30th Parliament · 2nd 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 1 8 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Australian Jaycees support the principle of passport style photographs and blood groupings to be included on driving licences.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will consider and support this proposal.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 141 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate, in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
Recognise that the present situation regarding the approval of nursing home accommodation for the aged in the Sutherland Shire Area is at present totally inadequate.
Take steps to alleviate this position and make finance available for the building of nursing home accommodation in this Shire to provide beds when the necessity for one arises.
Look into the situation of hardship caused by the cost of pensioners and their families who have to meet the difference between fees charged by some nursing homes and the pensions and subsidies available to offset these.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 1 1 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in the Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That on 13 September, 1977, Steve Biko, President of the Black People’s Convention died, aged 30, while being held incommunicado for questioning in detention without trial in South Africa;
That this is the 20th death of a black political prisoner in similar circumstances in South Africa in the last 1 8 months; and the 44th death of a prisoner while in police custody in recent years;
That Steve Biko had been held in detention since August 22; and had previously been held for 10 1 days without trial; and in addition, was under a five year house arrest and restriction order;
That Steve Biko is the acknowledged leader of the black people’s resistance to apartheid, racial exploitation and injustice in South Africa, and that in this context his death in the hands of the white police must be regarded with grave suspicion;
Your petitioners accordingly request the Australian Government to register the strongest protest to the South African Government at the circumstances of Biko ‘s death.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That it has come to our knowledge that Mrs Joan Kirner, a member of the Schools Commission, has been subjected to grossly unfair and unfounded criticism for carrying out her duties as a member of that Commission.
That this criticism has been aimed at forcing Mrs Kirner to remain silent when we believe it is her duty to speak out.
That Mrs Kirner has the complete confidence of the Australian Council of State School Organisations which body she represents, as well as that of your humble petitioners.
We therefore ask that the Government and the Minister for Education take notice of the splendid work done by Mrs Joan Kirner in her capacity as part-time member of the Schools Commission.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Missen.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate, assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That many pensioners who are holders of the Pensioners Health Benefit Card, have suffered undue hardship as inmates of Private Nursing Homes, because the Federal Government subsidy was insufficient to meet the charges as laid down.
Many pensioners whose spouse was an inmate of the private nursing homes suffer poverty in an endeavour to sustain their partner while in the nursing home.
Only in rare cases was the statutory minimum patient contribution as laid down adhered to.
That the telephone was a matter of life and death to many pensioners, but because of the cost of installation of the telephone many are unable to afford the installation.
That those pensioners who have only their pension and very little else to live on and are forced to pay high rents, are in many cases living in extreme poverty.
The foregoing facts impel your petitioners to ask the Austrlaian Government as a matter of urgency to-
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Baume.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Is the Government now aware that the Prime Minister’s failure yesterday to make a clear, precise statement in defence of the Australian dollar has caused further speculative outflows and a weakening of the dollar against other major currencies? Does the Government’s prevarication constitute a rejection of its 29 November 1976 stand, when the Prime Minister claimed that it was essential to remove any uncertainty?
-It is a great pity that somebody who was a Minister in a responsible government in the past should be part of such a pattern of behaviour as the question indicates. I have consistently, both in opposition and in government, refused to be part of speculation in a parliamentary sense about the value of the Australian currency, the Australian dollar, or any potential changes that might be contemplated. I think that such speculation does not do the country a service. Governments stand or fall by their actions. Of course, the previous Government fell by its actions. This Government will take a responsible position. It will make its determinations. It will announce its position when the time is right. It will not be affected by St Vitus dance.
– I ask a supplementary question. I put it to Senator Cotton that it is not speculation on the part of the Opposition that is causing uncertainty. Uncertainty is being caused by the failure of the Government to come out with a definitive policy on what it intends to do in respect of the Australian currency. I ask: Has the Government no policy?
-The Leader of the Opposition knows that that is a piece of nonsense. If I wanted to do one thing I would go back and refer to a former Labor Treasurer, Mr Hayden, who, at a time when he should not have done so, led a speculative series of rumours. That is not a service. The Government will make its position clear when it is ready. It will not respond to rumour, innuendo or malice.
– A good question. I sincerely hope not.
-My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, follows those asked by my colleague, Senator Wriedt, and by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. Is the Minister aware that the Sydney all ordinaries index yesterday experienced the largest fall of the last 2 weeks and that the hedging rate for forward cover of Australian international trade rose from 5 per cent to 6 per cent? Notwithstanding what the Minister has said in reply to Senator Wriedt, will the Minister agree that for quite some time in financial and business circles there has been speculation? Do I take it from what the Minister has said in reply to Senator Wriedt that the Government intends to allow the speculation to continue?
-The honourable senator really has a good sense of timing and his hearing is quite adequate. He heard what I said. I said: The Government will make its position clear when it is ready. It will make its announcements in the proper time. It will not respond to speculation, innuendo or casual comment, or any series of betting figures that may be available on any given occasion. You cannot run a country like that. The Opposition ought to have learnt that.
– I ask the Minister for Education and Minister assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs: Has he seen reports of the Budget brought down in Western Australia yesterday by Sir Charles Court? How does that Budget fit in with the Minister’s recent claims that the revenue sharing grants made under the new federalism policy have given the States the ability to make both tax reductions and generous provisions for education?
-I have seen the Western Australian Budget brought down by Sir Charles Court last night. It is a Budget that will be commended certainly by all Western Australians and all who look towards responsible, prudent and enlightened government. In the Budget, Sir Charles Court has managed to increase benefits and to cut taxes. He ended the previous financial year, 1976-77, with a surplus of $3.4m. He is again aiming at a balanced Budget, with a total outlay of $ 1,330m- a 16.5 per cent increase on last year’s outlay. At the same time as balancing his Budget, he has provided notable tax concessions. He has announced the next two steps in his Government’s plan to abolish death duties in Western Australia.
-Senator Walsh cried Shame! ‘. It is to be noted by the people of Western Australia that the Labor Opposition is opposed to the abolition of death duties in Western Australia.
– Inheritance taxes.
– I repeat against the clear indication that the Labor Opposition, not having responded to one of its senators, is opposed to this, that the Western Australian Premier announced the next two steps in his Government’s plan to abolish death duties in Western Australia. The final phase of his time-table has now been brought forward by six months. No duty will be paid on the estates of people who die after 1 January 1980. Legislation has already been passed to abolish death duty on all properties passing to a surviving spouse. For the third successive year, the Western Australian Government has decided to ease the burden of payroll tax. The basis level of exemption will be lifted by 25 per cent on 1 December 1977.
Not only has the Premier cut State taxes and balanced his Budget, but he has increased expenditure, especially on education. There will be an 18 per cent increase in spending on education in Western Australia. Spending will rise by $44m to $235m. This gives the clearest possible denial to those honourable senators opposite who are trying to suggest that the allocation for education in Australia, particularly in the schooling area, is being cut. As each Budget comes down- the Victorian Budget, the Tasmanian Budget and the Western Australian Budget- we see that not only did the States cut taxes last year and improve their position, but that this year they are again cutting taxes and are able to have further money to apply to education and other policies. Sir Charles Court’s Budget is to be fully commended. It fully supports the working for the second year now of practical federalism throughout Australia.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will the Minister admit- I think he has admitted it- that there is fairly wide speculation in the community on the value of the dollar? Will he deny to the Opposition the right to end such speculation by questioning? Will he, by giving an answer, end the speculation? In particular, will he deny that the Government is endeavouring to raise from $800m to $ 1,000m overseas to shore up the dollar? Will he further deny that the Government expects to increase the deficit and that that is one of the reasons for the proposed borrowing?
– There is no intention to increase the deficit. The Government’s overseas borrowing program has been announced. I do not respond to any innuendoes or speculation as to future borrowings. Of course the honourable senator may ask questions. That is his obvious right. Of course I may decline to answer them. That is my right.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Can the Minister inform the chamber of any plans the Government has following the announcement by the United Nations that 1978 will be the Year of the Child?
– I recently gave some information with regard to the observance of the International Year of the Child. The Federal Government has made a decision to work with State governments and voluntary organisations in the celebrations of this Year of the Child. I hope to make an announcement soon following contact that the Prime Minister will make with the Premiers to see what co-operative arrangements we are able to institute in this Year of the Child. We will have an interdepartmental committee at the Federal Government level to coordinate the work in many departments. At the same time, I will have funds available to assist with a secretariat to co-ordinate the effort of voluntary organisations throughout Australia. I expect that an announcement will be made shortly about these matters.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Last year the Treasurer, in justification of the Government’s decision to devalue by 17V4 per cent, rejected the idea that $ 1,000m should be borrowed from the International Monetary Fund. He went on to say:
We were not prepared to put the national interest into hock. We were not prepared to let profiteers take this country to the cleaners.
I ask: In view of the fact that the Government, faced with a similar situation, is now allegedly proposing to borrow up to $3, 000m, does that mean that the Treasurer is now prepared to put the national interest into hock and to let profiteers take the country to the cleaners?
– That is a speculative question, carefully drafted out of great skill and experience by an expert in the Senate, and is one to which I shall not respond. It was clearly designed to ascertain, if possible, what is the overseas borrowing program. If there is such a program other than that announced, I do not know of it and I would not talk about it if I did.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Administrative Services and refer to reports that the Indian High Commission in Canberra has received a letter from the so-called Universal Proutist Revolutionary Federation threatening members of the staff of the High Commission and those associated with them with violence and even assassination, as I understand it. What information does the Minister have about this organisation which calls itself the Universal Proutist Revolutionary Federation? Is it associated with the Ananda Marga movement? Will the Minister ensure that immediate investigations are undertaken into both of these groups to assess whether either is contemplating or is involved in violent actions against Australians or the nationals of other countries in Australia?
-I think that all honourable senators would be aware that there was an incident last week involving a member of the Indian High Commission in Canberra, as a result of which a young Australian national has been arrested and is at the moment charged before the court. A number of questions have been asked about the organisation which goes by the name of Ananda Marga, and it might be of some interest to the Senate if I advise it of the information I have about the organisation.
– Make a statement after question time.
-I thought the honourable senator would be interested in terrorist organisations which ought to be stamped out in this community. Senator Knight has asked me some questions about the Government’s attitude to this matter and what the Government is doing. As far as we are informed, the Ananda Marga is a socio-spiritual organisation in India with members in a number of foreign countries, including Australia. I am informed that the words mean path to bliss’ and this is to be achieved through individual development and community service. It aims at eventual dictatorship of the world by a self-enlightened intellectual elite. It is strongly hierarchical in structure and, although claiming to promote a peaceful philosophy, it supports violence if necessary to achieve its objectives. Its founder and leader, one P. R. Sarkar, known as Anandamurti or Baba to his followers, was arrested by the Indian Government in 1971. In 1976 he was convicted on charges connected with the killing of six defectors from the organisation and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Ananda Marga, together with 25 other organisations, was banned in India in 1975 as a subversive organisation but, with the ending of the Indian state of emergency, is no longer proscribed. However, P. R. Sarkar and a number of his followers are still imprisoned and on 28 July a petition by Sarkar for bail was rejected. It is estimated that the Ananda Marga has about 500 followers in Australia. We do not know a lot about them.
I think the Senate also ought to be informed that as a result of the incident concerning a diplomat accredited to this country by a nation with which we have very close and friendly relationsSenator Wheeldon, I think, asked me a question yesterday about the measures being taken- I have had another look today at the measures which are now in force. I trust that they will be satisfactory. I think they will be, but I inform the Senate that the cost to the Australian taxpayers of continuing violence is not cheap. To provide what we believe to be adequate security for members of the Indian mission in Australia will cost upwards of $3m a year. I do not say that because the Government does not wish to spend that amount of money. If it costs twice as much we will spend twice as much but I just give that figure as an indication to honourable senators of the cost to the taxpayers in this country of preventing violence. I say again that those who preach violence in this country ought to be ashamed of themselves.
– I ask a supplementary question. Does the Minister have any information on the Universal Proutist Revolutionary Federation? Does he have any information whether it has links with the Ananda Marga and whether investigations will be undertaken into these organisations to assess whether they are in fact contemplating violence?
-I think it might be as well at this stage if I did not answer that question because the matters are under -
– Make a statement so that we can all express our concern.
-It is not a matter of expressing concern because I know that we all are concerned. I think that, while this matter is under consideration, I ought not to go further than I have gone.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade. Is the Minister aware that the Japanese sugar refiners and CSR Ltd, acting as agent for the Queensland Sugar Board, have resumed negotiations about the Japan- Australia sugar contract? Does the uncertainty surrounding the Australian dollar and the absence of a firm statement or prompt action by the Government in support of the dollar provide the grounds for the Japanese sugar importers to string out finalisation of the contract in anticipation of devaluation?
-No, it does not. I am equally aware that negotiations have resumed. I imagine that is because the Australian Government has taken a firm position and made itself clear. Equally the honourable senator may be glad to learn that Mr Anthony, who is the Minister for Overseas Trade, is due to leave for overseas on Thursday or Friday to lend a hand in Geneva in these negotiations and the overall aspects of them.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. I asked the Minister in the latter part of the question about the delay in the hearings. I supplement that by asking the Minister whether he is aware when the negotiations are likely to be finalised.
-No, I do not have a precise day but I think the honourable senator might like me to try to find out for him. I shall do that after Question Time.
– My question to the Minister representing the Treasurer follows some questions asked of him earlier today. Can the Minister indicate the extent to which the Arabs are using petrodollars to speculate against the Australian dollar and other currencies? Are the sudden interest of Labor senators and the scare tactics in relation to the value of the Australian dollar intended to be of assistance to the speculative activities of those who were at one stage of which we are aware the proposed financial backers of the Australian Labor Party?
-I am not in touch with the Arab money world. Other people may be or may have been. We are all familiar with what happened in the past and the honourable senator does us a service to remind us that there are proper ways and improper ways of going about this. We have had experience of that. One might observe also that the Australian capital flow position is very much affected, as is our balance of payments, by uneven movements of money for export receipts and uneven movements of money being paid out for imports. Australia is a small country. It is possible for the funny money men in other parts of the world to manipulate our currency. We should not join those people ourselves.
Sentor GRIMES- My question to the Minister for Social Security refers to the discovery in Brisbane yesterday of alleged slave camps. Is it a fact that an honourable member in the other place, Mr Jull, in May this year asked questions concerning this issue? Is it also a fact, as reported, that he was told that this was a ticklish situation and that he should not expect too much in answer to the question? Why was he told that? Is it a fact that Mr Jull has accused Dr Noel Hall of Wamuran and Mr Bashir Mohammed Deen of Wynnum West of running similar slave camps? Are either of these allegations true? Was a regular check made of these gentlemen while they are acting as warrantors for pensioners? Does the Government intend to hold an investigation into this and other issues to protect vulnerable homeless persons from a repetition of this episode?
- Senator Grimes has raised many questions. I will answer those of which I have knowledge and am able to answer. Firstly, I was asked about questions which were raised by an honourable member in the other place earlier this year. It will be seen that some months ago questions were placed on the Notice Paper with regard to two persons in Queensland who were claimed to be acting as warrantors for pensioners. Those questions were answered by me. I believe that questions which related to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs were asked about the same time. I do not wish to associate the raid that was made yesterday by the Commonwealth Police with the subject matter of the former questions to which I have referred.
The Commonwealth Police yesterday raided a place in Queensland, took six people into their care and removed them from the premises which were raided. The Director of Social Services in Queensland has indicated to me that two of these men were in receipt of social security payments but neither had used the provisions of the Social Services Act to have any sort of warranty arrangement. In other words, the people involved in the raid yesterday were people who held pensions in their own names and were not subjected to any of the warranty arrangements or the claims that may have been made by other persons regarding these matters.
I would stress that under the Social Services Act it is possible for a person to request that payment of his pension be made to another person on his behalf. There is a further section under which the Director-General may feel that it is in the interest of the person to make a payment on his behalf to another person such as in the case of a person who is in an institution and unable to deal with his own affairs. Senator Grimes asks me whether certain statements that have been made by Mr Jull with regard to the inquiry made in my office or in the Department are correct. I am unable to substantiate those in detail, but the Department at all times has the interests of the pensioners in mind when it agrees to arrangements that are made.
It is fair to say that the credentials of a proposed warrantor are not examined if the appointment is made by the pensioner, because a pensioner does this as a voluntary decision. He asks that his pension be paid to someone else on his behalf. As I said earlier, this was not the case in respect of the raid yesterday because the warranty provisions of the Act had not been used. With regard to an investigation of the circumstances, I believe that at the moment the Department is taking a very active interest in what is occurring as a result of the actions of Commonwealth and State Police. The Department certainly will co-operate in whatever way is possible to ensure that the interests and the welfare of the pensioners are safeguarded.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question. I asked the Minister about serious accusations made by Mr Jull concerning two citizens of Queensland. I asked the Minister whether she could assure the Senate that investigations would be made into the activities of these two gentlemen to see whether they had been justly or unjustly treated. These gentlemen are both alleged to act as warrantors for many hundreds of pensioners in Queensland. Should not the Government have a full investigation into this whole episode?
– I have some reluctance to deal with the question as it may be linked with the raid of yesterday in an unfair manner. To my knowledge, the Commonwealth Police have not at this stage revealed the identity of the person who may or may not be charged. I believe I should state that the persons named in the former question are not the persons who were involved in the raid.
– Will there be an investigation? That is all I want to know.
– This matter was brought to the attention of the Department on an earlier occasion and some investigations were made with regard to the persons concerned. As a result of yesterday’s revelations, I can assure the Senate that any action which needs to be taken to protect the interests and welfare of pensioners certainly will be taken by my Department. It would be understood that charges of the nature that may arise from the raid yesterday are matters that are dealt with by the police. In this case I understand that any charge made would be laid under a provision of the Queensland Criminal Code and would be a charge of failing to provide the necessities of life to persons in their charge. I assure the Senate that the Department would be prepared to assist in taking whatever steps were necessary to co-operate in this matter.
– Has the Minister for Education seen an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today by Sarah Monks, the education reporter for that newspaper, claiming that there is a financial crisis in child and adult migrant education services in New South Wales and that it has been caused by cuts in Federal Government funds? Is this allegation accurate? What are the comparative levels of Commonwealth funding for child and adult migrant education under the Fraser Government and under the former Whitlam Government?
-I have seen the article. I have a copy of it with me. Let me say that as to money terms the article is quite inaccurate. I say that although I know that the reporter concerned is a dedicated person. My experience in the past has been that she is very accurate.
– She is very competent.
-I share Senator Mulvihill ‘s opinion that she is a competent reporter. I do not reflect in any way upon her as a person, but the actual basis of the article- that there are cuts in Federal funds for migrant education, whether adult or child migrant educationis wrong. Therefore that upsets the credibility of the whole article. To the extent that there is a growing and an increased demand by migrants for instruction in English, of course the article points to some new characteristics, particularly the influx of migrants from various countries and a real demand indeed. I think Senator Martin asked me for actual figures and for a comparison between the governments. I shall read the figures for adult migrants: In 1973-74 the figure was $1.1 5m; in 1974-75 $ 1.88m; in 1975-76 $2.62m; and in 1976-77 $2.7m. The Commonwealth has allocated $3,090,100 at June 1977 costs for the 1977-78 financial year. I am talking now in terms of New South Wales. The effect should be at least to maintain the program. In 1976-77 the national total was $8.9m. For 1977-78 it is $9.66m. A similar situation is reflected in child migrants. For 1975-76 the figure was $2 1.8m and for 1976-77 it was $25.9m.
One of the bases for error in assessing this situation, as I have pointed out before in the Senate, is that a year ago a new basis for funding of child migrants occurred whereby child migrant education was taken over and funded under the Schools Commission. Therefore one should look not just at a single line of the Budget but also at the Schools Commission for the funding. To the extent that the article indicates that there are cuts- and substantial cuts- in funding of migrant education, the article is based on inaccuracy. To the extent that it points to the fact that there is a growing demand, and one that is understandable, arising out of increased refugee numbers, it of course reflects a new and significant trend and the Government will do all it can to assist in that trend.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. In answer to a question from Senator McAuliffe yesterday Senator Cotton referred to a highly qualified person upon whom and an organisation upon which he relied for his response to Senator McAuliffe. The organisation is W. D.
Scott and Co. Pty Ltd and the person is Mr Shrapnel. Is Mr Shrapnel the Sydney business economist? If he is, is the Minister aware of a statement in the Melbourne Herald last nightthat is following the answer to Senator McAuliffe ‘s question yesterday morningentitled ‘$A still too high: Forecaster sees 5 per cent cut’. The article reads as follows:
The Australian dollar is still overvalued and will probably be devalued by another 5 per cent over the next six to nine months, according to Sydney business economist, Mr Philip Shrapnel.
Mr Shrapnel, in a briefing to clients for 1 977-78, said if the exchange rate was adjusted for changes in costs and prices, Australia was only about S per cent more competitive than before the November devaluation.
This meant that the value of the dollar was still too high to secure import-competitive industries against imports and to generate employment, he said.
What credence does the Minister place in the observations of this highly qualified person about the present value of the Australian dollar?
– I have a very high regard for Mr Shrapnel’s view. Equally I believe that people in any walk of life do not help anybody much by speculating on the value of the dollar. That goes for everybody wherever he may be found. I have not read the Melbourne Herald. I have not had a chance to do that yet because I have been rather busy reading the Press in my own State. One newspaper in my State made a comment about my answer to Senator McAuliffe yesterday, and it took the view that I was incorrect. I think I should just say in response to its comment that I took the trouble of consulting somebody who knows something about these matters.
– Who is that?
-The newspaper suggested that I drew a strange analogy between the deficit and speculation against the dollar, so I thought that I would check out my thinking. I was told by somebody whose opinion I really value- I suggest that Senator Georges might, too- that the bigger the deficit the higher the growth of the money supply. Hence it is easier to obtain funds by borrowing to send abroad to speculate against the dollar. Out of all that one might assume it is possible that from time to time some of the people writing in newspapers will be incorrect. It could happen.
– I ask a supplementary question of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I regret that the Minister avoided answering my question and relied on an answer that he gave to a question asked of him yesterday. My reason for questioning him on this matter is that I believe that such speculation should be laid to rest. I hope that the Minister will be able to set the record straight and say that Mr Shrapnel’s expectation or speculation is thoroughly wrong.
-If the honourable senator reads carefully tomorrow my answer to his question I think he will see that I said that I thought that such comment, from wherever it came, was both unwise and not sensible, which is a view that I continue to hold.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I understand that the Minister received a delegation of representatives of the wool textile industry this morning. I further understand that the delegation sought a small loan from the Government to finance an investigation into the feasibility of establishing an integrated wool textile industry in Australia. Will the Minister comment on the possibility of such an industry being established in Australia?
-The honourable senator’s powers of observation are pretty acute. It is true that this morning I met a group of people with whom I have been in touch since last December. Because I think that this is a matter of some interest I shall deal with it now in as precise a manner as I can within the overall confines of the confidence that one has to have with the people who see one about matters affecting their companies. I saw Mr Symons of Fletcher Jones and Staff Pty Ltd, Mr Vickers of J. V. Vickers and Company, Mr Thomas of John Foster Valley Ltd, Mr Cohen of Berkley Apparel, Mr Friez of Friez Brothers, Mr Solomon of Solomon Pty Ltd and Mr Pell of the Australian Wool Corporation. The meeting came out of a situation that arose when I was talking to them last year and I was saying- I repeat it here because I think it is worth repeating- that Australian manufacturing ought to be capable of being based upon the adding of value to the natural materials we have and the products and resources of the Australian countryside, whether they are grown, harvested or mined in the ground. That ought to be a sensible base to try to expand upon, and upon which to see a realistic growth. I made that observation to these people. I asked them to go away and prepare a case for us that would lead to the expansion in Australia, if possible, of the wool textile industry and the clothing manufactured out of that with a view to seeing whether we can get a bigger market in Australia and for export. They reported on that aspect this morning. It was an extremely good report. It is being taken most seriously by the Government. I am working on it at the moment.
– I wish to follow up a question I asked on 17 March last year of the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I say by way of preface that just prior to the finish of the last parliamentary session the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations indicated that early in the present session he would introduce legislation to give effect to changes proposed to be made to employment arrangements on the Australian waterfront. My question is: In view of the fact that the feeling is growing that the Government is withholding the legislation so as to ensure compliance with its wishes in regard to uranium exports- a proposition which may well be quite incorrect- can the Minister say when the proposed legislation will be introduced? Will he also take into account the apprehensions of the members of the waterfront labour force as to their future, bearing in mind the written assurances which have been given to the people concerned that they would not be disadvantaged by the contemplated new arrangements?
-The intentions of the Government in regard to legislation covering the stevedoring industry have been broadly known for some time. Indeed there has been discussion on this matter in the Senate on a couple of occasions since I have been representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. The existing arrangements have been extended on, I think, at least two occasions because of the difficulties and complications of this legislation. It was hoped to have this legislation introduced at the end of the last autumn session. That proved not to be possible. Indeed, with the volume of legislation we had in the last week or two of that session, I am sure Senator Devitt and other honourable senators were thankful that the legislation was not introduced then. That should be a rejection of any suggestion that the Government has any ulterior motive at present for delaying or holding up this legislation. I categorically deny that there is any such motive on the part of the Government. The fact of the matter is that this legislation is now at an advanced stage of consideration. I cannot give a specific date as to when it will be introduced, but I fully expect it to be introduced at a very early stage of the present session.
-I refer the Minister for Education to Press reports that teachers in outback New South Wales are now on strike because of what they say is inadequate housing, the blame for which they place at the door of the Federal Government. Can the Minister inform the Senate of the position in New South Wales? Are teachers without adequate housing? To what extent is this a result of any funding responsibility which rests with the Commonwealth?
