which drug do honourable senators think he will ask for? Honourable senators know damn well what the patient would say. So doctors have had to lie all these years by putting ‘SP’ after every prescription that they wrote. Now, thank God, the Department has eliminated that.
The final point with which I wish to deal involves the trend that is developing today which I do not like because I am an old fashioned doctor. But it is a trend with which we have to live. I am referring to the new locum services. Whether we like it or not, doctors are now insisting that they work only from 9 a.m. to 5p.m. I think that humanitarianism has gone out of medicine. But that is only my personal view. The point is that at the moment many doctors will not see patients after 5 p.m. or on week ends. I think that doctors are cutting their own throats. I think that wherever possible they should see their own patients. But that is my personal view.
This is the point I am trying to get at: The locum service system is here whether or not we like it. The locum service system uses a doctor who attends patients at night. He stays up all night and may visit 10 to 20 people who may be the patients of 10 or 20 doctors. They may be people who may wake up at midnight, in pain. The doctor may have to give an injection to each one of these patients. For instance, they may be asthmatical. So he has to have drugs to give them. Many of these drugs are on the doctors drug list which each doctor, each month is entitled to draw. But because the doctor is a locum and he may see 20 people in the one night, he may use quite easily his whole month’s supply of say, morphia, in the one night. But he is allowed only one month’s supply.
So the doctors wrote to the DirectorGeneral of Health Services and asked that the after hours locum services - the emergency services - be given an extra amount of these doctor’s bag drugs which is a reasonable request, lt should not take much effort for two or three men - departmental officers and doctors - to get together and work out some scheme under which there will not be any cheating of the Government or drug addiction of the doctor. The doctors wrote in February. They still have not received an answer. I went to see the Minister for Health just the other day. He was very sympathetic about it. We hope that the doctors may receive an answer in the near future. Here again, it is a case of bureaucracy at its best. The doctors are allowed one lot of doctors’ drugs a month. If a doctor uses up his month’s supply of, say, morphia in one night he is not allowed any more.
The public service forgets that there are new ventures in this world. They do not understand new ventures. Public servants have been living with their little hidebound ideas, saying no, no, all the time until they get to the top and become the head of their department. I raise that matter as another point in concluding my remarks dealing with the troubles of our medical men. I know that Senator Douglas McClelland who represents the Minister for Health in the Senate has listened with interest to most of what I have said. If he has not listened to it with interest, at least he took note of it. I hope that he will pass it on to Mr Hayden, the Minister for Social Security. I hope that we can evolve a national health plan that will benefit the patient and not worry all the time about the cost of health insurance or how much profit the doctor will make.
– I commend Senator Turnbull for drawing to the attention of the Senate and the people of Australia the importance of a public debate upon this document. It is a debate which I had hoped would . occur but apparently will not occur in this session. I commend the honourable senator for putting the focus of the debate on the one important factor in the national health scheme, namely, that the test of a good health scheme is the quality of the health care that it delivers to the patient. Also, I commend Senator Turnbull for drawing attention to the fact that the Government is using a device to deflect public attention. It is attempting at every stage to denigrate the doctor by painting the doctor as a money grubber in order to draw attention away from the true nature of its scheme which is virtually to railroad people into its scheme.
Senator Turnbull has pointed out that the Government has used a figure of $30,000 a year as the average salary of general practitioners. Let us test this. Only last Thursday, during the proceedings of Senate Estimates Committee C, I asked what was the salary being advertised for those general practitioners who are to operate the health centres in Canberra which will be working in competition with the private practitioners. As honourable senators will know, there will be one service on a national basis and one on a fee for service basis. The Government, has advertised for general practitioners at a salary of between $16,000 and $17,200 a year. So quite clearly, the Government believes that this is the going rate for general practitioners. What nonsense it is for the Government to suggest that the average general practitioner is netting nearly double that amount. If he were, where would the Government get these people? Quite clearly, what the public should understand is that the going rate on the market here in Canberra - it is usually an expensive market - is between $16,000 and $17,200 a year. Equally I think it is important - I intend to be brief; I hope we will have a much longer time to debate this matter - to remind the Senate of what this Government is seeking to do. What the Scotton and Deeble report simply facilitates in a mechanistic way is the bringing into Australia of the kinds of national schemes which have been tested in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Canada. All of them have failed. The governments and the public of those countries are now retreating from them and are moving in their own way back to where we have been.
Scandinavia is the home of nationalised medicine. Today in Stockholm more than 50 per cent of the people belong to private health insurance schemes. This kind of grandiose nationalised insurance scheme which is talked about in the Scandinavian countries is being retreated from. In the United Kingdom where the hospitals and the doctors were nationalised more, and more people are getting together to build private hospitals. They are coming back into fashion because of the failure of the nationalised scheme. In Canada at the moment people are complaining of the open-end cost which is crippling the scheme and which is causing the Government to do something which is quite radical. It has put a ceiling on costs and said: ‘You can cut them up between you.’ The result is that the patient gets squeezed because as the doctors have to handle more and more patients the amount of time they give to the patient is less and less so that the waiting time for hospitals is increased. The countries which have the symptoms of this scheme which is spelt out in the Scotton and Deeble report have confessed failure and are retreating from it. In the United Kingdom the scheme on hospitals which is devised in that report is failing badly. Under this most vaunted nationalised scheme delays for even simple surgical procedures in hospitals are from 6 to 9 months to even a year.
Recently the British Medical Association in a report said that the average time a general practitioner gave to his patient under the British scheme was between 2 and 3 minutes. In Australia we are little more generous; the amount of time is between 15 and 20 minutes. What are the tests? If the excellence or quality of patient care is to be the test of a medical scheme then the patient, who should be the important consideration, should have the right to choose his own doctor. He should have the right to have his doctor come to the hospital of his choice and to be treated at the hospital. He should have the right to see his doctor without undue waiting time and the right to have admission to hospital without undue waiting time. When he sees his doctor he should have the right to be given a reasonable time. By none of those tests can the schemes in the United Kingdom, Canada or Scandinavia stand up. By all of those tests we are heading for disaster.
Professor Detweiler the expert on the Canadian scheme who was out here this year pointed out that if we wanted to have a successful scheme giving the highest quality patient care the patient must participate in the cost of the scheme. The Professor made a plea to the people of Australia to continue a voluntary health scheme under which the patient at all times pays a small but nevertheless measurable amount of the health insurance cost. Where it appears that the patient pays nothing - I stress ‘appears’ because there is no such thing as free medicine - the run on the health scheme for everything from cosmetic surgery to over-visiting is such that the ordinary patient suffers in terms of the time of the visit, availability of beds in hospital and the availability of doctors to see him. In Australia we have the elements of what has been described overseas as the optimum scheme to ensure optimum patient care. There is much to be done and much to be extended, particularly to the under-privileged, but nevertheless we have those qualifications. This scheme which will be introduced is deliberately running away from those matters.
The proposed scheme is a form of blackmail. If honourable senators follow the chapters which relate to the direct billing of doctors for fees they will find that under the euphemism of freedom of choice of the doctor the patient is hit over the head in order to bludgeon the doctor into taking direct billing. The scheme states, without a smile on its face, that the doctor can do one of two things. He can directly bill the health scheme. If he directly bills the nationalised health scheme the patient pays nothing and the doctor gets 85 per cent back. But if he bills the patient the patient has to do all the clerical work and pay the 15 per cent. It is quite clear that that is no choice, lt is quite clear that what is happening is that this scheme deliberately punishes the patient in order to force the doctor to bill directly and not to bill the patient. This is absolutely immoral. The Government has put out this grandiose scheme because it says if the doctor directly bills the 15 per cent this will be a saving anyhow because he will not be paying overheads. What this scheme fails to say is that the determination for direct billing is that the doctor accepts the common or fixed fee. If the doctor does this and directly bills, the Government can gradually squeeze and squeeze until the general practitioner says: ‘Why should I do all this homework? Why should I go to all this trouble with this paper work? Give me a salary. That is that.’
I ask honourable senators to bear in mind that in any case the scheme is for nationalising hospitals. It will force the payment of salaries or sessional payments to doctors in hospitals. Except in rare circumstances the patients in hospital and certainly in the standard ward have no choice. They will be attended by the doctor on duty. The patients in hospitals under the proposed scheme will get out of the Government benefit only the recompense which would cover the standard ward rate. Therefore if they are in an intermediate or a private ward or if they are in a private hospital they must cover the difference themselves or insure separately. What kind of scheme is it that debases the already existing scheme which provides for intermediate or private wards, which provides that one can finance oneself for the higher benefits and which says: ‘No, you are not going to do that any more. In future, under our scheme, you will take the standard ward.’ Government spokesmen have said that the Government aims to reduce and ultimately to wipe out private hospitals and nursing homes and to bring in only nationalised institutions. What the scheme aims to do is to deny the general practitioner access to hospitals and therefore to deny him the ability to practise his skills in a way which is absolutely essential to his diagnostic ability.
If any scheme were devised to destroy the general practitioner, this scheme is it. I agree with Senator Turnbull; the general practitioner is in fact a receding race largely because most of the universities and medical schools have no chairs of general practice. The graduates who are trained by specialists are encouraged to go out into specialties rather than into general practice. The whole pressure is against general practice and yet this is the pivotal point of community health care. That must be said and stressed. More and more of the young graduates must be attracted into the specialty of general practice. It is a specialty all on its own. Indeed, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has done a great job in upgrading the standard of the practitioner. This scheme is hell bent on destroying the general practitioner and is hell bent on nationalising the service he provides. It certainly nationalises the specialists and the hospitals. It certainly brings everybody or most people to the standard ward or the common ward attitude. On the Government’s admission, it certainly sets out to destroy the private hospitals and private nursing homes, and its attack upon the patient’s freedom of choice is very real indeed.
– Is a patient allowed to insure for special medical coverage in this scheme?
– It is envisaged that there may well spring up or emerge from the existing schemes additional insurance schemes which will pay for private hospital treatment. This is not spelt out, but I have no doubt that that is implied. The honourable senator must bear in mind that contrary to what the Government says, because of the ceiling of 1.35 per cent put on the levy on taxable income and because payments under the new scheme will not be tax deductible, the new scheme will be more costly for some onethird of the people of Australia. It must be borne in mind that today a family, which includes a man, his wife and dependent children, is covered by one annual payment of something like $110, which is reduced to $80 or $75 a year once it is claimed as a tax deduction. It must be borne in mind that under the Government scheme if the wife is working - and one-third of all wives work, particularly in the lower income families - the wife as well as the husband will pay 1.35 per cent of her taxable income. This will apply to whoever in the family is working. People on repatriation or other pensions, even though they are entitled to a medical service elsewhere, will still pay into the scheme. So the cost at 1.35 per cent of taxable income - and that is only the tip of the iceberg - will be higher. It should be borne in mind that the Government itself has announced that the scheme will cost more than it thought at both levels. At first it was cited at 1.25 per cent of taxable income, it went up to .1.30 per cent, and then it increased to 1.35 per cent. The good Lord knows what the cost will be next year.
