29th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That, unless otherwise ordered, the sessional order relating to the days and times of meeting of the Senate and precidence to Government and General business be varied as follows:
1 ) That on Thursday, 6 March 1975, the Senate shall sit from 10.30 a.m. to I p.m., from 2. 15 p.m. to 6 p.m., and from 8 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.;
That General Business take precedence of Government Business at 8 p.m. on that day; and
That, unless otherwise ordered, the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate shall have effect at 10.30 p.m. on that day.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That Government Business Notice of Motion No. 1 be withdrawn.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation as the Minister, I understand, responsible for the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation. Is it a fact that Mr Jonathan Ilbery has been appointed by the Governor-General to the Board of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation? Is the Minister aware that having been convicted of offences under the Companies Act of the State of Victoria while a director of a company, Mr Ilbery would be incapable at law under the uniform companies legislation of all the States of being a director of a company? Is not the role of a member of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation in effect the role of director of a company? Why does the Government consider a person who is incapable at law of being a director because he has been convicted of offences should now be one of the 5 members of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation?
– I have read a report in this morning’s ‘Australian Financial Review’ concerning Mr Ilbery, which was the first knowledge that I had of the allegation that he had been guilty of offences. I was certainly not aware of it before. I have known Mr Ilbery for many years. He is the senior partner in a prominent firm of solicitors in Perth with an extensive commercial practice, and I have always found him to be a man of high repute. In my opinion he was a proper person to serve on a board of this kind. 1 think that other legal practitioners from Western Australia who are members of the Senate would certainly confirm that he is highly regarded in Western Australia. I do not know whether the report which was in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ is correct. I am taking steps to check whether the report is correct. I am very distressed to have read what I have read in this morning’s Australian Financial Review’. I repeat that I was not aware before this morning of the matters which are alleged. All I can do is to make inquiries and take whatever action is appropriate in the circumstances. I am very sorry to have learned of this because it has always been my opinion that Mr Ilbery was the sort of person who would have been a very proper person to be a member of a board of this kind.
-I ask the PostmasterGeneral what is the likely date of the operation of the proposed Post Office courier service? Have the necessary vehicles been acquired and are they available and ready for service?
– Just before Christmas we announced that it was expected that the service would be operating from about 1 May. It is anticipated now that the service will not commence until early in July. The vehicles have been received, with sufficient spares, but there is a need to adjust the radio equipment, which is being supplied by Amalgamated Wireless (A’asia) Limited, as a result of new standards being set by the Post Office. The delay is occasioned by the need to accommodate the new radio communications system. The service probably will not be in operaton until the later date I mentioned.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer him to a part of my question yesterday about Cambodia which the Minister did not answer. I ask again whether Australia will take part in any airlift of food supplies to Phnom
Penh. Has the Lon Nol Government requested Australian assistance and, if so, how did we respond? If not, has Australia offered assistance or is the Government unconcerned about the fate of thousands of men, women and children who appear to be desperately short of food?
– You do not want us to get involved in South East Asia again, do you?
– I just want to hear the reply.
-I indicated when Senator Drake-Brockman asked the question yesterday that I did not have the information but at the end of question time I read an answer based on information I had received. The honourable senator was not in the chamber at the time.
– I was.
-I am sorry, I thought you missed it.
– I thought it was a very good answer to that part of the question.
– All right, the honourable senator was here. I cannot give him any more information than I gave in that answer. If more information is forthcoming I will get it for him.
– I preface my question, addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, by recalling to the Minister that one of the reasons advanced by the Government for extending recognition to the military regime in Chile was to enable the Australian Government, through our embassy in Santiago, to have some effect on the treatment of political prisoners, refugees and so on within Chile. I ask the Minister whether this policy has borne fruit and if in fact Australia has been able to have any effect in these matters?
-When the Allende Government, the properly elected government of Chile, was overthrown the Australian Government recognised the new regime. We were not one of the first to recognise the regime. In fact many of the Western European social democratic governments recognised it before Australia. We did so on the basis that not only was it the effective government in control in Chile, irrespective of one’s thoughts on the legitimacy of that control, but also because of our presence there in the form of an embassy and the belief that we might be able to assist persons who were affected to their disadvantage, mainly because they possibly were sympathisers with the
Allende regime. We have endeavoured to use every means we can to assist people who have been regarded as non desirables by the present military authorities in Chile. As a result we have been able to arrange the emigration of a number of citizens from that country to Australia. I understand that the first of those people will be arriving in Australia on 3 March. I believe this indicates the value of the Government’s decision to recognise the regime and to maintain a presence in Chile in order that we could assist those people.
– My question, addressed to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry, refers to a report today by the New South Wales State Secretary of the Clothing Trades Union, Mr Watkins, that 600 men and women in the clothing industry in and near Sydney are to lose their jobs next week. I refer also to the statement by Mr Watkins that unemployment in the industry is caused solely by the Federal Government’s tariff policy. Is the Minister aware of these impending sackings? Has he been aware in recent weeks that such sackings were likely to occur? If not, why was he not in consultation? Why has the Government failed to safeguard the employment of these people? What does the Government intend to do to rectify the matter? Does the Minister still share the Prime Minister’s stated view that it is garbage to suggest that tariff cuts have caused substantial unemployment?
– I have seen the item referred to by the honourable senator. I find it an odd suggestion that any government or any Minister of any government should be able to anticipate exactly what factories will be sacking people at any given moment.
– This is 600 people in one area.
-Nobody has informed me of this.
– Order! The Minister must have the right to reply in silence.
– I cannot see why I am expected to know if nobody tells me. Nobody has told me of these impending sackings.
– You did not inquire?
– I did not inquire of whom? Of somebody I did not know about?
– Of the industry which is suffering massive unemployment.
-The Government is in constant contact with the industry. Every day I receive deputations from companies that are in distress and unions that are in distress. If I am not informed that 600 persons are about to be sacked I do not know how I am supposed to know. As to the other part of the question- whether I agree that the troubles in the industry are caused by tariff cuts alone- I do not believe that the troubles in any industry are caused by tariff cuts alone. I agree with what the Prime Minister has said, namely, that a contribution to our present difficulties was the record increase in wage levels over last year. Of course I do not for one moment deny- nor did the Prime Minister- that tariff cuts were a contribuory factor to unemployment in several industries, notably the textile industry and the clothing industry.
Of course, the suggestion that we are doing nothing about this problem just will not hold up. The Government has taken very wide-ranging action to assist the textile industry and the clothing industry. It has initiated voluntary restraint arrangements on knitware. It has imposed import restraint by way of tariff quotas on towels, acrylic yarn, knitted fabrics, woven fabrics, polyester and nylon yarn and brassieres. In addition, the Government currently is considering action on other clothing products and carpets following a report from the Textile Authority. The Government recently has referred other products, including sheeting and blankets, to the Textile Authority for investigation. In addition, the Government has awarded grants of almost $4m under the Special Assistance to Nonmetropolitan Areas scheme. I am open to suggestions from honourable senators opposite as to what further action we should take. I would like to hear anything, in addition to just the usual sniping which we get from them, on this and all other matters concerning the distress which is currently being experienced in this country. Again I ask honourable senators, as I asked one of the questioners yesterday: Do you enjoy this situation? They appear to be gloating over it. On the other hand, we are attempting to do something to cure it.
- Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question.
– A supplementary question must be asked for the purpose of elucidation.
– Yes. The Minister did not answer the specific question which I directed to him. What does the Minister propose to do to preserve and safeguard the employment of those 600 people who are facing sacking next week?
– I will be having discussions with the union later today.
– My question, which I ask of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, relates to shipping. When is it expected that the new Australian National Line ship ‘Melbourne Trader’ will be commissioned? What will be the role of this new ship, especially in relation to the Tasmanian shipping service? What benefits are expected to flow from the commissioning of the ‘Melbourne Trader’? Finally, what further ships are on order for the Australian National Line?
-Senator Devitt was good enough to tell me this morning about the question. The Minister has advised as follows: The Melbourne Trader’ is en route to Australia at present. It is expected to enter service shortly after its arrival on 19 March. Following a detailed study of cargo flow projections through to the end of 1978, terminal turnabout capabilities, ship carrying capacities, etc., 2 searoaders and the ‘Melbourne Trader’ will operate from Melbourne to northern Tasmanian ports, thence to Sydney and North Queensland, giving an integrated additional weekly service directly from north Tasmania to Sydney in support of the Australian Trader’. Each vessel will spend one week in three in Bass Strait, supported by the third searoader, giving 2 vessels in Bass Strait continuously. The line is confident that these arrangements will provide sufficient capacity adequately to cover Bass Strait requirements until 1979. The following ships are at present on order for the Australian National Line: For the coastal trade, one seacoaster, 6700 dead weight tonnes, general cargo vessel; two 25 000 dead weight tonnes bulk carriers for overseas trade; two 12 100 dead weight tonnes bulk carriers; two 137 000 dead weight tonnes bulk carriers; and one 29 000 cellular container ship.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I am concerned at the report from the President of the
Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation that the Federal Government’s failure to pay its bills has caused printers to lay off staff. Has the Minister any knowledge of the extent that industry is affected by a delay of 10 months in the settlement of accounts for suppliers to the Government? Is the Minister aware of the liquidity problems of business and that these are severely aggravated by delay in settlement of accounts to the Government? Is the delay related to inefficiency of administration in Government departments or has a new policy been adopted by the Treasurer to defer cash payments?
-This matter properly comes under the responsibility of the Minister for the Media. I suggest that the question be directed to him.
– In reply to the question directed to my colleague Senator Wriedt by Senator Guilfoyle, I can say that I have seen reports of delays in payment of printing bills for Government printing jobs contracted to private printers. I can tell the honourable senator that the Australian Government Publishing Service, which is a section of my Department, acts as a placement agency for the printing and publishing needs of all other Australian Government departments. Once the Government printing jobs have been commissioned with the private contractors the accounts coming in are referred for payment to the respective departments which have commissioned the work to be done. This procedure is as a result of a Treasury direction which was in existence at the time of the previous Government. I have asked officers of my Department to confer with Treasury officials about the matter to see whether we can find a central way of making payment of the accounts.
I can tell the honourable senator too that the rate of placement of Government printing jobs with outside contractors has increased by over 100 per cent in the last 2 years- in the time that this Government has been in office. For instance, in 1972 about 917 jobs were commissioned with private contractors. In 1974 there were 1720 jobs commissioned by the Australian Government Publishing Service with outside contractors. The amount of money involved in 1971-72, the last year of office of the previous Government, for private printing being done for and on behalf of the Australian Government was some $3.9m. In the last financial year the amount was $ 10.9m. As to the immediate problem that the honourable senator has raised, the arrangement that exists is by way of Treasury direction, which was issued some time ago. I have asked officers of my
Department to confer with the Treasury to see whether, rather than having the individual departments pay the accounts, as they do at the moment, a central fund could be established for that purpose.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. My supplementary question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I thank the Minister for the Media for the information he has given to me, much of which I was aware of as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. My question relates to the liquidity of business in general at the present time and the delay in the payment of accounts by the Government. I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer: Is the delay related to the inefficiency of the administration in Government departments, not simply the Department of the Media or anything related to printing, or has a new policy been adopted by the Treasurer to defer cash payments?
-I will have to refer the question to the Treasurer himself for a proper answer.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Media. Is it true that the Australian Broadcasting Commission pays residuals -or payments for repeats of performances- to local artists? Is it true that the commercial television stations do not make those payments and that that is of some concern to the local artists? What has the Government done to remedy the situation?
– I think that the honourable senator is correct in saying that the Australian Broadcasting Commission does pay residual fees to the Australian creative and performing artists that it employs in the production of Australian programs. I understand that the unions involved in the entertainment industry assert that the commercial television stations do not pay a residual fee, although I have been given to understand that the commercial stations claim at the same time that set out or embodied in the fee that they pay for the original performance is a sort of payment for a residual fee.
– That is for repeats?
-Yes. However, the honourable senator will be aware that at the Terrigal conference of the Australian Labor Party this year a resolution was carried that the Government should introduce performers protection legislation much along the lines of the British Performers Protection Act. Officers of the Attorney-General’s Department, my Department and the Department of Labor and Immigration were involved in discussions on this matter last year. They called for written submissions and personal representations. The last I heard on that matter was that the only submission they had received was from the Musicians Union. However, I know that they have had discussions with the other industrial unions involved. I have been given to understand that officers of the Attorney-General’s Department shortly will be meeting with the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. It is a very involved matter. There are questions of copyright, residuals and normal negotiating processes involved. I have been advised it is quite a complicated legal problem. It is true that my Department, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Labor and Immigration are working on the matter. I understand that the Attorney-General’s Department shortly will begin the process of preparing a draft Bill.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry. If the Government is of the belief that tariff policy has not caused unemployment why is the Government continuing the special assistance plan that was introduced to assist those who have been made redundant because of the Government’s tariff policy and who also receive much higher financial benefits than those in receipt of unemployment benefits, which are also subject to a means test?
-Despite what anybody may say the Government has never maintained that tariff changes have not caused unemployment. I certainly do not so assert.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. I ask: Is it a fact that the Iraqi trade delegation that was recently in New Zealand has returned home without visiting Australia? Did the mission purchase meat in New Zealand and has it made any offers to buy meat from Australia?
-There has been an Iraqi trade delegation in New Zealand and it did purchase a considerable quantity of New Zealand meat, almost exclusivelylamb. It was the type of lamb which it can obtain from New Zealand but apparently cannot obtain from Australia. I understand that the delegation is not returning via Australia. This has nothing to do with the decision by the Government recently not to grant visas to representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The delegation apparently had fulfilled the commercial intent of its visit to New Zealand and to this part of the world and therefore did not see a commercial need to visit Australia. There have, on the other hand, been inquiries just recently by Iraqi authorities for approximately 200 tonnes of canned meat which suggests that Iraq is still very much interested in purchasing meat from Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. In the 6 months since I last asked a question on this subject what steps have been taken and what results achieved in trading Australian apples into Japan?
-The same obstacle applies as did apply 6 months ago when Senator Wright asked the question and that is the Japanese refusal to accept Tasmanian and other Australian apples on the basis of their not meeting Japanese requirements on health and quarantine matters. The same research as has been going on now for, I suppose, four or five years is continuing, particularly in regard to codlin moth, in order to get the standards up to the stage where the Japanese importing authorities will accept the apples. Unfortunately we have not reached that stage yet but we will continue the research work which has been done over the years in order to try to meet the standards that the Japanese require.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration give any information as to what action is contemplated by the Government following the release of the Borrie report?
– Yesterday Senator Wriedt and I in answering questions- I think Senator Davidson asked me a question- indicated that it was anticipated that the Government would, after proper consideration, determine what it would do about the report. That is the information I have. The Minister for Labor and Immigration has said that first the Government has to consider it. In the meantime he has authorised a continuing 2-year study by the same team to refine the projections. The implications of the report will be considered also by the Australian Population and Immigration Council and all I can do is refer to the Minister for his further consideration the comments of honourable senators who ask questions.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. Will he confirm or deny a statement made yesterday by the Minister for Northern Development that the Government is considering dropping the 1 .6c per lb beef export levy? Is this one of a number of proposals to assist the beef industry? If so, what others are contemplated?
-I have indicated over the last two or three weeks that there are many matters that the Government has been considering in respect of assistance to the beef industry and certainly the 1 .6c per lb levy is one of them. I am not in a position to say specifically whether the action that the honourable senator refers to will be taken. I might point out to the honourable senator that the Meat Exporters Council has made a submission to the Government seeking the removal of the lc component of the 1.6c but not the .6c which affects eradication campaigns. The Government will continue to watch the position and to give assistance to the industry in manners which it believes will be the most effective to assist the industry.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport whether he has seen recent Press reports which state that the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia Inc. has conducted field tests which show that the Datsun 120Y sedan has a defective seat belt fitting? Can the Minister give any information on what action the Department of Transport is taking to investigate these claims?
– The Press report yesterday or the day before referred to the fact that the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia Inc. had claimed that the seat belt anchorages had been loose. The RAA had reported the complaint to the Nissan Motor Co. Ltd, whose representatives were to meet representatives of the RAA on Friday. In the meantime, officers of the Department of Transport have been told to get in touch with the Nissan Company and the RAA in connection with the matter. I have been advised that while the seat belts meet the Australian specifications, there is some question about the bolts being loose. Officers of the Department are consulting the interests concerned to see what the position is.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I refer to reports that he visited Perth yesterday to discuss with the Western Australian Government relations between the police and Aborigines at Laverton. Has the Minister agreed to a joint State Government and Australian Government inquiry into this matter? If so, is it to be a public or private inquiry?
– No, I have not agreed to a joint Australian Government and State Government inquiry. It was one of my proposals but the Premier of Western Australia does not desire a further inquiry. He has received a full and detailed report from Magistrate Sydall on the matter. Because of the method of appointment of the Magistrate and the fact that he did not have the privileges and powers of a royal commission, his report cannot be made public. What happened at Laverton is known to the Premier of Western Australia and to me. I am most anxious to get this information into a public document by appointing a further inquiry with the standing of a royal commission so that the report may be made public. But that will not be entertained by the Premier of Western Australia.
-Has the Minister for Manufacturing Industry had discussions recently with representatives of the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd and with union officers concerning the proposed dismissal of nearly 400 employees at its works at Risdon, Tasmania? What is the principal reason for the company’s proposed action as given to the Minister? What is the current stage of the negotiations between the Australian Government and the company?
– I had discussions yesterday with a delegation consisting of executives of the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd and representatives of the various unions which are under threat of having some of their members dismissed in the immediate future. The main problem at Electrolytic Zinc is that there has been a downturn in the export market for zinc and a downturn in the Australian market for zinc and superphosphate. The company estimates that if production continues at the present rate it will be stockpiling zinc at an unacceptable level. Hence it was proposed that approximately 400 members of the workforce at Electrolytic Zinc should be dismissed in the near future. We had long discussions yesterday which are to be resumed this morning immediately after question time. I am hopeful that some arrangement will be made which will prevent a loss of work to the men involved.
– I am not able to confirm the suggestion in the first part of the question. I shall refer it to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and, if any such information is available to the Australian Government, presumably it can be made available to Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. The Government believes the statements by the Indonesian Government to be sincere. The Indonesian Government has indicated that it does not wish to take any military action which would impose on what is currently Portuguese territory. The Indonesian Ambassador called on the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday and reiterated the statement which was made two or three days ago by the Indonesian Defence Ministry. The Government believes that those statements are made in good faith.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Services and Property been drawn to a banner headline in yesterday’s Sydney ‘Sun’ which falsely claims that jobs have been created for the wives of members of Parliament at a salary of $7,500 per annum? Is it not a fact that, when announcing the allocation of one extra staff member as a research assistant, the Minister for Services and Property, Mr Daly, emphatically stated that if any member abused this privilege by nominating a close relative for the position the privilege would be withdrawn?
– It is true that the Government has made provision for members of Parliament to employ one additional person on their staffs up to a salary level of $7,500 a year. Anyone who knows anything about the working of Parliament and the work of parliamentarians would applaud the decision, because parliamentarians have been entitled over the years to have better research facilities. I personally welcome the decision. However, as has been pointed out in the question, the Government would be very concerned about any abuse of the privilege which is being afforded by any member of Parliament. I can only state my personal point of view that any member of Parliament who saw fit to employ his wife in that capacity would be very unwise indeed.
– I remind the Minister representing the Treasurer that on Tuesday last I asked him a question related to the action of Ampol Petroleum Ltd in seeking a petrol price rise through the Prices Justification Tribunal. At that time the Minister stated that he had not seen reports that the national secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation, Mr Norman Gallagher, had urged that a national black ban be placed on Ampol Petroleum Ltd for having approached the Prices Justification Tribunal for a price rise. Has he now seen the report? Will the Government express its disapproval of any suggestion that industrial blackmail of the kind proposed should be instituted against Australian companies daring to approach the Labor Government ‘s price fixing tribunal?
