30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 780 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That Medibank, as set up in July, 1975, has proved to be the cheapest and most efficient means of bringing health care to Australian citizens and that the citizens of Australia have received Medibank as a great and valued social reform.
That the above-mentioned form of Medibank has proved itself to be a far superior system of health care, than was offered by the private funds prior to July, 1975.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will observe the promise made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech that ‘We will maintain Medibank and ensure the standard of health care does not decline.’ During the December, 1975, election we believed that the Prime Minister was referring to the original form of Medibank.
We submit that the current changes to Medibank negate the original philosophy; they introduce and encourage a tiered form of health care which relates more to the wishes of health care providers than the needs of the consumers.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– The following petition has been lodged for presentation:
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled: The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the recent budgetary allocations endanger the quality of Australian education, especially for disadvantaged groups and in particular for migrants, Aboriginals and tertiary students from poor backgrounds.
Your petitioners believe that:
All persons admitted to institutions of Tertiary Education in Australia have a right to adequate living conditions and that it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to protect that right.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Ryan.
Notice of Motion
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to the protection of certain shipwrecks and relics of historic significance.
-Has the Minister for Education received a letter from the Chairman of the Education Sub-Committee of the AustralianGreek Welfare Society concerning the need for the establishment at a national level of an advisory committee on migrant education? If so, what action has he taken?
– I cannot recall having received such a letter. It may well be that I have. I shall make inquiries straight away and let the Leader of the Opposition have a reply.*
– I ask the
Minister representing the Treasurer: Do the 1975-76 primary producer incomes qualify under the income equalisation deposit scheme? Is the Minister aware that many farmers and their accountants have delayed completing their taxation returns because they are awaiting details of the way in which the income equalisation deposit scheme will operate? Can the Minister indicate to the Senate what provision has been made to allow farmers to complete their returns and, when the legislation has passed through the Parliament, allow them to have their taxation returns amended to include the income equalisation deposits?
– Honourable senators will remember that Senator Thomas asked me some questions about this matter a little while ago. I have received only today the details from the Treasury, which I can now pass on to Senator Drake-Brockman and also to Senator Thomas.
*See also page 1214.
Legislation to introduce a system of income equalisation deposits will be introduced into the Parliament during the present sittings along with other income tax measures arising out of the Budget. A reasonable period of at least a month after enactment of the legislation will be provided so that primary producers who wish to take advantage of the scheme in relation to income for the year 1975-76 will be able to do so. Where a deposit is made within this period the Commissioner of Taxation will ensure that any deduction to which the depositor is entitled will be allowed as a matter of course. Accordingly, primary producers and their tax agents should ensure that there is no delay in lodging income tax returns even though the taxpayers concerned may wish to take advantage of the income equalisation deposit scheme.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for Science, by reminding him of his statement of 20 May 1 976 in which he foreshadowed an internal inquiry into the maximum efficiency of usage of resources in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Can the Minister advise the Parliament of the progress of the inquiry and the names of the people involved in the investigation? What is the likely cost of the inquiry? What are the stated objectives of the inquiry? When is the inquiry likely to pass on its recommendations to the Government?
– A committee of inquiry into CSIRO has been appointed by the Prime Minister. So far as I am aware the committee of inquiry has commenced its work. I am unable to give the honourable senator an estimate of the cost of the inquiry although I anticipate that the inquiry will probably extend over at least a 9-month period. The personnel associated with the inquiry are Professor Birch of the Australian National University, who is an eminent chemist; Mr Russell Madigan, who is the Chairman of Directors of Hamersley Holdings, and Sir Cecil Looker who is a businessman in Melbourne. They are the three who are charged with the responsibility of this inquiry. It is my view and the view of the Government that this trio represents a unique cross-section of the type of advice which the Government would seek for such an inquiry. The depth of such an inquiry is particularly important to the scientific community and to all those who are associated with CSIRO. I believe that the abilities of these gentlemen not only represent the ranks of academics, businessmen, the legal fraternity- as represented by Mr Madigan- but also that a cross-section of the community which is represented by all those gentlemen. The Government feels that the inquiry will prove of lasting benefit to CSIRO. For the consideration of Senator Keeffe, I inform him that when the major research organisation of the Commowealth reaches an expenditure level in excess of $ 100m in any one year, it is not unreasonable that the people of Australia should ask that some review should be made of such an organisation. Such a review has not taken place within CSIRO since, I believe, 1946.
– I ask a supplementary question. When the report of the inquiry is completed will it be made available to the public?
-That will be a decision by Cabinet, but I will bear the honourable senator’s question in mind when that time comes.
-Does the Minister representing the Minister for Transport agree that Commonwealth projects such as road works and railways provide employment opportunities and, as such, should be given a high priority in the Government’s program? Has the Minister studied the report on the proposed routes for the Stuart Highway presented to Parliament last week? Is he aware that 2 alternatives were suggested out of a total of 8 routes considered? Realising that the State Government is also involved in this project, can the Minister say who is responsible for making the decision regarding the appropriate route to be followed? When is a decision likely to be made? In view of the condition of the existing road link between Port Augusta and the Northern Territory, which has always been a national disgrace, will the Minister ask his colleague in another place to exercise his influence to ensure that an early start is made on this important national highway?
– The reply to the first part of Senator Jessop ‘s question is: Yes, I recognise, and certainly my Govenment does, that the providing of employment, particularly in road making and other public works, has a high priority. The honourable senator asked also whether I or my colleague the Minister for Transport have studied reports regarding the Stuart Highway. The answer is that my colleague certainly has. I am acquainted with the statement which he issued last week. That statement certainly points out that the national highway between Port Augusta and the Northern Territory border should be constructed on a new and shorter route. That is the first point. As the honourable senator may know, the report was produced by representatives of the South Australian Highways Department, the Commonwealth Department of Transport and the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. Two alternative routes for the new road have been identified. Both are in the general vicinity of the present Stuart Highway but are about 200 kilometres shorter. The report recommends that the choice of route be decided by the Commonwealth and South Australian governments in consultation, taking into account, in particular, the long term future of the Woomera rocket range. I recall that the honourable senator had an interest in that matter. The Minister for Transport said that he hoped a decision would be reached shortly on a choice between the 2 alternatives. He pointed out that every effort would be made, when finalising the detailed alignment of the new highway, to take account of the environmental and sociological issues identified in the report, especially the possible effects on the Aboriginal population in the immediate vicinity of the new highway. I will draw the attention of the Minister to Senator Jessop ‘s request that an early start be made.
-Has the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs seen a statement in this morning’s Canberra Times by the national secretary of the Returned Services League, Mr Bill Keys, that the Cabinet has a proposal to increase the interest rates on defence service home loans. I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that during the reign of a Labor government the application of the old war service homes legislation was extended to further categories of ex-servicemen and women, at a higher interest rate. The benefits of that legislation were extended to all servicemen, including those serving in the defence Services but who may not have had war service. Has the Minister been consulted about this proposal? If so, has he issued any advice to the Government in respect of the proposition? In any consideration of an increased interest rate will he consult the RSL and will he use his influence to persuade the Government against increasing the interest rates from the levels which have been formulated over many years?
– I have had my attention drawn to some remarks made by Mr Keys, the General Secretary of the Returned Services League, in regard to the matter that Senator Bishop raised. I make it perfectly clear at the outset that it is the policy of the Liberal and
National Country parties- a policy on which we went to the election last year and a policy which my predecessor carried out and which I certainly will carry out- to consult with the RSL on any matters concerning changes in the whole repatriation system. Of course, my portfolio now includes the defence service homes scheme. As the senator would know, I only recently assumed the administration of the defence service homes scheme, and naturally I have been considering the matter, particularly some of the problems relating to it. They include the waiting time of 1 1 months, which in fact we inherited from the Government of which Senator Bishop was a member. The waiting time built up during that Government’s periods in office. Certainly it was not the case when the previous Liberal-Country Party Government went out of office in 1 972.
At this stage the administration of the scheme is in the hands of the Australian Housing Corporation. As the Senate would know, it is the intention of the Government to abolish that corporation and to place the administrative arrangements for administering the defence service homes scheme within my department. However, I will certainly bear in mind Senator Bishop’s comments in my consideration.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the South African Government’s proposal to make the area known as Transkei independent on 26 October, next week. Will the Government recognise the independence of the proposed state of Transkei? Will the Minister indicate the reasons for the Government’s position on the matter?
-The answer to the first question is quite simple. It is no. The answer as to the Government’s general attitude is also quite simple. I will read it because it is a statement of some importance. The Australian Government’s basic opposition to the philosophy of apartheid embraces also opposition to the policy of creating Bantustans, which constitutes an extension and consolidation of the apartheid philosophy. The Bantustans policy will lead not only to the fragmentation of the South African state and to the perpetuation of privilege for a minority but also to the dispossession of the majority of the people of South Africa. As such, the Bantustans policy has been condemned by the majority of the international community.
Without wishing ill to the people of the Transkei, the Australian Government does not find the arguments put forward in favour of the existence of an independent Transkei convincing and has serious misgivings about the process by which it is to acquire the status of independence. Furthermore, the recent rejection by homeland leaders of the Bantustans policy strengthens our view that the granting of independence to homelands is not the answer to the political aspirations of black people in South Africa.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory. Mindful of the assertion made in Ecos, an organ of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, that the Northern Territory is being overstocked by the cattle industry, can the Minister explain in full the recent illegal grazing of cattle in Northern Territory national park areas? What are the details of the subsequent confrontation that occurred between the park rangers and the cattlemen?
– I presume that the honourable senator is referring to a recent occurrence at the Daly River wildlife sanctuary. According to the preliminary information that has been given to me, this was a controlled exercise to preserve the habitat of the sanctuary itself. This matter is the responsibility of the Minister for the Northern Territory who, I understand, has received a number of complaints about the exercise. He has called for a full and complete report on the matter. I understand that that report has not yet come to hand and so at the present time I am unable to answer fully the honourable senator’s question. I will seek more information and give it to him in due course.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Is he aware of complaints by Amnesty International and other organisations concerning the actions of the military regime in the Philippines and the imprisonment and torture of political opponents, including the treatment of the Opposition Leader, Senator Aquinos? Has the Australian Government made any representations in respect of these complaints? Does the Minister envisage any action that Australia might take to influence the regime ‘s treatment of political prisoners, including a review of any foreign aid or other assistance to the Philippines?
-In response to the first part of the question, I have no personal knowledge of this matter. As to the second and third parts of the question, I will seek the information from my colleage
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Administrative Services. I refer to the decision of 28 August of this year to sell the equipment of the film processing laboratory of Film Australia. I ask the Minister: Did an auction take place on Thursday, 7 October, of the contents of that laboratory under the auspices of his Department? At the commencement of that auction did the auctioneer indicate that the entire equipment would be sold as one lot in spite of the distribution of an itemised catalogue which attracted a number of prospective buyers of individual items? Were the contents of the laboratory sold for the sum of $6,000 in spite of the fact that a conservative estimate of their value was $200,000?
-I have no knowledge of the matters raised by the honourable senator but I hope to obtain an early reply for him.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Education. I have received many representations, mainly from Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory, regarding the future of the Aboriginal teachers’ assistants scheme. In view of the need for Aboriginal teachers’ assistant on the settlements, does the Government intend to ease the staff restrictions on the Department of Education establishment to allow these most needed assistants to be employed?
– The Government and certainly I as a Minister are acutely aware of the very real importance and significance of Aboriginal teaching aides particularly in settlements and outstations. On a recent trip to the Northern Territory I spent most of my time trying to work out ways in which we could on the one hand gain more in numbers and on the other hand have better pre-service and in-service training to increase the basic skills and qualities of the teachers. We are currently looking at this matter very closely, and I hope that we will able to do something to increase the number of teaching aides in the Territory.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Education a question regarding the St Albans curriculum development project in Victoria. This project covered 6 primary schools, a high school, 2 Catholic schools and one technical school. Under the scheme 6 units had been established whose aim was to show that the literacy level in the area could be improved if an alternative approach to teaching were adopted. The scheme, which had the enthusiastic support of a lot of parents who regarded it as successful, was granted $43,000 in December 1974 and became operational in August 1975. The funds for this scheme were frozen on 10 August 1976 and no explanation was given; nor can the parents or the director obtain an explanation. Can the Minister tell us why such a scheme should have its funds frozen without any explanation?
-I suggest that the honourable senator put the question on notice. I shall get an answer for her.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to a report of a study by Professor Hollows on the disastrous state of the general health and the incidence of eye disease in Australian Aborigines in Central Australia? Since the data confirm the detailed findings contained in the report of the Senate Select Committee inquiring into the environmental conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, I ask: Can the Minister indicate what action is proposed to deal with the problem. What decisions have been made in relation to the measures proposed by the Senate Select Committee to improve the general health and the vision of Australian Aborigines?
– My attention has been drawn to the report that was made with regard to Aboriginal health in Central Australia. As I understand it, the Minister for Health will be making a statement on this matter. I have here a somewhat lengthy statement with regard to health services in the Northern Territory. But so far as the question directs my attention to the findings of the Senate Select Committee on this matter, I am unable to say what action the Minister has set in motion to take note of and act upon the recommendations of that Committee. I believe it is understood that we are all concerned about Aboriginal health. The matters that were raised in the Press and in other places today are the subject of concern to the Government, and have been on a continuing basis. I will seek from the Minister for Health an indication of his response to the recommendations of the Senate Select Committee report, and I shall advise the honourable senator accordingly.
– My question to the Minister representing the Treasurer concerns the departure of the Treasurer, Mr Lynch, from Australia tomorrow for a 9-day stay in West Germany where, it is reported, he will have talks with the West German central bank and with the Finance Minister of that country. Can the Minister say whether the purpose of those talks is to drum up a capital inflow from Europe to Australia in order to bolster the value of the Australian dollar, or is the Treasurer’s trip designed to further recent talks he is reported to have had with Mr Muldoon, the New Zealand Prime Minister, on the devaluation of the Australian dollar?
-I think it is quite well known to the Senate that these are not matters on which I can comment or on which I can give great information. I shall ask the Treasurer before he leaves whether he would like to discuss these matters with Senator McLaren.
– My question to the Minister representing the Treasurer refers to the recent joint announcement by the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Australian Society of Accountants on a form of inflation accounting for adoption in the preparation of the financial statements of businesses. Are the relevant departments undertaking a study of this statement with a view to assessing its affects on commerce generally, and on prices and investor confidence in particular? Will the Minister use his good offices to ensure that the corporate affairs commissions in the various States and Commonwealth territories adopt a common approach to the implementation of these proposals?
– I take up the suggestion made by the honourable senator. I have to recommend it to 2 colleagues, the Treasurer and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I am quite sure that the honourable senator will find that these various proposals are always examined very carefully. It is interesting to note, though, that there is a tendency for there to be a difference of opinion between accounting bodies, of which the honourable senator and I are both members, some company chairmen and some audit bodies. There is by no means unanimity on some of these proposals but they are being examined. I shall take the honourable senator’s suggestion to the 2 Ministers concerned.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Housing and Community Development. Has a proper environment impact inquiry been held into the major woodchip industry at Coffs Harbour? If not, is it proposed to hold such an inquiry? Has the Federal Department of the Environment, Housing and Community Development been involved in any environmental impact assessment of this proposal to date? Further, has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a report on page 3 of today’s Sydney Morning Herald in an article entitled Woodchips Showdown Today’ that the Federal Government is withdrawing from the field of environmental impact inquiries? When was this decision made? When will it take effect?
-As to the first 2 questions, I am unaware whether in fact the Federal Government has undertaken such an inquiry. I will seek out the information and let the honourable senator have it. As to the final question, if and when there is any change at all in the policies of the Federal Government regarding environmental impact studies, that will be announced. There has been no change.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Is the Minister aware of three disturbing reports relating to the economy which point to a failure of the 1976-77 Budget to alleviate economic problems in Australia in 3 respects: Firstly, the drop in capital expenditure plans by companies in the coming year which suggests an end to investment led recovery; secondly, the curtailment of the public works program; and thirdly, and importantly, the disturbing news from Europe which indicates that the low consumer spending rate, high unemployment, higher money rates and tighter control of the money supply are contributing to a further recession, despite the much heralded austerity measures introduced in 1975. Can the Minister comment upon these reports in the light of the Government’s own austerity Budget? Finally, can he provide an outline of what measures the Government intends to take to stop these socially disastrous trends in the Australian economy? If he can arrange for an interview with the Treasurer I would be pleased to discuss these points.
-I shall put it to the Treasurer that this great wealth of economic and monetary knowledge is here to be tapped by him at will. I do not have the details of the various reports to which the honourable senator has referred. He mentioned 3 separate reports. I have not details of those reports, but I shall look them up when I leave the Senate chamber after question time to see whether the honourable senator’s rendition of them is accurate. I made an analysis of the national accounts recently for the purpose of speaking to a steel convention in Perth and I think my speech gave an accurate rendition of all the information available to the Australian Government. It illustrated a recovery moving at about the right rate- a slow recovery, as was to be expected; uneven, as was to be expected. If the honourable senator will give me the documents that he has I will give him a copy of my speech, free.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. It follows questions asked by Senator McLaren and me last week regarding possible dangers to Australia’s livestock industry following the visit by the Prime Ministerial party to President Suharto’s farm in Indonesia. Last week Senator Withers stated the precautions relevant to the Prime Minister’s return, but journalists who had accompanied the Prime Minister returned to Australia by various direct and indirect routes over a period of several days and serious doubts remain as to whether adequate precautions were taken. To clear the matter up I ask whether the Minister will obtain for the Senate details as to the number of Australians who visited the farm and information on when and how these people returned to Australia. Can the Minister guarantee that the clothing of these people was correctly quarantined and fumigated?
– I undertake to refer to the Minister for Health the matter of adequate precautions in regard to the recent visit to the farm and obtain for the honourable senator details of the number of Australians involved, when and how they returned to Australia and the way in which their footwear and clothing were dealt with as a precaution against the entry of disease into Australia. I will ensure that the information is made available to the honourable senator as soon as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. The national apprenticeship assistance scheme, as I understand it, is designed to give an incentive to employers to employ and to help to train apprentices. In view of the fact that there will soon be an influx of school leavers into the labour force- this occurring within the context of the current high level of unemployment- will the Minister approach the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations in the other place to inquire whether the facilities and the ambit of this scheme could be expanded to assist these young people to gain useful employment and training?
– I will certainly pass on Senator Lajovic’s suggestion to my colleague, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I will endeavour to obtain as soon as possible his views on the questions asked by Senator Lajovic.
-I ask the Minister for Science: Have there been any reciprocal visits this year between Australia and India under the Science and Technology Co-operation Agreement signed in February 1975? If not, can the Minister indicate when the next exchange of personnel under this agreement is proposed?
– If I heard the honourable senator’s question correctly, he asked whether there had been any exchange of personnel this year under the agreement signed in 1975 with India. The head of my department, Sir Hugh Ennor, is presently overseas and will be returning to Australia through India. He will be making some arrangements with the Indian Government relating to exchange visits, between Australia and India. This year, to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any exchange of personnel.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. It relates to the cost of printing our present money. In view of the cost of printing $ 1 notes, their short life and their small value- the small value, I suppose, is due to the devaluation of the Australian dollar during the Labor Party reign- will the Minister once again ask the Government to consider minting $1 silver coins? Will the Government also take action to reduce the size of all Australian coins so that they are more correctly related to their present day value? Will the Minister also ask the Government to consider minting collectors’ silver $ 1 coins at special times, for example, following elections when they could, for instance, have the Queen’s impression on one side and the winning Prime Minister’s impression on the other side?
-I listened to the honourable senator’s suggestion with the greatest of care. The problem I have is that I get my hands on money so infrequently that I have difficulty in recognising the different coins. A 50c coin is in current use. If I have to carry a $ 1 coin around with me I will be in some trouble, simply on a sheer weight basis. I believe that the proposal that Senator Townley is talking about was suggested on Saturday. The question was raised whether we should alter the basis of printing and distribution of currency and the volume of currency. I know nothing about the matter. It is completely new to me. I will convey the honourable senator’s suggestion to the Treasurer but I doubt very much that anything can be done about it. I also doubt that anything along that line has been talked about. I think it is pure conjecture but I will convey the honourable senator’s suggestion to the Treasurer. I suppose we could also consider reintroducing gold sovereigns.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Has any protest been made to the Government of the People’s Republic of China regarding the nuclear bomb which was exploded by that country during the past week? If no protest has yet been made, will one be made?
-As I recall, I answered a question on this matter last week asked by Senator Sim. I think the information I gave then- I will check to see whether it is accurate- was that our Ambassador in China had been instructed to call upon the Chinese Government to make a protest on behalf of the people of Australia.
-Has the Minister representing the Treasurer noted the suggestions made by Mr E. G. Whitlam in the last week or so about a 5-point program to cure the economic ills of this country? Has the Government given any thought to the program? Has the Minister also noted that as of yesterday the 5-point program appeared to be reduced by one point, with the elimination of the proposed constitutional amendment in relation to prices under the benign influence of Mr Hawke? Is the Government impressed by this example of deflation in action by reducing his program so quickly? Is the Government impressed at all?
-Yes, I did read the proposal of Mr Whitlam. I think it was made on the same day that I delivered a paper at a Financial Times conference. I do not think the Government or myself would regard Mr Whitlam as being of any value whatsoever as an economic adviser. After all one has to judge these things on the test of the past and on what might be described as any demonstrable sign of competence in the field. There was never any such sign.
-I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General: Who requested and who authorised the presence of armed Commonwealth Police at the students’ rally in Ballarat on Thursday, 30 September 1976? I also ask why armed Commonwealth Police were on guard outside the office of Mr Short, the honourable member for Ballaarat on that same day.
– The Attorney-General is no longer responsible for the Commonwealth Police; I am.
-My leader, Senator Withers, rightly informs me that the AttorneyGeneral is no longer responsible for the Commonwealth Police and that he is himself responsible. As I am not aware of the details of the question asked by Senator Brown I will pass the matter on to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Withers.
– It is an easy error to make because the Commonwealth Police were for so long the responsibility of the AttorneyGeneral. I have no direct knowledge of the incidents to which reference has been made but I will seek the information for the honourable senator.
-Is the Minister for Science aware of the recently drafted Statement of Affirmation of Freedom of Inquiry and Expression by the United States National Academy of Sciences? Is the Minister also aware that members of the United States National Academy of Sciences have urged their scientific colleagues around the world to join them in signing the statement? In the light of information that I have received, that the attention of the chairman and the members of the executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has recently been drawn to this document, I ask: Will the Minister ascertain whether they have signed or intend to sign the statement and notify the Senate accordingly, bearing in mind that a failure to sign the statement could adversely reflect on the CSIRO and jeopardise joint United States-Australian scientific research projects?
-My attention was drawn to an article on this matter which was published some few months ago. To the best of my knowledge, there has been discussion about this matter, and a minute concerning the decision by the United States authority has come to me. No decision on the complete matter has been taken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, nor has anything concerning it gone over my desk. I do not recognise the disadvantage that may flow to Australia from the United States-Australia science agreement. The exchange of information between Australia and the United States has been very freely given over a period of years. Indeed there is great interest in U.S. research in this country. We should attempt to take the greatest advantage of the results of research that takes place in the United States. The research budget there has a limit of some $20,000m in any one year. It would not be to the advantage of Australia to inhibit the exchange of that type of information in any way. However, I will take up the matter and obtain an answer for the honourable senator in due course.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. What steps has the Government taken to implement the Racial Discrimination Act 1975? In particular, how many staff have been allocated to the Commissioner for Community Relations to investigate complaints of unlawful behaviour under the Act? How many such complaints have been investigated? Has the Government established the conciliation committees referred to in section 23 of the Act? If not, why not? Has the AttorneyGeneral appointed the members of the Community Relations Council, as provided for in section 4 1 of the Act? If not, why not?
– I have no detailed knowledge of the matters that have been raised by the honourable senator. Some information was given last week at a meeting of a Senate Estimates Committee with regard to the numbers of staff appointed to the Office of the Commissioner of Community Relations. As to the other matters raised, I will obtain the information from the Minister and see that the honourable senator is provided with it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. It concerns Medibank deductions which take into account lump sum adjustments postdated to a time substantially before the new Medibank scheme came into operation on 1 October this year. Is it a correct interpretation of the requirements of the Medibank scheme that wage adjustments involving lump sum payments based on decisions of industrial tribunals, some of which were initiated well before commencement of the scheme and the decisions post-dated many months, should be treated as earnings from the commencement of the scheme and the percentage levy applied accordingly?
– I am unable to give a definitive answer to the matters raised in the question. I believe that the question should more properly be directed to the Treasurer than to the Minister for Health but I will see that the information is obtained for the honourable senator.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs aware of reports that suggest that Australia might accept up to 100 000 immigrants from Rhodesia following the Nationalist assumption of power in Rhodesia? Has the Minister received any approaches by Australian commercial interests seeking to bring such potential immigrants to settle in Australia?
– The only information I have on the matter is what I read in the Press report. I will refer the question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– My question, which relates to superannuation, is directed to the Minister representing the responsible Minister. It is in response to a telegram received from the South Australian Public Service Association. Is it proposed to amend the Superannuation Act to deny the right to capitalise superannuation pensions and therefore deprive recipients of assets and savings accumulated for investment on retirement? Has the Minister received protests from Public Service associations in regard to this matter?
– I know nothing about this matter. This is the first news I have heard of any such proposal. If I can obtain the telegram from the honourable senator I will take up this matter, after question time, with the Treasury. I think it must be a Treasury matter.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. Has there been any change in policy in respect of a married pensioner’s entitlement to a standard rate pension if the pensioner is hopsitalised for a long term? If so, what are the present qualifications applicable in assessing the right of a married pensioner to the standard rate pension and supplementary benefits if the pensioner is a long term patient in a nursing home or hospital?
– There has been no change in policy with regard to the matters raised by the honourable senator. I will provide a written answer with regard to the detailed requirements of eligibility of a married pensioner for the standard rate pension in the circumstances the honourable senator mentioned.
-Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware of criticism made by Mr Hayes, the Victorian Minister for Planning, of the Federal Government’s 10.5 per cent Australian Savings Bonds issue and the recent issue of savings bonds at a lesser rate of interest? In his address Mr Hayes said:
Australian savings bonds rate was a significant factor in the financial difficulties of building societies.
This has contributed, in my experience, to the problems of building societies in Queensland. Can the Minister state whether Mr Hayes’ comments are valid? I believe them to be valid, but perhaps my opinion could be questioned.
– Hear, hear!
– I am right more often then I am wrong. Does the Government intend to take action?
– Take action against whom- Mr Hayes, Senator Georges- or in what area? This is an interesting subject on which I do not think I can help the honourable senator very much. There were some comments about savings bonds when they were first launched. They were certainly a success in funding the deficit quite early. I think they tidied up the situation of excess money supply. People were criticising the rate, but at the time the bond issues were launched I think they were necessary. They succeeded in getting quite an amount of money transferred to a fixed position. They have not been cashed back in at a rate of any consequence. They appear to be attractive to the savings people of Australia. I can say no more than that. I do not know any future intention. I see no problem because of their past issuance. I am quite happy to refer the matter to the Treasurer and ask him for an opinion for Senator Georges.
– I ask a supplementary question since the Minister appears to be in doubt as to the action which can be taken. Is the Government prepared to recognise the difficulty in which building societies find themselves? Is the Government prepared to give to those building societies which come near to collapse because of the withdrawal of funds from their deposits to be invested in government savings bonds at least the protection of banker of last resort, and so protect the building societies from falling into bankruptcy, as happened in Queensland recently?
– It was not the practice of the past Government, nor has it been of this Government, to give lender of last resort facilities to building societies. They are very much a matter for the administrative acts and supervision of the various States in which they operate. There certainly has been mixed performance in this field. In no way at all do I wish to cast any doubt on the building society movement. I never have. I think building societies are fine institutions. One must admit that there is a variety of management skills and performance demonstrated in their field. One can go no further than that. If Senator Georges has specific cases of building societies that are worrying him he should bring them to my attention, and I shall direct them to the Treasurer.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Science. I refer to a statement made on an Australian Broadcasting Commission television program at the weekend about an object in space observed at an estimated distance of 50 000 million light years from the earth. Is this the same object to which the Minister referred last week when he stated that the estimated distance from the earth ‘s surface was 10 000 million light years? Can the Minister say which estimate is accurate?
-The Four Corners program on Saturday night, when discussing the type of research which should be carried out in Australia, relating to whether pure science or task oriented science should be further encouraged, mentioned an interscan and it having to originate from astronomical investigations. It was stated that a quasar- that is a word which comes from quasi and stellar and means a starlike object- had been noted at 50 000 million light years away. I had stated recently that astronomers from the radio telescope at Parkes, after using the Anglo-Australian telescope at Siding Spring, had very nearly confirmed- I understand their paper will be issued shortlythat they had seen the most distant object ever seen in space. I understand that the United States of America noted an object which was said to be 5000 million light years away from earth. That distance was measured on the basis of light travelling at approximately 186 000 miles a second. The object that the CSIRO scientists found at approximately 10 000 million light years away was double that distance away. I noted that within a few days one newspaper put the figure at 25 000 million light years, and on Saturday night it was stated to be 50 000 million light years. There was an incorrect statement of the distance. The distance is said to be 10 000 million light years.
Honourable senators may be interested in the fact that the limits of the universe, which are said to be unknown, are rushing away from earth. It is suggested that with present technology we are unlikely to see any object that is more than 13 000 million light years away because that part of the universe is rushing away from earth at a speed greater than the speed of light. So the distance of 10 000 million light years on which I originally laid emphasis can be considered under present technology to be correct.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to reports that payments made to the victims of the drug thalidomide will pay taxation on the compensation they have finally been able to extract from the drug companies responsible for the misery and suffering caused to them and their families. If these reports are correct, will the Minister inform the House at what rate taxation will be applied to that compensation?
– The Treasurer and the Government are concerned about this matter and have been looking into it very carefully. I think the honourable senator’s apprehension will be found not to be justified. In due course the Treasurer will make a statement about the matter.
Deputy President, in view of the interest that the reply of the Minister for Science would afford to Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, the theorist on the expanding universe, may I suggest that his reply to the last question but one be sent to Cambridge University so as to bring it up to date?
