30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– A petition has been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate of the Commonwealth in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That where whole or part of a deceased estate passes to the surviving spouse it should be free from Federal estate duty.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Lajovic.
Notice of Motion
Senator RYAN (Australian Capital Territory) I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That leave be given to bring up a Bill for an Act to repeal the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act 1977.
-The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs will be aware that legislation to introduce a system of double taxation has been before the House of Representatives since the beginning of June. I ask the Minister: Does the Government propose introducing the system of double taxation during this session of Parliament or will it continue to hide the Bill- that is, bury it in the Notice Paper- to avoid bringing to the notice of the electors the fact that the system of double taxation will be in operation next year?
– There is no legislation to bring about double taxation. Perhaps Senator Wriedt is referring to a proposal which will allow the States to reduce taxation. That is a subject which has been discussed by the Premiers and the Commonwealth and the legislation for its implementation lies on the table. I do not know the timetable for the proposal. Since Senator
Wriedt keeps referring to double taxation, I point out that the only time we will know whether there is to be a return to double taxation in this country- God forbid- will be when we hear the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party. We will have then an indication of whether the Labor Party means to revert to uniform taxation. The people of Australia have a lively memory of the only Government which ever brought about double taxation, and that was the Whitlam Government. It increased its take of personal income tax from $4,000m to $ 10,000m. It doubled sales tax, customs tax and excise tax, and forced all the States to increase taxes. So if there is to be any kind of statement on the impact of double taxation in Australia, it must come from the Labor Party. On behalf of the Fraser Government I remind the people of Australia that on the Federal level the Fraser Government has substantially reduced taxation during its two years of office. All States under the new federalism policy have balanced their budgets and cut taxes. So, in fact, we are governmentsState and federally- of reduced taxation.
– I ask a supplementary question. Perhaps I might re-phrase my question and make it more specific as I am sure that all Australians are more interested in the future than they are in the past. I ask the Minister: Is the Bill which is on the House of Representatives Notice Paper one which would permit the States, by their own decision, of course, in collaboration with the Commonwealth, to introduce a State income tax? Surely we can get a yes or no answer to that question.
-I am delighted that Senator Wriedt thinks that people are more interested in the future than in the past because that belief inevitably will ensure the return of the Fraser Government. Any recollection of the past, in terms of taxation and its impact, must lead to a rejection of the Whitlam Labor Party.
It is a fact that one of the ingredients of federalism is that any State has the right, should it so desire, to make either a rebate or a surcharge in terms of personal income tax. Before that can happen the State concerned must pass its own legislation so to do. So it is a matter for an individual State to decide whether it wants to avail itself of that opportunity. Senator Wriedt sees something sinister in this idea that a State might have the right to levy taxation. The States levy a wide range of taxes and charges today in an indirect way. The States have the capacity to use a wide range of taxation weaponry. Under the Whitlam Labor Government they were forced to levy new and larger taxes. I repeat: Without any need for further tax legislation, under Labor policies taxation in Australia would rise enormously.
-I address my question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce in his capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister noted the reports in today’s Australian Financial Review that Senator Wriedt has adopted the role of Opposition spokesman on primary industry but does not wish to adopt the representation of the Treasurer in the Senate? Has he seen reports that if the Australian Labor Party wins the election on 10 December it will reduce tariffs, inevitably leading to further unemployment in manufacturing? Does the Minister agree that such major changes to Australia’s industrial structure are long term considerations, in contrast to those proposed by Senator Wriedt, and that the policies outlined in the Government’s White Paper on manufacturing are more appropriate? Finally, is it likely that Senator Wriedt does not seek to represent Treasury in this Senate because he is unsure as to which Treasury spokesmen or set of economic policies he would be representing?
-I can quite understand Senator Wriedt, if he becomes again a Minister of the Crown, not wanting to represent the Treasurer in the Senate. I understand how he feels but he does not have a real problem- he will not become a Minister of the Crown. He will be able to regard that as one of the difficulties he faced in the past. I have asked for more detailed information about what he is supposed to have said at Rockhampton. It seems to me that the honourable senator is facing both ways at the one time. I think that the honourable senator’s attitude can best be analysed when I get details of what he said.
When one looks at the whole operation, in particular at the White Paper on manufacturing, the Government’s policy is quite clear. The Government does not in any way retract from that policy. It said that our basic position was that we would work towards a simplified lower tariff when economic recovery fully returns. It also said that we would help people in various sectors with short term measures, which we have done. The Government also said that it was concerned about the level of unemployment and that is so. However, the honourable senator does not appear to be concerned about it.
-I address my question to the Minister for Education in his capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I ask: Did the Minister for Post and Telecommunications earlier this year renew the television licence of Channel 9 in Adelaide in breach of the ownership and control provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act? Did other television stations or radio stations have their licences renewed at or about the same time and if so, have they also been open to the criticism that the licences were illegally renewed?
– I am not aware that any television licence has been renewed in breach of the provisions of the Act. I suggest that Senator Button provide me with the evidence of such breaches so that I can then go to my colleague in another place and seek the information. If he does so I would be happy to pass it on to the Minister.
– My question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister follows the question asked by Senator Messner a moment ago referring to a newspaper report that Senator Wriedt had committed a future Labor government to abolishing tariff protection and to restructuring manufacturing industry. Has any Australian government in recent times implemented such a program? If so, what were the effects of it upon employment in Australia? If Labor were permitted again to abolish protective tariffs what effect on the employment of Australian workers could be expected?
-I do not pretend to be an expert in these matters but I draw the attention of honourable senators to a paper entitled Report on Possible Ways of Increasing Imports’ dated August 1973. It is Parliamentary Paper No. 152 of 1973, a report by the then Tariff Board to the then Whitlam Labor Government on possible ways of increasing imports. Honourable senators will recall that that report was presented not long before there was a 25 per cent across the board tariff cut. For those who are interested in what was happening at that time, I remind them that even Dr Cairns who was then Minister for Overseas Trade said he thought that some 29,000 people would lose their jobs. The Labor Party did not seem to care then that people would be thrown out of employment provided that its ideology came into being.
According to the statistics I have, between May 1974 and May 1975 some 107,000 people lost their jobs in manufacturing industry. What a great policy to indulge in! I know that people can have theoretical ideas about cutting tariffs and reallocating resources, but nobody seemed to be terribly worried then about what would happen. On page 12 of the report the Tariff Board said:
There could also be some significance for the problem of female labour for which the present market situation is different to that for males.
What a lovely humane statement to make about people who were about to lose their employment! The policy is fraught with the dangers created by not worrying about people but worrying about economic problems. On page 16 of the report there is a magnificent comment which, as 1 understand it, was made by the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, in an address to the Metal Trades Industry Association. Mr Whitlam is quoted as saying:
It cannot be repeated too often that at a time of full employment and labour shortages, as will be the case soon, no serious threat to jobs is involved in prodding industry into greater resilience and adaptability to change by exposing it to a more competitive climate. It becomes for Government much more a social problem than an employment problem.
One can hardly say that at present there is full employment and labour shortages. The Opposition thought in those days that full employment and possible labour shortages was a good way to prod industry into competition but now it enunciates the same policy when the reverse situation applies. The facts speak for themselves. The policy was tried in the period of government of the Labor Party when, I repeat, the number of persons employed in manufacturing industry in that one year between May 1974 and May 1975 decreased by 107,000. I think that answers the honourable senator’s question.
-I direct a question to Senator Withers, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, or to Senator Cotton, the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I am indifferent as to which Minister answers the question. I might add that I would have expected the comments I made at the weekend concerning tariff reform to be distorted in the manner in which they were. One would assume, after listening to Senator Withers, that the appointment of Sir John Crawford by this Government to investigate the operations of the Industries Assistance Commission must have been in Senator Withers’ view, a mistake. Is it not a fact that this Government regards
Sir John as a competent and important adviser? I ask whether it is not a fact that Sir John Crawford had this to say in delivering the Stan Kelly Memorial Lecture on 6 September:
Future industrial growth is likely to be hampered if costs of high protection are not contained. All the external and internal pressures point this way.
I ask Senator Withers or Senator Cotton to indicate where anything I said is in conflict with what Sir John Crawford said.
-In order to obtain a fair measure of what Sir John Crawford said, honourable senators should read the whole of the address entitled ‘The Stan Kelly Memorial Lecture’, which Senator Wriedt may or may not have read. I think honourable senators also must accept the fact that what we are doing in the Crawford study is totally consistent with what we stated in the White Paper on Manufacturing Industry. Senator Wriedt appears to have lost sight of what was adverted to by Senator Withers and by Senator Baume in respect of the short term problems in manufacturing created by his Government. Those problems clearly and identifiably can be proved. I will read out to honourable senators what the Crawford study is designed to do. It is designed to look at this area objectively. We hear from all kinds of people this wonderful phrase ‘structural adjustment’. Nobody quite knows what he is talking about when he uses this phrase. It is a sort of sympathetic way of approaching a problem in a state of no knowledge. I thought I might read out to honourable senators what the Crawford study is all about. The following people are making the study: Sir Brian Inglis, Mr Bob Hawke, Mr Currie and Sir John Crawford. The terms of reference are:
Undertake a study into the nature and extent of adjustment problems of Australian manufacturing industries, with particular reference to the most highly protected industries arising from changes in the internal and external environments; advise on the essential elements in a long term policy to deal with these problems having regard to the implications of the likely patterns of industries growth and employment prospects, and the capacity of the economy to sustain changes in the industrial structure.
None of that is in any way different to what the Government stated long ago in the White Paper. I find it difficult to establish why Senator Wriedt has decided to take upon himself the Fraser Government’s policy for manufacturing industry. What Senator Wriedt has not answered is what he would do about the people in manufacturing industry who are unemployed- a position quite clearly created by his Government, on the identifiable information, with the 25 per cent tariff cut. This is the position quite clearly, quite precisely and quite identifiably. We will be delighted to prove it later on as the election campaign progresses.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to the definition of ‘consumer transactions’ in section 4b of the Trade Practices Act, under which purchases of goods exceeding $15,000 in price receive no protection unless they are for personal, domestic or household use. I draw attention to the cost of equipment used by primary producers and small businessmen, for example, harvesters, printing plant and pie cookers, all of which fall outside that definition. I ask the Minister whether he would consider amending the definition to include such plant and, indeed, to include all goods in the hands of the ultimate consumer.
-The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs has been giving consideration to the definition of ‘consumer’ in the section of the Trade Practices Act referred to by Senator Lewis. Indeed, I understand that amendments are likely to be introduced. If they have not been introduced already, they certainly will be introduced before the end of the current session of Parliament. I will refer the matters raised by Senator Lewis to the Minister and draw his attention to the question about the definition of ‘consumer’. I am sure that the Minister will take them into urgent consideration.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security: Is it a fact that at only three or four days notice she has called a meeting of the State Ministers for Social Services with herself and others for today and that the meeting is being called without any working papers to be discussed or any real details or agenda? Is this meeting to announce further Federal Government initiatives in the field of social security or child care? Will these announcements have anything to do with the forthcoming general election?
– A meeting of State Ministers who have responsibility in child care and pre-school matters has been called for today. This is a meeting which I agreed to hold following the meeting with State Ministers several months ago. At that meeting of State Ministers I agreed to hold a meeting as soon as we were able to determine the funds which are available for new projects. As I said in the Senate at the end of last week, from the funds which have been provided in this year’s Budget approximately $4m is available for new projects. Many of the projects -in fact, almost 100 of them-have already been discussed with the States and will be discussed again today so that announcements can be made of the 1977-78 program.
All State Ministers have been invited to place matters on the agenda and they have done so. The working papers for the conference are available for all Ministers as they arrive. This is a meeting which has been planned for many months. The construction which has been placed upon it by Senator Grimes shows that he has no understanding of the fact that the State Ministers requested a meeting with me to discuss these matters.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Will the Minister for Social Security confirm whether the Ministers received notice of this meeting at the earliest late last Thursday and, at the latest, last Friday?
-I cannot be precise about the day on which Ministers were advised of the meeting. But, with the impending general election, the meeting needed to be held prior to the rising of the Parliament. As soon as the Office of Child Care had available for me the information which the Ministers wished to discuss, the meeting was arranged. All Ministers are pleased to be able to attend. If Senator Grimes finds any difficulty in accepting that, he has not seen the response in the form of items placed on the agenda by the State Ministers. The matter of child care is one of importance as far as we are concerned. The Budget for this year has now allowed us to give approval to many projects which have been in our hands for quite some time. Consultation with State Ministers and State departments has been undertaken.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Education. It was reported that the Minister recently visited an Education Program for Unemployed Youth course in Melbourne. Will the Minister give the Senate an indication of what progress is being made in this program?
-I presume that the honourable senator is referring to a visit I made, and indeed the Prime Minister made, to Footscray Technical College a week or so ago.
This program at Footscray Technical College is one of some 30 programs throughout Australia under what is called the EPUY- the Education Program for Unemployed Youth. It is a pilot scheme which has been running now for the best part of four or five months.
The scheme aims to take unemployed youth who have been unemployed for four months or more, to check their aptitudes and their defects in basic skills and to put them into courses of durations which vary from, at the shortest, six weeks to some 16 weeks, which I think is the duration of the Footscray course. This is done to overcome a number of the defects of the youths so as to help them to present themselves in a more readily acceptable form in the employment market. It is, therefore, of enormous importance because, first of all, it looks to the most underprivileged of all those who are unemployed- those people who in another time and with less concern might have been called ‘unemployable’- and asks whether these people can be practically helped and can become fully employable.
After four or five months the scheme is now showing significant promise. I think the following factors have come out of it: It is true that young people have almost uniform characteristics of poor motivation and negative attitudes at the beginning of the scheme. They hold themselves in unduly low self-esteem. In other words, they undervalue themselves. The training scheme is designed to restore better attitudes and proper self-esteem, to achieve a better presentation of themselves and to give them more confidence.
One of the most interesting things about the scheme is that uniformly all those who enter itthey do so voluntarily-are enthusiastic about it. For example, on my desk this morning were two letters written quite spontaneously by young people commenting enthusiastically on the scheme that they are participating in. There have been some surveys m the employment market and we are following them up. For example, whereas the average time for the maintenance of a job in the past may have been two or three days, there are now a number of examples of people remaining in employment for two months or more. This is a healthy start.
The scheme focuses one important factor and that is this: If there has been a belief in the past that there is a solid core of unemployables there is evidence that with proper handling and concern virtually nobody is unemployable. That may be an exaggeration but certainly it paints the picture. These people, coming largely from underprivileged and disadvantaged homes although not necessarily low income homes, have not felt that anyone was expressing concern about them before. I believe that this scheme is now opening up an entirely new challenge in the education and training field. I hope that in the future the Government will be able to widen it extensively and do a great deal to remove the concept of unemployability from our minds.
-Has the attention of the Leader of the Government in the Senate been drawn to the fact that a member of the Government parties has been mailing prouranium material known as ‘Uranium- Australia’s Decision’ free of charge to school principals in New South Wales. Have any copies of these kits been issued to Government Sup.porters? If so, how many? Have the publications een printed by the Government at cost to the Australian taxpayer? Are they on sale at government bookshops at $1 a set? Would the Minister be surprised to learn that any number of the brochures contained in the so-called uranium kit are available free of charge at Anchor House, the New South Wales Liberal Party headquarters? Has the Liberal Party purchased these propaganda kits from the Government or have they been acquired by the Liberal Party as surplus stock?
-These kits were not produced only for Government supporters. They were freely available to Labor Party supporters. If the honourable senator will send me the addresses of the Labor Party headquarters I will arrange for bulk supplies to be delivered to them.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the ban placed by trade unions on the shipment of wheat to Indonesia to the detriment of the Australian wheat industry on grounds of principle. Is it a fact that the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ travel agency, New World, actively promotes travel to Indonesia? If so, is this not another example of the selective application of principle by trade unions?
-I imagine that the ACTU travel people would be promoting travel to any destination in which people had an interest. Therefore, it is quite likely that Indonesian promotions would be a part of their general scheme of package travel.
– Would you answer . . .
-Would you mind keeping quiet for a while? It would help me to finish off the answer to the question. If the Labor Party wants to help the primary producers, why do not Senators Cavanagh and Wriedt do something about strikes on the waterfront stopping exports of primary produce?
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs whether she is aware that an instruction has been issued by the Premier of Queensland to the national trachoma team to cease operations in that State unless two Aboriginal members of the team are sacked for alleged political activities. Is the Minister also aware that it is the policy of the trachoma team to employ Aborigines wherever possible and that this policy has proved highly successful in treating many hundreds of Aborigines affected by trachoma and other eye diseases? Will the Minister take immediate action to prevent political interference by the Premier who, incidentally, has a long history of political and racist interference in Aboriginal affairs?
– I will ignore some parts of the question asked by Senator Keeffe but I do have some information with regard to the trachoma program in northern Queensland and am aware of the action taken through the College of Ophthalmologists to resolve the situation. If the question of political activity directed against the Queensland Government is raised in the way Senator Keeffe raises it, I can only say to him that the Minister had been made aware of the concern felt in certain quarters over the possible political activities of some people employed by the teams under the control of the Director of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, Professor Hollows, in north Queensland.
The Minister has also had raised with him the fact that the schedule of the team visits coincides with the election campaign; indeed, it is due to be finalised on the actual day of the election. In respect of the latter aspect it is pointed out that the itinerary for the team has been the subject of negotiation for a number of months, and involved obtaining the approval of State authorities and community councils. Negotiations have been in progress since well before there was any suggestion of an election in Queensland and the coincidence concerning the election date could not have been foreseen by those who made the arrangements.
The Minister for Health has been in touch with the College of Ophthalmologists which has been responsible for making arrangements for and the conduct of the campaign and has been assured that the staffing rearrangements are currently under discussion. I will refer the other matters that were raised by the honourable senator to the Minister to see whether he wishes to offer any further information with regard to them. The latter part of the question concerning the Premier of Queensland I totally ignore.
– I ask a supplementary question. I take it from what the Minister said that she approves of the cessation of the team’s operations in Queensland, for political reasons.
– I said no such thing. If Senator Keeffe takes it in that way, it is something that he chooses to do, not something that I said or implied.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations a question that is to a degree supplementary to that asked by Senator Sim. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a circular letter from the Farmers Union of Western Australia Incorporated which states:
Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of primary produce is threatened by the total ban placed by maritime unions on trade with Chile and the ACTU ban on the handling of Indonesian flag ships?
Is he aware that both bans pose a long-term threat to the future of our wheat exports as, prior to the ban, Chile took 5.4 per cent of our wheat and in 1975-76 Indonesia took 6 per cent? In view of the expression of grave concern by this significant farmers organisation, what does the Government intend to do to protect our primary producers from this outrageous union irresponsibility?
– I am interested to hear from Sentor Jessop the expression of view by the Farmers Union of Western Australia. Primary industry organisations throughout Australia are very concerned indeed, because these bans are having a particular impact upon the export of primary produce, especially wheat. I can well understand the concern expressed by that organisation. I know that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is deeply concerned about the continuance of these bans. It appears that the Australian Council of Trade Unions is taking little action to lift them and to enable trade to proceed with these countries- in particular, Chile and Indonesia. I will draw the attention of the Minister for Employment and
Industrial Relations to the latest concern expressed by Senator Jessop, and ask the Minister to provide the Senate with an up to date indication of what steps the Government is taking or proposing to take.
– Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware of reports emanating from the Brookings Institution following an international conference of economists last week that representatives of the seven countries represented at the conference, who came from Europe, the United States of America and Japan, had called for governments to stimulate economic growth to combat increasing unemployment? As such proposals run contrary to the economic strategy presently embraced by the Fraser Government, will the Minister indicate whether the Government intends to take heed of this advice or to continue with its present contradictory policies, the result of which will be even further increases in unemployment next year?
-I have read the newspaper report of the work of the Brookings Institution although I have not seen its full paper. It ought to be noted that the latest comments of the International Monetary Fund do not agree with the view put by the Brookings Institution. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has not agreed with the view put by the Brookings Institution. It is not necessarily correct to say that reflationary policies are the right thing in the current circumstances. The Government looked very carefully at all reflationary policies when it was examining the whole of the Budget strategy. Honourable senators can rest assured that it will keep doing so. The Governments ‘s basic concern is to overcome inflation, which it is clearly doing. That is the way in which to get recovery really generated. Reflationary policies can put one back into the same cycle of disaster as the Government inherited from the Australian Labor Party.
-I refer the AttorneyGeneral to the proposed freedom of information Bill, which has been the subject of long and intense study and recommendations by many honourable senators and honourable members, including Senator Tehan, the Chairman of the Government Parties’ law and government committee, Senator Knight and other honourable senators on this side of the chamber. As the Attorney-General is aware of the strong desire of honourable senators to have the Bill available for public comment and early passage, can he give some indication of the progress that has been made in achieving these objectives?
-The Government is certainly aware of the strong desire of honourable senators, honourable members and many other people in the community to have a freedom of information Bill introduced. My predecessor in this portfolio reconvened an interdepartmental committee on freedom of information and tabled a report on the subject at the end of last year. That report has been closely studied by the Government, particularly by officials of my Department, and a draft freedom of information Bill has been prepared.
Earlier in this session my predecessor, Mr Ellicott, was in the United States of America and had some very useful discussions with officials in that country on the subject of freedom of information and the Bill which had been prepared for introduction into this Parliament. During the recess senator Missen was also in the United States of America and had similar discussions with officials there. I am most grateful to Senator Missen for the close attention that he has given to this subject and for the reports that he has made to me on his studies and the result of his discussions with the officials of the United States to whom I have referred.
In addition, the Government Parties law and government committee has been considering the subject and has made a report to me in respect of the draft Bill which has been prepared. I was finally about to consider the submissions that have been made in relation to the draft Bill when the announcement of the dissolution of Parliament was made recently. It was the Government’s intention to introduce the Bill that had been prepared. As a result of submissions that had been received some changes possibly would have been made to it. So the Bill was not quite ready for introduction. As I said, it was intended to introduce it during the present session. The Government also intended that when the Bill finally was introduced it should lie on the table for a period to enable interested parties to make submissions on it. I assure the Senate that the Government remains committed to the introduction of a freedom of information Bill, and I reaffirm the undertaking given by my predecessor that such a Bill will be introduced. After the Government is re-elected on 10 December, it certainly is my hope that I will be able to introduce the freedom of information Bill in the first session of the new Parliament.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry and the Treasurer aware that in December 1975, the month the Government came to power, interest rates charged by the banks for farm development were 9.9 per cent? Does the Government recognise that in three subsequent upward hikes interest rates for the rural sector have risen to 10.5 per cent? How does the Government reconcile that increase in rural lending with the oft stated promise made during 1976 by the Government, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that interest rates would fall? Can the Minister say whether the Australian Rural Bank will bring about a fall in interest rates for the farming community?
-The simple fact is that prior to the Labor Government interest rates were low across the scene. During the Labor Party’s time in office they went up very heavily, and across the broad sector they had to go up to balance that. They are now coming down. Anybody who looks at this situation knows that. That is the fact.
– Can the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs inform the Senate of the effects of new federalism on local government rates?
– Give us a new line, please.
-I am always delighted to respond to Senator Georges. He is such an enthusiast. As I understand it, Senator Lajovic asked about the impact of the federalism policies upon local government rates. I suppose I should answer in short that the Local Government Association at its various levels has said, editorially and otherwise, that because of the 1.52 per cent revenue supplement it has been possible for rates to be abated quite significantly.
– Abated? What does that mean?
- Senator Georges asks what that means. I will respond to him. When the Liberal Government left office in the early 1970s local government rates had increased by 9.6 per cent. In the first year of the Whitlam Government they increased by 15.2 per cent, in the second year by 26 per cent, and in the third year by 25.6 per cent. The New South Wales Government has announced that this year rates will increase by 4.6 per cent. The New South Wales Government sought to take credit for that and the Local Government Association chided it and said that if credit was due it was due to the Fraser Liberal Government. It is quite clear that, whereas local government rates were forced up enormously under Labor, they are now being abated. Also, very great help is coming to local government through the significant reduction in inflation, which was running at 16 per cent and 18 per cent under Labor and is now of the order of 9 per cent, and through the reduction of interest rates, which also reduces the running costs of local government. Taken together, this means that substantially for the first time local government can start expanding its policies where it had to contract them under the Labor Party.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of his earlier comments on tariff and unemployment I ask: Does the Minister know that the Industries Assistance Commission in its annual report drew attention to the fact that employment in the construction industry had fallen by as much as or more than it had in manufacturing industry and that the protection of manufacturing industry contributed to the decline in construction? Does the Minister acknowledge this argument and also acknowledge that the Government’s restrictive fiscal and monetary policies contribute to unemployment in the construction sector?
-I am not very interested in theories from the Industries Assistance Commission or from anybody else. I know that the Tariff Board stated that if the Government did certain things only some 23,000 or 29,000 people would be out of a job. The Government did those things and 107,000 people were out of a job. I prefer to rely on those sorts of facts. It is of no use the honourable senator trying to use this place as a tutorial session for his first year in an economics degree course. I think that is half the problem that we suffer in this place- some intellectual measles. I think Senator Walsh would be far better off if he studied some facts and stopped reading books on theory.
- Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate suggesting that the decline of some 130,000 or 140,000 in the level of those employed in the construction sector is a theory or does he believe it is a fact?
-The honourable senator was not asking me about that matter. He was asking about what the Industries Assistance
Commission stated in its report and what somebody else said somewhere else. He asked whether I would draw this inference or that inference. All I said was that I had read the report from the Tariff Board. It said that if we cut tariffs by 25 per cent only 29,000 people would be unemployed. All I am saying is that that report was so good we had 107,000 people unemployed.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory whether he is aware of claims that 47,000 householders in the Australian Capital Territory have recently had increases in rates of 50 per cent or more. Can the Minister say whether this statement is accurate or could be considered grossly inaccurate and misleading?
– In both instances the answer is yes. I have seen claims made by somebody that 47,000 households in the Australian Capital Territory have had a rate increase of 50 per cent or more. It is my view that the honourable senator is correct and that that is a blatantly dishonest statement.
-Well, what is it?
-Senator Georges, Senator Georges!
– What is the rise?
– The Minister for the Capital Territory has informed me that the statement is totally inaccurate. In fact, 22 per cent of all households in the Australian Capital Territory had a decrease in rates. These decreases were mainly in the new areas such as Tuggeranong and Belconnen. Approximately 3,300 residents had an increase in rates greater than 50 per cent. Some 37,000 dwellings had an increase b elow that figure. The Minister has indicated that he is aware of concern about rate increases in some of the older areas of Canberra and that special issues relating to the older areas of Canberra are being examined by him.
Rates in Canberra are estimated on the same basis as elsewhere in Australia. Provision is made for residents who suffer hardship in the payment of rates to defer such payments. The average Canberra rates, even after this year’s increase, are still lower than the rates in most of Australia’s capital cities. I again emphasise that the assertions that 47,000 households have attracted rate increases of over 50 per cent is blatantly untrue, as 3,300 fall into that category.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Science. By way of preface I refer to evidence given before the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment inquiry into the woodchip industry that the main threat to forestry was die back, a fungus emanating from Western Australia. In view of recent utterances by the New South Wales Forestry Commission indicating that there is another parasite called ‘the leacher’ which seems to be infecting our forests, how seriously do the Minister’s experts treat this threat and what are they doing to combat it?
– It has been reported that large areas of eucalypt forest on the central coast of New South Wales are being attacked by lerp insects which are called ‘psyllids’. These small insects produce a small shield beneath which they shelter and suck sap from leaves. They greatly reduce the photosynthetic capacities of the leaves, leading to a decrease in tree growth. As the honourable senator mentioned, die back and even death of the tree follows. It has been observed that trees which die may also be infected by fungal root rot caused by phytophthora, and it has been suggested that lerp attack may predispose the trees to this disease.
An officer of the New South Wales Forestry Commission recently suggested that the control of fire in forest areas might increase the incidence of lerp attacks and the consequent spread of phytophthora. However, at this stage, this is merely a suggestion and it is not backed by any scientific research. The New South Wales Forestry Commission has investigated methods of controlling lerps using ground and aerial sprays but these have proved either impracticable or uneconomic. For the honourable senator’s information, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is not currently engaged in any work on the control of lerps.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister heard of reports that the exotic disease bluetongue has been discovered in the Northern Territory? Can the Minister state whether these reports are correct, and if so, what steps are being taken by the Government to eradicate this bad and very costly disease in the Northern Territory and to prevent it from spreading to the southern parts of Australia where so much livestock could be adversely affected?
– This question is more or less in the lerp area. The spread of bluetongue disease is a matter of serious moment. I have some information which will be helpful. More information will be available in the next two or three days. However, the Yale Arbovirus Reference Laboratory in the United States of America advised on 24 October 1977 that an Australian virus isolate had been diagnosed as indistinguishable from bluetongue’. This virus, so far known only as ‘CSIRO 19’, in honour of Senator Webster, was from a pool of insects called culicoides collected at Beatrice Hill, near Darwin, Northern Territory, in March 1975. From October 1974 to May 1976 this Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation research on insects and viruses involving livestock and fauna in the Top End of the Northern Territory has resulted in 91 isolates or arboviruses from 235,000 insects of 65 species. We are way ahead of the lerp in this respect. The CSIRO 19’ is just one of the 91 isolates, most of which are presumed to be non-pathogenic.
Work by the CSIRO and the Queensland Institute for Medical Research confirmed by November 1976 that ‘CSIRO 19’ was not a known Australian virus. This led to it being forwarded to Yale for further identification.
Samples of the virus have been sent also to the Onderstepoort World Reference Laboratory in South Africa for final confirmation. The Northern Territory has imposed a standstill on all ruminants within 50 kilometres of the site of virus isolation- that is the Beatrice Hill Research Station east of Darwin. The CSIRO is proceeding, as a matter of extreme urgency, on further work on diagnostic tests and animal inoculations at Brisbane. These tests will inform us finally whether or not the virus in effect is what people have said it might be- only ‘might be’- and whether it does cause disease in sheep or cattle, as well as the extent of its distribution. All veterinarians in Australia have received an early warning advice. A further meeting of the Consultative Committee will be held on Friday, 1 1 November to examine the latest information and recommend further action. From all that, it is clear that some solid work has been done and a tight watch is being kept. Identification is by no means yet completely positive. I think that the proper steps have been taken because bluetongue is a serious disease in a ruminant population.
-I ask the Minister for Education: Has he seen reports of an Australian
National University survey which reveals that 53 per cent of all top position holders in business, politics and the universities had privileged educations in private schools? Does his transference of about $5m of the taxpayers money from government schools to elite private schools mean that the Government wishes to increase educational opportunities of already privileged children at the expense of the disadvantaged children in government schools and the least affluent non-government schools?
– This question comes ill from a member of the Australian Labor Party which in the three years it was in office greatly widened the resources gap between government and non-government schools to the serious disadvantage of the non-government schools. If she had spoken on the basis of equality of opportunity for all school children she might have been heard. It also comes ill from her when she ought to have read in the Schools Commission report of 1977 that, unlike her Government when it was in office, in our two years of office both government primary and secondary schools have exceeded the Karmel target and the Schools Commission target. It is very odd that the Opposition hides these factors. The simple fact is that the Fraser Government, and not the Whitlam Government, has so expanded the resources of the State schools, which Senator Ryan now says are poor, that we are able to say -
– Some are and some are not.
– You are having yourself on.
– You are not convincing any educationists in Australia. They have heard it all before.
– There are still disadvantaged schools in both sectors.
-I hope that these interjections are being recorded because I take it that when somebody says: ‘You are having yourself on’, he is saying that the Labor Party rejects the facts and figures provided by the Schools Commission. It is important therefore to remind them of what we are saying. The simple situation is that in primary education in government schools four States already have reached the targets set for 1980, and the other two States are ahead of target. In secondary education three States already have reached the targets set for 1982 and they are at level 2. Yet here is the Oppostion saying that there is a deplorable situation of inequality of opportunity. The fact is that we have done more to bring about equality of opportunity and progress in government schools than the Whitlam Government ever dreamed of. I come to the nub of Senator Ryan’s question. She is objecting to $5m. Let us take it apart because it will be interesting to know the Labor Party’s policy. It is proposed that $3m will be provided for capital development in nongovernment schools in new growth areas on the recommendation of the Schools Commission, and this is to be allocated by the Planning and Finance Committees on the basis of greatest need. So I take it that in objecting to this proposal, the Labor Party will say in its education policy that it is opposed to any more money being provided for capital development in new growth areas through planning and finance committees. Otherwise, why would the question be asked? I take it also that Senator Ryan- being opposed to the other $2m being provided to restore the 20 per cent provision- as the supporter of a prospective Labor government, would make sure that there was not a 20 per cent provision in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. As a representative of the Australian Capital Territory, no doubt she is saying at this moment that the Australian Labor Party is opposed to a basic minimum per capita payment of 20 per cent in the Territory. Otherwise, what was the meaning of the question?
-My question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, follows on from the question asked by Senator Ryan. Could the Minister tell the Senate what progress has been made in Tasmanian schools towards achieving the targets set by Professor Karmel and the Schools Commission?
– Just change the word to Tasmania’ and you have already answered the question.
– I will answer this question also, for the enjoyment and edification of Senator Georges. Professor Karmel originally decided to use an index called the SRRI- the schools recurrent resources index- with a 1972 base of 100 for government schools. I remind Senator Ryan that, on that basis, the index for non-government primary schools was 77 and the index for non-government secondary schools was 87. In the ensuing years the gap widened, to the devastation of the non-government schools. Professor Karmel sought an improvement of 40 per cent for primary schools and 35 per cent for secondary schools by 1979. At the time of the Whitlam Government, the Schools Commission revised that so that those figures were to be achieved by 1980 for primary schools and by 1982 for secondary schools. I have pointed out that in Australia overall, under the Fraser Government, these targets have been exceeded. The index for primary schools in Tasmania is now 152. The schools have reached and passed the goals set by Professor Karmel for 1979 and the Schools Commission for 1980 respectively. They have reached level 2- the level argued against strongly for non-government schools. I am delighted that the government schools have achieved that. Whilst the Tasmanian high schools have not yet reached the goal for 1982, they are more than on target and will reach that goal soon. Despite the Tasmanian Government’s deprecation of our policies, during the last two years we have increased funds to government schooling. I regret to say, and I remind the Senate, that the Tasmanian Government was the only State government that reduced the percentage of its total Budget represented by education spending in recent years.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Education. It follows on from the answer he gave to a previous question concerning transfers of funds into levels 1 and 2 schools in the non-government school sector. In that answer he said that they were recommended by the Schools Commission. I think every honourable senator heard him say that. I ask him whether he does not agree that on page 10 of its report the Schools Commission states:
Levels 1 and 2 schools cannot be accorded priority for additional assistance within the funds available for 1978. As these schools already operate at levels above those of the national average, their need for additional funds cannot be as great as other less well provided for schools.
I ask him whether the Commission does not also state:
The Commission does not believe that the situation in 1978 warrants the transfer of $3m out of other programs to make this possible.
Does the Minister not agree that, if he is not deliberately misleading the Senate, he does not know what is contained in the Schools Commission report?
– A reference to the transcript of my answer will show that I did not say, in the answer to -
– Yes, you did.
-It is to be recorded today that Senator Wiredt said: ‘You did’. I want now to say this: In my answer to Senator Ryan I said that the Schools Commission had recommended in the past the increase in money for development in new growth areas. Today I did not refer to any recommendation of the Schools Commission regarding level 1 and level 2 The Hansard record will prove that.
– That is what the question was about. You know that.
-I think Senator Wriedt said again that I did refer to them. Tomorrow I shall go out of my way to remind Senator Wriedt about this. Because Senator Wriedt is touchy about this matter, I suggest that he should go to the 1976-78 recommendations of the Schools Commission, in which he will find that the Schools Commission recommends that there should be, as a matter of priority, an increase in capital funds for new growth areas for nongovernment schools. Honourable senators can note the hatred of the non-government system which runs through the Opposition. This system allocates funds of a meagre $3m. Honourable senators can note the opposition which, of course, the Labor Party inherently has always had.
I remind the Senate also that in previous Schools Commission reports the Schools Commission has stated that there ought to be a joint Federal-State basic per capita grant whereby there is a 20 per cent grant, as such, funded by the Commonwealth and the States. The reports have laid down the provision of a per capita grant. I remind the Senate also that the Schools Commission has based all its funding of nongovernment schools on the principle of a 20 per cent grant without means test in all six States and a 20 per cent grant without means test in the two Territories. It therefore fundamentally has accepted the idea of the original 20 per cent grant, which was the linchpin to the whole scheme. But the people of Australia should understand the constant attempt by the Labor Party to destroy any attempt to restore the balance of equality between the two sectors, a gap which was widened seriously under the Labor Government.
Since we are quoting from the Schools Commission report, it ought to be recorded that that report reveals that the gap between the levels of resource usage in government and nongovernment schools has widened since 1972. In 1976, at the end of the Whitlam Government’s period of office, non-government primary schools were operating at a level 28 per cent below that of government schools, representing a decline of five per cent since 1972, and that nongovernment secondary schools were operating at a level 15 per cent below that of government schools, representing a decline of 2 per cent. On that basis, Senator Ryan and Senator Wriedt are trying once again to see that the decline goes on and that ordinary social justice shall not prevail.
Senator RYAN (Australian Capital Territory) Mr President, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr President.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– In the course of the answer given by the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) to the last question, he said words to the effect that honourable senators should note the hatred of members of the Opposition of the nongovernment sector. I claim that that is a misrepresentation. In the very wording of the question which I put to the Minister I referred to the disadvantaged children in the non-government schools, that is, the level six schools. I should think the program of funding of non-government schools during the term of the Labor Administration demonstrates in itself that for the Minister to speak of a hatred of non-government schools on the part of the now Opposition is a gross misrepresentation.
-Mr President, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, Mr President.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-On 3 November 1977 in answering a question in the other place, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said that Senator Button says that what the Leader of the Opposition says is irrelevant. That statement is not correct and could only be made on the basis of information from an illiterate or a dishonest person. The only possible reference to that could ave been when a statement of that kind occurred in the Senate on 26 October. In the course of the debate dealing with the economic uncertainty created by the Prime Minister’s election speculation, Senator Withers interjected when I was speaking and he said that Mr Whitlam wants an election. I replied:
It is immaterial to me what Mr Whitlam wants in the context of this debate. It is quite immaterial what Mr Whitlam wants. The subject of the debate is not what Mr Whitlam wants . . . The subject of the debate is what the Prime Minister wants, what the Prime Minister is doing by way of speculation and what he is causing by way of speculation.
I make this statement solely in order to correct the record and in case any Government senators think they can rely on the accuracy of their Leader’s statements.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the interim report of the Australian Meat Board for the year ended 30 June 1977.
-by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a resolution of the International Sugar Council for the third extension of the International Sugar Agreement 1973.
– Pursuant to section 40 of the Australian National Airlines Commissions Act 1945,I present the Trans-Australia Airlines final annual report for 1975-76. I am advised that there are no substantial differences between the final report and the interim report which was tabled in December 1976 and distributed to all honourable senators. For this reason, it is proposed that copies will not be made available for distribution to honourable senators.
-For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the
Fawnmac group of companies for the year ended 30 June 1977.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) Pursuant to section 46 of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 I present the annual report of the Commissioner for Community Relations for the year ended 30 June 1977.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the report of an informal working party of officials on efficiency audits together with the text of a statement made by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters (Mr Street) in connection with the report.
– by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the Patent, Trade Marks and Designs Office annual report 1976-77.
– Pursuant to section 24(4) of the Metric Conversion Act, I present the seventh report of the Metric Conversion Board for the year ended 30 June 1977. In accordance with the same section, section 24(4), I report that no amendments were made to the Act and no regulations introduced. The Board continued to carry out successfully its functions in achieving the object of the Act. Copies of the report will be sent to all honourable senators as soon as bulk supplies become available. In the meantime, copies of the report have been placed in the Parliamentary Library and the Senate Records Office.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Department of the Capital Territory for the year ended 30 June 1977. Copies of the report will be sent to all honourable senators as soon as bulk supplies become available. In the meantime, copies of the report have been placed in the Parliamentary Library and the Senate Records Office.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Australian Capital Territory Fire Brigade for the year ended 30 June 1977.
– by leave- For the information of honourable senators I present an information paper on Antarctica.
In accordance with the wish of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) I have prepared an information paper on Antarctica covering a range of aspects of the activities of Australia and other countries in Antarctica. The importance of Antarctica to Australia and to the rest of the world is becoming increasingly apparent and I have been pleased to note the increase in interest on this subject from members of this Parliament. I hope that this information paper will add further to that interest and I am sure that it will provide a useful background for discussion on what is an extremely important issue.
Australia and Australians have long been interested in Antarctica and have played a significant part in its exploration and occupation. Australia has sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory and exercises this sovereignty in accordance with Commonwealth legislation which takes into account the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty. This paper is intended to gather together as much factual information on Antarctica as possible while still remaining a document of readily assimilable size. For this reason it is not a complete historical account of activities in Antarctica.
With the decline of the intensive exploitation of whales and seals earlier this century, for several years Antarctica was not regarded as a source of raw materials for the world community. Increasing pressure for ever greater supplies of food, energy and minerals is now focussing international attention on the Antarctic as the last major unexploited area of the world.
The history of human activity in and around the Antarctic is unlike that of any other continent because of its climatic hostility and lack of indigenous human population. Other than occasional landfalls by European navigators, the history of Antarctica began with Cook’s circumnavigation of the continent in 1776-80. From then until the late 1930 ‘s, progressively detailed discoveries were made by governmentsponsored and private expeditions whose purposes included exploration, science, whaling and sealing, as well as annexation of territory. Although the most prominent countries in this activity were Britain, the United States of America, Norway, France and Australia, other nations also sent expeditions, including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Chile and Japan.
Antarctica is unique in itself and in its effects on the rest of the world. The ice cap is a major influence on world weather patterns. All of the weather systems over the southern hemisphere are generated in or influenced by the Antarctic. Sea waters which wash Antarctic shores are carried to all the corners of the world’s oceans, taking with them vast quantities of nutrients. The earth’s magnetic fields converge at the Poles giving rise to localised physical phenomena, the study of which has led to greater understanding of the basic characteristics of the planet.
Being largely isolated from the effects of civilisation in other parts of the world, the Antarctic continent provides a benchmark by which global pollution, climatic changes and the effects of man’s activity on the earth may be measured. Antarctica is scientifically important. It may prove to be economically vital through its resources. The extent of the potentially exploitable resources is not yet proven but it is already clear that large scale exploration and exploitation is highly probable in the future.
Whereas the mineral resources may be very expensive and technically difficult to extract, the living resources are more accessible and have been exploited in the past. Immediate attention is being directed to further exploitation but on a scale far greater than previously. Means by which the world’s shortage of fresh water might be met by towing icebergs to temperate latitudes and allowing them to melt are also being seriously considered. Faced with the prospect of exploitation, the nations with an active interest in the Antarctic, including Australia, will have added responsibilities to ensure that the Antarctic environment is protected as activity there increases.
I table the paper entitled ‘Antarctica- An Information Paper’.
-by leave- I move:
-I wish to address a few brief comments to this subject. I understand the Senate is to rise at 12.30 and hope to be able to complete my remarks by then. The statement that the Minister has put down contains four principal points of which I believe note should be taken. First, in his opening remarks he says:
The importance of Antarctica to Australia and to the rest of the world is becoming increasingly apparent and I have been pleased to note the increase in interest on this subject from members of this Parliament.
Secondly, he said:
Increasing pressure for ever greater supples of food, energy and minerals is now focusing international attention on the Antarctic as the last major unexplored area of the world.
The third point made was in relation to exploration and exploitation in the late thirties:
Although the most prominent countries in this activity were Britain, USA, Norway, France and Australia, other nations also sent expeditions, including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Chile and Japan.
I ask honourable senators to note those countries, especially in view of the attitude we have taken concerning certain sovereign rights which we believe we have in the Antarctic and which could, in the years ahead, come under increasing challenge. This is the fourth and final point in the Minister’s statement to which I want to allude:
The extent of the potentially exploitable resources is not yet proven, but it is already clear that large scale exploitation is highly probable in the future.
I believe the thrust of the Minister’s comments was directed to what was likely to happen in the future rather than in the present.
It was recently my pleasure and privilege to meet Mr Harry Black, on past occasions himself an expeditioner in the Antarctic, one who has shown an abiding interest in the affairs of that region and who was invited to provide an article to the Current Affairs Bulletin. Honourable senators may recall that Mr Black did the commentary on the Boeing 747 flights which at the end of last year, or in the early part of this year, were made to the Antarctic. I believe that four more such nights are contemplated in the near future. Mr Black drew my attention to the fact that the article, which appeared in the issue of 1 June 1976 of the Current Affairs Bulletin-which I commend for the reading of anyone with the slightest interest in the subject- attracted a wider reading audience than had any other issue in the 40 years of the bulletin’s publication. That shows, I think, the interest of the community at large at the present time in the Antarctic region. It is a growing interest.
The article is most informative and highlights and emphasises many of the tremendously important issues involved in the total Antarctic scene. It canvasses the whole range of questions involved, from a scientific point of view, a strategic point of view, a resources point of view and every other facet of interest that might be taken in that region. One could deal with the subject at much greater length than is possible today. In relation to glaciology and the bore cores which were examined, Mr Black states:
The cores provide a wealth of information as well in the form of volcanic ash horizons, meteoritic dust, pollen, carbon dioxide and other trapped gases and chemical pollution. A layer of tiny particles mark fallout from the Krakatoa explosion in 1883; the 1963 stratum coincides with the eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung on Bali. Although still small, concentrations of lead in antarctic snows have increased by a factor of more than 100 in recent decades.
Long-term glaciological research down south clearly is vital to the understanding of many important problems on the world scale. In this work Australia holds a position of vantage.
He goes on to say about the geological aspects of the region- and this is but one of the few interesting snippets I take from the article-
Shackleton was the first to find evidence of a former warm climate with the first exciting discovery of coal seams.
Today’s geological operations may lead to commercial mineral finds in the future. Most of the readily discoverable lodes in the rest of the world have probably been found and the increasing cost of searching for the remainder could make antarctic mineral exploitation, despite its difficulties, more attractive in the years ahead.
Going on to discuss polar resources, Mr Black states:
In 1968 the Special Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) recommended complete abstention from the killing of fur seals . . .
That was in 1968 and, of course, that activity ceased but not until that species of seal on Macquarie Island had been exterminated. Mr Black goes on to point out in relation to whales that survival of the more vulnerable species is under threat and the only nations still engaged in Antarctic whaling are Japan and the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics. This is a very current issue.
In relation to krill, a fish which is found in the Antarctic, Mr Black states:
The krill is a staple food for a wide range of sea creatures including whales, seals, penguins and many species of sea bird, fish . . . and other forms of animal life. He continues:
It provides almost the exclusive diet of the baleen whales . . Because the catch spoils readily, fast processing and the employment of factory ships are essential.
This relates to the taking of krill, which we have not gone into yet but which other countries are certainly exploiting. The author says:
How much krill does the Antarctic Ocean hold? Estimates have ranged from 800 million to 5,000 million tonnes. The annual biological production, the amount produced in the ocean as distinct from what can be harvested, is probably about 200 to 300 million tonnes. Protein content of krill stocks could equal that of all other protein stock in the world’s oceans . . . Krill is sold already in the USSR as a fish paste and as a protein powder, in which form it is sometimes mixed with cheese.
The point I am making in that regard is one which I touched on in my earlier speech on the Antarctic: That this is an area in which we have not yet begun to operate, although other countries are exploiting it. Mr Black adds:
Japan and the USSR already are actively evaluating the krill resource; Norway, West Germany and the United Kingdom also have plans to harvest krill.
– From which publication is the honourable senator reading?
– The Current Affairs Bulletin of 1 June 1976. The article is by Mr Harry Black, a well known correspondent and a scientist in his own right. He states further:
It is reported that last summer Poland and West Germany each dispatched marine research ships to the southern ocean . . .
In relation to scale fish he states: the Russians and Japanese recently harvested about 340,000 tonnes of cod from the South Atlantic sector of the southern ocean over a six-month period.
That is a fantastic catch offish. He states further:
The Russians are reported as already marketing large quantities of fish from antarctic seas in several Russian cities.
The point I make again is that we are way behind other countries in exploiting these resources. There are many other very interesting items in the magazine. For instance, we are now talking about using water from icebergs, something that was first done back in 1902. I complete my remarks by commending this article to honourable senators who will, I am sure, find it most interesting. It gives everyone a much better understanding of what is happening in that part of the world.
Debate (on motion by Senator Webster) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.30 to 3.5 p.m.
Report of Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs
-I present the report on the Evidence (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1972 by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, together with a copy of evidence taken at an in camera meeting of the Committee in relation to the reference.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to move a motion that the Senate take note of the report.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
On 18 February 1971, pursuant to the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910, the Evidence Ordinance 1971 of the Australian Capital Territory was proclaimed as law. Subsequently, following a report by the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, the Senate resolved to disallow the ordinance. Normally when an ordinance is disallowed the preexisting law revives. Unfortunately, pursuant to a technicality in this case the pre-existing law was not revived and the Australian Capital Territory was without any effective law of evidence. To meet this situation the Parliament passed a temporary provisions act continuing the ordinance in force for a period of one year, pending the introduction of an evidence Bill for the Australian Capital Territory. Later the Evidence (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1972 was introduced and on 12 April 1972 was referred to this Committee. Subsequently, a temporary provisions Bill was passed giving the ordinance an indefinite life pending the completion of this Committee’s report.
Shortly after the matter was referred to it, the Committee sought submissions from the Australian Capital Territory Law Society and the Australian Capital Territory Bar Association. However, at the time this Committee was reestablished in March 1976, the Committee had not received any written submissions on the reference, despite a number of reminders to those associations. After the Committee was reestablished in March 1976, the Committee again sought the views of these two associations, together with the views of Mr P. K. Waight, Senior Lecturer in Law at the Australian National University. On 24 May 1976 the Committee held an in camera meeting in relation to this reference at which it heard evidence from representatives of the two professional societies and from Mr Waight. Subsequently- in the next 18 months- the Committee has had referred to it a number of matters on which it has been required to report to the Senate at early dates. In order to meet the requirements of the Senate in relation to those references, it has been necessary for the Committee to defer its consideration of the Evidence (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1972. However, the Committee has again pressed on with its inquiry in relation to this reference and recently Mr P. K. Waight was appointed as adviser to this Committee.