– I saw in several newspapers this morning evidence that a number of teachers in remote areas in New South Wales were contemplating strike action or in fact were taking strike action because of the allegedly poor conditions of their housing. I saw also some suggestion somewhere that there was a claim that this was a responsibility of the Federal Government through some connection with the Schools Commission I think all honourable senators and members of the community on a little reflection, would reach a simple conclusion, namely, that the housing of State public servantswhether police officers, teachers, firemen, health workers, or whatever- in remote areas is and must be wholly the responsibility of the State concerned. Otherwise, the sovereignty of the State would be abrogated completely.
It happens that in earlier years, during the Whitlam Government, the Schools Commission brought in a triennial report indicating poor conditionsI have no doubt that such conditions exist in country areas for school teachers- and suggesting an amount of money to be allocated through the Schools Commission. The Whitlam Government rejected the idea. In fact it rejected the whole triennial report. My understanding is that that Government took the same view as I think any Federal government would take, namely, that the housing of State public servants should be the responsibility of State governments. I remind Senator Baume and the Senate that in the recent revenue sharing arrangements with the States the tax sharing arrangements provide for New South Wales -
-Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Minister was asked a question which, I say with respect, he answered about five minutes ago. The material which is now being adduced is totally irrelevant to the answer which has been given. Question Time should not be take up at this stage with election speeches.
– I was listening to the Minister’s reply. There was relevance in what he was saying.
-I regret that Senator Button failed to listen to Senator Baume ‘s question. Senator Baume asked where the responsibility rests. He asked questions relative to the funding arrangements. I simply say, because Senator Button’s device- it is a device we all know- was aimed at preventing the community from knowing this, that the tax sharing arrangements have increased the revenue available to the New South Wales Government, as with other governments by 17 per cent or more this year. That, in a period of inflation of 10 per cent and falling, means that there is substantial real growth in revenue which would allow the State government to take advantage of these opportunities if it so desired. The Wran Government, in its last Budget, cut taxes. It could have used part of that revenue to build houses for teachers if it had wanted. The choice as to whether to build houses for teachers or to take other options is solely that of the Wran Government.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport: Is he aware that the Norwegian Parliament set up a Commission of Investigation in April 1975 to inquire into the establishment of Loran C and an Omega station in that country? Did this Commission find that Norwegian public servants had misled the Norwegian Cabinet and Parliament by understating the importance of Omega for American military plans? Is it a fact that the Norwegian Government set up a further commission to investigate these allegations? Did this later commission, namely the SCHEI Commission, find the allegations proved and did it show active collaboration between American and Norwegian officials to misrepresent the purpose of the navigation system? In view of the Government’s intent to build an Omega station in Victoria, will the Minister seek through his colleague the Minister for Transport a full text of both the SCHEI and original reports for tabling in this Parliament before the building of the proposed base begins?
-I am not aware of what has happened in the Norwegian Parliament regarding these reports. I shall seek to get those reports. Since the honourable senator has raised this matter, it is fair to remind him of two things. One is that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of this Parliament, of which I was a member, found that Omega was a most valuable commercial aid to navigation and that the allegations about its defence or aggressive characteristics were proven wrong. I also understand that the Australian Labor Party, which before had some misgivings about Omega, has come out in support of it. Let me make it clear, because some apprehension has been expressed, that Omega consists of eight stations around the world each of which is completely independent, with no master station. They are not capable of sending or receiving messages but are purely capable of sending a time phase signal. They are capable of being turned off by any nation quite independently.
– We know that. Just answer the question.
-I am delighted that Senator Georges knows that. The exposure of his knowledge in this chamber is not always constant. It is well to know that those who continue to put the view, in this chamber and elsewhere, that Omega is some nuclear threat ought to know that evidence given by the physicists before our own Committee was mat a simple electric storm, a simple flare in the atmosphere, will distort it and make it completely unworkable in a military sense. Indeed, the explosion of an atomic device anywhere would render it useless for hours. It is relatively inaccurate for military purposes, but for commercial purposes it is totally accurate. Those who look to Australia with its vast distances, its vast sea lanes, to assist the navigations of our ships and our aircraft ought to be advocating Omega as a first class commercial aid.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources. I refer to the article in today’s Australian Financial Review relating to statements by Western Mining Corporation executives in a draft of a $45 m United States-Eurodollar loan prospectus. Is the Minister able to say whether, as is claimed by the executives, the copper belt at Roxby Downs in South Australia may be similar to the famous Central African copper province and that drilling has intersected a very large body of copper and uranium mineralisation? Can the Minister say whether it would be economical to mine the copper and stockpile the uranium, as I understand has been suggested by Mr Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia? Does the attitude of the South Australian Premier represent a departure from the present Australian Labor Party uranium policy?
-As is well known, the Western Mining Corporation previously announced the discovery of a very large copper mineralisation at Roxby Downs. There is no doubt that the prospect of a very large scale development such as that would be welcomed. However, I must say that one of the problems of the company will be the attitude of the Dunstan Government. As will be recalled, it was not very long ago that, in collaboration with the Whitlam Government, the Dunstan Government was extremely enthusiastic about the development of uranium deposits and a large scale uranium industry in that State. Indeed, honourable senators will recall that the Dunstan Government completed a comprehensive study of the economic benefits from the establishment of a uranium industry in that State. As I recall it, the studies showed that there would be employment for 20,000 people and that half a million Australians would benefit directly and indirectly from the development of an integrated uranium industry in this country.
It is common knowledge that the Premier of South Australia did an about-face on that matter, and with that sort of confusion operating with the Premier of a State I suppose that Roxby Downs and any other development in the State are subject to a great deal of speculation. As honourable senators know, the Labor Party does not quite know where it is on uranium. I hope that by now all honourable senators have read the evidence given last Thursday before Estimates Committee A when the Luddites attempted to cross-examine the scientists from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. It is surprising how they keep popping up all the time, if not about Omega then about uranium. Next we will have them walking with red flags in front of motor cars. I suppose that this is one of the great problems we face in any society. These people have been opposed to every piece of progress for mankind for as long as we have known them. They were opposed to vaccination, they were opposed to innoculation, they were opposed to fluoridation of water and so on. They are the same group of people and they are now opposed to the mining and export of uranium.
-My question relates to subject matter which I think could be commented on by the Attorney-General. Recently in another place the Prime Minister was asked whether he knew that a group calling itself the Australia Freedom Group had released the names and addresses of the entire staff of the Joint Intelligence Organisation, claiming that this material had been leaked by the Australian
Security Intelligence Organisation as part of a private war between those two organisations. The Prime Minister’s reply was that the question showed a lack of comprehension of the matter in that the names were freely available from the Commonwealth Directory. I wish to inform the Attorney-General that I looked in the directory and found nine names without addresses, whereas the list being circulated by the Australia Freedom Group or ASIO or whoever has 286 names and addresses. Therefore I ask: Did the Prime Minister wilfully mislead the Parliament? Are the names and addresses indeed those of people working for the Joint Intelligence Organisation? Is such material normally kept secure? What steps have been taken to establish how the leak occurred? How can increased funding to both these organisations be justified if it is used to finance private wars between them?
- Senator Melzer prefaced her question by saying that she thought the Attorney-General could comment on the matter. The honourable senator ought to know, as the Senate does, that neither the Attorney-General nor indeed any Minister will answer questions in relation to the Australian Intelligence Security Organisation. I do not intend to change that attitude and create a precedent. Senator Melzer has asked some peripheral questions in relation to the matter. I will examine them to ascertain whether there are any aspects of them on which I may give an answer, and I shall do so as soon as possible.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade a question. Can the Minister advise whether the arrangements under the New Zealand-Austalia Free Trade Agreement, which covers the incorporation of New Zealand imports into global quotas and the 50 per cent local content rule, could and would be implemented to cover both New Zealand grown vegetables and vegetables grown overseas and processed or part-processed in New Zealand where such exports to Australia threaten either the present NAFTA arrangements, where applicable, or other vegetables not covered under the present arrangements?
-Under NAFTA, there is an arrangement that New Zealand and Australia will consult with each other should difficulties occur in industries in either country. There are special clauses in the Agreement to provide adjustments and relief. I think I am correct in saying that there is a vegetable growersprocessors’ group that works both in Australia and in New Zealand to try to co-ordinate the work and to overcome problems. I imagine that is still at work, but the precise information that the honourable senator wants would have to be obtained by searching the Agreement and looking at the relevant clauses. I will get a paper prepared on that subject for the honourable senator.
I just add only one other comment which may be of value, and that is that the NAFTA arrangement between the two countries was started basically to enhance trade between the two countries. It has certainly done that. It was designed to do so at the expense of third countries. It has certainly helped New Zealand at the expense of third countries. It has not yet helped Australia very much.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. In a sense the question follows the Dorothy Dix question posed by Senator Martin regarding education for migrants and the unsatisfactory answer given by Senator Carrick. I refer to an announcement made by the Prime Minister -
– Order! The honourable senator has referred to Dorothy Dix questions. That subject has been referred to on other occasions. The honourable member has charged that a certain question is a Dorothy Dix question, without knowledge whether it is. I think it ought not to be referred to as such.
– Thank you, Mr President. I continue by reminding the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs -
– I raise a point of order. I do not think that is sufficient. I think the honourable senator should withdraw the remark.
Opposition senators interjecting-
-I think it is about time that a little bit of discipline was imposed in this place on honourable senators cheeking the Chair. Mr President, you deliberately pulled the honourable senator up. I think the honourable senator out of courtesy to the Chair would have said: ‘In that case, Mr President, I start my question again and I withdraw the inference I made in my remarks’. That should be done as a matter of courtesy to the Chair.
– If I may speak on the point of order. If a point of order were raised on every occasion an honourable senator referred to
Dorothy Dixers in this place we would spend the whole of Question Time on points of order, especially when Senator Webster is answering questions because we know full well that he would be the greatest offender when it comes to Dorothy Dixers being asked in this place. I find it very difficult to believe that every time Dorothy Dixers are referred to at Question Time we are going to have a debate on that matter.
– Again on the point of order, I think that the Leader of the Opposition completely misunderstands why -
– You have already spoken on the point of order.
– An honourable senator can speak as often as he likes on a point of order.
– Well, I will remember that next time a point of order is raised.
– Look at the Standing Orders. I was defending the Chair. Mr President, you intervened. I did not intervene. No other honourable senator intervened. I imagine the reason you intervened was that you thought it was the sort of inference that ought not to be in an honourable senator’s question. I therefore think that, out of respect for the Chair, the honourable senator ought to withdraw the inference.
– Out of respect for the Chair and out of a desire to facilitate the progress of Question Time, I withdraw the remark about Dorothy Dix questions. I would like now to remind the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs of an announcement made by the Prime Minister on 19 August that an additional $200,000 was to be provided by the Government for language services to migrants. I ask the Minister: How much money was recommended by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs for language services in the next financial year?
– I am unable to announce from my own knowledge how much was requested by the Department for these services. At present, the Senate Estimates committees are meeting and a great deal of information was given to the committees with regard to the estimates of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the services to migrants in my Department. I do not believe that it would be competent for me as Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to relate to the Senate what the Department requested. After all, it is the Government which decides how much in each item of expenditure ultimately will be provided in the Budget. If there is information which I am able to give with regard to any particular item, I will be pleased to do so, but I do so on the basis of departmental recommendations that may have been made prior to Budget considerations.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. The seasonally adjusted figures just released by the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development of the number of housing loan approvals for the period June 1976 to June 1977 demonstrate a strong growth in the number of loans transacted by permanent building societies whilst concurrently the trading and savings banks have experienced zero or negative rates of growth in loan approvals. In view of the fact that building societies charge higher interest rates and therefore may be less attractive to borrowers, is the growth of the influence of these financing institutions a result of the tight availability of funds from the trading and savings banks due to the heavy controls that the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Government exercise over the banks? Is it true that the housing sector and home buyers are suffering accordingly and that recovery in the housing industry is being retarded? Will the Government spread its control more evenly over all financial and monetary institutions and thus allow a greater availability of housing funds from banks at lower interest rates?
– Among the various pieces of paper I try to bring with me into the Senate, I have some information which may help the honourable senator. I can understand his concern after listening to his question. But I do not think that he has read the figures correctly. I will endeavour to state what I believe is the factual position from the Treasury paper I have. In 1976-77, the savings banks approved a total of 106,740 loans to individuals for the construction or purchase of dwellings compared with approvals of some 64,510 applications by permanent building societies over the same period. In recent months, there has been a substantial growth in the number of housing loan approvals by all of the major mortgage lenders. The Government believes that progress has been made towards achieving a suitable monetary climate. The Government has been concerned to ensure that finance is not a barrier to steady and sustainable growth in home building activity. If I remember correctly, this comment was made in the Treasurer’s Budget Speech. We have advised the Reserve Bank of Australia- I think we said so- that we want to see the banks and other institutions if possible increase their lending rate to home builders and home buyers, particularly in States where the activity levels are low. So if borrowers, in effect, are credit-worthy and can service their loans, the Government wants them to have access to money. Honourable senators will recall also that earlier this year the capacity of savings banks to lend for housing was increased by a change in the ratio of assets they were required to hold in prescribed forms. The effect of that will be increasingly apparent during the coming year.
– I inform the Senate that I have received the following letter dated 2 1 September from Senator Wriedt:
Dear Mr President,
In accordance with Standing Order 64, 1 give notice that today I shall move that, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter or urgency:
The Fraser Government’s incompetence at managing the economy’.
Yours sincerely, K.S. WRIEDT
Is the motion supported?
More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
– I move:
The Opposition launches this matter of urgency because of its very deep concern about the effects on this country of the policies of this Government. I dare say that at no time in the history of Australia has there been such concern and disillusionment; in fact fear of the future. It has been said at times in the past that the Australian people had reached the stage of disillusionment but at no time in our history has there been such widespread concern at what is happening in this country at the present time. Let us cast back our minds to what the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said on 27 November 1975. These were his words:
We have a comprehensive strategy to restore prosperity. The major element in this strategy is to bring about growth in production in the private sector.
This Government was going to restore prosperity; it was going to defeat inflation; and, of course, above all, it was going to provide employment. Broadly, the strategy was that there would be a revival of the private sector. The Government rejected what was called the consumption led recovery on the basis that such a recovery would be fragile and short lived. To this end the Fraser Government promised certain advantages to the private sector. It introduced the investment allowance. It promised to suspend the quarterly payment of company taxation and also to disband the Prices Justification Tribunal. To assist this process it was going to reduce inflation by bringing down the Budget deficit. The effect of these measures, it was claimed, would be to lead to more investment which, in turn, would lead to more jobs. At the time the Prime Minister was so confident he said that in fact there would be a growth rate of 6 per cent to 7 per cent under his Government.
It was obvious to anyone at the time that that strategy was completely ineffective and would be ineffective. It was simplistic. It did not recognise the sorts of problems that this Government would face. Every government faces problems, but this Government has created problems for itself. It is now locked into them and it is extremely unlikely that in the next 12 or 18 months, let alone the next three or four months, it will get out of the mess into which it has got itself. I will come back to that later. The expectation of business at the beginning of the term of this Government was that the economy would pick up because of expected recoveries in overseas economies. In fact, this was one of the main things on which the Government was relying. It was praying for an international economic recovery. We in the Opposition, I think with every justification, criticised these policies because we believed that they were ill-founded from the start and, as I said, simplistic.
The strategy outlined before the election of December 1975 by the present Government was a fantasy. It certainly was not based on any sound economic theories. At that time there was the proposition that unemployment was a key factor in the revival of the economy. Yet when this Government came to office employment, in fact, was declining. The Labor Government conceded, as we had to concede, that Australia was caught up in the dramatic events of the world economy, the downturn in the world economy, in 1974. The Labor Government took measures in 1 975 to arrest the worst effects of that decline. By the time this Government came to office employment was increasing in Australia; unemployment was decreasing. We saw then the policies of this
Government begin to take effect. We saw gradually the reductions in public spending and the mania that this Government seems to have against the public sector generally. The measures the Government was taking to assist the private sector obviously were not working. The Government set about a very large program of cutting expenditure in a whole range of areas. One of the things which it overlooked was the fact that if spending is cut, particularly for capital works, that itself affects the private sector.
We have seen how much the private sector has been affected. The building industry has been stagnant for 12 months. Many other areas, including manufacturing, are in much the same position. They are operating at probably 20 per cent below their capacity simply because at the same time the Government, by a deliberate policy, has been reducing the real incomes of Australians. This has happened because of the steps the Government has tried to take and because it has reduced the capacity of the public to consume and to increase consumption, despite the fact that the Prime Minister himself exhorted people to spend money last year- again a contradiction of the very principles which he enunciated at the beginning of his term. Now we see the economy in a state of complete stagnation with all the significant indicators showing that the months and perhaps the years ahead are to be very gloomy.
Of course, in November of 1976 we saw the first clear evidence that the Government did not have a competent economic strategy. That was the time of the decision to devalue the currency by 17 per cent. At one stroke this extraordinary step dispelled any notions that this Government was credible on economic management. I daresay that up until then the public at large believed that Mr Fraser and his Government could make some claim to economic competence; but all that has gone. If there is one thing on which this Government has endeavoured to survive in the first 18 months of its term it is that public opinion polls showed that the Fraser Government had some competence in this area; but all that has changed and it has changed quite quickly.Nolongerdoesthepublicseethe Government in this light. The people have given this Government its chance. They have had 1 8 months of Fraserism. They can see now that 18 months later the position is worse; unemployment is worse; inflation is only marginally better; business confidence is worse, investment is worse; the rural sector is worse. All these are facts supportable by any independent authority that one would care to use. The Organisation for
Economic and Community Development, for example, supports the contention that the position in this country now is worse than it was when this Government took office. Now very clearly the Australian people are turning their support away from this Government to the Australian Labor Party.
– Where is the evidence of that?
-To give an example for the sake of the interjector, the latest survey in New South Wales shows 59 per cent support for the Australian Labor Party as against 33 per cent for the honourable senator’s party. No matter what his interjections and no matter what he might say, the writing is on the wall clearly for him and his colleagues. It is now clear to everybody, including the Government itself, that its economic policies have been a total failure. The September issue of the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd publication Business Indicators shows very clearly that the major indicators such as employment, new investment, share prices and retail sales are faltering. It may well be that members on the Government side do not think very much about the ANZ’s analysis of the economy, but generally I think it is accepted fairly widely through the business community as being a soundly based document. Now we see the problem in the last Budget. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) decided that they were not in agreement on what the Budget Papers meant. So there was a long debate between them over exactly what tax cuts meant. Finally I think the Prime Minister had the last word and the Treasurer has been sent off overseas, presumably to get over it. What he will find within the Liberal Party when he comes back will be interesting indeed.
Earlier I made the comment that the Government has now got itself into a position where it will be extremely difficult for it to do anything at all because in the last 18 months, in the last 2 Budgets it has forgone a very large amount of revenue. I do not deny that there have been tax cuts. They have not worked, of course. There has been no beneficial result to the Government out of them. The Government expected that by providing those tax cuts the public would respond and that the people would buy more. The fact is the public is too frightened to buy more and that is why we see now savings in Australia at the record level of $15.6 billion. The people are frightened of the future and they are frightened for their jobs. So they save. They will not spend and they are not going to spend. At the same time, the Government has seen fit to forgo $1 billion a year in revenue from the private sector, again with the purpose of allegedly stimulating the private sector; but again there is no response. The private sector is frightened. People will not buy. The private sector will not invest. In other words, the whole thing has gone wrong. At last the Australian people are realising that it has gone wrong.
So what is the Government now doing? We saw the first signs of panic last week in the broadcast by the Prime Minister. He said that we have come to the end of the line in cuts in spending and so on. He has come to the end of the line all right, but he has come to the end of a different line because he has run out of any options. He does not have the capacity now to institute programs which might m fact genuinely stimulate the economy. We hear so much about the greater spending capacity of the States. We heard it again today during question time. Senator Carrick loves to talk about the greater spending capacity of the States under the Government’s new federalism policy. The new federalism policy is a policy which means all power to Canberra and no money to the States. That is the definition of the new federalism policy. I repeat that it means all power to Canberra and no money to the States.
A question was asked in this chamber today about the situation in New South Wales. In replying to it Senator Carrick talked about the increased capacity of the New South Wales Government because of allegedly increased payments to New South Wales. Of course, he selected only one area. I will give the figures for another area of payments to New South Wales by this Government for 1977-78, that is, the area of capital payments for specific purposes. In 1975, in its last year of office, the Labor Government provided a total of $594m to New South Wales as capital payments. The following yearthat is, the first year of ‘Fraserism’- the amount was reduced to $537m. This year it has been reduced again to $509m. If this Government had maintained those payments to New South Wales as one example just to keep up with the rate of inflation, the payments this year would have been $7 12m. So New South Wales is in fact receiving about $200m less in payments from the Commonwealth for capital purposes than it would have received under the old system of payments. One of the essential reasons the economy is not going to get started again is because this Government has locked itself into the new federalism policy. The legislation providing for it has gone through the Parliament. The Government has deprived itself of the revenue that will be necessary to enable it to change course and it is now stuck with it. I said in opposition early last year- I have not bothered to turn up the quotethat the new federalism policy was designed for political purposes in 1975 and would be a failure and a detriment to the Australian people. I believe that that has been proven now.
I do not wish to speak for much longer. Several other speakers wish to participate in this debate. I close, as I opened, by saying that never before has there been such uncertainty as we see in this country now. The Australian people will not tolerate it. If those on the Government side of the chamber are so convinced of the rightness of what they are doing, then let them take it to the people and make a challenge of it.
-The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) has an extremely short memory. He ought to take his mind back to 1975 when the country was almost on its knees due to the efforts of himself and his colleagues. His memory is remarkably short. Once again the Opposition has trotted out this tired old horse for a further canter around a worn out track. What I would like to hear at some time from the Opposition is a considered and carefully thought out and presented economic strategy and policy that will lead to a reduction in the rate of inflation, that will restore price competitiveness and that will get Australia back on its feet, as the Opposition suggests that it can do. Let us have that exposed when the Opposition is ready because we would like to have a talk about it. Elections will certainly come about; they always do. When they come, the people will decide. I am always content to rest myself and the party I represent in the hands of the people. That has never bothered me, it will not bother me next time. It might well bother the Opposition. The people may take a different view of the Opposition’s capacity from that which the Opposition takes of its capacity. That will be something for judgment later. I will be quite content to accept that judgment when it comes.
Considering the three-year record of the Government of which Senator Wriedt was a member, it is really not very appropriate of honourable senators opposite to talk about the performance of anybody else. I do not think it would do any harm to recount once again a little history. History is a more valuable guide than what somebody says he will do later on if he gets the chance to do something later on. Let us look at the 20 years prior to Labor coming to government. The gross domestic product of Australia rose from $10.7 billion to $27 billion-at an annual rate of almost 5 per cent. Exports at constant prices rose from $1.6 billion to $4.7 billion- a rise of almost 6 per cent per annum. Inflation, measured by the consumer price index, rose at an annual rate of below 4 per cent. Australia was almost at the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s inflation table. Average weekly earnings rose from $19.40 in 1950 to $76.30 about 20 years later. It was not a bad reputation for the people who passed the job over to the Labor Party for three years.
What was Labor’s record? The people in the Labor Party tell us how good they are and what they will do. What was the record? In three years inflation had risen by 40 per cent. Average weekly earnings rose from $96.70 in June 1972 to $156.30 in June 1975- a 60 per cent increase in three years. The cost disability as compared with the United States, for instance, fell against us by 33 per cent. The gross domestic product fell. In Labor’s last year it was a negative figure. Honourable senators should not rely on me. They should look up the national accounts and read the tables. There was a negative figure in the calendar year 1975. Unemployment rose in Labor’s time from 1.8 per cent to 3.9 per cent. The Labor Party put tax burdens on the Australian community, increased receipts from personal income tax by 89 per cent during its first two years in office, taxed age pensions, abolished the income tax age allowance, imposed huge levies and indirect taxation in its last Budget, refused to index personal tax, reduced concessional allowances, abolished the investment allowance for primary producers as well as manufacturers, and introduced taxes on unearned income.
What was the unemployment record in Labor’s time? Let us think about the 25 per cent tariff cut in July 1973 about which we now almost find it difficult to remind honourable senators opposite. Employment in manufacturing industry fell by 5.3 per cent, in the clothing and footwear industry by 21 per cent, in the transport and motor vehicle industry by 1 1 per cent, and in the other machinery category by 8 per cent. In a couple of areas alone 30,000 people were put out of the textile and clothing industry and 4,000 people were put out of the footwear industry. Production declined in the same period. Production of all manufacturing industry groups declined by 1 1 per cent, clothing and textiles by 24 per cent, furniture and household goods by 24 per cent, building and construction equipment by 16 per cent, and chemical and allied industries by 15 per cent. Interest rates rose. Labor put them up. Honourable senators should think of the effect upon housing, consumer durables and motor vehicles of that interest rate rise as a consequence of the inflationary rise. Honourable senators should realise that we are working steadily to get inflation down and to bring interest rates down progressively. That is our aim, and Mr Fraser has said so.
After that three years of remarkable economic management, the people of Australia threw the Labor Party out. When we were given the job by the people of Australia there were those of us who said that it would be a long hard job to get the country back on the rails. We thought so then. We said so. In framing its economic policies, the previous Budget and this Budget, the Government has selected its priorities carefully. It has taken difficult paths and unpopular paths. It has had to do so. It set itself the task of bringing inflation down. What is the record? Before the Labor Government came to office inflation ran at around 4 per cent. The average inflation rate in the Labor years was 14.2 percent. In 1973 it was 8.3 per cent. In 1974 it was 17 per cent. In 1975 it was 17.6 per cent. By June of 1977 in the same measurable terms we had the inflation rate down to 10.2 per cent. We believe that it will fall below that.
