29th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne) took the chair at 10.15 a.m. and read prayers.
– by leave- I move:
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the Senate is of opinion-
That, in any debate or proceeding of the Senate or its committees or transactions or communications which a senator may have with other members or with Ministers or servants of the crown, he should disclose any relevant pecuniary interest or benefits of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he may have had, may have or may be expecting to have;
b) That every senator should furnish to the Clerk of the Senate such particulars of his pecuniary interests, supported by statutory declaration, as shall be required, and shall notify to the Clerk any alterations which may occur therein, and the Clerk shall cause these particulars to be entered in a register of senators’ interests which shall be available for inspection by the public; and
That a joint committee should be appointed to inquire into and report on what arrangements need to be made to give effect to the above principles.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
-Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate believe that the Government’s decision to end the petrol price subsidy will end or hinder its plans for decentralisation? Does the Government still intend to carry out its program of decentralisation, or has that plan gone the same way as the child-care program?
-I do not know that the decision would have any real effect, one way or the other, on the Government’s decentralisation proposals. As the Leader of the Opposition would be aware, the Government has an ambitious regional development program which it is pushing ahead. It would go further if we got more assistance from the Opposition. The Government has explained the position in relation to child care. I think it is wrong for the Leader of the Opposition to attempt to attack the Government when the Government has made quite clear that the question in relation to child care was not one of the Government’s cutting back expenditure but was one of the money not being able to be spent reasonably because of inflation, among other things. The Government is, of course, determined to carry through its child care program and to do what ought to be done in relation to decentralisation. Honourable senators opposite, instead of thinking up smart kinds of questions on a Thursday morning, ought to look at themselves and ought to desist from what they are doing, which is using a calculated program of obstruction to the measures which have been endorsed by the people.
-Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs seen an article in this morning’s Australian Financial Review’ which states that in 1 973 official Australian aid came to only 0.45 per cent of the gross national product, compared with 0.59 per cent for the previous year? Is this statement true? If so, what is being done to correct the situation?
-The article repeated a canard that was circulating at about election time. The figures taken were for a calendar year instead of a financial year. In the field of aid, this is a fairly simple thing to do. Often governments get requests for aid which they cannot supply for a certain time, so there may be some weeks in which very little aid would be given. The only way to calculate the amount of aid properly, if one is to be fair about it, is to look at the financial year for which the estimates are made. The article this morning took a calendar year, compared it with another calendar year and arrived at the conclusion that for the period the amount of aid was down. I do not know whether, had the analysis been taken down to a fortnightly or a monthly basis, a worse comparison could have been achieved. There are always ups and downs in the field of aid. On a fiscal year basis Australia’s aid performance rose from $2 17m in 1972- 73 to $263 in 1973-74, an increase of $46m or 2 1 per cent. The extra funds spent will appear in the 1974 calendar year statistics. Australian development assistance, expressed as a percentage of the gross national product, increased slightly from 0.53 per cent in 1972-73 to 0.54 per cent in 1973-74. Let me emphasise again that the figures are based on the provisional results for 1973- 74.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade. Is the Government giving high priority to the introduction of legislation to enable the establishment of the Structural Adjustments Board which will consider applications from businessmen and industries adversely affected by Government economic decisions? Will the Minister say when such legislation is likely to be brought before Parliament? Has the Department of Manufacturing Industry, to which applications are addressed in the meantime, received any calls for help? If so, will the Minister indicate how many applications have been received and the sort of companies from which they have been received?
– The Government has decided to establish the Structural Adjustment Board. This is consistent with its overall policy of structural change which has been induced especially by reductions in tariffs and revaluation of the Australian currency. I am not sure of the actual position about legislation, but I am sure that it is being drafted now. In the meantime a committee has been appointed by the Government. This is an interim arrangement until the Board becomes operative. Some applications have been made to that committee. I am not sure how many have been made, but I can obtain the details for the honourable senator. The only other specific information I can give him is that up until the middle of July this year there were applications from various companies in Australia, mainly in the textile area, involving about 3,500 employees. Of that number, about 2,500 have since been placed in other positions and at that date- the middle of July- there were still about 1,000 employees awaiting placement. I cannot give the honourable senator any more information, but I am sure that my colleague Dr Cairns, who is responsible for this legislation, can give us the current position.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. Is it a fact that resident medical officers employed at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, have threatened industrial action because of dissatisfaction with their salaries? Does the Minister contemplate any action being taken to prevent this situation developing?
-During May the resident medical officers at the Heidelberg Hospital threatened industrial action because of dissatisfaction with their salaries. As is often the case with disputes involving professional workers such as doctors, the basis of their claim was that they were not receiving the same salaries as resident medical officers employed by other public hospitals in Victoria who had recently received quite a substantial pay increases. Since then there have been negotiations between the Department and the industrial organisation which represents resident medical officers, and as a result of the negotiations the threat of industrial action was averted. A pay offer was made by the Public Service Board and it was accepted. Very shortly there is to be another review of the salaries of resident medical officers and other medical officers employed by my Department. This is being done because it is understood that shortly there will be another announcement of an increase in the salaries payable to resident medical officers employed by other public hospitals in Victoria.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Further to my question of Tuesday about the proposed purchase of two 707 aircraft from Qantas Airways Ltd for the VIP fleet, I ask: Does the Minister appreciate that the cost of running these aircraft- about $12m a year- would be about 3 times the annual cost of all salaries of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives?
Does the Minister not consider that such expenditure at this time is against common sense and in fact represents a gross extravagance? Will the Minister arrange to table, prior to the Budget and the examination of the RAAF estimates, correspondence concerning this matter which has taken place between the Government, the Royal Australian Air Force and Qantas so that we may see to what stage it has progressed?
-The Prime Minister has made a Press statement on this matter. I have been supplied with certain information and I will give it as best I can. Replacement of the Hercules fleet has been under consideration since 1970 and the Department of Defence thinks that a second-hand Boeing 707 would be a good buy for its purposes. The Boeing 707 is well suited for the long range transportation of freight and men as well as for VIP use. It is expected that 2 aircraft will be on sale in April 1975. If purchased this would be the first phase of a replacement program which, like any replacement program, will be expensive. I am informed also that the costs have been greatly exaggerated by Senator Townley- not only the cost of purchase but also the operating costs which are very much less than were suggested by him. There is some other information about this subject which I think is not relevant. This is a matter which would be discussed in the budgetary context but the information that is supplied to me indicates that this is part of a defence effort. Senator Bishop has explained many times, as did Senator DrakeBrockman when he had responsibility for VIP aircraft, that the aircraft have to be there and that the crew members have to get their flying hours. In many ways the use of these aircraft for VIP purposes is incidental. If they were not used for that purpose they would be used for simple training and as aircraft in which pilots could get their operational hours. It is quite wrong to approach this matter as though it were a private extravagance on the part of one government or successive governments.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question.
– Do you wish to ask a question on the same subject?
-Yes. I asked whether the Minister would be prepared to table the documents relating to negotiations between Qantas Airways Ltd, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Government in relation to this matter. There has been no reply and I ask the Minister that question again.
-Certainly I will look into the matter. I do not know whether any of this might concern private transactions or negotiations or something of that nature but I will look into it to see whether the honourable senator’s request can be acceded to.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration. Will the Minister consider including single fathers and widowers in a scheme similar to that which now covers women who find themselves in similar circumstances, with a view to allowing them to be retrained in an occupation which would allow them to spend more time with their children?
-The Minister for Labor and Immigration has announced his scheme. It is not clear to me whether those particular categories to which the honourable senator refers would be eligible under that scheme but I will find out and let the honourable senator know.
-My question is directed to the Minister for the Media. Has a survey been carried out into the blind spots of television transmission from Bellenden Ker in northern Queensland? Is it proposed to erect translators at strategic points in order to improve reception to these blind spots, particularly the HerbertonRavenshoe area and the StratfordRedlynch and Mossman areas north of Cairns?
-The Australian Broadcasting Control Board has conducted a survey to ascertain the deficiencies of reception in the area generally and the results have indicated that reception is inadequate in a number of localities. The areas that have been mentioned to me are the Mossman, Port Douglas, North Cairns, Gordonvale, Babinda, Tully, Mareeba, Ravenshoe, Herberton and Mission Beach areas. The Board has recommended the establishment over a 4-year period of national translators in each of those areas at an estimated total cost of $500,000. I understand also that the Board will be inviting Far Northern Television Ltd, which owns the station at Cairns, to apply for the commercial translator licence to serve the same areas. I can also tell the honourable senator that my colleague, the honourable member for Leichardt in another place, Mr Fulton, was in touch with me on the matter recently. As a result, I have made arrangements for the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting
Control Board, Mr Wright, to visit the area, I think, in the first week in September. He will be inspecting the area personally.
-I direct a question to the Postmaster-General. Is it a fact that $lm is lost each year by the Postmaster-General ‘s Department through telephone debts? Does he take any other action apart from the threat of disconnection to protect the Department against bad debts?
-Senator Mcintosh asked me about this matter late last night. I have been able to obtain only some preliminary figures on it. It would appear that during 1972-73 a total amount of $ 1 . 1 m was written off as bad debts. I am told that, in fact, that amount corresponds with the percentage of bad debts in previous years. Of course, the amount written off as bad debts should be compared with the total earnings which are expected to be about $850m for the year. I am told by the Department- but I intend to make further inquiries into this matterthat every effort is made in the first instance to check the applicants’ details on their cards and also to search departmental records to ensure that they do not have a history of bad debts. In cases where a customer does not pay very well, the Department provides interim accounts to be sent out to shake them up. But finally, if the debts are not paid, the services are disconnected and action is taken through the Department.
– You do not give credit on the basis of needs?
-I cannot hear what the honourable senator is mumbling. If he wants to ask a question, why does he not get up and ask it? I am saying that as far as I can see the Department is taking the correct action. The figures that I have given are the Australian figures. As a result of Senator Mcintosh’s inquiries, I shall have the matter further searched to see that every effort is made to have these debts recovered.
– Has the Minister for Agriculture seen reports that the Graziers Association of New South Wales will consider, in conjunction with other farm organisations, withholding agricultural produce from market as a bargaining device with the Federal Government? Does he agree that this would be a desperate measure? Does he also agree that farmer organisations would be unlikely to consider such tactics if it were true, as the Prime Minister claims, that farmers have never had it so good?
– Over the past few months many suggestions have been made by individuals about farmers withholding stock from the markets in this country. Two or three weeks ago I met a group of farm leaders in Australia. This matter was discussed. There was a general agreement that this action would not be to the advantage of the farming community or the Australian community in general. I believe that, certainly amongst those people to whom I spoke and who are representatives of farmers in this country, there was a responsible attitude to this matter. They accept the fact that it is best for the Australian community and the farming community to maintain a regular flow of products to the market. There may be some people in the farming community who would like to withhold products. I hope that they do not succeed because if they do they will only do their section of the community harm and they will do the Australian economy harm. The Government would certainly regret it if this type of action were taken. It would only be detrimental to everybody in the community.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to recent Press reports to the effect that a system for the testing of motor vehicle exhausts is being planned by the Standards Association of Australia to help the States to reduce air pollution and that once this standard is approved by the Australian Government it will be binding on all States? Can the Minister provide the Senate with any further information on those planned tests? In particular, can he advise the Senate when the tests will be concluded and the actual standard known?
– I have seen the reports. I believe that those tests are the result of work conducted by the State Pollution Control Commission of New South Wales and that they will be considered by the Standards Association of Australia although as yet they have not been so considered. It seems to me that the State Pollution Control Commission is trying to force its unilateral decision upon the rest of Australia. Of course, any New South Wales law in this respect would apply only to New South Wales. If, after consideration of the report of the Standards Association, the Australian Government adopted the proposal it would then be binding upon the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The overall application of such a proposal would depend upon uniform legislation being passed by the Parliaments throughout Australia. There seems to have been some attempt by New South Wales to force its opinion upon the rest of Australia without the Standards Association having first considered the matter. Such a proposition would not be enforceable throughout Australia unless complementary legislation were passed by the rest of the States.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration. Can the Minister recall my asking a question of him in March this year concerning the payment of union officials during strikes? As the Minister could not give me a definite answer on that occasion, and because of the great number of strikes at present, I now ask: Do union officials receive any payment during a strike or do they forfeit their pay in the same way as the other members of their unions during a strike period?
– They should be paid overtime sometimes.
-I do not think that there is any way in which the Government can obtain such information through legislation. Following Senator Young’s inquiries in March I investigated the position and found that the situation is much the same as it was when I was more familiar with the industrial scene. In many cases a union management committee or council decides that the secretary of the union shall not receive his pay during a stoppage. I know of many such actions and decisions on that basis. I know that this matter is subject to the rules of the organisation concerned. I will try to find out the current position for the honourable senator. I know that in many cases union officials decide to waive such payments and that in other cases such payments are made during stoppages. As Senator Cavanagh has reminded me, during disputes and troubles of that nature or arbitration proceedings the secretaries of unions are involved in performing much more arduous duties and in greater expenditure than they would be ordinarily. My personal experience goes back to about 1950 when, as a result of a long solidarity strike, I lost 2 months’ wages. I will try to get some more up to date information for the honourable senator and let him know about it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Has any decision been made by the Minister for Defence in connection with the representations that were made to him regarding amenities and other matters at the Woodside Army camp during his recent inspection of it- an inspection on which I had the pleasure of accompanying him?
-Recently Senator Drury and I visited the camp. Last week Senator Laucke asked me a question about certain matters in relation to the camp, particularly in relation to amenities. As was explained to me at the time of the inspection and also when the matter was raised with me some months ago, the servicemen’s complaint was that anybody rostered for duty on a weekend did not get the usual Army transport. They were required to use their own vehicles on that occasion whereas many servicemen who had been posted or were located north of Adelaide were provided with Army transport during ordinary week days. The Minister for Defence has given directions that any soldier rostered for duty on a weekend will be entitled to a mileage allowance if he uses his own private vehicle.
Substantial funds have been spent on the Woodside camp in respect of the RAR battalion quarters, the amenities blocks and accommodation for the intelligence section. But I do not think these changes have satisfied the requests of the people at the camp who are looking for new amenity centres and facilities. I can tell Senator Drury and Senator Laucke that these matters are under review. As soon as I can get a determination from the Minister I will inform them.
-My question which is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate follows on the question which was asked by my leader, Senator Withers, about the impact that the decision to abolish the petrol subsidy to country people will have on decentralisation. Is it not a fact that the abolition of the petrol subsidy to country people will add significantly to costs in our primary production areas? Do not increased costs in these areas lead to increased prices? How then does the Government justify this action as part of its anti-inflation program?
– If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would care to look at the list of places which are affected I think that he would be, and most other people would be, astonished to see that while the subsidy was in operation it applied in so few areas. Therefore the subsidy is quite irrelevant to the question of decentralisation and inflation in most parts of the country. The Government has a program for dealing with the economy and of endeavouring to manage inflation. This program embraces a large number of matters, some of which we have been able to bring in, namely, the revaluation of the currency, the tariff cuts, the establishment of the Prices Justification Tribunal and price fixing in the Territories over which the Commonwealth has jurisdiction. The Government, in the management of expenditure and the economy, has decided that there should be cutbacks in certain subsidies in some areas. One cannot just pick out something and say ‘Why are you doing this?’, because if it is looked at in isolation one can say that it may tend to put up some costs. The program has to be looked at as a whole. Opposition senators would be much better advised if they were to turn round and assist us to get through this Parliament legislation concerned with trade practices and consumer protection and also suggest to their colleagues in the States that they introduce for their States measures such as the price fixing power that operates in the Australian Capital Territory.
– My question which is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister refers to the question which was just asked by Senator Greenwood and the earlier question asked by Senator Withers, both of which concerned the petroleum products freight subsidy scheme. I ask: Is it correct that between 1954 and 1971, under the previous LiberalCountry Party Government and a proliferation of allegedly decentralist policies, the proportion of the population living in rural areas fell from 31 per cent to 14 per cent? Does the Minister know that the Green Paper on Rural Policy- and I refer his attention particularly to paragraphs 141, 150 and 152 of chapter 9- explains very lucidly why across the board pseudo decentralisation gimmicks like the petroleum products subsidy scheme are ill-conceived and ineffective? Does he agree that the view to which Senator Withers and Senator Greenwood still stubbonly adhere is conceptually suspect and thoroughly discredited by the empirical evidence.
-That seems to be a very succinct and elegant way of putting the case against the continuation of the subsidy. It might be of advantage to honourable senators- certainly it would be of advantage to the communityif I were to table in the Senate the lists of places which were receiving the subsidy and those which were not. For example, one of the issues raised during the recent by-election for the New South Wales seat of Goulburn was that the subsidy on petrol was being taken away. The fact is that not a single place in that whole State electorate was receiving the petrol subsidy. There is an enormous amount of confusion about this matter. I think it would help if the lists of places were to be tabled in order to remove some of the ignorance about the operation of the scheme.
- Senator Murphy, are you seeking leave to table the papers?
-No. I do not have them with me at the moment.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Minerals and Energy. Is he aware that the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association estimates a drop in the number of oil wells being drilled in Australia this year from the low number of 90 to 60, there being meanwhile a boom in oil exploration activity overseas resulting from the recent oil crisis? Does this decline in exploration mean that by 1980 we will be forced to import most of our ofl requirements at uncontrollable overseas prices? Does the Minister deny that this scandalous situation has developed because of fears of nationalisation of the Australian industry?
-I think that the most scandalous situation is that which was allowed to develop over the years under the previous Government, when all the mineral and petroleum resources of this country were allowed to fall into the hands of people who were not Australians. The whole purpose of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority legislation being brought in by this Government is to protect the interests of Australians in their own natural resources. I think that the question highlights that very point. Certainly there has been a fall-off in the amount of exploration, but I suggest to honourable senators opposite that if they were genuinely concerned about the interests of Australians in this area of our economic development they would support the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill which this Government has put before the Parliament on 3 occasions.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will the Government table, for the information of honourable senators, all official Australian Government documents relating to the decision of the Tasmanian Government to cease to be a claimant State for Grants Commission purposes?
-This question should properly go to the Treasurer himself for an answer. I shall convey the question to him.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade aware that New Zealand is buying wheat from the United States of America because imports of Australian wheat have encountered shipping difficulties? What are these shipping problems, and what attempts are being made to solve them?
– It is true that New Zealand made inquiries about the purchase of United States wheat. I am not sure whether New Zealand went ahead with the actual contract, but certainly two or three weeks ago that was the case. Here in Australia there was an industrial dispute which prevented the shipment of Australian wheat to New Zealand. I do not know what has happened since then. I thought that the matter had been resolved. The industrial side of the problem is outside my portfolio. I will take the matter up with the Minister for Labor and Immigration and, if he can give me any further information, I will convey it to the honourable senator.
-I ask the PostmasterGeneral: Is it not a fact that the Government has decided to peg capital advances to the Post Office in the current financial year to $385m, the amount advanced to the Post Office in the previous financial year? What revenue additional to that sum, apart from its own internal resources, will the Post Office require to meet the capital works program for the current financial year?
- Mr President, the honourable senator knows the answer to the question because he spoke in opposition to the proposal to increase tariffs.
– You did not give us the details.
- Senator, you read the Prime Minister’s statement. I think you quoted what the Prime Minister had said would be the restrictions.
– I want to know.
-Senator Wright, I am answering the question. You are not going to interrupt me as you did last night on the adjournment debate. If we have to wait until budget time for increased tariffs, which we are now compelled to do because of the Opposition’s actions, for a start there will be a loss of about $35m, which was the figure I mentioned. In addition since the tariff proposals that I put up were developed there has been already a further increased loss of about $ 1 5 m.
– Since last Thursday?
– Since the tariff proposals were developed. There will be a gap of nearly 3 months between that time and the budget time before the tariff proposals can be applied. The Opposition has made it almost impossible for the Post Office to operate. Not only has the Government said this. If honourable senators will read today’s issue of the ‘Australian’ they will see that the Director-General, who had long experience under Liberal Postmasters-General, is reported to have said exactly that. The Post Office needs money and the actions to defer the tariffs have simply placed an unfair burden on the Post Office. The position is that the Post Office has already planned to cut capital expenditure by $30m. It will certainly have to further restrict many services and it now is an issue whether by budget time- after 3 months when we could have got increases to stave off these huge imposts- we shall have to place a bigger impost upon the people because of the Opposition’s actions. This is quite inconsistent with what Senator Cotton, a former representative in this place of a Postmaster-General, argued in 1967, namely that the Government ought to provide the moneys and that the Parliament ought to allow those moneys to go through to make sure that the Post Office could work effectively. The lag in telephone connections, for example, could be increased by 40,000.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question. I had asked a specific question: How much revenue additional to the $385m to which the Government has pegged the Post Office will be required? The PostmasterGeneral has not answered that specific question.
– At this point of calculation we need an extra $50m, over what would be raised from the delayed tariffs. What will be the position by budget time we cannot tell, because certain escalations may have to be taken into account. But what I am forcing home to the honourable senator is that the Opposition’s action, which was a simple political decision, has stopped an efficient organisation from recovering by its charges and earnings finance expended.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Transport seen an article which appeared in the ‘Australian’ on Tuesday last reporting that the New South Wales Government will ban the sale of children’s safety harnesses that do not meet strict standards? If so, can the Minister advise whether the Australian Government is in agreement with that move in New South Wales and whether it is intended to ensure that similar action is taken in other States of Australia? If so, in what manner would this be instituted?
-Yes, I have seen the article. I think it was based on a report by the New South Wales Traffic Accident Research Unit which has made this recommendation. Apparently the unsafe condition of children’s harnesses in motor cars arises from the difficulty of adjusting the harnesses once they have been installed. Apparently they give no guarantee of safety. The Australian Government thinks this is a matter for the Standards Association of Australia. That Association considered this matter in July last and made recommendations to the various States. I am told that uniform regulations in all States for harnesses that meet the specifications of the Standards Association and are stamped accordingly will be enforceable as from 1 January of next year.
-My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. What prospects are there of the Government reviewing its present decision to abolish the fuel equalisation subsidy to country areas? Is the Minister aware that there is strong feeling on both sides of the House that the abolition of the subsidy scheme will add greatly to the inflationary pressures in rural areas, as well as to residual costs in metropolitan areas, and will, together with other Government actions at the present time, aggravate the inflationary situation? In view of the Government’s announcement that it has a program for controlling inflation, how does the Government justify its decision to abolish the fuel subsidy scheme in view of the fact that that abolition will aggravate the inflationary situation?
– That seems to be a very argumentative question. As regards the first part of the question, I recall reading in this morning’s newspapers that there were some differences in viewpoint amongst the various parties, and I am glad that the honourable senator concedes that there is a difference of opinion on both sides of the Parliament. He is no doubt alluding to his own Party and to the other Opposition party and saying that they are divided in their approach to this matter. The honourable senator knows that a decision has been taken. He asks whether it is possible that the decision will be reviewed. I suppose that with every decision that is taken on various matters there is a possiblity- and that is what the honourable senator referred to- of the decision being reviewed. It is not much use our going into hypothetical questions as to whether this decision, that decision or any other kind of decision might be reviewed. The decision has been made, and the decision stands.
-Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware that a military tribunal has sentenced to death 3 Chilean air force officers and a top public official for collecting information about a clandestine military plot during the period of President Allende ‘s legal Government and prior to the coup? Is it not the obligation of all responsible citizens to collate information about treasonable activities against a legal and democratic government and report it to the appropriate authorities? In these circumstances, will the Minister give urgent consideration to appealing to the Chilean junta not to carry out the death sentences?
-I will find out the details for Senator Gietzelt as a matter of urgency.
– Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware of recent documented allegations made by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and other responsible authorities concerning the persecution of the Jewish community in Syria, including numerous murders, assaults, religious persecutions, confinement to ghettos and denial of normal human rights in defiance of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights? Has the Government made any public statement or any representations to the Syrian Government concerning these allegations? If not, will it do so at an early date?
– I have read something of this matter in the newspapers. I do not have a detailed knowledge of the allegations that are being made. We received frequent reports about political prisoners in various parts of the world including allegations of atrocities against people who are not living in their home countries where there are problems, such as is the case in the Middle East.
– It is their home country.
– I was speaking in a general context about political prisoners and this type of thing. The sort of thing that a government can do in these circumstances is to make known very clearly to the other governments its abhorrence of the violation of civil liberties. It is always a very delicate problem to know whether, if you press these people, they will not act worse than they are already acting. It is always a matter of opinion about what ought to be done. I do not want to mention particular cases, but when the Prime Minister and I have been in such countries and have been able to talk privately to our opposite numbers, we have raised specifically the things which are offending people in Australia. We have insisted to these people that we are not trying to interfere in what they decide is their internal business, but we say that it makes it difficult for a country such as Australia, which has had a very high tradition of civil liberties over a couple of hundred years, to continue in a friendly way and to assist those people while these things carry on. I will certainly see what evidence the Department has in relation to the specific case raised by the honourable senator.
– I have a supplementary question. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether the responsible Australian ambassador in the area has reported to the Government on the matter.
-That is precisely what I just said. I will check and see what information I have. A report could easily have come in, and I could have missed it.
– My question, which is directed to the Postmaster-General, follows that asked by Senator Mcintosh which sought information about the huge loss to the Postal Department because of the non-payment of many telephone accounts. Will the Minister follow the practice of the Taxation Office and publish annually a list of names of all defaulters?
– I think a number of matters are involved in such a judgment. I will examine the position with Post Office authorities and let the honourable senator know.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture and relates to the possible outbreak of an exotic disease, particularly foot and mouth disease, in this country. The following facts serve to illustrate the enormous national loss which could occur. In the outbreak in England in 1969, 2,364 farms were affected and 430,000 cloven hooved animals were destroyed. The cost to the Government in direct compensation was $75m. The estimated uncompensated cost was as high as $500m. The cause of the outbreak was eventually traced to part of a shipment of 770 frozen lamb carcasses from the Argentine, and the disease was spread in bones brought from a local butcher and fed to pigs as swill. Will the Minister look carefully at this situation, especially at the possible need to stop the imports of all foodstuffs from any area which is affected by either foot and mouth or any exotic animal disease, to minimise as far as possible the inherent danger should any such importation eventually find its way into pig food?
-This question really comes under the auspices of the Minister for Health. The essential position is that the only country from which fresh meat may be permitted into Australia is New Zealand. As we know, New Zealand is free of foot and mouth disease and other dangerous animal diseases. The importation of processed products is permissible from a number of countries, but under very strict hygiene conditions. The imports must be accompanied by a certificate of health from the exporting country. That is as much information as I can give the honourable senator, but in view of the detailed nature of his question I will send it to the Minister for Health and get an equally detailed answer.
– Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that his Department received a letter dated 25 July 1974 which was an appeal on behalf of the people of Daguragu who are on the verge of starvation? Will the Minister advise why departmental grants to people on this settlement have been withdrawn and whether they are likely to be restored in the immediate future?
– Yes, I acknowledge receipt by my Department of the correspondence. It comes from a Mr Phillip Nitszhke who I think is employed as an agricultural adviser to the Wattie Creek community and has a big mailing list, including the Waterside Workers Federation, the Seamen’s Union of Australia and Mr Buchanan, for his complaints about Wattie Creek. On a previous occasion there was a complaint that the local police and a few others had taken alcohol into the reserve for the purpose of inciting the Aborigines to engage in a lynching party against Mr Phillip Nitszhe. In order to show that there was impartiality in the investigation, the head of the Department and I went to Wattie Creek and took with us a Mr Don Atkinson from the Flinders University who has been a champion of the Wattie Creek community for a long time. We found that there was absolutely no foundation for the charges. We had a discussion with the elders of the tribe for the purpose of settling their land claims. As honourable senators would know from the Woodward Commission report which I tabled, we propose setting up an interim commission for the purpose of settling the claim of the Wattie Creek people.
On this occasion the letter states that we have withdrawn moneys from the Aboriginal community and that the people there are starving. Nothing is further from the truth. A collection is being taken up in Victoria today for people who are starving because we allegedly withdrew money, but at no time have we withdrawn money from the Wattie Creek community. The wages of the people there are still being paid. The accountant reports that whilst at times money is very short, they have a trust account on which he operates while waiting for a new grant from the Department. There is absolutely no foundation for the much publicised report. It is unfortunate that Victorian newspapers become the official mouthpiece for false information that comes from the Wattie Creek area.
-I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Prime Minister to today’s transport workers stoppage and to threatened interruptions in petrol supplies to several States which may upset airline schedules. I ask the Minister for an assurance that the work of the Parliament will not be interrupted by these stoppages and that any joint sitting of the 2 Houses will take place. As all honourable senators and members were elected to represent the people of Australia, will he guarantee that parliamentarians will be able to reach Canberra to carry out their duties here next week?
-Finding a solution to the transport strike does not really come within the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister. The honourable senator and other honourable senators know that there may be stoppages from time to time in the transport industry and other industries, as there have been in the past. He knows that the joint sitting has been convened for Tuesday next and it is his obligation to see that he is here. If he is facing any difficulties in that regard I think he is entitled to sustenance while he stays here in Canberra. If he is fearful about some transport issue there is nothing to prevent him from staying here to ensure his being here next Tuesday. If the honourable senator goes a long distance away we do not want to hear him blaming the Government if he is unable to return. He knows just as well as the Government does that industrial difficulties are impending and it is up to him to make his arrangements. If he is fearful about being caught away from Canberra he must take whatever course he determines. The courses open to him include remaining here so that he will be here on Tuesday.
-I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Is the United States of America using Cocos Island as a military base? If so, does this not contradict the Australian Government’s expressed policy and its support of United Nations resolution 2832 relative to the Indian Ocean zone of peace?
-No. The Americans are not using Cocos Island as a military base. There are no military facilities or military personnel of any country on Cocos Island. Cocos Island is used by aircraft from some countries- Britain, New Zealand, Australia and United States of America. Australia abstained from voting on the resolution referred to. This occurred in the days of the McMahon Government. The instructions given to the delegate were to abstain from voting on the question of the Indian Ocean zone of peace. However, the honourable senator is basically right in the latter part of his question because the following year, after a Labor Government had been elected, Australia did support a resolution the basis of which was the resolution to which the honourable senator referred in his question. An answer is being prepared to a question asked in another place, and I will see that the honourable senator receives a copy of that answer because it will contain more details on the question he has asked.
– Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs inform the Senate of the total monetary asistance given by the Australian Government and any of its instrumentalities to the Government of North Vietnam to 30 June 1974?
-The broad approach of the Government to this matter, as Senator Marriott would know, is contained in the words which the Government used when it first took office. We said that we would give generous aid to the post-war reconstruction of the whole of Indo-China without regard to governments or their ideologies. The amount of aid given to North Vietnam to 30 June last was $660,000, and to South Vietnam $3.5m. The problem with North Vietnam has been in getting it to submit its requests and also in being able to supply what is requested. We sent a special mission there and North Vietnam asked for a lot of goods that we are having great difficulty in supplying. This bears a little on an answer I gave previously this morning. Money is earmarked for this purpose, but we cannot spend it. I am not satisfied with the way this matter is going and I have asked a Deputy Secretary of my Department, Dick Woolcott, who is going to North Vietnam on other matters as part of a normal liaison visit, to take this matter up with the North Vietnamese to see whether we can get a better flow of goods to them.
– I have received letters from the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the Opposition Parties in the House of Representatives and the Leaders of the Government and Opposition Parties in the Senate, in accordance with a resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament, nominating members to serve on joint committees as follows:
Joint Committee on Prices- Senator Chaney, Senator Coleman, Senator Gietzelt, Senator Scott, Mrs Child, Mr Hodges, Mr Howard, Mr Hurford, Mr King, Mr Whan and Mr Willis.
Joint Committee on the Northern Territory- Senator Keeffe, Senator McLaren, Senator Marriott, Senator Sheil, Mr Calder, Mr Fitzpatrick, Mr James, Mr Kelly and Mr Wallis.
Joint Committee on the Australian Capital TerritorySenator Sir Kenneth Anderson, Senator Devitt, Senator Marriott, Senator Milliner, Mr Fisher, Mr Fry, Mr Howard, Mr Kerin and Mr Whan.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That the Senators nominated by the leaders of the Government and the Opposition Parties be appointed members of the respective joint committees.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1974. Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1974.
Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill (No. 2) 1974.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report on the Territory of Norfolk Island for the year ended 30 June 1 973.
Senator BISHOP (South AustraliaPostmasterGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the text of the following international treaty adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 58th session in 1973:
Convention No. 137 concerning dock work; also tabled are the texts of:
Convention No. 86 concerning the maximum length of contracts of employment of indigenous workers; and
Convention No. 83 concerning the application of international labour standards to nonmetropolitan territories adopted at the 30th session of the International Conference.
The relevant laws and practices are in conformity with the conventions and with the approval of the Executive Council. Instruments of ratification in respect of the conventions have been lodged with the Acting Director-General of the International Labour Office.
I also present the report of the Australian Government delegation to the 58th session of the International Labour Conference.
Senator BISHOP (South AustraliaPostmasterGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present a report of the Committee of Inquiry on Co-ordinated Industrial Organisations.
Senator BISHOP (South AustraliaPostmasterGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Conference of Australian and State Ministers for Immigration dated 9 November 1973.
– Pursuant to section 1 5 of the Growth Centres (Financial Assistance) Act 1973, I present the reports of the Agreement between the Australian Government and the South Australian Government in relation to the city of Monarto and the agreement between the Australian Government and the Government of Victoria in relation to the southeast area of Melbourne.
– Pursuant to section 1 5 of the Land Commissions (Financial Assistance) Act 1973I present the agreement between the Australian Government and the South Australian Government and the agreement between the Australian Government and the Government of Victoria in relation to Emerald Hill, South Melbourne. I also present the following statements of principles which are attached to the various agreements:
– For the information of honourable senators I present the Financial and Statistical Bulletin of the Commissioner for Commonwealth Railways for the year ended 30 June 1973. This Bulletin is to supplement the annual report which was tabled in the Senate on 27 September 1973.
– (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs)- For the information of honourable senators, under section 1 1 of the States Grants (Dwellings for Aged Pensioners) Act 1969 I present the fifth annual report of operations under the Act for the year 1973-74.
– (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs)- For the information of honourable senators, I present the report of the proceedings of the conference of
Housing Minister held at Port Hedland, Western Australia, on 13 and 14 June 1974. Because of the limited number of copies published, copies have been placed in the Parliamentary Library for perusal by honourable senators.
