29th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Honourable senators will be aware that Senator Primmer is not with us today due to the tragic death of his son in a motor accident. On behalf of all honourable senators 1 extend deepest sympathy to Senator Primmer and his family.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear.
– I inform honourable senators that I have received a letter from the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament. The letter reads:
PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA
Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 15 April 1975
Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne, President of the Senate, The Senate, Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600
Dear Mr President,
The Joint Committee on the Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament which was appointed to inquire into and report on arrangements to be made relative to the declaration of the interests of the Members of the Parliament and the registration thereof, has agreed that, in accordance with Senate Standing Order 386, the Senate should be acquainted with the following:
On Wednesday, 19 March 1975 the Clerk to the Committee received a letter from Peter Charles Brown of Tecoma, Victoria, stating that ‘a Senator, probably unwittingly, had broken Section 44 (v) of the Constitution by contracts with the Crown ‘.
The Clerk telephoned Mr Brown to ascertain the nature of the information and immediately thereafter informed the Chairman who subsequently directed that Mr Brown be called as a witness.
On the same day an article written by Ben Hills headed Should Parliamentarians have to Declare Their Business Interests? M.Ps. and Money Conflicts’ was published in ‘The Age’ newspaper. On Friday, 21 March 1975, Mr Hills wrote another article headed ‘Senator’s firm Dealt with PMG’, which was published in the same newspaper. As a result of these articles Mr Hills was asked to appear before the Committee on Friday, 4 April 1975.
In the course of his evidence Mr Hills claimed that Senator Webster, a member of this Committee, was disqualified from membership of the Senate.
For the information of the Senate a copy of the relevant transcript of evidence is attached.
Yours sincerely, J. M. RIORDAN Chairman
I table the letter and the transcript, copies of which will be distributed to honourable senators.
-( Victoria)-! seek the leave of the Senate to make a statement concerning my standing as a senator.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
- Mr President, honourable senators will be aware of allegations against myself which have been made and repeated in various forms by an Australian journalist and the newspaper which employs him. Those allegations are that I have violated the provisions of section 44 (v) of the Constitution. I wish to make clear the following facts so that honourable senators may form their own judgment in the matter which the Senate as a whole, in my opinion, is entitled to do. I quote section 44 (v) -
– I raise a point of order. I do now know whether it is fair that the Senate should make a judgment on this question. I believe that is what Senator Webster’s statement is asking us to do and I do not know whether we are the appropriate body to do it.
- Senator Webster sought leave of the Senate to make a statement and there was no dissent. Senator Webster is entitled, by leave of the Senate, to proceed with his statement.
– I repeat, Mr President, that I wish to make clear the following facts so that honourable senators may form their own judgment in this matter which the Senate as a whole, in my opinion, is entitled to do. Section 47 of the Constitution states:
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, any question respecting the qualification of a senator or of a member of the House of Representatives, or respecting a vacancy in either House of the Parliament, and any question of a disputed election to either House, shall be determined by the House in which the question arises.
This matter has created a great deal of distress for me. The burden of a month of innuendo and allegation has brought mental and physical distress. My wife and family have been pestered and harmed by continuing vilification in the Press and harassed by telephone calls by persons purporting to be representatives of the Press. My Party members, both in Parliament and in the electorate, have been embarrassed and concerned at the charges laid against me. The Parliament, particularly the Senate, should not be placed in a position where one of its members is charged in a false and distorted manner.
This matter first arose in an article written in a Melbourne newspaper. Some detail was then presented by the writer of the article to the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament purporting to suggest this information as the reason why there should be a register of interests of members of Parliament. The article was in certain aspects untrue. The article was headed in bold type ‘Senator’s Firm Dealt with PMG’, and again ‘Senator’s Firm in PMG Deals’. News stand posters by this newspaper carried, under the heading ‘Insight’, the words Senator’s Firm in PMG Deals’. I had intended to bring that poster into the chamber, Mr President, but I was unable to find it in my bag. It is a full sized poster which appeared outside every news stand, and it did me great harm.
The article in the newspaper then suggested some activity of a company involving me, in 1964 and 1965. The article, headlines and news stand posters were directed, in my opinion, to damaging my character in my electorate. The innuendo was my having improperly dealt with a government department. The article was malicious in suggesting that it was my company and in stating I was the major shareholder. The same day that paper published a leading article entitled ‘Conflict of Interest’. The writer of that item commenced with the words:
For several months, Federal Parliament’s Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament has been searching without success for evidence of any conflict of interest involving a Member of the National Parliament.
The article continues to suggest that a writer has discovered a breach in 1964 and it names Senator J. J. Webster. The terms of reference of that Committee do not give it that role. With the apparent intention of denigrating me the articles have been written in such a manner and with such force as to have compromised me in my attitude to a proper and independent evaluation as to whether or not there should be a register. Should I advocate other than for a register I would now be said to have acted in an attempt to keep undisclosed my personal interests. It was this same newspaper which published last week an allegation against members of the Government side regarding this matter. At question time on that day- this can be found on page 925 of Senate Hansard of 10 April 1975- the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Wriedt) described the allegation as ‘completely wrong’ and ‘a complete fabrication’. He commented:
I do not know why these fabrications are printed in the Press.
I am advised that many news services all over Australia have published and reiterated the allegations of the journalist which I have mentioned heretofore. The action seems to me to be malicious and has tended to do me harm. The facts should have been obtained. I have copies of these articles should honourable senators wish to see them. The effect on me as a Senate representative on the Joint Committee has been to compromise me to the extent that it would be quite impossible for me and quite probably unacceptable to the public were I to do other than recommend the establishment of a register of interests and in agreement with what the editor and the journalist had advocated in public evidence to the Committee.
The effect is to place me, the Joint Committee and indeed the Senate in a position where a Committee member cannot fairly follow his duty. In such circumstances I therefore made the decision to resign as a Senate representative on that Joint Committee. Following a private meeting of that Committee this morning, I did so. I further add that this journalist charged Senator X, M.P. Y and Minister Z with certain untoward action. He named Mr Justice Murphy of the High Court. I have good reason to believe that the detail as written about him was demonstrably untrue. Whilst the joint Opposition parties in the Senate have indicated that they are squarely behind me, and it is my view that most honourable senators on the Government side fully comprehend the situation- indeed I thank Senator Wriedt and Senator Douglas McClelland for their consideration in this matter- one honourable senator did press the matter. A telegram over the name of Senator W. W. C. Brown was sent to the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Melbourne on 21 March 1975, at 7.33 p.m. It was reported as follows:
Senator Brown said in Melbourne today that he was alarmed by the public allegations against Senator Webster of having breached the Australian Constitution. He said the allegations were serious indeed, but even more so having regard to the high office Senator Webster occupies namely Deputy President of the Senate. Senator Brown said whether the substance of the article is true or not, he believed it imperative the Attorney-General initiate an investigation forthwith to ascertain the facts and he asked that such inquiries be undertaken immediately. If after due inquiry it is found Senator Webster has breached the Constitution, then he would expect the appropriate sections of the Constitution to take effect immediately, thus disqualifying Senator Webster from office.
The telegram was signed: ‘W. W. C. Brown. Labor Senator for Victoria’. The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, who is from another place, advised me last Thursday evening that he intended that the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests would refer my case to the Parliament. It was at that time I decided that at the earliest opportunity I would speak in the Senate on this matter. I make reference to one fact concerning the suggestion that a register may provide some information not previously known and the allegation that information about me was not forthcoming. My nomination by State Parliament on 9 December 1964, is reported at page 2489 of the Hansard record of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria as follows:
The Country Party nominates Mr Webster . . .
After giving some detail, it continues:
He is a qualified accountant, Managing Director of an extensive timber and hardware company, a Director of a substantial public company in Melbourne, and a Director of a family farm which has interests at Yuroke and Broadford associated with whole-milk, beef and wool production.
I ask the Senate to note that my business connections were made clear in 1 964. Thus I was publicly associated with the company mentioned. The company trucks, painted ‘J. J. Webster Pty Ltd ‘, are on the road and at times in Government premises delivering goods. The dealings with the Government are entirely open and gained in public tender. The details appear at regular intervals in the Australian Government Gazette. The law does not prohibit business interests. Government contracts are not excluded. All interest by me and the activity of that company concerned were clearly in the open. On 23 March 1975 I made a statement on this matter. The statement is available should any honourable senator wish to see it. The last paragraph of that statement reads:
As advised I have not had directly or indirectly any interest which can be described as being of a pecuniary nature in agreements between the Company and the Commonwealth. If Section 44 were to apply to my circumstance, this would call into question a whole range of contractual agreements made directly between Members of Federal Parliament and the Public Service covering such things as investment in Government Loans, the provision of communication services with the Postmaster-General’s Department and in the A.C.T. the granting of leases by the Commonwealth.
Section 44 (v) of the Constitution is alleged to apply in the assertion that I was incapable of being chosen, nominated, elected or to sit as a senator. I wish to make clear the following facts so that honourable senators may form their own judgment on this matter which the Senate as a whole is in my view entitled to do. Firstly, the company which has had contracts with the Commonwealth is not my company. It is J. J. Webster Pty Ltd, which is to say that it bears the name of its founder- my grandfather. Secondly, there are nine registered shareholders including myself. The major shareholder, holding more than 50 per cent of the shares, is the Public Trustee of Victoria who holds those shares for the beneficiaries of the estate of my grandfather. I hold a letter from the Public Trustee of Victoria which states, inter alia, that there are 1 9 real persons now living, plus the Melbourne City Mission, each of whom has a contingent interest in the estate. This is to say, in other words, that there are more than 25 persons interested in the company. The letter further states that the estate has the controlling interest in the company. That letter is available to interested honourable senators. I held only 20 per cent of the shares in the company.
