30th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– A petition has been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the delays between announcements of each quarterly movement in the Consumer Price Index and their application as a percentage increase in age and invalid pensions is excessive, unnecessary, discriminatory and a cause of economic distress to pensioners.
That proposals to amend the Consumer Price Index by eliminating particular items from the Index could adversely affect the value of future increases in age and invalid pensions and thus be a cause of additional economic hardship to pensioners.
The foregoing facts impel your petitioners to ask the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to:
. Require each quarterly percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index to be applied to age and invalid and similar pensions as from the pension pay day nearest following the date of announcement of the CPI movement.
Give an open assurance to all aged and invalid pensioners that any revision of the items comprising the Consumer Price Index will in no way result in reductions in the value of any future entitlements to pensioners.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator James McClelland.
-I ask the Minister for Science whether he recalls an answer he gave to me on 22 March in which he evaded my question concerning the co-ordination of solar energy research in Australia. I ask: Does he recall that on the program Sunday Supplement recently, in which he participated, Professor Stephen Kaneff of the Department of Physical Engineering at the Australian National University said:
There are many meetings of scientists and engineers working in the field. In that sense, there is co-ordination and collaboration and interaction but I do not know of any body which co-ordinates this if you are speaking of some central body.
Will the Minister now give me a serious answer as to whether he considers the co-ordination of solar energy research in Australia is adequate?
-The direct question from the honourable senator is whether the coordination of solar research in Australia is adequate. My comment is that co-ordination obviously could be improved. I imagine that we will never strike a situation where some matter cannot be improved. The original question put to me by Senator Wriedt some time ago premised the proposition that the Federal Government should be the sole manager and director of solar research in Australia. The general proposition- it has been put to me by others- is that there should be some central co-ordinating authority. My original answer to the honourable senator was that research in most areas and in solar research is a diversified matter. The very obligation of universities is for some independence. I fully agree with what has been put to me by a number of university researchers as well as by Senator Wriedt that there should be some coordinating authority.
It is not my view that within universities, where a large body of solar research is done at the present time, co-ordination means that the allocation of some central fund should be made either to support in detail a project or to withdraw funds from some other project on the whim of some central authority. Professor Kaneff certainly indicated that he thought there should be greater co-ordination, and that view has been put to me by a number of other university researchers in this area. The honourable senator noted that Professor Kaneff said that universities are aware of the type of research being done by other universities. I can assure the Senate that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the major research institute in Australia, is aware of every aspect of solar energy research that is being undertaken in Australia at this time. So there is in that sense coordination, which was the word that the honourable senator just used.
The honourable senator mentioned that there should be greater co-operation. This has been a matter of discussion for some months. It must be acknowledged that the Minister for National Resources has devoted a great deal of time to the general question of energy research in Australia. It is not my responsibility to determine what the limits of solar energy research should be. General energy research in Australia is a matter in respect of which obviously the view of the Minister for National Resources must take precedence, but where energy research is to be directed within my portfolio that obligation will be met.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question. Senator Webster in the early part of his answer acknowledged that there could be improvements. If he does not consider himself to be the Minister who should take the initiative to effect those improvements who, on behalf of the Government, should do so? Are we to understand that he acknowledges that improvements could be made in this area and that approaches have been made to him apparently by scientific and industrial people? If it is not his reponsibility whose responsiblility is it?
– I take it that we are talking of solar energy research and that that is the subject of the question that the honourable senator has asked me. If that is so I shall deal only with solar energy research. I feel that it is no responsibility of mine to determine what type of research should be carried out in any university in Australia. It must be obvious to the honourable senator that the responsibility for the type of research to be carried out in universities is not that of the Minister for Science. However, the type of research carried out by the major research institute in Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is my responsibility, and I feel very confident- the record speaks for itself- that the type of research that mainly has been the responsibility of the Federal Government has been most useful to the Australian community. It is my responsibility to know what type of research is being done overseas in this field, and it has been stated time and again in this place that the comparison in money terms between what is spent overseas in this field and what is capable of being spent in Australia is a matter perhaps for a watching brief. That would be within my responsibility. If the honourable senator asks whose responsibility it is to initiate research, I can only say that the responsibility must go to a number of portfolios, including that of the Minister for Education, and the Minister for National Resources as well as to various State universities and State educational authorities that may be carrying out work of this type at present. Whether there should be co-ordination on this point, if ‘co-ordination’ means the allocation of funds for research-
– Will you take the initiative? That is what I have asked you. Never mind about all that other mumbo-jumbo.
-The honourable senator now asks another question and we hear the silly laughter from the Opposition, which is a regular occurrence. At the outset I attempted to clear Senator Wriedt ‘s mind by trying to express what was intended by his question. When Senator Wriedt reads Hansard he will find that the question was difficult to follow. He now asks whether I will take the initiative in co-ordinating this matter. That was his last question. If that is the question he now wishes to pose to me perhaps I could take it on notice instead of taking up time now during question time. I will supply him with an answer to it.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources aware that the South African Owned Energy Organisation, SASOL, has sold a unique method for upgrading low grade coal to a Japanese consortium of manufacturers? The technique is known as the solvent refined coal technique and has the capacity to improve the quality of low grade coking coal used in the metallurgical industries. Does the Minister foresee that additional development and export of low grade coal from Australia could result from this discovery?
-I regret that I am unable to give the honourable senator the information but I will seek it for him.