-Mr Deputy President, in regard to the presentation of papers by Ministers might I have permission to observe that I have not noticed any statement being made by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Murphy) with regard to the termination of the subsidy on petroleum products in country areas. My inquiries reveal that in some circumstances there should be a regulation and in other circumstances it may be another instrument, but, in view of the urgency of the matter today, I would ask that some Minister inform the Senate what means are to be employed to terminate that subsidy.
- Senator Wright knows that the matter he has raised is obviously one for the Minister for Customs and Excise, Senator Murphy. I will draw the attention of Senator Murphy to the matter raised by Senator Wright.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government Business take precedence of General Business after 8 p.m. this day.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That, Government Business, Order of the Day No. 2, be postponed until after the consideration of Orders of the Day Nos 3, 4, 5 and 6.
– by leave- I give notice that on the next day of sitting I will move:
That the Senate recognises the importance of maintaining transport links in the interior of Australia, and the impact that petroleum prices have on this network and that, in view of the vital contribution citizens living in the interior make to this country, the Senate requests that the Government reinstate the scheme formulated under the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Act 1965-1973.
The following Bills were returned from the House of Representatives without amendment:
Evidence Bill 1974
Parliamentary Papers Bill 1974
Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Bill 1 974
– I move:
The proposed rules are set out on pages 167 to 170 inclusive of today’s Notice Paper. Honour-, able senators have been formally advised that the Governor-General by proclamation has convened 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 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 August 1974, at which they may deliberate and vote together upon 6 proposed laws, pursuant to section 57 of the Consitution. Those proposed laws are: Commonwealth Electoral Act (No. 2) 1973, Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1973, Representation Act 1973, Health Insurance Commission Act 1973, Health Insurance Act 1973 and Petroleum and Minerals Authority Act 1973. The joint sitting will be the first ever held by the 2 Houses pursuant to section 57 of the Constitution. It will, therefore, be a most historic occasion.
For the purpose of regulating the conduct of the business and proceedings of the joint sitting, the Houses are empowered by section 50 of the Constitution to make rules. Both Houses have, in years past, adopted joint standing orders relating to a joint sitting, but those orders are brief and refer only to the appointment of a chairman and the presentation of a Bill for the royal assent. It now becomes necessary to make more detailed rules for the procedures at a joint sitting.
The early draft of the rules was prepared by the Clerks of the Houses and then considered by the Leader of the House in the House of Representatives (Mr Daly) and by me in my capacity as Manager of Government Business in the Senate. Subsequently, discussions took place with the President of the Senate (Senator O ‘Byrne), the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Mr Cope), the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers) and Mr Daly’s counterpart in the House of Represen.tatives Mr Sinclair. (Quorum formed).
I was about to say that the draft rules aim at simplicity. They provide only for those procedures which appear to be necessary for the consideration of proposed laws under section 57 of the Constitution and the rules keep as close as possible to standard parliamentary practices. An exception which may be noted is in the mode of putting the question on a proposed law, namely: That the proposed law be affirmed ‘. Because amendments cannot be moved at the joint sitting to any of the proposed laws, it is considered unnecessary to take a Bill through the usual 3 readings and committee stage.
It will be seen that provision has been made in the rules for a 20-minute time limit on speeches. It is true that on the second reading of a Bill in the Senate honourable senators may speak for one hour, but in the House of Representatives an honourable member may speak for 20 minutes only on the second reading. For the joint sitting it was considered reasonable to propose a 20- minute time limit for speeches, with an extension of 5 minutes by consent of a majority of the members present. After all, it is to be remembered that these Bills have already been debated on a number of occasions in both Houses. The rules further provide that all members, including the member chosen to preside, shall in all cases be entitled to vote on any question. The Chairman does not have a casting vote. The rules go on to provide that the question that any proposed law be affirmed shall be resolved in the affirmative if, and only if, an absolute majority of the total number of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives vote in the affirmative. This provision is in accord with section 57 of the Constitution.
Other rules include provision for relief for the Chairman, procedure on division, objection to ruling of the Chairman, closure, and suspension of the rules. These rules, I stress, conform to standard parliamentary practices in force in both Houses. It will be noted, I am sure with the Senate’s approbation, that in rule 1 provision is made that, in any matter of procedure not provided for in the rules, resort shall be had to the Standing Orders and to the practices of the Senate, which shall be followed as far as they can be applied. I believe the rules as presented will facilitate the proper and orderly consideration of business at the joint sitting and it is with confidence that I commend the rules to the Senate for adoption.
– I regret that I cannot circulate my proposed amendments at the moment as they are being prepared. They should be ready shortly. In the main the Opposition does not disagree with the rules proposed by Senator Douglas McClelland. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 4 House managers who worked with the 2 presiding officers and the Clerks of both Houses. It has been alleged around the place that we came to an area of agreement. I think it ought to be made clear that the four House managers did not have the capacity to come to an agreement; all they could do was discuss the matter and take it back to their Party rooms for acceptance or rejection. I think it is fair to say that the 4 House leaders and the 2 presiding officers know something about the management of both chambers, and it was in that spirit that we approached the rules.
By arrangement with Senator Douglas McClelland, I intend to move some amendments to the rules. I will come to them in a moment. I understand that the Government will then adjourn this debate and return to it at a later hour this day so that some negotiations can take place between the Government and the Opposition on my propositions. I regret that I was unable to let both Senator Douglas McClelland and the Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Daly, have a copy of the Opposition’s amendments earlier but the discussion on them was concluded only at about 10.15 this morning. Perhaps I can deal with the proposed rules briefly. In rule No. 1 1 will be moving, basically, to delete the words ‘resort shall be had to’. The other words to be deleted are ‘and to the practices’. The rule would then read:
In any matter of procedure not provided for in the following rules, the standing orders of the Senate, in force for the time being, shall be followed as far as they can be applied.
– That is a lawyer’s amendment more than anything else.
-Yes. It is a tighter piece of language. In regard to rules 5 and 6 I shall move what might be thought to be inconsequential amendments. Under rules 5 and 6, only a Minister has the capacity to move for the adjournment of the joint sitting or to move to fix the date of the next meeting. We on this side regard the proposed joint sitting not so much as a Government-Opposition operation but as an affirmative-negative operation. I will be seeking to make an amendment which would provide that, if the Government is to have 27 people with the capacity to do this, then the Leader of the Opposition in either place ought to be able to do it. That is not an amendment of great consequence.
– It might be so far as we are concerned.
-It may be. The Government will have the numbers anyway; so I do not see why the Minister should get terribly excited. As to rule 7, we in the Opposition believe there should be an absolute maximum of 20 minutes with no extensions of time. We say this because 1 87 senators and members will be present at the joint sitting and, as far as possible, as many as wish to speak ought to be able to speak. If someone is given 20 minutes and that period runs on to 25 minutes, it means that other senators or members could be shut out. I noted that Senator Douglas McClelland said in his speech that we in the Senate are used to having an hour in which to speak during a second reading debate. That is true on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But we are used to the discipline, on Wednesdays at least, of keeping speeches within 30 minutes.
– Does the Opposition wish to delete rule 7(b)?
-Yes. I will be putting down a rule 7, which would read;
No member may speak for more than 20 minutes on any question before the joint sitting.
This would mean that everybody would get an equal cut of the cake, be he the Prime Minister or one of the newest senators to come into this place.
– The amendment would leave out the words in rule 7 (a) Unless otherwise ordered ‘, would it?
-Yes. It is an absolute maximum of 20 minutes, with an equal sharing as far as possible among 187 senators and members.
– That rule would not include the words ‘Unless otherwise ordered ‘?
– No. The amendment would take them out.
-I understood that it was to be absolute; that 20 minutes was to be the absolute maximum. Otherwise- one knows what happens- people would tend to get extensions and, before we knew it, a senator or member who had his name on the list could be shut out. Rule 8 is one of the keys to what we in the Opposition will be putting. I will be moving to delete the present rule 8 and to insert in lieu of it a rule of 3 sub-paragraphs. The first will be 8 (a), which would read:
Until the expiration of 4 hours, or 12 speakers have spoken (whichever is the later event) -
It means an absolute minimum of 4 hours-
Only on this question-
That the proposed law be affirmed’, no motion may be moved by any member ‘That the question be now put’__
We propose, as a safeguard, that there be 4 hours of debate, as an absolute minimum, on the question ‘That the proposed law be affirmed’. The rule would continue:
Such motion may not be moved by any member who has already spoken on the question____
That is to prevent a person, having abused the other side at enormous length, at the 1 9-minute mark in his speech moving the gag. If somebody wants to move the gag I think he ought to stand up and just move the gag and not have the right to tip a bucket over somebody else and then move the gag.
– Were you here last night?
-We are talking about the joint sitting.
– You might get support here.
-I do not know that it would be an improper thing to put in the Senate Standing Orders. I personally would not resist it. Our proposed rule 8(b) is basically what we have in the Senate: That a member may not interrupt another member to move the gag; and that when the gag is moved such motion shall be put forthwith and without debate.
– Might I interrupt just for clarity purposes? Your proposed rule 8 (a) contains these words ‘Until the expiration of 4 hours’. The reference to ‘until’ all speakers have spoken on the question that the proposed law be affirmed relates, I take it, to the one debate.
-That is right.
– But assuming that there is a cognate debate.
-There would be 4 hours for the cognate debate. That is how I would intend it. Honourable senators will remember that circulated with the proposed rules were suggestions from the committee. It was stated that it would be suggested that the 6 Bills should be taken in 4 cognate debates at the joint sitting. Under that I take it that if leave were granted for a cognate debate on, say, the 2 Health Bills, there would be 4 hours on that cognate debate, and the 4 hours would commence from the time the Chair put the question that the proposed law be affirmed. The period of 4 hours would run from then before any person could move the gag. That would happen in a cognate debate. If there were 4 debates over the 6 Bills, it would mean that there would be a minimum of 16 hours of debating time over the 4 proposals. We know that there will have to be 6 divisions.
– And a maximum, too.
-No, a minumum. My proposed rule 8 (a) intends that there should be 4 hours of debate. But once the 4 hours of debate has run there would be a capacity for any member or senator standing in his place to move that the question be put.
– An automatic vote.
-Yes, it must be put forthwith without debate or amendment. My proposed rule 8 (b) covers the question of normal closure. We all have been in this place long enough to know that there has to be a capacity for the closure of debates on procedural matters, whether they be a motion to expel some honourable senator or member from the proceedings for the day, or a motion of dissent from a ruling of the Chair. Where there is some procedural motion there must be a capacity for the closure to be put. Rule 8 in the proposed rules would in fact apply to all questions other than the question that the Bill be affirmed. Proposed rule 8 (c) reads: ‘Senate Standing Order No. 407B shall not apply to the joint sitting’, because standing order 407B gives the capacity for the guillotine to be moved. Under one proposed rule we agree that there ought to be a minimum debate of 4 hours, with the gag being able to be moved then. We know that there will be only, say, 4 debates, with a maximum of 6 debates if we do not agree to cognate debates. The gag comes down then. There ought not to be the capacity for the guillotine to be brought in.
– There is provision for a closure rule, too.
– Yes. That is covered in proposed rule 8 (a). Having provided for the closure rules in proposed rule 8 (a) nobody should want the guillotine. I think that is reasonable. Amendment No. 6 refers to proposed rule 9. This suggestion has been put up by one of my colleagues who says that the wording in this amendment is more in accordance with what the Constitution states, lt says that each senator and each member shall have one vote, that is, he shall be entitled to one vote, because we all know that we are entitled to vote. We will have been summoned to the joint sitting and we will be entitled to be present. Section 23 of the Constitution provides that each senator shall be entitled to one vote. So we want this spelled out for the joint sitting.
– It should go on and say that each senator shall have one vote on each question put.
– I suppose we could look at that one, too.
– If you look at section 23 of the Constitution you see that it refers to questions, and then it says that each senator shall have one vote. It referred to questions before. So it wants to be clear that you have one vote on each question and not one vote for the joint sitting.
-I see. Thank you, senator. We will take that into consideration when we come to it. My amendment No. 7 refers to proposed rule 1 4. It provides that in addition to a Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in either
House may move a certain motion. Amendment No. 8 refers to proposed rule 16. It seeks to prevent the suspension of the rules. I cannot see that it is much good putting down rules where there is a limitation on the closure and a prohibition of the guillotine if somebody is then allowed to suspend the rules to do either of those things. That is the purpose of the amendment. Senate standing order 448 provides, basically, for the suspension of Standing Orders for anything without notice provided that there is an absolute majority. That is the intent of this amendment. Perhaps this could be dealt with in another way; I have been thinking about it since I drafted the amendment. Perhaps we ought to be able to suspend the rules save and except those set out in proposed rule 8. Under that rule one can suspend any other rules, but one cannot suspend rule 8. So one cannot suspend the rule relating to a guaranteed debate before the closure of the debate, and one cannot suspend the rule relating to the guillotine. That is something that I will have to consider. But that is basically the intent of the amendment. I can see that there could be occasions when we would want to suspend the rules. If an honourable senator or a member wished leave to make a personal explanation, one person could refuse leave. That honourable senator or member ought not to be shut out by one person refusing leave if there is general consensus that that honourable senator or member ought to be allowed to do something. I think we can look at that matter later.
Amendment No. 9 refers to the televising of the proceedings. I am not wedded to the particular words used in this amendment. It is to the effect that on any televising of the proceedings of the joint sitting, each speaker shall speak from rostrums to be provided on the floor of the chamber. The reason we have included these words is because I think it gives fairness before the camera. I do not pretend to know how the cameras will be sited. One would imagine that the person sitting in the chair and the person sitting one either side of the table in the House of Representatives chamber will most likely get the best shot from the camera, and any of our colleagues who sit on the side or towards the back, should they stand in their places to speak, might not be shown up to the best advantage on camera. There might be some angled shot or something else. If there was an affirmative rostrum and a negative rostrum- they could be lecturns on the floor of the House of Representatives chamber, there would be a set place from which people would speak and everybody would get a fair go before the camera.
– I think it would save a lot of technical problems, too.
-This is just a suggestion that we are putting forward. We thought that it would give fairness to everybody. I would hate to see this come into the Senate as the normal debating practice. I would rather have people standing in their places to speak. But if there are to be cameras-and, as I understand it, it has been decided that there will be- there ought to be equal sharing of the box. I think that I will be all right because most likelyI will be sitting reasonably close to the camera. But I think that back bench members could be at a great disadvantage if there is not some equality in the sharing of the camera. The second paragraph in the amendment refers to what I think we all agree should happen. We are saying that where the proceedings are televised there shall be a balanced presentation of the affirmative and negative arguments put before the joint sitting. I think that is fair, too- not that I would mind if they just put on our good speakers, which we all are, and just put on bad speakers on the Government side, which they all are.
– That is if there is an affirmative and a negative debate.
-I would be surprised if there is not. I suppose this has been quite a useful exercise in many ways. Possibly we are talking about something that might not occur, but I suppose it is as well to be prepared. The only point on which I disagree with Senator Douglas McClelland is when he said in his speech, with such definiteness, that the joint sitting would take place on Tuesday. I think that is yet to be resolved by 7 other honourable gentlemen. But I think the rules ought to be resolved so that if the event does occur, at least we will have some order in the conduct of our business. Therefore, I move:
Leave out paragraph (1), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (5), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (6), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (7), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (8), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (9), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (14), insert the following paragraph:
Leave out paragraph (16), insert the following paragraph:
After paragraph (17) add the following new paragraph:
– It is quite obvious that some of the amendments could be acceptable, but some of them need examination. Therefore, I move:
Question resolved in the affimative.
Consideration resumed from 31 July (vide page 664).
Clause 13 agreed to.
– As I mentioned last night, the Opposition has a large volume of amendments. I move:
Our reasoning does not need a long time to elaborate. We are aiming at consistency and at constant treatment for all transactions and for all persons. We do not want Reserve Bank directions to be selective either as regards persons or as regards transactions. For instance, finance companies should be quite sure in their minds that a steady policy is applicable to all persons and all transactions in the same category. We also wish to safeguard finance companies and other institutions from being subject to Reserve Bank determinations which could force a financial institution to cease operating in a particular area of finance or operating in an area in which it has not operated previously. The financial skills and techniques of these institutions are highly developed, but they cannot necessarily be transferred to deal with the differing requirements of other areas of finance.
– I am not clear why Senator Cotton, on behalf of the Opposition, moved that the proposed sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3) be substituted for sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3) of clause 14 of the Bill, particularly proposed sub-clause (2). I do not know why the Opposition wants these proposed sub-clauses inserted. I can appreciate the things which Senator Cotton has said, but they do not seem to justify the alterations which are sought in the amendment. If he could spell out the reasons a little more precisely it is quite possible that the first 3 proposed sub-clauses would be acceptable. I leave proposed sub-clauses (4) and (5) for the moment. I think that they should be left for the present. I suggest that we deal with proposed sub-clauses ( 1 ), (2) and (3) at this stage. I would like Senator Cotton to elaborate a little further as to why he would like the alteration of the wording in sub-clause (2). I would like to hear any further comments which he may wish to make.
– I doubt very much that I can further illuminate the scene for the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt). We are aiming at consistency and at constant treatment for all transactions and for all persons. We are not anxious for Reserve Bank directions to be selective either as regards persons or as regards transactions. As we believe that consistency is quite important, that is what proposed sub-clauses (1), (2) and
– I would also like to know more of the reasoning behind the promotion of the amendment. It would seem to me that the amendment is less specific than the Bill. That is the general feeling I get from reading it. The amendment converts policy’ to ‘general policy’ and ‘amount’ to ‘volume’. The words in the amendment seem to be less specific in their references than the words in the Bill. I assume that they are designed to weaken the impact of the clause. I make that observation in the form of a question. Is that the intent?
-As a new mind which was in no way associated with the authorship of the amendment, I wish to make a statement with regard to it, whether right or wrong, which may serve to elucidate what I think is the substantial purpose of the amendment which, I suggest, is necessary. Proposed subclause (1) is identical, in substance, with subclause (1) of the Bill. Both proposed sub-clause ( 1 ) of the amendment and sub-clause ( 1) of the Bill state:
The regulations may authorise the Reserve Bank to determine the policy in relation to the provision of finance that is to be followed by registered corporations, and a registered corporation shall follow a policy so determined that is applicable 10 it.
The alteration is in proposed sub-clause (2). Sub-clause (2) of the Bill states:
The reference in sub-section (1) in relation to the provision of finance is a reference to policy with respect to the amount of finance that is provided or the purposes for which, or the classes of transactions in relation to which, finance is provided.
Proposed sub-clause (2) states:
The reference in sub-section ( 1 ) to policy in relation to the provision of finance is a reference to general policy with respect to the volume of finance that is provided or the purposes for which, or the direction in which, finance is provided.
It deletes the words relating to classes of transactions. Proposed sub-clause (3) states:
Regulations made for the purposes of sub-section ( 1 ) may authorise the Reserve Bank to make-
In sub-clauses 4 and 5 there is a rejection of the wholesale idea of the Government’s proposal for different determinations to be made in relation to different classes of purposes and so forth. There is simply a prohibition that the Bank shall not use its powers under the regulations to determine the provision of finance for particular purposes. The whole drift of the amendment, as I read it, is to ensure that the Bank, in making its regulations, concerns itself with general policy and not the differentiation between classes of transactions. Then, instead of the wholesale permissive discrimination that would be allowed under subclauses (4) and (5) of the Government’s Bill, as I read the Opposition amendment it is a straightout prohibition against the Bank using its powers to determine finance for a particular person or to prohibit finance for a particular person, and a prohibition against the Bank requiring finance by a corporation outside its ordinary business or prohibiting finance inside its ordinary business.
I think houourable senators can see a well justified basis for the Opposition amendment. It is to ensure that the wholesale discrimination in sub-clauses (4) and (5) of the Bill is not there, and to ensure in particular that sub-clauses ( 1 ) and (2) are read as a reference to general policy and are not to be used for the discriminatory purpose under the heading of applying policy of providing finance for different classes of transactions. If we allowed the bank to make regulations of that sort under sub-clause (2) I think we would be giving it a power of discrimination which would go close to achieving that which nobody should want, namely, to provide that finance be given, for example, if Coles were known to have put in an application and the bank had been seen on the matter, or the trading bank had conveyed the information to the
Reserve Bank that Coles had a K. Mart somewhere worth $8m. These things are done on the communications side in the finance world. I think the Opposition amendment is designed simply to ensure that the Reserve Bank will lay down what everybody understands by general policy without power to discriminate within categories in favour of or against particular beneficiaries of finance or companies who provide the finance.
- Senator Wright without doubt has made the whole situation much clearer to everybody. In addition to his remarks it has to be observed that we all have known- it has been freely stated- that the legislation is of an umbrella character. It is an encompassing umbrella designed to achieve its purpose by a series of regulations which are not to be framed until they have been discussed carefully with the various sectors which are to be involved. The Reserve Bank also has to be involved in the consultations. When we directed our attention to this clause it seemed to us that this was a distinct proposition for particular treatment to particular people. We argued to ourselves that if it was a general application of monetary authority it ought to remain as a general application, and specific cases should be picked up in the regulation area and as such be examinable there, and be continuously examinable. If it is an umbrella piece of legislation it ought to remain as such. In the clauses that are specific and directed to particular purposes and particular people there are areas of potential danger in what is, we all agree, an extremely important piece of new legislation.
– Does the. Regulations and Ordinances Committee pick that up? We expect that it would.
-It might be hoped that the Regulations and Ordinances Committee would pick this up. It is equally possible that when the regulations are framed later, after consultation, we may wish to have further discussions. Once again I say that this is a measure of immense importance. It can do a very valuable job. However, it is possible that it contains very great abuses if it is not carefully watched and if it is too highly specific in its powers. As for the regulations, yes, they will have to be brought in after consultations. Yes, they will be examined here. Yes, the Regulations and Ordinances Committee can look at them. We of the Opposition have a further safeguard to propose later on because of our general concern that the overriding character of this legislation should not be put in defect by particular special application to other people or causes.
– Before the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) speaks may I intervene for a minute and answer the interjection by Senator Devitt, the Chairman of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. I do so as a member of that Committee for some years. I want the Committee of the whole Senate to know my view. If the statute permits overdue discrimination there is nothing that the Regulations and Ordinances Committee can do to invalidate regulations that simply follow a discrimination permitted by the statute. It is only where the statute does not authorise discrimination that we do not allow regulations unduly to trespass on the individual rights of citizens and it is in those circumstances that we would be at liberty to take action. But in my view we in the Regulations and Ordinances Committee would be very severely limited in taking action against discriminatory regulations if the statute is expressed so as to permit overdue discrimination.
– I pick up where Senator Wright left off. The whole purpose of the legislation, as pointed out yesterday, is to prevent that discrimination from taking place. That is why it is laid down clearly in the Bill that within those categories the Reserve Bank would have flexibility to operate. It would seem to me to be an unreasonable suggestion that discrimination could be used against individuals by the manner in which the Bill is currently drafted. The main thing of concern is not the insertion of the term general policy’ so much but the word ‘volume’ as distinct from the words ‘ amount of finance ‘ as appears in the Bill. I think that legally that would be a more imprecise term. By altering this as suggested in the amendment that imprecision will be built into the statute. I would have thought that that is the thing of most concern. Obviously proposed clause 14 ( 1 ) is not objected to by the Government. I think that proposed clause 14(3) would be acceptable. I think as to clause 14 (2)- and certainly as to proposed clauses 14 (4) and 14 (5)- that alterations will need to be made if they are to be accepted by the Government. It is in your hands, Mr Chairman, as to how we resolve this matter. If Senator Cotton wants to make a fresh approach to these matters it might be advisable to defer the whole of clause 14.
-Before Senator Cotton replies I point out that clause 14(1) as it appears in the proposed amendment is identical with the printed clause 14 (1), so I take it that it is not in dispute.
– So clause 1 4 ( 1 ) is not in dispute and is accepted and clause 14(3) is in the same situation. In clause 14 (2) it seems to be a matter of semantics and a question of the use of the word volume’ instead of the word ‘amount’. I ask the Minister to indicate whether thatis incorrect.
– If it is a matter of semantics that would be correct, but I think it may have deeper implications than that.
-I do not think we would get over-excited about the use of the word amount’ instead of the word ‘volume’, but the balance of the amendment would have to stand. As I see it, we would also need to have clauses 14 (4) and (5) stand. We have a lot of work ahead of us and one is not anxious to take up the time of the chamber unduly, so perhaps it would be better to put clauses 14 (2), (4) and (5) to the test. The Opposition has made its point and can make that point again later on. We are not anxious to be engaged in the process of drafting legislation which is not our legislation, so we are prepared to accept the change if necessary and leave the word ‘amount’ stand rather than substitute for it the word ‘volume’. Other than that I think that the matter should proceed.
– Do I interpret your remarks to mean that you now propose that the words proposed to be left out of clauses 14(2), (4) and (5) be left out?
-I think so.
– At the risk of prolonging the debate I think that for the benefit of honourable senators who are interested in this question I should take up the point that Senator Wright commented upon concerning the role of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee in this matter. I acknowledge immediately his knowledge of the functions of that Committee and his great worth as a member of it. But I am inclined to take issue with the honourable senator on his interpretation of the role of the Committee where the Act provides for certain things and regulations to flow from that. Senator Wright seemed to be suggesting- I think I have the significance of what he was sayingthat if a provision is enshrined in the Act it would be difficult for the Regulations and Ordinances Committee to override it. That is not my interpretation of the situation. Certainly the Regulations and Ordinances Committee requires that regulations be made under the authority of the Act, but what it should do is not specifically spelt out in the principles under which the Regulations and Ordinances Committee operates when it comes to determining whether the rights of people are dependent on an administrative rather than a judicial judgment and what it should do where there is an intrusion into civil liberties, if I may put it in those terms.
I would think it perfectly in order for the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, notwithstanding the terms of a particular piece of legislation, to judge whether what is proposed in regulations interferes with civil rights or the rights of the citizen. I know it is arguable and, as I said at the outset, I acknowledge Senator Wright’s valuable contributions to the work of the committee and his great experience and judgment in these matters. But I still think, and I believe Senator Wright would accept this, that it is an arguable point. It is not definite or cast in concrete, as it were, whether the Committee could make a judgment in respect of the matters I have referred to. I would say that any regulations made under the authority of the Act would come under the same keen scrutiny of the Committee as any other regulation, ordinance or subordinate legislation that comes before it and would be judged on their merits and on the basis of their effect.
– I think there is a good deal of confusion, among Government senators certainly, in respect of the powers of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee under this Bill. Not only would there be limitations upon the Regulations and Ordinances Committee but also there could well be considerable limitations on the power of this Parliament to deal with the exercise of powers under this Bill. I think it was Senator James McClelland when speaking in the second reading debate on the Bill who more or less said that we do not have to worry about it because we have the great watchdog, the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, to see that nothing happens. Senator Devitt is now saying that there would be an expansive role for the Committee in regard to the Bill. But the fact of the matter is that most of the powers that are to be given to the Reserve Bank of Australia or to the Government under this Bill will be exercised in the form of determinations and not by way of regulation at all. Most of the exercise of powers will not be subject to the scrutiny of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee and not subject to the scrutiny of the Parliament.
The ambit of the regulation making power that is being given is very broad. It is perhaps a little more difficult to explain my argument in relation to clause 14, which we are dealing with now, but it was clearly explicable in relation to clause 13 which we have passed on the question that Senator Wright raised last night about the actual assets that any registered corporation may have. All this Bill will do is enable regulations to be made authorising the Reserve Bank to make determinations in regard to such assets that may be held, and all that the regulations will do is simply carry out that power by saying that the regulation authorises the Reserve Bank to determine these assets. When the determination of assets is made by the Reserve Bank there will be no way in which the Regulations and Ordinances Committee or this Parliament can do anything about it. So I think that Senator Devitt, Senator James McClelland and Senator Wriedt, as well as perhaps even the Government’s advisers who are in the chamber, although I do not know about that, are misunderstanding very definitely the watchdog role which is available once this Bill is passed.
-As one who has served on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee for almost 25 years and for almost 20 years as chairman, and as one who has a great regard for the Committee, I feel that where there is a division of opinion or an element of doubt as to whether the Committee has power to act in these matters we should make sure that the legislation which goes through is watertight, because if we presume that the Committee has powers and ultimately a situation arises and we find that it does not have those powers this Senate will be at fault for letting the legislation go through on a risky basis. Therefore, I think it is much better to have the legislation made watertight so that we are sure we are on sound ground and are not relying on something which may be effective but which may not be. The Committee is bound by 4 aspects of the charter under which it works. Unfortunately one very important point was omitted from it at the time it was formulated. In those circumstances, from the point of view of the Committee and the Senate, we should make sure that the legislation which is passed in safe and sound.
– The argument seems to have drifted away from the desirability of the particular clause and the effect it will have on the people concerned and whether the Senate has continued jurisdiction over the decisions made under the Bill. I do not know how many determinations are likely to be made, but nobody seems to have canvassed the question whether the Senate should have that jurisdiction.
I imagine that perhaps it ought not to have it. There will be particular determinations made which obviously will not be very popular at times of political stress. Whether the Senate would tend to move, if it had the control that we seem to be arguing about for a direct regulation is another matter. I imagine that the argument ought to get back to a recognisable area. Senator Cotton does not seem to have been able to support his amendments in very great detail. I am listening to the debate as someone who is looking for information. For that matter, the Government does not seem to be able to oppose the amendment in very great detail. I wonder whether this argument is not drifting right off to one side from the core of the amendment.
– Mr Temporary Chairman, I wish to deal with the point raised by Senator Hall. I am not suggesting for one minute- I do not think that any other honourable senator who has spoken on this amendment has suggested this either- that determinations made on such sensitive economic matters should be subject to disallowance by the Senate- certainly not within the ambit of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. What we are saying is that because that will be the situation very great care has to be taken in the selection of the wording of the powers which will be given to the Government. Very great powers will be given to the Government for very good economic reasons as Senator Hall has clearly pointed out. What we are saying is that it is wrong to assume that we do not need to worry about these matters because they can always be dealt with by the Senate. What we are suggesting is that this is the time and the only time at which we will be able to make sure that these powers are kept within reasonable confines.
– I wish to state very briefly that I hope Senator Steele Hall will understand the approach of the Opposition because he has had experience in both government and opposition. In opposition you have to draw upon the collective wisdom of the people you have in the ranks of the Parliament. You are looking at the protection of situations and the best state of knowledge you can accumulate. You are not assisted by the immense volume of people in government departments with all their access to information and their ability to command great matters of detail. You are concerned with principle and general policy. That is your main and principal function.
Although it may not be clear to Senator Hall, we are concerned in this clause with what we call particularising a situation’ that we believe does not need particularising. We believe that if this is the umbrella-type legislation which it is supposed to be, the area covered* should be broader and less specific. As a matter of policy and protection, our philosophy would be better encompassed in the way we propose than in the way proposed by the Government. We all have to stand in the Senate to be counted in the due process of time. But we believe that our posture will lead to better protection for individual corporations and the economy. If we are not successful in having that view carried- we may not be- in due course, if problems occur, at least we as an Opposition will be able to say that we tried to achieve a situation which we believed protected not only the economy in general but also individual parts of it.
– I was interested to hear Senator Cotton just say that the Opposition does not want to particularise. The argument used by the Opposition in regard to its very first amendment was, in fact, that it was particularising. Senator Durack raised the matter of determinations. I think that there is some alarmist thinking evident in the debate that is taking place now. The sort of determinations which are permissible under this legislation are basically the same determinations which are now available to the Reserve Bank in respect of the banks themselves. The provision has been there for many years, even under the previous Government of which honourable senators opposite were members. Has such a provision sent any of the banks or the banking system broke? O course it has not. These determinations have been made in consulation with the banks.
-Has the Bank power to discriminate between the 5 trading banks?
-That is not relevant to this debate.
– I think it is.
-I listened to the honourable senator when he spoke. 1 ask him not to prolong the debate. We are trying to get some resolution of this matter. I say that Senator Wright’s interjection is not relevant because this legislation writes in non-discriminatory clauses with which I think honourable senators opposite would be familiar. I will read them to the Senate so that we can be clear about what is provided for in the legislation. Clause 14(6) states:
Nothing in this section permits the making of regulations authorizing the Reserve Bank to make a determination or give a direction with respect to the provision of finance to a particular person.
Clause 15(2) states that the Bank may not authorise the making of -
I do not know why we have to spend so much of our time on this matter when ample provision has been written into the legislation, as was mentioned yesterday when we were discussing the matter and reference was made to consultations with the industry to make sure that there would be no abuse or discrimination against individual finance companies.
Before I conclude my remarks I want to make one last point concerning sub-clause 5. The position now seems to be that, as Senator Cotton has indicated his preparedness to accept the retention of the word ‘amount’ rather than the word volume’ in the second sub-clause, the Government can accept the Opposition’s proposed subclauses (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5). I presume that we will take a vote on this matter we are discussing now. But I want to make the position quite clear in respect of sub-clause 5 which is the proposed new sub-clause being suggested by the Opposition. The word ‘ordinarily’ appears twice in that sub-clause, lt reads:
Nothing in this section authorizes the making of a determination prohibiting a registered corporation from providing finance of a kind ordinarily provided by that corporation or requiring a registered corporation to provide finance of a kind not ordinarily provided by that corporation.
If this sub-clause is included in the Bill, it will undermine the whole purpose of the legislation. In view of the fact that the Opposition supports the general theme of what we are doing in this Bill I am surprised at the inclusion of that text which affects the real essence of what the Bill is all about. Obviously, any corporation could argue that a certain type of lending had been its normal practice over the years. Therefore, the proposed sub-clause would circumvent the right of the Reserve Bank to alter an existing framework. The inclusion of such a clause would take away much of the intent of this Bill. For that reason I suggest that we should put sub-clauses 4 and 5 to a vote. The Government will oppose both of them.
– The question is:
That the words proposed to be left out by Senator Cotton’s amendment be left out.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, I suggest that you might first put the question on sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3). You would do this on the understanding that the Opposition has accepted the substitution of the word ‘amount’ for the word ‘volume’ in sub-clause (2). I think that the vote on sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3) should now come forward.
-Mr Temporary Chairman, I would like to clarify whether the method by which we are now putting the questions on these amendments does not delete the Government’s clause 14(6) which appears on page 14 of the Bill. It is the Government’s desire that that subclause remain in the legislation.
– My understanding of the position is that we had reached some agreement that the Committee would discuss sub-clauses (2), (4) and (5) which relate to Senator Cotton’s amendments. In that case, the question would be that the words proposed to be left out in sub-clauses (2), (4) and (5) by Senator Cotton’s amendments be left out. Is that the correct interpretation?