Thirdly, as the managing director of the company, being one of several directors, I held no greater voice in the affairs of the company than did each of my fellow directors. No directors’ fees were paid. I did not receive, in addition, any commission or other payment of a pecuniary character, either directly or indirectly, in respect of contracts into which the company entered, including contracts with the Commonwealth. Fourthly, I have never attempted to use my personal influence as a senator to gain any advantage of any kind for the company. At no time have representatives of the Commonwealth ever indicated that the agreement to which the Commonwealth is a party renders me in an way liable for a violation of section 44 or any other provision of the Constitution. Fifthly, the company has not received preferential treatment of any kind from the Commonwealth. All contracts have resulted from the ordinary commercial negotiations and have been awarded to the company as a result of tender in competition with all other suppliers. Contracts which the company has received relate to the supply of goods to the Commonwealth and have been gained in the ordinary course of business. There has been absolutely no challenge of favour on either the side of the Commonwealth or the side of the company. Moreover, the award of contracts has been publicly notified in the Commonwealth Gazette. I am advised that it was the Commonwealth to whom the company would look for satisfaction, and not service departments.
Honourable senators will appreciate that, notwithstanding the views expressed by the Melbourne newspaper or persons acting on its behalf, there is very little guidance available to members and senators of this Parliament as to the kinds of agreements to which section 44 of the Constitution applies. Since Federation the range of activities of governments, including the Commonwealth Government, has vastly increased, involving governments in agreements of many kinds with members of the public, including members of Parliament. Few, if any, members of the Commonwealth Parliament have not at some time or another been parties to an agreement with the Commonwealth in which money changes hands. The changed role of government has been recognised in other jurisdictions- notably by the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster where there is now no provision equivalent to section 44 (v) of the Constitution.
In the circumstances I have mentioned honourable senators will, I hope, appreciate that I do not consider that I have violated section 44 by reason of the fact that the company, J. J. Webster Pty Ltd, has entered into commercial agreements with the Commonwealth. But the publicity has created considerable harm to the company in that the matter has been raised by and discussed by purchasing bodies, and the company considers that it will lose trade if I now remain as an interested party. I have been forced to sell my shareholding and at present hold no position of remuneration with the company.
It is obvious from what I have said that the allegations now directed against me have, on further examination, a much wider significance than my own personal case. Section 44 applies uniformly to all senators and members of the House of Representatives. It is only proper, therefore, that senators should be fully informed of any arrangements or any contracts which individual senators or members of the House of Representatives may now have or previously have had and which may conceivably bear on the application of section 44 of the Constitution. Not one member or senator may intend a breach of the Constitution, but the Constitution can be altered only by referendum. However, the impact of penalty for breach can be varied as the Parliament otherwise provides, under section 46. After 75 years it is perhaps appropriate that the Parliament otherwise provide, thus providing some safeguard against incurring the direct consequences for innocent or technical violations of other sections.
The House of Representatives must examine its own conscience on this matter. The Senate should consider the questions I have raised, perhaps by reference to a committee where argument could be heard from those versed in constitutional law. As I have said, I do not consider I am in breach of the Constitution. I invite the Senate to so resolve and set the matter at rest. If my circumstances are to be further considered by this House, then I put my trust in this House that it will in all equity spare no effort to ensure that it has before it facts regarding all members of Parliament which will enable this House to deal fully and dispassionately with the whole question as it affects all senators, including myself.
Motion (by Senator Wriedt) agreed to:
That consideration of the Paper be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
– The following petitions have been lodged for presentation:
Hobart City Council: RED Scheme Grant
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate assembled. The humble petition of residents and land owners of the area of Ridgeway- Hobart, Tasmania respectively showeth whereas:
Your petitioners request that your honourable Parliament takes immediate action to:
Make available to the Hobart City Council a special grant under the ‘Red’ scheme for urgent labour intensive works such as the laying of a water main to Ridgeway.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Marriott.
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That when the Vietnam Peace Agreement was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, many thousands of Australians who had opposed our country’s involvement in the American war of aggression in Vietnam rejoiced. But almost two years later the Vietnamese peoples have not yet obtained peace. The Paris Agreement remains only partially inplemented and the Saigon administration openly declares that it has no intention of honouring many of its most vital provisions. The United States Government continues to intervene with massive military and economic aid, without which Saigon could not continue its large-scale violations of the Agreement.
And whereas for reasons of history and geography Australia has a very direct interest and very special responsibility in achieving the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This responsibility now clearly demands a more active policy commitment by the Australian government to peace in Vietnam.
Therefore, we call upon the Australian government to immediately:
Recognise the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam on a basis of equality with the Saigon administration in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Paris Agreement; and
Call upon the twelve signatory governments to the Act of the International Conference of Vietnam to take urgent measures to restore respect for the Paris Peace Agreement; and
Extend the reconstruction aid to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam as Australia has the moral responsibility to assist the people in the areas under control of the Provisional Revolutionary Government because Australia participated in the destruction of these people’s livelihood.
So, therefore, your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate will take action on theabovementioned.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Grimes and Senator Poyser.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I will move:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to the United States Naval Communications Station established at North West Cape in Western Australia.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I will move:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to provide for payment by Australia of compensation in respect of loss of or damage to property arising out of the Darwin cyclone.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Was he purposefully avoiding giving information to the Senate last Thursday when he declined to answer my question as to the Government’s knowledge of the number of North Vietnamese divisions in South Vietnam? Is it not a fact, as indicated by the President of the United States, that there are at least 18 North Vietnamese divisions in South Vietnam? How long has the Minister been aware of this fact? Was he aware of it last Thursday? As the presence of these divisions in South Vietnam is clearly in breach of the Paris agreements, why has the Government not protested to North Vietnam?
– No, I have never tried to withhold any information that I have thought would be of value to the Senate. I took the question the other day, as Senator Greenwood indicated at the end of his question, to suggest that at that stage of the fighting the only people who were in breach of the agreements were the North Vietnamese. I have said not only this year but also last year that the Paris Peace Accords have been broken by both sides, that there have been violations by both sides and there is a war in progress. I have also said that I do not see any value in apportioning blame or saying things like that at this stage. That was the whole purport of what I said.
-I address to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation a question relating to the proposed establishment of an Australian Government insurance office. Will the proposed office be required to adhere to the 30-20 rule in relation to the investment of its assets which arise from life assurance business?
– I am obliged to Senator Devitt for asking me this question because it does enable me to clarify an answer which I gave today at a Press conference which I attended and in which I announced the Cabinet decision to introduce legislation to establish an Australian Government insurance office. I think my answer was not as satisfactory as it should have been. The 30-20 rule to which Senator Devitt refers requires a life assurance company to invest 30 per cent of its assets in government securities and 20 of them in Australian Government securities if it is to obtain preferential tax treatment on its earnings.
The proposal which the Government is making regarding the Australian Government insurance office requires the office to pay all taxes and charges generally paid by State and private insurance companies. Consequently it will be required to observe the 30-20 rule like any other life assurance office if it is to obtain favourable tax treatment. The fact that the proposed Australian Government insurance office would not be bound by the Australian Government’s other insurance legislation, that is, the Life Insurance Act and the Insurance Act, has no bearing on the fact that the proposed office would be obliged under our proposed legislation to abide by the so-called 30-20 rule.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. Is the Government’s decision to enter the insurance business a part implementation of the Labor Party’s platform to nationalise the means of production, distribution and exchange? Has the Government consulted the States and the private insurance industry to determine the effects of Federal competition in line with the Treasurer’s announcement of 4 April? If so, what was revealed in the consultations? If no discussions have taken place, will the Government undertake a thorough investigation before embarking on a course that could cripple the existing industry? How does the decision align with recent statements by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that a strong private sector is essential to Australia’s economy?
-As Senator DrakeBrockman I know is well aware, because generally the same people who come to see me also go to see him, I have been doing very little else over the past few months but conferring with representatives of insurance companies. In fact, not only have I been conferring with representatives of insurance companies but 2 committees have been established by the Treasurer- one consisting of representatives of life assurance companies and the other consisting of representatives of general insurance companies- to discuss the impact of the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office and the proposed national compensation scheme on these various forms of insurance. This is not contrary to what Senator Drake-Brockman would like to have an unsuspecting public believe. This is not part of any diabolical move to introduce a monolithic super-government insurance industry. In fact what we are doing is fulfilling the highest objectives of the private enterprise system, that is, providing competition. The Australian Government believes that if private insurance offices and State governments are able to engage in the field of insurance the Australian Government should be entitled to do so. We believe that the proposed Australian Government insurance office will perform in the field of insurance the same function that the Commonwealth Bank has performed so valuably in the field of banking. That is why we are bringing forward these proposals.
