29th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Honourable senators, I have received the following message from His Excellency the Governor-General:
His Excellency the Honourable Sir John Robert Kerr, the Governor-General of Australia:
To- Senator the Honourable Justin O’Byrne, President of the Senate
I have, by my Proclamation a copy of which is attached, convened a joint sitting of the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives for the purposes, and to commence at the time and in the place, specified in the said Proclamation:
And I desire you forthwith to inform all honourable senators accordingly.
Dated 30 July 1974.
By His Excellency the Governor-General of Australia.
Australia Sgd John R. Kerr Governor-General.
WHEREAS a Proclamation made on 1 1 April 1974 by the Governor-General of Australia then holding office recited that the conditions upon which the Governor-General is empowered by section 57 of the Constitution to dissolve the Senate and the House of Represenatives simultaneously had been fulfilled in respect of the several proposed laws intituled:
Commonwealth Electoral Act ( No. 2 ) 1 973
Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1973
Representation Act 1973
Health Insurance Commission Act 1973
Health Insurance Act 1973
Petroleum and Minerals Authority Act 1973:
AND WHEREAS, by the said Proclamation, the said Governor-General dissolved the Senate and the House of Representatives accordingly:
AND WHEREAS, since that dissolution and the election of the Twenty-ninth Parliament, the conditions upon which the Governor-General is empowered by section 57 of the Constitution to convene a joint sitting of the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives have been fulfilled in respect of each of the said proposed laws:
NOW THEREFORE I, Sir John Robert Kerr, the GovernorGeneral of Australia, do by this my Proclamation convene a joint sitting of the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, to commence in the House of Representatives Chamber at Parliament House, Canberra at 10.30 o’clock in the morning on 6 August 1974, at which they may deliberate and shall vote together upon each of the said proposed laws as last proposed by the House of Representatives:
AND all members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives are required to give their attendance accordingly.
Given under my hand and the Great Seal of Australia on 30 July 1974.
By His Excellency’s Command:
-Mr President, I give notice that 6 sitting days after today I shall move:
That paragraph (b) of sub-section (I) of new section 133A, contained in section 2 of the Motor Traffic Ordinance 1974, as contained in Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 4 of 1974, and made under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910-1973, be disallowed.
-I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the Prime Minister’s telegram to the State Premiers asking the States to rescind wage increases granted to their employees since 19 December last, does the Government intend to disallow the recent $16 a week increase granted to Commonwealth public servants?
– Unless I am mistaken, it is not within the capacity of the Government to make such a decision.
– The Government can move that the determination be disallowed in either House of the Parliament.
-That is a matter for the Houses of the Parliament. We will see what will happen in the Houses of the Parliament when the time comes. Surely the Leader of the Opposition would not want the Government to arrogate to itself something which is the prerogative of the Houses of the Parliament.
-Is the Minister for the Media aware that the Australian produced film Alvin Purple’ has been playing for 8 months in Sydney and Melbourne and making box office records? Will the Minister ascertain whether other Australian productions are being contemplated by the Australian company that produced that film, and whether ‘Alvin Purple’ is being sold abroad?
– It is a fact that ‘Alvin Purple’, which I understand will be finishing its first release season within the next few days, has been playing in Sydney and Melbourne for some time and has surpassed the box office records of all other Australian films. I can tell the honourable senator that last week, when this matter was drawn to my attention, I wrote a letter of congratulations to the Australian company that produced the film. It is being shown in a number of countries abroad and has outgrossed a number of well known international productions that have been released in Australia from time to time. The company has other productions in store. At present it is engaged in a production called ‘Peterson’ which, I am told, is likely to draw better crowds than even ‘Alvin Purple’ has to date.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture. Did the Japanese Government agree last week to lift the ban on imports of Australian beef? If so, has a new quota agreement been reached or is Australia to satisfy only that part of the 1974 quota- that is, 50,000 tonnes- affected by the import freeze? Could the Minister give us any information on what he believes are the prospects for further meat trade with Japan?
– A trade mission went to Japan, as I think I mentioned last week, under the auspices of the Minister for Overseas Trade, to discuss with the Japanese Government the cessation of quotas on imports of Australian beef into that country and also the possibility of multinational trade arrangements which would dampen down the present unstable conditions in the international meat trade. It is my understanding that the Japanese Government did not give any undertaking that it would re-open quotas but did indicate to the trade mission that in approximately one month’s time it would look again at its own position. I think that is the current situation. As to future beef trade with Japan, we will have to await the Japanese Government’s decisions for the forthcoming months. The only other information I have is a report which I saw in a newspaper to the effect that the Japanese Government may lift those quotas prior to the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to Australia later this year. I am not aware of the authenticity of that statement. If there is any further information which my colleague the Minister for Overseas Trade can supply, I shall forward it to the honourable senator.
-Will the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security investigate the problem which is faced by country parents who have to take children to the city for medical treatment, often several times a month, so facing crippling financial burdens for travel and accommodation expenses, with a view to relieving them of that burden, as no claim for such expenditure can be made on health funds and no taxation relief is allowed?
– I think that for some time the Government and in particular the Minister for Social Security have been aware of the fact that very great disabilities are imposed on parents of children who need medical attention and cannot obtain it near where they live. Indeed such disabilities are imposed on the parents themselves in these areas when they need such attention. There is no real difference in the disabilities whether it is a child or an adult who needs medical attention and has to travel some considerable distance in order to obtain this assistance. All I can do at the moment is to undertake to pass on the question which has been asked by Senator Melzer to the Minister for Social Security who no doubt will take account of this matter when he is preparing his submissions for the forthcoming Budget.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact that when campaigning for office in 1972 the current Government promised to reduce domestic air fares? Is it not a fact that since the present Government came into office about 20 months ago domestic air fares have increased by approximately 20 per cent? Is it not a fact also that another 15 per cent rise at least is foreshadowed? Does this not add to an already long list of broken promises?
– I am unaware of any such promise being made in 1972. The first task of the Government which was elected in 1972 was to put air travel on a self-supporting basis. Over a period the airline companies will have to pay at least 80 per cent of the cost of aerodromes and other facilities, and this must have a tendency to increase air fares. The trend today requires those who use air travel, the more sophisticated form of travel, to pay for the facilities. The costs of providing those facilities should not be met from general revenue. That is the policy which is being pursued by the Government at the present time.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What form of liaison is the Australian Government maintaining with the British Home Office to ensure that effective mediation applies when Australian nationals have disputes with the United Kingdom Government concerning the extension of work permits?
-The situation regarding work permits is that there is no right of appeal by Australian citizens against a decision to refuse work permits. When considering the question whether an extension should be granted the British Home Office is guided by the recommendations of the British Department of Employment. If an extension is denied an appeal can be made only by the employer, not by the Australian High Commissioner or the individual worker. There are no real formal arrangements -of course, there are many informal onesbetween our office and the British Home Office. There may be some confusion between the position of an Australian citizen wishing simply to remain in Britain and that of a person wishing to continue working there. In those circumstances an Australian has a right of appeal to an independent adjudicator and thereafter to an appeals committee. In these cases there may be consultation between our High Commission and the British Home Office.
-Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister able to confirm that the VIP aircraft fleet is soon to be equipped with two 707 aircraft for the Prime Minister’s use and that these aircraft are to come from Qantas Airways Ltd at a cost of about $20m? Will the Minister confirm that the cost of outfitting and running these aircraft will be of the order of $12m each year? Has the Prime Minister asked that these 140-seat aircraft be ready for his 6 weeks’ overseas tour in December? Will the marking on one of the aircraft be ‘Air Force 1 ‘? Does the Minister appreciate that there is no need for very expensive communication equipment in these aircraft, as is the case with the aircraft of the President of the United States of America, because when our Prime Minister is overseas the Deputy Prime Minister acts as Prime Minister, with full authority of the Prime Minister?
– I am not able to confirm what the honourable senator has put. I am afraid I have very little knowledge on the subject, but I will refer the question to the Prime Minister who may be able to give some answer.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Defence inform the Senate whether there are any improvements or healthier trends in defence forces recruitment figures? What is the situation regarding officer resignations?
-I would say that, while the figures which were released by Mr Barnard yesterday relating to the annual end of year target are still short of the Government’s aim, there were certain improvements, particularly in June of this year.
– One would expect there to be improvements, with large numbers unemployed.
-Senator Webster always tries to help, but he puts his foot in it. The figures show that the Army gained 427 in June, as against 356 in May and 319 in April. The Royal Australian Air Force gained 1 19 in June, as against 105 in May. There has been a decrease in officer resignations. Senator Drury might recall that the greater portion of those who resigned from the Services in May were people who were entitled for the first time to resign and take advantage of the improved defence forces retirement benefits scheme. In June there were 9 officer resignations from the Royal Australian Navy, compared with 17 in May and 24 from the Army compared with 32 in May. In the Air Force there were 16 resignations in each of those 2 months. There has been a pretty good improvement in recruitment rates, although the annual rates still have not reached the target at which we have aimed. In the Navy the rate increased from 58 per cent to 60 per cent at the end of the year, and in the Air Force from 70 per cent to 75 per cent. So it would seem that the Minister’s statement is true. There is confidence in the community, and people are turning now, with the present labour market, to the attractions of Service employment.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Department of Foreign Affairs launching into the area of fashion designing so that Australian diplomats will have a distinctive Australian uniform, possibly known as the Renouf rig, to wear to official functions? If so, will the Minister assure the Senate that the Bureau of Statistics will, as with our so-called national anthem quest, conduct a survey of at least 60,000 people to find out what Australians would like their diplomats to wear?
-The answer to the first part of the question is no. The answer to the last part of the question is no.
– Will the Minister for Agriculture clarify the Government’s present attitude to restrictions on margarine production in Australia. Is it true, as claimed by many people, that abolition of margarine quotas would have very harmful effects on the Australian dairying industry?
– Margarine quotas have been imposed now for about 30 years. There have been many debates over the years as to whether they should be continued. Normally they have been imposed as a result of arrangements between the Federal Government and the State governments at Australian Agricultural Council meetings. The Australian Government has now declared a firm position in respect of quotas: We will not accept margarine quotas after July 1976.I suggest that the impact on the dairying industry will be minimal. This is reinforced by the Chairman of the Australian Dairy Industry Council who has suggested that the effect on the dairy industry will be minimal. I believe that the decision to phase out the quotas over a 2-year period will give the dairy industry adequate time to adjust if that adjustment is necessary, and the eventual phasing out of the quotas will have little or no impact on the industry.
-Did the Minister for Agriculture have discussions yesterday with the Chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation, Mr Maiden? If so, will the Minister say whether the talks will lead to any change in the policy of the Corporation when sales are resumed next month?
-Yes, I did have lengthy discussions last night with both the Chairman of the Corporation and the General Manager. I am not prepared to make any detailed statement about those discussions other than to say that I listened carefully to the strategy which the Corporation believes will be appropriate for the forthcoming wool selling season. However, I intend to have further discussions with them in about a week’s time and it will not be until then that 1 will be in a position to state precisely the thinking of both the Corporation and the
Government in respect of the next wool selling season.
-Can the PostmasterGeneral say what steps are being taken to extend computer billing of telephone subscribers, already in operation in Sydney and Melbourne, to other States? What are the advantages of computer bulk billing?
– The service will provide the Post Office with a better and more efficient system for handling that part of its duties. It will also give a more accurate service to the customer. Steps are currently being taken to extend the service from Sydney and Melbourne to the other States. The first stage of computer processing started in Adelaide in March 1974. It is intended that this initial stage will be introduced in Brisbane and Perth in the second half of the year. Current planning is that subscribers’ records in each State will be converted over a period of about 2 years.
-I have some knowledge of this matter. The dispatch came by telegram. As to the individual questions, I will take them on board and give the honourable senator an answer.
-Has the Minister for Agriculture seen a recent issue of the ‘Farmers Weekly’, the Western Australian Farmers Union newspaper, reporting that Mr Sinclair, the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party, is claiming that the latest rise in interest rates was an act of vandalism- whatever that meansagainst the rural sector? Was the rural industry singled out for higher interest charges?
– My attention was drawn to the statement by Mr Sinclair. As I have said in this place on so many occasions, the increase in interest rates applies to everybody in the community. That particular section was not singled out. I would have thought that Mr Sinclair would have known that the study made by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics 18 months ago showed conclusively that for the farmer the level of interest rates is not the critical question; it is the length of loan he receives. It was for that reason that this Government since it has been in office has released a total of $77m through the Farm Development Loan accounts and has lifted the 15 years ceiling on those loans for the benefit of the Australian farmer. That has been the most effective way to assist the financing of farms in Australia and harping all the time on claims that there has been some sort of discrimination against the farming sector in relation to interest rates just does not stand up to investigation.
– My question in 3 parts is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Firstly, is it a fact that 5 new community health centres are planned for the eastern suburbs of Sydney? Secondly, is it a fact that it is planned to staff these community health centres by seconding second year resident medical officers from teaching hospitals? Thirdly, is the Minister aware that his announced policy is to provide community health centres in areas of most need and that the eastern suburbs of Sydney already have a most favourable health care situation?
– I ask the honourable senator to put that question on notice.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture and refers to recent Press reports that China has bought another large amount of wheat from Australia. Could the Minister provide the Senate with details of this transaction?
– The Australian Government has negotiated a 3-year wheat contract with China. In the first year a million tonnes of wheat are to be delivered and half of that wheat has been delivered under the current agreement. The supply of the remaining half has just been negotiated. At the same time the Australian Wheat Board has sold an additional half a million bushels of wheat to that country. The total value of the contract is about $ 1 1 5m. This is an example of the initiatives which were taken by this Government in its initial stages and which have been followed through very competently and in a business-like manner by the Australian Wheat Board.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture and refers to the question just asked by Senator Everett. Is it a fact that contracts for the export of Austraiian wheat are currently threatened by transport delays caused by industrial problems? If so, what action has the Government taken to ensure that future wheat sales are not jeopardised by union actions which are beyond the control of wheat growers and the Australian Wheat Board?
– It is true that there have been industrial disputes which have delayed wheat shipments in the last few months. My understanding is that those disputes have been largely resolved. I have said before in answer to questions of a similar nature in the Senate that the Government does all it can to prevent these industrial disputes arising because they do jeopardise contracts which we enter into for the export of our primary products. However, this is a question which concerns my colleague the Minister for Labor and Immigration and if there is some further information I can obtain for the honourable senator I shall forward it to him.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: What is the latest report on the situation in Cyprus? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether Australian nationals in Cyprus are safe?
-The tripartite talks are continuing in Geneva but there is a wide divergence between Greece and Turkey on the central question of the demilitarisation of Cyprus itself. There is a strong view, with which the Australian Government of course agrees, that in accordance with the Security Council resolution the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus be maintained and that the situation revert certainly to what it was before hostilities commenced, if not to a better position. There have been reports in the Press that renewed fighting has taken place following the disagreement between Greece and Turkey. On the question of Australians in Cyprus I take this opportunity publicly to thank the British Government and its Services for what they have done for Australians there. I am sure everybody will agree that I ought to convey our thanks in a formal letter to the British Foreign Minister because Britain has done a magnificent job for us. It has evacuated about 300 Australians. For our own part we are obtaining a list of those people from London and checking it with the list of names we have in Australia of people we knew to be in Cyprus. We can then assure people that certain of the people whose names are on that list are already safe.
We know that there are still some children in Cyprus. Last week, we had one of our officers visit Cyprus. We were quite worried about him because it was really a dangerous time to be there. At some risk to himself, he tried unsuccessfully to contact the authorities there. We have asked our police in Cyprus, working under the United Nations high command, to contact what Australians are still there. They have already contacted 2 children who come from a family in Canberra. They are continuing to try to find the others and get them down to the British base so that they can be airlifted out. Probably later this week we will send another officer over from Athens. This time we will have the list checked to see what names are still outstanding and the officer will do the best he can to follow up those people in Cyprus.
- Mr President, have any representations been made to you by senators of the Government Party to restrict access of accredited members of the Press Gallery to Parliament House? Are you able to give assurance to the Press Gallery that its members will not be disadvantaged in their pursuit of parliamentary reporting because of the displeasure of the Government Party senators at the Press attitude to the parliamentary salary increases which the Government introduced last week?
-Representations have not been made to me on this specific matter. But matters concerning privilege are under consideration by the Chair and will be brought before the Senate at a later date. I can assure the honourable senator that there will be no recriminations against any members of the Press Gallery relating to their reporting on parliamentary salaries.
-I draw the attention of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to Press reports of a brawl between Aborigines and sailors in Adelaide. Has the Minister received any response from the South Australian Government to his request to hold an inquiry into this matter?
-No. Only yesterday I sent a communication from Canberra to Mr King, the South Australian State AttorneyGeneral, requesting the inquiry, although I had spoken to Mr King on Sunday afternoon telling him of my intention to ask him for such an inquiry- preferably a public inquiry. I received a telephone call from Mr King’s Press secretary today. He stated that Mr King was concerned about the Press report that he had been asked to conduct an inquiry. The press secretary asked what stage my request for an inquiry had reached. I advised him that a letter requesting such an inquiry was on its way.
-Can the Postmaster-General give any details regarding mail and telecommunications services between Australia and Greece, Turkey and Cyprus?
– Normal air services have been resumed with Greece but mail for Turkey and Cyprus is still not being received by those 2 countries. Telephone services to Turkey and Cyprus are still out for an indefinite period. Telephone services to Greece were resumed yesterday morning but are still subject to some delays. Telex and telegram services to Turkey and Greece are operating but are subject to long delays.
-I remind the AttorneyGeneral that as long ago as 10 January 1973 he made a public statement acknowledging the Government’s intention to introduce a freedom of information Bill along the lines of the United States Freedom of Information Act and detailed in his statement the major features of such legislation. I ask: What is the reason for the prolonged delay in introducing such legislation; when will it be introduced; and will the contents of the proposed Bill be available for full consideration by senators, members and interested members of the public for some period before the debate proceeds in the Parliament?
– It is true that I made that statement and it is true, I think, that I later announced that the proposal had been endorsed by the Cabinet and by my Party and that steps were taken to bring the matter to fruition. Then I think it was announced that an interdepartmental committee would consider the various implications of this matter; how it would work out in practice. A great number of discussions have been held on the problems that have arisen. The honourable senator may be pleased to know that I am still firmly in favour of the measure. As I think I indicated once publicly, the first persons to benefit from the freedom of information and better knowledge about government affairs would be the members of the Ministry.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Conservation able to say whether the Australian Environmental Council has laid down any guidelines with respect to environmental studies associated with projects such as the Redcliffs petrochemical works in South Australia? Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a statement made by Dr John Coulter, the Vice-President of the Conservation Council of South Australia, which described the South Australian Government’s document planned for the environmental study of the Redcliffs project as ‘pathetic’? In view of the national importance of protecting Australian waters against industrial pollution, will the Federal Government seek the cooperation of the South Australian Government to comply with the request of the Conservation Council of South Australia that a 3-month public review period be allowed to consider an environmental impact study associated with the Redcliffs project?
– I think that Senator Jessop is correct in drawing attention to the fact that anything that is done about a matter such as this obviously would have to be done with cooperation between the Federal Government and the South Australian Government. I think that the question the honourable senator asked, seeking details of the Redcliffs project and the problems in relation to it, is a matter for the Minister for the Environment and Conservation. I shall refer Senator Jessop ‘s question to him and provide the honourable senator with an answer as soon as it is available.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory. Is the Minister aware that the Northern Territory Legislative Council is complaining about printing delays in producing its Hansard? What is being done about this problem?
– I am not aware of the complaint, but I presume that the problem of the
Northern Territory Legislative Council is much the same as that which exists here in Canberra. However, I shall refer the question to the Minister for the Northern Territory and obtain an answer.
-Mr President, this matter really comes within my ministerial jurisdiction because the Australian Government Printing Office comes within the responsibilities of the Department of the Media. I am aware that the Northern Territory ‘News’ recently complained about delays in the printing of the Northern Territory Legislative Council Hansard. The Legislative Council prints its own daily Hansard, and it was in connection with the printing of the daily Hansard that the complaints were made. At present my Department in Darwin handles the printing of only the weekly and monthly Hansards of the Northern Territory Legislative Council. In about August last year I put to Cabinet a proposal, which Cabinet endorsed, to construct a new Australian Government printing office in Darwin to replace the present accommodation and the inadequate printing facilities provided for the Northern Territory Legislative Council and the Australian Government. The cost of that project was estimated to be of the order of $lm to $1.5m. I can tell the honourable senator that the Department of Housing and Construction is preparing a plan which will eventually come to my Department and on which I shall have the responsibility of making a Cabinet submission.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will Australian servicemen be with the armed forces of Papua New Guinea after that nation achieves independence on 1 December next? If so to whom will those servicemen be responsible and from whom will they take their orders? I ask this question with special reference to any internal troubles which might arise in a newly independent nation and which might require the armed services to restore order.
-I think I should get a full reply to this question for the honourable senator. As the Senate knows, over a long period of time we have been allowing Papua New Guinea to do everything that it can do itself. In his speech at the opening of Parliament, the Governor-General pointed out that we were now treating Papua New Guinea, to the fullest extent possible, as an independent country. In Sydney on Saturday I had talks with the Prime Minister,
Mr Morrison, Mr Moari Kiki and Mr Somare on various subjects with the aim of moving towards this position. When Papua New Guinea declares its independence it will be more or less a formal declaration. The question asked by the honourable senator is one which the Defence Department has been looking at because there has been a phasing out of servicemen, to which the honourable senator specifically referred. But the whole question of expatriates returning to Australia has to be examined. We have considered this matter particularly as it affects the future internal situation.I will examine the question and see if I can give the honourable senator more details.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware that more than 300 items have increased in price or will increase in price during the period 22 July 1974 to 2 August 1974? Can the Minister inform the Parliament whether it is possible for the Prices Justification Tribunal or the relevant parliamentary committee to conduct an immediate and wide ranging investigation to ascertain the reason for such wholesale commercial racketeering?
– It is possible for the Prices Justification Tribunal, within the limits laid down in the legislation, to consider various price increases. I assume that some of these items would probably come within that consideration. As the Senate knows, the Parliament has been asked to extend the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. It is open also to this Senate or the House of Representatives or the Joint Committee on Prices to examine any price increases to see whether they are justified. It is open to those members on the opposite side who are calling for restraint in wages to address their remarks to the large corporations which are increasing prices. It is also open to honourable senators opposite to ask them to exercise restraint even where the Tribunal says that an increase is justified and to tell them they should not accept the determinations ofjustification.
– I direct a question to the Minis ter for Foreign Affairs. In view of the reiterated claims for innovation in the administration of the Department of Foreign Affairs I ask: Is the Minister contemplating dressing Foreign Affairs officers in a diplomatic uniform? Is the contemplated uniform based upon the Minister’s claim that his policy is a policy of fraternalism? Does the fraternalism extend to copying the so-called liberation suit worn by West and East Africans, Maoist Chinese and Cubans? What uniform is to be considered appropriate by M/s Reid for female Foreign Affairs officers?
-I do not know whether a question framed like that deserves an answer. However, ignoring the tone of the question, the Press has correctly reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs has for some time been examining whether it should do what countries like Great Britain- one country to which the honourable senator did not refer- do about dress and provide for our Foreign Affairs officers a distinctive uniform for what are virtually ceremonial occasions. Our officers will not be wearing this uniform around the office, or at cocktail parties. The purpose of the uniform is to get away from the suit, the white tie and tails and dress of that type which has been worn for a long time. The honourable senator asked me whether I was ordering that this uniform be worn. The answer is no, I am not. I consider that it is not the job of a Minister to look at these internal matters of a department. My job is to lay down policy and to see that it is carried out. As far as I am concerned, if the main body of people in the Department of Foreign Affairs want the uniform, so be it. I do not particularly like seeing them strutting around in white tie and tails. I have not seen the uniform. It is largely up to the people in the Department to decide what they really want.
- Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson may ask a supplementary question. I hope it is for elucidation.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: In considering this matter of a new rig, will he consider asking Army ordnance to supply some ex-second Australian Imperial Force dress uniforms which were popularly known as giggle suits?
-I am glad that Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson and other honourable senators at long last have a profundity in their interest in foreign affairs. I am glad that they have put their minds to this very complex question. Foreign affairs is a very important subject. As to the question the honourable senator has asked, he has been here long enough to know that I will not answer one as silly as that.
-The Minister for the Media will be aware of the market for audio visual presentations which appear to be an economical means of communication for both educational and promotional purposes, and that it is rapidly expanding. In view of this expansion will the Minister indicate what moves are being undertaken by the Department of the Media in relation to audio visual aids?
-There certainly has been a boom in the use of audio visual equipment and techniques. These aids are being used extensively by companies for staff training and sales promotional purposes.
– We use them for rugby league.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator McAuliffe interjects to advise me that the Australian Rugby League also uses this equipment for football training. Shortly after this Government came to office, realising the rapid developments which were taking place in this field I established within my Department an audio visual section. Now, a number of Government departments are using this equipment for educational projects. My Department is lending assistance and advice. The Australian Information Service, which is another section of my Department and which is responsible for the promotion of Australia abroad, is now giving audio visual techniques a wide application. A number of overseas posts have been supplied with this equipment. I think that between 10 per cent and 1 5 per cent of the total number of overseas posts already have received this equipment. The director of the audio visual section, Mr Becker, is at present visiting about 9 overseas posts to arrange the installation of equipment. As a result of the activities of my Department the Australian Government is using this equipment very widely and extensively.
-I remind the Minister representing the Treasurer of his statement in the Senate last week that the Social Welfare Commission report on child care would be tabled in due course. Has the Government received this report? Can the Senate be given a more precise indication of when to expect this report? In view of the urgent need of our children in this regard, will the Minister undertake to release the report quickly? Will the Government make an early review of its recent decision to give child care much lower priority than it undertook to give this matter during the election campaign?
– I am not able to answer the question. I would have thought that it would be best to direct it to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I will obtain the necessary answer and information for the honourable senator and provide her with it.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration, refers to the announced decision of the Commonwealth Government to introduce wage indexation by way of quarterly wage adjustments. Is the proposal for a flat rate increase to apply to all wage and salary earners? If so, will its effect not be to further erode existing margins for skill? What steps does the Government propose to restore and preserve proper margins for skill? Is wage indexation put forward as a means of combating inflation? If so, in what ways will it do so?
-I think I could say that the policy referred to by the honourable senator is what might be called a platform policy which will be put before the Moore conference in the early part of next month with the idea of seeing whether the employers and the unions will accept what the Minster for Labor and Immigration calls, and the Government suggests should be, a package deal. That package deal does not relate only to cost of living adjustments. The Senate will be advised precisely, I take it, later on by way of a report to it. Wrapped up in the so-called package deal, which will start with cost of living adjustments, is the proposition that the parties should then attend to what productivity factor should be taken into account m settling national wage demands. Related to this proposition is the question that the honourable senator raises about what happens if there are applications by unions for particular awards. It is presumed that in the package deal it would be recognised that trade unions and other people would be able to come to settlements by agreement or through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in relation to claims based on technology, changes in industry, differential rates and so on. That procedure would still apply.
Let me come back to the first proposition. I do not think I should be too precise because really it is the proposition of the Minister for Labour and Immigration which is to go before the conference. I will obtain a copy of that proposition and give it to Senator Carrick. I think that the Minister is starting at a platform point and is proposing flat rate increases at a particular level. I think that the extent to which the Minister will be prepared to move from that concept will depend on the response he gets from the employers and the unions and the report that he gets from the conference. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Murphy, can correct me but, as I understand the position, the Minister must bring that report before the Cabinet. It seems to me that there is to be a certain amount of latitude in those discussions. I am not sure that I am quoting what Senator Murphy would say is Government policy, but it is my view that there ought to be a basis for negotiation to see whether there can be some policy which will minimise the number of disputes now occurring in Australia.
-Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs received from the Australian Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church requests that the Government close some of its offices in South Africa? What reply is the Government giving to these requests?
-No, I have not received any such requests, I understand, mainly from Press reports, that that suggestion has been put to the Government, but it has not come to me. I certainly will have something to say about it, because it is a matter of interest to the Department of Foreign Affairs. When there is something worth reporting I shall let the honourable senator know.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will the Minister ask the Treasurer whether he will give serious consideration in the Budget to enabling taxpayers to claim as a tax deductible item fees for the use of ambulances, as these fees can and in many instances do impose severe financial hardship on an injured person and/or his or her family?
– I am quite sure there would be general agreement that the suggestion is most worthy of consideration, and accordingly I shall refer it to the Treasurer.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration. Does any part of the package deal which the Minister has said he intends to submit to the labour conference cover the question of restraint by unions in enforcing wage demands by strikes?
– I can only refer again to what seemed to me to be a fair interpretation of the package deal proposal. I repeat that I will ensure that all honourable senators receive a copy of what is determined by Cabinet. But in putting this package deal to the Moore conference the Minister for Labor and Immigration and the Government intend to argue that if this system, were adopted if would minimise stoppages because, as the honourable senator is aware, at the present time a number of disputes occur because of the inflationary spiral. To my knowledge, many disputes occur because unions and workers seek new pay levels because they claim that inflation has eaten into their present levels. The Minister proposes that if there is agreement on wage indexation, there will be a cost of living system and also an arrangement to work out what flow-on from productivity should go to the workers. If the unions accept that position there will be a cost of living adjustment which will be translated into basic wages at a certain proposed level. But I think that the options are open for a movement to be made in the conference if the unions react to this. It is to be argued that if the employers also accept that position it will minimise the number of stoppages which can be said to relate particularly to wage demands because of increases in the cost of living and rising prices.
– On a number of occasions during the last two or three years I have asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity as Minister for Customs and Excise questions concerning the desirability of establishing an Australian coast guard. On the last occasion he replied to me the Minister indicated that a committee was examining this proposal. I now ask: Is the Minister in a position to indicate to the Senate what progress has been made towards the establishment of an Australian coast guard?
-This matter falls roughly into 2 areas. The first area concerns the surveillance of the Australian coastline with a view to law enforcement, and the other area concerns the operations that are conducted by the Marine Operations Centre in which the movements of vessels are followed and rescues are arranged. In the first area a number of joint exercises have been conducted by the Department of Defence, using naval vessels and Air Force planes together with
Customs facilities. Those joint operations have been very successful and it is intended that they should continue and that the law enforcement functions, particularly as they concern Customs, should be increased.
As the honourable senator would know, there is a special problem of drugs coming in through the north of Australia, and it is intended that in view of what I have just indicated, the Department of Customs and Excise should apply for the provision of some further vessels and aircraft as part of the next Budget. The Minister for Transport is looking further into the matter of marine operations. Some progress has been made. I am able to answer this question with some certainty because a committee meeting was held yesterday, and Cabinet considered the matter afterwards. So I indicate that some progress has been made, not before time.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister made any response to the request made by the State Premiers for a meeting with the Prime Minister to devise an overall strategy to defeat inflation? Has he given the Premiers a date for a meeting? If he has not, does he propose to meet the Premiers and avail himself of their offer of co-operation?
-1 think, from the very nature of the question, this being a communication between the Prime Minister and the Premiers, that the announcement as to any details of what has passed should properly be made by the Prime Minister or at least by him through me.
-Mr President, I ask that further questions without notice be placed on the notice paper.
– For the information of honourable senators, I lay on the table of the Senate the text of the treaties which have entered into force and to which Australia has become a party by signature. A statement of the details of” the treaties tabled has been distributed to honourable senators.
-I ask leave of the Senate to seek a brief explanation of treaty No. 12. I wish to ask a question about a certain part of it.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
– I thank the Senate. I shall be brief. On page 3 of the paper informing the Senate of the treaties, tabled in the Senate by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) today, treaty No. 12 is the Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms against Unauthorised Duplication of their Phonograms. My understanding of the word phonogram’ is that it is a telegram sent by the originator by telephone to the telegraph office and delivered to its destination by the postal authorities. I want to know whether the word phonogram’, as used in the Convention, has any other connotation.