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister and refers to a report in today’s Hobart Mercury dealing with the student demonstration yesterday against the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. The newspaper report states that the students arrived in a blue and white government bus and that one of the students said that the Australian Union of Students sponsored them together with other organisations such as the Malaysian Union of Students. Will the Minister confirm to the Senate that both of those organisations, according to the information given by the Government to Estimates Committee A, are funded by the Australian Government for activities amongst Australian and overseas students?
Does the Minister recall that on 13 October I asked him whether or not the organiser of the current protests against Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was funded by the Government? If he is able to answer now and if the answer is no, was the information given by the Government to Estimates Committee A deliberately misleading or just plain false? If the answer is yes, how can the Government explain its hypocrisy in extending the hand of welcome to Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and with the other hand giving away taxpayers’ money to organisations which use it for the purpose of demonstrating against heads of government from South East Asian countries?
-That is a long, involved question and I think that I ought to obtain a reply from the Prime Minister himself.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind him that today, 1 9 October, is exactly 8 months from 19 February, the day on which I first asked him a question concerning the report of the River Murray working party. I now ask him whether he recalls writing to me on 30 June to the effect that he expected to inform the Senate of the Government’s decision concerning the report and its recommendations in the near future. As this decision has not yet been announced and in view of the fact that all State Premiers have long since replied to the Prime Minister, can the Leader of the Government in the Senate say what he actually meant when he used the term ‘in the near future’?
– I am answering this question on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Resources. The last briefing note which I received last week said that one of the State Premiers had still not replied and that this was the sole reason why the report had not been released. I have no knowledge as to whether he has replied between Thursday of last week and Tuesday of this week. If he has so replied I will find out why the report has not been released.
-The Leader of the Government in the Senate may remember my placing on the notice paper earlier this year a question relating to the possibility of Ministers from the House of Representatives being invited to this chamber from time to time to answer questions without notice. In the light of the Minister’s reply on 27 April, in which he said that he would raise the matter with the Prime Minister to see whether anything could reasonably be done to overcome the deficiencies of the present practice, I ask whether the Leader of the Government has discussed this subject with the Prime Minister. If so, what was the outcome of the discussion?
– I am calling on my memory but I think that yesterday or last Friday I initialled an answer to a question on this subject which is being provided by the Prime Minister. I will check on that, but there is an answer coming from the Prime Minister himself on the honourable senator’s suggestion.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security. I refer to an article in the Melbourne Herald of 1 1 October. Is the Minister aware of the considerable concern being expressed by 166 Victorian community welfare organisations about the future of the Australian Legal Aid Office? Is the Minister aware that the welfare organisations firmly believe that persons in need who utilise legal aid service should be consulted about the proposed changes to the Australian legal aid organisation? I remind the Minister that 150 000 Australians utilise the ALAO. Further, can the Minister provide assurances that such a consultation between her Department and those who make decisions about the legal aid service will take place?
– I do not recall the article in the Melbourne Herald which the honourable senator mentioned but I agree that it is essential that those persons who need access to legal aid be able to receive it. The modifications that were made to the Australian Legal Aid Office earlier this year were designed to direct aid to those who are most in need of it. I will certainly see that my Department has contact with the Attorney-General’s Department to bring to its attention the concern expressed by the Victorian community welfare organisations. We certainly want to see that those people most in need of legal aid have access to the service. I will see what can be done to make sure that this occurs.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I refer to previous questions which I have asked him up to 6 weeks ago about the financing of ethnic radio in Australia and the joint statement issued on 14 October by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I again ask the Minister whether the Government has had discussions with the Australian Broadcasting Commission about the financing of ethnic radio within the budget of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. What is to happen to those ethnic radio stations licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act whose licences will expire on 30 October this year? Have they been advised of the situation regarding funding for their future operation?
-I regret that the honourable senator has not received an answer to a question he asked previously. I shall seek from my colleague an answer for that question and also for the question the honourable senator has asked today.
– I advert to a question asked earlier today by the Leader of the Opposition about a letter which he suggested had been written to me by the Chairman of the Education Sub-Committee of the Australian-Greek Welfare Society. I am able to indicate that in fact I did receive such a letter dated 26 August, and that in fact some weeks later I replied to that letter. The letter thanked me for having brought to the attention of the migrant community the fact that we had not cut expenditure on migrant education; it drew attention to the lack of good communication between the ethnic community and the Government, and it suggested that an advisory committee on migrant education might be set up. If the honourable senator so desires I will let him have a copy of my reply.
– I wish to add some information to an answer which I gave earlier to Senator Mcintosh in relation to the AustraliaIndia science agreement. During the calendar year 1976 one Australian has visited India and 2 Indians have come to this country. Professor Stapleton visited India in January 1976, and Dr Krishna Murthy and Dr Srinivasa Murthy visited Australia in September 1976. Those scientists attended for discussions in relation to refrigeration technology, and had further discussions on the subject of solar energy.
– For the information of honourable senators and pursuant to section 32 of the Homes Savings Grant Act 1964 I present the annual report of the administration and operation of that Act for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a report prepared by the Hospitals and Health Services Commission entitled ‘Health Transport Policies for Australia ‘.
Estimates Committee B
-! bring up the report from Estimates Committee B. together with the Hansard record of the Committee ‘s proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
Estimates Committee F
– I bring up the report from Estimates Committee F, together with the Hansard record of the Committee’s proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to make a brief statement in relation to the report.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I would like to read to the Senate part of the report and to make just one or two comments in relation to it. Paragraph 5 of the Committee’s report states:
During its private deliberations, the question of the general effectiveness of the scrutiny function of Senate Estimates Committees was raised.
The Committee believes that Estimates Committees have since their establishment, as miniature Committees of the Whole, played an important role in scrutinising proposed estimates of expenditure. However, because of the intermittent nature of their operations and with the increasing complexity of government administration, particularly during the past few years, the Committees have not been able to fully and effectively scrutinise proposed expenditures. We believe that this can be overcome by continuous research both by members and appropriate staff.
The Committee agrees with the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System that the scrutiny function of Estimates Committees could be enhanced and made more effective by providing them with both a full time function and full time staff.
The Committee recommends that Estimates Committees, as well as conducting the usual examination of Annual and Additional Estimates, be empowered to engage in a total and continuing examination of Special Appropriations because of the magnitude of such expenditures, which hitherto have never been subjected to the same degree of scrutiny as has been the case with the Annual and Additional Estimates which have been examined, often in minute detail by past Estimates Committees.
The Senate’s attention is particularly drawn to the fact that the sum of the Special Appropriations in I975-76 ($1 1,424,350,000) was 36 per cent greater than for Appropriation Bills (Nos 1-4) 1975-76 ($8,288,738,000) and the Advance to the Treasurer ($69,077,000). To formally refer Special Appropriations to the Estimates Committees would, the Committee considers, enable the Senate to maintain a constant, better and wider surveillance in this area of expenditure from the public purse.
The Committee further recommends that Estimates Committees be empowered to maintain a total and continuing examination of Government funded authorities which are not Departments of State. The Committee supports the observation of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System at page 5 1 of its Report. This course could be effected . . . ‘without prejudice to the right of the [proposed] House of Representatives Public Administration
Committee to scrutinise the financial arrangements of statutory and other government authorities. ‘. This view strongly accords with that of the Senate which resolved on 9 December 1971:
That unless the Parliament has expressly provided otherwise, there is no area of expenditure of public funds by Statutory Authorities which cannot be examined by Parliament or its Committees, and in this regard confirms the opinion expressed in the Report to the Senate by Estimates Committee B, viz.- ‘The Committee is of the opinion that whilst it may be argued that these bodies are not accountable through the responsible Minister of State to Parliament for day to day operations, Statutory Corporations may be called to account by Parliament itself at any time and that there are no areas of expenditure of public funds where these corporations have a discretion to withhold details or explanations from Parliament or its Committees unless the Parliament has expressly provided otherwise ‘. ‘.
This Resolution was re-affirmed in a unanimous resolution of the Senate on 23 October 1974.
The Committee acknowledges that the foregoing recommendations and observations may require a change in the Resolution which appointed Estimates Committees, but notes that such a wider and on-going role for Estimates Committees would, in general terms, be in line with the observations made in the Report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System at paragraph 179, namely:
The scrutiny function of the Estimates Committees could be enhanced by providing them with a full time function and full time staff’.
That is the part of the report of Estimates Committee F which I wished to quote. Having done that, I wish to emphasise that this huge relatively unscrutinised area of government expenditure, an area which increasingly has taken itself out of the purview and scrutiny of the Parliament, involves a very large expenditure- $ 1 11/2 billion worth of expenditure- of taxpayers’ funds in respect of which the Parliament has been steadily departing from its duty to scrutinise on behalf of the people.
I refer to the previously expressed attitude of this Senate in relation to the importance of the investigation of this area of expenditure and the fulfilment of the Senate’s role in effecting that scrutiny. I emphasise the importance of the role of the Parliament in continuing as a day-to-day operation, with sufficient backup support to enable it to do so efficiently, to scrutinise the Executive and its day to day affairs. Therefore, I strongly support the report of this committee as a further development of the role of the Senate. During the past 10 years or so I believe the role of the Parliament has been substantially lifted by the Senate, in the Australian parliamentary democracy. I believe that this is a further function which is now due- if not overdue- for development so far as the Australian Parliament is concerned and so far as the role of the Senate within the Parliament is concerned. It is therefore with great pleasure on behalf of that committeethe whole of the committee has discussed this matter- that I take this opportunity to make a statement.
– by leave- The weekend flooding in Queanbeyan and Canberra has aroused a great deal of public interest in the role of the Bureau of Meteorology in flood forecasting. For the benefit of honourable senators and members I now explain that role. For many years the bureau has provided a flood warning service for Australian rivers. This is part of a collaborative arrangement with other authorities including the civil emergency services responsible for looking after the community in crisis situations. The bureau is concerned in the first instance with predicting and watching meteorological conditions likely to produce heavy rain which would cause rivers to flood. When these conditions are expected, the bureau alerts the relevant authorities. For selected rivers that is, eleven in New South Wales, three in Victoria, two in Queensland and one in Tasmania, bureau hydrologists using observed and predicted rainfall, calculate for each of the catchment areas the volume of water expected to flow down the river, the peak river height at particular points downstream and the times at which the peaks will occur. For some other rivers, the bureau provides a reduced service of a similar quantitative nature whilst for the rest, it issues general warnings to the effect that minor, moderate, or major flooding as the case may be will occur.
In response to a request from the then Minister for Housing and Construction, the New South Wales regional office of the Bureau of Meteorology developed a flood warning system for the construction phase of the Googong Dam. This system is implemented by co-operative arrangements with the Department of Construction, the National Capital Development Commission, the dam contractor, the Australian Capital Territory Police and the civil emergency authorities.
The Bureau’s role is to give as much warning as is practicable of the probable occurrence of flooding. This is primarily a task for meteorologists. Once the rains start, bureau hydrologists working as I have explained before, calculate the expected run-off into the dam. River heights below the dam are then predicted by Department of Construction officers. At 9.45 a.m. on the morning of Friday, 15 October, the bureau issued its first confidential advice that a flood could occur. This advice was phrased and distributed in accordance with plans agreed by the relevant authorities. Those plans had been tested in simulation exercises conducted on 13 and 15 September. At 4.5 p.m. on 15 October the bureau updated the earlier advice. At 3.45 a.m. on Saturday, 16 October, a preliminary flood warning was issued for the Molonglo and Queanbeyan rivers. Subsequent warnings were issued at 7.35 a.m., 10.35 a.m., 2.25 p.m., 5.45 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the same day. Further warnings were issued at 1 a.m., 4.30 a.m., 7.15 a.m., 12.25 p.m., 4.5 p.m., 7.45 p.m., and 9.45 p.m., on Sunday, 17 October. Additional warnings were issued at 12.45 a.m., 4.15 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Monday, 18 October. Since then the bureau has been continuously watching the situation in the area.
I understand that the advance warning given by the Bureau was sufficient to enable engineers at the site to take the necessary precautions to minimise the risk of the dam wall failing. I understand also that the preliminary advices also enabled the emergency services in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory Police to be at the necessary state of readiness. I inspected the area by helicopter yesterday and, in the course of the flight, was briefed by officials on the arrangements and procedures used during the flood.
My judgment is that the action taken on the weekend reflects great credit on all involved. I pay tribute to them and place on record my pleasure in seeing at first hand the excellent contribution made by the Bureau of Meteorology. I congratulate all other authorities and the people who behaved so splendidly during the emergency.
– I seek leave to make a short statement following the statement made by the Minister for Science (Senator Webster).
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I wish to endorse the views put by the Minister for Science that the short term warnings provided by the Bureau of Meteorology from the afternoon of Friday, 1 5 October, and throughout the weekend were accurate and of great assistance to those responsible for making emergency arrangements over the weekend. I agree with the Minister that in the Australian Capital Territory as in Queanbeyan, both the police and the local emergency services deserve commendation. I checked with these services several times during the weekend, and at all times arrangements for emergency accommodation, volunteer assistance, food, clothing and so on were well under control.
The people of the Australian Capital Territory responded in a very constructive and generous fashion to the crisis over the weekend. The Australian Capital Territory Police and the voluntary services organising relief assistance were inundated with offers of accommodation, clothing, food and money, so much so that a media announcement had to be made requesting people to cease making such offers because the agencies could no longer deal with them. I think that bears mention. The assistance organised by the Australian Capital Territory Police, Australian Capital Territory emergency services and other organisations such as the Salvation Army was such that more than 1000 people were evacuated in Canberra and rehoused by other members of the community. I understand that about 5000 people were evacuated in Queanbeyan, and that the Australian Capital Territory authorities were able to send hundreds of volunteers to assist in the operations there.
I agree with the Minister that as far as what happened last weekend is concerned, people of the Australian Capital Territory and people of Queanbeyan may feel confident that the predictions by the Bureau of Meteorology and the organisation provided by the Police and the emergency services are adequate to deal with such a crisis. However there are some longer term measures on which the Government I hope will make some comments. I believe that the community needs assurance in 2 areas. The first is the question of longer term predictions of such floodings. We have now had 2 floodings in 2 years and there appears to be a change in the pattern of rainfall in this area. People who have houses in these areas would benefit from some sort of longer range predictions which would enable them to decide whether it is worth rebuilding and repairing houses that have been damaged or whether such floodings are to be very infrequent in the future. The other matter on which I think assurances are required concerns long term engineering plans for the catchment of waters in the area. There was some concern during the weekend when it was feared by some parties at least that the Googong Dam would not be adequate to control the flood waters and that there would be very serious flooding.
Another matter on which the Minister for Science may like to comment at some stage is the arrangement for the disposal of the debris and pollution that are caused by such flooding. Debris and pollution have flowed from New South Wales into Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra and, I understand, have now flowed into other parts of New South Wales. I think there should be a combined effort by Federal and State authorities to dispose of this pollution without any one authority having to bear the brunt of that operation. Further, the events of last weekend brought to light again the need for a national insurance and compensation scheme whereby victims of these unexpected floods are recompensed for any loss they may suffer. Finally, I agree with the Minister for Science that all people involved in the exercise over the weekend are to be congratulated for their efficient and effective operations.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till tomorrow at 3 p.m., or such later time as the President may take the Chair.
Motion (by Senator Georges)- by leaveagreed to:
That Senator James McClelland be granted leave of absence for 1 month.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
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 Guilfoyle) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill makes provision for a number of social security programs which give effect to the Government’s desire to assist people to overcome hardship and insecurity in ways which ensure that they retain the maximum scope for independence and achievement. The Government’s long term objective is to encourage the Development of an Australia in which people can have maximum freedom and independence so they can achieve their own goals in life in ways they themselves desire. The Bill makes provision for the following:
Increases in the standard and married rates of pensions;
The incorporation in legislation of the automatic adjustment of standard and married rates of pensions and benefits each 6 months;
The introduction of an income test for pensions replacing the existing test on both income and assets;
An increase in the rate of the handicapped child’s allowance;
Validation of existing procedures for payment of unemployment and sickness benefits in fortnightly instalments.
The total cost of the proposals contained in this Bill is $145m in 1976-77 and $222m in a full year. The total number of pensioners and beneficiaries who will directly benefit from these provisions is more than 1 850 000. The total payment by way of pensions and benefits that will be made this financial year is estimated to be $5, 178m which is a 32 per cent increase over payments in the 1975-76 financial year. This demonstrates the Government’s determination to ensure that those in real need are assisted.
Pension and Benefit Increases
The Government has given a commitment to protect social security pensions from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting pension levels each 6 months according to the movements in the consumer price index. In keeping with this commitment the standard and married rates of pensions and benefits will be increased by the percentage increase in the consumer price index for the March 1976 and June 1976 quarters. The standard rate of pension for aged persons, invalids, widows and supporting mothers, will accordingly be increased by $2.25 a week to $43.50 a week. The married rate of pension will be increased by $2. 10 a week to $36.25 a week, that is from $68.50 to $72.50 a week for a couple. These new rates will be payable from 1 1 November 1976. This will mean that the two pension increases announced for 1976 by the Government total $4.75 per week for the single rate and $8 per week for the combined married rate. In the case of age pensions this will require additional expenditure of $277m in a full year, bringing the total to approximately $2,485m at the end of the 1976 year in respect of 1.2 million age pensioners.
Unemployment and sickness benefits will be increased similarly, except for unmarried persons under 1 8 years of age who will continue to receive $36 a week. The rate of unemployment and sickness benefits payable to unmarried persons aged 1 8 years or more will be increased by $2.25 a week to $43.50 a week. The rate payable to married persons will be increased by $2 a week to $36.25 a week. The rate of additional benefit payable in respect of a dependent spouse will be increased by $2 a week to $36.25 a week. These new rates for the unemployment and sickness benefit will operate in respect of payments due on or after 1 November 1976. The proposed increases will apply also to 5400 handicapped persons receiving sheltered employment allowances in more than 120 sheltered workshops in Australia.
The Government has given a commitment to ensure that the value of pensions will be preserved in order to provide security to people in receipt of them. To do this we have promised and put into effect an increase in the rates every 6 months in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. We believe that it is important to legislate to make this 6-monthly increase automatic. For the first time since 1 944 this Government is providing by legislation for automatic increases in social services pensions and benefits. This means that these 6-monthly increases will be paid without the need for further legislation.
In May of each year the standard and married rates of pensions and benefits will be increased by the percentage increase in the consumer price index for the immediately preceding September and December quarters. In November the rates will be increased by the movement in the consumer price index for the preceding March and June quarters. The automatic adjustment provisions will not apply to unemployment and sickness benefits payable to persons under 18 years of age or to payments such as the mother’s and guardian’s allowance, additional pension and benefit for children, and supplementary assistance and allowance. The Bill contains a provision which ensures that existing pension payments will not be reduced as a result of the application of automatic adjustments.
New Income Test to Determine Pension Entitlements
The Government gave an undertaking that it would move toward replacing means tests with an income test with a view to not penalising those who have saved. The Government saw this as an opportunity to eliminate much administrative complexity. We are now taking steps to achieve this aim which we are confident will be of great assistance to persons reliant on pensions. Honourable senators will recall the comments made by Professor Ronald Henderson in his first main report on poverty where he considered that the existing means test which determines eligibility includes ‘a treatment of assets which is a relic of far less generous days’. He recommended that the treatment of asset incomes for pension purposes should be no different from other incomes.
In keeping with the Government’s determination to see that the recommendations of each of the poverty reports are carefully studied and assessed, and implemented wherever possible, the Government has adopted Professor Henderson’s suggestion. Under the existing eligibility test for pensions, which applies to all pensioners under 70 years of age except blind pensioners, it is obvious that the ‘means as assessed’ system of combining income and assets- or property- into a single figure for means test purposes involves anomalies and the LiberalCountry Parties’ social welfare policy provides for this to be altered to an income only eligibility test.
At present, for the purpose of determining the rate of pension payable, the total value of assets is brought into account by adding a notional 10 per cent of the estimated value of assets to any other income- other than income from propertya pensioner may have. This has meant that before becoming eligible for a pension many people may have run down their assets- except for their house and car, which are exempt. One anomaly arising from these arrangements has been that a person who has invested funds in a valuable home received a full pension whereas another person with the same funds invested in non-exempt assets might receive little or no pension, despite possibly having to pay for his accommodation. To remove the anomalies from the present arrangements the Bill replaces the existing means test with a test on income onlyincluding income from assets. The new income test will come into effect on 25 November 1 976.
Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the pension entitlement at various levels of income under the new income test.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I thank the Senate. The income test will mean a simpler and more easily understood test of eligibilty for pensions. Pensioners who will benefit from this change will include those receiving a part pension only who are currently earning less than 10 per cent on assets such as shares and debentures. In addition, some people disqualified from eligibility for a pension under the existing means test may now be eligible as a result of the new test. For the information of honourable senators, one example would be a single pensioner with assets of $20,800 providing a return of 8 per cent per year and with no other financial resources. Under the existing means test the maximum rate of pension is reduced by $500 a year or approximately $9.50 per week, giving a pension payable of approximately $34.00 per week. Under the proposed income test the pension will be reduced by $312 a year or $6 a week, giving a pension payable of approximately $37.50 per week. This means an increase of $3.50 a week in pension.
This progressive change, when considered in conjunction with the increases in pension rates to take effect from 1 1 November 1976, will mean that a single age or invalid pensioner without a child will, regardless of his assets, retain some pension eligibility until his income, apart from pension, reaches $ 107 a week or $5,564 a year. A married pensioner couple without a child would not have their eligibility extinguished until their combined income, apart from their pensions, reached $179.50 a week, or $9,334 a year. The result of the two pension increases that the Government has announced for 1976 means that the limit has increased from $5,070 to $5,564 for a single pensioner, and from $8,502 to $9,334 for a married pensioner couple.
Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows changes since November 1975 in weekly income limits at which the pension entitlement ceases to be payable:
The document read as follows-
– I thank the Senate. The Government has given special consideration to the situation of pensioners who are currently earning more than 10 per cent on their assets. A savings provision is included in the Bill to ensure that such pensioners do not have their existing pensions reduced as a result of the change from the present ‘means as assessed’ system to the new income only test. Pensioners in this situation will still receive the full increase to be paid on 1 1 November 1976. After the 1 1 November adjustment, where the pension being paid exceeds the pension entitlement calculated under the new income test the 1 1 November rate will continue to be paid, but future 6-monthly increases in pension will not be passed on to the pensioner until the excess entitlement has been absorbed, for example, in the case of a married pensioner couple with earnings of $40 a week and assets of $30,000 providing a return of 14 per cent per year.
Under the existing means test the maximum rate of pension is reduced by $801.50 a year or approximately $15.40 a week, giving a pension payable of approximately $20.85 a week. Under the proposed income test, the pension will be reduced by $1,121.50 a year or approximately $21.60 a week, giving a pension of approximately $14.65 a week. This is a decrease in pension of $6.20 a week. The savings provision will enable a pension to continue to be payable at $20.85 a week until such time as future 6- monthly increases absorb the difference of $6.20 or until the pensioner becomes eligible for a free of means test pension at age 70. Naturally the figures in the examples I am quoting apply so long as there is no change in the pensioner’s financial circumstances, which may in itself lead to a change in pension entitlement.
This procedure will also be adopted in the case of people in receipt of superannuation who have been specially assisted by a provision which has enabled them to capitalise their superannuation pensions. At present, if it is more favourable to the pensioner, the annual rate of superannuation is given a capital value and treated as property rather than income in the assessment of pension entitlement. People who have been receiving this concession will be paid their 1 1 November 1976 pension increase in accordance with the present method of calculation. Thereafter, as for pensioners with actual current income in excess of 10 per cent of the value of their assets, their pensions will not be increased until future 6-monthly adjustments have absorbed the excess between the 1 1 November 1976 pension and the pension entitlement as calculated under the new income test system. It is important to note that permanently blind persons in receipt of age and invalid pensions are currently entitled to maximum pension irrespective of their income or property. This has been the position since 1954 and it will remain unchanged with introduction of the income test. Additional payments for children of permanently blind pensioners apart from the first child are currently determined under the income and property test and will be subject to the new income test only as from 25 November 1976.
The new income test will also apply in determining eligibility for pensioner fringe benefits provided by the Commonwealth Government, including a pensioner health benefit card. A single person without child will qualify for fringe benefits provided his income, other than pension, is less that $33 a week. A married couple without child will qualify provided their combined income, apart from pension, is less than $57.50 a week. These limits will continue to apply to all pensioners including age pensioners 70 years or more whose pensions are payable free of the income test. It is important to note that savings provisions will ensure that no pensioner loses an existing entitlement to fringe benefits solely as a result of the change to the income test. Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard tables which show the limits of income which disqualify pensioners and recipients of sheltered employment allowance from eligibility to a pensioner health benefits card. As honourable senators will notice, the tables also show the pension and allowance entitlement at the income levels under the new income test.
The Government is confident that the introduction of the income test is a positive step towards eliminating administrative complexity and will greatly facilitate public understanding in a difficult area. It is important that social security pensioners and claimants be fully aware of the effects of recent changes to their pension entitlements and, where relevant, income tax and health insurance levy arrangements. I have asked my department to take every possible step to advise pensioners in this regard as a matter of high priority.
On pension pay day 28 October 1976 a leaflet will be included with all pension cheques explaining the conditions under which pensioners will qualify for a pensioner health benefit card under the new income test and who will therefore be exempt from the basic Medibank health insurance levy. The leaflet will also contain information on the income test and advise pensioners who are not entitled to a pensioner health benefit card and who decide to continue with basic Medibank that, if they wish, the health insurance levy can be paid by instalments during the year by arrangement with the Department of Social Security. In addition an information card will be included on 1 1 November 1976 with increased pension rate cheques. On that
date, all pensioners will receive the next 6- monthly increase in pensions. The card will provide further information on the new income test and will stress that there will be no reduction in existing payments to any pensioner solely because of application of the income test on 25 November 1976. Naturally, if there is a change in the pensioner’s financial circumstances that in itself may, as at present, necessitate a variation in the pension rate. The Department of Social Security in consultation with other departments will be arranging for the printing and widespread distribution of a comprehensive pamphlet which will provide further information on the new income test and on income tax and basic Medibank health insurance levy arrangements. This pamphlet should be a particularly useful reference to pensioners since it will contain ready reckoner tables which will give people a guide to their pension entitlements and to their eligibility for a pensioner health benefit card.
Honourable senators will recall that I recently announced a decision to include in departmental forms a special notice in foreign languages that a translation of the form can be provided on request. This new service is being introduced progressively as forms are subject to review in reprinting. Honourable senators will understand
that this facility will have to be extended gradually until the Department can acquire the services of the necessary translators. Because of the importance of the comprehensive pamphlet mentioned above I have asked the DirectorGeneral to examine the question of providing the appropriate information in foreign languages as well as in English.
Handicapped Child’s Allowance
The handicapped child’s allowance is to be increased from $10 to $15 a week. The handicapped child’s allowance is particularly designed to help the parents or guardians of severely handicapped children under the age of 16 years who need constant care and attention and who provide this care in the family home rather than place the child in an institution. Payments of this allowance are made at 4-weekly intervals and the first payment at the new rate will be made on 30 November 1976 with effect from 2 November. This allowance is currently being paid to the parents or guardians of over 19 000 severely handicapped children who care for the children at home. As I announced on 1 7 August 1976, new medical guidelines have been worked out in consultation with the Department of Health. One aspect covered by the new guidelines is the position of infant children. The new guidelines will provide that where an infant child is diagnosed as having a physical or mental disability, by reason of which the infant is likely to qualify as a severely handicapped child within the terms of the legislation, eligibility to the allowance will be recognised.
Fortnightly Payments of Unemployment and Sickness Benefits
Honourable senators will be aware that it has been the practice for some considerable time to pay unemployment and sickness benefits at weekly intervals. The large increase in numbers of beneficiaries during 1 975 had made it a very difficult task to avoid errors and delays in maintaining a weekly processing cycle. With the concurrence of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) a fortnightly payment cycle was introduced from March 1 976 as an experiment. This proved successful and approval has now been given to its permanent adoption. This Bill validates that procedure. In the past, payment of unemployment and sickness benefits has been related to a 6-day benefit week. A further amendment provides for payment to be related to a 5-day benefit week. The daily rate of benefit shall be one-fifth in lieu of one-sixth of the weekly rate. This practice which was introduced in conjunction with the fortnightly payment cycle experiment brings payment into line with the 5-day working week.
The estimated additional cost of increasing pensions and benefits in November is $135m in 1976-77 and $206m in a full year, bringing the total cost to $4, 120m in 1976-77 and $4,326m in a full year. The increase in the handicapped child ‘s allowance from $ 10 a week to $ 1 5 a week is estimated to cost $3.4m in 1976-77 and $5.2m in a full year, bringing total expenditure to $ 14.1m in 1976-77 and $ 15.9m in a full year. The change from the present means test to a straight income only test is estimated to cost an additional $7m in 1976-77 because of the additional pensions that will be payable as a result. As mentioned earlier, transitional arrangements will ensure no existing pensioner will suffer a reduction in pension as a result of the change. The Government is confident that the introduction of these measures will be of great assistance to pensioners and I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) 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 Guilfoyle) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. 77ifc- speech read as follows-
This Bill is consequential upon the changes to the Social Services Act 1947 and the Repatriation Act 1920 proposed in the Social Services Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1976 and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976. The primary purpose of the Bill is to vary the means test for pensioner health benefits provided for in the National Health Act so that it will remain in accord with the means test for ‘fringe benefits’ to be applied to pensioners under the Social Services Act. This will be achieved by amending the definition of ‘pensioner’ in the Act. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) announced in his Budget Speech that an ‘income test’ would replace the existing means as assessed test which combined property and income in assessing the means of an applicant for the pension. I said at that time that a corresponding change would be made to the special eligibility test applying to the issue of pensioner health benefits cards. The Bill provides for this change.