If the insurance companies generally feel that they have something to fear, I can assure them that what they have to fear is their own weakness, because the proposal which we have and which will be presented to the Parliament later this month with regard to the establishment of the Australian Government insurance office makes it perfectly clear that the office will function on an ordinary commercial basis and that the investments of the Australian Government insurance office, subject to the restrictions which I mentioned earlier, will of necessity have to be in the best interests of policy holders. It will also be covering a field of national interest insurancethose forms of insurance which are unprofitable but socially necessary, as has been found in the case of natural disasters such as the Darwin cyclone and the Brisbane flood- which private insurance offices do not handle. We believe that, contrary to what the private insurance companies have said when they have argued that we should go into the unprofitable business but not into the profitable business, if the Australian Government goes into the insurance business, as we believe it should, it should go not only into the unprofitable business which private operators will not handle but also into the profitable areas as well and compete with them on their own terms, in the same way as the Commonwealth Bank has done in the field of banking.
-I put to the Postmaster-General a question in these terms: Last week considerable publicity was given to an incident which occurred in Sydney when a technician of the Postmaster-General’s Department in the course of his duty was allegedly assaulted by a Kung Fu expert. As a result of this incident the union to which the technician belonged took direct industrial action. What is the situation, bearing in mind the Department’s intervention in the matter?
– The matter was brought to the attention of Mr Hancock of my staff last Wednesday. He discussed it with the union. We arranged for an investigation of the circumstances of the case. After consultation with officers of the Attorney-General ‘s Department, it has been decided to charge the person concerned under section 493 of the State Crimes Act. We have also considered the question whether extra provisions should be included in the relevant Commonwealth Acts. Consideration will be given to the insertion in the telecommunications and postal Bills, which will come before the Parliament shortly, of provisions which might give the maximum protection to Post Office staff. Before I decide on that course, I will discuss the matter with the Ministers concerned.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. Is it a fact that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development had prepared for Cabinet a submission to abolish the Cities Commission and to replace it with a cities bureau, within the Department of Urban and Regional Development, at Albury-Wodonga? Is it a fact that the Secretary of the Department and the Chairman of the Cities Commission were unaware of the submission to Cabinet before it was lodged? Has the submission been withdrawn because the Minister claimed he had not seen it? Why does the Minister intend to abolish the Cities Commission which his own Government set up in 1973, only 18 months ago, and has since vigorously expanded? What alterations would be made to the priority of growth centres if the Cities Commission were abolished? Why did the Minister not inform the Chairman of the Cities Commission of the submission before it was completed? Is the Minister aware that some State authorities are deeply alarmed at the prospect of such a change?
– I think it would be improper for me as a Minister to say what is before Cabinet.
– We will get that from the newspapers.
– The newspapers can disclose it, but I think it is improper for a Minister to do so. As a regular attender at Cabinet I know of no submission before it to abolish the Cities Commission. Therefore, no answer is required to any of the other questions. A submission could be in Cabinet without being placed on the agenda. I am prepared to take up the matter with the Minister for Urban and Regional Development to see whether I can get any further information which has not been disclosed in the Press and which may be submitted to the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. In view of the fact that the nonmetropolitan railway system in South Australia will be entirely under the control of the Australian National Railways Commission as from 1 July this year, following the agreement reached by the Prime Minister and the South Australian
Premier, will the Minister request the Minister for Transport to consider transferring the headquarters of the Australian National Railways from Melbourne, Victoria, to Monarto in South Australia in order to conform to the Australian Government’s policy on decentralisation?
– The honourable senator would have noticed last week during the debate on the new Commission that in the memorandum of agreement between the South Australian Government and the Australian Government, item 11 provided that the Australian Government would consider the transfer of the headquarters of the Commonwealth Railways to South Australia, as indicated to the Premier by the Prime Minister’s letter dated 2 August 1974. I have since talked to the Minister about this matter and he has said that this will be a matter for consideration by the incoming Board of Commissioners when it is appointed. The Commissioners will then put forward recommendations to Mr Jones for final decision.
-I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer whether he, on behalf of the Treasurer, will table the letter, as he is required to do under section 11(7) of the Reserve Bank Act 1959, that the Treasurer has received from the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Sir John Phillips, stating the concern of the Reserve Bank Board at the Government’s present monetary policy.
-I would have to refer the question to the Treasurer. If he sees fit to do what the honourable senator requests I am sure that he will.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation and, whilst it might sound a bit foxy, it certainly is not a Dorothy Dixer. Has the Australian Government provided substantial support to the insurance industry and if so in what form? Can the Minister tell the Senate the cost of this support to the Government?
-This is a matter on which I would like to make a detailed statement at a later time. If the honourable senator would agree to put the question on notice 1 will see that all this information is tabled for the benefit of all honourable senators.
– I ask the Minister for Media: Which organisations did he approach for names of people for appointment to the Australian Film Commission and which organisations suggested nominees? Did the Minister invite the Australian industry to submit names before or after he requested Mr Jack Valenti to suggest appointments? Which members of the Commission were recommended for appointment to the Commission by the industry and which were selected by the Minister himself?
-The honourable senator will recall that when the Government decided to legislate for the establishment of the Australian Film Commission it did so on the basis that it also would establish an Interim Board of the Australian Film Commission, and that Interim Board was established by the Government in January 1974 for the purpose of tendering advice to the Government on the possible structure of the Commission. Between October 1974 and December 1974 a subcommittee of the Interim Board of the Australian Film Commission met with various organisations affiliated with the film and television industry to seek the advice of those organisations. Of course, the honourable senator will appreciate that with the Parliament sitting between October 1 974 and December 1974 and my being Manager of Government Business in the Senate, it was a physical impossibility for me to see all the people I personally would have liked to see. However, the sub-committee of the Interim Board of the Australian Film Commission certainly did see a number of people and organisations. For instance, on 15 October 1974 I am told, the Interim Board saw the Australian Film Council, the Film Production Association, the Australian Writers Guild and the Film Makers Cooperative. On 16 October it saw the Motion Picture Exhibitors Association of New South Wales and the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. On 29 October, the Interim Board saw the Film Processors Association and the Producers and Directors Guild. On 12 November 1974 it saw the representatives of the Film Industry Action Committee, representatives of Australian Film Development Corporation and also representatives of Actors Equity.
Replying further to the honourable senator’s question might I say that it was in September 1974 that a deputation from the Australian Film Council saw me in Canberra in connection with the pending legislation. In the course of that discussion, which lasted about one and a half hours, I invited the Council to submit a list of names to me for possible appointment to the Australian Film Commission when the legislation had been enacted. Quite frankly, I was absolutely amazed to see a statement by the recently elected or appointed President of the Australian Film Council that no discussions had taken place. Had the gentleman concerned looked at the files of his organisation going back to about September 1974 he would have seen that certain names were put to me at that time.
Further, I can tell the honourable senator, just mentioning some names I have in my head, that I had discussions with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Chairman of the Public Service Board, and the media unions’ representative on the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I also had discussions with Lord Willis of Chislehurst when he was recently out in Australia. I had someone on my behalf have a discussion with Mr Gyngell, the head of ATV in London. I also had approaches from a number of individuals and other organisations throughout the community. Therefore, I can tell the honourable senator that not only did I personally but so also did organisations and people on my behalf seek the views of a wide cross-section of the industry before the Government reached the conclusions that it did.
Despite the criticism that has been profferred of me by Mr Scott, the newly elected or recently appointed President of the Australian Film Council, may I say that on 20 February of this year after the passage through the Parliament of the Australian Film Commission legislationthat is, after the Senate passed the Bill- I received the following telegram from Mr Scott:
Am personally delighted at your success with the Film Commission Bill particularly in the face of pointless opposition from those who should know better. Please accept my warmest good wishes and personal support for your efforts. Peter Scott.
– To follow up the question just asked of the Minister for the Media, I ask: Did the Minister see a statement attributed to the President of the Australian Film Council that he, the Minister, has consistently refused to consult with media unions and groups connected with the film industry? It was alleged also that he failed to confer with these groups on the appointment of members of the Australian Film Commission. Can the Minister say whether he himself has had discussions with any of these groups and, if not, whether his Department or any other organisation appointed for this purpose has had such discussions?
-Since answering Senator Young’s question it has dawned on me that while the recently appointed
President of the Australian Film Council has complained that I have been unable to see or have not seen people connected with the industry, further to the matters that I have just mentioned I have seen Mr Scott 3 times in the last 3 months. I met him once in January when he came to see me about the question of residuals for actors and writers. I met him for a second time in February when he was an observer, although not necessarily a member of my party, at the Australian Labor Party Conference at Terrigal. I met him again last month when he came to see me for about an hour and a half in company with Mr McQuaid, the Federal Secretary of the Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association, and Mr John Barnes, the Federal Secretary of Actors Equity. That was at a time when the Government had recently made the announcement that for the rest of this financial year it would make available an additional $ 1.35m to the Australian Film Development Corporation for further assistance to the Australian film industry. Mr Peter Scott scoffed and proffered the opinion at that time that the amount was insufficient, that we should be embarking upon a 75 per cent Australian content quota forthwith, and that we should be making available at least $100m, certainly at the rate of $20m a year for the next 5 years, for the film industry.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. In spite of the fact that a request from the national headquarters of the Returned Services League for Australian Government financial support to send a delegation of Australian war veterans to take part in the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the epic landing at Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand soldiers on 25 April 1915 was refused, will he make representations for a reconsideration of the decision not to assist and point out that the Turkish Government is playing a major and generous role in providing hospitality to the visitors? Will the Minister point out to his colleague that the pilgrimage is not to glorify war but to pay respect to the memory of the deeds that put Australia on the road to nationhood and that Anzac Day will always be remembered for the beneficial effects that have flowed and will continue to flow from the heroism and example of our servicemen of that era?
– I have some information on this matter. When I use the word ‘I’ I shall be using it on behalf of Mr Lionel Bowen.