-No. My understanding, if I can recapitulate the situation, is that the Government and the Opposition accept sub-clause ( 1 ).
– It is a reprint.
– Yes. The Government and the Opposition are now in agreement that our proposed sub-clause (2) will stand as long as we substitute the word ‘amount’ for the word ‘volume’. The Government agrees with us that the proposed sub-clause (3) should stand as it does in our amendment. So I would think that we can pass sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3), although I am not the Clerk at the Table and I have no ambition to be such. The Opposition’s proposed sub-clauses (4) and (5) seek to replace the Government’s sub-clauses (4), (5) and (6). I think I am correct in saying that we will be dealing with them separately after we have dealt with the Government’s sub-clauses ( 1 ), (2) and (3).
- Mr Temporary Chairman, I suggest that it would simplify the matter if you were to ask the Committee to take clause 14 in sub-clauses and then put the question that subclause ( 1 ) stand as part of the Bill, which will be agreed to, and then the question that the Government’s sub-clause (2) be omitted and Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clause (2) be inserted in lieu thereof. The Committee would then come to the consideration of the Government’s sub-clauses (3), (4), (5) and (6). If you put the question in the form that all Senator Cotton has moved to leave out be left out you will include sub-clause (6), which the Minister wishes to retain.
– I am fully aware of that. Senator Cotton, who has the carriage of the amendment, indicated earlier that he did not want to proceed seriatim as to do so would mean that we would be involved in discussing this matter for some considerable time. So I have taken his advice in that direction.
– I have been suggesting that we would be able to handle the passage of this legislation faster by considering it clause by clause.
– Is it the wish of the Committee to proceed sub-clause by sub-clause? There being no objection, it is so ordered. The Committee has before it sub-clause (1) . The question is: ‘That sub-clause (1) be agreed to ‘. Those of that opinion say ‘ aye ‘; to the contrary ‘ no ‘. I think the ‘ ayes ‘ have it.
The next question is in relation to sub-clause (2) . The question is: ‘That the words proposed to be left out by Senator Cotton’s amendment be left out’. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’; to the contrary ‘no’. I think the ‘ayes’ have it. The next question is: ‘That the words proposed to be inserted by Senator Cotton’s amendment be inserted’.
– Is that in relation to subclause (3), Mr Temporary Chairman?
– We are still on sub-clause (2), Mr Temporary Chairman.
– We have dealt with sub-clause (2), have we not?
– No. We have agreed to the omission of the Government’s sub-clause (2). We are now dealing with the insertion of Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clause (2).
-I was under the impression that the Committee had dealt with sub-clause (2). Perhaps I had better clarify the situation. The word ‘amount’ in your proposed sub-clause (2) is to be changed to ‘volume ‘, is it not, Senator Cotton?
– No, it is the other way about. The word ‘volume’ as appearing in Senator Cotton’s amendment is to be changed to amount’.
– I shall now put the question. The question is: That the words proposed to be inserted by Senator Cotton’s amendment be inserted. Those of that opinion say ‘ aye ‘; to the contrary ‘ no ‘. I think the ayes’ have it.
The next question relates to sub-clause (3). The question is: ‘That the words proposed to be left out by Senator Cotton’s amendment be left out’.
-I wish to point out, Mr Temporary Chairman, that we are now dealing with different sub-clause numbers. I hope that we are following the correct procedure. Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clause (3) is different from the Government’s sub-clause (3); it is the same as the Government’s sub-clause (4).
– I was under the impression that we were working from the amendments, and the amendment with which we are now dealing is Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clause (3). Is the Committee quite clear on that?
– No, Mr Temporary Chairman. What has happened to sub-clause (3) as it now stands in the Bill?
– We are just about to vote on it.
– Are we going to replace it with Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clause (3), which starts with the word ‘ Regulations ‘?
– As I understand the situation, Mr Temporary Chairman, what I would call the Government’s sub-clause (3) is to be voted on and will stand as it is, and my proposed sub-clause (3) will become sub-clause (4) of the Bill.
– The question is: ‘That sub-clause (3) as it stands in the Bill be agreed to’.
-I think that the difficulty lies in correlating the sub-clauses as printed in the Bill with the amendment. Sub-clause (3), as printed, reads:
Senator Cotton’s proposed subclause (3) states that regulations made for the purposes of subclause (1) may authorise the Reserve Bank to make different determinations, as expressed in the amendment, but shall not authorise the Reserve Bank to make different determinations in the same category.
– That is sub-clause (4) of the Bill.
– It may be related more to sub-clause (4) of the Bill, but I would not have thought so. I thought it was an attempt by the mover of the amendment to substitute his proposed sub-clause (3) for the sub-clause (3) printed in the Bill. That is how I interpreted Senator Wriedt when he said that sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3) as contained in the amendment could be accepted but that he would then wish to retain the Government’s sub-clauses (4) and (5). There has been no dispute as to the Government’s sub-clause (6). Senator Wriedt wants it retained.
– I believe that the Government’s sub-clause (3) does stand as printed. I think it would overcome the difficulty if we were to re-number Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clauses (3), (4) and (5) as proposed sub-clauses (4), (5) and (6). I think we would then get some clarity. Under those circumstances sub-clause (3), as printed, would stand.
– Within the limits of the time available, I think we might find that that is probably the best way out of it. The problem has arisen because the Minister, in referring to his acceptance, said ‘sub-clauses (1). (2) and (3)’. There is something to be said for Senator Wright’s view that there is a construction in which there has been a merging. But I should imagine that the matter would not be of such massive magnitude that we would not let subclause (3) go through on the basis that subclause (4) goes through as we now have it and then we argue over the merits of what are now called the Opposition’s sub-clauses (4), (5) and (6) compared with the Government’s subclauses (4), (5) and (6).
– I think that you would have to speak to your old proposed sub-clause (3), Senator Cotton, and refer to the others as proposed sub-clauses (5) and (6).
-Could I ask a question of Senator Cotton through you, Mr Temporary Chairman? As I understand it, Senator Cotton now has a composite view encompassed in his proposed sub-clauses (3 ), (4) and (5) which seek to replace sub-clauses (3), (4), (5) and (6) of the Bill. Is that what we are voting on?
– I think that is probably a fair view, but I think it would be easier to overcome the problem and untangle the skein if the Government’s sub-clause (3) were to stand and if we were to begin with the fact that we accept the Government’s sub-clause (3), that the
Government accepts the Opposition’s proposed sub-clause (4) and that the Opposition’s proposed sub-clause (3) has become sub-clause (4) . That would clear away those matters before we came to a consideration of sub-clauses (4), (5) and (6). That ought to be simple.
– That is the way in which I interpreted the situation and that is the way in which I put it. Will honourable senators please mark Senator Cotton’s proposed sub-clause (3) as proposed sub-clause (4)? I will refer to it as proposed sub-clause (4). In that way we will know precisely where we stand. The question is: ‘That the proposed sub-clause (4), as re-numbered, be agreed to’.
– We have agreed to it. I understand that the Government accepts the Opposition’s sub-clause (4). Let us go on to subclauses (5) and (6).
– Subclause (3) in the Bill stands.
– Yes, that is right.
– You have voted on that?
– Yes. Now our proposed subclause (4) stands.
– Therefore the old Opposition sub-clause (3) now becomes Opposition sub-clause (4)- that is the only way that I can explain it to the honourable senator. I told the honourable senator to mark his amendment sheet so that old (3) now becomes (4). If he had done this we would know precisely where we were.
– We are now dealing with (4).
– That is right.
– We are now proposing to pass this amendment. My amendment is passed, h urrah!
-What has been passed? I did not hear you, Mr Temporary Chairman, put the question on (3). You may have, but I did not hear you do so.
– That was passed, senator.
– I am quite happy with your ruling. But now Senator Cotton is saying that his amendment has been passed. To what amendment is he referring?
-He is referring to Opposition sub-clause (4) which is now before the Committee.
– The next proposition before the Committee concerns Senator Cotton’s old sub-clauses (4) and (5) which are now (5) and (6).
– No, that does not seem to me to be correct at all.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, as I indicated, the Government will oppose both of the amendments which were originally numbered (4) and (5).
– They are now (5) and (6).
– Can they be taken together now and voted on?
– Although the Opposition’s sub-clause (4) has not gone to a vote, my understanding is that the Minister said that it would be accepted. Could we now proceed to vote on the 2 contentious sub-clauses which have not been accepted- that is proposed sub-clauses (5) and (6) in my amendment as opposed to sub-clauses (5)and(6)in the Bill.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, as I understand it you have not put the question on sub-clause (4).
– Well, when Senator Cotton says ‘accepted’ I take it that he is referring to Government acceptance of the amendment.
– Through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, I wish to indicate to my learned friend and colleague that I was referring to the fact that the Minister had accepted it.
– The question has to be put.
– You did not say that a while ago, did you Mr Minister?
- Mr Minister, it has been accepted, has it not, that Senator Cotton’s sub-clause (4), which is numbered (3) on the list that he has circulated, is accepted?
– That is right.
– The question now has to be put to formalise this arrangement, does it not?
– Yes, of course.
– There is going to be no contest, but the question has to be put that words be left out or added.
– The question is:
That proposed sub-clause (4) (Senator Cotton’s amendment) be added to the clause.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The next matter before the Committee is that proposed new sub-clauses (5) and (6) (Senator Cotton’s amendments) be added to the clause.
That the proposed new subclauses (5) and (6) (Senator Cotton’s amendments) be added to the clause.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator Milliner)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sub-clauses (4), (5) and (6) agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
– I move:
The reason for the amendment is a simple one, although the clause may not sound simple. It is to enable the Reserve Bank to make different interest rate determinations in respect of building societies in particular States of the Commonwealth. Without this amendment the Reserve Bank would be forced, in our view, to make common determinations for all building societies. Building societies operate due to statutory requirements on a State basis rather than on a national basis. This amendment will give the Reserve Bank the discretion to make interest rate determinations on a selective basis for building societies varying from State to State.
– I have received representations about this matter, as no doubt other honourable senators have. I have been informed that, particularly in relation to my State of South Australia, there has been a differential in the rates of interest offered by building societies to attract the funds that they need. In our particular instance, over a number of years rates have been consistently lower than in other States. I fully support the amendment giving the discretion so required.
– The section of the amendment concerning differing rates of interest for the States does not trouble the Government. It is prepared to accept that. But again the Opposition has included the building societies, and this is the thing to which the Government objected in the initial amendment. I recall the comments that Senator Cotton made during the debate on the last amendment about particularising. Here again is an amendment which is in fact particularising, something I thought we were trying to avoid. If that part of the amendment could be deleted, the Government would have no objection to it. It could allow the amendment to go through in that amended form. I put that to
Senator Cotton as a possible way to resolve the difficulty.
– What the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) has suggested is not acceptable to the Opposition. In its first amendment the Opposition has adverted particularly to the problems of the building industry. The Minister and his advisers should not make too much about particularising. We are talking about particularising against people and corporations in the broad spectrum of a monetary situation. The Opposition has made its argument clear on its view of the importance of the overall building industry and the need for its maintenance. We believe that there is a need for commonsense adjustments between State and State where the rates differ and where the States themselves have a great responsibility. I do not think we could respond to the Minister’s initiative in this case.
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Cotton’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator Milliner)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 1.06 to 2.30 p.m.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Webster)Before the Committee proceeds to further consideration of the Bill I think it advisable that the Chair should correct an error that occurred in the putting of a question in the final stage of the consideration of clause 14 of the Bill. The question put from the Chair was:
That sub-clauses (4), (5) and (6) as printed in the Bill be agreed to.
That question was agreed to. The question that should have been put from the Chair was:
That sub-clauses ( 5) and (6) stand as printed.
The Committee had already agreed to replace sub-clause (4) of the Bill with the amendment proposed by Senator Cotton. With the concurrence of honourable senators I propose to amend the record accordingly. Is leave granted? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
Postponed clause 12.
– I would remind the Committee that last night clause 12 of the Bill was deferred. Mr Chairman, perhaps you might like to deal with it now, if the Opposition proposes an amendment to it.
– My problem was that I was raising no great objection to clause 12 but one of my learned friends was and he may wish to have more time to think about it. If you agree, Mr Chairman, we could proceed through the balance of this exercise until he returns.
– With the concurrence of the Committee we will proceed with clause 16 of the Bill.
The Reserve Bank may make a determination or give a direction revoking or varying a determination previously made or direction previously given by the Reserve Bank under, or under regulations made for the purposes of, this Part.
– We have circulated a number of amendments which are numbered 5 to 10 on our list and which were relevant to this clause. However, I believe that they are no longer of any consequence and therefore will lapse because, as a result of the vote on the preceding amendment, clauses 5 and 6 were not altered. Therefore these proposed amendments are consequential no longer and we would just abandon them and leave it at that, if that is the wish of the Minister.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 17 agreed to.
– The Opposition has an amendment to clause 18.I move:
We agree with the general purposes of the Government’s proposals to provide for unforeseen difficulties arising from the application of a determination. But we do have a view that it would be consistent with other parts of the Bill to put the authority solely in the hands of the Reserve Bank as the more appropriate authority. It is an expression of view that we give. The Treasury may well have a view that it wishes to be involved. If so, it can explain that through the Minister. Otherwise we feel that the Reserve Bank should be the sole authority as in other parts of the Bill.
– The Government will have to oppose this amendment. Of course, essentially it is saying that the power will reside with the Reserve Bank whereas the original Bill proposed that it reside with the Treasurer. This, of course, is a very important question of policy. Before the suspension of the sitting we heard some comments from, I think, Senator Durack advocating the principle that the Parliament should retain maximum discretion over the activities of the Reserve Bank and so on. If we did accept this amendment that power passes from the Treasurer to the Reserve Bank. Once again, I do not think it is so much a question of which party is in power as a matter of the party that is in power being able to implement its basic policy decisions. That power would be taken from it if we were to accept this amendment. It does not matter whether it is this government or some future government; I suggest to the honourable senator that it is a much more sensible approach if that power remains with the Treasurer as a matter of implementing the policy of his government. I might say also that the amendment would not be consistent with the rest of the Bill. All determinations under the legislation will be subject to the approval of the Treasurer. I would strongly suggest that in order to make the legislation a proper instrument of government policy, which it is intended to be and which is to be exercised by the Government of the day, we should leave the clause as it is and leave that power with the Treasurer rather than transfer it purely to the Reserve Bank.
– This will not take very long. I have been interested in the explanation by the Minister as given to us by the Treasury advisers. Having listened to that explanation it seems to me that there is force in the case made by the Government as a result of advice from the advisers. I was interested in how far the Treasury was prepared to be involved in this area of responsibility. With the assurance we have that it will, in effect, take total oversight while leaving it to the Reserve Bank to implement as a consideration for this Government or any other, I on behalf of the Opposition would say that we would accept that as a general proposition and that we would therefore not proceed with our amendment No. (11). Nor would we proceed with amendment No. (12), being satisfied with the explanation given by the Minister.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 19 to 24- by leave- taken together and agreed to.
– The Opposition will move an amendment to Clause 25, it being our amendment No. (13). I move:
The amendment is proposed for examination by the Government to allow the Reserve Bank to assist building societies where circumstances warrant this. The Reserve Bank will have the capacity to protect building societies and their businesses through an insolvency. In effect, the Reserve Bank could guarantee the security of the building societies and, if it wished to do so, provide lender of last resort facilities. I just add that this would represent a new development, and I would understand if the Government were concerned about this matter. I express to the Government this general philosophical view: Building societies, which previously were uncontrolled in the monetary area, have in effect been taking deposit money from people in much the same way as savings banks, but they have not been in the regulatory system. Now they are to come into the regulatory system. Building societies consist, in the main, of a great number of small depositors who put their savings into the societies. We consider that because building societies are to come into the regulatory system and therefore ought to be able to be carefully watched, protected and safeguarded, the consequential savings of a great number of small investors ought to be protected in the new situation. I think it can fairly be said that they are not so well protected in the present system. That is the purpose of the amendment.
– As Senator Cotton has stated, this is a completely new principle and facility which, it is suggested, should be written into the legislation. The Government will oppose the amendment. It provides for the possibility of lender of last resort facilities or guarantees of liquidity being made available. It is quite obvious, I think, to anyone that if such were the case it would again lessen the impact of the Reserve Bank in controlling the movement of money through these corporations. It could undermine the monetary controls. In an inflationary situation, such as that which we now have, it could run counter to other steps that were being taken by the Government. I do not think it is reasonable to expect that this principle should be written into the legislation. Anything that moves us away from the basic aim that we are trying to achieve in the legislation should not be approved. The Government cannot accept the amendment.
– I can understand the rationale behind some of the arguments advanced by the Minister. But the arguments are not totally acceptable and they are not totally true. The principal point behind this amendment is that building societies are traditionally, and have become increasingly, the repository for the savings of a great number of people. Building societies now are coming under regulation because the Government wishes to bring them under regulation on the basis of achieving total monetary control. Therefore I believe that building societies have moved into the same area as general savings banks which, as honourable senators know, have lender of last resort facilities. I do not think that there is any great purpose in prolonging the debate. We would like to have the amendment put.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Cotton’s amendment) be added.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator Webster)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 26 to 30- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
The Reserve Bank shall, from time to time as it considers desirable, consult associations or other bodies representing registered corporations with the object of keeping itself informed of their views in relation to the exercise by the Reserve Bank of its powers under this Act and the regulations and in relation to trends in activities of their members.
– I move:
We believe that it is essential and vital for proper consultation to take place between the Reserve Bank and the companies involved if the policies adopted are to be sound and effective and if the consultation is to be in the spirit of that part of the second reading speech of the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) which states that the Government attaches considerable importance to voluntary co-operation and consultation in economic management. We think that the amendment will ensure that there is consultation. We think that it would be wise. We recommend that course to the Committee.
– The Government will oppose this amendment. Clause 3 1 provides for consultations by the Reserve Bank. It would be undesirable if this amendment were carried as it could cause practical problems. It could cause other problems as well. It is necessary for the Bank to enter into consultations with industry representatives and with those involved. Again we must be careful about limiting the options open to the Treasurer to implement the policy of the Government of the day, allowing at the same time a reasonable degree of flexibility to the Reserve Bank. Unfortunately, some of the amendments which have been moved and carried in some cases do impose limits. For that reason, the Government will oppose this amendment also.
Clause agreed to.
Postponed clause 12 agreed to.
The Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters required or permitted by this Act to be prescribed, or necessary or convenient to be prescribed for carrying out or giving effect to this Act.
– This amendment is a long one which contains a matter of some substance. I move:
It is extremely unfortunate that this amendment was not canvassed in detail in the House of Representatives and remains to be canvassed thoroughly and in detail here. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure an adequate opportunity for the Parliament to examine and debate, if necessary, regulations proposed by the Government pursuant to this legislation. It requires regulations pursuant to the legislation to be implemented by the procedure of affirmative resolution; that is, no regulation will have effect until such time as both Houses have passed a resolution of affirmation. This procedure has not operated previously in the Australian Parliament, but it operates in respect of certain legislation in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom the legislation in respect of banks and non-banks generally provides that subordinate orders and regulations shall be made subject to annulment. However, there is one important exception. In the case of sums in excess of the statutory prescribed limit which the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies may allow building societies to lend a customer in any one year, his order to this effect must be a resolution of each House.
Although there is no precedent for the procedure proposed in total for the Australian Parliament and although it is necessary to suspend section 48 of the Acts Interpretation Act for this purpose, we believe that the procedure is justified. Once the Parliament has approved the regulation, the Reserve Bank isin no way impeded in its speed and flexibility to make determinations. We have also provided that for the regulations to stay in force they must be reaffirmed each year. This is an additional safeguard. We believe that the circumstances of this very far reaching measure warrant such a safeguard. We regard the procedure of an affirmative resolution as vital, in view of the sweeping powers under the legislation to make regulations. The legislation sets no substantive limits to subsequent Government actions. It is, in a sense, simply declaratory. That is the broad purpose of the amendment. Some of my learned colleagues on this side or on the other side might like to take part in an examination of this proposal.
– I sincerely hope that the learned gentlemen on either side of the chamber do not get involved in this discussion, because if they do we will be on this proposed amendment all day. This amendment is important. I indicate that the Government will oppose it. The tradition is firmly established in the Australian Parliament and is given statutory force under the Acts Interpretation Act that regulations come into force on promulgation or on a date specified in the regulations. They must be tabled in either House or in each House within 15 sitting days. They may be disallowed by a resolution of either House within a specified period. Therefore, the amendment would be a significant departure from Australian parliamentary procedure. Its adoption would create a major precedent which would have consequent implications for other legislation and regulations thereunder. Therefore, there are important parliamentary procedural implications in this matter which stand apart from economic policy and the technical considerations.
While the inclusion of a provision that regulations should be subject to affirmation by each House of Parliament may give the Parliament a greater measure of control with regard to the legislation, the question is one of degree. Existing procedures allow Parliament to debate and disallow regulations.
However, against the possibility of some increase in parliamentary control must be weighed the reduced flexibility which it seems certain to involve in the operation of the legislation and in the achievement of its objectives. It is desirable that short term economic stabilisation measures be able to be introduced, and introduced quickly, in response to the rapidly changing circumstances in the economy which may apply at any particular time. Uncertainties could be created in financial markets if regulations were tabled in the House and rested there for a long period, with uncertainty as to whether they would become effective. The provision that regulations take effect only when each House of the Parliament has passed a resolution approving the regulations could mean that a long period might elapse before the regulations came into force because Parliament was not sitting or because of a heavy parliamentary program.
An existing regulation could similarly be affected. The amendment would require each House of the Parliament, after 12 months, to pass a resolution approving its continuation. In these circumstances, however, you could have a regulation in force, with relevant determinations, which suddenly became inoperative for a lengthy period because approval for its continuation had not been given by the 2 Houses of Parliament. It is quite apparent, as Senator Cotton said, that we could, if the Senate so desired, enter into a long debate on this amendment. Let us hope that does not happen. I think this is something on which the Committee should make a judgment. Senator Cotton has indicated why the amendment has been moved and I have indicated why we should oppose it. We will leave it to the good sense of the Committee.
– I see no great rush of people springing to their feet. Briefly, this argument relates to a very great expansion of responsibility by government over the monetary sector of Australia, with all the consequences of responsibility that flow out of that, and, of course, potential for both good and harm, as is always the case in any situation. This proposal involves essentially a parliamentary check, a scrutiny and a right of recall and reexamination.
– What about the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances?
-I think we had a debate about that earlier. I do not think we need repeat it. We believe that these measures stand worthy of being looked at regularly, and those who express the power under them- it will be real power- should be subject to re-examination as to the use of the power. It is a straightforward proposition. Should the Parliament take a greater interest in these affairs, by use of this device, or, in the words of the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt), should it be left to the good sense of the government and the officials of the day? That is the test. The question is whether the Parliament wishes to be more involved in an area of examination and check or whether it wishes to abandon that responsibility.
– I see this amendment not as one to be considered in the future on the lofty premise that Parliament will oversee but on the premise that a party will obstruct. This Bill could be completely unworkable if this clause is amended in this fashion because the onus of getting the business through the House would be reversed. Instead of the normal regulatory fashion of the Opposition being put into the position of mustering the majority to defeat, the government is to be put in the position of mustering the majority to substantiate. In this sense of division here, the government, as politics becomes tougher as time passes, no doubt could expect this Bill to be inoperable. I share some of the concern about what this Government might do with the various powers it has at its disposal in the Australian community but that does not mean that we can make its approach to legislation unworkable. I cannot support the amendment on that basis. I cannot accept the point that Senator Cotton so nicely put that Parliament would like to oversee it. I think this would give the Opposition an advantage which it has never had before in regard to regulations.
That the sub-clauses proposed to be added (Senator Cotton’s amendment) be added.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator Webster)
Questions so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wriedt) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 31 July (vide page 675), on motion by Senator Wheeldon:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I suggest at the outset that we have a general debate on this Bill, the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill 1 974, the Health Insurance Levy Bill 1974 and the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill 1974, as they are cognate measures, with the remarks which are made relating to any one or more of those 4 Bills which deal with the Government’s proposed health scheme.
– The Government will agree to that proposition.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-The Bills to which we are directing our attention are the 4 Bills which would implement the Hayden health scheme. On behalf of Liberal Party and Australian Country Party senators I give notice that we oppose these Bills in their entirety. This national health scheme has been around and around and around again, and each time that we have had to deal with a Bill that relates to it we have stated our opposition to the proposal of the Government. We have outlined in the other House and in this House on various occasions the reasons for our opposition to the introduction of this scheme. The Bills which have been designed to cover the collection of the levy which will be required to finance the scheme have our disapproval. We reject them. The Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Crean), and dealing with a matter of double taxation, is not supported by us. And the Bill which has been designed to block benefits under the existing legislation is one to which we are totally opposed. Also it is with some regret that we find the introduction of the Bill which seeks to dismantle the health scheme which has served the people of Australia and which has been developed to cover their needs in so many aspects of the delivery of health care.
In opposing these Bills I want to make some remarks in this final stage of a debate which has been continuing since before this Government was elected in 1972. This is the end result of a proposal which was designed by the present Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) prior to this Government being elected by the people of Australia. It was part of the package that was expressed to the people as a national health scheme. We, at this stage, are still endeavouring to find the cost of the scheme which has been offered to the people of Australia. It is not a matter of the Government concealing details of the costs. There just is not any costing that we could relate to the scheme as a whole or to the various parts of the scheme as they have been unfolded. A White Paper was introduced and in it there were costings based on the introduction of a scheme in 1974. There has been no new costing of this scheme as we will see it if it is introduced in 1975. A variety of levies on the taxpayer’s income have been suggested, the most recent one, which is the subject of one of the Bills before us, being the levy of 1.35 per cent on the taxable income of each person. The amount of government backing that was outlined at one point by the Government was that for every $ 1 which was collected through a compulsory levy there would be $1.50 provided from Consolidated Revenue.
It is unrealistic to pretend that the 1.35 per cent of taxable income at this stage together with the Government backing previously announced could cover the cost of the health care scheme as it will be at the time this scheme is introduced. Yet we have had no revision of the Government’s levy proposals. We have had no revision of the contribution which the Government would be forced to make from Consolidated Revenue to allow the minimum of health care to be delivered to the people of Australia. We consider the very short second reading speeches that were made by the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) to be quite outrageous when related to the implications of this scheme. The dismantling of the existing scheme and the introduction of a scheme which is virtually uncosted seems to us to be an exercise in grave government irresponsibility. Yet on these 4
Bills we are having to make a decision which will affect every person and every family in this country. For this reason we are facing this debate with some regret and a great deal of disquiet.
We want to place on record the feeling of the Opposition that this is a totally irresponsible approach by a government to health care. At a time when a government in its economic management must consider many aspects of government expenditure, to have this open-ended requirement that the Government will face in order to meet the difference between the amount provided by the 1.35 per cent levy and the inevitable cost of health care seems to us to show that economic management is not one of the objectives which the Government is pursuing with any great skill.
– You do not really mean that.
– I do mean that because allied to this proposal for an open-ended health scheme in terms of cost we have proposals for national compensation with which the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation is closely associated. There are all sorts of other proposals which we know will place increasing demands on the financial commitments of government. And to have a health scheme, which has been functioning with voluntary contributions from responsible taxpayers in Australia, dismantled and to create a situation of such doubt at this time seems to me to be irresponsible. I was interested to read a comment in the ‘Australian’ newspaper of 30 July on the costs to income earners of the Government’s proposals. It refers to the levy of 1.35 per cent on taxable income for the national health scheme and also talks of the proposed national superannuation plan which would also commandeer a percentage of income.
These schemes would cost a wage earner more the higher his income rose and this again shows the inequity in the Government’s proposals.
That we will have a levy for health, that we may have one for national superannuation and that we may have one for any other proposal which the Government cares to introduce means that more and more the Government is intruding on the spending of the taxpayer of this country, and not always with the greatest efficiency being built into the schemes which are being planned. For instance, if the Government were to add another 1 per cent to the income tax payable by the average income earner in this year it would amount to another function of government removing from the taxpayer his right to choose how he spends his income. It is these things that we question, but in particular we question that health care is to be the subject of this program in respect of which we have had no detail presented to us that would allow us to think that the Government has a sense of responsibility about what will be the inevitable effect of the dismantling of the present health scheme. Later this day we anticipate that we will be dealing with another emergency provision of the Government with regard to the private health funds in this country.
When talking about the open-ended cost of this scheme, I think that it would be wise to look at the increases in some of the health costs as they are being experienced at the present time. The decision has been made by some of the private health funds to increase their charges for the simple reason that their costs have been increasing so rapidly and so disproportionately to the contributions which they have been gathering. When we see figures which show the increases in hospital costs and the increases in other medical services it is unreal to pretend that a government can introduce a massive scheme without requiring an updating of its costs and revealing to the Australian community how it assesses these costs will affect the levy that in future will be extracted from the Australian taxpayers. As I said earlier, these are the matters about which we are feeling disquiet, and they are the matters that we feel should be highlighted.
It is a big question when we consider that health care has been developed in Australia to suit the community. We have progressively closed gaps in health care. We have always had the objective of improving the existing system. There has been acknowledgment that changes have needed to be made from time to time to cover new aspects of care as we have seen them develop. We are wondering how the introduction of some new scheme will be an improvement. With the efficiency that has been developed through experience, we wonder whether the new scheme will result in greater benefits to the Australian people. For this reason, the Opposition strenuously opposes these 4 Bills which have been brought forward as a package by Mr Hayden to introduce a national health scheme. Liberal Party and Country Party senators will be voting against this legislation and using this vote as an opportunity to express our dissatisfaction with the Government’s method of introducing the scheme. It has revealed none of the costing that any responsible government would have provided in the second reading speeches of these 4 Bills which are now under consideration.
-The Australian Country Party is diametrically opposed to the introduction of these Bills. Senator Guilfoyle has covered the ground very adequately. I do not wish to flog a tired horse. However, I would like to mention the current unfortunate confrontation that is taking place between the medical benefits funds and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). Similar confrontations have occurred in the past and have usually been settled by negotiation. The precipitating factors in this instance are the failure of the Labor Government to increase its payments to patients and the staggering increases in costs in private hospitals. These staggering increases have taken place because the private hospitals are labour intensive, high cost industries. Not only do the owners have to allow for the huge capital costs of the hospital buildings which must have built in fire protection and technical equipment which is all expensive but also they have to allow for the fact that every member of the technical staff is highly trained and attracts a big salary. The doctors, sisters, technicians and even the domestic staff are all of a technical nature. Instead of cooks, we have to have dieticians to handle the diets for different diseases.
– In private hospitals?
– Certainly, I run one and we have them there. Awards for wages are often made retrospective. This means that the hospitals have huge outlays which suddenly have to be met from reserves.
The series of events leading up to the confrontation in Queensland resulting in the Minister requiring more powers is well documented. The Queensland branch of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia made an application for an increase in fees on 26 February 1974. It was advised of the Minister’s refusal to grant that application on 18 June 1974. That is a 4-month wait. The letter, by the way, was received by the Fund on 27 June 1974, which is a mute testament to the efficiency of another Government department. In that letter the Minister directed the Medical Benefits Fund to increase its rebates to patients. He actually gave the figures. I would like to use that letter to show that the Minister does have the power now that he is seeking. The letter is from the Assistant Director-General, delegate of the Minister for Social Security, and is dated 18 June 1974. It is addressed to the Public Officer, Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd. I will read a short extract from the letter.
You are advised that approval of the proposal to increase your organisation’s Queensland hospital fund contribution rates, as notified in your letter of 26 February 1974 to the Department’s Brisbane office, has been refused. However, in pursuance of section 73B(c) of the National Health Act 1953-1973, the Minister has directed that you shall cause alterations to be made to your organisation’s Queensland hospital fund rules to provide for the weekly contribution rate for all members to the private table to be 63 cents (single) and 51.25 (family).
Subsequently, that letter was confirmed by a letter from the Queensland Director of the Department of Social Security to the same Public Officer. The letter states:
Dear Mr . . ., 1 refer to the direction given by the Minister for Social Security, on 18 June 1974, -
And the letter goes on. The letter was received in Brisbane on 27 June. The very next day in the Sunday Mail’ the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia announced its increases. I have here a photostat copy of its advertisement. To give authority to the advertisement, it included the statement:
The new Private Hospital Contribution rate as directed by Minister for Social Security, -
It goes on to give the rates. The Minister objected to this and made a statement from Canberra. This was quoted in the ‘Courier Mail’ on Tuesday, 30 July 1974 as follows:
A report on medical benefits last Saturday was misleading, the Social Security Minister (Mr Hayden) said yesterday.
He said that the Medical Benefits Fund Queensland manager . . . had said that increases in the Fund’s private hospital contribution rates were ‘directed ‘ by him.
The Medical Benefits Fund applied for increases to take the rates up to $1.50 a week for family cover and 75c a week for single people, ‘ Mr. Hayden said.
I disallowed that application, and instead approved lower rates of $1.25 and 63c.
It was therefore misleading to suggest that I ‘directed ‘ the increased contribution rates, when I actually reduced the proposed costs to the public’
It is obvious from subsequent events, including the events taking place in New South Wales, that the Department of Social Security, through its Minister, has lost the goodwill of the medical benefit funds. I mentioned in an earlier speech that already the Minister had lost the goodwill of the doctors, the private hospitals, and the nurses and the nursing homes. Now he has lost the goodwill of the medical benefit funds. This is shown by an urgent telegram that was sent to the Minister by the Chairmen of the Medical Benefits Fund and the Hospitals Contribution Fund in New South Wales. It is an urgent telegram addressed to the honourable W. G. Hayden dated 30 July 1974. It reads:
Your telegram of yesterday received this morning. Your unwarranted attack in the media last night and this morning on the integrity and propriety of the governing bodies of our two funds precludes any useful discussion with you under the circumstances. We are not prepared to confer with you until you withdraw your completely unjustified statements that the funds are acting improperly and in conflict with contributor interests.
That is a sad testimony to the state of affairs at the moment between the Government and the medical benefit funds. The point I wish to make is that the Minister already has powers that he seeks. That is mentioned in his second reading speech.
– I raise a point of order. I believe that Senator Sheil is in fact debating a Bill which has not yet been passed by the House of Representatives and which will come to this chamber at a later date. I refer to the Bill providing for a change in the powers of the Minister for Social Security in relation to these matters. I submit that what Senator Sheil is saying has very little, if anything at all, to do with any of the Bills being debated by the Senate at present.