In the debates in 1971 and 1972 on the disallowed ordinance and on the referred Bill, concern was expressed that extensive changes were being made to the law of evidence and thus to basic civil liberties. In the report of the Committee, the Committee assures honourable senators that it is both proper and desirable that old assumptions in the law of evidence can be and ought to be relaxed in the interests of justice. It is clear that the need for change goes well beyond the limited changes proposed in the Bill and by the Committee in this report. Accordingly, the Committee has recommended that a review of the whole of the law of evidence be undertaken by the Law Reform Commission. Subject to the need for that general review, the Committee has carried out a detailed examination of the clauses of the Evidence (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1972 and makes specific recommendations for amendment in this report. We have taken into account later legislation, recent judgments and reports on evidence from various jurisdictions. The Committee believes that the proposed Bill, subject to the recommendations now made, constitutes a suitable reform of the evidence laws of the ACT. The report makes significant recommendations in relation to hearsay evidence, the admissibility of business documents in court proceedings, the use of computer evidence in civil and criminal proceedings, the laws in respect of self incrimination and unsworn statements, the obligation of a spouse to give evidence, and other rules of evidence. The Committee also draws attention to its proposals in chapter 4 on Territory legislation; in particular, the circumstances in which on Act of the Parliament rather than an ordinance should be the legislative method employed.
Debate (on motion by Senator Wheeldon) adjourned.
Report on Outstanding References
-I present a report on the outstanding references of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to make a brief statement in relation to the report.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– This report relates primarily to the four references which will remain outstanding at the termination of the thirtieth Parliament. They cover: Implementing law reform proposals; delegation of parliamentary authority; priority of Crown debts; and parliamentary scrutiny of rules of court. The Senate’s attention is drawn to the fact that of the seventeen reports presented by the Committee since its creation in 1971, ten reports have been tabled during the current Parliament. The report pays tribute to the work of the retiring Secretary of the Committee, Mr Michael Dixon, who is about to take up duties as first Director of the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations.
In relation to the four outstanding references I make the following observations: These four matters were referred to the Committee on 21 April 1977. Since that time two further matters have been referred to the Committee. They are, firstly, the Crimes (Foreign .Incursions and Recruitment) Bill 1972 and, secondly, advisory opinions by the High Court. The Committee was required to report back to the Senate on both of these matters at early dates. In addition, as an earlier reference- the Evidence (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1972- had been outstanding for some considerable time, the Committee found it necessary to defer its consideration of the four matters referred to it on 21 April 1977 until after it had completed its reports on these other matters.
Although a number of submissions have already been received in relation to these four matters, a number of other organisations have notified the Committee that they propose to make submissions. It is clear that in relation to at least two matters- the processing of law reform proposals and the priority of crown debts- it would be desirable to hear evidence from a number of submittors. Having regard to the volume of work still required to be undertaken in relation to these four matters, and to the change of the parliamentary program occasioned by the forthcoming elections, it is clear that the Committee will not be able to complete its inquiry by the first sitting day in December 1977. For these reasons the Committee will seek from the Senate an extension of time in which to complete its reports on these matters to 31 March 1978. The terms of reference on the priority of Crown debts refer to the right of priority of the Crown over other debtors in bankruptcies and corporate liquidations. It was clearly intended that the Committee’s review should be of the Crown’s priority over other creditors and the Committee has interpreted its terms of reference accordingly.
I seek leave to move a motion for an extension of time for the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs to report on the four matters, namely, the processing of law reform proposals, the delegation of parliamentary authority, the priority of Crown debts and parliamentary scrutiny of rules of court.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Motion (by Senator Missen) agreed to:
That the date for presenting the report of the Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on the four matters- Processing of Law Reform Proposals; Delegation of Parliamentary Authority; Priority of Crown Debts; and Parliamentary Scrutiny of Rules of Court-be extended until 31 March 1978.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Amendment Bill 1 977. Judiciary (Diplomatic Representation) Bill 1977.
– by leave- Mr President, I seek leave to have a statement by the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) relating to national energy policy incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. 77ie statement read as follows-
The purpose of this statement is to provide a summary of the more important aspects of the Government’s energy policies to date, and to outline some policy objectives for the future. In my statement I will be dealing briefly with the rationale of energy policy, the usefulness of individual POliCY measures, and general policy targets.
The continued use of large and increasing quantities of energy by Australia is essential if we are to maintain our current living standards, and see a continuation of reasonable rates of economic growth. Until the ‘oil crisis’ of 1973-74 it was widely assumed that growing world demand could and would be satisfied from established sources of supply without major upheavals. The Middle Eastern war of October 1973 and the subsequent oil supply restrictions showed dramatically how wrong that belief was. Secure and stable supplies of energy are now explicitly recognised as an essential ingredient of economic growth, and policy makers in the major energy consuming countries spend much time analysing energy problems.
Many groups in the community have recently been expressing the view that there is a need for the Commonwealth Government to develop and implement a comprehensive energy policy, covering all forms of energy, because of the dangers and uncertainties that lie ahead in the energy field and the benefits that are thought to be likely to flow from far-sighted and resolute Government action. It is a view which we as a Government endorse. Usage of energy in our sophisticated industrial economy is so widespread that energy policy cannot be determined in isolation from other significant policy considerations. Our energy policy needs to recognise the interdependence of economic activities and the ways in which changes in energy costs and the availability of energy could affect the outlook for the economy generally, particular industries and private consumption. In our approach to energy policy we will be ensuring that these considerations are taken fully into account. Two of the most basic problems in energy policy are the conservation of energy generally, and the related question of the replacement of fuels in scarce supply by others in more plentiful supply- for example, oil by coal. Both these problems are linked to the more general problem of the need for a reasonable level of self-sufficiency in those major fuels.
A number of countries have, under the impact of the oil crisis, adopted objectives of energy self-reliance’, ‘energy independence’, or greater sufficiency’ in energy. These have some of the characteristics of slogans. Nevertheless, there is a considerable amount of truth in the notion that self-sufficiency in major fuels is a worthwhile objective. There are strategic and political advantages in being relatively free of the threat of embargoes; there is also the probability of being able to avoid the very significant losses to national output of goods and services that would occur if embargoes were actually imposed. Some of these factors are quantifiable to a degree. On the other hand, efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency can involve considerable costs for the consumer and the nation. It is necessary for governments to strike a careful balance between these costs, and the benefits of selfsufficiency. Australia is, of course, self-sufficient in, and indeed a major exporter of energy fuels, with the exception of crude oil. It is our dependence on imports of crude oil which brings into sharper focus the need for energy conservation, inter-fuel substitution, and energy research and development. It is in these areas that much of our energy policy efforts will be coming in the future.
One of our main tasks as a Government in the field of energy policy is to develop, as far as practicable, firm and stable guidelines for the development of the energy industries. Firm guidelines are desirable because the lead times involved in major energy projects are frequently so extended that the commercial risks to private enterprise in undertaking these projects can rise to very high levels. This argues for the development of a national consensus in energy policy, to the extent possible, because private enterprise will continue to be wary of a situation in which the ‘ground rules’ could change drastically with a change of Government. In addition to these considerations affecting the private sector, we as a Government may have to take decisions in the public sector affecting Australia’s energy future, for example, on energy research and development, which have ramifications into the distant future too far for commercial interests effectively to register in the present.
One of the main problems in developing firm and realistic guidelines for energy policy is, of course, the degree of uncertainty which exists as to the situation we will be in in 20, 10 or even 5 years time. Five years ago, the present level of energy prices was predicted by almost no-one, yet the effects of these price movements have been very far reaching. Energy is required as a complementary commodity to all other goods and services we consume. To attempt to develop on a rational basis a complete blue-print for Australia’s energy future would be an exceedingly daunting prospect. Quite clearly, the Commonwealth Government’s role should not be to attempt to dictate the precise future path along which energy producers and consumers should move. Apart from being repugnant to our philosophy as a Government, such an approach would be beyond our powers, and almost certainly could not be made to work effectively in any case. It is, however, necessary to set the scene within which the private sector and Government instrumentalities can operate with confidence, while, as far as practicable, i.e. given our other objectives, allowing the forces for the market to allocate our available resources of manpower, capital, and technology.
In one sense, Australia as a nation is still at a relatively early stage in the formulation of a national consensus in which all aspects of energy policy have been thought through in detail. Much public discussion will be needed before the finer details are settled. We are, however, well placed in a another way in that the principal planks in our energy policy are to a large extent already in position as a result of the many important policy initiatives we have taken. The main policy initiatives we as a Government have taken in the field of energy policy over the last couple of years have been in the areas of mining taxation incentives, energy pricing, the administration of export controls, foreign investment guidelines, decisions on the development of uranium and natural gas resources, assistance to energy research and development, and the formation of energy consultative and advisory bodies.
The incentives we have provided to the mining industries have been particularly designed to help the oil industry, e.g. the provision for petroleum explorers to be able in future to write off their exploration expenses against income from any source. In general, the energy extraction industries have benefited from the new provisions available to the mining sector generally. These decisions have improved the economics and financibility of most energy projects. The decision on crude oil pricing has also markedly improved the economics of the oil extraction industry- and is of significance in another way in that producers of hydrocarbons now have some tangible evidence of Government support for the concept of world parity prices for local energy sources. We have prepared the way for uranium mining and for development of the North West Shelf gas reserves, by the provision of assurances to potential developers and by the appropriate safeguarding of environmental and other interests. We have diverted additional funds to energy research and development. Finally, we have taken a number of important initiatives in the setting up of consultative and advisory bodies in the energy field. These initiatives between them amount to a very considerable onslaught on the energy problems facing Australiain fact it could fairly be said, on the strength of these initiatives, we have given energy a high priority in our overall policy program.
I will now deal briefly with the types of policy measures which are available for the implementation of our energy policies. Of all the measures which might be used to implement an energy policy, energy pricing is perhaps the most fundamental. Correct pricing will to a very large extent limit consumption of energy and encourage exploration for and development of new energy deposits. Other conservation measures- for example, provision of information- may also be able to play an important role. Encouragement of the substitution of fuels in plentiful supply for those in scarce supply may be economically feasible in some circumstances, and efforts to develop means of converting plentiful fuels into scarce fuels (e.g. coal into oil) would be an even more direct way of tackling the same problem. The setting up of strategic reserves of liquid fuels may also be justifiable as a measure to give protection from supply embargoes. Finally, assistance to research and development, particularly on coal liquefaction and solar power, should assist in developing new options which we may be able to capitalise on at some future stage. Measures along any of these lines would involve costs, so that careful judgments of net benefits are needed.
Some further remarks on individual policy measures are in order. Firstly, the price of energy. The price of energy provides a fundamental control on myriad individual decisions about the production and consumption of energy. The prices to which both producers and consumers react should therefore fully reflect the present and future value of our non-renewable energy resources. In practice, what this means in the Australian context at the present time is that policy measures will need to be taken to move the overall energy price level toward international parity levels- which have, other things being equal, a particular status as a measure of the relative values to the community of tradeable commodities. At the same time it will be necessary to ensure that the prices of particular fuels reflect the relative domestic scarcity and abundance of resources. In determining and influencing the price of energy in Australia we need to avoid making adjustments which are too rapid and which could cause serious damage to the prospects for industries using energy. A careful approach taking into account the fact that industry is a major user of energy is warranted. When considering the objective of moving energy prices towards international levels, we are, of course, aware that the Commonwealth Government does not have complete control over energy rices. Electricity prices, for example, are set by tate electricity authorities. Domestic coal prices are set by the coal producers, many of which are vertically integrated with the electricity generation industry or with the steel and cement industriesand which therefore may- and often dotransfer coal at prices which are not fully commercial.
The Commonwealth Government can, however, exert some influence on other domestic energy prices through its control over the price of indigenous crude oil. For example, the increases in oil prices which we announced at Budget time can be expected to enhance the economics of possible large new gas projects, by allowing domestic gas prices to increase further whilst still remaining competitive. The economics of coal to oil conversion processes and other new energy generation methods could also be favourably influenced by a higher oil price- although these processes are still a long way from commercial feasibility in Australia. By promoting a price differential between oil and other energy forms, we could encourage conservation of oil, together with fuel substitution. Co-operation between the Commonwealth and State Governments will be essential in the implementation of the pricing aspects of a national energy policy, lt will therefore be necessary for the target of moving energy prices toward international levels to be canvassed in the forum of the Minerals and Energy Council. Taxation incentives for the industries producing energy materials may assist new energy mining projects by making them easier to finance, but of course such incentives can only be achieved at a cost to Government revenue. Concerning energy conservation measures, improvement in the efficiency of use of energy will require wide public acceptance of the need for greater efficiency, and greater public knowledge and skill in methods of achieving it. An effective energy conservation program would essentially represent a campaign to change national attitudes in relation to energy usage.
I endorse the National Energy Advisory Committee ‘s advice that conservation is the most effective action which can be taken to lessen our dependence upon imported oil in the immediate future. The Committee has recommended that a major national program should be undertaken to conserve energy, especially oil. Basically the proposed program calls for immediate action which could inform the public of the need to conserve, educate consumers as to how savings might be made, and provide specialised advice and assistance to energy users. Fuel savings would be achieved by means such as better maintenance of industrial plant and vehicles and increased use of insulation to minimise heat losses. Because the States have much of the expertise in the public sector, it is recommended that the national energy conservation program should be a joint undertaking of the Commonwealth and State Governments, industry, and various other bodies. One of the most direct ways in which security in short-term supply of energy materials can be achieved is by stockpiling of major fuels. The governments of several overseas countries, notably the USA and Japan, have already taken major measures along these lines. Only essential materials which could be vulnerable to supply interruption at short notice need be considered for stockpiling- for Australia probably only crude oil and /or oil refinery products would qualify, as our supplies of oil in the future will depend to a large degree on its availability from OPEC countries.
Prevailing forecasts indicate that a desirable timing for stockpile establishment, if this is necessary, would probably be the early to mid-1980s. The main value of inter-fuel substitution would be in diverting demand away from oil to other fuels, and in ensuring that all fuels are used in their most appropriate applications. At both the level of the individual firm and at the national level, inter-fuel substitution is likely to impinge upon national and regional policies other than energy policy, and some degree of conflict is inherent, particularly in respect of environmental objectives, economic efficiency, industry and employment policies, and with energy conservation itself. Quite apart from interfuel substitution, as such, there is also the possibility of actual physical conversion of one fuel to another. The principal practical possibility here is the conversion of coal into synthetic oil or gas. Basic to any discussions on the conversion of coal to oil should be the understanding that this is essentially a long-term proposition, and is likely in practical terms, to represent only a modest share of Australian oil requirements. It is no panacea.
The quickest route to significant quantities of synthetic transportation liquids from Australian coal would appear to be the South African SASOL II ‘ process. However, this would be likely, in practical terms, to represent no more than 40,000 barrels/day- probably about 5 per cent of estimated total market requirements- by 1985. This route, with its significant chemical byproducts, presents some problems for Australia. An alternative approach is the West German proposal for combining established hydrogenation, gasification and synthesis technologies. However, as this system is likely to require a demonstration plant to prove its effectiveness, the earliest date for a 60,000 barrels/day plant might be as late as 1992. This would probably account for about 6 per cent of our expected requirements at that time. Alternative approaches could be expected to take even longer time periods. For example, even with the rapid commercial development of solvent refined coal, commercial production would not be possible before 1995. The integration of pyrolysis with power generation would fit a similar time-scale.
The only renewable energy resource which is likely to make a significant contribution to Australia’s energy balance in the foreseeable future is solar energy. Solar energy is in fact, making a small contribution at the present time. The present main area of application for solar energy in Australia is the area of domestic applications typified by the flat plate collector for use as a domestic water heater at temperatures of around 60°C. One area in which solar energy makes a small contribution at the present time is in solar evaporation in the Western Australian salt industry, while other areas of potential commercial importance are in the kiln drying of timber and in water desalination. Solar energy used for these purposes in Australia at present comprises less than 0. 1 per cent of total energy consumption- although it is possible that the contribution from solar energy could amount to several per cent by the end of this century. With the development of commercial solar collectors at temperatures up to 150°C, solar energy could make a not insignificant contribution to Australia’s energy balance by substituting for present oil consumption. Solar energy would be valuable in those sectors of industry, such as food processing, which use hot water produced directly and not from waste heat.
In Australia there appears to be little possibility of generating electricity from nuclear power before 1990. At present, neither the Commonwealth nor the State Governments and their instrumentalities have any intentions to proceed to nuclear electricity generation. New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland have abundant reserves of low cost coal, and as yet nuclear generation cannot be justified on economic grounds. A major question for consideration is the extent to which assistance is provided to energy research and development. Past experience indicates that the development of new energy technologies to the stage of commercialisation usually spans several decades. If Australia is to provide for the future, it is very desirable that appropriate steps be taken now. This raises the question of the need for substantial Government participation in all phases of energy research, development, and demonstration. Direct Government funding will facilitate the integration of our national effort in energy research with overall policy objectives, and ensure that the research effort is properly co-ordinated. It also will help to ensure that the application of successful results are not unnecessarily restricted. There is a particular need for Government participation in the demonstration phase of many energy technologies, because of industry reluctance in this area. It is critical that effective vertical integration be achieved in these energy projects, and this will often be achieved by cooperation in joint ventures between industry, universities and Government.
I conclude this statement by sketching in some general POliCY targets to which energy policy should be directed over the next several years. The first target is to move crude oil prices in the direction of international levels. The first steps have already been taken towards this. There is no need, nor would it be desirable, for prices to move to world parity levels overnight. A second objective of a general nature, closely related to the first, is for the average rate of growth of energy consumption, particularly in liquid fuels, to be restrained. Prior to the rapid rise in energy prices in 1974, growth rates of energy consumption in Australia were in the order of 5V£ to 6 per cent per annum. Primarily as a result of slower rates of economic growth in recent years, the growth of energy consumption over the past three years has decreased markedly. It is projected that the average rate of growth in energy consumption in the period 1977 to 1985 might decline to about 3 1/2 per cent per annum. This would mean that consumption of crude oil in 1984-85 could be as much as 50 million barrels per annum below the level of consumption which would be indicated by historical growth rates. To the extent that this reduction in rates of growth in energy consumption is brought about through increases in energy price levels and by more efficient usage of energy- i.e. not by reductions in rates of economic growth- it may be recognised as a sign that our energy policies are working. To assist in achieving this objective the recommendation of the National Energy Advisory Committee in their report on energy conservation will be studied and as appropriate developed into an action program.
A third objective is the highest degree of selfsufficiency in liquid fuels consistent with the broadly economic utilisation of energy resources. Self-sufficiency in oil supplies is particularly relevant to the supply of crude oil from new deposits to be discovered and developed over the next decade or so- and as such is dependent to a large degree on the likelihood of success in discovering new deposits. It would not appear to be realistic, on the basis of presently estimated probabilities, to expect to achieve very high levels of self-sufficiency in crude oil supplies over the next 20 years or so, because of, amongst other things, the time lags involved in exploration and bringing new discoveries on stream. The continuation of substantial incentives for petroleum exploration and development will very probably be required. The possibility of establishing strategic stockpiles of major energy fuels will be investigated, and the potential for inter-fuel substitution will be fully explored.
A fourth energy policy objective is that economic oil and gas reserves be developed. Known reserves of oil and gas in onshore and offshore fields yet to be declared commercial amount to 160 million barrels of oil and 6.6 trillion cubic feet of gas (not including reserves in the North Rankin, Goodwyn, and Angel fields on the North West Shelf). Prospects for the development of known oil fields yet to be declared commercial have been considerably enhanced by the new pricing arrangements for ‘old’ oil, and the other incentives recently introduced by the Government. Careful consideration will be given to the design of any secondary tax on crude oil to ensure that it will not detract from the economic viability of oil fields yet to be developed. The new pricing arrangements, and the possible application of new equipment and techniques will be significant factors in reassessment of the ability of production from reserves in Bass Strait which until now have not been considered economic. The Esso/BHP partnership recently announced an increase of 329 million barrels in estimated oil reserves in developed Bass Strait fields, of which 35 per cent is directly attributable to the higher crude oil price now applicable. The proving up of appropriate reserves, and the existence of necessary markets will be key factors in determining the viability of gas discoveries not yet considered commercial, especially in offshore areas remote from the coast.
A fifth objective is to encourage individual major energy projects to meet overseas demand for energy minerals where those projects are economic and will provide an adequate return to Australia. Australia has a large number of new projects available to meet overseas demand for energy minerals. Much of the work needed to ensure the right climate for a new upsurge of mineral development has already been done- a very large proportion of it in the energy field. Foreign investment in developments arising from these objectives would of course be subject to the Government’s foreign investment guidelines. Nevertheless, the danger of any renewal of cost inflation must be avoided. Internal economic and industrial conditions play a significant role in the evaluation of large projects through their effect on developmental and production costs. Most of the projects are exportoriented, with the prices obtained being determined by international factors which are not directly related to indigenous economic conditions. Australia is now poised to play a major role in meeting the world’s energy needs. A recovery in world economic conditions will see this development take off. In the meantime the Government must continue to monitor events to facilitate the early identification of possible impediments and the development of appropriate policies to meet them.
A sixth objective is that energy R & D be substantially increased. Special machinery will be established to administer the expanded program and allocate funds, and a high level body, having close links with the National Energy Advisory Committee, will be established to report to me, as Minister for National Resources, on these matters. Pursuance of the policy targets which I have listed tonight will enable Australia to tackle its energy problems in a responsible manner, and with reasonable hope of being able to capitalise on the opportunities and avoid the dangers that lie ahead. Energy policy cannot, however, be determined in isolation, and must be consistent with other major areas of policy including those relating to the Budget and taxation, industrial and commercial development, overseas trade, and transport.
-I present the following paper.
National Energy Policy- Ministerial Statement, 7 November 1977 and move:
That the Senate take note of the statement
– We all are aware of the magnitude of the subject and ambit of the statement. As far as the
Opposition is concerned, the most significant aspect of the statement is the paragraph towards the end which refers to the utilisation of solar energy. The Opposition has some reservations as to whether that subject should have appeared so low in the batting order in the statement. However, there are one or two other comments I should like to make. I notice that the statement attempts in rather muted terms to marry environment with development, and in that area I think the report might have been a little more specific. Another aspect to which I shall refer is the storage of fuels and the utilisation of coal. Senator Jessop and other members of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment are aware of that matter through the evidence presented during the inquiry into industrial research. Reference was made to the cessation of experiments and production at Newnes in the 1950s, and some concern was expressed about whether overseas firms that had been involved in the earlier experiments would be prepared to unlock some of the research they had done. In relation to the production of oil from coal, or even oil from shale, which was the case at Newnes, there was some concern about whether those private firms had the inside running in times gone by and whether, because of their interlocking at an overseas level, we could have access to their records. We all know that President Carter is having enormous difficulty in placating the different elements in the United States community in order to get the best of two worlds.
The Opposition spokesman on this subject, Mr Paul Keating, has made numerous utterances on the matter, and in the next two or three years it certainly will be one of the foremost subjects for discussion. I suppose that as far as Australia is concerned the discussion will relate to how we can meet our own national requirements and, in the world scene, meet international commitments. Certainly, some aspects of the energy debate will become a focal point in the next few weeks, but beyond that I believe that the future in terms of our energy resources will be a testing time for Australia. I believe that the attitude of the late Mr Connor, the Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Labor Government, on Australian control and content still represents the light on the hill for which we are striving. In conclusion, I simply say that this is a comprehensive statement and I am sure that over the next two years the Senate will have many discussions on it to try to get the best possible terms for Australia and at the same time meet the needs of mankind.
I seek leave to continue my remarks on a future occasion.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Report of Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs
-by leave-Mr President, in regard to the report which I tabled earlier, one of my colleagues has referred to the fact that the report contains a reference to the tabling of the Hansard transcript of in camera evidence. Perhaps I should say that the Committee, in its report on outstanding references tabled on 23 September, had advised the Senate in advance that it intended to follow that course. Paragraph 8 on page 3 of that report states:
The Committee chose this form of meeting to enable it to hear a frank and open discussion on the bill. It is the intention of the Committee to make the Hansard report of this meeting available to all interested persons, and to table same in the Senate on completion of its inquiry into the matter.
The witnesses concerned were consulted about this course and agreed that such a record should be tabled. The precedent for this arose on the occasion of the tabling of the Committee’s report on ‘The Law and Administration of Divorce and related Matters and the Family Law Bill 1974’ on 15 October 1974. At that time the Chairman of the Committee tabled the Hansard report of three in camera meetings. It was in accordance with that precedent that this course was followed today.
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 Carrick) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
This Bill, to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, is designed to complete the establishment of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and to transfer present ministerial powers in the broadcasting and television licensing area to the Tribunal. It gives effect to the Government’s decision to establish a special broadcasting service. The Bill also updates a number of other provisions to accord with government decisions and policies arising from the restructuring of the Australian broadcasting system. The restructuring of the broadcasting system has resulted from a desire to remedy a number of major deficiencies.