Senator WILLESEE (Western AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs)- I ask for leave to make a very short statement in reply.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
-My advisers tell me that phonograms, in this sense, are sound recordings.
Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation)Pursuant to section 21 of the River Murray Waters Act 1 9 1 5 - 1 970, 1 present the report of the River Murray Commission for the year ended 30 June 1973, together with the Commission’s financial statements and the report of the Auditor-General on those statements, statements of gaugings and diversions during the year, furnished on behalf of the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
– 1 present the report of the Prices Justification Tribunal, dated 23 July 1974, on the price increases for butter and cheese proposed by the Southern Queensland Dairy Company Ltd and others.
– I present a report from the Industries Assistance Commission entitled ‘Building Materials’, by-law dated 27 March 1 974.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present a report on liquefied petroleum gas as a motor vehicle fuel. The report is dated April 1 974.
– Pursuant to section 18 of the Wheat Research Act 1957, I present the sixteenth annual report on activities under the Act for the year ended 3 1 December 1973.
– I make a statement with reference to the passage of honourable senators to and from Parliament House. I do so because it has been reported to me that there have been occasions when honourable senators have been obstructed by journalists and cameramen in the coming to and going from this House, I think I should, first, refer to the law of parliament on this matter. At the beginning of each session at Westminster the following sessional order is made:
That the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passage through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open, and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passage leading to this House, during the Sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid.
This freedom from obstruction in the coming to or the going from the House is part of the law of Parliament and I believe that, although the Houses of Parliament at Canberra do not state the right by Sessional Orders, it is a privilege that belongs to the Commonwealth Parliament by virtue of section 49 of the Constitution. It may be salutary if this Senate made its own Sessional Order, as at Westminster, making known honourable senators’ right to freedom from obstruction. I recognise that journalists and cameramen have their jobs to do, but so do honourable senators and they should not be obstructed in the coming to or going from Parliament House, unless of course with the prior permission of the senators concerned. Having said that, I remind journalists and cameramen that there are facilities provided within Parliament House where, by arrangement, they may interview honourable senators in an orderly manner.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Parliamentary Papers Act 1 908- 1 963.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Parliamentary Papers Act to make appropriate provisions in relation to a joint sitting of the 2 Houses of Parliament. The Parliamentary Papers Act protects the publisher of Hansard against actions for defamation or other legal proceedings. The same protection is conferred on a person who publishes a document tabled in either House or evidence given before a Committee of either House or of both Houses where the House or the Committee has authorised the printing of the document or evidence. It is desirable that the same protection should be afforded a person who publishes a document, including the Hansard report of proceedings, the publication of which is authorised by a joint sitting of the 2 Houses. The Bill proceeds on the basis that for this purpose a joint sitting of the 2 Houses should be regarded on the same footing as either House sitting separately.
Section 2 of the Parliamentary Papers Act provides that it is lawful for either House of the Parliament to authorise the publication of a document laid before it
Section 3 of the Act provides that a House of the Parliament or a Committee is deemed to have authorised the Government Printer to publish a document or evidence if the House or the Committee, as the case may be, has ordered the document or evidence to be printed. The section also provides that each House of the Parliament is deemed to have authorised the Government Printer to publish the reports of the debates and proceedings in that House. The purpose of clause 5 of the Bill is to make like provisions in respect of a joint sitting of the 2 Houses.
Section 4 of the Act gives immunity from legal proceedings to a person who publishes a document or evidence where authority has been given by the Senate, the House of Representatives or of Committee, as the case may be, to publish that document or evidence. Doubts have been expressed whether the protection given by section 4 extends to the case where the authority to publish the document or evidence is derived, not from a resolution of either House or of a Committee, but from the operation of section 3 of the Act, which deems authority to have been given in certain cases. To put the matter beyond doubt, it has been thought desirable to include a provision in this Bill to amend section 4 to make it clear that the protection is afforded to a person who publishes a document or evidence the publication of which is deemed to have been authorised by either House, by a joint sitting or by a Committee. This amendment is contained in clause 6 of the Bill.
The Bill introduces no new principles. It is, as I have said, intended to put publication of the proceedings of a joint sitting or of documents laid before a joint sitting on exactly the same footing as the publication of proceedings of either House or of a document laid before either House. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Bill 1973.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
( 12.13)- I move:
The purpose of this legislation is to amend the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946-1973 in several major respects. Firstly, it is intended to extend the provisions of the present Act to open up the possibility that the proceedings of a joint sitting of the Parliament convened in pursuance of section 57 of the Constitution may be broadcast. The form of the present Act does not allow for this eventuality. As a consequence of this proposal, it is also intended that the Bill should extend the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings to allow the Committee to make determinations governing the arrangements for the broadcasting of the joint sitting proceedings. Further provisions have also been made to extend to the broadcasts of these proceedings the usual protection afforded to parliamentary broadcasts by the existing Act.
The second important feature of the Bill relates to the use in the present Act of the term re-broadcasting’. Honourable senators know that it has been the practice of the Parliament that a sound recording is made of question time in either House of Representatives or the Senate, and this recording is broadcast later that day. The fact that such proceedings are not broadcast direct to air’ at the time of the original recording has given rise to some doubts about the interpretation of the existing Act. This Bill is intended to clarify the situation so that a reference to rebroadcasting of proceedings shall be read as a reference to broadcasting from a sound recording of proceedings.
The third main feature of the Bill is that it provides that, in relation to any joint sitting, proceedings may be telecast direct to air or recorded in a visual form for telecasting at a later time. The Government is of the opinion that an event of this nature would be of immense public interest and that it is important that as complete a record as possible should be preserved for the nation’s archives. The provisions for the televising of proceedings, as proposed in this Bill, run parallel in most instances with those laid down for broadcasting, including those amended by this Bill. I say ‘in most instances’ here because there are exceptions. Firstly, the provisions for television apply only to the proceedings of a joint sitting, they do not apply to proceedings of the separate Houses. Secondly, it is not proposed that it should be specified within the legislation which of the national television stations should be required to be used by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in televising any joint sitting proceedings. This legislation allows the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings to determine the arrangements for televising of proceedings, including, the stations which shall transmit the television coverage. I should point out that the Committee’s powers of determination of the dates and times of broadcasting and televising of joint sittings proceedings are a little different from those laid down for proceedings of the separate Houses.
In considering the proposed amendments the Government was faced with the dilemma that if it allowed the procedures laid down for the proceedings of the separate Houses it would not be possible for the commencement of the joint sitting proceedings to be broadcast or televised until such time as the joint sitting had adopted the general principles for such broadcasting or televising. In the circumstances, the Government determined that the simplest and best procedure to be followed was to allow the Joint Parliamentary Committee to determine the arrangements for broadcasting and televising joint sittings. This will avoid unnecessarily elaborate and timeconsuming procedures and will permit the compiling of a complete record of the proceedings from the very beginning of a joint sitting. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Murphy) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I ask for leave to have the second reading speech, a copy of which has been circulated to honourable senators, incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
This Bill is similar to the one with the same title that I introduced into the Senate on 15 November 1973 except that the amendments which I circulated before the double dissolution of parliament have been incorporated in the Bill. The Bill is a major piece of legislation which is the culmination of much effort on the part of many persons. I pay tribute to the officers of my Department, to Parliamentary Counsel and to the many persons who have assisted them in their task. It has been a matter of great satisfaction for me to have had the responsibility for the legislation, the preparation of which was put in train soon after the Government came to office on 2 December 1972. Honourable senators will recall that a substantially similar Bill was first introduced in the Senate on 27 September 1973. Regrettably Opposition senators refused to debate that Bill and constitutional considerations relating to double dissolutions of Parliament then led to a similar Bill being introduced in another place. Those same considerations have again led to the present Bill being introduced in the first instance in the other place. In the previous Parliament Opposition senators were not prepared to debate the Bill on the excuse that there had been insufficient time to consider its provisions. There has been ample opportunity for honourable senators and for those whose activities will be affected by the Bill and their advisers to familiarise themselves with the provisions in the Bill. This opportunity has been availed of by a great many persons- as has been evidenced by communications and discussions with me and officers of my Department.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this speech the amendments I circulated before the double dissolution of Parliament have been incorporated in the present Bill. Those amendments were prepared in the light of comments that had been received. Where it had appeared that improvements could be made to particular provisions this was done. Many of the amendments were of a drafting nature only- some of them to meet doubts that had been expressed whether or not the doubts were justified. Other amendments went beyond the drafting and made changes of substance but without changing the basic structure and scope of the Bill. The amendments to which I have just referred are indicated for the convenience of honourable senators in black type in a memorandum that has been prepared to indicate the differences between this Bill and the Bill that was introduced into the Senate on 1 5 November 1973.
The purpose of the Bill is to control restrictive trade practices and monopolisation and to protea consumers from unfair commercial practices. The Bill will replace the existing Restrictive Trade Practices Art, which has proved to be one of the most ineffectual pieces of legislation ever passed by this Parliament. The Bill will also provide on a national basis long overdue protection for consumers against a wide range of unfair practices. Restrictive trade practices have long been rife in Australia. Most of them are undesirable and have served the interests of the parties engaged in them, irrespective of whether those interests coincide with the interests of Australians generally. These practices cause prices to be maintained at artificially high levels. They enable particular enterprises or groups of enterprises to attain positions of economic dominance which are then susceptible to abuse; they interfere with the interplay of competitive forces which are the foundation of any market economy; they allow discriminatory action against small businesses, exploitation of consumers and feather-bedding of industries.
In consumer transactions unfair practices are widespread. The existing law is still founded on the principle known as caveat emptor- meaning let the buyer beware’. That principle may have been appropriate for transactions conducted in village markets. It has ceased to be appropriate as a general rule. Now the marketing of goods and services is conducted on an organised basis and by trained business executives. The untrained consumer is no match for the businessman who attempts to persuade the consumer to buy goods or services on terms and conditions suitable to the vendor. The consumer needs protection by the law and this Bill will provide such protection.
The Bill is especially important because of its relevance to inflation. The purpose of many restrictive practices is to maintain prices at levels higher than would otherwise prevail. This contributes to the inflationary trend. It also reduces the likelihood that the benefits of the Government’s tariff cuts will be passed on to the public. Increased competition from imports will be of little benefit if not accompanied by increased domestic competition. Consumer protection also assists in the fight against inflation. It is the consumer who has to bear the burden of higher prices and of unfair methods of dealing.
In recent months the relevance of restrictive trade practices to high prices has been the subject of comment by the Joint Committee on Prices. Such comments are to be found in the Committee’s reports relating to meatmeal, imports of timber and flat glass imports. Indicative of the attitude the Committee has taken to the effect of restrictive trade practices on prices is the following passage taken from its report on imports of timber:
The Committee considers that suggested prices and margins are restrictive practices which could result in prices being higher than they would otherwise be. This could reduce the benefit or upvaluation to the consumer or user. The Committee understands that there is doubt as to whether such recommendations would constitute an examinable agreement under Section 35 of the Trade Practices Act. They could, however, fall within Section 45 of the Trade Practices Bill 1973. The Committee notes that such practices have the effect of chilling the vigour of price competition.
In his seventh annual report, which I tabled on 16 July 1974, the Commissioner of Trade Practices deals at length with price agreements and the close consideration that he has given to them. The Commissioner expresses the view that the dominant reasons for joining in a price agreement are to remove the uncertainty of the market place and to keep prices higher than they would be without agreement. The Bill gives effect to a recommendation by the Council of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in December 1971 concerning action against inflation in the field of competition policy. The recommendation urged member governments of OECD, as part of the action to be taken by them against inflation, to adopt stronger measures to control restrictive trade practices and to protect consumers.
The Government has a firm electoral commitment to introduce effective legislation in the areas of restrictive trade practices and consumer protection. This implements the promises made by the Government at the last two general elections. The Government believes that the Bill introduced into this Parliament should, as far as possible, indicate what forms of conduct are to be prohibited. We believe that the existing restrictive trade practices legislation is unsatisfactory in this regard. Under that legislation prohibition of a practice or agreement comes not from the law itself but from a restraining order made by the Trade Practices Tribunal. These proceedings can only be instituted by the Commissioner of Trade Practices where, in his opinion, the institution of such proceedings is desirable. To this, there is a real exception in the case of resale price maintenance and apparent exceptions in the cases of collusive tendering and collusive bidding. In our view, except for resale price maintenance, the existing Restrictive Trade Practices Act unfairly places the burden on persons whose responsibility it is to administer the law, not to make it. I do not overlook the need for some flexibility in legislation of this kind. Some agreements and practices are not objectionable. The law should provide for such agreements or practices to be treated after appropriate consideration by the administering authorities as exceptions to the general rule. This is the approach taken in the Bill. A related consideration is that a law is bound to be ineffective if it commits to the administering authorities more work than they could hope to perform.
The unsatisfactory operation of the existing Act is made clear in the seventh annual report of the Commissioner of Trade Practices. This report states that on 30 June this year there were no fewer than 12,213 operative agreements entered in the Register maintained by the Commissioner. This was only 147 fewer agreements than the corresponding number on 30 June last year. The Commissioner and his staff have done their best to deal with a vast number of agreements and practices in accordance with the procedure laid down by the Act. But it is clear from the report that the rate of progress they have been able to achieve is extremely inadequate if effective control of restrictive agreements and practices is to be attained within a reasonable period. The progress being made under the existing Act is such that it would be many years before the legislation had any significant impact on the economy. This would be unsatisfactory if inflation was not a pressing problem. Such a slow rate of progress is plainly intolerable.
Another important principle is that a breach of such legislation should give those who are affected by the breach the right to bring private enforcement proceedings. Under the existing Act one who is adversely affected by a practice or agreement has no right to take the first necessary step of instituting proceedings in the Trade Practices Tribunal. Under that Act the institution of such proceedings is the exclusive prerogative of the Commissioner of Trade Practices. If the Commissioner takes no action the person adversely affected by the practice or agreement has no alternative course of action. It is clear that the effectiveness of legislation with respect to trade practices will depend upon the existence of a strong administrative agency. This Bill recognises the need for such an agency.
The agency will be called the Trade Practices Commission and will consist of a Chairman, a Deputy Chairman and such other members as are appointed by the Governor-General. The Trade Practices Commission will replace the Commissioner of Trade Practices. It will have a wide range of responsibilities covering not only enforcement, but the granting of authorisations for conduct otherwise prohibited and the granting of clearances where there is uncertainty as to the application of particular provisions. One of the amendments to the original Bill enables the Commission to go even further in this regard by making available to the public general guidance information with respect to the carrying out of its functions and powers. The Commission will also inquire, at the instance of the Attorney-General, into the need for further legislation with respect to practices that appear to be operating unfairly against the interests of consumers.
The Commission’s functions with respect to consumer protection will complement those relating to consumer standards which the Government is undertaking. The Bill provides for mandatory consumer standards where desirable. The method will be to prescribe the standard by regulation. Any such regulation will be made under the legislation now proposed although decisions to prescribe standards will be taken in close consultation with the Minister responsible for consumer standards. Some of the functions of the Trade Practices Commission will involve the making of administrative determinations of a quasi-judicial character similar in a number of respects to the determinations at present made by the Trade Practices Tribunal.
The Attorney-General is to have a limited power to give directions to the Commission. Comments that have been made on this provision have tended to overlook the very limited nature of the power. The power is not applicable in relation to the Commission’s quasi-judicial functions of granting authorisations or clearances, but it will enable the Attorney-General to give a direction to ensure that the legislation is otherwise being administered in an appropriate manner.
The scope of the Commission’s functions and the discretion vested in it are such that a reserve power of this kind is desirable. For example, questions of priority may arise. The power of direction is accompanied, however, by a requirement that any direction given must be made public. This requirement will ensure that the basic statutory independence of the Commission is not eroded by secret directions. The Bill provides for the Tribunal to be retained as a body of review. It will have power to review determinations of the Commission upon the application of an interested party.
I now refer to some features of the drafting of the Bill. Legislation of this kind is concerned with economic considerations. There is a limit to the extent to which such considerations can be treated in legislation as legal concepts capable of being expressed with absolute precision. Such an approach leads to provisions which are complex in the extreme and give rise to more problems than they remove.
The present Bill recognises the futility of such drafting. Many matters have, of course, had to be stated in detail. But other provisions, particularly those describing the prohibited restrictive trade practices, have been drafted along general lines using, wherever possible, well understood expressions. I am confident that this will be more satisfactory. The Courts will be afforded an opportunity to apply the law in a realistic manner in the exercise of their traditional judicial role.
As this approach to the drafting represents a change from that in the existing Restrictive Trade Practices Act it is not surprising that some of the comments on the Bill have expressed apprehension that it will lead to uncertainty. It is of course desirable that uncertainty be kept to the minimum in this as in any other law. But it is questionable whether detailed drafting leads to more certainty. Often it does no more than obscure the broad purpose of a provision. Chief Justice Hughes of the United States Supreme Court made this very point in an opinion he delivered in 1933 in the case of Appalachian
Coal Inc. v. U.S. when he said of the Sherman Act:
It does not go into detailed definitions which might either work injury to legitimate enterprise or through particularisation defeat its purposes by providing loopholes for escape.
The Bill does in fact go very much further than the Sherman Act does to remove uncertainties. Special provisions are included in the Bill for no other reason than to remove uncertainty. These are the provisions for clearances and authorisations. In the great majority of cases the applicability of the provisions in this Bill will be clear. In those cases where some uncertainty does arise, particularly during the early years of its administration, there will generally be opportunity for the uncertainty to be removed by seeking a clearance or an authorisation. Another provision that will assist in this regard is the one that I have already mentioned enabling the Commission to give the public general guidance information concerning the carrying out of its functions and powers.
The constitutional power of the Australian Parliament to enact legislation such as that contained in the Bill was clarified by the very important decision of the High Court in what is known as the Concrete Pipes Case. For present purposes that case established that restrictive trade practices and monopolisation legislation contained in the Australian Industries Preservation Act could validly derive support from the corporations power. It also established that legal problems can arise when provisions that depend on that power are drafted so as to be inextricably mixed in their operation with provisions that depend on other powers.
The Bill takes account of these considerations. Most of the provisions are drafted so as to apply only when a corporation is involved. But these provisions are given by clause 6 a separate operation in reliance upon other powers. In the result, provisions which appear to be restricted to situations involving a corporation, will have an extended operation involving inter-State trade or commerce, the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory or dealing with the Australian Government, any of its authorities or instrumentalities, or the use of postal, telegraphic or telephone services or a radio or television broadcast.
The present Act places much emphasis on secrecy. Everything on the Register of Trade Agreements is subject to secrecy requirements, as are the functions of the Commissioner and his staff until, in relation to a particular agreement or practice, he institutes proceedings in the Tribunal. Such secrecy is undesirable and goes beyond what is reasonably necessary for the protection of confidential information. The Bill confines secrecy to confidential information. However the secrecy which has applied to the Register is not to be removed. I should add that under the Bill the existing registration requirements are not to be continued. The importance of the Register will become progressively less and less. The existing overseas cargo shipping provisions have been included in the Bill in their present form. This should not be taken as an indication that the Government is satisfied with the provisions. They will be the subject of a later review which will take into account, amongst other things, international negotiations. This will be done by the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) who has the ministerial responsibility in this area.
My last preliminary comment relates to the question of legal aid for matters arising under this legislation. When the earlier Bdi was introduced last year I indicated that a provision enabling legal aid to be granted in appropriate cases was under consideration. The present Bill includes such a provision.
The Provisions with Respect to Restrictive Trade Practices
In brief, the Bill prohibits the following practices: Contracts, arrangements and understandings in restraint of trade or commerce; monopolisation; exclusive dealing; resale price maintenance; price discrimination; anti-competitive mergers.
The provisions with respect to contracts, arrangements and understandings in restraint of trade or commerce are to be found in clause 45 which is now in the form of the amendments that I circulated before the double dissolution of Parliament. The words arrangements and understandings are now used in place of the words combinations and conspiracies used earlier. The clause will cover restraints of trade or commerce such as price-fixing agreements and collusive tendering, market-sharing agreements and collective boycotts. Sub-clause (3), which has been included m accordance with the earlier amendments makes it clear that a contract is not prohibited if its effect on competition is not significant.
The making of contracts, arrangements and understandings in restraint of trade or commerce after the commencement of clause 45 will be prohibited. Contracts entered into before that date will become unenforceable, although a new provision in clause 87 will enable the Court to make consequential adjustments to the rights of parties.
Monopolisation is denned in clause 46, which is now in the form of the amendments that I circulated before the double dissolution of Parliament. The clause covers various forms of conduct by a monopolist against his competitors or would-be competitors. A monopolist for this purpose is a person who substantially controls a market. The application of this provision will be a matter for the Court. An arithmetical test such as one third of the market- as in the existing legislation- is unsatisfactory. The certainty which it appears to give is illusory.
Clause 46 as now drafted makes it clear that it does not prevent normal competition by enterprises that are big by, for example, their taking advantage of economies of scale or making full use of such skills as they have; the provision will prohibit an enterprise which is in a position to control a market from taking advantage of its market power to eliminate or injure its competitors.
The provision will not apply merely because a person who is in a position to control a market engages in conduct within one of the classes set out in the clause. It will be necessary for the application of the clause that, in engaging in such conduct, the person concerned is taking advantage of the power that he has by virtue of being in a position to control the market. For example, a person in a position to control a market might use his power as a dominant purchaser of goods to cause a supplier of those goods to refuse to supply them to a competitor of the first mentioned person- thereby excluding him from competing effectively. In such circumstances the dominant person has improperly taken advantage of his power.
Exclusive dealing is denned in clause 47. It covers arrangements in accordance with which a supplier of goods or services has entered into an arrangement with a person acquiring those goods or services from him and the effect of the arrangement is to limit the freedom of that person to deal as regards persons or places.
Under the clause which is now in the form of the amendments that I circulated before the double dissolution, there are 3 forms of exclusive dealing. In general, exclusive dealing will be prohibited only where the practice is likely to have the effect of substantially lessening competition in a market. This requirement, however, does not apply to 2 specific forms of exclusive dealing. One of these is where a person’s ability to supply goods or services is entirely dependent on a licence, permit, authority or registration under a law of Australia and that person insists, as a condition of supply to another person, that the other person acquire all or part of his requirements of other goods or services directly or indirectly from the first mentioned person. The other specific form of exclusive dealing to which the requirement of reduction of competition does not apply is where a third person is involved. This covers the practice by which a supplier requires a customer to acquire other goods or services from a third person. This is often done pursuant to arrangements under which the supplier obtains a commission or other benefit on sales by the third person to the customer.
The scope of the present clause 47 is significantly narrower than that of the provision it replaces. In particular, the present clause does not cover restraints that apply to suppliers. The clause will not cover the ordinary grant of an exclusive franchise to market a supplier’s goods. The granting of such a franchise may not involve a restraint of trade or commerce. Where a restraint is involved, and where its effect on competition is significant, clause 45 will apply.
Resale price maintenance is denned in Part VIII in substantially the same terms as denned in the existing Act. One of the changes made to this definition ensures that the definition covers action by a manufacturer to induce a retailer, who has obtained the manufacturer’s goods through a wholesaler, to maintain retail prices specified by the manufacturer. Another change ensures that the definition covers the practice by which a supplier stipulates minimum prices at which a distributor may advertise, as distinct from sell. Permissible methods of recommending resale prices have been clarified, as also have the evidentiary provisions in clause 100.
The practice of price discrimination is defined in clause 49, which is now in the form of the amendments that I circulated before the double dissolution. The drafting of the new clause has been improved in a number of respects. In particular, the clause is now expressly limited to discrimination that is of magnitude or of a recurring or systematic character. The prohibition of the practice applies where such discrimination is likely to have the effect of substantially lessening competition in a market for goods, and the clause makes it clear that that market must be one in which the parties to the discriminatory dealing supply goods. This last limitation removes any question of regard being had to effects on competition further down the Une.
There is no need under clause 49 as there is under the existing legislation, for a threat or promise, and the prohibition extends to the granting, as well as to the obtaining, of discriminatory prices. The discriminatory dealing provisions are based on provisions in the United States legislation known as the RobinsonPatman Act, and commentators have been quick to note that that legislation has been the subject of some criticism in the United States. I point out therefore that a number of significant changes have been made to avoid criticisms that have been expressed in relation to the American legislation. Of particular importance is the fact that the Bill is concerned with the preservation of competition of a much broader kind than is the case with the Robinson-Patman Act. Anticompetitive mergers between companies will be prohibited, for the first time in Australia, under the provisions of clause 50. Legislation controlling anti-competitive practices is incomplete if it does not also provide for the control of anticompetitive mergers. In this regard, I refer to the recent annual report of the Commissioner of Trade Practices in which the Commissioner mentioned a number of recent cases in which merger moves in an industry had followed the challenging of restrictive agreements.
Mergers are prohibited by clause 50 where a likely effect would be to substantially lessen competition in a market. Questions will of course arise as to whether particular mergers are likely to have such an effect on competition. In this regard the provisions for clearances and for authorisations will be available and will enable businesses to resolve their uncertainties. Additionally, the Bill now contains a provision to which I have already referred which will enable the Commission to give advance public guidance concerning the approaches it is taking in the administration of” the provisions for merger control.
The Bill does not conflict in any way with the operation of the Companies (Foreign Takeovers) Act. Provisions to avoid such conflict are to be found in clause 90. Sub-clause 9 of clause 90 enables the Government to ensure that a merger is permissible if, in the Government’s view, there are special considerations which conform to the interests of national economic policy.
Authorisations may be granted by the Commission in respect of some practices. The effect of an authorisation is to remove the prohibition that would otherwise apply by virtue of this legislation. Authorisations may be granted in respect of contracts, arrangements or understandings in restraint of trade or commerce- other than those fixing or controlling or providing for the fixing or controlling of the price of goods. Authorisations are also available for exclusive dealing and mergers.
The Government has concluded that the impact of the legislation would be greatly lessened if provision was made for authorisations to be granted in respect of agreements fixing the prices of goods. These agreements are now generally recognised in many countries as being undesirable, particularly in times of inflation as we are now experiencing.
In his latest annual report the Commissioner of Trade Practices, in discussing experience with the case by case examination of price agreements under the existing Act, has said:
The progress made would appear now to justify some direct prohibition of price agreements as well as resale price maintenance, thus moving away from case by case examination in what ought to be a relatively settled area.
The Commissioner expressed his view that price agreements are very unlikely to be in the public interest. In the case of services, however, the Bill does not rule out the possibility of an authorisation for a price-fixing agreement. Traditionally in legislation of this kind restrictive practices relating to services have not been felt to merit quite the same degree of control as restrictive practices relating to the supply of goods. There is now an increasing concern with services, and the OECD in particular has urged member countries to strengthen their legislation in this regard. The Bil has been prepared on the general basis that restrictive practices relating to both goods and services are of concern. However, representations were made that a number of special considerations may apply to particular kinds of services and the Bill does not preclude applications for authorisation of price-fixing agreements with respect to services.
It is essential that the Commission should be able to deal expeditiously with applications for authorisations. The Bill has been framed with this in mind. The Commission will not be required to hold a public hearing in respect of every application for an authorisation. It will be able to hold such a hearing where it considers it appropriate.
If the Commission deals with an authorisation application without a public hearing, the relevant documents will be available for public inspection- subject to special provisions for the protection of confidential information. In all cases the Commission is to be required to take any submissions into account. The approach to be taken by the Commission in considering whether to grant an authorisation is indicated in sub-clause (5) of clause 90. The Commission is directed by that provision not to grant an authorisation unless it is satisfied that a specific and substantial benefit to the public is likely to result from the practice in question. The Commission is also required to be satisfied that, in all the circumstances, the benefit to the public justifies the granting of an authorisation.
The position, therefore, is that the onus will be firmly on the applicant to satisfy the Commission that the granting of an authorisation is justified. Unless and until an authorisation is obtained in respect of a practice falling into one of the prohibited classes I have mentioned, such practice will be unlawful. The Bill recognises, however, that there is a need for special transitional provisions for a period immediately following the commencement of the legislation. The prohibitions of contracts in restraint of trade or commerce and exclusive dealing will not become effective until 4 months after the commencement date. During that period it will be possible for persons to apply to the Commission for authorisations in respect of those practices. As the Commission may find itself unable to give full consideration to the applications it receives in this period, provision is included to enable the grant of interim authorisations. An interim authorisation, if granted, will have the effect of permitting the practice to continue until the Commission, after full consideration, makes a final determination.
I should make clear that the Commission will not grant interim authorisations as a matter of course. Parties wishing to obtain such an authorisation in the 4-month period would be wise to lodge their applications as soon as possible after the commencement of the legislation. The Commission will not be under any obligation to grant instantaneous interim authorisations to persons lodging applications near the end of the period. The Commission will be able to attach conditions to any authorisations, interim or final. Breach of such a condition will entitle the Commission to revoke the authorisation. Applications for authorisations for proposed mergers will, as with all other authorisation applications, be placed on a public register as soon as they are received by the Commission. This is necessary if the Commission is to take into account the views of other interested persons. Until there has been an opportunity for such persons to make their views known on a proposed merger, the Commission could not be expected to make a determination authorising the merger. This will not prevent parties to proposed mergers having prior informal and private discussions with the Commission. I would expect such discussions to be of considerable assistance to parties contemplating possible mergers, even though the informal guidance given by the Commission will not be binding upon it.
The Bill also provides for clearances. The purpose of a clearance is to remove uncertainty as to the applicability of certain provisions, in contrast to the purpose of an authorisation, which is to permit a practice to be engaged in notwithstanding that it falls into a prohibited class. The provisions relating to enforcement and remedies in respect of breaches of the restrictive trade practices provisions are to be found in Part VI. The question whether there has been a breach of the law will be a matter for the Court, as is the case with breaches of most other laws. Pending the establishment of the proposed Superior Court of Australia the only Court with jurisdiction under the legislation will be the Australian Industrial Court. Such matters will not be determined by the Trade Practices Commission or the Trade Practices Tribunal, both of which are administrative bodies.
A breach of a provision in the legislation with respect to restrictive trade practices will render the person liable to a pecuniary penalty, in injunction, or damages. Proceedings for a pecuniary penalty will need to be instituted by the Attorney-General or the Trade Practices Commission. The penalty, when received, will go into consolidated revenue. The amount of such a penalty will be a matter for the Court to determine having regard to relevant matters including in particular those matters specified in clause 76. The circumstances can be expected to vary considerably from case to case and the penalty determined by the Court can be expected to vary accordingly. The maximum penalty the Court will be able to determine will be $250,000 in the case of a corporation and $50,000 in the case of a natural person. Such a penalty and the proceedings to recover it will be civil in character. A breach will not constitute an offence for the purposes of the criminal law and the penalty will not be a fine.
The difference may at first appear to be only a matter of form. The important consequence is that such proceedings, involving business dealings to the extent that they do, will not find their way into a criminal court. Proceedings for an injunction will be able to be initiated by the Attorney-General, the Trade Practices Commission or by any other person. Proceedings for damages will be able to be initiated by any person who suffers loss or damage as a result of a contravention. Provision for certain classes of agreements and practices to be exempt from the legislation I have described is to be found in clause 51. This clause follows closely the corresponding provisions in the existing legislation. In addition there is a power similar to the one in the existing Act to exempt by regulation organisations concerned in the marketing of primary products. There is also power to provide exemptions by regulation for practices related to intergovernmental arrangements.