- Mr President, my question is directed to you. I preface it by reminding you that this week is National Heart Week. As the legislators of this country should be the first to set an example in preventive medicine and as I have received an assurance from a senior doctor associated with the National Heart Foundation of total co-operation, will you, Mr President, in co-operation with Mr Speaker, make necessary arrangements for all members of both Houses who desire heart checks to have appropriate facilities made available within Parliament House for such checks to be carried out?
THE PRESIDENT- I have noted the honourable senator’s suggestion concerning heart checks for senators and members to be conducted by representatives of the National Heart Foundation. As Senator Keeffe has indicated, I shall need to confer with Mr Speaker on this matter. However, I believe that the best course to be followed is for an officer of the Parliament to be appointed to confer with representatives of the Heart Foundation and for a report to be submitted on the feasibility of carrying out such checks in Parliament House on those senators and members who desire to participate.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. If the air traffic controllers strike continues for longer than the proposed 12 hours how would people from Tasmania be able to get to the mainland? When will the Government proceed with legislation making it mandatory for unions not to cut off one part of Australia from the rest? Is it true that if the air traffic controllers are on strike, under the present legislation the Royal Australian Air Force aircraft would not be able to use civil airports even in an emergency?
– As a general preface to my answer let me say that everybody will deplore any further strike within the air traffic system which holds up, as they have held up in the past, vital air links in Australia. Without any wish to exacerbate the situation, one can only hope that good sense will prevail. To the extent that I understand the matter may be sub judice, naturally I must be very careful in any comments that I make. The honourable senator asked whether a stoppage of air traffic to Tasmania would cut off Tasmania from the mainland. The answer must be that as shipping is so irregular and involves such long delays, Tasmania depends on its air link with the mainland and is uniquely affected by stoppages. The honourable senator seeks to have me foreshadow what might or might not be a matter of Government policy. He asks whether the Government proposes to take steps to deal with a situation in which the community may be subjected to great hardships. I can say only that I will refer that matter to the Minister concerned. As to the question of whether the use of civilian airfields by the Air Force may be delimited, that is a highly complex matter. It would depend upon the support systems available at the airfield. It is a hypothetical situation. I do not want to venture on to making comments which could appear, however unwittingly, to be vexatious. I shall simply record the question and pass it on to my colleague.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, who may be aware that there has been a good deal of correspondence between the Professional Radio and Electronics Institute and government concerning staff shortages in the Radio Frequecy Management Division of the Postal and Telecommunications Department. Will the Minister indicate what action is proposed to alleviate the situation, particularly in the Darwin region, where the regulatory and licensing section is unable to carry out its functions? Will the Minister say also whether he will use his good offices to arrange a meeting between the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and the Institute? The Minister will be interested to know that the Institute has a suggestion that will allow the services to be provided at no additional expenditure; in fact, it will provide additional revenue.
– The question is an important one and raises a variety of aspects. I think his purpose would best be served if the honourable senator were to put it on notice. I shall then invite the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to look at it as early as possible.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to a report in the Age of 13 April 1977 which outlines details of the World Health Organisation’s International Research and Training Program to assist undeveloped nations, especially in Africa. According to Professor Sir Gustav Nossal, the Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and an instigator of the program, Australia is yet to contribute to the program. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether Australia is going to contribute to this worthwhile training program? If so, can he indicate the likely contribution?
-I refer the honourable senator to question on notice No. 47, which I answered on 29 March and which appears at page 607 of Hansard. My answer was in response to a question on the same lines which Senator Colston asked me. I answered the question as follows:
Australia has not refused to contribute to the Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Program. A decision on whether or not to contribute to the program was deferred until the content and direction of the program was more clearly defined. It is expected that a decision on this matter will be reached in the context of the 1 977-78 Budget.
As the Budget discussions have not been finalised, my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has nothing to add to his previous answer.
-I direct to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs a question which refers to the answer he has just given concerning the air traffic controllers dispute. Will the Minister accept that the strike is of a different nature to other strikes which have occurred recently? Will he accept that it is a matter of status- of increased responsibility for which the controllers are seeking improved status? Following that incident in which 2 Qantas pilots were arrested for being under the influence of liquor-
– Allegedly, Senator.
-I beg the honourable senator’s pardon; they were allegedly under the influence of liquor. But following that incident and other incidents of a similar nature which increase the responsibility of air controllers, would the Minister not consider it reasonable that the Government should be looking at this dispute in a different light and that it should accept that some quick decision ought to be made to prevent a recurrence of these 24-hour strikes from time to time?
-I think that Senator Georges has identified 2 separate problems. They may be parallel problems, but I suggest to him that they are separate. If he is saying to me- and I understand him to be doing so- that the risk of accidents within the aircraft passenger and cargo industry must be growing due to increased usage and all sorts of other reasons, and that therefore the governments of the day should direct their attention to working out optimum ways to establish a series of rules and of management procedures in air traffic and other behavioural areas, of course I agree with him. It is abundantly right that that should be done. As I understand the question, the honourable senator mentioned an allegation that some pilots had been susceptible to alcohol 10 hours or so before they were due to take up their duties. The honourable senator may know that my colleague in another place, the Minister for Transport, is looking for example, at an extension of the present period relating to alcohol consumption by pilots as another safety factor. There must be many such factors. Indeed my own Government would fully support that attitude and any suggestions that would add to improved safety factors in the whole of the air travel picture.