The matching grants that are to come out of Commonwealth revenue are getting larger and larger as the Commonwealth costs these things. In any case, the taxpayer will pay twice, once in the 1.35 per cent of taxable income and again from the general revenue pool that goes to make up these things. So the scheme itself is an open ended one: It is a sheer raid upon the taxpayer. I know that Mr Whitlam in his policy speech made a plaintive plea that he did not feel happy about the fact that his car driver was paying more, so he said, for health insurance than he was. Of course, this statement failed to recognise that people on higher incomes pay infinitely more in direct taxation and subsidise health schemes in that way.
This scheme ignores the patient. It concentrates on doing 2 things. This Labor Government, this socialist government, has an insensate hatred of the private practitioner who is practising for fee for service. It cannot abide the doctor-patient relationship, which involves a system of fee for service or free enterprise. It is out to nationalise and its scheme is one of nationalisation by takeover of the public hospitals, nationalisation of medicine by blackmail and duress by means of direct billing, and nationalisation of the private hospitals and private nursing homes on the direct say so of Government members themselves.
– Why did you not do something about the Nimmo Committee report when you were in government? You did nothing about that.
– I might remind the honourable senator who interjected and who is trying to make a speech on his own, as usual with great difficulty, that the Nimmo Committee report paid great tribute to the voluntary health schemes operating in Australia. Let those who ask about the Nimmo Committee report take it. It said that the voluntary health schemes in this country, by and large, were operating effectively and efficiently and giving a good service and that, by and large, the freedom of choice that they offered to the people of Australia was a good thing for the people of Australia. So I am very grateful to be reminded about the Nimmo Committee report.
I repeat that the whole test should be brought back to which scheme will help the patient. I repeat that the schemes adopted in England, America and Scandinavia - which embodied the principles which the Labor Government is now going to thrust upon the people of Australia - have all failed and are now the subject of great worry. The Government of Canada is in a frenzy about the high costs. Yet, in the face of failure overseas, in the face of the fact that the voluntary health schemes are on the run back in all the main countries, in the face of the fact that in West Berlin there are about 230 voluntary health schemes, in the face of the fact that in
Stockholm 50 per cent of the people - the proportion is rising - are now insuring against sickness, this Government is now going to destroy our health schemes. It intends to destroy the little guild schemes, the little Oddfellows schemes and those other schemes which, like the little trade unions, give a sturdiness and a character to the people of Australia. It is doing so because it has no interest in small groups doing things voluntarily and doing them well. Just as it wants to amalgamate the trade unions and destroy them, so it is out now to amalgamate into one great body our various health schemes. I therefore repeat that I am very grateful to Senator Turnbull. I think he has done a service to the Senate. I hope that the Senate will in the reasonably near future get an opportunity to debate this issue.
– Although I am Minister for the Media, I do represent in the Senate the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham). I feel that it is my responsibility during this debate on the motion for the first reading to answer some of the comments that have been made by Senator Turnbull and Senator Carrick on this important issue concerning the health and welfare of the Australian people. I have gathered from Senator Turnbull, for whom I have the greatest respect because of his knowledge of medical care in this country, and also from Senator Carrick that they do not want the existing health arrangements changed. So far as the health arrangements regarding the ordinary people in this country are concerned, they are of the belief that everything in the garden is rosy and that the people are satisfied with the existing arrangements.
– I do not think they implied that; on the contrary.
Senator Jessop says that he does not think-
– You will be in for a long debate if you are not careful.
Government has been criticised by an independent senator and a Liberal senator on the motion for the first reading of the Wool Tax Bills. As the Minister representing 2 of my colleagues in another place, it is my responsibility to reply briefly to some of the allegations that have been made.
– If you start a bushfire you will want something to put it out.
– The honourable senator can try to put it out if he likes but I am entitled to reply to the comments made. If the honourable senator’s belief in democracy is such that two honourable senators from one side and no one from the other side should have a go, then I disagree with his contention. But if it be said by my friends opposite that everyone in this community is getting a fair go so far as our health services are concerned, as a Minister in the Labor Government I strongly disagree with them.
I do not intend to speak at length, but I think I should reply to what has been said about the right to a freedom of choice on the part of the ordinary member of the community to select his medical practitioner. We of the Labor movement believe in the principle of freedom of choice. But let us lay the facts on the table. What is the position insofar as the great majority of the people of the city of Sydney is concerned? I can speak with some knowledge on this subject because I was a member of the board of directors of a very large hospital in Sydney for many years. Often, at a time when people most need a doctor they do not have freedom of choice of doctors. Senator Turnbull admitted that this evening when he said that medical practitioners want to work on a 9 to 5 basis today.
Sometimes people living in the southern suburbs of Sydney who get sick at a weekend are attended by an emergency medical service from the eastern suburbs. One cannot always get one’s local medical practitioner. On one occasion I had in my own home attending my own child a locum who took the child’s temperature and then went into the lounge room and opened up a medical text book to find out what was wrong with the child. If that is freedom of choice, I certainly do not appreciate that situation. Senator Turnbull admitted this evening that there is a tendency on the part of a large number of medical practitioners to want to work merely from 9 to 5. For Senator Turnbull to equate the working hours and remuneration of medical practitioners with the working hours and remuneration of Commonwealth public servants was, I thought, to do a great disservice to his case.
Let us examine the facts. Senator Turnbull was a member of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. I too was a member of the Committee. Senator Dittmer and I were the only ones to put in a minority report. Senator Turnbull agreed with the majority report. He had a lot to say about common fees. The report of the Committee was presented in this chamber in June 1970. Let us have a look at what it had to say. At page 15 of the report the majority of the Committee - I repeat that Senator Turnbull was a signatory to the majority report - had this to say:
There is the oft-referred to ‘traditional freedom’ of doctors to establish their own charges, but the Committee believes that recent actions by some members of the profession have left in the minds of an increasing number of people some lingering doubts as to the inviolability of the tradition. No Government or fund organisation can be expected to continue a system involving the payment of taxpayers’ and contributors’ money on a basis of being tied to a base unit in a scheme - medical charges - which is virtually out of control.
I repeat and emphasise the words ‘virtually out of control’. The report continues:
The most often suggested form of control, and the one which, appears most likely to succeed, is the establishment of what is commonly called the ‘most common fee’ charged by medical practitioners. Trie relating of benefit returns to his fee gives the most hopeful indications of stability to the scheme, provided contributors are in a position to ascertain whether they are to be charged an amount equal to, or at variance wilh, this most common fee.
The establishment of such a fee would best be undertaken by the medical profession, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Department of Health and the insurance funds, who have available to them the complete range of charges made in relation to every item in the Schedule of the National Health Act. The common fee should not be expected to produce stability to a scheme at the expense of appropriate returns to the medical profession.
Frankly, we of the Labor movement believe that doctors who serve the community are entitled to a fair and reasonable return for their skills and for the services they provide to the Australian community. Likewise we believe that every member of the Australian community is entitled to receive the best of medical attention that the community - not he or she as an individual, but the community - can afford.
A lot has been said about the Nimmo Committee. Senator Carrick said that the Nimmo Committee paid great credit to the voluntary health schemes and that, by and large, they were operating effectively and efficiently. 1 agree with Senator Carrick that, under the system which operated at that time, by and large they were operating effectively and efficiently. But the Nimmo Committee did not say that that was the millennium insofar as health insurance arrangements were concerned. Page 16 of the Nimmo Committee’s report states:
If the deficiencies in the scheme are to be eliminated it is the view of the Committee that a new approach to their responsibilities is required by all the interested parties. Their responsibilities need to be defined and discharged in a spirit of co-operation with particular attention to the interests of contributors. The Committee considers that this objective would be advanced by the transfer of the administration of the health insurance scheme from the Commonwealth Department of Health to a national health insurance commission -
That is what the Labor Government is advocating - with as much independence as possible. The centring of administrative responsibility and policy advising in a Commonwealth department has not been conducive to the development of a spirit of co-operation and sharing of responsibility by the other parties, who have felt little duty to help what they refer to as ‘the Commonwealth scheme’. Whilst the transfer of these functions to the Commission would not wholly remove the difficulties inherent in securing a cooperative approach, it should significantly reduce them.
We recommend that:
That was in March 1969. That was the report of an independent Committee established by the previous Government to inquire into health matters. In March 1970 the then Minister for Health, Dr Forbes, made a statement on behalf of the then Government on health insurance. That statement is recorded at page 33 of Hansard of 4 March 1970. At page 37, under the heading of ‘Health Insurance Commission’, he said:
The administration of health insurance received considerable attention by the Nimmo Committee and its recommendations on this subject have been thoroughly reviewed by the Government. It has been decided to adopt the Committee’s proposal that a national health insurance commission be established. The Government is currently giving consideration to the composition and functions of the new commission.
That was in March 1970. The election was held on 2 December 1972. Between March 1970 and 2 December 1972, which is over 2 years, the previous Government might have been giving consideration to the matter, but it had not done a thing about it. A Labor government was elected. It was elected on 2 December 1972. The Ministry was appointed on 19 December 1972. Within 3 days of that Ministry having been sworn in, my colleague the Minister for Social Security established the Health Insurance Planning Committee to carry out the recommendation of the Nimmo Committee of 1969 the implementation of which was advocated by a former Minister for Health in March 1970. I repeat that within 3 days of the Minister for Social Security having been elected to the Ministry of a Labor government, he established the Health Insurance Planning Committee.
All I say to honourable senators opposite, particularly Senator Turnbull and Senator Carrick, is that the Committee was a planning committee, no more and no less. It was established to find the best ways and means of implementing Labor’s policy of establishing a national health insurance scheme. The report was tendered to the Government, and the Government made it public.It was tabled in both Houses of Parliament. It has been circulated to large sections of the community. I appreciate that Senator Turnbull and Senator Carrick are now expressing their views. I hope that other honourable senators and all sections of the community will establish and record their views because at this stage the report, as I emphasise, is a planning committee report and we are seeking the best ways and means of implementing our policy. / felt that I had an obligation to reply briefly to the statements which were made by Senator Turnbull and Senator Carrick. I now ask for leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of all or several of the Social Services Bill (No. 3) 1973, the National Health Bill 1973 and the Broadcasting and Television Bill 1973 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of all or several of such Bills together in Committee of the whole and as would prevent the reading of the short titles only on every order for the reading of the Bills.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bills (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) together read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
The fact that I have already introduced 2 social services Bills into this chamber since the Parliament was re-opened on 27 February is evidence of the Government’s intention to proceed as quickly as possible with a progressive restructuring of our social security system. Honourable senators will recall that the first Bill which I introduced early in March gave substantial increases in age, invalid and widows pensions retrospective to December last, and also provided for substantial increases in unemployment and sickness benefits.
The second Bill, which I introduced on 1 May, gave effect to another of our election promises and provided for the continuation of age, invalid and widows pensions to Australian pensioners proceeding overseas, irrespective of their destination and without any of the restrictions which had been imposed by the previous Government and which had limited the operation of their reciprocal pension portability scheme to 4 countries only. The present Bill is a further step along the road to realising the Labor Party’s objective of removing anomalies and discriminatory practices imposed by past governments. The Bill fills a gap in our existing structure for which there has long been a need.