The Consumer Protection Provisions
The consumer protection provisions are to be found for the most part in Part V. Some of these provisions are expressly limited to transactions involving consumers. The meaning of a consumer is dealt with by sub-clause (3) of clause 4. A consumer is there denned to cover in general a person who acquires goods or services of a kind ordinarily acquired for private use or consumption. The definition does not cover a person when he acquires goods for the purposes of resupply. Nor does it cover a person who acquires services for a business. The consumer protection provisions do not necessarily displace State legislation in the same field. Clause 75 expressly states that Part V is not intended to exclude or limit the concurrent operation of any law of a State or Territory. The Bill recognises that in many consumer protection matters there is a need for a national approach, and that the effectiveness of State laws is necessarily limited.
Division 1 of the Part V prohibits a number of unfair practices. Clause 52 prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct- and does so in general terms. It is important that there should be such a provision if the law is not to be continually one step behind businessmen who resort to smart practices. Clause 52 overlaps the operation of some of the other more specific provisions. I point out in this connection that a breach of a specific provision exposes the person concerned to a penalty, whereas a breach of the more general provisions in clause 52 gives rise to a right to an injunction only. Clause 53 prohibits a number of specific forms of false representations with respect to goods and services. Clause 54 prohibits the offering of prizes in connection with the promotion of goods and services when there is no intention of actually providing the prizes. Clause 55 prohibits misleading conduct covered by the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property as revised at Stockholm on 14 July 1967. This Convention covers conduct that is liable to mislead the public as to the nature, the manufacturing process, the characteristics, the suitability for their purpose or the quantity of goods. Clause 55 does not come into operation until the Convention enters into force for Australia. I expect that this will be soon. Clause 56 prohibits the practice known as bait advertising. This is the practice in accordance with which a bargain is advertised and in point of fact the bargain either does not exist or is available for a very short time. The purpose of such advertising is mainly to attract a customer into a store.
The practice of referral selling is prohibited by clause 57. This is the practice by which a supplier induces a customer to acquire goods or services by indicating that the consumer, after paying for the goods or services- and I stress that it is after such payment- will get rebates or commissions on subsequent sales by the supplier to other persons whose names are provided by the consumer or who view the work done for the consumer by the supplier. Clause 58 prohibits the acceptance of payment without intention to supply as ordered. Clause 59 prohibits the making of misleading statements about home-operated businesses. Clause 60 prohibits coercive conduct by salesmen or debt collectors at a person’s place of residence. Pyramid selling is a practice that has been a cause of much concern in recent years. This practice is prohibited by clause 61, which is now in the form of the amendments that I circulated before the double dissolution. I have already mentioned that the Bill will enable consumer standards to be prescribed and made mandatory. Provision is made in this connection for product safety standards and product information standards. A prescribed product safety standard will require compliance with safety standard requirements. A prescribed product information standard will require the disclosure of information relating to matters such as the performance, composition, contents, design, construction, finish or packaging of goods. The provisions relating to both kinds of standards are to be found in clauses 62 and 63.
Clause 64 deals with the practice of unsolicited goods and unsolicited directory entries. The clause prohibits the assertion of a right to payment for such goods or directory entries. This provision does not apply if the person against whom a right to payment for goods is asserted, ordinarily uses like goods in the course of his profession, business, trade or occupation. Under clause 65, a person who has received unsolicited goods is to be relieved of liability for loss or damage to the goods, other than loss or damage resulting from the doing by him of a wilful and unlawful act. Division 2 of Part V provides for a number of conditions and warranties designed to protect the consumer to apply and to be incapable of being excluded. These provisions are limited to consumer transactions. I have already referred to the limited meaning of consumer under sub-clause (3) of clause 4.
Clause 67 prevents the inclusion in consumer contracts of provisions rendering Australian law inapplicable to contracts, the proper law of which is otherwise Australian. Paragraph (b) of this clause prevents the substitution of provisions in the law of another country for provisions in Division 2. Clause 68 renders void a term of a consumer contract that purports to exclude, restrict or modify the application of Division 2. Clause 69 provides for certain conditions as to title encumbrances and quiet possession to be implied in every consumer contract. Clause 70 implies certain conditions in consumer contracts for the supply of goods by description. In accordance with the amendments that I circulated before the double dissolution, this clause does not apply to sales by auction or by competitive tender. Clause 71 implies certain undertakings in consumer contracts as to quality or fitness. Clause 72 implies certain conditions in consumer contracts for the supply of goods by reference to sample. A new clause 73 has been included to deal specifically with the rights of parties in hirepurchase transactions. Clause 74 implies certain conditions in consumer contracts for the supply of services.
Enforcement of Consumer Protection Provision
A contravention of a provision of Part V- other than the general provision in clause 52- is to be an offence. The maximum penalty for such an offence is to be, in the case of a corporation, a fine not exceeding $50,000, and in the case of an individual, a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 6 months (clause 79). Contraventions that can be regarded as excusable are the subject of special defences provided in clause 85. Provision for injunctions is included in clause 80. A right to recover damages is conferred by clause 82. Apart from that right, clause 87 (2) empowers the Court, upon finding that there has been a contravention, to direct a refund of money or a payment to a person who has suffered loss or damage. The jurisdiction to deal with consumer protection proceedings under the Bill is to be confined initially to the Australian Industrial Court. This will assist the early development of a cohesive body of case law which might not be possible, if, in the early stages of the operation of the legislation, courts of lower status- presided over by magistrates, for example- were to have jurisdiction.
In due course it will be desirable to confer jurisdiction on such lower courts to deal with consumer protection matters. It will be desirable that the ready enforcement of rights under the legislation is facilitated in this way. A suitable opportunity to confer jurisdiction on courts of lower status will arise when the proposed Superior Court of Australia is established. I envisage that an amendment for the purpose will be effected at that time. Mr President, it will be apparent to honourable senators that the Bill is of great importance. It represents a great advance in the areas of restrictive trade practices and consumer protection and attends to a wide variety of problems. This is intended to promote efficiency and competition in business, to reduce prices and to protect all Australians against unfair practices. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Murphy) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech, a copy of which has been circulated to honourable senators, incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted?
- Mr President, I rise before agreeing to the granting of leave.
-I will read it.
The purpose of this Bill is to establish the Superior Court of Australia. The Bill is, with minor variations to which I shall refer later, the same as the Bill I introduced into the Senate in 1973 and again in March this year. I do not propose to repeat all that I have said before about the long history of this project. I invite the attention of honourable senators to my second reading speech at pages 2724-2729 of Hansard of 12
December 1973, when this Bill was first introduced into the Senate.
The Superior Court is to be a court empowered to exercise Federal jurisdiction. The new court is to replace two of the existing Federal courts, that is, the Australian Industrial Court and the Federal Court of Bankruptcy, and to take over some of the jurisdiction now exercised under laws made by this Parliament by the High Court and State Supreme Courts. It is not intended to take away from State Supreme Courts the Federal jurisdiction they now exercise, except in matrimonial causes and under specified statutory provisions, which are set out in sub-clauses 36 (5) and 37 ( 1 ) of the Bill. In respect of all other matters in which State Supreme Courts now exercise Federal jurisdiction, that jurisdiction will be exercised concurrently with the Superior Court. For reasons which I explained last December, it is proposed that the Superior Court will take over the jurisdiction of the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory Supreme Courts, and eventually replace those courts.
I do not think it necessary to go again in detail through the provisions of the Bill. They have been described before. I do want to deal with some of the major points that have been made in opposition to the establishment of the Superior Court, both in the Parliament and elsewhere. It is said that the setting-up of the new Court will introduce confusion where none now exists, that Federal law ought to be administered through State courts, as the system of courts to which the citizen ought to be able to look to enforce all his rights irrespective of whether they originate in Federal or State law, that the new Court will be divisive and that it will be over-elaborate and costly.
A considerable range of Federal matters is now dealt with by the High Court and by the other Federal courts. Industrial matters, trade practice matters, some appeals from administrative decisions of Australian Government Ministers and officials and some other matters are dealt with by the Industrial Court. This jurisdiction is exclusive of that of State courts. Jurisdiction in bankruptcy is vested in the Federal Court of Bankruptcy concurrently with the State courts, but in practice it is exercised almost exclusively by the Federal court in New South Wales and Victoria. Some Federal jurisdiction, such as appeals from the Commissioner of Patents and the Registrar of Trade Marks and the revocation of patents, is vested exclusively in the High Court. Developments in the past decade have seen the Industrial Court invested with an increasing load of jurisdiction for which it was not designed. The content of Federal jurisdiction of a specialised character will continue to increase.
It is, I believe, the responsibility of this Parliament to ensure that there are adequate courts, properly staffed and equipped, operating under up-to-date rules of procedure, so that the rights and obligations created under laws made by the Parliament or existing between the citizen and the Australian Government can be adequately and effectively enforced on a uniform basis throughout Australia. There are complaints from all over Australia about costs and delays in court proceedings, and the need to modernise procedures. The content of these complaints varies from State to State. Some States are better than others. New South Wales has only recently made an extensive overhaul of its judicial system, in the process of bringing in reforms adopted elsewhere a century ago. I do not want to single out any State for particular criticism, but to highlight the fact that laws made by this Parliament and intended to apply uniformly throughout Australia do not in fact do so because of the differences in judicial systems and procedures.
There are other differences. Periods of limitation for the bringing of actions and the laws of evidence vary from one State or territory to another. The rights a citizen has against the Australian Government may thus depend on the State in which he lives, or the court in which he sues. A legal practitioner from one State may have no right to appear in another State in a Federal matter. The Government does not believe that the existing system, under which there may be such an uneven application throughout Australia of the rights and obligations under laws made by this Parliament or between the citizen and the Australian Government, should be allowed to continue.
As new areas of Federal law develop, the Parliament must concern itself with how the laws are to be administered in the courts. In family law there will be the choice between establishing special procedures, with judges specially selected for their aptitude for and interest in this field of law, and leaving the administration of the new family law to the vagaries of 8 different systems of courts, only some of which have begun to move towards specialised family law procedures. In entering the important field of regulating the securities and exchange industry nationally, as the Parliament will be invited to do, I believe that Parliament must ensure that there is a court adequately staffed and equipped with whatever resources are required for the effective administration of that law throughout Australia.
The Parliament has no constitutional responsibility for State courts and cannot, under the Constitution, intervene in the organisation of these courts. The High Court has made it clear that in investing State courts with federal jurisdiction, the Parliament must take those courts as it finds them.
Opponents of the Bill have also made much of jurisdictional difficulties, which consist in the uncertainty of knowing whether certain matters may be dealt with at all in a federal court. I do not minimise the difficulties in the areas where they exist, but it is significant that always the same three or four examples are brought up. The difficulties would not affect the great bulk of jurisdiction the new court would be called on to exercise. The Bill has been drafted with some care to ensure that in those fields where jurisdictional difficulties are likely to arise the State courts would be left with concurrent jurisdiction. None of these difficulties are new. They were all considered by Mr Justice Bowen when he was Attorney-General and his considered conclusion was that notwithstanding those difficulties the Superior Court Bill should be proceeded with. It is not to be supposed that he would have lightly passed over the difficulties. Then it is said that the new court will be costly to establish and administer. For example, reference has been made elsewhere to the number of chief judges that might be appointed. But the Bill does not require that there be a chief judge for each district or for each division. Indeed, except in respect of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, there is no obligation to have separate districts. Only in respect of the industrial division would it be necessary to appoint a chief judge of a division. That those provisions are mandatory is due to the special character and history of the industrial jurisdiction and the fact that the new court would replace courts of general jurisdiction in the 2 territories. For the rest, the Bill provides a structure which can develop as the work of the court develops and as the need for specialist jurisdictions within the court emerges. Thus it is contemplated that the court can be built up over a period of time, according to the manner in which its jurisdiction develops.
I indicated earlier in my speech that this Bill differs in some minor ways from the Bill I introduced in the Senate last year and again earlier this year. The provision in the Bill for appointment of chief judges to other divisions in addition to the industrial division was not in the earlier Bills. The Bill now contains also provisions enabling separate registries for separate divisions to be established. In addition to the matters that I have already mentioned, the main differences between the present and the earlier Bills are that the court’s jurisdiction in a particular district would no longer be required, as a general rule, to be exercised by a judge of that district, provision is made to enable bankruptcy proceedings pending in State courts to be transferred to the Superior Court of Australia, and there would be transferred to the Superior Court the jurisdiction of State and Territory supreme courts under section 92 of the Marriage Act. Also, jurisdiction under certain provisions of the Customs Act, the National Health Act and the Post and Telegraph Act would not be transferred to the Superior Court, as consideration is being given to vesting jurisdiction under those provisions in the new Administrative Review Tribunal to be established by separate legislation. The Government believes the Superior Court will play an important part in the judicial life of Australia. With the implementation of the policies of the present Government and the establishment of more effective procedures for judicial review, the Superior Court will have an important part to play in the relationship between the individual citizen and the executive government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Wright) adjourned.
-I seek leave to make a short statement on the Trade Practices Bill 1974.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
– I rise because I understand that the Government wishes to bring a number of Bills before this place. I point out that the incorporation of second reading speeches in Hansard will create certain problems for honourable senators. I refer to the second reading speech on the Trade Practices Bill 1974 which the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) was granted leave to incorporate in Hansard. It is a quite sizable Bill. I draw to the attention of the Attorney-General the comments which he makes on the Bill and the fact that I believe that the proper papers are not available to honourable senators. This matter distresses me greatly.
– To what papers is the honourable senator referring?
– I refer the AttorneyGeneral to his second reading speech where he states:
The amendments to which I have just referred are indicated for the convenience of honourable senators in black type in a memorandum that has been prepared to indicate the difference between this Bill and the Bill that was introduced into the Senate on 1 5 November 1973.
I requested a copy of that memorandum from the attendants. I am advised that there is only the one memorandum and that it appears in my folder. It is designated as Trade Practices Bill 1973. If one happens to look through that explanatory memorandum- I may be wrong in my presumption- one will see nothing in black type, other than the headings which indicate the basis of the Trade Practices Bill 1973.I make the point that I feel that the Government, in instances where it intends to push, as I understand it, many dozens of Bills into this place, should not seek leave to incorporate second reading speeches.
Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) by leave- The Trade Practices Bill 1974 stands on its own footing as it comes in. This is a new parliament and a new Bill. I will endeavour to see what has happened to the matter to which reference has been made in my second reading speech. I shall see that the honourable senators and any other honourable senator who has not been supplied with a copy of the memorandum as indicated in the speech is supplied with it.
– Has such a memorandum been printed?
– Yes, it has been circulated.
– I move:
I indicated earlier that it was the Government’s desire to bring on this matter at an early date because the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) had indicated to me that after I had introduced the proposal he would move the adjournment of the matter. All I need say in support of the Government’s case for the establishment of such a committee is that this suggested committee is to look at the committee system. Broadly, the motion is in the same terms as one which was passed by the House of Representatives in August last year. It came into the Senate and remained on the Senate notice paper for dicussion, but because of the exigency of other legislation and because of other matters which transpired it was not debated. The Government firmly supports the committee system. I think it was a hallmark of the time that we were in Opposition that we firmly advocated not only the establishment but also the expansion of committees.
– What committee system? The Senate committee system?
-We advocated the committee system.
– No, you did not. You advocated a Senate committee system.
– In this place we advocated a Senate committee system. In another place we advocated a House of Representatives committee system. We have advocated the joint committee system. The committees of this Parliament and, indeed, of the Senate have left their footprints on the legislative sands of time. I recall two such committees immediately. One was the Senate Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures which was presided over by the late Senator Laught. A number of my colleagues were members of that committee. It brought in recommendations which the then government subsequently accepted.
– It was a Senate committee.
-That was a Senate committee. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack wants constantly to say so. I have emphasised already about 14 times, that I am speaking about the committee system in that context.
– Now the Government wants to change that system.
-We want to have a committee to look at the general system. At this stage we have not suggested any change. We have suggested an investigation. That is all we are asking at this stage. I refer to another committee on which I can bring some knowledge to bear, that is, the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, known as the Vincent Committee. It was established some 12 or 14 years ago to consider the encouragement of Australian productions for television. The report of that Committee was ultimately written in as part and parcel of the policy of the Labor movement. Those Senate committees to which I have referred existed at a time when the legislative processes of this Parliament and of the Senate particularly were slower than they are now.
The number of sitting days of the Parliament were fewer than they have been in recent times. The simple fact is that in the last Parliament close to 40 committees were operating- 1 5 in the House of Representatives and 25, including the Senate Estimates Committees, in the Senate. I think it is fair to say that among those committees was at least some and perhaps a great deal of cross purpose investigation resulting in an excess expenditure of time and money. By way of example I point out that public servants gave the same evidence to one committee as they gave to another committee.
I do not propose to rehash the debate which took place in another place on 2 occasions in relation to previous motions. But apart from Joint Statutory Committees, such as the Public Accounts and Public Works Committees, there were some 4 joint committees in addition to the 15 House of Representatives committees and the 25 Senate committees to which I have alluded. Frankly, the stage has been reached where the sittings of Parliament appear to interfere with committee meetings. I emphasise that by this motion we are not doing away with the committee system. We are asking for an investigation of it. We are asking for a fresh look at it in order to bring about, we hope, a rationalisation or a modernisation of the system which exists. Committees of Parliament do very valuable work but they operate at some considerable expense to the Australian community. I suggest that a committee of the type which I have proposed on behalf of the Government can also look at the question of quorums and the rights of witnesses. Honourable senators will recall that this matter became a quite vexatious question at the time of the sittings of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange.
The proposed Committee also could give consideration to imposing a time limit within which reports should be presented to the Parliament. There is a drastic need to co-ordinate the committee system. We would be having another look at something which is part and parcel of the functioning of Parliament. I believe it is in the interests of the Australian people and of the image of Parliament itself that the Senate concur in the resolution transmitted to it from the House of Representatives. I emphasise that this is a suggestion for a joint committee to report on and make recommendations for a parliamentary committee system.
– I move:
1 ) At end of paragraph ( 1 ) add ‘subject to the following modifications:
That the committee consist of three Members of the House of Representatives nominated by the Prime Minister, two Members nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, one Member nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party, three Senators nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, two Senators nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and one Senator nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate’; and
The Opposition does not disagree with the general content of what was just said by the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland). However, we have a lingering doubt about the real purpose of the motion he moved because the factor that has made the committee system of the Parliament effective is what I might term the pure Senate committees. I think it is a fact of life that the joint committees set up by this Parliament have been, to a large extent, great non-events, whether they related to road safety, the protection of our fauna and flora, or some of the other things which they investigated. Therefore, we of the Opposition approach the Government’s motion with some suspicion, and I say that quite frankly. We believe that the Senate committee system did possibly more than anything else to re-establish the Senate in the eyes of the public as an institution that ought to be promoted. That should not prevent us, of course, from being prepared to look at ourselves. The intent of the amendment which I have moved and which has been circulated is that if a joint committee is to consider the committee system that committee ought to be balanced as between the chambers and as between the sides within the chambers.
– When did you circulate your amendment? I do not have a copy.
-It has been circulated. I am sorry that the Minister was missed, but copies are available. The motion which came to us from the House of Representatives proposing a committee of twelve is both loaded in favour of the Government and loaded in favour of the other place. I am one of those people who believe that the Senate should never surrender its equality with the other House, except in extreme cases. I think that this is an important principle when we are considering something on a House basis. I know that there are twice as many of our colleagues in the other place and I know that occasionally that is taken into account, but I believe that what I have put forward is a reasonable proposition. There should be 3 Government members from the House of Representatives, 3 Opposition members from the House of Representatives, 3 Government senators and 3 Opposition senators on this proposed Committee. Should either of the 2 Independent senators wish to have a guernsey, I am quite certain that a place could be found for him within the ranks of the 3 Opposition senators.
– There is only one Independent senator.
-I thought that Senator Townley was an Independent.
– There is only one. If you read Hansard you will see that that is so.
- Senator Steele Hall is the leader of a party.
-He is the leader of a party! Some party! I still think he is an Independent.
– He is a probationary Liberal.
-Is that what he is? I think that if the composition of the proposed Committee were balanced between the 2 Houses and the 2 sides of each House there would be a far more accurate reflection of opinion. After all, in this chamber there are 29 Government senators and 29 Opposition senators; so why should the Government have 3 members on the proposed Committee and the Opposition only two? Even in the other place the difference in numbers is now down to five; so why should there not be 3 committee members from each side in that place? We put this proposition forward not only to protect the position of the Opposition as against the Government but mainly to protect the position of the Senate as against our colleagues in another place.
If anything is done to disrupt the Senate committee system, in many ways this chamber may as well go out of existence. I know that Senate committees are not liked by any government. Senate committees, working properly and performing their function properly, will always expose weaknesses in government policy and government administration. I know, as do most of my colleagues who sit behind me, the problems we had when in government in making certain that the then Government went along with the Senate committee system. We suspect that the present Government does not wish to have its policies and administrative weaknesses exposed by Senate committees. Such committees have a habit of chasing after things, really digging out the facts, and exposing all the defects to public view.
Mr President, I have put quite shortly the reasons for my amendment. I understand that the Government will move that this debate be adjourned so that it can consider the amendment. If the Government really wants this proposed Joint Committee, for goodness sake let it be truly joint and truly representative of the Parliament. The operations of this proposed Committee will be lost if we cannot get a great deal of unanimity. All its work will be to no avail. 1 hope that the Government will accede to our suggestion so that the proposed Committee may get to work. I would hope, relying on the Senate position being properly protected, that the report of the proposed Committee would be unanimous. Without unanimity, people will be playing politics in the setting up of committees and I do not think that that would do anything for the advancement of the committee system of the Parliament. I commend my amendment to the Senate.
– The Government is prepared to give consideration to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers). Therefore I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 25 July (vide page 523), on motion by Senator Bishop:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Does the Government intend to have a cognate debate on this Bill and the Post and Telegraph Bill 1974?
– With Senator Durack ‘s agreement, I suggest that the 2 Bills be the subject of a cognate debate.
-Is that the wish of the Senate? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-These 2 Bills come before the Senate, having passed through the House of Representatives last Thursday, as part of what must now be one of the greatest hoaxes, if not the greatest, ever attempted to be foisted on the Australian people by any government. Last Tuesday night in the House of Representatives and in this chamber the Government put down a statement on inflation and how it intended to handle inflation. The Government had preceded the presentation of the statement by a good build up- a pattern with which we have become familiar. There were Cabinet meetings all day on the previous Monday, and other meetings took place before the statement was presented. There was a big build-up to suggest that this Government was really going to tackle inflation.
That was a rather surprising proposition in itself, because until halfway through the last Federal election campaign we had found the Government’s attitude was that it ignored inflation; it tried to get everyone to believe that no such thing as inflation existed. Of course we know that during the election campaign the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) himself had to recognise the fact that inflation did exist. However, his answer was that the Government had then got inflation under control. When the consumer price index for the March quarter came out, although it showed the highest increase that had ever occurred in the March quarter, the Government was able to juggle the figures around and perpetrate its confidence trick at that stage by saying that it really had inflation under control and that the rate of inflation was in fact reducing. Last week the Government had to recognise that this view, in its own words, was illusory. So the Government said that it was coming into this Parliament with a great plan to tackle inflation. As I have said, the Government tried to present the hoax that this Labor Government had done, was doing and would do something really important to control inflation. The statement which the Government presented is headed ‘Inflation- Ministerial Statement’. Senator Wriedt in presenting the statement to this chamber said:
During the period ahead the Government and the Australian community will face critical decisions in the economic field. These decisions must be made in the context of renewed momentum in our inflationary spiral. It is appropriate, therefore, that I should outline tonight the Government’s assessment of the task it faces and indicate the manner in which it will approach that task.
Those were brave words from this Government, and we now would have more respect for the Government if those words in the statement had been matched by action of any substance. The statement continues:
I have no illusions about the magnitude, or the intractability, of the task we face. It must be obvious to all of us that, with prices and costs now rising at these rates, and with inflationary expectations now so entrenched, inflation cannot now be beaten without severe costs. It must be equally obvious that we would have preferred to avoid those costs.
That is certainly the case. The Government had been avoiding those costs very well up to that stage and, as I shall indicate, it is still avoiding them. The brave words continue:
The plain fact is that we no longer have any real choice.
This statement, which contained sub-headings such as ‘The Inflationary Outlook’, ‘Inflation and Our Society’, ‘The Control of Demand’, and Restraint of Expenditure’ carried the clear message that the Government was introducing into this Parliament, and unveiling for the Australian people, a really tough and courageous program to deal with inflation. The statement concludes:
I have sought tonight to make clear the Government’s deep concern about current inflationary trends and its determination to act to bring them under control. To do so will require a balanced program designed to have an effective impact but which can readily be adjusted to the changing needs of the emerging situation. In our forthcoming budgetary deliberations we shall be seeking to shape such a program.
That was the statement which was presented to the Senate last Tuesday night. When we read the statement we found that part and parcel of that program were the proposals contained in the Bills which we now have before us. These Bills are designed to increase very severely indeed the charges, or tariffs as they are called, over a great range of postal and telecommunication services. Indeed, as it turned out, these proposals were among the very few proposals of a major financial nature included in the statement on inflation which was presented last Tuesday night.
When we had time to study the proposals we saw that the statement was far from being one containing a major attack on inflation and the great range of measures which we were led to expect would be brought down. It contained the proposal to increase pensions which obviously was necessary as a measure of social justice in the circumstances of a rate of inflation which this Government has not only allowed to continue but has fired through its term of office. The only substantial measure which this Government presented to the Parliament in order to tackle inflation was one which sought to increase- and, as I have said, to increase severely- the charges for a whole range of postal and telecommunication services. That seemed rather strange at the time when we read the statement. I think that even the most credulous amongst us would have paused for a moment and asked himself just how inflation could be tackled by the Government severely increasing the costs of an important range of services in the community.
But perhaps we should not have been so surprised that that was this Government’s remedy for inflation because that is just the sort of remedy that this Government has imposed on all State governments in Australia. At the Premiers Conference in June the Government followed exactly the same technique. Because of its attitude to State finances, this Government has forced all State governments to increase greatly the charges over a whole range of services provided by State governments. If the Government has any program for tackling inflation at all, at this stage all we have been able to see of that program is a proposal to increase the costs of services provided by governments, whether it be the Commonwealth Government or the State governments. So the particular recipe for fighting inflation which was presented by this Government last Tuesday night was apparently to increase the costs of all postal and telecommunication services. As I have said, at first glance that may be a very surprising program for a government, but apparently it is the one which the Government seriously presented to us last Tuesday night as being the way in which it was going to tackle inflation.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was pointing out that the proposals contained in these Bills were presented by the Government last Tuesday night as virtually the major item in its much vaunted statement on controlling inflation. I turn now to the detailed contents of these proposals which provide very severe increases in a wide range of charges for postal and telecommunications services in Australia. I deal with the major increases. The basic letter rate is to be increased from 7c to 9c, and the basic telephone call charge from 4.75c to 6c.
– What percentage rises are they?
-It is a matter of simple arithmetic which the honourable senator can do for me. They are very substantial rises. The rental for business telephones is to be increased by $20. To cap it all, probably the most vicious increase of all is the increase in the charge for a public telephone call from 5c to 10c. Even I, with my arithmetical ability, can work out that percentage increase as being a 100 per cent increase.
– The public telephones are supposed to be for the poor.
-That is what the poorer people will have to pay. The public telephones have been called the people’s telephones. What is the total effect? The net effect of these charges were deliberately designed by the Governmentthere is no doubt about that fact; it is referred to in the Minister’s statement- to raise a total of $ 1 46m in the present financial year.
– What is the justification for the increases?
-The justification that was given in the first place was that they were designed to fight inflation. These proposals were the Government’s program to fight inflation. The reason now advanced is that their objective is to cover a Post Office loss which the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop), in his second reading speech, said could exceed $ 100m for 1974-75. To cover a loss which could be $100m, the Government proposes to raise $ 146m by the wide range of increases which I have indicated. Senator Webster asked me the individual percentage increases. I said that it was a matter of arithmetic. The overall percentage increase in charges is 22 per cent for the postal services and 1 7 per cent for the telephone services.
I deal with the contention that there is justification for increasing charges to cover projected losses. The Vernon Royal Commission advocated an increase of 15 per cent for postal charges and 7 per cent for telephone charges. The increases in these proposals are substantially in excess of the recommendations of the Government-appointed Vernon Commission. They are 22 per cent for postal charges and 1 7 per cent for telecommunications charges. Their effect is not simple and is by no means to cover projected losses but to provide the Post Office with a substantial profit. The PostmasterGeneral, in his second reading speech, estimated the profit at $60m in the current financial year. The proposals were justified, in the first place, as proposals to fight inflation. They were the major item in the Government’s program which was submitted only last Tuesday night- a week ago. The Government proposes to fight inflation by increasing costs of services over a wide area. Although the Minister, in his second reading speech, tried to say that the increases were marginal, he admitted that they will mean an increase in the cost of living of about 0.2 per cent. The other justification, as presented in the second reading speech, is that the Post Office needs to cover a projected loss. In order to recover that loss the Government is budgeting not just to cover that loss or even to cover it comfortably but is budgeting, by these provisions, for a profit of $60m.
Let us recount the sorry record of this Government over the last week, since it introduced these proposals. I think we must continually remind ourselves that they were introduced as the Government’s anti-inflationary package. What happened? Within a day of the proposals being introduced- certainly the next morning, last Wednesday morning- the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr J. F. Cairns, on a radio interview was asked whether the measures outlined by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) were anti-inflationary. The Deputy Prime Minister was asked whether they were anti-inflationary. What did he say? He said:
Well, they are not. It’s very difficult to see what can be anti-inflationary.
That is a masterpiece of understatement. Members of this Government seem to be quite incapable in finding any policy which could be said to be anti-inflationary, and there seem to be as many policies to deal with it as there are Ministers. So I think we could agree that it would be difficult for this Government to see what was anti-inflationary. Less than 24 hours after the statement was put down last Tuesday night not only did the Deputy Prime Minister firmly repudiate the measures as anti-inflationary but the Treasurer, when asked last Wednesday whether he agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement, said:
That was the statement. The night before- last Tuesday night- Mr Crean solemnly put down his much vaunted statement concerning measures to deal with inflation.
The major item in the statement to tackle inflation- I have quoted from it- was the raising of $146m by these postal and telecommunications charges. The next morning the Treasurer himself said: ‘The measures as far as postal services are concerned are not designed to be antiinflationary’. Of course, the Deputy Prime Minister said the same thing a little earlier that day, and another very prominent member of the Government- no lesser person than Senator Murphy, the Leader of the Government in this place- was asked last Thursday by Senator Withers:
Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate believe that the increased postal and telephone charges announced on Tuesday night are anti-inflationary?
Senator Murphy said:
It is a simple proposition to ask the Government whether the increasing of any charge for any service is antiinflationary. I suppose that the commonsense answer to that question would be no.
So within 48 hours of the announcing of the Government’s much vaunted anti-inflationary program the major part of that program was repudiated by the Leader of the Government in this place, Senator Murphy.
Perhaps one should not be so surprised that Senator Murphy finds himself in disagreement with his own Government on certain matters. Certainly Senator Murphy said that the measures could not be regarded as anti-inflationary. Within 12 hours the statement was repudiated very firmly by the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Cairns, who said that the measures were not antiinflationary. It may not be so surprising either that Dr Cairns should be at variance with the Government, despite the fact that he is the Deputy Leader of it. We have found in the last few days- in fact in the last few months- how much at variance he is with the Government on many issues. We also found that within 24 hours the author of the anti-inflation program, the Treasurer himself, said quite firmly that they were simply fiscal measures that he brought down last Tuesday night and, as far as the postal charges are concerned, they were not designed to be anti-inflationary. What utter confusion everybody must feel now in regard to the proposals contained in this legislation. What utter confusion there must be in the Government itself as evidenced by the complete and utter repudiation by the Government of its own programs. It is quite apparent, therefore, that the reason and the whole basis for the charges that have been presented by the Government as pan of its antiinflationary package have completely fallen to the ground. One can only speculate as to why the Government should have introduced these measures at all at this stage, in this manner and for the reasons that were given for them.