The Government was concerned at the lack of clarity of the functions and responsibilities of government organisations with an involvement in broadcasting. We were also concerned about the lack of an overall strategic broadcasting policy. This resulted in ad hoc planning and sporadic development. There were obvious weaknesses in co-ordination and liaison between government and non-government broadcasting organisations. We wanted to correct this situation and to provide for industry and public involvement in broadcasting administration, particularly in the licensing area.
It was considered desirable to provide appropriate machinery which would ensure adequate accountability by licencees for station performance. In addition, the Government was aware of the need to remedy the inefficient use of government engineering resources, and the general inability of the administrative structure to respond to technological developments. As a result of these substantial deficiencies the Government decided in April 1976 to hold an inquiry into the Australian broadcasting system. Such an inquiry was long overdue. The inquiry was conducted and its report- referred to as the Green report- was tabled in both Houses of the Parliament on 9 November 1976. After studying the report, the Government decided upon a number of major changes to the administrative structure of the Australian broadcasting system.
As a preliminary to complete implementation of the Government’s decisions on the restructuring of the broadcasting system, the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Act (No. 2) 1976 was passed by the Parliament. This Act disbanded the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and established the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. It transferred to the Tribunal the licensing and regulatory powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board.
It also provided for the planning and technical aspects of broadcasting to be a responsibility of the Postal and Telecommunications Department. In implementing these changes and in proposing the changes contained in this Bill, the Government has been motivated by a number of important principles which it believes should form the basis of the further development of the Australian broadcasting system. Firstly, we believe that the broadcasting frequency spectrum is a valuable public resource. It must be a responsibility of government to plan the allocation of broadcasting frequencies and, through the establishment of appropriate bodies, to provide an administrative structure for the licensing and overall operation of radio and television broadcasting stations.
Still further, the Government believes it has a responsibility to determine the components of the system, that is, the types of services provided by the sectors which should constitute the system, and the role of those components. We have sought to come to grips with the role of the public broadcasting sector and its relationship with the national and commercial sectors. This contrasts with the casual, incompetent manner in which the previous Government responded to the demand for public broadcasting, particularly in its doubtful method of licensing such stations under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. At the same time as we see the need for government responsibility in these areas, it is our view that responsibility for the licensing and regulatory functions in the broadcasting area should rest with autonomous statutory authorities, rather than with the Government itself.
The principle of a broadcasting system not subject to political interference is one of the basic aims of the changes proposed in this Bill. The major element of the changes aimed at depoliticising the broadcasting system is the transfer of the licensing power from the Minister to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. The broadcasting industry has sought this change for many years and it is considered to be an important factor in achieving more effective broadcasting administration. In addition, we believe it highly desirable, that there should be a significant degree of public and industry involvement in the development of broadcasting.
This medium plays a very important role in the life of most people. Accordingly, the planning and administration of broadcasting should be designed in a manner which will enable it to be responsive to the needs of the community. The Government has not been reluctant to institute procedures to enable the fullest public and industry involvement. The activities of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal will, as far as possible, be conducted in public and the public will have substantial access to the inquiry and deliberative activities of the Tribunal. The principle of accountability by broadcasters within the broadcasting system has also been considered as an important element.
The Government has taken decisions to ensure that broadcasters, making use of a scarce national resource such as frequencies, are accountable for their activities. The Tribunal must be able to justify publicly its deliberative and decision-making activities and in a similar manner, broadcasters will be made to account, at renewal hearings, and in public, for their programming performances.
The Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill 1977 provides for:
The transfer of the present ministerial powers relating to the licensing of stations;
The full establishment of the powers and functions of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal;
The transfer of the broadcasting planning responsibility from the Secretary of the Postal and Telecommunications Department to the Minister;
Introduction of public inquiries into licence renewals;
Establishment and constitution of the special broadcasting service; and
A number of minor and consequential amendments reflecting the above changes and updating or modifying the act where necessary.
The Bill empowers the Tribunal to:
Grant, renew, suspend and revoke licences;
Authorise transactions relating to the transfer of licences or the admission of other persons to participate in the benefits of a licence;
Approve changes relating to the ownership and control of licences;
Set and vary conditions of licences; and
Collect information pursuant to its functions; and
Set and administer broadcasting standards.
The Tribunal will have quasi-judicial powers. In performing its functions, the Tribunal will be required to hold inquiries where it is desirable to do so. The Bill provides that the Tribunal hold such inquiries in public and that it consider all submissions made to it as part of the inquiry process. It is also required to publish reports on its inquiries, detailing its deliberations and the reasons for its decision and recommendations. The Tribunal may take evidence in private where it considers it desirable to do so by reason of the confidential nature of the material. It may restrict the publication of such material from its reports. The members and staff of the Tribunal will be bound by the rules of secrecy as they apply, for example, to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and other Commonwealth bodies of similar status.
The Bill provides detailed administrative procedures to be observed by the Tribunal in exercising its powers. In general, these procedures allow for a high degree of public and industry involvement in the Tribunal’s decision-making processes. Regarding its responsibility for the setting and administration of standards, the Tribunal, at the Government’s direction, recently completed a report on broadcasting standards and the concept of self-regulation. The Government has not yet considered this report. Until we have decided on the final role of the Tribunal in this area, the Tribunal has been asked to maintain the standards administered by the former Control Board.
The Government has decided, as part of the move to ensure adequate accountability in the administration of the broadcasting system, to extend the present appeals procedures. There must be redress for broadcasters who feel they have been unfairly treated by the Tribunal. The Bill accordingly provides for appeals by licensees to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against many decisions of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.
Under the revised administrative structure provided by this Bill, the Minister administering the Broadcasting and Television Act now will be responsible for planning the provision of broadcasting services. We believe that planning the physical development of the broadcasting system is properly a matter for government. It is closely related to its overall communications policy, and to its responsibility for the management of the frequency spectrum. The Minister will initiate the calling of licence applications as part of the planning process and then refer the applications received to the Tribunal for determination. In inviting applications, the Minister will provide specifications for the particular licence. These will indicate the nature of the service to be provided, the area to be served, the purpose of the licence, and other technical matters. These specifications will become, upon grant of the licence, conditions of the licence an addition to the conditions set by the Tribunal pursuant to its powers.
I turn now to those types of broadcasting services described as ‘special purpose’. The Government has been conscious of a need for the Australian broadcasting system to provide basic broadcasting services to the whole community and not just to parts of the community. Over onequarter of the people in Australia did not have what must be considered a basic broadcasting service, that is, a service in their mother tongue. We inherited from the previous Administration a poorly organised, inadequate multilingual broadcasting service and have sought to respond to a need by Australia’s ethnic communities for a more comprehensive broadcasting service.
The Government decided to establish a permanent framework, not only for ethnic broadcasting services, but also for other types of special broadcasting services which may be considered necessary or desirable in the future. This Bill provides for the establishment of the Special Broadcasting Service. It will be a statutory authority comprising a part time Chairman and not less than two, nor more than six, part time members. The SBS shall be empowered to provide multilingual broadcasting services and, if authorised by the regulations, to provide multilingual television services; and to provide broadcasting and television services for such special purposes as are prescribed.
The SBS shall be administered by an Executive Director, appointed by the GovernorGeneral. Initially, it will be responsible for ethnic broadcasting and for the operation of radio stations 2EA Sydney and 3EA Melbourne. These are presently being operated by the Postal and Telecommunications Department. It is envisaged that the SBS may, at a later stage, assume responsibility for other special broadcasting and television services in Australia. New services by the SBS, however, may only be undertaken after parliamentary approval is given and the necessary regulations promulgated.
The concept behind the SBS is that it will generally provide only those services which would not otherwise be available though the national, commercial or public broadcasting sectors. The SBS will be empowered to fund its operations by the broadcasting of sponsored programs, by charging for the provision of services and facilities and by the sale of programs and rights or interests in programs. These avenues of funding are in addition to moneys appropriated annually from the Parliament to the SBS. The SBS will not, however, derive revenue by means of normal commercial advertising.
The Bill also contains a number of amendments to the principal Act. These are either consequential to the above changes, or minor amendments which update and standardise a number of provisions to accord with current legislative practice. There are some amendments which do not alter current policy but clarify responsibilities or procedures under the Act. In this category are amendments to those provisions relating to the provision of technical services to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This Bill provides that these services, mainly relating to national transmitters, will be provided to the ABC by the Minister. They were previously provided by the Australian Telecommunications Commission. In practice, Telecom will largely continue to provide these services but on a contract basis.
The Bill also amends the charter of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to require it, in the performance of its functions, to have regard to the services provided by the Special Broadcasting Service. This amendment is simply intended to avoid duplication of activities by the ABC and the SBS. Further to the belief that a basic broadcasting service should be available to all Australians, the Government has taken decisions to ensure that people in rural and isolated areas have access to as many services as possible. The provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act covering television repeater stations are being amended to facilitate the development of television services in remote areas. The Bill also provides for the licensing of community television aerial systems. They were previously provided under a permit issued by the Minister.
This Bill contains a number of transitional provisions which serve primarily to enable the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to phase the introduction of the new system of public inquiries into the licensing process and into the general administration of broadcasting matters. In line with the Government’s desire to establish an administrative structure for broadcasting which is responsive to industry and public needs and which efficiently and fairly operates for the benefit of the whole community, the Government has undertaken quite extensive consultation in the preparation of this legislation. This consultation has taken the form of representations and submissions from the public and the industry to the Green inquiry and consultation in the recent past with representatives of the broadcasting industries. There has also been close consultation with those government departments and instrumentalities with an interest in, or with responsibilities in, the broadcasting area. The Bill proposes significant changes in the administration of the Australian broadcasting system. I recognise that there is keen interest by the broadcasting industries and the public in these proposals. I commend this Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Withers) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill will give effect to the Government’s social services proposals for 1977-78. These are:
Extension of eligibility for handicapped child’s allowance to less severe cases where the family income is low and financial hardship would otherwise be suffered.
Extension of the free rehabilitation programs of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to house-wives, pensioners, juniors and other classes of persons not previously eligible.
Removal of a provision which discriminates against married women in relation to sickness benefit and bringing the income test for sickness benefit into line with that applying to unemployment benefit.
Extension of benefits currently available to supporting mothers to supporting fathers.
The Bill also gives effect to the Government’s decision to clarify in the legislation the position regarding eligibility of school leavers for unemployment benefit. Two machinery amendments are also being made. Honourable senators will be aware that in addition to these measures, pensions and benefits are to be increased in November in accordance with existing provisions of the Social Services Act for six-monthly adjustments in the consumer price index. The new single rate of pension will represent 24.9 per cent of the seasonally adjusted average weekly male earnings for the June 1977 quarter. I will refer in detail to these increases later.
Handicapped Child’s Allowance
At present a handicapped child’s allowance of $ 1 5 a week is payable to parents or guardians in respect of a severely physically or mentally handicapped child under 16 years of age who is cared for at home and who, because of the severity of the handicap, requires constant care and attention. This should not be confused with handicapped child’s benefit which is paid at $5 per day for handicapped children residing in an approved home. The handicapped child ‘s allowance is designed to assist in meeting the exceptional costs incurred by parents or guardians who prefer to care for a severely handicapped child at home rather than to place the child m an institution. It has come to notice that there are a number of low income families caring for a child who is substantially handicapped but not severely handicapped and for whom a handicapped child ‘s allowance is not paid because the medical criteria are not fully met. The Government is aware of the additional costs that can be incurred in caring for a handicapped child at home and that it places a strain- often a severe strain- on the finance of low-income parents. These expenses can arise out of the need to provide special footwear or other clothing, special diets or specific medical or remedial treatment that the parents of other children are not required to provide. The Government has accordingly decided to extend eligibility for the handicapped child’s allowance. The DirectorGeneral of Social Services, at his discretion, will be able to grant a handicapped child’s allowance of up to $15 a week to a person on low income who is caring for a substantially handicapped child. The allowance will be payable in respect of a child whose substantial handicap does not fully meet the existing medical criteria, but where, because of continuing substantial expenditure associated with the child ‘s disability, the parent or guardian is, in the Director-General’s opinion, suffering severe financial hardship.
Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service
The other change in assistance to handicapped people related to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service and the broadening of its present terms of eligibility for acceptance of cases without charge. The Commonwealth Government, through the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, has for the past 29 years operated a comprehensive rehabilitation service for selected handicapped people. The service, which began in July 1948, is conducted by the Department of Social Security as part of its responsibility for administration of the Social Services Act. The service is designed to help people who are suffering from long term disabilities by providing them with comprehensive programs of social /vocational rehabilitation once the acute phase of recovery has been completed. Over the years the service has been able to assist many thousands of severely handicapped people to reach or to regain independence and, in a high percentage of cases, their capacity to undertake gainful employment. As matters stand, however, assistance free of charge through the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service is confined to certain pensioners and beneficiaries under the Social Services Act, in addition to a small number of special groups. Other disabled people who are unable to qualify for a free service have either to be sponsored for the cost of their rehabilitation treatment and training, or personally meet the cost in accordance with individual capacity to pay. To qualify for assistance there must also be reasonable prospects, following rehabilitation, of the individual being able to return to, or engaging in, gainful employment. Under the above criteria disabled housewives, for example, or other persons who may be deemed unlikely to have reasonable prospects of undertaking gainful employment are not eligible for assistance free of charge.
The Government has recognised the pressing need for rehabilitation assistance, particularly of a social/vocational nature, to be made more freely available to all persons who would benefit substantially from such assistance. We are proposing, therefore, that the remedial and training programs of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service should be made available, without cost, not only to those who have reasonable prospects of undertaking employment, whether full, parttime, or sheltered, but also to all those within the broad working age group who, in spite of substantial residual handicaps, have reasonable prospects, with rehabilitation assistance, of either resuming a former role as housewife /mother, or simply increasing their capacity to lead an independent or semiindependent life at home.
In brief, the amendments we are proposing to Part VIII of the Act will enable the Department of Social Security to offer the very successful rehabilitation treatment and training programs of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to all classes of severely disabled persons within the broad working age group who would benefit substantially from such assistance. During the current year, emphasis will be paid to the acceptance of greater numbers of disabled housewives, especially those from families of low socioeconomic status who would otherwise be unlikely to undertake necessary rehabilitation on a paying basis even if this were offered at reduced charges. Priority will also be given to those cases where the breadwinner’s employment status is being affected because of the demands of caring for a disabled spouse living at home and who could be afforded more independence through appropriate rehabilitation measures.
The Government has decided to remove an element of discrimination existing in relation to the eligibility of married women to receive sickness benefit. Sickness benefit is payable at the same rate as unemployment benefit to a person who is temporarily incapacitated for work and has suffered a loss of income as a result of the incapacity. The maximum rate is currently $47.10 a week for a single person without dependants, and $78.50 a week for a married couple. These rates will increase to $49.30 and $82.20 respectively from 1 November 1977, in accordance with the existing automatic adjustment provisions contained in the Social Services Act. Where there are children, additional benefit of $7.50 a week is payable for each child. Supplementary allowance up to a maximum of $5 a week may be paid when sickness benefit has been paid continuously for six weeks and the person pays rent, lodging or board and lodging.
At present the Social Services Act provides that a married woman is not entitled to sickness benefit if it is reasonably possible for her husband to maintain her. This provision is considered to discriminate against women. It will be repealed. In future a married woman will be able to qualify for a sickness benefit on the same basis as a married man. A change in the method of assessing sickness benefit is also proposed. Sickness benefit is the only income-tested benefit under the Social Services Act which does not take into account the income of both husband and wife. The method of assessment is out of line with the other income-tested pensions and benefits because the income of a wife is not taken into account in determining the husband’s entitlement to sickness benefit. The effect of this is that a married man may receive sickness benefit up to a maximum single rate of $47.10 a week, irrespective of his wife ‘s income.
The Government believes that this position is no longer tenable and the Bill amends relevant provisions of the Act accordingly. Action along these lines was recommended by Professor Henderson in his first main report on poverty in Australia. This means that in future the combined income of both husband and wife will be taken into account in assessing the rate of sickness benefit as is the case with other incometested pensions and benefits. Provisions are included in the Bill to ensure that no existing beneficiary’s payment will be reduced as a result of this change.
Supporting Parents’ Benefits
Mr President, as I have already announced, the Government has decided to include provisions in this Bill to provide for a benefit to be paid to supporting fathers on the same basis as supporting mothers. The new benefit, together with the existing supporting mother’s benefit, will be known as supporting parents’ benefits. The new benefit will be payable to all fathers bringing up children on their own and will come into effect on the date the Bill receives the Royal Assent. Fathers who have already been supporting their children for six months or more will become eligible immediately the Bill becomes law.
The rates of the new benefit and the income test will be the same as for the existing supporting mother’s benefit. A supporting father will be eligible for benefit of $49.30 a week plus $7.50 a week for each child, including a student child. In addition, a guardian’s allowance of $6 a week will be payable where he has the care of a child under six years of age, or an invalid child- $4 a week if the child is over six years but not an invalid. Thus a supporting father with two children, one of whom is under six years of age may receive, subject to the income test, a total benefit of $70.30 a week. In addition, he will be able to have a separate income of $32 a week without any effect on his benefit. Where rent is paid, supplementary assistance of up to $5 a week may also be payable. Eligible supporting fathers will also be entitled to the range of Commonwealth fringe benefits that are available to supporting mothers under existing conditions. These concessions are a reduced rental on their telephone, free hearing aid and funeral benefit.
The Government will be discussing the new benefit with the States to gain their acceptance of the inclusion of supporting fathers on the same terms as supporting mothers. Two States- Western Australia and South Australia- already provide assistance to this group. In the meantime, in those States in which State Government assistance is not provided in the first six months, a supporting father will be eligible to claim special benefit which is paid at unemployment benefit rates and subject to the unemployment benefit income test. Due to the lack of data on supporting fathers- their number, the size of their families, their income distribution- and a lack of knowledge as to the number likely to seek assistance and the period for which they would seek it, it is not possible to estimate the exact cost of paying supporting fathers the same benefits that are available to supporting mothers. It is estimated, however, that the cost of a supporting father’s benefit would be of the order of $ 10m in a full year and $6.5min 1977-78.
The Bill also gives effect to the Government’s decision to clarify by legislation the eligibility of school leavers for unemployment benefit. Last year, in accordance with a decision of the Government, unemployment benefit was not paid to school leavers during the summer vacation. In recent years many claims for unemployment benefit have been made during the summer vacation by school leavers prior to their making serious efforts to obtain employment and by others who claim to be unemployed but who actually intend to resume school or go to tertiary education after the vacation. The Government believes that it would be reasonable to impose some period of time after leaving school before a school leaver will be eligible for unemployment benefit.
The Government has decided that a period of six weeks is reasonable, and the Bill provides that, in the case of school leavers, unemployment benefit is not payable for six weeks after the date of ceasing full-time education. A person who has completed a course of secondary education apart from sitting for examinations will be deemed to remain a full-time secondary school student until after the completion of the examinations. A similar period of six weeks during which unemployment benefit is not payable will apply to tertiary students who do not complete their courses if the Director-General is satisfied that the cessation of their studies was due to a voluntary act and without good and sufficient reason.
The other amendments contained in the Bill are largely machinery. First, a provision is being inserted in the Act requiring the beneficiary to notify the Department immediately he obtains paid employment or commences to engage in work on his own account. At present there is no such requirement in the Act; in fact a person is only required to notify the receipt of income within a period of seven days after he has received that income. This has been a serious defect, particularly in cases where unemployment benefit is paid fortnightly in advance.
Other matters affecting eligibility for benefits such as the receipt of income, marriage, et cetera, will also require immediate notification. The Director-General will have the right to calculate and recover any overpayments from the date on which the change of eligibility occurred. A further amendment relates to the periods for which unemployment and sickness benefits may be paid. Section 132 of the Act at present requires that benefits should be paid in fortnightly instalments. The Bill amends that section so that payments may be made in respect of such periods as the Director-General determines. This will enable a weekly instalment to be paid where considered necessary. It is proposed to do this in respect of the first cheque when payments commence to be paid in arrears.
Under the new procedures, a person who makes a claim for unemployment benefit on the day on which he becomes unemployed will not be entitled to receive any benefit in respect of the first week of unemployment. After the end of the second week, he will receive the benefit for that week on submitting a statement confirming that he has not been employed or received income that would make him ineligible. This procedure will be repeated and he will receive a further two weeks benefit at fortnightly intervals thereafter, while the unemployment continues and he satisfies eligibility requirements. It has been claimed that the proposed system could lead to hardship if an unemployed person does not make immediate application for benefit in the hope that he will find work without needing to apply for Commonwealth assistance. The new law will accordingly provide that a period of unemployment immediately prior to the date of application for benefit may be taken into account as the whole or part of the waiting period if it is established that the claimant was able to work and taking reasonable steps to obtain work during that period.
I would like to draw to honourable senator’s attention the proposed increases in pensions and benefits which I mentioned at the beginning of this speech. As honourable senators will be aware, these increases flow from the provisions relating to the six-monthly automatic adjustment of pensions which were inserted in the Social Services Act last year. The maximum single rate will increase by $2.20 a week to $49.30 a week. The maximum combined married rate will increase by $3.70 a week to $82.20 a week. The increases reflect the 4.7 per cent increase in the consumer price index between the December quarter 1 976 and the June quarter 1977. These increases will mean that since the Government assumed office in December 1975 the standard or single rate of pension has increased by $10.55 a week and the combined married rate by $ 1 7.70 a week.
The new rates of age, invalid, wives and widows pensions, supporting mothers benefits and sheltered employment allowances will be payable on 10 November 1977. The new rates of unemployment and sickness benefit will operate with effect from 1 November 1977. Single unemployment and sickness beneficiaries under 18 years of age will continue to receive payment at $36 a week. The cost of increasing pensions and benefits for social security pensioners and beneficiaries in November is estimated to be $140m in 1977-78 and $2 14m in a full year. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 4 November on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– When this debate was adjourned on Friday I had outlined to the Senate the principal purpose of the Bill which is to give approval to an agreement between this Government and the State Government of Tasmania to assist financially the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd which has been in financial difficulties for some time. It will be recalled that last year a Senate committee was set up to look at the financial viability of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. The committee got on with its job very speedily and furnished to the Senate a report on what it found to be the situation. The committee made certain recommendations to the Parliament and to the Government.
Unfortunately, because of the depressed world price for copper, the situation does not appear to have improved. The situation is a rather sad one because the company has expended a substantial sum on money on upgrading the mines system, on providing a new shaft and on introducing new techniques which it hoped would increase the productivity and output of the mine. It was hoped that this would help the mine to reach a position of cash flow and financial viability and thus enable it to carry on under its own steam.
The two governments in combination have agreed to finance the activities of the mine up to- and I ask the Senate to note this- 30 June 1978. Under the present formula the Commonwealth and the State Government of Tasmania operate on a dollar for dollar basis. The cost to the Commonwealth Government, and similarly the State Government of Tasmania, for the period 1 5 August to 2 November 1 977 is $ 1 m. So we are already committed to $lm. So too, of course, is the State Government. The money is to be paid direct to the State Government which in turn, by a satisfactory accounting system which has been worked out-or one presumes it will be- will pay the sum involved to the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. If the agreement runs its full term the Commonwealth and the Tasmanian Government will both be up for $5m.
Another provision in the agreement relates to the situation that arises if the company reaches a level of cash flow. In such a case provision is made for repayment of the grant. It should be noted that the grant is non-interest bearing. The agreement provides that the company is required to refund the money to the State of Tasmania which, in turn, one assumes, would refund it to the Commonwealth. As I have said, no interest will be charged on the grant and that provision is of very real assistance to this organisation.
As I said earlier, it is rather sad to see this mine, which has operated for the past 80 years, in this financial difficulty. The problem arises almost solely- at least 90 per cent anywaybecause of the depressed world market for copper. One is entitled to assume, without looking closely at this matter, that new technology, new systems, new metals and so on may have been developed to take the place of copper. But I understand that is not so, even despite the fact that electricity schemes now are using cables with aluminium cores and there has been quite dramatic growth in the development of polyvinyl chloride piping. The effect of that on the total scene accounts for only about 10 per cent of the - problem so there does not appear in the immediate future to be any real hope of Mount Lyell coming out of its present difficulties. I mentioned that the company had spent about $20m putting in a new shaft and the systems which go with it. The evidence given to the Select Committee of inquiry was that with the expenditure of a few more million dollars that project could have been completed and could have meant a considerable improvement in the company’s mining operations and extraction costs. If it had been completed a position of viability might have been achieved. However, the company is in such a position that that work cannot be proceeded with and completed, so much of the value of that very costly operation is lost.
One wonders what the future is for the west coast region. The town of Queenstown is the main centre for the whole of the western region of Tasmania and, as one who has lived and worked there, it is my view that if the mine folds we will see a repeat of the history of so many other mining ventures both here and in other parts of the world. The west coast of Tasmania is an area of outstanding tourist attraction but I very much doubt whether that activity could support the communities located on the west coast in towns such as Queenstown, the smaller township of Gormanston, the seaport of Strahan which formerly serviced the mine, together with other less populous centres on the west coast. So I fear that unless something dramatic and at the moment unforseen happens the outlook will not be bright. It is a rather dismal scene.