The Bill introduces a completely new benefit to be known as the supporting mother’s benefit. The classes of women to whom the new benefit will be payable under this Bill are (a) unmarried mothers, including deserted de facto wives and de facto wives of prisoners’, (b) married women not living with their husbands (deserting wives) or wives who have been separated for various other reasons, provided that the women be living with, and have the custody, care and control of a child or children of whom she is the mother. These women are those who are not at present eligible for a widow’s pension under the Social Services Act and who, with their children, have been subject to discrimination in the level of assistance available to them in the past. As with widows pensions, the supporting mother’s benefit will not be payable if the women return to live with their husbands or if they are living with any man on a de facto basis.
The new benefit will become payable 6 months after the date of the event which gives rise to eligibility - for example, the birth of a child or separation. For the moment, these women will continue to be the responsibility of the States for the first 6 months, and the States will continue to receive assistance from the Commonwealth under the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act during that period. There will, however, be some women who will become eligible for the supporting mother’s benefit who have not received State assistance because they would have been excluded by the State means tests.
At this point, I would like to interpose and say that we are anxious to have all cash social welfare payments made by the Commonwealth in an effort to reduce anomalies. At the present time, pensions and benefits from the Australian and State government authorities are complicated and confused by their conflicting means testing for benefits, by anomalies and by a perplexing range of benefits which have developed in a spasmodic way. If the Australian Government assumes responsibility for all personal benefit payments, it will relieve the States of these financial programs which they often find to be beyond their resources.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has already had talks with his counterparts in a number of the States on this matter and I am happy to say that the reaction has been mainly favourable. Further discussions will take place at a meeting of Commonwealth and State Welfare Ministers expected to be held in June next. I am hopeful that when these talks are finalised benefits payable to women through these proposed amendments will be paid immediately instead of requiring a 6 months lapse as is necessary now. That is, I still regard the position brought about by this Bill on its enactment, although a considerable improvement on present practices, as not without its anomalies. I repeat that we aim to end these anomalies but the important thing about this Bill is that it is a clear demonstration of this Government’s determination to bring an end as quickly as it can to the discrimination that existed against women, and in this case certain classes of women such as unmarried mothers, deserted wives or wives who have been separated for other reasons. This is a good start in this direction and in this area, lt -is not as much as we want to do or will be doing, but the start has been made and we will press on with the further improvements 1 have mentioned, that is, the Australian Government accepting full responsibility for the operation of these benefits instead of resorting to involved Commonwealth-State arrangements which not only cause difficulties for beneficiaries but are often an unreasonable imposition on States.
Returning now to the Bill, the rate of supporting mother’s benefit will be the same as the rate of Class A widow’s pensions, including mother’s allowance, additional pension for children and, where applicable, supplementary assistance for those mothers who are paying rent. Honourable senators will recall that these rates in weekly amounts are: Pensions $21.50; mother’s allowance $4, or $6 if the child is under 6 or an invalid; additional pension $4.50 for each child; and supplementary assistance $4. The means test and other conditions for payment will be broadly the same as those applying to Class A widow pensioners; for example, the residence qualifications will be the same and it will also be a responsibility of the supporting mother to seek maintenance from the father of the child if, in the circumstances of her case, it would be reasonable to expect her to do this. I understand that in Tasmania a deserted de facto wife of 12 months standing may sue for maintenance for herself and children, but in the other States she may claim maintenance for children only.
The supporting mother’s benefit will be portable on the same basis as widow’s pen sion - that is, a woman receiving supporting mother’s benefit may continue to receive this benefit outside Australia so long as she remains a supporting mother. Supporting mothers will also be eligible to participate in the national rehabilitation service and to participate in the training scheme for widow pensioners. They will be eligible, subject to the same conditions as Class A widows, for hearing aids at the nominal hire of $10, for reduced telephone rental and reduced fees for radio and television licences. Pending the outcome of negotiations with the Australian Medical Association concerning the pensioner medical service, supporting mothers may be covered by the subsidised health benefits plan. A funeral benefit of $40 will also be payable on the death of a supporting mother if the funeral expenses are met by another supporting mother or by a pensioner.
A word about children: The Government believes that when a mother gives birth to a child she should not be discriminated against merely because conception may have occurred after she became a widow or after she became separated from her husband. This form of discrimination, which has been practised in the past, involves undesirable moral overtones. This Bill will remove such discrimination. In future, both for widow’s pensions purposes and for supporting mother’s benefit, a widow’s own child or a supporting mother’s own child will qualify them for the respective pension or benefit, irrespective of whether their child was conceived before or after tha date of widowhood, desertion or separation. This Bill therefore amends the old definition of ‘child’ which has remained in the legislation since 1942 and introduces a new definition, which defines a ‘child’ as any child born of the mother or a child of whom she had the care prior to the date on which she became a widow or a supporting mother including a child who was an adopted child at that time.
A further advance made by the Bill is that the additional pension of $4.50 a week for children will be payable for all other children in the care, of the widow or supporting mother, whether those other children are qualifying children or not. A deduction of $6 a week for each dependent child will continue to be made from the widow’s income and will also be made from the supporting mother’s income before the means test is applied. This, in effect, gives a Class A widow or supporting mother with one child a permissible income, of $26 a week plus a further )’$6 for each other child dependent on her. A child will also be accepted as being in the custody, care and control of a widow or supporting mother where that child is not living with the widow - for example, where it is living away from home to attend school, provided the widow is making a reasonable contribution towards the child’s maintenance. This now applies to widows pensions and will be extended to supporting mother’s benefit.
The Bill will come into operation on 3 July and the first payments of the new benefit will be made on that date. The Bill also provides that any mother who lodges a claim for benefit before 30 September will receive payment from 3 July if she was a supporting mother and otherwise eligible on that date. The cost of the new benefit is expected to be $26m for 1973-74 but its value cannot be measured in terms of money alone. As I previously mentioned, it will place all supporting mothers with children in the same position as widows with children and will remove the unjustifiable discrimination which has hitherto existed. Its effect will perhaps be felt mainly by the children of the women concerned.
I now refer to the second of the Bills we are dealing with, the National Health Bill 1973. This Bill is complementary to. the provisions of the Social Services Bill (No. 3) 1973. Its purpose is to provide for the supply of hearing aids to supporting mothers suffering from defective hearing. The Bill provides for an amendment to section 9a of the National Health Act to make available to supporting mothers hearing aids on the same bases as apply to pensioners. Accordingly, the Bill provides for the issue of hearing aids to those supporting mothers who would be eligible for the new social service benefit under means test provisions at the level of those which came into force in 1 967.
Section 9a currently provides for the supply of hearing aids to pensioners at a charge of $10, and for the maintenance of the hearing aids so provided. It also provides for the supply of hearing aids and their maintenance without charge to persons under the age of 21 years. It is estimated that not more than 100 persons each year will require hearing aids under the provision.
Finally, the Government is proposing a third Bill which is also complementary to the Social Services Bill (No. 3), the. Broadcasting and Television Bill. The initial purpose of this Bill is to provide for concessional rate broadcasting listeners and television viewers licences to supporting mothers. Clause 5 of the Bill seeks to amend the definition of pensioner in section 128 of the Broadcasting and Television Act to include persons who are in receipt pf a supporting mothers benefit within the general definition of pensioner. This would enable supporting mothers to obtain the concessions offered in the terms of section 128.
At the same time the Broadcasting and Television Bill also takes the opportunity to amend the Act in respect of the rates of remuneration payable to the Chairman and other full time members of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and to the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The rates of remuneration fixed by sections 11 and 43 for the Chairman and other full time members of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and for the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission have been superseded by rates fixed by the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1973, which received the royal assent on 1 April 1973. It is therefore necessary to include in this Bill 2 clauses to amend those sections. These clauses are expressed to come into operation on royal assent. In other words, clauses 2 and 3 make no change in the salaries but merely bring the Broadcasting and Television Bill into line with the Remuneration and Allowances Act. I commend the 3 Bills to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Laucke) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of all or several of the Insurance Bill 1973, the Insurance (Deposits) Bill 1973 and the Life Insurance Bill 1973 being put in one motion at each stage and consideration of all or several of such Bills together in Committee of the Whole and as would prevent the reading of the short titles only on every order for the reading of the Bills.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bills (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) together read a first time.
– 1 am presenting these Bills to the Senate on behalf of my colleague the Special Minister of State, Senator Willesee. I move:
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
The purpose of the Insurance Bill is to establish a comprehensive system of supervision of general insurance. The present system under the Insurance Act 1932-1966, which allows persons to open insurance businesses on payment of a small deposit and leaves them free of any real supervision thereafter, is quite inadequate.
Under the Insurance Bill, those wishing to commence new insurance businesses in Australia will need to be bodies corporate which can meet the minimum standards of financial soundness laid down in the Bill. Existing insurers, that is, those carrying on insurance business in Australia on 9 December 1971, will be required to meet the same standards, except in special circumstances provided for in the Bill to meet the particular situations of some existing companies which are financially sound. Existing insurers who do not wish to continue business or who cannot meet the financial tests will be subject to transitional provisions, which could include investigations, for the purpose of their orderly withdrawal from the business. Special provisions have been made for Lloyd’s underwriters, who are not bodies corporate, to carry on Australian business subject to prescribed conditions.
After receiving an authority, an insurer will be obliged to maintain the prescribed standards and will be subject to continuous supervision. An authorised insurer who fails to maintain the required standards, or appears to be in danger of falling below the standards, will be subject to investigation. Following investigation, directions may be issued to the body corporate as to the future conduct of its business.
The Bill incorporates a number of improvements on the Insurance Bill 1972, which was introduced on 28 September 1972 but which lapsed when Parliament was dissolved. The style and presentation of the Bill has been improved in many ways, for example by the inclusion of a table of provisions, rearrangement of clauses and textual improvements which make the Bill easier to understand. Some changes of substance have been made after review in the light of comments received on the earlier Bill. In addition, the Bill contains a new Part to provide for the appointment of an insurance commissioner by the Governor-General subject to statutory terms and conditions of appointment.
The scope of the Bill is limited to the purpose to which I have referred - namely, the setting up of an effective system of supervision. There are various other aspects of general insurance which the Government wishes to look at more closely. They include the supervision of insurance brokers, for which legislation is being prepared, overseas ownership and control of insurance companies, which is at present under study, and the general question whether more needs to be done to protect policy owners and to safeguard the community’s interest in general insurance. It will, however, take time to complete the necessary investigations and the Government has decided that meanwhile the introduction of this Bill ought not to be deferred.
In this connection the Government has received a proposal that a committee of experts be established to examine ways in which the insurance legislation can be strengthened and improved. The question of establishing this committee is currently under examination and when a decision is made, I will inform the Senate. A more detailed outline of the main provisions that are embodied in the Bill are contained in an attachment to the speech which I shall incorporate in Hansard. As honourable senators are aware, the Australian Labor Party has been pressing for many years for reforms in the general insurance legislation and I am confident that this Bill will achieve considerable improvements in the industry.