As to the second part of the question, I imagine that it is being argued by air traffic controllers that their duties are becoming increasingly responsible. Since the matter has been the subject of a whole series of two, three or four arbitral proceedings in recent years and a wide range of matters has been covered, I do not think it would be proper for me to comment at this moment. I do not know the specifics of the arguments before the tribunal at this moment. I think it improper for me to infer something. As to the first part of the question, I wholeheartedly support the honourable senator. To the extent that the Government can, it is looking towards improving safety factors. As to the industrial dispute, I certainly hope that it can be resolved with common sense, fairness and amity.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry relates to a Press release issued yesterday by the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, concerning the abolition of the Australian Meat Board and the formation of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. Producer and exporter groups in Western Australia have already expressed reservations to me about the structure and function of the new corporation- the producers because they see themselves losing control of their own industry, and the exporters because of what they see as inadequate representation on the Corporation. Will the Minister comment on these reservations?
-I have a copy of the Press statement of the Minister for Primary Industry which I imagine most honourable senators would have. It is fairly detailed. On the information that I have I will do the best I can to help the honourable senator. First of all, I have never been one of those who have had tremendous enthusiasm for the performance of the Australian Meat Board in past years, and that is not unusual for the producers either. They have tended to lack enthusiasm for the performance of the Board. This goes back with me about 25 years, so at least I have been consistent. The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation was initiated by the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, in an attempt to improve the overall performance within the industry. I am informed he got about 200 submissions on the subject and they all agreed apparently on only one thing, that is, that there ought to be a corporation in place of the Board. They were consistent in that. Most of the submissions had wide varieties of input, advice, recommendation and indeed, in some cases, insistence expressed in terms such as: ‘This is what must be done by you’. Ministers are used to getting those sorts of requests from people put quite mildly and modestly in this way: ‘This is what you will do for me’. Most Ministers on this side and former Ministers on the other side have had a fair amount of experience of this. So what Mr Sinclair had to do was to try to strike a balance in the situation between all those various conflicting interests. He has been very good about it, I believe. It has taken a long time.
The Government has finally made a decision. The decision has been announced but there are still talks going on with exporters and producers. They relate to the establishment of a producers group for consultation and an exporters group for consultation to be formed within the Corporation. So I think the exporters of Western Australia and the producers of Western Australia will have a very good chance to make their views known to the Minister in the process of forming those advisory bodies. Whether the producers will ever agree with the exporters or with the customers, both in this country and outside this country, I doubt very much.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate: Has the Government sent a telex to the Australian Embassy in Washington seeking information on the allegations made during a spy trial in Los Angeles? What information has the Government received detailing allegations of Central Intelligency Agency involvement in Australia in 1975? In view of the in depth interview with a top journalist on the AM current affairs program this morning, will the Minister undertake to release all documents pertaining to these allegations of CIA interference in Australian domestic politics?
-I have no information on the matters raised by the honourable senator but I will seek the information from the responsible Minister. I should like to observe in passing that the last time allegations were made about these sorts of dreadful activities, it turned out that my friend and colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, had had his house let by an estate agent -unbeknown to him- to someone alleged in this country to be a CIA agent. These are the sorts of allegations that are made occasionally around this place. I really do think that honourable senators opposite should stop looking under their beds at night.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to the settlement of the Victorian oil dispute. I ask: Does the Minister agree that the agreement to pay additional allowances and overtime rates will result in substantial benefits to the tanker drivers? Does the Minister agree that the oil companies have surrendered to union pressure? In view of the Minister’s telex to the oil companies, will the Government now subject the pricing policies of the oil companies to close examination? If not, why not?
-The matters that are raised by Senator Lewis in his question are being considered by both Ministers that I represent in this place- the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I have no doubt that they, on behalf of the Government, will make a statement in regard to these matters in the near future.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. It arises from an article which appeared in the Australian Financial Review of today’s date entitled Spy alleges “deception against Australia” Pine Gap mystery deepens’. It is necessary for me to quote briefly from the article. It will I am sure, help the Minister who seems to indicate that he does not read the newspapers. Amongst other things, the article states:
The claims coincide with recent information given to the Financial Review in Canberra that the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, was briefed by a senior Australian defence official on 8 November 197S, about allegations from the CIA that the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, was jeopardising the security of the American bases in Australia.
It goes on to say:
The briefing to the Governor-General on 8 November followed a briefing given in Washington earlier on the same day by the then head of the East Asia Division of the CIA, Mr Shackley to the Australian security intelligence representative in Washington-
– When was this? What date was it?
-It was 8 November.
– What year was it?
-In 1975. I ask the Minister: Because of the grave implications these statements have for the Governor-General particularly in regard to his actions prior to and on 1 1 November 1975, will the Prime Minister draw this article to the attention of Mr Justice Hope who has been inquiring into the intelligence and security services, for him to make an investigation and report? I further ask: If Mr Justice Hope decides that the matter warrants his attention, will the Prime Minister ensure that the Governor-General is recalled from overseas to facilitate such investigation?
-I think it is important to note the date that the honourable senator mentioned 8 November 1975. It is quite important because the honourable senator should know that we would have no knowledge of what happened with the Governor-General at that time. If in fact-
– What about all the to-ing and fro-ing from Yarralumla?
– Wait for it. If in fact the Governor-General was briefed at that stage- on 8 November- he would have required the permission and consent of the then Prime Minister. I suggest that next Wednesday at the Opposition’s Caucus meeting the honourable senator address his question to the previous Prime Minister.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he would ask the Prime Minister to have this matter referred to Mr Justice Hope for investigation and report.
-That is a reasonable request. I shall pass it on to the Prime Minister.
– Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister had brought to his notice a reported statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place last weekend to the effect that the mantle of Her Majesty’s Opposition has been shed by the Parliamentary Labor Party and assumed by the trade union movement? Does the Minister agree with this summation of the position, having regard to the prominent part played by Mr Hawke in denigrating the Government’s proposed voluntary wages-price pause?
-I did not see the statement but I assume that the honourable senator has seen it. I take it that it was Mr Uren who made the statement. I do not know whether he has denied it. I assume, if the honourable senator says that Mr Uren said it, Mr Uren did say it. It is a fairly damning indictment from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place if he says that he and certainly his colleagues in the other place and no doubt here are no longer able to form a viable Opposition to this Government.
I think the best thing they ought to do is resign and let Mr Hawke come in and take over.
– My question, which is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, is related to the one previously asked by Senator Brown. I refer to reports in the Australian Financial Review that a meeting was held on 8 November 1975 between the GovernorGeneral and a senior Department of Defence official. Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate inform the Senate whether such a meeting did occur on or near that date? What was the substance of any such discussion? Did it include matters relating to United States concern about changes in Australian security arrangements? Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate prepared to table a record of the conversation or a summary of the contents of such a meeting?
– There is an oldfashioned rule that governments do not dig into the past and into the records of their predecessors. I know the rule was occasionally broken by Mr Daly in the last Government. We have been most scrupulous in not looking at advisings or correspondence of a governmental nature which passed between Ministers and their advisers. If the honourable senator wants to know whether a record was kept he should first of all consult Mr Whitlam and obtain his agreement that Mr Whitlam request the Government to make the record available. We are most meticulous about this matter. We have no intention of looking at the confidential advisings or the records or anything which concerned our predecessors. We believe that to be none of our business.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications: What restrictions apply to advertising on the electronic media and in newspapers of contraceptives and of such other matters which would assist in family planning in Australia? Could the minister distinguish between legal restrictions and restrictions imposed as a matter of individual company policy by various media outlets?
-I understand that the current situation with regard to the advertising on radio and television of contraceptives and other aspects of family planning services is that such material may be transmitted provided it is confined to periods outside children’s viewing and listening times. This is an experimental arrangement introduced by the former Australian Broadcasting Control Board in 1976 to test public opinion about this form of advertising. The experiment is continuing under the new Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. The new Tribunal is conducting at present an inquiry into all matters, including the matter mentioned in the question. The question of newspaper advertisements is dependent upon State law on the one hand and individual company policy on the other hand.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. To some extent it relates to a question asked earlier to which I listened with some interest. What is the purpose of the Government’s proposal to establish the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation? Further, will the Corporation have the power to acquire, classify and distribute meat so that the return to the producers can be stabilised and increased?
-The basic purpose of the Corporation is to improve the performance of the whole of the Australian meat industry for all those involved in it. That means the producers of cattle, the processors of the animals, the consumers of them in the domestic market and the opportunities for people involved in the export market. As to compulsory acquisition, I cannot answer that question. I know no more than I can tell the honourable senator. As to the general promotion, I hope it will be a big improvement. Those of us who have followed meat marketing through the years- I have been personally involved in it- concluded long ago that there was a great need in Australia for an improvement in meat marketing overseas and in the market intelligence overseas. This is what the Corporation is setting out to achieve for the ultimate benefit of the whole of the Australian peopleproducers, consumers and exporters. I hope it will produce much better results than we have had in the past.
– I address a question to the Minister for Education. I draw the Minister’s attention to an article appearing in the South Australian Catholic Weekly newspaper the Southern Cross of 22 April calling for an increase in the grants to non-government schools. Is the assertion of the author, Mr John McDonald, correct when he states that needy primary schools receive grants equal to 32 per cent of standard costs of educating a child at State schools and that secondary schools receive 30 per cent? Is his further statement that the Schools Commission has recommended that by 1977 needy schools should receive 40 per cent of the average cost of educating a child also correct? Can the Minister indicate whether this matter is recieving consideration in the current pre-Budget Cabinet discussions?
-I have not seen the article to which Senator Messner referred. In the current budget year, the Commonwealth Government has taken some very significant steps to aid non-government schools and, in particular, those in most need. The honourable senator will know that it is government policy to bring about a direct per capita grant for all parents of children in non-government schools and, of course, to recognise need and its supplement. In that regard 2 things of very great importance have happened, one of enduring importance. The Government has linked the grants to independent schools as a fixed percentage of grants to State schools so that now they automatically move together. This confers a long term benefit and a great planning benefit. Equally, within the limits of the increased money available, my Government increased the amount, however marginally, to level 6 which is the most needy level of schools in which, I think some 90 per cent of all primary pupils reside.
The actual costs vary in terms of percentages. It would be fair to say that taking the State supplement also into account- it is the aim of the Government to have a 20 per cent reciprocal supplement from the States- the most needy schools now may be receiving between, say, 55 per cent and 60 per cent or slightly more of the cost of a government school. Some may be getting a little more. It is not easy to derive the proportions coming from the Commonwealth and the States for the very simple reason that some States have different mechanisms. The South Australian Government has a mechanism different from the formal 20 per cent. However, it is true that needy schools are now somewhere in that category. Those allegedly in less need receive a much lower percentage. In the other categories, schools at the Commonwealth level receive something like 13 per cent or 15 per cent of the equivalent of government schools. I stress that the important thing is the link at this moment in the percentage rate. As to the final part of the question, the Government has a very clear view that it has a responsibility to give to all students, whether at government schools or nongovernment schools, the best eduction that the taxpayers can afford. Consistent with that view, the needs of the non-government schools, particularly the most needy, will be under review in the forthcoming Budget deliberations.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for Social Security, by explaining that I have received information from a constituent who was a school leaver in 1976 in relation to her claim for unemployment benefit in January this year. Although she claimed for unemployment benefit early in January she was not granted benefit until after the 1977 school year began. Following the recent court decision on unemployment benefit for a school leaver, she inquired whether she could now claim benefit for the early part of January. She states that she was told that claims for benefit for that period have now been destroyed. Can the Minister confirm whether that is correct?