As I have said, it is perfectly clear from the comments of the leading members of the Government themselves that these measures are not designed to deal with inflation but are in fact inflationary. The Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) in his second reading speech said quite rightly, as common sense would demand, that these heavy increases in the charges for a wide range of services used by the community generally must be and in fact are inflationary. He even gave an estimate of what the inflationary impact would be. As is typical of this Government’s attitude towards inflation, it does not believe that any increase matters very much and so it tries to minimise the impact by saying: ‘It will be only marginal. It will add only 0.2 per cent to the cost of living index’. That seems to be the way in which the Government seeks to get over the problem.
The Opposition believes that charges of that order across the whole range of services- as I have said, postal charges will be increased by 22 per cent and telecommunications charges by 17 per cent- cannot be justified in the present circumstances at this point of time. How can it be justified at this point of time to use the Post Office as a method of raising revenue and of raising a surplus on the Post Office account of $60m in the current year? The Opposition believes that the confusion of the Government in relation to these measures is very great and that the attempt to use the Post Office to increase charges to that level and to impose a surplus and a profit of $60m is unjustified at this time and in this context. Accordingly I move an amendment to the motion for the second reading as follows:
Leave out all words after ‘That’ and insert: as the proposals contained in the Bill are clearly inflationary the further consideration of the Bill be deferred until the Government introduces its Budget for 1974-1975 so that the proposals contained in the Bill can be examined in the context of the Government’s total financial program for the current year’.
The Opposition believes that it may be justified to increase Post Office charges to some extent, but only to the most minimal extent in the present financial circumstances. In the serious inflationary situation in which we find ourselves it is clearly unjustified to be budgeting for surpluses and profits of $60m and for them to be considered and imposed without regard to what was, what is or what may be the total financial program for the current year which we hope this Government will unfold at the time of the Budget.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Order! Senator Durack has moved his amendment and I believe that it has been delivered in writing to the Clerk. With the honourable senator’s approval, it will now be circulated.
– Are there any copies?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Copies are being circulated. I took that action for the honourable senator’s benefit as he is to follow in this debate.
– I turn now to a very powerful precedent for the action which the Opposition proposes to take. It is a very interesting precedent, and it occurred in May and June 1 967 when the present Government led by its present leader, Senator Murphy, was in Opposition. As my colleague, Senator Baume, said, that is where the Government belongs and where it soon will be again if what it has done during the last week is the way in which it proposes to go about dealing with inflation. In 1967 a Bill was introduced by Senator Anderson, as he then was, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, to increase postal and telegraph charges. The Opposition, led by Senator Murphy, opposed the provisions in those Bills for an increase in rates. In fact the Senate, on the opposition of Senator Murphy and his colleagues and with the support, I think of, the Democratic Labor Party, defeated the proposal for the increases. That was on 12 May 1967. The Government reintroduced that Bill a week or so later and it was defeated again. Then some of the charges were increased- as may have to be done in this case- not by legislation but by regulation. The then Government proceeded with the increases by regulation and the then Labor Opposition on 20 June disallowed the regulations.
Very interesting debates took place on these measures in May and June 1967 led by none other than Senator Murphy, the then Leader of the Opposition. I do not think there is anything more interesting than Senator Murphy’s opening words in the first of the 3 speeches he made in regard to those measures. On 12 May 1967 in the Senate, Senator Murphy said:
The Opposition opposes this Bill. There is no tradition, as has been suggested, that the Senate will not use its constitutional powers, whenever it considers it necessary or desirable to do so, in the public interest. There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers . . .
There is great silence from the Government benches.
-Are you inviting interjections?
-I would be very interested to hear what Senator McLaren has to say about Senator Murphy’s remarks. Senator Murphy said:
There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers except the limits self-imposed by discretion and reason. There is no tradition in the Australian Labor Party that we will not oppose in the Senate any tax or money Bill, or what might be described as a financial measure. Our tradition is to fight, whenever and wherever we can, to carry out the principles and policies for which we stand.
– You are getting a quaver in your voice.
-I am deeply moved by the views of Senator Mulvihill ‘s leader when the Government was in opposition in this Senate. Senator Murphy continued:
We are not circumscribed by any notions which arose elsewhere in connection with other institutions. It has been said that this is a money Bill. It is not a money Bill. If it were a tax or money Bill we would still oppose it.
In the light of that very fine tradition set by this Government when in opposition in this place -
-Who stated that?
-That was Senator Murphy on 12 May 1967. He said quite clearly that there are no limitations imposed on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers to oppose even a money Bill. But, as he rightly pointed out then, and as applies now, this is not a money Bill but a Bill imposing a charge for a service. So, armed with the confidence we can have following the expression of such a noble opinion as that given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate over 6 years ago, we should not have any qualms, as he said then, about fighting for our principles and taking what we believe to be the right course of action in the circumstances.
During this debate in 1967 some very important statements were made by Senator Murphy which are entirely apposite to the problems we have before us now, bearing in mind that we are considering these severe increases in charges for postal services of up to 22 per cent overall at a time of raging inflation. We are considering them in the light of the present raging inflation which is rapidly approaching a level of 20 per cent and at a time when any Government worth its salt would be taking the most serious measures to cope with inflation of that kind. Yet what does this Government do? It brings in these increased charges which can have only a worsening effect on that situation. This is what Senator Murphy said about the proposals that were introduced in 1967, and I quote from the Hansard report of one of the speeches he made over this period:
What can be more inflationary than the imposition of these charges which affect everyone in the community including industry and commerce? They certainly will have an inflationary tendency. Those who do not use telephones will have to pay, because industry and commerce will pass on these charges. Everywhere an impetus will be given to inflation if these charges come into effect.
A little further on he said:
Surely with a great public utility such as this -
Meaning the Post Office- which has a profound effect upon every part of the economy, every endeavour ought to be made to keep the charges as low as possible. Instead the Government is using this interest device to juggle the accounts and impose a form of indirect taxation, which is undoubtedly what it is. The Government is trying to soften some of the blows of its economic mismanagement which will show in the Budget in August.
What could be more prophetic of what this Government is now seeking to do in 1974 than the charges which Senator Murphy then made when in Opposition? This Government has failed to heed the advice which Senator Murphy then gave that what it ought to be doing is keeping charges as low as possible because, as he so rightly points out, these sorts of charges have wide inflationary effects. They not only increase costs for everybody but businesses tend to pass them on. In view of the wide range of services provided by the Post Office, these increases go rapidly right throughout the whole of the economy. As I have said, the Opposition would be and has been prepared to entertain the possibility that some increase in the charges for postal and telecommunication services may be necessary. We have not had time to consider fully and to develop an Opposition view in regard to the Vernon Report. Although the Government has had 3 months to consider the report, it seems rather difficult to equate the actions it is taking now with the suggestion that it is basing such actions upon any deep consideration of the Vernon report. As I have said, the Government has given as the reason for not tabling the Vernon report during the last 3 months the fact that it was considering it. The reasons given in the last two or three weeks seem to shilly-shally a little from that position. Nevertheless, the Government claims to have considered the report fully.
One of the recommendations of the report- I say no more as to whether we would have accepted it because it seems a rather surprising proposition to me- was that postal and telecommunications charges should increase at the rate of 1 5 per cent per annum. But the Government is not simply following that recommendation. The Government is increasing postal charges, not by 1 5 per cent per annum, but by 22 per cent per annum, a 50 per cent greater increase than that recommended in the report. Mr Deputy President, your arithmetic would be better than mine, and if I am wrong, you will correct me. I believe that the Government’s proposed increase is 50 per cent higher than that recommended by its own Commission of Inquiry. In the case of telecommunications services in regard to which the recommendation was for a 7 per cent increase in charges, the Government is increasing charges by 17 per cent. It would appear to me that the Government is making an increase in charges in that area which is over 100 per cent more than the recommended increase.
What is the basis for the excessive increases that are proposed? Is it suggested that costs have gone up so dramatically since the report was presented to the Government 3 months ago? Is that the reason? If it were, perhaps we would have more respect in considering these Bills. But what the Government is doing is increasing its charges and budgeting for a profit of $60m in this financial year in the Postmaster-General’s Department. It is doing this in these circumstances in which, as Senator Murphy so rightly said on a previous occasion, the Government should be budgeting to keep its charges as low as possible in the inflationary spiral. We believe that it is imperative that the Government should re-think this whole question. That is why we have moved to allow it to do so. The Government’s presentation of this whole program has left us, as it must have left the nation, in a state of utter confusion. I suggest that it has also left the Government itself in a state of utter confusion because within 48 hours of having presented these proposals as a very major plank in its package proposals to fight inflation, three of the leading members of the Government, including the author of the proposals, were saying that the proposals had nothing to do with inflation. The whole of the Government’s proposals, but these in particular, have been met with utter scorn by every person in the community who has any claim to competence to comment upon them. It has been shown clearly that these measures will have an inflationary effect which is the very reverse of what is required in this serious situation in which the nation finds itself today.
We thought a week ago that the Government was going to take some action in relation to the position. I think that possibly some members of the Government intended to take some action and proposals may well have been made which, when looked at as a whole in conjunction with these proposed increases, charges, may have made a little more sense. However, I still think that it is very difficult to make any sense in the present circumstances of budgeting for a profit of $60m in the Post Office and making it a tax gathering body in the process of fighting inflation. Perhaps, if the Government had been prepared to unfold its full program we would have been a little better able to appreciate whether there is some subtlety that has escaped us in the proposals contained in these Bills. But that was not to be. As I have said, the Government simply presented these Bills as its major weapon at this stage in its fight against inflation.
We know that numerous other views are floating around within the Government. Almost every Minister has presented some version of his own as to what the Government ought to be doing. The moment of truth must surely come within the next few weeks when the Government presents its Budget. Surely it must then present to us what it as a Government believes should be done to cope with inflation. Our view is that these proposals should be reconsidered by the Government. Perhaps they should be thought through a little better than they have been. They were rushed in a week ago and presented in a false light which members of the Government themselves repudiated within 48 hours. We think that the proper way for these measures to be considered is within the whole of the Budget context. Therefore, we have moved the amendment in the terms that I have circulated in the hope that the Government will reconsider these matters, look at them again in the total context, and come forward with some more rational proposals than the ones contained in these Bills.
- Senator Bishop, the Postmaster-General, in his second reading speech on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1974, told the Senate quite clearly and in an informative way the reasons why the Bill was before the Senate. At this stage I want to congratulate the Minister on his second reading speech. If Opposition senators had taken time to read what the Minister said, there would not have been so much of the hogwash we have had already in this debate. The Minister went to great pains to explain, as I said, in a most informative manner, the reasons for and the purposes of the Bill. They are perfectly clear. The purpose of the Bill is to raise an extra $146m in the current year to meet increasing costs and to meet the demand for services in the future. I believe that these Bills- the Post and Telegraph
Rates Bill and the Post and Telegraph Billshould be passed and that they should receive the enthusiastic support of the Senate.
The Postmaster-General’s Department is the nation’s largest business. It employs 120,000 people- more than half the total Commonwealth Public Service. To give honourable senators some idea of the magnitude of this business I mention that it distributes 5,000 letters and completes 6,000 telephone calls every minute of every day. In anyone’s language, that represents a very big business undertaking. I do not have to remind honourable senators that the principle that applies in any business is that those who require a service or use a service must be prepared to pay for it. For example, the chap who purchases and runs a luxury limousine knows that he has to pay for the extra petrol it uses. The same principle applies to the chap who enjoys the pleasure of travelling long distances in a motor car. He knows that he has to foot the bill for the extra petrol that the car uses. The situation is no different with a government business. The simple truth- and Opposition senators have to face up to it- is that the people who use the service must pay for it. If they do not pay for a government service because they are not required to pay for it or they pay a tariff which is inadequate, the taxpayer must pay for that service. The service cannot be provided in any other way. A government business is no different from any other business. The people who use the service must pay for it. If the people who use a government service are not required to pay for it there is only one other place from which payment can come, and that is from the taxpayer. In other words, if the user of the service has not been charged an adequate charge the taxpayer subsidises the user of the service.
It is an inescapable fact that, for the past 23 years, because postal charges have been deliberately depressed the taxpayer has been called upon to subsidise the users of the services provided by the Post Office. There can be no denying that fact. Having established that this has been the policy of the anti-Labor governments for 23 years, it might be pertinent at this stage to look at who are the big users of these services. The dominant user of postal services is big business- not the working man, the pensioner or the man in the street, each of whom would not send more than 20 letters in a year. These are not the people whom the anti-Labor governments protected by way of their subsidised method of providing services, because they are the people who are least affected in any movement of tariffs one way or another. The Opposition, when in government, continued a policy under which the worker and the pensioner as taxpayers were called upon to subsidise big business. I have heard in this chamber- no doubt we will hear it again- the phoney claim that has been made by Opposition senators that the reason why they have opposed increases in tariffs for postal services is that they have been protecting the worker. They claim that the main reason why they oppose the tariff increase from 7c to 9c contained in this legislation is that the increase will hit the worker.
We heard their passionate plea, on the last occasion on which legislation to increase charges was before us, that we were penalising the poor pensioner who sends a Christmas card to his or her relatives at Christmas time. What rot that is. I have pointed out on previous occasions, and I do so again today, that big business is the dominant user of the services that are provided by the Postmaster-General’s Department. Having established this, let us examine just what charges big business really pays. We have heard from big business the cry that an increase from 7c to 9c will be inflationary and will put them out of business. But let us have a real look at the position. Postal and telephone charges are a permissible taxation deduction in any business. This is known to every honourable senator, just as every one of them knows that companies pay taxation at the rate of 47Vi per cent. Even Senator Webster could work out by way of a simple arithmetical exercise that instead of big business paying 9c for a postage stamp it will pay 5c. Because big business pays company tax at the rate of 47 per cent and this cost is a taxation deduction, the cost of this service is reduced from 9c to 5c.
Despite the fact that big business will pay only 5c for a stamp, the pensioner, the worker or the ordinary man in the street, who also pays tax, will be called upon to pay the full 9c. In other words, he is subsidising big business. This is the situation because the previous Government never had the courage to make the people who are the dominant users of the service pay for the service. One can only gain the impression that in some way a hidden subsidy was paid to big business, which supports the Opposition parties at election time. Again, big business is allowed a tax deduction for telephone charges. The situation that I outlined in regard to postal charges must apply also to telephone charges for which big business again pays only half rates. That in itself is a shameful enough situation. But there is a more unfortunate situation that our friends on the Opposition benches allowed to continue for 23 years. In calling upon the taxpayer to subsidise big business in this way, money that could have been used for child care centres, education or other welfare programs was no longer available. That is a more unfortunate situation than the scandalous policy of hidden subsidies being given to big business.
Senator Durack made great play about inflation. He quoted at length what leaders on this side of the chamber and leaden of the Labor Party in the other place had said. What I say to Senator Durack is that we are more interested in what is being said in this chamber today and what effect the result of our deliberations will have on the future for Australia. The electorate is more interested in the measures contained in this Bill. It is not interested in the honourable senator quoting leaders out of context or saying what they did 20 or 30 years ago. We know that that is a very good tactic of the trained lawyer, but I thought that Senator Durack would have done more justice to his case if he had kept to what is in the Bill and tried to debate it fairly and squarely. It is true, as Senator Durack pointed out, that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) said that the increased tariffs were intended to meet increasing costs and future demand for services and were not introduced as an anti-inflationary measure. I believe that the Postmaster-General made quite clear in his second reading speech that the purpose was what Senator Durack has quoted the Treasurer as having said. However, if the increases can at the same time assist in arresting inflation, that is all the better.
I will show Senator Durack that his claim that these increases are inflationary is ridiculous. At present there are more than 100,000 deferred applications for telephones. One may well ask: Why so many? The answer is: Under-pricing for the service. It has long been accepted in business as an historical fact that a heavy demand results from an under-pricing for a service. If the price for the service was increased the number of applicants would be reduced; many applicants would feel that connection of the telephone was not completely necessary- perhaps desirable but not necessary. The only applicants remaining would be those who lodged applications as a result of need. Any applicant that has need as his basis will not reconsider when there is a movement one way or the other in the tariff charges. I repeat that business has long accepted that under-pricing creates demand.
Honourable senators are aware that we are in a more favoured position than our colleagues in the other place in that when the various Appropriation Bills come before Parliament, the Senate Estimates Committees examine the Estimates very carefully. As a result of the work of these Estimates Committees we have learnt, when considering the appropriation for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, that its reference in an Appropriation Bill is the biggest single line allocation in the budget. I believe that present tariffs have encouraged the use of half the Public Service 120,000 employees -and have encouraged heavy budget expenditure. The under-pricing of the services has created a demand for resources out of all proportion to need. Under-pricing creates a demand which in turn makes for excessive use of resources, excessive use of people and excessive use of money. That is inflationary. Under-pricing is more inflationary than charging the correct price for the services.
The history of postal tariffs is riddled with the stories of subsidies that produce financial distortions. People have been unable to understand and appreciate the real value of services supplied. We must adjust this situation and move it over to an area where the people using the services must pay for the services. The theme throughout this debate on postal tariffs should be that the users must pay. In the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office, the Commissioners spoke of financial distortions and subsidies. I do not like reading at length to the Senate but I think this debate is so important that the Commissioners’ opinions should be recorded in Hansard and heard by honourable senators opposite so that they in their deliberations on this Bill will know what consequences are entailed. At page 174 of the report when referring to financial distortions, the Commissioners say:
Capital is required to enable the APO to provide its services to the community. At 30 June 1973 funds provided by the Treasury stood at $3,043m; during the 1972-73 year interest paid by the APO to Treasury was $158m. If this interest payment by the APO to Treasury were waived, the cost of APO services would decrease and tariff could be reduced with benefit to users of the services. Government revenue would fall by the amount of interest foregone and taxes would then have to be raised to finance the Government’s expenditure budget. If taxes were not raised, the Government’s expenditure would have to be reduced in other directions. The taxpayers and the users of APO services represent two separate and distinct groups; some taxpayers may pay relatively little tax but may be heavy users of APO services; others may pay relatively higher taxes but make little use of the services. There is no correlation between the two groups and problems of equity arise if costs are moved from one group to the other.
In the economic sense capital can never be considered a free’ resource; it is always in short supply relative to total demand and capital directed to one investment area means capital investment foregone elsewhere. The cost of foregoing alternative investments, the so-called ‘opportunity cost , is a cost that has to be borne by taxpayers or by other groups in the community.
Apart altogether from the question of the equitable treatment of different groups, distortions arise if the prices of goods or services do not reflect their economic cost. Failure to include a charge for capital in the costs of APO services would cheapen these services and increase their usage, giving rise to still further demands for capital.
If inequities and distortions such as have been referred to above, are to be minimised, services such as are provided by the APO should be fairly costed and priced; included in the costs should be a charge (interest) for the capital employed. The Commission therefore rejects the suggestion that capital for APO services should be interest-free or at some nominal rate of interest. Nor does it accept that there is any element of ‘double taxation’ involved in charging interest on capital provided by Government.
So much for that. Those of us who have made a study of the Post Office know that it is different from most businesses in the community. It has a growth rate of only 3 per cent. That is peculiar not only to Australia. I understand that the Post Office industry throughout the world has a growth rate of only 3 per cent. It is coincidental I do not know the reason why, and this afternoon I offer this as a point of interest only- that the growth rate of the Post Office in Australia at 3 per cent is exactly the same as the growth rate of Australia’s population. The point I am making in emphasising the small growth rate of the Post Office is this: People, including honourable senators opposite, will say, that the Post Office should be run as a business, that we should go out and look for new business to offset the increased costs that are involved. But a business with a growth rate as low as 3 per cent cannot engage professional salesmen and say to them: ‘Go out and get more business’. That just does not work. The business is not there.
That returns us to the only thing that we, as a government or Parliament, can do if these increased costs have to be absorbed and if the Post Office has to be run on business methods and pay its way, and that is to make the users pay for the service. There can be no alternative to that now. I venture to say that if we do not do that quickly the results can be disastrous. Let us look at the earnings of the postal services. They have been tabulated on page 168 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office. For the year 1973-74 the estimated earnings for the postal services are $2 50m. But for the same year the estimated expenses are $303m. This is a loss of $53m. Since this report was brought down the position has deteriorated. That is frightening enough, but let us see what is envisaged for 1976-77. It is expected that earnings from postal services in that year will be $288m, but the estimated expenditure is $442m, which is a loss of $ 1 54m.
As I have said, the present situation is frightening enough, but where are we heading for in the years 1975-76 and 1976-77? The figures I have given are from the table on postal services. The position in relation to the profit and loss accounts for telecommunications is no better. Up to the present telecommunications have been able to show a profit while the postal services have run at a loss. One contributing factor why telecommunications have been able to perform better than the Post Office is that the Post Office is a labour intensive operation. The telecommunications section is a capital intensive operation. But the figures I am about to quote to honourable senators show that even the telecommunications section of the Post Office will run into the red in the very near future. On page 170 of the report the table on the telecommunications profit and loss accounts is set out. This shows that the estimated earnings from telecommunications for the year 1973-74 is $8 17m. But the estimated expenditure for the same year is $787m. This shows a profit of $30m. For the year 1976-77 the estimated earnings are $ 1,077m while the estimated expenditure is $ 1,164m, a loss of $87m. Yet honourable senators opposite ask: Why do we want tariff increases?’ Are those figures not illuminating enough? Surely they must stir the red blood in the honourable senators’ bodies and make them look at the situation sensibly. This is a frightening position which confronts us unless something is done about it. The comments of the commissioners will be important in this regard. They stated:
The APO’s current estimate for the 1973-74 year is a loss of $42m for postal services compared with a loss of $20.9m in 1972-73. The 1973-74 loss has been increased by $1 lm to $53m by the additional superannuation charges.
Not a mention was made of those charges by Senator Durack in his speech. The report continues:
Table 7.3 shows that with the stated assumptions, postal losses can be expected to increase to about $154m in 1 976-77 unless tariffs are increased.
That last phase is underlined. In referring to the frightening future of the telecommunications section of the Australian Post Office the report states:
Table 7.4 shows that the APO’s estimate for the current 1973-74 year of a profit of $50m from telecommunications services is reduced by $20m to a profit of $30m by the inclusion of the high superannuation charges. The projected figures indicate that by 1976-77 telecommunications services are likely to show a loss of about $87m unless tariffs are increased.
Again that phrase is underlined. Yet honourable senators opposite smugly say: ‘We do not want any increases. They are not justified. The Government has produced no proof to justify this stand. ‘ I refer honourable senators to the 2 tables on the postal services profit and loss accounts and the telecommunications profit and loss accounts which very clearly disclose Government policy in relation to tariff increases. We can go back 23 years when the Liberal and Country Parties became the Government. They did not increase postal charges in an election year even though such charges were warranted. The figures show quite clearly that the last increase brought in by the former Government was in the Budget of 1970-71 which was brought down in August before elections were held in 1972. This was a time when postal services were running at a loss of $25. 5m. As a result of those increases which were introduced in a non-election year- because the Government sought political expediency and did not want to become unpopular with the electoratein the following year, 1 97 1-72, some correction was made in the loss which was suffered by the Post Office. Having quoted those figures, I now would like to compliment the Australian Post Office, or the Postmaster-General’s Department, on introducing an innovation in the schedule of postal charges. I refer to the introduction of the classification of ‘standard postal article’. So that I make no error in the description of the article and am correctly reported I shall read what the schedule says:
A standard postal article will be any item of mail between the dimensions of 90 millimetres by 140 millimetres and 120 millimetres by 235 millimetres, having an oblong shape with a ratio of width to length of 1 to not less than 1.4 and with a maximum thickness of 5 millimetres.
In the Imperial measurement the thickness would be a quarter of an inch. On such articles there will be no weight limit. All standard postal articles over 20 grams in weight will bear postage of 9c instead of 15c as under the present rating system. This represents a reduction of 6c. I know that samples of the envelopes cannot be included in Hansard, Mr Acting Deputy President; but for the edification of all honourable senators there are 3 types of envelopes. Told briefly, the story is that one will be able to put twice as much in this envelope and pay 9c postage instead of the present rate of 15c. This point apparently was missed by Opposition senators; or they did not want to give credit where credit is due.
Apart from the wealth of informative statistics and other matter that is contained in the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office, the commissioners made some pertinent observations. The Commission said in its report that when the 2 corporations are set up as recommended, and I believe as approved by the Government- there will be an Australian Post
Office Corporation and a Telecommunications Corporation- they will be expected to be run as business ventures and where the Government refuses to increase tariffs the corporations will report accordingly in their annual reports. The commissioners believe that if the corporations have to provide the services at too cheap a rate the Government will be asked to subsidise the loss. This is how it should be.
During my address I have pointed out how, for 23 years, the taxpayers have been subsidising the users of these services and the dominant user has been big business. We cannot expect statutory corporations to be established, to be told to straighten out all the things that are wrong in the Postmaster-General’s Department and to run their corporations on business lines if they have to provide services that are uneconomical or are not going to be subsidised in cases in which it is government policy to provide services because that may be in the national interest. I believe that the observation of the commissioners in this regard is correct. In no other way can we return sanity to the tariffs which should be charged for postal and telecommunication services. As things are at the moment, the Post Office just cannot win. If the Post Office is run at a loss, we hear Opposition senators” cry ‘Why do they not put in charge of the Post Office someone who can run it in a business-like way?’ If rates are increased Opposition senators say they are too high, they are inflationary, they are crippling to the community and we cannot have them. Under the present set-up the Post Office cannot win. I hope that the Senate will apply common sense and look at the dangerous situation in which both these arms of the Postmaster-General’s Department will find themselves in 1 976-77 if this Parliament does not agree to increased tariffs.
Only one other thing is left for me to say in this regard. I have claimed that for the past 23 years when the Opposition parties were the government of this country they deliberately depressed tariffs for postal services, seeking to gain electoral popularity and not realising that there would be a time of reckoning. That time of reckoning has arrived. We have been left with the legacy of 23 years of incorrect policy in relation to -the running of the Post Office. I am pleased to say that the Government has been courageous in this matter. It appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the Post Office and is prepared to accept the recommendations of that Royal Commission. The Government is prepared to grasp the nettle and to adopt a policy that the people who use the services must pay for them. I am happy that the Government has decided to do that. This policy may not be as popular with the electorate as the incorrect policy followed for 23 years by previous governments, but in the long run at least the people will appreciate that this Government has endeavoured to do something about correcting the position. The first step towards correcting it is establishing 2 corporations, one for the Australian Post Office and the other for the telecommunications section, and running them on strict business lines. The theme of the policy should be that those who use the services should pay for them.
– I would like to say a few words about the 2 postal Bills that are presently before the Senate. It was interesting to listen to the previous speaker, Senator Mcauliffe, and hear the change of attitude of his Party over a comparatively few years. Senator Durack has pointed out that these Bills are part of a package deal- a mini-Budget, as it was called- and are supposed to curb inflation. But I would like to take honourable senators back to some of the events of May, June and September 1967 and to quote what was said by Senator Murphy, the present Leader of the Government in this place. On 12 May 1967, when speaking about the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, Senator Murphy said:
We are opposed to this Bill because it is opposed to the public interest. The measure is a means of indirect taxation . . . What is happening is that the Post Office is being treated as a tax collector. The charges which are being made- the increase in telephone charges, for instance . . are a means of raising money. This is undoubtedly a way of taxing people because it is not necessary for the proper operation of the Post Office that these charges be made … If this measure is carried, every time the telephone is lifted the people will be taxed; every time a letter is sent by an ordinary citizen he will be paying tax . . . The whole country is aware of the drastic increases in these fees for services- unnecessary increases in fees for services- so that the Government may avoid dealing with the financial morass into which it has got itself.
The Government proposes to deal with its financial problems in the worst possible way, that is, by putting the burden on those who can least afford it. I refer to the ordinary citizens.
Those remarks are a little different from what Senator McAuliffe said. He said that the burden was not on the ordinary citizens; it was on big business. Senator Murphy continued:
For every letter that is posted there will be an extra charge. Charges for telephone calls are to be increased. The effects will be felt not only by the ordinary citizen but throughout industry. The increased charges will have to be passed on . . . The increased charges for letters, telegrams and telephones will mean that a severe impetus will be given to inflation in Australia.
The increased charges proposed in this legislation are supposed to have been introduced in order to curb inflation. Further on Senator Murphy said:
This is a bad method of finance which ought not be approved by the Senate. It certainly is not approved by the people of Australia. The Opposition is completely and utterly opposed to it. While the Labor Party is represented in this Senate it will use its powers and procedures without inhibition for the welfare of the people.
As we know, there was a further sitting of the Parliament in June of that year in order to consider the motion to disallow the regulations which were designed to implement the proposed increased postal charges. The government at that time reintroduced the proposal in September of that year as part of the Budget. I should like to quote what Senator Murphy said on 19 September 1967. He said:
We regard the persistence by the Government in the imposition of these charges as an act of political madness.
Previously he had said:
The Senate’s power to oppose the legislation is undoubted, as is the Senate’s right to oppose the legislation. No basis has been established for any suggestion that the Australian Labor Party would not, under any circumstances, oppose legislation of this character in the Senate. . . We take the same view as we did earlier this year- that is, that the proposed increases are unwarranted, and injurious to the community . . . But our attitude to the charges remains the same. We think they are a form of indirect taxation equivalent to an increase of about 5 per cent in personal income tax, and that they are grossly inflationary because they represent increases of about 25 per cent to 33% percent in general.
On that day, 19 September 1967, we saw the extraordinary spectacle of the Australian Labor Party, probably for the only time in recent years, not being game to face up to its convictions. I have in front of me the names of the senators who voted in the 2 divisions which were called on that day. As the division bells were ringing the members of the Australian Labor Party walked out of the Senate and continued a big argument in the corridors. Those who were in this chamber at that time well remember what happened. We had the spectacle of 23 senators voting in favour of the Government’s proposal to increase postal charges and 3 senators voting against it. The 3 senators who voted against it were former Senator Gair, former Senator McManus and former Senator Turnbull. It so happened- and I can remember the incident well- that Senator McManus was appointed as a teller. He went through the pantomime of looking under all the desks on the Opposition side to see where the members of the Labor Party were. He just shook his head; he could not understand it. That is what happened on that day.
Now we are being asked to agree to pretty staggering and substantial increases in postal charges. This proposal is not pan of the Budget; it is being presented in anticipation of what might happen when the Budget is introduced in six or eight weeks. As the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) has pointed out in his speech, as accounts are not available for the financial year just concluded, the necessity for the increases is a bit difficult to assess. The Postmaster-General suggested that the Department might just about have broken even in the operations of its 2 sub-departments during the past financial year. The previous speaker, Senator McAuliffe, repeatedly referred to the proposition that those who use the services provided by the Post Office should pay for them. He spoke of budgeting for a $60m surplus, and he said many other things. He said that the services provided by the Post Office were underpriced The Postmaster-General’s Department is a monopoly. It has no competitors; the law does not allow any competitors to operate. In the case of a monopoly which has no competition, it is almost impossible to tell whether the services which that monopoly provides are underpriced or overpriced.
Other speakers have quoted extensively from the report of the Vernon Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office. In its report the Commission discussed the question whether the Post Office was a business or a service. As I see it, if the Post Office is a business it has the added advantages of not paying income tax or any other tax such as shire rates or payroll tax which a private enterprise has to pay. The Government has imposed on the Postmaster-General’s Department- and the Vernon Commission recommended that this should continue- the responsibility of using half its surplus to finance future expansion, that is, to pay for fixed assets in the future. If the Post Office is not a business, it will be very difficult to explain how it will arrive at a surplus. If the Post Office is just a plain service, the services it provides should be charged on the basis of the cost of the services.