We also took the view that the Government had put a demand on the resources of Australia that the people in the community could not support. The resources were not there. Hence the huge deficits and hence the private sector being squeezed for resources. We had a proposition that we had to get the government demand on resources down. I thought that was not a bad thing to try to do. The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund has this to say:
An important lesson of recent experience is that nothing could be gained by combatting unemployment through expansionary policies that would intensify inflationary expectations . . . restoration of a reasonable degree of price stability will be necessary to establish a durable basis for better economic performance.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has been referred to. Its Secretary-General said this:
Except in the very short run, lower unemployment cannot be bought at the cost of ever higher rates of inflation . . . what is required is relatively cautious demand management policy aimed at achieving a moderate but sustained expansion.
That has been our commitment. That has been what we have sought to do. We are achieving results.
I have talked about economic growth through time. I have talked about its decline during Labor’s term of office. If one looks at the national account figures, quite independent of politics, one will see that the economic growth rates are returning. The efficiency of the Government in the management of government spending is a critical factor to which we have devoted our time. It has certainly not made us popular. We believe that we were given a mandate by the people to tidy up a mess. We restored incentives for initiative and enterprise. We have revitalised the private sector and in many areas, contrary to what Senator Wriedt said, people are moving and taking positions. Their business is growing and developing. We have restored our international competitiveness to a marked degree.
What did we do immediately on taking office? We brought in the investment allowance. We brought in trading stock valuation adjustments. We increased the reduction allowance for private companies. We brought in general benefits arising from tax indexation in the 1976 and 1977 Budgets. We sought to restore to people some of their own income by spending less of it as a government. We sought to restore to them the wish to take part in increasing activity by bringing their own initiatives back to them. That is what they are beginning to do right across the Australian scene. We cannot expect people to get up off their knees immediately when they have been battered down heavily, savagely and solidly for three years and almost had their confidence destroyed. You do not help to restore that confidence by continually jumping up and down and predicting calamity in a country that has a lot of future, that is a good country with a great deal of promise and a great deal of opportunity.
As far as we are concerned, the Budget strategy has been and is wise and sound. We are seeing great expansions in investment. I cite a couple of things that I am very much involved in: There has been an investment of $450m in plant for motor vehicles, with more to come, and $100m in chemicals with foreshadowed increases in that area and the mining area. Manufacturing investment increased overall in current price terms over the past two years from $ 1,547m in 1974-75 to an estimated $1,8 17m last financial year. We should look at the real position. As I have said in answers to questions during Question Time, there are people in the community who do have a view on this matter. I cite W. D. Scott and Co. Pty Ltd and Philip Shrapnel and Co. Pty Ltd. The W. D. Scott organisation talks about real growth figures running at about 5.5 per cent. It talks about inflation as at June 1978 coming down to 8.8 per cent. Philip Shrapnel and Co. talk about inflation coming down to about 7.5 per cent. It expects farm income to be up by 12.4 per cent and business income by 22.9 per cent.
Company profitability across the Australian corporate scene for the 12 months ending June 1977 was 39 per cent higher than in the previous year. If we look at Labor’s term of office, we find that in one year in particular company profitability, allowing for inflation content, was totally minus. So I suggest that there is a need to think about the true position, the historical position, the factual evidence and what is the task before the Government. People expect the Government to try to do the job properly and reasonably. That is what it is trying to do. That is what it will succeed in doing. In due course, the people of Australia will be able to judge it.
I end on one particular note, which hopefully is a little above politics: Australia is a country rich in resources. It presents a very great opportunity to its own people. It has a great responsibility to the world at large. Its future and its security are not helped by people continually crying it down, saying that it is no good, that it is going nowhere and that all we have ahead of us is disaster and trouble. I suggest that quite the reverse is the case. As the Budget said, there is a task before us all- to join together, to bend ourselves to making something better out of our country, something better for it in the future and for all of its people such as safer and better living conditions and standards. That is the real purpose of a good political party. I commend that thought to honourable senators.
– Despite what the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) has said in criticism of the Whitlam Labor Government, I should tell him that the public now realises that in our three years of government we had three elections to face, two of which were double dissolutions. We did not have control of the Senate. We were frustrated in our attempts to grapple with the international recession that was affecting Australia at that time, as it was affecting all other countries, by the ruthless grab for power by those who now control the government of this country- the Liberal and National Country parties. The public are now determined to give us, when the next general election comes, a further opportunity because not one person in Australia can name any accomplishment of this present Government.
As my colleague, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) has said, the Fraser Government was elected in December 1975 on three specific undertakings which were spelt out in clear terms: To restore prosperity; to defeat inflation; and to provide jobs for all. The Government has failed. It has mismanaged the nation’s affairs and has run the economy like a child playing with a yo-yo. A rising sense of panic is now gripping Government Ministers and back benchers.
When the Government came to power it heralded the much vaunted concept of an investment led recovery. Clearly, at that time the Government’s analysis of prevailing economic conditions saw recovery being brought about by two separate actions- firstly, by a severe cut in the level of public spending and, secondly, by increasing the size of the private sector against the public sector by encouraging the private sector to invest in new capital, thereby ostensibly increasing production levels and employment levels. But the Government curtailed public expenditure in a mini-Budget which it introduced shortly after coming to office. Then, in its first Budget, it further curtailed public sector spending. It offered inducements to the private sector to invest in new capital by granting concessions which had the effect of reducing the real level of company taxation. Then there was the Government’s investment allowance scheme and the trading stock valuation adjustment introduced in the name of what the Government declared to be bolstering the private sector. But business was not impressed. Manufacturing industry itself saw no consumer demand. After the pages of the Government’s first Budget had been read and re-read by business and consumers, no one was impressed. The Government failed to recognise that the level of savings in the community was continuing to rise despite the inflation that was occurring. Even had the private sector increased its output to any significant extent, the Government was blind to the practical reality that the public did not trust it and preferred to save their money for the uncertain times ahead.
The Government’s economic analysis was superficial, simplistic and destined for failure. By November of last year, only four months after its August 1976 Budget, its own failure was so apparent that it formally abandoned its commitment to an investment-led recovery. The Government changed its economic course from an investment led recovery to a so-called or hoped-for export led recovery. Ostensibly it was designed to stimulate Australian exporting industries and to encourage investment of overseas capital. The Government shocked the nation by an initial 17.4 per cent devaluation of the Australian dollar. Subsequent revaluations brought it back to a 13.4 per cent devaluation late last year. The Government said its move was aimed at bolstering the overseas trade account by making the price of Australian exports more attractive to overseas markets. But again, its analysis was wrong. Now, 10 months later, there has been no obvious improvement in our trade position. The hoped for stimulus to economic activity in export oriented industries has not materialised. Nor has the Government’s expected boost to employment opportunities. Indeed, since the devaluation of last November, there has been a continuing run down in Australia’s official reserves of gold and foreign currencies, especially in recent months, to such an extent that increasing levels of private capital have been flowing out of the country for some time.
As though that were not enough in the painting of this awful economic picture the Government, having failed with its strategy for a socalled investment led recovery and having failed with its hoped for export led recovery, in this year’s Budget again altered its economic course. Knowing full well that there had to be at least a half Senate election this financial year, the Government jettisoned all previous strategies and opted for tax cuts, on the basis of which it opportunistically asserted a deliberate change to a consumer led recovery.
It is just a month since the Government introduced that Budget and already it has been forced to alter its proposals. A quick calculation shows that under its Budget schemes those in the community on incomes of between $7,000 and $8,000 a year will be worse off. The Government has now had to redesign a significant part of its taxation arrangements. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) himself has had to say publicly that no one would be worse off as a result of the amended tax scales.
The effect on personal disposable income of the Government’s recent taxation measures, already insignificant to the great mass of wage and salary earners, is being eroded by the increases in petrol prices that have flowed from this Budget. The petrol surcharges will further aggravate inflationary pressures. But that is not the Government’s only self-imposed impediment to getting a consumer led recovery off the ground. Every week in their pay packets
Australians are reminded of yet another surcharge which this Government has put on their wages, namely, the compulsory health insurance levy. That levy has further eroded consumer purchasing power. Yet when they were in Opposition, when they had control of this Senate, the Liberal and National Country parties- those who are in Government today- refused to agree to a standard Medibank charge that was then proposed by the Whitlam Labor Government. Everywhere one searches one finds inconsistency in this Government’s administration.
Let us stocktake on the Government’s more recent activities. Firstly, ostensibly it has set out to give the taxpayer more money through a revised taxation scheme, but clearly the scheme discriminates against those on low and medium incomes. Secondly, at a time of high inflation the Government has decided to increase petrol prices substantially, a policy which will directly erode the purchasing power of all Australians and will add substantially to the inflationary spiral. Thirdly, at a time of high interest rates the Government has done nothing to bring about a reduction in the cost of capital. Fourthly, at a time of high unemployment it is pursuing a policy of staff cut-backs in public sector employment and refusing to give any public sector stimulus at all.
During the recent Senate Estimate Committee meetings we ascertained that the staff of government departments were seriously affected and the efficiency of the Public Service was being impaired as a result of the policies now being practised by this Government. Fifthly, at a time of severe depression in the rural sector the Government has been forced by public pressure to introduce post-Budget measures to ameliorate the serious plight of Australian farmers. Sixthly, at a time of severe depression in the building industry the Government has remained obstinate in its obsession to curb public sector spending. It has completely dislocated and thrown into frustration and confusion the Australian building industry.
That the Prime Minister is panicking over the parlous state of the economy brought about by his Government was made quite clear in his speech last Sunday night to his own electorate of Wannon. On the very issue of inflation, about which he promised so much, he has now resorted to fictitional figures to assert that inflation in Australia is on the way down. All the conventional indicators of price performance, both consumer price index and implicit price deflators, put the lie to those panic-stricken claims by the Prime Minister. Despite the warnings of
Treasury officials in the Budget Papers, the clear evidence of major price indicators and the opinion of business interests who are moving their money out of Australia in expectation of a worsening inflationary situation, it may well be that Mr Fraser has decided to state that inflation has fallen and is now under control.
If that is so, how does the Prime Minister explain that in the same period during which he claims that inflation has fallen by seven percentage points unemployment has risen by 25 per cent? We were told that if inflation fell, employment would rise. But if what the Prime Minister has said is correct, and I assert that it is not correct, if we act on his hypothesis that inflation has fallen, how does he explain to the Australian community that while inflation has fallen by seven percentage points on his calculation, unemployment has risen at the same time by 25 per cent? The Prime Minister has declared that a reduction in inflation would solve the unemployment problem. I suggest that he cannot have it both ways.
This Government’s so-called economic strategy has come full circle and blown up in its face and in the face of its administration. The investment led recovery has been abandoned. Reduced public sector spending has had no impact on inflation but has effectively resulted in a massive increase in unemployment. The promise of reduced inflation has not eventuated. The Government itself has become a force for inflation in this country. The Australian dollar is under attack. The unemployment level is estimated to reach 420,000 or more by early next year. This Government has ably demonstrated its incompetence in economic management. Each new addition to its increasingly frenetic series of policy upheavals and reverses merely confirms the growing sense of panic that is gripping the Treasurer, and indeed every member of this Government. That is why the Leader of the Opposition has moved as a matter of urgency the question of the Fraser Government’s incompetence in managing the economy, and it gives me great pleasure to support him in his remarks.
– This urgency debate, relates to a matter that I believe needs examination- an allegation that the Fraser Government has shown incompetence in managing the economy. We have just listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Douglas McClelland) making statements which represent the most unAustralian of all attitudes in a Parliament. We have listened to some minutes of rhetoric which could at times have been mistaken for panic. We have listened to statements directed towards misrepresentation and confusion in regard to taxation, employment and inflation. It is that sort of contribution from the Opposition, and indeed from some sections of the media and the more radical leadership in the trade union movement, which has led to the distortion and confusion which are the greatest braking force on the recovery of this country’s economy and on the recovery of this country from the point of view of all Australians. Unfortunately, it was typical of the contribution which is continually made by the Opposition in this chamber and in other areas throughout the country.
The Opposition is virtually denying Australians the opportunity to move much more rapidly out of the disasters into which they fell during 3 years of socialist experiment from 1972 to 1975. The sorts of problems that arose in those years were set out explicitly by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) only a few moments ago, and riding out those problems is made more difficult because of the confusion and distortion that the Opposition chooses to introduce into debating every piece of legislation which comes before this Parliament. There is no doubt that the effectiveness of legislation is largely related to the will of the people to make it work. Over the decades Australians have been famous for a determination to make things work, to solve their problems. But 3 years of socialism have implanted a lasting effect in the minds of Australians, particularly young Australians. Those three years tended to build up the concept of the state being the master, not the servant, of the people. Those three years tended to promote in Australians a feeling that the state could provide, that the state had all the solutions, that the old standards of initiative and individualism were characteristics of the past; they were just myths. It is that sort of circumstance that is perhaps the most difficult of all to overcome in the recovery that is occurring. It is happening relatively slowly but unquestionably it is being brought about.
I believe that in a sense the Opposition has done this Government a good service in bringing on this urgency motion for debate because it gives us the opportunity of asking people to think in a balanced way about what has been done about the policies and procedures that are being followed and which are undoubtedly bringing this economy and this society out of the trough into which they had fallen. I do not think that opportunity was the object of the Opposition in bringing this debate into Parliament today. I think it is perhaps typical of the Opposition which is desperately keen, I believe, to keep away from public thought, discussion and debate a number of matters that are relevant to it that are indeed most embarrassing. I refer, for instance, to one of the conclusions of the conference of the Labor Party in Perth just very recently when it decided that the economic recipe with which it would confront the Australian people from this time on to overcome the problems that are to be found in our economy was the identical economic recipe that produced the very problems to which that Party refers. The conference in Perth could only come up with the suggestion that we must increase expenditure in the public sector. This means there will be increased taxation. There will be less emphasis on the private sector. There will be an increased deficit and all the other factors that an increased deficit involve including increased taxation. That is the program of this Opposition in conference in Perth and it is a program which is identical to the program that produced the disasters of 1973, 1974 and 1975. Indeed it is reasonable to assume that the Labor Party would not want people to be talking about or thinking about that as a program.
I believe its supporters are in no small measure embarrassed by the fact that the Fraser Government has adopted after long and careful examination a uranium policy that is determined to mine and export uranium. They must be in some measure embarrassed by that when they look at the resolution of 8 September of the Trade Union Congress in the United Kingdom. I do not quote this in full, but in part. It reads:
Congress instructs the General Council to press the Government to formulate a plan for energy which will not leave us dependent upon as yet unproved or undeveloped sources of energy beyond the 1980s and which will ensure that the urgent decisions which need to be taken to avoid any threat to economic expansion and standards of living are no longer unnecessarily delayed. This should include the following objectives:
To promote an effective energy conservation program.
To maximise the contribution of an expanded and socially acceptable nuclear programme . . .
Congress supports the construction of a full scale demonstration fast breeder reactor and further declares its support for the development of reprocessing facilities at Windscale . . .
That sort of determination by a major trade union movement in a great democracy would be, I think, in some measure embarrassing to the Labor Opposition in this country and it would be something that Labor would not want people to be thinking about and discussing. Indeed it might find somewhat embarassing a recent statement of Mr Charlie Oliver, a stalwart of the trade union movement in New South Wales, whose comment on the Friends of the Earth was that they should perhaps better be known as enemies of the people’. Indeed Labor supporters might be wondering about a former Labor stalwart in Sir John Egerton who very recently of education said:
Nowhere in Australia do we waste money to such an extent as in education.
Those statements are made by stalwarts of the Australian Labor Party. I believe that they are statements that would be somewhat embarrassing to the Opposition. Clearly they are statements that it would not want to be discussed by the community in general. Consequently, Labor supporters seek to cover up those sorts of matters and those sorts of embarrassing attitudes by this extraordinary statement that the economy is not being well managed when the facts prove the opposite. Already Senator Cotton has indicated statistically a number of areas in which those facts are self evident.
I do not want to continue longer on the efforts that the Labor Party Opposition has made in repect of matters that it would like to leave concealed. I move on to something more constructive. I remind the Senate of some of the happenings in the 20 months of free enterprise government in this country as a result of two Budgets. We have recognised in the past 1 8 months or so a continual attempt at distortion and confusion by the Opposition, to some degree by the media, and certainly by the minority but outspoken radical leadership of some of the major unions. I suggest that these are the guilty entities. These are the people who are delaying the full measures of recovery in the Australian economy. The efforts of the Opposition, of some elements of the media and radicalism in the union movement, have brought about the export from this country of jobs and developmental capital. They have hastened the introduction of highly sophisticated equipment and technology which has slowed down the rate of re-employment. Indeed they have created all sorts of difficulties in established and establishing markets because they have created a measure of confusion and instability. They have made Australia a relatively unreliable source which is a characteristic that has never been typical of this country before.
I move on to two or three of the areas of the Budget. I ask honourable senators to recognise that in the taxation field there has been a very definite advance indeed. The family allowance scheme and personal tax indexation, at a cost of some billion dollars, were the first of these moves forward in the taxation field which is extraordinarily important in a free enterprise society because, basic to it, is initiative and reward for ininativethe capacity of people to have sufficient money left to them to exercise their choice. That is what it is all about. The taxation reform and cuts in the present Budget are the most dramatic in that particular area for a long time in the parliamentary history in this country. They are introduced to bring about the revival of initiative, a revival of success basically in the private sector because it is only with that sort of revival that we will see a re-employment that has the nature of permanence about it. If we are to solve the unemployment problem in this country, it is to be solved by the desire- the genuine desire of the components of the economy, including commerce and industry- to employ people. It is as simple as that. Honourable senators can come up with all sorts of temporary and crusty sorts of schemes that will solve a problem for a month, six months or a year, but ultimately to solve the unemployment problem in this country we must have a circumstance in which industry and commerce are buoyant, confident and determined as indeed they have been traditionally in the Australian scene. We have modified the tax averaging scheme and the income equalisation deposit scheme. Indeed, there have been no increases in indirect taxation in both of the Budgets this Government has brought down. This is significant in itself, particularly when we remember that in the last Whitlam Budget indirect taxation was increased by about $700m.
I turn briefly to the rural sector where the main battle has been to control and lower inflation. The rural economy is dependent so much on exports so the cost circumstance in that case is of greater significance than ever. The Government reintroduced the superphosphate bounty and the nitrogenous fertilisers bounty. It has introduced the income equalisation deposit scheme and the investment allowance scheme. It has raised the base price for wool and guaranteed it for some 18 months in advance. It has increased the first advance payment on wheat and has introduced a number of other schemes. Time will not permit me to continue to deal with all these matters so let me say in conclusion that as a Government we are grappling successfully with the basic problems of deficit control which has been reduced by more than half of $1 billion in each of our two Budgets; we are grappling with the problems of tax cuts and tax reforms, and we have effectively established a circumstance in which initiative once again reaps a reward in Australia.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman)- Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– In the 22 months since this Government seized power, its economic policy pronouncements have progressed from mindless optimism to the sort of wishful thinking and self-delusory nonsense which was epitomised by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in a statement he made just over a year ago on 13 August 1976 when he said:
There is growing evidence that the Government’s policies are working. Business spending on plant and equipment has picked up substantially. Stocks are being built up again. Motor vehicle sales are high. One company has recently announced a further $7 1 m expansion. Other major new projects have recently been announced. The stock market is moving strongly. Exports are exceptionally good. National production, measured by gross domestic product, is now rising instead of falling.
That is what the Prime Minister said 13 months ago. That was a prime example of wishful thinking and self-delusory claptrap. We have seen hopes pinned on an investment led recovery now abandoned. An export led recovery, supposedly induced by devaluation of the Australia dollar, has now been abandoned. We have seen a massive repudiation by the Government of what it has always asserted was its central economic strategy, that is, the control of inflation. We saw a massive repudiation of that on 30 November last year when the Government devalued the Australian dollar by 1714 per cent thereby giving what it admitted then would be a significant boost to inflation. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) a month ago at the National Press Club, just after he had delivered his Budget Speech, said that the control of inflation has been a primary goal of the present Government and still has primacy.
We have seen consistent attempts to evade responsibility by shifting the responsibility on to scapegoats. Firstly, it was said that real wages were too high and that they would have to come down before there could be an economic recovery. Real wages have fallen and the economic depression has got worse. The Government has attempted to blame the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the failures of its own policy. It has attempted to peddle the line that industrial disputes are responsible for the deepening depression. But only last week the statistics were published which showed that industrial disputes were fewer in the first five months of this year than they had been for the previous decade. Of course, the latest attempt to find a scapegoat centres on the Industries Assistance Commission which the Prime Minister has set out to emasculate and which he now says is responsible for the deepening economic depression. Bill Hayden was responsible for the Government’s failures because allegedly he caused the Australian dollar to be devalued last year, a process which we are about to see repeated. We were told that unemployment was not as bad as the statistics of the Commonwealth Employment Service showed it to be; that, in fact, those statistics were unreliable and that the figures of the Bureau of Statistics were the ones we should look at. Last year, the Bureau of Statistics published its latest unemployment survey which, in fact, showed that the unemployment situation had degenerated by more than the Commonwealth Employment Service figures suggested. Finally, last Sunday we saw the outright falsification of evidence by the Prime Minister. He stated in his broadcast to his electorate:
The rate of inflation- as measured by what is technically called the implicit price deflator- is now 9.2 per cent.
With the intellectual sloth which is typical of the man, he failed to specify -
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Order! Senator Walsh, you cannot make imputations like that against an individual. You can refer to the Prime Minister; you can criticise the Government, but you must not make those remarks personal.
– With the imprecision for which this Prime Minister is noted on economic and all other matters, he failed either to put his claim into a time frame or to specify to which price deflator he was referring. So far as the latter is concerned, it does not matter to which price deflator he was referring. The Government’s own Budget Papers showed that all the five implicit deflators which are listed there rose substantially in the first half of 1977 compared with the rate of increase in the last half of 1976. Whether we look at the private final consumption, the major gross national expenditure components, the gross non-farm product, manufacturers materials or manufacturers output, we find that in the first half of this calendar year all of those deflators were increasing by at least 11.8 per cent and by as much as 18.9 per cent. The deflator which I presume would be regarded by the Prime Minister, and which seems to be regarded by the Treasurer, as the most important one- major components of gross national expenditureincreased at an annual rate of 12.4 per cent in the first half of this calendar year. That represented a massive increase on the previous rate of increase. So we now find that the Government is asserting that we should not worry about what the consumer price index shows. We are told that we should look at the price deflators when, of course, the price deflators are showing that inflation is accelerating if they are taken to be the appropriate index of inflation. Faced with that reality, the Prime Minister presents statistics which just are not true.
In the same speech he made the claim that the deficit had been reduced by more than $ 1 billion because of the allegedly responsible fiscal management of the Government. While it is true that the figures published in the Budget show that the deficit in the last two years has been reduced from $3.6 billion to $2.2 billion, if we adjust those figures in the way that any pre-Lynch Budget presented its figures we need to make the following adjustments to the present deficit: An amount of $350m for borrowings by Telecom Australia which has been sifted out of the Budget; we need to take $2 15m off the alleged 1975-76 deficit because of Medibank prepayments to the States; we must add $ 100m for this financial year’s repayments from the Australian Wool Corporation, $80m that the Government is ripping off the Reserve Bank of Australia and $650m which in one way or another the Government has shifted out of the public accounts because of the Medibank changes. When we add up all those amounts, we find that they account for the total of the $1.4 billion apparent reduction in the deficit. The deficit has not been reduced in any meaningful terms, for whatever significance that might have anyway. It is running at the same level at which it was running in 1975-76. This Government has merely made cosmetic adjustments to the way in which the figures are presented. Far from governing responsibly and sensibly, it has certainly squeezed the public expenditure in areas where it should not be squeezed and has given stupid handouts to business.
The most outstanding example of such handouts is the investment allowance. A 40 per cent subsidy was granted on capital spent on machines to replace men, to use the words of the Prime Minister. This has been much less successful than the Government believed it would be. When the Government originally announced the policy, it was forecast that the cost to revenue in the financial year just ended would be $600m. In fact, the cost to revenue was $475m, so it is quite obvious from those figures that the investment allowance has failed to stimulate private capital spending in the way this Government expected it would. That failure was totally predictable to anyone who can make a more astute assessment of these matters than the Prime Minister can.
The Government’s present policies and past policies are marked by massive contradictions. The assertion that inflation control was the paramount goal of the Government was contradicted by the devaluation. The current contradiction is between the Government’s statement that interest rates will come down and its attempts to stem capital outflow. Our foreign reserves have run down by $600m in the last two months. The Government’s response is to say that it will bring interest rates down. That statement is made for purely electoral reasons. The Prime Minister is trying to have an election before the end of this year because he knows that he does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning an election next year. We see contradictions in the Prime Minister’s philosophy, his claim to believe in small government. In Launceston in 1975 he said:
The textile workers of Launceston who are victims of the 25 per cent across the board tariff cut know what it is to be victims of big government.
If that does not demonstrate intellectual sloth, I would like to know what does. There could hardly be a better example -
– Order! Senator Walsh, be careful that you do not cast reflections on individuals.
- Mr President, I withdraw the comment if you find it offensive. I observe in passing that Ministers in the former Labor Government have been accused in this chamber by Senator Carrick of being dishonest and deceitful. I think a charge of intellectual sloth is really quite mild.
High tariffs are a manifestation of big government, not of small government. In his speech in Sydney on 26 August the Prime Minister returned to the small government theme. He said that his government is committed to small government. This comes from a man who is committed to market shares for domestic manufacturers, who has a ministerial review committee which meets in secret to grant protection over and above that provided by the tariff and the quotas to people who tender for government contracts, who seeks to emasculate the Industries Assistance Commission so that there will be no independent scrutiny of his big government actions, and who constantly wants to jack up import tariffs and quotas. We see the contradiction between the Prime Minister’s professed concern about men being replaced by machines and the Government’s toleration of the existence of a payroll tax of 5 per cent, which obviously discourages the employment of labour. The Government, by its own initiative, introduces a capital subsidy for machines and then stands back in horror when the machines which it is subsidising by means of the 40 per cent investment allowance replace the men.