The purpose of the Insurance (Deposits) Bill is to change the name of the Insurance Act 1932-1966 to the Insurance (Deposits) Act 1932-1973, to provide for the termination of the deposit requirement after the new system of supervision provided for in the Insurance Bill becomes fully effective and to provide for other matters consequential upon introduction of the Insurance Bill. Other than some minor drafting and printing changes, the Bill is the same as the Insurance (Deposits) Bill 1972, which was introduced into the House on 28 September 1972, but which was not debated and lapsed when Parliament dissolved.
The purpose of the Life Insurance Bill is to change the title of the statutory office in the Life insurance Act 1945-1965 from Insurance Commissioner to Life Insurance Commissioner, to avoid confusion with the statutory office of Insurance Commissioner provided for in the Insurance Bill 1973. Two minor technical amendments are also included which are designed to bring the legislation into line with current practice. The Bills are commended to honourable senators.
Part I of the Bill defines insurance business and the scope and application of the Bill. Provision is made for Parts I and II to come into operation on royal assent and for the remaining provisions to come into force by proclamation. The definition of insurance business is similar to that in the Insurance Act 1932-1966, but specific reference is made to reinsurance to avoid any doubts as to coverage, and there are some additions to the types of business excluded from the definition in that Act.
The conduct of insurance business by State Government bodies will not be subject to the provisions of the Bill. The liabilities of those bodies are guaranteed by the respective State governments. I mention, however, that the State governments have agreed that their insurance offices will co-operate in furnishing statistical information to the insurance commissioner.
Part II provides for the creation of the statutory office of Insurance Commissioner to administer the Act, subject to the direction of the Treasurer. Creation of this new office has necessitated the amendment to the Life Insurance Act 1945-1965 to change the name of the office under that Act to Life Insurance Commissioner.
The Insurance Commissioner will be appointed by the Governor-General and the terms and conditions of this appointment and the provisions for termination, suspension and resignation are spelt out in detail. Provision is also made for an Acting Commissioner and for the Commisioner’s staff.
Authority to carry on Insurance business
Part III provides for the granting of an authority to a body corporate and prescribes the conditions of financial soundness which must be maintained by an authorised insurer. The Part prohibits the carrying on of insurance business other than by a body corporate authorised under the Act or by a Lloyd’s underwriter.
I shall refer later to special conditions that will apply to Lloyd’s underwriters. In relation to the operation of bodies corporate, one of the main conditions of financial soundness is that the company must have and must maintain a margin of assets in Australia over liabilities in Australia equal to 15 per cent of premium income in Australia during the preceding financial year or $100,000, whichever is the greater.
Provision is also made in this Part for the cancellation of authorities in specified circumstances.
Part IV of the Bill requires accounts to be kept and audited accounts and statements to be furnished in prescribed form. It also deals with the appointment and duties of auditors. This is an important part of the legislation. The scope and accuracy of the information to be provided to the Commissioner will be important to the fully effective operation of the system of supervision.
The information furnished to the Commissioner will be processed and published as aggregates for general information. This will be an important by-product of the legislation because comprehensive statistical information on the general insurance industry in Australia has to date not been readily available.
Part V provides for the making of inquiries and for investigation of a body corporate where it is doubtful whether the body corporate can continue to meet its liabilities or to comply with the requirements of the Act. The investigation provisions are modelled on the corresponding provisions of the uniform companies Acts.
Following an investigation, the Treasurer may issue directions to the insurer as to the further conduct of its business. The intention is that every effort will be made to avoid the failure of a company.
Part VI establishes an insurance tribunal to hear appeals against administrative decisions under the legislation. These provisions are an important feature of the Bill. They give valuable right to an insurer or auditor to have a rehearing of decisions taken by the. Administration. Provision is also made for a question of law arising in proceedings before the Tribunal to be referred to the Commonwealth Industrial Court.
Part VII authorises the carrying on of insurance business in Australia by Lloyd’s underwriters, subject to compliance by the society of Lloyd’s with the provisions of this Part and the schedule.
Lloyd’s underwriters, being individuals with unlimited personal liability who operate in syndicates with other Lloyd’s underwriters, do not fit into the general supervisory scheme of the Bill which relates to bodies corporate. Special provisions are accordingly included for this class of insurer.
The main requirements are that the society of Lloyd’s will lodge Commonwealth securities with the Treasurer to the value of $500,000 and will also lodge a covenant or covenants by an Australian bank or banks in favour of the Treasurer equal in amount to the annual net premium income of Lloyd’s underwriters from their Australian business. These amounts will be available to satisfy final judgments obtained in Australia against Lloyd’s underwriters.
Provision is also made for the society of Lloyd’s to furnish such accounts and .statements as the Treasurer determines corre sponding as far as practicable to the accounts and statements to be furnished by bodies corporate under the legislation.
Effect of Act on other Laws
Part VIII provides for the protection of State legislation on insurance. There are many State laws which contain insurance provisions incidental to the main purposes of those laws and it is not intended to disturb the provisions in question. The protection does not, however, extend to allowing the States to make laws to authorise persons and bodies corporate to carry on insurance business generally.
Part IX protects existing State legislation which controls the whole field of general insurance, for transitional periods, to allow the Commonwealth legislation to take full effect. The only State which has such legislation is Queensland and under Part IX Federal supervision of insurance companies will take the place of State supervision in Queensland in stages over a period up to 2 years.
This Part also makes transitional arrangements for those currently carrying on insurance business who will not be able to meet the requirements of the Bill or who do not apply for an authority to carry on insurance business. These provisions, which aim at the orderly withdrawal of such persons and companies from the insurance market and include power to investigate where necessary, will be very important during the early years of the operation of the legislation.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cotton) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
– 1 present this Bill to the Senate on behalf of my colleague the Special Minister of State, Senator Willesee. I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - ls leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
This Bill is designed to place local government firmly within the framework of the federal system. The Government is determined to make the third tier of government a genuine partner in the system and to give local government adequate access to the nation’s finances. The Bill provides legislative authority for the Commonwealth Grants Commission to inquire into and report upon . applications by local governing authorities for financial assistance from the Australian Government. It continues the Grants Commission’s role in respect of applications by States for special financial assistance. We propose that the Grants Commission should now play the same role in reducing inequalities between regions as it has between the States since 1933.
The role of the Grants Commission has been confined hitherto to State activities covering one-third of the Australian population. This Bill will extend the role of the Commission to the larger States and the larger cities of Australia. The legislation implements a firm undertaking which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) gave on behalf of the Austrian Labor Party at the last election. Mr N. H. Bowen in another place remarked that the Bill was in accordance with statements made by Mr Whitlam in both 1971 and 1972. Mr N. H. Bowen also said in relation to the Bill that ‘this issue was put very fully from time to time before the Australian people, and at the last election they voted the present Labor Government into power. We in the Opposition accept and face that position’.
The Government firmly espouses the need for the national Government to supplement local government finances to enable those authorities to perform their increasingly important and wide-ranging functions. It will be noted that the Bill provides for the repeal of the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1933, as amended, and for a new Act, to be known as the Grants Commission Act 1973, to replace it.
This new Act makes provision for the continuation of the Grants Commission’s role in respect of applications by States for special grants. The automatic right of claimant States to have their applications referred to the Commission for inquiry and report is in no way diminished. The opportunity has been taken, however, to make minor alterations to the precise terms used in the Bill to make them consistent with the practice which has prevailed since the very beginnings of the Grants Commission’s activities in 1933. Clause 16 (a) of the Bill, read in conjunction with clause 5, makes it quite clear that the applications by States for grants that will be considered by the Grants Commission are those in respect of section 96 grants for special assistance, for the purpose of making it possible for the State, by reasonable effort, to function at a standard not appreciably below the standards of other States. This is, of course, the way in which the States have exercised their rights under the existing legislation.
Of the many kinds of applications made by the States for assistance, only one has been inquired into and reported upon by the Commission - namely, applications by claimant States for special grants. The provisions in the present Act for the Commission to inquire into and report upon any matters relating to a section 96 grant which has been made to a State and upon matters relating to the making of a section 96 grant to a State are retained. In each case the inquiries will be undertaken only if the matters are referred to the Commission by the responsible Minister. A/1 reports of the Commission, including those on applications by any of the States for special financial assistance, under the new legislation will be made to the responsible Minister. Previously the Government was required to have the Governor-General refer matters to the Commission for inquiry and the Commission’s reports, as a consequence, were required to be made to the Governor-General.
The main provisions in relation to applications by local governing bodies for financial assistance are contained in clauses 6, 17 and 18 and, in essential detail, are similar to those in relation to State applications for special financial assistance, with 2 important qualifications. Firstly, all such applications must be lodged with the Special Minister of State who may, in his discretion, refer them to the Commission for inquiry and report. I should mention here that the exercise of this discretion is intended to ensure that only those applications that conform with the requirements of the legislation are referred to the Commission. The Act will require a regional organisation making an application to the Minister to send a copy of its application to the appropriate Minister in the State Government so that the Minister may be aware of the details of the application and be in a position to make submissions to the Commission on any matter related to the application. Further, the Commission will be required to consider submissions, made to it by State Ministers, the Treasurer and the Minister for Urban and Regional Development on any matters relating to applications by regional organisations for financial assistance but this will not preclude the Commission from pursuing its inquiries in any way it sees fit.
The second qualification is that applications will be considered only from local governing organisations or bodies approved by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development as an approved regional organisation for the purposes of this Act. There are nearly 900 local governing authorities in the 6 States and clearly the limitation of the right of application to the Commission to regional groupings is the practical way of making the prospective task of the Commission manageable The groupings of authorities into regions and the approval of regional organisations will be carried out in full consultation with the States. To provide a degree of flexibility, provision has been made for the Minister, in special circumstances, to approve a single local governing body as a regional organisation for the purposes of the Act.
Honourable senators will be aware that during its passage through the lower House, a number of amendments were accepted by the Government and incorporated into the Bill. The most important of these translated into a statutory requirement an assurance given by the Prime Minister during the debate that State governments were to be consulted at appropriate stages of the operation of the scheme provided in the Bill. lt should be clearly understood that the financial assistance to local governing bodies which will flow from the Commission’s recommendations will in no way be a substitute for the revenues normally raised by them by long established methods such as rates and charges for services, nor will it replace assistance normally provided by State governments to local governing bodies in one way or another. Rather, it will be in the nature of a topping-up’ process of the financial resources of lesser endowed bodies to enable them, by reasonable revenue raising efforts on their part, to provide a standard of services to their communities that will be comparable with that enjoyed by communities elsewhere. I should perhaps emphasise that: Firstly, such assistance as is granted will be in the form of section 96 grants paid to the States in the first instance; secondly, applications for assistance with single purpose or specific developmental projects will not be the concern of the Grants Commission; and thirdly, applications will not be accepted from semi-government authorities and business undertakings operated by local governing bodies.