– The Senate is considering 4 Bills in a cognate debate. They are the National Health Bill, the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill, the Health Insurance Levy Bill and the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill. Those Bills embrace a quite wide field. I have not understood Senator Sheil to have referred so far to anything outside of them, but I will listen very closely to what he has to say from now on and keep him within the confines of those subjects.
-Thank you, Mr President. An attack is being made on the health industry in Australia by driving an iron fist through the private medical insurance companies. That is why I mentioned that matter. I was also hoping that by doing so I would not bore “honourable senators, as I might do if I were to repeat old arguments. If I have covered something that may arise in the future, perhaps my doing so will save time when we are objecting to the new proposition. However, I shall confine my remarks to the 4 Bills at present before the Senate. The point I wished to make is that the Minister has lost the goodwill of a further section of the health industry.
I suspect that the Minister is trying to get his hands on the reserves of the medical benefit funds. I should comment on the amounts that the funds hold in reserve in order to continue in business. It is often stated that those reserves are excessive. The Minister wants to draw upon them. The reserves are not all liquid assets. Many of them are in the form of investments and the returns from those investments are ploughed back into the business to help keep down the contribution rates. By the simple expedient of failing to increase the Government’s contributions to patients to keep the private health industry in business the funds are being forced into financial insecurity. The reserves held by the funds are not excessive. I think they have been successful in showing this. The important thing about the funds is that they are non-profit funds, so they have no incentive to charge excessively. Indeed, to stay alive they have had to co-operate very closely with the Government. They have done so for many years; indeed, they had to do so by the nature of their constitutions. But that working relationship between the funds and the Government has now broken down. The sums the funds hold in reserve are fully committed to meet the known claims of patients and to pay the day to day running costs of the funds as well as to protect the interests of their contributors.
I should point out that costs have increased in the private hospital sector by approximately 50 per cent to 150 per cent and increases in rebates are now being made to cover those increased costs. That is why the medical benefit rebates have had to go up. The increase in the premiums paid will be only 40 per cent. The funds will absorb the rest of the increased expenditure out of their reserves. By the way, the funds in Queensland did accept the Minister’s directive. If any honourable senator requires the papers to which I have referred to be tabled I shall table them. I join with the other members of the Opposition in rejecting the 4 Bills before the House.
– The Senate is considering 4 Bills in a cognate debate. They are the National Health Bill, the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill, the Health Insurance Levy Bill and the Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill. Those Bills are part of the program of the Australian Labor Party to nationalise health and health services in this country. The Liberal Party of Australia is opposed to the philosophy of this approach to health care and the delivery of health care. As the Liberal Party opposed the philosophy of this approach when similar Bills were previously before the Senate it is only right that it should continue to oppose the philosophy of this approach when these enabling Bills are before the Senate. We are opposed to the Government’s proposed scheme. As these Bills are part of that scheme it is only proper and appropriate that we should not give any assistance to pushing through something that we do not believe is in the best interests of Australia.
Some of the Bills before the Senate concern the collection of money and some of them concern the levy which it is proposed to place upon the Australian population. Let me emphasise once again that this levy is open-ended. All we have been given is a starting point- a figure at the start. Many times we have heard the proposed figure in the Senate and it has increased steadily each time the proposition has been presented to us. A very inflationary situation exists at present. There is no way in which the levy proposed at this stage can be the levy that will continue to be imposed. I have noticed that clause 10 of the Health Insurance Levy Bill limits the application of the proposed levy until 1 July 1975. 1 presume that we will be likely to see an increase in the rate of levy and increased maximum levels at that stage. So we, the Australian people who will have to pay for this scheme, will be faced with escalating costs which we cannot control by the simple expedient of using our feet and marching to a different fund. We will be tied in and wedded to this proposal, no matter how bad it is. It is the Opposition’s fear that it is going to be a bad scheme.
Recently we had the spectacle of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) delivering an address at the Liverpool District Hospital in the south-west of Sydney in which he made some predictions about the cost of health care and gave some projections about the proportion of our gross national product which would be taken up in paying for health care. He made the point that we are now spending 5 per cent of our gross national product on health but that this will rise, by his estimate, to 12 per cent over the next 25 years. That would involve an enormous expenditure. That money, or a large part of it, will be raised from the Australian people. It will be raised either directly by way of this proposed levy or by a grant from Consolidated Revenuesocalled balancing grants- to make the scheme work.
The Opposition is opposed to the whole system by which this levy has been proposed. We place on record once again and we will keep placing on record for as long as we can our objection to the kind of scheme under which every wage-earner will be charged a levy of 1.35 per cent. As Senator Sheil has said, let us ask the people of Queensland, who at the moment have some of their health services provided to them free, how they are going to feel about paying a levy of 1.35 per cent. Let us ask the many hundreds of thousands of Australian wives who are working as part of a family team how they are going to enjoy having to pay 1.35 per cent of their net income as a levy for something which can now be obtained as a benefit by the breadwinner in the family at a family rate. Under the proposed scheme they will pay more than they are paying now; and, if other people in the family group are earning money, they will have to pay the levy as well.
I am intrigued, in reading the second reading speeches, to see the burgeoning list of people who may be entitled to exemption. Already, in the application of this proposal to raise the levy and in the granting of exemptions, the Government is starting to increase the complexity of the scheme. It is starting to define the people who can have exemption. I notice that the Government finally is starting to look at the question of defence personnel and is deciding whether they will be entitled to exemption. The Government is finding that the operation of the scheme will be complicated and not simple. We were assured that one of the main benefits of the scheme would be its simplicity of operation. If we need more proof of its complexity, we only need look at how it will operate and read some of the administrative requirements that will be needed to make this scheme work for ordinary wage earners. If the scheme is to be financed through the pay as you earn system, people will have to fill in a number of forms and a number of returns will have to be made with every pay. The complexity of our taxation gathering system will increase in quite a marked way to take account of the Government’s wishes and proposals in this legislation. I notice that the provisions relating to pensioners will be fairly complicated. I also notice that the pool of people entitled to a pension is being increased. With this in mind, we are likely to have increasing complexity in trying to decide whether these people will fit into the Government’s scheme as regards the payment of the levy.
I would like to amplify briefly something which Senator Guilfoyle has said. It should be emphasised that we are discussing a levy upon net income. But this is not the only levy upon net income which is being proposed by various commissions, inquiries and tribunals set up by this Government. The legislation before us proposes a 1.35 per cent levy on income. But we face the prospect of a 2 per cent levy on income if the Woodhouse proposals are put into law and a 5 per cent levy to carry out the proposals of the Hancock Committee. We could end up paying quite a considerable proportion of our net income in statutory levies before we get any money which we are entitled to use without any strings attached.
The cost of health care is limitless. There is no amount of money that one can give which will meet all the requirements of health care. If we again consider what Senator Sheil has told us we can say that costs are increasing very rapidly. The bed costs per day in public hospitals in this country have increased from $2 1 in 1968 to $23 in 1969, $26 in 1970, and $31 in 1971. The projected cost in a couple of years time could be as high as $60 a day. I know that the cost of operating beds in teaching hospitals in Sydney exceeds $40 a day at the moment. So, there will be a vast explosion in cost and it is my belief that a scheme financed in this way has no incentives built into it to keep costs down or to manage costs in any real way.
If we look at the expected expenditure in the hospital sector for the year ending 30 June 1975, should this scheme be operating, we can say that the total expenditure on public and private hospitals will be somewhere between $ 1,400m and $ 1,600m and we can say that after all the money that will be recouped from patients, from the levy and from the levy for workers compensation is collected we will still be required to take about $800m to $900m from Consolidated Revenue to balance out this expenditure. These are vast amounts of expenditure. I think we are faced with the prospect that the Government will be required to ask for an increase in the levy at the first available opportunity once its scheme is introduced and the taxpayers of Australia will be caught by yet another Labor Party confidence trick.
I hope to talk later today on another Bill which is concerned with health funds. But at the moment I will confine myself to mentioning that there are 34 hospital benefit funds in my State of New South Wales. Let me give the Senate some of the figures relating to the operations of these registered hospital benefit funds for the year 1972-73. Eleven of these funds operated at a deficit in 1972-73. Bearing in mind the kind of fees that they charge, I point out that, if they cannot operate profitably and the Government claims that the proposed scheme will be cheaper for most Australians, there will be a greater deficit and the Government will require a greater contribution from Consolidated Revenue. According to figures issued recently by the Department of Social Security, of the 29 registered medical benefit funds operating in New South Wales in 1972-73 only two had an operating surplus and twenty-seven had an operating deficit. So, there will be a cost explosion, and we have reason to believe that the Government’s projections are an act of bad faith and grossly understate the likely position, the amount of levy that will be required and the amount of contribution that will be required from Consolidated Revenue.
I would like to speak briefly about the National Health Bill, which is one of the 4 Bills now before us. It seems to me that this is a consequential Bill and that there is no point in agreeing to it unless we agree to the other Bills. Unless we agree to implement the Government’s insurance scheme, there is no point in passing a Bill which seeks to do away with the present provisions. The National Health Bill is characterised by its wish to take something away from the people of Australia. The decision made by the Government in regard to this legislation is not unlike the decision that it has made on petrol subsidies to rural areas where clearly it is taking something away from people and making life more difficult.
I believe that the present health scheme has many virtues and many strengths. I believe that the scheme is in the best interests of the Australian people. I see no convincing reason why it should not continue to operate. I see nothing in the argument that the Government might be able to start a new scheme. I see nothing wrong with the old scheme continuing to operate. There will be a continuing need for private health insurance. I think that there is every reason to reject this Bill. But I go further: This Bill seeks, in its own way, to destroy the private health funds. It seeks to destroy them by setting a date on which the funds must cease operation and by stipulating that if the funds do not cease operation on a certain date they can be fined $ 1 ,000 a day for every day they continue to operate.
The Bill contains provisions for the reregistranon of funds- I suppose notationally new funds -to carry on from some unspecified date. One wonders how a dedicated and unscrupulous Minister- if such a person existed- might care to use these powers to impose discipline of an absolutely arbitrary kind on the funds. He could force them to stop operating. He could force them to cease paying benefits to people. He could take his time about renewing their ability to carry on in the insurance industry. I agree that in this Bill there are some initiatives dealing with health insurance which I would not oppose, but I am concerned. There is no requirement to stop the payment of Commonwealth benefits and no requirement to put in these punitive provisions against the health funds. The good aspects of this Bill could be introduced separately and put to us in their own right. I join with my Party in opposing the Bills.
– In this cognate debate the Senate has before it the National Health Bill 1974, the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill 1974 and the Health Insurance Levy Bill 1974. These Bills are to be considered in conjunction with two other measures that have been before the Senate several times and have been rejected by this Senate. That fact should be kept in contemplation in considering these Bills. Indeed, one might ask why the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon), when presenting the two former Bills, did not present these together so that the Senate could have had an over-view of the whole scheme. Honourable senators from the Opposition repeatedly drew attention to this fact and repeatedly asked that this be done. But it was not done.
The Bills at present before the Senate seek to do 2 things- to provide a monopoly financing instrument for the Government and to repeal those sections of the existing National Health Act which would be in conflict. Previous Opposition speakers have drawn attention to the grave defects of these measures. I should remind the Senate, as has been done frequently before, that there is compelling evidence that the scheme that the Government now seeks to project will cost infinitely more for the ordinary family and will provide a dearer and inferior service. Let me demonstrate that. The Bill itself forecasts at this moment a tax levy of 1.35 per cent, but this must be taken into consideration with the fact that over the past 2 years the Australian Labor Party has increased that levy twice. Originally the Australian Labor Party brought forward this levy to the people of Australia as 1.25 per cent. Within a year it was raised to 1 .3 per cent. Within less than a year of that it was raised to 1.35 per cent. Indeed, the measures before us do not forecast the years very far ahead.
The fact is, as I think Senator Baume said, that what is offered to us is a completely open ended instrument. The Government is taking upon itself the monopoly right to charge what it likes for a health scheme. What an incredible piece of arrogance it is that today the Government in another place is rising in indignation that health funds should set their rates for a proper charge, and insists as a Government that there shall be fixed charges and appeals tribunals involved in this matter. The Government says that it alone may have an open ended charge. Therefore, the people of Australia can contemplate that in several years time or even earlier the levy will rise to 1.4 per cent, 1.5 per cent or beyond. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg, because this is the direct levy. The Government has admitted that, for this scheme to be financed, it must be matched very heavily out of consolidated revenue and therefore indirectly, out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Already, month by month, the rate at which this must be matched is increasing. So what started with a suggestion of $l-for-$l has moved to $1.20, $1.50, $1.70 and is now hovering somewhere between $2 and $2.20 to match the $1 of direct levy.
The ordinary family is to be robbed 2 ways- by monopoly levy on the pay packet and by a raid upon taxation. It is no wonder that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) are seeking eagerly to increase direct taxation for the future. Let me demonstrate in practical terms why this is a dearer and an inferior scheme. Today the husband of a family can insure the whole family under a family rate. The wife can work but she pays no more. The husband can cover himself, his wife and children on the one family rate. Having paid that family rate, that rate is then tax deductible to the husband and therefore is considerably reduced, even for Mr Whitlam ‘s driver. I should add that under the existing scheme today a single person pays one half the family rate and that rate is tax deductible. Let us take the one million or more families, almost all of them on middle to lower middle incomes, in which there are working wives- in other words, the hard core of the solid provident Australians for whom I ought to be speaking up. Today if a husband is receiving an average wage he is receiving about $6,500 a year. If his wife is working she is receiving- let me cast it low- say, $5,000. If they join a fund as a family and insure themselves they can put the whole family under cover for private hospitals at the current and future rates, put in a claim for tax deductibility and end up paying less than a net $ 100 for the whole family for a year- and for private ward treatment.
Let us look at the situation under the proposed scheme. Such a couple will pay 1.35 per cent. Allowing for their gross income to be reduced to net taxable income, they will pay something like $148 between them per year- almost $60 more than they are paying today. Having done that they will receive standard ward treatment and take it or leave it service. So they will pay $60 a year more and receive standard ward treatment. This is the glorious socialist scheme leading to Utopia. Do not forget that under the existing scheme these people are receiving private ward treatment.
When I raised this matter recently and pointed out that a government that posed as a government solicitous of the working people ought to be interested in working wives and ought to be interested in helping womenfolk, the interjections from honourable senators from the Labor benches were, ‘Why should they not pay?’ That is recorded in Hansard. When attention was drawn to the separate imposition on working wives, the Labor senators, it should be noted, said: ‘Why should not they be made to pay?’ We on the Opposition benches are old-fashioned. We say: ‘Why should they?’
– You certainly are oldfashioned. I will agree with that.
-If it is old-fashioned, Mr Minister, to seek to remove burdens from working wives, we will continue to be old-fashioned. If it is modern and trendy to tax the working wives, to rob the working family, then Mr Minister, you can be modern and trendy on your own. If it is modern and trendy to go out of your way to penalise the working wife, we will not have a bar of it- whether or not you smirk.
– I thought the trendies were all in the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party.
– The Minister can be very clever indeed, even when faced with a serious argument based on facts. I invite the Minister to demolish the mathematics when he replies. All he can do is smirk and attempt diversion. I tell him to smirk and attempt diversion and to plead trendiness to the several million young single people in this country who are entitled to make their way and to build up their savings and whom the Government is now going to rob. Let me examine that. Under the existing scheme a single person can insure himself or herself fully up to private ward standard for no more than $70 a year, get a tax deduction for it and pay perhaps $45 net a year. Under the Government scheme that person will pay a levy of 1.35 per cent and therefore will pay approximately $90 a year. Does the Minister smirk at the thought that we should double the impost on the young, rob them of their savings and their chance of making their way or of building for the future? After all, it is this Government that robbed them of their homes savings grant, so a little more robbery would not matter. Here is the formula that we are being asked to vote on.
I see Labor senators smirking. Here is the formula which, on any measure at all, charges working families substantially more for a great deal less. What does the Labor Party say? ‘Let them use standard wards’. The Labor Party desires to destroy the private hospitals. It is on record as expressing that desire. Nobody from the Government benches has sought to argue against that. The Government says: ‘Let them pay more. Let the working wives pay more. Let single people pay more. Let them go to standard wards’. This is the purpose of this Bill. The Government says: ‘Let the people of Queensland pay more and get nothing more’. What an extraordinary situation we have. The Labor Party comes forward with a scheme which in fact costs infinitely more and produces a great deal less. Why does it do it?
If one listens to the Government members, one hears the only alibi they have- that some years ago the Nimmo Committee made a report on health insurance. They say that the Nimmo Committee report suggested that there should not be a multiplicity of voluntary health funds or that there should not be voluntary health funds at all. I want to put this right once and for all - and I invite the Minister to deny that what I say is true. The Nimmo Committee in no way recommended the nationalisation of the voluntary health funds. If that is a wrong statement, let the Minister respond. The Nimmo Committee in no way said that a multiplicity of voluntary health funds was wrong. I invite the Minister to deny it. I do more than that: I shall now read what the Nimmo Committee said in its report:
The Committee found no support at all for the often expressed view that the number of different organisations adds to the cost of the scheme. We examined the operations of a large number of friendly society and closed funds and found that their service to contributors was extremely good and that they had been the most successful organisations in keeping management expenses within proper limits.
The Labor Party has rested on the Nimmo Committee report. Let us totally refute that claim. I repeat that there is no basis in that report to suggest that there should be a Government monopoly. There is no basis in that report to suggest that there should not be a multiplicity of voluntary funds. There is no basis in that report to suggest that we ought to reduce those funds to a minimum. The Committee, quite properly, found some points that could be reformed- and in the ensuing years the government of the day made those reforms. So there is no alibi there for the Government. The Government’s determination by these measures to create a government monopoly is based on its own decision and nobody else’s. It cannot hide behind Mr Justice Nimmo. It has nothing except the failures of England, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe to fall back on- nothing at all except the fact that it has a hankering for Fabian socialism, which is the failure of the past. That is the level on which it seeks to operate. Does the Minister deny that this is so? Or shall I read from the leading Fabian socialist -
– I am the president of the Fabian Society. I do not know whether you are asking me.
– Thank you. The Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Whitlam) has a habit of addressing the Fabian Society.
– A very good habit, too.
– Yes, a very good habit because it reveals the motivation of the Prime Minister and his Party. Senator Wheeldon has revealed that he himself is, I think, the president of the Fabian Society.
– I am the president of the Fabian Society of Western Australia.
– The Minister has therefore acknowledged his motivation in that regard. Let me tell the Senate once more for the Hansard record what we are getting today in terms of government initiation. Mr Whitlam, addressing the Fabian Society - (Quorum formed) The Minister has been most gleeful throughout this debate about the increased burden which he and his Party seek to impose; indeed, he has confessed that the motivation that I identified is one which he cherishes. I now draw the attention of the Senate to the statement of Mr E. G. Whitlam, M.P., in his address to the Fabian Society on 25 July 1972. He said:
The major act of nationalisation in the traditional sense to be undertaken by a Labor government in the next term will be through the establishment of a single health scheme administered by a health insurance commission.
In other words, what Mr Whitlam said and what our Fabian Society President opposite has endorsed, is that the aim of this measure is to create the nationalisation of medicine by means of a national health insurance commission, and that is precisely what has been done. I have drawn the attention of the Senate to the fact that the rates to be charged under the Bill would be severely punitive to the ordinary working families and would provide for a standard of health care which would be lower than that provided in the past. Under this Bill single people will pay double what they are paying now and will get less in return. Married couples, where the wife is working, will pay virtually double what they are paying now and will get less in return. Nobody at all can possibly benefit by the imposition of this levy, and there has been no demonstration by any factual mathematical evidence that this could be so- none whatsoever.
- Senator, could I just ask a question?
– If honourable senators opposite wish to challenge the mathematics, let them get up and do so. I have invited the Minister, when he responds -
– This is the fourth time you have told us this.
– It is necessary to tell Senator Poyser four or more times because it takes a little time for the osmotic -
– I do not think it is quite osmotic.
- Senator Baume queries whether any osmotic process could work in the cerebral strata of Senator Poyser. I pass on from that. I come to the Bills which are designed to raise money for a monopoly institution in an open-ended way. In no way has it been demonstrated that this legislation will upgrade the health scheme. The Bills will raise money in an open-ended fashion through 2 methodsthrough a direct levy and through the levy on the pocket- with no excuse for such action being provided in the Nimmo Committee report or elsewhere; with nothing to offer except Fabian socialism as a guide; and with all the history throughout the world against them.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bonner)- Order! There is far too much audible conversation coming from the right hand side of the Chair.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, I fully understand the conflict and confusion within the Labor Party. The only thing I lack at the moment is the actual division in numbers. No doubt that will be corrected when tonight’s newspapers are published. I simply apply myself to the specifics of these Bills and remind the Senate that those countries which sought to set up a monopoly health institution are now experiencing a breakdown of that institution. The Minister would know- or I hope that he would know- that in Scandinavia, a country that has been quoted many times by Mr Hayden -
– Scandinavia is not one country; it is 4 countries.
-I am gratified by the geography of the Minister. I hope that his mathematics are equally attractive. We now talk of a city called Stockholm -
– That is in Sweden.
– Thank you. Perhaps the Minister will confirm this fact: In a city which is the centre of nationalised medicine, in recent years more than 50 per cent of the community has sought to, and in fact has set up voluntary health funds because the nationalised health fund, of which this Government’s proposal is a model, has utterly failed.
– No, I will not confirm that.
-I do not know whether the Minister said that he would or would not confirm that. He is a little shaky on mathematics; he is not so shaky on geography. He is a little loath to confirm something which destroys his own Government’s argument. Nevertheless, I invite him to test the fact that this is so. I invite him to test the fact that in Great Britain today people are getting together in order to set up schemes which they are financing themselves because the government scheme is a failure.
– You are the most inviting senator I have ever met.
-I can understand that. I am delighted that the Minister finds me attractive. I conclude by saying that just as the Senate has rejected the previous 2 Health Bills, it should reject these three. -
– These three. As always, the Minister’s mathematics are wrong. If he delays until a little later tonight perhaps he can add a fourth Bill to these 3 Bills. We should reject these 3 Bills because the same arguments -
– We are dealing with 4 Bills. There are 4 Bills, not three.
– If there is included a tax Bill related to double taxation, I will say that there are 3 national health Bills and a double taxation Bill. If we are to look at these Bills we are to look at them in the totality of all the Bills. Overwhelming arguments were advanced for the rejection of the other Bills. These Bills, too, should be rejected.
– These Bills are being discussed in the wrong week of August. They should be discussed after the constitutional procedures that the Government is using in order to get around the frustration caused by the Senate have been exhausted. As a senator in this chamber I would have been very much happier to have voted on these Bills after the joint sitting is held next week. I criticise the Government for bringing these Bills in at this time, because we are being asked to express an opinion on what are Bills of detail attached to the principle which is being subjected to challenge at the first joint sitting in Australia. I believe that the Government could very well be foregoing support which it might otherwise receive if it proceeds with these Bills at this time. The situation is clear. The Government has yet to proceed to the final step which has to be taken following the presentation of the Bills on several occasions, their defeat on several occasions and the intervention of the double dissolution.
I believe that Opposition senators should vote for these Bills if the Government’s major health legislation is confirmed next week. I hark back to my earlier remarks in this chamber when I detailed the challenge that the Liberal and Country Parties issued to the Government prior to the double dissolution. On very many occasions the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber (Senator Withers) and the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) in the other place clearly said to the Australian people: ‘We want to test this Government at the electorate level, and we want the people of Australia to vote and pass judgment’. Of course, the Australian people have done that, and we are to face the challenge that I have mentioned. It seems to me to be quite wrong of the Government to anticipate what will happen next week. Although the Government might be able to count, it could lose one or 2 members as a result of industrial disruptions which might prevent them from attending the joint sitting next week. If that should occur, it might give some impetus to the Government’s very slack plan to counter industrial disruption in Australia. But the Government must not presume as yet to have won the vote next week. It seems to me to be quite wrong for the Government to proceed in this way and to put honourable senators on this side of the chamber, particularly me, in the position, which I do not like, of having to vote against all these Bills at this time. Why should we hastily be put in this position before the decision on the general legislation is known?
I am not all that keen on the detail to which Senator Carrick referred. Much of what he said is subject to challenge. A tremendous rise is occuring in the cost of hospital and medical services throughout the world. If we look at the position in the United States, which we seem to follow in many ways, we find that the costs of health care are enormous. That country does not have a nationalised health scheme or a health scheme of this nature, which the Government would claim at this stage is not a nationalised health scheme.
– The United States has Medicare.
– It has Medicare.
– That is very expensive, too.
-Senator Baume would know that health costs throughout the world are rising at an enormous rate. Senator Carrick said that a family would have to pay another $60. 1 doubt that his mathematics take into account the 40 per cent rise in contributions.
– They do. They are based on tomorrow’s rates.
– If they are based on tomorrow’s rates I do not criticise him on that point. The real point is that the dramatic rise in the cost of medical and hospital care will mean a great additional burden on every Australian to meet those costs, whichever way they are expressed. I agree that the direction which the Government is following will obviously lead, as Senator Baume said in his maiden speech to a reduction in output in medical services in Australia. There is no doubt that that will be manifest in many ways- over use of services, a reduction in output and an increase in costs, which is automatic anyway. Great difficulty will lie ahead if the Government removes from the medical services the existing incentives. I believe that the 1.35 per cent levy will disappear. Similar levies have disappeared previously. After the last war Mr Chifley imposed a levy for social services. I have forgotten now what it was. I understand that it disappeared under a Liberal-Country Party government several years later.
– The benefits have not disappeared.
-No one said that the benefits have disappeared, but the separate method of collecting and compartmentalising government expenditure by allowing citizens to contribute to a known return in social services was wiped out very quickly. I would expect this levy to be wiped out very quickly. I think it is quite unrealistic to assume that this Bill which imposes a levy of 1.35 per cent is anything more than an introductory aspect of the Labor Party’s health plans. I imagine that the cost will soon be met out of general revenue if the Bills are passed and implemented. I think that the argument at this level is a little too detailed. I think that we should return to general principles. Certainly we should return to the Government’s very poor timing. On the last sitting day before the joint sitting begins next week the Government confronts the Senate with decisions which may stand altered after the joint sitting next week. I do not know whether that is perversity or some type of political planning, but it is not good enough to treat the Senate in that way. It seems to me to be not in the Government’s own interest to treat the Senate in that way. I would ask the Government to stand these Bills over until the week after the joint sitting, so we can have another look at them in the light of where the Government stands in relatioin to the position of its major Bill. If that were done, I think we would all be happier in our consideration of these Bills.
– in reply- There is certainly more than a measure of logic in Senator Hall’s statement about the order in which the Bills should be dealt with, but as an old friend of mine who was a member of this chamber for quite a long time often used to remark: ‘It is not much use having the logic if you have not got the numbers’. Despite some weaknesses which Senator Carrick claimed to have detected in my mathematicsSenator Hall claimed to have detected some weaknesses in Senator Carrick ‘s mathematicswe are fairly experienced at counting heads. If I might say so, between ourselves it seems that at a joint sitting we would have the numbers. Even with the most welcome support of Senator Hall, who appears to be playing in this chamber the role of a curate’s egg, we would still not be capable of carrying the passage of the Bills through the Senate, however logical it may appear to be to do so and however long we were to wait. I suggest that we would be waiting until after the next election when the resounding victory of the Australia Labor Party would make all these things quite easy.
As Senator Guilfoyle told us, we have been round the track a few times already on these Bills. I must confess that I felt a somewhat sinking feeling when Senator Hall suggested that we ought to go through them again after the joint sitting. Most of the matters which have been raised today have been raised in every possible permutation and combination and from every conceivable point of view over many months, not only here but outside, all round the country, backwards and forwards. I do not think that the general disagreement on mathematics will be resolved in this chamber. The Bills are ancillary Bills. They are subsequent to the Bills which have been before the Senate several hundred times, it seemed to me, but I am assured that the number is much less than that. They follow previous Bills. I think it could be said that all these Bills have something in common with Aristotle’s view of the universe, that is, if you pulled one of them out the rest would collapse.
Certain specific points have been raised or reraised during this afternoon’s symposium. Perhaps it would be impolite of me not to refer to some of them. Senator Guilfoyle criticised the Government for not releasing cost figures on its health insurance proposals. The Government’s health insurance program was fully costed in the White Paper entitled, ‘The Australian Health Insurance Program’, which has been available to all honourable senators for quite some time. Naturally, the overall costs of health services covered by health insurance are rising quickly. This is also the position under the existing scheme. It seems that the Opposition is prone to ignore this fact. It seems a little ironic that in the same week that 2 major hospital funds announced their own proposals to make dramatic and quite draconic increases in the existing rates of contributions we are told by the Opposition what an appalling thing it is that the rates may increase under our proposal. Everybody’s rates for everything, apart from rates of salary for members of Parliament, appear to be increasing at present. It is a result of inflation, which we all deplore. I must confess that if the Opposition has a ready solution to the problem of inflation, it has so far successfully kept it a secret.
– I was just seeking within $100m what you think it might cost for a full year.
– I think the White Paper would cover that matter.
– On current costings?
– I think it would cover that matter. The fact that the cost of the existing scheme are soaring means that further revenue must be derived somewhere. Presumably it will be derived from increases in health insurance contributions. These increases are distributed inequitably over all the contributors to the funds. This has been dramatically illustrated by what has been happening in New South Wales. Under Labor’s proposal, a levy of 1.35 per cent of taxable income will be payable. A person’s contribution to the cost of health care is based on the principle of his capacity to pay. The contribution is based on capacity to pay, in the same way that contributions to most other public services which are recognised by both the Government and the Opposition as essential services are contributed to by the citizens on the basis of their ability to pay. This levy is not an additional payment but a substitution for contributions to existing private health insurance funds under the present scheme.
Senator Baume said that the new scheme would raise difficulties because of the ‘pay as you earn’ method of collection and because additional forms would need to be filled in. Apparently this is seen as a major problem. The scheme does not call for the employee to fill in any additional forms, but employers must show separate sums on pay slips and record separately the levy deducted, as that amount may be recorded on group certificates which are issued to employeees at the end of the financial year. We believe that there is no great problem in this regard. It is hardly something which warrants rejection of a major contribution to the social security system of this country.
He also drew some attention to the already high and rapidly growing costs of health care and implied, it seemed, that this would be something which would affect specifically the Labor scheme. This is also the position under the present scheme. If costs rise as quickly as Senator Baume apparently believes they will rise, many people on lower incomes will be unable to meet the inequitable and high contributions required under the present scheme, where the net cost for lower income earners is more, proportionately, than for the wealthy. One would have to ask Senator Baume whether he believes that only the more well to do members of the community should be able to ensure against rising health costs.
Senator Carrick, during his discourse which was interspersed frequently with invitations, mainly to me but occasionally to some others, raised the question of the imposition of the levy on working wives and single people. The criterion which we are using in the scheme we propose is ability to pay. Senator Carrick chose his examples to suit the argument he put forward. I am not suggesting that that is an unusual practice on the part of honourable senators on both sides of the chamber; but that is what he did. He ignored the majority who will pay no more under the Government’s program and the great number of people who will pay less. I do not intend to start labouring the details at this moment. I think there will be an opportunity next week, at the joint sitting of the Parliament, for everybody who wants to talk about these things to do so, as I have no doubt they will. In fact, they already have done so.
Further, Senator Carrick ignored the fact that the existing private health insurance contributions are about to be increased substantially. It would be interesting to hear Senator Carrick speak again on this subject on 1 July 1975. It would be interesting to hear what he might say then about the present impositions on people who are subject to the present scheme. Senator Carrick made great play of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance, the Nimmo report, and demonstrated to us very clearly- I think we were all convinced- that Mr Justice Nimmo had said nothing about nationalising the existing funds. That was quite remarkable; but it would have been more surprising if Mr Justice Nimmo had done the contrary, because his terms of reference were confined strictly to the existing voluntary health insurance schemes. It was completely outside his terms of reference- in fact, he was precluded by the terms of reference from doing this- to make any recommendations on any alternative to a system based upon voluntary schemes.
Mr President, we have been through all this before. This matter has been put to the Australian people 3 times in general terms. In 1969, as they later discovered to their cost, they rejected the Australian Labor Party’s proposals; but they accepted them in 1972 and, as Senator Young would be only too willing to acknowledge, they reaffirmed their acceptance of them in 1974. These Bills are part of Labor’s welfare program for all the Australian people. We intend to carry on our fight to see that the Australian people have the best health system in the world. We believe that these Bills are a substantial step in that direction. Once again, I commend these 4 Bills- not three as Senator Carrick would have us believe- to the Senate.
– A cognate debate has been held on 4 associated Bills, but separate questions will be put on each of them. The question is: ‘That the National Health Bill 1974 be now read a second time ‘.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin 0 ‘By me)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Consideration resumed from 31 July (vide page 677), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. JustinO’Byrne)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Consideration resumed from 31 July (vide page 677), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin O ‘Byrne)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Consideration resumed from 31 July (vide page 666), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin 0 ‘Byrne)
Question so resolved in the negative.
-Mr President, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969-73 I present the report relating to the following proposed work:
Tennant Creek Hospital, Northern Territory.
Debate resumed (vide page 685).
– The Opposition is not opposed to the motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) this morning. It is the proper and sensible motion to move for the protection of honourable senators at a joint sitting of the Parliament. I suppose that the Government has to have one or two wins a day. We will support this motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Rules for the conduct of business
Debate resumed (vide page 702).
– Since I moved the motion this morning relating to the adoption of rules for the conduct of the business of a joint sitting of the Parliament and pursuant to the moving of the amendments to those rules by Senator Withers, the Leader of the Opposition, this morning and the securing of the adjournment of the debate, there have been discussions between representatives of the Government- Mr Daly, the Leader of the House of Representatives, and myself, on the one hand and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Withers, and Mr Sinclair from the Australian Country Party in the House of Representatives on the other hand. As a result of those discussions the draft rules that were presented by me, have now been amended as proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. I understand that copies of the amended rules have now been circulated to honourable senators. That being so, I ask for leave to substitute for the earlier draft rules the new draft rules that I now present.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
- Mr President, firstly, I ask for leave to withdraw the amendments which I circulated. Secondly, I wish to make a statement thereon.
-Is leave granted for Senator Withers to withdraw his amendments? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-I thank the Senate for its indulgence in granting me leave to withdraw my amendments. As the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Douglas McClelland) has said, a committee comprised of members of the 2 Houses of Parliament met. We have come to amicable arrangements. I can assure honourable senators on my side of the Senate chamber concerning their right to speak. There will be no gag applied before 4 hours of debating time has elapsed, the guillotine will not be used and those 2 provisions cannot be suspended. The sitting hours have been put in the draft rules. Because of that there was no need to proceed with the previous provision relating to rearranging the order of business. As I understand what was agreed upon this morning, the
Bills will be called on in the order in which they are set out in the proclamation. It is to be hoped that a cognate debate will be agreed to at the joint sitting.