The Returned Services League requested a Government grant of $20,000 to assist in the costs of a contingent of Gallipoli veterans attending a ceremony at Gallipoli Bay to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the landing there. The RSL was informed that while the Government appreciated that the Gallipoli campaign had a special place in the sentiments of those who took part, it had been decided that in view of all the circumstances the expenditure of public funds for this purpose was not justified. That decision was confirmed subsequently by the Prime Minister who had been approached by the RSL to review the matter. In these circumstances I do not see that any purpose would be met by further representations on the matter. I should perhaps point out that the RSL received a grant of $40,000 towards the cost of the contingent which attended ceremonies to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Gallipoli landing because that event had special significance. I do not believe that it can reasonably be regarded as a precedent for the recent application. Additionally, although it is not directly related to what the honourable senator asked, I think it concerns an analogous matter when I state that the Australian Government granted $ 1 3,000 to a contingent of veterans who fought at Retimo so that they may attend a ceremony at Stavromenos
– Does the Minister for Agriculture recall a statement made last year by Mr Crean when he was the Treasurer announcing that in 1974-75 depreciation rates on new plant and equipment for taxation assessment purposes would be doubled? When will the proposed measure be enacted? Will primary producers be eligible for these higher depreciation rates?
– It is true that the former Treasurer made such an announcement. The rates will apply to newly installed machinery as from 1 July 1974. The current position is that legislation is being drafted. We should have it in the Parliament before long, and it will be effective accordingly.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Media. I refer to reports of the extension by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of frequency modulation radio services to a number of capital cities. Can the Minister give an indication that this service will be established at an early date in Adelaide and, if so, has he any details concerning such establishment?
– I can tell the honourable senator that I was at a meeting of the Australian Broadcasting Commission last Friday and after it I had some discussions with officers of the Commission. I can inform him that Adelaide can expect to have a frequency modulation station. If all goes according to plan, Adelaide could have the station before the beginning of next year. The ABC, in planning for its development of the frequency modulation service, has paid particular attention to the needs of Adelaide. I am told that approval has been given to the ABC, as a result of a request I made to the Treasurer, for the forward ordering of FM transmitters for the ABC so that they can be made available in the coming financial year. The ABC proposes at this stage that the first FM stations it establishes should be located in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide. Adelaide has been chosen by the ABC as the city to originate the programming for the ABC FM network. The ABC believes that it should decentralise many of its operations where this is possible. The possible use of Adelaide as the originating station for FM programs has been debated at some length within the ABC, but I am informed that the final decision is that Adelaide would be the best site. Adelaide has new radio studios, a new ABC building, and an active cultural life. I am told that this will be the first significant attempt by the ABC to decentralise one of its major programming operations.
-My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. As a result of the flooding of the Stuart Highway, has the Post Office made any alternative arrangements for the conveyance of mail between Darwin and other capital cities?
– There is an alternative route via the Carpentaria Highway. It is available for limited loads, and mail presently is being conveyed along that route. Because of the additional distance- approximately 350 kilometresand the restrictions on loads and traffic flow, there are some slight delays in delivery.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is it a fact that the 1975 annual conference of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders was held in Canberra over 4 days at Easter? I remind the Minister thatlast week I inquired whether the failure of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to provide the promised $4,000 to assist in holding that conference was deliberate or negligent. Is it also a fact that the Minister did not accept the invitation to attend this major Aboriginal conference on any of the 4 days? Is the Minister aware that a motion was passed unanimously expressing the conference’s disgust and condemnation of his failure to attend? Was the Minister deliberately snubbing the conference? Has the Minister yet explained his absence and, if so, what was his explanation?
-When I answered the question last week I said that I had agreed to the payment of $4,000 for the holding of this conference approximately a fortnight before. On the basis that Senator Rae would ask another question if he was not satisfied with that answer, 1 had the information here and I found that that was correct. The approval went to the Treasury some time before the conference for the purpose of payment. I understand that the Treasury sent out the cheque that weekend or the day before the conference was held. The approval was sent to the vice-president of the conference, Mr Joe McGuinness. It was quite a happy arrangement. The conference was not concerned about this. I also said that another $4,000 had been received from the organisation established under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to deal with International Women’s Year.
– They had received that.
– Yes. There was no question of an inability to bring the delegates down. I heard that, in appreciation of that, the conference carried a resolution condemning the holding of International Women’s Year. So not only the Minister was condemned. I received late notification to attend. I do not accept the conference as being a national representative body. It is not an important body. It is comprised mostly of Queenslanders and some Victorians. Having another engagement over the weekend, 1 found it impossible to go there.
– On all 4 days?
-I found it impossible to go there. I never attended. Mr Charles Perkins, who was appointed secretary, does not inform me of the conference decisions as quickly as he informs Senator Rae. I have no information yet that the conference carried a resolution condemning me for not going, which may have been justification Ibr our reducing the allowances for attending the meeting.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. Following upon his statement at his Press Conference at 1 p.m. today about the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office, will the Minister state whether anything in the nature of a feasibility study was undertaken by the Government before a decision was taken to establish such an office?
– By a curious coincidence -
-Yes, as a matter of fact. As it happens I was asked a question on this matter at the Press conference and I feel that I did not answer it in the forthright and lucid manner for which I am so highly regarded by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack and other honourable senators on the other side of the chamber. An interdepartmental committee with representatives from some of the most distinguished and highly regarded departments of this Government was established on 3 1 May last year by the Prime Minister to inquire into the proposal that an Australian Government insurance office should be set up. I think that one would have to take the inquiries of that interdepartmental committee as being in the nature of a feasibility study.
– I address to the Minister for the Media a question relating to the Australian Film Commission. Did the Minister send copies of the correspondence exchanged with Mr Jack Valenti to the Prime Minister? Did the Minister or his Department release the letter to members of the public or the Press interested in the Australian film industry recently? If not, has the Minister investigated whether the release from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was deliberate and has he identified the motive behind the controversy which has erupted over the appointments to the Australian Film Commission? Will the Minister table all correspondence relating to recommendations for appointments to the Commission to disclose to the Senate which appointments have resulted from industry recommendations?
-Firstly let me explain, perhaps at some length, the situation about the letter that I wrote to Mr Valenti.
It is true that I wrote a letter to Mr Valenti following receipt by me of a letter from him. The fact is that I know him personally and I regard him as a frank, candid and able person. He is highly regarded in the United States, as my colleague Senator Wheeldon will be able to confirm, and he has been prominent in public life in the United States for many years. For some time he was a close associate of the late President Johnson. The organisation of which he is president is the responsible body for the American film industry. Naturally of necessity I, in the administration of my portfolio, and my Department from time to time have to have discussions with either him or the American industry and particularly with its representative in Australia.
It was my considered view that in establishing the Australian Film Commission I should look for a diversity of people who could contribute to the workings of the Commission. When I wrote to Mr Valenti I particularly had in mind that perhaps some Australians who worked for American film companies, either in Australia or overseas, were not known to me. I simply asked Mr Valenti whether he had any suggestions to make for the Government’s consideration. As it happened, he did not. My letter was written in reply to a personal letter that Mr Valenti had written to me, whereby he had offered some assistance of the American film industry towards the establishment of the Australian Film and Television School. But because that School comes within the ministerial responsibility of the Prime Minister I sent to the Prime Minister, for his information, a copy of Mr Valenti ‘s letter to me and my reply. It is as simple as that. Frankly, I am amazed that the matter should be headlined on the first page of newspapers without the journalist bothering to get in touch with me or my staff to ascertain our side of the story. Having answered that portion of the honourable senator’s question, I indicate that I have not made inquiries as to the source of the leak to the Australian’ newspaper. I am certain that it did not come from my office. Whence it came I do not know. I also do not think that it came from the Prime Minister’s office. I think that it came from elsewhere.
- Mr Valenti?
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDCertainly not. I certainly do not think that it came from Mr Valenti. What I think happened was that after the Prime Minister had received the letter it was sent down through his Department to one of the instrumentalities, and probably the leak came from that source. Having said that, in answer to the other part of the honourable senator’s question, no I do not intend tabling all the papers that I have received in connection with names of people for possible appointment to the Australian Film Commission. A great number of names were sought and a great number of names were given. The fact is that a choice has been made by the Government, for approval by the Governor-General. I believe that those who have been appointed will constructively contribute much to the development of a commercially viable film industry in Australia.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral. Do the Australian Legal Aid Offices that have been established throughout Australia assist people in the field of family law? Do they assist people with the drawing up of wills and powers of attorney? Do they provide for an officer to be in attendance at local magistrates’ courts to provide advice as to bail, adjournments and representation?
Senator JAMES McCLELLANDAustralian Legal Aid Offices have been established in all capital cities, in Canberra and Darwin and in 21 regional locations throughout Australia. The Government believes that legal aid can best be made available to those in need by a nationwide salaried service working in conjunction with existing legal aid services, the private legal profession and other bodies interested in the welfare of the citizen. The Offices provide a general problem solving service of legal advice for persons with an element of financial need. It is intended to solve the majority of problems that affect the ordinary citizen. Eligibility is determined on interview without a formal means test. Subject to a means and needs test the Offices also provide assistance, including assistance in litigation, in matters arising under Federal law, including family law, to all persons and under State or Federal law to persons for whom the Australian Government has a special responsibility, such as those in receipt of social services, Aborigines, ex-servicemen, students and newcomers to Australia. The means and needs test for the conduct of litigation is the inability to afford the cost of representation. This is the test applied by a number of legal aid committees. It seeks to avoid the injustices that can occur with a fixed income or property test.