– I have now seen the newspaper report. Senator Baume was kind enough to send a copy to me. Although I think the word ‘blackmail’ probably is better not used, I would agree that tactics of this nature are unfortunate. The purpose of the Prices Justification Tribunal is to give a proper, public and impartial hearing to claims for increases in prices. The Government believes, and I think there is evidence to prove, that the existence of the Tribunal has helped to dampen down prices in the time that it has been operating. I can only say that the Government will continue to give its full support to the Tribunal.
– Can the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation confirm news reports that there was a fire in a repatriation hospital in which an employee of the Department died? Will the Minister inform the Senate of the details surrounding the fire and the death of the employee?
-Unfortunately I have to confirm this information. There was a fire last night at the Repatriation General Hospital at Macleod in Victoria. Apparently the fire occurred at 10.30 p.m. in an old wooden recreation shed adjoining the main building of the hospital. It occurred shortly after a film had been shown in the recreation shed. It is not yet known how the fire started. A nursing aide employed by the Department of Repatriation and Compensation who was helping to put the fire out had a heart attack during his efforts and subsequently died. This person had a history of some heart trouble, but there can be no doubt that his attack was hastened by his efforts to extinguish the flames. The shed was completely destroyed, but the value of the property which was lost is rather negligible as apparently it was proposed that the shed should be demolished in the near future. The only fortunate thing that I can report in relation to the episode is that none of the patients at the hospital were injured, nor to the best of my knowledge were any other employees of the hospital. I am making further inquiries as to the cause of the fire and whether there are fire hazards in any of the other premises which are under the control of my Department.
– I ask the Minister for Agriculture: In view of the present low prices being received by beef producers is this not an opportune time for the Government to explore, in consultation with producer organisations, the possibility of mounting a major campaign for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis by the purchase and destruction of diseased stock, with payments to producers at rates which would be acceptable to the producers?
– The Government is considering this point. It has been raised by the industry. My departmental officers have been working on it now for some dme. Most of the brucellosis has been eradicated and the desire of the Government is to complete that eradication campaign as quickly as possible. A problem is developing in country areas because many veterinarians are tending to leave those areas because of the downturn in the beef industry. It is most important that that movement be arrested. I assure Senator Laucke that I have given some very serious thought to this matter in the last two or three days. I am in communication with the States on this matter. I shall have to await a reply from the Ministers concerned in those States to clarify exactly what they feel should be done. I assure the honourable senator that this matter is under close examination at the moment.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate as the Minister representing the Minister for Services and Property. Has the Minister been made aware of a report in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ that some honourable senators are known to be employing their wives as secretaries? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether the report is true or false?
– We have just had a question along very similar lines. This question is perhaps more specific. I am asked whether I know of any members of Parliament who have employed their wives. Frankly I do not. I doubt it very much, in view of the fact that the announcement was made only yesterday.
– The question relates to electoral secretaries.
– I am sorry. I would not know, but I will put the question to the Minister involved and see whether he can give us an answer.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate or such other Minister as the question warrants. It relates to the announcement that $2. 7m in arts grants is to be distributed to a superannuation scheme for what are described as retired performers. Firstly, as the superannuation scheme is described as being the only one of its kind in the world, can the Minister give me some further information on qualifications for eligibility in this superannuation scheme, particularly qualifications relating to age and contributions required. Secondly, in relation to the announcement concerning arts grants, does the Government really believe that a grant to a troupe of poets and dancers to perform in Sydney streets and parks reflects the Governments ‘s recent pleas for restraint?
– So far as the answer to the last part of the question is concerned, I think it is fair to say: ‘Yes, why should it not?’ Surely if dancing or whatever other artistic work these people are doing is brought to the people in some form or other, it is something about which Senator Wright, who is trying to interject, would not know much. No doubt he would claim to be an authority on this subject as he is on everything else. I could not say whether or not it would be part of the Government’s normal policy to assist this type of enterprise, but I imagine there would be a favourable response from people who wish to see this sort of thing. I shall have to refer the earlier part of the question to the Prime Minister to get a detailed answer.
– Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware of the serious anomaly suffered by students studying under the Aboriginal study grants scheme as compared with those benefiting under the National Employment and Training scheme? For example, weekly payments under the former scheme are approximately $45 as compared with $93 plus under NEAT. Is he also aware that many Aboriginal students, particularly those with dependants, will be forced to abandon their studies unless adjustments are made under the Aboriginal study grants scheme? Will the Minister investigate the matter, and if adjustments cannot be made by the Department of Education will he examine the possibility of increasing allowances from funds available to his Department?
– I have had a conference with the Minister for Education on this matter. A submission has been placed before the Government and the matter is now under consideration. It is true that the difference between the NEAT scheme and the scholarship scheme is causing a lot of problems. I am confident that the Government will do something by way of adjustment rather than allow the difference between allowances under the schemes to continue.
(Senator Webster having addressed a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate)
– Order! I am going to disallow this question, because the matter is current and I do not think we are in a position to discuss it at the moment.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that of the 2 part-time members to be elected to the Australian Capital Territory Health Services Commission one will be a nursing employee elected by the nursing employees? Does this involvement of the nurses in the administration of the Commission meet with the approval of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation?
-I should think that the proposition put forward by the Minister for Health would meet with the approval not only of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation and the other relevant unions but of all those concerned with democracy in industry and the participation of those who work within an industry in the management of that industry. It is a fact that the Minister for Health, Dr Everingham, has announced that he proposes that two of the part time members of the Australian Capital Territory Health Services Commission will be elected by the employees, one by the nursing employees and the other by employees other than nurses. This is part of the Australian Labor Party policy of securing the participation of people engaged in an industry in the management of their industry. It is something that will bring about much better industrial relations and give a sense of participation to the employees. It will be of great advantage not only to the efficiency of the service but to the spirit and the feeling of the Australian people in regard to the society in which they live.
-I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Transport to the royal commission established to inquire into the blackmail demands for so-called compensation payment by the seamen’s union in relation to foreign vessels trading between Australian ports. Is it not regarded as important that that matter be reported on early as such payments are very damaging to the trade? When can we expect the report to be delivered?
– All I can do in this regard is ask the Minister for Transport, Mr Jones, to answer Senator Wright’s request.
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer whether he is aware that the Prices Justification Tribunal earlier this month granted to Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd an immediate 6.03 per cent increase in its steel prices? Is he also aware that this was the fifth rise granted in 16 months to BHP for its steel prices and that it follows a 7.82 per cent increase in mid-December? Is he aware that BHP is about to file another application for an increase? Against that backdrop is the announcement by the Chairman of BHP that there has been a 96 per cent drop in earnings. Does the Minister accept that this is a totally unsatisfactory situation and that it contributes towards a squeezing of production and productivity, leading to inflation and therefore increased wage cmands which the Government now condemns? Will the Government reconsider whether the Prices Justification Tribunal serves any useful purpose?
-The Leader of the Opposition in another place has indicated quite clearly to the people of Australia that if he were Prime Minister he would do away with a lot of things, including the Prices Justification Tribunal. He probably would do away with a lot of the Government expenditure on education, health services and pensions- a whole range of things- if he had the opportunity. Senator Greenwood obviously is not seeking information; his question is designed perhaps to score a political point. If the Opposition can indicate an alternative to the sort of machinery established by the Prices Justification Tribunal I am sure that we on the Government side would like to hear it. The fact that the Tribunal has granted a series of increases in steel prices to BHP in the last few months indicates the effectiveness of the Tribunal. Of course the costs of BHP are rising. The company is a massive undertaking with a massive work force. As I have said on so many occasions, we have endeavoured to obtain powers over prices and incomes at the Federal level. That has been opposed by the Liberal Party. Unless we have some machinery available to us and unless we have the constitutional power in this area, obviously there is little we can do. I presume that Senator Greenwood is suggesting that we scrap the Prices Justification Tribunal and allow prices to take off and skyrocket. This would affect the whole of the economy in a most undesirable way.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is it a fact, as announced in newspapers, that the Minister proposes to spend $ 1.8m on publicising what is called, I think, the Medibank health scheme? If so, will the Minister tell me whether this is the subject of any specific appropriation of Parliament? From what appropriation does the Minister propose to authorise the expenditure?
– I am afraid that I cannot answer that question without referring it to the Minister. I do not know what the details of the matter are or what the appropriation is. I shall refer the question to the Minister and let Senator Wright know as soon as I have an answer.
– Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware of an allegation in the Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ of today’s date, attributed to a Mr W. Mason, that in relation to recent problems in Alice Springs the Minister had ordered officers of his Department to ‘clean up the place ‘? Will the Minister inform the Parliament whether he has in fact ordered the so-called clean-up for publicity purposes?
– There has been no direction from me to our officers to clean up Alice Springs. That would be a job far beyond the manpower capacity of our office. In the recess when I went to Alice Springs to see whether I could assist in any way in relation to the racial tension in the town a plea was made by a number of citizens that it should be cleaned up urgently. I have now decided to go there this weekend. I think it is a good sign if anyone is cleaning up the town. It certainly is not being done under my instructions, if it is being done. I doubt very much that any of our officers are involved.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, follows the question asked by my colleague Senator Wright about Medibank. One would think that one should ask the question of the Minister representing the Minister for Health, but I think I am correct, under this jet lag Government, in addressing my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Will the Minister obtain for the Senate as soon as is practicable a statement showing what advertising agency or agencies is or are handling the more than $ 1 m advertising racket for Medibank and whether the agency or agencies is or are multinational or Australian owned?
– If I am suffering from jet lag I assure the honourable senator it is solely because of flying between Perth and Canberra and not because of my visitations to any exotic spots. Whether the question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health or to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security is largely immaterial because I happen to have the fortune to represent both these gentlemen. Why Senator Marriott should describe the advertising as a racket I do not know. I thought that advertising was an accepted form of activity, within a capitalist society, undertaken by many of the people who make substantial contributions to the Liberal Party. As Senator Marriott feels that advertising is a racket, I trust that he will show some consistency and argue within the Liberal Party that it should refrain from having television commercials and newspaper publicity for its campaigns in any future elections. I do not know which advertising agency is being employed, nor do I know whether it is one of those multinationals against which Senator Marriott of recent minutes appeared to inveigh with such ferocity- I must say with some surprise to me. I will obtain the information for the honourable senator, as he is interested in exposing the role of multinationals in Australian society, and provide it to him so that he can continue his national campaign against the influence of multinationals in the Australian economy.
DETENTION OF t AUSTRALIAN CITIZEN BY PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANISATION
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the departmental inquiry been completed into the circumstances in which an Australian citizen was captured in Beirut in December of last year, interrogated and gaoled by the Palestine Liberation Organisation as a suspected spy for Israel? Is it a fact that the person who was the subject of the inquiry sought assistance from the Australian Embassy and was unable to obtain any help? What are the relations of the members of the Embassy with the Palestine Liberation Organisation? Was the inability of the Embassy to provide assistance in any way conditioned by a desire not to offend the PLO?
–I have absolutely no information on the matter raised by Senator Greenwood. I will refer it to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. In reply to a question earlier today he indicated that a number of ships are at present on order for the Australian National Line. Can he advise the Senate how many of these ships will be built in Australia?
-Two 25 000 tonne bulk carriers are being built in Australia, the seacoaster is being built in Australia and the searoaders are being built in Australia. May I indicate that the Minister’s attitude has been that, because of the urgency of some of these demands, consideration must be given in some cases to the vessels being built overseas.
Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation)For the information of honourable senators I present a report made to the Hospitals and Health Services Commission entitled: Australian Health Manpower.
– Honourable senators, I desire to make a statement relating to interjections. During yesterday ‘s proceedings there were complaints of interjections during debate and the protection of the Chair was sought. What must first be understood is that, technically, interjections are disorderly. The only interruptions allowed are those permitted by standing order 422, which relates to points of order, privilege and the want of a quorum. However, relevant questions or interjections may elucidate the meaning of the speaker and, in practice, discretion has always been exercised by Presidents in the enforcement of the Standing Orders in relation to interjections.
Generally speaking, I think that in a House of review it is reasonable to allow a debate to flow fairly freely and some interjections may be helpful. A senator nevertheless has a right to be heard in silence and the Chair will uphold that right whenever it is claimed. Particularly will the Chair protect senators from incessant interjections, from interjections calculated to disturb the speaker, and from interjections which can only be regarded as offensive. If honourable senators persist in interjecting aft r having been warned by the Chair they may be named and dealt with pursuant to Standing Orders. I ask the cooperation of all honourable senators in this matter and in maintaining the best standards of debate in this chamber.
– I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr President.
– Does the honourable senator claim to have >een misrepresented?
-Yes, Mr President. I claim to have been misrepresented in a news item on the Australian Broadcasting Commission this morning. The news item stated:
During the debate on the Submerged Lands Bill, Senator Steele Hall, Liberal Movement, South Australia, said Senator Jessop, Liberal, South Australia, had asked him the other day to join the Liberals in forcing the Government to the polls again.
That item gives a clear implication that I approached Senator Hall privately and asked him to join the Liberals in taking certain action. I have not done that. The news item was a false interpretation of part of a speech Senator Hall made yesterday in the Senate during the debate on the Minerals (Submerged Lands) Bill. He said:
Senator Jessop in the Senate the other day asked me to join his Party in forcing this Government to the people again.
It is that comment -I am referring to that part of the speech that Senator Hall made last nightthat the ABC has not reported accurately and that it has chosen to use as a basis to provide a wrong impression. Whatever was said in reference to co-operation by me was said in the context of another debate in this chamber and is a matter of public record.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agr;ed to:
T lat consideration of General Business be postponed until 4.3C p.m. this day.
– Pursuant to contingent notice I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the order of business on the notice paper.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to.
That intervening General Business be postponed until after the consideration of General Business Notice of Motion Number 1 6 in the name of Senator Marriott.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Debate resumed from 26 February on motion by Senator Wheeldon:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– When the debate on this Bill was adjourned last night I was talking of the need to make the best use of the resources which exist in this country and I was relating my remarks to the future of the private hospitals. I felt that it was important that this aspect should be stressed at that stage as the Bill with which we are dealing is one which will discontinue the operations of the private health funds in Australia. The Government has said that it does not seek the abolition of the private hospital system and has denied that its scheme is the first step towards the nationalisation of all hospitals in Australia. I think it is fair to compare that assertion by the Government with the record and some of the statements which have been made with regard to the objectives of the Government. I recall the fact that the Minister for Social Security, Mr Hayden, has accused the Australian Medical Association of creating a nationalisation myth by its claim that the new scheme is a plan for the nationalisation of health. However, on 25 July 1972- just 5 months before he became Prime Minister- Mr Whitlam, in a Fabian lecture, said:
It would be intolerable if a Labor Government were to use the alibi of the Constitution to excuse failure to achieve its socialist objective- doubly intolerable because it is just not true that it need do so. 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 fund, administered by a Health Insurance Commission.
I think that we should relate those remarks of the Prime Minister to the establishment of the Health Insurance Commission, which the Government has as part of its health program. I similarly quote the Minister, Mr Hayden, a short time before he became Minister for Social Security where he indicated that Labor’s plan for taking over private institutions was in line with the objectives of his Government. He said:
We will, of course, be replacing private institutions with public ones by . . . these 3 programs . . .
That is, the programs which are envisaged.
So in that context the objective of the Government in regard to a single stream of hospital service in this country is apparent. It is apparent, too, when we look at the legislation that has been passed during the term of this Government, the legislation which was passed during the Joint Sitting of Parliament which has given the Minister for Social Security very wide powers for direct control over hospitals, both public and private. There are three particular powers to which I refer. The Minister has powers to determine the registration and deregistration of hospitals under section 132 of the Health Insurance Act 1973. The Minister is given wide powers to determine the nature and function of a hospital under sections 24, 25 and 34 and the Minister has unlimited powers of inspection of hospitals and their records under sections 36, 37 and 133. He can delegate this authority to any officer of his Department under section 131.
It is of some concern to private hospitals in Australia that in respect of those very wide powers which I have stated there is no right of appeal against any decisions of the Minister in any of the matters which are subject to his control. So we relate that to the private hospitals and we question whether there is an intention of the Government that there should be continuity of a dual hospital system in this country. I want to refer briefly to ‘A Report On Hospitals In Australia’ which we had prepared by the Hospitals and Health Services Commission. It was submitted in April 1974 under the signature of Sidney Sax the Chairman of that Commission. I refer particularly to some remarks which were made by the Deputy Chairman, Mr J. M. Blandford, when speaking in February at a conference of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association of Victoria. He said in his public address to the conference that we did not have enough people on the Commission and did not have enough time to go through all the material that was collected and formed the basis of this report. When he was asked why there was so little in the report which related to the subject of private hospitals, Mr Blandford stated that the Commission did not have enough time to read the submission from the private hospitals and in any case thought that the Government would not be really interested in that aspect of the investigation. So it is of interest that in this very comprehensive report on the hospital system in Australia so little relevance is given to private hospitals. I quote from page 1 1 1 of that report under the heading ‘Private Hospitals’:
Specific reference must be made to private hospitals because most of the detail of this report concerns the public hospital system. Nevertheless the private hospitals contribute significantly to the whole range of services available. . . . Private hospitals, and particularly community hospitals, provide an opportunity for local general practitioners to have access to beds and for patients to have the opportunity of choice and care near to their homes.
I think it is important to stress that quotation from the Commission’s report because access to hospital beds in the community and private hospitals near to the homes of patients is something which may become quite difficult if we have simply a public hospital stream which is related more to the centres of mass population in this country. The question whether we will find continuity in the private hospitals is related particularly to this Bill because if the people are to have private hospital accommodation they will need to insure privately in order to be covered for the cost of such accommodation. If we are to destroy the private insurance funds, as we would be doing through this Bill which we are discussing today, it would be extremely difficult in the interim for people to cover themselves for the private hospital care which undoubtedly they will be seeking.
It has been a pattern in this country that a large number of people prefer private hospital care. They prefer not only the type of private hospital care that is related to the religious hospitals which provide spiritual and other support for patients in times of illness but also the stream of private hospital facilities which have a somewhat different atmosphere from the large public hospitals of our major cities. In the implementation of the present health scheme I find a big question yet to be answered with regard to the private hospitals in this country- what is their future and what is the intention of government? It is fair to say that the use of private hospitals by the Government for its Medibank scheme could become a reality simply because there is no means of support for the continuity of private hospitals as an alternative scheme.
Then we come to other questions which are yet unanswered. If private hospitals as we know them are to become part of the standard ward care system which is available in public hospitals, how is the Government to arrange for this standard ward care to be available in private hospitals. Services such as pathology and physiotherapy are supplied at present by private practitioners on a fee for service basis. That is an entirely different way of operating from the way in which we have standard ward care in public hospitals. Is it envisaged that the planning that will need to be undertaken to convert this type of care to standard ward care has been considered by the Government? If so, what are its plans and what arrangements are to made for the medical and ancillary services which will be required. I believe that these are matters that are of concern to all Australians at the present time. What will be the future of health care after 1 July? For this reason I stress again that the Opposition will be opposing this Bill and any other related Bills that come before us that are involved with the implementation of the Medibank care system which has been conceived by the Government.
We do not believe that all the plans or discussions that should have been undertaken with those people who will be required to implement the service have been completed to the satisfaction and, indeed, to the knowledge of the Australian people. With all of the questions that are still to be answered and all of the steps that should have been taken in consultation instead of confrontation we believe that difficulties will arise at the takeover date by the Government of the health services in Australia. For these reasons the Opposition will oppose the Bill.