The final point I wish to make concerns proposed rule 18, which relates to the televising of the proceedings. Anybody who is speaking on the major question- that is, that the proposed law be affirmed- will do so from a place to be provided near the table. Although we could not provide for it with complete definiteness, this rule will allow for equality of appearance before the camera, if I can put it in that way. On all other questions the normal Standing Orders will apply and honourable senators and honourable members will speak from their places. If someone wishes to take a point of order or raise some procedural matter he will be able to do so from the normal seating but the debating of the major questions will be done on a basis of equality before the camera. I support the motion moved by Senator Douglas McClelland.
-There is one point on which I would like some information, that is, on proposed rules 6 and 7.I have not had a chance to compare them with what we had before us in draft form this morning, but I thought that the motions referred to in those rules could be moved either by a Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. Could I have some information upon that aspect?
– in reply- The matter that Senator Wright has raised was alluded to and discussed at length between Senator Withers, Mr Daly, Mr Sinclair and me. The proposal that was put forward in this regard by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) this morning is a matter that is not already contained in the Senate Standing Orders. Because it was agreed that there shall be no re-arrangement of the order of the presentation to the joint sitting of the double dissolution Bills it was decided among the four of us that there was no necessity for such a provision. Of course, as I have been reminded by the Clerk, the hours of sitting are also now stipulated in the actual proposed rules rather than by way of a motion in the joint sitting. Everyone will see that proposed rule 5 states that, unless otherwise ordered, the hours of sitting each day shall be 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2.15 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 1 1 p.m. Therefore it was felt that there was no need for such a provision to be included in the rules.
Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania)-by leave-I will not detain the Senate for more than a minute. I point out that proposed rule 5 provides that unless otherwise ordered the hours of business shall be such and such. Therefore a simple majority could alter and fragment them and give unequal exposure to television. That lack of security in the combination of proposed rules 5, 6 and 7 does not concern me greatly; I merely point it out.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLAND (New South Wales- Manager of Government Business in the Senate)- by leave- The matter raised by Senator Wright was discussed and debated. Consideration was given to whether the time of sitting should be left to a determination of the joint sitting itself or whether it should be included in the rules. It was commonly agreed that there would be no alteration of the times. As that is the common way of expressing the times of sitting they were put in the rules in that manner.
– I mentioned it only in case some other member of the Parliament attached more importance to it than I do.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That a message be sent to the House of Representatives informing the House of the rules adopted by the Senate.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) proposed:
That the Senate at its rising adjourn until Tuesday, 13 August at 1 1 a.m. or such later day and time as may be fixed by the President or, in the event of the President being unavailable owing to illness or other cause, by the Chairman of Committees and that, in the event of a later day and hour being fixed, the day and hour of meeting so fixed be notified to each senator by telegram or letter.
– I am not going to oppose this motion, but I believe it would be of very great assistance if the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Douglas McClelland) were to say- I do not expect him to do so at this moment and I am only just going to ask him about the matter and I know that he has the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), Cabinet and Caucus with whom to contend- before the Senate rises tonight, knowing how busy all of us are and how the chairmen of parliamentary committees want to get on with their committee work: ‘We presume that we will be resuming on 13 August and it is the intention of the Government to conclude this period of the session early in September’ or, following the leak to the ‘Australian’- ‘We will sit right through until Christmas’. I have raised a very important point. I know that the chairmen of parliamentary committees just have to say at present: ‘We hope to be able to sit at some time in the future but we do not have a clue when we are going to be able to do so’. For those reasons I hope that every effort will be made to tell the Parliament when it is going to sit and when it will be in recess.
– in reply-In replying briefly to Senator Marriott I wish to say that this motion has been framed in such a way because, as the honourable senator would know, certain proceedings are going on at present or are about to commence in the High Court of Australia concerning whether there should or should not be or can or cannot be a joint sitting of both Houses of the Parliament next week. In addition, if the joint sitting takes longer than a week it would mean, naturally, that this House would not be able to resume on Tuesday, 13 August and some other date might have to be fixed by the President. That is why the motion has been framed in that way. All I can say to the honourable senator is that, all being well, the Senate will resume on 13 August. I think there are some 22 Bills either on the notice paper or yet to be introduced from the other place. I have been told that the debate on the Trade Practices Bill is likely to take some hours. Therefore, I cannot say with accuracy and precision when the Senate will complete its business. All I can say is that the honourable senator will have observed that there have been very few speakers from the Government side of the chamber in the debates that have taken place. Every opportunity is certainly being given by the Government to the Opposition to state its case.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) proposed:
That the Senate affirms the decision taken by resolution of the Senate on 31 May 1973 that the Australian Parliament join with the Parliaments of the States in the Constitutional Convention to be convened to review the Australian Constitution in September of that year, and at such subsequent times as the Convention from time to time determined, and agrees:
1 ) That, for the purposes of the Convention-
a Delegation from the Australian Parliament consisting of sixteen members of the Parliament take part in the deliberations of the Convention, of whom six shall be members of the Senate and ten shall be members of the House of Representatives;
the six members of the Senate comprise three members of the Australian Labor Party, one member of the Liberal Party of Australia, one member of the Australian Country Party and the Leader of the Liberal Movement:
the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator the Honourable L. K. Murphy, Q.C., and two other Senators, being members of the Australian Labor Party, nominated by him;
one Senator, being a member of the Liberal Party of Australia, nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate;
one Senator, being a member of the Australian Country Party, nominated by the Leader of that Party in the Senate; and
the Leader ofthe Liberal Movement, be members of the Delegation:
That the Prime Minister be the Leader of the Delegation, and the Leader of the Opposition be the Deputy Leader:
That a member of the Delegation cease to be such a member if-
he ceases to be a member of the Australian Parliament;
the House of the Parliament of which he is a member terminates his appointment; or
he resigns as a member of the Delegation by writing addressed to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case requires;
That where, because of illness or other cause, a member of the Delegation is not available to attend a meeting, or part of a meeting, ofthe Convention, the Leader or senior available member ofthe Party in the House from which the member was drawn may nominate an alternate member (being a member of the House of which the first-mentioned member is a member) and the member so nominated shall be a member of the Delegation for that meeting, or that part of that meeting;
That, in the event of a member of the Delegation ceasing to be such a member, the Leader of the Party in the House from which the member was drawn may nominate another member (being a member of the House of which the first-mentioned member is or was a member) to replace the first-mentioned member:
That the Leader of the Delegation from time to time make a report for presentation to each House of the Parliament on matters arising out of the Convention, and that the Deputy Leader of the Delegation may make an accompanying report.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
– I move:
By way of explanation, I point out to honourable senators that Order ofthe Day No. 2 is the Glebe Lands (Appropriation) Bill 1974; Order of the Day No. 9 is the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill 1974 and the National Investment Fund Bill 1974; and Order of the Day No. 10 is the Public Works Committee Bill 1974. I wish to explain to the Senate that the Government would like to proceed with the business of the Senate in the following order: Firstly, consideration of the Glebe Lands (Appropriation) Bill, which it was intended would be the next matter to be debated; and secondly, when it becomes available from the House of Representatives, National Health Bill (No. 2). I hope that we will be able to proceed forthwith to debate National Health Bill (No. 2) after it has been introduced into this place. I do not know whether that arrangement is agreeable to the Opposition, but I guarantee that the Bill will not be introduced by the Government before 8 p.m. If time permits the Senate would then proceed to a consideration of the Public Works Committee Bill, to which I have already referred, the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill. Honourable senators will appreciate that the Trade Practices Bill was set down for discussion after the Glebe Lands (Appropriation) Bill had been dealt with, but, in view of the length of debate expected on the trade practices legislation, it is likely that if the debate were begun at such a late hour tonight many matters would be repeated on Tuesday, 13 August.
– The Opposition does not oppose the motion. I can give no undertaking to the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Douglas McClelland) that we will agree to his proposal in regard to the National Health Bill (No. 2) that is to be introduced into this place. I will consult with my colleagues and if we can co-operate we will do our utmost to do so. But as I said, I can give no undertaking.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 23 July (vide page 349), on motion by Senator Cavanagh:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Glebe Lands (Appropriation) Bill 1974 seeks to appropriate $15.75m, that being the remainder of a payment on which$ 1.75m was made as a down-payment by the Government in May of this year. The purpose ofthe appropriation is to purchase for the Commonwealth Government some 19 hectares, or 47 acres, of land which was known as the Bishopthorpe and St Phillip estates. This was part of the Glebe land owned by the Church of England in New South Wales. Let me say at the outset that the Opposition supports the principle of public purchase of these Glebe lands for reasons which have been identified. Let me say also that the Opposition supports enthusiastically the principle of urban renewal and rehabilitation, the particularity of which may well be evinced in this measure. The Opposition supports equally enthusiastically the principle that that part of our heritage which is authentic and desirable should be preserved wherever possible and that we should within the inner cities seek to preserve and expand housing of a type, of a cost and of a rental which permits people on low incomes to dwell in them and, in particular, provides an adequacy of housing for people such as office cleaners, boiler attendants, hospital employees and people of similar occupations, whose employment requires them to work in cities at particularly difficult times.
To state that we accept the principle of public ownership, nevertheless, does not imply that we wholeheartedly agree with the particularities which have been indicated by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) who introduced this Bill into the Senate. I would invite the Minister to take note of the following points that I wish to make. Firstly, for a Bill that seeks to appropriate such a large sum of money a relatively small and superficial amount of information has been provided. I am aware that apart from the second reading speech one can obtain, with some difficulty, a consultant’s report which I have secured and read. Of course, certain queries were raised with the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) when the Bill was before the other place. But it is fair to state at the outset that the report by the consultants Jackson, Teece, Chesterman and Willis is necessarily not very detailed in its information. This is no reflection on the consultants who themselves at the opening of the report draw attention to the very brief time which they had to consider this matter. The report is basically discursive and very limited in its comment. It is valuable as an initial document but lacking in a great deal of information that this Parliament and the people of Australia should have before them in contemplating this expenditure of money.
More importantly still, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said in his second reading speech that this scheme is to be an experimentin urban living. The Opposition believes that there should be major experiments. It is in the methodology that we seek further information; it is in this area that we seek to comment and criticise. The number of dwellings and buildings varies by as much as fifty even in the various documents that 1 have sought. The consultants’ document refers to some 750; the second reading speech to some 700; and a report from the Housing Commission of New South Wales to 7 10. 1 do not say this in any carping criticism because the differences might result from an interpretation of what are dwellings and what would make up other units such as shops.
-The second reading speech says more than 700.
– Yes, that is right. But I think one is entitled to have this information if one is seeking to spend $17m plus a very great deal more. We are entitled to know the specific details because one of the tests of this kind of money is a measurement of the number of people whom this experiment will house, and that again is somewhat vague. I have ascertained that the scheme is to house between 2,200 and 2,500 people, but the information is somewhat vague.
I think that the second reading speech or a supporting document should have indicated with reasonable accuracy an estimate of the cost of restoring and rehabilitating this area. I read in the Press that a figure of about $8m would be required but I do not know whether this is the correct amount. But in any case, if the cost is S8m, the total figure will be some $26m which is a very large amount of public finance which we should scrutinise.
I understand that in certain unique circumstances one cannot totally measure an undertaking by cost benefit only. If I were to apply to this proposition a ratio of costs that I might apply to housing people on the outskirts of a city- say at Campelltown or Penrith in Sydney- I would be omitting certain key essentials. I would be failing to realise that perhaps the public purse would be willing to pay something more for 2 purposesfor rehabilitating an inner city area and for acquiring for public purposes a national heritage. However the question really is: What are the costs involved in these; how do they inhibit, if at all, the housing of people elsewhere; and how do they by conferring a particular benefit on a few, deny a benefit to others? I think that we are entitled to know.
I have searched eagerly through the report, seeking to find some precise details. I would like to have seen in more detail an environmental impact study. In itself, the consultants’ report goes some of the way; but. in my view, not the whole way. The consultants’ report refers to a number of highly significant matters to which the Minister did not respond at all. The consultants drew attention to the fact that the route of the proposed western expressway runs right through this estate and that it affects 27 per cent of the dwellings. One would think that there would have been some response from the Government as to discussions with the State Government on this matter, some foreshadowing of proposals on this matter and at least some indication to the people of Australia that in the expenditure of at least $27m these great factors had to be considered.
It may well be that the Commonwealth Government will attempt to assert its apparent objection to expressways. If that is so, that should be said, because it is important to know how much housing if any, will be affected. If the Government has an objection to expressways, surely it has an obligation to consult the State Government and to have already available some assurance that, between the Commonwealth and State Governments, an alternative has been considered. It is not good enough to say that the western distributor may never proceed or that it will not be contemplated for 5 to 10 years. The fact is that if it proceeds it will go through 27 per cent of this area, according to the document. If it does not proceed, then the public is entitled to know something of the alternatives.
The consultants’ document refers to the fact that the area is very poorly supplied with parks and recreation grounds. It says that those that are there are of low grade and not suitable. If we are conducting an experiment, presumably a major point that ought to be made from the word go is that the Government intends to secure substantial areas for open space. It is important that this be stated, not only because the Opposition hopes that there will be an opportunity to open up some breathing space for the people of that area but also because we cannot contemplate the true nature of this housing program unless we know how many, if any, houses already standing are to be demolished to create open space. The consultants’ report, as distinct from the Minister’s statement, mentions a community health centre. As I read it, it does not mention the many other vital community factors that ought to be built into such an experiment.
I raise this matter because I hoped that I would hear of, above all things, an opportunity for the establishmennt of pre-school centres. Here is a chance for us to have a real experiment. Honourable senators will be interested to know that I recall reading some years ago a report concerning the attendance of children at pre-school centres in the inner region of Sydney. For many years I have had a keen desire to increase this facility for young people. I recall reading that no child who had been a pupil of the pre-school kindergartens in the inner region of Sydney had been before the Sydney juvenile courts. That is an interesting if arbitrary statement. It may be a great compliment to the parent or parents; it may be a great compliment to the teachers; or it may be a great compliment to the concept of the preschool system. In any case, it is such an exciting concept that here, with a chance to open up the inner city, we should have heard something about it. We should have heard something about the amount of land that would be given up and opened up to community centres for the purpose of drawing people together and for the purpose of people belonging. But none of this has been said.
I do not think it is good enough to come before a Parliament and to say: ‘Here is an exciting idea. We want an open-ended opportunity to do something about it’. Indeed, the various matters that I have enumerated and urged will all, of themselves, appreciably reduce the number of dwellings that will be in the inner city. To that extent it will be self-defeating if the Government is committed to the low density housing program that it spells out. Therefore, I ask that the Government look, as a matter of some urgency, to the matters that I have mentioned. The consultants have attempted, in the short time available to them, to look at the kinds of people who are in this area. I think it is important that the Government should have told the people of Australia that the consultants found that there was a very high percentage of transient people; that there was a rapid movement of people. The Government should have drawn attention to the fact that some 1 1 per cent are pensioners and, as one would know, there is a considerable percentage of students. The estate, as any Sydneysider would know, lies along Parramatta Road adjacent to the University of Sydney and is bounded by that road, St Johns Road and Cowper Street. We ought to have been told about the demography of the area in more detail so that we could have had a look at it.
I should have said at the beginning that the position of the Church of England in relation to this land should be understood and sympathetically recognised. At this moment the land and the housing are, to a very large extent, in a poor condition. This is no reflection at all upon the Glebe Administration Board of the Church of England. This land was given to the Bishop in the convict days-in the early days of the colony- as a means of the church establishing a revenue for its own maintenance. In the 1850s it was let out on 99-year leasehold, at ground rents in the main. Some of those ground rents were such that they have not been changed over the century, and some of them were 30c a year even as late as a year ago. So the revenue accruing to the church was essentially revenue from ground rents. I commend the church for the fact that as soon as the leases expired in 1973 the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Marcus Loane, had the vision and compassion to approach the Commission on Poverty not only to give invaluable evidence from his and his church ‘s experiences of working among the impoverished but also to suggest to the government of the day that here was an opportunity in the inner city to relieve poverty, to rehabilitate, to open up and to create a new vision of living. The Henderson Commission on Poverty was of course set up some years ago by the Liberal Government of the day and its approach to this subject is of enormous importance to the people of Australia. The fact is that in April last year these properties became available as the leases expired, and in April last year the Archbishop made his approach. In December the Government reached some conclusions and in April and May this year it paid its deposit. That is the general background of the area.
If one were to look at these dwellings and cost them in a cost benefit analysis- I add the rider that I do not do that without qualification- one would find that we are acquiring some 47 acres at a cost of $372,350 an acre. It is a high cost. It may well be that the Opposition would agree- I do- that this is the price we must pay for inner city properties and for such a unique opportunity. But when approaching the expenditure of some $2 7 m altogether, one cannot approach it in isolation. The essential fact is that in my city of Sydney in the State of New South Wales the New South Wales Housing Commission has on its books some 34,000 urgent applications from people for low cost dwellings, a substantial number of which are from people with a valid claim to low cost dwellings in the inner city. We must be assured by the Commonwealth Government that in approaching this scheme it will recognise a major responsibility to provide more money to the State Department of Housing to lower urgently this figure of 34,000 and specifically to increase the number of people in the inner city. On the Government’s own statement, the expenditure of this money will not add appreciably, if at all, to the stockpile of housing available in the inner city. It is necessary, of course, to preserve certain areas; that in itself is a valid ground. But we must understand that this considerable amount of money- $27m or more- is something like one half the total annual budget of the New South Wales Department of Housing for all purposes.
– That Department got a bigger grant at a lower rate of interest than it got previously.
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs says that the Department got a bigger grant than previously. Its grant did not in fact accelerate .-.s fast as the acceleration of costs in the building industry. The whole of the building industry is being slowed by the action of this Government which created scarcities of building materials and building labour and caused unprecedented costs in building construction. If the Government is to face this and look at it with compassion, it must look at it with compassion for all the community of the State concerned. It is not good enough to say: ‘We have done well in Glebe, haven’t we?’ if by that it means that a substantial number of people elsewhere- poor people and people on low incomes- are denied money for housing. The Government must be careful when purchasing its ‘Blue Poles’, however authentically it feels that it has done so, that it does not deny the earnest Australian artists, the people with talents. It must be sure that it does not simply create a white elephant suitable only for emperors of Thailand and not for other people. I do not denigrate the Glebe proposal. I am excited about it. In my youth, in my student days, I knew the glebe and every one of its streets and many of my friends lived there. I believe that since this is a public undertaking the Government ought to undertake urban renewal and rehabilitation within it. We ought to use it as an experiment.
But it is on those bases- first of all in identifying the utterly superficial information that has been put before us- that I want to make some criticism. I have identified the western distributor and the fact that there has been no measurement of what parks would absorb in terms of housing, what community centres would absorb, what pre-schools institutions would absorb or what extensions might be given to the Glebe State schools in the area. I have identified those because unless we know them we will not know in the end how many houses will remain. I have done so also because it is my view that the Government is wrong in looking only to low density housing. I am second to none in wanting to preserve this unique area. I say that against these facts, nevertheless. I have lived through an age in which health officials and governments have fought strenuously to relieve the Australian people of the conditions which prevail in intensely concentrated terrace houses. An abundance of literature covering some 30 or 40 years seeks to condemn those types of houses as not being healthy, which because they lack side windows, ventilation and daylight are denied the very essentials of health that we seek in the detached cottage. I just say this because although the fashion today is to seek to live in terrace houses, and although we should preserve a percentage of them, the Australian ideal of a healthy house has more ventilation, more daylight and more access. We should be creating such houses. If we are to preserve the terraces we should be creating the open spaces and the pre-schools that go with them. If we are to do this we ought to list them and put a figure on them because if I am to talk of pre-schools, community centres and aU these things we will add not millions of dollars but tens of millions of dollars to the costs in this Bill. If we are to do this we must look at cost benefit because if in the Bill we reach a figure that parallels the annual budget of a State Department of Housing, it is important that we should do so.
The Opposition agrees with the general principle that we should preserve and furbish an inner city area, that we should as far as possible avoid displacement of people in the community; that we should help people on low incomes to live close to the city; and that we should improve the environment. This is a first class principle, and we are as much in favour of it as the Government is. But we wonder whether this plan in fact will achieve this objective. If it does, how much open space is to be provided? How many community centres will be provided? How many schools will be provided? How many pre-schools will be provided? What will be the cost of these?
Throughout the world today in the intense and important study of urban renewal, a great deal is being done in looking at the usage, styles and types of houses that can be provided within the inner city area. There is a belief- one that I share intensely- that there should be a mix within a city; not only a commercial and industrial mix, not only a mix of urban dwellings for middle to high income famines, but essentially a provision for those on lower incomes. This Bill itself relates to methodology in so doing. If we are to do this, we should look to our pennies because there are many more people on low incomes looking for housing and not being able to get it than will be encompassed in this scheme. And there are more schemes. I am excited by the fact that the Sydney
City Council has just put out a plan to do, or to set out to do, the very things that I have just enumerated. I am delighted that it should be doing so, and that it should be looking at Woolloomooloo, an area that should have been regenerated many years ago but which was not regenerated.
At the risk of intruding carping politics, I say to honourable senators that for many yearssome 2 decades of the post-war years- a Labor dominated Sydney City Council had a vested interest in slums within the inner city area of Sydney. I am delighted that a non-Labor Council is giving the leadership in a program designed to let daylight into the city area and in a program designed to provide low income housing. Those who have an interest in this matter should look at the alternative plans for Woolloomooloo and at the quite fascinating plans that the New South Wales Housing Commission has outlined for the development of Waterloo in Sydney. That is a larger and more complex project than the one envisaged in this Bill. A test of the bona fides of this Government will be whether or not it is willing to provide more money for the development in Waterloo which is an area in which we could go far more extensively into providing the kind of environment in the inner city area that we need. In Waterloo we can provide first class living conditions for many thousands of people and for an amount of money comparable with that provided in this Bill.
I call upon the Federal Government to take note of the fact that what is needed is not simply to make a ‘Blue Poles’ gesture, but to back it up by supporting the arts across the board; in this case by supporting the development of an inner city area in the way in which it should be developed by providing much more money to the New South Wales Government for this purpose. When I look at this document of the consultants I find that they drew attention properly to the fact that quite a number of people and authorities are keenly interested in the development of this area.
– What is the cost per unit as estimated?
– The honourable senator asks: ‘What is the cost per unit as estimated?’ That is not given in the Minister’s second reading speech or in the document of the consultants. But if one were to assume that some 710 dwellings would survive- and that is an assumption one cannot make- and if one were to assume that some $5m were to be spent on rehabilitationand I think the Minister in another place said some $8m- we are talking of a cost of almost $28,000 for each unit, for both acquisition and renovation. I am grateful to Senator Wright for reminding me of this. I have said yes, we should be prepared to pay some premium for the inner city area and for the preservation of our heritage. But it is a matter of comparable benefits. Today the New South Wales Housing Commission is building detached units on its own land for an all-up cost of $ 1 9,000. It is true that this development is not in the inner city area; it is in the outer city area. I acknowledge the compassion of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) in this area, and I seek not to score any points at all in this regard. I accept the Minister’s own humane desire to help in this regard. But one has to look at the balance in this matter. How much land can we afford to buy at $300,000 an acre? How much can we afford to buy at $20,000 an acre?
– There are also other motivations, other than housing.
– There are many motivations and I acknowledge them.
-Which put a different value on this.
-I accept that they put a different value on it. But when you get differential valuations, I think you will agree with me that you then must weigh them and say: ‘Look, I have 34,000 families, 100,000 people on the waiting list for low cost homes. They surely must be my primary concern’. I want to address myself to that question and also to the fact that there are other opportunities which in terms of cost benefit, and still preserving our heritage, could produce more. The consultants have said that a number of people and authorities are involved in this development. There is the Leichhardt Municipal Council. It is keen, and it is good that there should be this preservation of our heritage and this development. There is the State Planning Authority in New South Wales which soon is to be replaced by the Department of Planning and Environment. There is the New South Wales Housing Commission or the Department of Housing. There is the State Government itself. Of course, as honourable senators know, there is the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
The consultants recommended and presumed that in any development there would be cooperation between local government, the planners, the State Government and the Commonwealth. That was the presumption of the consultants. It was not good enough for the Minister in another place to say, when my colleagues referred to the scanty information: ‘Oh, go and seek out this document’. I welcome the endeavours of honourable senators in seeking it out because the number of copies is limited. The fact is that the recommendations in the document and the second reading speech are not essentially parallel because the second reading speech says that there will be a development of this project by only 2 Federal departments, excluding any State co-operation.
What is happening is that the Commonwealth Government has decided to go it alone in a major housing development in a State without consulting the State. The Commonwealth Government is riding roughshod over the State departments and the State planning authorities. Although the Commonwealth Government expects a State to have an overall plan it is not yielding one iota to the States. I have drawn attention to the fact that there is not one tittle of evidence to show that the Commonwealth Government is responding either negatively or positively in the matter ofthe Western Distributor. I ask the Commonwealth Government to reconsider the methodology of its administration, and I do that acknowledging that this could be a very exciting experiment and that there is a need for some flexibility at each of the stages of this development and a need for some give and take. I am not trying to be inflexible. There is need to change plans en route.
I wish to suggest 2 things. Firstly, I suggest that the Commonwealth Government undertake its planning, administration and development in conjunction with the New South Wales Government. I would like a response from the Minister, positively or otherwise, to that proposition. Secondly, I suggest that the Commonwealth Government look at the interspersion through these estates, wherever it is desirable and wherever it is not destructive of the heritage, of medium density housing as distinct from low density housing. I say that because I believe there is an opportunity to increase the total stockpile of available housing without detracting at all from the value of the estate. If one walks these areas- I did so again quite recently to remind myself of them- one notices that some areas quite clearly must be for the demolisher. This is an opportunity for either open space or medium density housing. I reject the idea of high rise housing. Alongside Glebe is a most ghastly example of high rise housing for low income earners which, I think, is offensive to the people in it and to the enviroment generally.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that nothing which has come before the Parliament has in any way alluded to an estimate ofthe kind of income from rents which the Commonwealth Government might hope to derive from this project. True, it must be a rough estimate. Nevertheless, one would have felt that if a government were to expend $26m it ought to tell the Parliament and the people how it proposed to achieve revenue and what it proposed to do with that revenue. I do not seek to suggest in any way that in these cases economic or high rentals should be charged or that the venture should be a profitable one. I merely seek to say: ‘You will get revenue. You will rent these flats. About how much will you get? When you get it, what will you do with it?’ What does the Government intend to do with the rentals? Surely this Parliament, the Auditor-General and the people of Australia are entitled to know the methodology of the handling of this money. How will the rentals be used? Will they go into a trust fund? Will an authority be set up? That demonstrates the appalling lack of information which has been given to us on this matter. It is good for a government to experiment, but the onus is on the Government to spell out the details of that experiment so that one can agree with it or can have an understanding of it.
What is proposed in terms of the philosophy of tenancy? Is there to be any permission for home ownership? I know that the consultant suggested, some ground leases in certain cases. I ask the Minister to respond. Does the Commonwealth Government intend that any of the dwellings can be purchased at however low a purchase price, with long term repayments, by those who dwell in them? Does the Government accept the Opposition’s view that home ownership is a vitally important part of family life and that, given the incentive of home ownership, the pride in the area is greater, the belonging is greater and the whole venture would be more durable and more enriched? What are we doing in this regard?
The principle that where a major area becomes available it should be purchased out ofthe public purse is a good one. The principle that it should not go to uncontrolled private development is an important one. However, merely to impose government ownership and government building in place of the private developer is not good enough. This Parliament needs far more information presented to it.
On behalf of the Opposition, I draw attention to the fact that its policies in this area are clear. They have been enunciated over a long period, and they would give leadership in this field.
– They were rejected.
– So much have they not been rejected, that the policy of the Australian Government’s Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, chaired by Professor Henderson, is now seeking to be taken over on a pretence by Senator Gietzelt ‘s Party that it invented the idea. So much are they the bower birds of acquisition of our policies that they are trying to pretend now -
– We are talking about housing now.
-Senator Gietzelt needs to be reminded that one of the essential matters of inquiry of the Henderson Commission into Poverty is inner city housing and that arising from the Commission’s Inquiry into Poverty the Archbishop of Sydney offered to the Henderson Commission, and through it to the Government, the Glebe lands. I think we are talking about an initiative taken by the previous Government. Senator Gietzelt talked about rejection. The people of Sydney have rejected a Labor controlled City Council repeatedly since 1966 because they knew that such a council had a vested interest in the maintenance of slums. The main slums in Sydney lie within the old boundaries of the city of Sydney. Let Senator Gietzelt deny that. They had a vested interest there. They wanted to hound their voters together to keep their support. The slums and the lack of development in Woolloomooloo fall heavily upon his Party. Let nobody say that what we stand for is rejected. We have given the leadership and the initiative on poverty. We have given the leadership in a non-Labor City Council. The plan for the redevelopment of the inner city of Sydney is an exciting one. It is a non-Labor one. The people of Sydney rejected the Labor Party. We, as an Opposition, have spelt out our desire that the quality of life and the essential environment and ecology should be predominant at all times and that within the inner city areas we should do all that we can to revive the city, to look after the precious heritage of the Rocks, Glebe and elsewhere and to aim at giving decent housing to people on low incomes.
I remind the Senate that when this Parliament allocates money it must look to all its priorities. It is a heavy charge on this Government that 100,000 people in my home State are on a waiting list for Housing Commission homes. It is true that the number is lower than it was when the Labor Party was in power in New South Wales. It is true, but it is not good enough. If a person can build a brand new home, standing in its own grounds, detached, all up, for $19,000, we must look very carefully at the extent to which we can have open ended expenditure, however interesting or however important in a heritage sense this idea is.
I commend the purpose of the Bill. I refer to the Minister my fundamental suggestions that there be co-operation with the State Government; that together with this co-operation, to show its bona fides, the Commonwealth Government must provide more money for State housing; that medium density housing be interspersed in this area; and above all, that we go back to the drawing boards and look to the needs of open space, of community centres, of child care centres and of all those ingredients which are now essential and fundamental to a city, all of which are not mentioned in the Minister’s second reading speech. With those remarks, I fully commend the Bill.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) adjourned.
– I inform the Senate that I have received a message from the House of Representatives relating to the Constitutional Convention. Copies of the message have been distributed to honourable senators.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wheeldon) read a first time.
– I move:
The second reading speech to this Bill is of about 9 foolscap pages and is identical in all material respects to the second reading speech given by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) in the House of Representatives. I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
The Bill before the Senate has been introduced as a matter of urgency to correct a serious defect ofthe National Health Act. It deals with the controls over health benefit funds in relation to benefits payable and contributions which they may charge and provides greater protection to members of funds who may be disadvantaged by the actions of fund managements. Under the existing provisions, an alteration by a registered medical or hospital benefit fund to its contribution rates is inoperative and has no legal effect unless and until approval of the alteration has been given by the Minister for Social Security. The existing law also requires a registered medical or hospital fund to comply with any direction given to it by the Minister regarding the rates of contribution payable by its members. The present law is, however, uncertain regarding the Minister’s powers in cases where a registered organisation presents a ‘package’ application for a variation in medical or hospital benefits and contribution rates. One interpretation is that the Minister’s power is limited to acceptance or rejection in toto of an application by a fund to vary benefits and contributions.
First, the Bill includes a provision that funds which fail to comply with conditions of registration relating to levels of benefits or contributions as directed by the Minister are acting illegally. Any person aggrieved by such action has recourse to the Australian Industrial Court which is empowered to grant an injunction against such an organisation. Second, the Bill makes it clear that in considering an application for variation of hospital and medical benefits and contribution rates, the Minister is empowered to consider and decide on levels of benefits and contributions separately. Third, the Bill will also give clear legal authority to the policy which the previous Government adopted, and this Government has followed, that in considering whether to approve or refuse to approve of changes in relation to contributions or benefits, the Minister may have regard to any excess of the moneys standing to the credit of the fund over the amounts reasonably required for the purposes of the fund including the maintenance of adequate reserves. Finally, the Bill provides for a fund which is dissatisfied with a decision by the Minister in relation to the fixing of contribution and benefit rates, to appeal against the Minister’s decision and for such an appeal to be heard by a judge of a Federal Court or a Supreme Court of a State or Territory.
Recent events have made it abundantly clear that some funds intend to take every step within their power to ensure that, when the present system of private health insurance ends and the new universal program commences, they retain intact the vast and excessive reserves which they have built up through consistently overcharging contributors over many years. The excessive levels of reserves, especially in the hospital funds, has been recognised by our predecessors as well as ourselves but inadequate legislation has allowed the situation to reach an intolerable position. The Government’s view is that excessive reserves held by health insurance funds should be used for the direct benefit of contributors by holding down contribution rates to the lowest level compatible with the financial viability of the funds.
In a desperate endeavour to pre-empt Government authority two of the major Australian funds, the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia and the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia, publicly announced 40 per cent increases in contribution rates as from 1 August 1974, the date on which hospital charges in New South Wales are to be increased. These 2 funds inserted large advertisements in the Press of 28 July and, as well, released Press statements concerning the increases which received wide coverage on Saturday, 27 July. Formal applications for the Minister’s approval to vary the benefits and contribution rates were received in the Department of Social Security on 26 July. On the advice from the Registration Committee established under the National Health Act, the Minister for Social Security refused approval of the proposed contribution increases.
One can reasonably apprehend that if adequate action is not now taken to protect the public interest, health insurance funds throughout Australia may be encouraged to flout the reasonable instructions on contribution rates and benefit levels issued by the Government on advice from the Registration Committee. Honourable senators will, of course, be aware that this committee was set up by the LiberalCountry Party Government in 1953 and has continued to operate throughout the succeeding period under a succession of Liberal-Country Party governments and the present Government.
If the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia and the Hospital Contribution Fund of Australia succeed in increasing contributions without the authority of the Government, the Government’s control over benefits contributions and reserves will be in jeopardy. I would like to make it clear, however, that the health insurance funds generally are displaying a responsible attitude. In fact the Victorian health funds have announced that they will not seek to increase contribution rates before 1 January 1975 despite heavy increases in hospital fees in that State. The major funds in South Australia and Western Australia, where heavy increases in hospital fees have been announced, have applied for increases in hospital contribution rates which will not lead to the accumulation of excessive reserves. Furthermore they are, quite properly, abiding by the established procedures and awaiting the approval of the Minister for Social Security.