I turn now to what might be termed the machinery provisions of the Bill. The additional task that the Commission will be required to undertake under this legislation is one of considerable magnitude and importance. The present Commission consisting of a part-time Chairman and 2 part-time members could not be expected to cope with both State and local government applications for financial assistance. The Bill, therefore, provides for a full-time Chairman and from 4 to 6 members appointed on either a full-time or part-time basis. It is envisaged that the Chairman and 2 part-time members would continue the task of inquiring into and reporting upon State applications and up to 4 full-time members,, under the aegis of the Chairman, would undertake the task of inquiring into and reporting upon applications from approved regional organisations of local governing bodies. Clause 26 of the Bill provides for the continuity of appointments to the Commission made under the repealed Acts and of the inquiries into State applications for special financial assistance referred to the Commission under those Acts.
It is appropriate to mention that the Government is indeed fortunate that the present Chairman of the Grants Commission, Sir Leslie Melville, has agreed to continue as a full-time Chairman for the remainder of his present term of office which expires at the end of September next year. Sir Leslie is one of Australia’s most distinguished economists and has served on the Commission since 1965. His great experience in this area will be invaluable in the formative period of the proposed enlarged activity of the Commission. For the additional members, the . Government will be looking to persons with wide knowledge of local government administrative and accounting practices to assist in the important task ahead.
Clauses 8 to 13 of the Bill contain the usual provisions governing the appointment of members of commissions, including acting members, and the terms under which they hold appointment. It provides for terms of appointment of from one to 5 years as it may not be possible in some instances to obtain the services of an otherwise eminently suitable person to serve on the Commission for a full term of 5 years. Clause 14 provides for the conduct of meetings of the full Commission and Clause15 sets out the duties of the Chairman in the conduct of the Commission’s business.
Clause 19 enables the Chairman to create divisions within the Commission, which will exercise the powers of the Commission for the purpose of conducting inquiries and reporting on applications from States and local governing regional organisations. This is required because it will be necessary for a number of inquiries to be conducted concurrently if the Commission is to accomplish its tasks by the required time each year. Clauses 20 to 24 provide for the conduct of inquiries, the taking of evidence by and the giving of evidence to the Commission. Clause 27 provides for the making of regulations, not inconsistent with the Act, should this prove necessary.
The Commission will be required to report to the Minister on the outcome of all its inquiries into applications referred to it, whether these be applications by States or by local governing bodies. Clause 25 requires the Minister to table these reports in each House before a proposed law relating to the subject of the report is introduced into Parliament. The Minister may, if he chooses to do so, attach to such reports any comment that he thinks proper. This continues a similar provision under the previous legislation and I am sure that members who have studied the Commission’s past reports will agree that they are most useful documents for any person with an interest in the financial relations between the various levels of government in Australia. I am equally sure that anyone who has the interests of the 3 levels of government in the federation at heart will look forward with very great interest to the Grants Com mission’s report on its inquiries into the financial needs of local governing bodies.
The Bill represents an historic step forward in advancing and enhancing the role of local government in Australia. It is a key part of. our new charter for local government. I commend it to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cotton) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cavanagh) read a first time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows) -
When the previous Government presented the Airlines Agreements Bill 1972 to the Senate on 26 October 1972, the then Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, included in his second reading speech the following statement:
It is the intention of this Government, therefore, to introduce in the first sittings of the new Parliament, a Bill amending the Australian National Airlines Act so that there is no question about TransAustralia Airlines having the powers enabling it to engage in activities closely related to airline operation and to give effect to the Government’s decisions.
That Bill was initially introduced in the House of Representatives, and during the debate on the Bill in that Chamber it was made clear that the matters referred to by the Minister were such things as aviation engineering work for outside organisations, the handling of Commonwealth contracts, the establishment and operation of hotels and other kinds of accommodation, the establishment and operation of road transport services, the acquisition of subsidiaries or shareholdings in companies or the establishment of subsidiaries for the purposes of the Australian
National Airlines Commission, aerial work and charter operations, and operations in Papua New Guinea after independence.
The amendment of the Australian National Airlines Act to widen Trans-Australia Airlines powers is one matter concerning which this Government is in complete agreement with the previous Government. It therefore has no hesitation in bringing foward this Bill, which is designed to give TAA the additional powers mentioned so that it will be in a fair and equitable position compared with Ansett Transport Industries Ltd in respect of its operations under the two-airline policy.
I need not go into the Bill in any detail. The main provisions deal with matters on which the Government and the Opposition are in agreement, and I need only comment briefly on certain items. Firstly, the Government believes that it ought to be possible to appoint 7 Commissioners to run TAA, instead of six as at present, and that the Act should enable the General Manager to be appointed as a Commissioner, with the same rights and responsibilities as other Commissioners. Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill are included for these purposes.
Clause 5 sets out the basic functions of the Commission. It largely restates existing functions in different language, but adds the power to transport passengers and goods by land as well as by air, or partly by each means, and to provide for the Commonwealth aviation, land transport and engineering services and other services which are within its resources. In effect, this is one of the provisions which the previous Government indicated it would introduce.
If TAA is to be in a position to compete effectively under the two-airline policy, it must be able to provide aviation services within a State when it is authorised to do so by the State Government concerned. Clause 6 is designed to enable TAA to operate intrastate services, not only in Queensland and Tasmania where it already has the power to do so, but in any State where the State Parliament refers the matter of air transport to the Commonwealth or adopts the relevant part of the Commonwealth Act. This provision is also one which the previous Government would have had to introduce in order to honour its undertakings given last year.
Clause 7 inserts in the Act provisions enabling TAA to provide air and land transport services within a State, and to engage in other activities within a State when authorised to do so by State legislation. In addition, it provides for the other activities on which there is agreement that TAA should have full powers, namely: (a) aerial work operations; (b) the operation of hotels and other forms of accommodation; (c) joint operations with other carriers; (d) air transport operations in Papua New Guinea, after that country becomes independent, under arrangements which are agreed between the Commonwealth and the Government of that country; and (e) engineering services for outside organisations.
The clause also restates the powers of the Commission to engage in activities incidental to its basic functions and in particular authorises it to participate in a company or partnership for the purposes of carrying out those functions. The remaining clauses of the Bill are designed to introduce amendments to the Act consequential upon the provisions I have mentioned, or to bring up-to-date the financial provisions of the Act. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Cavanagh) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of all or several of the Housing Agreement Bill 1973, the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1973 and the States Grants (Housing) Bill 1973 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of all or several of such Bills together in Committee of the Whole and as would prevent the reading of the short titles only on every order for the reading of the Bills.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bills (on motion by Senator Cavanagh) together read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
I ask leave to incorporate in Hansard a composite second reading speech for the 3 Bills.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - ls leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows) -
The 3 Bills that have been introduced - the Housing Agreement Bill 1973, the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1973 and the States Grants (Housing) Bill 1973 - are all inter-related. The purpose of the Housing Agreement Bill 1973 is to obtain parliamentary approval for the Commonwealth to execute an agreement with each State that will be substantially in accordance with the form contained in the Schedule to this Bill.
The agreement provides that, during each of the 5 years commencing in 1973-74, the Commonwealth will make advances at low rates of interest to the States for welfare housing purposes. Unlike the housing assistance offered to the States by the former Government, we propose, and the agreement provides, that our assistance will henceforth be directed towards those families and persons most in need of it. No less than 85 per cent of the family homes to be built by State housing authorities with our advances will be allocated to families in which the average gross weekly income of the main breadwinner (exclusive of any overtime and child endowment payments) does not exceed 85 per cent of average weekly earnings per employed male unit as denned in the Agreement. Where the family includes more than two children, this will be increased by $2 per week for each child after the second. Those eligible will be mainly the lower income families who are paying too high a proportion of their incomes in private rents or are living in unsatisfactory accommodation. The State housing authorities may also use our advances to build homes for couples without dependants where the main breadwinner is an aged person or an invalid with a gross weekly income that does not exceed about 60 per cent of average weekly earnings. A single aged person or an invalid will also be eligible to obtain a Housing Authority unit where his or her income does not exceed 40 per cent of average weekly earnings. These families and persons include the majority of those in need of decent accommodation at a modest price. The Australian Government is determined to ensure that more of this type of accommodation will be built by the State housing authorities than has been built in recent years.
In recognition of the high cost of constructing a home in some remote areas of Australia and in areas where incomes are on average far higher than in the capital cities, the Minister for Housing may approve for those areas somewhat higher needs tests than those that will apply generally throughout the States. To those who will claim that the needs tests to be applied by State housing authorities are too restrictive, our reply is that those most in need of housing assistance, certainly the majority of applicants on the waiting lists of the States, are persons with relatively low incomes, and that, even with expanded government home building programs, it will be some years before the housing needs of all these persons are met. It is, of course, open to any State to use portion of its approved borrowings or semi-governmental borrowings to build homes for those less in need. The emphasis of our assistance is on the needy.
I wish to make it perfectly clear, Mr Deputy President, that despite this emphasis it is not the Australian Government’s intention that a person who is living in a State housing authority dwelling should be asked to find other accommodation if his income rises above the needs test level. I mention this matter because statements have been made recently, especially in Victoria, that this is our intention. There is absolutely no truth in those statements. Subject to the granting of priorities in cases of urgent need, dwellings provided with our advances shall be allocated to persons in the order in which their applications are lodged or accepted by the housing authority.
The agreement also provides that each State will ensure that the number of family dwellings allocated by its housing authority to families who satisfy the needs test shall not be less than the total number of family dwellings built with our advances that become available during the year for allocation for the first time, and 25 per cent of the number of family dwellings constructed by the States with financial assistance under this and previous Commonwealth-State Housing Agreements that become available during the year for reallocation.
Although there is no reference in the agreement to the maximum rents that may be charged on the dwellings to be built with our advances, this does not mean that the Australian Government is unconcerned about the level of rents to be charged. Indeed, we are most concerned to ensure that the benefit of our housing assistance in the form of a very low rate of interest be passed on to needy families and persons. The Minister for Housing has suggested to the States that rents charged to families with incomes close to the upper limit of the needs test should not exceed 22i per cent of those incomes and that the proportions of income paid in rent should be reduced as income declines. The States have accepted these guidelines.
Infrequent and large increases in rents should be avoided. The agreement provides that at least once in each financial year each State shall review the financial position in regard to the rental activities of its housing authority and shall ensure that rents are adjusted whenever an increase would appear to be justified.
Whilst the Government is firmly convinced that those most in need of housing assistance are families and persons who are seeking rental accommodation, we are certainly not opposed to home-ownership. Under the proposed agreement up to 30 per cent of the family dwellings built by housing authorities with our advances may be sold at a fair price to families who satisfy the needs test. For the most part, these will be families who would be unable to borrow privately the finance they need to buy or build a home. The interest charge to purchasers, including costs of administration, shall not be more than 51 per cent per annum.
As it is our policy to assist the States to build up a reasonable stock of government homes and so reduce the existing far too lengthy waiting periods in most States, the agreement provides that a purchaser may not dispose of the dwelling, except by reversion to the housing authority, for at least five years after the date of sale. It is recommended that subsequent intending vendors of these homes be required to give the Housing Authority first option to purchase at a fair market value at that time.
It has been the practice of the Tasmanian housing department to sell a very high proportion of newly-completed homes. Because of this, we have agreed that that department will be permitted to sell 50 per cent of the homes built with our advances during the first year of completions (1974) and 40 per cent of the homes built during the second year of completions (1975). Thereafter the 30 per cent ceiling on sales of new homes will apply to all parties to the Agreement.