I have a very close relationship with the people of the west coast of Tasmania and feel dreadfully sorry that we have come to this point in the life of that community. During the course of the Select Committee’s inquiry into the Mount Lyell situation we were told by both the mine management and the people in the industrial world that the relationships between the workers and the management of Mount Lyell were second to none in Australia. I know that to be so from my own experience and personal knowledge. It is a creditable relationship which has existed between employer and worker on the west coast of Tasmania. Concessions on both sides have been made from time to time when difficulties have arisen, and even in comparatively recent times when indexation was introduced and the workers in the mine had an entitlement to an increase in pay they forwent part of that increase so that the mine could continue. In this way they were making their contribution, as they have done over the years, to the continuing existence of the Mount Lyell company.
The point I am making is that when we talk about assisting an industry which has been going for so long and in which relationships have been so good, in an area where there is such harmony in the community and people have combined on occasions of necessity and importance to work for the common good, we are talking of an industry which over the years has made a tremendous contribution’ to the national Treasury and the Treasury of Tasmania. If there is to be any hope at all for the future of the west coast copper mine at Queenstown it is appropriate that we should now do all in our power to ensure that the mine continues until such time as a cash flow position operates again and the mine can enjoy the good times it has had in the past.
I recall that during the war years trades people and business people in the community left their businesses and worked for the Mount Lyell company so that that company could play its part in the production of the essential minerals needed to sustain our war effort. It was a very creditable performance. Over the years the mine and the people in the area, through taxation, have made substantial contributions to the national Treasury. I would not know what that amount is but it would be substantial. It seems to me that now that the mine has fallen on bad times we should do our darndest to see that it has a prospect of coming out of that situation. If we do not, it could mean the disruption of the lives of the people on the west coast of Tasmania, people whose life savings are invested in their homes and properties, in an area in which many generations of their families have grown up, an area in which they find comfort and in which they are happy to be. It suits them to live there and they want to continue to live there.
If the organisation does close down there will be created an added difficulty in our already difficult unemployment situation because the people who cannot get jobs in the mine at Queenstown will be thrown on the labour market. This will exacerbate, as I have said, the already difficult situation. In the interim the Commonwealth will be required to pay unemployment benefit or removal expenses to those people. So if the mine closes down, the cost to the Government will be very considerable and that is a factor which should be taken into account in assessing what the Government should do.
My final point, which I think is tremendously important, is that the Industries Assistance Commission has recently concluded an inquiry into the position of the Mount Lyell company and on 30 September furnished a report to the Government on what it believes ought to be the future of the Mount Lyell company. I am amazed that some 5 weeks have passed since the Government received that report and we are now ratifying an agreement to give pro tern interim financial assistance to Mount Lyell when we might be considering the terms of the report and doing something more positive. Is one entitled to conclude that the report is an unfavourable one and that the Government is keeping it under wraps until this election is over? If that is the case, it is sneaky, snide and cynical and I would ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) to put my mind at rest when he replies.
I would have thought that the circumstances were so urgent that a government wishing to take advantage of the best political climate at the time of an election would have reacted to any favourable recommendation that the Industries Assistance Commission had made. One can only reach the conclusion, and it is the unfortunate conclusion that I am bound to reach, that the report is not favourable and will not see the light of day until some time in the future. In the meantime we will spend $5m, which might be better spent in some other way, to sustain the industry until 30 June. Have we not an obligation to the people on the west coast of Tasmania whose interests, whose whole life and whose life savings are invested in the area, to give them at least some indication that we are not just going along with an interim pro tern arrangement until 30 June when, if the Government sees fit to act upon an unfavourable report of the IAC, the whole show will collapse? If that is to be the case and we are to inflict what must be a cruel and unjust fate on these people, would it not be better not to keep them dangling on the hook for another six or seven months and then saying to them: ‘That is the end of it; we are not prepared to put any further money into it; Copper is not a viable proposition any more and the whole show must close down’? Where do we stand on this? I would like to know. The Government has an obligation right now to come clean on this issue. I know that already it has responded to the Tasmanian Government’s plea for assistance but it should say what is in the IAC report and whether it is prepared to accept or not accept it if the report is not in favour of the continuation of mining on the west coast of Tasmania. If it did accept such a recommendation the whole community would collapse. There is no doubt about that. There is nothing else there to sustain it. Mount Lyell is an essential part of the tourist circuit for people visiting the west coast of Tasmania. If the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd were to close down, there would be very little to induce people to visit this area, apart from a few stragglers from time to time who would make no impact on the total financial scene in the region.
I know that some of my colleagues opposite- I am not sure about my colleagues on this side of the chamber- want to speak on this matter. I will conclude my remarks by saying this: It is not just a question of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd closing down. If the company closes down, that will have a very serious detrimental effect on a number of associated industries. For instance, the smelting operations which now are carried out on the mainland will be affected. The evidence given to the Senate Select Committee was that that industry relied on the tonnage of concentrates from Mount Lyell to enable it to be viable and to keep going. Are we to see a situation, if the Mount Lyell operations close down, in which that industry would be affected also? The North West Acid Pty Ltd plant in northwestern Tasmania relies for its future operations on the extraction of material from the copper mining operations at Queenstown. The rail system which serves the west coast of Tasmania operates from Burnie. The Burnie Marine Board and the operation of shipping from that centre also rely to a very substantial degree on the copper concentrates which are exported from the port of Burnie. So it is not just the Mount Lyell company that will be affected. A whole range of other organisations and industries depend on the future operations of Mount Lyell for their future.
I am more concerned about the human aspect of this problem. If the Government knows from the terms of the Industries Assistance Commission report that the industry no longer is viable or is not likely to be viable in the future, we have no right not to let this be known. It is unjust, cruel and unfair if, knowing that, we keep these people dangling on a string for another six or seven months and then at the end of that time, with the election safely over, say to them: ‘We cannot expend any further Commonwealth funds on this operation’. We should have regard to the fact that in the 80 years of operation of that organisation substantial sums of money have been provided to the Commonwealth Treasury. We should have regard also to the fact that if the company closes down it will result in the disruption of whole families, communities of families and the many business operations which depend on the people being in that community for their future. The prospects do not look bright.
The Government has the answer, and I suggest very strongly that it should come out and tell us now what are the terms of the IAC report. In view of the fact that the Government has had the report in its hands for five weeks now- long enough, when the whole community is threatened- it should come out and say what the future holds for that region. While we now are ratifying this agreement which will run until June next year and which represents a payment of $lm for every 2½ months, with the State Government providing the same amount of money, we should know that this money is being spent in a good cause and that there is, in fact, a future for the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. The Opposition supports the proposals contained in the Bill.
– I, too, would like to speak to the Tasmania Grant (The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company Limited) Bill 1977. It is a pleasure to follow Senator Devitt in the debate. He has a very intimate and personal knowledge and understanding of, and a sympathy attitude to, the situation. I think it would be fitting also if I expressed my regret that the people of Tasmania will not have his representation after 30 June next year. It certainly will be a very substantial loss to many people who have appreciated the understanding that he has been able to give to matters concerning the northern and western area of the State.
Certainly all Tasmania will appreciate the help that this Bill will provide. It will provide help not only for the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd, the people of Queenstown itself or the whole of Tasmania. I have had about 30 years of association with Queenstown in one way or another. It is a place that has always held a great deal of interest and fascination for me. I have got to know many of the people for whom it is home. I suppose that over those 30 years I have organised thousands of people to visit Queenstown because I believe that it has so much of interest to the visitor. I suppose that over that same time I have been instrumental in seeing that hundreds of copies of the book ‘The Peaks of Lyell’ by Geoffrey Blainey have been sold and distributed. Again, it was so much a worth while exercise.
I will endeavour not to go over the ground covered by Senator Devitt. This CommonwealthState agreement was completed on 15 August on a dollar for dollar basis. As Senator Devitt says, we are awaiting the Industries Assistance Commission report. I made inquiries at the end of last week and I am of the opinion that its presentation is imminent. I certainly hope that its recommendations will be favourable. But, whether they are good or bad, I would like to see them in the next day or so. A quick improvement in the world copper markets appears most unlikely. It is very difficult to see an improvement occurring. I understand that 80 per cent of the world copper production today is being produced on a loss basis. It is produced in countries in which governments are prepared to subsidise its production in an effort to obtain orders.
I understand that the current world price of copper is about $1,030 a tonne, having fallen from a peak figure of $2,240 a tonne in April 1974.I also understand that for the Mount Lyell mine to be a profitable operation the company needs to receive in the order of $1,500 a tonne for the copper produced. All the time the prices have been falling the costs have been rising. We are told that the company lost $ 11.1m in 1976-77, $5.5m the year before and $8.3m the year before that, making a total loss of about $25m over the last three years. As a result, optimism would be very unrealistic, to say the least, at this time. But there can still be hope, and we are hoping. Attitudes expressed in the reports of the company at this stage are not surprising. I believe that it is taking a quite realistic view. It was stated in the Australian Financial Review of 14 October 1977:
The London mining, industrial and investment group Consolidated Goldfields has written off its entire beneficial interest in the Mount Lyell copper mine as a cost of $32.8m …
The report goes on to say:
That is the Australian company- has written down the book value of its investment in Mount Lyell by $10.26m to $2.6m.
I think that indicates that the company realises what the problems are and the extent of them, and has taken this action. The Sydney Morning Herald of 20 September 1977 had this to say:
Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd has downgraded proven reserves at its Tasmanian mines by 20 million tonnes.
The general manager, Mr D. P. Sawyer, disclosed this revision yesterday in his report with the company’s accounts for the year to June 30.
It leaves Mount Lyell with proven reserves of only 5,825,000 tonnes of ore assaying 1.47 per cent copper at its Queenstown mines.
This was caused by the abandonment at this stage of the major development known as the Prince Lyell shaft. If it were found possible to proceed with that development, a further 20 million tonnes of reserves could be added to that figure. Accordingly, I too await the presentation of the IAC report optimistically. It means so much to so many people. The Warden of Queenstown, Mr Bruce Dilger, has done a wonderful job for Queenstown over these last very difficult months. I would like very much to add whatever praise I can give to Mr Dilger for the way he has operated in this very difficult situation and kept all the parties as objective as possible all the time. I have no doubt that the people of Queenstown will play their part. They fully understand the situation and are doing everything possible.
We are very hopeful that government action on the Industries Assistance Commission report will produce the support of the Commonwealth and State governments. We are looking to Consolidated Goldfields in the United Kingdom and Consolidated Goldfields of Australia Ltd to continue their support also. Consolidated Goldfields is most welcome in Tasmania. That organisation has made a tremendous contribution to Mount Lyell and to one of the other major mines, not only through the tremendous expertise exhibited by that company but also with the money it has contributed. We cannot overlook the vast amounts of money it has put into the area. Since mining started in Tasmania the influence of overseas countries and companies has been very important. It still is very important. We value these companies highly. This company bought into the Mount Lyell mine in 1964, when it purchased a 56 per cent interest and paid $ 11.9m. Since 1964 it has added $61m in cash and, for that sort of investment, it has received a total dividend of $7m.
It has become fashionable for what I suppose one could call ‘trash collectors’, such as Four Corners, to ridicule success and expertise and to show no gratitude for the development, the huge and costly explorations and the vast contributions in wages and other expenses which do not always produce profits and which, in so many cases, are wide outside the realm of anything which would be available in Australia. Without the contributions of these companies in money and ability Australia’s mineral and energy wealth, as known today, would just not exist. Yet we see these hopelessly biased and twisted reports.
I understand that we are due to see another of these negative and prejudiced reports from Four Corners this week. I think that program could do so much good if it were to concentrate on other than anti-Australian issues, as seems to be its predisposition. Maybe now and then we could have a segment on a company such as the Goldfields group without the philosophical distortions. Frankly, I for one do not think that is asking too much. I only add that even if I am not surprised at this type of reporting, I am disappointed.
My colleague in the other place, the honourable member for Braddon, Mr Ray Groom, has been complimented by all for the tremendous effort he has put into the Queenstown issue. In his negotiations with the warden, the council, the unions and government he has done all that could be hoped for. I hope his efforts will produce the results they deserve. It is only right that his efforts should be not only recognised but also publicly noted.
The Mount Lyell company, besides being 56 per cent owned by the Goldfields group, comprises thousands of little shareholders. I know of shareholders even in this building and in this chamber. In Sydney a lift driver said to me that he thought I was a Tasmanian and asked what I could tell him about Mount Lyell as he had a few shares in the company. One of the Commonwealth car drivers has shares in the company, as do thousands of retired people. Pension funds have invested in the company. People on wages everywhere have a few shares in Mount Lyell. They all have an interest in what happens there. But as well as the town and the employees, there are all those other people who were mentioned by Senator Devitt and who are dependent on the mine in so many ways. What is proposed in this legislation creates a precedent. I believe it to be a very important precedent. It will be greatly appreciated by all the people of Queenstown, by all the people in Tasmania and certainly by mining interests as a whole. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
– in reply- I listened to the remarks of Senator Devitt and Senator Archer, both from Tasmania and both with a strong interest in the west coast and Queenstown, with a very great degree of sympathy and, to some extent, emotion. I come from a mining town. I was born there and my parents were bom there. We know what it is like to live in a mining town when the mines go out of production and the people consequently suffer a great deal of distress and difficulty. The history of Australian mining is that at times it is necessary to support it because the price of the particular metal that is being mined can recover. With support the mine can be kept in production and the people employed until that recovery comes about.
In circumstances like the situation at Mount Lyell it is a job of a government at least to put a floor into the situation to see what can finally be established in the continuity of the operation. Mount Lyell has always been a very great mining centre. I can remember it as part of the mining activities in Australia for many many years, activities which were part of my boyhood. I believe that the Government is justified in trying, with the Tasmanian Government, to provide some continuity pending further investigation of the matter.
It has been suggested that the Industries Assistance Commission report should now be made available. Those honourable senators who are familiar with IAC reports realise that they take a long time to put together. A great amount of information is collected. All sorts of discussions take place. Discussions are held with unions, with governments, with the local community and between Commonwealth and State governments. That indeed is what is taking place in regard to this particular IAC report. The matters under consideration are never simple matters. They take time to evaluate. Trying to judge what might happen in the market in the future is often a problem. I think the Government has been correct in proposing to bring in this measure to cover the situation pending the finality of the consideration of this issue.
As I have said before, governments must look at IAC reports on the basis of accepting them, perhaps changing them, maybe rejecting them, or maybe calling for further work. That is always in the scene with an IAC report. But what is in the current scene is the need for urgent help. That will be given by a combination of this Government and the Tasmanian Government as a result of this legislation. I hope that the whole of the Senate will welcome this measure and will be prepared to support it pending the final deliberations which will come out of consideration of the IAC report in greater detail by the two governments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– by leave- I refer to an article which appeared on the front page of the Weekend Australian of 5 November under the heading ACT Laser Station Capable of Space War’ and with the by-line John Perry. The article is inaccurate and grossly misleading. The facts are that there is a laser at the Orroral Valley Tracking Station, the sole purpose of which is to track satellites, not to destroy them. The instrument could not be regarded, by any stretch of the imagination, as having the potential to disable satellites. The article is completely wrong in that respect.
As I stated in a news release of 21 May 1976 the purpose of the satellite tracking laser is for geodetic research in such areas as continental drift, solid earth tides, polar motion, and variation in the earth’s rotation and ocean profiles. The laser has an energy output of three joules. Three joules is sufficient energy to illuminate a 30 watt lamp for only one-tenth of a second. If it is possible for lasers to be used to disable satellites, power millions of times greater would be required.
However, because this energy is concentrated into a narrow beam by the laser, there is a possible hazard to people in aircraft should they look directly down the beam of the laser at Orroral Valley. To overcome this possibility stringent control of laser operations is maintained which ensures that the laser is not operated when any aircraft is in the vicinity. A direct communication link is provided between the laser and the air traffic control centre at Canberra Airport so as to effect this tight control. The laser complements radio tracking systems at the Orroral Valley Tracking Station which is operated by the Department of Science, with the assistance of Australian industry, under a co-operative agreement with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The main feature of the laser tracker is its ability to measure range with high precision. It is operated 16 hours a day, mainly at night.
The tracking stations at Honeysuckle Creek and at Tidbinbilla are operated under the same agreement with NASA. Their function is to support deep space missions to the planets and beyond. They have no laser trackers. Consideration is being given to installing a NASA laser in Western Australia, as I announced in a news release of 13 May 1977. It would be similar to the laser at Orroral and would serve the same purpose. The second laser at Orroral mentioned by Mr Perry as being operated for the Department of National Resources is operated by that Department. Its function is to support geodetic research by ranging to the reflectors placed on the moon by the NASA astronauts. It is of similar power to the satellite tracking laser but has a more sensitive receiving system so as to pick up the very faint reflections from the moon.
Debate resumed from 4 November on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Homeless Persons Assistance Amendment Bill 1977 has a simple purpose and that is to extend the operation of the Homeless Persons Assistance Act 1974 for another 12 months. The necessity for this Bill arises from the fact that the Government has not yet made a decision on what it is to do about the homeless persons assistance program introduced by the previous Government in 1974. Added to this lack of decision is the fact that the forthcoming election has necessitated the dropping of further consideration of this program until after 10 December. This Bill, therefore, represents a part decision only. The program is being extended only for one year. By introducing this Bill the Government is avoiding making a decision on this important program for another 12 months. It is a matter of great regret to the Opposition that although the program is to be extended no extra money has been provided. This is most unfortunate in view of the circumstances of the people helped by this legislation.
When the Labor Government introduced the Homeless Persons Assistance Bill in 1974 no Commonwealth assistance had ever been made available for organisations to help the homeless and destitute in the community- those people without secure family backgrounds, without means and frequently without self esteem. For many years governments had provided home units for the aged with some means, hostels for the aged and assistance in nursing homes and hostels generally. But they ignored for many years the very obvious casualties of our society, the destitute people. They are usually male, but not always. They are sometimes alcoholics but, again, it must be emphasised, not always. They frequently have psychological or neurological disorders. They have a high incidence of health problems in general. Simply, they have no h omes. Inevitably, the number of these people increases in times of economic downturn. Many honourable senators will have noted the problems facing the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Sydney which looks after people of this type whose number has increased greatly. The average age of the people it cares for has decreased greatly. The Hostel has been unable to serve the full meals it was able to serve previously. In fact, it has had to resort to serving only soup because of the difficulties created, firstly, by lack of funds and, secondly, by the vast numbers of homeless people who need help.
This is a very new program. As I have said, it was introduced in 1974. The Labor Government thought it should run for three years initially which would give ample opportunity for evaluation of its effectiveness. It was thought that at the end of three years the Government and the Parliament would be in a better position to decide, for instance, whether refuges for women, which are at present funded under the community health program, should become part of the homeless persons program. The present Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has talked in this way at various Estimates committee hearings and in answers to questions. She has said that a wider program may be needed and that the Homeless Persons Assistance Act may be a suitable vehicle to cover such things as women’s shelters generally. The previous Government thought that after three years it would be in a better position to consider whether rehabilitation pursuits should have a higher or lower priority than the provision of shelter and whether the provision of day centres should become an important part of the homeless persons program. We looked forward to the results of this evaluation to see whether the program was on the right track, to see what sort of difficulties it had come up against, to see whether the requirements needed changing and whether the funding in this area was adequate. Before 1974 and, indeed, now, the care of homeless persons has been left largely to religious organisations, particularly the Salvation Army, the St Vincent de Paul Society and the various missions in capital cities. More recently people outside the churches have become interested. I was interested to see the existence of Club 139 in Queensland. It provides a base for homeless men to which they can go in the daytime. It gives them an address and there they can talk and receive counselling as well as have a cup of tea. It provides a social centre at which they can gather.
The homeless persons assistance program, like all programs of this type, had some difficulties getting off the ground, mainly because of lack of experience in dealing with this problem of homeless men and because society in general has some difficulty in coping with it. These people tend to be rejected and neglected by society, as are criminals and some people who are mentally ill. Society does not like to talk and think about them. There is a very real problem in establishing residential centres for homeless men because no one in the community seems to want these people in their area. Councils have difficultes because of pressure from ratepayers. Ratepayers have difficulties because they fear that the value of their properties will go down. These problems are not insurmountable. The real problems that can arise when society neglects these people was seen recently in Queensland when the police raided a timber mill and found several of these men being exploited by unscrupulous people.
We believe that the Government, by not coming to a decision after two years in government and three years after the introduction of the program, has walked away from serious consideration of these issues and the problems faced by these people and the organisations which try to help them. The reason given by the Government is that it has not yet reached a decision on the proposals of the Task Force on the Coordination of Health and Welfare, the so-called Bailey Committee. We firmly believe that this Committee was established merely to transfer many welfare functions, including this function, back to the States. The Bailey Task Force suggested the regrouping of Government programs into three broad groups for the purpose, we believe, of unloading onto the States Commonwealth expenditure in this area. The report called it streamlining. It put forward many arguments why State and local governments should be responsible for the aged, the handicapped, children- almost everyone in the communitybut, in fact, its aim essentially was artificially to cut the Government’s Budget deficit and transfer that sort of expenditure out of it. Some programs which were considered by Bailey were axed by the present Government but most of them, such as the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act, the aged and disabled persons home program, the children services program and the community health programs are continuing. I believe that, should the Government survive the forthcoming election, it will attempt to send these back to the States, without the guarantees of continuous funding which the States will require.
The programs I have just mentioned are continuing programs and if the Government decides to follow the Bailey report’s recommendation of so-called broad banding and unloading onto the States, it will have to make appropriate legislative arrangements. It is ridiculous that, in the case of the homeless persons assistance program a guarantee of more than one year cannot be given because a decision has not been made about Bailey’s recommendations. That suggests a lack of seriousness about the program, and the problems that are faced by these destitute people. That is in marked contrast to the attitude of the Liberal Opposition of 1974, which in fact commended the Government of the day upon its humanitarian legislation, the shadow Minister admitting that it was time after 23 years of neglect by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government, that something was done for these people.
When, in 1974, the program was announced, grants were made available to organisations for existing and improved hostels, day attendance centres, detoxification clinics and work centres. It was proposed to pay half the cost of the social worker, plus subsidies for rent, furnishings and meal allowances. It was expected at that time that the cost of the program would amount to some $20m over 3 years. This was to include some $14.5m of capital expenditure. For all sorts of reasons that were the fault of neither this Government nor the last, that did not happen. Some $8.4m will in fact have been spent by the end of the four-year program, or about half that envisaged initially by the Labor Government. The 12 months extension proposed in this legislation does not mean that new applications can be considered, so in effect the program is at a standstill until the Government makes up its mind what it is going to do. If the Bailey report is not implemented by then, the reaction of the State governments suggests that it will not be. The decision then may, or may not, depend upon whether another election is pending.
The Minister, in her second reading speech, gave no indication that the Government is considering a longer view of the homeless people and their vulnerability in society. That vulnerability is obviously exposed when we see such cases as the one I referred to earlier, in Brisbane, of men who are exploited under the present system, men who are lured to work in appalling conditions. At least two of the poverty research reports give us some idea of the health and legal disadvantages which are suffered by the homeless, in comparison with the rest of the population. I commend to honourable senators the research report ‘Health Studies of Selected Disadvantaged Groups’; also ‘Homeless Persons and the Law’. Both paint a very depressing picture of what happens in our society to people such as these. The average age of the homeless persons on whom the reports were done was, in fact, only 46 years, although most of them for medical or other reasons looked very much order. Their life expectancy was very much lower than the average for the community. This is one reason why the average age of the people studied was in fact so low.
Their level of schooling was much lower than the average, and the proportion of the sample that had never attended school was almost three times as great as that of the male population of New South Wales at the time. One in five had been homeless for more than 10 years; almost one in 10 had been homeless for more than IS years. They had a far higher rate of diagnosed illness than industrial workers of equivalent age in Sydney, where the survey was done. The percentage of epilepsy and venereal diseases was 10 dmes as high as that for the community at large; bronchial and liver diseases were three times as high; tuberculosis was four times as high; mental problems and breakdowns were four dmes as common, and back injuries more than twice as common as for the average industrial worker.
Their treatment under the law has always been a great problem. One can remember a distinguished Minister for Justice in Queensland saying during a television interview that in Queensland vagrancy was considered a very serious crime; that therefore the police treated it very seriously. The comment was made in regard to the Cedar Bay raid that when one considers the legal disadvantages of these people one realises that it is not only in Queensland that vagrancy is sometimes considered a serious crime- although it is in no other country, and in most States attempts are being made to remove it from the statute books. In the courts of New South Wales, for instance, 87.5 per cent of those convicted for vagrancy all of whom were homeless persons, were imprisoned, whereas only 2 per cent of those convicted for drunken driving, who were potential killers of people, were imprisoned.
If one quotes from the poverty report on homeless persons and the law one finds the comment that, despite the legal theory that the offence of vagrancy is not intended to penalise poverty, it appears that the police, with relatively few exceptions, arrest for vagrancy only those who are helpless or homeless. This sort of situation arises when we have a group of people in our community who, for whatever reason, are as disadvantaged as are the group of so-called homeless people. They are extremely vulnerable to the diseases which beset us in society, and to injustice under the law. There is strong evidence that the poor health of most of these homeless people has probably disabled them and prevented their being employed; that once they are disabled and unemployed, for whatever reason, once they are living in such conditions, they are prone to the other diseases of society, plus the premature aging process which is so often commented on by investigators of the situation of these people.