The telephone systems in the United States and in Canada are run by private enterprise, as distinct from the mail services which are run by the United States Post Office and the Canadian Post Office. Private enterprise, which runs the telephone system in those countries is not exempt from tax. Tariffs in the United States and Canada compare pretty favourably with our tariffs. The average number of telephone calls per person per year is 240 in Australia and in Britain it is 220, or a little less than in Australia. In the United States the figure is 830, and in Canada it is 780, which is a little less than in the U.S. I believe- and the report of the Vernon Commission referred to this fact- that if the cost of telephone calls were reduced in Australia it would result in many more calls being made by each person each year, which would result in more revenue. There is no way of telling what would be the saturation point of the existing telephone equipment in Australia, but I believe that because of the period in which the equipment seems to be idle in this country we are a good way short of saturation point and that the equipment could stand many more calls being made through it. If the fees for telephone calls were reduced probably a lot more revenue would be derived from telephone services.
I turn now to the savage increase in telephone connection fees. It is said that the cost of telephone connection fees is to be increased in order to discourage people from applying for telephones. I do not know how this argument has been arrived at. We are told that about 105,000 people are on the waiting list for telephones. As I mentioned previously, Senator McAuliffe said that the services provided by the Post Office are underpriced but we cannot tell whether the telephone service which the Post Office provides is underpriced. When referring to service connection fees and telephone rentals the PostmasterGeneral in his speech said that it costs about $2,000 on average to connect a new telephone, and that the cost ranges from $ 1 ,600 in the capital cities to over $3,600 in country areas and even in excess of $9,000 in rural areas. I think that statement is a little unfair and a little unjust because the excess in rural areas could be less than that. We do not know the cost of a telephone service. Senator McAuliffe referred to the artificially high demand for telephones. If Australia can provide telephones at any sort of reasonable cost to the people it should do so.
I wish to refer to another point. The Minister, in his second reading speech, claimed that a telephone and expenses in connection with a telephone are a tax deduction in a business. I think Senator McAuliffe referred to that point, too. We are arriving at the extraordinary position in which the Postmaster-General’s Department is competing with the Treasury for revenue simply by charging the businessman more for his calls, for connection fees and for other telecommunications items. The Treasury would get a smaller amount of money because the businessman has so many deductions. It is a bit unusual when one government department gets in first to get the revenue before another government department gets it.
I believe that uniform rentals for continuous service telephone exchanges are grossly unjust and unfair. There is certainly a need for a different scale for restricted hours exchanges. I instance the little telephone exchange miles from anywhere which has local calls to perhaps only 15 or 20 subscribers on the same exchange, and no other local calls. Each call apart from those is a trunk call. Compare that exchange with the big city exchange which probably has several hundred thousand calls available at the unit call fee. I believe that the increase in uniform rentals is grossly unfair. Services in smaller exchanges in the isolated areas are supposed to cost more, but why make it so unfair? Why charge subscribers this extra money when most of their calls are trunk calls? Their counterparts in the big cities have most of their calls at the local call rate.
It is intriguing to note that a great claim has been made about increased social service benefits to pensioners. Today or tomorrow we are supposed to pass a Bill which provides an increase in pensions of $5 and $6 a week. This Government, through these new postal charges and telephone charges, will take $7 of that increase straight away. The Government will take from the pensioners more than the equivalent of about 10 days increase at the same time as the pensioners are getting the increase.
– How do you work that out?
-I will work that out for the honourable senator. The existing annual rental for pensioners is $36 per residence. The Government intends to increase that amount to $43 straight away. There is the $7 which the Government will take straight away from the increase in the pension. I think it is a little unusual to have this happening. That is what the Government is doing.
We have not been told how the 2 corporations will be financed or how the finances will be kept separate after the division of the Post Office into 2 corporations. The telecommunications section, as has already been explained, because it is highly mechanised, shows a very good profit and is a very good investment, even at today’s high interest rates. Because of automatic telephone exchanges it can pay its way. As has been shown, the postal section, because of its high labour content, operates at a loss. Up until now the surplus in one section has been cancelling out the loss in the other. What about the future? Will there be further increases in the cost of stamps? Will the cost of stamps rise repeatedly if the postal section is a separate corporation and if it has to keep its funds separate? Will that happen so that the corporation running the postal section can break nearly even? Will the surplus in the telecommunications section be used as an extension of government revenue or will it be used for further research and development of our telephone system and further expansion of automatic exchanges? Will there be a reduction in charges? Will there be a combination of both? What will happen? That has not been explained. There are quite a lot of problems attached to this.
I sometimes wonder whether we might not be better off reverting to the days of Rowland Hill in 1840 and reducing the cost of stamps to1c. If we did, we probably would get nearly as much revenue. That point may be debatable, but it is something to ponder. As charges are increased, revenue tends to decline. This applies particularly to the telegram section. With the reduction in Post Office services on Saturday mornings, a telegram has to be sent before about 3 p.m. on Friday in one part of Australia if it is to have any chance of being delivered before Monday morning in another part of Australia. There are no deliveries on Saturday. Nothing is done on Sundays. The telegram section is providing a poor service at a greatly increased cost. The suggestion, in either the Minister’s speech or the Vernon Commission’s report- I do not know which- that each telegram costs the Post Office $1.50 seems to me to be incredible. You send a telegram. You pay 60c or 70c at least for it. If it is a big telegram you pay a lot more. It seems incredible that the Post Office cannot break even. Cheaper telegrams could mean a lot more of them being sent.
At one time most of the bigger country offices had a little window somewhere at the telephone exchange, and a telegram could be sent at practically any time over the weekend. It was paid for at the window. Nearly all of that is a thing of the past. If one wants to send a telegram after Friday afternoon, one has to ring a big centre of population which, in many cases, means a trunk line call to the capital city. The telegram probably is not delivered until the Monday morning, anyhow. This is a retrograde step in service, and I think it accounts for some of the problems and some of the losses in the telegram section.
– Do not you think that those boys who ride the bikes need a spell after 5 days of riding and delivering telegrams?
– No doubt the people who deliver telegrams on weekends would get paid overtime at the rate of time and a half or double time. I do not think that they are losers. They get days off during the week to compensate.
Many problems have arisen in relation to bulk postage. It seems that the new charges will be pretty savage on some forms of bulk postage. In my home State many of the big art unions will be put out of business. They say that they will not be able to carry on. I think that matter should be looked at further.
– Who signed that telegram?
-I think the honourable senator got one. He would know.
– There is no signature.
– The honourable senator knows all about it. He got one. There would not be much difficulty finding out where it came from. I refer now to the new principle of standard sizes for letters. I did not miss it as Senator McAuliffe thought I did. This may be a good proposition. We are getting to something like the situation with airline luggage- provided that a letter is not larger than a certain size, that it will go through a slot in a piece of cardboard and that it is not too thick, it can be sent at the unit postage rate. But I think that the Post Office should have been more insistent on having only 2 different standard sizes of envelope. I know that a little envelope gets lost amongst the ordinary standard envelopes. It would have been sufficient to have a standard business size envelope and a standard foolscap size envelope. That would have simplified the system with the automatic sorting machines.
I note from the Bills that the Post Office intends to enter into the courier business on its own account in order to compete with some of the courier businesses that have grown up in the big cities. I make just the one remark: It is marvellous to see what competition does in this game. When private enterprise went into the courier business, competing with the Post Office, the Post Office found that it was being left behind and that it had to get into the act itself. Another matter in the Postmaster-General’s speech that is worthy of comment is the writing off of accumulated losses of the Post Office as at 30 June 1974. This will save the Post Office $ 1 7m in interest in a full year. It is very nice to write off a debt, but the debt is still there somewhere. I presume that somebody has to pay the interest on it. This is merely a subterfuge to pass on the cost to the general taxpayer instead of the Post Office. That may be good accounting but the fact remains that by writing off a debt you do not avoid the debt or the interest that is being paid on it.
The proposed adjustments or alterations to telephone rates do not provide any relief for those people who find it necessary to make their homes some distance away from the bigger centres of population. This has been one of my grouches for a long time. Even the Vernon Committee report is strangely silent on this question. Many of these people in country areas are still on restricted hours exchanges and many more do not have a telephone and cannot obtain one in the foreseeable future. If a person happens to live near a line facility he may obtain a telephone service for a connection fee of $80. But if he lives further away it may cost $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 to be connected to the telephone exchange. There are even cases where the cost has been quoted at $10,000 to $15,000. As I have mentioned before, the Vernon Committee report shows that there were 105,000 unsatisfied telephone applications and the average delay in connection for those unsatisfied numbers was only 2 Vi months. That would appear to be grossly wrong. Many people have to wait for years. The present projection for telephone connections in some areas is at least 1980. This is in a country that is supposed to be keeping up with the times and is supposed to be modern. The previous Government was making provision for telephones for those types of people, but that has all gone by the board now.
– Where were those people?
– The honourable senator knows. He has received applications from them. Letters are sent anywhere in Australia for a standard rate. Even though the quoted cost of delivery per letter to some outlying places may vary up to over $ 1 , one still only puts a 7c or 9c stamp on the article. Why can the same principle not apply to telephones? We are supposed to be a Commonwealth. Every person should be able to share in the public facilities available. They should not be second class citizens because their vocation causes them to reside in a particular place. I have said a fair bit about this matter of charges. I think that honourable senators should support the amendment moved by Senator Durack for a deferment of these increases until the Budget. It will not make very much difference as the Budget will be presented in about 6 weeks or so.
According to the Vernon Committee report a lot of things need to be tidied up. The letter delivery section of the Post Office in New South Wales has a very bad record. The report mentions particularly the Sydney Mail Exchange. I do not know whether anything more can be done to improve that situation but a lot of mail in
Australia that has to go through Sydney is being held up. There are many things that could be improved in the Post Office. I think that we should have another good look at a lot of these charges and see whether, by giving better service, we can actually reduce some of them or delay the imposition of extra charges until the Budget. I support the amendment.
– There is no doubt that the increase in charges laid out in these Bills is justified on a business basis and that the Post Office will have to increase its income from some source or another. The Bills indicate that the source is to be an increase in charges for services. When one looks at this justification and at the fact that last year the Post Office apparently simply broke even and is now facing the same inflationary situation that all businesses in Australia face, one understands that there is a real need to make up its funds if it is to continue to maintain its services and invest in the future. However, at this moment Australia is suffering from a very real and deep crisis in leadership. This Government is failing to provide that leadership. There is a great disquiet in the community on every indiscriminate rise and every indiscriminate move by government, and this appears to be one of those very important and yet indiscriminate moves.
We know that if the Post Office does not obtain its funds there will be a diminution in the services it can render and there will be an even greater backlog in the telephone services which this community requires. The number of applications for such services is now quite considerable. As one can imagine, if the capital of the Post Office were to be cut there would be a very real increase in the numbers awaiting service, and so the efficiency of Australia would be reduced. In a country as large as Australia the efficiency of communication is one of the first matters of concern. However, I intend to support the amendment. I do so for the reason that I know it will not accomplish any long term stay of these rises. As someone on this side of the chamber said, it will cut the Post Office off from, say, $20m to $30m in the intervening period until these charges are made fact in the Budget or in some parallel legislation at Budget time. But such a deferment will allow the Government to proceed with a far more detailed plan for the economic management of Australia and the management of a very large concern such as the Post Office in concert with other plans. I look forwardnot with a great deal of confidence- to this Government’s overcoming the very obvious defects that beset it at the moment.
I could not help but notice in yesterday’s edition of the ‘Australian’ newspaper the various plans which are attributed to the various Ministers of the Government. It is appalling to think that there is such a crisis in the leadership of this country which has gone through one of the most prosperous times in its history and that now we have a Government that is so deeply divided as to where it will lead this country. Without going to the comments and interpretations in the editorials one could easily say that this is a Government of about six parts.
We find that a new tax is to hit the land speculator. This is from the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). It is to be a big thing in the inflationary fight. The Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) has a scheme to counter the money crisis. The Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) outlines a 6-point plan to beat inflation and he has told someone somewhere that there might be a crash in some of the Australian banks. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) journeyed from here last weekend to Adelaide and said the unions would take no notice of the example set by this Senate and the Australian Parliament in asking for wage restraint in Australia. Dr J. F. Cairns has advocated somewhere at some meeting that wages should rise. I do not have to go on quoting. We hear different stories from different people every day. This is not something to be taken lightly at one of the most crucial times in Australia’s financial history.
So it is quite clear that this Government has created a crisis of leadership in Australia, and no government can continue in that way. If the Government cannot pull its socks up it will be defeated because the crisis will become so great that Australia will have to tura to an alternate solution. I would like to see the Government defeated at the earliest properly chosen electoral time, but, in all common sense, in the management of a community a government ought to be able to get its Bills, such as this Bill, through. In the general working and operation of a parliament the Opposition opposes and tests the Government’s intentions and, generally speaking, the Government after that parliamentary test is able to implement its decisions, and we get a coherent national development along the lines of the ideological beliefs of the government of the day.
Here we have a different situation. The Opposition not only contests legislation but in some cases can defeat the legislation of the Government of the day. This of course weakens government. But I believe that this Senate has every right, and has the duty in fact, to defer this legislation, knowing full well, as I think previous honourable senators speaking in this debate have sensibly indicated, that it is not to be held out to the Australian people that there is some great saving of the additional costs of PMG services for a long time into the future. There is no grandstanding here as there might have been perhaps with the salary issue. The public will not be saved costs which must inevitably be incurred, and there is no more possibility of denying the right of the Postmaster-General’s Department to additional revenue to allow it to operate than there is of denying the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd or General Motors-Holdens Pty Ltd the right to raise their prices in order to operate efficiently and economically. The rises will come; it is simply a question of the manner in which they will be imposed. If the Postmaster-General’s Department is disappointed it must look to the Government for the reasons because the Government has left this country bereft of any coherent financial leadership- and for that conclusion one does not have to refer to anything more than the image of the Treasurer (Mr Crean) going into the Lower House and reading half a speech, leaving the whole of Australia wondering why he gave such a preamble to so very little which followed.
So I will support Senator Durack ‘s amendment although I thought that he did go a little far in one or two references, for instance when he said that the Government was using the Post office as a method of raising revenue. He went on to say that this was tax gathering. I do not agree with that. It is quite obvious that the Post Office with its enormous requirements for capital investment whether it is to be kept at a status quo or running at a loss or even if it is to make $60m a year profit is making little enough if it is to be likened to a business corporation which needs to reinvest in its business. I certainly reject any thought that these Bills should be seen as a method of tax gathering. I do not see them as such and I do not think anyone who studies the Post Office accounts could make this out to be a tax gathering effort. It is a means of allowing the Post Office to meet its obligations in the general inflationary situation. I am in agreement with Senator Durack in complaining that in meeting that general inflationary situation the Government has no plans which appear to be effective. I also have- and this is not altogether a side issue- the lingering doubt about the efficiency of the Post Office services. We know there have been some rather notable areas of industrial disruption in the Post Office. I am informed that its overall record is better than the Australian industrial average. But I can only say that it appears to be able to mount a very flamboyant industrial disturbance now and again and those disturbances are certainly in the heart of its distribution services.
I have always wondered about the efficiency of the line maintenance service of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and anyone who comes from the country areas and has seen the line maintenance service in operation, or out of operation, will know the very great amount of money that has been wasted in that area of maintenance services over many years. I will not go further than that at the moment, but if the officers of the Department care to have any real investigation of that part of their services they will find that I speak the truth and that a lot of people agree with me.
Being a newcomer to Canberra I have been presented with a book called, I think, ‘Tower on Black Mountain’. Some very intelligent people have spoken to me about it. They are technically qualified people and their view is that the Post Office intends to put a reputed tower, to cost $6.5m, on Black Mountain overlooking the citythis could obviously grow to at least $ 1 Om by the time it is completed- and that the transmitting point from it will be about 1 2 feet higher than the existing tower on Black Mountain. Does the minister intend as an economy measure to re-think his approach to the Black Mountain project?
– That has been adequately canvassed.
-No, it has not been adequately canvassed, and the people of this city do not think it has been. There have been some rather peculiar ramifications about continued action in the face of court cases on this issue, which do not read very well.
– You have not got the background to it.
– I am sorry about that. I have been speaking to people who maintain that they have, and they say they have not had any satisfactory answers. If everyone is to bear some sort of burden in containing costs, the Postmaster-General Senator Bishop might very well have a good look at that point. To me it is not a deciding factor in making the decision to defer these charges, but I have noted in a corner of my mind there has not yet been a publicly acceptable answer to the complaints that these people have made.
The debate will have to conclude soon and I do not intend to speak for very much longer. However, I return to the point, with which I agree, made by those on this side of the House who have spoken and those who moved and seconded the amendment. That -is that there is a very great need for leadership where is does not exist at this moment. The Government will have to provide it -
– The people of South Australia thought that once too.
-As far as South Australia is concerned -
– You had your chance and you messed it up.
– There are some rather unusual things that happen in South Australia in regard to costs and I hope that this Government does not model itself on the South Australian Dunstan administration when dealing with costs. I could tell the honourable senator something about how money is wasted in South Australia. When the Budget is presented, I might take time to enlighten the honourable senator as to how the much vaunted public relations exercise which is the South Australian Government is actually wrecking the industrial base of that part of this nation.
– The majority of electors do not think so.
– I know that they do not because there is a very good public relations machine and very little else. If the honourable senator wants to test out the South Australian Government and its supporters, I ask him to ask them what that Government has done for that State in specific, individual terms.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Order! I remind the honourable senator that the Senate is debating the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and the Post and Telegraph Bill.
– Yes. I leave the honourable senator where he began. Finally, as an illustration of how this Government apparently lacks all sense of approach to the public and all credibility in its economic management, I refer to last weeks salary debate and the decision that was taken. The Government had a great opportunity to build upon the example which was shown. But what telegram did the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) send to the States? He asked them not to take care of the future so much but to revoke increased salaries granted already according to statute. Of course, he wrecked one of the greatest opportunities to appeal to State administrations that he will ever have in his time in government. That type of management is the reason I cannot accede to what this Government has done in such indiscriminate moves as this. I close my remarks by saying that the Government simply will not live unless it pulls its socks up and does better.
-We are debating 2 Bills-the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and the Post and Telegraph Bill- and also 2 amendments that have been moved by the Opposition. We have heard from Opposition senators nothing more than a diatribe about what happened in 1967. This shows the thinking of this outdated Opposition which cannot realise that things have changed very rapidly and that we are now living in the jet age and not in the horse and buggy days. Therefore, it seems to me that whatever this Government undertakes, it will not meet with any approval from the Opposition which wants to frustrate and which will hold up this legislation. Without repeating some of the one good speech in this debate that was made by Senator McAuliffe, I will give the reasons why I believe that this legislation should not be deferred as the amendments seek. I would like to read the amendment proposed to the Post and Telegraph Bill 1974, which is the same as the amendment moved to the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1974. The amendments were moved by Senator Durack and state:
Leave out all words after ‘That’ and insert: as the proposals contained in the Bill are clearly inflationary the further consideration of the Bill be deferred until the Government introduces its Budget for 1974-1975 so that the proposals contained in the Bill can be examined in the context of the Government’s total financial program for the current year’.
Casting my mind back to 1967, 1 remember that it was for that very reason that the then Opposition moved for the deferment of the increased postal charges. It stated that the increases should have been deferred because it would be only a few weeks until the presentation of the Budgetthe same circumstances that we have at the present time. It was stated that the proposals should be deferred until a full debate could be held during the Budget session. Of course, we were criticised for doing this. Yet here we have the Opposition, which then formed the Government, bringing forward almost identical amendments to that which was moved by the previous
Opposition. I cannot see that there is any sincerity in what the Opposition is trying to do. I believe that should debate on the Bills be deferredit looks as though it will be now- the Post Office will fall further and further behind. I will point to the Senate why I believe that this is so. Mr Deputy President, you must remember that the Labor Government finds no joy in increasing any cost to the community.
– The honourable senator could have fooled me.
– It might fool some people, but the people generally are not very easily fooled. I believe that the deferment of these Bills will have a detrimental effect upon the Post Office in the following way: The Post Office is losing money on its operations. This was pointed out in the second reading speech of the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) when he said that if the 1973-74 trading results could be examined they would show at least a break-even position. This has been mentioned by speakers from the Opposition side. This year at current tariffs the overall loss will be in excess of $ 100m with a postal loss of well over $70m. The increasing of postal charges is not new. It was a principle followed by the previous Government which set charges at a level which covered costs and purchases and allowed for a reasonable profit which could be reinvested to help finance expansion of the Post Office.
– The honourable senator opposed the increases when we were the Government.
- Senator Sheil is opposing these increases also; so there is no difference, really.
– We learn by example.
-We know that there are many good examples that the Opposition could follow, but I do not see it following them. One of the recommendations of the Vernon Commission of Inquiry is that it is necessary to increase charges for services provided by the Post Office. Not only does the report state that it is necessary to increase charges at this point of time but also it goes on to state that it will be necessary to increase them in the future. It is stated in the third paragraph on page 186 of the report:
It is not possible to calculate simply the tariff increases necessary to offset these present and prospective future trading losses, since changes in tariffs affect demand.
This is one of the points made by Senator McAuliffe during his speech. The report goes on to state:
In the case of postal services, past experience shows that demand generally drops for a period following a substantial tariff increase -
Again, this is what Senator McAuliffe mentioned in his speech- and then resumes its normal upward course; the estimation of change in earnings following a tariff change becomes a matter of judgment. The APO has carried out a certain amount of work on the elasticity of demand for its services but interpretation of their results presents difficulties. Nor is it necessary for the Commission to attempt precise estimating; it is sufficient for the purposes of the present discussion to indicate the likely order of magnitude of the tariff changes that would be necessary if costs continue to increase at the assumed rate. Under these conditions, the Commission concludes that postal tariffs will have to increase over the next few years at the average rate of about 15 per cent per annum if the profit and loss account for postal services is to be brought into reasonable balance and the large and escalating losses projected in Table 7.7 avoided. To place this rate of tariff increase in perspective, if the present ordinary letter rate of seven cents increases at 15 per cent per annum it would rise to 10c in less than three years and to 12c in about four years time.
Articles that appeared in newspapers 3 weeks ago stated that the next increase in postal charges would raise the ordinary letter rate to 10c, and that there would be another increase which would take it to 12c.
– Do you accept those estimates of tariffs as justified?
– I am not an economist, but I am accepting them as they are stated in the report.
– You are just parroting the Vernon Commission Report.
– This was a Commission of inquiry into the Australian Post Office set up by the Government. Of course, one could draw a parallel between this commission and the commission which was appointed to report on the salaries received by members of Parliament.
– We are not here to do everything every commission proposes.
– These commissions are not set up just to bring down any report at all. People do not sit on them for fun. These commissions have the same objectives as our Senate committees. Do we sit on them for fun? Is their function just to bring down a report? Do we sit on those committees just to get our names written on the cover of a report? I think that members of these commissions sit on them for the same reason as we sit on Senate standing and select committees- that is, to do a proper job.
– How do they justify an increase in interest from $149m to $254m in 3 years?
– If the honourable senator thinks that this report is wrong, I have no doubt that he will take the opportunity to further criticise it when he gets up to make his speech. The estimated profit of about $60m is comparable with the profits in 1971-72 and 1972-73. Therefore, as Senator McAuliffe also pointed out, these increases cannot be called excessive.
Rejection or deferment of the increases would cause a greater telephone waiting list and would greatly affect the telecommunications industry. Last week, or the week before, the Opposition made great play about the closure of the electronics industry in South Australia. Members of the Opposition said that Government action would throw a great number of men out of work. But they made no mention of the fact that 2 years ago a section of the same industry was closed down and moved to another State for economic reasons. However, we will have to have a grave look at this proposal if it will have an effect on the telecommunications industry. I believe that if implementation of these charges were deferred until after the Budget, Post Office receipts this year would be affected by $30m. Rejection of the increases altogether would decrease expected income by $146m, which is the target set out in the Bill. (Quorum formed.)
The Postmaster-General pointed out in his second reading speech that the Government is firmly committed to no increase in borrowing under the Budget over last year’s level of $385m. Therefore, if the increased tariffs do not operate from 1 August the Post Office capital program will have to be reduced substantially or tariffs raised to a higher level than currently proposedfor example, an extra $5 on rentals and a 10c basic postage rate. If the reduction in receipts results in a heavy cut in the capital works program, orders on the telecommunications industry for tens of millions of dollars worth of material will need to be deferred and in other areas no further orders will be placed. What effect will this have on the telecommunications industry? This area alone employs 20,000 people who must be affected by any cuts that are made in this area. Also, a $32m cut would mean at least 40,000 fewer telephone connections than had been planned. This would mean that the waiting list for telephones would rise to about 156,000, which would be the highest figure for 18 years. If there were a cut of $ 146m, 20 per cent of the Post Office capital investment program for 1974-75 would have to go and the waiting list would skyrocket to such a degree that the Post Office would be virtually a year behind in its capital investment. Should this happen the Government will ensure that the outer areas, where the need is greatest, will suffer least. This will mean that business communities will have to do without phones in their factories, offices and shops. The Government will tell them the reason. The Opposition’s amendment will be carried, and this will mean that capital works will have to be deferred. I feel that the Opposition is taking a retrograde step and this should not happen. Senator Lawrie in his contribution to the Senate mentioned what pensioners would get out of these increases. Iff might be permitted to digress for a short period, I would say that since the Labor Government came into office pensions have been increased by 55 per cent. This 55 per cent increase is far above the rate of 20 per cent at which inflation is running. I feel that the amendments should be defeated and I hope the Senate defeats them.
– We are discussing the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill which seeks to increase charges to the extent whereby the Post Office will enjoy a profit of something like $60m a year. I think it might be fitting at this stage to go along memory lane down which Senator Durack escorted us some time ago and quote from the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1967 on 12 May 1 967, when Senator Murphy said:
The measure is a means of indirect taxation. It is equivalent to increasing personal income tax by about 5 per cent. It is done under the guise that the Post Office is making heavy losses and that it is necessary to raise the postal charges, telephone charges and other charges in order that these losses be overcome.
He went on to say:
This is an extraordinary dealing with moneys. It is a juggling with the books. It means that the Government is, in effect, paying interest to itself on moneys which in the first place have been taken from the people.
I mention that because Senator Hall says that he does not agree that it is a tax gathering measure. I just wanted to point out that by that statement Senator Murphy would disagree with him. It was interesting also to listen to Senator McAuliffe. He made an extraordinary speech that I could not follow, and I am certain many people on this side of the House who are very much stronger in economics than I am found it equally difficult to follow. The honourable senator suggested that this measure was in fact designed to correct 23 years of incorrect policy. I would remind Senator McAuliffe that during the debate in May 1967 Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, speaking for the government of the day, pointed out:
As a result, the postal service was able, despite rising wage rates and other inescapable increases in costs, to maintain a breakeven financial position over the 5-year period from 1 959-60 to 1963-64. However, losses of $2.6m . . .
The honourable senator went on to explainhonourable senators can look at that part of the debate for themselves; I will not bore them by reading it all- that this would result in a loss of something like $40m to $45m in 1 970-7 1 . At that time the Government took action to correct that trend, and the Opposition, at that time, voted against it. But at the moment we on this side of the House are not voting against this measure at all; we are proposing a breathing space of a few weeks in which the Government can consider this measure in the context of the Budget, hoping it will find a way by which these increases can be minimised. I suggest that the cause of the increased charges in the Post Office is largely a result of the irresponsible way the country has been run by the Labor Government over the last 18 months or so. With full knowledge that the inflationary trend was such that caution ought to be exercised, this Government chose to give public servants 4 weeks annual leave which in the case of the Post Office- I think Senator McAuliffe suggested there are 120,000 employees in the Post Office; I think there are more than thatmeans a loss of an extra 4,800,000 working hours a year with a consequent increase in costs to the Department. Apart from that, the Government, again in the light of the questionable economic state of this country, chose to bring in measures granting 12 weeks maternity leave and a period of paternity leave for public servants. These things, in my view, are contributing directly to the position in which the Post Office now finds itself.
Senator Hall or someone else on this side of the House drew attention to the fact that the Post Office has not been without some industrial problems and this Government, of course, has a very bad record of controlling industrial unrest in this country. This has slowed down the machinery within the Post Office to a degree where it must have cost the country millions of dollars as well as lowering the efficiency of the Department. I think it would be a good thing to read a little more from the debate that occurred in this place in May 1967 and to quote again from what Senator Murphy said. He said:
The Government proposes to deal with its financial problems in the worst possible way, that is, by putting the burden on those who can least afford it. I refer to the ordinary citizens, lt is objectionable that at the same time the rates to the great commercial users should be reduced.
Senator Murphy put the point of view that the burden was placed on the people who could least afford it- the ordinary citizens. Since this Government purports to represent the ordinary citizen, I believe that this measure which we are now discussing is a disgrace. Senator Drury quoted from the Vernon report. I believe that in that report, it was advocated that a 15 per cent annual increase should apply to postal charges. If one cares to compound the result, this of course would more than double in 5 years, which means that in 5 years time we would pay 18c to post a letter and that at the turn of the century we could expect to pay no less than $1 to post an identical letter. So in my view these measures that we are considering will aggravate inflation in Australia. They will impose heavier burdens on businesses and industrial concerns; they will create problems, for primary industry; they will cause hardship for pensioners, local government, and State governments which will be forced to have a look at their own budgets in the light of increased charges for the services which they are able to provide for the people of Australia.
Everything in this Bill points to aggravating inflation and placing heavier burdens upon the people of Australia. For that reason I support the amendment moved by Senator Durack. It will allow the Government further time to consider these proposals in the context of the Budget which will be presented in a few weeks time. I suggest that it may give honourable senators on the Government side a chance to think about the various policies which have been propounded by different Ministers in relation to the economic management of this country. I suggest that they ought to have a good talk to Mr Gordon Bryant, the Minister for the Capital Territory, who, among other things, has suggested that there should be a reduction of Government charges, including post office charges. I am sure that sentiment would be shared by people like Senator Primmer, Senator McLaren and others who come from country areas in Australia and who recognise that this is a retrograde step. Something ought to be done to review the charges at which we are looking in the general context of the Budget to see whether we can rationalise the thinking and lower the charges to some extent.
-I rise to support the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Durack. Firstly, it is appropriate to compliment him upon the terms of his speech. Secondly, we should examine the rationale of the amendment and the attitude of the Opposition. In that respect I refer firstly to the context and the basis upon which these proposals are presented to us. It is almost an insult to the intelligence of a very young infant to have this proposition presented to us as the Government has expressed it. The proposition is the product of a statement made last week by the Government which was headed ‘Inflation’. In that statement we see that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) reviews the economy and, in relation to housing, says such things as:
We have no intention of bringing the private housing industry to its knees . . . we are determined to achieve some easing in that sector along with others.
The very next purpose which the Treasurer evinces that he has in mind is so that the public sector of housing can be maintained and expanded. I direct attention to that ‘angle of thought’ by which we will not bring private industry to its knees but will achieve some easing in that sector. Why are we determined to do this? It is so that public housing expenditure can expand. Then the Treasurer goes on to the inflationary outlook. This is language which I have used on a previous occasion. It is not the words of Esau but the words of Jacob; not the words of Crean but, I suspect, the words of Treasury officers. Therefore I give them some content of real sense. The Treasury officers, through the mouth of Mr Crean, state:
I say without exaggeration that the Australian economy now faces a highly dangerous situation.