We have not overlooked the most helpful role of the co-operative terminating housing societies in assisting lower income families to own their own homes. Whilst we intend to persuade private lending institutions to make significantly more long-term finance available at a reasonable rate of interest for the formation of more co-operative terminating housing societies, we also recognise that this movement will continue to be dependent on receiving a continuing flow of government finance to maintain a desirable level of activity. The agreement therefore provides that not less than 20 per cent nor more than 30 per cent of the welfare housing advances by the Commonwealth to a State in a year shall be paid into a home builders’ account to be lent to prospective home-owners through co-operative terminating housing societies or a lending authority of a State approved by the Commonwealth. However, at the request of a State Minister and in respect of a State in which the annual allocation to its home builders’ account in each of the 2 financial years immediately preceding 1 July 1973 has exceeded 30 per cent of total new advances for welfare housing, the Commonwealth Minister may approve an advance to its home builders’ account in a year in excess of 30 per cent of the total Commonwealth advance in that year. This will avoid a disruption of the flow of housing finance to low-income prospective home-owners in South Australia.
In line with our policy of ensuring that our housing advances for welfare purposes benefit the more needy, applicants eligible to receive home builders’ account advances will include a married or engaged couple and a single parent or guardian with one or more children, where the average gross weekly income of the main breadwinner, inclusive of overtime but excluding child endowment payments, does not exceed 95 per cent of average weekly earnings, plus $2 a week for each child beyond the second. The Minister may approve higher needs tests for areas in which average incomes and costs are much higher than the general levels in the State.
The minimum deposit to be found by a borrower of home builders’ account funds shall be 3 per cent of the value of the property in respect of which the loan is made. The maximum interest charge, including management fee, on these loans is not to exceed the equivalent of St per cent per annum.
The agreement provides that each State shall advise the Commonwealth Minister before the commencement of each financial year of the amounts it wishes the Commonwealth to advance during the financial year. After consultation with the State Minister, the Commonwealth Minister shall determine the amount to be advanced to the State during the financial year for expenditure by its housing authority and to be allocated to its home builders’ account. All advances shall be repayable over 53 years with interest in equal annual instalments. The interest rate payable by a State on Commonwealth advances allotted to its housing authority in each of the next five financial years shall be 4 per cent per annum, and on advances allotted to its home builders’ account shall be 41 per cent per annum.
Commonwealth advances allotted to a State housing authority may be used by the authority:
Mr President, I wish to draw the attention of honourable senators to the last two purposes for which our advances may be used. In many cities there are dwellings close to the centre that are in need of upgrading and renovation if they are not to be condemned as unfit for human occupation. They are ideally situated in relation to amenities and work opportunities, and all essential services are available. When renovated, they can not only provide decent homes for families for many years, but can also improve the quality of the residential environment. We wish to encourage the States to acquire such homes, and to upgrade and renovate them, where this can be done at reasonable cost.
The Government is also concerned at the frequent absence of essential community amenities in many new estates developed largely by State housing authorities. In developing areas where the local authority is not yet receiving its full potential revenue from general rates, the Government is willing to approve the temporary use of portion of our housing advances in order to accelerate the provision of essential community facilities where a satisfactory arrangement is entered into between the local and housing authorities.
It is the policy of the Government to avoid the development by State housing authorities of estates in which almost all the residents are in receipt of government housing assistance: there is a tendency on the part of some people to regard families living in those areas as being second class citizens. We are determined to do our best to prevent such unfair social discrimination. To this end the agreement provides that, to the maximum extent reasonably practicable, dwellings built with housing authority advances shall be intermingled with dwellings privately constructed, and a State housing authority will acquire some blocks in residential areas developed by private enterprise, and will construct and let dwellings on those blocks.
Our intention is that our welfare housing advances will not be part of State programs approved by the Australian Loan Council. During the process of negotiation of this Agreement, all State Housing Ministers sought certain assurances in respect of borrowing to be approved by the Loan Council and the minimum allocation for works (including any housing other than welfare housing). Ground-clearing exercises have been carried out by Australian and State Treasury officers so that, at the June 1973 meeting of the Loan Council, Ministers may consider what would be necessary to ensure that what is done on housing does not in itself prejudice the positions of the States on the Loan Council program side when all factors are taken into account. However, as the Government wishes to be in a position to offer the States advances for welfare housing from 1 July next, it is important that the legislation to authorise it to enter into this agreement, and make advances, be approved by the Parliament during the current sittings.
The purpose of the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1973 is to authorise the Treasurer to make advances totalling $84,600,000 to the States for welfare housing during the first six months of 1973-74.
The repayable, interest bearing advances will, as circumstances dictate, be made from either the Consolidated Revenue Fund or the Loan Fund and will be on the terms and conditions set out in the agreement to be made between the Commonwealth and each State in pursuance of the Housing Agreement Bill. Provision is made for any payments out of Consolidated Revenue Fund for this purpose to be reimbursed in due course from Loan Fund where the Treasurer considers this appropriate.
The maximum amount payable to each State is set out in the Schedule to the Bill and is equivalent to half the amount allocated by each State from its Loan Council programs for housing purposes in 1972-73. The advances of these amounts are intended to be made under the Housing Agreement to provide for the States’ needs for housing funds in the early months of 1973-74. The total amount to be advanced to each State in 1973- 74 for welfare housing purposes, which is yet to be determined, will be the subject of an authorising Bill to be introduced into Parliament during the Budget sittings.
The purpose of the Bill to amend the States Grants (Housing) Act 1971 is to withdraw the Commonwealth assistance to the States in the form of a grant of $2.75 million a year for 30 years in respect of any advances they may make to their housing authorities and their home builders’ accounts during the 3 financial years commencing 1 July 1973. The basic housing grant of $2.75m per year in respect of State housing activities in each of the financial years 1971-72 and 1972-73 will continue to be paid for the remainder of the 30 year periods in respect of those years.
As 1 have explained, it is intended that from 1 July next the bulk of the Commonwealth’s offer of housing assistance to the States will be in the form of advances at a highly concessional rate of interest under an agreement. It is proposed, under the agreement, that the Commonwealth Minister will determine the amount of welfare housing advances to each State during the next 5 years, so that the Australian Government will be able to ensure that an increasing flow of finance will be available to the States to enable them to expand the construction of homes for needy persons and families.
May I draw to the attention of honourable senators that this Bill does not withdraw the offer of a grant of $1.25m per annum for the next 3 years to the States as a contribution towards the cost to them of the losses they incur in letting a number of dwellings at less than their economic rents.
Debate (on motion by Senator Laucke) adjourned.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - I inform the Senate that I have received letters from the leaders of the parliamentary parties in the Senate nominating Senators Byrne, Cant, Cotton, Guilfoyle, McAuliffe, Maunsell, Poke and Wilkinson to be members of the Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That the senators nominated be appointed members of the Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I inform the Senate that I have received letters from the leaders of the parliamentary parties in the Senate and from Senator Townley nominating Senators Durack, Kane, James McClelland, Mulvihill, Townley, Webster, Wheeldon to be members of the Select Committee on Civil Rights of Migrant Australians.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That the senators nominated in accordance with the resolution of the Senate be appointed members of the Select Committee on Civil Rights of Migrant Australians.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Papua New Guinea Loan Guarantee Bill 1973.
Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Bill 1973.
Crimes Bill 1973.
Crimes (Protection of Aircraft) Bill 1973.
Marriage Bill 1973.
Consideration resumed (vide page 1993.)
– The question is:
That the new sub-clause proposed to be inserted in clause 18 be inserted.
– I do not want to take up the time of the Committee but I wish to advert to one or two features of this legislation. Clause 12 states:
A member shall not take part in any inquiry in relation to a matter in which he has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest.
I suggest to the Government that it has got itself into an unworkable position. There is practically no area of examination of a justification of prices in which a member will not find himself, or all members will not find themselves, at any point of time to have an indirect pecuniary interest. Let us assume that a member is called upon to inquire into the price of cigarettes. All smokers will have an indirect pecuniary interest in whether the price of cigarettes is increased. I wonder whether the Government should not look at that clause to see whether it cannot reframe it to try to make it work. Looking at the clause from a common sense point of view, it will be capable of challenge before the Tribunal on a wide range of circumstances and interests. The Government might not admit this but the practical effect of it will be that in the 350 companies, with a turnover of the amount of which the Government is speaking, which include in many cases retail stores, one will find it difficult to find a member without an indirect pecuniary interest in most areas of price increases. I put it to the Government for consideration. 1 put to the Government also that this piece of legislation could well be withdrawn and put together again in a more precise, workable and less dangerous form. That is the suggestion I make to the Government. I have also a very clear view that the legislation ought to have a definite time limit. It ought perhaps to be called up in 2 years, at the maximum, for resubmission to the Parliament as a whole. That, again, is a suggestion, not an amendment. The Senate ought to have regard to how good a piece of legislation is, and if it is capable of being improved to make it work then one would seek to do that. The 2 suggestions I make, therefore, are firstly, that the qualifications and disqualifications of members of the Tribunal should be examined more precisely - 1 think they are unreal and unworkable - and secondly, that a time limit on the legislation is well worthy of consideration.
– I will comment briefly. I know that Senator Cotton has put these proposals forward as suggestions. To use his own word, the answer to his question in relation to clause 12 is that common sense would have to be used. This position arises in many situations. After all, a member of a Cabinet is always expected to withdraw from any discussion concerning something in which he has a pecuniary interest or an indirect pecuniary interest. Senator Cotton took the example of smoking. I suppose that we could pick drinking in relation to an inquiry into a brewery. A person could be said to be interested because of the fact that he liked an occasional glass of beer. Even senators have been known to like an occasional glass of beer. People appointed to this Tribunal would be persons of standing and of common sense. I do not think that the case which Senator Cotton mentioned is a real example. Clause 12 means that if a person is a director of a company concerned in an inquiry or a company that trades with the company into which an inquiry is being made, that person should not take part in that inquiry. I take on board what he has said. I do not think any real worry arises in this respect. Referring to his suggestion that the Bill as a whole should be withdrawn, as I said earlier today, this is the first time in our history that legislation to set up a body of this type has been introduced in the Parliament. Do not worry if it does not work. The matter will certainly come back to the Parliament for fresh instructions in that case.
– Mr Temporary Chairman, could you indicate whether the Committee is debating the amendment seeking to add the additional sub-clauses or whether we are dealing with the Bill clause by clause?
– Order! The Bill is being taken as a whole. An amendment seeking to add new sub-clauses has been moved by Senator Willesee. The question relating to that amendment is before the Chair at the moment. But any clause of the Bill can be debated at this point.
– I wish to address myself to the sub-clauses which Senator Willesee has moved should be added to clause 18. Am I in order in doing that?
– Yes, you are in order.
– 1 find the proposals contained in this motion astounding.
– In the amendment or in the motion?