Society cannot ignore them and cannot shove them into skid row, cannery row or anywhere else, merely turning a blind eye to their plight. We believe that the homeless persons assistance program was a good one and should continue after proper evaluation. We believe these evaluations have been done and that the Parliament should see them. There probably should be less emphasis on beds and meals and a greater emphasis on attention to health, legal injustices and the protection of civil liberties, as well as some monitoring of the conditions laid down for dealing with a homeless person’s income by the agent or organisation on whom he depends.
I hope the Minister is taking up the suggestion made some time ago that there should be a more careful scrutiny of the warrantor system under which a warrantor has charge of many social security pensions. I must emphasise that I am not one of those who believe that the warrantor system should be scrapped, but I would say that as an absolute minimum, any person who is to be warrantor for a number of homeless persons, pensioners or beneficiaries generally in the community, particularly those who act for a number, should be scrutinised regularly to ensure that justice is being done to the warrantees.
We in this Parliament need to know that the Government is in fact giving some thought to the findings of the Committee of Inquiry into Poverty and the findings of the investigatory committees in the Department on the operations of the Homeless Persons Act at the moment and to know how they have evaluated the program and where they think we should go. I have a very strong belief that such evaluations are vital to any program of this type and that public and parliamentary consideration of such evaluations is essential before we can get sane planning in this area. No-one in this Parliament or in any party needs to be ashamed if there are some failures when certain programs are introduced or if we go off on a wrong track. It is much better to have the programs properly evaluated and to look closely at them and, if we take a wrong turning, to get back on to the right track rather than to continue as we were because of some blind philosophical, ideological or whatever fixation about how things should be done.
This amendment to the legislation offers an extension for one year and, as such, we do not oppose it. It is certainly better than any extinction of the program. But we believe that three years has been long enough to evaluate the program. We hope that by the time next year’s extension has expired this Parliament will be able to consider a fuller and more long term program that we can deal with in the future.
-The Senate, in debating the Bill to amend the Homeless Persons Assistance Act, has just heard a most extraordinary speech. If this Government had proposed to abolish the Homeless Persons Assistance Act and thereby to abolish all the assistance available under it, the Government would have been open to criticismand possibly rightly so. The Government has moved to extend the program of assistanceto continue it- and what do we get? We get as ungenerous a speech as it is possible to receive. The Government has decided to continue the program and to allow certain of the initiatives under the program to be extended and to continue, but from listening to what the Opposition has said one would not have understood that this is what is happening. In fact, we have decided to make available the opportunity for large amounts of money voted under this program to be expended.
It is interesting that Senator Grimes, in leading for the Opposition, conveniently forgot to mention the amounts of money which have been voted and the amounts of money still available for use under the provisions of the Act. I remind the Senate that it was made clear by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in her second reading speech that an amount of more than $8m- $8.4m in fact- has already been allocated under the Act and that $5.3m of this amount has been allocated for expenditure in 1977-78. For Senator Grimes to suggest that we have allocated no more money is completely to misrepresent the situation which in fact will be operating. With the extension of this Act it will be possible to spend the $5.3m allocated for expenditure in 1978 and the $lm which is being carried forward into 1978-79.
The rental and salaries subsidies for the period 1977-78 that are allowed under the provisions of this Act total $275,000. That money also will be spent. It is not right to assert that the program is to continue without any financial basis. If one looks at the expenditure under the National Welfare Fund on accommodation and meal subsidies one will find that the amount of $800,000 has been allowed for 1977-78. It is not right to assert that the program is going ahead without any financial support. That assertion is unsupportable. That is the position without detailing the amounts which have been spent up to the present time.
Senator Grimes spent some time;I think not inappropriately;discussing women’s refuges and setting out his views on how they might most appropriately be funded.
– No, I did not.
– The honourable senator mentioned the fact that there is some concern as to whether they should be funded under this Act or the community health program. In the end it does not matter to the people who run the refuges whether they are administered by the Department of Health or the Department of Social Security. That is a question which, while it may be important here, is a side issue as far as we are concerned. The fact is that under the provisions of the Budget and under the programs of this Government the funding of women’s refuges has been assured for this financial year. It has been assured under the community health program. It has been extended. The most important matter at the present time is to ensure that they are provided for and funded.
The honourable senator referred also to the proposals of the Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare and Health- the Bailey Task Force. That matter was also referred to in the debate that took place in another place. I believe that the proposals of Mr Peter Bailey have been consistently misrepresented. There are many ways in which Mr Bailey’s proposals could be implemented. There is a whole range of options by which one can administer or carry out his devolutionary proposals. Only one of them is the way in which honourable senators opposite have alleged it is to be done- as a cost cutting exercise. There are many kinds of arrangements which can be made between the Commonwealth and the States to accompany the devolution of programs under any aggregated broad banding program.
It is fair to say that the Bailey proposals have been thoroughly studied. I think it is to the credit of the Government that Mr Bailey has been asked to head a follow-up group and that this follow-up group has been charged with the duty of consulting with the consumers, the organisations concerned and the administrative structure of the State governments and local government that will have to cope with any kind of devolution that takes place. If it is difficult to devolve some of these programs then it is to the credit of Mr Bailey that his task force has taken time over the matter and that the Government is considering carefully the kind of proposals that it has put forward. It is entirely unfair, unnecessary and unwarranted to represent the Bailey proposals as a cost cutting exercise.
Many options are available under the Bailey proposals. If in fact we ended up with personal cash transfers aggregated at the Commonwealth level I would be pleased, and if we ended up with service delivery being closer to the client I would also be pleased. But I agree with the Opposition on one point. I would want to see that being done under some appropriate form of arrangement which did not disadvantage any of the levels of government that undertook the particular arrangements. I am perfectly happy to examine the options available within the welfare system for bringing personal cash transfer to the Commonwealthonly a few parts are not with the Commonwealth now-and for taking some of the provisions of services for clients further down.
In the end one needs to return to one of the matters to which Senator Grimes referred when he discussed- I think with some cogency- the conditions under which many of the homeless persons live and the kinds of conditions that led to their being in the state in which they find themselves. In the end what we are mounting here and what we are offering is a salvage program. It is nothing more than that. It is a program of salvage for people who in some way have been failed by society. I think the honourable senator and I would be in complete agreement on that point. In the end, worthy and admirable as a homeless persons assistance Act is, it is not enough on its own. It must be combined with programs of active community development to help to give people the capacity they require and to allow society to intervene, if you wish, at an earlier stage in the process. For example, Senator Grimes and I have developed an interest in the extension of programs for treating alcoholism in industry. We happen to believe that this is one way of intervening effectively at an earlier stage to prevent the emergence of homeless men requiring assistance under this Act. If the problems are brought about by alcohol, perhaps there are other things that need to be done besides providing some salvage basket at the end of the road.
Nevertheless, we are not abandoning the program; we are extending it. Money is available for use under the program, and to that extent the Government’s enterprise and initiative are entirely admirable. Without this extension there would be unnecessary disability caused to the people operating the programs and unnecessary distress for those people who benefit from them. It is appropriate to extend the program. It is appropriate to consider very calmly the long term options available to government in terms of possible devolution. It is not fair to view a positive activity of government of this kind in an entirely cynical and negative light. I believe that the Government has acted correctly, and I commend the Bill.
– The problem of homeless people has exercised the concern of the Senate for some time. The speech made by Senator Grimes covered very effectively the concern we all share that a progressive program of assistance for these people should be continued. The Opposition’s objection is not to the extension but to the fact that the extension is for only one year- that a sudden election thrust upon the Government the need to extend the program for one year. It is a stop gap arrangement. Investigations have been carried out and the knowledge necessary to extend and reinforce the program is available. It is quite unfair for Senator Baume to say that the Opposition is objecting to the extension, or that it is objecting to what the Government is doing through that extension. Our objection is that the extension is not sufficient to correct a very serious and growing problem in the community.
Senator Baume has said that more money is to be made available, but I do not think he has had experience of what is happening in the community.
– It is in the second reading speech.
-That is not what is happening. One needs merely to spend a little time in the city of Brisbane, which is my area of operation, to realise that the problem is on the increase, and for a variety of reasons. If the problem is on the increase, then support also should be on the increase. I take it that a salvage program is an emergency program. Inherent in the word ‘salvage’ is the idea that there is an emergent need. We just are not facing up to the problem. We are not considering it as an emergent need. During a recent search in Brisbane for a criminal who had been released prematurely the police unearthed new places used by homeless men to survive the nights. Tunnels under schools that had not been used since the war, as well as old flour mills, were being used. In every district in Brisbane there were places where homeless people had found refuge. I have no doubt that the problem in Brisbane is very much on the increase, and I do not doubt that in the southern capitals, which are colder in the winter, the problem is even more severe.
The Government must give urgent consideration to increasing the funds available, without restricting the necessary funds because of budgetary requirements. Every now and again the Government trots out ‘budgetary requirements’ and says that it cannot do things because of certain budgetary limitations. This is a case in which budgetary limitations should not be allowed to operate. The people with whom we are dealing are not clients; they are human beings. I think Senator Baume would accept that the word ‘client’ is merely a technical term. We are dealing with human beings, and the problem is increasing savagely because of economic conditions. I will not go into the reasons for that; nor will I lay the blame on the Government at the moment. There will be plenty of opportunity, over the next two days and perhaps during the election campaign, to point out the errors of the Government in its approach to the economic problems that the nation faces. A variety of decisions made by the Government have led to an increased need for assistance for homeless people, and it is quite odd that money does not appear to be available. According to Senator Baume, the money that has been made available is sufficient, but the problem is on the increase. The available money has to be related to the increased problem, and it does not measure up.
Let me refer to just one example in Brisbane. I make a plea to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) on behalf of a small club in Brisbane called the 139 Club. Homeless men gather at that club during the day for recreational and leisure assistance. The club is doing a very worth while job, but it has what I would call a visual pollution problem. People object to having the substantial numbers of club members within their building, and the 139 Club has come under considerable pressure. It was served with a notice of eviction, but in spite of the efforts that were made it was impossible to find alternative accommodation within the means of the organising committee supervising the club.
Through the Brisbane City Council we were able to offer premises in Roma Street and on the south side, but they were of such substantial size that the amount of money needed to establish them in order to carry out the work of the club was beyond the scope of the organising committee, which consists mainly of the men themselves. It seems to me to be extraordinary that the 139 Club is seeking financial assistance but is unable to obtain anything beyond payment of half the salary of a social worker, lt might as well get nothing because if it cannot find the other half of the salary the gesture is merely an empty one. Unless there has been some change since the matter was brought to my attention, the social worker is providing only a limited period of support, and that support is only half of what is required. If my representations assist in changing that situation for one group then I think we will have achieved something.
I believe that this sort of assistance should be available to the many groups that exist in Australia and are in need of support. I believe also that the Government does provide rental for the premises of the club and possibly would be prepared to pay an increased rental if suitable premises were found. But the main need of such a group is for skilled people- not people who are skilled academically, but people who are skilled through experience and who can become the anchor for such a group. Those people ought not to have to make great personal sacrifices of their time and effort in order to assist society to assist homeless people. The approach to the problem appears to be this: Homeless people suffer their condition because of their own fault; homeless people suffer their condition because they are too fond of or are addicted to alcohol. But the problem is not that so much as one of economic stress and need which may later lead to an alcoholic state. We are endeavouring to hide the problem instead of solving it.
I cannot approach this problem with the same skill and experience as Senators Grimes and Baume have done. I can merely give some rather emotive support for the need to do something more than extend the program by one year at the present level. I express the hope that the extension of the year is not considered necessary merely because we are about to have an election. It may be that Labor will be successful in that election. Judging from a result in Victoria I trust that the Australian Labor Party will confound the critics and return to Government within the memory of its own mistakes. That is a great need which the Opposition has. No Opposition should remain- as has the Opposition in Queensland -in opposition for 20 years. I think that is a corruption of the democratic system. We ought to endeavour to solve that problem in order to make governments responsive to the will of the people. I hope that the Government, after 10 December, will accept that this extension of the program for a year is merely a time during which certain substantial changes can be made to the program.
I have not mentioned the effect of governmental neglect upon homeless women and women who may be seeking refuge. I have not mentioned the condition of many young people who are unemployed. But in some way they have been able to make their own arrangements conjointly. All I have mentioned are one or two cases of homeless men in Brisbane. It seems extraordinary that in Brisbane most of the support for homeless men comes through the watchhouse the lockups. From my recent experience I know that people are treated there in a most dehumanising way. It seems to be extraordinary that we should depend very much upon that penal type system to support homeless men in Brisbane. The attitude seems to be: Lock them up for the night, have the Salvation Army feed them in the morning, let them out for a bit of sun during the day and lock them up again at night. That dehumanises the people concerned and it also dehumanises those who have to supervise that type of system.
The program of support for homeless people, if it were pitched at the level the Opposition is suggesting, would remove many of the unhappy situations which arise night after night in many of our cities. The amount we are boasting about is $8. 4m of which a substantial amount has been committed. I do not know the figure exactly but it does not seem to me that much more will be provided in the next 12 months unless there is a change and another decision is made to allocate more money. Although this is a salvage operation, surely we ought to be looking at the problem from another direction.
– I do not decry that, but it is only a partial answer.
– Yes, it is only a partial answer. But we have to tackle the problem from a different direction. Since so many people are being submerged at the present time we ought to be allocating a lot more. I could make all sorts of remarks. We could rip a bit off Utah Development Co. for instance, and direct it to this area. Those honourable senators who saw the television program Four Corners over the weekend may have changed their minds about our approach to the multinational or transnational companies. I believe the Government is suggesting that we bring in new regulations to impose the 15 per cent coal tax levy which we imposed when in Government. That could lead to a considerable amount of money being retained by the Australian Government. That amount could be directed towards this worthy cause, could it not? I can see Senator Walters looking at me with interest. I could tell her how to get another $ 100m. One way to get another $ 1 00m is by not phasing out that coal levy. That would give us a considerable amount of money. There are dozens of ways.
– That would send a lot of small coal people broke. But that does not matter?
-But the Government is throwing out the baby with the bath water. It ought to be saying: ‘Yes, there are some difficulties with smaller coal companies, the ones that have to dig deep to get their coal. There is a disadvantage to them’. But surely there is a means of exempting those companies from the levy by some tax exemption. We certainly should not let Utah off the hook to the extent of many millions of dollars. As I say, a simple re-arrangement of finance would enable the Government to get the funds which it requires to meet this program which all honourable senators admit is a worthy program. But if we provide only half of what is required, that half could be wasted. I refer again to that small club. If the Government provides only half the wages of a social worker that club will not get a social worker who is equipped to understand the problem. So we either go the whole way or we risk losing the benefits by not providing enough. In the closing stages of the Parliament it is impossible for honourable senators to engage in an in depth debate on a matter of this kind. I think sufficient has been said. We offer no opposition for the reasons put so well by Senator Grimes. We rebut what Senator Baume said when being critical of the Opposition. We do not accept his analysis of the figures. Of course, we support our own figures. We do not have any further time to allow other people to test those figures for us.
– in reply- I thank the Senate for supporting the Homeless Persons Assistance Amendment Bill. I thank particularly Senator Baume for pointing out the very clear fact that the Government is continuing this program. The purpose of extending the program for one year is not to wind it up but rather for the reasons which have already been stated by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and by Senator Baume. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be understood by the Opposition. The fact of the matter is that the Bill was necessary because the program would have been extended in this way whether or not there had been a dissolution of the Parliament this week. The Bill to extend the program is not being rushed through because the Government suddenly finds it has not thought out what it will do about the future of the program.
The fact is that in the current financial year $5. 3m is provided for capital grants and a total of over $lm is being provided for recurrent costs in the shape of grants to various bodies, such as health societies and other institutions which are providing assistance in this field, and in particular the 139 Club in Brisbane which was mentioned by Senator Georges. As he recognises, for that club the Government is subsidising the rent and paying half the cost of a social worker. The Government has also paid grants to that club for furniture. The Government is assisting numerous bodies such as this organisation. They are bodies made up of volunteers who are prepared to give of their time, money and help in assisting in this very important area of aid to the less fortunate members of the community. The Government is committed to giving assistance in this area. As the Minister for Social Security pointed out in her second reading speech, she has received submissions from an advisory committee on homeless persons set up to advise her on these matters.
It is the Government’s policy to make improvements to this scheme and to meet the needs of a wider range of people. But as has been explained by the Minister for Social Security, and explained again in her second reading speech- and this seems to have been overlooked by the Opposition senators who have spoken in this debate- the Government has not proceeded to amend the Act to provide at this stage for a widening of the scheme because it is still considering the proposals made to it by the Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare and Health. Future details of this scheme will be resolved as part of that wider consideration.
The Government is not extending the scheme simply in order to wind it down or to close it up. It is simply extending it because it has not finally resolved the future nature of the administration of the program.
As Senator Baume pointed out, the mere fact that for the purposes of administration the Government may be considering devolution of this program or other programs to the State governments does not mean that the Government is giving up its obligation to assist in this area. If such a decision were made in the future, as part and parcel of that decision, there certainly would be continuing Federal Government g rants and assistance for work of this nature. T hat is not an indication either, and should not be taken as such, that the Government is wanting, as Senator Grimes said, to unload responsibility on to the States. Any such recommendation by the Task Force would be only in regard to the administration of the scheme and would not mean that the Federal Government would be giving up any obligation to homeless persons. As I have said, and emphasised, the Government is continuing this program; and it is continuing its obligation not simply for 12 months. The Government has a firm and continuing commitment. I thank the Senate for supporting this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I would like to refer again to the 139 Club. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) gave the Senate some information on this subject when he replied to the second reading debate. Could the Minister explain to me- I know the difficulties he is in but as he is representing the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) perhaps he could get some advice- why it is that only half of the salary of the social worked is being paid? Why cannot the full amount be paid so that the services of this person can be maintained with some continuity? I know that there is a rent subsidy and I know that some furniture has been provided. But the most important person is the person, male or female, who supports and guides the program. Admittedly in this case the men do a great deal for the organisation which is part of, shall we say, the salvage program. I do not want to use the word ‘petty’ in this context because that might cause some sort of confrontation and it is a bit late for that. But why has the decision been made?
I find all sorts of words coming to my mind when I think that only half of the salary is paid by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Government has placed a responsibility on the State Government to assist. Although that Government may give a little, I doubt whether it will contribute anything toward the cost of paying the salary of a social worker. The Brisbane City Council or the local authority has many responsibilities. If it decides to support the 139 Club in particular, it would find itself involved in an area for which the Commonwealth and the State have a responsibility.
What is the problem? Did the Department of Social Security expect the State Government to come to the assistance of this Club? Is that the reason for paying only half the salary? If that is the reason and if the State Government fails to come to the party, will the fact that the social worker finds it uneconomic to continue mean the disbandment of this small group? After all, if this were a State responsibility the State would have to pay the social worker quite a considerable wage. If organisations of this sort are institutionalised certain industrial awards would have to be complied with and as a result the cost to the government would be considerably greater. In this situation volunteers, supported by the men are doing a worthwhile job. They do not take into account the amount of effort or the number of hours they put into their work. But even the best intentioned people- especially people who are qualified and could go elsewhere- must give up after a while if they are not properly supported.
– I want to make it quite clear that there is no discrimination in relation to the 139 Club as far as the subsidy for the social worker is concerned. In fact the policy of subsidising half the salary of a social worker has operated since the inception of this scheme. Indeed, that was the policy of the government which Senator Georges supported. The policy was included in the original proposals put to the Labor Government by the working party. In fact there are 34 social workers at various clubs or institutions around Australia who receive a subsidy on this basis.
The reason for the policy is perhaps two-fold. The involvement of the Commonwealth Government in this area was on the basis of providing assistance to voluntary organisations which were already in existence and which were trying to provide some solution to the need to assist homeess persons in the community. This was certainly a new undertaking by the then Commonwealth Government in 1974.I think we ought not to lose sight of the fact that the Government’s assistance does represent an initiative. The government is coming in and giving support to existing organisations. Hopefully that assistance and that voluntary work will continue and, hopefully, assistance will be forthcoming from other governmental bodies, whether they be State or l ocal. The role of the Commonwealth in this program is to come in and to assist; it is not simply to come in and take over the whole of the effort in this sphere and to pay all the costs.
The other reason no doubt is the budgetary constraint which upsets Senator Georges somewhat. I was rather interested in the honourable senator’s view that if a Labor government were elected- God forbid- it would have learned from its mistakes and it would not be the same sort of government. It does not appear that Senator Georges has learned by any mistakes. He seems to take the view that there should be no budgetary constraints in this matter and that the government should come in and provide all the money that is necessary. That is the surest way of getting back to a deficit of $5 billion or more. No doubt that is what would happen if the Labor Party were elected to government on 10 December.
Those are the two reasons for the policy. The Government is assisting here by way of partnership with a host of voluntary workers and other government bodies throughout Australia and is subsidising the salary, albeit only half the salary, of social workers. Perhaps it could provide the entire salary of social workers but if it did that it would not be able to provide other forms of assistance, such as rental subsidies. There is naturally a budgetary limit and constraint in this area but the Government already is providing over $ 1 m in this Budget to assist with this type of recurrent cost. It certainly will continue to do so. In her second reading speech the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) herself indicated that the Government is alert to the need for improvements in this scheme. No doubt these are matters which will be taken into account in her consideration of improvements to the scheme.
– I make it clear to the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) that there are selective decisions which can be made despite the Government’s budgetary contraints. ‘Constraints’ is the word I was looking for before. The word ‘limitations’ is used but that is what a constraint is- a rather severe limitation by this Government on expenditure right across the board to reduce the deficit. According to the latest figures the Government is not doing so well and had to go overseas to borrow $ 1 , 700m from Arab sources. Reprehensible!
– Is that Khemlani again?
-Khemlani did not get off first base but the Government’s friends are doing quite well out of their commission on that $ 1,700m. If I could get the information that we have been seeking about the amount of commission which has been paid on those loans, we would get a rather sharp shock but for some reason or other this subject is closed shop and we cannot get any information. All we heard about when we were in government was the amount of money we had intended to borrow, but did not borrow, and the amount of commission we were going to pay on money that we did not get. Let us get to the hard reality. The Government borrowed $ 1 , 700m in order to support a deficit. I am not arguing about it because that additional money should allow the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to make a specific decision to assist this program. The Government does not make a tariff decision applicable right across the board, the Government does not make a budget decision applicable right across the board, and that is the Government’s trouble. It has put ceilings on expenditure and on staff right across the board to the disadvantage of the Department of Social Security which has twice as tough a job to do now as it had previously because of the increasing problem created by the 400,000 people who are unemployed at present. I would be having a great old time now if it were broadcast day but as I am wasting my words on empty air let me get to the point.
– Read your own words in Hansard.
-I do not read my own speeches but I am told that school teachers are using them in grammar lessons to their kids. Why can the Government not make a priority decision to help homeless people? The Government cannot attack me for making that statement simply on the basis that if it did the deficit would increase. The Government should find economies elsewhere, and in this regard I suggest the Australia Council for a start. I am no Philistine but it seems to me -
-Philistines come from slightly further east.
– Order! 1 remind the Senate that we are debating the Homeless Persons Assistance Amendment Bill.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, what I am trying to do is show, and this is relevant to the legislation, that the Government can make certain economies in one direction in order to make a more generous decision in another, and if the Government is going to spend $6m on administration costs to distribute some $20m through the Australia Council I would suggest that it might cut -
-What about Blue Poles?
-Yes, I recall Blue Poles.
– There is a limited relationship between Blue Poles and the Homeless Persons Assistance Amendment Bill.
-That Sim would have gone a long way to assisting homeless people, and $lm is all the Government is providing for 12 months to assist them. Perhaps we could have done without Blue Poles and redirected that $ 1 m in the right direction. And this is what I am saying to the Government. If it can save money in one area- it is still spending Sim a year on turtle farming in the Torres Strait-it could redirect that wastage towards assistance to homeless people and would be fulfilling a great need. So why can the Government not make a specific decision to cut expenditure on something else but not in this area of great need?
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Durack) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 4 November on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The purpose of this Bill relating to the membership of the Commonwealth Grants Commission is to amend the Grants Commission Act to allow for a change in the permissible minimum and maximum number of members of the Commission. It is a short Bill which the Opposition does not oppose. Nonetheless, it being the time of the year that it is, we take advantage of the opportunity to state one or two matters about the Australian Labor Party’s policy on the Grants Commission. Section 8 of the principal Act as amended in June 1975 provides that the Commission shall consist of a chairman and not less than four or more than seven other members. That amendment was made to the Act when the Labor Government was in office to enable the Commonwealth Grants Commission to carry out the then Government’s policy of making recommendations to the Government on the amount of money that should be made available to local government on an untied basis having regard to the needs of regional areas. Section 8(6) states:
The performance of the functions or the exercise of the powers of the Commission is not affected by reason only of-
There being a vacancy in the office of Chairman; or
The number of members falling below four for a period of not more than six months.