Unemployment is 66,000 higher than it was at the same time last year. The Government’s own Budget Papers forecast that the average level of unemployment will be 70,000 higher in this fiscal year than it was in the previous fiscal year. Inflation, as measured by what the Prime Minister asserts is the best way to measure it, that is, the implicit price deflator- any implicit price deflator which one cares to name- is increasing at an accelerating rate. I come to the present economic indicators. I will deal with the ones that have been published in the last couple of weeks. In the Australia and New Zealand Bank’s publication Business Indicators, the index of factory production, shows a steady decline from January 1977, when the index stood at 165, to 159 today. That is a fall of almost 4 per cent in factory production, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Private final consumption expenditure fell in the quarter ended June 1977 to the lowest level for the last three quarters, at constant prices. It is on the way down. Unemployment, of course, as everyone knows, is on the way up. For the month of July- I think these are the most recent statistics that are available- 10,900 new dwellings were approved in Australia. That compares with an average over the previous 14 months of 1 1,900. In the last month for which statistics are available, approvals were granted for the building of 1,000 fewer houses than the long term average. No matter what major economic indicator we look at, we find that the economy is drifting further and further into depression.
The grand designer of this canvas, the architect of all the contradictions and contortions of policy and of all the mispresentation of economic statistics and economic arguments, is, of course, the Prime Minister. His policies have produced precisely the sort of result we would have expected from a disciple of Ayn Rand. In closing, I give the members of the Government parties some gratuitous advice which I have given them before and upon which, hopefully, one day they will have the gumption to act. If they have any desire to save Australia from sliding deeper and deeper into economic depression and if they wish to save themselves from the political wilderness to which they are rapidly being consigned, they should get rid of the man who presently is leading them, and then they might have some chance of pursuing a rational and consistent economic policy.
-One thing I have learnt after some 22 months in the Senate is that the credibility of the Labor Opposition works in direct inverse proportion to the level of decibels that emanates from Senator Walsh in regard to economic matters. The degree of desperation that the Opposition is demonstrating today in its attempt to make some sort of case on the Government’s economic progress is absolutely pitiful and pathetic.
Let us look at some of the root causes of the economic troubles that beset this country until the election of the Liberal-National Country Party Government in December 1975. These things need to be said again because they are at the root of the trouble that has beset the nation since then. We saw the revaluations of the Australian dollar in 1973 and 1974, followed by a huge devaluation. We saw the problems caused by the 25 per cent cut in the tariff rate which was made without any warning and right across the board- for all imported goods. We saw the huge wage explosion mat was positively encouraged by the Whitlam Government during 1974, when wages rose by 30 per cent in one year and so priced Australian industries out of business that imports flooded into the country and, consequently, displaced the 360,000 workers who were unemployed when this Government came to office in December 1975.
– There is a lot more unemployment now.
– In 1975 the total number unemployed was something like 361,000, if we include people employed under the Regional Employment Development scheme. Honourable senators opposite argue that they should not be included. The figure today is 334,000- a fall of 24,000 compared with the previous figure. That is not the real point. The real point is that since this Government came to office 122,000 new jobs have been created. In fact, there has been an increase of 2 per cent in the work force in that period. These are the demonstrable facts that compare with those of the period immediately preceding the election when, under the Labor Government, the actual number of jobs in the work force declined.
– That is absolute nonsense.
– It is true. During the term of the Labor Government the rate of inflation in the 1975 financial year was approximately 18 per cent. Despite what Senator Walsh says about the rate of inflation, as measured by his many different and mystifying indices, the fact is that inflation is falling. The business community knows it and is telling us about it. Business people are corresponding with me and telling me about it. They are very grateful that these things are occurring. They know now that stability is gradually returning and that now they can start to plan on a real future.
– You are fooling yourself. Tell us what the people of South Australia thought of you on Saturday.
-Senator McLaren is a great talker. We will come to that shortly. The September 1977 issue of the Australian Industries Development Association publication in its conclusions upon economic circumstances in Australia today said:
In the circumstances which now clearly support it, AIDA is forced to reiterate its view that the escape from the 1973-74 economic management mess will take considerably longer than the small number of months is took originally to make that mess, especially under the strategy now being consistently employed.
The point is that we are on the way to recovering from the situation that was created by the previous Labor Administration.
– Not on your life.
-Senator McLaren can spout on about the South Australian election last week. If there was anything like a disaster for the Labor Party, it was that election result on Saturday. There was a very small swing that took the Labor Party back to the situation it was in in 1973.
– A 6 per cent swing.
-The Labor Party picked up two senate and had five seats handed to it on a platter in a redistribution. Senator McLaren ought to be ashamed of himself. Mr President, I am sorry for digressing from the subject, but Senator McLaren provokes me. Let us look at some of the factors affecting confidence in the community at the moment. Of course we know that the Labor Party’s object is to destroy stability in this community so as to undermine confidence in the Government and hopefully bring an election in its favour. That is all that it is on about. Let us look at some of the confidence factors that are emerging. In the Budget Papers, on page 17 of Statement No. 2, we read that quite contrary to the view expressed by Senator Wriedt here earlier today when he indicated that savings were going up as a proportion of income, in fact since June 1976, when people were putting away 14.1 per cent of their incomes the figure has come down to 12.4 per cent and people are saving less. They are spending more.
Let us compare that with the period when Labor was in power. In June 1974 the savings ratio was 15.3 per cent. In June 1975 it reached 16.4 per cent during the term of office of the Labor Party. That shows how scared people were under the Labor Administration and how confident they are under today’s Administration, when they are prepared to spend more on consumer goods. What does business say today about its outlook for the future? I happened to be in the Parliamentary Library yesterday and I picked up the latest edition of Rydge’s magazine.
– What did the Bank of New South Wales survey show?
– Just a moment, Senator Walsh. We will come to that in a moment. We find from the September 1977 edition that Rydge’s has published as it does periodically, a survey conducted by an independent firm, McNair Anderson Associates Pty Ltd. It asked major businesses in Australia about their future outlook. What did Rydge’s say about the latest survey? I will quote just the opening paragraphs. It states:
More than 70 per cent of Australia’s top companies expect an increase in their sales in volume terms (as distinct from dollars sales) in the next 12 months, according to the latest Rydge ‘s-McNair Anderson Business Predicter survey conducted among 77 of Australia ‘s 200 largest companies.
– In what State is an increase expected?
-Does that indicate a lack of confidence in the Government’s policies?
– In what State?
-Of course not. It indicates-
- Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Would it be possible for Senator McLaren to address the Chair occasionally, just from time to time?
– Order! I point out to honourable senators that all interjections are disorderly. There have been too many interjections today. Senator Messner has the call and he speaks through the Chair. I repeat that interjections are disorderly.
-Thank you, Mr President. I thank you for bringing that matter to my attention. As you would know, Senator McLaren is being extremely provocative for obvious political reasons in South Australia. I have just explained to the Senate that in fact Australia’s business leaders see a big future for them in the coming year. This has been stated quite clearly in Rydge’s magazine. I would advise Senator McLaren and others on the Opposition benches to look at the article in Rydge’s this week. They might learn a lot. I also indicate that the thrust of the Government’s policy is to seek to reduce interest rates and to reduce taxation so as to reestablish incentive as the major factor in the economy which will lead to recovery. Of course we have Laurel and Hardy, Messrs Whitlam and Hayden, occasionally giving us the benefit of their economic wisdom.
– That is a bit rude.
– It is nothing compared with what Senator Walsh has been saying.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I think that they are unparliamentary terms and Senator Messner should be asked to withdraw them.
-Mr President, I withdraw those remarks. I refer to the triumviratethe Whitlam-Hayden-Hurford economic teamthat brought us the brilliant years from 1973-75 and now wants to impose something like that upon us again.
– Hurford was not in the Ministry. What are you talking about?
– I believe he was one of the chief advisers. Please let me not be diverted. It is important to recognise that those three gentlemen have been imploring us to expand the deficit. Their big plan for the salvation of the country is to spend another $ 1,000m and to expand the deficit. What sort of a brilliant solution is that? Where do they think the money will come from for that? Will they print more of it and thereby inflate the currency again? Is that what they want? I hear that perhaps they do. The alternative to that is to borrow from the community. If the Government borrows from the community, what will follow immediately is that interest rates will only rise again because there is only so much money in the community. It means that the Government will be taking money out of the hands of the private sector away from home builders and buyers and away from people who want to buy cars and other consumer goods and so force up interest rates again. No doubt that is what the Labor Opposition is seeking to do. It wants to make it harder for people to own houses and to buy consumer goods. Obviously it does not like people having their own assets.
– What nonsense you talk.
-That is the logic to which Labor’s policy leads honourable senators opposite. I will finish my brief remarks. I would like to have a lot more time to uncover fully Senator McLaren and his friends on the opposite side with their so-called economic policies. I come again to the South Australian scene. I will quote from the Sunday Mail of last Sunday an article which was attributed to Professor Richard Blandy, whom we know as the editor of the Australian Bulletin of Labor from the Flinders University. He also happens to be head of the Workers Democracy Unit in the State Government in South Australia, as is well known, and consequently he advises the Premier of that State. What does he say about the economic future for the next 12 months? This is the learned man who is obviously advising the Premier of South Australia as to his economic policy. I will quote the last few paragraphs of an article in the Sunday Mail. It states:
Another result of the rationalisation of industry would be that the cost of manufactured goods is likely to go down.
Professor Blandy is not an economic gloom merchant when it comes to the short term future, stating that ‘within the next 12 months the ground work will have been laid for a resumption of normal growth.
Come next Federal budget the prospects for a resumption of normal growth for the Australian economy are extremely favourable, ‘he said.
That was said by the adviser to the Premier of South Australia who, during the election campaign over the last three or four weeks, decried the Federal Government’s policies. Of course, he did not bother to release this sort of information until after the election, as we have now realised.
– Blandy was referring only to the situation in South Australia.
-Senator McLaren knows how the media operates in South Australia and how it is controlled by the Dunstan regime. Obviously these points need to be made as I am being provoked by Senator McLaren for purely political purposes. I conclude by expressing my confidence in the Government and the way in which it is conducting our economic affairs, and by rejecting out of hand this urgency motion.
– The Senate, correctly from the point of view of the Australian Labor Party, is condemning the Government for its incompetence in managing the economy. I think we have been given some indication of that by the contributions to the debate by speakers for the Opposition in support of this motion. I feel inclined to refer to the first part of what Senator Walsh said when he quoted from Mr Fraser ‘s speech of August of last year when Mr Fraser said that there is growing evidence that the Government’s policies are working and to refer to Mr Fraser’s remarks on 9 December 1976 when he said:
Throughout this year the Government has one clear goal in front of it. That goal is a sustainable economic recovery which will lead Australia towards sustained economic growth and increasing employment opportunities.
There is no doubt that none of those objectives has been realised. It is very clear that the Government senators who have participated in this debate are living in cuckoo land. They are living in a world of unreality. In point of fact if we examine the comments that are being made throughout this country about the economy, we find that the only people who are satisfied with our supposed progress are supporters of the Government in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have referred to what Mr Fraser said last year about the goal of the Government. We support the goal. It is undoubtedly a laudable one. But we believe that the strategy is wrong and that the Fraser Government’s economic policy has failed miserably recently.
I draw to the attention of Senator Messner figures from the Government’s own publications which clearly he is not able to understand. They show, for example, that in the 1975 period, under the Labor Government, there were 4,752,700 people working in Australia. According to the May 1977 figures, which are the latest figures available in the monthly review of statistics, there has been a decline of 20,000 disregarding the number of people who might otherwise have gone into the work force. What have been the comments about the economy by reputable people- people who do normally take a critical view of the Government? I refer to the remarks of Professor Hogan, who is one of the Government’s economic advisers. He said that a minimum of 6.5 per cent of the work force would be unemployed by January. He also said that the Budget will not provide very much stimulus to the private sector, and this is recognised in the very cautious assessments. Dr Bell from the AMP Society said that the failure of the Budget to give more direct stimulation to business was one of its weaknesses. He went on to say that this could have been achieved by dispensing with the increase in corporate tax, selectively increasing public works expenditure and ameliorating its pruning of government expenditure in areas where employment and private section purchases were significant. He went on to say that personal tax cuts would not necessarily encourage consumption to a degree sufficient to justify an increase in business investment.
What empirical evidence do we have? This is where I want to make my contribution to the debate. A Bureau of Statistics document which was made available to us only in the last few weeks shows that, quite contrary to what Senator Messner said, in 1974 final consumption expenditure was 1.9 per cent and that it dropped in 1977 by 0.2 per cent to 1.7 per cent; that whilst consumer expenditure has increased by 0.8 per cent in the public sector there has not been an increase in the private sector, which is the strategy that this Government has accepted and is working towards. This document shows that rents have increased by 19.4 per cent between the June quarter of 1976 and the June quarter of 1977 and that motor vehicle sales are down 5.7 per cent. It also shows that there has been an increase in the last year in relation to expenditure on household durables but that increase relates only to the rate of inflation. So, contrary to what the Government contends, there has not been an increase in consumer spending. Food prices increased in the last year by 14.1 per cent and wages increased by only 10.8 per cent.
I refer now to another government document which has been circulated to honourable senators this very week. I refer to page 2 of the 1977 round-up of economic statistics, which shows that the Government is not looking at this picture in a proper way and is not accepting its responsibilities. According to page 2 of that document private consumption expenditure declined by 0.7 per cent in the half year to June and the gross fixed capital private expenditure declined by 2 per cent in the half year to June. It fell by 2.3 per cent in the March quarter and 5.3 per cent in the June quarter. So we have a position where private investment has declined.
It has been suggested by government senators that the Opposition is not in favour of an adequate housing policy. The plain fact is that there has been a considerable decline in the housing area in the last two years of this conservative Government. Let us examine just one set of figures in respect of housing loans. They show that in June of this year the savings banks lent $185m for housing. In July, the last month for which figures are available the amount of lending was down to $ 1 74m. In June of this year the trading banks lent $69m. In July they lent only $58m. The figures show conclusively that there has been a decline in the private sector and that there has been a serious levelling off, even in public sector activity, as a direct result of the policies pursued by this Government. Page 4 of the document to which I am referring shows that, seasonally adjusted and at constant prices, private investment in other building and construction fell in 1 976-77 by 1 3.2 per cent.
Let us examine the employment position. It does not matter whether we look at urban employment or rural employment, and it does not matter whether we look at urban incomes or rural incomes; the position is still critical. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics had the following comment to offer in respect of its estimations for 1977-78:
Despite increased gross returns, farm income is expected to decline by 8 per cent in 1 977-78 to $ 1 ,766m. If the rate of inflation were assumed to be around 10 per cent in 1977-78, then real income per farm is estimated to fall by 14 per cent.
Yet Professor Hogan pointed out that in his value judgment about the rate of inflation the Government’s estimate of 10 per cent probably would exceed by 1.5 per cent. Let us look at the employment figures which have been spoken about at some length and at the optimistic picture that the Government is presenting. The Commonwealth Employment Service has provided figures which show that at the end of July there were 337,391 people out of work. That is 5.4 per cent of the work force. The latest figures from the Bureau show that in August 263,000 of these people were seeking full time employment, with another 53,000 seeking part time employment. In seasonally adjusted terms, unemployment has increased to 5.7 per cent of the work force. The figures released by the ABS this week show that between May and August 1977 no significant change occurred in the total number of unemployed. In seasonally adjusted terms, there was an increase in unemployment of 19,800 people. In May, persons aged 15 years to 19 years comprised 14.6 per cent of the total unemployed. That percentage rose in August to 19.1 per cent.
Let us look at this matter in terms of the rural community. I have time to refer only very briefly to some of these figures. I will refer only to the New South Wales figures. Can we be complacent when 1,800 people are unemployed in Albury, 1,500 in Bega, 2,150 in Charlestown, 2,187 in Dubbo, 1,693 in Taree and 1,927 in Wagga Wagga? One could go on and point to the very difficult situation that faces persons in rural centres. Let us look at the actual figures of those who were employed in the private and public sectors of the economy in December 1972. In the private sector 3,397,500 people were employed. This is stated on page 4 of the ABS document. Some 1,138,300 people were employed in the public sector. At the end of our term in 1975 there was an increase of 130,000 in the public sector and an increase of only 57,000 in the private sector. What do the current figures show? The preliminary figures for the month of July, again from the same source, show a decline in the private sector of 36,000 persons from January 1976 when this Government changed the statistics somewhat- these are the statistics from which I now have to quote- and an increase in the public sector of some 55,000.
The strategy of expecting the private sector to take up the slack, the strategy of accepting the inevitability of the proposition that the private sector will be stimulated by investment allowances, export incentives and so on, clearly has failed. Whilst it may be said that Budgets from State to State have adopted certain strategies in respect of government spending, as economic spokesman have suggested and as the Labor Party has suggested there has to be some selective spending in the public sector in order to get a regenerative process within the Australian economy. Of course, that is the conclusion that has been reached by the conservative government in Japan. It is the conclusion that has been reached by the governments of West Germany and many of the other industrialised countries.
Nowhere in the Western world is the private sector taking up the challenge. It is interested only in accumulating its capital and investing in areas where it gets the highest returns, and now that happens to be in the Third World and not in the industrialised countries. Therefore, the accumulation of capital is taking place in the Western world. The fact is that some 55 per cent of all the profits made in Australia go out of Australia to satisfy shareholders in other countries. That capital then will be invested in the Third World countries for the purpose of producing a higher return on investment. This is not assisting in the process of increasing investment possibilities in our own country. This Government fails to understand that by relying entirely upon the private sector it will not achieve the goals which it set itself in 1975. which it reiterated in 1976 and which were the basis of its Budget strategy in 1977.
It is in the light of those circumstances, in the light of the figures that are available to us and in the light of the assessments that we make of those figures that we come to the conclusion that this Government’s strategy is not working and that there is in fact a decline in business activity. Let us look at the last survey that was taken only a few days ago. The Australian Financial Review carries the headline ‘Industry’s Gloomy Outlook’. The article reads:
Manufacturers have taken a decidedly gloomly business outlook for the next 6 months in the latest Associated Chambers of Manufacturers- Bank of New South Wales survey.
That is not our conclusion; that is the conclusion of people who support this Government.
– It will be surprising to some people who are listening to know that this afternoon we are debating a matter of urgency raised by the Opposition concerning the Fraser Government’s incompetence in managing the economy. For once, members of the Opposition have not given us the benefit of much in the way of particulars in their motion as they sometimes do. We have had a long moan this afternoon by way of a collection of comments, many of which we have heard before. We have heard today some extraordinary things from the Opposition. I do not know which of the three witches stirring the cauldron- Whitlam, Hayden and Hurford- has dreamed up the series of questions and the attacks which have been made on the financial situation in this country and on the state of our money. Today we have heard disgraceful statements and a series of questions. There is no doubt that it is a campaign. The Labor Opposition today does not want to see this country come out of its slump. It does not want to see us recover. It hopes to gain some political benefit from misery in this community. It is to the Opposition’s disgrace that it has undertaken this campaign.
In the debate today we have heard a number of speakers, two of whom I thought did merely a dummy run on behalf of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) spoke briefly and contributed little. He appeared to want to get out of the road of the incoming batsmen. He suggested in the course of his speech that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had said recently that we had come to the end of the line in cuts. I ask honourable senators to note the use of the words ‘to the end of the line’. Those words are said to suggest that we have reached a stage where something worse is to happen; that we have done the last thing we can do. However, we know that the Prime Minister’s statements of recent days have indicated that we have reached a situation in which we do not need to have further cuts. It is an entirely different connotation. Some progress is now being seen in the recovery of the economy, and no further reductions are needed.
The other speaker whom I would call a lightweight contributor to this debate was Senator Walsh. We are thankful when he speaks briefly and when he does not give us too long to consider what he is saying. Senator Walsh’s main complaint today seemed to be that the investment allowance which this Government introduced had not cost in the region of $650m but had cost only about $450m. Yet at the same time he objects strongly to the investment allowance. He apparently believes that it should not be brought in at all and that it should not cost the country anything. He is complaining because the investment allowance cost less than $650m. This indicates that the investment allowance has not been used as much as we hoped. Certainly the recovery is not as quick as we would like. Nonetheless, the very considerable amount of $450 m has been used. It has been possible for people in this country to buy and use new equipment. Therefore, they will be in a position to compete better in the world and to sell our products overseas. It is very difficult to find the reason for Senator Walsh’s complaint and the logic of his two positions. He finished his speech by telling us that he would give us some gratuitous advice. I must say that this is one area where inflation has not caught up with Senator Walsh. His advice is worth just as much today as it was 2 years ago- nothing. I am glad to see that there has been no increases in that cost.
Let me come to the heavyweight contribution today from Senator Douglas McClelland. I say heavyweight’ because he was so filled with assertions and remarks that I think they need some reply in this debate. When an honourable senators stands before this chamber and says that no one can claim any achievement by this Government, it rather takes one’s breath away. Of course speakers on this side of the House have indicated today the types of things which we claim have been of great value in an economic sensethe investment allowance, the various changes in the law and the family allowance which has been a contribution to expenditure by -
– Which you got by taking away the rebate for dependent children.
-You have got that, Senator. It has been of tremendous value and has amounted to a great social change in this community. That, I think, is terribly important. We have also instituted tax reforms, including the recent tax changes announced in the Budget, the results of which will be seen from February 1978 when they come into effect. This will provide a great incentive to people in this country to work. They will not see any increase in their wages taken away because their increased salary has put them into another tax bracket. They will have an incentive to work and earn a little bit more. These are great achievements.
Senator Douglas McClelland told us that he has noticed rising panic gripping back benchers. I assume he was referring to back benchers on this side of the House; not on the other side. I can understand there being panic and frustration on the other side of the chamber, because, despite the claims honourable senators opposite make against this Government, they seem to make very little progress. We on this side of the chamber see no such signs. I see plenty of signs of Government back benchers scrutinising legislation and showing an eagerness for improvement in this country’s future, but there is no sign of panic on this side of the chamber. Senator Douglas McClelland went on to say that the Government was blind to the fact that the public did not trust it and that people were saving for the times ahead.
I really would not have thought that Opposition senators would talk too much about trust. Surely they realise that it was the absence of trust that brought their government down. It was the absence of trust that nearly brought down this country’s economy; it was the absence of trust on the part of businessmen who found that their profits were slashed and that there was no possibility of earning a decent profit. There was nothing for the people in the country who found their efforts over generations were ruined. The lack of trust in the Labor Government was the thing which brought us difficulty in this country. Trust is not a matter which this Opposition should talk about.
Then, of course, Senator Douglas McClelland said that the tax changes discriminated against low and medium income earners. What an amazing statement! The increase in the exemptions for low income earners and the fact that they can proceed to a higher income without going into increased tax brackets are things I have already mentioned. Senator Douglas McClelland went on to ask: If inflation has fallen by 7 per cent, how does the Government explain an increase of 25 per cent in unemployment? He knows that unemployment is a problem in this community and that it will be for some time. He knows that the Government has chosen to tackle inflation as the No. 1 enemy of this country. It is the enemy which stops us from selling our products abroad. It is the major enemy of this country.
– Is that an admission that you are ignoring unemployment?
– Of course we are not ignoring unemployment. The whole Budget is an illustration of the unlimited amounts that may be spent on unemployment schemes. But what we will not do, as we have been sensibly advised in the National Bank Monthly Summary of August 1977, is to go in for short term pump priming of the economy. That journal says:
In the main we believe the strategy and priorities of the Budget to be correct and responsible insofar as the difficulties that currently beset Australia cannot be overcome by a government engaging in short term pump-priming of the economy.
For the benefit of Senator Gietzelt, who spoke of the troubles of the economy, I point out that gross domestic product in 1976-77 grew by 3.4 per cent compared with 2.4 per cent in 1975-76 and 0.6 per cent in 1974-75- the last financial year of the Labor Government. The fact is that the Budget strategies are working. The fact is that what the Government has been aiming to do the last two years it is achieving. However it is not uniform; in some areas the Government’s strategy is not working as well as we would have hoped. When Senator McClelland tells us that the Australian dollar is under attack, we know that it is under attack by the Australian Labor Party in both Houses of Parliament. We know that it is this Government which protects it and which will ensure, by the development of its strategies, that the economy will come out of its slump. Today we have heard repetition- nothing new- from honourable senators opposite. We have heard enough grumbling about the situation from Opposition senators, who appear to emerge from their own ambitions which go well beyond any desire for an improvement of the Australian economy. I think we have had quite enough of this. Therefore I move:
- Mr President, I take a point of order.
– I call Senator Coleman.
- Mr President, I moved that the question be now put.
– I did not hear that, Senator. The question is:
That the question be now put.
- Mr President, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to Standing Order 64 (5.) which states:
In speaking to such Motion, -
That is, an urgency motion- the mover and the Senator next speaking shall not exceed 30 minutes each, and any other Senator or the mover in reply shall not exceed 1 S minutes, and every Senator shall confine himself to the one subject in respect of which the Motion has been made: Provided that the whole discussion on the subject shall not exceed three hours.
As the debate on this motion did not commence until twenty minutes to four at least, I suggest that the debate is not due to conclude until twenty minutes to nine this evening.
– An honourable senator may move that the question be now put.
- Mr President, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that Senator Missen had resumed his seat. Senator Coleman was on her feet and then Senator Missen rose again to move that the motion be put.
- Mr President, speaking to the point of order, before I resumed my seat I moved that the question be now put, as my colleagues will confirm.
- Mr President, that is quite correct. Senator Missen ‘s voice was somewhat drowned out by interjections. But most definitely and in quite a loud voice from his position he moved that the question be now put.
- Senator Missen is quite in order. I now put the question:
That the question be now put.
Those of that opinion say aye, to the contrary no. I think the ayes have it.