– 1 am speaking to the amendment, which I find astounding and highly disturbing. I really wonder whether the Government and Senator Willesee on its behalf are really fully aware of the implications of the amendment. I wonder that even more so having heard Senator Willesee’s explanation. The new sub-clauses affect the major provision of this Bill, namely, the requirement of a company to notify the Tribunal of proposed price increases and then to submit to investigation by the Tribunal. That »s the whole reason for appointing the Tribunal. The basis of this Bill can be negatived and set aside if the Tribunal in accordance with the proposed sub-clauses can simply exempt a company or a group of companies from the requirements of clause 18 or some portion of it. This is not simply a case of exempting a company or a group of companies from the requirement to give notice of a price rise. The clear import of the sub-clauses from my reading of them - there is no ambiguity; they are quite clear - is that the Tribunal will have this enormous discretion to exempt any particular company or to set aside the basic requirement of this legislation in respect of one company or a group of companies. That is quite clear. T do not believe that Senator Willesee really understands that that was the import of his amendment. He seemed to play down the effect of the amendment when he spoke to it.
I cannot believe that a Parliament would pass legislation requiring price justification on the part of a broad spectrum of citizens - in this case, companies with an annual turnover of more than $20m - and as a matter of policy, having required that to be done and price rises to be investigated and justified, at the same time give the power to perhaps 2 or 3 people who are members of this Tribunal to set aside that requirement imposed by Parliament, in respect of that policy of the Government, without any reference to Parliament again. I would find that a complete abrogation of the responsibility of Parliament and of the Government that proposed it, did it or sought to do it. I find it impossible to support such a proposition.
I can see the reason why the Government seeks agreement to this amendment. It does so because the proposition in its own legislation is utterly unworkable and ridiculous. It is trying now to salvage something from the utter wreckage of its own proposals. Why should we as a Parliament be expected to abrogate one of our prime responsibilities as members of Parliament in order to get the Government off the hook with respect to its hopeless legislation?
The only possible justification for such a request to Parliament would be that any exemption which was proposed should be made by regulation so that Parliament itself could oversee what was being done and thereby Parliament would keep some control over the exemptions that were being made and the abrogations of policy. That is what this is. The amendment proposes that Parliament shall lay down an abrogation of policy. At least, if this discretion were exercised by regulation, Parliament could keep an eye on it. This amendment proposed by Senator Willesee relates to certain action by this Tribunal which, when all is said and done, in some cases can meet with a quorum of only 2 people. The amendment seeks to give the Tribunal the power to set aside completely the basic provision of this legislation. I emphasise again that the clause with respect to which exemption can be given is the basic provision in and the whole purpose of this legislation. But it can be set aside by 2 people without reference or any responsibility to the Parliament. As I said, I just do not believe that Senator Willesee and the Government really fully comprehend the enormity of the proposal put to the Senate in this amendment.
– I think that Senator Durack has raised here a matter of some gravity. I hope that Senator Willesee, on behalf of the Government, will understand that it is a matter of gravity. The amendment is by no means precise. Proposed new sub-clause (8) of clause 18 reads*.
I assumed that that means the full tribunal: . . may, by resolution, authorise the Chairman - On one reading of that portion of the amendment, one. member of the Tribunal could in writing authorise the Chairman. That proposition seems to be quite unreal and I imagine that that is not what is wished to be achieved by the amendment; but that is what could be read into it.
The other . problem is this: The Tribunal may by resolution authorise the Chairman to exclude a particular company or a group of companies or indeed all companies from the application of clause 18. How does this proposal overcome the situation in which a company is excluded from examination for a period while another company is not excluded? How are the grounds of justice and injustice to be established? How is the Government in effect to cover this position as it will affect companies operating in the same field?
These are. genuine queries which the Opposition addresses to the Government. In the course of this debate we have expressed our great concern, because we believe that we are dealing with what is an unworkable proposition which will not achieve the result which it is designed to achieve. This legislation has within it immense areas of misunderstanding and to some extent intimidation and possible victimisation which cause all members of the Opposition great concern indeed.
– When the amendment was moved by the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee), I sought to satisfy myself as to what the Government in actual fact was attempting to do by using the wording that it has used in the amendment. I hope that Senator Willesee may feel that honourable senators have a genuine interest in understanding fully what is meant by the wording. I listened closely to the explanation which the Minister gave when he moved his amendment. It seemed from his explanation that the provision did not refer to particular companies. Rather, it seemed to relate to something that would be more attractive to me, that is, the exemption of particular lines of goods. For instance, representatives of the retail trade may pay a visit to the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and explain the great difficulty that is created for the retail trade by this Bill. A large emporium may have some 200,000 items which, under clause 16 of the Bill which refers to the functions of the Tribunal, could be considered to be items of a particular description. Later I intend to take up with the Minister what is meant by the words ‘of a particular description’. Perhaps he can ask his advisers to give him some information as to what those words mean. But it is a fact that the larger retail stores could have a multiplicity of items which, under the provisions of the main part of the Bill, they cannot move without the agreement of the Tribunal.
It appears to me that the amendment has been introduced in an attempt to overcome that problem. But the wording is so uncommon; it does not relate to a particular line of goods. Previously I referred to toothpaste, which is a domestic item, and to the fact that the Tribunal could decide that there should be no great rise in the price of toothpaste. But that is not a line of goods that can be restricted or freed by the Tribunal. The wording in this amendment reads:
The Tribunal may, by resolution, authorise the Chairman to exempt a specified company, or companies . . .
Failing any explanation from the Minister or in the documents that we have before us, this raises very great doubts in my mind. Surely one would be forgiven for having some query when the amendment refers to the exemption of a particular company. It is interesting to note that the amendment continues: . . included in a specified class of companies .. .
Nowhere in this Bill is there a description of what is a specified class of companies. If one looks at what are specified classes of companies in the Companies Act, one finds that there are non-profit companies or proprietary limited companies or public companies. They are the only legally specified classes of companies, with one or two others. The amendment refers to companies included in a specified class of companies being exempted.
Failing a description of a specified class of companies being given in the Bill, does it mean that this Tribunal may grant this exemption to all public companies? They would be a specified class of companies. But the amendment does not say that the Tribunal may exempt retail companies. They are not specified as being of a special or particular class. If we have a Government that is willing to say that a specified company should be exempted - and I do not doubt from the wording of the Bill that the Minister in charge will be advising the Tribunal as to what it should do - what will cause the Tribunal to exempt a specified company? I can well imagine that a company trading in a particular line of goods may be specified. But here we have it that one company can be specified.
What causes me concern is that it is not beyond a Government Minister to grant very special preference to one particular company. We have seen this happen in the Australian Capital Territory within the last couple of weeks. A large manufacturing company, Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd, is known to be a financier of the Labor Party’s mid-term election campaign. It is not known generally, but this is the company which provided the fare for Dr Fitzgerald on his first visit to China with the members of the Labor Party.
– Senator Webster, to what particular clause of the Bill are you relating your remarks?
– It is a good wink that you put in, Mr Temporary Chairman, so I will really give it to you. I am relating them to clause 1 8, sub-clause (7).
– I would suggest that you do not canvass my ruling too much. You might find yourself in a little bit of trouble.
– Mr Temporary Chairman. I am not canvassing your ruling; I am answering your question. I am relating my remarks to clause 18, sub-clause (7). It refers to exemptions being given to specified companies. I hope the Minister will tell us why specified companies are to be exempted. I have mentioned specified lines of goods. Suppose a company is trading in tomatoes. I understand that by regulation a particular line of goods such as that can be exempted. But why can a particular company be exempted? It is a danger to the community if favoured companies or companies which are known to be attracted to a particular side of the political philosophies in this country are given a benefit. That is abhorrent to me and I referred to the situation concerning Marrickville Margarine.
There is no argument as to what has happened there. That company is known - and it has been very happy to be known - to be attracted to the philosophies and policies of the Labor Party. I think that that company is happy to have it known that it has contributed. Senator McLaren argues about the point. I do not know whether he does not believe it. But what has yet to be given to the Senate is the reason why Marrickville Mar garine was selected out of all the good Australian manufacturing companies and given a right to manufacture margarine in the Australian Capita] Territory when the arrangements that existed were arrived at on a nationwide basis agreed to between the Commonwealth Minister for Primary Industry and the State Ministers for Agriculture. Why was Marrickville Margarine given this right? We have not as yet heard the answer. It appears to me the answer is that it is a favour to a company which is conducive to one particular philosophy.
I hope that while we are discussing the Prices Justification Bill a good answer will be given as to why the Government wishes the Committee to accept this amendment which in part reads:
The Tribunal may, by resolution, authorise the Chairman to exempt a specified company, or companies included in a specified class of companies
Will the Minister please attempt to give the Committee the general reason why that amendment has been moved?
– I do not think that Senator Durack really was serious when he said that there could be a situation in which the Tribunal could exempt completely the very thing that it is being set up to do.
– That is what is contained in the amendment.
– I know that the honourable senator is saying but surely he is not seriously suggesting that the Government will set up a tribunal composed of responsible people in the community and then, under this clause, exempt everything that it should be investigating. 1 think that Senator Webster was right on the ball in the first part of his speech but then he got involved in politics and suggested that the Minister could say that because he liked the cut of a fellow running a company he would give him a break. 1 suppose this could have been done for donkey’s years by the Grants Commission or by the Tariff Board but it has never happened. Honourable people in the community have been appointed to carry out a specified job laid down by the Parliament and they have done so. The results can be seen in the history of Australia. Following Senator Webster’s argument, over the last 23 years the former governments could have told the Grants Commis- sion not to do anything for States run by Labor governments. Of course they did not do so, and of course the Grants Commission would never have listened to such a suggestion if it was ever made. I know that previous governments would never have suggested such a thing.
Some honourable senators seem to think that this amendment should not be passed. I am happy to put it before the Committee and to have it accepted or rejected, and I suggest that we do that quickly. Why was this amendment moved? It was moved because some members of the business community waited on the Treasurer, Mr Crean, and pointed out the difficulties involved.
– Which area of the business community?
– I do not know. Mr Crean spoke to me and told me that an amendment would be moved. He said it had been pointed out that there would be difficulties and he thought that that was right. He said that, therefore, the Government should take the advice and amend the Bill accordingly. That is why this amendment is before us. If the Committee wishes to reject it, that is perfectly OK; we will revert to the original Bill. There would be no skin off my nose. The point raised by Senator Webster iri regard to the first part of it. the one to which he is attracted, is the gravamen of the whole argument. Parts of a company could be excluded. It could be that a company could deal in part with perishables and that part could be excluded. That would exclude that part from the operation of the Act. But if that exclusion brought the company below the turnover of $20m and down to, say, $17m, it would not exclude the rest of the company from the whole of the Act. The reference to a specified class of company was put in largely because of the question of retail operations. This was one of the worries associated with constructing the Bill. Consider a company like Woolworths or the case that the honourable senator mentioned. A company could handle dozens, hundreds or even thousands of items. It would be a great burden on and probably an impossibility for a retail company of that type to advise the Tribunal, and it would be very difficult if not impossible for the Tribunal to be able to examine that situation. Therefore the Tribunal has the chance, if it finds a company in that situation, to say that it will be exempt. I do not think honourable senators should suggest that there will be Government interference with a body such as this which it sets up. After all, the honourable senator’s Party might be in government shortly, or at least he hopes that it will be. Does he suggest that in that case his Government would interfere with any of the bodies I have mentioned or with this body or any other body which it might set up? 1 come back to the point raised by Senator Durack. Of course we will not have a tribunal which says: ‘Prices justification is our task but we will give it all away by exemption rates’. We are dealing with a new and difficult field. As I said earlier, this clause is included because we want to be practical about the whole operation. To say that the Parliament has no check on this body is contrary to the facts because clause 35 states:
This Tribunal will not be a body on which the Parliament cannot keep its finger. This amendment has been put forward because the business community pointed out to the Treasurer a weakness in the Bill. He believed that what he was told was right and he has strengthened the Bill. If the Committee does not agree with him, I suggest that we vote on the amendment and if it is rejected, so be it.