Honourable senators will understand from the facts which I have just outlined that the Medical Benefits Fund and the Hospitals Contribution Fund have deliberately flouted the intention of the National Health Act enacted by and administered for so many years by our predecessors that increases in contribution rates should be approved by the Minister before they are implemented. The managements of both of these funds are well aware of the procedures for varying benefits and contribution rates and that these procedures necessarily take time. It is quite evident that the funds, by their actions, have, in collusion, decided to defy the Government. This is plainly shown by the fact that 6 weeks earlier, on 1 1 June, the Minister for Social Security made a public announcement reiterating Government policy, a bi-partisan policy shared with our predecessors, concerning the use of reserves. A month later, on 1 1 July, officers of the Department of Social Security addressed representatives of the New South Wales funds to again explain and reiterate the Government’s policy in the context of the current increases in hospital charges. The deliberate intent of the Medical Benefits Fund and the Hospitals Contribution Fund to defy the Government is further evidenced by the fact that applications to vary their contribution rates were not received from these funds until 26 July, the day their announcements to the Press were made.
Government policy concerning levels of reserves has been in line with that of the previous
Government, which in turn was based on the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance- the Nimmo Committeeof 1 969. The recommendation was:
The Committee believes that the larger funds should follow a policy under which their free reserves would be limited to an amount equal to three months ‘ contributions.
The recommendation went on to say:
Reserves of this magnitude should be sufficient to cover temporary fluctuations due to epidemics or other adverse experience, to provide for losses due to poor management until the fault has been corrected, and to meet final claims should the fund be wound up for any reason.
In a major policy statement on behalf of the previous Government on 4 March 1970, Dr Forbes, the then Minister for Health, said in another place:
The Government has decided to substantially adopt the proposals contained in recommendations 32 and 33 of the Nimmo Committee. These relate to the financial reserves of registered health insurance funds. In future, a policy will be applied under which the ‘free’ reserves of the larger fundsthat is, reserves in excess of amounts held against unpresented claims and contributions paid in advance- will generally be limited to the equivalent of three months’ contribution income.
The reserves levels of medical benefit funds is generally acceptable, but, throughout Australia, hospital benefits funds hold excessive reserves.
It is also this Government’s policy that excessive reserves should be used for the direct benefit of contributors by damping down increases in contribution rates. Despite this recommendation and efforts made by my Government and the previous Government, due to the inadequacy of the legislation, hospital fund surpluses have continued to grow as is shown by the following table, taken from the reports of the Operations of the Registered Medical and Hospital Benefits Organisations which have been tabled in both Houses.
In addition to the above amounts, funds have substantial amounts allocated for specific provisions- for example, claims outstanding, fluctuations in values of investments, claims in respect of contributions in advance, etc. These provisions, plus further surpluses which accrued in 1973-74, take the total reserves of the Hospitals Contribution Fund and the Medical Benefits Fund combined to over $5Om
I should point out here that equating reserves to 3 months contribution income is merely a guideline. One would also want to look at aggregate levels but in all decisions there must be fairness, not only to the funds but to contributors to the funds. Too often, the position of the contributors in these matters is forgotten and only that of the funds is put forward. It has been claimed on behalf of the funds that implementation of Government policy at this time will induce liquidity problems leading to losses on realisation of investments. To this I would point out that the funds have known for 5 years the Government policy on reserves and their portfolios of investment should have been designed to fit that policy. Further most funds have substantial provisions against losses on realisation of investments.
Honourable senators will note that, contrary to Press speculation, this Bill does not propose financial penalties against health funds. It is basically designed to clear up doubts about the authority of the Australian Government to control the benefits and contributions of health funds- an authority which the Opposition must surely support since, during its term as Government, Ministers of that Government showed concern about the enhancement of that authority and also about the principle that health funds should not amass excessive reserves but should use reserve moneys to avoid or to cushion contribution increases. In this respect, I again draw the attention of the Senate to the Statement made on 4 March 1970 by the then Minister for Health, Dr Forbes, concerning consideration the then Government was giving to the introduction of penalties against health funds and their officers. Honourable senators may also recall that in June and July of 1971 the authority of the then Minister, Senator Greenwood, to direct the health funds on hospital fund contributions and benefits was challenged by New South Wales funds led by the Medical Benefits Fund and the Hospitals Contribution Fund.
I am sure all honourable senators will agree that the legislation controlling health insurance should be amended to ensure that it is capable of achieving its intentions. We are, in fact, seeking legislative authority to effectively discharge a policy which is very much the same policy enunciated by past Liberal-Country Party Governments on the matter of reserves.
In summary this Bill is designed to make certain that the intentions of the present National Health Act can be positively implemented in the interests of the public and that the avenue of appeal against the Minister’s decisions in relation to contribution and benefit levels should provide proper opportunities to have the whole quesiton of what are adequate reserves judicially resolved. The Government is requesting honourable senators to consider this Bill as a matter of urgency because the Medical Benefits Fund and the Hospitals Contribution Fund have arbitrarily instructed paymasters to begin deducting increased contributions from contributors and have also indicated that contributors who do not pay their unauthorised contribution rates will not receive benefits after today at a level sufficient to cover hospital charges in New South Wales.
In conclusion, I wish to point out that when this legislation has been passed by the Parliament, the contribution rates determined in accordance with the proper procedures provided will give all contributors to health funds full entitlements to benefits without paying unauthorised contributions which fund managements may impose. Avenues will be available to them to ensure that their rights can be effectively protected in law. Without this legislation, the Government’s legal authority to protect contributors’ interests is not as clear as it should be and the public could be gravely inconvenienced and unfairly imposed upon with illegal charges for health insurance coverage. This is a Bill to protect the public interest, nothing more, nothing less. It is, I repeat, a BDI to ensure that the policy declarations of past Liberal-Country Party governments on the matter of health fund reserves is achieved in the public interest. Mr President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Wheeldon) proposed:
That the resumption of the debate be made an Order of the Day for a later hour this day.
- Senator Guilfoyle primarily will be handling this matter for the Opposition, but an intimation was given during the debate on this Bill in the House of Representatives that an amendment would be moved during the Committee stage. I ask for an intimation as to what the Government’s hopes are in terms of this Bill this evening.
– In reply to Senator Greenwood, the Government hopes that the Bill will receive an urgent and speedy passage. I had discussions this afternoon with a spokesman for the Opposition in the Senate and I intimated that when the Bill was introduced I would hope that the debate would be continued. It has been adjourned now until a later hour of the day. All I can say is that the Government hopes that the Bill will be given a speedy passage this evening.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed (vide page 741 )
– We are debating a Bill for the purchase of certain lands in Glebe, Sydney, by the Australian Government. Senator Carrick already has set out to some extent our attitude towards this Bill. I point out that Sydney, the largest city in Australia, has the highest level of property values and some of the worst housing problems. We agree with the aims of the Government in acquiring this land, but we have some reservations about the plans of the Government to utilise this acquisition and to administer it. I think it is only fair that I set out some of our misgivings at this stage.
This is a unique opportunity for the Government to acquire this area. I think any government would like to grasp such an opportunity, although I must say that there are certain problems that I visualise in regard to the relationship between the new landlord, the Australian Government, and the State Government and the local councils. In my opinion those problems have not been adequately resolved at this stage. Senator Carrick emphasised some of the financial aspects and problems of this area but I do not intend to canvass those again. I remind the Senate that the stated objectives of the purchase are to avoid the sudden displacement of an existing population, to avoid any disruption to existing community networks, and to retain the opportunity for low income earners and families and aged people to live close to the city as part of the wider community. We applaud and approve these aims. The aims are said to include also the desire to improve environmental conditions and social conditions of the residents of the estate and surrounding area, but I have grave reservations that this aim will be met by the proposed legislation, at least so far as the details given to us so far would lead us to believe. The Bill is said to aim also, according to the Minister’s second reading speech, at preserving the townscape and sympathetically rehabilitate it.
I emphasise again that the initiative for this project has come from the Church of England. Senator Carrick said that it was the Archbishop who realised what a unique opportunity existed here in offering to the Australian Government a large area of land. I think we have to acknowledge the role that the Church of England has played in this business. The moneys which the Church will receive will be put to good use. I think it is worth spending a moment or two in pointing out some of the work done by the Church of England in Australia. The money which it will receive from the sale of this land at commercial rates will be used to further the social work of the Church. It will support education, social services, counselling services and communication work through television. It will support the activities of the Moore Theological College, provide support for theological students, the superannuation of church members and the development of new areas for the church. These are all very worthwhile activities which justify the asking of a commercial price for the area. I can only commend the Church of England for its whole approach.
Those of us who live in Sydney admire many of the things that the Church does. It may interest honourable senators to know that at St John’s Church of England in Darlinghurst the Rector is supported at Church expense by 2 social workers, a manager and an administrator. They play a very active role in the social activities in that area. My friend the Rev. Bill Ostling at Marrickville plays a very active role at St Clement’s Church in the care of old people. It was the initative of the Church of England in approaching the poverty inquiry which has led to the present acquisition of this land.
I would like to say a little about the Glebe area. One of the residents of the Glebe was the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Sydney in the last election. We chose someone locally from the Glebe area to represent us in the election. This candidate, a young lady, Mrs Joy Wallace, has been very active in the campaign to preserve one of the most historic homes in the Glebe area. The glebes, of course, were areas of land granted to the Church of England early in the days of New South Wales. The Rev. Richard Johnson received the grant. He came out with the First Fleet. It proved impossible for the Church of England to develop all the land. Some of it was sold and some was developed by the church, as Senator Carrick said, to give it a source of income. In the first half of the last century the glebes were developed and we now have the area known as Glebe, the suburb close to the University of Sydney, and the area we are discussing. But we should remember that there are other Church of England glebes. There are glebes at Waverley, Edgecliff and Randwick, and the kind of scheme we see operating here in one area of church land might some day come to operate in other areas. It is appropriate for us to examine what is being done here because it may have implications for the future.
Most of the land in the Glebe area was let out on 99-year leases and these leases have been terminating in the last few years. The Glebe Society, a very active local group in the area, issued a report on the Glebe district recently. It stated that most of the buildings to which the Bill refers were built between 1855 and 1875; that is to say, they are 100 years old. I move ahead a little to indicate that when we come to discuss the consultants’ report we will see that they have said that most of the area is capable of rehabilitation but that they took only a 10 per cent sample. They inspected only a few of the houses in the glebe. Senator Carrick has pointed out already that it may be a little optimistic to assume that the whole of the area can be rehabilitated. We may have to be a little more realistic as to what we can do. Like so many suburbs in Sydney, this was once the leading suburb in Sydney. It consisted of a number of different areas. Today it is a polyglot area- an area in which many languages are spoken, in which there is a lot of change and in which several very different social groups come together. It consists of mansions from the grand old days when Glebe was the leading suburb of Sydney. I mention again ‘Lyndhurst’, which is one of those old homes. They are a bit run down perhaps and they are changing their character. There are 2-storey terraces, Queen Anne and Italianated houses and a great area of small workingman’s cottages. The area we are discussing today consists largely, but not completely, of small workingman’s cottages. They form a significant part of the glebe estate.
The estate we are discussing comprises about 20 per cent of the suburb. People should realise that it is not the whole of the Glebe district that is being purchased but only about 20 per cent of it. I mention to the Minister that it has a definite zoning under local government and State ordinances. It is zoned 2(d) for redevelopment under the City of Sydney planning scheme. Any redevelopment of this area at present requires the concurrence of State authorities. It is in the municipality of Leichhardt and as Senator Carrick has said, the western expressway will pass across the area. The area has a varying intensity of population. There are as many as 100 people to the acre in the St Phillip’s area of Glebe and as few as 55 people to the acre in some other areas. I will mention this aspect again in a few moments when I talk a little more about the consultants’ report. The area contains many students, many elderly people, about 20 per cent transient population, a number of low income people and a number of people who are secondarily single- that is to say widowed, divorced or separated. One wonders what kind of tenancy provisions a bureaucracy will impose on this kind of population. How will a government regard transients as tenants in this area? How will it regard people who are otherwise social dropouts? This is a problem not just in Glebe but all around the world in areas where public housing has been provided.
It is interesting to note that the Glebe area at present has the character I describe. But what I am asking is: Will it be able to retain that character? In regard to the consultants’ report I reiterate the kinds of things which Senator Carrick said. It is an inadequate report for a project of the size of the one at which we are looking. One imagines that the consultants had to produce their report under the stress of time. It is easy to realise that they put in the best report they could, but I ask the Minister. Can we be assured there will be further and more detailed reports on what will happen in this area so that those who are interested in what is happening in the area, including the senators from New South Wales, will know exactly what is to happen? Will there be other reports of that type and not just a rather sloppy report, lacking in detail, produced under the duress of time and containing totally inadequate information?
For example, the consultants talk ofthe lack of open space in the area. They talk of the lack of services in the area. But they then proceed to tell us that there is to be some in-fill development. Those are their words. How are we to provide in-fill development in an area which already has inadequate open space? They carefully do not tell us. They tell us that there are to be ‘medium rise residential flat buildings’ and they propose that there should be 1 50 units of middle income rental housing. Where are these to be situated? What is to happen to the open space? Does it mean that they will tear down some of the existing buildings? If so, will the Minister let us know whether this is to happen? Will we see a modified scheme for rehabilitation and redevelopment with some loss of the existing houses, or will we see in the glebe a loss of open space in order to provide extra housing?
The consultants also tell us that they would increase the population density in one of the areas. They think an increase in population density is desirable for that portion of the glebe estate where the density at present is 55 persons to the acre. This is something about which the people of the Glebe area might want to know and about which they might have some reservations. An increased density of population is being proposed by the Government. I suggest that there are some specific problems for areas of the inner city and for areas affected by public housing proposals. Let us look at what was said by the Australian Council of Social Service, which had an anti-poverty conference at the University of Sydney on 13 October last year, about life in the inner city and some of the problems of the people who live there. On page 9 the conference report, which was produced by the residents of the inner city, states that the people there are fighting for their survival. The report makes some points about the people who live in these areas. It says that they are inarticulate, ignorant of their own rights, low in expectations and politically alienated and that they have little or no access to the decision makers. One wonders how much the local people in Glebe were involved in the preparation of this proposal and how much they will be involved in the plans that will be made for the detailed redevelopment of the area.
Let me remind the Minister that the Opposition supports the proposal, but I am very concerned that when the Government goes ahead and redevelops this area it should give a real voice to the people who live there and whose area it is to be. The Australian Council of Social Services report states that in most of the inner city areas there are inadequate health, education and welfare facilities. We want assurances that these will be provided once the Government scheme is put into action. There will be extra problems in these areas. There are inadequate services there now. The map provided by the consultants shows that the only public service utility present in this glebe area that is proposed for redevelopment is a post office. There are no schools and no welfare services. Possibly these are present in the area around the glebe, but they are not present in the area proposed for redevelopment. There is a marked lack of open space and parks, as I mentioned before. There are no community services at all and we have no guarantee that they will be provided under this plan.
I would like to mention one of the things that happens in inner city areas. I commend to the Minister some of the studies on public housing. For example, there is a book on public housing produced in the United States of America which draws on the experience in that country. The book is written by Leonard Freedman and it is a very excellent one. He makes the point that there is a culture of poverty. What happens in the inner city areas particularly in public housing schemes where it is indicated in advance that the houses will be for low income people, is that only low income people are segregated into this area.
The second reading speech of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) delivered in another place drew attention to the fact that there had been an influx of middle-class high income earners into the Glebe. He acknowledged in his speech the worthwhile contribution which they have already made to the district and to life in the district. I think that it would be a great pity if, in the policies that were developed regarding tenancy, it was made impossible for middle-income earners to move into this area, to play their part in helping to rehabilitate homes and to help improve the district to provide the kind of social leadership which we know they can provide and to assist in making this the kind of heterogeneous area that will benefit the residents the most. To make this area available only to the poor and to exclude people if they cannot meet a means test is, in the long run, not in the best interests of the residents themselves.
It has not been spelt out yet how the Government will administer this area. Is it to have a means test for those people who wish to move into the area? Is this means test going to be applied once only? If people increase their income and improve their position in life, will they be evicted? What does it mean when the Government states that it wants to provide a pool of housing for low income earners? Does it mean that people, once they move into the area, will be able to stay there? Does it mean that as they come up in the world and buy their Rolls-Royces they can continue to live in the Glebe? Does the Government mean that if such people cease to meet the provisions of the means test which will apply they will be thrown out? These are fair enough issues for the people of the Glebe to hear about and they are the kind of issues upon which they want answers.
The Government’s emphasis has been on low income families only. I would say that in other areas where public housing has been put into operation one of the problems has been paternalistic administration. It is very simple for the people if we do things for them and if we decide the kinds of standards which should apply, the way in which people should live, the attitude towards the painting of homes and this kind of thing. Such a situation may produce very rigid paternalism. You can get an elitist view. Such a view may work to keep out some of the very qualities of Glebe which attract some of the most vigorous and interesting people- the university students and some of the migrant groups now present in the area. It all depends on the kinds of policies introduced by this Government when it actually comes to administer the area.
I should like to ask a few questions about the Government’s role as a landlord because the answers to such questions have not been spelt out adequately so far. Firstly, I should like to ask the Minister some questions about the role of the Commonwealth as a landlord in this area generally. I have been led to believe that the purchase of this land by the Government was made probably pursuant to section 7 of the Lands Acquisition Act. If that were the case, the lands would become the property of the Australian Government. As such, I would like the Minister to clarify for us whether the lands cease to be liable to many State and local government laws. These are some of the matters that concern me: Will the Commonwealth pay land tax if this tax were otherwise payable? Will the Government pay rates? If it will not pay rates, who will provide the services? Will State building codes apply on the Glebe land? That last question is a very important one. I hope that the Minister will supply an answer for me. I come back to what I said earlier, that this estate is only a portion ofthe Glebe. It is not the whole area. If we have a situation in which the Commonwealth Government is not paying rates and the local council still has to provide the services, who will pay for the services? Will it be the rest of the residents of the Leichhardt Municipality? Will it be the 80 per cent of the residents of the Glebe who are not covered by this scheme? We have a situation in which we may have an increased rating responsibility and a liability on the rest of the residents to pay all the rates.
There is a cohesive and comprehensive plan for the development of this area. Will the Government give an undertaking that it will try to redevelop the area in co-ordination with the State authorities? I think that it would be a disgrace if the Commonwealth Government moved in to take over an area like this and simply said that it would not deal with local authorities or State authorities and that it would not pay land tax or council rates and that it would leave the rest of the people of the area and the State to pick up the tab. I hope that the Minister will give me an answer that will satisfy me. I hope the answer will be that the Commonwealth will not take this kind of action and that it will move to meet the legitimate needs of the other people in the municipality of Leichhardt.
I want to ask the Minister some other questions about the Government’s role as a landlord. What kind of policy does it plan in terms of eviction? We have heard much criticism of state housing commissions because of their tendency to evict people who are behind with the rent. I want to know what the Minister’s commitment to low income families is. It is a commitment to make the place pay for itself? Is it a commitment however, to throw out people if they cannot keep up with the rent? I ask this question because again it is the kind of thing which the people of Glebe have a right to know. I can understand why Senator Georges who is attempting to interject, does not like this kind of questioning. It is embarrassing for him.
I would suggest that the administration ofthe area should be in the hands of the local people. The consultants who were employed to undertake the study did not make it clear how the administration will actually be carried out. The Minister simply told us in his second reading speech in another place that 2 Commonwealth Departments would be responsible. I think that it is absolutely inappropriate for people in Canberra to try to deal with the local problems of the people in Glebe. I am delighted to see in the submission a suggestion that there will be an information officer in the Glebe area. I agree that this is one way to make low income earners aware of some of their social rights and the availability of social service facilities. But I would hope that the Government would allow local groups to become involved in the actual administration and that it will devolve to them as much of the decision making as it possibly can.
I would like to deal with the Government’s stated aims and how it is going to meet them. We can say that the Government has acquired the land. We can say that it has acquired some land in. the St Phillips area containing very few parks. It contains workmen’s cottages and has a density of over 95 persons to the acre. The Government has acquired the Wentworth Park area of the Glebe Estate where the consultants have recommended redeveloping the land. They have recommended redeveloping some land at present used for parking. Will the Minister tell the people of Glebe whether this means that their present parking space will be taken away from them in order that there will be, if I can use the words in the consultants’ documents, some more ‘infill development’, whatever that means? To me it means loss of open space and a worsening of the area. I would like to know something more about the cost of rehabilitating the houses. Does the Minister believe that by taking a 10 per cent sample of the houses in Glebe this will give him the kind of information that he needs to do a costing? Are we to be faced with another openended scheme such as the Government foists upon us time after time? I remind the Senate of the policy of my Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, which emphasises home ownership as well as tenancy and I remind the Senate again of some of the advantages of home ownership. These include the greatly reduced cost of housing over a lifetime; the fact that people who pay rent all their lives end up paying more and the fact that if a person owns his own home he has absolute security of tenure. I would hate any person who may live in this estate to believe that he had lifetime security as a tenant of the Government. He may suddenly find a new needs formula being applied which may cause him to be kicked out of the estate. We believe that home ownership gives people the acquisition of a valuable asset. We believe that it encourages them in pride of ownership and to develop and look after their homes. It also encourages the more able and articulate members of society to move into the area. I draw attention again to the comments made by Mr Uren in his second reading speech where he acknowledges this fact. I ask the Minister and the Government to consider whether there could be some way in which home ownership could be one of the options offered to some of the people living in this area. The possibility of home ownership could attract some better types of people.
With all the good aspects of this scheme there are some aspects that are highly unsatisfactory. The most unsatisfactory aspect has been the lack of adequate consultation with the New South Wales Government. Two Australian government departments are involved in this scheme. They are the Department of Urban and Regional Development, which is Mr Uren’s department, and the Department of Housing and Construction. There has been consultation with the Minister for Local Government in New South Wales, but I would remind the Minister that New South Wales also has a Minister for Housing. At no time has there been any kind of approach to or consultation with that Minister. I have in front of me letters which document that statement. There has been informal consultation at an officer level with officers of the Housing Commission of New South Wales, but I should have thought that courtesy would have demanded that the Minister involved should be brought into the discussions or brought into the negotiations. However, that has simply not happened. Any statements to the contrary are just not factual.
I finish off by saying that I think the Government has a great challenge in front of it in relation to the acquisition of this land at Glebe. I think it has a great challenge in front of it to make sure that the project works. It has a great challenge in front of it to make sure that it is not putting an imposition on other people in the Glebe area and in the Municipality of Leichhardt. The Government will have an opportunity to demonstrate its bona fides and to show that it will carry its weight in terms of its responsibility for local government functions. I do not mind that this has not been the practice in the past. I suspect that this kind of activity by the Government will be a continuing activity. I would like to see ground rules laid down that do not disadvantage the people who already live in or around these areas, who pay the rates, who provide the services and who want to continue to live within their means. Most of all I think the Government has a challenge to develop this area in such a manner that it does something about the question of poverty. If it is not careful the Government will simply make this a poor ghetto, it will diminish the standard of living in the area and it will fail to do what it set out to do. I am in favour of the acquisition of the land. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on many of the problems I have raised.
– The purpose of this Bill is to appropriate $ 15.75m for the purchase of 47 acres of land in the Glebe area of Sydney and thereby enable the completion of a contract of sale entered into by the Commonwealth Government with Church of England authorities. We have heard a great deal this evening about this matter from 2 representatives of the Opposition Parties in this chamber. They continued the argument along the same strain as was evident from speeches by the opposition in the debate on this Bill in the House of Representatives. One would be disposed to believe that the honourable senators opposite who have spoken in the debate were opposing the Government’s proposition, although the Opposition in the House of Representatives agreed to the Government’s proposals. Knowing the obtuse attitude of the Senate, one could be forgiven for not knowing exactly what the Senate is going to do in relation to this matter. I have been led to believe that, despite what has been said by honourable senators opposite, the Government will have the support of the Opposition on this Bill.
The Government has been subjected to a great deal of criticism in this debate that was designed to create the impression that the Government was somehow involved in some sort of shady deal which was going to be against the best interests of the people of New South Wales, particularly the residents of the Glebe area. It seemed to me from the brief on which honourable senators opposite based their remarks that they had not done sufficient homework to enable them to understand the motivation for the Australian Government’s actions in this area. Senator Carrick referred to the submission of the Church of England authorities to the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. I wish to quote from that submission. It states:
These church-owned sites, and similar large areas of residential housing owned by single owners, would be ideal places for the Federal and State governments, perhaps in cooperation with local councils, to experiment with the provision of low-cost housing along planned lines.
It is precisely because it wants to experiment along those lines that the Commonwealth has agreed to take the step of acquiring this property. It is endeavouring to establish a new form of Australian government involvement in urban affairs. All sorts of ulterior motives have been read into the Government’s actions in this respect. Anyone who examines what has been the experience of other countries in relation to the problems of the old inner city slum areas in which many low income persons have lived for, in some cases, a considerable number of years will find that no country has yet been able to produce answers to problem questions about what to do with them, particularly the old urban regions close to a city proper. Country after country has experimented with a view to trying to establish a reasonable policy which will take into account the sort of social mix concepts that I should have thought Senator Baume, who was the previous speaker in the debate, would have been more prepared to consider than he did in his contribution to the debate. The words ‘urban renewal’, ‘rehabilitation’ ‘middle income class’ and ‘medium density development’ have been thrown around. In point of” fact the church authorities themselves have recognised the need for some public authority- I stress the words need for some public authority’- to become involved in the maintenance of low cost housing around our major cities. One can only come to the conclusion that the honourable senators opposite had not studied the matter sufficiently or that they were attempting to mislead the House when they said that there has been no attempt to establish a relationship with all of the different groups associated with this land purchase. In fact it was the Church of England authorities who offered it to a public authority in the first instance. The tab was not picked up by the New
South Wales government, nor was it within the resources of the local council- the Leichhardt Municipal Council. So it was only proper that the Commonwealth should move into this field. What did the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), have to say about this matter? He said:
The church itself, the Leichhardt Municipal Council, and resident groups have all asked the Australian Government to ensure that this unique leasehold estate should not be fragmented in ownership but should be retained in single ownership.
Despite that we have been subjected to a debate of Vh hours duration during which the 2 previous speakers for the Opposition suggested just the reverse of that, that is, that we should in fact fragment this estate, that we should allow it to pass into some sort of private ownership for the purpose of permitting the middle income group to participate in the development of this unique area. It is a unique area. Where else within a stone’s throw of a general post office in any part of Australia is there an area in which any public authority could acquire land at this stage of our history? I think it is to the credit of the Government that it sees not only the great advantage of acquiring the area but also the great advantage of involving itself in innovation and experimentation. Anyone who knows anything at all about the problems of housing in our society today will surely appreciate the need for far sighted governments to become involved in experimentation in this area
What is the area? It is an area in which 85 per cent of residents are of Australian origin. In it there are aged people, single persons, frail persons, Aborigines, chronically ill people and people who enjoy a good state of health. So it represents in toto a cross section of the Australian community. It is not the prerogative of the Government to pay out such large sums of money with a view to fragmenting the estate subsequently. If that was to be the case there was no point in the Church authorities approaching the Commonwealth with a view to retaining the land in its original concept.
Senator Baume suggests that the area does not have a great deal of public facilities and that this aspect ought to be examined. But does he suggest that if it was put into the hands of Parkes Development, Stocks and Holdings, LendLease, Hookers or any of the other major development companies they would in redeveloping the site provide public facilities. Surely that is not suggested. If it is such action would be something unique in the redevelopment of any of our areas. In fact the local authorities in Sydney and Melbourne which had to deal with the major development companies have all had a great deal of difficulty in trying to convince these large scale developers of the need to provide even a minimum of public facilities such as public parking, parks and so on.
Of course, if the area had been sold to a private developer, which seems to be in the background of the thinking of Opposition senators the area would have been raped. As we know, every house would have been pulled down. There would have been in its place the development of large scale high density building. That has its place in the rehabilitation or the urban renewal policies which clearly have to be followed. But it does not have to be in this place. I think the Government has acted correctly in setting up virtually in the heart of Sydney a social laboratory capable of being interpreted in consultation with the local people to work out what are the best ways in which low income groups, as well as those in the middle groups, may be acclimatised and established in a local environment.
It seems that honourable senators opposite have not even a minimal understanding of even of what is required in these circumstances. They do not even understand what low, medium and high density means. Mr Snedden and Senator Carrick have talked about the need to have medium density in this area. Anyone associated with planning principles or with development would know that in fact this is an area of medium density; it is not an area which can be described as either of high density or low density. If it was a low density area it would have about 20 people to the acre. However this medium density area contains about 55 to 60 people to the acre. The consultants who looked into this matter have confirmed this fact.
Speeches that we have heard from the other side of the Senate show how little Opposition senators have been able to upgrade their policies, attitudes and philosophies of the needs of contemporary Australia. It just highlights once again how out of tune they are with what is required in the world today, particularly in the advanced industrialised society that we have in this country. Of course, this legislation gives us a splendid opportunity to deal with the very question that Senator Baume spoke about. He said we have to be concerned with poverty. Senator Baume then contradicted himself when he suggested that we should be selling up part of the
Glebe estate when we acquire it for medium density or for middle income groups. You cannot have it both ways. The Church of England authorities who put a submission to the poverty commission, when they spoke with great exuberance, and the experience of the Commonwealth Department of Urban and Regional Development, and the experience of all the other authorities that have been involved in these negotiations and discussions have all suggested that what is needed in this area is to have a social laboratory where we will be concerning ourselves with people on low incomes.
If honourable senators have any reason to doubt what I have to say, let me just give them some brief indications of what public opinion in Sydney has to say about this. The Royal Australian Institution of Architects at a meeting on 7 February 1974 said: . . fully supports moves being made by the Government to acquire 47 acres of land at Glebe now owned by the Church of England.
Professor Bernard Smith, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Sydney and author of ‘The Architectural Character of Glebe’- and I am sure that even honourable senators opposite will admit that he is a specialist in this area- wrote to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) last year and said:
I am sure that it is a move of great wisdom and imagination.
Professor Freeland, Professor of Architecture at the University of New South Wales and one of our leading architectural historians said:
The information that the Federal Government intends to purchase 47 acres of land at Glebe is good news indeed. The information that the Government intends to rehabilitate the area rather than redevelop it is even better news.
We have senators from the Liberal Party suggesting that the Government is acting improperly and wrongly and that its motivation, philosophy and strategy are not right and that in fact the Government is going off at some sort of tangent. We are fortunate in that we are able also to produce a letter written on 10 January 1974 to the Department by the Chairman of the Housing Commission of New South Wales. Of course, the Chairman of the Housing Commission is well known in Sydney to be a man who has some understanding of the problems of providing accommodation for those in low income groups. He said:
The Commission has been pleased to note announcements that the Australian Government intends to acquire church properties at Glebe.
– Who said that?
- Mr Bourke, the leading person involved in public housing in New South Wales. As we know, Mr Bourke has been outspoken about the need for the Government to provide housing for those on low incomes requiring public housing. Because of this he has even fallen foul from time to time of his own Minister and his own State government. But he is recognised as being one of the most sympathetic and conscientious public servants in New South Wales. He has a reputation in the whole area of planning, local government and public housing as a public servant par excellence. He has taken a forthright stand and is prepared to sit down with the Commonwealth Government to bring about some experimentation and innovation to provide the low income groups with the opportunity of living in a very fine area of Sydney.
I think it was Senator Wright- I do not want to do him a disservice- who endeavoured to suggest by way of interjection to Senator Carrick that there was something wrong with the economics of this project. I want to put it to the senators who have suggested this that they should have some regard for the views of the consultants who have pointed out that if we have to pull down the buildings in this area and redevelop it as a high density area- that is the sort of density that would have to be applied in this region- the unit cost per house, unit, block or flat would be $39,000. Further, they pointed out that if the Government maintains the area in its present state, allowing for the rehabilitation that the Government has in mind for these 700 building sites, the unit cost will be $30,000. So what is the reason for this hysteria? What is the reason for Opposition senators getting up on their high horse and endeavouring to present some sort of impression that the Government is acting unfairly, improperly and so on? Is this just opposition for opposition’s sake? Are we just being given the argument that the Government is acting just for the sake of talking, for filling up Hansard and for providing headlines for some of the local residents or are we in fact seeking to be constructive, which I think is what the Liberal and Country Parties have to be if they ever want to challenge the authority of this Government as far as the electors are concerned. The Opposition has to think out its philosophy and understand what is required in the sort of world that we have today. It has to cast out of its mind the stupid inanities we had from the previous Prime Minister when he said when addressing a conference in Melbourne 2 1/2 years ago that people who talk about urban affairs have a phobia and a hysteria and that they are talking off the top of their heads. He said that they did not understand and that they were caught up in emotionalism. This was the time when the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who was then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Uren and those of us who have been associated with urban affairs policies in the Labor Party- the innovative policies if you like - were setting out to try to convince the electorate as well as the Liberal Party of the need to get with it and to understand what social responsibilities are.
It seems to me from the debate led by the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Representatives and from the debate in this House this evening that unfortunately the Opposition has no real understanding of the Government’s policies and of what is needed in contemporary Australia. Let us take the statement by the Leader of the Liberal Party in the other place. He said:
A man looking over Lake Burley Griffin does not understand the problems of people in inner metropolitan Sydney.
Who says that the Government does not understand the problems in metropolitan Sydney? My Party is made up of a great number of men and women who have been involved in social welfare programs, in local government and with many other planning problems associated with the great developments of our cities in recent years. Yet it is suggested that the Government, which is endeavouring to bring to fruition its dreams and aspirations in these matters, does not know what it is doing. It is suggested that just because we are here in a city on Lake Burley Griffin we are not capable of understanding and of applying the common sense and experience that so many of us have gained in the years in which we have given public service to the people of this country. I suggest that honourable members opposite have not caught up with times. The Government knows what it is about.
I think it was Senator Carrick who made a statement about the number of people requiring public housing. Let me tell him that at December 1972-1 am sure that he would concede that the Labor Government cannot be blamed for the state of the nation in the few brief weeks before Christmas 1972, even though he puts all the blame on the Government for the subsequent period- the number of people in Australia waiting for public housing was 93,000, which is the highest figure in Australia’s history. That was not the result of a Labor government in New South Wales; it was a national figure reflecting directly the inadequate policies over the 23 years in which we had Liberal-Country Party governments.