The opportunity is being taken to update the definition of ‘dependant’ in relation to a pensioner,to bring it more closely into line with corresponding definitions in the Social Services and Repatriation Acts. The new definition removes the upper limit of 2 1 years on the age of a student dependant, a condition which was not imposed under those other Acts. In addition, it extends the definition to include the children of de facto spouses and removes the existing requirement that, where a Social Services Act pensioner is involved in a de facto relationship, that relationship must have existed for 3 years before the de facto partner would be recognised as a dependant. The Bill provides for the preservation of the eligibility of those people who qualified as pensioners or dependants under present criteria, but may not otherwise qualify under the new provisions. It is expected that the implementation of the measures will, by extending eligibility both for pensioners and their dependants, cost $ 1 .8m in a full year for pharmaceutical benefits. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) 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 Guilfoyle) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
As with the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1976, the second reading of which I moved a short time ago, this Bill is also consequential upon the changes proposed in the Social Services Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1976 and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976. The Bill provides for the definitions of ‘eligible pensioner’ and ‘dependant’, in relation to an eligible pensioner, to be the same as those proposed for ‘pensioner’ and ‘dependant’, in relation to a pensioner, in the National Health Bill. This will preserve parity of means test provisions with those in the Social Services and Repatriation Acts. The Bill also provides for the preservation of the eligibility of those people who qualified as pensioners or dependants under present criteria, but may not otherwise qualify under the new provisions. Mr President, I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) 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 Durack) read a first time.
– I move:
The Bill represents a firm and substantial expression of the Government’s undertakings in respect of the repatriation system. The principal matters with which the Bill deals are amendment of the rates of disability pensions announced in the Budget, provision for indexation of the main repatriation disability pensions and introduction of the new test based on income only to replace the existing means test which has regard to a combination of property and income. I should like to remind honourable senators that this Bill must be considered along with and in the context of other recent announcements by the Government, in particular the recent statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) confirming the Government’s intention to retain the repatriation system and emphasised by his announcement of the change in the name of the Ministry and Department from that of Repatriation to Veterans’ Affairs with the additional functions of defence service homes and the Australian war graves. These initiatives, as honourable senators are aware, were very much welcomed by leading veterans’ organisations, All these changes indicate the Government’s interest in the welfare of those who have served their country in the defence force in war and peace. The Government has also demonstrated its concern for Papua New Guinea veterans by providing substantial increases in their pensions as from November. These increases have been effected by regulations under the Papua New Guinea (Members of the Forces Benefits) Act.
I shall now outline the specific alterations to which this Bill will give effect. The rates of payment of the various pensions referred to are in weekly amounts and will apply as from 4 November 1976. The Bill amends Schedule 2 to the principal Act to increase the special (T & PI) rate pension by $4.40 a week to $83.25. This will cost an estimated $2.748m for the remainder of this financial year and $3.967m for a full year. About 16 500 veterans will benefit by this increase. I remind honourable senators that the special (T & PI) rate pension is payable to those veterans who, because of Service-related incapacity, are totally and permanently incapacitated to such an extent that they are precluded from earning other than a negligible percentage of a living wage. This pension is also payable to those blinded as a result of their service and to certain double amputees, irrespective of employment, and to certain sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis and those temporarily totally incapacitated because of Service-related incapacity.
The intermediate rate of pension will be increased by $3.05 a week to $57.35, at a cost of $203,000 for the rest of this financial year and $293,000 for a full year. This increase will benefit an estimated 1 850 veterans who, because of Service-related incapacities, are able to work only part-time or intermittently. The general rate pension, which is payable to nearly 1 80 000 veterans, will be increased at the 100 per cent level by $1.65 a week to $31.45. There will be proportionate increases in rates lower than 100 per cent. The cost of this proposal will be about $4.47 lm for the remainder of this financial year and $6.45 9m for a full year. There are about 50 000 widows at present receiving the war and defence widow’s pension, which is payable where a veteran’s death is related to his service or where he was, at the time of his death, receiving or would have been entitled to receive a special rate of pension under Schedule 2 or under any of the first 8 items of the table in Schedule 5 to the Repatriation Act. The war and defence widow’s pension will be increased by $2.25 a week to $43.50. The cost of this proposal is estimated to be $4.062m for the remainder of this financial year and $5. 868m for a full year.
Other repatriation beneficiaries who are to receive an increase are Service pensioners, whose pensions are subject to the same increases as have been announced for age and invalid pensioners under the Social Services Act- $2.25 a week for a single Service pensioner and $2.00 a week for each of a married couple. This will benefit 98 600 veterans and 44 000 wives of veterans. All these increases have been based on the movement in the consumer price index for the 6 months ended 30 June last, in accordance with the announced policies of this Government. This Bill goes further in the implementation of these announced policies and provides for all of the pensions I have mentioned to be increased automatically in future as from the first pension pay day in May 1977 and thereafter as from the first pension pay day in each November and May, in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. These increases will be rounded to the nearest 10c a fortnight. Further, it must be emphasised that if, in any of these half-year periods on which the automatic adjustments are to be based, there is a fall in the consumer price index, these pensions will not be reduced. They will remain at the level which they have reached until the consumer price index level once again moves past that at which they have been previously set. Repatriation Service pensioners will enjoy the same protection by virtue of the proposals in respect of age and invalid pensions under the Social Services Act, which will have effect on the levels of Service pensions payable under the Repatriation Act.
The Bill amends the relevant provisions of division 5 of Part III of the Repatriation Act to apply to Service pensioners the new income test which is to replace the existing means test. The new income test, which will apply as from 25 November 1976, has already been explained to honourable senators by my colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). Many pensioners will be entitled to receive higher pensions as a result of the new income test, but there will be some whose pension entitlement under the new income test will be less than that to which they would be entitled under the existing means test. They will be protected by the Bill in that, unless their income other than pension changes, they will continue to receive the increased rate of pension payable from 4 November 1976 until such time as their entitlement under the new test equals that rate.
From then on, they will be entitled to each 6- monthly increase. In view of the nature of the change from the existing means test to the new income test, the existing provision applying to eligibility of Service pensioners for fringe benefits will no longer be appropriate. The Bill therefore restates that eligibility test, converting it into specific income levels at which eligibility for fringe benefits will cease. The specification of the income levels which will apply will make it much easier to identify eligibility, compared with the present requirement to consider amendments to the Social Services Act 1947-1968 which had the effect of alleviating the operation of the means test- a very difficult principle to follow.
As with protection provided in the change from the present means test to the proposed test on income only, the Bill will protect any Service pensioner entitled to fringe benefits immediately before 25 November 1976 whose entitlement to such benefits would otherwise cease under the new test. The Bill provides that such Service pensioners will not lose their eligibility solely because of the amendment specifying the limits of eligibility in terms of income. The Bill is therefore one of much substance and of importancean importance which is even more marked if, as I mentioned earlier, it is considered against the background of other Government initiatives in the repatriation field to which I have referred. Mr President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 9 September, on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of the Christmas Island Agreement Bill, which has been introduced by the Government, is to amend the Christmas Island Agreement Act in order to honour what the Minister for Adminstrative Services (Senator Withers) has said in his second reading speech is a moral obligation by the Australian Government to the long-term Asian residents of the Australian Territory of Christmas Island. I mention that the Bill was introduced into the Senate on 9 September last. The Bill in short ratifies an agreement entered into between Australia and New Zealand to amend the 1958 Christmas Island Agreement which was drawn up between those 2 countries in order to enable resettlement in Australia of anyone who had been on the island from 1 965 or before and who is still there- people who were brought there, in the language of public servants, on an indefinite term arrangement.
I will not go into the detailed history of Christmas Island. Having regard to the time and knowing that there are many matters with which the Parliament has to deal today, suffice for me to say that Christmas Island had been administered by the colony of Singapore since 1900, but that in January 1958 it became a separate British Crown colony, and that in October 1958 it became an Australian territory under the Christmas Island Act of that year. The Australian and New Zealand governments reimbursed the Singapore Treasury for the loss of revenue incurred by the Singapore Government following the transfer of authority over Christmas Island to Australia. After the Second World War the Christmas Island Phosphate Company Limited had found it impossible to resume its operations as a result of the activities that had taken place in the vicinity during the war. The Christmas Island Phosphate Company sold its undertakings and assets to the governments of Australia and New Zealand in 1948. The Christmas Island Phosphate Commission was established, as the result of negotiations between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand, by the Christmas Island Agreement of 1949, and that Commission employed the British Phosphate Commissioners as their managing agents to mine the phosphate deposits on Christmas Island.
The agreement entered into between Australia and New Zealand in 1958- of course, it is a schedule to the Christmas Island Agreement Act which was assented to in October 1 958 - provided for the establishment of a fund to honour resettlement obligations to the inhabitants of Christmas Island- I emphasise and underline these words- at the time of the cessation of the phosphate mining industry which, as the Minister has said in his second reading speech, is expected to be about 20 years from now. However, the latest agreement that has been signed between the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government- it was signed on 8 September as is set out in the Schedule to the Bill now before us- enables resettlement arrangements for the long term residents of Christmas Island to be made between the 2 governments henceforth by using the fund which was previously created rather than waiting until the cessation of mining operations. The Bill now before the House seeks ratification of the agreement that was entered into between Australia and New Zealand on 8 September. The Opposition does not oppose that proposal but we will be taking advantage of this legislation to move an amendment which seeks a general inquiry into the operations and management of the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and the British Phosphate Commission.
In short, the legislation means that the 1300 residents of Christmas Island who were there before 1965 can receive resettlement assistance for settlement in Australia when the Government finally determines the resettlement scheme or the resettlement policy. The Minister has already said in his second reading speech that 417 of the 1300 long term residents of Christmas Island are already Australian citizens. So those 417 people would be entitled in any event to come to Australia and settle here at any time.
Since 1965 almost all workers who have been taken to Christmas Island from Asia have gone there on a restricted term basis, that is, they have been recruited to work on the island for a period of 2 years and 9 months. They have been on the island on what is known as limited entry. Any of those people who remain for the full 2 years and 9 months and who wish to continue working on the island have, in the first instance, as I understand it, to leave the island and then renew their contractual arrangement for another 2 years and 9 months. In other words, they have to leave the island at the end of their initial period of 2 years and 9 months and then renew their arrangement. As I understand the position, if they wish to return they may do so under another limited entry arrangement of 2 years and 9 months. Therefore those people living on Christmas Island on what is known as limited entry arrangements would not meet the residential requirements, in normal circumstances, for Australian citizenship.
In his second reading speech the Minister was somewhat critical of the delay that has taken place in the implementation of the arrangements that were being made and that were originally announced by the McMahon Government in 1971 for the updating, or the modernisation or the bringing forward of the resettlement program. I rather feel that the Minister talks somewhat tongue in cheek on the matter because he would know that the agreement had to be negotiated between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand. He would know also of the political difficulties in Australia in 1974 when there was a double dissolution and again in 1 975 when there was a dismissal of a government and another double dissolution. He would also be aware of the fact that in 1 975 there was to be- in fact there was- an election held in New Zealand. All of those factors made it extremely difficult for the 2 governments at that time to get together at a mutually convenient time. I think it is fair to say, as we all know, the New Zealand Government was pre-occupied principally with its interest in the Banaban litigation which was going on in the British High Court.
In the few months that I was Special Minister of State in the Whitlam Government I had the officers of my Department conferring with their New Zealand counterparts, and I know that at the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government agreement had just about been reached between the officers who had been conducting the initial discussions for those proposed agreements to be considered by their respective Ministers. Indeed, with respect to my friend the Minister for Administrative Services, I might say that what surprises me is that it has taken 10 months for the 2 new governments of Australia and New Zealand to complete the final arrangements and the signing of the agreement. I therefore agree with the Minister when he says it is a matter of somewhat deep regret that the scheme did not eventuate during the years of the Labor Government. I assure him that had we not been dismissed from office things would have been dealt with long before this. What amazes me is the statement by the Minister in the second reading speech which says:
Once the Parliament ratifies the Agreement, work on the resettlement scheme can begin.
In fact, under the Labor Government a resettlement officer was appointed for the purpose of effecting a proposed resettlement program. A number of youngsters from Christmas Island had been awarded resettlement scholarships. Changes in the Island’s educational system had taken place to bring it into line with Commonwealth teaching standards and in fact a resettlement program was drawn up and was approved in principle. I have, for the benefit of everyone, a copy of the document that was drawn up at the time. The reference number on it, if the Minister wants it, is IDC080474. So far from saying that work on the resettlement scheme is now beginning to get under way, I rather feel that the Minister should be saying that the work has been well and truly detailed and that the scheme can be implemented at a very early date.
In the 3 years of Labor administration great social changes took place iri many facets of our life and great social changes took place on
Christmas Island. I think everyone who was associated with the Island in those years will give very loud laudation to the former Administrator, Mr Harry Webb, who was a member of this Parliament, and to Mrs Webb, both of whom did an outstanding job. Everyone has given credit for the work that they did and the way in which they did it. Whilst I think it fair to say that at one stage there was an accusation that Mr Webb’s appointment was a political appointment by the Labor Government, he did an outstanding job. I notice that the Minister laughs, but if the Minister spoke to the members of the British Phosphate Commission, to those who administer the Island and indeed to his departmental officers, I am sure he would find that all of them would agree that both Mr Webb and Mrs Webb did a tremendous job in bringing about understanding and co-operation between the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission, the British Phosphate Commission and those who were engaged to work on the Island. In their time there were great social changes. For the first time unions were registered on the Island. There was consolidation of pre-school, primary and secondary education so that now the Asian and European students all have the same teaching standards on the Island. The standard of teaching has been brought into line with that of the Commonwealth Teaching Service and, indeed, those teachers on the Island who had not reached the standards of the Commonwealth Teaching Service were brought to Australia for retraining. Technical education on the Island was extended to girls and health standards generally were stepped up.
Despite all those social changes the Opposition believes that the time has arrived for a general public inquiry into the terms of the Christmas Island Agreement Act and the operations of the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and the British Phosphate Commission. Forty per cent of Australia’s phosphate requirements come from the Island which is operated by the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and the BPC under an organisational structure which appears to have remained virtually unchanged for almost 30 years. The Opposition believes that nothing but good can come out of such an inquiry. New methods, new approaches and new ideas could well come forward. The terms of reference of the inquiry could be designed to enable the committee to lay down a blueprint for future planning of activities on the Island. For instance, questions that could be inquired into include: How much phosphate is now stockpiled in Australia as a result of the down turn in the use of phosphate in Australia by the rural industry? Can the Duchess deposits of Broken Hill South that have been found in the north of Australia meet any of Australia’s phosphate requirements? Why has the tiny Island of Nauru over the years made so much out of phosphate mining although no one can ascertain the financial position of the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission or indeed of the British Phosphate Commission?
I think we are entitled as members of the Parliament to know something of those details, but despite all the inquiries that are made those matters remain matters of secrecy. Yet the tiny Island of Nauru, which exists solely for the purpose of phosphate mining, has been able to develop the largest building in the city of Melbourne and indeed is able to operate an international airline. We suggest that the operations of the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission should be made more public than they have been to date. Such a public inquiry could well look at the future arrangements to be made for the recruitment of the labour to the Island, bearing in mind of course that mining operations will cease in 20 years time. It could well be that a further inquiry might suggest that labour at present unemployed in Australia ought to be directed to Christmas Island rather than importing labour from Singapore or Malaysia. I am not suggesting that that is an answer, but it is certainly a question that should be looked at. What will be the position in 20 years time? Will this Island lay barren? Will it be let go to grass, as the saying goes? Will it become a tourist haven?
They are only some of the questions that we pose- some of the questions that we believe need answers. For those reasons, whilst we do not oppose the passage of the legislation- indeed, we welcome the legislation- we move an amendment which is being circulated. I move:
I commend the amendment to the Senate.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-I briefly enter this debate on the Christmas Island Agreement Bill 1976. I have listened with interest to the comments of Senator Douglas
McClelland who basically indicated that he and the Opposition, which he represents, approve of the BUI and in fact support it. In response to the one or two elements which he mentioned as being referable to the contribution of his own Party when in government, I guess one might comment, as his leader in those days so often commented, that that is a matter of judgment. Christmas Island is an extraordinary island in the sense that it has only one effective element of economic operation. Christmas Island has been, is and will be, so far as it is possible to ascertain, totally dependent on the mining and export of phosphate rock. Consequently, this industry has a significant and a frightening restraint on the future of Christmas Island. I am sure that there has been a moral obligation on the pan of Australia, a moral obligation that has been accepted over the years referable to the circumstances which now appear to be only 20 years away, in which the very lifeblood of the Christmas Island community will have been drained away. Then Christmas Island virtually will have no future. This Bill seeks practically to implement the sort of things that must happen, to recognise that moral obligation and to solve the problems that will be faced by a community whose sole source of livelihood is seen to be running out in the relatively short term of 20 years.
Christmas Island has another peculiarity. It is an island which has no indigenous population and this, in a sense, has added to its problems. The people of Christmas Island have come there to work from other lands- from Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Consequently, they do not have a deep involved society of their own. Due to that lack of depth in their society they are faced with difficulties and problems and it is our duty and our responsibility to recognise and to solve those problems. Senator Douglas McClelland mentioned that in 1958, when the ultimate rundown of the supply of phosphate rock and the problems associated with it were recognised, we saw the necessity to establish a fund which was to be used ultimately to solve the problems of resettlement of the people who, over the years since mining operations began in 1899, had migrated to work on Christmas Island. That 1958 legislation and the fund that it established were proper and effectual except that in those days it was not clear that the supply of rock would run out in such a relatively short time. It was not determined then that resettlement from that fund should take effect at any time from that time on. It has become clear and evidentbecause of the facts I have mentioned- that we now have to approve this legislation so that the fund may be used from this point on effectively to resettle the people of Christmas Island as resettlement becomes voluntarily necessary. In 1965 there was a change in recognition of the rundown of the supply of rock and the fact that there were no alternative occupations available for the people of Christmas Island. There was recognition that from that time onwards labour forces in Christmas Island would come for a 3-year period and, at the end of that period, would undertake to return to their homeland. That has, of course, to some real measure reduced the problem of resettlement which applies to the long term members of the community of Christmas Island. I guess one could say that in 1 965 the problem, which was continuing, became more and more evident and was at least arrested.
Late in 1972 the McMahon Government approved a policy for the long term settlement of the people of Christmas Island. In April 1 973 the then Whitlam Labor Government endorsed that policy, and properly so. I believe it was a shame that so much time- 2 te years- had passed by without that endorsement being implemented by legislation. Senator Douglas McClelland has proffered some realistic and sensible reasons as to why it was not done and because he recognises that it should be done he clearly supports this legislation. However, the fact that what this Bill purports to do has not been done has led to a real measure of dismay, concern and uncertainty in the lives of the people of Christmas Island. Wherever there is uncertainty about the livelihood of people, social and economic problems will arise. In relation to the resettlement program, this legislation sets out to overcome those problems. It is important that the legislation be implemented forthwith so that the uncertainty, which surrounds the people of Christmas Island can, as far as possible, be removed.
The agreement between the Australian and New Zealand governments, which was reached in early September this year, has made it possible now to implement the legislation before us. The fund which was established in 1958 to which I referred earlier is to be built up by a levy on a per tonne basis of the phosphate produced and exported from Christmas Island. At this time, the levy stands at $4.5m. The amendment that we propose enables that fund to be used from this point on to resettle those long-term workers of Christmas Island by a voluntary and gradual process. I emphasise the need for a voluntary and gradual process because it has within it the very seeds of permanency and they are extraordinarily important. This legislation has the capacity to start that proper and sensible program of resettlement of the long term servers on Christmas Island in the country of their choice. I understand, to a large degree, that Australia will be that country.
The scheme seeks to allow about 300 qualified people to be resettled in each year. I think that, in itself, is a sensible part of the legislation. The fact that a relatively small number will be resettled each year means that, in all probability, they will be resettled in their various places of choice at a time and in a way which will enable them to become a properly integrated part of the community to which they move. At the same time, with the projected future of only 20 years for the rock phosphate industry, it is certainly not possible to allow any measure of distortion of the operation of Christmas Island itself. At the rate of 300 resettlements a year it seems unlikely that there would be any real distortion of the operation of the island. The people who are to be resettled are to be replaced by people who go to the island on a short-term 3-year basis, having given an undertaking to return to their homeland.
With those objectives the scheme seeks to establish a resettlement allowance for the people who are to be resettled from Christmas Island. It undertakes to pay all necessary fares. It undertakes to establish scholarships to enable those people who move to another country to further their education and in particular to further their technical qualifications to equip them to fit into the community in which they find themselves. It undertakes to help these people in a realistic way to find employment and housing in the country to which they move. Already some 450 people have moved from Christmas Island to the Australian scene, mainly to Western Australia- to the Katanning area and to the northwest. So far as I have ascertained they have moved into those areas with a great deal to offer and have settled in as good citizens.
I support this legislation. It is a realistic and proper measure designed to implement practically and sensibly a moral obligation that has existed over many years to a small island with pecularities relating to a single item economy and a society that has no indigenous population. It is with pleasure that I endorse the legislation that is before the chamber.
– Some considerable questions are raised by this legislation. I have not received any comfort from the words of Senator Scott. My impression of Christmas Island, which was gained when I was a member of the Public Works Committee which visited the island as part of an investigation to locate a site for a quarantine station, was that it was a well established community. It gave all the impressions of being substantially an indigenous community. I must question whether this legislation is as humanly effective as Senator Scott has indicated. I would have thought that care should have been exercised on the part of those responsible for Christmas Island in past years. I am not just pointing directly to the present Government and blaming it as its supporters have blamed us for every error that has occurred over the past two or three years. I would not take the Government to task for any errors which I believe exist in this legislation, but I say to the Government that it should have another look at this legislation. Perhaps it can do so by supporting the amendment that we have proposed, which suggests that an investigation should be made into the question of whether or not there is a future for Christmas Island. I believe there is a future for Christmas Island.
– We have to protect the booby birds.
-Perhaps that and that alone might be a worthwhile exercise. Not only do the booby birds need some protection and consideration but also the people who have lived on Christmas Island for quite some time need some protection and consideration. Perhaps they may wish to stay there.
This legislation is likely to take away a large number of qualified people from the island and resettle them in Australia. The desire to resettle in Australia could be based on the fact that many of the people receive one-fifth of the wages that they would receive for the same sort of work in Australia. That would be a considerable attraction to people to leave Christmas Island. Are we doing Christmas Island a service? I do not think we are. I believe that we should have looked more closely at the proposal in 1958 to set up a resettlement fund. The scheme should have been really a reserve fund and it should have been at a far higher level than it is. Since Australia took control on 1 October 1958, $300m worth of superphosphate- it was sold at a very low price, as I have pointed out in the Senate before in debates on superphosphate- has been taken away from the island. I take it that in the next 20 years because of the reduced rate of production, $150m worth or $200m worth of superphosphate could be taken from the island. I would have thought that sufficient should have been taken in royalties to create a fund to maintain an economically balanced community on Christmas Island. An amount of $4.4m out of $300m in the last 20 years is a very small sum to set aside. It would have been far better to have set aside a larger proportion of the gross product. If this had been done there would have been some chance not only for the resettlement of the people who wish to leave but also for the economic future of those who wish to stay on Christmas Island. What is the future of Christmas Island if all the qualified people are to be attracted to the better conditions in Australia? Will the island, as Senator Scott suggests, be merely a great mine employing only indentured labour from Singapore and Malaya?
– Guest workers. They are not indentured labourers.
-That would appear to me to be Senator Scott’s conclusion. I trust that it is not a conclusion that the Government will reach for Christmas Island. If we take 300 people a year from Christmas Island, in a little over 3 years more than 1000 qualified people who are entitled to come to Australia by citizenship rights will have left the island. If that happens I take it that the island economy will be maintained by indentured labour from Singapore and other places being paid again at a rate far lower than we should be paying anyone on an Australian territory. I think we ought to face that problem and ensure that whoever is employed on the island, no matter from where he comes, is paid at Australian rates. I know what will happen. There will be an outcry that the price of superphosphate will rise as a result. I do not think that anyone here really accepts that even in an area as far away as Christmas Island we should be paying coolie wages to produce on Australian territory a product that is to be used substantially in Australia.
– You could always increase the superphosphate bounty, of course.
-Yes, you could. If you want to subsidise superphosphate it should be done at the expense of the Australian taxpayer and not at the expense of people who come from Singapore and work possibly more vigourously than many of our Australian workers do and are paid one-fifth of what Australian workers receive for the same amount of work. I could get into a discussion with Senator Sir Magnus Cormack on this matter, but let me say that Christmas Island has an attractive community with a wide variety of racial and ethnic origins. I hope that there will be no discrimination in the exercise of this resettlement fund. I doubt that that will be the case -
– It would not be possible let alone be the case.
Senators GEORGES- I do not know. We apparently do some things with good intent but we find the result is very discriminatory. Our intentions are often denied. The workers of Asian origin employed by the British Phosphate Company received salaries of up to 5 times less than that received by their Australian counterparts. I have already referred to that. This is regardless of whether or not they have Australian residency. That, of course, is exactly what I said before. The desire to come to Australia is based on economic return rather than a desire to transfer themselves from the Christmas Island environment to the environment in Australia.
A union of Christmas Island workers has been created and it has put forward certain proposals, including a log of claims. I hope the phrase ‘log of claims’ does not make honourable senators opposite shudder. A log of claims generally asks for more than those who make the claims expect to receive. That is the nature of the game.
– It has to be within the ambit.
-Yes, it has. When I see the ambit of some of the claims made in New South Wales I often wonder whether we have reached the next millenium. Nevertheless, a log of claims has been submitted by the Christmas Island workers. Those claims have apparently not been heard. I think the Government is in the process of passing a regulation which will set up a tribunal -
– It has been set up.
– It has been appointed? I hope that the Government has appointed someone who is an active commissioner. I hope it is not someone who has retired. If the Government appoints another retired specialist to this areaof investigation it will possibly find that the claims will go on forever and the tribunal will never cease to meet. That happened with the inquiry into the Great Barrier Reef and it happened with the investigation of the Department of Repatriation. Retired people were appointed and they then had a vested interest in keeping inquiries going.
- Mr Justice Toose is still active.
-Is he? I beg the honourable senator’s pardon. I should have thought that he had retired after the investigation into the Department of Repatriation. I mentioned previously allegations of racial discrimination against Asian citizens. Allegations have also been made in relation to Government employees on the island. There are now 130 Government employees. Examples have been given to me of racial discrimination amongst Government employees. I could state a case and the Government could look at it. I instance the case of a consular clerk of Asian origin with 12 years service who is employed in the passports section. He receives a salary of $267 per month. The comparative rate in Australia would be no less than $710 per month. If I were a consular clerk receiving that amount on Christmas Island I should be the first on the list of those wanting to get to Australia and to be resettled there.
– But not to be repatriated to his own country.
-If he were repatriated to his own country he would possibly receive about the same as he is receiving on Christmas Island. What the honourable senator is saying is not really valid. In this sort of situation, when the economic difference is so great, these people would prefer to come to Australia rather than to return to their own community environment. It is the economic difference which attracts them and nothing more. In most cases, if it were not for the sharp economic difference they would prefer to stay in their own communities. They are generally happier there and would prefer that situation to a situation of considerable difficulty in an Australian environment.
I suggest that the inquiry should look very closely at these matters. The amendment that the Opposition proposes will allow for the establishment of a public inquiry into the terms of the Christmas Island agreement. The Christmas Island agreement is a rather strange agreement. There are commissioners who are, I think, still operative and who hold positions. I think that some of them should have retired long ago. I also believe that the Act is constructed in such a way that Australia, even if it desired to do carry out some beneficial reform, is limited by what New Zealand may require. It seems to me that New Zealand has a veto on what Australia might need to do or what Australia might have wanted to do in the past. That power of veto exists and I suggest that the inquiry should look at the Act and perhaps amend this right of veto on the part of the New Zealand Government.
It has been very difficult to find out exactly what has been earnt by those who work on Christmas Island and what has been earnt from the product produced on Christmas Island. It is only recently that figures have started to appear. The figure of $4.4m which has been revealed to be in the resettlement fund is a very small figure and one which should be subject to considerable criticism. Let me return to the point I wish to make. Christmas Island should not be abandoned. The situation on Christmas Island should be considered. The proposal to resettle should be considered in the new light that perhaps a Christmas Island community could continue to exist on the island. My proposition is that with the present rate of increase of the resettlement fund no real fund will be set up which will assist the maintenance of a community on Christmas Island.
I believe the island is worth developing and the community is worth preserving. If it is not the intention of the Government to consider the situation it ought to come forward and say: ‘When we are finished with Christmas Island; when we have taken out all the product; when we have resettled those who are eligible for resettlement, we will pack off all the others back to their various homelands and then we will give Christmas Island back to Singapore’. Is that the intention?
– Give it back to Bourke ‘s booby birds.
-If that is the Government’s intention, I suggest it ought to apply the same rules to several other territories which Australia holds. If Australia accepted this territory, or bought this territory in order to exploit it, perhaps we might think of the booby birds alone and the environment of the island alone and accept our responsibility to that part of the world.
I have raised doubts concerning this matter. I ask the Government to heed those doubts. I ask the Government also to take into consideration the views of the community itself. Are the Islanders happy with the resettlement proposals? I have the impression that they were not all in agreement with being resettled elsewhere. Nevertheless, if the island is to be closed down it is not a bad idea. The Opposition does not oppose the legislation, although I appear to have said quite a deal against it. The Opposition strongly supports the amendment which it proposes.
– I want to make a few comments on this matter. I intervene in the debate in order to comment largely on the broad idea of the integration of some Christmas Islanders into the mainstream of the Australian community. I raised this matter at a meeting last week of the Estimates Committee dealing with the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. I am concerned about the clarification of any Christmas Island practices regarding recognition of job occupation for those people when they arrive on the mainland. This situation has arisen in relation to far more distant places than Christmas Island. Even on the Australian mainland today one finds the case of a person who goes up to Dampier Sound with a boilermaker ‘s certificate or a stationary engine driver’s ticket from the Department of Labour in New South Wales. Unless this person has a ticket endorsed by the Western Australian State authority- I am sure that Senator Withers would appreciate the fact that one must live with the various State regulations- he could be in difficulty. This has happened to New South Welshmen in Victoria. One might have to wait a few weeks or longer until an inspector come up from Perth. I use that region as an example. I know that when former Senator Harry Cant was a member of the Senate situations arose in which he had to galvanise the appropriate Western Australian State Government department.