– I want to be as brief as possible because there is a lot of work before the Senate. Will the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) take up with the Government in due course the matters I am about to raise because they may be capable of being improved in order to make the situation better? The first relates to clause 23 (4) which deals with making public the information before the Tribunal. Will the Government look at this clause to see whether it can be improved. A company might ask that its information not be made public but the Tribunal still would be able to do so if it wished. I suggest that this clause is not quite enough protection for the Tribunal or for the company concerned because the Government may preclude the Tribunal getting from the company concerned sufficient details to do its work properly. A little more protection ought to be provided if possible.
Regarding clause 28, it would be a good thing if the Tribunal could furnish a report to the company concerned, if it is seen to be committing an offence in the opinion of the Tribunal. The clause requires a report to be given to the Minister but equally I suggest that a report should be given to the company at the same time. I see no reason why that should not be possible. In clause 29 (2) there is no qualification as to how long the Tribunal will keep books and documents. The Bill should specify the length of time that books or documents will be kept before being returned to the company concerned. Without this there could be great inconvenience in a practical sense. I think that members of the Opposition still are concerned about what is meant by specified classes of company. The Bill is not precise. We would like this in a more precise form.
Perhaps the Minister might get a more precise definition from the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on what he means by specified company and pass the information on by letter to those who have spoken or by letter to me and I will pass it on to my colleagues. We understand what the Minister said about this amendment being moved folllowing a request to the Treasurer by people who felt that the Bill as it stood was odious. Having regard to what the Minister said in this respect, we would like something more definite about what is meant by specified companies. As the Minister will see, I am seeking to have this matter disposed of but at the same time I am seeking to raise the objections we have and to get answers to them, if not tonight from the Minister then in the normal form of courtesy that he extends to us and that we extended to him.
– 1 think I should deal with the points as they arise. Clause 23 refers to information. I think that clause 23(5) covers the point raised by Senator Cotton. It states:
The Tribunal shall not make information or documents available to any person in accordance with sub-section (4) if the company concerned informs the Tribunal that it objects to the information or documents being so made available and the Tribunal is satisfied that the information is, or the documents are, of a confidential nature.
It is true that the matter is left in the hands of the Tribunal but I think that is the way it must be. We could not allow trivial sorts of complaints to come in. There is an indication to the Tribunal that it must respect the wishes of the company if the request is reasonable.
– The Tribunal may be only one man. You have to think the matter through a little further.
– The Tribunal may be one man but I think that that sort of thing has to go back to the Chairman. I think there would be an overall authority there. However the honourable senator’s remarks are on record. I would not be greatly concerned about that point. Clause 28 states:
Where’, after an inquiry, the Tribunal furnishes a report to the Minister, the Tribunal shall cause the company concerned to be notified of the furnishing of the report and of the date on which the report was furnished.
The honourable senator’s point was that there should be a chance for the Tribunal-
– The company should have a copy.
– There should be a chance for the company to be informed of it?
– No, given a copy.
– I shall refer that matter. Clause 29 (2) refers to the time for which documents and books may be kept. I think that again there is an indication or a direction given to the Tribunal in sub-clause (2) which states:
Books or documents so furnished may be retained by the Tribunal for such reasonable period as the Tribunal thinks fit.
I know that play could be made on the word reasonable’ but it is one which is pretty well used in law, and there is a direction to the Tribunal that it is not to maliciously or lightly hold books, documents or papers for any longer than is necessary. I will ask the Treasury to give me any more information it has on the question of what is a company. But this is an area that is still untested. I believe that it was put in there largely for the retail trade because of the particular situation that Senator Webster raised earlier.
– I would attempt to assist the Government to finalise this matter. The Opposition has stated its view that this type of tribunal, with the wording of the Bill before us, is completely unworkable and needs major surgery. I think that the Government has recognised this, apparently following a visit by sections of the retail trade. A hastily drafted amendment has been made to clause 18 which uses the words ‘a specified company’. I really believe that the explanation that Senator Willesee has given is a very just one. Apparently the position is that there may be a particular line of goods or a company which is handling an area of business which it is obviously an impossibility for any tribunal to exercise. I think the wording that went to the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on this matter indicated that a particular store, over a period of 12 months, might handle 3,609,000 invoices and each of those might contain a variety of items. All these might have to be looked at. That represents 14,000 invoices a day. How could they be referred to this Tribunal?
When I spoke earlier I mentioned that to have a tribunal look at the retail trade or the large retail houses correctly would require 3,600 applications a day to it. The fact is that the Government, without reference to business in the first place, went ahead with this crazy idea. Now, it has introduced a crazy amendment which speaks of ‘a specified company’. This opens the way for people to question what it means. I raise 2 points with the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee). I ask whether the meaning of ‘to supply goods or services of a particular description’ in clause 16 of the Bill could be made available to the Senate and to the business community generally. There is nothing in the Bill which states what goods of a particular description may be. Clause 18. (1) states:
A company to which this Act applies shall not supply goods or services of a particular description at a price. . . . lt is very important that at least someone should know what we are talking about when we speak of goods of a particular description. It is not even stated that it will be the Tribunal which will list goods of a particular description that eventually will be referred back to the Tribunal or will be the subject of some sort of price control.
I come to a full stop on that point and raise another matter. Does the Minister in charge of the Bill or the departmental officers realise that they have introduced a Bill which says to a company with a turnover in excess of $20m a year: ‘Provided you withdraw from sale in your store any line of goods of Which you may wish to increase the price you will be exempted on the re-introduction of that line of goods at a higher price’. This is a ridiculous and stupid proposition. Perhaps this would not be realised. I will read clause 18, which deals with this matter:
A company to which this Act applies shall not supply goods or services of a particular description at a price that is higher than the highest price at which the company supplied goods or services of that description on the same or substantially similar terms and conditions during the immediately preceding month . . .
I use the simple example of toothpaste which I used previously to put the matter briefly: If a store did not supply that product in the immediately preceding month, there is no need for the price justification to be referred to the tribunal. It will be very simple for any store, even a retail store, to withdraw a brand of toothpaste for a month. If it had been marked at 10c, the store could withdraw it from sale for a month; provided that it was not selling it on substantially the same or similar terms and conditions during the immediately preceding month, it would be exempted from having to go to the tribunal.
I put forward 5 points that I see in relation to this matter: Some provision should be made for representatives of a company the subject of a Tribunal inquiry to be permitted to be present throughout a hearing, to be legally represented and to cross examine witnesses. While certain confidential evidence may be heard by the tribunal in private, there should be also provision to limit the publication of such confidential evidence when the tribunal’s report is published. If the company under investigation elects to abide by the decision in the Tribunal’s report and notifies this fact such confidential information as may have led to the decision should not be disclosed in the Tribunal’s report. Where the Tribunal considers that the company under investigation has failed to supply sufficient information it should be possible for the time for making its decision to be extended by the Tribunal beyond the normal 3 months specified in the Bill. A definite final time limit should be specified. Finally, I state that there is no definition of guidelines to be adopted by the Tribunal in determining whether information supplied by a company is sufficient; nor is there any requirement for the Tribunal to state why it considers the information provided is insufficient. These matters all need rectification in the Bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Willesee) read a third time.
– Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
(Questions Nos 298, 299, 300 and 301)
asked the Minister rep resenting the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLAND - The
Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Removal of food which is a quarantinable risk and disposal of food scraps is effected by Commonwealth quarantine officers who supervise removal from aircraft and disposal by incineration.
– On 2 May Senator Rae asked the following question, without notice:
I refer to questions 1 have asked during the pre ceding two months relating to my requests for an investigation of the cost and practicality of making Hobart Airport suitable for use by international jet aircraft. Can I expect an answer to the simple question whether the Minister will undertake the investigation?
On 9 May Senator Townley asked the following question without notice:
Will the Minister say whether any consideration has been given to enlarging both the buildings and the strips at Hobart Airport so that Boeing 707 and Douglas DC.8 aircraft may land at Hobart direct from New Zealand and that visitors to Australia may visit Tasmania en route to the Northern Island?
The answer to the honourable senators’ questions is as follows:
In reply to earlier questions on this subject the Minister for Transport advised that the airport at Hobart could be made suitable for international operations and that the work could be completed in about three years from the time the Government approved its detailed planning and construction. The Minister does not feel justified in authorising an expensive investigation of what is required and what it would cost, in precise terms, until a demand for international air services at Hobart is shown to exist which would be sufficient to attract international airline operations.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
Is the Minister aware that when a member of the Army is transferred from Tasmania to another State, the Department of the Army will not insure his property during shipment across Bass Strait; if so, will the Minister take whatever action is necessary to have the Regulations amended, so that the Department will carry the insurance.
Senator BISHOP - The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Commonwealth accepts liability for loss of damage to furniture and effects during removal, including shipment to and from Tasmania, up to a maximum of $8,000. The period of Commonwealth indemnity extends from the time the consignment is accepted by the removalist to the time of delivery to the member’s residence at the new location and includes any period during which it is held in storage. If a member desires protection against total loss in excess of $8,000, it is his own responsibility to arrange the additional coverage.
In the case of motor vehicles, the member is expected to claim compensation through insurance arrangements he has entered into himself. Where the member has no insurance cover, it must be assumed that he is normally prepared to face the risk of damage to his vehicle. Consequently, there are no grounds for expecting the Commonwealth to accept a risk which the owner of the vehicle is unwilling to accept at any time.
In the case of insurance for boats, this is a matter currently under joint Defence/Service examination as part of an overall study of expenses incurred by Service personnel when posted from one locality to another.
All of this follows the recommendations put forward by the Kerr Committee of Inquiry into Services’ Pay in its fifth report which dealt with the Removals System, including Disturbance Allowance.
– On 28 March 1973, Senator Mulvihill asked me the following question, without notice:
I direct a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. In view of the control exercised by the Postal Department over the use to which Private Mail Boxes are put, will the Ministry examine the material which emanates from Post Office Box 52, Paddington, and which he studied yesterday.
The Postmaster-General has now furnished me with the following information in reply.
The bona fides of the tenant of Post Office Box 52, Paddington, N.S.W., have been investigated and, as the boxholder has been found to have a criminal record, action has now been taken to cancel his tenancy of the box.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 May 1973, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1973/19730529_senate_28_s56/>.