Then, in language which I have used formerly, the Treasurer proceeds to state what an insidious tax inflation constitutes, having ripped $ 1,000m off the real value of savings bank deposits in the last 12 months. If there were any real logical course of action to follow those stunning statements the Senate would be full and it would not be necessary to call a quorum to get more than 3 honourable senators to listen to a Labor speaker on this matter. We would have the whole Senate giving its most earnest consideration to the situation which is indicated by those critical statements which warn us of a highly dangerous situation. But the next paragraph, which I suggest was inserted in this hotch potch of a statement while the indiscriminate scrimmage took place in the Cabinet room down below- as Senator Steele Hall said, with half a dozen Ministers going off like wild horses, each madly in a different direction- was ‘The Control of Demand ‘. One of the propositions for the control of demand is to be taken immediately in relation to the Post Office. The first thing said about services provided by a government authority was that they should be paid for by their users. The second thing was that the Government would limit the financial allocations for the Post Office this year, that is 1974-75, to the level of 1973-74. We are told in the speech which introduced this Bill in relation to the amount that will be made available- honourable senators will notice the irony and the mischievousness of the script writer who writes these deceptive speeches- that: . . it has been decided as a deflationary measure to restrict Post Office borrowings in 1974-75 to the same amount as in 1 973-74, that is $385m.
So those are the 2 purposes in regard to the Post Office proposals. The first is to stagnate capital expenditure and the second is to make the users pay. If we were to fall for that degree of false pretences it would almost be like going back to the days when one went the circus round on the regatta grounds and fell for every cheap card trick which the clown of every circus tent called.
- Senator, you might be the hick to fall for it.
– There is no rational sense in this as Senator Mulvihill would be the first to recognise. As I have said, it is proposed to make the users pay. Pay what? Demand is only contained if, first of all, it is ensured that expenditure that will be incurred is justified on the basis of work and real service to the community. In regard to this proposal, there has been no examination at all except the muddled examination which emanated from Senator McAuliffe and to which I shall refer directly in relation to making the users pay. I need go no further, to scarify the insanity of that as a proposition of economics in relation to inflation, than the admissions that came the next morning from Mr Crean, Dr Cairns and Senator Murphy.
– And Mr Bryant.
-Oh, God forbid that I should call him in aid. Do not let me have to depend upon Mr Bryant for an exposition on inflation. It is good enough to rely on Mr Crean, Dr J. F. Cairns and Senator Murphy. Next morning they were ashamed to have to defend this proposal as a deflationary one. So much for the false context in which it has been set.
Let us consider this proposal next from the point of view of proper financial management. The Government received a long standing report graced by the dignity of a man of experience and status in the community, Sir James Vernon. It is a great mistake to think that one name can camouflage all that is included in a report such as this. From the standpoint of financial management, I would think that a proposal would be put forward after the Vernon report had been thoroughly considered and debated here, in all its aspects, as to its value and worth, for at least one day. I submit that it is an entirely fragmentary and ineffective approach to do what Senator McAuliffe did and just cull one or two propositions from the report and say: ‘I found this out, or rather the Commission found it out for me, and I am here to advocate these increases because the Vernon Commission said such and such on page such and such’. In addition to considering in the context of financial management what justification there is for giving $385m in borrowings to the Post Office, we have to consider other avenues of borrowing such as for turtle farms, Aboriginal enterprises, another Blue Poles’ purchase and a few odd notices on country roads.
-And FI 1 ls.
-And FI 1 ls or Whitlam ‘s wizards, the new VIP aircraft. Oh, take wings and fly, oh so slowly; Mr Whitlam and 2 VIP aircraft. Looking at the figures upon which Senator McAuliffe relied for this proposition, apart from the capital expenditure of $3 8 5 m, how does one consider whether that is sufficient? Any sensible man considers its sufficiency only in relation to all the other components of the country’s Budget. What is the lurk involved in bringing this proposition forward in advance of the Budget? There is some cunning in it from the point of view of that type of thought- this time I ask Hansard to put the word ‘thought’ not in quotation marks but in black type- which would depress private industry in order to expand public expenditure.
Let us look at Senator McAuliffe ‘s operating figures. I refer to page 168 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office where, on the Post Office side, there is a predicted loss of $53m for 1973-74 and a projected loss of $ 154m for 1976-77. That is a very glib, superficial and puerile approach. What comment did we hear from Senator McAuliffe on the proposition that operating, maintenance and general expenditure, including wage costs as well as others, for the Post Office side would go from $247m to $345m in 3 years? Interest will rise from $ 18m to $44m in 3 years. These Shylocks, these architects of interest rates of from 12te per cent to 15 per cent- stating them at the most moderate current rate obtainable for the usual commercial security- these people came into office prattling about an interest rate of from 3 per cent to 4 per cent. The rate of inflation when they came into office was about 3 per cent or 4 per cent. They are keeping the rate of interest up with the rate of inflation, rewarding the moneybags and giving not that figure but 20 per cent to the fellow who can get together $100,000 or $250,000. A month ago the Commonwealth Trading Bank was paying 23 per cent for big lumps of money. Yet these people opposite want us to foresee a financial management that predicts an increase from $ 18m to $44m in 3 years in the annual amount for interest on the Post Office side of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
I come now to the telecommunications profit and loss account to which Senator McAuliffe drew our attention. Operating and maintenance expenditure on that side of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in general is expected to go in 3 years from $416m to $593m, and interest from $149m to $254m. Do honourable senators not think that even the pensioners will be saying: Let us get at these Shylocks if they are going to create an increase in the interest bill in one department in a period of 3 years from $149m to $254m’?
– Do you regard Sir James Vernon as a Shylock? Is that what you are saying?
-Do not be so rubbishy. I am saying that people who put this proposition forward are estimating expenditure on the basis of Labor created interest rates and I doubt whether they are taking into account the full figures that I have mentioned. If they were to take into account the figures that the Government has created, probably the increase in interest would be double that amount. I am saying that it is simply nonsense for Senator McAuliffe to quote those figures and to say that unless the Post Office gets these proposed increases it will be running into deficit. That is what is said by everybody in the community who wants to raise prices. Such people mismanage their business, as Senator Jessop says, provide conditions and rates of pay that are completely unjustifiable and, then want to foist the cost on to their customers. It is that wasteful expenditure that is fomenting inflation. It is irresponsible to ask us to accept this single item of expenditure on the basis of proper financial management.
In 1971-72 the salary and wage earning cost in the Post Office was $536m for a staff of 1 1 1,804 employees. In the next financial year- Labor having exercised its talents in management for only half of the period- the costs increased to $6 17m, an increase of 15 per cent, with an increase in the number of personnel of 3.2 per cent, to 1 15,423. But when Labor turned on full speed for 12 months and used all the genius of that great combine, Whitlam and BarnardPrime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister- it achieved an expenditure of $785m, according to one figure that I have, or $759m according the the latest figure that I have from the offices of the Postmaster-General’s Department itself. When
Labor used its effort for a full year, there was an increase of 23 per cent in expenditure.
I wonder what the Prices Justification Tribunal would say if it had the responsibility of approving this proposal to increase postal charges. These people are just trifling with us if they think that we should accept this proposal today. For my part I will not pre-judge my position. I reserve the full right to say that this is not a deferment but a containment of the proposal to increase postal charges. I want to see whether the Post Office can introduce real management into its affairs and produce results on an economic basis. I, like one of my colleagues, or like one honourable senator who has spoken in the debate before me-I think it was Senator Hall and I am not authorised to say that he is a colleaguethought that the operation of the Post Office, from the point of view of industrial performance, is pretty poor. But I am told that from the point of view of actual man-days lost, the figures for the Post Office compare very favourably with those for other sections of the community. Of course, no statistics are kept about the imposition of sectional bans which stultify the through-put of the organisation as a whole. I would have thought that with the experience of 1 year in the last 3 years, any cost accounting in the Post Office would automatically have costed these go-slow tactics, bans and all this other depressing nonsense which goes on in order to prevent service from being provided.
While we are considering this proposal to increase postal charges in the context of financial management, what is the justification for instituting this inquiry other than to receive another report? I do not know whether this time the person who was appointed to conduct the inquiry was called a commissioner or a chairman. He was a professor. I just point out that in 1 972-73 Post Office payments for superannuation liability was $49m, in 1973-74 they were $ 104m, and the projected figure for 1974-75 is $130m. So in the period of a cool 24 months, in one hit payments for superannuation liability increased from a finishing figure of $49m at the beginning to a commencing figure of $ 1 30m at the end. If the Government can give me or my constituents, particularly the self-employed farmer, the shopkeeper and the men who really work, superannuation protection comparable with that applying in the Post Office, I will go along with the Government’s efforts to increase the cost of delivering a letter from here to somewhere over the Molonglo River. At one stage it was taking 9 days to deliver a letter from one suburb to another suburb in Canberra. If the Government can provide for increased superannuation to that degree to everybody without increasing inflation, I might go along with the Government in its efforts to get us into the mad house of increased charges like those proposed in this legislation.
We are not here to be deluded by the caption on a statement which reads ‘Inflationary’. The Government gets our blood pressure up to a dangerous level and then, in a sleight of hand movement, says: ‘But, of course, we have to have an interim instalment of Post Office increases’, without saying that those increases are just as inflationary as increased prices for steel charged by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. I doubt whether BHP is paying much of the Whitlam rates of interest, either. We get honourable senators opposite architecting a new financial structure where the moneybags get unprecedented rates of interest. They are architecting a situation in which they think that we are simple enough to accept, just on the basis of the argument that the user should pay for the service provided, a proposal to increase Post Office charges by $146m. No, I invite Senator McAuliffe and his colleagues to use a little time, in justifying a few of these increased postal charges, to ascertain whether or not the Post Office could not be reinvestigated so that a bit more of an economical product is produced for the price. By the time the Budget is presented no doubt we all will have had an opportunity to read the Vernon report. Even if the report does not deserve consideration by a small committee of the Senate for, say, a week or 10 days, we will have had the advantage of considering the report. We will then be able to consider these proposals in the light of the general financial proposals including, we are told in this statement, a very intriguing capital gains tax and a few other such vagaries.
I need say no more to indicate some of the reasons why I support the amendment which seeks the deferment of these proposed increased Post Office charges. But just as a postscript to my comments on the financial wizardry of Senator McAuliffe and his artful colleagues, I refer to this idea that a company in business, which is charged 9c postage for delivering a letter, will have to pay only 5c because company tax already takes from that company 47.5 per cent not of gross receipts but what is left of gross receipts after expenditure. If I must move into the realm of big business, did Senator McAuliffe have the candour to say that if a firm had a postage bill of $10,000 for the year it was able to claim $5,000 as a tax deduction, and the remaining $5,000 was accounted for at the full rate of 9c? So we get this embryo, immature, muddled nonsense which enables me to remind the Senate that Senator McAuliffe would not weep a tear or pull a hair today for the pensioner who will have to meet the new charge for the use of a public telephone. What is the new charge?
– It has risen to 10c from 5c.
– Yes, it has risen to 10c from 5c. There is not a whisper of sympathy for those pensioners or for the widow who keeps a telephone, not because of the great demand but because it is her one great security and contact with the support of life- the medical profession and the grocer. In 1967 Senator McAuliffe ‘s great leader spoke for a cause which Senator McAuliffe has lost. In 1967 Senator Murphy pointed out how these Post Office charges are a hidden profit. He said:
We say that this is disguising the true position which is that the Post Office is making a profit and that profit is being hidden because great interest charges … are being paid by the Post Office to the Commonwealth.
He also said:
The Government proposes to deal with its financial problems in the worst possible way, that is, by putting the burden on those who can least afford it. I refer to the ordinary citizen.
– He was not deterred then.
– As I have been reminded, he was not deterred then by any constitutional inhibitions on the activities of this chamber. He, robustly, impulsively and like a young colt just out of the grass asserted all the rights of the Senate, without limitation, to rebuff an unjustified charge by the Government, although the increases would be part of the Government’s aggregate revenue. If it could get $ 146m out of us as simply as it has tried to seduce it today, it would have $146m towards the $159m which is the figure it has computed for turtle farms next year. The socialists must be watched on account of such things.
So, on that happy note, I am about to conclude. The Government, contemplating the luxury of preying on turtles, which are a form of wildlife- none would know that better than Senator Mulvihill who is occupying the chair at the moment- having converted them into a butcher shop commodity, then finds that the meat is not edible; it is diseased. No wonder the Government wants more money for its peccadillos. I am very glad that Senator Durack has given us the opportunity to defer these matters. If the Government can produce a better argument in a few weeks it will get a better response, but acceptance is not guaranteed as far as I am concerned.
– It must be comforting to young senators- I exclude myself- to know that their prospects are that as they reach 70 years of age no one will treat them seriously, and no one has treated Senator Wright seriously today.
– Yes, they have.
– Of course you would, but you would not be game to deny anything that he has said. I have never heard such slanderous attacks on people who have tried to do a job for the Australian community than Senator Wright’s advocacy today. Words such as Shylocks, cheats and liars were directed at Sir James Vernon, Mr B. J. Callinan and Mr J. J. Kennedy. That is precisely what Senator Wright was calling them. Last week we heard him denounce a Queensland supreme court judge. If he wishes to indulge in those tactics, he is not acting in the spirit of a decent Australian. He should not attack people who investigate matters for the Australian government. I do not care who is in power; if people accept the responsibility of doing a survey, they are entitled to the respect of members of this Parliament. Today they did not get the respect to which they are entitled, and I was ashamed to hear from those who profess to believe in democracy words such as those which emanated from Senator Wright today. I accuse him straightforwardly of suggesting that Sir James Vernon is a Shylock and that the other 2 gentlemen who sat with Sir James are equally classified in that category. His suggestion is nothing short of downright disgraceful conduct. If he saw Sir James outside tonight he would be bowing and scraping to Sir James as if Sir James were the archbishop of all archbishops.
I wish to raise a matter which my colleague Senator Lawrie raised about post offices in Queensland. Throughout Australia so many unions are operating in the Post Office field that it becomes an impossible financial burden to keep supply up to demand. If we did as Senator Lawrie suggested, we would not be asked to pay 9c to send a letter, we would be asked to pay something nearer 12c. I come now to this important point: We have tried to make possible and easy amalgamation in the trade union movement. What have Senator Lawrie and his colleagues on the other side done? On each occasion they have opposed our efforts to make amalgamation in the trade union movement easier. Consequently, he has to suffer the penalty of his stupidities in that direction.
– You will find out soon enough.
– Did you interject, Senator Maunsell?
– It does not matter.
– I did not think you did.
– I wish you would sit down.
– I wish you would speak up. Senator Lawrie complained bitterly that people in country areas cannot get telephones. We have been in power for about 2 years. The previous Government was in power for 23 years. I have heard him complain bitterly at meetings of a Senate Estimates Committee of which Senator Davidson was Chairman that his Government was doing nothing to provide telephone services for people in country areas. He produced about 500 illustrations. Everybody became sick and tired of what he was talking about. But the situation is that his own government was in power and after 23 years it was unable to provide that service for the people whom the honourable senator is supposed to represent. If we are going to discuss these matters let us at least be honest in our approach to them. Do honourable senators opposite think that anybody on the Government side wants to increase postal charges? Do they believe that we on this side are in sheer delight because this legislation is before the Senate? It is before the Senate because the Government has the courage to measure up to its responsibilities to the Australian people. There was one man in the Liberal-Country Party Government who also had that courage. He was the former PostmasterGeneral, Sir Alan Hulme. On more than one occasion he implored the Government of the day to increase postal charges.
– You knocked it back.
– The honourable senator says: ‘You knocked him back’. I thank him very much for the interjection. It was he, this wheat farmer from South Australia, who knocked back the former Postmaster-General. He was one who, at a time when he had all the evidence at his disposal, could not even see the advantages of the Dartmouth Dam. But now he comes in and says that we knocked him back. Have honourable senators ever heard anything so incorrect in all their born days? The senator from South Australia- a very junior South Australian senator-knocked back the wisdom that was forthcoming from the then PostmasterGeneral.
-You knocked it back; we did not.
– No. On the contrary, he put a proposal to the Cabinet and to the Party meeting on more than one occasion but it was refused. That is general knowledge and it is accepted. Now I come back to the point. Do honourable senators opposite think that the Government wants to increase charges? It has increased the charges because- notwithstanding what Senator Wright said- it believes that they are justified. Do any honourable senators opposite believe that there should be an increase in charges if it is recommended? Do they believe that the Post Office should, as nearly as possible, pay its own way? I do not hear any comment from the other side denying that argument. It is just as well that honourable senators opposite do not deny it because if they did they would be in real trouble.
The Opposition has referred to what Senator Murphy said. It is strange that nothing was said about the remarks of Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson. At page 1360 of Hansard of 1 1 May 1967, in his second reading speech on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, he said:
It has also a responsibility to pay its way.
– You should pay your way.
– I do not go drinking vodka with the Russians on their national day and then complain about the communists. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson said:
It has also a responsibility to pay its way rather than incur losses to be made good by the taxpayer. I am sure honourable senators will agree with the principle that costs should be borne by the people who use the service.
That was what was said by the then Liberal leader in the Senate, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson- a man for whom we all have a very high regard. What did Senator Webster, a member of the Australian Country Party, say? At page 1511 of Hansard of 12 May 1 967 he said:
Let us cut back our expansion in order to avoid these rising costs.
I hope that Senator Lawrie heard that. One of his Party’s leaders said: ‘Let us cut back the expansion of the Post Office. ‘ He continued:
Let us not commit ourselves to the purchase of all the excellent equipment now available for providing an efficient modernised system of communication. We are faced with the alternative of either reducing expenditure by curtailing our service and the development of more efficient service in the future or else allowing the present rates of charges to continue and meeting the growing deficiency from general taxation revenue. … I believe we should give our support to a government which has been bold enough at this time to increase these rates and to give the Parliament an opportunity of discussing them.
Senator Webster said that in 1967. Another pillar of the Liberal Party and, again, one for whom we have a high regard- Senator Cottonsaid at page 1497 of Hansard of 12 May 1967:
I think that business undertakings of governments are to be regarded as far as possible as commercial undertakings and they should be asked and expected to pay their way.
-Who said that?
- Senator Cotton. He was the previous Government’s spokesman on these matters. But now we find the Opposition saying that the increases are not justified. They were justified in 1967.
– You are not saying that in 1967. You are saying the very opposite.
– The honourable senator quoted what Senator Murphy said but he did not carry on and tell the full story. I will tell the full story. Do honourable senators want me to tell the full story of what Senator Murphy said? They have not told it and they do not want it to be told because it goes against them.
– Your Party walked out on Senator Murphy and would not even vote.
– What did Senator Webster say about country services? Senator Lawrie ought not to take Senator Murphy to task because he will eat him alive, without salt. Are we alone in suggesting that postal charges should be increased? What happened in 1969-70 when the Opposition was in government? It increased postal charges by lc. Honourable senators should not fall into the trap and say that we are increasing them by 2c, because in 1970-71 the previous Government further increased them by lc, making an increase of 2c. Then in 1971-72 there was a further increase of lc, making 3c in 3 years. But by a strange coincidence that was not sufficient to cover the expenses of the Post Office. The year 1972 was an election year, so what did the previous Government do? It ducked for cover. It did not have the courage to face up to its responsibilities and bring in further legislation in that direction. It may be unfortunate for Senator Wright that he believes that Sir James Vernon and the 2 other Commissioners are unscrupulous people. I do not believe that they are. They have set out, chapter and verse, the situation of the Post Office for the future.
– It is an excellent report.
– As my colleague says, it is an excellent report. The situation is that the Post Office has been losing money for years. On innumerable occasions I have heard the pillars of free enterprise say that there should be a statutory organisation to control the Post Office.
– Run it on business lines.
– They say that it should be run on business lines, that it cannot be run by public servants who know nothing about the game. Honourable senators opposite have said it in their turn time and again. So the Government set up a Commission of Inquiry comprising Sir James Vernon and those other two gentlemen to whom I have referred. They brought down a report. Tonight we heard Senator Wright make a trenchant criticism of the report, but on no occasion did he produce evidence to support any of his remarks. Honourable senators will recall that on one occasion he said that it took 9 days to deliver a letter from here to the other side of Canberra. Challenged for the evidence he could not produce it. His words, as usual, are emotionally toned and have no basis in fact.
– A figment of the imagination.
– It is, as my colleague Senator McAuliffe said, a figment of his imagination. He had the audacity to criticise caustically the report brought down by the Commissioners but on no occasion did he present any contraargument that would support anything he said. Notwithstanding the fact that it irritated him to read some of the comments, I will repeat them for the benefit of the people. Table 7.2, titled Superannuation Costs 1973-74 to 1976-77 Chargeable to Profit and Loss Accounts’, shows that in respect to telecommunications the estimated cost will be $67.6m in 1 976-77. Are we not entitled to and should we not take into consideration what the commissioners said are the foreseeable costs? Would we not be remiss in our responsibility if, having asked somebody to investigate a matter and having been given by them the results chapter and verse, we say that we are not going to take any notice of those results whatsoever?
Table 7.3 refers to postal services profit and loss accounts and shows a projected loss for the year 1976-77 of $ 154m. Are we going to accept that or will we face up to our responsibility to see what we can do to overcome that loss? I repeat that it is not for any of us here to say that we are in favour of and want to see higher costs. We are compelled to take this course of action because if we do not we will not be acting in the interests of the Australian people. Table 7.4 deals with telecommunications profit and loss accounts and shows that in 1968-69 there was a profit of $ 16.7m and that in 1976-77 there will be a projected loss of $87m. At this stage it is showing a profit, but are we not entitled to look ahead and ask what will happen in the future? Will anybody deny that the Post Office will have capital expenditure requirements in the future?
I refer now to Table 7.6 which deals with capital expenditure requirements. In 1972-73 it was $482m actual and in 1976-77 the projected figure is $9 10m. One would not need to be an Einstein to accept that in that period of time the capital expenditure requirements of the Post Office will rise by the figure indicated by the commissioners. But Senator Wright said that the commissioners are charlatans and Shylocks. Yet they come up with these figures after having evidence submitted to them from all sections of the community. Table 7.8 shows the projected financial position of telecommunications services based on figures contained in table 7.4. In table 7.8 we see that the trading profit for 1973-74 was $30m but that in 1976-77 there will be a loss of $87m. Consequently we believe that it is our responsibility to face up to the facts as they are presented in the report, an independent report presented by people who are respected in the community who had as their chairman a person who had been briefed by the previous government. Consequently the Opposition must believe that he is a man of repute, as we believe he is. We believe that on the Commission’s findings we are compelled to come before the Senate today to ask for the increased charges, not because we want to, but because we believe it is in the interests of Australians that we do so. I ask the Senate to reject the pious amendment that was moved to the motion and to vote for the positive approach in the interests of Australia.
– I rise to indicate that I will be supporting the amendment. We have heard some very interesting discussion in this chamber today on this legislation. We have heard honourable senators on the Government side completely changing their views of the past. They are now giving us a lecture on business management and management of the economy of this country but if what has happened over the last 18 months is any indication of how the economy should be managed I think we are better off without the advice. I am one of those who appreciate that there is a need for the charges for the services of a government instrumentality to be increased from time to time so that the income of that instrumentality to some extent measures up to its costs. In other words, enormous losses cannot be tolerated. But we say that in respect of these instrumentalities a certain proportion of their operations should be in the form of special services to special people in the community.
This argument that every government instrumentality should be able to pay its way and that the users of its services should pay for those services, is ridiculous. Does anybody suggest that the users of hospitals should be the only ones to pay for hospital services; that the users of schools should be the only ones to pay for the costs of running them and the provision of teachers? In the interests of the nation communications should be provided at a loss in a big country like this and paid for by the taxpayers generally. Therefore, some parts of the operations of the Postmaster-General’s Department should be funded out of government revenue. But what is happening? Apparently the Government thinks that inflation rates will become steeper and steeper because it is now proposing through these charges to bring about a profit in the Post Office in the next year of many millions of dollars. Rather than increase the charges in the future it will increase them now in order to make a profit in the next year of operation. I wonder whether this is done for the purpose of providing facilities, as was suggested by some honourable senators on the Government side.
It strikes me that a lot of the measures which were contained in previous budgets, particularly those in relation to rural areas, have been taken out for the express purpose of putting more revenue into the Government’s hands so that it can implement its policy of socialisation. These increases will hit country people more than anyone else. In country areas, particularly in the outback, telephonic communication is essential. People hundreds of miles away from a town cannot go down to the end of a street to find a doctor or a block or two to find a hospital. It is absolutely essential in times of tragedy that a telephone service be available so that even if they are unable to get people to hospital they can at least communicate with a doctor to find out what the treatment should be. The operations of many country businesses are conducted almost entirely by telephone. Their customers cannot buy everything they need next door. They cannot walk down the street to a shop or drive for 5 minutes into the city. So they are the people who will suffer the most as the increases continue. lt is not realised by many people that it is not just the individual person who will suffer. The position now is similar to that which prevailed when the fuel subsidy was withdrawn. I have heard Government members say that country people will have to pay a bit more for their fuel. But that is not the only result of the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy. Not only does the individual motorist have to pay more for his fuel but also the people in those areas that are remote from the centres of commerce- the capital cities in particular- and which are dependent on road transport have to pay an increase in transport costs and therefore an increase in the cost of practically everything they purchase. We had another example the other day of an electricity generating board out in one of the far areas of Queensland which had to increase its electricity charges as a result of the increase in fuel costs. So there are a number of avenues in which once you start to increase costs it hits the people in a series of different ways.
The point that must be remembered, despite what Senator McAuliffe said earlier in the day, is that it is always the small people who suffer the most as a result of these savage charges. Senator McAuliffe defeated his own case. He said that when charges are increased, businesses can recoup some of the increase in their income tax returns and so it will not cost them so much. But the person who cannot get the cost of such charges deducted from his income tax will have to pay the full charge. So how can Senator McAuliffe advance the argument that the ordinary people will be helped because the Government is again increasing charges? How ridiculous it is for such a suggestion to be made. It is the ordinary people who have been hit with all the Government’s charges so far despite all the arguments that this is a great Government for the ordinary people. As the economic climate develops, we can see that many ordinary people in this country from now on will be suffering great hardship not only in regard to higher interest rates and increasing inflation. It is only a matter of time before in many cases even their jobs will be in jeopardy.
I think that it is high time this Government made up its mind about its financial policy and how it will attack inflation. In particular, it should come forward with a policy which will enable the Government itself to reduce charges. It must do this if it is to attack inflation and look after the smaller people in the community. The Government should not be going on a great spending spree aimed at its great policy of nationalisation. It should allow industry to work and develop in such a way that costs and prices can be contained. But since this Government has been in office we have seen measure after measure introduced which can be only inflationary in its effect. Industry has been thrown into chaos in all sorts of ways by the drastic measures taken by this Government. It has interfered with private industry wherever it can. Once there is interference with industry to any extentthis applies particularly to primary industry- this will bring about uncertainty and doubt within those industries and create a situation in which many people will sit back and bide their time.
There are many people engaged in the production of the wealth of this nation today who do not have much faith in the future. When production is curtailed, the wealth of the nation and the standard of living of its people are curtailed. It is the wealth that is produced, not only what is sold overseas but also by what is produced for local consumption, that determines the standard of living of our people. I think that it is high time this Government made up its mind what its policy is in respect to financial leadership and particularly in respect to inflation. We seem to have about 6 different opinions at the moment. Every now and again another Minister comes forward and gives his personal ideas of how inflation should be tackled. The Ministry decided on drastic measures last week. It introduced a miniBudget. But, of course, before it reached the Parliament the Caucus had a snipe at it. The result was that all the proposals that could have been of assistance in halting inflation were taken out and all the proposals that will accelerate inflation were left in. I think that most of the Ministers today have had to admit that none of the charges, whether it be the postal charges or the increase in the tax on cigarettes and spirits, is anti-inflationary.
When will we have some positive action from this Government in its financial program? We cannot continue in the situation we saw last week. We had the responsible members of the Government- the Cabinet- presenting one proposition and the Caucus throwing it out and sending them off with another proposition. Let us face the position: In most of these financial operations, one measure can be complementary to another. Why have these increased charges been brought in at this time? Why were not the increases left to the normal Budget time? I feel that the Government is frightened at the moment of what is going to happen. It has suddenly realised what its measures have brought about in the community. It is just beginning to realise that inflation is a serious matter and that it does not have any policy to contain it. Therefore, the Government will have to bring in measures in the next Budget which will not be very palatable to the people. In my opinion, the idea of the Government is to hand out these bitter pills separately and in small doses.
I believe that it is all right to increase charges if this has to be done. However, I do not agree with the full extent of the increased charges that have been imposed on this occasion. But .as I agreed before, whether it be through inflation or through losses, if there must be an increase in the charges for services that are provided this should be done when the Budget is presented. After all, the Budget is the indication of the financial policy of the Government. It should not have this bits and pieces financial policy of which only half was presented to us last week. I think it is high time that we as an Opposition said to the Government: ‘When you bring down your Budget on 17 September we will then make judgment on whether your financial policy is in the nation’s interest’. I think that that is the time when these measures should be introduced. Mr Deputy President, for those reasons I have much pleasure in supporting the amendments.
Sitting suspended from 5.54 to 8 p.m. (Quorum formed.)
– Today we have been discussing the proposed increases in postal and telegraph charges. Let me say at the outset that I support the amendment moved by Senator Durack. The people of Australia have been concerned for quite some time about the state of the economy. But since the election the Government itself has expressed concern about it. That concern continued until we were informed in Press reports that a mini-Budget was to be presented to this Parliament. We waited in anticipation for the mini-Budget to arrive. As far as I am concerned, when it did arrive, it was no longer a miniBudget; it had been fragmented right down the line. We had heard Press reports that so many people were involved in the presentation and planning of this mini-Budget that finally, because everybody wanted to keep his piece of cake, one unfortunate Minister was left to carry the cherry, and that was Senator Bishop. I no longer look upon the action taken by the Government as a mini-Budget. In fact, I think one can only describe it as a minus statement.
– A Bishop’s mistake.
– Yes, I would even agree with that. Again I express sympathy for Senator Bishop. Probably because of his good nature he allowed his proposal to remain whilst the other Ministers took theirs out. Nevertheless, instead of being presented in this place with a miniBudget we found the day after the Treasurer (Mr Crean) made his ministerial statement on inflation that we had many newly arrived miniTreasurers, if I can put it that way. I am certain from reports and from the advice that must have been given to the Government that much more should have been in the proposed or intended mini-Budget. We found that confusion reigned the day after the Treasurer presented his statement because no longer did we have a single Treasurer; we had many mini-Treasurers sitting in the Federal Ministry.
I would describe the present situation as the great moment of indecision for this Government because it would appear that the Government does not know which way to go at the present dme. Granted, its position is made difficult by the many temporary and self-appointed advisers who have come to confuse the situation for it. Mr Crean made a few suggestions in his statement, amongst which was one to increase postal and telegraph charges. This afternoon Senator McAuliffe went to great pains to state that the Postmaster-General’s Department must pay its way. He emphasised that it should pay its way or, in other words, that it should get its balance sheet back on an equal basis.
– He also presented a new economic theory.
– It was a completely new economic theory. I should like to pass comment on that later. It appears that this afternoon Senator McAuliffe was the main spokesman for the Government in this debate.
– He did a good job.
– He presented a completely new economic theory. I would hope that if he writes a book on this theory it will never be read by students of economics in this country. The honourable senator’s attitude was entirely different from that expressed by Mr Crean. If we look at the statement made by Mr Crean we find that under the heading ‘The Control of Demand ‘ he stated:
First let me say that the foundation for any antiinflationary policy must be in the control of demand. We have pushed supplies to their maximum and little can be added on that side.
At the start of the next paragraph he stated:
This, then, is the first strand in the Government’s policies- to strengthen the measures it has already taken to contain demand. Given the timing of events, we shall be looking chiefly to our forthcoming Budget for that purpose. We have, however, decided upon a number of budgetary steps which can now be taken immediately. At the Premiers Conference the Prime Minister indicated our firm view that, in general terms, services provided by government authorities should be paid for by their users rather than by the general taxpayer. In that connection, and as part of the more general policy of expenditure restraint -
I hope Senator McAuliffe is listening to this- he said that the financial allocation for the Post Office in 1974-75 would be held at its 1 973-74 level.