The Government’s decision to reduce the membership rather than to appoint another member presumably is linked to the reduced role of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in regard to grants for local government under the Government’s new federalism policy. Instead of recommending the amounts of general purpose grants to regional groupings of local government authorities, the Commission now is involved only in reviewing the proportionate distribution between the States for local government under the local government personal tax sharing scheme. The situation under section 8 (6) of the Act to which I have referred will eventuate, as the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) said in his second reading speech, on 30 November this year because the last member to retire from the Commission, Mr Collins, retired at the end of May and the Government has not seen fit to appoint a replacement to that vacant position. In short this means that the number of members will have been below four for a period of six months on 30 November next. Therefore, the Government is taking this opportunity to change the membership of the Commonwealth Grants Commission as provided for in clause 8 of the Bill, so that it can consist of a chairman and not less than two or more than four other members for the purpose of carrying out its statutory responsibilities. When the Australian Labor Party was in government, the Commonwealth Grants Commission consisted of a chairman, five full dme members and two part time members. It now consists of a chairman, one full time member, who I understand shortly will be reverting to the position of a part time member, and two part time members; that is to say, the Commission soon will consist of a chairman and three parttime commissioners. I think that this indicates better than anything else the Government’s obvious intention to downgrade the importance and the responsibilities of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. By thus seriously impairing the ability of the Commission to function effectively, the Government is forcing it into a much more minor role than the Labor Party had it perform when we were in government and than we will have it perform when next we are in government.
For over 40 years the Grants Commission has been one of the most respected institutions of government throughout Australia. I suggest that it is the only body that has had sufficient experience to enable it to understand fully, on a State basis and on a local government basis, the general overall principles of equalisation and of assessing the requirements of States and local governments on the principle of equalisation on a needs basis. The Labor Party believes it is important that Australia have a separate and impartial quasi-judicial body of the type of the Grants Commission to perform this necessary function of a federal government. The Whitlam Labor Government recognised the need for an impartial and efficient Grants Commission, with sufficient resources being made available to it to enable it to make recommendations concerning grants to be made to the States for local government bodies on a needs basis. It was the Whitlam Labor Government which in fact was the first Federal government in the history of Australia to provide financial assistance directly to local government on an untied basis so that the local government could spend the money as it chose, and also to give local government direct access to the Commonwealth Grants Commission.
The Grants Commission Act of 1973, which was introduced by the then Senator Willesee when he was Special Minister of State, provided for approved regional organisations of local government bodies to apply under section 96 of the Constitution to the Grants Commission for financial assistance on a needs basis. The Commission then had the authority to inquire in a semi-judicial way into those applications and to make recommendations to the Government on the relative needs for financial assistance of the applicant local governing bodies. I think it is to the eternal credit of the Commonwealth Grants Commission that every recommendation it made to the Government of the day was accepted by the Government of the day. The amounts of money made available on an untied basis by the Labor Government were made available after a complete impartial and judicial inquiry into the needs of local government had been made. It was not as though a figure was plucked out of the air after some political consideration. As a government we said to the Commonwealth Grants Commission: ‘You, the members of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, inquire into the needs of local government throughout Australia on a needs basis, having regard to the principles of equalisation, and make the recommendations to us’. It was in that apolitical way that the Labor Government approached the matter.
We hear Senator Carrick say in this chamber that $X is being made available to local government by this Government today compared with the $Y that was made available by the Labor Government. I emphasise that the amount we chose to give to local government was given on an untied basis and after recommendations the Government had received from the Commonwealth Grants Commission which had conducted a quasi-judicial inquiry into the needs of local government. Under the Act the Grants Commission retained the function it acquired when it was established in 1933 of inquiring into and recommending special financial assistance to any State on a needs basis. As I said, when the Labor Government took office it widened the scope of the Grants Commission in order to extend the principles of fiscal equalisation to cover local governments as well as to State governments. As long ago as 1934 the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its report- I shall place it on record because I think it is of great importance- stated:
It is essential for healthy relations between the Commonwealth and the States that the power to make grants under that section-
That is section 96 of the Constitution- should be exercised on definite and sound principles.
We recognised that need for consistency and impartiality in the important area of FederalState government financial relations by widening the scope of the Grants Commission to enable it to cover this essential new area of equalisation grants. We wanted to ensure that that power was exercised on definite and sound principles. As I said, the Labour Government was the first government to recognise the importance of local government and the need to overcome inequalities between regional groupings of local governmentso much so that in our first year of office local government authorities received $56.6m. For the first time the grants were paid directly to local government from a Federal government. In 1975-76, under the last Budget of the Labor Government, nearly $80m was allotted for this purpose. I now seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard Table 98 in Budget Paper No. 7, which sets out a summary of Commonwealth Government payments to or for local government authorities.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
SUMMARY OF VARIOUS FORMS OF COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT PAYMENTS TO OR FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES The following table gives a summary of the various forms of Commonwealth Government payments made to or for local government authorities between 1973-74 and 1976-77 together with estimates for 1977-78. *The amounts shown in this table*
-One will see in that Budget Paper that the total amount made available to local government, excluding for roads, in the last Budget of the Labor Government- that for 1975-76- was $275,046,000 compared with $192,464,000 allocated in the first year of the Fraser Government. The grand total, including expenditure for roads, in the last year of the Labor Government was $350,330,000, compared with $279,384,000 allocated in the first year of the Fraser Government.
Since the Labor Government left office, the staff of the Grants Commission was reduced by nine in 1976 and by an additional three in 1977. The number of members of the Commission has been reduced greatly. The Commission’s appropriation for this financial year was cut in real terms by more than $600,000. This Bill is designed to reduce the required membership of the Commission. We suggest that this is yet another Fraser Government assault on the Grants Commission, a quasi-judicial body which has operated soundly since 1933 and which has performed a great service to both State and local governments since that time. Not one of its recommendations has ever been rejected by any government, irrespective of political persuasion. We in the Opposition realise that, if this legislation does not come into force by 30 November, because of the small number of commissioners now available the Grants Commission virtually will become inoperative. It is for those reasons that the Opposition does not oppose the legislation.
– in reply- I thank the Opposition for its support of the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I feel obliged to make a couple of remarks about this legislation in the Committee stage. As the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) did not reply to the excellent speech made by Senator Douglas McClelland on this Bill, perhaps he could bear to answer this question: If there is now only one claimant State and if we could solve the problems of that State by removing it from the claimant list, what would be the future of the Commonwealth Grants Commission? If under this great policy of federalism the States cease to be claimant States, is there a continuing need for the Commission? I think Queensland could quickly solve its problems by rearranging its finances. I said that on a previous occasion and was accused of being antiQueensland. I am not in the least antiQueensland; I am for Queensland. But it shames me somewhat to see that Queensland is still a claimant State in spite of the fact that, according to Mr Bjelke-Petersen, it is the fastest growing State in the Commonwealth.
– No, Western Australia is.
– Of course, it is a misrepresentation. Mr Bjelke-Petersen has made an absolute misrepresentation and someone should take him to task under the trade practices legislation for doing so. We have sufficient writs at the present time. He is at the wrong end of about eight writs at the moment. But I think a case before the Trade Practices Commission might bring him back to his senses. According to certain propaganda which the coalition parties in Queensland are so falsely presenting through the media, Queensland is the fastest growing State in the Commonwealth. However, it has been noted that Western Australia is supposed to be the fastest growing State.
Both those States have certain advantages which should enable them to remove themselves quickly from the mendicant State status. Western Australia has done so already. Queensland could do so simply. Then the Grants Commission could become redundant. I make that point because it seems to me to be so unnecessary that in this time of economic growth States should remain in that claimant state. Of course, the Government might argue that it is going to proceed with self government or statehood for the Northern Territory. If that is the policy of this Government, it might not be the policy of a government after 10 December. There might be a change of government. I again raise the hope of a change of government. It seems to be a sound hope after the results this weekend in Victoria.
– You must be kidding.
-I am not one to be kidded. I do not want to go into a second reading sort of debate on this. I merely want to attract the attention of the Minister to the fact that Queensland does not need to be a claimant State. As far as I am concerned, the simple solution to this problem is to remove Queensland from a claimant position and to rid ourselves of one more institution.
– I shall work back, page after page, through the honourable senator’s questions. As announced two years ago, it is the Government’s policy to give statehood to the Northern Territory within five years of that announcement. I take it from what Senator Georges has said that the two major political parties have different views on this. As to the position of Queensland, I think it is fair to say that when the Commonwealth Grants Commission investigates Queensland it takes into account that State’s capacity to raise money. After all, claimant States do not get money merely because they do not raise it. All factors are taken into consideration. I am quite certain that if the Grants Commission thought there was the capacity within Queensland to raise sufficient funds it would not give it any grant.
After all, that grant is given only after a thorough investigation not only of the costs involved in running that State but also of the capacity of the State to raise sufficient funds to provide services comparable to those provided in the two wealthier States of New South Wales and Victoria. The Grants Commission asks how Queensland provides those comparable services. As I understand it, the argument of the Grants Commission is that Queensland is entitled to comparable services; therefore, it must be determined whether Queensland has the capacity to raise the necessary funds by all methods. The Grants Commission takes into account whether the taxes available to a State are equal to the taxes of other States. After taking all these things into account the Grants Commission comes up with an appropriate figure at the end.
As to the future of the Grants Commission, at the moment it has some quite important work before it- not just matters dealing with Queensland. The honourable senator will know that in the autumn session this year a Bill was introduced to amend the Grants Commission legislation so that the Grants Commission could go ahead, as agreed at the Premiers Conference in I think February this year, to look at the relativities between the States in respect of the tax sharing arrangements. As honourable senators would know, since 1942, 1 should imagine, when uniform income taxation was introduced, the share which each State receives, be it under the present system or under any system since that time, has been basically the same in percentage terms. This has had advantages for some States and disadvantages for others.
As I recall it, the Premiers Conference in February this year agreed that the relativities between the States ought to be reviewed. It was agreed also that the Grants Commission ought to undertake the review. The honourable senator might recall that some legislation passed through the other place and came in here in late May. At that time the Premiers were complaining about our proposed structure to provide for additional members of the Grants Commission. There have been negotiations with the Premiers since then. There has not been time in this session to introduce the legislation to carry out the proposal agreed upon between the Premiers and the Commonwealth. If that had been possible this Bill might not have been necessary because additional members would have been appointed to the Grants Commission. The Grants Commission has the role of reviewing those relativities which I have mentioned. It has the role also of assessing the relativities between States for the purpose of local government grants. The honourable senator will remember that when the Grants Commission brought down its recommendation in respect of that matter, I think some time last year, Tasmania complained that there were some errors in the proportion it was to be given. If I remember correctly, as a result further evidence was taken by the Grants Commission and Tasmania’s share went up, and the percentage for some States went down.
The Grants Commission has a continuing role. I imagine that as long as we have a federationone can see that being the case as far into the future as one can see- as long as there are differences between the States as to the capacity of the States to raise internal, or intrastate, revenue, and as long as we all support, as I think all members of Parliament support, the principle that people no matter where they live in Australia are entitled to comparable services from State governments, there will be a need for a Grants Commission. It may be different in size and composition and it may have different tasks to perform. But, in reply to Senator Georges, I would say that there is certainly work ahead for the Grants Commission for the balance of this century and maybe beyond. I am certain that the Federation will endure for that long. I am certain that the policy of all the parties in the national Parliament is that there ought to be comparable services delivered by State governments to all States.
I cannot see, but I may be wrong, that all States will necessarily have equal capacity to raise revenue to provide those comparable services. They may well have but there always will be problems, with some States being static, others being less than static and others growing at an enormous pace. There will be an argument for regular reviews by the Grants Commission of the relativities and proportions of the six States of the Commonwealth, either to change the proportions or to recommend to the Commonwealth Government that a State- or States- which suffers disabilities should receive more, and one such disability could be rapid growth. There ought to be an independent quasi judicial body to recommend to the Commonwealth how these inequalities between States ought to be balanced. Although much was said during the 1890s and much was done during the first 30 years of this Commonwealth, in many respects the Federation never came to its proper conclusion until the introduction of the Grants Commission in 1934. It started to bring about what everybody hoped for-that all Australians would be given the same opportunity no matter where they lived.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Withers) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.48 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– We are now debating the Social Services Amendment Bill 1977. This Bill, in common with many other social services Bills presented to this Parliament, is in the form of omnibus legislation which covers many facets of the Social Services Act. First, it extends the eligibility for the handicapped child ‘s allowance to a low-income family with a less severely handicapped child when the care of that child, in the words of the Act, is a severe financial handicap to the family. It also extends the services of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to persons not previously eligible but who can benefit from rehabilitation, particularly housewives, juniors and some pensioners. It also alters the conditions of eligibility for sickness benefits to bring those benefits into line with unemployment benefits. It does this by reducing the benefit for married men. The Government claims, in classic doublespeak, that it is removing discrimination against married women but, in fact, brings sickness benefits into line with unemployment benefits by altering the benefits available to married men.
It also makes legal the Government’s refusal to pay unemployment benefits to those who leave schools or tertiary institutions- in the latter case before their completion of study- for a period of some six weeks. It facilitates the change to payment in arrears of unemployment benefits by widening the discretion available to the Director-General to decide how those benefits should be paid. Rather belatedly, by an amendment which was introduced in the other House only a few days ago, it provides for a supporting parent’s benefit which includes lone fathers. As with all legislation of this type, the Opposition does not oppose some of it- but has some queries about the methods used to introduce certain benefits and changes- and does oppose part of it. Because of this, we have picked out the one aspect in regard to which, we believe, the Government is completely out of step with the rest of the community and experts in the field, and propose both to move an amendment to the second reading motion and, in Committee, to oppose clause 14 which, in fact, withholds for a period of six weeks unemployment benefits to school leavers and some people who leave tertiary institutions.
We have some general objections to the manner in which the legislation has been introduced and the way in which the Government has gone about amending the Social Services Act. It is perhaps best that I begin by referring to those objections. Our first objection is to the manner in which the lone supporting parent’s benefit was, a little over a week ago, introduced in the other place. There was no mention of a supporting parent’s or lone father’s benefit in that legisation; no mention in the Budget of only a month or two ago of an intention to introduce a lone father’s benefit. Because, obviously, of the forthcoming events of 10 December, the Government has now seen fit to introduce an amendment for that purpose. In doing that last Friday the Government acted in haste and, from our reading of the Bill, created difficulties of interpretation which we will further describe in the Committee stage.
Secondly, the Opposition is concerned about the manner in which many of the changes have been introduced. We firmly believe- and have written into our platform- that as much as possible benefits under the Social Services Act should be clearly defined in the legislation of this country so there can be appeal to an appropriate tribunal- not the Appeals Tribunal now in existence which, admittedly, was set up by a Labor government. We would propose that people know exactly where they stand under the Act; that the discretions of the Director-General or his delegate- which are really the discretions of the Minister and the Government of the dayshould be limited as much as possible. We would suggest that the Bill widens those discretions to such an extent that it is going to make life very difficult for many who receive benefits and remove the possibility of a firm and proper appeal from bureaucratic or governmental decisions, a right which we think is important.
In the past this did not seem to matter very much, but in the last two years, especially in the case of unemployment benefits paid to people leaving work voluntarily’- and I would put those words in inverted commas- and in the case of school leavers, the Government has used the discretion available to the Director-General and his delegate- in effect the discretion of the Ministerto deprive people of their due entitlement. In the case of school leavers, the Government was plainly acting illegally, as the Opposition pointed out from the time it was announced to the time when it was first applied. Mr Justice Steven of the High Court plainly agreed with the Opposition and if one needs further confirmation it lies in section 14 of the Bill: The Government has been forced to introduce legislation to deprive school leavers of unemployment benefits for that six-week period. We believe firmly that the rights of people under the Social Services Act should be written clearly; that there should be as few discretions as possible in the legislation, and that if there is a need for change it should be done by bringing it to the public and submitting it to the vote in this Parliament.
As I have mentioned, in Committee we will oppose that part of the Bill which deprives school leavers and tertiary students of unemployment benefits for the six-week period, and state clearly why we do so. I will just say now that our basic reason is the one we have announced all along; that such an Act is discriminatory, that it affects adversely low-income earners, those who are least able to look after themselves and who need unemployment benefits; that the better-off, the higher-income earners will not be affected by the loss of the benefit.
We are also concerned at the Government’s failure to note almost all of the recommendations which have come out on unemployment benefits- - namely, in the Myers report, the reports of Professor Henderson, the poverty inquiry and others- that if you abolish payment in advance, replacing it by payment in arrears, in order to have justice you must also abolish the seven-day waiting period which presently applies. The purpose of the amending legislation is to enable the Government to introduce payment in arrears. It has been done by putting in the hands of the Director-General a discretion as to the period after which unemployment benefits will be paid. The Government obviously recognises that it must pay the first benefit after one week. We repeat that the chance that unemployed persons will be paid benefits on day 14 or day 15 after application, as the Minister has claimed, is doubtful. Even so, the period is too long and the Bill will discriminate against the low-income earner, the unskilled worker, the one who first becomes unemployed when there is economic difficulty. They are the people who are most likely to become unemployed under any circumstances. Even in times of economic boom, the people who are most likely to become unemployed are the low income earners.
In 1972 the Committee of Inquiry into Poverty discovered that in fact some 60 per cent of the unemployed had less than $50 in the bank. These people frequently live from week to week. They are unable for all sorts of reasons to save. They are unable to accumulate reserves in the bank to cany them over even a week’s unemployment. It has been demonstrated in the present economic difficulties by the St Vincent de Paul Society in Melbourne, the Salvation Army in Melbourne and similar organisations in other areas that in dmes of economic strife they deal with a vastly increased number of people who are unemployed and who have no savings to carry them over the first week or, in this case, the first fortnight of unemployment. That is why Reverend Martin and Professor Henderson have said that if one is going to introduce a system of payment in arrears, which per se we do not oppose, one must in fact abolish the seven-day waiting period. I shall quote from the report of Dr Myers, who was appointed by the Government to conduct an inquiry into unemployment benefit. He said on page 15 of his report in paragraphing:
The Committee- considers that … a person eligible for benefits has an entitlement for the whole of his period of unemployment. It sees no valid reason for a reduction of the benefit by one week’s entitlement.
In paragraph 4.11.7 on the same page of the report he said:
It should be noted that the additional cost arising from this recommendation-
The recommendation that the waiting period be abolished- would be more than compensated for by the reversion to payment in arrears. Indeed, the two measures fit hand in glove, as fortnightly payment in arrears without abolition of the waiting period would cause hardship in the period before the first cheque was received.
Professor Henderson said on the Australian Broadcasting Commission news of 25 August 1977:
I am very disappointed with the latest measures the Government has brought in. What they are doing, as part of their economic policy, mistaken economic policy 1 think, is to create more unemployment at the moment and one would have thought that in those circumstances they would have taken measures to make the lot of the unemployed easier. Instead of that they have ignored two recommendations of successive commissions of inquiry that the waiting period should be abolished because a great many people suffer great hardship when they are unemployed and have no resources to fall back on. We also recommended that the administrative system of paying unemployment benefit be simplified, instead of that they have done the opposite.
I believe that that is a succinct description of what this legislation does and a succinct description of what the Government has done in the area of unemployment benefit. It is for those reasons that I move the following amendment:
At end of motion, add ‘, but the Senate deplores the failure of the Government to abolish the seven-day waiting period when introducing payment in arrears for unemployment benefit’.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I have moved this amendment because the Opposition believes that in the 23 months of the present Government’s term of office no one has been made to suffer more for the economic difficulties of this country than the unemployed. They have suffered from a campaign of denigration- a campaign in which they were accused of causing the economic difficulties of this country. They have suffered from an increase in the severity of the work test. The young unemployed, whose numbers in the community at the moment are quite startling and quite horrifying, have suffered from being deprived of unemployment benefit for the first six weeks after they leave school. The so-called voluntary unemployed have suffered in the same way.
We now have being added in this legislation the provision that tertiary students who leave their courses before the courses end will, unless they can show good and just cause for leaving their courses, which is another discretion for the Director-General, be deprived of unemployment benefit for a further six weeks. One should have thought that if the Government wanted to introduce a reform of the unemployment benefit system to make it more stringent, it would have done so at a time of low unemployment when jobs were plentiful. Instead this Governmenttypical of conservative governments the world over- tends to believe that the unemployed are unemployed because they will not work and makes all unemployed suffer from the actions of the minute number who try to work the system. Another general objection that we have to the legislation is the discretionary power which is being given to the Director-General by the Government. Despite what the Minister for Social Security may say in this House in answer to questions, it amounts to the Government having discretionary powers.
The handicapped child’s allowance was introduced by the Labor Government and its introduction was welcomed. It has been increased by the present Government, which is a move that this Opposition certainly did not oppose. We welcome the introduction of a further handicapped child’s allowance, which is based more on financial need than the previous one. But in introducing the new benefit the Government has left the level of payment and the discretion on whether the payment should be made wide open to interpretation by the Government and by the Director-General and his delegates. No explanation has been given in the Minister’s second reading speech or in the Bill itself of what the guidelines will be, of how the decision will be made, of what the means test will be and of who will or will not get the benefit.
It believe and the Opposition believes that before something like this measure is introduced into the Parliament or when it is introduced we, as representatives of the people of this country, should have at least some details on how that allowance is to be paid, who will get it and at what level they will get it and that it should not be left just to the discretionary power of some public servant or of some future Minister, whoever that Minister may be. We have a general objection to this sort of thing. We believe, like the Myers inquiry and like the Henderson inquiry, that the rights of the underprivileged in this country should be clearly stated and clearly written down in the laws of this country. If the unemployed, parents of handicapped children, pensioners or anyone else need to appeal against a bureaucratic decision of the Government or its servants, they should be able to appeal on clear grounds that are written in legislation.
I should have thought that the Social Security Appeals Tribunals, as introduced, would have been accepted as being reasonable tribunals and that if such tribunals made a decision the Director-General would accept that decision. Since the Karen Green case and the cases of the other unemployed school leavers, we have found that Social Service Appeals Tribunals across this country have accepted appeals from unemployed school leavers under the legislation as those tribunals see it only to have those appeals immediately refused by the Director-General, under instruction from the Government. We believe that this is a most unsatisfactory and undemocratic way of dealing with the social services legislation in this country. We deprecate it and we have as a firm commitment a policy to change it so that in fact people have clear rights and know what they are about.
The change to the sickness benefit to bring it into line with unemployment benefit is not opposed. But, like so many changes and so many amendments that have been made to the Act by this Government, we believe that it does no go far enough. We believe that it does not correct all the injustices which exist. We saw the same situation occur when an attempt was made to abolish the funeral benefit. An announcement was made in another place by the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security that this was in fact just the first step and that at some time in the future the Government would introduce a further reform to deal with pensioners who needed assistance with their funeral costs. We believe that when a change such as this is made there are obvious changes that should be made to the legislation at the same time. Certainly the Government has protected those who were on sickness benefits at 1 November so that they will not lose by the introduction of this benefit, but people who receive the benefit in the future will lose.
At a time of high unemployment, the obvious and glaring inadequacy in this legislation is the low permissible income for people on unemployment and sickness benefits before their benefits are reduced. We believe that when introducing changes such as this, when there is an absence of sex discrimination in the community, the proper thing to do would have been to bring in at the same time the obvious reform of raising that permissible income at least to the level applying to other pensions and benefits in the community. We then would have true justice and true reform, instead of this piecemeal approach which is being used as a means of cutting down expenditure on social security. By widening considerably the discretions available to the Government and the Director-General, this legislation enables the present Government to bring in certain reforms. The Government is ignoring recommendations of bodies such as the Henderson Committee of Inquiry into Poverty and the Myers Committee, which the Government set up to reform the unemployment benefits system. The Government is changing a benefit and wording the definition in a way that is quite dishonest and quite misleading to the community.
Finally, I come to the change whereby the Government has introduced the new supporting parent’s benefit. As I said before, this has been a hot political potato in this country for the last two years. When the supporting mother’s benefit was introduced by the previous Government, a benefit for supporting fathers was not introduced; it did not seem to be much of an issue at the time. But, following the report of Professor Henderson’s Committee it became obvious that many supporting fathers, or motherless families in the community, also were suffering considerable difficulties. In some cases the father has to stay at home and live on a special benefit, which is entirely inappropriate for such men and involves them in considerable personal difficulty in having to front up to the Department of Social Security every week to justify receiving the benefit. The benefit itself is not satisfactory in that it is paid at the discretion of the DirectorGeneral and is in no way a statutory right. It is difficult to establish the conditions of hardship, which is necessary in order to get the special benefit under the present legislation. These people must have very little money in the bank and, when they are without money, the manner in which they came to be in that situation is taken into account. The time that has elapsed since the applicant had money available to him also is taken into account. In other words, all his money must be exhausted. That has been a most unsatisfactory set of circumstances.
In 1975, when the Labor Government was considering the matter, it was told by the Treasury that the cost of such a scheme would be something like $30m to $40m a year, and no work had been done on the likely take-up. We now know, as the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) said in the second reading speech, that the scheme will involve an expenditure of only $8m or $10m a year. We know from the experience of Western Australia that very few people take advantage of the opportunity, and it is my understanding that in the time since the Western Australian benefit was introduced only about 24 people have taken it up. For a small group of supporting fathers it will be an important benefit and not only will give them money but also will give them some degree of dignity, which they did not have before, when they had to claim the special benefit.