– I want to speak very briefly to this Bill. I have just received some advice from Senator Baume before I commenced my remarks which perhaps confused me a little. However, I think that I can recall the essential details of the matter. I found it surprising this morning that Senator Guilfoyle is still reading from the early collected works of Gough Whitlam on the subject of health services in Australia when since that time there have been a number of debates and a number of Bills before the Senate, and rejected by it, relating to the proposed National Health Act. If one reads the legislation one can surely spell out from that document what the Government’s intentions are. The National Health Bill which is before the Senate is designed to facilitate the introduction of the Medibank scheme.
I do not think I need go into the details of the Medibank scheme at the beginning of my comments because I think honourable senators and most members of the public who take an intelligent interest in this matter are fully aware of the details. But even today this legislation is opposed by the Opposition, making it, if I may so so, the Blue Hills of legislative obstruction in this chamber and placing it above all other instances of obstruction which have occurred. The strange thing about this piece of obstruction is that the Medibank scheme can go ahead even if this legislation is defeated, except in one respect. If this legislation is not passed patients in private nursing homes will not be eligible for government subsidy. I think the people of Australia ought to know that and the Senate ought to know that. Of course, we on the Government side will not hesitate to tell that to the people of Australia on the hustings or wherever else it may be necessary to do so.
As a member of a House of review- and as I believe becomes a member of a House of a House of review- I have given this legislation what I hope is mature consideration over some period of time. When I say ‘some period of time’ I ask the Senate to believe that it is 6 years, because there has now been 6 years of public debate on this question, it is 6 years since the Liberal Government of the time appointed the Nimmo Committee to inquire into health services in Australia and in 6 years nothing has been done in relation to the findings of that Committee, except by this Government in the Medibank scheme. What were the findings of the Nimmo Committee? They can be summarised essentially as follows: It found that the existing scheme of health insurance in Australia was complex and incomprehensible to many sections of the community. It found that the benefits were inadequate, the contributions were too high and the scheme imposed serious and widespread hardship on sections of the community. It found that the voluntary health funds had a high percentage of operating expenses and that their reserves at that time were too high. With the possible exception of the last finding, the findings of the Nimmo Committee 6 years ago are as true today as they were then, in spite of 3 years of intervening Liberal government in which nothing was done to rectify the position and in spite of subsequent years of opposition by the Liberal Party in this chamber to the present Government’s efforts to cope with the findings of that Committee.
One would be pardoned for drawing the conclusion that the health care standards of this community are not a matter of primary concern to the Liberal Party. I refer particularly to the health care of migrants in this community who constitute 60 per cent of the admitted possibly one million people in Australia who are not covered by voluntary schemes. Now, in February 1975, the Opposition still obstructs and frustrates this legislation and points with some glee, one suspects, to administrative difficulties into which Medibank might run after 1 July. In my view it is not the attitude of a responsible political party to say: ‘You may run into this difficulty and that difficulty after we have been pointing this out to you for years. We have obstructed every piece of legislation which you have brought forward on the matter. There still may be difficulties and we will make political capital out of them if they occur’. That is what it amounts to. That opposition has been maintained through 2 national elections in which, if the electors of Australia were confused about some issues, they knew for sure that if this Labor Government was returned to office it would introduce its national health insurance scheme. That was absolutely clear to every elector in Australia who voted. While the Opposition now clutches desperately at the results of some opinion poll in answer to a loaded question, as reported in the ‘Bulletin’, the fact remains that that has happened in 2 general elections and in the long debate that has gone on for 6 years.
Even now the Opposition offers no real alternative. Nothing much is said about the proposals which were nervously unwrapped prior to the May 1974 election and afterwards put back on the shelf like an unwanted wedding present. Nothing is said about those matters now because that was just a try-on for the purpose of the May election. Basically we have in the Senate today and we have had in the House of Representatives recently the same old, tired criticisms such as that this is a compulsory scheme, as if in a society which provides for compulsion in all sorts of matters involving the welfare of the people a compulsory health scheme above all is in some way undesirable. We still hear talk about the virtues of the private health funds. We are still told that under the scheme there will be no choice of doctor. That is rubbish. It is untrue, and every member of the Opposition knows that. We are still told about the doctor-patient relationship and the importance of that relationship. It may be very well for members of Parliament on significant salaries and others in the community who are able to afford all the facilities offered by private doctors to talk about the doctor-patient relationship. I say quite frankly to the Senate that if we asked an average Australian in a pub how his doctor-patient relationship was going he would think we were about to tell him a dirty story and he would prick up his ears. The expression ‘doctor-patient relationship’- and everybody knows it- is about as meaningful to the average Australian as, say, the relationship between a motorist and a petrol pump attendant. Everybody in Australia who thinks seriously about this knows that to be true.
– A very interesting example.
-I am glad that the honourable senator found it so. The other criticism which is still made relates to the cost of the scheme. There are some gleeful pronouncements from the Opposition that the cost of health care is increasing very rapidly in Australia, as if that was some new discovery of unique importance. Everybody knows that the cost of health care is increasing very rapidly in every country with sophistication and economic development equal to that of Australia.
Those are the sorts of criticisms which are being made still in the course of this debate. We find with interest this morning in the ‘Financial Review’ the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) in the other place, the man for whom Senator Sir Magnus Cormack would no doubt don flip-flop asbestos sandals and walk over hot coals, stated- still peddling the same old stuff- in an answer to a question in the ‘Financial Review’:
We would, therefore, establish the manner by which we would restore the fundamentals. For example, freedom of choice of doctor -
He goes on with various other things which he regards as the fundamentals. In relation to the consumer he says:
He will pay more for health cover even though the sum will not be labelled ‘ health insurance ‘.
Every honourable senator in this chamber knows that it will not be labelled health insurance because the Opposition voted against the Health Insurance Levy Bill when it was before the House.
– Why do you not read the quote from the Leader of the Opposition continuing that sentence where he stated; ‘so that the alleged “free” scheme doesn’t send the community bankrupt’.
– Are they selective quotations?
-No, they are highly selected quotations. I would not get upset about it. I was going to come to that in a moment. Some play has been made on the use of the word ‘ free ‘. The Leader of the Opposition in the other place, as I am prepared to inform the Senate, went on to say: . . hospital and tight supervision of the expenditure of funds so that the alleged ‘ free scheme doesn’t send the community bankrupt.
I want to deal with the question of the alleged free scheme as the Leader of the Opposition calls it and particularly in relation to the advertisements which appeared in recent weeks dealing with Medibank. I refer members of the Senate to the advertisements because they have been the subject of discussion. It is quite true that the third sentence of the advertisement states:
Medibank will provide free medical insurance cover for every man, woman and child in Australia.
For those who read past the third sentence, it then goes on to say:
That’s because Medibank, like other social welfare service, will be financed by money from tax revenue.
Of course, in our society we do, admittedly, use the word ‘free’ with some abandon. I have no doubt that Senator Baume, as a medical practitioner, has told hundreds of his patients over the years that a prescription is on the free list but every patient in Australia, if he thinks about it, knows that in fact he is paying for it in one way or another and that there is no such thing as a free prescription list, if we want to be purists about the use of the language. When we talk about free milk or free social services of one kind or another, we all know that in fact those things are not free in terms of the taxpayers ‘ liability to support them, but it is an insult to the intelligence of the average Australian for the Senate to be read little lectures on the meaning of the word free’ and for it to be suggested that the advertisements relating to Medibank are accordingly misleading.
Insofar as the health insurance scheme will be free, in the sense in which that word is used in the advertisement, it is the fault of the Liberal Party Opposition in this chamber. Once again if honourable senators opposite want to be reminded of that in this chamber or on the hustings, they will be, because that was the fact of the matter when they blocked the Health Insurance Levy Bill earlier this year. We as a Party and a Government had set forth from the beginning the concept of a contributory scheme based on a 1.35 per cent levy on taxable income. Insofar as this scheme now becomes free- I use the word free’ in quotation marks- it is because of the activities of the Opposition in this chamber.
I am personally disappointed that the Opposition, having been involved in this series of debates over many years, has put forward no alternative proposition which has attracted the attention or imagination of any of the Australian people. Instead it puts the same arguments which were used at the beginning, in 2 elections and in various debates in this chamber. It really is a sad and shabby story that even at the end of that series of arguments it has sought to make capital out of the use of the word ‘free’ in an advertisement, having regard to the circumstances which I have described.
What we have in the Health Insurance Bill before the House is simply a proposal to facilitate the introduction of Medibank and to provide in clause 12 a system of Commonwealth benefits for non-pensioner patients in nursing homes.
– What about clause 8?
-I have not looked at clause 8 for the moment, but perhaps I can come to that later or Senator Baume can speak about it. Of course this matter is no longer one in which we need to be confused about the details over this long debate and long period of obstruction. The sad thing about it is that the Opposition has shown itself to be not only leaderless on this issue- I refer to the interview in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ this morning- but also without policy or consistent ideology. It has lapsed into a policy of peddling the distortions of the ideological cave-dwellers in this community such as the General Practitioners Society instead of trying, as a responsible Opposition might have done, to examine the challenge which the Nimmo report gave the Liberal Government 6 years ago, and work out some viable alternative. But it is propping up the health funds as if there were some particular sanctity about them, still talking about doctor-patient relationships and no freedom of choice of doctor, and opposing this
Bill again with the prospect of the Medibank scheme being introduced on 1 July.
I commend the Bill to the Senate. I understand what its fate will be. We on this side of the House will ensure that the people of Australia will know why this Bill was rejected and explain to them the course which has been followed by the Opposition throughout this long debate.
– The Senate is debating the National Health Bill 1 974. There are provisions in this Bill which require the attention of the Senate and require our consideration. This Bill sets out to remove a number of existing benefits. I asked Senator Button what he knew about clause 8. I imagine he has not read it. Clause 8 of this Bill sets out, among other things, to abolish the pensioner medical service. If we are considering this Bill it is essential that we consider this point and examine the implications for the people of Australia. The Bill sets out as a second main objective to render some first aid against its own discriminatory actions which have had the effect of weakening and threatening many of the private voluntary health insurance funds.
The Bill does make some moves towards providing extra .nursing home benefits. Though these could be desirable, we have to look at them in the context of the Bill as a whole. We have to look at what the Government is asking us to do. One desirable set of benefits is not in itself enough reason for passing this Bill. Finally we have to examine the second reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon). Most of the speech did not discuss this Bill but discussed the Medibank scheme as a whole, and it is therefore appropriate also to have a few words to say about the scheme.
May I start by looking at some of the benefits which will be lost if this Bill comes into operation. The Minister stated in his second reading speech that he does not require the passage of this legislation to make his scheme effective. This Bill is not necessary for Medibank to operate. It is what might be called an optional extra from the Government’s point of view. It sets out to remove from the Australian people benefits they presently enjoy. It sets out, from a date to be proclaimed, to abolish Commonwealth hospital benefits, to abolish medical benefits payable by the Commnonwealth, and to abolish hospital and medical benefit organisations. We Commonwealth, always believed and continue to believe in the place of the voluntary health fund in the system of private voluntary health insurance subsidised by government. We intend to preserve that system and we intend to take no steps which will help to destroy it or dismantle it.
Failure to pass this Bill will not in any way hold up the Government’s program, and there is no reason why we should be party to abolishing these benefits. It is interesting that I had the pleasure of opposing the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) 2 weeks ago in a public debate. He assured an audience of several hundred people that from 1 July the private medical insurance funds would cease to exist. I do not know whether the Minister for Health was speaking on behalf of his colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), but he stated that all the funds would cease to exist on 1 July. Some of the clauses of this Bill clearly set out to do that. The Bill provides for the cessation of the payment of Australian Government medical and hospital benefits under the National Health Act after 1 July. Those provisions are contained in clauses 4 and 5.
There is no reason for us to agree to this measure if, as the Minister says, Medibank can operate without this Bill being passed. As Senator Guilfoyle has already said, the Bill sets out in clauses 14, 15 and 16 to discuss the ways in which a registered organisation may no longer operate after a date to be proclaimed. If we are to believe what the Minister for Health said in public in Sydney 2 weeks ago, that date is to be 1 July. We see that the funds are to be penalised $ 1 ,000 for each day during which they continue to operate. But the Bill goes further and provides that from a date to be proclaimed the protection of the pensioner population of this country is to be removed.
– That is not so.
– It provides that the pensioner medical, service is to be dismantled, that benefits payable under the scheme are no longer to be paid and that agreements made by doctors are no longer to be valid. Senator Grimes says that that is not so. I hope that the honourable senator has read the Bill.
– I have read it.
– Good. I refer the honourable senator to clause 8 of the Bill which says:
Before section 3 1 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted . . .
That clause then goes on to set out certain words which are to be inserted and they have the effect of making that part of the Principal Act inoperative. If honourable senators look at the principal Act they will find that the section involved is the pensioner medical service. Senator Grimes would not disagree with that. If we look further down the Bill to clause 9 we find that agreements with medical practitioners are to become inoperative. There are millions of pensioners in this country who count their entitlement to health care under the pensioner medical service as one of their rights.
– Are they not to be included and taken care of under our scheme?
– I will come to that point. I will come to the arrangements that the Labor Government has not made for alternative provisions. We have a Labor Government, allegedly protecting the weak in society, which is asking us in the Senate to give it the ability to proclaim a day on which pensioners no longer will have their medical service for their protection, when doctors who are willing to use that agreement to provide services to pensioners no longer will be able to do so and when the benefits payable no longer will be available. This is in the Bill. The Government cannot deny that this is what it is asking us to give it.
The pensioner medical service came into being as a result of an agreement between the medical profession and the government of the day. It came into being because there was goodwill between the medical profession and the government. Without that goodwill there can be no such agreement. I remind the Government that the pensioner medical service is a very special kind of arrangement. Society decided that a certain group of people should receive special consideration, in this case concessional medical care, and that is something I applaud and with which I agree. The arrangement reached could have been reached only with the medical profession as it is one of the few professions with a history of public service in the rendering of free and concessional care. The medical profession agreed to provide concessional care over many years for those people whom the community decides should be eligible for pensioner treatment. It is a matter of record that for a number of years doctors have entered into agreements with the Commonwealth to treat pensioner patients at rates lower than those which would apply otherwise. It is this agreement, entered into as a result of goodwill and negotiation between the profession and the government, that the Labor Party proposes to abolish.
Therefore we must ask: If these agreements are ended, if the benefits payable are removed, if the pensioner medical service ceases, what will exist in their place?
What will exist in their place? 1 want to refer the Senate to what the Minister for Social Security said in his second reading speech. Before reading it I point out that the Minister has confronted the medical profession and threatened it and there is no goodwill between it and government. The profession regards itself as having its head in the lion’s mouth waiting for the lion to bite the head off. The Minister for Social Security said:
I will be writing to all doctors asking them to accept benefits in full settlement for treating these patients. I am hopeful that doctors will co-operate in this arrangement.
Several comments Can be made. What will the Minister be doing? He will be asking doctors to agree to bulk billing of pensioner patients when bulk billing has now become a major issue between the Government and the profession. It is possible that the profession will not agree. The situation is that the medical profession has been giving something to society. Let us be clear about this: The medical profession has been giving concessional care in the same way as visiting specialists at hospitals have been giving honorary care to the people of Australia. I remind honourable senators that the Government is providing payment for work done at present in an honorary capacity. In my State the Government has made preliminary budgeting arrangements for $20m a year to allow for the honorary work done by my profession. The profession has done that work in an honorary capacity for over 50 years. It has a proud record of honorary care to society.
If the Medibank scheme comes in as proposed there is no guarantee that doctors will continue to use the Government’s new arrangements and there is a danger to the pensioner population that some of them could be left uncovered. Surely it would be much more sensible to work out arrangements with the medical profession under the Medibank scheme, to get them operative and then to come to the Parliament and seek authority to abolish the pensioner medical service and its benefits. I am not concerned at this time about the Medibank scheme or the medical profession but about the pensioner patients. I assure honourable senators that if this Bill is passed and if this Labor Government proclaims on a certain day that the pensioner medical service no longer operates, there is a chance, as a result of Labor Party initiative, that there will be pensioners in Australia who will have to pay for care which they now get free. The matter does not end there.
– Surely a selfless group like the medical profession would not do that.
– They would do it for anyone except when they are dealing with the Labor Party. (Quorum formed) There is another danger facing pensioners if this Bill is passed. Under the Medibank scheme the Labor Government proposes to pay only 85 per cent of the scheduled fee. The fee schedule is to be fixed by the Government. There is no assurance as to the means of updating this fee schedule and there is likely to be an increasing gap between 85 per cent of the scheduled fee and the actual fee. There is likely to be an increasing increment to be paid by patients, and pensioners are in danger if they are no longer protected by the agreement between doctors and the Government as to the treatment provided for them at the moment as a result of Liberal Party initiative. I say again to the Labor Party that there is no reason for abolishing this particular section of the National Health Act and there is no reason for putting pensioners in this kind of peril.
The next thing which this Bill proposes is to render some first aid to some of the health funds. The Minister for Social Security said this in his second reading speech:
Some organisations may not be able to meet claims for medical and hospital benefits for services rendered prior to I July 1975.
The Minister for Social Security admits that some of the health funds are in trouble. Why should this be? It is quite clear that this Government has set out to drive the funds to the wall. Many of them are small funds, union funds, funds run by single business enterprises and teachers federation funds. These funds have become the victims of deliberate Government action. Today we see a situation in which some of the funds are in danger of not being able to continue.
It is instructive to go back and examine the position in the last year for which the report entitled ‘Operations of the Registered Medical and Hospital Benefits Organisations’ is available. That is for the year 1972-73. The situation is worse now. The Minister’s own words tell us that some of the funds are in trouble. If we go to page 12 of the report on the operations of the health funds and look at the trading operations of the medical benefit organisations in New South Wales we find that the result is an overall deficit for 25 out of 29 medical benefit funds. In 1972-73, 25 out of 29 funds operated at a deficit. Some of the funds were very large and some of them were very small. The best way to express their trading result is to express their deficit in terms of the contributions they received. If a fund received $1,000 and had a deficit of $1,000 we could say that that was a 100 per cent deficit. Some of the small funds had quite large deficits.
The Local Government Medical Benefits Fund had a deficit for that trading year equal to 30 per cent of contributions. These are the rapacious, voluntary health funds which the Labor Party wants to destroy! The Medical Benefits Fund of New South Wales, which is a large fund and which is particularly disliked by the Labor Party, had a 5 per cent deficit for the year. The New South Wales Teachers Federation Benefits Fund, which is a fund run by a group of employees trying to band together for their own protection, had a deficit equal to 1 1 per cent of contributions for the year. Let me refer to some other well established private voluntary funds. The United Ancient Order of Druids Fund had a 27 per cent deficit for the year. The Grand United Order of Oddfellows had a deficit of 27 per cent. The Hospitals Contribution Fund had a deficit of 5 per cent. In Victoria the same situation applies. The largest medical benefits fund in Australia, the Hospital Benefits Association, in the year 1972-73, when conditions were better and when the funds were in a better position, had an overall trading deficit of 28.6 per cent of contributions.
– Do the figures show how much the Hospital Benefits Association had out in government loans and so forth?
– The document does not show that figure. It shows that at the same time the HBA had a cash balance of minus $6m. We have a situation in which the Minister has made it one of his projects to try to cripple the voluntary health insurance system. He is attempting deliberately to drive the funds to the wall. We can go back and look at some of his past statements. I have given the Senate figures showing that the funds were operating at a deficit. I wish I had more up to date figures. They would show a worse situation.
On 29 July last the Minister issued a Press statement in which he set out to blackguard the funds. He advised health insurance contributors in New South Wales not to pay contribution increases. He said that the increases were, to use his own words, a blatant and deliberate attempt to overcharge health insurance contributors. The Supreme Court of New South Wales did not agree with him. The health funds used the appeal mechanism which was put into the Act by the Liberal and Country Parties in this place. When the Minister went to court he lost every point he contested, the funds won every point they contested and costs were awarded against the Government. In July the Minister was willing to blackguard the funds and to say things about them which would have been actionable in other circumstances. The Minister said he felt that the funds should meet the costs of higher benefits to patients out of their own financial reserves and liquid holdings. This is what he set out to achieve.