– I have taken note of the matter raised by the honourable senator. I am unaware of the action taken in any of our regional or State offices with regard to applications. I will have the matter investigated and report to the honourable senator accordingly.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Science. Is it correct that there has been a balloon launching program in the Australian outback for the last few years? If so, what is the present programming for balloon research? What research is being carried out, and in what localities? What plans are envisaged for future research in this balloon launching program?
– This will be a lot of hot air.
-The Opposition takes great interest, I can see, in some of the scientific matters which are of importance to the country. Senator Kilgariff asked whether there is a balloon launching program in the outback of Australia. There is not necessarily one in the outback of Australia but there is one within Australia. Balloon flying has become a very important tool of science. There is a widespread belief among scientists who are familiar with the capabilities of balloons that their potential for obtaining scientific data of high quality at relatively low cost, and with relatively short lead times for instrumental development, is not fully appreciated or realised. Studies which are of growing importance are in the magnetospheric fields and concern the study of particles in that area; cosmic ray research in high energy research; and in low energy gamma ray research. All of these can be particularly important in reference to the various questions asked in this place from time to time about energy. These studies are usually carried out with particularly large balloons. They are usually flown in the stratosphere, perhaps up to a 1 5-kilometre altitude. Australia has launched balloons- that was the question- over a period, from Mildura in Victoria, from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and from Broken Hill in New South Wales. The growing demand in the international community is for larger balloon capacity. For instance, now the demand is for balloons which may carry a weight in excess of 1000 kilograms.
The Department of Science has a small program in this area which I, with advice, am attempting to expand at present. One aspect of the advice given to me is that certain areas in this country provide practically ideal conditions for certain atmospheric and stratospheric research. For instance, I am advised that Alice Springs is suitable because weather conditions generally encountered are good. The expansiveness of the area for the recovery of the balloons and equipment and for the tracing of the flight confirms that that view is correct. The United States Science Foundation has recently encouraged our work by the loan of a very large launching truck. That is providing rewarding experiments just recently carried out from Broken Hill. My Department has plans for the development and the upgrading of building fixtures at Mildura. The Department is developing plans for extra facilities at Alice Springs where we hope there will be a concentration of the larger balloon flying facilities. As yet these plans are not finalised.
– I would like the Minister representing the Minister for Defence to inform the Senate who is responsible for approving an advertisement currently being shown on commercial television aimed at seducing young men to join the Australian Army by suggesting a number of totally unrealistic enticements to Army life, in particular by a most blatant and offensive piece of visual sexism which suggests that the army provides its soldiers with the use of beautiful young women.
-Does the honourable senator mean to tell me that that is not true? I thought we all joined the Navy to see the world and have a girl in every port. After all this time the honourable senator has destroyed my illusions. I am terribly sorry and upset about it. I have not seen the advertisement but I shall draw it to the attention of my colleague.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to the report presented on the Stuart Highway some time ago. Is it a fact that 2 alternative schemes were suggested regarding the routing of this national highway between Port Augusta and Alice Springs? Is it also a fact that the State Minister, Mr Virgo, wrote to the Federal Government in February conveying the State Government’s views about which route should be followed? Can the Minister say whether his colleague has given consideration to this correspondence and whether a substantive reply has been sent to Mr Virgo? If not, can the Minister say why there has been a delay and when a reply wil be sent to Mr Virgo? Can he also say when his colleague will be in a position to make a decision on the route to be followed?
-In response to Senator Jessop ‘s first question, I point out that it is a fact that the investigation threw up 2 alternative schemes. It is a fact, as I understand it, that the South Australian Minister, Mr Virgo, indicated his view on an alternative scheme. My understanding is that one of the alternatives envisaged running the new Stuart Highway through the Woomera rocket range, through the Weapons Research Establishment. I understand that there have been discussions with the Minister for Defence who holds the view that this should not be done and he favours the alternative route. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has also been consulted about a number of matters. Because all relevant environmental matters have been dealt with in the working group and steering committee reports previously undertaken, these will constitute the environmental impact statement which is required. That had to be done.
The Minister for Transport, in writing to Mr Virgo, has suggested that in order to expedite the implementation of the environmental requirements officials from Mr Virgo’s Department, Mr Nixon’s Department and Mr Newman’s Department should meet as soon as possible. Of course, that meeting will be instigated. While a definite decision on the new route for the
Stuart Highway cannot be made until consideration of the outcome of public comments, the environmental requirements are unlikely significantly to delay commencement of construction on a new route. Even if a decision on the route were taken immediately, engineering and location studies alone would take 12 to 18 months before construction could commence.
– Has the Minister for Social Security received from the Burnie Council for Social Development correspondence related to winding up operations of the regional council and departmental funding up to 30 June this year? As the Minister’s original announcement was that her Department was funding regional councils for administrative expenses and contracted projects up to 30 June 1977, and as the Minister did not inform the regional council at Burnie until April this year that the council was expected to find the money for accrued leave to employees from its own funds before June, does she now realise that the council must pay off its employees immediately to comply with the harsh demands of the Department? Is this the case with all employees of regional councils who had up till now believed that they would be in employment until 30 June and then be able to look around for new employment while using up accrued leave? Do these stringent procedures differ from general Public Service methods of paying off staff? Will the Minister reconsider this ruling and find from her Department the funds for employees’ leave after 30 June?