The shadow Minister for the Environment and Conservation, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), happens to be a Country Party man. What does he know about the problems of conservation and pollution in the major cities where the problems are at their worst? Senator Carrick went on to say a great deal about the problems of low-cost housing and he tried to suggest that the Sydney City Council was inadequate. I ask Senator Carrick- I am sure he is fair-minded enough- to examine the minutes of meetings of the Sydney City Council to find out how low-cost housing developed. Alderman Murphy- he is no relation to Senator Murphywas associated with many of the redevelopment areas around the city of Sydney. Both the Labor administration and the new administration of the Sydney City Council have done a great deal to overcome the problems of low-cost housing in the city. Of course, it is a problem that is beyond the resources of the city council, as it is beyond the resources of any local authority. It is beyond the resources of the States. Obviously it is a matter in which the Australian Government has a very important financial and historical interest.
So we find ourselves associated with a move designed to be the second acquisition by the Australian Government for the purposes of low-cost housing. I understand that the first one was at Emerald Hill in Victoria. I want to say a few brief words about the social mix. That is a very brief phrase. I want to get the message across to my colleagues on the other side of the chamber. An essential ingredient of the orderly development of our cities and suburbs is to have a mix between the middle and low income groups. Surely the private sector is able, with the resources available to it, to provide an adequate number of houses for those people who want to acquire them. It is up to the public sector to provide the type of accommodation needed for those in the low income groups. Some great tragedies have taken place in the Sydney region and I am led to believe that this has happened in Victoria also. There has been a segregation of the population in the fast growing outer suburbs of Sydney without the necessary and essential social mix.
I hope that some regard will be had for history, for the old buildings and for the type of architecture that exists in the Glebe region. I understand that the architecture is somewhat similar to the architecture of the area in South Australia from which Senator Hall comes. There are some beautiful old colonial homes on the immediate outskirts of the city proper. There are types of development in the Glebe area which ought to be retained, and I hope the people of
South Australia, the South Australian Government and the city councils will insist that similar developments in South Australia will be retained for the purpose of showing future generations how past generations lived.
So we on this side of the chamber are concerned at this stage with carrying out the purchase of this land. We hope that this purchase will be followed by many others. We will seek to retain something of the human environment which has made this an attractive area for those people who live within it. We will consult with the local residents, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development said this in the debate in the other place, as did other speakers who followed him. At every stage in the management of this area we will involve the people who live in the environs of these 47 acres. This project will not be run from Canberra. The Government will not endeavour to tell people how and where they should live. Rather, it will be a co-operative effort. I know that if is hard to get that message through the skull of Senator Wright. This is what the Labor Government is all about: It wants to establish a co-operative movement between the 3 arms of government and the local residents, to establish an infrastructure of some sort which will enable us to see how people want to live, where people want to live, what environment they want. The Government will profit from that knowledge, and the enormous sums of money which the Commonwealth makes available to the States and which the States spend largely on housing will be spent to the advantage of every citizen.
I have heard a great deal about lack of consultation with the State authorities. Let me say that the Minister sent a communication to Sir Charles Cutler, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, in May last year. Subsequently, on 1 June 1973, communications passed between the Federal Minister and Mr Jago who was then the New South Wales Acting Minister for Local Government and Minister for Highways. There have been a number of communications with the New South Wales Public Service Board and with many local authorities in the area. So instead of saying that there is something wrong with the Government’s involvement, I hope that the Opposition will show some constructive attitudes. Housing is one of the major social problems existing in this country. I hope that we will receive the co-operation and goodwill of the Opposition and not the sort of obstruction that has characterised its behaviour in the last 20 months since this Government came to office.
– It would of course be obvious that it is slightly inappropriate that I should follow in a debate after 3 speeches from honourable senators who are intimately acquainted with the locality that is involved in this Bill. But, having regard to the unfortunately sinister sideswipes of Senator Gietzelt, I want to begin by expressing the pride I felt in being present in the Senate tonight to listen to such speeches as we heard from Senator Carrick and Senator Baume. The speech that Senator Baume delivered was a most impressive exposition of a knowledge of the economic and social issues involved in this matter. For him to bring from his previous experience of medical specialty that degree of debating reasoning and analytical understanding is a refreshing influence to the soul of a 70-year old member of the Senate, as I was described by way of a slur last night.
I do not apologise for intervening in this debate. Senator Gietzelt made a somewhat rat-tail contribution to the debate tonight on a basis gifted with spirit, which I applaud, but with irrationality in proportion. Senator Gietzelt says that the Chairman of the Housing Commission of New South Wales, Mr Bourke, is an ardent advocate of this scheme, remind him that Mr Bourke has gone on record as saying that so far as he knows the projected cost per unit is $27,600. Even on a moderate calculation on the Whitlam rates of interest-on the lowest possible expectation of 10 per cent- this means $2,700 for interest alone. Adding to that expenditure on maintenance, rates and so forth, one could expect the fortunate dwellers in these units to be up for $80 a week; that is, if the exponents of Whitlam democratic socialism are to apply to this project the principles they were trying to force down our throats a night or two ago in respect of postal charges, namely that the user should pay.
From the report of the Prices Justification Tribunal on the price of butter-on this occasion the butter does not melt in one’s mouth- one finds the bureaucratic Tribunal in accepting the costs of dairy farms in this year 1973-74, attributing to family labour $2,369 and to the operator’s allowance $3,001, making a total for family labour, as assessed, $5,370- less than the salary paid to any clerk in this outfit, who gets in addition maternity or paternity allowance and 4 weeks annual leave. If I may bring to the attention of the Senate not merely the comparison between the economy of the dairy farmer and the economy of the potential occupant of this property that is to be purchased, but also the petrol subsidy for country dwellers, I point out that last night, after a rancid debate, the Caucus tore itself apart and came out with a magical majority of three for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), thereby depriving the outback countryman of a little concession he had been granted because of the exorbitant costs of transporting petrol. But those who huddle together on the shores of Port Jackson will get the occupancy of dwellings, the unit cost of which is $27,600; and when one adds the cost of maintenance, rates and the rest, they will get the benefit of dwellings at a cost of about $80 a week to the outback dweller, the dairy farmer and all other citizens.
But I abstain from pretending to analyse the economics of the matter. I have heard sufficient of them to say that to me it is a complete and utter effort of irresponsibility on the part of this Government I am comforted only by the fact that any work done on this property will be done by a department of the Commonwealth Government; and, if the project is not segmented sinisterly into items of less than $2m a time, it will have to undergo the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee. Again I pay my everlasting tribute to the existence of that Committee which scrutinises such works as come within its authority. So, when that project comes forward we might gain a little more insight into the economy of it. That is the preface to the main theme that I want to develop. May I be given a copy ofthe Bill? This Glebe Lands (Appropriation) Bill 1974 is a straightout appropriation Bill.
– Have you seen it before?
-Of course I have seen the Bill. Even Senator Cavanagh could read this Bill. It is quite brief and blunt. It is a Bill to appropriate the Consolidated Revenue of the Commonwealth of Australia for purposes connected with the purchase by Australia of certain lands at Glebe. Within the Constitution of this country the Federal Government is entitled, under laws passed by this Parliament, to acquire property on just terms from any State or person only for purposes in respect of which this Parliament has power to make laws. I suggest that the Senate will scrutinise the Constitution from section 1 to section 128 in vain in an effort to find any purpose for which this Parliament has power to make laws that embrace the purchase of a slum area of Sydney for rehabilitation or reconstruction and for letting or sale to citizens. That is not a dry constitutional, legalistic approach. We in this country live by the Constitution and the laws made under it as administered by the courts.
Senator Baume ‘s speech illustrates, in a most cogent manner, the need to confine ourselves to the powers that have been given to us. He so clearly brought to our attention the inappropriateness of this national Parliament considering whether rates should be paid on 47 acres of land purchased by the Commonwealth from, I would have thought, the most artful salesman of this century, the Church of England, which found Tom Uren a very, very docile and manoeuvrable purchase. Fancy this Parliament considering the appropriateness of the degree of planning of this slum settlement which, in the early days, was given to the Church so that it might, out of the rents from tenants, raise a little revenue for the purposes of the Church. Now, having come into public criticism for the degree of slum dilapidation that exists the Church says: ‘We are ready to sell, and it would be the most appropriate thing if some of the 3-tier public authorities would give us a price. Local government is out. The State Government is not interested. Let us knock on the door of Tom Uren.
Is the planning of the area consistent with the rest of Sydney? We ought to know sufficient of our constitutional immunity to know that we are not liable for rates or State taxes. We can ignore State or municipal town planning. What an intrusion! It is bereft of local and State knowledge. Knowing that we have the duty to preoccupy our minds with national matters, we make this purchase and go into slum rehabilitation or partial reconstruction. No such power was given to this Parliament in the Constitution, and I protest that $ 1 5.75m that we have exacted from the taxpayers pursuant to our taxing powers should be illegally appropriated.
– And you are not opposing the Bill.
– I am. I am speaking to explain my position, even if I speak alone.
– You always do. No one would follow you.
-If the Minister would cast his mind back to only 7 days ago he would remember that even he was forced to follow me, and it cost him the few quick quid that he wanted to get- what he could not earn by going back to his trade of 10 years ago. I am addressing myself to an important constitutional proposition. It behoves the whole Senate to insist that moneys that we collect from our people are appropriated only to Federal constitutional purposes, and this is not one of them. Since 1 945 all of the housing programs that have been carried out with the aid of Federal money have been undertaken under arrangements with the States. Under section 96 of the Constitution assistance has been given to the
States which then have had the responsibility for organising housing. If that were done now the State parliament, under its laws as to rating, land tax, planning and city development, would have not only the responsibility to provide housing but also the knowledge to do the job properly. On this occasion I assert that constitutional law coincides with commonsense to require that this project should be considered as beyond our powers and, on the evidence submitted to us, not justified from either the point of view of economics or social improvement.
– in reply- Since I have been a Minister it has been my pleasure on those occasions when the Opposition has supported a Bill in this chamber to thank it for supporting the legislation and generally for giving the legislation a speedy passage through the chamber. I do not think it would be appropriate to use such words on this occasion because although we have heard that the Opposition is not opposing the Bill, one could not say that the Opposition has assisted in giving the legislation a speedy passage through the chamber. When I hear an honourable senator opposite who has, I suppose, some party loyalty say that the purchase of the Glebe land is an act of irresponsibility, to me it does not sound as though that honourable senator is supporting the legislation, and it seems to be faint praise for what the Government has done. We heard Senator Baume in his address do nothing but condemn the proposal, yet he assures us that he supports the proposal. One questions why the Opposition has adopted the attitude of definite opposition to this measure while at the same time being prepared to vote for it.
I think many of the questions raised by Senator Carrick and the few questions raised by Senator Baume can be answered by indicating the meaning of this legislation and the philosophy of this Government. This is not a Bill under the authority of the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson), who has some responsibility for housing the Australian population. In 1972 when Labor took office the Minister for Housing and Construction gave $5m to the States, in addition to that provided under that year’s estimates, for the purpose of occupying the work forces in the states in the building of welfare houses in the remainder of the 1972-73 financial year. Of course, since then the Minister has entered into an agreement with the States to provide, under section 96 of the Constitution, the largest grant that has ever been given to the States for housing purposes and at the lowest rate of interest that has ever been prescribed. But attached to the grant was the stipulation that a large proportion of the money must be spent on providing welfare housing. This Government was elected on the promise that it would spend money in areas of need, and that is the philosophy of the Government.
We find that the Government that has been elected to office is concerned with the quality of life rather than with the commercial interests of life. It has created a Department of Urban and Regional Development and a Department of the Environment and Conservation- something which has never been done by any other Australian Government. That is the outlook of the present Government which wants to do something for the needy in our community, enhance the quality of their life, and which is not so interested in the wage increases which have been traversed tonight- the increases for dairy farmers and parliamentarians- for a comparison of what should be done.
If we look at and understand the second reading speech we realize that it answers most of the queries. It was not understood by those who spoke in the debate, or they would not have been concerned about there being no middle income earners or parking space in this area or what the Government intends to do about evictions. Their whole thinking revolves around evictions and investors who want to develop the inner city area, which is of great value. I think that those senators who spoke pointed out the purpose for which the land in Glebe was bought. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), in his second reading speech on this Bill, said:
This is a pilot project. The Glebe project is not simply an exercise in the renovation and construction of housing. It is also an exercise in community rehabilitation.
It is an exercise in community rehabilitation. It is a welfare scheme. Therefore all questions of cost should be divorced from our minds. By this purchase, will we contribute anything to the community at Glebe, which is one of the least privileged communities in our society today? As the second reading speech states, many of the residents are on social security benefits. It has been suggested that we could develop an area at Campbelltown a lot cheaper. Is that the intention for those who have lived in Glebe all their lives? It is their home. That is their privilege. They have lived there for a generation. We are told that we could house them cheaper at Campbelltown. As an economic proposition, which is put by the Opposition, of course we could house them cheaper at Campbelltown. But the quality of life and the satisfaction of those people who have lived for a generation in Glebe mean more to this Government than whether we could get them housed cheaper. We could possibly get them housed cheaper in Alice Springs, Darwin or some other place. The Minister, in his second reading speech, also stated:
The Government will become involved almost immediately with the problems of the tenants, many of whom need support from various social services. As well as the physical aspects of the project, then, there are also the more human aspects and I can assure honourable members that the Government will be concerned to look after the individual needs ofthe residents of this area.
The social aspect comes into the question. Senator Gietzelt said that Glebe and Emerald Hill in Victoria are the first ventures of the Government to improve the quality of life of inner city dwellers. The proposal is a great innovation for a government. It is possibly one of the greatest things done in Australia by a government which has an interest in people rather than an interest in commerce.
Senator Baume said that there should be no praise for this Government. He gave the praise to the Church of England because he said that it was responsible for offering the land to the Australian Government’s Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. Senator Carrick, who apparently has some association with the Church, gave praise to Mrs Joyce Wallace, who was a Liberal Candidate at the recent election, because she had some responsibility for the purchase. Who purchased the whole property? The Church of England got $ 17.5m for a property which Senator Carrick and Senator Wright have said is a bad investment.
– I said nothing of the sort. I said the exact reverse.
-Senator Carrick developed a theory about how we, as a responsible government, could develop cheaper housing in some other areas. He suggested that we should have sought some other area. Therefore it looks as though we have been conned and exploited by the Church of England, at the time that we are being criticised for the purchase. I think that all the questions about the inadequate details can be answered by reference to the second reading speech. It will show that the intention is to have community involvement and rehabilitation. It was not the Government’s intention to buy the land until there was discussion with the people about what would be done in the area. I have a reply to the question which was raised by Senator Carrick prior to the suspension of the sitting. I point out that the whole psychology, as we were told tonight, is to be wary of the quotations in the book called ‘The Culture of Poverty’. The people in this area have contributed more to Australian welfare than any other section of the community. Why does the Opposition want to put them in outer suburbs and let the investors come in? There would be a mixed community of wealthy and middle class people in the inner suburb. That is the whole theory. While the Opposition is supporting the proposal tonight, there is a hatred of benefits going to social service recipients and not to developers of high density housing in Sydney and other capital cities.
– Absolute nonsense.
– That was the direction of Senator Baume ‘s speech. I will answer the questions which have been raised. I know that there was an attempt to repudiate this purchase. That is the only interpretation which can be gained from what was said. But the whole question is that the Opposition has not the courage to say that it will not be a party to this purchase. It is one of Australia’s greatest achievements. It will develop the assistance to the impoverished in Australia. But this hatred is creeping in through references to ‘The Culture of Poverty’, parking spaces and mixed development. All the time we can see the hatred that this will become an inner suburb for the benefit of social service recipients.
Senators Wright and Baume referred to the payment of land taxes. It is correct that the Australian Government, like the State governments, as owner, is not responsible for the payment of taxes. The Australian Government has at all times given ex gratia payments to the local councils as compensation for the lack of obligation to pay taxes. In respect of Glebe, the Australian Government has already had discussions with the aldermen and officers of the Leichhardt Municipal Council regarding the formula for ex gratia payments in lieu of rates, both at present values and at future values: The Government has already worked and will in future work in close consultation with Leichhardt Council and with the residents of the estate. It is envisaged that both will be represented on the management of the project. We are perhaps entering into the field of management. Honourable senators have already heard that there is complete cooperation on this question with Mr Bourke, the Chairman of the Housing Commission of New South Wales. He praises the scheme.
– He criticised it strongly. I have his written criticism.
– All right. This is the criticism of Mr J. M. Bourke, Chairman of the Housing Commission of New South Wales, in a letter dated 10 January 1974 to the Secretary, Department of Urban and Regional Development:
The Commission has been pleased to note announcements that the Australian Government intends to acquire Church property at Glebe.
Therefore who is honest? We have heard that the Chairman of the Housing Commission is in jeopardy and. in trouble with his Minister because he is outspoken and expresses a concern for the people. The Opposition is trying to malign him today by saying that he is criticising, although in his correspondence to the Minister he expresses pleasure at the fact that the Commonwealth has bought the property at Glebe. I think that the question asked by Senator Carrick about preschools was relevant. Already there is a cooperative pre-school operating within the estate.
– A very small one.
– All right, but one is already operating. Extension of this service is one of the proposals that will be discussed with the residents in the wider Glebe community. I refer now to forward planning of community facilities, etc. The feasibility of purchasing this estate was considered on economic grounds. The Australian Government does not wish to dictate to the people of Glebe what they shall have. This project involves participation of residents in the wider community in planning and the environment. It is certain that there will be mechanisms available by which these people can participate in the planning of the area when the Government owns the land. Officers have discussed opportunities for the provision of open space, community facilities, etc., with individual residents and community groups. It would be impertinent for us to say at this stage that we want the people to have a say but on the other hand tell them what they are to have. There is the answer to the honourable senator’s question about facilities in the future. 1 turn now to the question whether the Government will permit private ownership, and if not, why not. This is an investigatory project which will be of considerable interest to State public housing authorities. To have a system of private ownership of property in this estate would mean that the opportunity of keeping this land for the future use of the inner city low income earners would be irrevocably lost. It would inevitably follow the trend of other city housing and increase in value so that only the middle and upper income earners could afford to live there. Why should these groups be the only ones to have the right to live in close proximity to the city, its services and traditional places of employment? When honourable senators realise that many of them are pensioners they can see the need for near city residence. It was said in the second reading speech on this Bill that there are some 700 inner city dwellings involved. I believe that the consultants’ report said that there are 700 and that previously there were 750. Of course, as has been said, some dwellings will have to be demolished. The consultants report that there is a possibility of further building in the area. With the existing 700 dwellings and the opportunity of constructing an additional 250 dwelling units the Government will be guaranteeing low income housing in the future instead of allowing this land to fall slowly into the ownership of middle and upper income earners.
The latest available figure on rental income from the Glebe Administration Board for the year 1972 is $701,721. That represents a return on investment of about 3 per cent, which is claimed to be BHP interest on money invested, so it is not a bad investment. The comparative cost is approximately $30,000 per dwelling unit for the rehabilitated housing, which includes some new constructon giving a net gain of some 250 additional dwellings, as opposed to $39,500 per dwelling unit for new medium density housing, with the cost of property purchase included in both cases. This is an equivalent cost per dwelling unit to that being asked by the Housing Commission of New South Wales for the Wooloomooloo project.
– What about the Western Distributor?
-The Australian Government is opposed in principle to inner city freeways. When the roads grant legislation goes through Parliament each road project Will be considered on its individual merits. There is no surety that it will go through. In addition, the New South Wales Department of Main Roads has indicated a low priority for this section of the Western Distributor. I am inclined to believe that it may take some 20 years. Referring now to State and local government participation, the government will be establishing a co-ordinating and advisory group on which the intra-state and Australian Government departments and agencies will be invited to participate, as well as a community consultant group consisting of local government and community representatives. The method of handling the money, the rentals, etc., is now being worked out. Having answered all the queries I thank honourable senators for their co-operation in dealing with this Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill presented by Senator Murphy, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
I ask leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
The purpose of this Bill is to repeal the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959-1973 and to replace it with a greatly improved, comprehensive set of provisions dealing not only with divorce but also with other areas of family law. I first introduced the Family Law Bill into the Senate in December 1973. It was not debated before prorogation. I reintroduced the Bill into the Senate in April this year. Again the Bill was not debated because Parliament was dissolved later that same month. The Bill now before you, with some changes, to which I shall refer later, is essentially the same as the original Bill of December 1973.
In my second reading speeches on the introduction of the two earlier versions of the Bill, I explained at some length to the Senate the main features of the Bill. I invite the attention of honourable senators to the Senate Hansards of 13 December 1973 and 3 April 1974, where these speeches are reported on pages 2827 and 640 respectively. A summary of the provisions of the Bill in its present form has also been circulated in this chamber with copies ofthe Bill. In my remarks on the Bill this time, I shall briefly recapitulate its provisions for the benefit particularly of new senators, touch on the amendments made since the Bill was last introduced and refer to some related legislative proposals.
The main purpose of the Bill is to eliminate as far as possible the high costs, the delays and indignities experienced by so many parties to divorce proceedings under the existing Matrimonial Causes Act. The main way in which the
Bill seeks to achieve this is by replacing the existing fault grounds of divorce with a single, nofault ground- irretrievable breakdown of the marriage- to be provable only by 12 months’ separation of the parties up to the date of hearing of the divorce application. This pivotal provision, which has been in the Bill since its first introduction, has received support from the vast majority of persons who have made their comments known to me, although it is true that it has also attracted some criticism.
The main purpose of the Bill will be advanced by other provisions. These provide for more simple procedures, require courts to proceed without . undue formality, and for proceedings to be heard in private. Apart from exceptional circumstances, when the court may make an order, each party to proceedings under the Bill will bear his or her own costs. Legal aid will be available to every person in need who is a party to proceedings under the Bill.
There are important provisions in the Bill for helping persons who contemplate, or have begun, proceedings under the Bill to achieve a reconciliation where possible, and for helping persons for whom reconciliation is not possible to resolve their differences with the minimum bitterness and hostility. The reconciliation provisions extend to all proceedings under the Bill, not just divorce proceedings. Provisions have been included for more effectively bringing to the notice of parties wishing to institute divorce proceedings the consequences of divorce and the availability of marriage counselling. Under the BUI, marriage counselling organisations will continue to receive financial support from the Government. To deal with cases of intolerable conduct by a spouse, the party to a marriage who is in need of immediate relief from that conduct will be able to apply to a court for protection by way of injunction. Such an application can be made either in the course of an application for a divorce or independently of any other proceedings.
The Bill covers maintenance of parties to a marriage, and maintenance and custody of children of a marriage, both in the context of, and outside, divorce proceedings. As well as extending into the area of non-divorce maintenance and custody, the Bill introduces some new criteria and guide-lines for the courts in determining disputes over these matters. Under the Bill, the criteria for determining a maintenance application will be the needs of the applicant and the ability of the respondent to pay. Marital conduct will no longer enter into such determinations.
As regards custody, the main improvements contained in the Bill over existing law are: The requirement for greater use of welfare officers to try and achieve a settlement between the parties; greater opportunity for the wishes of the child whose custody is in dispute to be ascertained; and more effective enforcement of custody and access orders. The Bill also covers reciprocal enforcement of custody orders between Australia and other countries.
The other matter of importance that is often in dispute between parties to a marriage, both in divorce proceedings and outside divorce proceedings, is property. The Bill empowers the courts to determine the existing interests of parties to a marriage who are not engaged* in divorce proceedings. Where the parties are applying for a divorce the Bill empowers the court to alter their interests in much the same way as does the Matrimonial Causes Act, but the Bill introduces criteria to which the court must have regard in determining what order to make. These criteria concern the needs of the parties and their children and the contribution made by any of them to the acquisition, conservation or improvement of the property.
The Bill also contains a provision directing the court, in both property and maintenance proceedings between parties who are seeking to be, or have been, divorced, to make such orders as will finally determine the financial relationships between the parties, so as to avoid further proceedings between them. Thereby it is hoped that parties, on being divorced, will be encouraged to make a clean break, so that each may be free to start a separate, new life.
These are the main reforms introduced by the Family Law Bill. There are others of a more legal technical nature, which are, however, covered in my previous second reading speeches and the explanatory memorandum. I turn now briefly to the changes which have been made in this Bill from the provisions of the last Bill, and which have been made as a result of the many comments received from interested organisations and persons.
The conciliation provisions have been extended by adding a provision to clause 14 empowering the court, in proceedings for an injunction to restrain a party to a marriage from some conduct towards the other party, to direct either or both to attend upon a marriage counsellor. Clause 90, which empowers the court to grant such an injunction, has been redrafted also to ensure that the court is not restricted in the order it may make to deal with such cases.
Some changes of substance have been made to Part VI, dealing with the welfare and custody of children. Clause 43 has been amended to state positively that a court must have regard to the wishes of the child in custody proceedings, as part of its consideration of the welfare of the child. Paragraph 43 (1)(b), which prevents the court from making a custody or access order contrary to the wishes of a child who has attained 16 years, has been amended by lowering the age to 14 years. The power of the courts under subclause 43 (4) to direct supervision of access orders by welfare officers has been extended to enable the courts to direct supervision of any order under Part VI. A new sub-clause 43 ( 1 1 ) enables the Attorney-General to appoint enforcement officers for the purposes of Part VI, notably for executing warrants for taking possession of a child in respect of whom an order has been made.
Clauses 51 to 53 have been redrafted to give clearer expression to the principles governing the award of maintenance, namely, the needs of the applicant, and the ability of the respondent to pay. Clauses 6 1 and 62, dealing with cessation and variation of maintenance orders, have been extensively redrafted. The main changes of substance to those provisions are the addition of a provision for the cessation of an order in favour of a child on the marriage of the child, the omission of the restriction on the power to vary security for maintenance, and a restriction on the retrospectivity of any variation of a maintenance order.
A change in clause 58 requires a court, in considering whether to alter the interests of a party in property, to take into account the contribution of a party to, or child of, the marriage to the conservation or improvement- as well as to the acquisition- of the property in question. There are some other changes of a formal or techincal nature that I shall not mention now.
I mentioned in my second reading speech on the original Bill that void marriages would be dealt with by an amendment to the Marriage Act as would all questions of prohibited degrees of consanguinity and affinity. This legislation would also contain provisions to abolish the status of illegitimacy in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and for the purposes of all legislation of this Parliament. As honourable senators would know, the Government is committed to the removal of the distinction between ex-nuptial children and other children.
Honourable senators who were present in this chamber when I introduced the earlier Family
Law Bills will be aware that the Government decided that its members should exercise a free vote on the Bill. That decision still stands. However, the Bill is a Government Bill for the purpose of bringing it on for debate and putting it to the vote, and I will do what I can to see that honourable senators are given an early opportunity to debate the Bill and vote on it accordingly.
For my part,I am convinced that the reforms contained in the Bill are strenuously, even desperately, sought by a large number of persons from all strata of our society. On behalf of these unhappy people I make a plea for anearly passage of the Bill, so that they and others after them may receive more compassionate resolution of their cases than is possible under the existing divorce law.
The Bill is not presented as my ideal solution to the very difficult problems that arise in this area of human relationships, but is presented as proposals which may be generally accepted now. I would prefer solutions even more compatible with the dignity of the individual. It does not seem right to me that divorce itself should be an occasion for judicial intrusion. It may be different in custody, maintenance and property disputes but even in those the parties should be encouraged to resolve their differences themselves. I would welcome further suggestions on this Bill, particularly on procedural and other technical aspects. Comment received on the two previous Bills has been informative and most helpful. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.
– I have received letters from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Leader of the Country Party in the Senate nominating the following senators to be members of the Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control: Senators Chaney, Coleman, Sir Magnus Cormack, Durack, Everett, McAuliffe, Mcintosh and Maunsell.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That the senators nominated be appointed members of the Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control.
– I have received a message from the House of Representatives- stating that the House of Representatives transmits to the Senate for its information the rules adopted by the House of Representatives for the conduct of the business of the joint sitting of the Senate pursuant to section 57 ofthe Constitution.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Income Tax Assessment Bill 1974
Income Tax (Dividends and Interest Withholding Tax) Bill 1974
Customs Bill 1974
Excise Bill 1974
Northern Territory (Administration) Bill 1974
Evidence Bill 1974
Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Bill 1974
Parliamentary Papers Bill 1974
– Earlier this evening His Excellency the Governor-General gave the royal assent to the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1 974. The major purpose of the Act is to extend the operation of the parliamentary broadcast to include a joint sitting. The legislation extended certain powers to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings and to the Committee as a whole in regard to televising the sitting. The Committee has considered the use of these powers very carefully. Since the Committee became aware of the legislation it has met on several occasions to consider the manner in which use should be made of the powers conferred by the Act. Today the Committee agreed to a number of determinations to be made under the Act.
I shall not describe all ofthe Committee’s decisions in detail, as many of them relate to technical matters and the procedures to be followed by producers, directors, camermen and editors, and soon.
The main decisions are as follows:
The Chairman made the following order, pursuant to section 13a (2a) of the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946-1974-
The ABC shall make a complete colour video-tape and sound recording of the joint sitting which commences on 6 August. This audio-visual record shall remain the property of the Committee and shall be converted to film for preservation and for showing as authorised by the Committee.
The Committee made determinations which can be summarised as follows-
RADIO- All proceedings of the joint sitting shall be broadcast by those ABC stations which presently broadcast Parliament. A permanent sound record shall be kept.
TELEVISION-All stations of the ABC shall carry live telecasts of the proceedings of the joint sitting on Tuesday, 6 August, and Wednesday, 7 August, at the following times- 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. 8 p.m. to 8.40 p.m. (Insofar as Western Australia is con cerned, the proceedings of the sittings from 8 p.m. to 8.40 p.m. will not be telecast live. They will be recorded and replayed at 8 p.m. local time.)
The Committee has reserved the right to change arrangements for television to reflect changes in sitting times or in the light of the nature of proceedings. The Committee may direct the ABC at not less than 2 hours notice, to transmit live telecasts at times other than those already laid down. The Committee has also determined that the ABC shall prepare a one hour composite program to be shown nationally at about 10 p.m. on Sunday, 1 1 August.
Debate resumed (vide page 745).
-The Bill which is now before the House has been decribed by the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) as being of urgency to correct a serious defect in the National Health Act. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill for the very simple reason that we are inclined to the view that the Bill is not necessary. We understand that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has claimed that the present law is uncertain regarding the Minister’s powers in cases where a registered organisation presents as an application a package plan for a variation in medical or hospital benefits or contribution rates. I refer the Senate to section 73.(6) of the National Health Act which describes the powers of the Minister. It states:
The Minister may, upon a recommendation by the Committee
That is, the Registration Committee-
Vary or revoke any or all of the terms and conditions subject to which an organisation has been, or is deemed to be, registered under this Act and impose terms and conditions additional to those terms and conditions and the terms and conditions as so altered or added to from time to time shall be deemed to be the terms and conditions subject to which the organisation is registered.
That section gives a very wide discretion to the Minister to impose whatever conditions he requires. Of course, the consequence of a breach of conditions is that the Minister has the power to cancel the registration or to suspend the registration. There are appeal provisions within the existing Act against deregistration and the appeal is to a Supreme Court. These provisions are in existence and we have some query in our minds as to the reason for this urgency, as it has been described by the Minister. Although we have limited time to deal with this matter in the Senate this evening there are some things which simply have to be said about the events we have witnessed during this week and the alarm that has been spread throughout the community over the confrontation which has existed publicly between the Minister and two ofthe reputable contribution funds dealing with our medical benefits. The Minister has said that the increases which were proposed by the funds were illegal. I wonder why he could not use a word such as inoperative’ so that he does not give the connotation of illegality to funds which would prefer to feel that they were working within the legal framework.
– The word ‘inoperative’ is the word the statute uses.
– Then I question why the Minister would use the word ‘illegal’. We have seen used all sorts of words which have caused alarm throughout the last week and I question the reason for them. I wonder why the Government has not considered that it has a duty to voluntary organisations within the community, which serve the community and which, with the Government, seek to cover the health needs of the Australian people. The Minister said that the increases were a blatant and deliberate attempt to over-charge health insurance contributors. Again we have to question the extravagance of the language that was used.
To put the matter into perspective it would be fair to detail some of the reasons why the medical benefits funds felt that the increases were necessary. There were announcements by the New South Wales Government regarding increased public hospital charges and there were the somewhat alarming increases in costs to the funds. These in turn necessitated increases in the contributions which they required. When one considers that in the daily hospital charges there was a 50 per cent increase in standard ward fees, a 47.4 per cent increase in intermediate ward fees and a 48.3 per cent increase in private ward fees, one can readily understand that the contributions which were based on the lower scale of hospital charges would be inadequate to cover in the same way the charges which were previously incurred. Another matter which ought- to be regarded as important is that despite the fact that the Government is proposing the most extravagant health care scheme in Australia, it is still refusing to increase the Commonwealth benefit of $2 per day as a contribution to the hospital charges. The hospital charges are higher- inescapably higher- and yet there has been no effort by the Government to increase its contributions to this service which is undoubtedly required.
We have had the need for news release on a daily and even hourly basis from the funds and from the Minister talking of the problem which has developed. They should have been the subject of quiet negotiation between the 2 parties concerned instead of being discussed in the public forum as we have seen. Talk of the increases in hospital and medical costs makes us refer also to the fact that the medical benefit funds propose considerable increases in benefits. I spoke of the increases in hospital charges and I think that we need to relate them to the increases in contributions. As I mentioned earlier, the contribution of a family for the standard public hospital benefit will increase from 82c to $1.16; for the intermediate ward benefits, the contribution will increase from $1.28 to 1.80; and for the private ward benefit the contribution will increase from $1.52 to $2.14. As we have seen throughout the past week, these increases have been the subject of alarm and controversy.
I was interested to read the comments of the Minister with regard to the reserves of the 2 medical benefit funds in question and to hear his contention that his reason for refusing to approve of increased contributions was that such large reserves were being held by these funds that they should be used to absorb some of the increased costs which were relevant. I am also interested in the fact that committee reports from the Parliament with regard to reserves of funds and their relationship to the operations of the organisations that hold those funds have always expressed the view that the organisations should relate their reserves to an amount equal to 3 months of their contributions. It seems to me that that is not a realistic relationship. With escalating costs and the increasing prices that we are seeing in regard to every facility in Australia, the relating of reserves to contributions seems to me to miss the fact that the reserves should be related to the commitments which will have to be met by the health benefit funds.