In the field of family law, the Offices conduct undefended divorce proceedings, ancillary proceedings and other family law proceedings arising under Federal legislation. Most defended matters will be referred to private practitioners, as will matters in which both parties seek assistance. The Offices prepare simple documents such as simple wills or powers of attorney. They do not engage in conveyancing work, except in special circumstances, for example, in conjunction with a family law matter. They do not ordinarily act in probate matters. They will act in cases of hardship, for example, on behalf of a widow who is the beneficiary of a small estate. Regional offices provide a service of duty lawyer at the local magistrate’s court. The legal officer advises persons in custody and deals with matters of bail, adjournments, pleas of guilty and the like. An officer of the Sydney branch office provides a duty lawyer service to the Special Federal Court, Sydney. Where a matter is to be defended the client will be referred to the Australian Legal Aid Offices or the Legal Aid Committee, as appropriate, to arrange representation. I trust that honourable senators will have found my answer sufficiently full and complete.
-I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Since the Paris Agreements which were drawn up between the two Vietnams, what action has been taken by the United Nations Security Council in relation to preventing the continuance or the outburst of war?
– As I said when answering a question the other day, the only time that matter was put before the Security Council was I think, in 1966.
– I said ‘since the Paris Agreements’.
-I understand what the honourable senator said. I am saying that the only time that the whole question of Indo-China went before the Security Council was in 1966 or 1967, and it has remained seized of that situation. There has been very little action, or no action except for some statements made by Mr Kurt Waldheim at times. As to the Paris Accords, they were not United Nations documents. They were drawn up by the various signatories and that unfortunately is the agreement whose terms have broken down.
– I call Senator Walsh.
– My question is -
- -Senator Wright, do you wish to ask a supplementary question?
– I wish to renew my question, and it is -
– Do you seek some point of clarification?
– Yes, I seek further elucidation, if I can disgrace the word ‘further’. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Since the Paris Agreements, irrespective of whether it was a United Nations document, and having regard to the acknowledged public fact that hostilities have been bitterly continuing in Indo-China, what action has the United Nations taken to prevent war?
-I thought I had indicated that it had taken none, and I thought that Senator Wright might have known that seeing he was at the United Nations last year.
-Did the Minister for Agriculture hear the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Fraser, say on television this week that wool buyers were staying out of the market and adversely affecting sales because of the delay in announcing a floor price for 1975-76? Is this a fact?
-I understand that Mr Fraser did make such a statement. It was reported in the Press this morning. I might say that he also indicated his praise for the Government’s policy on wool. But it was ironical that in at least one newspaper this morning the report of that statement was alongside another report, namely, the report on yesterday’s wool sales which showed that the wool market in fact strengthened considerably yesterday and that the Australian Wool Corporation was required to buy in only 16 per cent of the clip, which is about half the buying in rate of the last few weeks. So it is fairly evident that the assertion that as yet no decision has been announced on the 1975-76 floor price arrangements obviously is not deterring the world wool trade from strengthening its buying. Obviously it will continue to strengthen its buying if it wants the wool, and I am sure that it does.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to a reported statement by Mr Renouf, the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, that ‘recent fighting in South Vietnam could be better described as a government withdrawal rather than as a Viet Cong offensive’. I ask the Minister whether it is a fact that prior to the military withdrawal from the Central Highlands South Vietnamese forces were under strong and constant attack from North Vietnamese, not Viet Cong forces, and that a number of strategic positions had been lost. Is it also not a fact that throughout South Vietnam North Vietnamese and not Viet Cong military attacks have been increasing, placing South Vietnamese forces under extreme military pressure? If so, on what basis did Mr Renouf make his statement?
-I do not know that I saw the specific statement. Therefore, to a degree, this is an opinion which I should not be giving. I think from what the honourable senator has said that Mr Renouf was referring to the decision by the South Vietnamese to vacate a section of territory. That decision has been regarded throughout the world as a military mistake. It turned out the wrong way.
– It was a judgment.
– It was a false judgment on their part which did not precede fighting in that part of the terrain but was really a withdrawal of the South Vietnamese troops. This is really an opinion of what I think Mr Renouf -
– I said North Vietnamese, not Viet Cong attacks.
– I keep being asked questions about whether they are North Vietnamese or Viet Cong and whether they are fighting in South Vietnam. I come back to the point all the time that the war has been going on for 30 years. I do not think it is of any help to the chaotic situation which exists there today to try to apportion blame. If there were anything I could say which would help the situation I would say it. I refrain from saying things which I do not think will help the situation.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. With the general insurance industry experiencing serious difficulties due to unfavourable and heavy claims, does the Australian Government insurance office expect to take over other insurance businesses? If so, how will such takeovers be effected? Also, is the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office likely to precipitate staff dismissals in the industry? Has the Minister consulted the appropriate staff organisations in the insurance industry on this matter? If so, will he please state whether the Government is concerned about the impact of staff retrenchments on the insurance industry?
– I understand that difficulties are being experienced by a number of general insurance companies, particularly those involved in workers compensation insurance and motor vehicle third party insurance. In fact, these difficulties were epitomised not so many months ago when one of the very big foreign owned insurance companies dismissed a large number of its staff members at its Queensland branch. I must confess that so far no insurance companies have been to see me offering to sell their assets and policies. It is proposed in the Bill which will be presented shortly to establish an Australian Government insurance office that it should have power to purchase State government and private insurance offices or shares in them. I make it quite clear that it is proposed to purchase. The office will function as a normal commercial undertaking. In the same way as existing insurance offices are able to have this power, an Australian Government insurance office would also have the power. I do not know whether the owners of any insurance office will wish to sell to an Australian Government insurance office at any time in the future. That is something which one will learn only when an Australian Government insurance office functions.
As far as the staff is concerned, there could well be a problem if the private insurance companies or, for that matter, the State insurance offices were to find themselves in any difficulties as a result of the implementation of the national compensation scheme, the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office or as a result of any other problems which they might have. I think we all know that some of the general insurance companies have had considerable problems over recent years. As a Labor Government, we are concerned about this. I have had many talks with representatives of the Australian Insurance Staffs Federation, which is the union which covers most of the administrative and clerical employees of the private insurance companies. I have given an undertaking to them that the Australian Government will do everything it conceivably can to ensure that there is no loss of employment amongst the people who work in the insurance industry. In the event of the establishment of the Australian Government insurance office which I hope will come to fruition, I personally as Minister certainly would strongly advocate priority being given in employment to those people who have experience in insurance offices and who may, for whatever reason, be unemployed at the time of the establishment of the office.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. Is the money received from persons who have obtained advances under the rural reconstruction scheme returned directly to Consolidated Revenue? If so, will the Minister consider varying this requirement so that the money may be retained by the State agencies for further advances to financially disadvantaged primary producers? Will the Minister ensure that the rural reconstruction agencies have sufficient flexibility to advance money to cattle producers whose ability to repay is prejudiced by the continuing disastrously low prices which are realisable at cattle sales?
– Under the arrangements between the Australian Government and the State governments, the Australian Government makes available a sum of money each year for rural reconstruction purposes. This year the amount is $2 8m and for the ensuing year, as announced last week, it will be $30m. Specific arrangements are entered into- and always have been, even before this Government came into office- to ensure the maximum usage of those funds. By agreement between the respective governments, moneys which are repayable and are repaid by primary producers are to be fed back into the system by the State authorities to ensure that there is a proper revolving of those funds. As a result, there is a lesser draw on Federal funds under the ensuing arrangements for the following year. This has been the practice, with minor variations in one or two States. Last week one such State agreed that it will operate in the same way as the others; that the procedures will be followed as they are in all the other States. Beef producers are eligible for assistance particularly under the debt reconstruction program, which this year has been increased to a maximum of 70 per cent of the total funds made available. They are in no less advantageous circumstances than any other primary producer. That refers to beef producers who would qualify under the rural reconstruction arrangements, which are quite distinct from the carry-on financial arrangements being operated through theCommonwealth Development Bank.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence a question which arises out of a question asked on the last sitting day about a visit of naval vessels to King Island. Is the Minister aware that it was I who made the representations to the Minister for Defence, Mr Barnard, as I very frequently do in instances of this kind, for naval vessels to be made available to visit King Island on that occasion, the occasion of the show- it was the annual show, not a garden fete- and that the application was made to the Minister at the specific request, which was made to me, of an official of the King Island Show Committee and very prominent member of the King Island community? Would the Minister not agree that the honourable senator who asked the question last week was very badly briefed and that the question reflected unfairly on the motives of the principal movers in this matter?
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. To what extent may questions be asked when the substantive question is on the notice paper?
– It is a different question.
– Well, slightly; but the same thing is there. I raise a point of order as to whether it is proper to ask a question without notice on the substance of a matter, which if it is answered by the Minister here would make the question on the notice paper pointless?
– The Minister would know the answer. He says that it is a different question. So I call him.
– I take a point of order. I understand that there is a question on the notice paper relating to the same subject. Therefore, I submit that the question is out of order.
– I have just given a ruling on that matter. Senator Bishop has assured me that the question is different to the one on the notice paper. I call Senator Bishop.
-I think it is clearly a different question. Senator Devitt now asks me whether I knew that he made the request to the Minister for Defence for a vessel to visit King Island. At the time when I answered previously I did not know. I now know that Senator Devitt made the representations. They had nothing to do personally with Mr Barnard. As a matter of fact Mr Barnard, like myself, has never been to King Island. At present it is not in his electorate.