Opposition senators- The noes have it.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
That the motion (Senator Wriedt’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– On behalf of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) pursuant to section 23A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, I present a copy of the report, with a map showing the boundaries of each proposed division, by the Distribution Commissioners for Tasmania, together with copies of the suggestions, comments and objections lodged with the Commissioners.
Ordered that the report and map be printed.
-by leave- I move:
That the Senate take note of the papers.
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 42 of the National Gallery Act 1975, 1 present the annual report of the Australian National Gallery for the year ended 30 June 1976
-by leave- I move:
That the annual report of the Australian National Gallery for 1975-76 be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations for investigation and report as to the reasons for the delay in its presentation.
I wish to speak briefly in relation to this motion. Noting that the report was listed for presentation today, I sought an opportunity to have a look at it. It is the report for the year ended 30 June 1976. It is being tabled today-the 21st September 1977. If it were a complicated report or had there been some serious problem which was obvious one could understand the reason for the delay. But having looked at the report I find that it covers a period of only 27 days- from 3 June 1976 when the National Gallery Act came into force until 30 June 1 976. The Gallery has penned a total of 32 lines of typescript to enable it to report ‘adequately’ to the Parliament. Honourable senators would agree with me I think when I say that it could not be regarded as either a mammoth job or a mammoth report. In fact, I suggest it is a rubbishy disgrace to the Gallery and to the Parliament. Even more disgraceful to the fact that the report has taken 15 months from the end of the period which the report covers to be presented in this place. The compilation of the report could not have taken more than a few minutes. The statement of income and expenditure which is attached to it shows that income during the period was nil and expenditure during the period was nil. I cannot imagine that it took the Auditor-General a good deal of time to audit that statement. This report actually contains as an attachment some reference to the fact that there was some expenditure from the estimates for the Department of the Prime Minister and
Cabinet. There are six items listed and an amount of $225,575. Even that information would not have taken a great deal of time for the Auditor-General to check or for the Gallery to compile.
The report is not dated. So it is not clear on what date it was prepared for presentation to the Auditor-General. But the Auditor-General’s certificate is dated 17 February 1977. At least some seven months ago the Auditor-General had cleared it. But it is only now presented in this place. It does seem to me that this indicates prima facie contempt of the Parliament and a contempt for the statutory responsibility to report. Thirty-two lines of nothing after 15 months for the processing of the preparation of report and its presentation here hardly seems adequate in terms of the responsibility that is imposed on this body. For those reasons I have moved that this matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations to find out the cause of this apparently inordinate delay and this apparent incapacity to report.
-On behalf of the Opposition, I indicate that we are happy to support this motion moved by Senator Rae but not entirely for the reasons he has stated. I think it is probably a little premature for him to find that the failure for such a long time to present a report that covers a period of only a few days is contempt of the Parliament.
– Prima facie.
-I understood the honourable senator to say that, but I think a better understanding of the problems of the Australian National Gallery might lead to the view that it was a misunderstanding on behalf of the Gallery rather than in any sense an attempt to behave in a manner derogatory to the Parliament. Senator Rae has raised some quite important and valid points which I think substantiate the view that this matter should go to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations for further examination. Perhaps when that Committee has made some inquiries and we have a report from it, we will consider the matter and make our judgment then. I hope that judgment will be constructive and not necessarily derogatory of the staff or the council of the Gallery. So, basically for the reasons which Senator Rae has indicated, we are happy that this matter be referred to that Committee.
– in reply- I do not wish to intrude at any length on this learned, artistic and legal discussion except to say that I think the points made by Senator Rae and those made by Senator Button are of consequence. We ought to ascertain the facts in this matter and what better way than to refer the matter to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations with eminent people on it such as those we have. Accordingly, we support the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the report of the National Energy Advisory Committee entitled ‘Proposals for An Australian Conservation of Energy Program’. I seek leave to make a statement relating to this report.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-I make this statement on behalf of Senator Withers, the Leader of the Government in the Senate who was to present it on behalf of Mr Anthony, the Minister for National Resources.
The interim report on energy conservation prepared by the National Energy Advisory Committee, which has just been tabled, represents a significant step in the further development of a national energy policy for Australia. The Government is actively moving on this and a number of other fronts to formulate a comprehensive policy, which we believe is a task of great urgency. In recent years, we have been increasingly concerned about various aspects of Australia’s energy usage, in particular our growing dependence on oil for virtually all our transport and a significant proportion of the energy used in industry, agriculture and commerce. For this reason, the Minister proposed energy conservation as a priority area of study at the Committee’s inaugural meeting in February this year. The Government particularly values the opportunity to receive the independent advice that the establishment of this high level body has provided. The interim report contains the Committee’s proposals for conservation of energy. These have been framed to create in the first instance a community consciousness of the uncertainties of our energy future and a common will to exercise restraint in energy consumption, especially oil. The ensuing changes in community habits and practices will, of course, take time.
The Committee has assessed the major uncertainties for Australia’s future energy supply as the availability and price of oil. The interim report therefore recommends that a national program should be undertaken to conserve energy, especially oil. The commissioning of the Committee to report on energy conservation is one of two major Government initiatives in this area since the Minister received preliminary advice from the Committee last April. That advice followed President Carter’s energy statement which judged that world oil demand would overhaul supply within 10 years. The Committee emphasised the prospect of increasing dependence on imports and stressed that conservation measures would depend heavily upon incentives through the price mechanism. The Government’s other initiative- on crude oil pricing- announced on 16 August 1977 will provide the necessary basis for these incentives to operate. The present interim report recommends eight measures for the first stage of a national energy conservation program. The measures are those which the Committee believes are appropriate to Australia’s need and could be introduced in the short term. The Government will give them its close consideration.
Many of the recommendations concern areas where the States have the primary governmental responsibility. In some cases State authorities are already active in these areas. These recommendations accordingly call for close co-operation between the Commonwealth and State governments. To that end the Minister proposes to have consultations with the State Ministers responsible for energy as soon as practicable. The interim report lists some other measures which give promise of substantial energy savings, especially in the long term. These are complex matters which impinge on various economic and social aspects of community life and require further close study. The Committee accordingly is continuing to investigate them in consultation with interested public and private bodies and will report to the Minister as it reaches conclusions on these matters.
– by leave- I move:
That the Senate take note of the paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the interim annual report of the Australian Wool Corporation 1976-77.
-by leave- I move:
Mr President, in moving that the Senate take note of the report, I want to make a few brief remarks on its contents. I notice that on page 10 of the report reference is made to the marked decline in sheep numbers in Australia this year compared with the figures for last year. It shows that the opening sheep numbers last year were 151.7 million sheep and that this year it is only 148.6 million sheep. That represents a downturn of three million sheep. We find that there has been a downturn of five million lambs marked. There has been an upturn of 3.3 million in the number of sheep slaughtered and that in respect to live exports there has been an upturn of 1.2 million sheep. The closing sheep numbers show that there has been a decline of approximately 12 million sheep.
Another matter that concerns me in this report and upon which I will make a passing reference is that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is the second largest purchaser of greasy wool from Australia. That should be of some importance to people who continually criticise the Soviet Union. I am further concerned about the urgency which the Australian Wool Corporation is showing towards the mechanical harvesting of wool. It is stated on page 41 of the report under the heading: ‘Wool Production Research’:
The priorities established in this area are: High importance/urgency: (i) Wool harvesting.
The Corporation goes on to deal with new methods of wool harvesting on page 47 of the report and states under the heading ‘Wool Harvesting’:
The highlights of the Corporation’s Australian Wool Harvesting Program (AWHP) during the year were some progress towards automated shearing.
Further down the page the report states:
The major activities included continuing research towards the development of chemical shearing, completion of the development and trials of ‘mini-chain and other methods for ‘do-it-yourself shearing and sheep handling,
In addition, it is stated in a paragraph on page 49 of the report dealing with automated partial shearing:
Automated partial shearing, with ‘clean-up’ of each sheep by shearers, is now seen as technologically feasible, but success is not certain and several years of engineering development will be involved. The cost of eventual equipment is not yet clear but with mobile equipment -
The report then goes on to state by how much shearing can be improved. I am disturbed to see that $380,000 of the money used by the Australian Wool Corporation is devoted to wool harvesting and sheep handling. I express my concern for the employment of shearers and shed hands in the pastoral industry. Whilst we find in this report that sheep numbers are rapidly declining, a further one-third of a million dollars is being spent on finding mechanical means for the harvesting of wool. Having been a professional shearer for over 20 years, I very much doubt whether any amount of money will ever find a mechanical means which will satisfactorily take wool off sheep. Be that as it may, I am concerned that if this project does prove successful, many shearers will be unable to find work. This will be to the detriment of many country towns in Australia where shearers live. We hear much said about the economy of the rural community. This would be one way in which the economy would suffer very greatly. I will leave the matter at that and seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the annual report of the Director-General of Health for the year ended 30 June 1977.
-by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 61 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, 1 present the report of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner for the year ended 30 June 1977.
Senator ROBERTSON (Northern Territory) by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– On behalf of Senator Durack, the Attorney-General, pursuant to section 37 of the Law Reform Commission Act 1973 I present the report of the Law Reform Commission on human tissue transplants.
-Mr President, I bring up the fifteenth report from the Publications Committee.
Report- by leave- adopted.
– by leave- Mr President, by arrangement with the Opposition, the Senate will adjourn tomorrow prior to 6 o’clock to enable Estimates committees which have not completed the examination of departments to sit at 8 p.m. Senate Estimates Committee D will sit in the Senate chamber and Senate Estimates Committee E will sit in committee room No. 1. Should either of those committees not have completed its task at the end of the evening, it is suggested that it sit on Friday. The Whips, Senator Douglas McClelland and I, in consultation, hope to be able to make such arrangements as will meet the convenience of honourable senators.
Motion (by Senator Missen)- by leaveagreed to:
That the date for the presentation of the report of the Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on the reference: ‘Advisory opinions by the High Court’ be extended until 31 October 1977.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 20 September, on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of this Bill, the
States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill 1977, is to authorise the payment of the grants component of the Loan Council program for 1977-78. The grants component represents one-third of the total program decided on at the Loan Council meeting on 1 July. The amount in fact represents an increase of 5.7 per cent over the value of the loan programs last year. The Senate will be aware that that is well below the rate of inflation and amounts to a substantial cut in real terms. It is on that basis that on behalf of the Opposition I move the following amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill:
At end of motion add ‘, but the Senate is of the opinion that:
it reduces in real terms the funds available to the States;
b ) it increases the States ‘ borrowing costs;
it forces the States to reduce the services they provide and /or to impose additional taxes and charges; and
it leads to increased unemployment’.
Prior to last Sunday this Government’s economic strategy involved cutbacks in public sector outlays. This Bill forms an integral part of that strategy. No doubt the Premiers will be pleased to hear that their oft repeated arguments finally were vindicated last Sunday when the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) agreed that the previous strategy had been wrong. Unfortunately for them, the change has come too late to provide them with any real financial assistance in 1977-78.
The Senate will recall that the Opposition moved a similar amendment to the motion for the second reading of last year’s version of this legislation. The reason is that almost the same situation applies today as applied this time last year. The Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) will remember that last year the Government held the Loan Council program to an increase of 5 per cent in the face of strong objections from the Premiers. The Minister may recall also that last year in my comments in relation to the similar Bill I informed the Senate of what those objections were. This year the increase is of the same order. It is a 5 per cent increase overall, plus two special additions for New South Wales and Western Australia, which bring the increase up to 5.7 per cent. No doubt the Senate will be pleased to hear that once again I will be placing on record the reaction of the Premiers to the Commonwealth ‘s view.
Before dealing with the Premiers’ objections to the Commonwealth’s attitude, I should like to indicate that the Premiers have two good reasons for not accepting the line of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). Firstly, the Treasurer’s statements are not related in any way to economic circumstances as they now exist. Secondly, the Treasurer seems to have little or no knowledge of what the Government’s economic strategy really is. From time to time in this chamber I have raised problems which occur because of the Treasurer’s attempts to confuse the Parliament and the electorate. On many occasions we have seen the Treasurer selectively quote figures to prove that the economy is recovering, although most statistics demonstrate that the economy is going further and further into recession. On one occasion the Treasurer will use a set of figures to suit his purpose. On the next occasion, if those figures are against him, he will concoct new figures to quote. This, of course, completely destroys his credibility.
It will come as no surprise to learn that he tried the same thing on the Premiers. It is one thing to issue Press statements for general public consumption; it is quite another to go along and selectively quote figures and expect the Premiers to believe them. The Premiers are not only politicians but also professionals. In view of the demonstration in the Budget Papers that 1977 has seen a downturn in just about every indicator, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Premiers were not prepared to accept the assertions made on 1 July that the economy is recovering. What the Premiers did not know but what is now clear is that the Treasurer now has virtually no say in the economic strategy of this Government. During the course of his lecture to the Premiers, which I remind the Senate occurred six weeks prior to the bringing down of the Budget, the Treasurer had this to say:
I have to say here, as I have said before, that the options they espouse - that is the Premiers- greater money wage increases or massive tax cuts with correspondingly massive increases in the Budget deficit- would be utterly self-defeating. More inflation would be the result with at best only a temporary increase in average real incomes; indeed, the likely consequences of the higher inflation rate would be reduced investment and even greater impediments to employment growth. The end result could quite possibly be lower aggregate real incomes.
That was the Treasurer speaking to the Premiers. It was not a casual, off the cuff remark. It was a deliberate statement, no doubt prepared by the Treasury, with the Treasurer’s approval, for the Treasurer to read at that conference to justify the slashing of the State Loan Council programs. It occurred six weeks before the Budget was brought down. What the Treasurer said, of course, is quite clear. Tax cuts would result in higher inflation, reduced investment and greater impediments to employment growth, leading to lower real incomes.
While the Treasurer was reading that statement to the Premiers, the gentleman sitting beside him was the Prime Minister, who had already conceived the scheme to introduce $1 billion worth of tax cuts in the Budget. It is most extraordinary that, six weeks before a Budget containing $1 billion worth of tax cuts was announced, the Treasurer delivered a strong attack against the idea of tax cuts. But even that is not the crucial point. The real point is that the Treasurer refused to increase the Loan Council allocations to the States on the ground that the Budget deficit had to be reduced so that the inflation rate could be lowered. The whole thrust of his remarks to the Premiers was to that effect; yet six weeks later the tax cuts decided upon by the Prime Minister had the effect of preventing the Commonwealth from lowering interest rates to any substantial degree.
There can be no question about it: Either the Treasurer deliberately misled the Premiers or on 1 July he had no knowledge that $1 billion worth of tax cuts would be included in the Budget six weeks later. The position is that the Government either deliberately misled the States or, alternatively, made one of the most ill-considered shifts in economic strategy that have occurred in this country. Even since this Government came to office the Premiers have been pointing out to the Government that certain steps were necessary if rapid increases in unemployment were to be avoided. Again and again the Government has rejected the advice of the Premiers. I make this point to demonstrate that the attitude taken by the Premiers on 1 July was not something new. In my speech of last year on the similar Bill I stated that the Premiers expressed similar views at the Loan Council meeting in 1976. 1 want to deal with some of the views that were expressed by them. The first Premier to respond to the Treasurer’s rather quaint views was the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran. These were his words to describe them:
Unless there is some upward turn in the economy which the Treasurer has not indicated today, the direct and inevitable consequence is that there will be further unemployment in the building and construction industry. Because the ancillary industries, which service and manufacture the items which are used in manufacturing industry, will be further depressed, there will be further unemployment in manufacturing industry.
They were Mr Wran’s comments. He went on to demand that the 5 per cent increase be lifted to 15 per cent. In that request, he was joined by Premier Hamer, who said:
What we have seen is a tremendous decline in our policy to maintain works programs and a severe cutback last year and even a worse one this year in our activities. When you ally that with the effect of cutbacks in the special purpose grants, I think the result is likely to be disastrous.
They were the words of Premier Hamer of Victoria. The Premier of Queensland also supported the call for an increase of IS per cent. This is what he said:
We do not have much evidence that the meagre amount which is suggested will bring the desired result of reducing unemployment, which is at quite unacceptable levels.
The Premier of Queensland went on to express a view which is totally at odds with the philosophy of the Government here in Canberra. He totally rejected this Government’s economic strategy. He said:
I believe there has to be a recognition by the Commonwealth that an expansion of public capital and public expenditure in the short-term, is absolutely needed.
Notwithstanding his politics, I think this is the first time that the Queensland Premier has been so solidly against the policies, the basic policies especially, of this Government. The remaining Premiers were of a similar view. Premier Dunstan of South Australia put it quite simply when he said:
There is no way that the S per cent increase can meet a consistent level of employment or simply maintain the existing construction expenditure or effort.
Sir Charles Court of Western Australia, like the Premier of Queensland, totally rejected the Government’s attitude. He was quite blunt in his comments. This is what he said:
The economic survey that was given by the Treasurer was to say the least, a pretty dismal document. It said that we are going to get more of the same. I say with as much frankness as I can that the people are getting a bit tired of it.
He went on:
If we are tied to the program which the Commonwealth has given us this year, we will have to immediately get rid of men from Government employment.
The effect of that statement is quite clear. Sir Charles Court is directly blaming this Federal Government for the increase in unemployment. Premier Neilson of Tasmania took much the same line. This is what he said:
The overall situation is that we are saying to the Australian people for a reason which I cannot understand that we have to face the unemployment situation knowing that the rate will be even higher than it currently is
He went on:
For goodness sake, for how long can we cope with that sort of thinking in Australia? I can only reiterate that as far as I am concerned, this is a gloomy day and goodness knows what is going to be the position in three, four, five or six months.
All of these pleas fell on deaf ears. The Commonwealth refused to budge. The Prime Minister was immovable and suggested that if there were no agreement he would rely on the law, that is the financial agreements, and take twofifths of the loan funds to the Commonwealth. This brought a remark from Sir Charles Court:
It would not hun the Commonwealth to bend for once. While you have been Prime Minister, you have been pretty tough. I cannot remember you bending at all.
This is hardly a great deal of support for this Government’s federalism policy, nor is it much evidence that the Government intends cooperating with the States if its major supporter among the premiers can make a report like that. Finally, of course, the Treasurer let the cat out of the bag. He revealed that the Government’s attitudes had nothing to do with economic strategy at all but were merely extensions of its rather quaint political philosophies, because this is what he said:
In essence, what this whole debate is about is the size of the public sector in Australia. We do not believe that the present limits which have been stated in the overall package ought to be exceeded in any capacity.
That statement was more about this Government’s philosophy than anything we have read on the public record in the past. Although relying on cutting back the deficit to deny the States essential capital funds, the Treasurer is not really concerned with that at all. After all, the Budget added $1 billion to the deficit through the tax packages and owing to the Government’s current state of panic it has been adding to that in large amounts ever since. The Treasurer is not concerned with the deficit. He is merely trying to reduce the public sector for ideological reasons and that is one of the basic reasons why the economy is in a nosedive and cannot get out of it. It is one of the basic reasons for this Government’s incompetence at managing the economy. Unemployment will continue to rise. At Christmas time it will be over the 400,000 mark. The Government must take some substantial steps to relieve that problem.
Now the brakes are off, if we can use that term, and the Government alleges that it would like to see an expanded spending program and it is changing its Budget strategy on a daily basis, it would be appropriate if the Prime Minister were to hold a further meeting of the Loan Council in conjunction with the Premiers Conference on 21 October and increase the borrowing program of the States. My reason for suggesting that such a meeting be held in October is that such a change would give the States an opportunity of gearing up their works programs so that the worst effects of the increased unemployment at Christmas time may be headed off. Failure of the Government to take any action along these lines will mean that it has no interest whatsoever in the unemployment of this country. Of course this remains the crucial issue. This is the thing about which Australians are most concerned. They realise that unemployment was increased deliberately by the policies of this Government in the false assertion that it would get inflation down.
All that we have seen is an enormous increase in the social and economic misery of many tens of thousands of Australians who ought not and need not have been victims of this quite ruthless policy. The inflation rate is basically the same as it was this time last year, despite whatever efforts may be made to prove the contrary. The Australian people are indeed sick of the strategy of this Government in the economy. They are looking for a change. The question is whether there is the will on the part of this Government to give them that change. The State governments, Labor and Liberal, are themselves in direct conflict with the Government over the fact that despite what we hear in this chamber from Senator Carrick the States are being starved of funds. They are simply not able to expand their capital works programs. This Bill will not assist them.
– I listened with interest and with tears to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) as he tried to demonstrate some of the problems that are associated with the economic situation in Australia today. In listening to his last sentence or so, I was reminded by him of the last Hayden Budget which, when it was introduced, anticipated an increase in personal income throughout Australia of 24 per cent during the ensuing 12 months. This implied, as was admitted and can be calculated, a 43 per cent increase in personal taxation. Immediately the present Government came into office we acted to introduce tax indexation, which guaranteed that if wages increased in Australia by 24 per cent then tax would increase by no more than 24 per cent. That was done at a cost of $ 1 ,000m in the first year and has been done up to this time at a cost in excess of $2m to the revenue. That sort of story that is promoted by Senator Wriedt is completely unacceptable, as far as I am concerned and as far as the rest of Australia is concerned, because it is nothing more than an attempt to delude the people of Australia.
The Bill that we are discussing at the present time represents a continuation of the policy that was introduced by the Liberal-Country Party Government in 1970 when it decided that the
States should have Loan Council programs that took the form of interest free non-repayable grants in lieu of what would otherwise be interest bearing borrowings by the States. Obviously Senator Wriedt took no notice of the second reading speech that was delivered in this place by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Cotton. Moreover the grants were introduced, as Senator Cotton plainly pointed out in his second reading speech, to help the States to finance works such as school buildings, police stations and similar buildings from which debt charges are not normally recovered. Senator Wriedt did not pay any regard to that. It is important to note that the States are entirely free to apply these grants as they choose and that no terms or conditions are attached to them.
I believe that the States should follow the example that has been set by the Federal Goverment in reducing public expenditure. I am one of those who may have been slightly critical of the Government’s policy with respect to capital expenditure. I think that we ought to be having another look at the area in which government expenditure provides jobs. The States certainly have not demonstrated an interest in restraining expenditure with respect to the proliferation of Public Service employment and matters such as that. South Australia, of course, has benefited quite handsomly from the generosity of the Federal Government under Mr Fraser. During the recent election campaign Mr Dunstan tried to make a play about being given a raw deal by the Federal Government. Of course, his comments in that regard were not valid because South Australia benefited to the extent of receiving $120 per head more than the average Federal Government contribution to the other States.
-He was pretty successful, though, was he not?
-He was successful, of course, because the redistribution was contrived to give the State Government a majority of at least four or five seats. In fact, the Labor Government in South Australia could have won the election with less than 50 per cent of the vote. I think that is an indictment of the South Australian Government. For Mr Dunstan to claim satisfaction from the result of the recent election is again a typical example of the Labor Party over emphasising the success of an election. He was euphoric, of course, in that environment but he should recognise within himself that this was the least that he could expect. He would have been more satisfied with a majority of ten, but five is what we would have expected from the redistribution.
– That is right.
– My colleague, Senator Messner, agrees with me so I must be right in what I have just said. Apart from that, the State of South Australia, because of the deal that was done with respect to the rural railway takeover by the Commonwealth, was able to show a surplus last year of $18. 4m. This year, of course, the Government of South Australia would have saved at least $60m as a result of that simple action by the Commonwealth Government. Last year the deficit saving alone in South Australia was $26. 5m and this year it is estimated to be something like $26.3m. This emphasises the regard that the Federal Government has for the position of the States, in particular the State of South Australia.
I think this in itself brings out the obligation of the States to recognise that they have some responsibility in the present economic circumstances to restrain their expenditure. I heard Senator Wriedt talking about Mr Hamer, the Premier of Victoria. I recognise that he is a member of my party, but I think it is incumbent upon him to recognise the statement that I have just made. I believe that if all the States co-operated with the Commonwealth Government and emulated the example that it has set by exercising restraint in the areas that I have mentioned, the economy of Australia would be improved in a dramatic sense. I am very pleased to support this Bill, which is a continuation of the initiatives that were taken by the Liberal-Country Party Government in June 1970. I am very pleased with the way in which the economy is shaping. There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in significant areas of the economy. This is recognised daily by eminent economists and eminent industrialists in the country. I believe that we ought to give encouragement in this regard. Far from the attitude that has been demonstrated in this place today by the Opposition with respect to our currency, I think we all ought to get behind the Fraser Government. I would like to see the Premiers of the States following this example. I believe that if this happens our economic recovery will be swifter and the unemployment position will be improved. I believe that that sort of attitude ought to prevail generally in Australia. I have very much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
– I rise to participate in the debate on the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill and to support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Wriedt, which reads:
At end of motion add ‘, but the Senate is of the opinion that:
it reduces in real terms the funds available to the States;
it increases the States’ borrowing costs;
it forces the States to reduce the services they provide and/or to impose additional taxes and charges; and
it leads to increased unemployment’.
I listened with great interest to Senator Jessop ‘s contribution to the debate. I always like to hear Government supporters say nice things about untied grants. In a few minutes I will tell the honourable senator a little about some of the Liberal-Country Party Government’s untied grants to the States, but firstly I draw his attention to table 134 on page 182 of the Budget Papers entitled ‘Payments to or for the States and Local Government Authorities 1977-78’, and specifically to the two columns of figures about specific purpose payments for capital purposes. The total payments in 1975-76 amounted to $205,471,000. In 1977-78 the estimate has been reduced to $175,871,000. If one projects forward the 1975-76 figures to take account of inflation alone- not any real increase- that figure would have to total $265m this year. If Senator Jessop says that those figures are incorrect it is for him to prove -
– I did not say that they were incorrect.
– The honourable senator did not say that they were incorrect, but he said that in actual fact South Australia would be better off this year than it was in 1975-76.
– It is, too.