Undoubtedly, the commitments are increasing. To talk of reserves being able to cover 3 months of contributions overlooks entirely the fact that increases are occurring very rapidly in all of the costs which need to be met. I simply refer to this matter because again and again when we are talking of costs we have related to us some of the recommendations, for instance, of the Nimmo report or the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs which was chaired by former Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood. Such committees did relate reserves to contributions. I feel that it would be much more realistic to relate reserves to the commitments which will need to be paid out from a fund.
If we look at the situation in that perspective, it is very easy to see that the $50m which the Minister claims that the funds are holding in reserve could very quickly be absorbed by the enormous increases in hospital costs which I have detailed this evening and by the enormous increases in all other medical costs which are being experienced in the Australian community. It is unfortunate that this confrontation has resulted in the sort of telegrams that have come from the chairman of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd in which he talks of the unwarranted attack in the media by the Minister and the reflection cast in that attack on the integrity and propriety of the governing bodies of the 2 funds. These are things which ought to be deplored in negotiations between the Government and those bodies in the community with which it shares responsibility.
Another matter that should be made clear concerns the use that has been made of the fact that the funds hold large reserves at this time. It must be remembered that the reserves are not liquid funds. They are invested funds. Anyone who follows the investment market in Australia today or who looks at the security of any of our investments and their purchasing value would know that to talk of being able to use those reserves to pay out current expenditure and commitments is again over-simplifying the situation. A fund which is expected, in terms of the Minister’s attitude to this problem, to pay the increased hospital costs from its reserve funds could be placed in a very difficult position of liquidity. Rather than ask the funds to realise on a conglomerate range of securities and simply pay out the inevitably increasing costs, I think that the Minister should have dealt with the position in quite a different way. These matters are of concern to us.
We have said that we will not oppose this legislation. But we wish to move an amendment to the Bill which has been introduced with such speed and with such a lack of time for proper consideration. I understand that our amendment has been circulated. It relates to clauses 4, 5, 12, 13 and 14. The Opposition has moved the amendment because it is concerned with the right of appeal which is offered by the legislation. It is not clear in the legislation what are the matters to be determined upon appeal. The proposed legislation is not clear in setting out the functions of the court to which the appeal may go. We believe that it should be made quite clear. If it is not, the difficulties which the Minister is experiencing will simply be transferred to the judicial arena. We wonder whether we would have the complexity and difficulty that the Minister has experienced in understanding the problem transferred to another area. We propose an amendment under which the court would know the matters which must be taken into account when the report is referred to it.
We also felt that if there were to be an injunction it should be consistent with any right of appeal and that any injunction should only be exercised after an appeal is determined. For these reasons the Opposition moves the amendment which has been circulated.
– Does the honourable senator want to move it now? I am willing to accept it, but I thought that it would be more convenient if it were moved in the Committee stage.
– I would be happy to do that. I understand that the Minister wished me to move in this way.
-In that case I simply indicate that in the Committee stage I will move the amendment.
-Once again, it is my pleasure to follow in a debate Senator Guilfoyle with her clear and comprehensive coverage of the issue before us. This National Health Bill (No. 2) has been brought forward with inordinate urgency to cover what is supposedly a serious defect in the National Health Act. To me, it seems to promise nothing but piracy and plunder. I think that in the end the Bill is designed effectively to destroy our private medical services. Fortunately, the Bill provides a provision for appeal. I notice that the Bill deals mainly with controls. I wish to cite the situation as it exists and as it is stated in the second reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon). He says:
Under the existing provisions, an alteration by a registered medical or hospital benefit fund to its contribution rates is inoperative and has no legal effect unless and until approval of the alteration has been given by the Minister for Social Security. The existing law also requires a registered medical or hospital fund to comply with any direction given to it by the Minister regarding the rates of contribution payable by its members.
One wonders what other power the Minister could seek. However, the Minister feels that there is some uncertainty about the situation when a medical benefits organisation offers a package deal- whatever that is. I presume it is his interpretation that the Minister’s powers are limited to acceptance or rejection in toto of the application. This may very well be so. But one fails to see the significance of the need for such drastic action as this when simple consultation between the Minister and the funds has been all that has been necessary in the past and should be all that is necessary now.
This Bill seeks to empower the Minister to decide the levels of contributions separately from the medical benefits funds. One would presume that the Minister would be looking at the same figures as the funds because he could only ever get them from the funds. Once again, simple consultation between the 2 parties should be all that is necessary, rather than a radical alteration of the law which would give the Minister unlimited power- probably power to destroy the funds should he feel so inclined. The Bill also seeks to give a clear legal authority to the policy of the Government in that the Minister, in considering whether he will approve or reject proposed increases, can consider the excessive money standing to the credit of a fund over the amounts reasonably required for the purposes of the fund.
One wonders what are the definitions of the words ‘excessive’ and ‘reasonably required’. Who is to decide what is excessive and what is reasonable, particularly if the Minister is allowed to decide these things separately and apart from the fund? As I mentioned earlier today, these funds are non-profit organisations. Their books are open to inspection and they are audited. The funds have been functioning for years and years. It is easy for them to estimate forward planningapart from the tremendous rises that are now being caused by inflation, but they could be allowed for. So, once again, simple consultation should be all that is required. Finally, the Bill provides for a right of appeal, which I think is the only good point in it- except that one could imagine that if an appeal were lodged it could take 6 months for it to be heard, by which time the fund concerned could be broke. So the Minister could achieve his purpose by providing for the right appeal.
The Minister has said that the funds intend to use every step within their power to see that they retain intact the vast and excessive reserves that they have built up through the years by consistently overcharging contributors. That sounds like a rather emotional appeal, particularly when it is remembered that the contributions and rebates are fixed by mutual agreement between the Government and the funds and have been so fixed for years. The Minister mentioned overcharging. Who says that the funds have been overcharging. Their contribution rates have been under close government supervision. Once again I reiterate that they are non-profit funds. The funds have demonstrated clearly that they operate cheaply and efficiently.
The Minister has stated that even now there are excessive levels of reserves and that the situation has become intolerable. I wonder to whom it has become intolerable. It certainly has not become intolerable to the contributors or to the funds. I think that it has become intolerable only to the Minister because he will not be able to get his hands on the reserves unless the Senate gives him the power to do so. The Minister has said that the reserves should be used for the direct benefit of contributors and to hold down contribution rates to the lowest level compatible with the financial viability of the funds. That is happening now. The funds are indemnified by the Government. They do not want to be holding excessive reserves.
The Minister also has said that one can reasonably apprehend that if adequate action is not taken now to protect the public interest- whatever that means- health insurance funds throughout Australia may be encouraged to flout reasonable instructions on contribution rates and benefit levels. From what has happened to the 2 health insurance companies in New South Wales it would appear that the ‘reasonable instructions’ are outright rejection. As to what has happened with respect to the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, I would like to read a short extract from a letter I received today.
– Incorporate it in Hansard.
-No. It shows Mr Hayden ‘s emotional over-reaction to the possibility of flouting. The letter was written by the General
Manager of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd in Sydney. It states:
Mr Hayden is trying to create the impression that he received short notice of the Fund’s intention to increase contribution rates on August 1 to meet the increases in benefits ranging from 52 per cent to 1 67 per cent.
They are the amounts that the funds have to pay out. The letter continues:
Following the New South Wales Government’s announcement on June 4 that hospital charges would rise on August 1, the Funds received a preliminary circular from the Department of Social Security on June 1 8. This was followed by a circular from the Department of Social Security (dated 5.7.74) on July 8 stating that the Depanment had arranged a meeting on July 1 1 ‘in order to outline policy organisations should follow in the submission … to increase benefits . . from I August 1974’. At the meeting on July 1 1 the Assistant Director-General for Social Security . . . made it pretty clear to some funds’ representatives that it would be unlikely that they would be able to increase contributions to meet the increased benefit payout. He did, of course, say that the final decision would be made when the funds’ submissions had been examined.
However, with the effluxion of time and the new rates coming in, the funds had to go ahead unilaterally.
– Who wrote the letter?
- Mr J. F. Cade, the General Manager of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd. I have pointed out that the submission that the Medical Benefits Fund made to the Minister is clear and open. It went into great detail for him. It even divided the submission up into nursing homes, private hospitals and all the other facets of its operations, plus projections for the future. Rather than confirming Mr Hayden ‘s statement that the Medical Benefits Fund and the Hospitals Contribution Fund now have reserves of $50m, their projections show that they will have an operating surplus of $2m as at 30 June 1975. 1 do not want to delay the Senate any longer as the Opposition will not be opposing the passage of this Bill. But I do point out that it does seem to be a rather severe measure to take to alter the whole Act in order to generate power for the Minister.
– This is an unnecessary Bill. It is a grandstanding effort by a Minister who wants to engage in confrontation when the appropriate course to take, as the record of the last 20 years indicates, is to have consultation with the health insurance funds when an arrangement has to be reached for the alteration of contributions because the benefits provided have been altered. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has not chosen the course of consultation; he has chosen the course of conflict and confrontation.
This Bill, therefore, is designed to develop the confrontation situation.
As I think can be adequately demonstrated, this Bill is unnecessary and has in it only one original thought which, when it has been amendedI understand that it will be amended as the Government will accept the Opposition’s amendment- will give the health insurance funds of this country a protection against the authoritarian stand which the Minister is prepared to adopt. Why is the Bill unnecessary? In the first place, let us look at the facts. I was the Minister for Health in 1971 when hospital fees were fixed in New South Wales. Until today the fees fixed at that time had not been altered. It is quite remarkable that for 3 years- from 1 August 1971 to 1 August 1974- no increase occurred in the charges. It is quite obvious that many of the costs of the public hospitals in New South Wales have increased. I believe that it is a measure of the restraint of the New South Wales Government that it held down its hospital fees until August 1974. It has now increased them.
Back in August 1971 the Government of which I was a member introduced the allinclusive fee concept, whereby a person who was a member of a hospital benefits fund organisation and who paid his contribution had a 100 per cent cover for the costs of his treatment in a public hospital. That has worked over the last 3 years. It is a marvellous concept. It is beneficial to the contributors and it is part of that merit of our health scheme which I believe is in the interests of the Australian people to continue because the Australian contributor can pay his contributions for private ward treatment in a public hospital, his contributions for intermediate ward treatment in a public hospital and his contributions for public ward treatment in a public hospital. He knows that if he has to go into hospital he gets a 100 per cent cover of his hospital costs. That is a marvellous concept.
– We do not want to debate all this again. We have heard all this already.
-The Minister says that we have heard all this before. He wants to change it. He wants to introduce something which is far less beneficial to the people of Australia. I think it is incumbent upon us to make it known to him and to a host of other people that our scheme is infinitely better in this respect than anything he could introduce.
What were the contributions which contributors to hospital funds have to pay? The contributions which contributors to funds have to pay were fixed in 1971. They were fixed at a lesser rate than what the funds at that stage sought. They were fixed at a lesser rate because the funds had reserves which could be eaten into in order to ensure that the contribution payments by contributors were lessened because of the effect which the utilisation of reserves would have, and those contribution rates have not been altered in 3 years. Now what has happened? Hospital fees in New South Wales have gone up by 50 per cent. The standard ward fee of $105 has now been increased to $157 for the week; the intermediate ward fee of $156 has been increased to $231; and the private ward fee of $184 has been increased to $273. Is it any wonder that the hospital funds want to increase their rates of contribution?
The Minister says: ‘You are not to increase your rates of contribution by one penny, but you are still to provide the absolute inclusive cover that you have always provided’. That is absolutely unreasonable and the Minister is not prepared to justify or explain why he takes that attitude. But there is more to it than that because in 1972 the McMahon Government provided that the hospital fund contributors should pay an amount towards nursing home treatment, and that was to be paid without any increase in the contribution rate. But less than 6 weeks ago the Government told the funds that they had to increase nursing home benefits by 166 per cent and that they were not to have any increase in contribution rates to meet that payment. Is it any wonder that the funds are concerned about how they can meet their benefit payments and maintain their solvency and look to the future on a basis that they can meet all their commitments?
– You had problems with them yourself. You told me. You did not get on too well with them.
-Senator, I agree with what you say. I assure you that the only reason I am speaking tonight is because I have some knowledge of that situation, and that knowledge makes me believe, irrespective of whether those funds have been right or wrong in the past, that on this occasion they are being treated shamefully by the present Minister for Social Security. That is demonstrable, senator. I ask you to look at the facts. If you do I think you will feel as we do. I think the reason that the Minister is adopting this course at the present time is because he has grandstanded to a position in which he does not want to lose face, and he has introduced this Bill- a Bill which is quite unnecessary.
The Minister seeks in clause 3 of the Bill power to give a direction that an organisation shall be able to alter rules ‘with respect to the variation of the rates of hospital fund benefits payable by the organisation to all or any contributors’. Back in 1971 that power was exercised under the existing Act by the then Minister for Health and the requirements were gazetted and the funds respected the directions they were given. There was absolutely no warrant for that power to be written into this Act on a pretence that the power is not there. Senator Guilfoyle read out the relevant section in the course of her speech when she opened for the Opposition. She referred to section 73 (6) which gives the Minister the power to impose conditions which the organisations must observe. This was a power which was exercised in 1971 and the funds acknowledged at that time that the power existed and they complied with the direction.
– Would they co-operate as easily with us as they did with you?
– I am quite sure, in answer to Senator Mulvihill, that if the Minister is only prepared to talk with them, to co-operate on a basis that we have to work out a solution, he will get the solution. But he is not prepared to do that and his record demonstrates a record of conflict and confrontation which I can only believe is designed to create chaos in the area of health insurance in order to create an attitude in which people might more readily accept the Government’s scheme. Maybe I am doing the Minister an injustice in saying that. But I can only think of all the problems which have been caused in the area of nursing home benefits, the unnecessary problems which have recurred with regard to medical benefits and the problems which are occurring currently in this area of hospital insurance to believe that the purpose is the ulterior purpose of creating problems in the health scheme generally. The fact is that clause 3 is unnecessary because the power is there.
In clause 4 ( 1 ) the Minister wants to amend a paragraph concerned with the type of changes which an organisation might make in its rules. Clause 4(1) seeks to amend section 78 ( 1) (c) which states:
If, after the registration of an organisation under this Pan, the registered organisation changes-
the benefits provided by the organisation or the contributions for, and the amount of, those benefits; or
Then the organisation must tell the DirectorGeneral of Social Security of the position. The amendment which is sought is to change paragraph (c) and insert the following words:
The benefits, the amounts of the benefits, or the contributions for the benefits, provided by the organisation;
That is precisely the same concept in different words, differently spaced. I am at a loss to understand why the Minister is bringing forward a Bill and claiming urgency for it unless it is to deceive the people of Australia and to give some son of publicity to the Press upon which he relies so such to build up this great hate which he has demonstrated for some health insurance funds. Therefore I say that the provision is quite unnecessary.
I wonder how necessary are the provisions in clause 4(2). They appear to be virtually of no consequence. Sub-section (9) of section 78, which is contained in clause 4(2), simply states that ‘any action by an organisation altering or affecting both benefits and contributions shall be deemed to be separate changes in respect of benefits and contributions’. I say: So what? There is no need for the provision. It is implicit in the Act as it stands at the moment. It adds nothing to section 78( 1 ) of the Act. The Minister for Health, in a direction which he gave to a Queensland organisation in February of this year, a copy of which I have seen, separated contributions and benefits in a way in which he now seeks a power to do under this Bill.
– In every State except New South Wales these funds have obeyed the Minister. The outlaws are in New South Wales, and they have to be quarantined.
-The honourable senator ought to recall what happened in Victoria last year. The Minister adopted the same ostrich-like attitude he is adopting now and he sought to deny to the hospital funds in Victoria the right to charge contributions commensurate with the increased benefits which they were giving. The Minister said then that they were challenging his authority, but he did not take the action with regard to the Victorian funds that he is now claiming to take in regard to the New South Wales funds. Possibly the Minister has learnt a little in the last 9 months. He now feels that if he gets a lot of Press publicity, says that he is going to have a Bill which will fine people heavily, and then introduces it -
- Mr Jago in New South Wales wanted to do something. He was one of your Party.
– I think that the honourable senator is getting away from the real substance of the Bill when he talks about personalities. I will respond to his interjections if he is dealing with the substance. Let us look at clause 10 which is sought to be introduced into this measure. We find that the power which is claimed is a power which is already adequate, and that is a power to approve or refuse to approve of a change. That can be done in part. When I was the Minister I refused a change. What I did was to approve it in part and there was no problem about it. Why does this Minister find any difficulty in saying: ‘If you ask for an increase in your contributions so that the amount to which you are asking to increase it is $2.50 I will allow only $2.40.’ Why is that not permissible? It has been done constantly in the past. The Minister’s Department knows it and I am sure that the Minister knows it also.
The first 4 provisions of this BUI are completely unnecessary. They are a sham, a front, a cover for the enormous Press build-up of something which the Minister has leaked to the Press. Let me mention what appeared in the Press yesterday morning. The ‘Australian’ newspaper said:
An emergency meeting of Federal Cabinet last night decided on a plan to fine medical and hospital benefit funds which raise contribution rates without government approval.
It may be that the authors of that particular article were flying a kite, notwithstanding that they said that the information came from Federal Cabinet. Let us look at what the Melbourne Age ‘had to say.
– But you do not believe what the newspapers said, do you?
-No. I am very suspicious of the ‘Age ‘. It said:
The Federal Government will introduce urgent legislation today to allow it to impose fines of up to $1000 a day on health funds which defy its orders.
That is the same story as appeared in the ‘Australian’. Is it a double coincidence or did someone leak that information to a number of journalists? The ‘Sydney Morning Herald ‘ of the same day said:
The legislation would provide for big daily fines against health funds which increased contributions without Government permission. A daily fine of $1,000 is believed to have been considered.
I think that the argument of coincidence and just sheer chance and guesswork becomes a little thin. The ‘Daily Telegraph’, under the heading Crack down on health funds’, said:
Federal Cabinet last night approved a new law to fine medical and health funds $ 1 ,000 a day.
What sort of a government have we got in this country? When the BUI was introduced it did not say a word about fines. It is a milk and water Bill which has no substance at all. It is completely unnecessary and is simply the culmination of a Press campaign for which there was no other justification than to build up the campaign.
What about all these leaks or statements to the Press? There is not a word of truth in them. Will the Minister deny that in some way he was responsible for them? I wish that these people in the Press gallery would be prepared to have an hour of self-confession in which they would tell us where they get all these stories. I am quite sure that we would be remarkably well informed, because this must have come from someone close to the Minister or on the Minister’s staff. We know the purpose for which it was introduced. It was introduced to build up this campaign to give support to something which, without the campaign, would not have had any substance to it. That is surely demonstrable by what has been said.
Let us come to the rest of the Bill. It seeks to give a right of appeal to anyone who is disaffected by the fact that the Minister has disapproved a change in the amount of contributions or the amount of benefits. If one looks at the Bill one finds that it is an appeal without substance. What is the court to do? Is it a court that has to decide what is the appeal? No, it is simply a judge, whom the Attorney-General of the day will select whenever an appeal is lodged. That is the antithesis of justice, to allow a Minister to pick the judge whenever an appeal is launched. We would not be worth our salt as an Opposition if we were not prepared to identify flaws of that character in the legislation and seek to correct them. I am quite sure that the fact that we have put up an amendment to correct that flaw is one reason why the Minister and the Government have succumbed so readily. Otherwise, why did they put the original provision into the Bill and, as soon as we raised an amendment, yield to the proposition we put forward?
– Are you objecting to that?
-Just listen. The other amendment we put forward is to remove from the Bill the power to ask for an injunction. What did the Government do? It immediately accepted our amendment. What sort of backbone has this Government got? Not only is it incompetent in running the economy; it is not even competent to put forward a sensible Bill in regard to the Minister’s prize public relations campaign against the health funds. We are delighted that the Government is prepared to accept our amendment. Not only does it make this legislation- pathetic and puny as it islegislation of some little value, but it also exposes the flaws, the folly and the falsity of the original proposal which the Government put forward. No longer are we in the position of having to have a Minister grandstanding to the Press about all the fines he intends to impose in most unreasonable and unjustifiable circumstances. What we have is a situation in which, if the Minister is capable of saying that these funds should not be able to raise their contributions in order to meet the benefits which a 50 per cent increase in hospital fees and a 166 per cent increase in nursing home benefits require, then either he can show where his justification is or take the consequences. This Minister is a cream-puff Minister. This Bill is a cream-puff Bill. This Government is a cream-puff Government, and what I have said demonstrates that quite clearly.
– I do not think there is any doubt that, if the Government continues to be frustrated with regard to this Bill and its measures to introduce its health scheme in Australia, it will obviously approach the public with a very well-designed plan to obtain sympathy and support from the public. I am quite sure that I support all of Senator Greenwood’s remarks in his assessment of the intentions of the Minister. I do not intend to detain the House but I would like to refer to the Minister’s statement relating to the reserves of the 2 funds mentioned, which are alleged to be over $50m. I can only quote to the House the figures that have been given to me in answer to the charge that the reserves of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia and the Hospitals Contribution Fund stand at $53. 6m as outlined by the Minister. This is the answer I received when I asked for the funds to justify their reserves. I would like to read it out. It says:
Mr Hayden claims that the MBF and the HCF have financial reserves and liquid holdings totalling more than $50m and gives the following figures as at June 30, 1 973:
The total for the HCF is given as $24.2m. Taking the organisations together, the total given is $53.6m. The answer goes on to say:
Mr Hayden is not stating the factual position when he incorrectly adds specific provisions to the balances of funds. Provision for outstanding claims and other provisions such as provision for long service leave are actual liabilities which the Hospital funds will have to incur and such moneys are not available to provide higher benefits or to reduce contributions.
As far as the MBF is concerned, it did not have$29.4m free reserves’ as suggested by Mr Hayden. The correct balance of the MBF hospital fund as at June 30, 1973 was $ 1 2.9m made up as follows:
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I continue:
Set out hereunder is the position as at 30 June 1975 based on the financial experience for the year ended 30 June 1974 and projections for 1974-75 allowing for higher hospital benefits, a 40 per cent incease in contributions, the updating of provisions and working capital reserve and the effects of substantial increases in Award rates of pay and inflationary effects on the costs of goods and services used in the day to day administration ofthe Fund.
Mr Hayden ignores the necessity for the Funds to have any working capital reserve or to update the level of provisions for outstanding claims to meet the greater liability resulting from the increases in fund benefits. It is apparent from the above figures that the 52 per cent to 58 per cent increases in fund benefits required to cover the 50 per cent increase in hospital charges and the 167 per cent increase in fund nursing home benefits cannot be provided without the increase in contributions determined by the Funds.
Mr President, hard words have been said on both sides and I thought that the funds at least ought to have it said on their behalf that they have a quite different set of arithmetic from that ofthe Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden).
With the Minister’s intention, as set out by Senator Greenwood, apparently to gain public sympathy for his stand on the health funds, which is not a popular stand at the moment, I tend to believe the funds.
– in reply- I would be loath to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it is such a long winded horse. The only thing I would say is that we accept the amendment, but not because I think we are a cream puff government. I fail to see how we are both a ruthless, oppressive government and a cream puff government simultaneously, which apparently Senator Greenwood seems to think that we are. We accept the amendment because the Bill itself is essential. We do not think that the amendment is a very good amendment. There is a significant typographical error in the first line of proposed clause 12 (b) which I think requires correction- otherwise it is totally incomprehensible. We accept the amendment and we hope that it will be dealt with very promptly.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 5. After section 78 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted:- 78a. (1) It is unlawful for a registered organization to contravene or fail to observe a condition to which its registration is subject or to demand or receive contributions to a medical benefits fund or to a hospital benefits fund that are not in accordance with an approval under this Act or are contrary to a direction under this Act.
– I move:
Leave out sub-clauses (12). (13) and (14); insert the following sub-clauses:
The Supreme Court of each State is invested with federal jurisdiction and jurisdiction is conferred on the Supreme Court of each Territory to hear and determine appeals under this section.
If on the hearing of the appeal the Court is satisfied-
that the change insofar as it relates to the contributions payable to the organisation is reasonable having regard to the amounts reasonably required for the purposes ofthe fund, the moneys readily available for such purposes, the rates of contribution in force before the change, the rates of benefits provided or to be provided by the organisation, the liabilities of the organisation, the level of reserves and the adequacy of such reserves in the light of prevailing economic circumstances, the Court shall allow the appeal but if the Court is not so satisfied it may either determine what it believes should be the proper benefits or the proper contributions or it may dismiss the appeal.
Leave out clause 5.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Wheeldon) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– Before the Bill is read a third time I am going to comment and I invite from my comment a reply by the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon). In the course of the second reading speech an accusation was madeand it was made clearly, I think, by every speaker on this side of the chamber- that this was a Bill which lacked the validity which had been claimed for it by the great Press relations campaign ofthe Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). What happened? When the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation rose to reply, he simply said that he was not going to be long winded because he liked gift horses and then passed some derogatory remarks about gift horses. That was all he said. Did he not have any answer to defend the Minister for Social Security? Did he not have some answer to the points which were made?
Then we moved into the Committee stage. You, Mr President, would not know of course what happened in the Committee stage, but it was singularly silent except when Senator Guilfoyle moved her amendment. This is the stage to which this Government has deteriorated. It will put up a proposal but it does not matter what sort of lies, misrepresentation and deception accompanies the presentation of a case. All sorts of leaks or confidential information will be given to the Press, and the public is given a story completely different from what is contained in the legislation. When that point is made clear the Government just retreats and does not say a word. I know, because I read what the Minister for Social Security said and I have seen what other members of the Government have indicated, that they do not want to get worked up to defend a Government which, I am sure, after their strenuous efforts earlier this week, is terribly difficult to defend. Therefore the best course is to remain silent. But I assure honourable senators opposite that the longer they remain silent the more the people of Australia will draw their own conclusions. I say once again, in conclusion, that I wonder if the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation is prepared to say a word in defence of the Minister for Social Security.
– I am not going to debate the position of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). All I am going to say is that we had a Bill which was accepted in principle by the Opposition parties and it was made clear by Mr Chipp in another place that they would accept it. In dealing with the spokesmen on these matters in the Senate agreement was reached at an early stage that we would accept an amendment that would be moved. We believe that it was urgent that this Bill should be passed. I do not intend to go rolling in the gutter with Senator Greenwood. I think that his behaviour tonight has been disgraceful. I can assure him that if he were only to see the looks of dismay on the faces of his colleagues he would wipe from his face the silly grin which he has there now.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I do not wish to detain the Senate but I point out that earlier today when I was unable to obtain an opportunity to ask a question I indicated to the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt), representing the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby), that I would like to raise a matter tonight relating to the textile industry and related in particular to the situation in Tasmania and related with even greater particularity to the situation in Launceston. The situation there is that as a result of the policy of the Government in imposing tariff cuts last year, which I do not wish to debate tonight, there is now an admitted situation where, as the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) and Mr Enderby said in a joint statement dated 30 July:
Imports of basic textiles have increased from 1972-73 to 1973-74 by 67 per cent and imports of clothing and accessories have increased in the same period by 94 per cent.
As the Textile Authority report made quite clear, clothing imports are causing disruption in the Australian market. The Authority recommended that restraint measures be negotiated with the countries that are exporting those goods to Australia. The net result of it all, stated very briefly, is that more than 30 per cent of the very significant total work force in Launceston and the central-northern area of Tasmania has been laid off in the past few months as a result of the problems that exist in the textile industry. I believe that this is not a matter which the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) would take lightly. It is not a matter which any of us would take lightly.
Tonight I do not wish to debate the politics of this question. I wish to raise the need for some urgent action to be taken. I believe that some time yesterday the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard) asked the Government to send an investigating team to Launceston, in a similar way to the way in which it sent a team to some country areas of Victoria, to see what can be done to overcome the problem in the textile industry in Launceston. That, I suggest, is the least that can be done. I seek from the Minister an assurance- to be given immediately or, at the very latest, tomorrow- that this action is being taken by the Government. I believe that it is somewhat absurd, in a city which is quite substantially based on the textile industry and in which alternative employment is not readily available, to find a situation in which large numbers of people are being put out of work and are having to apply to the Government for payment of what would have been their salary so that they can stay at home, when a little more positive action from the Government, pending the implementation of whatever steps it wishes to take, might keep them in employment, keep the industries in production and enable the Government to have time to sort out the problem.
I acknowledge the fact that the Government has arranged for a team to go overseas to endeavour to negotiate under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade agreed reductions in exports from those countries which export to Australia. I acknowledge the fact that the Government already has taken some action to get Taiwan, which is not a member of the GATT, to reduce exports to Australia. But what I wish to impress on the Minister tonight is that in the meantime, while this is being sorted out- and we have known for months that this has been happeningpeople are being thrown out of work in Launceston and in other areas of Tasmania. People are being laid off in industries which may never be able to recover and, unless urgent steps are taken, those people may not be able to obtain alternative employment in that area.
Therefore, I seek an assurance that an immediate special investigation will be undertaken in a similar way to the way in which an investigation has been undertaken in some areas of Victorianot that I hold any great hopes that the investigation will be successful, but at least it is one tiling which can be done immediately. I also ask the Government to consider urgently granting immediate support to the textile industry in this area pending some rationalisation of what can be done in the long term to save the employment of these people and the industries. Some of these industries have maintained employment and stability in this area of Australia for more than 100 years. It is very sad, I think, that a company which has been a textile manufacturer in northern Tasmania for more than 100 years is laying off people for the first time in the whole of its history. Rather than expand, the company suddenly has had substantially to contract. I want to impress on the Government the importance of this situation and to seek some assurance that urgent action will be taken.
- Senator Rae was good enough to advise me during the day that he would be raising this matter in the adjournment debate. Of course, the problem that he raises flows from the Government’s decision last year to reduce tariffs across the board by 25 per cent. I do not want to canvass the rights or wrongs of that decision either; but when the Government took the decision it was aware that there would be repercussions in certain manufacturing industries in Australia, and it was anticipated that the textile industry, in particular, would be affected. There is a major textile industry in Launceston and it has been affected as a result of the Government’s decision.
When the Government made the decision to reduce tariffs it set in train certain procedures which would protect firms and the employees of those firms in the event of unemployment being created. The Government has made available avenues whereby such firms may make approaches to it. The Textile Authority to which Senator Rae referred, is one of those avenues. Another one is the Temporary Assistance Authority. More recently, of course, there has been the Structural Adjustment Board, the legislation for which is now being prepared for presentation to this Parliament. These authorities enable firms which are affected by the Government’s decision to reduce tariffs to make application to the Government for assistance in relation to the structural changes that have taken place. As regards the employees affected by the Government’s decision to reduce tariffs, the Government already has announced that it will pay these employees the average weekly wages they earned over the previous 6 months for a period of 6 months, and at the same time the Government has instituted retraining programs. I mention these things as being the broad context in which the Government has made these decisions and taken steps in order to ensure that neither firms nor employees are disadvantaged as a result of these decisions.
Turning to Launceston specifically, Senator Rae has said, as I understand it, that 30 per cent of the people employed in the textile industry in Launceston are out of work. That is not quite the figure that has been supplied to me. I understand that about 2,500 people were employed in the textile industry in Launceston and that the total number of registered unemployed in the area as at 30 June of this year was 787. What proportion of that number of unemployed has been displaced from the textile industry, I do not know.
– There are some 700 who have been laid off from the textile industry. That is the laying-off situation.
-I accept that in good faith. If that is the case, then presumably virtually all the unemployment in the area is the result of people being laid off in the textile industry, which would rather surprise me. One would expect that a significant proportion of those people would in fact be workers who have been displaced from other industries. Be that as it may, these industries have available to them the avenues which I have mentioned.
Senator Rae specifically asked for an undertaking to be given that the Department of Manufacturing Industry will look at the position in Launceston. I give him the undertaking that I will convey this request to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby). I can do no more than that. But I think it is reasonable to ensure that a proper survey of the position in Launceston is made, in the same way as one has been made in Wangaratta in Victoria.
-Has that helped at all?
-I think that it has helped to the extent of making an assessment of the position. I am not aware that the survey has been completed.
– What would it do to help, really? What is the Government” aiming at in closing these factories?
– If Senator Webster had been listening a little more carefully to what I have been saying he would have heard me make the point that the Government made provision for these things when it took the step of reducing tariffs by 25 per cent. We established the Textile Authority. We established the Structural Adjustment Board. We have made provision for employees who are laid off as a result of these changes. They qualify for special assistance if it can be shown that they have been displaced as a result of the Government’s decision. I do not really know what more the Government is expected to do. I know that Senator Webster, as a member of the Australian Country Party, would have preferred a continuation of the old way, whereby tariffs were maintained at the maximum level simply for the purpose of propping up industries, which may not have been to the benefit of the Australian consumer. That, no doubt, would be the course that he would follow again if he were back in government. I am not here to enter into a debate with Senator Webster. I am here simply to give Senator Rae an undertaking that I will take this matter up with Mr
Enderby in the hope that he will afford to those persons in Launceston who have been affected the same treatment as has been afforded to persons affected in Wangaratta in Victoria.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Senate adjourned at 10.51 p.m.
The following answer to a question upon notice was circulated:
Has the Australian Government informed the State Governments what adjustments it would make to generalpurpose and specific purpose grants to any State which transferred responsibility for its railway system to the Australian Government: if so, what are the adjustments.
No. The question has, however, been raised by the South Australian Government and is under active consideration at the present time.
The previous Western Australian Government had agreed to discuss the Australian Government’s offer to accept responsibility for the transfer of its railway system, to see if a mutually satisfactory basis for a transfer could be devised. Discussions on this matter had progressed satisfactorily and an interim report had been prepared at officer level for consideration by the two Governments concerned.
The present Premier, however, informed the Prime Minister on 14 June that the Western Australian Government did not wish to proceed with negotiations and considered the matter closed. On 3 July he wrote again requesting financial assistance for a proposed railway from Eneabba to Dongara. In his reply the Prime Minister stated that the Australian Government believes the current state of the nation’s railways presents a national problem that can only be tackled effectively on a national basis, and that as a consequence the Government considers that any financial assistance that it is prepared to make available should be for the purpose of helping to solve this national problem. The Eneabba to Dongara railway proposal did not appear to fall into this category. The Prime Minister therefore suggested that if the Western Australian Government was unable to raise the capital for this proposal which, according to information supplied by the State was commercially very attractive, then perhaps the State should reconsider its decision to close the transfer discussions. The Prime Minister has not yet received a reply from the Premier.
In the event that the transfer discussions with Western Australia are reopened then clearly the question of the effect on financial assistance to that State resulting from a transfer would need to be considered at an early date.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 August 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1974/19740801_senate_29_s60/>.