I think the Minister will appreciate my point. The people who are coming here should be able to find out in advance what is required so they can prepare themselves for any examination which they might have to face. I cite an extreme example. I had a case recently in which a chap was trying to tell me that the CSR Ltd recognised certain Fijians as boilermakers. I said that they might be if a pretty broad definition was used but that I doubted whether a tradesmen’s rights committee here would accept them as boilermakers. I do not put too much emphasis on my point. I believe that it is important for a person to know in advance- he might regard Australia as an El Dorado- because I would not like to see him bruised mentally if he is rejected for some job for which he might have the practical experience but for which he might not be accepted here. I simply leave it to the Minister. We know the operations of Commonwealth departments, but we know that various State departments are jealous of their own position. I think we should take an inventory of the labour position on Christmas Island and of the qualifications of the workers. We could probably talk to all the State Departments of Labour and Industry to see how they would respond. I leave that suggestion with the Minister.
– I reply firstly to Senator Mulvihills suggestion because it was one of the matters which I raised when I was on Christmas Island. Luckily for Christmas Island, the technical school there is run by the Centre for Educational Technology of the Department of Education of Western Australia and has Western Australian teachers. The headmaster or the principal, if that is his correct title, assured me that the certificates which all apprentices who pass through his hands receive were totally acceptable in Western Australia. Whether they were motor mechanics, electricians, boilermakers, carpenters or any other kind of tradesman, he assured me that they have no difficulty at all in having their certificates accepted. They get a Christmas Island trades certificate, which is the equivalent of a Western Australian trades certificate. Admittedly the certificates may be good in Western Australia only, but the people on Christmas Island are very perceptive. Most of them wish to go to Western Australia because the people who live in Western Australia are such nice people.
I return to the remarks of my friend Senator Douglas McClelland. I think one of the problems I encountered on Christmas Island- it was a natural difficulty which the people had- was that I was the fifth Minister to arrive in just over 3 years who said: ‘Yes, the resettlement program is about to commence’. They said to me, quite openly and quite frankly: ‘We have already had four of your sort of fellows here. You all come, you all make promises and nothing happens’. I think they were entitled to say it. I think there was a natural feeling abroad in the community that people flew from Australia, said kind and soothing words, but nothing happened. I said to them: ‘Something will happen this year’. With the passage of this Bill through the other place, as well as this place, the resettlement scheme will actually commence. It is for that reason that I thank honourable senators for supporting the Bill. It is a matter for history to judge, not for us to score points one off the other, as to whose fault caused the delay.
Senator Georges raised the problem about the New Zealand veto. That goes back to 1958. As I understand the proposition, it was part of the arrangement when the Government of the United Kingdom said that Australia could have Christmas Island. One of the conditions was that there would be this Australia-New Zealand agreement. We might be able to negotiate ourselves out of it, but one could well understand that the New Zealanders- no matter which Party was in power- would be somewhat reluctant to give up a very strong negotiating position. In my dealings with the New Zealand Government- the Minister in particular, and the officials in general- they could not be more co-operative on the whole range of matters concerning Christmas Island.
There were some general questions raised. I do not think we should ever refer to the people on the Island as indentured labourers. I think that has a connotation which is not true in 1976. The term guest worker is a quite well known term across Europe. Guest workers move from one country to another, work a certain period and go back to their homes.
– They still get paid the correct wage.
-I will come to that in a moment. The people who are employed on Christmas Island, whether they come from Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore or Malaysia, come voluntarily. There is no conscription. The jobs are advertised, they apply, they are accepted and they go. I think that ought to be quite clear. They know the conditions on which they go.
Now I come to the wage differential. It is very easy to pluck 2 figures out of the air and say: That is what you get in Australia, and that is what you get on Christmas Island.’ That really is a matter of judgment anyhow, but it ought to be remembered that the people on Christmas Island pay no taxes. Admittedly the Australians who receive Australian rates of pay also pay no taxes. I suppose it is fair to say that a person on Christmas Island who gets $20,000 a year is in effect receiving the equivalent of $45,000 a year in Australia, if we are talking about take-home pay. Whilst the Australians may be advantaged, it does not necessarily follow that the others are disadvantaged. Merely because someone is getting an extra benefit does not necessarily mean that somebody is disadvantaged. I think we ought to keep that in mind.
In any event, I do not believe it is my function to set the wage rates. For the first time an ordinance has been proclaimed setting up an arbitrator. Senator Georges said that he hoped it was not a retired gentleman. In fact he is a retired and a very distinguished gentleman. He went there in September to look at the log of claims. He opened the hearing. The unions said that they were not ready to proceed. So he is going back in November. The fact that the log of claims has not been dealt with is not the fault of the Government, the British Phosphate Commission or the arbitrator. The union will not be ready to proceed until, I think, 7 November. The arbitrator will hear the log of claims and no doubt make a decision. All the matters which might be canvassed as to differential rates for Australian residents, residents of other Territories or residents of Christmas Island ought to be properly argued before the arbitrator. We will accept his decision, whatever it is. I hope that all parties to the arbitration will approach it in the same light.
There seems to be some sort of an idea about that the resettlement is to be in Australia only. It is not. Those entitled to resettlement have an option. They may be resettled in either Singapore or Malaysia, or they can opt for Australia. As far as I have been able to ascertain from my moving around the island, everyone wants to come to Australia. Maybe they regard it as an El Dorado. Maybe they will be bitterly disappointed.
– They will get paid 5 times as much as they are getting now. Why wouldn ‘t they want to come here?
-There are a number of reasons why people wish to come to Australia. People come to Australia from all over the world. It is not just because of wage differentials. Even my great grandfather came to Australia. Even Neville Bonner’s ancestors, about 26 000 years ago, for some reason or other, came to Australia. So we are all immigrants in this country.
– It was more like 40 000 years ago.
-I am told it was 40 000 years ago.
– You are as bad as Senator Webster. He doubled the ante.
-I sound like Senator Webster with his light years. All sorts of people have come to Australia for all sorts of reasons. I think we should be proud that people on Christmas Island want to come here. I do not think they are just coming here for the money. They are coming here for other reasons. I believe we should not always think of Australia as a place to which people come just to get money. I think that denigrates our country. We have many other things to offer people who come to live amongst us.
The Christmas Islanders may have some problems settling in. I have seen only a section of one community group in Katanning in Western Australia. The shire president, the shire councillors, the schoolmaster or any range of people in that town all say: ‘They are first-class citizens. We could not wish to have better people living amongst us. We do not care how many more come’. They have had enormous acceptance. Their employers say that they are hard workers. They are honest people; they are thrifty people. They are about to build their own mosque. They are a very good community. As more of the Christmas Islanders come to Australia they will do a lot in this country to counter so-called racial discrimination and silly ideas people have about those of a different colour. It is my understanding that in Port Hedland also, where many of them are employed by Goldsworthy, the same impression is left. The local people say: ‘They are good citizens; they are hard workers. We ought to have more of them. They are very fine people’. Therefore I look forward to more of them coming to Australia and joining the many other ethnic groups which have come to Australia, mainly in the last 200 years but also in the last 40 000 years, to make Australia a better place.
– They did not come here to be confronted with want. They had plenty of that where they came from. They came here for different reasons.
-I will not ask the honourable senator about that. The Government will not support the amendment moved by Senator Douglas McClelland. For the life of me I cannot understand what a public inquiry would do. Maybe we would get one of Senator Georges’ retired judges to spend three or four years looking at the matter at the cost of a couple of million dollars. I do not see why a public inquiry should be held into the terms of the Christmas Island Agreement Act. It is all there for everybody to see. One can read the plain language of the Agreement. Most lawyers understand it to be in plain language. A number of honourable senators have been to Christmas Island. They have been able to make their own judgments as to what has happened there and they ought to be able to criticise what is wrong with the Act and what is right with the Act. I would not necessarily say the Act is perfect. I am continually asking questions about it myself.
As Senator Douglas McClelland said, the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and the British Phosphate Commission have been operating on Christmas Island since 1958. They have been there a long time. The Government recently appointed Mr Timbs, a new Australian commissioner, to both the British Phosphate Commission and the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission. He was previously a departmental head. Knowing of his energy and his inquiring mind, I am certain he will be the best person to advise the Government in the immediate future on what he sees as the defects, if any, of both the CIPC and the BPC. Mr Timbs has been a commissioner for only three or four months. I think he ought to be given an opportunity to settle into his job and to make his own inquiries. I am certain that if he believes that there is something that could be improved in either of the 2 commissions or in the Christmas Island Agreement Act he will inform me, and his advice will be well worth receiving. I would prefer going through that operation to indulging in a public inquiry. I trust I have satisfied the queries that have been raised. I thank Senator Scott and the other 3 senators who spoke for their support of the Bill.
That the amendment (Senator Douglas McClelland’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I would like to ask a quick question. During the second reading debate I referred to the resettlement fund, which amounts to $4.4m, compared with a product valued at $300m. I wonder whether the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) can give me some sort of projection of what amount the fund is likely to reach over the next 10 to 15 years.
– To which clause are your referring?
– I believe that this is contained in the Schedule to the Bill. If the honourable senator desires, I can start to look at the Bill a little more closely and ask a few more questions. This is an important question. I want to find out exactly what we can expect to have in the resettlement fund over the next 10 to 15 years.
– The brief answer that I have been given is that when the resettlement is finished there should still be $lm over. How much will be generated each year depends on how much is taken out. I am told that the expectation is 1 million tonnes a year at 10c a tonne, which means that the resettlement fund will get 10c a tonne.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Withers) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 12 October, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose this Bill to establish an Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations. In fact we welcome the conservative parties’ new found realisation that local government is an important facet of any federal system of government. But what sort of Council is the Government establishing? As the legislation is now framed we suggest that it will be a toothless tiger. The Council will have no real powers. There is no indication of when it will be established. We do not know whether its inquiries are to be held in public. We do not know whether its reports will be made public. We do not know who will be its members. In short, we are debating the Bill in the absence of real information about some of its most important aspects.
What we do know is that this Council, established to promote harmony and co-operation between governments, has caused a disturbing degree of dissension between governments, and it is not the Labor States which are involved in this dissension. It is the National Party Government of Queensland- the Bjelke-Petersen Governmentthat appears to be sabotaging the Government’s attempt to promote intergovernmental harmony. What a farce it is where a proposal intended to promote co-operation between governments can in fact intensify hostility between the Fraser Government and the conservative States. What a tribute it is to the blunderings of this Government. What a commentary it is on the anti-social destructiveness of the BjelkePetersen Government. What an insight it is in to the latent hostility between the so-called partners of the coalition.
That the Queensland Government should object to the Advisory Council on InterGovernment Relations because of its local government representation may surprise many, but it will not surprise anyone with any knowledge of the history of neglect of local government by various conservative governments throughout the years. The States have neglected and dominated local government. It is this which, I suggest, gives the lie to the conservatives’ professed concern for real federalism, because if they truly believed their own protestations they would be making a much greater effort to support local government against the domination of State governments such as that in Queensland. The key to real operative federalism lies in the status and financial viability of local government.
Conservative people such as the Premier of Queensland and members of the present Federal Government are wont to proclaim the virtues of decentralisation often and loudly. What they should remember is that only when local government and communities have a real share in the exercise of power and decision-making can those virtues truly be said to exist. Let us look at the arrangements, of benefit to local government, to which the National Country Party appears tobe objecting. The Advisory Council provides for 6 local government representatives. Initially there were to be three, but the Fraser Government has managed to see the absurdity of having only 3 local government representatives on the Council when there are 6 local government systems in Australia. One wonders what the queensland Government can find to object to in that. One wonders even more, when it becomes quite plain that local government will be subordinated to the States and the Commonwealth. As the Bill stands, the Advisory Council is empowered only to consider matters which are referred to it from the Premiers Conference or by a majority of the 7 governments throughout Australia. Local governments have no opportunity under the Bill to refer matters to the Council on their own initiative. All such references must be through the relevant State Premier.
So again I ask rhetorically: What is the Queensland Premier worried about? The transcript of the Premiers Conference of last April reveals that Mr Bjelke-Petersen had this to say:
I was afraid that we would read a situation where local authority would want to go direct to the Advisory Council rather than to the Minister for Local Government in the State.
Unfortunately, for I believe this to be a retrograde step, I would have thought the Fraser Government had empowered the Council in such a way as to make nonsense of these fears. I suggest that there can be only one answer to the question: Why does the Queensland Premier still hold out? The answer is that the Queensland Government wants to maintain local government in its traditional position of thraldom to the States. Mr Bjelke-Petersen, it appears, is determined to deny local government any independence whatever, and even a lame duck Advisory Council is seen as a threat if local government has equal representation. That could be construed as his seeing local government as equal partners in the federalist arrangement, and the Government of Queensland is determined that that shall not be. I urge the present Government and the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) not to cave in to the Queensland Premier on that issue.
I want to talk in more general terms about the attitude of the conservative forces towards local government, because the proposal before the Senate at the moment to some extent dovetails with their attitudes. In October 1973 the nonLabor Premiers rejected the right of local government to participate in Loan Council meetings, and every non-Labor Premier and every
Federal Liberal and National Country Party member actively opposed the ensuing referendum on local government finances. Last year it was proposed to the Constitutional Convention in Melbourne that a referendum be held to enable the Parliament to grant financial assistance to local government bodies in the same way as it has always been possible to grant assistance to State governments. All Liberal Party supporters who attended that Convention voted against the proposal.
Let me now look at the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The Commonwealth Grants Commission Act, which was introduced by the Fraser Government, removes all reference to local government from the responsibility of the Grants Commission. Indeed, local government now is to be financed by grants distributed through the States on a per capita basis. Gone is the undeniably sound principle behind Labor’s reforms, namely, that local regions and local councils should be assisted on the basis of need. Now any additional funding on the basis of need or for special need will be done through State governments and local government grants commissions. I suggest that a sort of bureaucratic nightmare is being or has been created. What sort of administrative tangle is being set up by this Government which has never been slow to describe in the most vivid of detail the evils of a growing bureaucracy? We will have not only 6 separate grants commissions but also we will have State departments of local government, as well as the Advisory Council which is proposed to be set up by this Bill. A cobweb of bureaucratic entanglement has been weaved by the Government in its federalist policies.
Other aspects of the present Government’s handling of the Grants Commission give cause for concern. It was revealed on 16 September during the hearings of the Senate Estimates Committee that the Commonwealth Grants Commission currently has an approved establishment of 67 positions. At no stage did the Commission ever have a staff of 67, although in July-August of last year when the Grants Commission really had under way its investigation of the financial requirements, on a needs basis, of local government throughout the whole of Australia it did have a staff of 54; but its staff now numbers 37. As a result of the Federal Government’s Public Service cuts it now has a staff ceiling of 30. So it still has to reduce its existing complement by a further 7 staff members. It is to have a staff of 30 out of an approved establishment of 67. An organisation that has built up experience and expertise is being destroyed by this
Government which professes to believe in true federalism. I suggest that to reduce by nearly half the staff of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, with all its expertise and the knowledge that it had available to it, is a shameful situation. It virtually is to be disbanded. Its local government functions are now to be curtailed. In its obsession with cuts for the sake of cuts, the Government is allowing a qualified pool of expertise on the problems of regional finance to be needlessly dispersed.
Let me now say something about the actual amount of money allocated in the Lynch Budget to local government. Despite all the bombastic posturing about devolution of power, the heaviest cuts in spending in the Lynch Budget were not in the Federal Government’s own services but in outlays to the States and local government. To support the pretense that funds for local government are increasing the Government continually makes what I suggest is a totally dishonest comparison between outlays under the Lynch Budget and those which Labor provided as a result of recommendations that it received from the Grants Commission after the Commission had conducted detailed inquiries into the economic needs, on a needs basis, of local government. I think the Minister for Education has often said that we provided $79.9m in untied grants to local government last financial year compared with this Government’s allocation in the Budget for this financial year of some $ 1 40m, an increase of 75 per cent. I think I have quoted the Minister correctly. However, the true position is contained in table 99 which appears on page 123 of Budget Paper No. 7. The table is headed ‘Summary of Commonwealth Government Payments to or for the Local Government Authorities’. That table shows that in the financial year 1975-76 more than $274m was provided by the Hayden Budget under that heading as against $195,263,000 under the Lynch Budget. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– Into this sad and discriminatory picture comes the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations Bill. In his second reading speech the Minister stated:
It is designed to strengthen the Federal system by giving the States and local government an assured source of revenue; by matching revenue to responsibilities and by a more appropriate allocation of functions among governments.
The record shows that the present Government, in its total obsession with the States, has little concern for the real fortunes of local government. It has established the Advisory Council along lines which are in keeping with that record, by making local government very much subordinate to the States. What is an ‘appropriate allocation’, to use the Minister’s term, for local government? The Minister demonstrated in an unnecessarily abrasive answer to a very fair and legitimate question asked by him in this place on 21 September by Senator Devitt that he really does not care so much for the problems which are forcing local governments in some areas to put up rates by as much as 20 per cent, despite confident government assurances that increases would be contained to 5 per cent this year. As I understand it, those assurances were given by this Government, and certainly they were assurances given by the local government organisations. All the Minister could think to do was to make political capital by using a question, which I suggest deserved a considered and reasonable answer, to go on another of his counterproductive Labor Party bashes.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Prio to the suspension of the sitting I was referringto an answer from the Minister for Education Senator Carrick, to my colleague Senator Devit during question time about a fortnight ago in respect of the finances of local government, particularly as they related at that time to Tasmania Senator Devitt had drawn the attention of the Minister to the fact that rates in local government areas in Tasmania were likely to rise by as much as 20 per cent, despite assurances that had been given to the people of Australia, in the firs instance by the local government association and, secondly, by way of support, as it were, by the Government, that rate rises would be contained probably to as low as 5 per cent this financial year. It appeared to me that in reply the Minister was trying to make political capital out of the question by answering it in that way rathe than give a considered and reasonable answer.
I contrast the Minister’s answer tomy colleague Senator Devitt with the answer by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in another place on 6 October to a similar question by a Tasmanian member of the House of Representatives. At that time the Prime Minister madeit clear that he had some sympathy for the plight of local governments and for the plight of rate payers. I felt that in his reply he gave a reasoned and sensible answer. If I might say so, there was no joy in his answer so far as local government was concerned. It showed that the inflexible doctrinaire formula, which is the pattern of this
Government’s ideological federalistic straitjacket policy would not be varied in any way. In other words, the Government was saying that if local government authorities were forced to increase their rates that would be regrettable but, in the Prime Minister’s words, that was their own business. If local government authorities wish to provide an essential service, or what they considered to be an essential service, to the ratepayers and if it was not provided by the Federal Government or by the State government, then the local government authorities would have to increase rates to provide that service. That appeared to me to be the policy of the present Government. I suggest that that sort of policy breeds inequality and does not look at the needs of local government as they should be looked at.
I do not suppose the Advisory Council is likely to vary the pattern of local government subordination to State Government and, at least on the evidence thus far available, I suggest that this was a golden opportunity for the Government to redress this imbalance. We of the Labor movement sincerely trust that the motion to set up the Advisory Council, as has been proposed in this legislation, will be successful, but because of the attitude that has already been adopted by the Queensland Government we doubt the effectiveness of it. I suggest that it is to be regretted that the Government has not seen fit to use this opportunity to make local government a more genuinely equal partner in the federal compact, the 3-tier system of government in Australia in real federalism- Federal, State and local government. I suggest that this can be done only if local government is to be completely free from State control in its dealings with the Advisory Council.
Having made those remarks, as I emphasised, despite our criticism of the legislation, we of the Opposition do not oppose it, but in the Committee stage we will be moving amendments that we believe will more democratise the activities of the Advisory Council and will bring about a more effective and better say for local government in the concept of federalism that has been enunciated. I do not oppose the motion that the Bill be read a second time.
– I support the comments made by Senator Douglas McClelland. Although I do not oppose this Bill, I think it is necessary to comment on the Bill itself and on some of the occurrences which have taken place recently which may affect the outcome of this legislation after it has been passed. Let me say at the outset that I think this Bill shows, perhaps for the first time, that the Liberal Party and the National Country Party in this chamber have given some recognition to local government in Australia ‘s federal system. That recognition is in this Bill, but I think it is probably somewhat incidental to the purpose of the Bill itself. Nevertheless, we do see in this Bill that local government has been given a real place in the 3-tier system of government that we have in Australia. This Bill apparently is part of the Government’s so-called new federalism. New federalism, by the way, is probably an old federalism that has been brought back. It seems clear to me that the new federalism proposals that are propounded by the Government are not wanted by the majority of people. There has been only one election in which this policy was specifically in issue and that was the New South Wales State election in May. It was a real issue then and the people rejected the proposal of new federalism and elected the Labor Party to office in that State. But it was not only the electors in New South Wales who rejected this concept of new federalism.
I would like to quote from a statement on this very issue by a Councillor Rogers, President of the Queensland Local Government Association. On 3 September the statement by Councillor Rogers was reported in the Cairns Post. I think it is relevant to quote from that article headed ‘OLGA chairman not happy with the federalism policies’. The article in part read:
The Government’s new federalism policies could have a serious financial effect on Local Government, the president of the Queensland Local Government Association, Cr F. E. Rogers, warned yesterday.
Cr Rogers told delegates at the association’s annual conference in Cairns he believed in the long term local government could find itself in a worst financial situation than the past two years.
He said: ‘I do not think any thinking person would deny that the former Whitlam Government introduced many programs which were beneficial to the Australian community -many of them probably long overdue particularly in the areas of social reform.
It appeared that, under the Whitlam Government, local government started to make some headway.’
While there was a tremendous amount of confusion and overlapping and all local government was not given the opportunity to participate in some specific purpose programs, at least local government was receiving forms of relief not previously available to it, ‘ Cr Rogers said.
He is concerned at the over-zealous attitude of the Fraser Government in their efforts to dismantle so many of the worthwhile reforms introduced by the Labor Government.
I received something today which suggests to me that Councillor Rogers may have a point. Today I received an answer to a question that I placed on notice some time ago. I had asked what funds had been allocated by the Australian Government to the State of Queensland for sewerage backlog programs in each financial year since 1969-70 and what funds had been allocated by the Australian Government to the State of Queensland for sewerage backlog programs for this financial year. I also asked which local councils in Queensland would have to postpone sewerage construction works to which they were already committed for 1 976-77.
The answer to the questions shows that until 1973-74 there was no financial assistance for sewerage backlog programs. In 1973-74 there was $2m; in 1974-75, $13.7m; in 1975-76, $ 13.2m; and for this financial year there was $lm. Part of the reply that I received today said that it is not likely that any reduction need occur- that is, reduction in sewerage construction programs- due to the additional $I0.2m made available to local authorities in Queensland under the Commonwealth’s unconditional general revenue grants scheme. It is quite true that an extra $ 10.2m was made available to Queensland this year under the Commonwealth’s unconditional general revenue grants scheme. I must admit that since receiving that answer I have not had the opportunity to examine it fully to see whether in fact that $ 10.2m will make all that much difference. Indeed, the amount of $ 10.2m together with the $lm that has been provided this year for the sewerage backlog programs will not reach the amount allocated in the previous financial year.
In the Budget papers I notice that an increase was given to local government throughout Australia for general purpose assistance. This was the particular item that was mentioned in the answer to the question that I put on notice. In fact in 1975-76 $79.9m was allowed for general purpose assistance for local government. The estimate for this year is $140m which is quite an increase, but when we look at the other items for which grants have been made to local governments through, I presume, the States, we find that direct payments last year were $109m. This year they are $17m, which is quite a dramatic drop; and for other payments through the States $82. 9m was allocated last financial year. In this financial year, that $82.9m has been reduced to $35.7m. Overall, the table shows that $274m was made in payments to or for local government authorities last year and this year the amount of $195m was allocated. It seems to me that perhaps that extra $10. 2m payable to Queensland will have to take up some of the slack that will be evident because of lesser payments in those other categories. As I said earlier, I have not had the opportunity since receiving an answer to my question this afternoon to go through in detail what has happened in
Queensland. It seems to me that there is some point to what Councillor Rogers said.
With regard to the Advisory Council for InterGovernment Relations, there is already ample machinery for Commonwealth-State dialogue through the Premiers Conference and the Loan Council. The Constitution provides for the InterState Commission which, if operating, would be a further forum for consultation between the Commonwealth and the States. The main weakness which has occurred in consultation has occurred with local governments, the governments closest to the people and the governments which, traditionally and unfortunately, have been starved for funds. It seems to me that it would be difficult to expect that if the Constitution was being framed nowadays there would still be no reference to local government in that Constitution. I suspect that because there has been no mention of local government in the Constitution it has become a very poor relation in Australian government.
This Bill finally gives some recognition to local government but local government will still retain its role as a serf. It is very much tied to the States. Further the provisions of this Bill still very much tie local government to the States.Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill outline how matters will be referred to the Council from the Premiers Conference or by a majority of the 7 governments in Australia. Local governments themselves will still have to go through their State Premier, as is outlined in the second reading speech, if they want something to be brought before the Council. Thus local governments have 2 hurdles to face. Firstly, they have to convince their State Premier and, secondly, he has to convince the other Premiers at the Premiers Conference. This aspect of the Bill, I think, could have dire consequences for local government in Queensland. 1 say this because of the peculiar situation which has arisen in Queensland over the establishment of this Council. It has already been mentioned that a recent suggestion has been made that the Queensland Government will not participate in this Council. This should not be surprising if one has read the transcript from the Premiers Conference last April. I should like to relate to the Senate some of the remarks made by Mr Bjelke-Peterson last April. Certain of his remarks have already been quoted by Senator Douglas McClelland but I should like to refer to them more extensively. At that Premiers Conference Mr Bjelke-Petersen said:
I think that I was the only one who opposed the setting up of this Advisory Council last time because I was afraid that we would reach a situation where local authority would want to go direct to the Advisory Council rather than to the Minister for Local Government in the State. That has already happened in Queensland. I have received a letter from the Lord Mayor in a capital city saying that he wants a particular matter to be decided not by the Minister for Local Government but by this Advisory Council. I am deeply concerned that we will reach a situation where these matters will be taken out of the hands of governments and direct to the AdvisoryCouncil.
It is apparent that the Premier must have been worried that he would lose his traditional domination over local government. Now that there will be 6 representatives for local authorities, the Premier will not have anything to do with the Council. It seems to me that it is most logical that we should have 6 representatives from local authorities. It would be most awkward to select fewer than six when we have 6 State areas from which representatives can come. The Queensland Government did not want to consult on this matter but it came out and directly attacked the Federal Government on the proposal. I should like to refer to a report which appeared in the Courier-Mail on 25 September in which the Premier and his Deputy attacked the Federal Government. Part of that report stated:
The National Party Premier (Mr Bjelke-Petersen) and the Liberal Deputy Premier (Mr Knox) joined yesterday in an attack on the Federal Government. The Queensland Premier and Deputy Premier said the Federal Government had fumbled’ over the proposed formation of a new Council for Inter-governmental Relations . . . Queensland’s objections are that the Federal Government ‘broke’ a Premiers Conference agreement and that under the new proposal, local government would have the same total representation on the council (six) as the State Governments.
The joint statement by Mr Bjelke-Petersen and Mr Knox said: ‘Queensland will not recognise the new council. The Federal Government has unilaterally changed the terms of an agreement made at the last Premiers Conference. Queensland therefore regards that agreement as null and void. Even if the council is established, Queensland will not appoint representatives to it, will not contribute to its upkeep, and will ignore its deliberations and recommendations. Queensland will participate only on the original terms, which include three representatives of local government instead of the six now proposed by the Commonwealth.
Further on the article read:
Unless the Federal Government reverts to the agreed number of representatives on the council, Queensland will: Inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate that the legislation introduced by the Prime Minister does not have Queensland’s consent or agreement when Members and Senators come to debate the second reading, reserve the right to take any other appropriate action, to include if necessary action through the Queensland Parliament’.
It seems to me to be rather unfortunate that this has happened. After all the Council is being set up so that there can be dialogue between the 3 tiers of government. I wonder where this will lead local government in Queensland. I suggested earlier that local government had to get over 2 hurdles to get its proposals before the Advisory Council. If Queensland does not participate it appears to me that local government in that State will not even be able to get over the first hurdle and will not get its proposals before the Council.
There is also the question of what will happen with regard to the cost of the Council. It seems from the statement by Mr Bjelke-Petersen and Mr Knox that Queensland ‘s share of the cost of the Council will not be paid. I think I read somewhere of a cost of $21,500 for Queensland. Given the promise of the Council it is imperative that Queensland should participate. I urge the Government to use its persuasive powers on Mr Bjelke-Petersen and his Government so that it will participate in the Council when it is formed. I can see a grave danger for the Council itself if Queensland does not take part. If Queensland does not participate the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations may never get off the ground. Clause 8(5) shows why. In part it reads: the Council shall not commence to perform its functions until its membership consists of not less than 12 members and includes not less than 4 members each of whom is appointed on the nomination of the Premier of a State.
If Queensland opts out and by some means persuades 2 other States to opt out, the Council will not get off the ground because there will not be 4 members each of whom was appointed on the nomination of a Premier of a State.
It was mentioned in the second reading speech that the United States Advisory Commission on Inter-governmental Relations has been taken as a model for the body which this Bill will establish. I am not convinced by the statement in the second reading speech which reads:
The Commission is a successful and highly respected body which has done much to improve the American Federation.
I do not question that it is a respected body. It certainly has published many reports, but what influence it has had in the United States of America is doubtful. I am fearful that unless there is a genuine spirit of co-operation the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations will have little influence. There must be this cooperation because if various governments decide to adopt a belligerent attitude the Council will not get off the ground in the way it is intended. I can see that the Council has much promise.
This spirit of co-operation does not exist now. On 30 September it was reported, again in the
Queensland Press, that the Queensland Government was taking a stance which displayed anything but a spirit of co-operation. The report in that newspaper read, in pan:
The Queensland Government is considering asking other States to form a joint States’ committee to watch the FraserAnthony Federal Government for any infringement of States’ rights . . . The proposal was made by Mr Porter (Lib., Toowong). The Premier (Mr Bjelke-Petersen) and the Deputy Premier (Mr Knox) agreed to consider it.
Later on the article said:
Mr Knox sought and received support in the Parliamentary Liberal Party meeting early yesterday for an expected battle with the Federal Government over various issues. Government members said that with a proposed reduction in Federal income tax next year, the States could receive less money and be expected to impose their own income tax.
Again I think it is unfortunate that the State Government takes this attitude. The proposed Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations would be an excellent forum for the Queensland Government to bring its problems to if it thought any aspects of Federal Government legislation or Federal Government behaviour were not conducive to good government in Australia in the sense that Federal Government action was cutting across matters which the State thought that it should control.