-Not in real terms. The figures are contained in that statement of the honourable senator’s Government- not of my government. They are there in black and white. We know that a number of Ministers in this chamber openly admit that they do not read newspapers. I understand from what Senator Jessop says that he is now telling the people of Australia that he cannot read. It is not that he does not read newspapers or even documents put out by his Treasurer (Mr Lynch); he is saying that he does not want to read what is there. He knows that what I am saying is true. He is frightened to admit that it is true. A moment ago we heard comments about these untied grants to the States. The second reading speech states:
The States are, however, entirely free to apply these grants as they choose and no terms or conditions are attached to them.
Of course, no terms or conditions were attached to the grants last year. We saw a ludicrous situation when money was appropriated by the Federal Government to a State for a specific purpose and it was not spent for that specific purpose. I refer, of course, to Queensland. The Premier there, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, refused to pass on funds to two women’s refuges- one in Brisbane and one in Townsville. He said that he did not have to pass on the funds and that there was no way the Federal Government was going to make him do so. If this man had been in private industry he would have been liable to prosecution for misappropriation of funds. It was purely and simply his position as Premier that protected him from prosecution.
– Which Premier is that?
-The Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
– What about Agent-General Neilson?
– I am not discussing Tasmania at this point. I will do so if the honourable senator would prefer me to. I can look at the figures for Tasmania as well as I can look at those for South Australia, Queensland or Western Australia. We are talking about Western Australia and what this money is supposed to do. Mr Viner, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Minister Assisting the Treasurer, in his second reading speech m the other place gave the impression that the States would receive a good deal under this Government. He admitted that the grants which are the subject of this BUI have been increased by less than 6 per cent. He does not spell that out in real terms. He is saying really that because the inflation rate is roughly 12 per cent these grants have been reduced by at least 6 per cent. So the States are not benefiting at all. We heard Senator Jessop on his South Australian tack. He said: ‘South Australia has received a wonderful deal and this has enabled the Premier to have a reduced deficit in his Budget this year’.
– A surplus.
– A surplus; I am sorry. Let us look at the Western Australian Budget, which came down only last night. We heard comments on this today in answer to questions which supposedly were without notice and in which Ministers were asked to give their opinions of the Court Budget. There is no reason for Premier Court to increase his charges for services to help him balance his Budget this year. He has been doing that constantly. Electricity charges have increased by something like 72 per cent. Water charges have increased by something like 48 per cent. He has no need to increase these charges to bring his Budget down in a nice, balanced way.
The purpose of this Bill that we are discussing tonight is supposedly to assist in some way with unemployment. So, let us have a look at the current unemployment figures. Let us not take the figures that some members of the Government benches in this chamber are only too ready to submit as setting out the true position. Let us get the correct balance and compare months of this year with months of last year and see the dramatic increase in unemployment throughout Australia. In July 1975, for instance, 251,000 people were out of work. By July 1976 there was an increase of 7.41 per cent. If we compare that with the figure for July 1977, by which time the unemployment figure was 337,391, we find a further increase of 24.82 per cent. For August the figures are much the same. From August 1975 to August 1976 there was an increase of 8.06 per cent. The increase from August 1976 to August 1977, when unemployment reached 333,978, was 24.62 per cent.
Let us not get too far away from Western Australia. Premier Court has very little going in his favour there. In August 1976 the unemployment figure was 20,925- an increase of 27.47 per cent over the previous year. In August 1977 the unemployment figure had increased to 27,596- a further increase of 27. 1 per cent. I presume that because members of the Government parties are so good at bandying figures around they would have been able to read the Budget Papers and to come down with figures which would be relevant to the Bill which is being debated.
The Leader of the Opposition has spoken already about the Premiers Conference and the activity of the Premiers there. To the general public of Australia the Premiers Conference is simply a meeting to which the Premiers are invited to tell the Prime Minister just what the needs of their States will be for the forthcoming year. The Prime Minister, it is supposed, listens very carefully. He probably nods agreement occasionally. Then he thinks of a figure, divides it by 16, and says: ‘This is all you will get’. There is no way- there is never going to be a way- with this Government’s federalism policy that we will ever see the States spending money in the way that the Federal government would like to see it spent. We are never going to be able to apply the pressure that is needed.
I mentioned a little earlier the women’s refuges in Queensland. I must take up the matter once again on behalf of my own State. The Premier there has said that people in the community who felt a need to use these facilities should mk more and that if they conferred with their churches and perhaps became involved in parents and citizens associations they would not have the need to call on such a community service. He really did not feel at that time that he could commit himself to funding further refuges.
– A bit of a hick in the sticks.
-Yes. At the time, he was on a talk-back radio program outlining his own successful 34 years of marriage. He failed to recognise that a great number of people in our community do not have that same capacity to live with a person for 34 years and submit themselves to all sorts of indignities.
I was talking about the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill and I feel that I am obliged to return to it in part. The total funds going to the States in the current financial year are estimated to be 18 to 20 per cent, in money terms, above the level in 1975-76. If we take into account the fact that there has been a rise in the price level of 18 per cent to 25 per cent, the States really have not received from this Administration a great deal at all. It is no wonder, with the new federalism policy meaning a reduction of 5 per cent to 7 per cent in the real level of resources available to the States, that the collapse of the policy is imminent. The level of capital works programs is one of the most important factors in determining the level of employment. If spending on capital works falls, so too does the level of employment. We have heard supposedly responsible Ministers of this Government, saying nice things about unemployment. Not so very long ago one of them said that it was a myth. I do not know how the 333,000 people who are out of work felt about unemployment being called a myth. They probably do not feel any more kindly about that than they felt about being called dole bludgers.
Nevertheless, we have to look at what we are doing with our capital works program and whether in fact there is not some way of direct tied funding to ensure that unemployment figures fall in the States. In 1975-76, Western Australia received 32 per cent of its capital funds through the Loan Council; it received 48.8 per cent by way of specific purpose grants; and it received 19.2 per cent in the form of local and semi-government funds. This year the situation in respect of the Loan Council funds is roughly the same. There has been a dramatic increase in specific purpose grants and a like dramatic increase in local and semi-government grants.
We sat here this afternoon and listened to Senator Messner, who has now entered the chamber. I am very pleased to see him here. He might like to read in Hansard tomorrow some of the things I have said about his State. This afternoon we heard him say some very nice things about the way in which this Government is operating in real terms. He said that the Labor Government introduced the Regional Employment Development scheme and that if one took those figures into consideration the level of unemployment would be increased dramatically. Let me assure Senator Messner that these RED scheme figures indicate the employment that was created for people because of the decisions made by a Federal Government, not a State government. I have here two tables that I feel are of some importance and at the end of my speech I shall seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard. They are entitled ‘Table 1: Payments to or for the States and Local Government Authorities 1975-76 to 1977-78’ and ‘Direct and Indirect Payments of a Capital Nature to or for State and Local Government Authorities- 1975-76 to 1977-78’.
The Fraser Government’s new federalism was supposed to protect the smaller States, those States with smaller populations, but it is not going to work out that way. The States which are small in population are going to find that this Bill will be to their detriment. The whole process of changing relativities between the States has been done in a very ad hoc way. It has taken no account of the revenue raising capacity of the States to fund their capital works. The Government has simply said: ‘Here is X thousands of dollars. This is what you can do and this is what you cannot do’. No offsetting adjustments have been made to general purpose and capital funds. On this basis I have to support the amendment moved by my Party. I close by saying that the Fraser federalism has already failed and the Australian electorate will testify to this at the ballot box within the next few months. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard’ Table 1: Payments to or for the States and Local Government Authorities 1975-76 to 1977-78’ and a table headed ‘Direct and Indirect Payments of a Capital Nature to or for State and Local Government Authorities 1975-76 to 1977-78’.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The tables read as follows-
– in reply- Mr President, it will come as no great surprise to you, and indeed to my colleagues, to learn that the Government will not accept the amendment. This legislation does not advance an argument about economic strategy or the shape of the economy or any schemes to reflate it that somebody might have dreamt up in some flight of fancy in the small hours of the morning perhaps after having another bad night. It is nothing of the kind. It is a different sort of proposition altogether. We can have arguments about the shape of the economy. We had one today in which the Opposition was soundly trounced. No doubt we will have more of them. They will be a regular sort of meal we will get from now on because we will have demonstrated to us day by day how a party which failed to handle the economy thinks it can now do so. But that is part of the exercise. This Bill is not about that.
Let us get down to some simple facts. This is a Bill to appropriate a third of the total Loan Council program of $ 1,433.8m for the States, that is, a sum of $477,933,000. 1 imagine that the proposition contained in the amendment is designed to defeat the Bill and therefore not pass the money to the States. It seems to me not a very wise way for an Opposition to go on, but that is its business, not mine. Employment figures published recently in a journal- I do not have them with me at the moment- show that there has been an overall increase in employment in the States in an overall context in which employment has been, as all honourable senators know, giving concern. An increase in employment in the State area could not have come about if people had had no money with which to do things.
Let us turn briefly to the second reading speech, which is what we ought to be dealing with. As I said, the purpose of the Bill is to authorise the payment of capital grants totalling $477,933,000 to the States in 1977-78. The specific grant component of the Loan Council program for State governments in that yearonethird of the total program- was agreed to at the Loan Council meeting on 1 July. If the Premiers are upset about it, why did they agree? Why did they not refuse to take the money? It would have been a pretty simple operation. They could have said: ‘No, we won’t have anything to do with you people or your dreadful Federal policies. No way; we will go home without the money’. These grants represent a continuation of arrangements initiated by the Liberal-Country Party Government in June 1970 which provided that portion of the State governments Loan Council programs should take the form of interest free non-repayable grants in lieu of what would otherwise be interest bearing borrowings by the States.
The second reading speech does not say so, but I can remember those years. If we take our minds back to the loan programs and the loan indebtedness of the Commonwealth and the States we find that the Australian national debt was accumulating in the hands of the States and decreasing in the hands of the Commonwealth. The interest burden was being progressively transferred to the States, which did not make as much sense as one perhaps would have thought it should. Therefore consideration was given to some part of that being moved towards relief, and that has been carried on by all governments. I think it was a sensible decision, and I hope it can be continued. The effect of the grants then introduced and carried on by governments of both political complexions was to relieve the States of debt charges they would otherwise have had to pay. Accordingly, the grants have a very substantial beneficial effect on the financial position of the States. If we are to spend some pan of our time on economic strategy on another occasion, we might calculate what the interest bill would have been had it not been forgone.
The grants were introduced to help the States finance works such as schools, police buildings and the like from which debt charges are not normally recovered in the financial arrangements. Some things are recovered. Some undertakings have a capacity in the charging to recover some part of the existing burden; some particular functions do not. However, the States are freely entitled to apply those grants as they choose. No terms and conditions are attached to them. We do not apologise for that. We believe that the people who govern the States are also Australians. We believe they also have responsibilities. We believe that they have a great deal of competence. We believe they are close to the people. We imagine that they know their own business, and we feel that we ought not to dictate from Canberra the colour of the walls or the shape of a front gate of a school or a police station. We think the States might be able to decide that better than we can. That is why we have not dictated to them. If honourable senators opposite want to dictate to them, they should bring this matter up as a firm item of Labor Party policy.
The grants which are the subject of this Bill are part of the State government’s Loan Council programs. These programs are in aggregate to increase by 5.7 per cent in 1978. Honourable senators opposite should not get excited about the fact that in their view that is not a very high figure because we have to take into account a proper assessment of the overall level of untied grants by way of funds provided to the States and their authorities from the Commonwealth Budget. When these figures are looked at, we find that the general purpose payments to the
States, together with the State government Loan Council programs, increased by 14 per cent. Why figures to increase the inflation rate to 18 per cent or 20 per cent are drawn out of the air, I cannot imagine. The only proposition I can imagine is that had we continued with the Labor Government we would have seen inflation rates such as those. That is a clear possibility. But under this Government the inflation rate is coming down to below 10 per cent. So the analogy that is drawn with regard to the discounting of inflation is quite incorrect. Local government authorities’ share of personal income tax collections will be 1 8. 1 per cent more than in last year. Loan Council programs for State semigovernment authorities increased by 21.3 per cent. So overall we can see these rates of increase- 14 percent, 18.1 per cent and 21.3 per cent. It is relevant that in this scene the Commonwealth itself has expanded its own expenditure programs by only about 10 per cent. So we can see who is showing restraint.
We hear comments about the States’ problems. I just observe that some States now have their Budgets down. They are showing massive surpluses with some pretty heavy transfers into various funds. When it is all wound up, I think it will be shown that the States will finish with a reasonable overall balance and with some money put away in reserves for difficult days. On the other hand, the Commonwealth has borne the odium of financing deficits, a large proportion of the proceeds of which have passed to the States. One might also comment briefly on the fact that there will be substantial increases in States’ tax sharing entitlements during 1977-78. Their entitlements will be $90m more than would have been received under the previous arrangements, because of the discussion between the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Premiers on 1 July. If all general purpose funds to State and local government authorities, both revenue and capital- all united funds- are taken into account it is estimated that almost 16 per cent more will be made available than last year. I think that probably sets in reasonable balance the purpose of the Bill, what is contained in the second reading speech and how one views these components in the overall context.
When one reads the amendment, one is slightly mystified how anyone can say the Bill reduces funds in real terms. The figures are available in the second reading speech for any person to read. It seems to me that some people have not done their arithmetic terribly well. It seems to me that they do not really understand what this Bill is about. Perhaps they should have read the second reading speech. The Bill cannot in any way whatsoever reduce State services or bring about the imposition of additional charges. If the States decide to do that in the exercise of their own sovereignty, of course that is their business. The main purpose of the Bill involves one-third of the Loan Council program. It involves interest-free non-repayable grants. I do not think we need to go on any further at this stage. The Opposition has not made out a case. The Government does not support the amendment. I suggest that the matter be put to a vote.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I rise because of a comment made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) in his reply to the second reading debate. I will ask him to explain one aspect of this legislation to the Senate. We are dealing with a Bill that involves capital assistance. I will indicate to the Senate the current position in respect of payments for capital purposes to each of the States as disclosed in Budget Paper No. 7. 1 am reading from page 170 onwards. We have been continually told- and we are being told again in this debate- that under the present Government’s policy the States are in fact better off in respect of their capacity to do things. Financially the States are better off. That is what we are being told all the time.
I ask the Minister to explain this position to the Senate. I will deal firstly with New South Wales. In the financial year 1975-76, specific purpose payments for capital purposes totalled $594m. This year these payments have been reduced to $509m. If we were to index 1975-76 payments at the rate of inflation over the past two years, New South Wales this year should receive $7 12m. In fact, New South Wales is to receive some $200m less under this Government’s policy in specific purpose payments for capital purposes than it would have received under the previous Labor Government. In Victoria for 1975-76, the last year of the Labor Government, total payments for capital purposes were $457m. This year the payments have been reduced to $374m. Again there is a massive reduction in real terms. I have not worked out the reduction precisely but Victoria will receive of the order of $ 150m less for capital purposes. Capital purpose payments are important because they are used in an area in which employment can be generated. This is the area in which the States are being starved. This is why the economy will not recover. This is why it will continue not to recover.
In 1975-76, the State of Queensland received $307m in specific purpose payments for capital purposes. This year these payments have been reduced to $25 8m. Again that is another massive reduction in real terms. In 1975-76, South Australia received $205 m. This year it will receive $175m. That is another massive reduction for capital works in South Australia. In 1975-76, Western Australia received $ 1 83m. This year the payments are down to $161m. I worked out those figures for other reasons this morning. If we allow for the normal increase in line with inflation Western Australia should receive $240m for capital programs this year. In fact it is to receive only $160m. So, Western Australia is down $80m for capital purposes. In 1975-76, payments to Tasmania amounted to $88m. This year the payments have been reduced to $71m. Again, that is a very substantial reduction in capital payments to the State of Tasmania. I ask the Minister: Is he asserting that the increases in revenue payments that he spoke about under the tax-sharing arrangements make up for the lower capital payments the States are to receive as shown by the Budget papers?
– I am always anxious to be helpful to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) who was always extremely courteous to me and I will always be the same to him. But I repeat what I said at the second reading stage: If all general purpose funds to States and local authoritiesboth revenue and capital- are taken into account it is estimated that almost 16 per cent more will be available this year than was available last year. This is a Bill which deals with the general purpose or untied grants. I suggest to the honourable senator that he is directing his mind to a separate matter which is not related to this Bill, that is, specific purpose grants. That seems to me to be the position and that is how I am advised. But if he would require me or wish me to obtain further information for him, I would be happy to do so. I am happy to have the matter elucidated subsequent to this debate in an explanatory form. I am happy for him to raise it with me on a separate occasion in debate. I am anxious to confine the issue to the matter before the Committee which is this Bill. But I am anxious also to be helpful.
– I have no desire to prolong the debate indefinitely but I must come back to the repeated claims that are being made. As I understand it, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) in replying to the second reading debate again asserted how much better off the States are under these arrangements. During the course of the debate both Senator Coleman and I pointed out that under the so-called new federalism of this Government, which means, as we all know, more power to Canberra and less money to the States, the States are in fact worse off. The Minister has again restated this figure of an increase of 16 per cent in what he calls revenue items but it is quite misleading to suggest that this is the end of the story. If the Minister had not purported in his comment that the States were better off I would not have raised this question, but it is important that every time this assertion is made from the Government side it be exposed for what it is.
Again I quote the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) from page 7 of Budget Paper No. 7 where he gives the percentage increase of funds paid to the States and local government authorities- the total figure. It is the total figure about which we are concerned. This document shows that in 1975-76, the last year of the Labor Government, those payments were increased by 29 per cent. In the first year of the Liberal Government, under this grand new policy of federalism, payments were increased by only 9.5 per cent in 1976-77. In the second year of the new federalism policy, that is 1977-78, payments increased by only 9.2 per cent. I suggest to the Committee that that is the real figure that we should be looking at. I accept the Minister’s comment that the Bill deals specifically with capital assistance, and it was for that reason that I quoted the figures relating to the plunge in capital assistance to the States which has taken place over the last 2 years. But if members on the Government side continue to assert that the States are receiving the same assistance or are getting a better deal than they were under the previous Government I will rise on every occasion and quote the figures of their own Treasurer to disprove that argument.
– I understand that, but perhaps it would be useful to quote the relevant figures in the context in which they are to be used. We are dealing with a Bill called the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill and we are referring to the second reading of that Bill. In his second reading speech the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) stated:
The grants which are the subject of this Bill are, as I said, pan of the State governments ‘ Loan Council programs and these programs are in aggregate to increase by 5.7 per cent in 1977-78. Those who choose to ignore the overall context might criticise this rate of increase as being low.
They have done so-
A proper assessment, however, would take into account the overall level of untied funds provided to the States and their authorities from the Commonwealth Budget.
Total general purpose payments to the States together with the State government Loan Council programs are estimated to increase by no less than $685. lm or 14 per cent in 1977-78. Local government authorities’ share of personal income tax collections will be $165. 3m in 1977-78, 18.1 per cent more than last year.
It is also relevant that the Loan Council program for the States’ semi-government authorities has been increased by $204m or 2 1 .3 per cent in 1 977-78.
That is what the Treasurer said in his second reading speech. It is that speech which we are debating and it is in respect of that speech that the amendment has been proposed. I suggest that a debate on the general proposition of federalism versus unification, while it is entertaining, is not necessarily relevant to the matter under discussion. It is relevant to general observations about political philosophies, and we might well pass on to the next piece of legislation.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cotton) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 15 September on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
-The Senate is debating cognately the National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1977 and the National Health Amendment Bill 1977. The first of the two Bills amends the National Health Act and the Nursing Homes Assistance Act to provide for increased benefits to be paid by the Commonwealth in respect of eligible uninsured patients in approved nursing homes and to provide for hospital benefit organisations to pay similar benefits to contributors who are patients in approved nursing homes by making the payment of such benefits a condition of a fund’s registration. The National Health Amendment Bill will ensure that all privately insured patients pay for services which are provided in the various States by the Commonwealth Health Laboratories.
The Opposition does not oppose these Bills. The National Health Acts Amendment Bill is obviously the most important one and, while not opposing it, we reject the claim of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in her second reading speech that the Bill represents anything like ‘a major advance introducing a new era of financial security for nursing home patients’. We suspect- in fact we are sure- that the new era, as it is called, will quickly be demonstrated to have the same shortcomings as the old era, and once again the whole system will need to be amended. However, under the system with which we are working, and in view of the Government’s ideological and philosophical limitations, the Opposition realises that this is probably the only approach the Government can take in the present circumstances.
Accommodation for the aged and for the frail aged has long been an unsatisfactory part of our welfare system in this country. The change from the extended biological family to the nuclear family which has occurred this century and the apparently irreversible but regrettable failure of people to be willing to care for their aged relatives has led to the situation in this country of aged people too often being placed in institutions such as nursing homes. Much as we would like to reverse that trend, I dare say that it will be difficult to do so. It is a trend which has increased in Western countries, especially since the Second World War. The rise of the nursing home as a dominating force in the provision of accommodation for the aged in this country is a post-war phenomenon which grew out of the misconception that the aged were sick and inevitably needed hospital-type accommodation. That is a misconception of which everyone in the Parliament is well aware-
However, the stage has been reached where it is very difficult to reverse that trend and we are faced with a situation where nursing homes are dominating the scene. They are caught up in increasing costs. Those private nursing homes which are profit-making are forced to raise their fees in order to maintain their profits and the others in order to maintain their services. The patients and their families are facing bigger and bigger gaps between their incomes and the fees that are charged. Added to that, the nursing home lobby is ever-willing to use emotional arguments, to use their patients and the feelings of insecurity of their patients’ families, to pressure this and all other governments, including the previous Labor Government, to provide support for their enterprises.
In this legislation the Government is making an attempt through the new Medibank system to close the gap for patients and their families, and I do not decry that effort. However, I point out that as a long term solution it will not succeed and that a coherent plan for domiciliary assistance and things like day care centres, hostels and flats will be needed in the future to keep patients out of nursing homes, which as we know are the most expensive form of care for the aged. Costs in nursing homes will continue to rise, they will rise inevitably, and the necessity for increased government expenditure in this area will inevitably follow.
In drafting this legislation, the Government was also faced with another group of political operators, the registered health benefits funds, who earlier this year filled our mail boxes with tales of woe about the effect on their cosy businesses of the inclusion of nursing home benefits. They waged a campaign reminiscent of the campaigns waged against the previous Government to try to get their own way, to make sure that their comfortable situation was maintained even after the new Medibank changes. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) is plainly less than enamoured of those gentlemen, and I hope that members on both sides of this chamber will recognise in future the nature of their tactics and treat them as they deserve to be treated. I hope that in its future dealings with these people in respect of nursing home benefits, the reinsurance pool, and the subsidies necessary to maintain patients in nursing homes under the health insurance scheme, the Government will take a careful look at the reserves and operations of the voluntary health funds before it is pressured into taking too much notice of their blandishments.
The legislation purports to provide for the setting of rates of benefits to cover some 70 per cent of patients in non-government National Health Act nursing homes in each State, to review these rates annually and, we assume, to update them. But is worth pointing out- certainly, it is not made clear in the second reading speech in the Senate or in the other House- that this annual review, in fact, is a promise- a statement by the Minister that it will happen. It is not provided for in this legislation, other than giving the Minister the right to do so by regulation when he sees fit. If the Government is serious about this matter, it is hard to understand why some provision could not have been written into the Act for annual review. Why could it not have been made part of this legislation?
I would like to point out that it has always been assumed in the past that the Commonwealth compensation legislation would be changed so that the rates paid to injured employees and their dependants would be upgraded annually in line with the minimum wage. It is now obvious that this will be done every two years. It is a budgetary decision of the Government, done at the whim of the Government. It is a new introduction. There was an assumption that the rates would be upgraded annually. There is an assumption in this legislation that they will be upgraded annually but there is no guarantee that this will happen. In times of inflation, as is the case now, nursing home fees rise rapidly. From November 1975 to October 1977, they have increased by more than 50 per cent in all States except Queensland and South Australia. Every member of this Parliament receives representations during every year, when fees go up and the burden on patients and their families increases, to do something about this gap that arises between the fees and the subsidies and in the future, I suggest, between the fees and the benefits that will be payable. This legislation which promises annual reviews will alleviate that position a little. But if history is any indication, the new rates probably will cover the situation for only a few months and new cycles of increases will continue.
The second claim that has been made about this legislation is that its introduction will save the Government considerable expenditure each year. The Minister claims that some $50m will be saved but no statistical backing is given for this calculation. However, it would seem that the level of Government subsidy will be considerable and it will not be totally on a direct subsidy basis. Obviously, the people who opt for hospital only insurance and the families which pay the Medibank levy plus $135 a year payment for hospital only insurance are subsidised, we are told, by about $50 a year. Undoubtedly, there will be a call for an increase in this subsidy as a result of the legislation. As I said before, I hope that the Minister views such calls with a jaundiced eye, that he looks at the reserves of the hospital funds and at the accumulated funds available, and makes sure that the calls for such increases are justified.
It is equally obvious that many of the patients -in fact, I believe possibly all the patients- will go into the re-insurance pool designed to cover patients of this type. It is not clear how much more, if any more, the Government will have to contribute to the pool under the new arrangements but it is certainly a further source of
Government subsidy. Thus, the saving to the Government may be considerably less than it seems it will be from the Minister’s second reading speech. However, it is worth pointing out that the cost to the community will not change. The cost to the individual through insurance contributions inevitably will increase. The cost will be relatively more harsh on the low income earners because a greater percentage of their income will go in health insurance payments. In fact, as has been pointed out by members on both sides in the House of Representatives, it may drive some people out of the private funds into Medibank, thus defeating what seems to be the Government’s purpose in introducing this legislation.