I remind the Senate that in April last year the Medical Fees Tribunal recommendations came into effect and medical costs rose. The Minister passed the major burden of the Tribunal’s recommendations on to the voluntary health funds and on to their contributors. At that stage the Government’s share of medical benefits payments dropped. As a matter of interest I point out that when the Liberal-Country Party Government was in office the Government contributed 61 per cent of the benefits paid. We quite deliberately set out to make health insurance attractive by subsidising it. Under the Labor Government that contribution has dropped to 47 per cent. It is still dropping at a time when the funds are facing increasing difficulties. The Government’s contribution to hospital expenditure is 9 per cent and the funds’ contribution is 91 per cent. During this last year there has been enormous inflation in this country due to Labor’s mismanagement. One aspect of that inflation has been a rise in hospital costs and in the cost of medical care. In New South Wales the cost of hospital care has gone up 100 per cent in the last 7 months and further rises are proposed. Because of the National Health Act the funds have been unable to increase benefits, to increase contribution rates or to increase the kind of insurance cover they offer, without getting ministerial approval.
In August last year Mr Hayden refused the funds permission to increase the contribution rates. As I mentioned, when taken to court he lost the case. He then refused to approve a proposal by the funds which would have allowed the backlog of contributions to have been collected painlessly. Since the Australian Labor Party came to government one fund in New South Wales has increased the benefits it pays by 1 33 per cent and the Government has increased its contribution by 33 per cent. The Government has not kept pace. It has been squeezing the funds unmercifully. Most of the funds carry reserves on their hospital side equal to about only 3 months payout. They are very close to the Nimmo Committee recommendation. As is the case in many insurance operations, in past times the funds have attempted to capitalise future liabilities. This is generally sound practice. They can no longer do it. The latest figures we have for the Hospitals Benefits Association suggest that its hospital reserves are less than two months payouts and that its medical fund has a deficit of $6m. As at 1 March- that is next week- the Hospital Contribution Fund and the Medical Benefits Fund will have only 3 months’ reserves. In terms of liquid and available cash, most funds keep reserves of only one to two weeks. If costs keep increasing in the next 3 or 4 months further increases in contribution rates may be necessary.
I should remind the Senate that when questioned directly on ‘P.M.’ on 17 February Mr Hayden went on record as recommending Australians to maintain their health insurance cover right up to 1 July, and I hope that all Australians listened to what the Minister for Social Security had to say. The situation at that time is clouded. The future of Medibank is uncertain, and it has nothing to do with any kind of Supply Bill. The Government has available to it now, as of this moment, the grounds for a double dissolution and it is an entirely competent for the Government, not the Opposition, to bring on an election. Senator Steele Hall, with his usual lack of insight, was quite incorrect last night in attacking Senator Scott and saying that Senator Scott was talking about some hypothetical situation which could occur. The facts are that Mr Whitlam has the grounds now for a double dissolution and if he called an election, as well he might- I suppose were it not for this morning’s unedifying events in another place- and if defeated the Labor Party could leave this country in a very serious situation. If Mr Whitlam called a double dissolution and the Labor Party was defeated, the pensioner medical service could have been abolished by means of this Bill, the voluntary health funds could have been driven to the wall, and the Government’s Medibank scheme might not be in operation. It is up to the Government to consider these real possibilities and to recognise that the destruction of the private funds is neither desirable nor necessary.
In the Minister’s second reading speech on this Bill he made some claims about Medibank which are untrue. The Minister claimed that Medibank would alter medical care; it would make it more accessible. In his Press release on 12 February the Minister said that Medibank would provide adequate access for all to the best quality medical care.
The Minister for Health in the Whitlam Government does not agree with him. Dr Everingham gave an interview to the Australian Journal of Pharmacy and on page 624 of the September issue the Journal had this to say:
The Federal Health Minister, Dr Everingham, conceded to The AJP last month that health care standards for the majority of Australians could be expected to ‘fall slightly’, on introduction of the Government’s Health Bill.
The Minister for Health concedes that standards of health care for most Australians will fall slightly when the Medibank scheme comes into operation. The Minister had something else to say, and this is shown in quotation marks by the Journal:
And for those who can afford it, the private and best care will still be available, ‘ he said.
The Minister clearly concedes that health care standards will fall and that the private care available under our present system is the best careand, after all, the Minister for Health was a member of our profession for some time. But there is an assumption in the thinking of the Labor Party which is basically false. It seems to assume that health care in Australia is rationed by financial considerations. It assumes that access to medical care in rationed by expense. This is just nonsense. The Minister of State for Health in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, Mr David Owen, was quoted on 2 February 1 975 in the ‘ London Times ‘ as saying:
The health service is a rationed service. There will never be a government or a country that has enough resources to meet all the demands any nation will make on a National Health Service.
Those are the words of the Minister in England.
– Unless you depreciate the value of the currency.
– Depreciate the currency and drive up the national debt; I am indebted to Sir Magnus. The reason why there is rationing of health services in Australia is that there is a lack of resources. I have mentioned before in this place that we have adequate resources in some parts of Sydney, for example, and we have an inadequate number of doctors and other health personnel in other areas of Sydney. Rationing occurs where the services are not available and they will still not be available on 1 July. There will not be one extra doctor in Mount Druitt; there will not be one extra children’s hospital bed in the western suburbs of Sydney. There will be no extra services flowing on to the people of Sydney as a result of this particular piece of legislation, and because of this it is a sham to say that access will be improved immediately. In Canberra the Government has been successful in completely stopping the entry of doctors into medical practice here. In many suburbs doctors are leaving Canberra, and if you are a citizen of Canberra it will now take you much longer to get to a doctor, the doctors are much busier and your service and your access will drop.
However, Dr Everingham gives some indication of what is intended when Labor gets complete control of health. Writing in the journal New Accent’ on 25 October 1974, Dr Everingham had this to say, and it is an extraordinary statement:
Well, I suppose you can take 2 extremes. You can take an affluent area where there is a doctor’s brass plate and a red light on every third street corner, like Vaucluse, where they sometimes charge well above recommended AMA fees, let alone tribunal fees or government approved fees. If they did not they would not be able to pay for the plush surgeries, the cars, environment and rentals, or whatever, in which they live, with the rather small turnover they have and giving very lengthy, friendly consultations to the rich people of that area.
The fact is that Vaucluse has an adequate number of doctors. This is the kind of standard for which we should all be aiming- enough doctors to be able to give leisurely consultations to those who need to talk, enough doctors to give the time to their patients and the care that they really require. The Labor Party’s program will do nothing to advance this kind of problem or its satisfaction for Australians. The Minister has claimed not once but many times that under Medibank, and under this Bill and all the ancillary Bills, the freedoms of choice of doctors and patients will be preserved. Senator Button drew attention to that point when he was in the chamber. I would say straight away that there will be no freedom for pensioners if the pensioner medical service is abolished and the Government has not made adequate plans for its replacement in the meantime. That would be an act of Government stupidity which would harm the most helpless in our society.
In addition to that there will be no freedom for the people if they are faced with an even more complex claim form than that to which they have had to face up to now. Most of us are aware of the means of claiming for medical benefits under the present scheme. The claim form is a simple one. I have in my hand a facsimile of the Medibank claim form. It is an enormously complicated document. In submitting a claim one will have to write down one’s 10-digit identification number and one will have to put in a fair bit of information. It will be a complex method of claiming. The Government has actually had 59 million of these forms printed. It is a very interesting form. One of the things required of a medical benefits organisation is internal auditing after cheques have been issued. The claim forms of the Medical Benefits Fund, the Hospitals Contribution Fund and the Hospitals Benefits Association have set aside a space for the writing down of the number of a cheque issued in payment of a claim. Of course, the Government has forgotten to provide for that space on its claim form. Either it is not going to worry about internal auditing or it is going to have the cheque number scratched down somewhere.
But the fact is that it has forgotten one of the important accounting needs that a claim form should serve. There are 50 million of these forms now in the process of being produced. I hope that the Government will see its way clear to correct the defects in the forms. The Bill will not give extra freedom to the people who have to pay their doctors’ bills and then get the money back from the Health Insurance Commission.
The Government has not yet made an adequate agency arrangement for its medical scheme. There is no freedom for me, as a user of health services, if I cannot find somewhere at which to lodge my claim. We want the Government to tell us where claims will be lodged and who is going to operate its agencies. Is there any truth in the report that the pharmacies are going to do it and that they are going to be paid 50c for each claim form they process? That being the case will there be a charge on the Health Insurance Commission of something like $40,000 a day just for the agency arrangements? If the pharmacies do it what kind of courier service will be set up to bring in the claims and have them assessed? There has been nothing in any kind of situation yet to show us the infrastructure that the Government has or will set up to make this extraordinary proposed system work.
Finally on the question of freedom there is no freedom for doctors facing the possibility of salaried employment under this Government. We have had several indications of what salaried employment is likely to mean. I draw the attention of honourable senators to the situation in Tasmania. In doing so I refer to the ‘Mercury’ of 14 November last iri which the Minister for Health in Tasmania, Mr Farquhar, in announcing moves in Tasmania to eliminate the choice of doctors at public hospitals from 1 January, said not only that people would lose the choice of doctors at public hospitals in the Labor State of Tasmania but also that it was happening as part of a nationwide scheme. I can do no less than believe the words of the Labor Minister for Health in Tasmania on this matter.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– We are discussing the National Health Bill, and before the suspension of the sitting I was discussing some of the ways in which this Bill is unjust. I was discussing the fact that doctors do stand to lose some of their freedoms and I instanced the situation in Tasmania where the Labor State Munster for Health, Mr Farquhar, announced, as reported in the ‘Mercury’ on 14 November, that doctors in that State would be paid a sessional rate and that that would eliminate the choice of doctors at public hospitals from the beginning of the year. This goes against what Mr Hayden has promised. It is one indication of what can happen.
But the worst example we have available to us of what salaried service will mean to the medical profession comes from the Department of Repatriation and Compensation, and I am sorry that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation, representing the Minister for Social Security, is not here at this moment.
For many years Dr Thomas O’Donnell lived next door to me. He is a man whom I know very well and who taught me. He graduated in 1942 from Sydney University and served in the Australian Imperial Force. In 1947 he was appointed an ear, nose and throat visiting surgeon to the Repatration General Hospital, Concord. From 1953 onwards he was senior visiting ear, nose and throat surgeon. From 1947 to 1974 he gave 27 years’ service at Concord Hospital. Last October under the sessional salaried service in Repatriation hospitals he went one day to do his operating session and found on the window sill a little envelope telling him that he had been sacked. He was sacked because the Department of Repatriation and Compensation had taken on a full time salaried specialist- a very well trained man and a man with whom there is no argument- and in taking him on the Department sacked Dr O’Donnell, Dr Frank Lang, Dr John Walker and Dr Robert Talbot. Four of the visiting ENT surgeons at Concord were sacked.
There is no way in which the Government can pretend to the medical profession that there is no danger to that profession personally from the kind of proposal the Labor Party puts forward. Here is a Commonwealth department employing doctors and that department sacking doctors, one of them a returned soldier who had been on the staff since 1947 and a senior man since 1953. And oh, in what a gentlemanly way it does the sacking. There are no personal calls and no letters to their rooms but the same letter- an original for 2 doctors and a copy for the other twosent to them inside the hospital, sitting on the window sill when Dr O’Donnell came to do his operating, saying: ‘You are sacked’. We know what this Government has in store- arbitrary dismissals which bring no credit upon the Department of Repatriation and Compensation but which give a very real message to the members of the practising professions in Australia.
– They are not involved in an assessment of skills either.
– There is no assessment of skills; it is an ideological matter. The Government wants a salaried staff and when the salaried man arrives, 4 ENT men are sacked. The facts are clear and there is no way around the sequence of events that happened. The method of their sacking was clumsy m the extreme. It was done by a junior officer in a totally impersonal way.
The final danger to the medical profession, and it is a very real danger, is the bulk billing method of the Medibank scheme. Mr Hayden said that it is not a proposal to nationalise medical services or the medical profession. Yet if the scheme works as the Government intends and if the doctors use the bulk billing mechanism, doctors will receive their total incomes from the Government. The Government will pay only the scheduled fee and the Government will set the fee schedules. Acting as paymaster and feesetter, the Government will effectively have nationalised the medical profession even without the constitutional power to do so.
This is why the profession will oppose bulk billing, and this is why it is essential for the protection of pensioners in Australia that we do not abolish the present pensioner medical service and leave ourselves dependent entirely upon acceptance of bulk billing by the medical profession. For goodness’ sake, keep the present pensioner scheme. Do not pass this Bill which proposes to abolish pensioner benefits, pensioner agreements and the pensioner medical service. Keep the pensioner scheme until the Government has come up with some proof that the doctors will agree to use the mechanism they fear the bulk billing mechanism, because if the Government does not, pensioners in Australia are in danger.
They are in danger for another reason also. The Government claims that this scheme will be free at the point of receipt. That is not true. The scheme will be free at the point of receipt only if two things happen- only if doctors are charging the scheduled fee and only if they use the bulk billing mechanism. The facts in Australia do not lead us to suggest that those conditions will be met and, if they are not met, the scheme is not free at the point of receipt. The rebate will be 85 per cent of the scheduled fee. Many medical fees at this moment are higher than the scheduled fee and that will leave a gap between actual cost and rebate which will have to be met by the patient. There is nothing in the Government’s proposals to indicate regular and predictable updating of fees and there is no guarantee that the Government will increase its share to match any increases. We could have a situation developing where the Government pays 85 per cent of what becomes an outdated scheduled fee and the medical profession charges more. To society as a whole this scheme will be expensive. Reference has already been made to the extra net cost of the Medibank scheme over the present scheme being somewhere in the order of $730m on present actuarial estimates. With total income tax collections next year estimated at $ 10,000m, this represents about 7 per cent of personal income tax. I would remind the Senate that when Professor Richard Downing recently gave the George Judah Cohen Memorial Lecture at Sydney University he talked about the cost of the 3 Government welfare programs- the Hayden health scheme, the Woodhouse scheme for which Senator Wheeldon is responsible, and the national superannuation scheme- as far as they could be costed at this stage. His findings were that those 3 schemes together in the first year would cost $2,800m and, with total personal income tax collections estimated at $ 10,000m, this represents 28 per cent of personal income tax and makes it an expensive scheme for the Australian community.
At the present time we have only 60 per cent adherence by doctors to the common fee schedule. Experience shows that once bulk billing comes in the Government will fix scheduled fees and patients will have to pay more.
The final point on costs is this: Mr Hayden is well aware of the adverse effects of expensive welfare proposals on society. Mr Hayden gave the Chifley Memorial Lecture in 1973 and during that lecture discussed a proposed welfare initiative. He pointed out that the initiative he was discussing would cost $ 1,200m. Having said that, he made some comments which I will quote to the Senate. He said:
The repercussions of such a measure-
That is the expenditure of $ 1,200m on a welfare proposal - would be enormous- there would have to be large increases in taxation to begin with.
Mr Hayden says that to introduce his welfare proposals and to spend that kind of money would involve large increases in taxation. He went on to say something else:
Above all, at a time of severe inflationary pressures it could have serious deleterious economic effects. That is, while the desirability of a major welfare re-distribution program may seem incontestable, the implementation is bound up with many factors including timing and public attitudes.
There is nothing free about the Hayden Medibank health scheme. It is unlikely to be free at the point of service. It is likely to leave pensioners facing higher costs than they face now. It will be very expensive from the public point of view. I believe, as do my colleagues, that the voluntary health insurance funds have served a very valuable purpose. There are many small funds. There are the funds representing a single trade union, those representing single business organisations and the teachers federation funds. These have all served the interests of their contributors and they are faced with destruction by the implementation of this legislation. The position of millions of pensioners is placed at risk. But more than that, the Bill is entirely unnecessary. We are assured that Medibank could operate without this legislation. The Prime Minister could call a double dissolution of the Parliament now and the effects of this Bill could be disastrous if Labor did not continue in government.
There are a lot of things against a single national fund. There is a lot against nationalisation. I am sure that honourable senators opposite would be pleased to know that Mr Bill Hartley agrees with me. He was quoted as saying certain things in the ‘National Times’ published last Sunday. He said:
There’s not much point in nationalising things- in fact I see very little point in State capitalism. At its very best State capitalism has usually been run in Australia so that it’s no better than private enterprise.
That is at its best. At its worst it is a lot worse. I remind honourable senators that this Government has said- I quote from the second reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon):
Medibank can be brought into operation and can function without further legislation.
There is no need for this Bill to be passed. The public interest is not served by these proposals, particularly a proposal which would allow the Government to abolish the pensioner medical service. The pensioners of Australia deserve something better. The Government needs to tell them how it will guarantee their free care after 1 July, the proposed introduction date of the Medibank scheme. We say to them that the Government should keep the present pensioner scheme, keep the present arrangements and keep the present benefits that will give Australian pensioners the kinds of guarantees they deserve. Pass this Bill and give the Government a chance to abolish all benefits under the pensioner medical scheme and millions of Australians will be worse off. The Bill is unnecessary and should be opposed.
-I rise to speak in this debate finding myself, I must say, in agreement with 2 points made by the Opposition. One was made by the previous speaker, Senator Baume. He said that if the Labor Government were defeated it would leave this country in a very serious situation. I hearth agree. After the sentiments that have been expressed in this debate by members of the Opposition it must be obvious to everybody that the country would be left in a very serious situation. It is as clear now as it was from the first speech of an Opposition member in the first debate on the national health insurance scheme that we have philosophical and practical grounds on which we differ in regard to this scheme. This Bill and the others that we have debated get down to one philosophical ground, that is, that we stand for the ordinary people of Australia and the Opposition stands for the privileged people of Australia. We stand for care for the ordinary people of Australia and the Opposition stands for the money that is concerned in it.
– You have been living in an intellectual zoo for most of your life.
– No, I have been here for only 6 months. The Opposition opposes this Bill on practical and philosophical grounds. Dealing with the philosophical grounds, suddenly the Opposition has found that it cares about some of the people of Australia- the pensioner patients, the migrant groups, the lower income groups and the family groups; the people that this Opposition forgot for 23 years when it was in government. It never worried about them when it was in office. It is only now when it is pushed that it finds them to be a convenient excuse to bleat about when what it is really concerned about is the people who are served by the medical field as it stands at the moment.
Let me deal with the pensioners for whom Senator Baume cried such crocodile tears. The pensioners in Australia before this Australian Government came to office were treated as less than human beings so far as the medical profession was concerned. They had no rights to full medical care. They were treated like some very minor, but perhaps highly intelligent animals. They sat on the end of the line in the waiting rooms. They were pushed from pillar to post. Senator Baume threatens that if this scheme is introduced medical practitioners might be forced not to treat pensioners. I say to him that this is nothing very new to the people of Australia. Over the last 18 months doctors in all parts of Australia have been doing exactly that, that is, not treating pensioners and using them as some sort of stick with which to belt the Government. At last under the national insurance scheme that we envisage pensioners will be treated not as pensioners, not as something different or as some higher form of animal life, but they will be treated as human beings and as part of the community. This is exactly the sort of scheme we insist we will introduce.