I must admit that I find this Government’s new found concern for local government a little perplexing. I can vividly recall the campaign for the 1 974 referendum proposal that local governments be given the right to participate in Loan Council meetings. The referendum proposal was opposed by Liberal and National Country Party members in the House of Representatives and senators in this House, and they opposed it again in the campaign. Despite the campaign the referendum was carried in the largest State, New South Wales. Throughout Australia, despite the concerted campaign, 47 per cent of the people voted for the referendum proposal. If this Government is showing a genuine desire to recognise local government I applaud its approach. The Bill itself, of course, will do nothing to alter the disabilities from which local government has suffered since Federation. The reasonable autonomy, reasonable financial independence and reasonable access of local government to the Federal resources of this nation still need to be guaranteed. I hope that this Bill is a harbinger of better things to come for local government in Australia. In that respect I support the Bill.
– I rise under standing order 364. Earlier in his speech Senator Colston quoted in part from an article in the Cairns Post. I would like you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to ask
Senator Colston to table the full text of the article from which he quoted.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- Senator Martin, if you require the article to be tabled you should move that the document referred to be tabled.
– I move:
– Is it acceptable for me at this stage to ask that the whole of the document be incorporated in Hansard! I quoted all but 2 paragraphs.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-
Senator Colston, I take it that the matter which you want incorporated in Hansard is an extract from a newspaper and that it is quite capable of being produced in Hansard.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, I was asking for the whole of the article to be incorporated. As I recall, it is a very long article which appeared on the front page of the Cairns Post. I did not realise that Senator Colston quoted all but 2 paragraphs of that article. If he wishes to seek leave to incorporate the entire article in Hansard, I am happy.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-
Thank you. I was seeking to ascertain whether the material is capable of reproduction in Hansard. Leave is sought for the incorporation of certain material in Hansard. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
The Government’s new federalism policies could have a serious financial effect on Local Government, the president of the Queensland Local Government Association, Cr F. E. Rogers, warned yesterday.
Cr Rogers told delegates at the association’s annual conference in Cairns he believed in the long term local government could find itself in a worse financial situation than the past two years.
He said: ‘I do not think any thinking person would deny that the former Whitlam Government introduced many programs which were beneficial to the Australian community many of them probably long overdue particularly in the areas of social reform.
It appeared that, under the Whitlam Government, local government started to make some headway.
While there was a tremendous amount of confusion and overlapping and all local government was not given the opportunity to participate in some specific purpose programs, at least local government was receiving forms of relief not previously available to it, ‘ Cr Rogers said.
He is concerned at the over-zealous attitude of the Fraser Government in their efforts to dismantle so many of the worthwhile reforms introduced by the Labor Government.
Dearth lt was significant and ominous that there has been a complete dearth of comment from the politicians since the magnanimous announcement that local government would receive $ 1 40m, 75 per cent more than last year.
I seriously suggest that the $140m will not be 75 per cent more than local government received from Commonwealth sources last year, but only some 40 per cent of the $343m provided for in last year ‘s budget. ‘ Cr Rogers said.
Motion- by leave- withdrawn.
– I have much pleasure in speaking on this Bill to establish an Advisory Council on Intergovernment Relations. I congratulate the Government on the steps it is taking towards making its federalism policy viable. I congratulate the Opposition for not opposing the Bill which comes before us tonight. I do not intend to speak for very long but there are some rather interesting aspects to this Bill that I wish to raise. I wish to refer particularly to the fact that 2 speakers already have seen fit to mention events which are occurring in the State which I represent.
However, I wish first of all to say a few words about the federalism policy and the aims of the Advisory Council. In his second reading speech the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs (Senator Carrick) said that the 3 main designs of the federalism policy were to strengthen the federal system of government under which we live in Australia, to give the States and local government an assured source of revenue to match revenue to responsibilities, and to make possible a more appropriate allocation of functions amongst governments. I think all honourable senators would applaud that aim because that is what democracy is all about. A very simple principle of administration operateswhether it be Public Service administration, administration of a business or administration of a country- authority and responsibility cannot be divided. The duties which are given to our various forms of government in Australia under the Constitution are their responsibility. The means by which they achieve them which, in the main part, is the revenue to which they have access is the authority by which they can carry out that responsibility.
The Federal Government, in its federalism policy, is attempting to make the responsibilities of the Constitution match the means of the different levels of government to meet those responsibilities. That is terribly important.
We should all hope that this policy will work because the whole basis of the system is that people should be able to direct their own destinies. By the division of the responsibilities between Federal Government, State government and local government areas the aim, of course, is that people ought to be able to indicate what they want done with their own funds, for their own benefit and ultimately for the benefit of their community, their State and their nation. The Advisory Council is an important part of that. It aims to bring together representatives of the Commonwealth, State and local governments and also private citizens to review and consider matters relating to the improvement of co-operation between the different spheres of government. It would be silly to waste time this evening on the difficulties and differences which have arisen in our nation between the 3 levels of government in the last 76 years. However, those difficulties and differences were brought into very sharp focus over the 3 years of the Whitlam Government. The Advisory Council is one way in which we can hope that the federalism policy will seek to overcome those difficulties. I do not think anybody on the Government side believes that the federalism policy is the magic cure, that it is just a case of introducing Bills and that all will be cured in that political area. Politics in Australian Parliaments and indeed the Australian society are far more complex than would allow of that type of attitude. What is important is that we approach the problem of responsibility of governments and responsibility of citizens with a great deal of goodwill. This Advisory Council is an important function to try to harness that goodwill and to try to get those who care moving in the right direction.
In his second reading speech the Minister told the House that following decisions of Premiers Conferences the Council would give continuing attention to the range of intergovernmental problems in the Federal, State and local government spheres. Through that we hope to have a realistic continuing dialogue on the very real and large problems which relate to the functioning of all levels of government in our country. But we must give form to that hope. We must give means to the dialogue and we must be realistic in our approach to it. The Minister also said that the Council would be an important source of advice on the most desirable allocation of governmental functions, responsibilities and revenues. I know of one great deal of hard work that the Minister put into this federalism policy both in opposition but, particularly, in Government, lt is quite clear, and the Minister would agree, that we have not necessarily decided all the fine details- he has not necessarily worked out all the fine detailsbut he has put in as much work as anybody could be expected to put in, and he has come up with what appears to be a reasonable solution. We give ourselves also the means to discern quickly and easily those areas which may require some tidying up or amendment in future. It gives us the means of gaining information from important areas of the community which will undoubtedly have a great deal to contribute on the future functioning of the federalism policy.
I would like to spend a little time tonight talking about local government participation in particular. Much mention has been made of the attitude on this subject of the State which I represent. There are indications that other States might have some opinions on this matter. In the course of my job as a senator for Queensland I travel a great deal through that State. One section of the community with which I seek to have continuing contact is local government. I would not go into a town or a city without seeking to have contact with elected representatives of local government because they have much to say which is important to those who represent those areas in the Federal Parliament. Therefore, I have had much comment made to me on the attitude of different local government individuals and councils towards the federalism policy.
I must say that individuals in local government and certain councils as a body have seen fit to indicate to me that they have some reservations on the policy at present. They welcome the taxsharing principle and the opportunity it will give them to plan for the future and to budget on a realistic basis. They welcome the fact that the burdens, particularly in certain areas of development and planning for the future, will not rest solely with the ratepayers of today. This is particularly important in those areas of Queensland which have been hit in one way or another over recent years by different facets of the rural recession. There are vast areas of Queensland today in which local government is in extreme financial difficulty because of the state of the beef industry. They cannot collect their rates from their ratepayers because their large ratepayers are beef producers who cannot afford to pay their rates. The local governments know their ratepayers. The councils know that if these people could pay, they would. The Councils do not want to send them broke just for the sake of some rates. The local government bodies recognise and are sympathetic towards the very real practical problems which face certain of their citizens at the moment. They therefore welcome the opportunity to have an alternative source of funding. However, in the name of honesty I must admit that they have some reservations about the administration of the policy.
Local government, of course, is very much a creature of State government. Its fate is largely determined by legislation which is passed in the State parliament. In the past the financial destiny of local government bodies has been very much the result of the attitudes of various State governments. That did change in recent years. I did not find a great welcome for the method by which access changed under the Whitlam Government. I found that in those years local government in Queensland certainly wanted access to taxation revenue, but is was very deeply concerned about the method by which the Federal Government was going about giving that access to it. I do not speak in terms of a great concern about the activities of the Grants Commission. There was some concern about the Grants Commission when it was set up, but in its operations and its relationship with local government some of that concern abated. Nevertheless, shire councils and city councils were aware of the potential dangers of the situation in which they were. They expressed consistently a desire for some guaranteed share of income tax revenue and some guaranteed access to that revenue. It was a LiberalNational Country Party government which gave it the means to face its problems and which under the federalism policy met that desire expressed by local governments for those 3 years.
Local government still has to look to the States now. One of the aspects of our federalism policy is that State governments must set up grants councils. I am very pleased that the Queensland Government has seen fit in the last few days to announce that it will investigate the means of setting up a grants council. I am sorry it has taken so long to make that announcement. At least some of the anxiety which Queensland local authorities were previously expressing may be abated now, because the silence of the Queensland Government on that subject was causing them some worry- quite unnecessarily I am sure. We must be sympathetic towards the fears of local government at this time. It has an attitude towards State and Federal governments which has come from a lengthly and at times a bitter experience. One must understand the roots of that attitude. When debating and passing into law the federalism policy, the Federal Parliament has the responsibility to make sure that local government has proper access to the funds which we now offer it, has a right to participate in the federalism scheme and what it means in terms of smoothness of administration of government and benefit to citizens. Therefore the attitude and fate of local government under this policy are crucial. This means that we must spend some time in this debate on the Advisory Council talking about local government. It is not surprising that we talk about Queensland in particular.
The State governments should grasp the nettle of the federalism policy. The Minister in his second reading speech said:
The body will be distinctly bipartisan and the Government wishes to ensure that its independence is preserved.
The Federal Government will have 5 representatives out of a total of 22. That Council will not be a creature of the Federal Government. That is quite clear. The Federal Government will give members of our communtiy- who are not elected representatives of the people but who have much to contribute- an opportunity to participate in the Council. That I welcome. I am sure that would be an aspect which the Labor Party would also welcome.
Much will depend on the States’ attitude, not just towards the federalism policy but towards the Council in particular. There are some assumptions about the federalism policy. It is assumed that the citizens of Australia will take the time and trouble to find out the financing arrangements. It is assumed that the citizens of Australia will understand that the aim of the policy is to make decisions in very important areas such as education and health more easily accessible to them because more decisions will be made in the State sphere than previously. While the States accept gladly, as they clearly do, the extra finance that they will receive and the additional and automatic access to finance for planning, they must grasp the nettle. They must face the fact, honestly and publicly, that they will now have an expanded responsibility. They will now be called upon to account for the ordering of their priorities. They will now be called upon to say to their citizens, when they announce decisions and when they face elections, that they have made decision A rather than decision B because they thought decision A was preferable, for whatever reasons that they had for taking it. It will take some bravery.
Centralism in State capitals is no more desirable than it is in the national capital. Before members of the Opposition become too excited by my statement, I must say that I believe that with the exercise of goodwill and intelligence- there are certainly men of great intelligence in our State governments- centralism will not triumph in this country. It is not good enough that we should hand back a very large amount of money to State governments with the aim of making government closer to the people and more responsible, when State governments express the sorts of attitudes towards the participation of local government members that we have seen in recent days. It is undoubtedly tempting, but if State governments have rights to finance because they have responsibilities local government also has rights to finance because it has responsibilities.
The State governments get a unique opportunity to state publicly to the Government at Premiers conferences what its attitudes ought to be and what its financial arrangements ought to be. The Advisory Council does not fulfil the role of a Premiers Conference, but it fulfils an important role in the overall structure. I am very sorry that the Queensland Government has seen fit to adopt the attitude that it has, and I am obliged to say publicly that I do not agree with it. As I understand the position a letter went to the State governments from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on the subject of the number of local government representatives on the Advisory Council in which the Prime Minister advised the Premiers that he had considered their request, made at the Premiers Conference, that there be only 3 local government representatives on this Advisory Council. The Prime Minister informed the Premiers that for a variety of reasons, not the least important of which was that it would not be feasible to select 3 local government representatives from 6 quite distinct local government organisations, he would recommend that there be 6 representatives on this Advisory Council. One assumes that essentially there will be one representative from each State. I understand that it took the Premier of my State one month to reply to the Prime Minister’s letter. That is a pity, because it was a rather crucial period, from the end of August to the end of September. I believe the Prime Minister stated a clear, fair and irrefutable case for 6 local government representatives on that Council. I am sorry that representatives of the Queensland Government have seen fit to attack that decision, and I regret very much that they have actually misrepresented the decision on certain occasions.
I do not think State governments need have any fear of local government going directly to the Advisory Council. It is a body which will perform an important function, an advisory function. It will bring certain things to the attention of representatives of the Commonwealth and State governments. It will be an important source of advice, as the Minister said, on the most desirable allocation of governmental functions, responsibilities and revenues. It will be only a source of advice- it will not have any decision making power. It will be able to give attention on a continuing basis to essential problems in the areas of relationships between the 3 levels of government. From my contact with and my knowledge of local government I am quite sure that it will welcome the Federal Government’s decision as a sensible and fair one. There are 6 separate local government organisations in the 6 States of Australia. Local government in Australia operates under State legislation. There is no reasonable basis, as I understand it, on which one could have selected 3 representatives from the 6 organisations in the 6 States. I could not think that there would be anything sinister in this present difference of opinion and it has not been suggested that there is. There seems to be really little more than an unfortunate peevishness that the Federal Government did not do as apparently members of the Premiers Conference believe they had told the Federal Government to do. I congratulate the Government on its decision. I congratulate the Government on the Bill and I commend the policy to the people of Australia.
– We are debating a Bill for an Act to establish an Advisory Council for Inter Government Relations. May I firstly say that I was very pleased to hear Senator Martin say tonight that she did not agree with the stand taken by the Queensland Government on this issue. I applaud her for that statement. This Bill is part of the Government’s efforts to give legislative effect to its federalism policies- policies that have already been revealed to have flaws and to be potentially damaging to government and administration in this country, policies which are the product of rigid and inflexible dogmatism. As Senator Colston said earlier, already the federalism policy of this Government has been rejected by the electors of New South Wales at the only election at which the policy was specifically in issue. It is highly likely that early in 1977 when the electors of Tasmania and Western Australia have the opportunity to pass judgment on the new federalism these people too will reject it out of hand. I would certainly hope that in Tasmania and Western Australia the federalism policy becomes an issue in the State elections.
The Australian people resent being deceived and misled over this policy. This is precisely how the Government is behaving in concealing its real aims in the Federal-State arena of politics. The new federalism actually means that the Australian Government will refuse to accept its responsibilities for meeting the human and social needs of the people. I refer to health, education, welfare, the environment, urban improvement and transport. This is the real thrust of the federalism policies, and no amount of obstruction can conceal this from the people for too long. We have seen evidence already presented to us in the Fraser Budget. The heaviest cutbacks in allocations for works and services were in the areas of State and local government. So much for cooperative federalism. The States funds for capital works were reduced by a total of $129m. This affects schools, roads, hospitals, housing and sewerage. In fact it affects the whole social infrastructure of our nation. The quality of services provided by the States in this area will thus be either poorer than it was under the Labor Government or the States will be obliged to raise additional taxes and charges to meet their needs.
I realise that honourable senators opposite will probably say that the New South Wales Labor Government recently balanced its Budget and did not increase taxes. But I wonder what the position will be next year if the necessary funds are not allocated by the Federal Government. By comparison, the position of local government is even worse than that of the States. Funds for local government have been reduced this year by some $85m, and this will have quite severe consequences. It will cause great hardship and dislocation, particularly in rural areas, as many local government works programs funded by the Labor Government were providing employment opportunities. In particular the Regional Employment Development scheme was doing this.The consequences of these cutbacks will be particularly severe in rural areas of New South Wales where there are often 600 persons unemployed for every job available. I just want to give some figures on unemployment in rural areas of New South Wales. In Lithgow unemployment rose by 96 per cent in the 12 months to July 1 976. In Bathurst it rose by 50 per cent, in Cessnock by 43 per cent and in Dubbo and Casino by over 30 per cent. These are just some of the examples of the situation in rural areas in New South Wales.
No amount of rhetoric from the Government benches on the need for an Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations can conceal the hard facts of the current state of Federal-State relations in Australia as a result of the Government’s economic and social policies. What is needed is co-operative federalism as was in evidence during the years from 1972 to 1975 under the Australian Labor Government. During these years the Australian Government willingly shouldered its responsibilities in the vital social areas that are close to all Australians- that is, health, welfare, housing, urban and regional development, and education. Under the Labor Government grants to the States were increased by 20 per cent in 1973, by 50 per cent in 1974 and by 30 per cent in 1975. The States were thus placed in the position of being able to meet their responsibilities. Federal-State co-operation produced landmarks in progressive reforms. The first was Medibank in the field of health care. What honourable senators are seeing at the moment in Medibank is the calm before the storm. I have been to a number of meetings in New South Wales recently and I can say that the confusion concerning Medibank and the new health insurance arrangements is absolutely staggering. Another landmark was in the form of growth centres in the field of urban and regional development. In 1975-76 Albury-Wodonga was allocated $35m. This amount has been slashed to $15m in 1976-77. The 1975-76 allocation of $ 15.7m for Macarthur has been slashed in 1976-77 to $2m. The allocation of $8.3m for Bathurst-Orange in 1975-76 has been cut to $2m in 1976-77. This in a very important sectorurban and regional development. Another example was the national estate.
Co-operative federalism meant that the national Government was prepared to assist the States in fulfilling their obligations. It was prepared to assist in providing services to the people in areas that had long been neglected or overlooked. Federalism under the Labor Government meant that local government was acknowledged as the third tier of government. Local government became involved in planning and implementing major reform programs. Not only has the present coalition Government with the bringing on of this legislation just realised that local government administration exists but also it has in fact consistently striven to exclude local government from discussions and deliberations on inter-governmental relations in the post-war period, especially in the area of finance. For example, in 1974 the Liberal-National Country Party coalition opposed the right of local government to participate in Loan Council meetings. It is not always that I agree with Sir Eric Willis, the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, but I think he acknowledged the proper role of local government when speaking at a meeting of the Liberal Club at the University of New South Wales on 22 September 1976 when he said in essence that the role of local government should be defined by constitutional amendment. He said the Constitution should define Federal, State and local government areas of responsibility. What the coalition did in 1974 is one example in a long list of occasions on which the Liberal and National Country Parties refused to acknowledged the legitimate claims of local government representatives to participate fully in the workings of public administration.
The Bill before the chamber does nothing to improve the position of local government with regard to finance and autonomous endeavours. Genuine co-operative and successful federalism can only flourish if all levels of administration have ready access to the payments which they need to meet their requirements and fulfil their responsibilities to their constituents. Under the Labor Administration between 1972 and 1975 this was the case. Let us look at the Australian Assistance Plan. The Australian Government used its powers under the Constitution to make direct grants to local government. This was opposed by the Liberal-National Country Party governments in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. I am pleased to say that it was opposed unsuccessfully, because the Australian Assistance Plan was a great social welfare innovation. It achieved a true devolution of power to the local level in Australia. It allowed people at the regional level to decide for themselves what services they wanted to build in their community, such as sporting, cultural and educational facilities, welfare services and health centres.
In my own area- the Manly- Warringah area of Sydney- one of the pilot schemes for the Australian Assistance Plan was established. We are very disappointed about what has happened to the plan, as is the chairman of the local AAP who happens to be the Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly for the area. The Australian Assistance Plan resulted in a dramatic improvement in the quality and level of services provided by government to people in many disadvantaged areas of Australia ‘s cities. It was a landmark of co-operative inter-governmental relations. The AAP was evidence of a real devolution of power away from Canberra to regions right throughout Australia. It did more to decentralise government than a host of advisory councils would be able to do. The AAP was destroyed. I raised a question on this matter in the Senate on 18 February 1976. 1 asked the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) what would be the future of the Australian Assistance Plan. I will not read the whole of the answer, but at the end of her reply she said:
The concern which the honourable senator has referred to could, I think, be only concern, understanding that there will be an opportunity for evaluation and review early in May.
Unfortunately that concern which I expressed turned out to be real. The fact that this Government destroyed the AAP says more about its attitude towards federalism than anything else it has done since coming to power. It ranks with the emasculation of Medibank, the abandonment of the growth centres and the ending of the National Estate program as testimony to this Government’s total bankruptcy on the issue of federalism. But the conservatives have always had a disastrous record on federalism. For an example we have only to look back as far as 1 974 when honourable senators opposite boycotted the Australian Constitutional Convention. Was this not a totally negative outlook and attitude on the matter? I believe that they have done nothing since to change that attitude. This legislation has already produced evidence that this negative attitude still dominates the thinking of Liberal and National Country Party members.
I note, as has been mentioned earlier, that the Premier of Queensland has announced that he will have nothing to do with the Advisory Council and that Queensland will boycott its operations. Senator Colston quoted extensively tonight from the Premier’s Conference of last April. I will not take up the time of the Senate by quoting that again but I just want to comment on it. When one looks at what Mr Bjelke-Petersen said at that Premier’s Conference one can see that he was desperately worried that the States- or his State in particular- might lose their traditional domination over local government. He seems determined to deny local government any independence whatsoever. I believe that this is just one more example of the senseless wrangling that occurs in this country as a result of the new federalism policy, of the needless bickering that characterises intergovernmental relations under this coalition Government.
In many respects there is really no need for this Advisory Council to be established. Sufficient machinery is already available for consultation and deliberation between the tiers of government in Australia. There is the Premiers Conference, the Loan Council and the Inter-State Commission which I would point out was reestablished by the Federal Labor Administration but which has not yet been proclaimed by this Government. Those bodies should prove adequate to service the needs of intergovernmental relations. In many ways the Advisory Council will prove extraneous.
This Bill has many apparent weaknesses. Senator Douglas McClelland speaking earlier in this debate listed some of them. If I repeat them, that will only serve to highlight the situation.
Firstly, it is not specified when the Advisory Council will be established. Secondly, we do not know who its members will be. Thirdly, it is a body without any real powers and has only an advisory capacity. Fourthly, its charter has not yet been revealed. Fifthly, nowhere are we informed as to whether its inquiries and the results of those inquiries will be made public. Lastly, the Council’s secretariat will duplicate functions already being performed adequately by other bodies such as the Centre for InterGovernmental Studies at the Australian National University. In my opinion, these are the main weaknesses of the legislation.
The Government spokesmen in the second reading debate have informed us that the Advisory Council is modelled on the United States Advisory Commission which was established in 1959. However, I think it should be realised that the United States Advisory Commission is in no respect either a powerful or influential institution within the framework of American administration. I understand that it is a relatively powerless body which does not figure prominently in the workings of the American federal system. I wonder whether we can expect the Advisory Council to be similar. Will it merely be cosmetic in its approach to federalism? The plain fact of the matter is that Australia does not really need this Advisory Council. What Australia and the Australian people need is a co-operative approach to federalism and the functioning of government administration right throughout this country. What is needed is for the national Government to acknowledge its responsibilities and to take steps in co-operation with State and local government administrations to meet those responsibilities. In short, the Liberal-National Country Party Government should model its efforts on those of the Federal Labor Government in this field over the preceding 3 years, because during that period all levels of administration in Australia were provided with ample funds to fulfil their obligations in the way of providing services.
It would seem to me that the current thrust of the Fraser Government’s policies is away from co-operative federalism, is away from regionalism and is heading towards greater confrontation with the States and with local government. The new federalism in no way contributes to progress or to the advancement of greater welfare for the Australian people. Having pointed out what I think are the main weaknesses in the legislation, I acknowledge the fact, as Senator Douglas McClelland and other speakers have said earlier, that the Opposition is not opposing this Bill but will be moving amendments to it at a later stage.
– I support this Bill, which is a genuine attempt by the Government to promote in a practical way the federalist policies of the Government. I believe that each tier of government has the right to have access to taxation pools and to shoulder the responsibility for spending those funds effectively in the interests of the people. We who believe in the free enterprise system feel that in the first place the people should provide for themselves out of their own funds, by their own enterprise and their own energy. But we realise of course that many community services are better provided on a community basis. That is why wherever possible we try to encourage local governments to look after those areas if they are capable of doing so. We believe that the States have the responsibility to handle those matters which are more closely related to the people. We maintain that the Commonwealth should look after only the issues of national importance. Unfortunately, members of the Australian Labor Party believe in exactly the opposite. They believe that a large proportion of the earnings of the people should be taken from them by way of taxation, by big brother, and that the centralist Government in Canberra should decide where projects are to be developed, how they will be developed, and what money will be spent on them- not the people who are most concerned, the people who live in those particular areas. We believe that wherever possible the people who are responsible for spending money should also be responsible for raising it.
We run into great difficulties in that regard as far as local government is concerned. Throughout most of the history of this nation local government has gained most of its finances through rating landholders. The rates are calculated on the unimproved value of the land in this country. Some countries rate land on the improved value. There are all sorts of systems of rating. I suppose many years ago the value of land was closely related to incomes, but that is not the case these days. As anyone who is associated with some of the farming areas and particularly the remote areas of the various States will know, those engaged in the cattle industry and in the woolgrowing industry might appear to have large holdings, valuable properties, but often their individual incomes are less than those of many of the people who hold what we might call blue collar jobs. Therefore that system of raising funds for local government has its disadvantages. Of course, money has then to be found in some other way. It has been suggested that local government authorities should become part of the taxing authority for the people who live in the area of their jurisdiction. Of” course, the difficulty there is that some areas might be fortunate enough to be rich or profitable at a certain time, and others might be in a poor condition. I think we must look at the situation from the point of view of need rather than of the ability to pay.
I get back to the point of how we are to give local government authorities a portion of the taxation pool and at the same time give them the responsibility of raising the money. This is the difficulty we have always found with local governments. I know that the Labor Party found another way but, of course, there is another side to that story.
– Do not get sidetracked. Just keep going.
-We know the Labor Party’s great record over the last 3 years of handing out money to local government. Unfortunately many of the people in local government thought that the bonanza had come. What they did not appreciate, of course- the Labor Party appreciated it- was that if you do not have the responsibility for raising the money you do not have the responsibility forks administration. We knew what was going to happen. It was the intention of the Labor Party to set up these great regional councils which would incorporate three, four or maybe more local authority areas. As the bureaucracy in Canberra was handing out the money, Canberra and not the local councils was going to decide what projects would be funded and the amount of money that would be spent on them. Everyone knows what would have been the eventual outcome.
– That is rubbish.
– It is not rubbish. Senator Georges knows that is is Labor Party policy to get rid not only of this chamber but also State and local governments. The Labor Party wants one central bureaucracy in Canberra.
-Of course that is Labor Party policy. It always has been Labor Party policy but many local governments could never understand that. The Labor Party relieved them of the responsibility of raising funds in their own areas by giving them handouts. They thought it was a good idea. This made the local councils appear to be great fellows among their own people. They were popular because they were not increasing rate charges. Of course, the outcome- most of them were aware of it- would be that eventually responsibility would be taken away from them and that local government in Australia would not be as we now know it; we would have regions controlled completely by the bureaucracy in Canberra.
- Senator Georges can hide his head in shame because he knows darned well that is Labor Party policy. I am only telling the truth. It is Labor Party policy to get rid of the Senate, the State governments and local government. It is of no use for Labor Party supporters to talk in this chamber about what they have done for local government. It is our job to ensure that local government authorities are looked after. Of course, the State of Queensland and the other States are concerned about what might happen under our proposal. They are fearful because of what happened under the Labor Administration when the State governments were completely bypassed by the Federal Government when making handouts to local governments. The eventual plan was to take over the local governments. It was a takeover by the back door. The States do not want that sort of thing to happen under the present Government. I can assure them that that will not happen. The policy of both the Liberal Party and the National Country Party has always been that the States must decide where money will be spent in their area. As the parent bodies of local government, the States should have some say about how money should be distributed to local government. With all due respect to what has been said in this debate tonight, there is no question that the Queensland Government has a good relationship with local government.
– You could have fooled us.
– There is a good relationship, a partnership, between the State government and local government and it has existed for 40 or 50 years. Only when the Whitlam Government took office and implemented its policy of by-passing the States did we get into trouble. It is very interesting to hear of all the schemes introduced during the term of office of the Labor Party and that subsequently we scrapped. Senator Sibraa mentioned the Australian Assistance Plan and Medibank. It is amazing to hear Labor supporters talking about federalism tonight. What they want to do is to take money from the taxpayers of this country to finance grandiose schemes such as the Regional Employment
Development scheme, the Australian Assistance Plan and so on. They want simply to throw the people’s money around. They wonder why we got into the mess in which we find ourselves today. Labor took from the Australian people a great deal of money and just wasted it, threw it away. If the Labor Government had allowed the people to retain more of their own money the country would have been a darned sight more productive and in the long run we would have had a great deal more funds available not only for the Federal Government but also for State and local governments.
– You fascinate me.
– I am pleased that happens. If Senator Georges would come to Queensland a little more often I would fascinate him even more. I want to make quite clear where we stand on this matter. It is interesting to hear Opposition senators say they support this measure. They say that but they have been doing nothing but rubbishing it throughout this debate. I hope that when we vote on the measure we will all be happy in the knowledge that this Advisory Council will be set up. I think it is very necessary that the 3 tiers of government- may I add that we believe in those 3 tiers of governmentshould come together in this Advisory Council and work out amongst themselves how finance can be made available, particularly to local government, in such a way that they have the responsibility of accounting for the money they raise. In that way we believe we can do something about the burden that rates certainly places on ratepayers in many areas, and this applies particularly to the rural areas of Australia. In some of the shires in western Queensland something like 90 per cent of money collected in rates is paid by land holders who represent probably about 10 per cent of the population. In times of low prices and high costs those people individually probably earn less than the other 90 per cent of the population who pay only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the total amount received in rates.