I have said that the Opposition does not oppose this legislation. We realise that the Government is attempting to close the gap in nursing home fees. We realise that the Government is limited by its thinking and by its approach to the present economic situation. It has very little alternative. But bearing this in mind, we must become aware of the fact that we have become landed in this country with a system of care for the aged, and particularly the frail aged, which has as its emphasis institutional care of the nursing home type. Governments of all political persuasions inevitably will have to grasp the nettle and radically rethink this problem, as has been pointed out in the Holmes report, as has been pointed out in the report entitled Care for the Aged put out by the Social Welfare Commission and as is pointed out at every geriatric conference and conference of aged persons organisations every year. It is inevitable that the cost of nursing home care and accommodation for the aged in general, in fact, will continue to become more and more a financial burden unless we radically change our views and we radically change our attitudes. I believe that we must change the emphasis completely away from this type of care and any institutional type of care. We must emphasise domiciliary care either by home support and home maintenance systems, through home help services and through the provision of portable rental flats- the so-called granny flats- that are being introduced into Tasmania. I am referring to flats that can be added to houses which provide the aged person with accommodation near his family but not in the family home because most family homes in Australia are just not suited to take extra people. Such accommodation could be used when it is needed at a reasonable rental. It could provide independence, with the security of having relatives close by, while that person lives. I suppose that ideally we should attempt to change our attitude and society’s attitude towards caring for the aged at home. But as I said before, it seems this is a difficult thing to do under present circumstances.
We must also emphasise more the independent and semi-independent type of accommodation in units and hostels. But while we have profit making homes in the predominant situation they now occupy, we will have the maldistribution of aged persons accommodation which is obvious throughout Australia and particularly obvious in Victoria. We will have the inevitable grasping each year for more Government assistance to maintain services and profits. In most cases, the assistance is needed genuinely to provide the reasonable services that are available. While the concentration is on this sort of thing, the true function of our program of caring for the aged is ignored. Successive governments, including the last Labor Government, have been locked into the system of nursing homes. For humanitarian reasons and through political pressure, we have had to support them as they are. I am aware that to change the system will be difficult and in some cases may necessitate the payment of compensation and the changing of nursing homes, but sooner or later we will have to do that and sooner or later people on both sides of the Parliament will have to face this problem.
It is a stupid system when we have a shortage of accommodation, a maldistribution of accommodation and a lack of balance in the appropriateness of this accommodation. It is a crazy system when the standard weekly fee in homes varies from $129.50 a week in Queensland to $184.45 a week in Victoria. There is no way that such differences should exist. I am aware of why some of those differences exist. If ever we needed a national program with national standards, we need it in the provision of aged persons accommodation. We will never achieve a proper balance in aged persons accommodation in this country if governments do what this Government has done, and that is to restrict the funds that are available in a time of economic distress when the aged need more care than at other times.
The Government now is in the situation where its aged persons housing program, if the Government is to achieve its aims, will involve a trebling of the funds available last year. We will never achieve that balance while we are locked into the situation which unfortunately grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and which we seem to be unable to change because of political and other pressures. I have tried not to talk in a partisan manner. We all have to face the fact that the system is inappropriate and that it reeks of injustice and inequity. This legislation is symptomatic of the problem that exists. It is a cosmetic effort to reduce some of the hardships. But the basic problems in our system will remain.
We do not oppose the National Health Amendment Bill either. We accept that if people choose to take out private insurance it is reasonable that their funds should contribute to the costs of the Commonwealth Health Laboratories, which give such an excellent service to the public in many parts of this country. The Commonwealth Health Laboratories have played an important part in the provision of pathology services in many parts of Australia where otherwise they would not have been available. I include my own State. I know that there is pressure in my State, and in other States, to have the Commonwealth Health Laboratories closed down, but I believe that they still perform a very useful function. They are still there to provide pathology tests for those people who otherwise would not be able to afford them- if the local private pathologists are unwilling to accept just fee for service. Frequently the Commonwealth Health Laboratories are able to perform tests which private pathologists would not be able to perform economically because of the size of the cities and towns- in my case, the State- in which they exist. Although we accept that they exist in competition with the private health laboratories, people who are contributing voluntarily to private health funds should pay for the pathology tests when they are carried out in the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. I impress on the Government that attempts to close these laboratories down while they are providing a useful and good service would be most unwise.
As I said, we do not oppose either piece of legislation. The first piece of legislation is necessary in the circumstances but is another cosmetic attempt to cope with the inequitable and difficult situation of nursing homes and aged persons accommodation generally in this community. Sooner or later we will have to face up to a new system and we will have to face up, however politically unpalatable it may be, to changing the present system. The second Bill is of little consequence overall, but it provides for those in voluntary funds to contribute towards the maintenance of the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. We have no intention of holding up the legislation, but we hope that it is only interim legislation while all parties and all governments look towards setting up a coherent plan for the future.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- Before I call the next speaker I would just like to draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that honourable senators are not allowed to read speeches or to make overuse of copious notes. I just make that statement, and I now call Senator Melzer.
-In my opinion, the National Health Acts Amendment Bill does little to change the lives of those aged people who are lucky enough to be in a good nursing home and who have sufficient private means to pay the difference between the government subsidy and the amount they are charged. Also, it has little effect on those who have been able to pay into private insurance funds but whose lives may be a little uncomfortable because they and their relatives are being pressured by private insurance funds which at the moment are screaming about the fact that they have to live up to their responsibilities, that people have paid money into the funds expecting some sort of assistance and that now they are being asked to pay out on nursing home bills. They do not like it. They are screaming about it. But the legislation does nothing to keep those people who were part of a survey directed in 1974 by the Department of Housing and Construction, the results of which were presented to this Government in 1976. It showed that 100,000 elderly people were living in sub-standard homes.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTOrder! Senator Melzer, I think you are reading your speech and I have said that speeches should not be read in the Senate chamber.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, I am not reading my speech.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Oh, you are reading your speech. (Quorum formed). Before Senator Melzer resumes, I point out that I drew attention to the fact that I felt that she was reading her speech. She said that she was not, but I am quite convinced that she was looking down continuously, reading her speech. I point out that this matter was debated in the Senate not very long ago and it was decided that speeches in the Senate should not be read. Therefore I am carrying out what the Senate decided. In those circumstances I ask that speeches be not read. The use of notes is, of course, permissible, but not the overusage of notes which amounts almost to a reading of the speech.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order on your ruling. It has been the practice while I have been in the Senate that, when an allegation is made against anyone in this chamber and the honourable senator concerned denies it, the honourable senator’s word is always taken. It seems to me that the judgment on whether someone is reading a speech tonight depends on your views on how many times that person’s eyes drop to the table. It is going to be a very difficult situation if the rulings are to be so idiosyncratic that every time we have a different person in the chair we will have a different view of what is reading and what is not. Senator Melzer has denied most emphatically that she was reading her speech and I believe that you should accept her word.
– Speaking to the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: I agree with your ruling that no honourable senator should be permitted to read a speech. But there are some unusual circumstances in this case. Your intention to rule that way was announced before Senator Melzer rose to her feet. This suggests that you anticipated that she would read her speech. I do not know whether you have some confidential information on what Senator Melzer intended to do. It seems very pertinent that you should mention that before she spoke. Before she progressed sufficently for anyone to judge whether or not she was reading, you ruled that she was reading. I think this is unfair. While I support that she is not allowed to read her speech, I accept at this stage that Senator Melzer was not reading. I think she should be permitted to proceed to the stage where we can determine whether or not she is reading. The fact that she was looking at the desk when there is nothing better to look at in the chamber is not an indication that she was reading a speech. I would ask for the usual tolerance but if it becomes obvious that she is reading the speech, your ruling is quite correct.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- I appreciate Senator Cavanagh ‘s point. I made that statement before Senator Melzer commenced her speech because in my opinion Senator Grimes used more than copious notes. I felt that in view of the fact that the Senate had made the decision re-affirming what has been the principle in the Senate, it was as well to make the announcement in case any other senator did the same. There was no intention to refer specifically to Senator Melzer. That is why I made the statement at that time. I did not stop Senator Grimes. I thought that the matter should be clarified when he finished speaking. I am only carrying out what the Senate decided- I appreciate Senator Cavanagh ‘s views on this-that speeches shall not be read. There may be a certain amount of usage of notes but not of an overcopious character.
– I rise on a point of order. I think Standing Order 406 provides that no senator shall read his speech. As a result of the meeting of the Standing Orders Committee in February this year and the report of the Standing Orders Committee having been debated by the Senate in the last sessional period, it was re-affirmed by the Senate that no senator shall read his speech. During the course of that debate it was pointed out that the Standing Order states that no senator shall read his speech. It was debated at that time whether a Minister, in making a second reading speech, would be in contravention of Standing Order 406. It was suggested at that time that a Minister, by reading a second reading speech in this place, would be in contravention of Standing Order 406 as it is written. It was also suggested that whilst a blind eye, as it were, might be given to a Minister reading a second reading speech to the Parliament a blind eye would be given also to a senator leading on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on a second reading speech reading his speech.
- Senator Melzer does not want a blind eye. Her notes are available for inspection.
– I am not referring to Senator Melzer. I am referring to the Acting Deputy President’s comments about my colleague, Senator Grimes, who led in this debate on behalf of the Opposition. I do not suggest for one moment that our revered colleague, Senator Melzer, is reading her speech. I refer honourable senators to page 242 of the fifth edition of Australian Senate Practice which states that while holding that it is not in order for a senator to read his speech without leave of the Senate, President Brown ruled that copious notes may be referred to. Mr Deputy President, I think I heard you say earlier this evening that the use of copious notes was not to be viewed favourably and was not to be encouraged. I suggest that if my interpretation of what you said is correct, what you said is in contradistinction to what President Brown ruled some time ago, namely, that copious notes may be referred to during the course of debate.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I point out that these points of order are coming out of Senator Melzer ‘s time.
- Mr Deputy President, I am not sure whether Standing Order 406 applies to Senator Melzer. After reading the Standing
Orders it is quite clear that it may apply only to the male members of the Senate.
– Have you read the Acts Interpretation Act?
– I am quite aware of the provisions of the Acts Interpretation Act. That Act, of course, applies only in the absence of some contrary indication. If honourable senators look at earlier Standing Orders they will find, for example, that every senator desiring to speak shall rise uncovered and address himself to the President.
– Not this night.
-I doubt that that applies to Senator Melzer. I doubt also that Standing Order 405 is applicable. It provides that where two or more senators rise together to speak, the President shall call upon the senator who in his opinion first rosein his place. I doubt that that would apply because I am quite sure that in this place ladies would be called first. Mr Acting Deputy President, I do not wish to canvass your ruling but I think that the Standing Orders Committee should look at this matter very seriously. We might well find that Senator Melzer and her female colleagues in the Senate have far more freedom of action than the rest of us.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, you have raised a matter which has been a cause of contention in the Senate for many years. I think it is time we had a look at this matter to define specifically the right of a senator to address the Chair. If a senator takes exception to another senator reading a speech which has obviously been prepared by someone who has some vested interest in having a proposition put before the Senate, the Senate itself can decide a matter such as that. Someone who writes out the notes in an office where there is perhaps, in a very restricted way, a little peace and quiet and who gives a lot of thought to the subject matter of the speech should be able to refer to that matter in the Senate. It is time we discontinued this charade of saying that someone cannot refer to a prepared speech if he looks down at the desk and the Chair deciding how often a speaker looks at his notes.
It reduces the dignity of this chamber by making an issue of this matter whenever it suits whoever refers to it to do so. Ministers read their speeches without any compunction. They know that they must be word perfect. They know that the speech has been prepared for them by very conscientious officers and that they must mean what they say. There is no exception taken to a Minister reading a speech because that is the name of the game. But when a senator goes to a lot of trouble to write out what he wants to refer to and has his notes for reference, we are only splitting straws by making an issue of whether the senator is reading his speech. I think we should have a different look at this matter. Instead of quoting technicalities and all the other things that have been going on for the last 70 or 80 years, we should grow up a bit and realise that people prepare notes on what they want to say. They give thought to it. They apply themselves to it in their own offices and they bring the subject matter into this chamber. There is no doubt that 99.9 per cent of senators in this place prepare their own material and deliver it here. It is about time that we drew the line on the technicalities of whether or not someone is reading his speech. There may be a glaring example. It is said in Odgers Australian Senate Practice that on one occasion one person prepared the same speech for three different senators. It is obvious that a person such as this is proposing some case that has been motivated outside the Senate.
– I was the third one who read it.
– This is an example of what can happen. Mr Acting Deputy President, you have chosen this occasion to give a ruling when Senator Melzer was about to deliver a speech in all good faith. I am certain that it would have been a good speech.
– It still will be, I hope.
– It will be a good speech. When my point of order has been disposed of I will ask leave of the Senate to move that Senator Melzer be allowed the time to make her speech that she would have been allowed if someone had not intervened on this technical point.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, may I speak briefly to the point of order. We have just had canvassed a subject we debated in the Senate some time ago. We had a report from the Standing Orders Committee some time ago on whether senators ought to be able to read their speeches, and the Senate ruled overwhelmingly that they ought not be able to. I suggest to you that Senator O ‘Byrne’s contribution for the last 8 minutes has been to canvass that whole debate. The Senate can decide, and the Chair can decide, whether an individual Senator is reading his or her speech. I just say to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that in the other place the speeches are virtually universally dreadful. In this place some of them are dreadful and some of them are passable and quite interesting. The difference is whether people are reading their speeches or not. When Senator Grimes rose to his feet he was in fact dissenting from your ruling. I accept that the point of order has been ruled on already. You have ruled that honourable senators may not read their speeches except that- you did not say this but we accept it- in very particular circumstances certain senators may, and that does not apply to back bench members. The Senate has voted overwhelmingly on this previously. If Senator Grimes wants to move dissent, that is what he ought to do and not take up Senator Melzer ‘s precious time with repeating this debate.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- I have heard enough argument on the matter. As far as I am concerned, I have been ruling in accordance with what I believe the Senate has decided upon and what has been the practice all the years that I have been here. I am only carrying out what the Senate itself has decided. I am not giving my own opinion on this; I am interpreting what the Senate nas decided. As I said before, I did not make this statement specifically picking upon Senator Melzer, and I do not want Senator Melzer to feel that. Generally, over the years I have been here it has been recognised that I have pulled up people on my side of the chamber just as much as people on the opposite side of the chamber. That is the only way that a person can adjudicate from this Chair in an impartial manner. I have heard sufficient debate on the matter. I am only carrying out what the Senate has decided.
– This is the fourth time.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-
Senator, I ask you to keep quiet please. Nobody objects to people using a reasonable amount of notes, but when people use notes to the extent that it practically amounts to reading a speech, I think it is in contravention of what the Senate has decided- not what I have decided, but what the Senate has decided. Under those circumstances I must say that people may use notes but they must not over-use notes to the extent that they are continually looking down towards their desk. My own view is that while people are looking down their speech will not be nearly the same as it would if they were facing their audience. That is my own personal view. However, what I have outlined is the ruling so far as what the Senate has decided, and I stand by it.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask for leave of the Senate to move that Senator Melzer be allowed for her speech the time she would have had except for the debate that has intervened.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-
Leave is not granted. Senator Melzer will you resume the debate please.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, I can assure you that there is no way I would ever read my speech in the Senate, because in my kindergarten days in the Senate I remember observing a scene when a senator was making the most fluent speech. He was pulled up by the Chair and it was suggested that he was reading his speech, a speech that he had made during a previous session and that he was reading it from Hansard. He said it was a good speech he had made at the time and he could not see any reason he should not repeat it. The occupant of the Chair at the time ruled that the senator was merely using copious notes. I must say, Sir, that now you have me in the position -
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-
Senator Melzer, you are really debating what is equivalent to a point of order -
– No. I am commenting.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTOrder! Senator Melzer, will you please resume you seat for a minute. In view of the statement that Senator Melzer has made, I want to make it quite clear that the person to whom she is referring is myself. I will clarify the situation. I will not have any misinterpretations. I was quoting from a speech relating to a constitutional matter. Those quotations were fairly extensive because they related to debates on the Australian Constitution in the latter part of the last century and the early part of this century. That was an entirely different matter. They were quotes from a speech relevant to what was being said. Senator Melzer, will you resume your speech please. I do not hide behind this thing.
- Sir, you now have me in a state where I am not sure whether my eyes should be on the ceiling or on my desk.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTOrder! Please do not cast any reflection on the Chair. Will you proceed with your speech.
-I will. I wish to quote from a survey that was conducted in 1974 by the Department of Housing and Construction. Its report was presented to this Government in 1 976 although the survey was conducted in 1974. The survey showed that 100,000 elderly people were living in sub-standard houses and that 24,000 of the houses were unfit for human habitation and beyond repair. So far as I can see these people are not helped in any way by this Bill that deals with nursing homes and the amount of subsidy that should be paid to nursing homes. This is what concerns me. Nursing homes deal with only a small proportion of the elderly people in this community and there are a large number of them outside nursing homes whom this Bill does not help and will not help.
– Finish that story.
– No. I have lost my taste for stories. Increasingly I find that this benefit will not help people such as district nurses in Melbourne. In the western suburbs of Melbourne there are practically no nursing homes. So despite this Bill, which provides a subsidy for nursing homes, the nursing homes are in one area of Melbourne and there are vast areas where there are people desperately in need of such help but who will not be helped at all because nursing homes do not exist there. The district nurses in those areas will not be helped. In the western suburbs of Melbourne there are something like 250,000 people. There are something like 21 district nurses in those areas. They have to make at least 52,000 visits a year. The majority of those visits are to elderly people. These women visit people at the rate of six a day each for every day of their working lives. The legislation that is being brought down now will not help those people and, so far as I can ascertain, no other legislation will help the people caught in those sorts of areas.
There is precious little money in this Budget for day hospitals. This is the sort of area that might very well be assisted by this Government. People who cannot afford to go into nursing homes, people who cannot find nursing homes to go into and people who find nursing homes with waiting lists of those who can go into them, at least could be helped by day hospitals; but there are no day hospitals in these areas either. This new era, to quote the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), will not help the relatives of aged people. The relatives themselves are likely to finish up as candidates for nursing homes because of the pressure that is put on them while they look after their elderly relatives. They get no break, no holiday and no assistance because there are no places for their relatives to go into. I object to this piecemeal look at the care of the aged. This legislation is likely to help the proprietors of nursing homes, who, so far as I can see, make a very handsome profit from the nursing homes that they run; but it will not help the people who need nursing home care. It will not help the people who themselves do not have the ability, or who do not have relatives who have the ability, to get them into nursing homes, lt will not help the people who do not have the money to enable them to get into nursing homes.
The Minister has said that it is a new era and that nursing homes are being taken into the area of private health insurance. One wonders why elderly people should be pressured into taking out private health insurance when the sort of return and the son of help they are going to get from the Federal Government will be no different, whether they are in Medibank Standard or in private health funds. The sort of return that the nursing homes will get from the Government will be the same, whether the patients are in private health funds or in Medibank Standard. That is what one presumes. I would not like to think that this was the first step by the Government in providing a two-tier system of assistance for people in private nursing homes. If it means that the people who take out private health insurance are to get a different standard of care’ in nursing homes from the people who are merely levy payers or are merely in Medibank Standard, I should think that it is the first step by the Government in providing a very bad system of assistance for people who have to go into nursing homes.
Much comment has been made in the last few days about certain nursing homes in Queensland. People in Victoria tell me that there are nursing homes there that are very little different. One hears horrific stories of people in nursing homes going into beds that are barely cold after the last occupants of them have died and the nursing home proprietor has rung around the local doctors to find somebody who needs a bed. One hears horrific stories of sheets in nursing homes being torn up for dressings. One hears devastating stories about patients being strapped into chairs and beds because there is nobody to care for them. One hears stories from people who work in nursing homes of food bills that would not exceed $5 a head for patients in those nursing homes.
This legislation is run of the mill legislation. It does very little to help the people who really need nursing home assistance. It does very little for elderly people who do not need nursing home assistance because, as has been pointed out in survey after survey, it is a matter not of how many beds one provides for elderly people but of what sort of services one provides for them from intensive medical care down to granny-minding services. That is the sort of care that is needed. Elderly people are human beings who exist in the community. They are not vegetables to be put into a nursing home to become merely a book entry as far as this community or this Government is concerned. In concluding this rather extraordinary speech that I have made this evening, I suggest to the Government that while it is looking at the problems of nursing homes and who pays the bills it also look as the older problems that concern elderly people and look not just at the matter of providing more beds for elderly people but also at providing a range of care that extends from, as I said, granny-minding to full time medical care for people who have done a great deal for our community and who are real human beings in our community.
– in reply- The Government thanks the Opposition for the way in which it has received the two Bills that we are debating tonight. We thank the Opposition for not opposing the proposals of the Government to give assistance, particularly in the matter of nursing homes. The legislation has been introduced to give benefit to nursing home patients. It may have been implied by Senator Grimes that we were looking after solely the nursing home proprietors and those who have interests in nursing homes. I want to stress that the measures contained in this legislation are designed to give assistance to the patients in the nursing homes. We believe that, given the structure of care of the aged that we have in this country at present, this does give a measure of assistance and relief that we can claim is a new era.
I was interested to hear from Senator Grimes and Senator Melzer their ideas with regard to the care of the aged in the Australian community. I share with them the concern that they expressed with regard to the adequacy of the care and the diversity of care to deal with the different needs of people who are becoming aged and more frail. Senator Melzer talked about the position in her State of Victoria. It could be pointed out that there has been greater development in that State of the day hospital services than in any other State. The development of other services, such as domiciliary services and day care services, has enabled that State to deal with its aged population with fewer nursing home beds than there are in some other places in this country. But I believe we all would agree that there is still a need for extension and development of these services. If we look at our demographic figures we see that we are an aging community. Senator Grimes gave a timely warning when he said that the present services could break down under their own weight and that we will need to look at alternative ways of dealing with the needs of our frail and aged communities in the future.
I wish to refer to one or two issues that were raised by Senator Grimes and to give him information that he may require. Senator Grimes raised a question with regard to the reinsurance pool. I assure him that the Government will not be increasing its contribution to the reinsurance pool. This contribution will remain at $50m a year. The Government therefore is not increasing its subsidisation of private health insurance. Senator Grimes should be aware that reinsurance is merely a means of equalising the liabilities for chronic or long term health institutional care. We believe that the reinsurance pool is supporting a fair system. Health insurers, including Medibank Private, must be encouraged to accept those heavy liabilities and an equitable sharing of this burden. It is a feature of this Government’s health insurance arrangements that this should be so. The support that they will be given by the Government to the reinsurance pool will remain at $50m a year.
Senator Grimes raised a query with regard to the periodic review of the benefits that may be given and suggested that there was no provision in the legislation requiring the Government to upgrade these benefits on an annual basis. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) is aware of the need constantly to review the level of benefit and support that is given, but it was felt necessary to have flexibility in this regard and to be able to move the benefits in accordance with rising costs and other factors. The flexibility can occur with the commitment by the Government to review the situation periodically. The Government believes that the maintenance of the level of benefit that it now has been able to achieve for about 75 per cent of the patients is something that it will be able to achieve. The Minister for Health has given an undertaking that, if it is feasible to amend the legislation at some future time to build in the clear intention of the Government to update benefits, this will be done; but I think it would be accepted that sometimes it is difficult to have in legislative terms the requirement of flexibility and the need to be able to set a formula that meets the needs as they arise. If we were to write into legislation a formula that could not be varied without an amendment to the legislation, we might find that we were limiting our opportunity to give the benefits that we would see as essential in order to maintain the level of support that we are now giving.
The other Bill with which we are dealing is the one with regard to the pathology laboratories. Although, as Senator Grimes said, this Bill is not as important as the other Bill, we believe that it is also an important amending Bill. I assure the Senate that the Government is not intending to close down the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. The Bailey Task Force report recommended that the operation of the laboratories be transferred to the States. This report is still under consideration by the Government. However, certainly no consideration is being given to closing down the laboratories. I hope that it is agreed that the Bill we are now discussing is one that is important taking into account the service which has been given by the laboratories. We thank the Opposition for supporting that Bill. If we move to the Committee stage of the Bills and pass these two amendments to our legislation we will give the benefits that the Government hopes will be of assistance.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time.
Bills agreed to.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator DrakeBrockman) The question is:
That the Bills be reported.
– I have a question I would like to ask the Minister for Social Security under clause 21 of the National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1977 which concerns the conditions of registration. Who is to be responsible for carrying out the registration of the nursing homes in the various States? Does it come under the jurisdiction of the States or the Commonwealth?
- Senator McLaren, I think we have passed the stage where you can ask questions. You should have risen when I put the question that the Bills stand as printed.
– That is when he rose.
– No, he did not, Senator. If Senator McLaren seeks leave from the Senate and the Senate grants leave I am willing to let him ask questions.
– I seek leave.
– I rise on a point of order. I think the matter goes further than that. Because of the procedure it is possible that we rush through these things. An honourable senator wanted to ask a question. Through an oversight he has, as you say, Mr Chairman, left it too late. I think we have sufficient tolerance, despite the fact that Senator McLaren did not notice you put the question that the Bills stand as printed, to allow Senator McLaren the right to proceed. If the honourable senator is given leave of the
Senate he may raise questions that other honourable senators wish to take up. I think they should have that opportunity.
– I did not rush the procedure of the Bill. I have proceeded through the stages. I looked to the Leader of the Opposition who is leading on these Bills. No one rose when I put the question that the Bills stand as printed. I have given the honourable senator the opportunity of seeking leave. Should he desire to do that he may do so.
-Mr Chairman, I seek leave to ask several questions.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-I thank the Senate. I ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) who is responsible for the registration of nursing homes in the States. Has the Commonwealth any power to refuse registration if it so happens that a person who is conducting a nursing home in any State does not comply with the standards laid down by the various States? I refer particularly to fire safety in nursing homes. I have a couple of questions to ask on a further clause of the Bill.