It is sheer humbug to talk about the Government denigrating groups associated with health care when we take into account the campaign that has been run by the Australian Medical Association and the General Practitioners Society. Those organisations have run a campaign of hysteria and of vilification of the Government. They have used hysterical rubbish to frighten the ordinary people of Australia into believing that if the Government brought in a health scheme that would deal with their ordinary everyday needs, somehow that was bringing in communism. It is the greatest load of rubbish that has ever been turned out in this country. It is also not facing up to reality to talk about building up ill will between the doctors and the Government. In reality what is being built up is a great deal of ill will between patients and doctors; never mind about the Government. The patients have got to the stage where so far as they are concerned the doctors fees are more important than any care that the patient can get out of them. The AMA and the GPS have done nothing about disciplining their members. They have done nothing about reminding their members of the ethics they are supposed to agree to. The shameful position has been reached in many parts of Australia that until the money is handed in the door first, the doctor will not treat the patient. Any honest plumber does his work first and submits the bill. I think it is about time doctors had a look at the ethics plumbers apply to their work.
– You must not have had a plumber around very recently. That is all I can say.
– Yes, I have. Now I come to deal with the private health funds for which we are supposed to feel so sorry. We should remember how private health funds ever came into existence. They came into existence because people combined to give themselves the assistance they needed and to give themselves the health care they wanted. This was the only way they could live and learn to manage their affairs in this area. Many small funds may be in existence but many small funds came into existence because there was no government fund operating in that field to cover people. People were forced to rely on their own assistance. These private health funds we have today use money that is contributed by many little people and are propped up with government money in increasing amounts. They duplicate expensive administrations. They pay large salaries. They are not responsible to the people, the consumers of the welfare which they hand out. They are a law unto themselves. For many people, the quicker they pass into history the better. We are supposed to weep over the private hospitals.
– This is all rubbish.
– Do not be so rude.
– Yes, he is very rude. Private hospitals are well known as good investments, and they are very well known as good investments for many doctors. As we all know very well, private hospitals have never been located on the basis of need in the community. They have been located on the basis of the ability to pay of those who use their facilities.
– What about the church hospitals? Do you include them in that?
– I include some church hospitals in that. To talk about socialism is hypocritical. We all know that it is hypocritical, because this scheme gets nowhere near socialism. To attempt to frighten and to confuse ordinary people with that emotional nonsense is very wrong. To say that the people of Australia do not want such a scheme is flagrant dishonesty. Democracy is a system under which ordinary people express their will. In 2 elections the majority of the people of Australia have said loudly and clearly that they want such a scheme. They want the scheme that so many other people in Australia have had. They will not be frightened by statements such as: ‘The Australian Medical Association will co-operate with anybody but a Labor government’. It says a lot for the ethics of the people who belong to the AMA that they should make such a statement.
This Bill is part of the national health scheme that we have told the people of Australia during the last 2Vi years we will bring in. We will go ahead and do it. The Opposition, representing the privileged people in this community who want to keep their bank accounts and want to keep their position but find that that position is threatened, will fight the legislation tooth and nail. The Opposition will find that the people of Australia will tell it exactly where it belongs, which is back in the dark ages before people realised that governments must be responsible for the people in the community who cannot look after themselves. That is exactly what this Bill does. I commend it to the Senate.
– I rise to speak against this Bill. It is called the National Health Bill, which is a misnomer. It is a financial Bill and it is simply part of the Australian Labor Party plan to socialise our health by destroying our private medical care. For example, clause 1 6 of the Bill states categorically that it is designed to destroy our medical insurance funds. These long standing funds, despite what has just been said, have been shown to be more efficient than any single fund could be. I invite the Government to show me one government department that operates efficiently.
I would like to point to a few basic facts about the Bill and the effects that it will have. It will reduce all of us to standard patients treated by standard doctors in standard practices and standard wards. Who will decide what that standard will be? Who will pick the standard- the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, the patients, the doctors or the State governments? The Bill does not indicate what the standard will be. In addition, the Bill is designed to get all the doctors on the Government payroll in a graduated series of steps. Private medical practice is to be destroyed, no matter what argument the Government puts up. Let us look at it this way: If a doctor is paid by the Government he is working for the Government and he is not working for the patient. That is a critical point. If a doctor’s fees are fixed, albeit probably at a low level, no matter what kind of trbunal is set up, he will not be able to keep up with the increases in the cost of living. The only way that he will be able to increase his income is to see more patients. This leads to rush jobs and poor standards.
If a doctor is to be paid the same fee for good work as he is paid for bad work, he will not be paid to worry about his patient, and he will not worry about his patient. If his patient becomes a problem, he will simply refer his patient to somebody who is paid to worry about his patient. We will become a nation of what are called ‘referologists’ and doctors will refer their patients to other people, usually psychiatrists. Doctors who work for standard fees or salaries will have only one way to advance their careers; that is, to turn to being academics involved in teaching, research or publishing. In each case the patient will become the forgotten person in the medical system and will be used as research material, as teaching material or even as a guinea pig. This new kind of health insurance is being rammed down our necks, whether we like it or not or whether we want it or not. The Government tells us that it is not compulsory; it is merely obligatory. The Government says that it will be financed from our taxes- not the taxes that we are paying now, but a whole lot of new taxes which will work out to be a 7 or 8 per cent increase on what we are paying already. We will wind up paying more and getting less, as has happened with all socialised health schemes that have been tried all round the world. They have failed miserably. Not one nationalised health scheme is a success. All the nationalised health schemes and socialised health schemes are variations on a theme.
The reason that is given for bringing in this Medibank scheme is that 8 per cent of the people are not adequately covered. That means that over 90 per cent are adequately covered. In order to cover that 8 per cent we are to upset the other 90-odd per cent. I point out that many of the 5 per cent, 8 per cent or 10 per cent who are not covered choose not to be covered. Amongst them are many new Australians who prefer to spend their money in their own way. This new Bill will force them to pay through their taxes for a scheme that they do not want. We may disagree with those people or even think that they are silly, but that is no reason to force it down their necks. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has promised the State hospitals that he will meet half the cost of their operations. But who will decide the standard of the hospitals? Do honourable senators think that the Government will allow the States to spend any amount they wish to spend on upgrading or extending their hospitals? It certainly will not. By the use of this new economic democracy the Government, by threatening to reduce or even withdraw its commitment, will have control of the future management, extension, development and expansion of the State hospitals.
The latest promise by the Minister is that optometrists will be included in this scheme. This sounds great, but buried in the heart of this pretty little promise is the hidden sting. Optometrists’ services will be free, provided their fees can be fixed by the Minister. This is duplicity. Perhaps the resolute Minister will try to hold out the golden carrot to the optometrists as he tried to do to the medical profession and the private hospitals. The golden carrot is the offer of attractive fees for the immediate future when the Minister knows that these fees shortly will be overtaken by the inflation that his Government is causing. I trust that optometrists will show their usual discrimination and reject the offer with contempt.
– They have already accepted it.
– Very soon then the Minister will be subjected to standard glasses and standard frames. The Government points to deficiencies in general practitioner services at the moment. He says that group practices already have eroded the doctor-patient relationship, but the Government is missing the point again. There are not deficiencies in general practice todaythere is a crisis in general practice today. Approximately only 4000 general practitioners are operating in Australia. We need at least four times that number. Even if we start trying to increase the numbers now it will take at least 10 years to increase their numbers fourfold. The reason we have so few general practitioners is that the Government has made it unattractive for doctors to be in general practice.
– They have all disappeared in the last 1 8 or 1 9 months?
– They have been disappearing for years, and they are disappearing fast. The only way any government can provide any form of public health service is to ensure that there is a healthy private health service. It is a matter of some wonder to me that this new scheme, which will disadvantage every man, woman and child in Queensland, is being brought in mainly by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) who are Queenslanders. Bills to introduce this scheme were forced through the Joint Sitting with the help of the 4 Labor senators from Queensland who had been given a clear indication in the May 1974 election that the people of Queensland did not want the scheme. This indication was reinforced in the Queensland State election in December 1974.
Finally I remind the Government of some common horse sense. A service free of cost at the point of consumption creates unlimited demand which has to be satisfied from a limited budget. The two cannot meet. Therefore the Government has to introduce restrictions which inevitably lead to dissatisfaction amongst the patients, dissatisfaction amongst the doctors and dissatisfaction among members of the Government. We reject the Bill.
-The opposition by the Liberal and Country Parties to this Bill I believe is entirely consistent with their increasing political conservatism. The opposition is entirely consistent with the Liberal and Country Parties’ objections to any Bill which removes inequities from our social system or, more particularly, which strikes at areas of unwanted privilege in our society. I assume, if as seems likely the Opposition is soon to be led by a disciple of Ayn Rand, it will become obligatory for members of the Opposition to espouse her philosophy of despair and doom. ‘Adas Shrugged ‘ and other edifying tomes will replace Adam Smith.
This Bill is a machinery Bill to facilitate legislation to assist in the smooth introduction of the national health insurance program, which we call Medibank. This Bill is not necessary for the introduction of Medibank. The introduction of Medibank, which I hardly need remind members of the Opposition was made possible by the double dissolution and the Joint Sitting of Parliament- both events were provoked by members of the Opposition- can be brought about without this legislation, but this legislation provides adequate protection for some groups.
– For the pensioners?
– For the pensioners and also for the occupants of nursing homes. It is interesting that the arguments brought forward in the debates on this Bill and other health Bills changed very little until Senator Baume with an amazing piece of enlightenment informed us today that this Bill would destroy the pensioner medical scheme.
– That is right, senator.
-Of course it is right. But of course the honourable senator did not tell us that this Bill will replace the pensioner medical scheme with something which is very much better for pensioners. He did not tell us that under the Medibank scheme pensioners will have a freedom of choice that they have never had before. He did not tell us that he has been a member of the Australian Medical Association which for years has attacked the inadequacies of the pensioner medical scheme. Nor did Senator Sheil tell us that for years he has been a member of the General Practitioners Society which is not only opposed to the pensioner medical scheme but also opposed to the present system which was introduced by a Liberal-Country Party Government.
The arguments used by the Opposition in this Bill demonstrate the desperate nature of the Opposition. Not even the earnest efforts of people like Bill Arthur, assisted by ample funds from the Australian Medical Association and voluntary health organisations, can bring credence to arguments of the Opposition. His ghost writing may be of assistance to new columnists- I do not know. All we have had are the old furphys that we have heard since 1969. Opposition to social reform traditionally involves misstatement, misrepresentation and the induction of fear of change into the population. After almost 2 years of this a new element has been involved, and that is the element of a sort of semantic nit picking. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the objections of Senator Guilfoyle and others to the use of the word ‘free’ in advertisements for Medibank. As Senator Button showed this morning, the advertisements clearly state that Medibank is a non-contributory fund which is funded from taxation. The advertisements clearly state that public hospital treatment will be free. This means the patient will not have to pay at the time of treatment. The word ‘ free ‘ was used in this context in the complaints by the Opposition to the removal by this Government of the free milk scheme. The Opposition had no objection to using the word ‘free’ in that context at that time.
Tasmanians are very proud of their free dental and orthodontic services. No one in Tasmania suggests that no one pays for it, but we still use the word ‘free’ to describe the provision of these services. In none of these cases is the use of the word ‘free’ meant to imply that the thing is somehow plucked out of the air and that no money is involved and no one pays. I realise that people like Senator Baume and Senator Sheil are firm in the belief that an adequate medical service and doctor-patient relationship involves the crossing of palms with silver. I believe this is an old Romany tradition usually involved in fortune telling and witchcraft. To me this is a gratuitous insult to those members of the medical profession who are fully salaried. Some 45 per cent to 50 per cent of the doctors in this country are fully salaried. Anyone who suggests that the members of this noble profession require the crossing of palms with silver to give a decent service are being insulting and should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Misrepresentation can also be demonstrated in the arguments of the Opposition by the description of sessional payments in hospital schemes as civil conscription.
For years the Austraiian Medical Association has been trying to overcome the system of honorary hospital consultants and it has advocated that they be paid. In Tasmania and in other States we are now paying doctors who were previously honorary consultants in hospitals. When it was advocated that these people be paid, no one suggested then that this was somehow civil conscription.
– They certainly did.
– No one ever suggested it, and the honourable senator knows it. I supported the AMA when I was a member of it in trying to remedy the crazy system where we had the Robin Hood principle of the consultant outside the hospital justifying his high fees to private patients because of the free work he was doing in the hospital. I shall be interested to see how many consultants reduce their private fees now that they are being paid for the work they previously did free in the hospital. The argument always was that their fees outside were high because they gave so much free work in the public hospitals.
Opposition to this scheme and to the other schemes, to my way of thinking, is not based on fact, and it is certainly not based on a concern for patient welfare. It seems to me that it is based on an opposition of unenlightened conservatism, and this to me is best exemplified by the General Practitioners Society and its offshoot, the Workers Party, and also the League of Rights, all of which seem to be represented here. Combined with this is a sacred duty to preserve the expensive empires which have been built up by the various moguls in some of the voluntary health organisations. These people operate under the guise of being public benefactors.
Nowhere today was the nature of the opposition demonstrated more clearly than in the statement by Senator Baume which I believe Senator Melzer mentioned. Senator Baume said that the medical profession will co-operate with anybody except the Australian Labor Party. Here we have a member of the Australian Medical Association, who is the Canberra correspondent for the AMA ‘Gazette’, who finally after all this sanctimonious nonsense that has been heard from the AMA, claiming that it was concerned for the patient and was a non-political organisation, has said: ‘We will co-operate with anybody except the Australian Labor Party’.
Honourable senators opposite know that the patient who has been relieved of the fear of heavy costs will benefit in this scheme. Honourable senators opposite know quite well that the scheme will not upset the general practitioner. He will practice as he does now. Whether he bulk bills or not will be his choice. Despite the implications of Senator Sheil and Senator Baume it will be his choice. It is up to him. Honourable senators opposite know that when the scheme was introduced in Canada the choice was given and for the first year there was blind obstructionism to bulk billing but later on bulk billing became the norm. They know that those who wish to insure for private hospital treatment will be able, by one conscious effort, to purchase private health insurance to cover them for the difference between public hospital and the private hospital treatment. Honourable senators opposite mouth the words produced by the former member of the House of Representatives who can regularly be seen running around this place. They know that, come election time, money, literature and a public relations man will be supplied to their parties by the voluntary health funds and that these will be supplied from moneys that have been contributed by innocent people who thought they were putting all their money into insuring against their health needs.
Medibank will supply the benefits of the present medical insurance scheme and more. Private insurance to cover those elements of private hospital care will be available. It is wise to point out that Medibank would have been funded by a tax levy which was clearly indicated on everyone’s tax returns, which would have shown the people what they were paying. This Government wanted the people to know what they were paying. The Government had no intention of pretending to people that the money was coming from some mysterious Pandora’s box, but our attempts to get the levy Bill introduced were blocked by the Opposition twice in this place. Despite the warnings of Senator Steele Hall, who apparently was the only member on the other side of the Senate who read the debate in the House of Representatives and who read the implications of the Opposition ‘s actions, the Opposition still blocked it and now it complains because it is not clear where the money is coming from and how much is coming from each person’s income. The fault is yours, ladies and gentlemen, not ours; you know this.
– The Senate is not a public platform.
– I want to make it clear that I can tell the difference; perhaps Senator Baume cannot. Certainly the hospital benefits part of the Medibank scheme will vary from State to State. We know that in those States which will co-operate- there are two and probably three- the Federal Government and the State governments will go 50/50 in the building and maintenance of public hospitals. This is certainly an improvement on the past scheme. In those unenlightened States which are unwilling to co-operate the Government will still contribute $ 1 8 per day towards hospital bed costs. This is nine times the contribution now and the contribution as it has been for over 10 years.
I dare say that when this Bill is defeated, as it certainly will be, Senator Baume will trumpet another victory for conservatives in his new journalistic capacity, and the General Practitioners Society’s journal and the newsletters of the lilac league will praise Senator Shiel for his effort in it. But I think honourable senators opposite should remember that the label ‘ conservative’ so proudly worn by them has 2 connotations. The first is a desire to preserve the best of the past. This is a politically meaningless term because it applies to us all. It applies to Senator Button with his love of art and music. It applies to Senator Wriedt and many honourable senators opposite with their love of the classics. But when the term is used to describe those who wish to preserve the inequities in our society, who wish to preserve the privileges of the few gained by wealth or birth or stealth, or who wish to preserve any other injustice in our society, the term conservative’ becomes a political epithet which in my opinion the Liberal and Country Parties in their opposition to this Bill thoroughly deserve. Opposition to a Bill which is merely a facilitating Bill and a machinery measure to allow the Medibank scheme to go through- a scheme which was approved by the people of this country in 2 elections and by a Joint Sitting of Parliament which was provoked by the Opposition- is blind obstructionism.
- Senator Sheil knows that it is blind obstructionism. However we cannot get anywhere with him. He remains stubborn; he remains adamant. All the words that have been used over the last 5 years on this and other schemes- our words and those of honourable senators opposite- are perhaps wasted, except that they will demonstrate to the community the resistance to change which is apparently present in all Opposition members. I commend the Bill to the Senate. I regret that it will not be passed.
Senator BAUME (New South Wales)-Mr Acting Deputy President, I wish to make a personal explanation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. Senator Grimes, during his speech, referred to Mr Arthur, a former member of this Parliament, and intimated that he acted as a ghost writer. He then specifically mentioned ghost writing for new columnists. He then identified me as columnist for the Australian Medical Association ‘Gazette’ and, he also said, for the General Practitioners Society. No one writes my speeches for me and no one ghost writes my column. I do not write for the General Practitioners Society. I do write for the doctors’ newspaper, the AMA ‘Gazette’. The honourable senator’s claims are untrue. They will not even make good copy for the next issue.
– My attitude to this Bill has not changed. I support the speakers on the Opposition side in rejecting it as another attempt by the socialist Government of Australia to inflict upon the people a health scheme which is based largely on systems that exist overseas, systems that have been proved to be second rate.
– Ask the people overseas.
– I have asked the people overseas. People from the United Kingdom who live in Adelaide are absolutely appalled at the stupidity of the Government in introducing such a scheme to Australia. This view is also shared by many doctors from the United Kingdom who have escaped the socialism of the United Kingdom. I oppose the nationalised scheme for several very good reasons, not the least being the economics of the problem. I find it incredible that a government which is faced by a deficit of about $3,600m by the end of this financial year is to rob the people of Australia to pay for a health scheme that will cost, in my opinion, no less than $700m-odd more than the present scheme is costing Australia today. I object to the scheme on other grounds. I happen to like the freedom of choice as to who will operate on me in a hospital. I happen to value the privilege of the system, one that has existed and operated successfully in Australia for so long, of being able to nominate the physician I would like to treat me when I am in hospital. Although it is proposed under this Bill that in the initial stages, I understand, there will be freedom of choice in respect to a person ‘s general practitioner -
– Is that the thin edge of the wedge?
-This is the thin end of the wedge so far as I am concerned. Senator Grimes is right when he says that it is the thin end of the wedge. I agree with him that this is the thin end of the wedge for the zoning of doctors in Australia and forcing people to go to a doctor whom they do not necessarily wish to see. I listened to Dr Sheil speaking about the decline in the number of general practitioners in Australia and he was correct. It is time governments of Australia came to grips with this problem. I believe it is in the interests of the people of Australia for the government, the Australian Medical Association and the medical faculties in our institutions to introduce a provision whereby medical graduates ought to do at least 12 months in general practice before proceeding to a speciality. That has been an idea of mine for a long time and I stand by it although I know that there are some specialists who would disagree. I believe such a requirement would help immensely in overcoming the deficiency in the number of general practitioners in Australia.
I believe also that this Bill spells the end of the pensioner medical service. I think the Government ought to pay regard to the point that in order to provide pensioner services it will have to depend on the goodwill of the medical profession in Australia. I have no doubt that the profession’s goodwill would prevail. In my view it is an act of irresponsibility on the part of the Government that it intends to destroy this scheme. I recognise, as do the Liberal Party and the Country Party, that the existing scheme has to be upgraded and improved. In the election campaign last year we foreshadowed that we have it in mind to do this. We have worked a lot more since then and have other suggestions that will be unfolded at the appropriate time.