We know that something has to be done in that regard. I am quite sure that once this Advisory Council is set up we will have a sensible operation of the 3-tier system of government and that the federalist policies that this Government has promoted will eventually be accepted by everybody. I can understand the States having queries at this time, but I believe that once this Advisory Council gets down to tin tacks and once the States finally realise just what we mean in our federalist policies, all 3 tiers of government in this country will be satisfied and will do the job that we expect them to do.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, we have heard a very fascinating contribution by Government senators, particularly Senator Maunsell who of course regaled us again with more of his meanderings for which he has become notorious in this place. It is interesting to note that after all the years that he has been a member of the Senate he has discovered local government. Hitherto he has been silent about the problems facing local government in Australia. Now he tells us that he and his Party believe in the rights of the 3 arms of government to work together in a cooperative way to develop the public sector. One finds that hard to believe, having regard to the general thrust of the Government parties, when they have done everything within their power during the last three or four years- and even in the year in which they have been in office again- to denigrate the activities of the public sector. They have suggested that the only way forward for Australia is to have unbridled growth in the private sector and that there ought to be a downturn, a reduction, a restriction in government expenditure.
Even as late as today the Treasurer, the Hon. Phillip Lynch, in a release has called on local government authorities to show restraint in raising rates and other charges in 1976-77. In the face of the Government’s acknowledgment in its own Budget Papers that there will be an increase of at least 12 per cent in the rate of inflation in the ensuing year the Treasurer is suggesting that, because local government receives more than 90 per cent of its revenue from a tax on property, there should be restraint in raising rates and charges and, as a consequence, in engaging in activities. If that ill-chosen advice given by the Federal Treasurer is carried into effect by local government we will have an even worse unemployment position in Australia, particularly in country areas, because in so many of our rural communities the local authority is the backbone of the activity within that region. It is the largest employer and it is the sector activity that generates some commercial and other business function within that region.
One would imagine that the previous speaker, Senator Maunsell, was speaking against the Bill when he was suggesting that one should spend only what one raises, and that if one gave money away, as the Labor Government did during the last 3 years, it was wasting people’s money. He wants to move around Australia and talk to the people. As one of my colleagues, Senator Sibraa, said in his contribution, the activity in the area improvement programs and the Australian Assistance Plan came from people in the local regions when they made requests to the Australian Government for the expenditure of public funds. It was not wasting money; it was in fact giving power to the local communities to make recommendations to the national government for the allocation of sufficient funds to carry out a much better program of local works or to provide local facilities or amenities in a particular region. We make no apologies for that. This Bill happens to be a very poor substitute for those innovative programs that we introduced in the very brief period of 3 years that we were in government. Suddenly there is a day of awakening, and in 1 975-76 the conservative parties have discovered local government.
I can remember in 1949 when local government in New South Wales- the premier State, and I am not saying that in any parochial senseinitiated a program for Commonwealth involvement in local government financing. It took local government in New South Wales the best part of a decade to get that message accepted by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations because the worst problems in local government funding were to be found in New South Wales. Because of that there was a need for some pioneering work. It took a long time to get an understanding about that matter because the depth of local government problems and the insufficiency of funding in some of the other States had not quite reached the degree that it had in New South Wales. On every occasion in the succeeding years when we obtained that understanding in the Australian Council of Local Government Associations we came to Canberra to see Sir Robert Menzies or one of his Treasurers. It would take too long to recall to the minds of honourable senators the various Treasurers that we had in that period, particularly in the early 1970s when they were being knocked down and replaced like ninepins.
On each occasion we received no consideration from the conservative parties. On the last occasion when the Australian Council of Local Government Associations came to Canberra in the early part of 1972 to see Mr McMahon when he was Prime Minister, he refused to give any consideration to the important principle that local government should receive permanent funding from the Australian Government. We do not oppose the Bill because any steps which are taken to further this principle or any legislation which establishes a liaison between the arms of government should be supported. But surely it is a matter of too little too late. That is the position we have reached. There is no doubt that Government senators get locked away in a little room, they listen to some of the rhetoric and hate campaigns from a couple of speakers and they come into this chamber and repeat them ad nauseum, without having any understanding of the drastic situation that exists in local government throughout Australia as a direct result of the neglect in the years from 1 949 when the conservatives ruled this country.
Let us have a look at the amount of indebtedness of the 3 arms of government. I should indicate that those figures were supplied by the Bureau of Statistics to the Legislative Research Section of our Parliamentary Library, so I think that one is entitled to draw the conclusion that they represent the real position. We ought to be reminded that this is a direct result of the years of neglect by conservative governments in Canberra. For example, in 1949 when the Chifley Government was defeated and we began those long years, almost the middle ages of Australian politics, the Australian Government in terms of indebtedness owed 61 per cent of the national debt. State governments owed 36.45 per cent of the national debt, and local government owed 2.53 per cent of the national debt. That was the year in which local government in New South Wales began a campaign to get recognition of the fact that there should be financial funding from the Commonwealth to the States. The last figures that I have been able to obtain to my satisfaction relate to 1973 when the Labor Party came into government. This must surely be taken into consideration when we are talking about funding or establishing an organisation which will consider the relationship between the 3 arms cf government. In that year the Commonwealth’s share of the national debt had dropped to 23.65 per cent. State government indebtedness had risen to 64.33 per cent of the national debt which is quite contrary to what Senator Carrick has regaled us with in this place over the last couple of years. What happened was that the Commonwealth came out on the right side of the ledger and transferred its indebtedness and repayment problems to the States. What happened to local government authorities? In terms of the total national debt State government indebtedness almost doubled and Commonwealth indebtedness dropped from 6 1 per cent to 23 per cent. Yet local government indebtedness rose from 2.35 to 12.03 per cent. So when Senator Maunsell talks about the raising of money he should have some regard for the financial relationships that exist between the various arms of government.
We can describe this piece of legislation which is designed to set up the Advisory Council as a hazy piece of legislation and in terms of the problem that exists as a crazy piece of legislation because the States are in an unco-operative mood even before we start. One of the great problems that local government has had to contend with has been the attitude of the State governments to local government. Despite the fact that local government was in fact the first form of government in this country the States have over the years regarded it as part of its preserve and have resisted any change in the relationship just as the conservatives in the national parliament have resisted until now any attempt to bring about a more rational use of government powers and a more rational use of government funds
This legislation is a step in the direction of the federalism which I suppose we can say is the brainchild of Senator Carrick. It is Carrickism at its worst because it sets up an advisory body with which one State Premier has already said he is not going to co-operate. I will not weary the Senate by referring to what Mr Bjelke-Petersen has said in that respect. We know that Sir Eric Willis had misgivings about it and of course whatever Bjelke-Petersen has to say about Commonwealth Government legislation invariably has a little echo in the far west of Australia in Sir Charles Court.
This legislation sets up a mere advisory council. Of course we will not oppose that because if we can get a situation in which local government can sit down with the States and the Commonwealth to talk about its problems we may get some enlightenment not only in the national arena but also in the States. I remind the Senate that when we raised the question at the Constitutional Convention, to which I was privileged to be a delegate, in Sydney in 1974 it was the very conservative representatives of the present Government as well as their counterparts in the States who were resisting any recognition of local government at all- firstly, at the Convention, and secondly, in any change in its relationship. So I suggest that the task is not so much to bring into legislative form this Advisory Council as in fact the ways to struggle for conviction within the parties opposite. I do not think that maverick of Australian politics, Bjelke-Petersen, is just a maverick on this issue without support from other sections of the Liberal Party and Country
Party or whatever new name it is called- the National Country Party.
We have this piece of legislation to set up an advisory council that has no charter and no powers. There is no suggestion that its deliberations, debates of discussions will be a part of public documentation, nor do we have any clearcut guidelines as to the way in which local government can get onto the agenda of the Council the sort of new deal that it is seeking. If we are to have this Council as a very poor substitute for the very important innovations which were part of Labor’s 3 years in office; if it is to be regarded as just a talking house as in fact the Parliament itself is, in which senators do not listen or in any way try to comprehend the other point of view; if we are going to have this Council with our iconoclastic positions and not be prepared to be flexible, as so often we see amongst the conservative representatives, then there is not much hope for progress to be made in the area of really recognising the position of local government indebtedness. Many local government authorities in this country are moving into this area of indebtedness and this is what makes the statements by Mr Lynch and by Mr Fraser so much hogwash. Something like 30 per cent of their revenue is earmarked for repayments on past borrowings. So whatever they receive perforce of the allocation of funds which will come as a result of legislation to come before the Parliament when we establish the legislative means to pay money to local government through the States, it can be no more than a drop in the bucket.
We have witnessed in response to questions and in debates in this place Senator Carrick on his hobbyhorse against centralism wherever he goes. I am sure he dreams about it. I am sure he writes down little words about centralism in his pad before he goes to sleep because it has become an obsession with him. At a conference on 2 May in the Lower Town Hall in Sydney he hopped on to the hobbyhorse again about Whitlamism and centralism, ignoring the fact that the whole thrust of our policy over the last 3 years was a devolution of power, ignoring that our policy was to invite local communities to participate, to try to encourage, particularly in the interest of economies of scale, some amalgamation of local government in areas where it was absolutely essential in order that it survive, and carry out its proper functions.
We have heard Senator Carrick lambast the Whitlam Government for reducing, as he says, the amount of money that was made available to the State governments in the 1975 Budget. He ignores the fact that his own Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in documents circulated at the Premiers Conference in June of this year pointed to the fact that in the first Whitlam Government Budget payments to the States went up by 20 per cent; payments in the following year went up by 50 per cent and in the final Labor Budget of 1975-76 payments to the States went up some 30 per cent. Yet if honourable senators were to examine the debates and replies to questions in this place by Senator Carrick they would believe that we were involved in a campaign to impoverish the States so far as Commonwealth funding is concerned. The Minister is on record time and time again in response to questions and in debate- and in fact so is Mr Lynch in his statement yesterday- repeating the hoary lie that more money is being made available to local government. Certainly this is so in direct grants, but in terms of actual money available to local government the last Budget represents a reduction in money paid to local government. If any honourable senator has any doubt about this I refer him to the President’s report presented at the last Local Government Association of New South Wales conference held at Tamworth last Monday week. It was presented by Alderman Greg Percival, O.B.E. I should like to read into the record what Alderman Percival had to say so that we can nail this misstatement which has been so often presented to the Parliament by Senator Carrick and by other honourable senators opposite. In his general report Alderman Percival deals with the question of local government finance. He states:
I doubt if there will ever be any issue which will assume greater importance or prominence to Local Government than the cost of providing the services the people want, and the means of raising the money for it.
At the present time, demand from residents and ratepayers for Council services appears to be higher than ever before. Not only does the community want all the traditional services supplied at ever improving standards, but demands for altogether new types of services and assistance abound.
This is contrary to what Mr Lynch and Mr Fraser are saying. I do not think that Alderman Percival would be upset if I were to say that it is my general belief that he supports this Government politically.
– He stood for election to the Legislative Council in New South Wales.
– He is a colleague of mine. I am only mentioning his political views to indicate that he is one of those who subscribes to the general philosophical position of the Government. He states further:
The fact that Local Government is now about to share in the personal income tax revenue of the Commonwealth Government seems to be creating even greater expectations on the part of the people. This situation appears to be encouraged, unintentionally or not, by some politicians -
It has got to be Liberal and National Country Party politicians- who are pointing to the fact that local government is at least sharing in income tax.
Alderman Percival states further:
It is therefore essential that the hard facts of financing Local Government be continuously placed baldly before everyone concerned. There can be no doubt that the decision of the Commonwealth Government to grant Local Government a fixed share of income is an historic one and one of major benefit to Local Government.
Of course, this is why we support this legislation. It will provide a means of expanding on the needs of local government. He continues:
The benefit however will probably be more clearly seen in future years, when the level of Local Government participation is rather higher than the present 1.5 per cent.
I understand that is what is contemplated by the Government-
The principal, as I have said, is enormously important; but the actual amount of additional money is simply not enough to bring about all the changes we would want, and to satisfy the high expectations of everyone in the community.
He goes on to break down the allocation of funds. This, I hope, will satisfy honourable senators about the statements that Senator Carrick has constantly repeated in this place. Alderman Percival, referring to New South Wales, states:
In 1976-77 we will receive $5 1.3m as our entitlement under revenue sharing. This very considerable increase, however, is almost totally eaten away by the reductions in other programs. The abolition of the RED scheme means a loss of $42. 8m, and the abolition or reduction of a range of other programs such as Area Improvement, National Estates, and so on, mean that the net effect of revenue sharing will be particularly uneven between Councils, and nowhere will it represent a sufficiently large increase to allow Councils to do all they would wish . . .
I would, however, be failing in my duty if I did not correct the impression sometimes being given that Local Government in hard financial terms is significantly better off.
When we have comments such as those from the State which pioneered the principle of revenue sharing between the Commonwealth, States and local government, I think we are entitled to draw the attention of the Senate to the unbalanced position that we have. In case it is suggested that Alderman Percival is speaking out of turn or is representing a more radical point of view than local government generally, I should like to quote from the statement issued on the Budget by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. It is an attachment to the Association’s General Circular No. 2 which was issued only a few short weeks ago dealing with the Budget. The Australian Council of Local Government Associations is made up of some of those from the smaller States and has not been as active in this campaign of federal funding as perhaps it was in New South Wales and, to some extent, in Queensland at various stages where one of the significant Queensland figures in local government has joined forces with New South Wales to get support for this general principle. In part, the statement reads: it is obvious that the provision of $35. 770m for other payments through States will not match last year, even allowing for the discontinuance of employment grants and the Area Improvements Program of which $29.885m was provided for local government last year. There is in fact a short fall in this section (after deducting the sum of $29.885m) of $l6.274m . . .
To me, however, the significant thing is that the total funds proposed to be made available to local government this year as set out in . . . paragraph 7.1 -
I will not quote from that paragraph- has declined from $274.255m to $195.263m-or a decrease of 28.8 per cent . . . The overall reduction, I believe, must have a serious effect on local government available funds this financial year unless there is a substantial increase in allocations from State funds.
We know, of course, that that is not likely to happen. The State Budgets have come and gone and the States have exercised a policy of not increasing their charges and restricting expenditure, having regard to the general strategy of the Australian Government. What is required in these circumstances, of course, is more than talk; is more than an advisory committee; is more than the presentation of this legislation. We require the emancipation of local government. Senator Maunsell has suggested that local government should be part of the 3 tiers of government if it is to be genuinely regarded as carrying out a proper role. As Mr Justice Else Mitchell has suggested, local government, because of its very nature and character, is the only arm of goverment that is able to improve the local environment. Because of its closeness to the people and because of the range of services that it provides, it is the only arm of government that can in fact make an appreciable impact upon local conditions. Whatever we may do in Canberra- irrespective of which government is in power either in Canberra or in the States- when it finally comes down to the local environment, it is the local council that makes or breaks the area which it represents.
This legislation which sets up an advisory body ignores the whole historical development of local government; ignores the selfish attitude that States adopt to local government; ignores the reticence of States to become involved or to financially provide more funds to local government from State funds. This legislation can be described perhaps as being something of a fiasco even though we can concede that if we can get all the States together; if the Australian Government is going to play a pioneering role; if it is really going to pick up the tab; if it is really going to fight for the principles which the Labor Government fought for in the 3 years when it was in office, it may serve a useful purpose. After all, it was not until the 1973-74 Budget that local government received any recognition from the Australian Government. Hitherto, it was a hands off policy; hitherto there was no interest in the problems of local government. Hitherto the Australian Government had been concerned with bringing millions of people to our country but it made no financial allocations to provide them with goods and services. This piece of legislation should get local government opened up for public debate and not kept in some back room, but I can see nothing in it that opens up the possibility of matters being publicly debated at every meeting, of our being able to take on the backward attitude of Mr Bjelke-Petersen, of local government being able to see him in his true light, of local government being able to see other States in their true light, and of the Australian Government being prepared to make available substantially more funds so that the services which people are correctly demanding within their local region shall be provided. If that could happen the legislation would have some particular merit.
This legislation ignores the experiences of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I do not have to remind Senator Carrick of the remarks that were made by the Chairman of that Commission at the seminar which Senator Carrick attended when he drew attention to the fact that the Grants Commission, which was responsible under the Labor Government for the allocation of Federal funds to local government, applied the principle upon which the Grants Commission had operated for the past 40 years, that is, the principle of needs. This piece of legislation gives only part recognition to the needs principle in establishing the Advisory Council. It gives as much emphasis, as I read the legislation, to per capita grants and less to the needs concept. Yet one must surely recognise that, if there has been any validity in the way in which the Grants Commission has operated on a State basis over the last 40 years, the same principle ought to be applied to local government.
Surely honourable senators would not disagree with me when I say that there is a great divergence, a great difference, between local government areas within a region and from State to State. Therefore the needs concept ought to be the barometer upon which all financial decisions are made. In any case we already have the framework; we already have the Loan Council, the Premiers Conference and the Inter-State Commission. These 3 bodies are available to provide us with the means to reach an end. They have been by-passed. After all one of the pieces of legislation which was passed by the Senate was to take to referendum the right of local government to be represented at Loan Council meetings. It would be a real expression of federalism, if ever there could be one, to have local government officially represented at the Loan Council. What did honourable senators opposite do? They stalked around the country. They panicked the Australian people and said: ‘Do not support that recognition of local government being part of the Loan Council arrangement; do not allow the Australian Government to give direct grants to local government’.
How hypocritical honourable senators opposite have become in less than 2 years when Senator Carrick proposes this Council based on an American experience. There is a complete difference historically in the way in which government has operated in America. There is no empirical evidence or any evidence at all that the American experience can be applied to Australia or that the American experience has proved to be a success. Heavens, America would be one of the last countries that we should try to ape in terms of the way in which constitutional government operates. One only needs to think of the social problems and the infrastructure problems in the United States of America, least of all refer to them, to appreciate the grave difficulties that exist in that country. I suggest that Senator Carrick plucked out of the air the idea that we should model our inter-government council on the American experience. God forbid that we should try to follow that path. There are already tremendous conflicts between the central Government and the State governments in America. Local government has an entirely different role and has access to entirely different forms of revenue than we have in this country. In point of fact, substantially more of the revenue of local government comes from local taxes than comes from the property tax itself.
One can only wonder why we did not have the support of the conservative parties in the referendum in 1974. One can understand why honourable senators on my side of the chamber are referring to the intemperate remarks, the obstinancy and the destructionism of Mr BjelkePetersen at the Premiers Conference when he objected to having any equity for local government. I applaud the Government for going on regardless of that fact. Unless we have the cooperation of State governments and unless honourable senators opposite win the battle on their side of politics this will be even more a talking House than we might imagine. Of course the Inter-State Commission is provided for in the Constitution. Legislation to set up the Commission has been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Heaven only knows how difficult it was to get any legislation of the Labor Government through the Senate but, lo and behold, we did.
– It has not been proclaimed yet.
– That legislation has not even been proclaimed. Yet there was the apparatus, there was the legislative form, there was the means to establish -
– It was stillborn.
– It was stillborn just as federalism of the type that Senator Carrick espouses will be still born. Even his own Party does not believe it. We have listened to the weak and inane speeches of the Opposition on this piece of legislation. Honourable senators opposite could speak for no longer than 5 or 10 minutes. A lot of hogwash and hotpotch was poured out. In fact, Senator Maunsell presented an argument why funds should not be made available to local government whatsoever.
Senator Martin spoke about the problems of the rural producers and the problems of local government funding in rural areas. Of course this is a major problem. How does she expect this piece of legislation, having regard to the subjective problems that we have with the State governments, to accommodate in any way the very dire consequences of local government rating in rural areas? In some cases people have not enough money to buy food least of all to pay money to the local authority. In New South Wales- I imagine the same applies in other States- rates have to be 7 years overdue before the council can do very much to collect them. If the present rating system of local government continues and the problems of collecting rates in rural areas continues for two or three years local government will be even more bankrupt than it is now. I am glad that Senator Martin recognises this problem. I hope she heard what I said was stated by the President of the Local Government Association of New South Wales. I hope she heard what I said about the President of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. They pointed out that in actual money terms less money is made available in the Liberal-National Country Party Budget for local government than in the previous year. That is not my statement. That is in the official records of the local government bodies themselves.
It is interesting, when we hear so much of this rhetoric about the Whitlam Government, to recall that in our first Budget we made available to local government in urban areas an amount of $2.50 per head and $6.50 per head to local government in rural areas. In the following year we raised the sum provided to local government in urban areas to $3 a head. What happened to this amount in relation to rural local government? It rose to $ 1 0 per head.
– On the recommendation of the Grants Commission.
– As Senator Douglas McClelland correctly points out, this was on the recommendation of the Grants Commission in respect of which the Government is prepared to wipe the slate clean. The Government is prepared to negate the experience of the Grants Commission. Yet even less money will be available under the Government’s proposals. One can only wonder what is the purpose of this legislation. Is it a lip service piece of legislation? Is it a piece of legislation that is designed just to put on the record that the Government stands for a federalism policy which nobody can understand and about which it has some serious misgivings? Are we to have a piece of legislation which will be stillborn? Are we to have a piece of legislation that, in fact, will set up just another bureaucracy. At the moment there are the CommonwealthState Grants Commission, the State Grants Commission and the Federal Government. So, there are 8 bureaucracies involved in this area as well as the States and the thousand or so local government bodies in Australia. We will add another bureaucratic organisation through this legislation.
I would hope that the Government would be trying to move in the direction of getting local government out of its subordinate position and that it would be moving in the direction in which the Labor Government sought to take local government. In legislation enacted during the term of office of the former Labor Government, which for the first time allocated funds for local government, the former Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, pointed out that local government must be upgraded. He pointed out also that for almost 100 years local government had remained in a fairly static position despite the great technological changes and the greater demands that were made upon local government. Local government, which had been created originally for the very simple purpose of providing roads and drains and the removal of garbage, had taken on a whole new connotation. Now local government in some progressive local government areas spends approximately 40 per cent of its revenue on providing community facilities. Yet it has taken until 1973- almost 30 years after the War- for a government- and it was a Labor Government- to say for those reasons that local government was entitled to financial recognition and a place in revenuesharing.
The question of what will happen if the Commonwealth is able to maintain and perhaps even increase its revenue-sharing has been put to me by many local government representatives. What guarantees do we have that the States will maintain their existing grants to local government? Do we have an agreement with the States or do we have any assurance from the States that they will maintain their existing State grants to local government? Surely these are matters which are germane to the legislation. A condition for the establishment of this Council ought to be that the existing financial arrangements between the States and local government will be maintained. Unless that fundamental principle is accepted there can be only a downgrading of the services provided by local government.
I doubt whether any Government senators have had an opportunity to read the comments of Mr Justice Else Mitchell at the seminar on intergovernment relations. It would do them good to read what he had to say. When he first became involved in this field some 30 years ago, in big cities like Sydney only half a dozen councils had municipal libraries. There were very few councils that had swimming pools or playing fields of the type that are necessary in a modern community. If those sorts of facilities are essential for the all round development of a communityand I believe they are- there ought not to be calls by Government speakers to the effect that restraint should be practised in these areas. I reject and my Party rejects completely and unequivocally the proposition that the spending of money on improving a road, providing a library service, or opening up a new beach, a women ‘s rest centre or a baby health centre is the reason why we have inflation. It is an ill chosen and inadequate explanation for the problems of inflation. When one reads what Senator Carrick said at this seminar one would think that the Labor Party invented inflation.
– It came near to it.
– Heavens above! If the honourable senator read the figures he would know that the greatest rate of inflation that ever occurred in this country was in 1951, 2 years after a Liberal-Country Party Government came to power. This occurred at about the time when the honourable senator was fighting for an important principle. The figures in the Parliamentary Library will prove this assertion. If the honourable senator obtains these figures from the Library he will find that they will show that the highest rate of inflation ever to hit this country occurred in 1951. Yet one would imagine that such an element as inflation did not occur until the Whitlam Government came to office in 1972.
As an example, I refer to my rates. When I bought my block of land just before the last World War ended my rates were 35 shillings or $3.50 in the modern currency. When I came into this place at the time when the Labor Government was elected in 1972, my rates for that same piece of land had increased to $210. That increase occurred in the period in which a Liberal-Country Party Government was in office, the period in which that Government held the financial reins of this country. There is no point in trying to place some part of the blame for that increase on the high cost of land and services in a period in which the Liberal-Country Party Government presided over an increaseand correctly so- in the population of our country, at the same time giving neither the States nor local government any of the funds needed to provide necessary services. It is no wonder, therefore, that local government has considerable misgivings about the financial policies that are being pursued by this Government.
Whilst not going on the public record as opposing the legislation, the Opposition sees its proposals as a means by which we can sit round a table and discuss the problems of local government. But that opportunity has, of course, already been given to local government and to the States at the Constitutional Convention without much success or much progress. In these circumstances it is no wonder that no progress has been made. A conference described as Friends or Enemies- Intergovernment Relationships, arranged by the Local Government Study Group, was held in Sydney on 2 May 1 976 in the lower Sydney Town Hall, lt is interesting to look at some of the comments made by representatives of local government. Mr Miles, who is regarded as one of the major figures in local government in Australia, made the following statement:
The role of the Minister for Local Government, because of the nature of the local Government Act-
Such an Act, of course, exists in each State: is a crucial one. There is for example one Minister for Local Government hi Australia who constantly talks about ‘my councils’ -
Obviously that Minister is referring to them in that way because he thinks he owns them- and the need for him to exercise benevolent paternal control. There is another Minister for Local Government who quite recently reminded us that local government owed its existence to the Local Government Act which could just as easily be repealed by the State Government- as if we did not know already. I am happy to say that neither of these gentlemen are from New South Wales.
Honourable senators can guess or toss a coin and be pretty sure of the Premiers of the States from which Ministers who made those sorts of maverick statements would come. I am prepared to bet that it was not Mr Hamer of Victoria, Mr Dunstan of South Australia or Mr Neilson of Tasmania. Certainly if we have New South Wales off the hook, we do not have to point the finger very far to see from which States those Ministers who made such maverick statements would come. Who would place the whole future of this legislation in jeopardy? Who would make a mockery of this legislation? One of the avenues available to us to raise matters is a Bill such as this. When debating such Bills in this place we should try to draw the attention of the Government to the difficulties that it has. We do not have those difficulties. We had a plan which we put before the people in 1969, 1972 and 1974. It was for a referendum as well as for legislation to recognise the role of local government, to give it a place in the trinity of government and to give its position in the 3 arms of government a firm status. We recognised that we had to take local government out of its existing base. There are 229 local government bodies in New South Wales. In the New South Wales Parliament the Liberal-Country Party, before it was defeated on 1 May, said that the number ought to be reduced to about 140. So when Senator Carrick goes off the deep end about boundaries, regionalism, centralism and other things he should remember that his Party in New South Wales was prepared to settle for something like 80 fewer local government bodies in that State. Because the matter was a hot potato, because it meant rationalisation of local government boundaries in New South Wales and because of the narrow parochialism of the Country Party in New South Wales, that Government put the matter under double wraps. It never carried forward the Boundaries Commission report which sought to bring about some effective rationalisation.
When we get to this question of local government we never hear anything about the economies of scale about which we hear so much when we talk about the private sector. Honourable senators opposite say that one is entitled to get economies of scale and to reduce the unit cost of production and that the Australian Government must become more efficient. Whenever a Labor Party spokesman seeks to bring about those desirable objectives to which even the conservative parties give some recognition- words just fail me- we see the inability of the Government parties to have any real cognition of the sort of problem with which we are faced here and of the necessity to bring about a restructuring of local government. If we had brought about that restructuring in the form of regionalism, that would have been a step forward. One day that will come. It will be delayed to the extent that the conservatives in this country hark back to parochial attitudes and refuse to move with the times and refuse to allow a proper rationalisation of local government so that it can carry out its effective functioning. A small body lacking resources, lacking funds and lacking trained staff cannot carry out its proper responsibilities in respect of the planning of new towns and cities. It cannot do its proper job.
If by the establishment of this legislation we widen horizons and visions, if we create an understanding of what is needed in the third arm of government, if we get more tolerant and flexible attitudes out of State governments, we will have achieved something. We support this very small token, which goes under the misnomer of federalism, which establishes a consultative organisation- the Advisory Council- a body that will sit around and talk. Maybe in that process, maybe in that melting pot, some progress can be made in the evolution of man’s thinking. It is long overdue in the conservative parties. We came to that conclusion almost a decade ago.
– in reply- I think it only fair to put the debate into perspective. This is not a debate upon a local government grants Bill. It is not a debate upon any legislation to provide money for local government. In a week or so the Senate will have the chance to debate such matters. It is a debate upon a Bill which will set up the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations. For the first time in Australian history representatives of the Federal Government, the State governments, local government and the community come together around a conference table, and come together continually. As such, it can be historic. It was interesting to follow this debate because the Labor Opposition indicated that it would not oppose the Bill but would support it. In the whole of the debate tonight there was no opposition to any of the particularities of the Bill. I think it must be made perfectly clear that the Bill, which seeks to establish this institution, stands unchallenged by the Opposition.
The Opposition sought to create a diversion. It devoted the whole of the debate not to the Bill, not to the Advisory Council, but to local government funding. Before dealing with the Bill, I king hit the basis upon which the Opposition built its case. Senator Douglas McClelland based his case that local government was getting a raw deal on a table at page 123 of Budget Paper No. 7. He had incorporated in Hansard that table which he said showed that this year, when everything was taken into consideration, local government would get less than it did last year. The basis was the column for 1976-77 in the table. The amount was $ 195.26m. He compared that with the figure for the previous year, which was $274.25m. There was his little aberration that in the column for last year there was approximately $94m of non-recurrent grants for the Regional Employment Development scheme, a scheme which Labor abolished.
I think it is important to understand what happens when figures of this kind are quoted. The Labor Party in government abolished the RED scheme, therefore making the grants for it nonrecurrent. In Opposition it wants to put before people, to use and to repeat, as Senator Gietzelt did, figures used by the Local Government Association. That Association quite rightly added in the figure for the RED scheme because it had been revenue. The Opposition did not do that because it pretends. The simple fast IS tHat the nonrecurrent grants for I975t76 totally $180.26 1m. compared with .$ 194.92,4m this year This year;. local government grants pf ail description, have, > gone up by 8. 1 per cent. I am grateful to Senator Douglas McClelland for incorporating the table in Hansard. I am grateful for thé mention of the Local Government Association.. Nobody in the Labor Party would deny that abolished the
RED scheme. Therefore there should be no comparison between the 2 tables because clearly there is no RED scheme this year, it having been abolished. In fairness, therefore, it must be taken out.