– You can bet on that.
- Senator Jessop ought .to know because he. like myself, visits naval establishments. If he wants to have the practice of Service ships and aircraft visiting provincial centres and cities discontinued, let him say so. I know that when 1 was the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence I received numerous requests from members to have such functions held. The request clearly had nothing to do with Mr Barnard personally. He was the Minister who could give the approval in the circumstances. 1 did not know that Senator Don Devitt and Senator Jessop had been interested in the question.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. I remind him that people with repatriation entitlements to medical treatment are at present disbarred from benefits from voluntary health insurance funds. Will such people be able to use Medibank in preference to the repatriation system into which they are at present locked? In other words, will they be able to see any doctor, not just those doctors presently approved by the Department of Repatriation and Compensation? Will they be able to obtain extra insurance benefits for any medical expenses? If so, is it intended that separate repatriation entitlements for medical care from local doctors will continue?
-As Senator Baume would know, the relationship between the recipients of repatriation benefits and people under the various hospital and medical benefit funds is a rather complex one. The complexity has increased with the introduction of Medibank, which is a system by which the Government pays for such expenses. It was originally proposed that repatriation beneficiaries should not be recipients of Medibank treatment but should be considered separately, as they are now under the Repatriation Act. However, the matter is being investigated. Honourable senators opposite and members of my Department can see that possibly considerable anomalies could develop in this situation in which 2 free medical services are being provided, one under the Repatriation Act and the other under the general system. I hope to be able to make a report to the Senate in the near future on the precise arrangements which we will make. For the present, it is proposed that the existing arrangements ibr repatriation beneficiaries should continue.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster General. Has the Department of Services and Property signed a lease for a multi-storey building in Carlton, Melbourne, for the Australian Post Office? If not, is the Department negotiating such a lease? If the lease lias been signed, what is the purpose of the building?
If the purpose is to house one of the two proposed commissions which the Government intends to set up to take over the operations of the Australian Post Office from 1 July 1975, what authority did the Department of Services and Property have to enter such negotiations prior to the Parliament approving the legislation for the commissions? If the lease has been signed, what is the annual rental? From what date does it apply? Who are the owners of the building?
– I ask Senator Bonner to be good enough to put the question on notice because it also involves Mr Daly.
– Last week Senator Missen asked me some questions about the vessel Patris’ at Darwin and I undertook to get the reply as soon as possible from Dr Patterson. The reply is that the Australian Government chartered the Chandris ship ‘Patris’ at a cost of $15,100- tax free- per day for an initial period of 6 months. The agreement followed discussions with the management of the Chandris Line at which time the question of purchase was explored. The owners indicated that they were not interested in selling the vessel. The salvage value of the vessel is not known nor was it important that details be obtained in view of the attitude of the owners.
The heads of agreement which represent the approved terms acceptable to the Government and the management of the Chandris Line involved detailed and complex negotiations involving representatives of the Treasury, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Transport, the Department of Labor and Immigration and the Department of the Northern Territory. The possible implications of proposed crewing and pay rate arrangements were fully explored before approval was given. The heads of agreement provided that the crew would be paid at rates under the Greek Convention except that if Australian unions made representations for rates of pay in excess of those paid under the Greek Convention, the additional amount incurred would be met by the Australian Government. In fact employees of the Chandris Line were paid at rates in excess of the Convention.
After receiving representations from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the maritime unions a conference was arranged by the Department of Labor and Immigration at which time union representations were considered. These included a claim for an additional $50 per week for all members of the crew, from deck boy to master. The Government considered the representations and agreed that no member of the crew would receive a wage less than the Australian minimum wage. To this end, rates for all members of the crew would be increased by an amount equal to the difference between the lowest paid classification and the minimum wage, subject to a deduction of $5 per week for board and lodgings. The Australian Council of Trade Unions was advised that the application of this formula meant rates would be increased by $50 per week with effect from the date the vessel arrived in Darwin, that is 14 February 1975. The terms were accepted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the unions.
There have been no representations made of inferior living conditions.
There is a full assurance that the negotiations have been conducted having regard to the need for emergency accommodation for persons rendered destitute by the cyclone and for other essential workers in Darwin and having regard for the need to ensure proper use of the funds of the Australian Government.
- Mr President, I seek leave to make an explanation concerning an answer to a question which I gave in this place on 10 April last.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
– In answer to a question asked by Senator Scott about the remission of sales tax on motor cars, I made this statement: it is estimated that the Australian exchequer has already lost about $300m because of the Government’s action in reducing sales tax as it has done.
On Monday of this week I received a letter from the General Manager of the Chrysler Corporation questioning the accuracy of that figure. I must confess now- I would like to set the record straight- that that figure is very inaccurate. I have made some inquiries from my Department, and the best estimate that it can come up with is that the cost to revenue of sales tax cuts on passenger vehicles during February, March and April would be about $50m if sales of passenger cars during March and April continued at about the same level as for February. Of course, that figure has to be offset by potential cost to revenue of the lower level of car sales if the tax had not been cut, the cost of unemployment benefits if car companies had retrenched workers as foreshadowed in December, and the loss of income tax if these workers had been retrenched. All in all I would say the figure is closer to $30m than $300m. I have wondered since from where I got that figure, and I recall that earlier that week I had lunch with some employers who gave that figure to me as their estimate. So it is a lesson to me in the future to make my own inquiries.
– Pursuant to section 23 of the Egg Export Control Act 1947-1973, I present the twenty-seventh annual report of the Australian Egg Board on the operation of the Act for the year ended 30 June 1974, together with financial statements and the report of the AuditorGeneral on those statements.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a statement on uranium exploration in the Northern Territory by the Minister for Minerals and Energy.
– Pursuant to the provisions of section 23a of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1973 I present a copy of the report with maps showing the boundaries of each proposed division by the Distribution Commissioners of South Australia together with copies of the suggestions, comments or objections lodged with the Commissioners.
Ordered that the report and maps be printed.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present a paper entitled ‘Australian Aid to Developing Countries’ prepared by the Australian Development Assistance Agency.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a report of the Committee on Computerisation of Criminal Data.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a second planning report on the future Darwin prepared on behalf of the Department of the Northern Territory for the Darwin Reconstruction Commission. It is entitled ‘Darwin Planning Guidelines ‘.
– I move:
That, unless otherwise ordered, Estimates Committees a. F and G meet at 4.30 p.m. and Estimates Committee C meet at 8 p.m., and that for such purpose the sitting of the Senate be suspended from approximately 4.20 p.m. until approximately 10.15 p.m.
Estimates Committee A will meet in the Senate chamber. Estimates Committee F will meet in Senate committee room No. 1. Estimates Committees C and G will meet in Senate committee room No. 3 although at different times.
– The Opposition offers no objection to the proposal. It has been arranged that this should happen. I rise only to make one point in the hope that it might be remembered in respect of future meetings of estimates committees. Honourable senators on the Opposition side value their estimates committees and the opportunities for information acquisition which they present. But the material which is necessary for the proper conduct of the estimates committees and which is prepared by departments was late in coming to Opposition senators. I think most honourable senators would have received that information only last night, if they were here on Monday, or when they arrived this morning.
– And later.
-As Senator Missen says, ‘and later’. We recognise that these estimates committees meetings were arranged at a fairly late stage but undoubtedly the fact to which I have referred affects the effectiveness of the estimates committee meetings which are now to be held. I mention this matter only to draw attention to it and to give an indication to the Government that it is expected, when the major estimates committee meetings are held later this year, ample time should be given so that the material which is prepared, and which I am sure the departments hope will be studied, is prepared in adequate time.
– I appreciate what the honourable senator has said. A request was made for the departments to have the material supplied to honourable senators at a time when it was known that the Senate estimates committees would be sitting this week. I understand that the difficulty has arisen as the result of some problems which have occurred in Treasury concerning the compilation of the salaries portions of estimates. That is the reason the documents have arrived, as it were, at the eleventh hour. I take on board that which Senator Greenwood has said. It should not have happened, I know, but it is one of those things which do happen from time to time. I will see that something is done on the occasion of the Budget estimates committee sittings to see that that does not occur.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– by leave- I move:
If that motion is agreed to by the Senate it would mean that Senator Bunton would become a member of Estimates Committee G.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I inform honourable senators that I have received letters from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate and Senator Bunton requesting variations in the membership of Estimates Committees in accordance with the list distributed to honourable senators.
Senator DOUGLAS MCCLELLAND (New South Wales- Manager of Government Business in the Senate)- I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I inform the Senate that I have received a letter from the Prime Minister appointing Mr Morris as a member of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System in place of Mr Berinson who has resigned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator James McClelland) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave for my second reading speech to be incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-
The purpose of this Bill is to make racial discrimination unlawful in Australia and to provide an effective means of combating racial prejudice in our country. This legislation will implement into Australian law the obligations contained in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It is asserted in this Convention that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and without any justification. I am sure all honourable senators would agree with these sentiments. Eighty-one countries have already ratified or acceded to the Convention. The Convention was signed on behalf of Australia on 13 October 1966 and the ratification of the Convention by Australia is, in the Government’s view, urgent and overdue
Legislation has a vital role to play in the elimination of racial discrimination and the enactment of this Bill is a fundamental step that must be taken if Australia is to ratify the Convention. The common law provides few effective remedies against discrimination in the exercise of human rights, whether it is based on race or colour or on any other grounds. The proscribing of racial discrimination in legislative form will make people more aware of the evils of discrimination and will also make it more obvious and conspicuous. In addition, the introduction of legislation will furnish an essential legal background on which to base changes to community attitudes. The fact that racial discrimination is unlawful will make it easier for people to resist social pressures that result in discrimination.