I am afraid this Government is pursuing a course which, if successful- I certainly will do my part to see that it is not successful- will provide Australia with a second rate medical service, a system that would overcrowd hospitals, would provide problems for the private hospitals and would force hospitals to put patients in public wards whereas at the moment, in South Australia anyway, the majority of patients wish to be accommodated in intermediate and private wards. This would create tremendous problems with respect to surgery, for example. I recently heard a doctor in Adelaide suggest that if a person wanted an ingrown toe nail removed it probably would never get done under the scheme proposed by our socialist friends in the Government. If a person wanted a more serious but not acute major operation he would have to wait years. 1 suggest that because of the overloading of the hospital facilities and the overloading of the work of the doctors even acute cases may be threatened with non-treatment. In my view this is against the interests of the health of the Australian community. I reiterate that a lot has been said on this measure in the last couple of years and I have nothing to add but to say that I oppose it.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Justin O ‘Byrne)
Question so resolve in the negative.
Debate resumed from 20 February on motion by Senator Bishop:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
. This is the fourth time the Government has put forward these provisions- some of the most undemocratic and most unreasonable provisions ever sought to be inserted in a conciliation and arbitration Act- notwithstanding that the Parliament has shown on each of the previous occasions that it does not want them. It is a sign of the times that this Bill comes on this afternoon. The Minister concerned was not even prepared to respond to the debate on the National Health Bill, which was the previous Bill before the Senate. This indicates that there is no genuine interest in the legislation which is being put up.
This Bill, like the previous Bill and like so many other Bills, is brought forward simply to provide some material upon which a tottering government can justify its position in the eyes of the electorate. Of course, it is an indication of the dismay which is sweeping through the Government ranks that when I make remarks such as that, which in earlier days might have brought forward a host of interjections, there is a stolid, solid, sorry lot of honourable senators unable to rouse themselves even to protest. One can only hope that they show some spark of life with regard to this Bill. They were not prepared to show the slightest degree of interest in upholding the Speaker of the other place whom they elected some 2 years ago and whom they so ignominiously dismissed- I suppose the expression is ‘summarily executed ‘-this morning.
We are told that the purpose of this Bill is to facilitate amalgamations of trade unions. The presumption in this Bill is that amalgamations would proceed more quickly if its provisions were carried. We are told that there would be more amalgamations. This is argued as the principal reason why this Bill should be passed. I quite agree that there are some good reasons why, in some areas, union amalgamations should take place. I think there are many instances which can be demonstrated where small unions might serve the interests of their members better if they combined with larger unions. In those circumstances they would be able to promote a more advantageous cause than they are at the present time. The argument for union amalgamations is not opposed by the Opposition. We recognise the value of amalgamations. Notwithstanding constant misrepresentation, our position always has been of that character. But it is a typical case of Government misrepresentation to argue that the Opposition is opposed to union amalgamations. That is not the case. What the Government is arguing, if its case is properly analysed, is that union amalgamations will be promoted if we can permit crooked ballots, if we can permit contrived ballots and if we can permit cooked ballots in order to achieve the purpose of amalgamation. That is what this Government is endeavouring to promote.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. That has not been said by any Government spokesman in the course of debate on the 2 occasions on which the Bill has been debated here. With respect, Senator Greenwood should withdraw that allegation.
- Mr President, I shall speak to the point of order. I said that, if we can have crooked ballots, contrived ballots or cooked ballots, then in those circumstances the Government was prepared to support amalgamation. I certainly concede- I withdraw, if it is a matter of withdrawal; there is no question about it- that no Government Minister or senator has said that. Of course, there is a limit to the extent to which Government senators and Ministers are prepared to urge their case. I am not suggesting for one moment that they have said that. The fact is, and it cannot be denied, that the provisions of this Bill will permit crooked ballots.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Bill will not permit crooked ballots. There are no more crooked ballots in the trade union movement than there are in some of Senator Greenwood’s organisations. The honourable senator is a disgrace to the Senate in saying such a thing.
– Order! I shall rule on the point of order raised by Senator Button, spoken to by Senator Greenwood and further spoken to by Senator Milliner. No point of order arises. I ask Senator Greenwood to moderate his descriptive adjectives.
-Passing from the word which you regard as too descriptive, Mr President, I say that if there are contrived ballots- we have seen that sort of thing happeningthis Bill will facilitate that objective. If there are cooked ballots- we know there can be cooked ballots- this Bill will facilitate the procedures. It is only by those devices, as one will see, that amalgamations can be promoted, because that is the case which the Government is putting up. If we accept the provisions in this Bill we will get more amalgamations. But the provisions in the Bill will enable all sorts of unsavoury devices to be engaged in with a view to achieving the objective. That will be demonstrated on this occasion, as it has been demonstrated on each of the occasions on which this Bill has been before the chamber.
The Opposition’s position is that amalgamations ought to be facilitated in accordance with the wishes of the members of the organisations. If we go to the common law which regulates voluntary organisations we find that some very onerous provisions have to be satisfied before an amalgamation can take place. In short, in the case of amalgamation of voluntary organisations, one has to get the full support of all members of the organisations before an amalgamation in the accepted sense can take place. If one is seeking amalgamation one has to allow a voluntary organisation to go completely out of existence. The organisation which is to be amalgamated also has to go out of existence. The new organisation has to be a completely new organisation. That is an onerous and cumbersome system. Yet I know that an honourable senator on the Government side wrote a letter to the newspapers and suggested that in various ways the provisions relating to the amalgamation of voluntary organisations were better than the provisions contained in this Bill and that the Opposition was to be chided for not agreeing to the provisions of this Bill.
The Government effectively is deleting from the existing law provisions which have been enserted in order to protect the rights of members. What the previous Government did, and what the present Government does not like, was to say that all union ballots for amalgamation had to be conducted by the Electoral Office. That provision is being removed by this Bill.
– What about employers? Does it apply to them? Do they have to do it?
-Of course it applies to employers as well as to employees, and Senator Milliner knows that the provisions of this Bill relating to amalgamations apply to employers as they apply to employees. It is no use engaging in this typical misrepresentation and suggesting that a law applies to one group but does not apply to another group. The purpose of the existing law- and I think it is a matter of credit that the previous Government introduced these laws- is to ensure that the rights of members of trade unions are not overridden by officials who want to enlarge their empires and who seek to do so without regard to what the rank and file membership may think.
First of all, let me state what are the existing provisions which are to be altered, and in some cases totally removed, as a result of the provisions of this Bill. The existing law provides that a committee of an organisation, either a trade union or an employers organisation, may pass a resolution that an amalgamation may take place. The committee is required by the existing law to forward its proposals for amalgamation, that is, the wishes of the officials of the 2 unions, to the Industrial Registrar for his approval. The Industrial Registrar has to publicise what is proposed and provide facilities whereby anyone who wants to object to that amalgamation may do so. There is a provision for a hearing by the Industrial Registrar of any unionist’s or employer’s objection to the amalgamation scheme which is proposed. If as a result of the hearing of those objections the Industrial Registrar still considers that the scheme is a proper one, then he has to submit the proposed amalgamation to a ballot of the members of the organisation which is amalgamating and to a ballot of the members of the organisation with which the amalgamation is to take place. The provisions require specifically that the amalgamation ballots are to be conducted as secret ballots. They are to be conducted by the electoral officer to prevent any of the hanky panky which so often occurs in union ballots. Finally, they are to be conducted by postal voting. In short, we have the traditional official conduct of ballots which has been part of the law of this country for the last 25 years since the Menzies Government introduced officially conducted ballots to overcome some of the more obnoxious abuses which had been occurring prior to that time.
At the time that the ballot is to be conducted there are various safeguards or facilitatory procedures which are to be followed which are designed to ensure that people know what they are voting about. Copies of the amalgamation scheme are to be enclosed with the ballot paper. Arguments for and against the amalgamation, prepared by the various factions in the union or the employer organisations voting for or against the scheme, are to be included. Because it seems advantageous, there is also provision for an order to be made by the court that if there is a very large organisation with which a smaller organisation is amalgamating then the provisions for there to be a ballot of the members of the larger organisation need not be complied with in the manner in which they would ordinarily apply. They are reasonable provisions. Why should they be altered to permit ballots of the type which I have criticised being able to take place?
– But where is your evidence?
-There is ample evidence in the past.
– Where is it?
-What about the socalled ballots which took place as a result of which that monstrous union, the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, over which Mr Carmichael and Mr Halfpenny exercise such influence, came into being? No one could suggest that that was a ballot in which anything like 50 per cent of the membership participated. No one could ever suggest that that was a ballot in which anything like 25 per cent of the membership was involved. It was a ballot which was imposed upon the membership of three quite large unions by officials who were designing to ensure that they had one massive union in this country.
– And approved under your legislation.
-That took place under the old legislation in circumstances which would well warrant a royal commission, if one were ever to be instituted. In the light of what has happened, it would be interesting to see whether that union is really acting these days in the interests of the public. But that I concede is in the past. It took place before the previous Government introduced the existing laws which are designed to protect the membership, and I would hope that we will never revert to a system under which the type of amalgamation which was engaged in by the AMWU could take place again.
One of the provisions of the existing law is that no ballot for amalgamation, if it takes place in the way I have just outlined, will be an effective ballot unless 50 per cent of the members of the organisation vote. If 50 per cent of the members of the organisation vote, at least 50. 1 per cent of the members who have voted must vote in favour. Theoretically, one could still have an amalgamation even though 75 per cent of the membership of the organisation was opposed to it. I say theoretically because it is merely taking the arithmetical results which would flow from an exact 50 per cent voting. The 50 per cent who did not vote could be regarded as opposed to it and 24.9 per cent of those who actually did vote could be opposed to it and there would therefore be a theoretical 75 per cent opposed to it. It is quite unreal to say that the provisions are unfair. I know the argument is put that you are not likely to get 50 per cent of union members voting and therefore it is unreasonable to require that percentage. But it ought not to be forgotten that what is involved here is the amalgamation of 2 organisations- the cessation of existence of one organisation and the creation of a new organisation. It is only right that in those areas what takes place should take place with membership concurrence, and that is the essential basic purpose for which these provisions have been inserted.
Now, what is happening under the Bill and why is it that the Opposition will oppose this Bill and will continue to oppose it, no matter how many times the Government brings it forward? We will oppose it because the new provisions are in essence undemocratic and would permit all sorts of activities, skullduggery and other improper devices to take place. In the first place the Bill provides that there is no need to have an officially conducted ballot. If you can get a certain proportion of the membership interested to ask for such a ballot then it may take place, but there is no obligation to have an official ballot. Why? No reason is given why there should not be an officially conducted ballot. All that is required under the legislation is that the union ballot should take place in accordance with union rules. There is another provision which I think is highly objectionable because it can result in the wishes of the membership being overborne. It provides for one-fifth of the members of an organisation being able to ask for a ballot where their own committee charged with the management of their affairs has declined to take any action to promote an amalgamation which happens to be sought by a larger organisation. In other words, the committee of the union has decided that it does not want to amalgamate in the way for which a small section of the union has been agitating, and one would suppose that the committee decision ought to prevail because, if the committee members have not the confidence of their union rank and file, there is a periodic election at which that policy can be changed.
But that is not what this Bill provides. It provides, without adequate justification being put forward, for the wishes of the committee of the union to be overborne by a situation in which a right is granted to a small section of the union. The roll of voters under the new provisions would comprise financial members of the organisation. But, infortunately, what is a ‘ financial member’ of the organisation is not defined. That, of course, is a new provision which seeks to remove the statutory definition of ‘financial members’ that is presently contained in the existing amalgamation provisions. Of course, if there is no definition of what is a financial member the way is open for abuse.
There is no requirement under the provisions of this Bill for notice to be given of the fact that a ballot is to be held. The present provision relating to the giving of 3 months notice in a gazette will simply disappear. Even the request of 250 members that a ballot be officially conducted must be made within one month from the date of the direction which is given by the Registrar under the proposed section 158k. Yet how is anyone to know that a ballot is to be held? There is no requirement for the Industrial Registrar’s decision to be published or advertised anywhere for the benefit of the rank and file membership. Moreover the new provisions provide for an amalgamation to be taken as having been approved if in the ballot or each of the ballots, if there is more than one ballot, more than one half of the members who recorded formal votes are in favour of the amalgamation. There is to be no quorum whatsoever, no basic minimum number of members of the organisation who are required to vote. Why should an amalgamation take place if, in circumstances in which few members know of the fact that a ballot is to take place, there might be one per cent to 3 per cent of the union voting and it is the majority view of that one per cent to 3 per cent which constitutes the ultimate decision? That is not as good a provision as the provision contained in the existing legislation. The Opposition therefore will not support that provision.
The argument has been raised that in some way this Bill will reduce the number of demarcation disputes and that if, by the devices which this Bill will permit, amalgamations can take place there will be fewer demarcation disputes. Amalgamations of themselves do not solve demarcation disputes. It is one of the myths of trade union agitation in support of legislation of this character to suggest that demarcation disputes will be resolved by amalgamations.
– They must, and you know it.
– I do not know it. I will be interested to hear how Senator Georges says that they will be resolved because the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union is still experiencing disputes which are essentially demarcation disputes.
– Yes, but not as many, by a long shot.
– I would like Senator Georges to produce some statistics that establish his point. If he looks at the statistics which have been published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics he will find that the percentage of disputes which are regarded as trade union disputes has reduced over the past years. My recollection is that the figure has been something like 9 per cent over the last 12-month period that I looked at, but I am subject to correction on that. I know that the figure is somewhere in the vicinity of 8 per cent to 12 per cent. In that compilation of trade union matters demarcation disputes are just one of the issues and they represent a lesser proportion than the proportion in earlier years. No one can suggest that amalgamations have reduced that number of demarcation disputes. It is a curious view which argues that a dispute which is essentially a dispute over wages and conditions is a demarcation dispute. Occasionally there are disputes, that could be regarded as body snatching disputes and disputes as to who is going to collect the union dues and whether a unionist is to be denied an income which the officials or secretary of a union believe properly should go to him. There are those disputes occasionally. But I should have thought that to regard those disputes as the only demarcation disputes is to ignore reality. Demarcation disputes are the disputes over what is the going rate for the job. There are some people who are concerned -
– Obviously you know nothing about the matter.
– I know a lot more about it than Senator Poyser has suggested. A dispute among members of a union which is essentially a dispute over relativities is as much a demarcation dispute as a dispute as to what are the rights of a particular union with regard to the collection of union dues of particular members.
– It is more than that.
– I say to Senator Georges that it is essentially the same sort of situation. All I am saying is that amalgamation will not resolve demarcation disputes in the way in which has been claimed for it by the provisions of this Bill.
– Has it resolved any difficulties in the metal trades?
-Let me give Senator Milliner an example. I have been assured that an amalgamation is currently taking place or was consummated recently in New South Wales between the Shop Assistants Union in that State and the Australian Workers Union. That is an amalgamation which has taken place under the New South Wales law. The New South Wales law does not have the safeguards for the rights of members that our current legislation possesses. The amalgamation that took place between those organisations did not take place with rank and file consultation; it took place because the committees -
– Who said that?
– I have sources of information. My information came from the president of one of the related unions. No consultation took place with the rank and file members, nor was there any consultation with the national office bearers of the union, lt took place as a matter worked out between the officials of the 2 unions concerned. There are new office bearers for the organisation which has been created. The interesting feature, of course, is that the only people who can stand for nomination against the existing officers bearers are those persons who have 5 years membership or 3 years financial membership of this new organisation. I assure honourable senators that that this information, which I have not checked myself, that has been given to me by a union president. If anyone wants to correct it I will be interested in having the correction handed to me. I have identified the unions involved and I have assured honourable senators that the information came from a source which I accept. If it is to be disputed, I ask those who challenge it to establish that what I have said is not so.
The basic point which characterises the Opposition’s attitude to this Bill is that we have in the existing law provisions which are designed to protect the rights of members and to ensure that amalgamations which take place do take place only in circumstances in which the rights of members are not over-ridden. We believe in the conducting of a secret ballot by the Electoral Officer. We do not believe in a system in which the ballots can be conducted by the unions themselves. It is believed by the Government that that will facilitate amalgamations. It is a facilitating of the amalgamation procedures against which the Opposition has set itself and will also set itself because the Opposition stands for secrecy and fairness in union matters.
– I rise to support the Bill and to commend the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) on his understanding of the industrial situation today and also his ability to recognise what will happen in the future and to make allowances for future developments in the industrial situation. I realise that this Bill has been before the House on a number of occasions and that there is very little that anyone can add to what has been said already. I have listened to Senator Greenwood speak on this subject on 2 occasions. He is completely unemcumbered with any knowledge of what goes on inside the trade union movement, although he seems to have plenty to say on it. I think that he should do some homework on the voting system in relation to the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. Anyone in the AMWU who wants to apply for a court controlled ballot can do so at any time he wishes.
When the Minister prepared this Bill he was obviously aware of the fact that the days are going, if they have not already gone, when the local union organisation could negotiate with the local employers and come to some agreement which was acceptable to both parties. What is happening today is that local employers are being reduced to the level of contractors and subcontractors. Bigger business has taken over- the national and multinational combines- and they have the facilities to look at the economic situation throughout the world in order to decide policy. Their policy is determined on a national or international scale without any feeling or consideration for the local situation as it exists.
It is not uncommon for a number of unions to be parties to a single award or agreement. The trade union movement can no longer allow this situation to continue. It must streamline its organisation in order to be able to compete against the employer organisations which are merging and amalgamating year in, year out. The trade union movement must put itself into a position where it can afford full time officials to do field work and provide research officers and all the necessary staff. If it does not, then I am afraid it just will not survive. It is a matter of survival in today’s world. Even the employer organisations cannot be bothered with a multiplicity of awards and agreements. They are on record as having stated that they are in favour of amalgamation.
Three of the unions in the metal trades group have already amalgamated. They were well aware of the situation which was developing and went ahead with amalgamation, but since then the Democratic Labor Party has managed to convince the Country and Liberal Parties that it is a good thing to obstruct amalgamation, and they have been obstructing it ever since without any consideration of what the future holds for the trade union movement, or the arbitration system for that matter. On the other hand we can find quite a number of employer organisations amalgamating. There are all sorts of evidence of it. The Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia and the Australian Council of Employers Federations are merging, according to the ‘Canberra Times’ which stated:
Negotiations which are scheduled to culminate on January 1 next year in the amalgamation of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia and the Australian Council of Employers Federations probably will be the most significant development in the employers’ industrial relations for decades.
– Are they going to have a secret ballot?
-I will come back to that in a minute. In the ‘Sydney Morning Herald ‘ the following appeared under the heading ‘Big Employers ‘ Merger Planned ‘:
The Chamber of Manufactures will soon consider a similar resolution, leading to establishment of the new organisation on April 1 next.
The ‘West-Australian’ on 4 November 1974 said:
Two of the biggest and the most powerful employer groups in Western Australia- the Employers Federation and the Chamber of Manufactures- appear to be on the brink of a merger.
From the Parliamentary Library Legislative Research Service I have obtained details of mergers of employer organisations and the dates of the mergers. At the federal level, in April 1970 the Metal Trades Employers Association, operating in New South Wales and Queensland, merged with the Metal Industries Association of Victoria, and with the Australian Metal Industries Association of South Australia and the Metal Industries Employers’ Association of Western Australia joined as affiliates. The new organisation is called the Metal Trades Industry Association. In June 1971 the autonomous State organisations of the Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation of Australia adopted plans for a national organisation and called itself the Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation of Australia. On a State level, the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures and the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce Inc. have merged. In 1 973 the Tasmanian Chamber of Manufactures and the Tasmanian Employers Federation merged. On 1 January 1974 the Western Australian Chamber of Manufactures and the Western Australian Employers Federation merged as did the Queensland Chamber of Manufactures and the Queensland Employers Federation.