– This problem has not previously been brought to my attention, but in the Budget of this year regional councils were given an indication of the funds that were available to them. That is a fixed amount which is available to regional councils for the employment of staff. I have not had drawn to my attention any difficulty in the winding up process in regard to accrued leave but I shall have the matter investigated. I can only say that there will be no funds for the Australian Assistance Plan in the Budget next year following the announcement that was made at budget time last year when we indicated the support that would be given this year. In money terms I thought that that proposal was understood by all regional councils. I shall have the Department investigate the situation in regard to the Burnie Council for Social Development and advise the honourable senator if I can give him any further information on the requirements under the present plan.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. In view of the information from France that there has developed a liking for a wide range of non-advertised and plain wrapped goods which sell for as much as one-third less than the previous price, will the Minister make every effort to encourage such a practice in Australia as a means of further improving the recovery?
-I shall refer that question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I am not sure whether the matter really comes fully within the Federal jurisdiction. It is something that perhaps would be discussed with State Ministers as well. I shall refer the question to the Minister and let him give consideration to the suggestion that has been made by the honourable senator.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. By way of preface I refer to a lengthy answer which the Minister gave me on 21 April which virtually contained the Government s policy on whale harvesting. In view of the fact that the International Whaling Commission met last week and the answer was compiled before those proceedings, can I have access to the minutes of those proceedings? The Minister will know that in earlier responses to my questions when reports of overseas observers have been relied on it has been argued by Mr Sinclair that they distorted the role of the Australian delegation.
-I cannot give the information to the honourable senator at the moment because I do not have it, but if after question time the honourable senator would come with me I shall try to arrange for the person in the Department who is responsible for this matter to talk to him before we finish sitting this week. He might be able to help the honourable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether he takes seriously the allegations made by Mr Christopher Boyce, who is on trial in an American court, that the Australian Government has been deceived about the use of American installations in Australia and that a foreign espionage service is operating in Australian political and industrial life. Are these allegations not sufficiently serious for a responsible government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into them, no matter who may be accused or what government was in power previously? Is the subject matter of the allegations not deserving of better answers than ‘I suggest that you do not look under your bed at night’ and ‘Ask the previous Prime Minister in your next Caucus meeting’? Has this Government any responsibility in investigating the grave accusations that have been made?
– Whilst I do not necessarily always read newspapers, I do read Hansard. I draw the honourable senator’s attention to a question asked by Mr E. G. Whitlam in the House of Representatives yesterday and to the answer given by the Prime Minister. They appear at page 1269. 1 further draw the honourable senator’s attention to a question asked by Mr Wallis there and to the reply given by the Prime Minister at page 1271. I said to Senator Brown this morning that I would pass his request on to the Prime Minister. I do not think that I need add further to my reply to Senator Brown or to the 2 answers given yesterday by the Prime Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Has the Minister seen a letter to the editor of the Australian newspaper in which the writer refers to the customary burning of unclaimed articles by officials of Australia Post? Can the Minister give assurance that such alleged breaches of the law will be fully investigated?
-I have not seen the letter. If the honourable senator will let me have a copy of it I will draw it to the attention of my colleague in another place and ask him to investigate it.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security: Is it a fact that a directive was issued in her Department at the end of last year requiring that statistics be kept weekly on the number of claims for unemployment benefit and special benefit by school leavers and that those statistics be forwarded to the chief statistical officer in her Department? Is it also a fact that, in a written reply to question No. 292 last week in which I asked for those figures with respect to December, January and February last, the Minister informed me that the information was not available? I now ask the Minister whether I and other members of the Senate could have a week by week breakdown of the figures relating to unemployed school leavers who applied for unemployment and special benefit in the months of December 1976 and January and February 1977.
– Are we talking about the question that was answered with regard to special benefit paid to school leavers or to applications from school leavers for unemployment benefit?
– Unemployment benefit and special benefits, and applications for them.
– I recall answering a question asked by the honourable senator in regard to special benefit for unemployed school leavers. I think it is understood that the special benefit is a benefit paid at the direction of the Director-General because of special need. Those circumstances may relate directly to a school leaver who is ineligible for unemployment benefit or they may relate to other matters. I think there was some doubt as to whether the figures that were available related specifically to the matter that was raised in the honourable senator’s question. However, I shall have a further look at the information that is available. I am not aware of a directive in the terms that the honourable senator has mentioned. I can have an inquiry made about that also. But perhaps his source of directives is more adequate than mine has been for those matters in which he is especially interested.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources ascertain what testing of the areas of Queensland phosphate rock has been carried out since September 1976 as to both the extent of the deposits and the phosphate content thereof?
-I shall willingly seek that information for my colleague.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry: Is it correct, as stated by Mr Ashton in the Australian Financial Review on 5 April last, that the Australian Wool Corporation sought to borrow funds overseas to finance its stockpile at a much lower rate of interest than the 1 1 .5 per cent paid to the Government? At what rate of interest could the Corporation have obtained funds from overseas? Did the Government prevent the Corporation from borrowing overseas? If so, why.
-I cannot really help the honourable senator by referring to what might have been said in past issues of the Australian Financial Review by people who purport to be financial writers. It is not possible for me to do so. I did not read the article and I do not know about it. But I make some observations about interest rates generally. They went up very steeply in the time of the previous Government as a consequence of increasing inflation.