In making racial discrimination unlawful, the Bill follows the definition used in the Convention. The Bill will thus make it unlawful for a person to do an act involving discrimination based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which impairs the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. The Bill will guarantee equality before the law without distinction as to race. It also deals in detail with racial discrimination so far as it concerns access to places and facilities, the provision of land, housing and other accommodation, the provision of goods and services and the right to join trade unions and employment.
The creation of practical and effective legal remedies against discrimination is an important objective of the Bill. Legislative declarations of principle are of little value unless they can be given practical expression. The remedies provided by the Bill will include those of an injunction restraining the doing of discriminatory acts, an order requiring acts of a remedial nature to be done, an order cancelling a contract and damages in respect of the loss suffered by an aggrieved person and the loss of dignity, humiliation and injury to the feelings of an aggrieved person.
In addition, the Bill establishes formal administrative machinery for the examination of complaints of racial discrimination on a systematic basis and for the settlement of complaints by conciliation. The Bill recognises that reliance on the spasmodic operation of judicial action or review for the enforcement of the legislation would be unsatisfactory. It is recognised in the legislation that an emphasis on mediation and conciliation is a more satisfactory way of tackling individual instances of racial discrimination and the tensions that are associated with individual disputes. A Commissioner for Community Relations will be established as an independent statutory authority to undertake these tasks. Where settlement cannot be achieved, the Commissioner will have power to commence legal proceedings before a court to have the legal issues between the parties determined.
To ensure that the conciliation procedure is not frustrated by a lack of co-operation on the part of a respondent, the Bill gives the Commissioner the power to call a compulsory conference for the purpose of inquiring into a complaint and endeavouring to effect a settlement. The Bill will also authorise a judge to require a person to give evidence in relation to a matter that is the subject of an inquiry under the Act. Evidence so obtained will not be admissible in any other proceedings, except proceedings for giving false evidence. Legal aid will be available, where necessary, in proceedings before the judge. In Canada, compulsory evidencegathering powers are given to Human Rights Commissions and similar powers are vested in the Race Relations Conciliator established by New Zealand legislation. The absence of evidencegathering powers in the United Kingdom legislation has been said to impede seriously the effectiveness of the Race Relations Board under that legislation.
The Bill recognises the importance of developing programs of education and research and other programs to combat racial discrimination and to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups. Overseas experience has shown that the success of legislation dealing with racial discrimination depends very much on the effectiveness of programs of this kind. The changing of community attitudes is a matter of vital significance in the field of race relations. Both governmental and community based programs to combat racial discrimination are necessary. Under the Bill, the Commissioner will have the function of conducting and fostering programs of education and research to combat racial discrimination, and a Community Relations Council will be established with an advisory role. Australia will be required by Article 7 of the Convention to conduct programs of this kind to combat racial discrimination.
The Bill represents an important step in the Government’s program with respect to human rights. It will provide the basis upon which Australia can comply with the obligations imposed by the Convention on Racial Discrimination. The Bill is based on the view that laws proscribing discrimination are vital, but not in themselves sufficient. The legislation recognises that there must also be effective and systematic enforcement of rights and the promotion of education and research if the elimination of racial discrimination in this country is to be achieved in fact as well as in theory. The Government commends the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Willesee) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill is identical with that which was introduced into the House of Representatives on 13 November 1974 and which was passed without amendment on 25 November 1974. It was introduced into this chamber on 26 November 1974 and it was rejected on 28 November 1974. It would be idle of me to reiterate what was said in this chamber last November. I therefore confine myself to mentioning only three facets of the Bill. First, taken overall, the proposals in this Bill are intended to allow for a speedier finalisation of federal election results and to improve voting facilities for electors. Second, the Bill introduces some new or changed procedures and corrects some obvious defects in the existing electoral law. Third, it proposes consequential amendments of the Senate Elections Act 1903-1948, the Senate Elections Act 1966 and the Representation Act 1903-1973. Three months have now elapsed since the Senate rejected an identical measure which I now introduce again. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.
– To enable Senate Estimates Committees to meet the sitting of the Senate is suspended until approximately 10.15 p.m. To bring to the attention of honourable senators that the Estimates Committees are meeting the bells will be rung for 2 minutes.
Sitting suspended from 4.16 to 10.20 p.m.
Statements by Public Servants- Visit by Anzacs to Gallipoli
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) (10.20)- I rise with regrets which I have explained on the very few occasions on which I have spoken to the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. I am reminded tonight of a charming and delightful story about a very junior clerk of the Senate. A senator said to him: ‘I would like you to notify Mr President that I mean to speak to the motion for the adjournment tonight’. The young clerk said: ‘You have no hope of speaking to the motion for the adjournment of the Senate on a Tuesday night’. So the senator, heeding the words of wisdom which we find so often resides in our clerks, did not speak to the motion for the adjournment that night. In speaking tonight I am fortified by the fact that the Senate is refreshed after the weekend and will be able to withstand the matters that I propose to raise.
I intend to refer to what has now become in essence a matter known as the Renouf case. Let me explain how this problem of the Renouf case has arisen. The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs involved himself in the first instance and first came to public notice by giving what was alleged to be a background briefing on an aircraft between Honolulu and Fiji. It has been well reported. Honourable senators tend to forget what was said in that divulgence of what was alleged to be a background briefing, although the newspaper reporters say that it was not a background briefing. The facts are that, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) having said one thing, the secretary of the foreign affairs committee began to tell the journalists who were travelling on that aircraft that that was not what the Prime Minister meant; he meant another thing altogether.
The next matter to which I wish to draw the attention of honourable senators is this: On an occasion in Newcastle recently the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs made a statement, copies of which have been circulated to honourable senators. In a four or five page document headed ‘Department of Foreign Affairs, Canberra, 1 1 April’, the first paragraph states:
The following is the text of an address by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Alan Renouf, at a Legacy luncheon in Newcastle yesterday, 10 April.
It must be borne in mind that a copy of this document has been circulated to every senator. I assume that it has been circulated to every member of the other place. Today I heard- not in the Senate but sitting at my desk, dealing with the mass of paper that descends on honourable senators these days in the hope that I could encompass it, with the blower switched on to the House of Representatives- the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) ask the Prime Minister a question about this matter. I heard the Prime Minister reply. I noted his observations. The Prime Minister said that he had read the text of the statement issued and circulated to all senators in conformity with the opening paragraph which I have already addressed to the Senate, namely that this is the text of an address given by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Prime Minister also said that he had read through it and could find nothing to which he could take objection. Mark this: He could find nothing in the text to which he could take objection.
The Prime Minister did not state that there were subsequent questions by journalists who were present and answers by Mr Renouf. Out of a question which was addressed to Mr Renouf after he had addressed the Legacy meeting at Newcastle came the subject matter which has been engaging some attention of members of Parliament, namely, that the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs then began to attack members of the Opposition. I have no objection at all to a member of any department attacking any member of Parliament. I can see by the benign look on the faces of honourable senators opposite that they have no objection either. The Prime Minister also said- I noted it, and I am quite sure that Hansard tomorrow will indicate that what I am saying is perfectly truethat regulation 34 of the Public Service Regulation absolved any officer of the Public Service from making any comment. This relates to the question of open government. There is a subsequent regulation under Statutory Rules 1974 No. 98 which states, after all the preliminaries, By His Excellency’s Command, E. G. Whitlam, Prime Minister’. It states:
Regulation 34 of the Public Service Regulations is amended-
By omitting from paragraph (a) the word ‘; or’; and
By omitting paragraph (b), including the proviso thereto.
It is well to remind honourable senators what this invokes; so I think it is important that I read it to them. The original regulation 34 stated:
An officer . . .
It did not refer to a First Division officer but merely to an officer - shall not-
use for any purpose, other than for the discharge of his official duties, information gained by or conveyed to him through his connection with the Service; or
publicly comment on any administrative action or upon the administration of any Department:
Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall prevent an officer resident in any Territory within the Commonwealth from publicly commenting upon civic affairs relating to that Territory.
What is the change? That is the important thing. Under the amendment which I have just mentioned, Regulation 34 of the Public Service
Regulations was amended by omitting from paragraph (a) the word ‘; or’- that went outand by omitting paragraph (b), including the proviso thereto, which read:
Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall prevent an officer resident in any Territory within the Commonwealth from publicly commenting upon civic affairs relating to that Territory.
That is the significant factor to which the Prime Minister today did not draw the attention of honourable members in another place. The significance of his aversion to refer to Regulation 34 was not clear, but it was clear to me and I hope to make it clear to honourable senators. Where do we go from now on? The regulations under the Public Service Act were put down in order to protect public servants from attack, and the reason why that was done was to allow government business to be conducted in an area of confidentiality so that relations between the Government here in Canberra and the governments in the States could be protected and to allow discussions between nations to be conducted. So for that to be done there has to exist an area of confidentiality. However, the repeal of regulation 34 of the Public Service Regulations allows anyone in the Public Service to breach the area of confidentiality.