I am not quarrelling with this. I have no quarrel with it whatsoever. If they wish to merge, go ahead, let them merge. I am not quarrelling with it. What I am quarrelling with is the obstructionist attitude of the Opposition here when it comes to mergers in the trade union movement. The Opposition has no idea of the nature of trade unions; it has no idea of what goes on in trade unions when it talks in the way in which it does. There is no need for the employer organisations I referred to have a ballot of every one of their shareholders any more than it is a necessity for everyone to vote in a local government election.
There is a growing feeling in the trade union movement that the arbitration system has been designed to fragment and penalise the unions, that it is designed to discriminate against workers and wage earners and rob them of an independent trade union movement. I do not wish to take up too much time but I would like to make it clear that I am not putting up a case for the survival of the trade union movement. The trade union movement was fighting for the rights of its members long before arbitration and will continue to fight long after arbitration has withered or has been choked or killed by the Opposition here. If we wish arbitration to survive the Opposition had better have a close look at what it is doing because amalgamation is inevitable. The unions will amalgamate whether it is done inside or outside the arbitration system. The way the Opposition has continued to obstruct amalgamation is a warning to me. It sounds like the death knell for the arbitration system.
– I address myself briefly to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which is before us. It is a most important Bill because it is basic to the relationships in the industrial field. I was interested to hear Senator Mcintosh’s speech here this afternoon which suggested that there is some tremendous area of confrontation growing. This is the very thing which I believe industrial peace insists there should not be. We have to examine this conciliation and arbitration legislation against a proper background. Let us face the obvious fact that conciliation and arbitration in the Australian scene over many years have been successful in bringing about a degree of industrial peace, a degree of production and a degree of social welfare and development which have been the envy of most, if not all, countries around the world. It has happened that way because the system has been significant in establishing a real measure of stability in the industrial and economic scene.
Conciliation and arbitration have served this country well but that stability has been at stake significantly in the last 2 years. It has been at stake to such a degree that when this Government came to power some 2 years ago it immediately imposed a 33 1/3 per cent deposit requirement on overseas investment in Australia. The Government then reduced it to 25 per cent, then 5 per cent and finally eliminated it totally and absolutely. Since that time the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) and others have been abroad seeking, amongst other things, investment in this country. But overseas investors are extremely loath to come here and one of the significant reasons why that is so is that there has developed in this country an immense measure of industrial unrest with the instability that accompanies it. It is against that background that we have to look at this proposed legislation. There is no longer an obvious desire to invest in this country. Investment means employment, stability and progress. The strength of our system surely has been the capacity of employer and employee, preferably in association with government, to talk the matter over and mutually agree, with a minimum of strikes and lockouts. That is the situation that we seem to be drifting away from today.
I believe there is a need for the reestablishment of the National Labour Advisory Council, so that there can be a real measure of consultation between employers, employees and government. That sort of base becomes essential for the ultimate solution of industrial problems. We must never forget in whatever sort of society we live that there will always be an employeremployee relationship, whether there be, as in this country and many others in the Western world, half a million employers or one employer. It is significant to note that history tells us of numerous occasions when there was one employer, that employer obviously being the state or some executive hierarchy. That situation produced the greatest exploitation of man and resources that has ever been recorded. Our industrial rules and laws must at all times prevent that situation. A very significant element of the causes of inflation in this country- I mention this briefly only as a background to this legislation- has been concerned with the industrial unrest of the past 2 year in particular. With a union-abiding government in power one would have thought that it was unlikely that we would see a level of industrial unrest which is at the highest point since records were first kept in approximately 1913. Because of this unrest we have had a constant loss of the production of goods, and services being chased by more and more money. Consequently the classic situation of inflation has developed and with it the loss of confidence at home and abroad. I make those few remarks merely as a background against which one must view these Bills.
We must ask ourselves the simple question: Do these conciliation and arbitration Bills offer a real solution to the employer-employee relationship? That is the only thing that matters. On balance, and very reluctantly, I find that I, along with the Opposition, must oppose them because I do not believe that they contain provisions which will contribute to a better relationship between employer and employee or, even more significantly, that they have in their province the betterment of the great mass of unionists. We are in a situation of urgency and industrial unrest when we should be looking outwardly with confidence to the economic and social field. Instead we find that there are enourmous problems in the petroleum and mineral industries, of which we were talking yesterday, in many areas of primary industry and certainly in manufacturing industry, that great employer of people. I believe that amongst unionists there is considerable disquiet concerning the objects and methods that this legislation attempts to produce. There is a great deal of uncertainty in our country today. I feel that to overcome that uncertainty there must be established what is commonly known as a team spirit. Regretfully, neither from the point of view of unionists nor from the point of view of Australian society, I can see no such solution in these Bills that may develop in this country the sort of team spirit and togetherness that will make us once again a great, productive and developing society.
Senator Greenwood has outlined very clearly the major difficulties in this legislation that involve the unionists as much as anyone else. There are dangers of omission and of commission in this legislation. For instance, the ballot of members to approve amalgamation is no longer to be a secret postal ballot. This cannot possibly be in the interests of the trade unionists or in the interests of industrial peace and the relationship between the trade unionists and industry. The role of voters in these circumstances has been made quite obscure. The definition of financial members of a union has been made obscure. Consequently there could be all sorts of difficulties in establishing those roles which, prior to this projected legislation, did not exist. In the original legislation and in the legislation as it stands today there is the requirement of a 3 months period between the announcement of a ballot and the actual taking of the ballot. That provision disappears. Arguments both for and against a proposed amalgamation were to be exhibited with that announcement of a ballot. Now only 250 members of a union or 5 per cent are needed to require a ballot to be taken within one month. There is no requirement to inform the rank and file membership. I do not believe that these matters are in the interests of the unionists or of industrial peace and production in this country. Within 2 months of a ballot the cases for and against amalgamation could be circulated and would accompany the ballot paper. No longer is this so. The opponents of amalgamation now have no right to put their view to the membership.
The regulations used to provide for an equal presentation of argument in periodicals and publications once the ballot date was known. This is no longer so. No such power to enact these regulations exists in this legislation. It is most significant with regard to amalgamation that no longer will it be necessary to have a vote of in excess of 50 per cent of the membership on an issue, but a simple majority of perhaps only 5 per cent or 10 per cent of a union will be regarded as sufficient evidence that an amalgamation should take place. Perhaps these sorts of wanderings away from a relatively secure legislative situation may underline the greater than ever need for some sort of secret ballot. The compulsory secret ballot has served this country so well in electing a government. The Australian Labor Party, now the government of this country, was elected by this method. It would appear to be a reasonable assumption that that method could be approved by the industrial areas also. This legislation provides that an amalgamation can be sought by only 20 per cent of a union requesting a ballot of a target union. Only a minority of that target union would need to sign a request to ensure that a ballot on amalgamation will take place. It seems to me that there is undue haste in the amalgamation procedures that are proposed in this legislation. It is an undue haste which is somewhat hard to follow.
The amalgamation of unions into the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, which I understand was done with the concurrence of each of the unions concerned, took in excess of 2 years. Yet this Bill suggests that the period should be 3 months. This haste, I suggest, could well lead to body snatching, empire building and all sorts of problems between the unions themselves.
This legislation contributes nothing to the great mass of trade unionists. This circumstance, in which there is a real possibility of a monopoly takeover in the unions field, is contrary to the Government’s attitude- until the recent Baltic states incident- towards takeovers. Its attitude to takeovers in foreign fields and certainly its attitude to takeovers in the industrial and commercial areas have been directed against the establishment of monopoly power. In this union legislation there seems to be every possibility that a monopolistic situation can be the ultimate result. Once again I ask the question: Can that be in the real interests of the trade unionists themselves who are the major parties concerned in this legislation? It has been suggested that with the legislation for amalgamation being considered there would be a distinct falling away in demarcation problems. Yet the history in this field suggests that something like 87 per cent of disputes have been in the area of wage and conditions claims and that 3.5 per cent of them have concerned demarcation. It would appear that the legislation is aimed at an area which is not basically a significant area.
It may well be that we must abide by the industrial laws as we do by all other laws. Discipline is essential to freedom in this community. Discipline, perhaps, is best exemplified in selfdiscipline. But there can and must be a situation in which discipline can be exercised only by the application of some form of penalty. This should go across the board in a democratic society. The dangers of commission, I believe, really run themselves into the possibility of establishing through this legislation a monopoly situation which may be to the detriment of the few- the weak and the small- at the hands of the larger and stronger unions and which may well lead to the sort of unfortunate cirmustances that would follow logically from the confrontation about which Senator Mcintosh was talking.
Already something like 70 per cent of Australian trade unionists belong to 33 trade unions. So, there is a large measure of amalgamation already in this field. We must not be side-tracked into believing that this is a satisfactory solution that should cover all unionists. Amalgamation is not necessarily good for unionists who have special skills and interests. They may well be better off being closer to their own executive and able to follow their own problems as a small entity than they would be if they were totally absorbed in some massive or gigantic organisation in which they become further and further removed from those who represent them. Size cannot always be equated with efficiency. This is just as true in the area of trade unionism as it is in any other area in this community.
In closing my remarks let me say that I am opposing this legislation not because I am opposed to the principle of amalgamation of itself whether it be in the union field or in any other field, but because I do not believe that it adds in any way to a democratic form of amalgamation. In other words, I do not believe that this sort of amalgamation is in the interests of the great mass of unionists. After all, the prime objective of this sort of conciliation and arbitration legislation should be the welfare of the unionist himself in the total concept of an industrial situation which should lead to peace and production. On those grounds I oppose the legislation.
– Since the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1974 (No. 2) 1975 was last discussed in this House I have been able to canvass a wide section of employers in this community and I have found very great support for the passage of this measure. I have also tested public opinion by publishing an article on this subject in which I suggested that a good deal of social and industrial justice would be achieved if we could insert into this type of legislation a requirement for voting along the lines of parliamentary procedures. I suggested that voting should be compulsory and secret and that it should in that way reflect truly the view of those unionists who are involved in the decisions which will be made under this legislation. There was widespread support by mail and by personal contact for the suggestion I made in the article. Of course it was not new, but at least it is the sole attempt in this chamber to do something along those lines to this legislation. I have been pleased since to notice that Mr Laurie Short has gone further and suggested some sort of triennial, formally fixed elections for the election of union officials. No doubt that suggestion has merit, although one could think of defects involved in being so formal in relation to fixing times at particular periods for such elections.
I am disappointed to find that this very widespread support among those who are Australia’s very large employers and yet to find that the Opposition has advanced this argument not one whit further. We really will never make any progress if those who hold the Senate as a House of review take this attitude every time a Bill comes before it in the similarity in which Bills do. Obviously no progress can be made if those who constitute the majority say that they want the Bill but as it is not in the form in which they want it they will reject it. That, I suppose, is a fair attitude to take on the first presentation of a Bill, but surely it cannot be a fair attitude to take on succeeding presentations of the same legislation. In other words, the Opposition, if it does not agree with the important aspects of the Bill, should set about putting it in order as it believes it ought to be. It is not good enough for members of the Opposition to say that they simply believe in the principle but the details do not suit them, when surely they have the wit and capacity to put the legislation in the form in which it does suit them. To say that they do not have the capacity, of course, is to deny that they should govern. Members of the Opposition hope at some stage in the future to find themselves in Government. They would then have to have the answer. It would be far more to their credit if they had the answer now.
Surely there has been time since the previous presentation of the Bill for Senator Greenwood and others to devise policies which will put this Bill into the frame in which they could support it. Do they deny that they have had that time? Do they have no idea of detail? Do they not know? If they do know, why are they hiding their views? What is the reason why they support the principle but cannot bring forth the details? Do they not have enough friends in the industrial field to produce the help they require? What is the blockage? It is a very vital question. I think Senator Scott said that there was some urgency about industrial relations. Surely we would all acknowledge that. The matter of instituting democratic elections to make decisions about industrial matters will take some time to establish. It will take years for the effects to filter through from the power that is held in this way and based in this fashion. So we ought to be busy about it as soon as possible.
I must say that I am puzzled to the extreme to find that we on this side oppose the principle but do not have the wit to supply the detail. I suppose the answer could be, as I said in the first instance, that it is the duty of the Government to govern, but surely not on the second or third presentation, whatever it has been, in this House. I return to the subject. If the Senate is in any way a House of review it has a responsibility in this direction and it has a responsibility to those very large employers who find themselves transfixed by the barbs and arrows of industrial disruption, many of which emanate from the discord created by having too many unions in Australia.
The men who must face up to this issue in practice want this legislation. They do not go as far in wanting an alteration to it as I would like to see or, obviously, as far as the unnamed alterations that the Opposition in general would like to have. I have in my possession that poor, pathetic amendment I had last year that cannot see the light of day and cannot be argued in detail because this side will deny the Bill a second reading and deny all possibility of altering it and fashioning it as a Liberal ethic would have it fashioned. I again refer in passing to the procedures. Surely we can ask that the people who must make the decisions about amalagmations should do so on a compulsory basis, as we must do at elections of Australian parliaments, and on a secret basis, as we now enjoy in the ballot box for Australian parliaments, and in this case they could be made by postal ballot.
The Opposition denies these things. To deny even a discussion about putting them into the Bill is to deny any genuine interest in it. Too many things are said loosely in verbal form in politics. Politicians and parties will have to stand by the results of their actions. If the Opposition is simply going to negate this Bill without trying to insert the details that it is supposed to want in it, I must assume, that it is again the principle. Although Senator Greenwood may say in this House that he is for it, I must assume that he is not. What else can one assume when the people who back him politically want it? I can say that with utmost certainty. What else can one assume when he says that he wants it but denies it passage and denies a discussion during the second reading, even though he has the safeguard of turning it out at the third reading, as properly should apply in the parliamentary system,
I regret that we will not get to discuss that vital issue in the community of secret ballots and the involvement of all union members in the decisions they make. I again say that this is a perfect opportunity to insert into this Bill certain principles without disrupting the general conduct of industrial relations in Australia. It is a magnificent opportunity to put something into a Bill the provisions of which have not been used very much in the past and which are not causing genuine disruption. If the Government will not accept it, it is then its responsibility; it is not the responsibility of this side. But as the Opposition intends to proceed, it will be this side’s responsibility. When I talk to major employers in Australia again I will again have to say that we are prevented from bringing this Bill into effect and that we are preventing the Government from introducing parliamentary type disciplines into union elections and decisions because our side will not have them discussed. It will not allow the Bill to proceed to a point when we could go ahead with that sort of insertion.
I only voice my protest. I will vote for the Bill on the basis that, should it proceed past the second reading, I will very avidly present a case for amendment to insert these parliamentary principles. If they are not inserted I will vote against the Bill at the third reading. I want to make my support of the Bill quite clear in this House so that it will not be misconstrued, but I regret that one must leave the House and the decision that is apparently to be made knowing that the practical result of the action of the Opposition is that it does not support further amalgamation of unions and having amalgamations facilitated in this way.
– You could have got a discussion like that by an appropriate amendment to the second reading.
– It would not be an effective discussion. It cannot be effective in that sense. One can deal again with technical matters. What I am saying to Senator Wright is that if he votes against the second reading he is precluding the alteration of the Bill in this fashion. He knows that. I think that is a great pity when so many people in Australian want it. I suggest to Senator Wright that if he took a vote of the Australian public he would find that there is overwhelming support, as I have found in the community, for these types of disciplines.
– You just said yourself you would vote against this Bill on the third reading.
– I am sorry that Senator Wright was apparently asleep when I was going through my explanation, but I gave him a full explanation of my attitude and I invite him to read it later. I also invite Senator Wright not to deny the support of principles in which his side of politics believe fervently and in which large employers across this nation believe fervently and to deny this Bill which they urgently want to help them in their part in making industrial relations a happier field in Australia.
– I cannot help thinking after having heard the concluding remarks of Senator Steele Hall that what he visualises is that if we could have had a first class debate in the Committee stage- I think every member on the Government side would support that- whereby ideas and reviews could have been rivetted on to this legislation, it would have made a contribution towards a more tranquil atmosphere in the industrial field. Since this legislation was last debated I have had brought to my attention a host of instances involving small groups of people belonging to small unions who could have had greater services given to them had they enjoyed the advantage of amalgamation. The Opposition constantly harps about strike statistics, but in the complexity of industrial life the problem is for small groups to have their voice heard. They have to be given an opportunity of being heard.
I was involved in a case a fortnight ago arising out of the installation of PABX switchboards in the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. It illustrates how some groups are unable to get action in industrial desputes. A union delegate died and the union had no delegate from the depot which had engaged new female workers working on the installation at the hospital. The hospital bureaucrats decided- it is a very mundane subject- that the women operatives would have to fend for themselves as far as toilet facilties were concerned. It is a pretty poor situation when women who have been only 6 months in Australia, many of them coming from Latin America, are confronted with this type of treatment by a Gorgonian matron or rather peculiar foreman working for the contractor. I repeat that it is in cases like this that people feel that arbitration does not mean what it says. The problem to which I have referred was compound by the fact that the State Factory Welfare Board was not doing its job, as it should, in this International Women’s Year, by providing adequate toilet facilities in some of our big industries.
Honourable senators might ask what this has to do with the Bill. I am saying that if we had the amalgamation of trade union organisers into a big field force we could iron out the problems surrounding the provision of basic amenities that should be the right of everybody. The responsibilities of the trade union movement are growing all the time. The idea that trade unions should concern themselves only with hours and wages is no longer on. The Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop), who is in charge of the Bill, would know that. He was able to use his diplomatic skill not so long ago- it would have been easier had there been amalgamations, as he would agree- to help migrants in the postal services, where permanency depends on Australian citizenship. I am not necessarily arguing that aspect, but the plain fact of the matter was that the union involved had to come to me and I had to go to the Minister to see whether appointments could be held up until in turn we went to the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) to get the granting of citizenship accelerated.
The only lesson I am making out is that trade unions today are confronted with fringe issues. I will not argue with Senator Wright about the Tasmanian scene. In small unions in New South Wales, such as the food preservers union, which may be big in other States, frankly all the secretary is is a glorified dues collector. There is hesitancy about amalagamation because if a union goes into the process and finds that there is one malcontent it becomes involved in expensive litigation. The little money that the union has is used up in lengthy confrontation in the courts. I repeat, and I want to say it again and again, that in view of the opening remarks of Senator
Greenwood, in which he conceded that there are some justifications for amalgamation, I would have expected him to come forward with an amendment.
The great tragedy is that these things affect the patience of the trade unions. One such case related to the rival transport workers union organisations. I know that a lot of work has been done, particularly by Mr Clyde Cameron, aided by some very highly skilled legal operatives, but the fact of the matter is that progress is slow. There are other unions which could go through this industrial Gethsemane but tomorrow when their members and officials read the newspapers they will find out that the House of review was not prepared to review the industrial legislation. The unions fear this sort of body snatching. This is not the place to argue the pros and cons of the Building Labourers Federation power struggle but there already have been questions about certain action in that union and I know that there will be more when we come back here next week. I admit that these problems would not necessarily be solved by amalgamation but the same abrasive qualities as manifest themselves now will appear in certain areas of the containerisation field. This is why we harp and harp about this legislation. At the moment the postal industry is relatively quiet but ingredients of disputation still remain in trade union ranks. The Postmaster-General made this vividly clear when he referred to the multiplicity of unions involved in that industry.
The Opposition takes a very astute stand. If a particular trade union official with a bit of ability happens to wrangle publicly with a member of the Opposition the Opposition accuses him of being a czar while at the same time it might support the most anarchistic individual who is involved in some adventure. I say that respectfully. I am sorry that Senator Greenwood is not in the chamber because there were some peculiar people in the Shop Distributive Union. There is an obscure official in Melbourne named Mr Maher who is writing all sorts of letters and doing all sorts of things. I know he got his answer in the Australian Capital Territory a few days ago as a result of his meddling. When irresponsible people want to squander their union’s money on these rearguard actions it is bad for society as a whole.