– You promised to bring them down.
-If the honourable senator will just be quiet for a moment I shall say that inflation is now coming down in Australia and when it comes down it is very important to bring down interest rates. This is a country that does not do at all well on high interest rates. I hope that with inflation coming down we will be able to see interest rates decline. The honourable senator who asked the question has an interest in these matters and he has some knowledge which I appreciate. That is why I am taking the time to try to be helpful. The prime interest rate in the United States is about 7.5 per cent. I think the prime rate in Japan is now down to about 5 per cent. It is clear to anybody therefore that a trading country like ours needs to have a low interest rate. To get that it has to have a low inflation rate. I hope honourable senators will persist in their endeavours to get the inflation rate down.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry undertake to inform the Senate whether an application was made and whether it was rejected?
– Yes. In my enthusiasm to talk to the honourable senator I neglected to say that I certainly shall do so.
-Yesterday Senator Jessop asked me a question concerning the source of programs and the possibility of including South Australian segments in the programs which will be made available to viewers of the Leigh Creek television repeater station which will go on air today at 4.30 p.m. local time. I am now able to assure Senator Jessop and other honourable senators that arrangements have been made which will ensure that the programs provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission will have South Australian content and that a previous suggestion that the programs would originate from Western Australia has no foundation.
That the sitting of the Senate be suspended to enable Estimates Committees D, E and F to meet, till eight p.m., unless otherwise determined by the President, and that, if the President does not cause the bells to be rung for a resumption of the Senate at eight p.m., the Senate stand adjourned till Tuesday next at half-past two p.m.
I hope to be able to inform the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wriedt), the Manager of Opposition Business and the Whips shortly after lunch today as to whether the Senate will be resuming. This is but a reserve motion.
– I rise to express displeasure at the way in which this motion is being put to the Senate at this time. There has been practically an hourly or daily basis of change of habit. At this time we are told that the Senate will resume at 8 p.m. unless a message to the contrary is delivered to us. Earlier this week in my discussions with representatives of the Government I was told that it was the intention of the Government to lift the Senate at 12 noon so that Estimates Committees D, E and F could meet from 12 noon until 5 p.m., and that the Senate would not be resuming at 8 p.m. for the purpose of conducting General Business. That information was transmitted by me to my colleagues.
If I may give some indication of the change of plans, it was on 10 December that an intended plan for the sittings of the Estimates Committees was sent out; that plan was amended some time last week or the week before last; then we had another amended plan on 27 April, which was only yesterday, indicating that Senate Estimates Committees D, E and F would sit from 12 noon to 5 p.m., and that on Tuesday, 3 May Senate Estimates Committee A and other committees which had not completed their deliberations would meet. If the Senate is to resume at 8 p.m. we have not been told the reason for the resumption. We do not know whether the Government intends to introduce any emergency legislation to be put through both Houses of the Parliament, or whether it intends to resume at 8 p.m. for the purpose of allowing the Opposition to continue with its General Business debate on the situation in regard to East Timor-. All in all I regard it as being a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
– I must place on record the difficulties that the
Whips face- I use the plural here. I am certain that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) appreciates the difficulty. On the last day of sitting in a week it is necessary for arrangements to be made to get honourable senators back to their States, especially as winter approaches and each morning is likely to be heavy with fog and the airport could be closed. It is not satisfactory to have such a sudden change to the proposed sitting times unless the matter is of extreme urgency. Rumour is about that there is some important legislation to be brought down and I would not object to some dislocation if the matter was extremely urgent but it does not appear to be urgent. If it were so urgent, then some decision should have been reached by the Government ealier this morning or perhaps yesterday rather than placing us on the hook that we are now on that we will not know until after 1.30 p.m. what we are going to do tonight. It is extremely difficult for the Senate to be run in this way. In particular I want to indicate how difficult it must be for the transport officers to make arrangements.
– And motel accommodation. We all booked out this morning.
-Perhaps the Government will suggest that you sleep in a local park tonight or in your room in the House. It is not a very good way to be running the Senate.
– Life was not meant to be easy, senator.
-There is the old story of the brass monkey and the weather in the early morning in Canberra would add support to that story. I again put the point that it is unfair for the Senate to be put in this position and for honourable senators to be placed in the difficult situation in which they find themselves. I trust that the Government will make the necessary arrangements to get honourable senators back to their States if they are stranded by fog tomorrow morning or by the air traffic controllers dispute.
– You would not want to be a strike breaker?
-I put the responsibility on the Government, Senator Webster. It could have settled this air traffic controllers dispute. I asked a question about this matter this morning and received a reasonable response from Senator Carrick. That dispute is of a different nature. It involves increased responsibility which the air traffic controllers have to expect at present. Several court decisions have been made which indicate that the responsibilities which the air traffic controllers have to accept mean that their status has to be changed. If the Government is complaining about the 24-hour strike it should accept some responsibility for it. The Government should have done something about this matter several months ago. It cannot shift the blame onto the air controllers and I resist that suggestion. Let me get back to the point. I do not think that it is a fair way to run the Senate. It is for that reason that I wanted my comments to be put in the record.
– I should like briefly to support the remarks of Senator Douglas McClelland and the Opposition Whip, Senator Georges. It appears that with all the drafts and redrafts of programs that somebody around the place is sitting down doing that job.
– Not doing a very good job either.