– Clause 2 1 referred to by Senator McLaren refers to registration of health insurance funds, and not to registration of nursing homes. However, I take his further question as a more general one which is not related to that clause. I advise him that approval of nursing homes is a joint exercise between the States and the Commonwealth Government. We have joint committees for this purpose. The States cover the physical aspects relating to registration and the Commonwealth covers the numbers and the welfare of patients who are able to be admitted. The broad answer to the honourable senator’s question is that it is a joint relationship between the States and the Commonwealth, with the States setting requirements on standards and things of that kind.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a third time.
– I point out that the National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1977 does not allow for the fact that fewer nursing home beds are required in many States because of the devotion of relatives who look after aged people in their own homes. I point out that this is especially so in the western suburbs of Melbourne where few nursing homes are available and where, so far as I can see, the Government has no power to initiate more nursing homes being made available in the area. Because of there being so few of these privately funded nursing homes- there are no government funded nursing homes in the area- many people are forced, when they are no longer able to look after their aged relatives at home, to go to the one public hospital in the western suburbs of Melbourne and throw themselves on the mercy of the social workers. The social workers are forced to take people into beds that are needed for acute medical cases. When the people have been built up in strength they are returned home, and the whole horrible cycle starts all over again. If that cycle does not start again in many cases the people are sent to mental asylums, which is no way for anybody to finish his life so far as I am concerned.
The Government has to stop this piecemeal approach to the care of the aged and has to look at the problem as an all round problem of human beings and not of puppets. It has to take into account the fact that it does not just have to provide for more beds for elderly people; it has to provide a whole range of care for them. It has to make sure that nursing homes are provided in the areas where they are needed and not just provided by private enterprise because they are a profitable undertaking. That is what happens at the moment. Nursing homes are a very profitable enterprise for a lot of people. They spring up in areas where they will be profitable. In areas where nursing homes are needed the elderly are neglected.
If more money was made available for more district nurses in some areas the nurses could spend more time with elderly people. More people could be kept in their homes. The nurses could keep more people healthy. They could keep more people human. More day care centres would alleviate the burden that is at the moment placed on nursing homes. One has to admit, having visited some of these nursing homes, that beds are taken up by people who do not need nursing home care. Beds are taken up by people who need physiotherpy and occupational therapy, people who need sheer social human contact to keep them alive, to keep them bright, to keep them sociable and to break their isolation.
Government money should not be spent on nursing home beds when a quite separate sort of care is needed. This Bill encourages money being spent in the nursing home area. In many cases aged people, I repeat, are looked after by family and by neighbours. There comes a time when those people can no longer provide that sort of care. No system has been brought down by this Government accommodates those sorts of people, assists those sorts of people, and breaks the burden that they carry. Many people do not have the money to provide for private care; so they are forced into terrible situations which we all hear about and which elderly people are caught up in.
In some areas Home Help and Meals on Wheels provide that sort of day to day care. In some areas Home Help and Meals on Wheels are carried out on a voluntary basis. I have sat in this House and have heard honourable senators berate people who do not provide meals on wheels at the weekend. They quite miss the point that the people who provide that sort of service are doing so on a voluntary basis and at the weekends go home to look after their own families. They had no right to demand that people provide this service seven days a week.
I think that where elderly people are left in isolation somebody should demand that this sort of service be provided to them. One constituent in Victoria came to tell me about her elderly father in Norway who is over 80 years of age and who can look after himself in the Norwegian summer but who cannot look after himself in the Norwegian winter. In the winter time he goes into a permanent flat that he keeps where he has a bedroom, a living room and separate toilet facilities. His meals are provided. He has care during the winter when he cannot look after himself but in the summer time when he can look after himself quite well , he goes his own way. It is time that we in Australia were adult enough to provide that sort of care for our elderly people. It is time we remembered that elderly people in this community are human beings and should be looked after as such.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a third time.
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.
- Mr President, I think the Bill ought to be distributed before we agree to the incorporation of the second reading speech. We have had this argument here before about the non-distribution of the Bill before the second reading is moved by the Minister. The Opposition has no objection to the second reading speech being incorporated in Hansard ‘but I think we might just watch that little point in future and make sure that the Bill is distributed before the second reading speech is incorporated. I repeat that the Opposition has no objection to the speech being incorporated.
– The Bill is being distributed now, Senator Keeffe. I am sorry you have not got your copy as yet. There being no objection, the speech will be incorporated.
The speech read as follows-
The purpose of this Bill is to appropriate $30.3 lm for expenditure under the terms of the joint Commonwealth/State Urban Public Transport Agreement. Of this amount $5.0m is allocated for new projects and $25.3 lm provided to meet cost increases on approved projects. Included in the Budget allocation for urban public transport is $20.69m available from existing appropriations of which $ 18.27m is for the continuation of approved urban public transport improvement projects and $2.42m is the carryover from the $20.0m allocated last year to meet cost increases. The Bill therefore, brings the total Commonwealth Budget allocation in 1977-78 to $5 1.0m.
Whilst the Government has been forced to reduce its allocation this year, our overall commitment has been substantial if we consider the full five years of the program. In the first three years of the program - 1 973-74 to 1975-76-some $79m was paid to the States while in the first two Budgets of the present Government- 1976-77 and 1977-78- an amount of $58.4m was spent last year and $5 lm is budgeted for expenditure this year, making a total of $109.4m, an increase in two years of some 40 per cent over that provided in the preceding three years. Following is Table 1 which sets out advances made to the States to 30 June 1977.
Honourable senators will recall that in the second reading speech introducing the Appropriation (Urban Public Transport) Act 1976 I referred to program revisions my colleague, the Minister for Transport, had approved to that stage. The Minister has continued to work with the States to approve the revision of programs and the re-allocation of available funds to projects with the highest priority. This approach of course greatly assists the States in meeting their more urgent needs. For the information of honourable senators Table 2 provides further details of the approved program revisions.
It is also significant that our provision for new projects this year is the first allocation for new works under the Urban Public Transport Agreement since the 1 974 Budget. Although $5.0m is a relatively minor amount I believe that its allocation is a clear indication of the commitment this Government has to ensure urban public transport services are upgraded. However, the apportionment of the $5m for new projects was not an easy task. Consequently, the Minister for Transport sought from his State colleagues their views on possible allocations. In all cases an overwhelming priority was given to the acquisition of rolling stock. The Minister is in agreement with this ranking and he therefore decided to allocate all funds towards rolling stock commitments.
In determining each State’s allocation the Minister for Transport has taken into account the relative availability of funds from current appropriations and existing State commitments. In particular he took cognizance of the opportunity which New South Wales has to reallocate its available funds. Allocations were as follows: $0.60m to New South Wales for double deck suburban rail cars; $ 1.00m to Victoria for suburban trains; $ 1.00m to Victoria for trams; $0.06m to Queensland towards electric rail cars; S0.94m to Queensland for buses; $ 1.00m to South Australia for buses; $0.30m to Western Australia for buses; and $0.10m to Tasmania for buses.
Table 3 provides details of the allocation to the States of the funds for approved projects other than the $27.73m for cost increases for 1977-78.
The remaining $27. 73m of this year’s allocation of $5 lm is to meet cost increases. As honourable senators will appreciate, these funds are not payable in relation to particular projects until cost increases are justified in accordance with clause 16 (3) of the Agreement. Consequently it is not possible at this stage to advise Parliament of the ultimate allocation of these funds.
Whilst many projects are yet to be finished, we are already seeing the benefits from those that have been completed. In a number of cities, for example, it is now not unusual to see people allow older rolling stock to pass so that they can catch the new bus, train or tram that is following. This is a clear indication of the value the community attaches to the improvements in comfort and ride provided by the rolling stock funded under the Urban Public Transport Agreement.
Substantial increases in ridership have occurred since the Christie Downs Railway was opened. Patronage at the Christie Downs Station is already exceeding 1975 predictions by almost 30 per cent. Particularly pleasing is the fact that over 50 per cent of users previously travelled to central Adelaide by car. The success of this project is a clear indication that well planned public transport improvements can increase patronage particularly by attracting previous car users. Similar results have also been achieved by the interchanges constructed in Brisbane and Perth. At Petrie and Enoggera railway stations, for example, since completion of the interchange facilities increased ticket sales of almost 70 per cent and over 50 per cent respectively have been experienced. At Innaloo about one third of all park-and-ride patrons previously did not use public transport. The success of this interchange is demonstrated by the recent agreement between the Commonwealth and Western Australian Ministers for Transport that a second car park will be constructed.
Honourable senators will appreciate that allocations under this program are not the only contribution made by the Commonwealth to transport services in urban areas. We make substantial investments in the provision of transport infrastructure in urban areas such as access to airport and port facilities, as well as the substantial funds which are provided towards the urban roads programs. Overall the Commonwealth Government’s financial commitment to urban transport and the problems of the cities is clear and significant. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion Senator Keeffe) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 15 September on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1977 is intended to extend the provisions of the Lands Acquisition Act 1955 to the Territories of the Commonwealth to enable the Commonwealth Government to acquire land in Australia’s external territories for public purposes on the same terms and conditions as those applying to land within Australia itself. In short, the Bill seeks to give the Commonwealth Government the power to acquire land for Commonwealth Government purposes, particularly in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, which are an external territory of Australia. During the course of his second reading speech, the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) referred to the acquisition of land for the purpose of constructing an animal quarantine station in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
If I may say so, this was precisely the purpose of an ordinance that was introduced by the Labor Government when we were in office in 1975. In September 1975 I, as the then Special Minister of State in the Whitlam Labor Government, introduced into the Senate the Land Acquisition Ordinance: Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. On 10 September 1975, a little over two years ago, I, as the Special Minister of State in the Labor Government, made a statement in the Senate outlining the Labor Government’s reasons for enacting the Ordinance at that time and the Labor Government’s policy in respect of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It was decided to introduce the Lands Acquisition Ordinance at that time only because the then Opposition was frustrating the then Government’s legislative program. We could not get legislation through the Parliament. It was being jammed up -
– That is nonsense.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator Jessop might like to talk, but I know something about it as I was the Manager of Government Business at the time.
-I happen to know something about the Cocos (Keeling) Islands because I was on the Public Works Committee.
– I am talking about the legislation.
– Well, do not mislead the public of Australia.
– I am talking about the legislation of Australia; I am not talking about the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. I am saying that the legislation was introduced by way of ordinance at that time because the then Opposition was frustrating the Government in its legislative program. It was decided that we should act as a matter of urgency to get something done to clarify the situation in respect of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
In my speech to the Senate in September 1975 I explained that the Australian Government first became interested in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 1951 when the then Government discussed with the British Government its interest in acquiring control of the airstrip on West Island in order to serve the South African-Australian air link as a refuelling point. The Australian and British governments agreed that the islands, which were then part of the colony of Singapore, should become an external territory of the Australian Government. The then Government, the Menzies Government of 1 955, enacted the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act to legalise the transfer of sovereignty so far as Australia’s legal system was concerned. That legislation made the islands part of Australian Territory. They were therefore subject to Australian laws and rights, including what I regard as the right to freedom of movement, to freedom of speech, to self-determination, to compulsory education, to official legal tender and to comparable conditions of employment including wages and certain standards of health, hygiene and housing. Until 1972, when the Labor Government came into office the situation in the islands had remained completely unchanged since the original John Clunies Ross acquired a freehold title to the island in 1857. Many thinking Australians have referred to the situation on Cocos as being directly related to feudalism, and that is what the Labor Government found the unfortunate plight of the Cocos Malay population of the islands to be when it came into office in 1 972.
The United Nations Committee of TwentyFour, commonly referred to as the Decolonisation Committee, sent a mission to Cocos in August 1974 at the invitation of the Labor Government. It presented its report to the United Nations in November of that year. The mission which represented the Committee of TwentyFour recommended that steps be taken as soon as possible to disengage the links between the Cocos community and the Clunies Ross estate, and to permit the community to establish its own identity and interests separate from those of the Clunies Ross estate. I stress the words ‘as soon as possible’ to illustrate that our intentions as a government at that time were in accord with the intentions of the United Nations Committee. We also wished to change as soon as possible the shocking state of affairs that existed on the Cocos Islands. We presumed that because the situation was so contrary to the Australian system, the
Australian people and the Australian Parliament would agree with the Labor Government that it should not be allowed to continue any longer. Of course, all members of the Cocos community who have been born on the island since Australia assumed sovereignty in 1955 are Australian citizens. That we in Australia should tolerate the sort of feudal system that has been operating for so long on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to the distinct disadvantage of Australian citizens strikes me as a terrible indictment of Australia.
For those reasons, and I suggest with the approbation of the Committee of Twenty-Four, the Labor Government sought to rectify the situation by seeking to make some principal changes. Those changes were enunciated by the Australian Government representative on the Committee of Twenty-Four in November 1974, and I referred to them in the Parliament on 10 September 1975. I mentioned that the Labor Government was seeking ownership of a suitably agreed area of land on Home Island to be vested in the Home Island community as a corporate entity. This would help to establish the community’s own identity, separate from that of the Clunies Ross estate. I also mentioned that a local government type authority with legal and formal status was to be established to manage and control the affairs of the community. The authority would comprise members elected for a specific period and would have powers which reflected the wishes of the community. I mentioned that all future Australian Government contracts involving the Clunies Ross estate would provide for direct payment of appropriate sums in Australian currency to the Cocos community. A separate Cocos community fund would be established for that purpose, to be administered by and for the sole benefit of the Cocos Malay community. I mentioned that the use of token money would be discontinued eventually and replaced by Australian currency, taking into account the complexities involved. I mentioned that provision would be made to issue local ordinances and to establish better facilities for the administration of justice, that health and education services would be extended, and that rates of pay and employment conditions on Cocos would be aligned progressively with Australian practice and International Labour Organisation conventions. I mentioned that provisions would be introduced to permit freedom of movement for members of the Cocos community and also that provision for granting Australian citizenship to Cocos Islanders born there before 1955 and who did not apply for citizenship in the prescribed time would be reviewed with a view to making it easier for the citizens of Cocos to take out such citizenship if they wished to do so.
As I have indicated, those matters of Labor Government policy were announced by me, as the then Special Minister of State in the Labor Government, on 10 September 1975. I refer to those matters only because of a statement made by the Minister for Administrative Services in a Press release and not in this Parliament in June 1977, nearly two years after my statement of September 1975. The Press release stated: the broad details of Australia ‘s Cocos policy were: a representative form of local government for the Cocos community to be established with the ultimate aim being creation of a fully elected body;
That was virtually one of the points that I had made in September 1975.
– You ought to be pleased about that.
– I am pleased. I am sorry it has taken so long. I am delighted that the Government has at last reached this conclusion, after nearly two years of shillyshallying. Let me refer to the other points: arrangements to be made allowing a transfer to the Cocos community of the village area of Home Island;
That is directly in line with the Labor Government’s statement of September 1975. the replacement of token money by Australian currency;
Again, that statement, made by the Minister in June 1977, was directly in line with the Labor Government’s policy of September 1975. establishment of a new form of fund to assist the financing of community activities;
Again, the same as the Labor statement of September 1975. there should be freedom of movement and communication within the Territory;
Again, the same as the Labor statement of September 1975. the improvement of education and health facilities and general upgrading of living standards;
Again, the same as the Labor statement of September 1975. the framing and implementation of laws which could be clearly applied and enforced, taking into account local institutions and customs;
Again, basically the same as the Labor statement of September 1975 the progressive introduction of a wages economy appropriate to Cocos conditions;
Again, basically the same as the Labor statement of September 1975. appropriate means by which Australian citizenship can be provided to residents of the Territory who wish to take up Australian citizenship;
Again, basically the same as the Labor statement of September 1975. the provision of financial assistance to Cocos Malays who wish to migrate from Cocos to Australia; .and I the ownership by the Commonwealth of all land on which its facilities are located.
If I might say so, the purpose of the ordinance that we introduced in September 1975 was to deal with the last matter set out in the Minister’s Press statement of June 1977. So at long last, after shilly-shallying and delay on the part of the Government, the facts of life as they relate to Cocos have caught up with the present Government. Might I say that the present Government’s attitude and the Press statement of the Minister for Administrative Services were formulated only after the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had gone to the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in June and made a statement concerning apartheid in South Africa.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator Jessop says ‘Oh! ‘ The simple fact of the matter is that the statement in relation to Cocos made by the Minister for Administrative Services in June 1977 was made only after the Prime Minister had made a statement condemning apartheid in South Africa at the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London in early June 1977.
For all those reasons, and because of those circumstances, I suggest that at last the world has caught up with the appalling conditions that have existed for so long for the Cocos Malay people of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Government, by its opposition to the Lands Acquisition Ordinance that the Labor Government introduced, turned the calendar back two years in relation to the administration of Cocos. It is very interesting to note the rates of pay that exist on the Cocos Islands. If one reads the December 1976 report of the Administrator of the Cocos Islands, one sees on page 14 under the heading Wages’:
Wages paid by the Estate to the Islanders-
That is, the Clunies Ross Estate- . . are low by Australian mainland standards. Together with the free services provided by the Estate and some limited additional amounts made through trading, the Islanders appear to have sufficient for the basic necessities of life. A number possess radios, tape recorders and sewing machines, but few other consumer goods are in evidence.
The report illustrates some current Estate wage levels paid in tokens. There are four headmen.
Each receives 17.50 rupiah a week. A rupiah is equivalent to 40c Australian. There are three junior headmen. Each is paid 12 rupiah a week which is SA4.80 a week. Estate workers are paid 9 rupiah per week -
– How much do they pay for electricity and rent? Nothing!
– If they are aged 25 years and over they receive 9 rupiah a week or SA3.60. Does the honourable senator condone this sort of system. Now that Senator Jessop has interjected, I ask him whether he condones this sort of system and whether he agrees to these sorts of wages being paid to Australian citizens working on the construction of an Australian Government establishment, namely, the ^ animal quarantine station. I am not going to be sidetracked. Let me put this on the record. Estate workers aged 17 to 24 years receive 6 rupiah a week or SA2.40. Estate workers aged between 14 and 16 years are paid the ‘outstanding’ rate of 3 rupiah a week or $ A 1.20. Female workers 18 years and over are paid 6 rupiah a week or SA2.40 and female workers under 1 8 years are paid 4.50 rupiah a week or $A1.80. The report goes on to state:
Islanders who work on Government contracts entered into by the Estate are paid their normal wage by the Estate.
I have read out the normal wage. The report continues:
The major part of each contract payment is paid by the Government directly to the Estate with a small proportion being paid directly to the Cocos Community Fund.
That frankly is feudalism of the worst type. I am delighted to know that the Government, I hope, is going to take some action against that sort of thing.
On the subject of the abandonment of plastic tokens, when Labor was in office, my colleague the then Federal Treasurer, Mr Hayden, issued a direction to the Clunies-Ross Estate banning the use of plastic tokens on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Nothing was done by this Government to follow up the matter. Indeed as long ago as 19 August 1976-13 months ago- Senator Sim asked in this Parliament the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) whether he was aware of a reported announcement by Mr Clunies-Ross that he intends to introduce his own currency on Cocos Island. Senator Sim asked whether because Cocos Island is a Territory of Australia such action would contravene any Australian laws. The Minister said in reply to Senator Sim on 19 August in this Parliament:
My attention has been drawn to a Press report that Mr Clunies- Ross intends to have some metal coins of certain denominations minted in Hong Kong. I have referred this matter to my colleagues the Treasurer and the Attorney-General for advice as to whether this contravenes the Currency Act and as soon as I receive their advice I shall decide on what action to take.
When Labor was in office we had taken action to issue instructions to the Clunies Ross estate as long ago as September 1975 that the use of currency other than Australian currency in the Territory was to cease. The Minister had this matter drawn to his attention in this Parliament in August 1976 and it is only now that action has been taken by the Australian Government to ensure that plastic tokens are not used on the islands.
When the Government said in a statement in Parliament earlier this year that it intended to proceed with the recommendation of the Public Works Committee of 1973 that a high level animal quarantine station be constructed on the West Island of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands my colleage Mr Lionel Bowen in the other place and I in this place said that the Labor Party would object to that station being constructed if the people who were engaged on its construction were not paid in accordance with Australian wage standards. We in the Labor Party were delighted that at long last the Government has seen fit to enact legislation which will enable the acquisition of land from the Clunies Ross estate for the purposes that are set out in the Minister’s second reading speech. Therefore we of the Labor movement do not oppose the Bill. Indeed, we support it. We regret that it has taken the Government so long to introduce it and we regret the cynical attitude of the Government in its long procrastination in this area. We do not oppose the legislation.
– in reply- I thank Senator Douglas McClelland for his support for this Bill. Without wishing to be controversial at this late hour in the night, there is a really simple reason why land acquisition provisions have been set down in a Bill. The honourable senator made a good deal about the reason the previous Government worked under an ordinance. To put the history right, the honourable senator will recall also that the taking of this action under an ordinance was condemned by the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee which is of the view- a unanimous view; and that Committee comprised members of all parties- that that sort of matter ought to be done by substantive legislation, not by subordinate legislation. For that reason, the Government has taken heed of the attitude of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, which I think is a correct attitude, and has legislated in a substantive manner so that there can be proper parliamentary discussion and debate.
I think that is all that is required to be said about the Bill as a Bill. As to the other matters raised by the honourble senator, they could be matters of disputation. I remind the honourable senator of a couple of points. It is all very well having great policies and rushing around announcing them. It is an other matter to have the capacity to put them into operation. I well recall the problems of the Christmas Island resettlement when for three years our predecessors talked about it and did nothing, but in 10 months I implemented it.
– They blazed the trail, senator.
-When I took over nothing had been done. I had to go to New Zealand. I fixed it in two days with the New Zealanders, I came back here, legislated for it and got the matter into operation. That had been talked about for three years but nothing was done. We on this side of the House tend to talk less and do more. I think that is really the hallmark of a good, competent and efficient government. It is far better to take a little time over these matters. There is an old Army saying that time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted. I would prefer to take a little longer to do something and do it well than to talk a lot and do nothing. Again, I thank the Opposition and my colleagues for their support of this legislation.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Senate adjourned at 10.41 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 30 May 1977:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
As the Minister for National Resources has replied to an identical question, the honourable senator is referred to the answer to question No. 449, Hansard, page 747, 13 September 1977. The pilot study of energy research activities previously completed by CSIRO has provided the basis for a detailed survey that CSIRO is now undertaking in collaboration with the Department of National Resources.
asked the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in the Arts, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
– The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in the Arts has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
A survey is conducted each year. All eligible books are in the sample for the first year for which payment is claimed, and thereafter every third year. In the 1975-76 program all 10,000 eligible books were sampled during April 1976. In the 1976-77 program, 6,000 eligible books were sampled during April 1977. Authors and publishers of books eligible in 1975-76 that were not resampled in April 1977, were paid on the basis of the April 1976 sample. Half of the books involved will be resampled in 1978 and the remainder in 1979.
In April 1977, 74 of the total 235 library catalogues (or systems) were sampled. The catalogues (or systems) vary in size from a book population of 3,000 to one of more than 1 million volumes. These 74 catalogues or systems hold a book stock in excess of 8.5 million. They represent 65 per cent of the total book stock of eligible public lending libraries.
The system of determining entitlement of books by sampling etc. is extremely complex but it has been worked out after discussion with representatives from author, publisher and library organisations. The committee administering the PLR scheme includes representatives of authors, publishers and librarians. The scheme combines co-operation between the Commonwealth, State and local government bodies. The costs of administration are low but it is considered that the scheme provides a fair basis for making payment to Australian authors and publishers for the use of their books in public lending libraries.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 23 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
South Australia- Salisbury, Port Augusta and Kadina.
Northern Territory-Casuarina and Katherine.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 24 August 1977:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Income Tax: Indexation
-On 23 August 1977 as recorded in Hansard at page 412, Senator Gietzelt asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, a question without notice concerning the reform of the personal income tax system announced by the Treasurer in his Budget Speech. The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It is possible, on some assumptions about the indexation factor, to construct examples that show that some taxpayers might pay a little more in tax in 1978-79, than they would have under the present rate scale fully indexed. These calculations are, of course only based on assumptions at this time. Such calculations are therefore purely hypothetical and overlook the fact that income tax paid in 1978-79 will be subject to any decisions on personal income tax taken in the 1978-79 Budget.
The Government will ensure that in 1978-79 all taxpayers will be better off than they would have been under the present system with full indexation.
Consumer Price Index: Effect of Oil Price Increases
-On 24 August 1977, as recorded in Hansard at page 445, Senator Georges asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, a question without notice concerning effects of oil price increases on the consumer price index. The Treasurer has provided the following information for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I refer the honourable senator to the reply to question No. 1242.
Northern Territory: Over-fishing of Barramundi
– On 24 August, as recorded in Hansard at page 452, Senator Robertson asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory, the following question without notice:
In answer to a question earlier this year, the Minister indicated that a large scale research program into the problem of over-fishing of barramundi would be undertaken. Can the Minister indicate whether the program due to commence mid- 1977 has been mounted and whether the Fisheries Section has been provided with sufficient boats to enable surveillance against poachers to be carried out?
The Minister for the Northern Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The joint CSIRO/Queensland/Northern Territory research program into barramundi biology is programmed to commence in this financial year with an allocation of $90,000 by the Fishing Industry Research Trust Account under the auspices of the Australian Fisheries Council. Recruitment of several research staff by CSIRO is underway and arrangements are in hand for the commencement of the research program. However, the program is not directed specifically to the problem of over-fishing, see my reply to question No. 1226, Senate Hansard page 2986 of 9 December 1976. The basic objective of the research program is to increase biological knowledge of the barramundi in north Australian waters and enable management decisions to be taken for the proper use of this important fisheries resource and prevent over-fishing and damage to the resource base.
The Fisheries Section of the Department of the Northern Territory is carrying out extensive surveillance activities, both within the commercial fishing industry and to prevent illegal poaching operations. This surveillance effort is undertaken by inspectors using land-based vehicles, small boats and large sea-going patrol boats. The Fisheries Section is taking delivery next month of a new 7.5 metre boat and an additional larger patrol boat is on this year’s acquisition program.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 September 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19770921_senate_30_s74/>.