– Who said that?
-This was said by Mr Crean. I do not know whether he is now the Treasurer because, according to Press reports, there were four other contenders for his position. Mr Crean went on to say:
It follows from those 2 propositions that the Post Office must now raise substantial additional revenue by way of increased charges. Specifically, the Government has decided to increase postal and telecommunications charges from 1 August 1974 by amounts sufficient to yield $146m during 1974-75.
We had another economic adviser stating this afternoon that really all that was intended in this area was to balance the budget of the Postmaster-General’s Department. But the official Treasurer- if he is still the holder of that position- stated that the proposal to increase charges was made not for that reason but to contain demand. I cannot understand why the Government chose to increase postal and telegraph charges because all that can happen, apart from many people being disadvantaged, is that the cost structures of this country will be increased.
One only has to look to see how much the poorer sections of the community will be disadvantaged by the proposed increase in the local telephone call charge from 4.7c to 6c and the public telephone call charge from 5c to 10c. People who can afford to have a telephone in their homes are the very people whom this Government tends to criticise. People who cannot afford a telephone and who for many reasons have to use a public telephone are the people who will be hit the hardest of anybody. They will find that, instead of having to pay the old charge of 5c for a telephone call when they go to a public telephone box, they will have to pay 10c. One can look at the way in which pensioners will be hurt by the Government’s decision. Those pensioners who perhaps can afford a telephone will have to pay higher rentals and higher call charges. The basic letter rate is to be increased from 7c to 9a It is all very well to say that this will not be an added cost to this country. Firstly, there is a private cost to the individual which will hurt many people who can least afford it. Secondly, the State governments will have a greatly increased cost factor built into their general costs of administration.
If one looks closely at the details of the proposed charges one finds great increases in postal and telecommunications charges. One understands and appreciates the need for rapid communications and the great need for telephonic communications particularly within State departments. These increases will be another cost burden for State governments. In commerce and industry we will find at the end of 12 months greatly increased costs. It is no good the Government saying that this is not so, because the revenue to be raised from these increased costs this year is estimated at $ 146m. A breakdown of that figure shows that a proportion will be paid by the private individual. That will not be the most affected area, however, The greatest burdens will fall into the domains of the cost structures of State governments, local government, and industry and commerce. The State governments have been squeezed by this Federal Government and hence must raise more revenue within their own States. This means another cost factor for the individual within those States and, secondly, for industry and commerce. No matter what the Government says about industry and commerce- it says that big industries are bleeding the people dry, and many of its members say they are a bit of a blot on the community because they are making large profits- I want to remind the Government that without profit there would be not industry and without industry there will be no employment. Regarding the increased cost factor and the need for profitability, these increased costs will finish up in only one areathat is as costs to the individual of this country.
To quote Senator McAuliffe again, he said this afternoon that those who use telephones and other postal services should pay for them. Whenever increased charges like these are made they result in an indirect payment by every member of this community. That cannot be avoided because, as I said, while charges are levied, firstly, on State governments and local governments and, secondly, on commerce and industry, everybody pays for those increases. So we have a situation whereby increased costs, be they by way of taxation and costs of services within a State or be they by the cost of goods and services provided by industry and commerce, amount to another cost factor in our economy. No matter what the Government says, this is inflationary. This proposal propounded by the Government is completely counter-productive because all it will do is increase costs to the community- and some of those costs will have to be borne by people who can least afford them. If some honourable senators on the other side do not agree with me, while I know that Senator Murphy has been quoted a lot today, there is one glorious passage in his speech at page 1496 of the Hansard of 12 May 1967 which I should like to quote. Speaking of postal charges, Senator Murphy said:
This measure is not designed to improve public welfare because its effects must add to the inflation which is already existent in Australia. It is rampant. We know that there is an inflationary factor of about 3 per cent a year.
Senator Murphy was expressing concern because this increased charge was inflationary at a time when we had an inflationary factor of about 3 per cent. Now the Government has suddenly woken up because it can see that inflation in this country is galloping at 20 per cent and that all signs are pointing to a minimum of 20 per cent. It was not until it had that situation whereby it was shown clearly that our economy is racing towards a 20 per cent rate of inflation that it even admitted that we have an inflationary problem. One has to cast one’s mind back only a few weeks, to the election period, to recall that the Government said: ‘There is no inflationary problem in this country; none whatsoever. It is under control. The quarterly figures show a slight downturn’. It did not tell the people that those particular quarterly figures always show a downturn by comparison with other quarterly figures and that they were a damned sight worse than they had been for many years. It was not until the signs pointed towards a galloper of some 20 per cent in the inflationary race that it decided to have a mini Budget- which never came into existence. A statement was made about the economy. I feel sorry for Senator Bishop because he was left to carry the can- probably because of his good nature. Let me go back to Senator Murphy’s statement of 1967. Having said that there was an inflationary factor of about 3 per cent a year, he said:
What is to happen now? For every letter that is posted there will be an extra charge. Charges for telephone calls are to be increased. The effects will be felt not only by the ordinary citizen but throughout industry. The increased charges will have to be passed on.
It is interesting that Senator Murphy said that, because that is exactly what I said earlier about the discredited economic theory propounded by Senator McAuliffe this afternoon. Senator Murphy went on to say:
Any effect of reductions in bulk postage will be counteracted by the effects felt by all businesses which employ the means of communication affected by these increases. The increased charges for letters, telegrams and telephones will mean that a severe impetus will be given to inflation in Australia.
Heavens, I would like to know what the honourable senator says today. I wish Senator Murphy was taking part in this debate. He must be terribly concerned, having made a statement like that when we had an inflation rate of 3 per cent, to see what this Government proposes. The indicators are that we will finish up with an inflation rate of 20 per cent or more. I would like to refer also to a passage in the second reading speech put down in this place by the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Bishop) which related directly to the Crean statement. In the section headed Post Office Tariff Structure’ the PostmasterGeneral said:
Last year the Government made important changes in the Post Office tariff structure by tackling concessional and uneconomic areas of Post Office activity which provided hidden subsidies to selected areas of the community. It is unfortunate that some of the Government’s efforts to phase out concessions were obstructed, particularly the registered newspaper and periodical category which will lose about $9min 1974-75.
It is interesting that that should be said because the one thing that has concerned many people in this country for a long time is this need of communication by small periodicals, community organisations, service organisations and so many social welfare organisations which, working on a voluntary basis, have the problem of communicating not only with their members but with people generally in the community. Here concern is expressed because the Government had hoped that it could erode more of the concessions granted to these organisations. Reverting to the Bill, it discloses proposed increases in postal charges in category A, category B and category C. The proposed rates set out for category A look quite good until one tots them up. At the present time we find that the rate stands at 8c per 300 grams. But if we look at the proposed rate we find that 300 grams will cost some 8 1/2c This is not a great increase but, nevertheless, it is another increase. But underneath these amounts on this table we find that from 1 March 1975 a minimum amount of $3 will be applied to each bulk posting other than those articles posted by a news vendor or agent. This is double the previous cost.
Here we reach the situation where many small service clubs which would not reach the maximum will be hit by a doubling of the minimum cost. This will be another loading on those groups, and there are many of them in this country. There are hundreds and, in fact, thousands of them who do so much for the community. Yet even these people will be penalised by an increase of 100 per cent. Perhaps it does not sound much, but if we tot up the cost at the end of the year we will see what it amounts to. It is a big increase for many of these service clubs and other social welfare groups in this country. If we look at registered publications, category B, which is for bulk postings of newspapers and periodicals, we find that the current rate is 3c for the first 50 grams. It is proposed that this will be increased to 4c for the first 50 grams. The charge of 1 lAc for the second 50 grams will be increased to 2c for each additional 50 grams up to 300 grams, and over and above 300 grams it will cost an extra lc for each additional 50 grams. Basically the situation here is a double-header. This covers the area of many of the country newspapers throughout this country. I have spoken of this matter before. It is all very well for people living in cities; their papers are thrown to them every morning.
This Government talks about decentralisation and encouraging people to move out of the densities of the cities to develop the rural areas of Australia. But having said that it continues right down the line on so many occasions to do. all it can to discourage this sort of movement. This is another example. Communication to people in the country is equally as important as it is to anybody living in the city. Country people take their little paper every week because to them it is the local Bible. People living in the city who have retired from the country take it because it is the one link they still have with their old area. Yet these little country newspapers are expected to continue.
– They are not worth a tinker’s curse because a Labor man cannot get a go with them.
-There is the attitude of the Labor Party. Senator Primmer says that country newspapers are not worth a tinker’s curse. I am glad to hear that because I guess those remarks would be echoed by many other Government senators in this place. That must be so, in view of the attitude which has been adopted by the Government regarding these papers. The local country newspaper is a very important part of country life. We have the situation where one of two things eventually will happen. I ask honourable senators to remember that it was the last straw which broke the camel’s back. Here we have an added increase which must be passed on to the consumer. It cannot be absorbed by the local newspaper which, if it tries to absorb the cost, will finish up on a one-way road and go out of existence. This is one thing that people do not want. Again they are being asked to carry the burden. If we look at the history of the rural Press, particularly in the last couple of years, we find that many of these newspapers are no longer the local paper. They have merged with other newspapers throughout the area and they are getting down to a single newspaper. That is what is happening today. They are losing their local identity, which is a tragedy both for the newspaper and for the people which it serviced before. That is the first point. The second point is that we will find that many of the big newspapers in the cities, because of their size and their financial ability, have taken over these country newspapers. It is far better that this happen than that the country newspapers go out of existence. But again we reach the situation where that country newspaper loses its old identity and something is lost to that district. I know that some of the honourable senators on the Government side would not have lived in the country and they would not know the benefit of having the local rag, as it was called.
Of course, because of the weight factor which comes into this proposal, the country newspapers, in trying to exist, will cut down in size. This is the other thing that this proposal will do. So the Government has done a doubleheader on these people. It will force them either to pass these costs on- people never like this because it is another cost- which will affect the distribution of the newspaper, or eventually the newspapers will go out of existence; or, to remain in existence, these people in turn will have to cut down the size of their newspaper. When people in the Government start talking about decentralisation and the encouragement of rural dwelling, I suggest that they stop and have a jolly good look at themselves in the mirror. No doubt most of them will see their image, but in the background, there must be, for many of them, an image of Senator Cyril Primmer. At least he was honest and stated quite frankly the view of this Government- that it is not concerned with a very important aspect of rural communication.
So I come back again to the amendment moved by Senator Durack this afternoon. This Government brought in this proposal- why one will never know- which is inflationary. We hope that the Government, prior to the Budget, will put a bit of serious thought into deciding who the Treasurer is. At the present time there are five to choose from, four self-appointed and one elected. I say to the Government: Decide who your Treasurer will be. At least it should set down guidelines because the people of this country are waiting to know which way it is going. We hope that the Government will soon know which way it is going. We hope that it will soon tell us because one thing which can cause a lot of concern and which can encourage inflation is a lack of confidence in the community. Nobody has given greater encouragement for a lack of confidence than this Government has given in the last 3 weeks.
– Tonight the Senate is looking at a legislative measure which has many influences and complexities. In the first instance it is looking at the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1974. It is looking also at an amendment which has been moved to the motion: ‘That the Bill be read a second time ‘. The amendment has been moved by Senator Durack to leave out all words after that’ and to insert certain other words. These other words point out that in Senator Durack ‘s view the proposals contained in the Bill are clearly inflationary and that further consideration of the Bill should be deferred until it can be examined in the context of the Government’s total financial program for the current year. Although the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) has said something about a policy whereby customers should pay sufficient to cover the costs of providing a surplus and for reinvestment, it is true also that the rationale which the Government submits to the Senate in relation to this measure is very strongly and clearly related to the problem of inflation. A measure such as the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill which is before the Senate now has many influences.
When it is proposed to increase postal charges for postal and telegraph services, a measure like this cuts right across the entire commercial, economic and social fabric of the Australian community. In, the social sphere the increases outlined in the Bill which the PostmasterGeneral has put down, hit hardest at the people whom the Government claims to represent. The whole style of life of people on lower incomes will be quite seriously affected. The Bill will place upon them yet another burden. I regret to say that in due course it will place them and others in a situation where they will come under some form of obligation to and influence by the Government. Eventually they will come under some form of government control, lt may be true that low income earners are not the largest users of the postal services, but certainly they are the hardest hit by the measures outlined in the Bill put down by the Postmaster-General. They are the hardest hit by reason of the simple flow-on of costs. No less a person than the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has given evidence of this point of view. In the commercial and economic sphere the charges outlined in the Bill will have the effect of increasing prices and wages as well as costs. There will be a cumulative effect which will make everything more expensive to the individual and to the community.
The Postmaster-General has put down a comprehensive and complex Bill. Its most immediate effects are in a number of spheres. The basic letter rate is to rise from 7c to 9c, the telephone connection fee from $60 to $80, business telephone rentals from $20 to $75, residential telephone rentals by $10 to $65, the cost of a local telephone call to 6c and the cost of a public telephone call from 5c to 10c. It has been said that the connection fee has been increased from $60 to $80 to curb demand. Indeed, the PostmasterGeneral pointed out in his speech that the present charge leads to what he calls an artificially high demand. I suggest that this is a very negative approach. As the Minister knows, there are long waiting lists for telephone connections and there are serious shortages. I suggest that the Postmaster-General and the Government undertake a much more positive approach and increase production so that people waiting for telephone connections are not simply advised that there is an artificially high demand. The Government should get busy and adopt a positive approach so that there is greater production and an increased supply of units.
All the increased charges proposed, particularly those to which I have referred, are grossly discriminatory. Telephones can be made available only to people who can afford them and who can pay the additional amount required. There also is gross discrimination in relation to public telephone charges. After all, as has been said today and as we all know very well, public telephones provide a service for a wide range of people, particularly pensioners and others whose only means of communication with essential services, their friends and the community at large is the public telephone. It is the only instrument which provides for them some quality and style of life. But what is the Government proposing in this Bill? It is proposing a 100 per cent increase in the cost of the ordinary public telephone service. This is a gross discrimination. It is in line with the discrimination that is evidenced in various other charges laid down in the Bill. This Government, which says that it wants to do away with discrimination, ought to be condemned for including these discriminatory charges in what is a social as well as an economic measure.
The 2 Bills before us surely will add to the inflationary problems. I refer the Senate to the amendment moved by Senator Durack in which the key words are that the proposals contained in the Posts and Telegraph Rates Bill are clearly inflationary. The substantial increases in postal charges outlined in the Bill will not reduce inflation. This is very well known. The PostmasterGeneral knows it and the Government knows it. I am wondering whether this measure, introduced in the Senate by the PostmasterGeneral, is just something to condition the Australian people to accepting substantial and severe additional taxes when the Budget is presented to the Senate. The Postmaster-General told us in his speech that the Prime Minister announced at a Premiers Conference that there would be substantial increases in postal and telecommunication charges. They first came to the notice of the Senate, as I recall it, in a statement made on behalf of the Treasurer (Mr Crean) one evening not very long ago. That statement included an announcement about the postal charges expressed in the measure which the Postmaster-General has laid before the Senate.
The Treasurer described his statement as being designed to bring the current inflationary trends under control. Under no circumstances can the. postal charges proposed in this measure be described as bringing inflation under control. Within hours of that speech being made by the Treasurer the Government was backing away from that very stand in relation to controlling inflation. Dr Cairns, the Deputy Prime Minister, was denying the claim: Mr Crean, the Treasurer, was almost apologising for it. If honourable senators want any further evidence of what the Government and its supporters were thinking about that statement, far away in London the voice of Mr Hawke was joining in. Mr Hawke, referring to the Government’s measures, of which its proposals for increased postal charges were one, was saying that he was pessimistic about the Government’s measures to reduce inflation.
-Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Labor Party?
– That is right. He was saying also that the better way to reduce inflation would be to reduce charges, not increase them. Furthermore, from his vantage point some thousands of miles away, Mr Hawke asserted that most economists believed that the Treasurer’s proposals simply would not reduce inflation. He went on to say that to reduce prices was an eminently sensible thing to do if one were fighting inflation. The questions which the Opposition is asking today and tonight are: Where is the Government’s line? What is its decision? What is its thinking? Can it not make up its mind about what it wants to do in order to put into action the many words which its spokesmen have uttered and let loose upon the Senate in debate in recent times?
We take advantage of the debate on this Post and Telegraph Rates Bill to draw attention to the very great weaknesses in the Government’s argument and the very great weaknesses in its administration. The Government, in specifically increasing prices and charges for postal and telecommunication services and making the announcement against the background of continuing statements relating to inflation, highlights the fact that it needs to have its attention drawn to the fact that its arguments are weak and completely unsubstantiated. The new proposals, far from decreasing inflation, will add to the flames of inflation. The country cannot continue in this way. The Government, in one way or anotherthis measure is an example- is overturning the whole structure of the Australian economy. At the rate we are going there will be no point in people saving; there will be no value in insurance; and there will be no economic purpose in any activity. There is a curious notion in the mind of the Government that if the cost of living is going up it must proceed immediately to put up charges so as to send up the cost of living even further and faster.
Associated with this measure is the report of the Vernon Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office. This savage Bill was introduced before we had a chance to consider and debate that report. The report refers to a proposed Post Office structure. Does the Postmaster-General propose to give the new structure a trial? Why does he not provide an opportunity to see how it will work? Why does he not give it a chance? Why does he not provide a set of circumstances in which whether this kind of savage remedy is necessary can be proved one way or another? The Government should give the new structure a chance to sort out the mess which the Post Office unfortunately finds itself in today.
In supporting Senator Durack ‘s amendment I draw attention to the opening phrase which reads:
Leave out all words after ‘that’ and insert: as the proposals contained in the Bill are clearly inflationary the further consideration of the Bill be deferred . . .
This is the crux of the Bill; this is the crux of the debate. The inflationary effect of the Bill introduced by the Postmaster-General is clearly demonstrable. I invite the Senate to recall the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when he was Leader of the Opposition. In speaking in the Budget debate in 1 97 1 and referring to postal charges, he said:
There will be immediate rises in costs to all consumers and there will be an inevitable flowthrough as these charges are passed on later in the year. All these rises could and would have been avoided by a government which genuinely sought to hold prices down. How can we take seriously the rhetoric of Ministers on inflation when the Government makes so consistent and comprehensive a contribution to the rapidity with which living costs increase?
There the present Prime Minister was arguing that all postal increases contributed convincingly and absolutely to inflation. Here was no less a person than the present Prime Minister asserting that postal increases would flow through and affect all consumers. I want to reverse the present Prime Minister’s words and put them back firmly on the desk of the Government. The then Opposition accused the government of the day of making a contribution to rising costs and to inflation, although at this very moment the Government and the Postmaster-General in this chamber have put down a measure which will grossly affect the inflationary situation in Australia. I remind the Senate and the Postmaster-General that the speech made by the present Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition was made in the context of the then Government’s total financial program, and that is the purpose of the debate on the amendment which has taken place this afternoon and this evening. As Senator Durack has pointed out, this measure should be discussed in the context of the Government’s total financial program. So today we seek to discuss the postal charges in the same way- in the context of the Government’s total financial program. The delay which we have suggested will enable the Government not only to review the Bill but, more importantly, to relate it to its total Budget planning, its total economic planning and its total economic program. If the Bill is deferred we will have a better opportunity to discuss this measure in a constructive and positive way as we look at the postal charges and the postal situation in relation to the Government’s total program. As I said at the beginning of my speech, anything relating to the posts and telegraphs of Australia has an influence through our whole social, economic and commercial structure. The nation will look at the new Bill in conjunction with the other Budget measures. Therefore, it is imperative that the Senate support Senator Durack ‘s amendment.
– in reply- Firstly, I remind Senator Davidson that when a similar situation existed previously, that is when the Australian Post Office found that there were shortfalls in its earnings to the extent of about $8m, Senator Anderson, as he then was, introduced into this chamber a proposal to increase Post Office tariffs. On that occasion Senator Davidson certainly was recorded as putting up the same sort of argument as he has advanced tonight. In fact, at page 1543 of Hansard of 12 May 1967 he is recorded as supporting the question that the Bill be read a second time. He went along with all those honourable senators opposite who tonight are complaining about what Senator Murphy did in 1967 and what we are doing in 1974. Let me remind the Senate of the issues that are posed in this legislation. We are facing a situation which is no different from the situation which was confronted on 3 occasions by the previous Government which for 23 years managed the Australian Post Office. But every now and again the previous Government found that it had to advance a proposition- not in election years, as Senator McAuliffe said, but in other years- to increase Post Office tariffs in order to ensure that the earnings of the Post Office would not be less than the revenue and that there would not be calls upon taxpayersother than some fractional demands- to provide an amount of money to subsidise postal tariffs or telegraph tariffs. We are doing the same thing tonight.
It has been argued that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) announced these increased Post Office charges at the same time as he announced certain inflationary circumstances. But what the Prime Minister has done is in fact to seek a containment of Post Office expenditure. Honourable senators will recall that when the Prime Minister announced this decision and also when he spoke to the State Premiers he pointed out that in his opinion the Post Office ought to be contained to borrowings on account of the Budget to an extent of $386m, in the same way as it had been contained last year, which would mean that the Australian Post Office would be left with a restriction, a cut of 15 per cent. With that sort of proposition in mind- and I suggest that it was a proposition in pursuance of the general policies for restraint of the Australian Government- the Government has found it necessary, as did Senator Anderson, as he then was, and the then Postmaster-General in May 1967, outside the Budget to bring a request to Parliament to increase Post Office tariffs because in the present case if they are not increased there will be a shortfall of $ 146 m.
Tonight much has been said about the situation in 1967. In 1967 Senator Anderson, as he then was, brought before the Parliament Post Office tariff increases which provided for a profit of $67m. On current values $67m in 1967 would be worth $100m today. So in 1967 we had the situation in which the previous Government, which was in office for 23 years, said: ‘Yes, there is a shortfall in earnings of $8m. We have to put up tariffs, and we propose a target of $67m profit’. Today honourable senators opposite are complaining about what was said of a government which set about earning a profit of $67m. As I say, on current values $67m in 1967 would be the equivalent of $100m today. That is the situation. No honourable senator who has referred to what Senator Murphy said in 1967 has mentioned what his Leader said at that time. Senator Anderson, as he then was, said:
The facts are simple. If the adjustments were to be associated with the Budget and the proposals in this Bill introduced from 1 October, we would lose upward of $7m in revenue.
That was in May 1967. We are saying that if we have to wait until the Budget is introduced in order to increase these Post Office charges, which the Opposition proposes in its amendment that we should do, we will lose $32m. I remind honourable senators opposite who were in this Parliament in 1967, including Senator Davidson, that when they put up this proposition at that time they said: ‘Yes, that is the right way to go about it’. Of course, Senator Cotton, who is always a most capable speaker on financial matters, and who at one time was Acting PostmasterGeneral, is reported at page 1497 of Hansard of 12 May 1967 as having said:
I think that business undertakings of governments are to be regarded as far as possible as commercial undertakings and they should be asked and expected to pay their way. There are a number of reasons why this is a wise policy. One reason which is quite relevant but is seldom discussed is that it is very good for the morale of the operators in an undertaking.
At page 1498 of Hansard of the same date he said:
Without a considerable change in the revenue structure of the Post Office, on the rates charged for its commercial services, heavy losses would have to be borne by the taxpayer who provides the general revenue. I think it is highly irresponsible to suggest that this should be permitted.
I suggest to honourable senators opposite that the position today is the same. It is highly irresponsible for honourable senators opposite to be taking a certain course of action when we should be bringing down proposals which will increase charges and which will make sure that the Australian Post Office, which has been proved to be a highly efficient organisation, remains that way.
– Where is your proof that it is a highly efficient organisation?
-Senator Wright asked me for my proof. I take the point of view Senator Cotton took in the old days. Nobody can prove that it is an inefficient organisation. There has been no examination of it.
– That was said 7 years ago.
-It is only a few years since Senator Cotton, as Acting Postmaster-General, was in charge of this enterprise. In 1967 there was no inquiry such as the Vernon Commission to justify the point of view which we are advancing. We know differently today. Senator Wright might try to reduce and sneer at the recommendations, but it was a most thorough inquiry. It has said that the Post Office is an efficient organisation and that it is justified in making statements which will provide that the Post Office should pay its way. The Labor Government is taking the first step to achieve this objective.
– Would you agree that private enterprise could raise its charges by 1 5 per cent compound per year without any demur from the Government?
- Senator Webster was not a member of this chamber when the early debates on the Post Office took place. He was not a senator when the Labor Party was arguing that a commission should be set up or when a former Director-General said: ‘It is time the Post Office was split from the Public Service Board. There should be a commission. The Post Office should pay its way’. The Government has reached that decision. We have asked people with great reputations in the community, as Senator Wright agrees, to adjudicate on these matters. They have reported. That report gives the Australian Post Office a clean sheet. They have said that the Post Office is performing its functions properly and that it should proceed to do the sorts of things that we want it to do. So we say that honourable senators opposite should do what Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson asked us to do in 1967. Honourable senators opposite did not mention that aspect. We should make sure that the gap is made up by increasing charges.
What will happen if we do not pass these Bills? Honourable senators opposite tonight will vote against the Bills and will vote in favour of the amendment which seeks to defer consideration of the matters so that they can be examined in the context of the Budget. Honourable senators opposite expect the Government to provide funds to close the gap of $32m. They reject the idea that the Post Office should pay its way. If they reject that idea the loss of $32m from the postponement of the increased charges to apply as from 1 August will cause an increased delay in installing new telephone connections. While everybody is saying: ‘Let the Post Office do more work. Let it be more efficient’, the number of connections which cannot be made will increase to about 40,000. That number will not be dealt with if honourable senators opposite reject the Bills.
The Government has already decided, because of the Prime Minister’s containment proposals, that there will be a $30m cut in capital works for the Post Office. Having cut that by $30m and having said that there will have to be a further cut until the Budget is presented, the back-up industry, the telecommunications industry, which relies largely upon Post Office orders and which is related to the Post Office, will be seriously affected. Senator Durack has advanced the proposition that there is no national planning and programming by the Government to fight inflation, but by proposing these increases the Government is saying that the plan has to continue and that there should be no interruption to the services, connections and demands of the Post Office because to do so would create an unnecessary interruption. I think that the proposition may best be put by saying that it is clear that the $ 146m which honourable senators opposite expect the Government to provide from revenue cannot be applied to improving social standards.
– Or child care centres.
-Or child care and all other welfare basics. That is the simple proposition. We cannot do that. The Opposition seeks to take that amount of revenue from consolidated revenue to meet increased costs.
I refer now to what one speaker said about the Treasurer (Mr Crean). The Treasurer, in his statement about the control of demand, which appears at page 507 of Hansard of 23 July, made it very clear that these increases arise because costs must be covered by the Government and that the Post Office should earn a profit which should be invested to help to finance expansion. That is the way in which an enterprise such as the Post Office should operate. We anticipate that the increases will mean a profit of $60m for the current financial year. The Post Office has two separate areas. In the postal area there will still be a loss of $ 50m. Everybody knows that in that area, which is labour intensive, the possibility of improving the position is not sound. We have had that situation demonstrated during the years of government by the Liberal and Country Parties. It is estimated that in the telecommunications area there will be a profit of about $1 10m. We have a clear position in which every action by the previous Government and every position taken by Opposition speakers tonight demonstrate that the Labor Government’s actions are justified.
The Bills will be defeated, but postponement of these matters until they can be examined in the context of the Budget simply means that Australian Post Office, which has been adjudged an efficient operation by the Vernon Commission, will be deprived of $32m in funds. Its activities and the sort of services which it should be able to provide more quickly, such as catching up the lag in telephone connections and telecommunications work, will not be done as quickly as possible. I know that a lot of senators opposite write frequently to the Minister about the need to make telephone connections and to improve various facilities throughout the country. After tonight it will be no good their writing to the Postmaster-General about these matters and complaining about delays because there will be many delays.
Let me .refer to certain things which some honourable senators opposite said. My time is short because of the hour. Senator Lawrie referred to the network being under-used. He referred to country exchanges. He argued for some sort of subsidy for those operations. He compared the costs of country exchanges with the costs of exchanges in the metropolitan area. He stated tonight that he will vote for the amendment. He will find that business people and people in the country will have to wait if the Post Office is deprived of the revenue about which we are talking. He talked about trunk line calls. Apart from the increase in the cost of trunk line calls, there have been a number of reductions which would have applied in his area and which would have been of great benefit to his area. Many members of Parliament are now saying that as a result of the changes in the cost structure for trunk calls there will be many improvements.
Opposition senators spoke also about what the Vernon Commission failed to say about rural conditions and facilities. The Vernon report says broadly that, if the Government decides that there ought to be some subsidies or special facilities in the rural area, the Government ought to provide funds for them but the organisations themselves should not have to do it. Senator Lawrie complained that a courier service had not been applied before. I would like to say that courier services have been operating for about 9 years. The previous Government had a chance to do what this Government has decided to do- it has now decided to compete with the private operators and to set up courier services.
One of the most unusual view points was that put forward by Senator Steele Hall. He started off by saying that he agreed that the Australian Post Office had to recover its costs. He argued in his preliminary remarks in a sort of way in support of the Government’s proposition but then he decided to change his tack and said: ‘Anyhow, I am going to support the amendment’. He said that the Government had no leadership and no national plans to meet inflation. That is a curious position to adopt. It would seem to me that, if a person agrees that the Post Office must recover its costs, he should say that he will vote with the Government. The only contribution Senator Steele Hall made in relation to what cost savings might be made was when he referred to the Black Mountain tower. He said that somehow the Government should reconsider what it had done about this matter. It has been considered on 3 occasions by the Cabinet. It has been considered by all the departments responsible- the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Department of the Environment and Conservation and the Department of Housing and Construction. Examinations and studies have been made by experts who have come to the view that, because of the expenditure of about $2m that has been made, the tower ought to be continued. The Government has finally accepted that position. Certainly I have no chance of changing that position. I do not intend to change the position because I think it has been properly tested. Senator Steele Hall may have received representations, as I have done, from local bodies. I have stated quite clearly that, in my opinion, the position of the Black Mountain tower has undergone technical testing and has been found to be satisfactory. The work is under way and cannot be stopped except by some legal position.
Senator Wright talked in a general way about the Vernon Commission and, in my opinion, tended to denigrate what had been done by the Commission. I think that when he reads the report thoroughly and considers the recommendations he will come around to the viewpoint that he held in 1967 when he voted for a Bill similar to the Bill now being debated. He referred also to industrial relations. It is true that the Post Office has had an unfortunate record of industrial disputes which very quickly affect communications. But if one looks at the record of industrial disputes one finds that the figures for hours lost by these disputes in the period 1969-73 show that the record of the Post Office has generally been better than the record of other Australian enterprises.
– That is why private enterprise is trying to poach the officials from the Post Office.
-That is right, and many options have been taken on people because of their experience. Senator Maunsell got back to the real question of subsidy when he said that it was ridiculous that users should pay, that some part of it should come from revenue. Senator Young complained about the increases for category A and category B publications, which of course apply from 1 March 1975, but he forgot to mention that he in fact supported them. While it seems clear that the Opposition, with the support of the 2 independent senators, will prevent the Post Office from securing the funds it needs if it is to be an efficient organisation, we can expect them not to frustrate what might come out of the Budget. It is certain that the Government will have to apply increased tariffs in the Budget to make sure that the Post Office earnings do not fall short of expenditure. In that case all that the Opposition is doing is deferring something which ought to be provided now. In so deferring it the Post Office is being prevented from carrying out the sort of work aims and programs which it should carry out. It seems to me that this creates some uncertainty in the telecommunications industry generally because that industry should have a constant market from the Post Office. In those circumstances I am sorry that the independent senators have, as I understand it, so far decided to support the amendment. I think that the position is as it was in 1967. I know that the Government ‘s proposition is correct.