– No. A very notorious ex-senator used to say, I believe, that if you wanted to know about the sittings of the Senate you asked the doorman. I propose to do that shortly after the Senate rises. I am sure I will be satisfied in that regard.
– Senator Harradine should have been in this place before I became Leader of the Government in the Senate. He would have found that for a number of years senators did not know what they were doing from one day to the next. It was a daily occurrence. Due mainly to the cooperation which has been established between the Goverment Whip and the Opposition Whip, I think it is fair to say that the Senate has been better planned and programmed during the last 1 5 months than it has been in the last 76 years. When I first became a senator we were lucky to know what was going to happen from day to day. I remember the days when the predecessor of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) was Leader of the Government. We did not know what was going to happen from minute to minute. It is because of those terrible days that when we became the Government I asked Senator Chaney to exert his best endeavours so that senators would know at least a week in advance what would be coming on for debate and what was a reasonable program.
I know there has been some criticism this morning about the change in the program. I was subjected to criticism from my colleagues last year when they said that they were not informed far enough in advance of the program. So this year, for the first time, we have put down possible sittings of Estimates Committees, not only for this session but also for the Budget sittings of the Senate. I think this Government has gone even further this year. We have not only put down an anticipated period of sittings for this session but also for the Budget session. We are aiming to project as far ahead as possible when honourable senators are likely to be required in Canberra for sittings of the Parliament. Before we rise for the Christmas break I would like to see the pattern of sittings put down for the whole of next year so that there is some certainty of what our program will be.
I can remember the days when we did not know when Parliament was resuming after the Christmas break. At that time, Senator Harradine, we always asked Wally Lee. I do not think the doorman ever knew anything, but Wally certainly did. I realise that this causes some inconvenience to honourable senators. Apart from the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) in another place, nobody has to travel further than the Western Australian senators, week in and week out. I think we would have the least number of aircraft to get us into Canberra or out of Canberra. I certainly have a personal interest in this also.
– You live in Canberra.
-I can understand the problems of Senator Cavanagh who perhaps has to repack his case and Senator McLaren who is a great and avid reader of all our statements says: Even suitcases were not meant to be easy, or life was not meant to be easy.
– That was what your leader said.
-I am glad that the honourable senator understands him. Life is not meant to be easy for me either, Senator. I do not think that any honourable senator would shirk his parliamentary duty because of personal inconvenience that may be caused to him. I shall disclose afterwards whether we will be staying on. I try to be as forthcoming as I can. I wish to cause as little inconvenience as possible to people. If people are worried about the change of programs which are forecast perhaps they might advise me and we will return to the previous situation where the notice paper, as printed, did not necessarily indicate what would happen on the day concerned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The sitting of the Senate is suspended until 8 p.m. or, if otherwise determined in accordance with the resolution agreed to this day, the Senate will adjourn until Tuesday next at 2.30 p.m. Estimates Committees will meet at 12 noon. Committee D will meet in this chamber, Committee E in Senate Committee Room No. 1 and Committee F in Senate Committee Room No. 5. The bells will be rung for 5 minutes prior to the meetings of the Estimates Committees.
Sitting suspended at 1 1.46 a.m.
The President not having caused the bells to be rung at eight p.m., the Senate adjourned till
Tuesday next at half-past two p.m. in accordance with the resolution agreed to this day.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 10 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Amalgamation of James Cook University and the Townsville College of Advanced Education (Question No. 361)
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 22 March 1 977:
Have there been negotiations between the Commonwealth Government, the Australian Universities Commission, the Queensland State Government, the James Cook University and the Townsville College of Advanced Education, with respect to the amalgamation of the latter 2 institutions; if so, what are the details, including the present state of any negotiations.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The question of the amalgamation of James Cook University of North Queensland and the Townsville College of Advanced Education was first raised by the Commission on Advanced Education’s Special Committee on Teacher Education, 1973, and was subsequently the subject of study of a joint Working Party of University and College representatives. The Working Party made recommendations in favour of amalgamation and a joint University/College committee was established to consider ways in which amalgamation might be achieved. I am informed, however, that while the principle of amalgamation has been accepted at various times by the governing bodies and academic boards of the two institutions, no formal proposal for amalgamation has been presented to State or Commonwealth authorities.
The Universities Commission has not been involved in any formal negotiations concerning the amalgamation of the James Cook University and the Townsville College of Advanced Education. However the matter has been raised with the Commission in discussions with the University and with the Queensland education authorities. In its Report for 1977-79 Triennium the Universities Commission noted, at paragraph 6.34, in relation to the Townsville situation that it had been advised by the Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University that the University had decided not to proceed with the proposals for amalgamation which were formulated by the joint Committee, referred to above. The Commission stated that a firm decision not to amalgamate would be unfortunate, given that both institutions were small and were unlikely to grow significantly in the foreseeable future particularly given the general restraint on teacher education enrolments. The Commission encouraged the University to reconsider the possibilities of amalgamation in consultation with the appropriate Queensland authorities.
I would expect the question of rationalisation of existing tertiary educational institutions to be an issue for consideration by the new Tertiary Education Commission, legislation for which is currently before the Parliament. The detailed consideration of individual situations would, of course, be a matter for consultation with State authorities and the institutions themselves.
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 20 April 1 977:
Did the Department of Education provide Government members and senators with a brief outlining how criticisms against the Fraser Government’s performance in education funding should be rebutted; if so, (a) at whose instigation was the document prepared, (b) when was it prepared and by whom, (c) to whom was it sent, and (d) what was the full text of the document.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 April 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19770428_senate_30_s72/>.