T regard this matter as being of such high importance that I feel that the Senate has to look al this situation which has arisen in rather dramatic circumstances and decide what are the means by which integrity in parliamentary committees and government is to be sustained. As regards the case of the Newcastle address by Mr Renouf of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who has circulated to every member of Parliament a document entitled ‘Foreign Policy and Community Support’- he says that the document contains the text of the address- it overlooks by design, I suggest, the observations which he gave to journalists after the meeting and which were not acknowledged by him or by the Prime Minister in answer to a question in another place today. I do not intend to pursue this argument any further. We have reached a dangerous situation in the administration of this country, and I give notice that at a time when it is opportune and within my capacity to do so I intend to move in the Senate that the Senate, which is a place which tends to be bipartisan rather than partisan, should look at the whole question of the means by which government, the security of government and the confidentiality of government can be sustained. There is no such thing as open government. There cannot any more be such a thing as open government as there can be open conversations between a trade union leader and the representative of the employers federation, for example. What is good for that area in the matter of confidentiality is good for the Senate; it is also good for government. There cannot be open government. The repeal of Public Service Regulation 34 breaks down the confidentiality that should and must exist in management in whatever area management has to exert itself. That is all I wish to say at this juncture.
-! listened with appreciation to the analysis by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack of the situation. Senator Poyser is making some mumblings which I cannot hear -
Hie PRESIDENT-Disregard interjections, senator, and proceed with your speech.
– I was saying that the analysis of the situation made by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack reveals that the position for which the Government is posturing enables any one member of the Public Service to pimp on the other, and any one member of the Public Service to disclose any fact of government, whether it be a fact of peculiar interest to Government members or to Opposition members. It is an analysis which ought to be carefully considered. I express my appreciation of it.
My purpose in rising is to express my disgust at the decision of the Government not to give financial assistance to enable a delegation of Anzacs to visit the battlefield on the sixtieth anniversary of Gallipoli. It would be quite obvious that, on the sixtieth anniversary, these representatives would be in the last stages of their lives, being aged 75 years and more. They wish to visit the battlefield where the nationhood of this country began, not for the purpose of venerating war but for the purpose of dedicating anew by their pres.ence their appreciation of the sacrifice that their comrades made towards the conclusion of that war. Events since that time, particularly in relation to the then enemy, Turkey, have shown the results that can accrue from peace. Having regard to the plethora of expenditure that the Government pours out for all the piddling purposes of politics and the petty interests of cronyism in politics. I consider that to refuse $20,000 for this crusade to Gallipoli is a despicable, mean and contemptible act unworthy of any government. We ought to express unanimously our complete contempt of a government that would not give that complimentary vote for an Anzac representation on the sixtieth anniversary of the successful landing at Gallipoli.
– Let me deal briefly with the last point made by Senator Wright. A question was asked of me this morning on this matter by Senator Marriott, who was good enough to give me notice of that question so that I was able to get the information for him. That is the quickest way to do it and it is handy to be able to do it in that way. I pointed out that $50,000 had been given to the Anzacs on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli -
– Ten years ago.
– Yes. That was given to the Anzacs to enable them to travel to Gallipoli. Another $13,000 had been given for another purpose this year. I have some knowledge of the situation resulting from my experience when I first set up the Department of the Special Minister of State. A lot of requests for grants are received. In fact, I was absolutely amazed at the number which come in and I was amazed at the amount of the grants which governments give. It is most difficult for a Minister or for any one individual to say which group should get how much money. In my day- I am sure the position is the same today- there was a committee from the various departments which worked out the criteria for such grants. They considered the balance sheets. If an organisation was visiting Australia to have its conference here, that committee looked at the balance sheet to see that some money was put in for that purpose.
As far as I can see, we have carried on the practice of the previous Government in making a close examination of these matters. A recommendation goes to the Minister. It is the Minister who, in the final analysis, says yea or nay. In respect of the Anzacs, a grant was given on the fiftieth anniversary which seemed to be a water mark or a bench mark on which the Government of the day made its contribution. In all of these matters, any organisation to which a government says no or which has the amount requested cut down is disappointed.
I am sorry that Senator Wright has used such harsh language in describing this matter. I point out to him, if he does not know it, that even in the days when he was a Minister, this work is done by a dedicated band of civil servants who apply the criteria that have been built up over many years under previous governments, and that is how a decision is arrived at. The decision in this case has been made. Of course the people concerned would be disappointed that they did not get what they wanted, but that is just the way it is. Some bodies do get their grants; some have the amount reduced; many are refused. That is the situation. It is a decision of the Government. I concede to Senator Wright the right to disagree with the decision. I repeat that I am sorry that he used such harsh language in relation to it.
Senator Wright also supported the remarks made by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, but knowing Senator Wright as I have over the years, I would have thought he would not have agreed with Senator Sir Magnus Cormack in one respect. One of the points that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack made is that no longer is there any responsibility to maintain confidentiality. That is just not the situation at all. When any person joins the Public Service he signs an oath. I can remember signing something like this when I joined the Public Service more years ago than I care to recall. A person joining the Public Service signs an oath of allegiance and signs also an undertaking to be bound by the provisions of the relevant government Acts. I would remind the Senate that that includes the Crimes Act. Confidentially is absolutely guaranteed under that Act.
This decision was made on 2 June 1974. It has taken a long time for Senator Sir Magnus Cormack to raise what he sees as the problem of non-protection of civil servants, the fact that civil servants can be attacked in this Parliament and so on. I repeat that the decision was made on 2 June 1974. I will quote one passage from the Press statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on this matter. It reads:
The Prime Minister said the policy of the Government and the Labor Party was that restrictions on freedom of expression of public servants and former public servants should be reduced to the minimum necessary for the conduct of affairs of state.
That is a vastly different situation from the type of picture that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack has been trying to draw this evening. The restrictions were reduced to the minimum necessary for the conduct of affairs of state. All of the responsibility on civil servants is not being lifted. Firstly there is the oath that the public servant signs. He signs also an undertaking to be governed by the relevant government Acts which, I repeat, includes the Crimes Act. The next point in the Press statement gives the basis for the reason this decision was made:
The Government believes that public servants should have the maximum possible freedom to exercise the social and political rights enjoyed by other citizens.
Who can argue with that?
Senator Sir Magnus Cormack then said that this matter is known as the ‘Renouf case’. He created that term himself tonight. It has not been referred to as the ‘Renouf case’ at any stage. In trying to dub everybody with something he has attacked Mr Renouf and has said that this is the Renouf case. Mr President, you might have noticed that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack did not quote, or even purport to quote, from what Mr Renouf said. He has given a version of what Mr Renouf said which is apparently a compound of secondhand newspaper reports and sheer imagination on his part.
I was prepared to give an answer on this matter this morning. I work fairly hard to try to obtain all the information I can to assist honourable senators at question time. I had prepared the following in case I had to provide an answer this morning. It was on 10 April that Mr Renouf gave a speech to a Legacy luncheon in Newcastle entitled ‘Foreign Policy and Community Support’. The speech touched on many issues of significance in foreign policy and made particular reference to the area of most topical concernIndoChina. Mr Renouf did refer to criticism that what Australia had done in Indo-China was too little too late, although he made no mention of the Opposition in his speech. In rebutting this criticism Mr Renouf reiterated what both I and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) had said both in the Parliament and by way of a Press release.
After the speech Mr Renouf was questioned by 2 reporters from the same newspaper about the feeling of officers of his Department in the light of Opposition criticism that they were not doing their job properly. Mr Renouf quite naturally replied that officers who had worked long and hard organising the Government’s assistance for Indo-China had been upset. This is a simple statement of truth. It is apparently an item of truth which the Opposition would prefer the public not to know about.
Secondly, Mr Renouf told the 2 reporters that there had been resentment at the criticism that the Embassy in Phnom Penh had been closed prematurely. Mr Renouf stated again, perfectly correctly, that the reasons for the decision had been the risk to the officers concerned plus the absence of vital interests remaining to be protected and the desirability of using Australian means in the evacuation. Had the Embassy not been moved out when it had and an Australian officer had been killed the Opposition would have asked why the officer had been left there and the Government would have been hard pressed to give an answer. Again, this is a simple statement of fact and again it is apparently a fact that the Opposition would prefer the public not to know about.
Mr Fraser who has berated Mr Renouf for breaching protocol and traditions rang Mr Renouf at his home on the night of 10 April and accused him of having broken a ‘cardinal principle of the public service’. Mr Fraser of course himself breached protocol by ringing Mr Renouf directly. 1 might say that up until this time Mr Fraser has at no stage given me the courtesy of any message concerning a matter which after all involved the Permanent Head of my own Department.
Let me conclude by saying that there has never been any question of the right of permanent heads, in explaining the Government’s policy and answering criticism of that policy, to quote what their own Minister and the Prime Minister have said in Parliament and by way of Press statements. I also believe that no person with even the faintest pretensions to fairness could object to a Permanent Head describing the reaction of his officers when, after working long and hard, both day and night on a difficult matter, the officers were accused of having done ‘too little too late’- in effect impugning their competence and dedication.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.54 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
Hobart Trades Hall Building
Trade Practices Act
Port Pirie: Wharf Facilities
Palestine Liberation Organisation
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Unfortunately, detailed information concerning the magnitude of delays in the provision of medical attention to casualties in accidents in country areas is sparse. The Department of Transport is currently sponsoring the development of a comprehensive plan for an in-depth study of accidents on rural roads in south-east Queensland. One of the factors to be studied will be the possible benefits of emergency roadside telephones, which will enable a proper assessment of their wider use.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 April 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1975/19750415_senate_29_s63/>.