It could be that the attiduce of the Opposition is that if the unions erode their money on these futile civil war expeditions there is less money to fight a successful wage claim or against a new job code. This Bill represents a golden opportunity for us to pool our relative talents. I am prepared always, with whatever industrial experience I have, to listen to Senator Wright or Senator Greenwood on strictly legal aspects. We are prepared to go halfway with the Opposition. This is the situation today. Trade unions dig in and say that they are opposed to a particular concept of industrial technique if somebody’s job is on the line. Jobs will be on the line. If, there is an umbrella coverage of all people in that industry as a result of mutual adjustment it is possible for new techniques to operate. This is not a new idea. I recall a case over 20 years ago when, there was trouble concerning gas pipe fitters. The Minister would know about the car and wagon fitters in the railways who were covered by the Australian Railways Union. There was a gradual phase-in by the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Australian Society of Engineers to take over certain people. The important thing was that there was trust and understanding that when some people retired on account of age another union would take over. In our shipyards there has been far better understanding between shipwrights and the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union about certain changes in industrial techniques.
The point 1 am getting at is that the trade unions of Australia will read about this debate tomorrow. Mark you, I always take a fiendish delight in sending out about 25 copies of Hansard with certain passages marked to indicate what undoubtedly is obstruction. I say sincerely, Senator Wright, that there have been other debates when I have put a green mark and not a red mark to show where I thought the Opposition ws doing the right thing. I do not know what I am going to do about the Hansards I send out tomorrow. I will ,have to be ruthless. I do not say this in an insulting way but the Opposition is like Marshal Petain in the First War, who said: ‘They shall not pass ‘.That is what the Opposition is saying at the moment. It is saying: ‘This Bill shall not pass’. This is not worthy of Senator Wright and it is not worthy of Senator Greenwood.
General Business taking precedence of Government Business at 4.30 p.m.
Hobart Trades Hall
Firstly, I thank the Senate for allowing this motion to come further up the notice paper and to be dealt with today. This shows that the Senate, acting in a non-party fashion, attaches some importance to a motion of this type. Moving this motion at the close of a quiet Thursday afternoon in a ‘crowded’ Senate chamber is most suitable because it reflects my whole attitude to the matter since I first raised it on 29 October 1 974 when I asked a question that appears on page 2022 of Hansard for that day. At that time I wanted particulars similar to those covered in my motion. No reply was given to me and no indication was given to me that the Government had even taken any notice of the question. On 1 1 December many people in Hobart were wondering why I was not pressing to get this information about which they were concerned. The Senate was to adjourn within 24 hours of that time, to my knowledge until mid-February or later this month. Therefore on 1 1 December I asked a question which contained the figures I knew on 29 October in respect of the sale price, the highest bid by private enterprise for this unadvertised sale and the figures for the 2 earlier valuations, and made the accusation that there appeared to be a profit to the Trades Hall Council of more than $ 1 20,000, paid by the taxpayers, to an organisation which had some very close affiliations with the party in Government in the Australian Parliament. When I put that question to Senator Willesee on 1 1 December, as reported at page 3358 of Hansard, he said:
The answer is yes, I will find out as soon as possible and let the honourable senator know.
I had asked if the figures quoted in the question were correct.
As this time I have had no acknowledgment that the Department or the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) has seen that question which I asked on 11 December following my original question on 29 October. On 13 December, after the Senate had risen, I received in my office a telex from the Minister in reply to my question of 29 October. The Minister, playing the game for me as far as publicity was concerned, issued to the Press a telex copy of the answer to my question. The ‘Mercury’ headline stated:
Mr Daly says sale price reasonable.
It is obvious that my question of 1 1 December, in which I stated the facts as known to me on 29 October, made it imperative for the Minister and for the Department to come at least partly clean and to say that I was right in the figures which I gave. I shall not read the reply in full. I have given the Hansard record. But the Minister, in his reply, said that it was a reasonable valuation of $400,000 which the Commonwealth valuer- I presume he means in Tasmania- had placed on this Trades Hall building. Before the sale was known anyone knew that the building was valued at $250,000.
It was said that it was not unusual in cases such as this, where the asking price of $475,000 was so much greater than the price set by the Commonwealth valuer of $400,000 for the Government to pay $425,000. This Government has set up a whole department. It has been crying out: We will reduce the price of land. We will stop the developers making profits. ‘ I do not suppose the Trades Hall Council could be termed a developer of a city. 1 assure the Senate it is a fact that the Commonwealth Government paid $425,000 for this block of land and a building which was bulldozed when the nearest private enterprise party which was interested offered $300,000. This situation has caused an upsurge in the price of land in the inner city area of Hobart. This may be Government policy but I have always been told that the Government wanted to keep land prices down.
I went to the trouble of getting a professional valuer to give me his idea of this sale. First of all, 1 emphasise that as far as I can gather the sale of the land and of the building was never made public. It was not advertised. Tenders were not called. Nor was a real estate agent in Hobert informed that the land was up for sale.
– It was done by direct negotiation?
– Apparently. That is why I want the file. The insinuation is that somebody from the Trades Hall Council got in touch with the Commonwealth Government, I presume through the Department of Services and Property, and said: ‘Will you buy this? We want to buy a lovely old home that is used for a reception centre out in a distant suburb. ‘ Negotiations went on. As far as I know no qualified professional valuer was asked to value the land for the Trades Hall Council and say that its asking price should be $475,000. This is as far as I know. It is not one of my duties as a senator to accuse and to make insinuations. But I do have every right to probe deeply if the people I represent are disturbed because of an activity by a government which is so out of tune with normal governmental and business transactions and customs. The valuer stated.
The sales taken into account by the Commonwealth valuers were those effected in Murray Street near and on the corner of Davey Street of much smaller holdings. These sales could analyse at $16.20 per square foot for sites of 4-6000 square feet in areas.
The subject site contains almost 20 000 square feet and it is assumed that the full benefit of value -
To which I shall refer-
As is usually adopted- was given to the owner of this property. In this instance $20 per square foot must have been utilised to arrive at the valuation of $400,000.
The sale price was $425,000. The report continues.
It has normally been our experience to find the larger holdingswith their correspondingly large price content- to be purchased at a lesser rate per square foot on analysis than smaller properties. However, the Commonwealth valuers did not apparently follow this procedure and felt satisfied at their eventual assessment of $400,000.
I want to know the answer to that statement. I want to know whether there is any correspondence telling anybody to pay $425,000 for this block of land without reference to the public, to Parliament and, as far as I can understand- I am pretty well informed on this matter- to any recognised estate agent or valuer in Hobart outside the Commonwealth service.
- Senator Marriott, may I interrupt for a moment but not to impede you in what you are saying. I think it is proper that I should suggest to you that the relevant appropriation Bill can be amended by the Senate. It does not have to request. The Senate can amend that Bill dealing with the acquisition of a site.
– Thank you, Sir Magnus. It is mentioned that suitability or value to the buyer is one of the reasons given for the higher price. The site purchased from the Trades Hall in Davey Street, Hobart, is admittedly about 200 metres from the new Tasmanian Government Supreme Court buildings which are under construction. The Court of Requests is in Campbell Street, some 10 blocks away. The Court of Petty Sessions is in Liverpool Street, some six to seven blocks away. The Licensing Courts are within two or three blocks and the Bankruptcy Court, the only Federal court operating in Hobart in its own building, is in the Commonwealth Centre, two to three blocks away from the present site. People outside Parliament in the legal profession tell me that this site will not add one iota of convenience to them, to the media or to the public who may have to attend these courts or other courts in Hobart. It is not as if the Government is establishing a special centre for all the courts in the varying jurisdictions. The hard cold fact is that the Government, by its action, has contravened its publicly announced policy by obviously raising the price of land in the inner section of Hobart. As far as I can learn the Government has bought land secretly and privately from an organisation with which it is a political bedfellow. The Government has taken no action between 29 October and 1 1 December to answer my questions, when I told it the facts. I moved the formal motion for the papers to be tabled so that there would be no dirt thrown. I always agree with Confucius who said that he who throws dirt loses ground. I wanted this done quietly and painlessly. But the Government has made me speak. I have spoken with restraint and, as far as I am concerned. I have spoken the absolute truth after examining, questioning, inquiring and receiving information. Because of what I have done and said, I believe that the Senate must be able to examine every document concerning this sale and purchase.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- The motion requires a seconder. Is the motion seconded?
– In the absence from Australia of Senator Willesee, who represents the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) in this chamber, at lunch time the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Wriedt) and I had discussions about this matter with the Minister for Services and Property. Senator Wriedt would have been handling this matter on behalf of Senator Willesee but for the fact that at the present dme he is in conference with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). Therefore, I have been given the responsibility of handling the matter.
Let me indicate immediately that, when Senator Marriott says that he has the right to probe, the Government is not attempting to deny him that right. The day after he put the motion down, which was as recently as Tuesday, 1 8 Februarythat is 9 days ago- he sought to have the matter made formal so that it would have been immediately moved and dispensed with. I naturally wanted to have discussions with the appropriate Minister in another place and I declared the matter to be not formal. It was only as recently as last Tuesday week that Senator Marriott put the notice of motion on the notice paper. Last Thursday was the first time after that date that General Business was debated in this chamber, and last Thursday Senator Durack moved a motion. I think Senator Bonner was given the opportunity to move a motion- if it was not Senator Bonner, it was Senator Chaney- and Senator Devitt was given the opportunity to bring forward his notice of motion. The time for General Business last Thursday was completely taken up on those matters that were raised then. This is the first time since Senator Marriott put his notice of motion on the notice paper that he has had the opportunity to bring it forward in this chamber.
– I commenced my speech by expressing my thanks to the Senate for putting the notice of motion early in the order of business.
– I agree that the honourable senator said that, but he went on to say that he had a right to probe. What I am saying is that no one in the Government has attempted to deny Senator Marriott his right to probe. Indeed, the Government has given him the earliest possible opportunity to express in the Senate his point of view on this subject.
At lunch time the Leader of the Government in the Senate and I had discussions with our colleague in another place, the Minister for Services and Property, who also has the responsibility of being Leader of the House of Representatives. Honourable senators will appreciate that that office occupies a very considerable proportion of his time at this particular time. During that discussion Mr D°aly said that, as far as he was concerned at this stage, he had no objection to the tabling of the file. It is some time since he has perused the file and he certainly will have another look at it. After he has perused the file, hopefully he will be able to make it available to the Senate in the near future, probably next week. The only objection that he had at the time I originally spoke to him about the matter, which was the day after Senator Marriott placed his notice of motion on the notice paper, was that Ministers are entitled to retain their departmental files within the department and once a precedent is created by making one file available then someone else will ask for another file and eventually the whole parliamentary table will be taken up with departmental files. Pending Mr Daly’s perusal of that file, he asked his Department to get in touch with me and his Department has provided me with what I might term a synopsis of the file, headed, ‘Acquisition of Trades Hall Property- Davey Street, Hobart’. It is a 3-page document, a copy of which I will provide to Senator Marriott. I seek leave to have that synopsis of the file incorporated in Hansard.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT- The Minister is anxious to have some material incorporated in Hansard. I gather that it is all capable of incorporation?
-Yes, there is no problem.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
ACQUISITION OF TRADES HALL PROPERTY- DA VEY STREET, HOBART
In approximately February 1974 representatives of the Trades Hall in Hobart offered the Trades Hall property for sale to the Australian Government. The Attorney-General’s Department were at this stage considering the desirability of providing in Hobart for the Superior Court of Australia.
Accordingly, on 13 March 1974 the Chief Property Officer, Hobart, requested the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation to provide a valuation of the property indicating that the asking price was in the vicinity of $600,000. (Folio 1, Hobart File A7 12)
On 29 March 1974 the Deputy crown Solicitor was requested to undertake the usual Search of the Property. (Folio 2, Hobart File)
On 2 April 1 974 the Secretary of the Trades Hall expressed concern at the delay in hearing from the Department of Services and Property since the Trades Hall Trustees and Management Committee were proposing to buy another property. (Folio 3, Hobart File)
On 6 April 1 974 the Attorney-General wrote to the Minister for Services and Property asking him to acquire the Trades Hall building in Hobart as a site for the Superior Court of Australia. (Folio 1, Head Office File 74/297)
On 8 April 1 974 the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation Hobart, informed the Chief Property Officer,Hobart, that the value of the property based on the area ascertained from the Title is $400,000. (Folio 5, Hobart File)
On 23 April 1974 the Chief Property Officer informed the Secretary of the Trades Hall Trustees of the Australian Government valuation and suggested that the Trades Hall Trustees obtain an independent valuation. (Folio 7, Hobart File)
On 13 May 1974 the Deputy Crown Solicitor reported on the result of his Searches of the Title to the Trades Hall property. (Folio 10, Hobart File)
On 13 June 1 974 the Secretary of the Trades Hall Trustees wrote to the Chief Property Officer indicating that the offer of the Australian Government ($400,000) had been considered at a meeting of the committee on 12 June 1974 when it was decided that, subject to certain conditions, the committee would be prepared to sell the property for $475,000 and that because of the high cost involved, the committee had not sought a formal valuation. The Secretary mentioned, inter alia, that
the site is one of the last in a Hobart city inner office area available for large-scale building development; and
land prices are escalating under current economic trends and prices determined only a few months ago are now unrealistic.
The Secretary attached certain conditions. (Folio 1 1, Hobart File)
On 19 June 1974 the offer was referred again to the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation asking whether the advised valuation figure of $400,000 should be revised in the light of any subsequent sales figures. (Folio 12, Hobart File)
- On 19 June the Taxation Commissioner indicated that subsequent evidence has not indicated any reason to vary the valuation of $400,000 supplied in April 1974. (Folio 13, Hobart File)
On 20 June 1974 the Chief Property Officer informed the Trades Hall Trustees that he could not recommend purchase at the price of $475,000 on the basis of the evidence presented. (Folio 14, Hobart File)
On 24 June 1974 the Trades Hall Trustees informed the Chief Property Officer that they were prepared to compromise on the basis of $425,000 and formally offered the property at that figure. (Folio 15, Hobart File)
On 9 July 1 974 the Chief Property Officer informed the Secretary of the Trades Hall Trustees that he was prepared to recommend purchase of the Property for $425,000 subject to
1 ) provision of funds; and
an assurance from the Trades Hall Council that the building will not be subject to a green ban.
On 29 July 1974 the Secretary of the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council assured the Chief Property Officer that the Trade Union Movement will not and has not made the purchase and redevelopment of the Trades Hall by the Australian Government the subject of any Ban or similar action. (Folio 42, Hobart File)
On 6 August 1974 the National Trust of Australia informed the Department that the Trust would have no objection to the internal adaptation of the building to the purposes required and it is our belief that a very dynamic relationship between old and new can be achieved with sensitive architectural consideration. (Folio 44, Hobart File)
On 7 August 1974 the First Assistant Secretary (Mr Wigley) sought confirmation that the Taxation Valuers would accept a price of $425,000 as compared with their figure of $400,000. Mr D. H. Field of the Chief Property Officer’s staff checked with the Valuation Branch and this was agreed. (Folio 45, Hobart File)
On 15 August 1974 the Acting Chief Property Officer, Hobart, sought approval to purchase the building as a site for Federal Courts and associated offices. (Folio 49, Hobart File)
On 28 August 1974 the Treasurer approved the provision of funds. (Folio 70, Hobart File)
On 30 August 1974 the Delegate of the Minister for Services and Property (the Secretary) approved the purchase. (Folio 71 A, Hobart File)
Folio 110, Hobart File, refers to the claim that the Trades Hall property had a State valuation of $ 1 50,000. This was known to the Australian Government valuer. The valuation was made on 20 November 1973 and was based on sales at the beginning of that calendar year. This valuation is not market valuation but is used for rating purposes.
NOTES ON HEAD OFFICE FILE
The relevant facts were submitted to the Minister for information and any directions on 8 August 1974.
Acquisition of the Trades Hall building was completed on 1 October 1 974 for $425,000 plus the usual costs.
– I thank the Senate. Let me just say in summary that the Department of Services and Property advises me that all of the papers and all of the information requested by Senator Marriott are on the Hobart file, which is summarised in the document that I have just had incorporated in Hansard. I am told by the Department that briefly the facts are as follows: Firstly, the AttorneyGeneral strongly urged the purchase of the Trades Hall site for a Superior Court and associated law offices. The Trades Hall offered the building to the Australian Government for $600,000, and after hard bargaining the offer was reduced to $425,000. The Australian Taxation Office valuers informed the Department of Services and Property that in their opinion the value of the site was $400,000, but they accepted a valuation of $425,000 as being reasonable. The Department of Housing and Construction gave a favourable report on the site. Satisfactory arrangements were made with the National Trust and the transaction was completed on 1 October 1974.
The Department also advises me that it is aware of two other relevant sales in the area. One is Walsh’s paper store at 25 Davey Street, which was sold in February 1974 for $15 a square foot, compared with the Trades Hall price of $21.6 a square foot. The area of Walsh ‘s paper store is 5490 square feet. I am told that it has a poor potential for development because of its limited size. It is in a poorer location than the Trades Hall, with no view and difficult access. The Department of Services and Property had advised me that that sale took place some 8 months before the sale of the Trades Hall and at the time of an escalating market.
The other sale of which the Department of Services and Property is aware is of the TOP building, which is apparently at 28 Davey Street, Hobart, and which was sold in September 1974, which was a month before the Trades Hall transactionfor the want of a better term- was completed. So far as the TOP building is concerned, the Department of Services and Property has advised me that the area involved in that transaction was 6350 square feet and that the sale price was $23.3 a square foot compared with $2 1 .6 a square foot for the Trades Hall site.
– To what property is the Minister referring?
-The TOP building at 28 Davey Street, Hobart.
– A waterfront building.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator Marriott says that it is a waterfront building. He will know that I am personally not familiar with the sites of these buildings. The Department of Services and Property has advised me that the
TOP building site- the 28 Davey Street site- also has poor potential for development because of its size. The Department has expressed to me the opinion that larger sites of half an acre and above are very difficult to obtain in Hobart.
– It should have asked a few estate agents.
– I am not the Minister for Services and Property. I am just transacting, in order to try to assist Senator Marriott with his probing, all the facts that have been made available to me by the Department of Services and Property, acting on behalf of the Minister. I emphasise that when I first raised the matter with Mr Daly on Wednesday, 19 February, which was the day after Senator Marriott placed his notice of motion on the notice paper, Mr Daly said that he would consider the matter but that the objection he had at that stage was that if we were to create the precedent of bringing departmental files into the Senate for the purpose of satisfying the whims of one senator very shortly it could well be that the House of Representatives and the Senate would be unnecessarily flooded with departmental files. However, the synopsis of the file in this case has now been made available to the honourable senator and I have provided him with the only additional information that has been made available to me by the Department of Services and Property. The Minister for Services and Property has assured me that he will peruse the file at the earliest opportunity available to him and that, after he has further perused it, hopefully he will be able to make the file available to the Senate in the near future- probably next week. I emphasise quite frankly and quite openly that the Government is not attempting in any manner, shape or form to cover up anything that is involved in this transaction.
– Then why do you not produce the papers at hand.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLAND.Senator Wright has asked why the Government has not produced the papers at hand. We all know that Senator Wright has been a Minister of the Crown. As a former Minister of the Crown he would know that a Minister has a responsibility to make himself aware of the files that are in existence in his Department relating to the administration of his Department. The Minister for Services and Property, quite rightly, wants to peruse the file in this case so that he can refresh his memory of the facts involved.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- 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 affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 5 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The Minister for Education has provided the followig answer to the honourable senator’s question.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Special Minister of State, upon notice:
– The Special Minister of State has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 February 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1975/19750227_senate_29_s63/>.