This debate does not concern local government financing. This was a diversion. I merely referred to it to destroy what was the journey of the evening. The debate is about a body that brings together Federal, State and local government representatives and the community in a dialogue in which they can discuss the functions, the structure and the finances of government and in which they not only with their own subjective views but with elements of the community can be recipients- clients, as it were- of government. It is a very simple business. It will succeed depending on the willingness of those who participate and their capacity and ability really to put their hearts and souls into it. If the 5 federal members, the 6 State members, the 6 local government members and the 5 members of the community are people of quality and goodwill and are willing to come together and to discuss the great affairs of the 3 spheres of government and the problems of the community, this will be a useful function. It could be a highly significant one. It depends on the goodwill of the people concerned.
There was an attempt tonight to destroy the concept by saying that the Council does not have any powers. We were told that the Government has not yet named the people who will be on the Council. Of course no one writes into enabling legislation who the people will be. As far as I understand it, the Australian Labor Party has not yet indicated the names of those who it thinks may participate. All this was a distraction. The fact is that here is the first opportunity to bring to a conference table the people I have mentioned. Much was made of the fact that the Labor Party sought by referendum to obtain some powers for local government, but the Labor Party will never take the decision of the people as an answer. It is worth knowing that it was not the government of the day but the voice of the people of Australia that denied the referendum to the Labor Party. Those who advocate centralism always ignore the voice of the ballot-box.
Throughout the debate the Labor Party sneered at federalism as though it were some new-found thing. It is worth putting on record that the whole trend of current topical history throughout the free world is away from the centralism of the neo-socialists and the collectivists towards federalism. Let nobody suggest that this is a new-found philosophy of the Fraser Government. The great nations of Europe and nations such as Canada, West Germany, the United States of America and even the United Kingdom have tested centralism, have found it failing and are setting up internal structures today to decentralise power, to devolve duties and to bring in federalism. So in fact the socialist concept of centralism is being moved aside, particularly in Western Europe, the United States and Canada, and in its place is a new and exciting concept of bringing government closer and closer to the people. This more than anything else, emphasises the great differences between the philosophies of the Government and the Opposition benches. Time and again the Opposition berates the Government when we recite what Mr Whitlam says are the policies of the Labor Party. I recited them at the seminar that Senator Gietzelt mentioned. Yet neither Mr Whitlam nor any member of the Labor Party will deny that they are the policies. I invited Mr Whitlam to do so only recently at a seminar in Melbourne and he declined the offer.
The fundamental fact is that we have on the one hand an attempt by the Government to develop and strengthen the federalist situation in which the various elements of government are involved and on the other hand the clear statements and undertakings by the Leader of the Labor Party that Labor is opposed to federalism and opposed to the States, that it wants to abolish the States, that it wants to amalgamate local government bodies, that it wants one House of Parliament and everything subservient to it. Let those who deny this say so. Time and again we have drawn attention to this matter and time and again the Labor Party has remained absolutely silent.
It is fundamental to the understanding of an institution such as the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations to look at the great philosophies of the 2 opposing parties. I come to the particularities. Something has been attempted to be made of the fact that under the Bill local government will not have the powers to initiate directly items for the agenda of the Council. Quite clearly, the 4 elements which the Council comprises could not separately generate items and have the agenda contain those items because, of course, there would be a need to have some priorities and some kind of ordering of the agenda. The one body that presents itself as being sensible to do that is the Premiers Conference. It is a constitutional body. It brings forward 2 elements. Unhappily, the local government element does not have any direct access, but in order to give local government the opportunities, we have indicated that local government may transmit either directly through the Federal Government, through the State government or through the Advisory Council to the Premiers Conference its ideas so that they can be studied and evaluated. If a State at the State parliamentary level were not to participate it would still be possible for local government to submit its agenda items to the Premiers Conference and for them to be received and considered. Each year the Advisory Council must submit an annual report in which it can include the thoughts of local government as well as others as to what might be the subjects, and from time to time will submit a paper on the main references that have been put before it.
These are the real issues. Do we really oppose the idea of bringing the 4 elements of the community together? Do we really think that it is wrong to look at the structure, functions and finances of government? What are we opposing? When we accept that the Bill has nothing to do with local government financing and put aside all the verbiage on that aspect, what remains is that nobody has opposed the Bill either in general principles of structure or in particularity of detail. All we had was an attempt to try to damage in some way the fact that the Fraser Federal Government has provided for local government, not by this legislation, but by another means, a source of growth funds significantly larger than in the past, giving local government more freedom and more of a place in the sun. In parallel with that, this legislation lifts local government up and puts it at the conference table. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Death of Mrs Freda McClelland-Death of Journalists in Timor- Questions on Notice: Cedar Bay Raid- Rhodesian Immigrants- Thai Students
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman)- Order! It being 10.30 p.m., under sessional order I propose the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I had intended to speak about 2 matters in the adjournment debate tonight but I find that I must speak about a third matter. Today during the proceedings of the Parliament I sought leave of absence for Senator James McClelland. I think that all honourable senators know that his wife has been very ill and that over the past few weeks she has suffered greatly. It is with regret that I have to announce to the Senate that half an hour ago Freda McClelland died. And so there passes from this world an intensely human person. I think that we all regret her passing.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
Senators GEORGES-The second thing I wish to do is to correct what may be a misunderstanding arising from a meeting that I addressed in King George Square, a meeting which was in commemoration of the 5 journalists who died in Timor. The news media took up a call for compensation for the 5 journalists. I did not call for compensation as such; I called for reparation. I think that some compensation has been paid. The point that I was making- I am not the first to make it- was that some reparation ought to be made to the families who were shattered by the unfortunate and tragic death of these 5 journalists, who were caught in a circumstance which perhaps arose from the political limbo in which we found ourselves at the time. Nevertheless, these men died. They died while they were trying to communicate to the whole world the happenings in East Timor.
Regrettably, since the Indonesians are not prepared to accept that they were in the area at the time, there appears to be no way in which justice can be sought and achieved for the families of these people. The Indonesians, who I believe the evidence clearly shows were responsible for their deaths, are not prepared to admit that the journalists were in the area at the time. However, I do not doubt that our investigations show that the Indonesian forces were responsible for their deaths. It is for that reason that the important question of reparation is raised, and it should be pressed by the Government. If it is not possible to achieve this end- that is, reparation for the families concerned- perhaps the Government should take some steps to give special aid to these families. Perhaps the correct thing to do would be to establish some amount of money which these families should receive in reparation, accept that the Indonesians were responsible and then tell them that we will deduct from the amount of aid that we give to Indonesia an amount of money which we consider necessary to be paid to the families of this group. Let me press the point that some assistance should be given to the families beyond the ordinary compensation which has been paid. I ask the Government to take up this matter.
– That is an extraordinary idea of aid. You set off claims for civilian compensation against aid to foreign countries.
– I would like to take up Senator Wright’s point but I am not quite certain what he is putting. Let me put to him that this tragic circumstance -
– That is all right. That is on one side. But to say that you would deduct from aid for foreign countries is another thing.
– I would take it further. My view is that all aid to Indonesia should cease until it withdraws its troops, but I am not entering into that area at the present time. All I am saying is that by investigation the Indonesian fault should be established, if it has not already been established, and we should take the initiative to pay some further compensation, reparation, call it what you will, I think that the Government ought to take a look at the situation 12 months after the tragic deaths of these 5 men. The circumstances are unusual. The men were caught in a situation and apparently we cannot pin the blame where it belongs and seek justice for the families of these men.
– It would never have happened if the Indonesians had not been there.
– It would not have happened.
– Was compensation paid under the laws of Australia for their injuries?
– I admitted in the first place that some compensation may have been paid. It may have been paid contrary to the Act because these men were outside Australian territory.
– Tell us the facts, not the possibilities.
– I told you the facts in the first place, Senator Wright. You ought not to be so close to the letter of the law. You ought to exercise some humanity. That is what I am asking for here- some expression of humanity on the part of the Government in supporting the families of these journalists.
I come now to my third point. I would like to have incorporated in Hansard a letter which appeared in the Canberra Times on Monday 1 8 October 1976. The letter was signed by J. S. Dunn. Mr Jim Dunn has been one of the people in Australia who has attracted attention to the tragedy of Timor. I must give credit to this man that he has been responsible for the documentation of much of the material on Timor. He has done this in a scholarly way and at great risk to himself, because this is a highly emotional issue and sections of the community have taken sides. For example, Mr Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of
Queensland, has taken the view that the East Timorese are a bunch of communists and, being communists, they are therefore sub-human and anything that is done to them is justified. Mr Dunn has made a deal of effort to express his concern. He is a man of experience in that particular area. The letter in the Canberra Times concerns the death of the journalists at Balibo. I seek leave of the Senate to have the letter incorporated.
The letter read as follows-
KILLINGS AT BALIBO
Sir,- On October 16, one year ago, the quiet grey dawn of Balibo was shattered by artillery fire that marked the beginning of the first major Indonesian attack on East Timor. By mid-morning the onslaught had taken the lives of five young Australian newsmen.
Although it may be impossible to prove that Indonesian troops actually shot these young Australians, the fact that this operation was planned and commanded by Indonesian officers leaves no doubt as to who is responsible for the killing.
The continuing debate over the tragedy of Timor demonstrates clearly that these newsmen did not die in vain. The Timor affair subsequently became a subject of wide discussion throughout Australia and clearly now disturbs the Australian political conscience.
Unfortunately, the tragic and wanton killings at Balibo did not arouse sufficient response in Australia or elsewhere to dissuade the Indonesians from their final act of invasion, which, based on the trickle of reports that have been received since December 7 (mostly from non- Fretilin sources), may have cost the lives of more than 50 000 Timorese, or nearly 1 0 per cent of the population.
The dimensions of the Timor tragedy are therefore staggering, compared with any similar event in recent world history. The sad fact is that in the recent debates on the Timor affair and Australian-Indonesian relations, little attention has been given to the suffering of the people of East Timor, who are the innocent victims of a situation involving the kind of behaviour that most of us had hoped belonged to past history.
But the people of Timor and the Australians who died in the Balibo attack are not the only casualties of the Timor affair. Other victims of lasting concern to us all are truth, justice, integrity and humanity.
As one who also tried, but failed to do something to prevent the tragedy of East Timor, and who was in the territory when the Balibo attack occurred, I salute the memory of the five journalists. Their efforts have not been wasted.
Partly as a result of the Balibo tragedy the Timor affair, with its wider implications, has caused us to look searchingly at some of the assumptions on which our foreign policies and stands of principles have been based. We must not forget that Timor was one case in Australia’s diplomatic history, outside her own territories in which a people depended upon an Australian response in order that they should be able to exercise a basic human right- the right to determine their own future.
Because Australia did not respond, thousands of innocent people have become the victims of a travesty of justice, a grim example of man ‘s inhumanity to man.
Leader of ACFOA Mission to East Timor,
– I give credit to Mr Dunn for the manner in which he has persisted in revealing to the Australian community the facts about what is happening in East Timor. Without much of his work we would be less informed and I think that our consciences would be less at ease.
– I rise this evening with a rather unusual request- a request to Ministers in this place and in the other place, in particular to the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers), the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard), the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), to provide answers to 2 1 questions that I have placed on notice in relation to Cedar Bay. I say that it is an unusual request because it is the first time that I have made such a request and I think that it will probably be the last. I ask that these answers be relayed to me as soon as possible.
I do not wish to debate the matter of Cedar Bay or the questions at this stage although I am hopeful that there will be a Senate debate on this matter in the near future. I would like to outline why I think these questions which I have placed on notice should be given speedy replies. I believe that we need to be provided with the full facts of the Commonwealth involvement in the Cedar Bay raid because of the reported imminent release of a police report on 2 complaints lodged at the Cairns police station in Queensland. Unfortunately, the refusal of the Queensland Government to launch an inquiry into very serious allegations about the Cedar Bay affair has not been reported fully outside Queensland. I believe that all Australians should be aware of the real threat to civil liberties in Queensland under the present Government.
I would like to recap briefly for the benefit of the Senate the events that occurred at Cedar Bay. Most honourable senators will remember that on 29 August there was a raid on the quiet community of Cedar Bay. Some Commonwealth participation was involved in that raid. At this stage it is not known quite what that participation was, but some of the questions to which I referred earlier seek information on that participation. After the event, the first time that the raid was mentioned in this place was when Senator Keeffe spoke during the adjournment debate on 7 September. On the following day, 8 September, Mr Keith Wright, a member of the Queensland Parliament, spoke on the matter in that Parliament. The next time that anything of note occurred with regard to Cedar Bay was when convictions of those arrested during the Cedar Bay raid were nullified by the Queensland Attorney-General, Mr Lickiss, on 9 September. Mr Lickiss found that the court which had tried these people who were arrested at the time was not a properly constituted court, and the convictions had to be set aside.
In the next few weeks calls for an inquiry came from all sections of the Queensland community. Perhaps I could give to the Senate some indication of the sorts of organisations that called for an inquiry. They included the President of the Law Society in Queensland, the President of the Queensland Bar Association, and the President of the Young Liberals. Amongst those who called for an inquiry were 21 medical practitioners in Cairns, as did the newspaper the Australian and the President of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties. I could go on giving the names of people in Queensland and, indeed, from other parts of Australia who called for an inquiry into what happened at Cedar Bay. But the calls for an inquiry went principally to Mr Bjelke-Petersen who refused to consider those calls. Indeed, what Mr Bjelke-Petersen said was probably predictable but was very unfortunate. A Queensland newspaper reported Mr BjelkePetersen ‘s response to those calls for an inquiry in an article which reads as follows:
Queensland Premier, Mr Joh Bjelke-Petersen, yesterday accused Cedar Bay hippies of having manufactured evidence after the controversial police raid there.
He said: ‘The Government will believe the police. ‘
Earlier Mr Bjelke-Petersen had been reported as having said he would not hold an investigation into the Cedar Bay raid unless there was substantial evidence to warrant it.
Sunday Sun asked Mr Bjelke-Peterson whether published affidavits, TV films screened during the week and last week ‘s Sunday Sun exclusive report would constitute ‘substantial evidence’.
The Premier said: ‘I haven’t seen any evidence that would warrant an inquiry. This is all part of an orchestrated campaign to legalise marihuana and denigrate the police . . .’
His reply went on in a similar vein. In the last pan of his reply Mr Bjelke-Petersen said:
The Queensland Opposition Leader Mr Burns is spearheading an attack on the police. As usual when police act to uphold the law, the cry comes from the Opposition, “Police brutality”, ‘ he said.
The same names keep cropping up- Dr Paul Wilson, the Reverend Noel Preston, the Council ibr Civil Liberties- and the ALP, ‘he said.
I would just like to say that Dr Paul Wilson is a respected academic at the University of Queensland; he has a readership in sociology. The Reverend Noel Preston has a doctorate in divinity. It is interesting to compare Mr BjelkePetersen’s response to the response of Mr Wran when there was a raid at a place called Tuntable in New South Wales. Mr Wran almost immediately called for a report on that raid. I say, perhaps with some awkwardness, that I was disturbed at the response I received from Senator Withers to a question I asked in this place on 14 September. I asked the question because I was genuinely seeking some information. As a mark of the fact that I was genuine, I notified the Minister some days before of my intention to ask the question, but when I asked the question, as most honourable senators will remember, not only was no answer given but also the Minister’s response was to denigrate me for asking the question, as well as for some other matter. Since I could not get any information I decided that I would place on the Senate notice paper some questions covering certain aspects of the raid. I did that so that I could get information. On 2 1 September I asked 6 questions in relation to the raid, 2 questions on 23 September, 3 further questions on 5 October, 8 more questions on 6 October, and finally I asked 2 further questions on 12 October. The questions I asked were concerned with the raid at Cedar Bay and requested information from the Government.
I was mentioning in chronological order some aspects of the Cedar Bay affair. I mention now that some residents of Cedar Bay, in company with their solicitor, eventually lodged formal complaints on 30 September to the Cairns police. I seek leave of the Senate to incorporate in Hansard the actual complaints that these 2 persons lodged with the police.
The complaints read as follows-
Commissioner of Police Brisbane
I Janice Lauren Lambert of Cedar Bay in the State of Qld make complaint as follows:
That on the 29th August 1976 certain baby clothes belonging to my young infant were wilfully burnt by an unknown police officer. These clothes were positioned inside a trunk which was situated in the house owned by Michael Steven Ballister in the area known as the North Camp of Cedar Bay.
Facts forming the basis of complaint.
On the morning of Sunday 29th Aug 1976, 1 was aware of the presence of a number of people who landed at Cedar Bay from a launch anchored slightly off-shore. I was informed that these people were police officers but I was unable to identify any (other than those known to me) as such, as none wore uniforms or produced any sort of identity card. While I was talking to a policeman I knew as Bevan in the area of my dwelling at that pan of Cedar Bay known as Harry Dick ‘s, I was approached by Leigh Riley, one of the commune members. Leigh Riley informed me (in the presence and hearing of police officer Bevan) that some police had poured kerosene over the baby’s clothes in a trunk at Ballisters’ house and had set fire to the clothes.
On being told of this myself, Mick Lennon and Leigh Riley walked to the north end to find out what was happening. On the way to the north camp I came across about 7 or 8 of the north camp people being held in custody and handcuffed by a number of police in a clearing immediately adjacent to the beach and about 400 yards from the actual position of the north camp.
I was told by one of these people being held in the clearing that her house and the houses of others in the north camp had been burnt by police while the north camp people had been held in the clearing.
I later inspected the contents of the trunk situated in Ballister’s house. I noticed that a number of items of baby clothes in the trunk were either completely destroyed or badly charred by the effects of smoke.
From what I was told by Leigh Riley (in the hearing of police officer Bevan) and from what I was later told by other members of the commune, I believed that the destruction of my baby’s clothes was caused by the action of one or more of the police officers who were present at Cedar Bay on the morning of Sunday 29th Aug 1 976.
I request that the contents of this complaint be transmitted to the Commissioner of Police at Brisbane for his investigation.
Commissioner of Police Brisbane
I Michael Steven Ballister of Cedar Bay in the State of Qld make complaint as follows:
On the morning of 29th August 1 976 I was a resident of an area known as the north camp of Cedar Bay. My dwelling in the north camp was within the boundaries of a perpetual homestead lease held by William Yale Evans. On that day my house and various items in it were destroyed by fire started by unknown police officers who had entered the Cedar Bay area earlier that morning. As well, various plants and trees which formed the basis of mine and others food supply in the north camp area were destroyed by the actions of one or more unidentified police officers.
Facts forming basis of complaint.
Prior to the arrival of the police in the Cedar Bay on 29th Aug 1 976, the north camp area where I lived consisted of a main kitchen structure, and a dwelling occupied by Axle Campbell. There were a large number of pawpaw trees, banana trees and various cultivated vegetables patches in the area of the north camp.
I was present in the north camp area when it was visited by police on that morning. When I left the north camp I noticed that everything in it was in order. I noticed that the various structures were standing and unburnt and that none of the above described vegetation was damaged. After the police had left Cedar Bay on the day of 29th August 1976 I returned to the north camp area. As I walked in to the clearing of the north camp area, I noticed all the pawpaw trees had been chopped well below the fruit bearing area and I also observed a number of tomatoes in the vegetable garden had been destroyed.
I walked out through the kitchen and noticed on my way that the irrigation hose which ran from the 44 gallon drum on the edge of the creek to the bottom part of the garden had been chopped into many pieces. When I reached the kitchen, the only visible thing was a smouldering mass of mess. My observation of the kitchen was that the fireplace which had been in operation prior to the visit of the police was untouched by the destruction which had occured. In the immediate vicinity of the fire place was the only area of kitchen which was unburnt I noticed that large amounts of food had been emptied on the floor of the kitchen that had been stacked with a number of miscellaneous items such as tools. I rescued certain items from this pile and I then went to examine the state of the house which I and Charlie shared.
When I arrived at our house I noticed that the entirety of my personal possessions in the upstairs area of the house had been completely burnt. I also noticed that a kerosene lamp which I had formerly positioned was not there. It did not appear to be among the burnt items. The six main sUpport posts of my house was still standing and the supports were still smouldering at the time. I noticed that a trunk of baby clothes contained items that were still half charred and my examination of the trunk caused me to think that someone had poured water in it. I recalled being told by someone prior to my visit to the north camp at this time that the baby trunk was the first thing that had been fired by the police.
I then visited Axle Campbell’s house and noticed that there was no roof left on his ‘two storey structure and I noticed that the mango tree under which his house was built had been completely burnt thus destroying the entirety of the season’s fruit. I also noticed that one of the corner posts of his house had apparently been chopped about 6 inches from the ground. Then I observed a leather jacket, which I knew belonged to Axle, lying in the burnt remains of his house. This coat had been half burnt on my visit. As well as the various items of pawpaw and banana trees being chopped off, I also observed many of the pineapple growth which we had in the garden area of the north camp had been slashed. While I was aware of the presence of the police in Cedar Bay on that morning I heard scattered and continual gunfire from various areas. I request that the contents of this complaint be transmitted to the Commissioner of Police at Brisbane for his investigation.
-The 2 complaints which were lodged with the Cairns police eventually prompted statements from the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties. I have here a letter dated 15 October 1976 which has been sent today to all members of the Queensland State Parliament. I shall read it to the Senate:
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, Post Office Box 43, University, St Lucia.
The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties wishes to draw your attention to the threat to civil liberties and the rule of law repesented by a recent Cabinet decision to over-rule the decision by the Commissioner of Police and the then Minister to hold an inquiry into certain police actions on the occasion of a student protest march on 29 July 1 976.
In a democracy which respects the rights of individuals and the rule of law it is vital that there should be no suggestion that political pressures can be used to influence the conduct of the police. The police must be free to carry out the law impartially, treating all citizens equally. Where there is any complaint of improper conduct, the Police Act empowers the Police Commissioner, subject to the Minister, to decide whether an inquiry should be held.
Improper conduct might take many forms. It might involve arbitrary arrest or the use of undue force. It might consist of a failure to lay charges or the taking of bribes.
There are numerous possibilities. Once the decision to investigate or inquire into such matters becomes subject to political influence, great possibilities of injustice appear. An inquiry into whether charges should have been laid could be frustrated if the person against whom the charges might have been laid has political influence. On the other hand, a citizen who is harassed by the police may be denied justice because those who disagree with him have sufficient political influence to prevent an inquiry.
It is a recognised principle of our democratic way of life that Judges and Magistrates should be independent and free from political pressures. The police have wide powers and discretions and should similarly be above suspicion It is very difficult for the ordinary citizen to defend himself against the occasional policeman who exercises his powers arbitrarily or maliciously. In most cases the circumstances are often not such that it is possible to press charges in the courts, and the citizen’s only redress is to complain to the Commissioner. The law assumes that the Commissioner will act impartially and on the facts in deciding whether to hold an inquiry.
We submit that it is a most dangerous precedent for such decisions to be taken out of the hands of the Commissioner into Cabinet where there must inevitably be a suspicion that political considerations will be influential. In the case in question ordinary citizens were deprived of an avenue of redress by persons other than those to whom law entrusts such decisions.
Confirmation of this serious encroachment on the discretionary powers of the Police Commissioner is to be found in the fact that the Commissioner announced that the Premier had approved investigation of the complaints laid by the two Cedar Bay residents. Nothing in the Police Act suggests that such a routine decision requires the Premier’s approval, and the fact that such approval was sought demonstrates the extent to which the Police Commissioner’s independence on matters of routine police administration has been abridged.
Political control of the Police is quite incompatible with our type of democracy. It is a characteristic of totalitarian and repressive regimes. We do not suggest that the present Queensland Government intends to use the Police for political purposes. Nevertheless, the Council feels compelled to bring to the attention of Members of Parliament that dangerous precedents have been set which would be used by a future government to justify the use of the police for political purposes and to protect them from the consequences of unlawful conduct.
That letter was sent mainly because the Police Commissioner, after having received these 2 complaints from the Cedar Bay residents, apparently conferred with the Premier to see whether the Premier concurred with the suggestion that an inquiry should be held. There was no reason for the Police Commissioner so to do. Tonight I make this plea to the Ministers to answer these questions so that the full facts regarding Commonwealth involvement in this matter are available for public scrutiny when the police report is released. My information is that the police report is probably ready and could be released this week. The Queensland report will spark much discussion, and from it many groups will make decisions on future action. Thus, the extent of the Federal involvement is extremely important. 1 do not think it is the sort of thing for which we should have to wait for 4 to 6 weeks, because hasty decisions may be made on the basis of the Queensland report without the full details being made known.
The only real knowledge of Federal involvement, as far as I can see, comes from a report in the Courier-Mail on 10 September 1976. lt stated that there was little Federal involvement. Part of that report reads:
Federal Government officials said last night that Federal involvement in the controversial Cedar Bay raid had run to action by customs agents and the Navy patrol boat Bayonet.
There has also been a report that during an appearance at a Liberal Party Federal Council meeting in Canberra in September, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, discounted any suggestion of malpractice by Commonwealth officers at Cedar Bay. There was also a letter to the editor in the Nation Review of 8 October 1976. This letter forms the basis of question No. 1 184, which is one of the questions to which I referred earlier. I do not think it is good enough that it should take some time for answers to 2 1 questions on notice to be given to the Senate. I think that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs could even consider releasing a full statement on this matter to Parliament to allow a debate on it. The allegations have been serious. We cannot believe that the Federal Government would condone the actions that appear to have taken place. I do not think that the Fraser Government could condone Mr Bjelke-Petersen ‘s refusal to hold an inquiry until public outcry forced him to do so.
In case I am giving the wrong impression, I wish to compliment the Government on promptly answering questions that I have placed on notice since I have been here and since it has been in office. I say that quite genuinely. I have no complaints about that. However, I think that this is an extremely urgent case and that is the reason why I raise it tonight. Because it is such an urgent case I think it requires priority treatment. I doubt that much research would be required by the Government to answer the questions that 1 have put on notice. I believe that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs no doubt would have obtained full details of the raid when the controversy broke. If it had not been for Senator Keeffe, civil liberties groups and church leaders, no action would have been taken to ascertain the full facts, and I think that this has very disturbing implications. I reiterate that I do not have any complaints about the way in which questions that I have placed on notice have been answered, but I believe that this is a special case requiring replies to the questions as soon as possible.
- Mr Deputy President, I rise to speak on the adjournment debate tonight because I am disturbed by a series of articles which appeared in last Sunday’s National Times. The subject matter of those articles has aroused considerable comment in Western Australia, both before and after the publication of the articles in the National Times. It is apparent that the Government is being hustled, particularly by the Perth land developer Alan Bond, and also by W. D. Scott & Co. and by the Premier of Western Australia, to accept up to 100 000 white immigrants from Rhodesia and, moreover, to accept them under specially privileged conditions. Possibly a foreign debt of $750m will be incurred to facilitate their settlement in Australia. Mr Bond’s pecuniary interest in this question is easy to identify. He sees would-be Rhodesian immigrants as potential buyers for the abundant supply of land at his Sun City development at Yanchep, in which the commercial buyers of Western Australia have shown considerable disinterest. On the last occasion when the Bond empire was threatened with insolvency it was rescued from the brink by the Government of Western Australia which purchased thousands of acres of grossly over-priced land through the Urban Development Council. That soft option is not available to the Bond Corporation any longer.
In particular I want to expose some of the spurious and frequently self-contradictory arguments put forward by the proponents of the Rhodesian migration scheme. Sometimes these white Rhodesians are depicted as refugees. At best that description is premature, and at worst it represents a mischievous but possibly selffulfilling prophecy. But even if these people were genuine refugees there can be no justification for granting priority to them over other genuine and established refugees from countries like Thailand, Timor, the Lebanon or, for that matter, Chile. Mr Bond demands not only that these people be given special priority as refugees but also that the normal processing time through the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, which is stated to be 8 to 12 weeks, be speeded up to 2 1 days. Of course, he takes it for granted that any would-be white immigrants from Rhodesia would be automatically granted entry to Australia. The National Times article quotes Mr Bond as saying:
If the Australian authorities don’t act to clear them much more quickly the United States will. They want their skills, believe me.
If Mr Bond ‘s opinion is to be taken as valid, it is completely inaccurate to put forward a humanitarian argument that Australia has to accept these people because no one else in the world will have them. According to Mr Bond, not only is the United States willing to take these people; it is eager to do so. Readers of the National Times were served up by Mr Bond, by W. D. Scott and by Sir Charles Court a romantic vision which depicted potential Rhodesian immigrants as rugged frontiersmen and women, and as farmers and miners who possess special skills and enterprise with which they would develop Australia and particularly northern Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. Sir Charles Court said:
Western Australia is the obvious place for Rhodesians, with the States rural and mining economy and its heavy emphasis on development.
Ironically it is proposed that these rugged frontiersmen should be settled at Yanchep in Western Australia. The Yanchep area, I might add, does have a lion park which perhaps would make Rhodesians feel at home, but being situated as it is within 50 kilometres of the Perth General Post Office it could scarcely be described as a frontier area. Mr Bond passes over that contradiction with the fatuous proposition that the people would settle and establish homes in this area but they would work on the mining development in the Pilbara, some 1500 to 2000 kilometres away. The Scott report states that of Rhodesia’s 278 000 white residents some 206 000 live in urban areas, that is 75 per cent, an urban concentrated population that is comparable to Australia ‘s and of course no evidence is presented to qualify or quantify the alleged skills of these potential migrants. Then the Scott report in a glowing passage resurrects a romantic Australian myth pertaining to the development of the north. It says:
Large areas of Australia, especially the Kimberleys, the Pilbara, the Northern Territory and northern Queensland, lack mainly suitable population for the development of their impressive agricultural and mineral development potential and, additionally, are strategically exposed by the emptiness.
I would have thought by now that it was fairly obvious that these areas, particularly for their alleged agricultural development, lack not only people but also markets, or at least commercial markets. I would have thought that the history of the Ord River scheme would have demonstrated fairly decisively by now that that scheme lacks both a technically and/or economically viable system of agriculture. Finally, to complete the absurdity, Rhodesian farmers, as I understand it, in the main could be more accurately described as supervisors of cheap black labour than as farmers in the sense that we have come to regard farmers in Australia.