– I remind the Senate that this is a cognate debate on the Post and Telegraph Bill and the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill. We will now vote on the 2 Bills separately. I shall put the question first in relation to the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill.
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Durack’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Durack’s amendment) be inserted.
The Senate divided. (The President-Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion as amended be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration resumed from 25 July (vide page 523).
Amendment by Senator Durack proposed:
Leave out all words after ‘That’, insert ‘as the proposals contained in the Bill are clearly inflationary the further consideration of the Bill be deferred until the Government introduces its Budget for 1974-1975 so that the proposals contained in the Bill can be examined in the context of the Government ‘s total financial program for the current year’.
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Durack’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President-Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Durack’s amendment) be inserted.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President -Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wriedt) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to establish a fully elected Legislative Assembly for the Northern Territory consisting of 19 members to replace the present Legislative Council comprised of 1 1 elected members and 6 official members. The measure represents a major step forward in the constitutional development of the Northern Territory in conformity with Labor policy announced prior to the 1972 elections. The overwhelming weight of evidence so far presented to the Joint Committee of the Parliament on the Northern Territory favours a legislature of 19 to 25 members. The elected members of the Legislative Council unanimously favour a Legislative Assembly of 19 members. The Government supports their view that this would provide a workable legislature.
The Bill also provides for certain consequential amendments. The most important of these are: Clause 12(A) provides for the Administrator’s Council-an essentially advisory body to the Administrator- to consist of 5 members of the proposed Legislative Assembly. At present the Administrator’s Council consists of 2 official members and 3 elected members; and clause 16 provides, inter alia, for the continuation of ordinances in force at the time the Legislative Assembly is constituted.
Elections must be held in the Northern Territory before 24 October next. Recent events affecting the operation of this Parliament have made it necessary for the Government to proceed with this Bill as a matter of priority in these sittings so that elections might be held on that date and the Government’s undertaking to give the people of the Northern Territory a fully elected legislature by the end of this year might be kept. When the new Assembly takes office discussions will be held with the members of that body concerning future government of the Northern Territory. It is hoped that those discussions will be able to take place with the advantage of having by then a report from the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Durack) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Wriedt)- by leaveagreed 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 the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill 1974 and the National Investment Fund Bill 1974 being put in one motion at each stage, and the consideration of, the Bills together in the 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 Wriedt) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
The Bills for extending the scope of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the National Investment Fund are significant but they are not radical. They are important in the Government’s priorities but they are not ideological. They are practical and they assume no change in the pattern of ownership and control of resources between the Government and private companies. Nevertheless the record of Parliament towards them is one of extraordinary obstruction.
The amending Bills were first introduced on 30 August 1973. To give the Opposition plenty of time to study the Bills the second reading was not commenced until almost 2 months later. The Opposition moved many amendments and after a limited time for debate the Bills passed the House of Representatives on 18 October 1973. Five days later they were introduced into the Senate, and 5 days after that the Bills were referred to a Senate select committee for inquiry and for report not later than 12 March 1974.
Parliament was prorogued and opened during February 1974 and the Senate committee was reconstituted. On 12 March a message from the House of Representatives requested consideration of the Bills be resumed by the Senate. But 12 March, the date for report by the Senate committee, passed without any report by the committee, and the rest of March and 8 days of April passed with no report from the Senate committee. Twenty-seven days after the day the Senate committee had been required by the Senate itself to report on the Bills, and still no report had been made, the Bills were again introduced in the House of Representatives and passed all stages, Parliament was dissolved for the election 3 days later and the Senate again failed to consider the Bills. This is a remarkable record of delay.
The Government now introduces the Bills to the Senate for the third time. I have said there is nothing radical about these Bills. They do not change, nor can they change, ownership, power or control in Australia. In the AIDC they provide an organisation which can do no more than coordinate large private investment projects or encourage smaller ones to influence them in the direction of Australian ownership and to assist manufacture, processing treatment, transportation or distribution of goods, or the development or use of natural resources or technology. The AIDC must take into account monetary policy and policies in relation to trade practices, the environment, industrial relations, the efficiency of industry and regional development.
In all this, AIDC is to assist private enterprise, not replace it. In the national interest division of AIDC, procedures not subject to ordinary commercial or financial tests may be taken, but such action can only be taken if a Government guarantee to AIDC is authorised by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, or if funds are directly appropriated by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The Government has now taken into account discussions with financial institutions and business groups, and amendments moved here and in the House of Representatives, including amendments to the 1974 Bills as introduced to the House of Representatives on 16 July 1974. As a result some significant amendments have been accepted and the present Bill for the AIDC gives effect to them.
Whilst the functions of the Corporation have been extended to provide assistance to industry concerned with the development of technology, several changes have been made which reduce the powers of the corporation. Amongst them are: Firstly, the provisions to empower the Corporation to raise moneys otherwise than by way of borrowing, and to carry on any business or activity, have been deleted from the Bill. Secondly, the Bill provides for the retention of the provision in the existing Act requiring the Corporation to make annual reviews of its shareholdings and the disposal of any shares the retention of which is not necessary for the performance of its functions. The Corporation will not be required to dispose of shares if this would reduce Australian ownership in the company concerned. The consent of the supervisory council will be necessary before any shares that are assets of the National Investment Fund can be disposed of. Thirdly, the Bill expressly provides that the Corporation shall not seek to acquire control of an Australian-owned company except where it is necessary to do so to prevent the ownership of the company from falling into foreign hands or where the board of directors of the company consents to the Corporation acquiring control of the company.
The new Bill also provides that the Corporation must have regard to the importance to the Australian economy of the industry concerned. The AIDC will not be expected to help out failing businesses, or be a lender of last resort, nor will it be expected to act unless the enterprise is important to Australia.
The National Investment Fund Bill has a number of changes most of which are formal. The Bill that was before the Senate for the second time at the dissolution of Parliament provided for establishment of a National Investment Fund to help provide finance for the AIDC to carry out its expanded role. Whilst the fund and its various divisions would be managed by the corporation, the interest of subscribers to the fund would be protected by a supervisory council, the members of which were to have wide experience in the investment of moneys or the evaluation of the suitability of enterprises or projects for the investment of moneys.
The Bill provided that funds would be raised for the NIF by offering securities and investment bonds to private and institutional investors and by operating savings and superannuation plans for the general public. The NIF is to be composed of various divisions, including divisions for the large institutional investor, divisions for the individual investor and divisions for the large foreign investor. The Bill before the House is essentially the same as the National Investment Fund Bill 1973. The substantive amendments are aimed at limiting the total amount of the Corporation’s investment bonds on issue to $500m, providing for the appointment of a chairman to the supervisory council, and deleting an unnecessary provision exempting the Corporation, its directors, or members of the council from liability in civil action for damages by a subscriber.
Taken together, the Bills provide a significant, positive means to strengthen and co-ordinate Australian private enterprise in the development of Australian processing, manufacturing, transport, distribution and technology, and to increase Australian savings and investment funds for basic investment of this kind. I emphasise that the Bills are not radical, but the practical value of them to Australian private enterprise large and small is significant. I commend the Bills 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 Wheeldon) read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill gives effect to the increases in pensions, benefits and allowances announced by the Treasurer (Mr Crean). It exemplifies the Government’s concern for those for whom it has a great and important responsibility, pensioners and beneficiaries living on fixed incomes. This measure has become of particular importance because of the delay in presenting the Budget that will occur as a result of the Opposition’s action in forcing the recent elections.
The Bill provides for the standard rate of pension to be increased by $5 a week to $3 1 a week and the individual married rate by $3 a week to $25.75 a week. The combined rate for a married pensioner couple will thus become $51.50 a week. Unemployment, sickness benefit and special benefits, sheltered employment allowances and rehabilitation allowances are to be increased on a similar basis.
The increases now proposed are the highest ever made and they will add an extra $307m to expenditure which would have otherwise been incurred in 1974-75 on pensions and benefits payable under the Social Services Act. As honourable senators know the Government is committed to increasing pensions twice annually until the standard rate of pensions reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.
The new standard rate established by this Bill will be 26 per cent of seasonally adjusted average weekly male earnings for the March quarter 1974, the latest quarter for which figures are available. It will be almost 25 per cent of the estimated average weekly male earnings seasonally adjusted for the June quarter of 1974. In the interim report of the Australian Government’s Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, Professor Henderson proposed that, for the Budget of 1974, the standard rate of pension should be $27 a week, increased by rises in average weekly male earnings since August 1973. On the basis of estimated average weekly male earnings for the June quarter 1974 this would justify an increase in the standard rate of pension of approximately $4.90 over the present weekly rate of $26. As already stated, the proposed Bill before the Senate increases the rate to $3 1 a week.
The proposed increases in pensions will have the effect of raising the limits of income and property at which pensions cease to be payable under the means test. This will enable people who are now excluded from pension entitlement to qualify for some payment for the first time. A single person without property affecting his pension will retain some pension entitlement until his income reaches $82 a week. If he has no other income he will be eligible to receive some pension until the value of his non-exempt property reaches $43,040. For a married couple, the equivalent limits of income and property will be $137.50 a week and $72,320 respectively. A widow with one child and no property affecting will now be able to receive income of up to $106 a week before losing her entitlement to widow’s pension, or up to $110 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid child requiring fulltime care. If she has no income affecting, a widow with one child may have property to the value of $48,800, or $50,880 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid requiring full-time care, before her entitlement to widow’s pension is extinguished.
As honourable senators will know, the first phase of the Government’s program to abolish the means test on age pensions was taken in September last year and applied to all residentially qualified people aged 75 or more. In that same year the Income Tax Assessment Act was amended to make pensions and similar benefits payable to people of pensionable age (65 years for men and 60 for women) taxable as from 1 July 1973. The Government at that time decided to introduce a transitional benefit for the aged blind of $3 a week to alleviate any detriment which they might have experienced when their pensions became taxable. As its name implies, the transitional benefit was intended to be phased out over subsequent years as increases in pension rates improved the benefit rate to these pensioners.
Mindful of the substantial increases in pensions now proposed the Government has decided that the Bill now before the Senate should provide for a reduction of $1.50 a week in the rate of this transitional benefit. In accordance with the usual practice, it is proposed that the pension increases provided under this Bill will operate from and including the paydays following royal assent. This will apply also to the reduction in the transitional benefit for the blind. The increases in unemployment and sickness benefits will, as usual, operate in respect of the benefit week ending on the date of the royal assent and each benefit week thereafter. Mr Acting Deputy President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.
– I indicate that the Opposition does not oppose the Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1974 which has been introduced. We are conscious of the fact that it requires a speedy passage at this stage. However, I take the opportunity to comment upon the fact that the need to introduce such a Bill is related very much to the inflation which is within our Australian economy at the present time and to the rise of the 4.1 per cent in the consumer price index for the June quarter. These circumstances have necessitated urgent steps by the Government to enable people on pension incomes to have additional purchasing power. So we have the introduction of a Bill which will give a payment of $6 a week to a married couple and $5 a week to a single person. I take the opportunity to comment on the disparity in the recognition of these 2 payments. We do not argue that 2 people require the same expenditure in every item as does the single person living alone. But we consider that in this instance to have a payment of one additional dollar for a married couple living together shows disparity and perhaps misunderstanding of personal requirements in expenditure. We note this matter with some degree of concern.
While looking at the rise in the consumer price index we also note that an expenditure which is of alarming proportions in our economy is that which relates to rented premises. In this matter those persons who are in receipt of pension income only are finding increasing difficulty in meeting the rental increase which they are facing in so many parts of Australia. In this connection we are disappointed with the 3-year program which was introduced in 1972 to provide an opportunity for many more aged persons hostels. This program has not been as fully developed as we expected. If it were to be pursued with more vigour we feel that it would be of considerable assistance to those aged persons who are capable of living in hostel accommodation at a more reasonable rate of expenditure than provided in their pension income. I refer also to the report which has been released from Professor Harris. It was an evaluation or raising the standard rate of pension to one-quarter of average earnings. The paper which was produced considered the different procedures which the Government might take to raise the standard rate of pension to the announced objective of 25 per cent of average earnings. We take the point that the increases which have just been announced will take pension income close to that objective of 25 per cent of average earnings. But the important thing to remember is that with the increased inflation which we are experiencing with such rapidity it will not be long before there is again an ever increasing gap between pension income and its purchasing power. We stress with concern the way in which the Government will be able to assist people on pension incomes and fixed incomes, from whatever source, if the rate of inflation is not curtailed.
Linked somewhat closely with people who receive pension incomes is the policy of the Government to defer the child care program. Many people in receipt of pension income have the necessity for adequate child care centres in Australia. It was with some personal disappointment that I found that once again the child care program was the first item of expenditure to be deferred or to be curtailed. It is with disappointment that I have been following what I hoped was the development of a child care program and faculties for child minding in Australia, only to find that at the first opportunity this item has been singled out for deferment. I know that I speak not only on behalf of the women in Australia who seek to have a greater participation in our economic activity but also on behalf of those women who need the child care facilities to enable them to give members of thenfamily what has been established now as the average standard in education and opportunity. Perhaps we can talk at some later stage and at greater length of child care programs and of those initiatives which the women of Australia hope to see.
There is one other matter to which I wish to refer while we are talking about pension incomes. I refer not to a new need in the Australian community but one which should be recognised at this time. I speak of the need of the single fathers, the supporting fathers, of children, particularly pre-school age children. In speaking of this 1 do not wish to speak with a political objective in mind; I think rather that it is an objective which the Australian community should recognise. I am pleased to say that Senator Melzer of Victoria is displaying the same concern as I feel in this matter. This need in Australia should be regarded as a government responsibility. The government should assist disadvantaged families where a single parent, a father, is caring for children, whether he is a widower or a deserted husband. I believe that in this category there are some 25,000 families and perhaps up to 50,000 children. The anomaly is that if a widow is caring for such children there are government programs to assist her, but if a male parent has accepted the total responsibility for the children there is no government assistance to which he is entitled. There is no recognition of the special need of the supporting father and the children in such families.
Focus has been placed on this need in recent weeks and there has been some community recognition of the problem. I would like to think that there will be government recognition of the problem. Perhaps it is not a new need but it is a growing need in the Australian community. If this type of disadvantaged family were embraced in a government program of social concern and social assistance, it would assist many fathers who are attempting to care for preschool age children and younger children who are in a financially disadvantaged position at present. I speak not only of the fact that such fathers have to pay for housekeeping assistance to care for their children but also of the fact that they face many other difficulties related to unemployment benefit and other things in respect of which they do not have access to government programs as a woman would have in the same circumstances. I would like to think that this Parliament recognised this need and emphasised it to the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) as he is determining priorities in relation to the introduction of the next Budget. I ask that he remember the case of supporting fathers and the needs of their children in his next Budget considerations. I hope that he will acknowledge that this is one sector of the Australian community which has no access to many of the fine government programs in the field of matters of social concern.
I support the introduction of the this Bill which grants increased assistance to pensioners. I place on record the fact that pensioners and people on fixed incomes are the people most seriously disadvantaged by the inflationary spiral under which we live. For that reason I indicate that the Opposition supports the measure introduced this evening.
– in reply-I wish to speak only briefly and to say, firstly, that I thank the Opposition for allowing a speedy passage of this essential Bill. I want to say how pleased I am to observe that the Liberal Party now has adopted the philosophy of the welfare state- something to which only a short time ago it was so intractably opposed. In fact, the Liberal Party criticism now is not that our welfare programs go too far but that they do not go far enough. For that reason, being a person of modest aims and moderate disposition, I was pleased to see that the people within the Liberal Party with whom Senator Guilfoyle is associated were so successful only last weekend in Victoria. I am sure that those people to whom they were opposed would not have the same advanced views as Senator Guilfoyle has shown to the Senate tonight.
There are a couple of other things I would like to say. I certainly agree with Senator Guilfoyle, and I think the Government would agree with her, on the position of supporting fathers. Clearly it is not possible, as any government knows, for us to do everything that we want to do within the course of one year, or in one piece of legislation. We regret also that for various reasons it is impracticable to proceed with the Government’s child care proposals. We would have been able to proceed with them but for the fact that the Liberal Party and the Country Party were in government for 23 years and during that time no provision whatsoever was made for child care. That denied us a base upon which to build an adequate system of child care for the Australian people.
We also acknowledge- I agree with Senator Guilfoyle in this regard- that inflation is one of the reasons why it was necessary to increase the pensions which are the subject of this Bill. There is no denying that there is inflation. We do not attempt to deny it. But I do deny that so far any of the Opposition parties have suggested anything which could be regarded as being even partly successful in overcoming the problems of inflation. The Opposition Parties have no more ideas about the problems of inflation than do their conservative counterparts in countries which are comparable with Australia and which are battling with inflation rates of a not dissimilar magnitude to the rate we have in this country. In regard to Senator Guilfoyle ‘s comments about the situation of the husband and wife, I personally would be inclined to agree with what she said. Indeed, we are moving towards eliminating the problems which arise from a smaller payment being made to a husband and wife living together than is made to 2 separate persons. However, again I think I should point out that that was the practice followed during 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government. It seems rather strange that the Opposition Parties suddenly should discover that this is an anomaly.
– The differentiation was introduced by them.
– If fact, as Senator Cavanagh has reminded me, that differentiation was introduced by the Opposition Parties. It was the Liberal-Country Party Government which abolished the situation which Senator Guilfoyle advocated tonight. It is the Australian Labor Party which is moving towards eliminating the type of differences which Senator Guilfoyle ‘s Party introduced not so many years ago. I again thank Senator Guilfoyle and the Opposition for allowing the speedy passage of this Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wheeldon) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill proposes to increase the rate of pension paid under column 2 of Schedule 1 to the Repatriation Act to the widows of servicemen who died while on war service, who have subsequently died from Service-related causes, or who are otherwise pensioned as war widows. It is proposed to increase the rate by $5 to $31 a week. There are just on 50,550 widows in receipt of this pension, including 5 1 pensioned under the provisions of the Seamen’s War Pensions and
Allowances Act and 48 under ex gratia arrangements. The total cost of the proposed increases will be $13. 143m for a full year. Other repatriation pensioners who are to receive an immediate increase in their pensions are Service pensioners; they will receive the same increases as have just been announced for age and invalid pensioners under the Social Service Act; that is, $5 a week for the single service pensioner and $3 a week for each of a married couple.
The remaining item dealt with by this Bill is to reduce the transitional benefit for the aged blind from $156 to $78 a year. The reason for this reduction has been fully explained in the second reading speech on the Social Services Bill. Other repatriation pensions and allowances will be considered in the normal Budget deliberations and any increases will be announced in the Budget Speech. The Bill provides that the proposed increases will become payable from the first pension pay-day after the Bill receives royal assent and I, therefore, hope that honourable senators opposite will give it a speedy passage through this chamber. It is my pleasure, Mr Acting Deputy President, to commend the Bill to the Senate.
-The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. As the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) has just said, we hope that this Bill, which provides for increased repatriation pensions, will receive a speedy passage through the Senate. However, I point out to the Minister that I hope that other repatriation pensions and allowances will be considered in the Budget. I know that the Minister in his second reading speech and also in answer to a question in the Senate, I think, last week has said that this will be done. Therefore, I have nothing further to say on this Bill.
– in reply- I should like again to thank Senator Drake-Brockman and the Opposition for allowing a speedy passage of the Bill. I can certainly assure the honourable senator that in the Government’s deliberations on the Budget proper attention will be paid to seeing not only that the recipients of repatriation benefits are in no way prejudiced but also what can be done to improve the general level of repatriation benefits for those entitled to receive such benefits.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wheeldon) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill proposes an increase of $5 to $3 1 a week in the rate of pension payable to the widows pensioned under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The number of widows involved is only 5 1 and the cost of the increase is included in the amount mentioned in the Second Reading Speech on the Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1974. The Bill provides that the increase will be payable from the first pension pay-day after the Bill receives royal assent. It is my pleasure, Mr Acting Deputy President, to commend the Bill to the Senate.
-The Opposition does not oppose this Bill and suggests that we should move to the second reading.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18 July (vide page 272), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, if it suits the convenience of the Senate I suggest that we take these 2 Bills together in a cognate debate.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Are you asking for leave of the Senate to do so?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-Thank you. These 2 Bills have been joined together for the purpose of this debate, and we do not need to take a great deal of time to discuss them. The Opposition did not oppose them in the House of Representatives and it does not propose to oppose them here. The purposes of the Bills are very well set out in the explanatory memorandum which accompanies them. One might say once again, for about the fifteenth time, that this way of handling things by the Taxation Office of the Treasury Department has much to be commended. It makes the whole task of the Parliament a great deal easier when the second reading speech is accompanied by a detailed explanatory memorandum of this character. Those who wish to pursue the matter further can do so without taking time in debate. It could well be recommended to all departments of State that in any matter of consequence this procedure is well worth following.
The first thing to do is to look at the introductory note in the memorandum and to let the second reading speech stand aside for a moment. The introductory note tells us that the first of the Bills proposes amendments to the Income Assessment Act and that it contains additional provisions which relate to the collection of company tax by instalments. The introductory note also states that the second Bill is identical with an Income Tax (Dividends and Interest Withholding Tax) Bill which lapsed in the same circumstances, because of the double dissolution, as the previous Bill lapsed. It is a drafting Bill which is consequential upon the first Bill.
The principal Bill tried to overcome the problem of people who are not doing the right thing when they have opportunities to engage in tax avoidance on dividend withholding tax. I suppose that the important thing for us to consider is that the Bill is closing a loophole. The other matter which I think is of importance to honourable senators is that some areas of exception are referred to at pages 1 , 2 and 3, and that is of particular interest to those companies which are owned in Australia and which are controlled to an extent specified in the law. I think that covers the problem which one would have if there were any areas which might be thought to be unfair.
The second item is one by which people have a liability for tax for allowances and benefits received by members of the defence forces under the new pay code. It is referred to at page 2 of the explanatory memorandum. It is quite straightforward. It does not present any complications so far as I can see and, therefore, is just bringing the matter up to date. As the Woodward Committee has recommended changes in the pay scale, tax adjustments are consequential. There is one point in relation to the contributions under the Defence Forces and Parliamentary Retirement
Benefits Schemes which, I think, needs to be explained. I think the memorandum does that quite well when it states:
Subject to a maximum limit of $1,200, deductions are allowable for life assurance premiums and contributions to a superannuation fund. Following changes to the Defence Force and Parliamentary Retirement Benefits Schemes, members contributions under those schemes are paid directly into Consolidated Revenue.
This amendment makes it quite clear that they are still to be deducted in the same manner as previously.
Another matter of quite some importance is the one which allows company taxation to be paid by instalments. This matter is dealt with in some detail at pages 3 and 4 of the memorandum and also in the second reading speech. In essence, it will mean that company taxation in future, progressively through a period of years, will become payable in instalments, in effect as profits are earned by corporations, thus bringing them into the same situation as employers and employees who are dealt with under the PA YE system. If one looks at the estimates for 1973-74 one sees that indirect taxation is estimated to yield $2, 138m. The PA YE scale brings in $3,940m from ordinary people who are on wages and salaries and people who are selfemployed pay $ 1 , 233m. The amount which companies have really been paying much later than people on salaries is $l,943m. This is an adjustment process by which companies are being brought up to date with the general employee. It will present some problems, I think, as the next few months or perhaps longer than a few months will illuminate.
Many companies are having tremendous difficulty at the moment because of the liquidity squeeze and inflation. This has certainly been added to very markedly by the proposal to collect company taxation by instalments. While not arguing with the general merits of such a proposal being introduced through time, I say that it presses very heavily on people who are now in company activities and who are having great difficulties financing their businesses. One would expect that the Government would be prepared to tell the Taxation Office that in some cases it may need to be more helpful than it may otherwise wish to be. This will need to be thought about, otherwise there will be some companies, I feel sure, which will be driven to the wall because of a shortage of cash.
I mention this matter in passing, not to oppose the Bill. Because of inflation and a liquidity squeeze, the payment of taxation quarterly by companies is placing great strains on working capital. It has another consequence insofar as the economic management of the Government is concerned, and that is that in due course these fairly unhealthy lumps of money which come towards the end of June each year will be ironed out so that there is a more regular flow throughout the year. That will have benefits so far as managing the economy is concerned- in due course, not immediately. It will even the flow of revenue to the Government and make it less distorted.
As the Opposition said in the House of Representatives, I think that overall the Bills are ones which we would be prepared to support. We supported them there. With the observations which I have made here, particularly about company taxation and the problems of working capital, we support them in the same way as we supported them in the House of Representatives.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Consideration resumed from 18 July (vide page 275), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-With the indulgence of the Senate I would like to make a plea tonight to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) in relation to the overall question of metropolitan Sydney where we have at the moment the problem of developers gradually encroaching on the open space recreational areas. Due to the limitations of local councils these areas are being syphoned off from their normal open space recreational usage. Senator Jessop is trying to interject. I will hoist him with his own petard if he listens long enough.
I preface my appeal by saying, particularly for the edification of Senator Jessop, that the plea I make tonight has the imprimatur of no less a person then the Honourable Tom Lewis, the Liberal Minister for Lands in the New South Wales Parliament. So the honourable senator will toss in his bed restlessly tonight when he realises that he is sabotaging my efforts. First of all I seek leave to table a document which you have in your hands, Mr Deputy President. It is a one page letter from the State Planning Authority of New South Wales. It gives the history of the land to which I refer.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The area to which I refer is in the vicinity of the Nepean river. It would cover people in the electorates of both Macquarie and Prospect. It has a colonial history going back to the 1 830s. It was owned by the Cox family, of whom New South Wales historians would be fully aware. Recently the Penrith Council accepted an offer or gave in to pressure from a development group to fragment this golf course. Let me assure the Senate that it is not in the category of Royal Sydney Golf Club. As a matter of fact its balance sheet for the year ended 30 June this year showed a profit of only $93. 1 visualise that, with the intervention of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, it could ultimately be made a public golf course, if that is the only way it can survive. The land is bounded by trees. It contains a considerable number of lagoons and creeks and attracts a certain amount of bird life. Honourable senators will be aware that in North America they have reached the stage in their urban development where there has been a complete turn of the wheel. Now they have to buy back private land for public recreation. That is the theme I am hammering tonight.
– Is that a new form of wildlife?
-I think that Senator Jessop in particular will agree with me that this is a united front when the Liberal Minister for Lands in New South Wales, the State Planning Authority and a socialist senator like myself are all of the one view. I knew that that word would wake up Senator Jessop. This plea is being made to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, lt is done respectfully because I know that the Minister has been confronted with a proliferation of urban plans for every State. He has a very efficient think tank. I know that honourable senators opposite are always arguing about checks and balances between local government, State government and the Australian government, but if the 3 tiers do not work together we find obstructions and nothing ever happens or very rarely happens. If I cross the border into Victoria I will hear different utterances of Liberal State Ministers on the problems of urban development and the need for recreational facilities. I note that, as late as this morning, Mr Geddes, a senior officer of the Department of Urban and Regional Development, conferred with the town clerk of the Penrith Council.
If the State Planning Authority and the Lands Minister are not in favour of the Council’s action the Council will argue about the rights of the owner of the property, Mrs Woodhouse. I concede that she has some rights but I think that the community’s rights are on a par with hers. I will not belabour the point. I know that the Minister has the matter in hand. But I agree with Senator Wright, who is absent from the chamber, and to whom I pay tribute, that the adjournment debate is a forum for injustice, whatever government is in power. Urban expansion and urban amenities are important, whether they are in the outer western suburbs or even the western districts of New South Wales. If this golf course is preserved as an open space it will be a monument to the positiveness of a Minister who cares about such projects. It is not much use having these plans and saying what you would like to do in 10 years time. It is better to have short term immediate victories. I commend the proposal to the Senate. I am confident that at least the Minister will visit the area and try to mediate before the Council becomes captivated by the well known greediness of the developer whose attitude is to gobble up land. I commend it also so that in 10 years time another Australian government will not have to pay money to the States to buy back some of this land.
-I can say on behalf of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) that he would be delighted to join this united front with its progressive forces for the preservation of open spaces. But neither the Minister nor his Department, nor apparently the Penrith Council, is prepared to commit itself to the expenditure of some $300,000 for the preservation of this particular piece of land. There seems to be very little indication that it will be developed for closer settlement. I understand that the area comprises 180 acres of which some 100 acres are now used as a golf course. The owner of the land intends to sub-divide it into 25 acre lots- it is not close settlement- which is permitted under the zoning plan as it is zoned as a non-urban area. The Council does not favour the proposal because in about 10 years time it could provide open space for urban expansion, which is hoped for Penrith, and it is believed that the New South Wales Housing Commission intends to purchase some 2,000 acres in that area for housing development.
Of course, the question arises as to whether it is the intention to develop this land into home sites- obviously not in 25-acre lots- or whether another method of sub-division is permitted under the zoning scheme. It is thought that the best investment may be to pay the price required just to hold this land for reserves for the time when there is development in the area. I would advise Senator Mulvihill to talk to Mrs Woodhouse, the owner of the land, to see what her intentions are, whether there is any danger of losing this land or whether some immediate and appropriate action should be taken. At this stage the Department has no concern that this will develop into enclosed land or that it will not comprise part of an open belt which can be used for the benefit of open space in the future.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.39 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for the Media, upon notice:
Will the Minister make available to the Senate the Report of the Broadcasting Control Board which commended Radio Station 4KQ on the excellent manner in which it conducted its affairs, and which said that it was one of the broadcasting stations that should be looked to as setting an example to the rest of the broadcasting industry.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
It would be unfair of me to make available a report of one radio station and not all other stations. However, now that the honourable senator has asked for a report in connection with one station, I naturally will consider making reports available on each station.
In this regard I am having discussions with the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. At present 1 understand that stations supply the Control Board with some information that is considered by them to be of a confidential nature, and much of this information is transmitted to me at the time recommendations are made for renewal of a station’s licence.
Now that the honourable senator has asked the question in respect of 4K.Q, I am discussing with the Chairman of the Board the question of the preparation of reports which contain no confidential information and which can be made available in respect of each station.
Meanwhile, I can see no harm in providing the honourable senator with an extract from the particular report concerning 4KQ because there need be no confidentiality about that particular section. The extract reads as follows:
Station 4KQ operates continuously on a light music/ news format. There were no major changes to the long established program format with the exception that one hour Sunday evening church broadcast was replaced by 60 second locally made religious ‘spots’. 4KQ does an outstanding job in community services and charitable matters. A fleet of vehicles, a helicopter, light plane and a fast launch provide an array of road traffic and beach reports.
There are a number of programs for the aged and the blind, which reflect creditably on the station’s concern for those groups, and there are twice-yearly concerts for the aged’.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Colour Television Sets
-On 17 July 1974 (Hansard, page 198) Senator Guilfoyle asked the Minister for the Media a question without notice concerning a proposed public inquiry by the Prices Justification Tribunal into the price of colour television sets supplied by Philips Industries Holdings. The Prime Minister has supplied the following information received from the Prices Justification Tribunal for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Cyprus: Australian Troops
-On 24 July 1974 Senator Sir Magnus Cormack asked me the following question, without notice:
I wish to ask a supplementary question merely to elucidate something which has puzzled me for some time. Who pays for the troops which foreign nations make available to the United Nations? I think my most recent information is that the Irish, the Finns, and the Swedes bleed the United Nations funds by having all of their troops paid by the United Nations, whereas the Australian troops are highly paid people and therefore the United Nations does not like to have them.
The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The method of financing United Nations forces has varied, although voluntary contributions by member States have been the most common form of payment to date. The inclusion or the costs of United Nations peace-keeping forces in the regular United Nations budget has not been acceptable to a number of countries.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 July 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1974/19740730_senate_29_s60/>.