The suggestion that enclaves of these people, many or most of whom have entrenched racist attitudes, should be established in areas which have substantial Aboriginal populations is particularly obnoxious and will, I trust, be rejected by all responsible Australians. It is pleasing to note that the Government so far, or at least so far as can be gleaned by public statements on the matter by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar), has resisted pressure on this issue. I note with satisfaction that the National Times reports Mr MacKellar as having said:
I am strongly opposed to racism. We screen people to avoid accepting those with marked racist tendencies. We don ‘t want to import this problem. ‘
Again I trust that all responsible Australians will endorse the Minister’s comments on that matter. If we do not want to import racist prejudices, then one would think that there would be many areas of the world more satisfactory than Rhodesia for the purpose of recruiting migrants. I am astounded that Sir Charles Court should fall upon Rhodesian or would-be Rhodesian immigrants to the degree that he has. I quote him again when he said:
They should be encouraged to come. They’re a wonderful, gutsy people. We can use them. ‘
Are not, or were not, these wonderful gutsy people whom Sir Charles eulogises supporters of the illegal Smith regime?
– Illegal in what sense?
– Are they not, in Sir Charles ‘ terms guilty of treason? Are they not the people who defied the Crown; the people who placed the Governor of Rhodesia, the Queen’s representative, under house arrest? Perhaps as Mr Bond suggested the United States, which we will all remember was itself born as a nation out of revolution and defiance of the British Crown, would welcome these people. But it is almost unbelievable that a loyalist zealot like Sir Charles
Court could eulogise people against whom a prima facie case of treason against the Crown exists. Even if Sir Charles has lapsed I am supremely confident that other loyalist zealots in the hydra-headed Australian League of Rights will vociferously demand that these potential fomentors of revolution be rigorously excluded from this country. For all the reasons stated, and some others not stated, I trust and hope that the Government will rigorously maintain the policy which has so far been enunciated by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar.
- Mr Deputy President -
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! I call Senator Coleman.
– I do not want to delay the Senate or Senator Baume for any length of time but I do want to draw the attention of the Senate to a letter I received today, which I want to read into the record, from a group of Thai students in Australia. The whole of Australia is aware of the dreadful occurrence in Thailand some days ago. We were subjected in our press to a number of front page photographs of students being battered and bashed. The pictures told the story of what is happening in Thailand. I think that we all express our concern that this can happen in the twentieth century when we are supposedly living in a reasonably domocractic world. The letter simply states:
We, a group of Thai students in Australia, would like to express our deep concern about the imminent threat of imtimidation by the repressive military regime which recently grabbed power in Thailand.
In view of the continuing murder, arrest and intimidation of Thai students and patriots in our home country; the sending of Thai Special Branch Police to Tokyo, Japan, and the sending of right wing radicals to the U.S.A. in an effort by the military junta to suppress and harass Thai students in the respective countries; and finally, in view of the fact that informers of the Royal Thai Embassy are known to have been planted among us, we in Australia strongly feel that our security, our freedom of thought and the freedom to voice our opinion are being threatened.
– Who wrote the letter?
- Senator, if you wish to comment please wait till I have finished. You will have ample opportunity. I promise I will not stand here for more than half an hour. The letter continues:
We therefore beg you to give immediate consideration to granting permanent residency to any Thai national now in Australia, who cannot return to Thailand for fear of life or liberty, and to ensure the security, and well-being of all Thais in this country, irrespective of their political beliefs. We further request that the Australian Government grant refuge to Thai students and others who are forced to flee Thailand in fear of their lives and liberty. For our own safety, we are not able to release our names in this letter.
That answers your question, Senator Lajovic. Would you put your name on a letter if in actual fact you were under threat as to your freedom, life and liberty? The letter continues:
For further information, please contact ‘Thai Students’ . . .
A Melbourne telephone number was given. The letter is simply signed:
A Group of Thai Students in Australia.
On 11 October 1976 the Australian Development Assistance Agency wrote to Mr Krishnan National Director, Overseas Student Service in Carlton, expressing the opinion of the ADAA and the attitude that had been adopted by it to those people who were Colombo Plan students from South Vietnam and Cambodia. I think it is important that some of the statements made in that letter are read into the record. The letter is signed by Mr H. Marshall, Assistant Secretary, International Training and Education, at the Australian Development Assistance Agency. He said:
As you will be aware, following the changes of Government in South Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea last year, the previous Australian Government announced, through Senator James McClelland, Minister for Labor and Immigration, on 1 1 November 1975 -
Rather synonymous, I imagine- that students from these two countries would not be required to return home, and were free to apply for resident status in Australia if they so chose.
This decision has been endorsed by the present Government. The Government is not prepared to force students who were nominated by the former Governments of Cambodia or Vietnam to return home against their will. The Government expects that many students who can arrange to do so will in fact return.
I believe that that situation applies also to those Thai students who are receiving their education in Australia. I believe that if there are students who want to return home they will make arrangements to return home when they feel it is safe to do so. My concern is for those who feel that their life and their liberty will be threatened when they do arrive home or who may have cause to feel that their life and liberty may be threatened while they are here in Australia. My concern is also for those students in Thailand who feel that their life and liberty are being threatened, who may look at Australia as being a refuge and who may apply to come here. Therefore, I ask the same question asked by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, on 13 October when he was speaking about the Thai students. He asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) a question without notice seeking information on what the situation would be so far as Australia was concerned and asking for an assurance that any Thai student who felt endangered by the coup d’etat in Bangkok would not be forcibly repatriated. Mr Whitlam asked:
In view of the sudden and violent coup d’etat which has resulted in the overthrow of Thailand’s democratically elected Government, is the Minister aware that many Thai students now in Australia are deeply concerned that their lives or safety might be endangered if they were forced to return to Thailand? Will the Minister therefore extend to such students the same considerations as my Government extended to those Vietnamese and Cambodian students who felt . . . endangered by the changes of government in their countries last year, that is, will he allow those who are due to return to Thailand after completion of their studies at the end of this year to remain in Australia for the time being?
The reply of the Minister was not definitive, nor was the reply of the Minister for Defence, Mr Killen, to a rather facetious question asked by Mr Katter on 7 October. Mr Killen ‘s reply was facetious and said nothing. I do not think the Minister was even aware that a problem existed in Thailand. I want something a little better than that. I would like a definitive statement by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on the Thai students who are already resident in Australia. I would like to know what the situation is as far as this Government is concerned if Thai students apply for permanent resident status and whether Australia will be offering refuge to those students and other people in Thailand who may seek asylum in Australia as a result of the coup in their country and who do not wish to stay there under the existing regime. I want to know what is the Government’s policy. I want to know whether it will be enunciated in the very near future so as to settle the disturbed minds of people who are here and other people who are overseas.
– I was stimulated to join this debate by the words of Senator Walsh. I believe he raised 2 separate issues. One of them concerned the substance of some newspaper articles which related to a certain situation in one State. I do not wish to involve myself in that. The honourable senator then moved on to some aspects of the way in which we should treat certain people who may wish to come to Australia as refugees. I believe he was less than generous in some of the things he said about people who may look to this country for assistance and succour sometime in the near future.
I have never supported the action of the Rhodesian separatists. I have never supported the policies which have been followed. I have been public about this and it has not won me any friends among certain people who would have expected me to come out and support what the Rhodesians were doing. I will not support a regime anywhere which is racist in any way or which undertakes actions with which I do not agree. But I cannot forget that there are in Rhodesia second and third generation peoplethe grandchildren of original settlers- who have had no say in what has happened and who, through no fault of their own, find a situation has developed over which they have had no control, which has had its own momentum and which they are unable to stop.
I am sensitive on the subject of refugees. I cannot forget that in 1938 there was a refugee problem. I cannot forget that in 1938 there was a conference at a town called Evian and that Australia was one of the few nations in the world willing to give entry permits to the refugees of those days. Maybe it was to only 10,000 refugees but most countries would not take anyone. Australia would. We established then the kind of honourable tradition in matters of refugees of which I am very proud. I know may people who have left South Africa. The people who have left South Africa in the past are generally not people who have admired certain of the domestic policies of that country. Many of the people who wish to leave southern Africa now wish to do so because they are not happy with what has gone on and what is continuing to happen.
In spite of my background I took it upon myself to approach the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) early this year and to beg him to recognise that in the Lebanon there was a refugee situation of major proportions and that our response should be, as it has been, to recognise the reality and to open this country again to people who may need to come here. Senator Coleman has just raised another aspect of the same matter. I make the point that I do not want Senator Walsh, in making his political debating points, to set out to raise a barrier against the entry of people from any country who wish to come here for the kind of life we can provide. I do not think that is good enough. He may have made some valid points in other parts of his argument. I hope that in considering what has been said the Minister does not lose sight of the fact that in the next few years we could be seeing an ugly situation developing in South Africa. It could be a situation to which the traditions of our country apply. These have been to admit refugees, to recognise people’s needs and not to turn people away because we do not happen to approve of some of the national policies which may have applied, but to make them welcome if they wish to come here.
– Black or white?
– Black or white, Senator Georges. I am trying to say that the essential fact is whether they need the chance to enter this country. I think Senator Walsh did not make that point clear. I would not want anyone to think that honourable senators wanted to close our borders and wanted to make Australia an island on this issue when it has never been one.
– I am prompted to enter this debate to follow through some of the submissions made by Senator Baume. He talked about the people who came here in 1939. There were some very fine people. They had suffered oppression. The honourable senator would know a man in Sydney who is now very old. His name is Mendel Kusher People like him came to this country and devoted their lives against people who wanted to oppress the country in accordance with their views. That is the type of person who came in that era. Senator Walsh was concerned- I think we all are- about these people who lived in a sort of cocoon in their own country.
Let us leave Rhodesia for a moment and study the conduct of the colons who went back from Algeria to mainland France. These people had lived off the Algerians, but they have since been nothing but a troublesome element in France. I know that we cannot describe De Gaulle as a socialist, but De Gaulle and the other leaders in his party knew who comprised the assassination gangs. It was the colons. I am not saying that every Rhodesian is like that. Senator Baume would be aware that the present Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar, said that any Rhodesians intending to come here would be asked or vetted- to the degree that we can ensure security- as to whether they had aided or abetted any anti-monarchy attitudes within the Ian Smith Government.
Very prominent men in the British Commonwealth, such as Sir Ralph Wilenski, who rose from a humble railwayman to be the Prime Minister of his country, and Garfield Todd, another very fine man who has an equally fine daughter, were good Rhodesians. Honourable senators should not run away with the idea that people would not spit at the sound of their names. Honourable senators should read some of the Rhodesian newspapers. We do not want to let such people in to create division. The bulk of the white component of Rhodesia are people who went there after the Ian Smith Government, in its stupid unilateral attitude, defied former Prime Minister Wilson and the present occupant of the throne. These are the people that we ought to prevent from coming here.
Other fundamental things are involved. I have had people ask me about coming here. They were whites who worked in the railway system in Rhodesia. I happened to be talking with them about trade unionism. They said that their trade unions have no ties. They were not talking about the World Confederation of Trade Unions but about the International Federation of Trade Unions. They said that all the trade union movements of the world were communist. People who come from a country with a perverted system have to be kept out of Australia. Let me give honourable senators an idea of the deep problems that can occur. Senator Wheeldon would appreciate this; I think he would go part of the way with me. Some years ago Australia took in some burghers from overseas. One of the great problems was that a lot of these people had been overseers in the tea plantations. They went to Western Australia and some of them were put on the railways. They all wanted to be leading storemen; no one wanted to be just one of the rank and file. I apply that to the Rhodesians. It may be that they are better farmers than Senator Walsh suggests, but I wonder whether they all think they will be land-owners in the first year. That will be the test.
Senator Lajovic referred, by way of interjection, to being under pressure. I think he will agree with me when I say that a lot of people here in the Senate did not want to be owners and bosses in the first few years we were in the work force. These are the pitfalls. I do not think that the Minister is being stampeded. Let us not get carried away with the ideas which may be expressed by Sir Charles Court or Mr Bond. They probably see the situation similar to that which existed in the film called The Gun, with Burt Lancaster. It was set back in the Peninsula War. A British officer had all the Spanish peasants pulling this big gun all over Spain. I suppose Mr Bond would like to build a galleon and have all these Rhodesians on the cheap building it. We do not want that sort of thing here. After all, Mr Bond made a hash of his business affairs and it ill becomes him to be a recruiting sergeant for the Australian work force.
I do not think that some of the fears which people talk about will manifest themselves. Just as we have asked some people in South America where they stood in respect of affairs in Europe in the period from 1941 to 1945 and subsequent years, I think we have a right to ask some of these people where they stood when Ian Smith was telling all the British Commonwealth leaders to go and jump in the ocean. If Ian Smith thinks that he can fight to the last white Rhodesian, he has every right to do so, but we do not want any more Vietnams, even to defend a white outpost. Honourable senators know that if the Rhodesians had agreed with what Wilson said about the introduction of parity in the sharing of government they would not be in the position they are in now. I simply say, along the lines of the interjection by Senator Georges, that successive Australian governments have adopted a policy of the blending of people of all races and all complexions. I think this policy should be maintained. It still means that the recipient nation has the right to deny access to some people who might want to come to that nation. I refer to people who might want to use Australia as a launching pad for the future. Let me prove my bipartisanship. I recently met a family from the United States which had every right to dispute their country’s policy on Vietnam. We are now getting some of these people here. Whether these Americans are in Sweden, Canada or Australia they have permanent domicile in the United States. They talk patronisingly and say that they do not want Australian citizenship but want to retain their United States status. This situation is unacceptable to me; they cannot have the best of the 2 worlds. That is the stand that I apply to the Rhodesians as well.
– I am forced to take part in this discussion tonight because of 2 factors. One is the misinterpretation placed by Senator Baume on statements made by my colleague Senator Walsh tonight. I think that Senator Baume, on reflection, may realise that he misinterpreted what Senator Walsh said. Senator Walsh was complaining about a proposal, outlined in the National Times last weekend, to settle Rhodesians en masse in Yanchep, Western Australia. Senator Baume missed that point. He put a case to allow individuals into this country. None of us has ever objected to that idea. Such people have a legitimate right to seek immigration to this country. What we are opposed to, and what Senator Walsh referred to, is mass immigration by a number of people from a certain country who want to settle en masse in one corner of this country.
The other point I wish to raise relates to an interjection by Senator Wright who appeared to be quite indignant about the statement by Senator Walsh that the Smith regime in Rhodesia was an illegal regime. I had cause to place on notice some time ago several questions relating to Rhodesia and I want to refer to an answer given to me by Senator Guilfoyle on behalf of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar). In that answer it was stated that the regime in Southern Rehodesia was illegal. I want to quote this reply for the information of Senator Wright. He has left the chamber but he can read it tomorrow. No doubt he is not aware of what I am about to say. In the reply to this question on notice the Minister quoted the United Nations Security Council resolution of 29 May 1968 which requires that countries do not recognise Rhodesion passports for travel purposes. The Minister stated:
The requirements of that resolution include:
Decides that all States members of the United Nations shall:
Prevent the entry into their territories, save on exceptional humanitarian grounds, of any person travelling on a Southern Rhodesian passport, regardless of its date of issue, or on a purported passport issued by or on behalf of the illegal regime in Southern Rhodesia; and
Take all possible measures to prevent the entry into their territories of persons whom they have reason to believe to be ordinarily resident in Southern Rhodesia and whom they have reason to believe to have furthered or encouraged or to be likely to further or encourage, the unlawful actions of the illegal regime in Southern Rhodesia, or any activities which are calculated to evade any measure decided upon in this resoultion or resolution 232 ( 1966) of 16 December 1966.’
So, on 2 occasions in the answer that Senator Guilfoyle gave to me in the Senate, a Minister of the Government has classed the Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia as illegal. Yet in this chamber Senator Wright, by way of interjection, tried to ridicule my colleague, Senator Walsh, for stating that it was, in fact, an illegal regime. So there is a division of opinion in the Government.
The reason I put the question on notice was that it had been drawn to my attention that members of the Rhodesian Police Force were in Australia trying to recruit people to serve in the Rhodesian army. I put the question on notice and received an answer in which the Government disclaimed any knowledge of any Rhodesian policemen being in this country for the purpose of recruiting personnel for the Rhodesian army. I had occasion to put that question on notice because a person rang and told me that he had served in the Vietnam war and that he had been approached in a hotel in Adelaide to serve in the Rhodesian army. When I asked him why he wanted to serve there he said the offer was very good because of the money that these people were paying. I put the question on notice and again received an answer from Senator Guilfoyle. I will read the answer:
In no case in which authority to visit Australia has been granted to a person from Rhodesia has there been any indication that the purpose of the visit has related to recruitment for the Rhodesian Army.
Of course, no indication would be given, bearing in mind the purpose for which these people were in the country. The answer continues:
That last part of the answer was, of course, in response to paragraph (3) of my question, which asked:
The reason I posed the question in that form was that I did not think any male over the age of 35 years would be silly enough to leave Australia to serve in a foreign army. The answer that I received from the Government was that it had no knowledge of any persons being issued passports to travel to Rhodesia. In view of the article published in the National Times last weekend, I think all Australians should view with very great concern the matter that has been brought to the notice of the Senate tonight by Senator Walsh.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.33 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The Attorney-General has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
What was the value of philatelic sales for each financial year from 1965-66 to 1975-76.
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
In addition, the Education Research and Development Committee (ERDC) funds migrant education research studies as part of its general research grants program. Information on specific projects funded by the ERDC is contained in its Annual Reports which are tabled in Parliament under the requirements of the Education Research Act 1 970.
Reference to current research in migrant education is also included in annual reports presented to Parliament pursuant to section 1 2 of the Immigration ( Education ) Act 1971.
In addition to its research program outlined above, the Department of Education serviced the work of the Committee on the Teaching of Migrant Languages in Schools. The Committee’s report is in the process of being published.
A continuing program of research is also undertaken in connection with language teaching and language testing materials. Research is undertaken into applied linguistics, appropriate language, interest and subject content of materials, test validity and marking procedures. Trialling and evaluation of materials is also undertaken throughout production.
Migrant education research is essentially applied research. Earlier projects were instrumental in bringing about significant changes in policy. For example, a survey during 1968 and 1969 of the educational needs of migrant children in government and independent schools in New South Wales led directly to the major review of policy early in 1 970 which provided for the first time Commonwealth Government support for a program of special instruction for migrant children who were experiencing English language difficulties in the schools. A survey of schools of high migrant enrolments in Melbourne late in 1972 resulted in an amendment to the Immigration (Education) Act 1971 to allow emergency class-room accommodation to be provided as part of the child migrant education program.
The research on the teaching of English to migrants has resulted in the production of materials to suit the special linguistic needs of migrant children and adults from a wide range of background and with a range of language skills.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice:
– The Minister for Overseas Trade has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The International Wheat Agreement, 1971 which entered into force on 1 July 1 97 1 is the seventh of a series of similar agreements since 1 949 and has as its objectives:
The International Wheat Agreement 1 97 1 also maintains the consultative and information collection functions of the International Wheat Council.
United Kingdom with respect to the interests of certain dependent territories.
The International Grants Arrangement 1967 was based on a system of supply /purchase commitments at prices consistent with a prescribed price range. The International Wheat Agreement 1971 contains no substantive economic provisions because, at the time of the negotiation, participating countries could not agree on the appropriate mechanisms to regulate world trade in wheat. In particular agreement could not be reached on an appropriate price range. However Article 2 1 of the Wheat Trade Convention of the Agreement provides for the examination, ‘at an appropriate time of the questions of prices and related rights and obligations.
Australia ‘s minimum annual food aid contribution under the Food Aid Convention of the International Wheat Agreement (FAC), can be stated as a percentage of the total minimum annual contribution of the FAC member countries. Australia’s contribution has remained unchanged at 225 000 tonnes (the level established in the International Grains Arrangement in 1967 when a Food Aid Convention was first negotiated ).
At that time Australia’s contribution was5 percent of the total minimum contribution of the 12 donor members. This percentage remained unchanged for the life of the Arrangement.
The Food Aid Convention of 1971 contained only 9 donor members with each continuing to supply its previous annual commitment as under the Food Air Convention 1967 (except Sweden which reduced its minimum annual contribution). This had the effect of increasing Australia’s percentage of the total minimum annual contribution from5 per cent to 5.7 per cent.
When the Food Aid Convention, 1971 was extended in July 1974, the minimum annual contribution to the EEC was increased due to the enlargement of the EEC by the accession of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom in January 1973. The commitments of all other member countries remained the same. This had the effect of decreasing Australia’s percentage of the total minimum annual contribution from 5.7 per cent to 5.3 per cent which is the current level.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
Have austerity measures within the Department of Defence caused shortages of about 300 items of ammunition and equipment normally readily available, as is suggested in an article in the Sunday Telegraph dated 22 August 1976. II so, what effect are these shortages having on the defence preparedness and functioning of (a) the Australian Army, (b) the Royal Australian Navy, and (c) the Royal Australian Ait Force.
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
During the past three years there was a run down of spare parts and equipment. It is expected that shortages of stores and equipment will continue to emerge and to exist for some months to come.
At present there are two cases of shortages in ammunition stocks, both for small arms. There is a significant shortage in the supply of boots. Other shortages include some sizes of trousers and hand tools.
The nature of the shortages is such that there is no significant effect on the defence preparedness of (a) the Australian Army, (b) the Royal Australian Navy, and (c) the Royal Australian Air Force.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australian Film Commission
Australian National Gallery
Public Service Board
The Film and Television School
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question: (l)-(4) The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations does not extract separate statistics of the educational qualifications of persons registered for employment.
Data are, however, available for a range of professional occupations which are closely tied to specific courses of tertiary training. These are presented in the following table. It should be noted that it is not possible to distinguish in these statistics between university graduates and persons holding other qualifications from other institutions except where the relevant training can only be obtained at a specific type of tertiary training institution and the occupation requires registration or licencing. Nor, in the case of graduates, can the level of qualification be distinguished.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has provided the following answers to the honourable senator’s questions:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources, upon notice:
Is the Commonwealth Government providing financial assistance to the Queensland Government by way of loan to help finance the construction of a thermal power station at Gladstone in central Queensland. If so, (a) what is the ratio of Commonwealth funds to State funds which are being used to finance the project; (b) what was the original agreed price for the supply of electricity for the Comalco smelter at Gladstone: (c) what is the new formula and unit rate that the Queensland Government has now agreed to supply electricity for the Comalco smelter at Gladstone; and (d ) what is the anticipated cost of supplying power from Gladstone power station to other bulk supply consumers.
– The Minister for National Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
, (c) and (d) These matters are the responsibility of the Government of Queensland.
asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Western Australia has established a Local Government Grants Committee and Queensland has an Interim State Committee, but neither of these bodies has been established by statute.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
What will be the cost of the action undertaken by Commonwealth Conciliation Commissioner, Mr Brack, in mailing his comments on an industrial dispute to rank and file members of the Plumbers and Gasfitter’s Union.
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I am advised that, in his decision of 6 September 1 976, Mr Commissioner Brack granted claims to vary the Sprinkler Pipe Fitters Award 1 975 in relation to the national wage decision August 1976 only for employees outside Victoria and Queensland. The Commissioner gave his reasons for the decision and said: ‘The employers are to provide the names and addresses of all employees affected in Victoria and Queensland and a copy of this decision will be sent to them by the Commission’ (Transcript, page 14). The costs of distributing the relevant 5 pages of transcript to the 354 emloyees involved were as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
Has the Queensland Government made an official submission to the Federal Government concerning the cutback in funds available for sewerage works made available to the State of Queensland in the 1976-77 Budget. If so, (a) what additional funds have been requested by the Queensland Government; (b) when is it likely that a decision regarding the submission will be forthcoming from the Federal Government.
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No specific amount has been requested.
b ) It is under urgent consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
Is it intended to renovate and improve the Port Fairy Post Office with a view to its reoccupation by the postal and telecommunications authorities. If so, when is it likely that tenders will be called for the work.
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Postal Commission does not intend to renovate the old post office building as it considers that the associated costs are not justified. The more centrally located post office now operating from leased premises is providing satisfactory customer service in a much more economical way. The Commission proposes to declare the building as surplus to needs so that the Department of Administrative Services can arrange for its disposal.
Pine Plantations: Damage by Black Cockatoos (Question No. 1112)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
Are pine plantations being seriously decimated by black cockatoos.
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Black cockatoos are not causing serious damage to pine plantations established for timber production.
Pine seed is a food source for black cockatoos and the leading shoots of trees are occasionally broken by the birds’ weight, as they shred the cones to get at the seed.
However there is some concern at the effect of black cockatoos on specially selected pine trees established in seed orchards to allow the easy collection of high quality seed for production nurseries. The potential exists for serious losses of high quality seed should there be a large increase in the population of black cockatoos.
asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
Has the shortage of Commonwealth Police, which is so detrimental to the safety and well-being of Australian citizens, been brought about by the decision to provide an extensive personal Commonwealth Police Force guard for the present Governor-General to protect him against the continuous and widespread expressions of public disapproval of his actions last November and subsequently.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The Commonwealth Government is concerned with any attempt at violence to any Australian citizen. If the honourable senator is concerned that police resources are being used to safeguard any citizen, she should use her endeavours to influence all with whom she comes into contact to avoid any display of violence to anyone.
Apart from this I have nothing to add to the answer I gave the honourable senator when she put an identical question to me without notice on 22 September 1976.
Telecom Australia: Medibank Contribution Deductions
– On 8 September 1976 Senator Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications the following question, without notice:
Is the Minister aware that the pay section of Telecom Australia has stated that it has no authority to make deductions from employees’ pay for Medibank intermediate and private insurance yet it can make deductions for Hospital Benefits Association intermediate and private insurance? Will the Minister take whatever action is necessary to enable employees of Telecom Australia to have deductions taken from their pay for Medibank intermediate and private insurance?
The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
In Telecom Australia deductions from staff pay are made in respect of a large number of organisations including assurance companies, credit societies, unions and associations and hospital and medical benefits organisations. To participate in the arrangements it is necessary for new organisations to apply to the Commission to become an approved organisation, this for the mutual benefit of the organisation, the staff who wish to avail themselves of the service and the Commission.
In the case of Medibank, an application to become an approved organisation for deductions from staff pay was not made until 31 August 1976 and the application was approved on 7 September 1976. Medibank was advised of the approval on 8 September 1976 and Medibank deductions authorities received will be processed along with those from other approved organisations.
- Senator Archer asked the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs on 14 September 1976 the following question without notice:
Is the product being advertised as New Zealand Colby cheese being imported inside or outside the New ZealandAustralia Free Trade Agreement cheddar quota? At what price is it entering Australia? What quantity has been brought in in the last three months?
The Minister for Overseas Trade has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Colby cheese is a variety which originated in the United States of America and which is separately named in the Schedule for Named Cheeses’ appended to the Standard for Cheese approved by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. Although similar in many respects to Cheddar cheese it possesses a number of characteristics which differentiate it from that type. Consequently Colby cheese is not included within the NAFTA cheddar cheese quota.
Information on the quantity and price of Colby cheese entering Australia is not available from official sources. Australian import statistics do not separately record Colby cheese which is included in a residual category for cheeses being other than those specifically listed.
- Senator Gietzelt asked the following question without notice on 16 September 1976:
Is the Minister aware of the desperate state of the apple and pear industry in Australia? Is the Minister also aware of reports that there have been vast increases in the imports of canned apples from New Zealand? Does the Minister know that many Australian canneries have large stocks of canned apples on hand from local fruit growing areas? In these circumstances, can the Minister say what action the Government proposes to take to stop the dumping of New Zealand surpluses on our domestic market at a time of depressed conditions in Australia?
The Minister for Overseas Trade has provided the following additional information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The matter of low priced imports of New Zealand canned solid pack apple was raised by the Minister for Overseas Trade with his New Zealand counterpart during the NAFTA Consultative Committee meeting on 23 September 1 976. The Department of Business and Consumer Affairs has received an application for anti-dumping action to be taken against imports of New Zealand canned solid pack apple and that Department is examining the matter.
Drug Offences in Overseas Countries
– On 5 October 1976 Senator Tehan asked me the following question without notice:
My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister may be aware of the growing incidence of Australian citizens serving sentences in foreign gaols for drug offences detected while on overseas travel. In view of the fact that the Philippines, Iran and Turkey have introduced the death penalty for certain drug offences and that the governments of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are reported to be contemplating similar legislation, will the Minister consider issuing warnings to all young people about to travel overseas about the penalties which they will incur if they deal with drugs while outside Australia?
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Government is aware that increasing numbers of Australians are being arrested overseas for drug offences and is deeply concerned about this.
A great deal of publicity has been given this year to the concern felt by the Government about drug abuse and drug trafficking in the hope that all Australians travelling overseas would be alerted to the dangers involved with drugs. In a reply to a question in Parliament on 8 September last, Mr Peacock warned of the serious consequences that can result from being in possession of drugs.
Every Australian who is issued with a passport receives a booklet entitled Guide for Australian Travellers. In this booklet, it is pointed out that penalties for the importation or possession of drugs are very severe in most countries. The booklet explains that on entering another country, an Australian is bound by the laws of that country and that providing an Australian citizen receives the normal treatment and protection which a foreign country affords its own subjects, there is normally no ground in international law for complaint by Australians who break the local law. The Department of Business and Consumer Affairs produces a leaflet called Bed and Breakfast for 12 months (or longer) which is given to all Australians travelling overseas. This deals explicitly with the dangers involved in committing drug offences overseas.
Over 100 Australians have been arrested abroad for drug offences so far this year. Penalties are severe. One case received a sentence of six years imprisonment; another, sixteen years, A three year minimum term for even relatively minor drug offences is becoming quite common. A number of countries, including Singapore and Indonesia, have introduced the death penalty. It can only be hoped that increased publicity will alert young Australians to the grim consequences of carrying drugs of any sort and in any quantity.
Statutory Authorities under Control of Minister for Administrative Services (Question No. 943)
asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Australian Electoral Office
Australian War Memorial
National Library of Australia
Academic Salaries Tribunal.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the information contained in the attached schedule in answer to the honourable senator’s question.
All officers receive travel allowance if away from home, or in the case of full-time officers, away from headquarters, at the following rates:
For a period, exceeding 10 hours but less than 24 hours- $15
Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service are advised on appointment that they do not receive the usual fees paid to Commissioners.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 October 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1976/19761019_senate_30_s69/>.