Less than a week after the Social Services Amendment Bill was introduced into this Parliament, with no mention of a supporting parent’s or lone father’s benefit, we suddenly found that as a pre-election ploy this amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives. Much to the disappointment of members of the Government parties, and I am sure, of the Minister, the Lone Parents Federation of Australia was neither particularly impressed nor particularly moved. In fact, its members were not very happy at all and, in the words of one member of the House of Representatives- a rather petulant Liberal back bencher, I might add- they were ungrateful. Why were they ungrateful? They were ungrateful because they believed that the benefit had been introduced in a hurry as a political ploy and they objected to being used as a political football.
They believe, as everybody else in the community believes, that there should be a single category of lone parent benefit which is funded and administered by the Federal Government through the Department of Social Security, and that any lesser benefit is a step backwards. They believe that this amendment does not alter the discrimination that exists between the sexes in relation to the lone parent’s benefit. They also believe that because this change was introduced without consultation with the States there will be some difficulties. Some States, whose Budgets have been brought down already, will have to find the money to pay at least half of the first sue months of the benefit. The Federation believes that some States will be unable to pay the first six months of the benefit, and of course it is in the first six months, for fathers especially, that the benefit is so very important.
I have said that it is not clear to the Oppositionwe will question this during the Committee stage- how the benefit is to be applied. That certainly is not clear when one reads the legislation, and I hope that the Minister for Social Security will be able to clarify the question of who is entitled to the payment in the first six months. That is a matter of drafting and one to which we can come later. Although the Opposition welcomes the introduction of a supporting father’s benefit, we had hoped that it would have been introduced with more thought and without putting these people in the position of being political footballs. We had hoped that a true lone parent ‘s benefit would have been made available to all Australians, which did not depend on the State in which they live or on the generosity, ability or determination of a State government to pay that benefit.
In conclusion, the Opposition believes that this Bill is very much a mixture. We welcome the extension of the eligibility provisions for the handicapped child’s allowance. We welcome the fact that it is aimed at low income families who are in financial difficulties as well has having a handicapped child. However, we do question how the means test is to be applied. What instructions will be given to departmental officers for the application of the new allowance? What sort of things will be taken into account when deciding how much a person will get, up to the $15 which is allowed under the Act? We do not want a situation of confusion to arise, where people do not know what they are entitled to. We do not want a situation to arise where from State to State or from office to office the application of the allowance will be uneven. We have no objection to- in fact we welcome- the extension of the free service of the Commonwealth rehabilitation service to those people who previously were ineligible, but we must bear in mind that from the report of Mr Bailey, whose task force inquired into health and welfare, and from the answers given to Estimates Committee D, the question has arisen as to who should be responsible for rehabilitation services- whether they should be a State or Federal responsibility.
I think every member of Parliament has had letters from people involved in the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service expressing concern that its function could be handed back to the States. Because such a clear widening of the Service will involve increased facilities and staff, we believe it is time the Government gave us a clear indication of whether the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service will stay as a Commonwealth responsibility or whether it will be handed over to the States as has been suggested in the Bailey report and by others.
We believe that the Government’s changes to the unemployment benefit legislation, by which it refuses unemployment benefis for six weeks to those who leave school or tertiary institutions at certain times, is wrong. We believe it is discriminatory against low income families, those who can least afford to be discriminated against. We believe the legislation justifies the Opposition’s attack on the Government’s attempt to do this by regulation last year. We believe that this legislation, as well as the decision given by Mr Justice Stephen in the High Court, vindicates the attitude taken by the Opposition at that time. As we point out in the amendment, we deplore the Government’s failure to omit the seven day waiting period when one applies for unemployment benefits, even though changes have been brought into the legislation to give the DirectorGeneral of Social Services some discretion to take into account some period before a person applies for those unemployment benefits. We deplore that aspect, as have Professor Henderson, Dr Myers, the Australian Council of Social Service and everyone in the field. Apart from the Government, everyone deplores that failure. We believe that to introduce payment in arrears, without introducing that change, is wrong and unjust.
We do not oppose the introduction of the new supporting parent’s benefit but we feel sad that the Government has used this matter obviously as a pre-election ploy. We feel sad that the Government did not see fit to extend this income support service as a Commonwealth responsibility, as all income support services should be. We feel it is most unfortunate that the Government did not discuss this matter with the States. It is unfortunate that the Government did not make its decision on this matter before it introduced the Budget and before the States introduced their budgets. Despite all these objections, we have moved the amendment because we feel that the failure to abolish the seven day waiting period is the most unjust part of the Bill. As I have said, at the Committee stage we will oppose that clause which abolishes unemployment benefits for school leavers and tertiary students for six weeks after they leave school.
-The Social Services Amendment Bill is concerned primarily with assisting the family and righting in some of our legislation anomalies which exist at the moment in relation to women. We have not found it necessary to scream women’s lib. from the rooftops as the last Government did. We have not found it necessary to appoint representatives from radical women’s movements as advisers to our Government as the last Government did just to appease some of the minority vocal members of the community. Instead, we have quitely and practically set about passing legislation which will assist the family and women in particular. I refer to a couple of instances in our legislation, such as the family allowance, which have assisted the low income families, large families. This has assisted women who were, I believe, the most disadvantaged in our community. We have assisted also by amending the Commonwealth Superannuation Act. Previously women were not recognised as participating in the contributions which their husbands made to that superannuation fund. The amendments mean that women are now recognised along with their husbands as contributing to that fund. Eligibility is no longer on a needs basis. Women are entitled, as a right, to have widows’ superannuation. If they remarry they are still entitled to that superannuation.
The legislation before us tonight continues in this vein. We have extended the free Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to include women and not just the pensioners and beneficiaries who previously had eligibility to the fund. The provision has been extended to women who are not necessarily going back into the work force but just going into the home. They are to be rehabilitated so that from now on they can resume their role of mother and wife in the family. The second reading speech delivered by the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) states:
During the current year, emphasis will be paid to the acceptance of greater numbers of disabled housewives, especially those from families of low socio-economic status who would otherwise be unlikely to undertake necessary rehabilitation on a paying basis even if this were offered at reduced charges. Priority will also be given to those cases where the breadwinner’s employment status is being affected because of the demands of caring for a disabled spouse living at home and who could be afforded more independence through appropriate rehabilitation measures.
It will mean a tremendous amount to families to have their mother or wife rehabilitated and performing her role. With the new Sir Douglas Parker Rehabilitation Centre in Tasmania being set up we look forward to the extension of that service. The handicapped child’s allowance is a piece of legislation which affects the family. As Senator Grimes has said, it was originally designed by the Australian Labor Party to assist those families whose mother and father have decided to care for the handicapped child at home rather than send him to an institution. However, in a lot of cases a lesser handicap is still a tremendous financial burden on the low income family. Senator Grimes appears to want this matter to be cut and dried. But I am sure that Senator Grimes, with his medical experience, realises that there are such varying degrees of handicap that this aspect cannot be just cut and dried. It will have to be left to the discretion of the Director-General. For instance, the cost for orthopaedic shoes varies considerably. The degree of handicap in providing shoes of this type would depend on the family’s income. I was talking to a maker of orthopaedic shoes the other day and he told me that the most expensive shoes he had made cost $500. That just shows the range of orthopaedic shoes which exist.
– Where is the $500 in the Bill?
– I have said that it depends on the family’s income. The degree of disability varies to such an extent, Senator Grimes, that this matter has to be left to the discretion of the Director-General. We have all sorts of disorders to consider. Phenyl ketonuria, as Senator Grimes knows, is a great expense to the family. If it is diagnosed at birth and if appropriate treatment is carried out the child will be perfectly normal. If it is not diagnosed then mental retardation takes place. The treatment of the disease is a very expensive business for the family. The cost ranges from $ 1 5 to $20 a week just to carry out the treatment with the necessary drugs, special bread, special minerals and the special vitamins which are all part of the diet. These are the types of things which are needed. The child is not handicapped as long as it is being treated. But this is a great financial burden to the lower income families. We have the odd celiacs who need a gluten-free diet. We have children with disorders of fat metabolism who require special low fat diets. Fish and chicken are trie only proteins these children can consume. We all know how expensive some of these diets can be. I believe that this benefit will be a great asset to these low income families. There has been an anomaly and I would congratulate the Minister on being able to rectify it.
I now wish to say something about the sickness benefit, especially as it relates to women. Senator Grimes seemed to be very critical about this benefit. The Opposition seems to be supporting everything except the amendment in relation to the waiting period for the unemployment benefit which is to be paid in arrears. Senator Grimes tried to tell us at one stage that the Opposition was in favour of the rest of the Bill but he seemed to be so critical of the Bill in general that it really did not appear that way to me. Previously a male was eligible to receive the sickness benefit irrespective of how much his wife earned. However, the wife was not entitled to this benefit if there was any possibility of her husband supporting her.
– And she is still not.
– The honourable senator is entirely wrong because now eligibility is to be based on the combined income. The whole basis for eligibility is being changed. It will now be the combined income.
– That is right. So if the husband can support her she will not get the benefit.
-That is right. However, we will not have the situation that a man married to a millionairess is eligible to claim the sickness benefit. This new provision is completely just and fair. They will both now be entitled to support provided the combined income is within the means test.
I now turn to the subject of school leavers. A tremendous amount of discussion has taken place in this chamber over school leavers and the six weeks waiting period before becoming eligible for the unemployment benefit. There has been much abuse of the unemployment benefit in this respect. Honourable senators on both sides of the chamber know of the abuses that have gone on under this legislation.
– What abuses?
– I am quite sure that every honourable senator in this place knows of many children who have applied for the unemployment benefit during their Christmas holidays and have gone back to school after the vacation.
– We all know of such instances. This legislation has been introduced to overcome these abuses and to regulate the scheme in a more reasonable fashion. Parents are being asked to support their children for just an additional six weeks while they seek employment. I think that the period of six weeks is justified. In this period they can have a jolly good go at seeking employment. This provision will discourage the abuses that we know have taken place in the past. We know that children have claimed the unemployment benefit while they have been on holiday and this Government is taking action to stop this.
Senator Grimes accused us tonight of being most unsympathetic not just to school leavers but to the unemployed generally. This is something I fail to understand. I would like to draw the attention of the Senate to some figures. In 1974- in just one year- 189,918 people were thrown out of work as a result of the policies of the Labor Government. Nearly 200,000 people were thrown out of work in one year. The Labor Government did not say that it was unsympathetic but it did not seem to worry very much about these people. It went ahead with its policies and the next year it threw another few thousand out of work. An additional 3.1 per cent of the work force was thrown out of employment in just one year. Nearly 200,000 people were thrown out of work in one year.
An additional 0.2 per cent of people were put out of work in the first year of the present Government’s term of office. Admittedly the present Government has not been able to put them back into the work force. However, the fact still remains that during our first year of office an additional 0.2 per cent became unemployed. I repeat that in the one year, under the Labor Government, 3.1 per cent became unemployed yet, members of the Opposition are telling us that the present Government is not concerned, that it is unsympathetic. I think that comes very ill from the Opposition Party which created this tremendous amount of unemployment.
– We did not.
-Well, I am sorry, Senator, but I have the figures. Everyone has the figures. The Labor Government had 200,000 people thrown out of work in one year. On the other hand, this Government in one year put out 0.2 per cent. In one year the Labor Government put out an additional 3. 1 per cent. It ill becomes the honourable senator to say anything about unemployment. If I were the honourable senator I would be very quiet about it.
I would like to say something about the increases in the rate of pension that are contained in this legislation and will be paid from this month on. Pensions have been increased at a rate above the inflation rate because they attract the full consumer price index rise, which is not the case with salaries. The single rate pension will be increased by $2.20 a week, from $47. 10 to $49.30. The maximum combined married rate will be increased by $3.70 a week from $78.50 to $82.20. Since this Government has been in office the single rate pension has increased by $ 10.55 a week and the married rate pension by $17.70 a week.
The unemployment benefit will now be paid in arrears and this seems to be the thing that Senator Grimes is objecting to most of all. Senator Grimes also seemed to object to the supporting parents’ benefit. I thought that the Opposition would have approved of this but it seems that the Government can do no right.
– Did you not hear what he said?
- Senator Grimes was very critical of the Government introducing this amendment. He did not seem to be pleased. He said it was a purely a political gimmick and that it was done in too much of a hurry. He said that it was not good enough anyway. However, he also said that two years ago the then Labour Government did not even think of it. It seems to me to be extraordinary that Senator Grimes would say that two years ago there was no pressure to introduce this proposal and that the then Labor Government did not even think of it. But now that there has been pressure and this measure has been introduced he is saying that the Government is still wrong because it has done this for political reasons. Senator Grimes then tried to disparage the Government by saying that the States will not be able to afford to pay the first half for the first six months. The fact is that two of the States are doing that already and I am quite sure that the other States will fall into line, as they have in respect of the other benefit.
I know that the introduction of the supporting parents’ benefit is of great personal satisfaction to the Minister who has been trying to put this benefit through for a long time. I know that this measure has had high priority because we have spoken about it at committee meetings and she has shown particular interest. I would like to congratulate her on her endeavours in this respect.
The supporting mothers’ benefit will now be extended and become a supporting parents’ benefit. It will cover all fathers bringing up children on their own. Once a father has supported children for six months he will become eligible for the same benefit as that received by the supporting mother. I would like to inform the Senate of the new benefit rates. A supporting father will be eligible for a benefit of $49.30 a week, plus $7.50 a week for each child, plus an additional $6 as a guardians allowance ibr each child under six years of age or an invalid child, or $4 for a child over six, plus $5 if he is paying rent. Recipients are also entitled to an income of $32 a week without it affecting payment of the benefit. Of course, they are entitled to the same fringe benefits received by supporting mothers. It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill. The legislation before us proposes support for the wife, the mother in the home, and to me that is of great importance.
-The Senate is debating the Social Services Amendment Bill 1 977 which the opposition does not oppose in its entirety. I rise to support the amendment moved by Senator Grimes and to remind the chamber that the Opposition will be opposing clause 15. The Opposition welcomes the extension of eligibility for the handicapped child’s allowance and the free rehabilitation programs of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to certain classes of persons who were previously excluded from it. The Opposition welcomes the introduction of a lone parent’s benefit for supporting fathers despite the misinterpretation put on our attitude by Senator Walters, although for the reasons outlined clearly by Senator Grimes we have reservations about the way in which it has been introduced and the limitations which will prevent some supporting fathers from gaining the full benefit.
However, there are aspects of the Bill with which we find ourselves in total opposition and the most significant of these is the provision giving effect to the Government’s decision to withdraw eligibility for unemployment benefit from school leavers for the first six weeks after they leave school, and from tertiary students leaving before the completion of their courses. This is a subject that has received a great deal of attention in the Senate and finally, after 12 months of a de facto situation in which school leavers were denied eligibility for unemployment benefit for six weeks, the Government has admitted the unsatisfactory legal aspect of what it has been doing to date and has introduced a provision which will make legal this denial of unemployment benefit for school leavers. Because it will become legal as we in the Opposition are not sufficiently numerous to prevent it happening, does not mean that the provision is fair or just.
One should ask at this point why the Fraser Government has been so anxious to isolate this group of unemployed persons and deny to them a benefit which should be available to all unemployed persons. One should ask, and I hope that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) will provide this information, how much the Government expects to save this financial year by the introduction of this legislation. I ask whether the Government or the Minister has considered the social cost of introducing this provision, whether it has considered the cost to the low income family that needs some income from its school leaving children by way of wages or, in the case of unemployed children, by way of unemployment benefit. Has it considered what will happen to those low income families which have a lot of children to support- perhaps there is sickness in the family- and which need to send their teenagers out into the work force. If they cannot find employment they will get nothing for the first six weeks. What will be the social cost of depriving those families of the assistance which they reasonably might have expected from their teenage children? What will be the effect on the school leavers themselves who in most cases upon leaving school cannot find a job- even though they are leaving school for that purposecannot get the unemployment benefit and are forced into a position of total dependence on their parents? Their parents may not be in a position to support them for this period of six weeks before the Government recognises that they are part of the work force and are genuinely seeking employment.
It seems to me that this new provision applies not only to students who leave at the end of the year but also to students leaving school at any time during the year. If I am wrong in this interpretation I hope that the Minister will correct me. However, it seems that whatever time of the year students leave school they will be forced to take the sui week’s vacation before they will be eligible to receive the unemployment benefit even if their specific reason for leaving school before the end of the year was to give financial support to their families or because their families could no longer support them. The Opposition believes that the Government’s action is unjustified and, when returned to Government will repeal this provision which is particularly unjustified and callous in the current unemployment situation. If it were the case that school leavers could expect to find work after the six week’s period, we still would not accept this new provision but would not find it so obnoxious.
I take this opportunity to remind the Senate of some facts and figures because it is time some facts were introduced into the debate about the work force situation for the majority of school leavers in this country. The Australian Bureau of Statistics August 1977 labour force figures show that 22,500 junior females and 15,200 junior males between the ages of 15 and 19 years seeking their first job are unemployed. That is a total of 37,700 juniors seeking their first job. They represent school leavers who are unemployed. The total of unemployed juniors is 118,200 which means that 28.3 per cent of all junior females and 16.3 per cent of all juniors, male and female, are unemployed. This high level of unemployment is not just a transient phenomenon. It is not a position which they can get out of in a couple of weeks. It is a long term situation.
The same publication that I have been referring to measures the duration of unemployment amongst these young people and the average length for all juniors is 21.5 weeks. It is slightly higher for females. Those figures alone give us some conception of the situation in which school leavers will find themselves at the end of this year but because there still seems to be a failure on the part of the Government to really come to terms with the drastic nature of the situation I remind the Senate of the job vacancy situation. The Australian Bureau of Statistic ‘s publication for March 1977 which measured job vacancies showed that for junior females there were 1,800 job vacancies. For junior males there were 2,500 job vacancies and jobs which were available to females or males numbered 1,000. So the total number of jobs available for registered juniors was 5,300.
I emphasise that figure because I would like now to compare it with the total number of unemployed juniors, that is, 118,200. The discrepancy is appalling. No matter how hard most school leavers try, no matter how assiduous they are in pursuing employment opportunities, no matter how many interviews they go for, no matter where they seek help, no matter how many hours of the day and night they spend writing applications, trudging around or how much money they spend on bus fares looking for jobs, most of them will not get jobs. We should abandon for all time this notion that jobs are there for those who really want them and that if a kid has a bit of gumption and determination he will find a job. The statistics are against that point of view. There are 5,300 jobs for 1 18,200 registered unemployed juniors and we know that the real situation is worse than those statistics represent. So there is no way that the majority of those leaving school at the end of this year will get jobs. Some will, but they will be the minority. Those who do not get jobs will have the additional burden of having no income whatsoever. They will not have even the unemployment benefit as a source of income to help them while they look for jobs. In those circumstances the decision of the Government to legally deny the unemployment benefit to school leavers is reprehensible.
It is not as though the Government were taking significant steps to assist unemployed juniors. We recognise that there have been a number of schemes introduced which purport to give training or work experience or provide job creation opportunities for unemployed juniors. But such schemes have been pathetically minimal in their effect. The fact that their effect has been so minimal demonstrates beyond doubt that this Government is impervious to the situation of high unemployment amongst young people. The Government recognises that it is a political problem and that it will be an electoral liability in the weeks to come. So it has made some gesture towards the problem. It has introduced some band-aid schemes about which, no dobut, we will hear endlessly for the next five weeks. But if we look at the effect of those schemes we see that it has been quite pathetic.
When I was researching information to use in my contribution to this debate another problem I found was that it is very difficult to obtain information about just how these schemes are operating, how many young people have been involved in them and how many jobs have resulted from them. It seems to me that that is another failure of the Government. Not only are the schemes minimal, fragmentary and virtually useless as a remedy for the entire situation, but the administration of the schemes seems to be very poor, to the point that a member of the Australian Parliament can find scarcely any information about them. We have found that the only figures available from the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations have been in respect of the National Employment and Training scheme and the Special Youth Employment Training Program. It would appear that the figures for the Commonwealth Rebate for Apprenticeship Fulltime Training scheme and the Community
Youth Support scheme are not available. The figure for the former scheme will be available at the end of the technical education year when the employers claim reimbursement from the Government for employees’ time off to attend courses.
The figures for the NEAT scheme which we have been able to obtain show that 4,966 females and 8,684 males were engaged in the program. A total of 13,650 young persons were engaged in the program. I draw attention to the position in the Australian Capital Territory, where only 96 young persons were engaged in the program. The figures show that 25,544 persons were involved in the Special Youth Employment Training Program. Again, I mention specifically that in the Australian Capital Territory only 230 people were involved. There is another program called the Education Program for Unemployed Youth, in which 500 juniors are involved. If we add all those figures together, we still do not get anywhere near a series of programs that are coming to terms with the 1 18,200 unemployed juniors. Again, this reflects back to the particular aspect of the legislation before us to which the Opposition is so opposed. I refer to the provision to enable the Government legally to deny unemployment benefit to school leavers. Not only are there no jobs for most of those school leavers and no training schemes or schemes whereby they can be assisted to find a job, but no unemployment benefit is availablethe final crunch, one expects, for a number of young people who are trying to start their working lives.
I was interested also to find what was stated in a news release put out by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Street, on 3 November- a couple of days ago- in which he announced the subsidies being paid to employers under the NEAT scheme. He said that the subsidies will now amount to 3716 per cent of the male average adult award wage for trainees receiving adult wages and 27V4 per cent of the male average adult award wage for junions. The actual amounts are $54 and $39.50 respectively. The $39.50 which now will be paid to employers providing training to juniors under the NEAT scheme is very similar to the unemployment benefit payable to juniors who finally gain eligibility for unemployment benefit. It occurred to me: If the Government is spending so much money just paying out unemployment benefit to juniors and is prepared to subsidise employers to the same extent, why is not much more of the unemployment benefit money being diverted to training opportunities for juniors? It seems to be a problem of organisation and distribution, even if we are talking about the same amount of money being made available. Again, it seems to demonstrate that the Government is not very anxious to find a solution to the problem of employed school leavers, except insofar as it wishes, for the purposes of the coming election, to demonstrate a few token schemes which have absorbed just a few thousand of the unemployed youth.
The other provision in the legislation before us to which I would like to give some attention is that in relation to sickness benefit. I was totally amazed by the manner in which this provision was described in the second reading speech. It was described in the following words:
This provision -
That is, the provision which will be affected by the legislation- is considered to discriminate against women. It will be repealed. In future a married woman will be able to qualify for a sickness benefit on the same basis as a married man.
When I read that and when I heard other remarks made by the Government about the purpose of changing the sickness benefit provision, I, and I presume any other rational person, formed the impression that some new eligibility was to be created. Indeed, I think, Senator Walters said something about the situation of women being improved by this provision. Further on in the second reading speech we are told that in future the combined income of both husband and wife will be taken into account in assessing the rate of sickness benefit, as is the case with other income tested pensions and benefits. Certainly, that is the case with other income tested pensions and benefits. However, that means that, whereas formerly a married woman who became sick and lost her job was expected to be supported by her husband, the same situation will apply.
The so-called new eligibility simply means that if a husband has an income of more than $6 a week the benefit will be lost progressively until the couple reaches an income level at which the Government has decided a married couple can live, which was $78.50 a week but has just been increased to $82.20 a week. So, in fact there is no change in the circumstance of a woman who loses her job through sickness and wishes to apply for sickness benefit. Previously she was expected to be supported by her husband. Now, as a result of this new eligibility provision, she will still be supported by her husband.
– He will be supported by her, which is just and fair.
– Certainly there has been a change in entitlements. It is not that a new entitlement is being extended to women; it is that an entitlement has been taken away from husbands whose wives are in employment. The situation until now was that if a man was working and lost his job through sickness he could claim his sickness benefit even if his wife was in employment. That entitlement has been taken away. Certainly a sort of technical equality- one could say an equality of disadvantage- has been introduced in the legislation, but I find it quite amazingly hypocritical that this change has been expressed in language which suggests that some new provision has been extended to women.
I would like the Senate to consider what this change will mean. In the case of a low income family with two incomes, when the husband becomes ill and has to leave his employment he will not be eligible for sickness benefit if his wife is working. What might very easily happen is that, because he is sick and there are children and so forth, the wife may have to give up her job to care for the husband and the children. In that case she would not be entitled to claim the unemployment benefit, the sick husband would receive the married rate of sickness benefit and the wife could earn only $6 a week if the couple received the married rate payment, which is now $82 a week. The overall income of the family would be reduced to about $88 a week. That seems to me to be an extremely harsh circumstance to visit upon a dual income family in which the husband and wife are both working hard to keep up their payments and meet their commitments. Suddenly, because of the sickness of one party, the whole family is reduced to living on $88 a week, with perhaps a supplementary benefit later on. That will be the real effect achieved by this provision, which is supposed to have some beneficial effect for women. Clearly, the withdrawal of this benefit, even though it might be anomalous in terms of the fact that unemployed spouses will be ineligible -
– Are you supporting it, senator? I thought you were.
-No, I am not. With the withdrawal of this benefit, low income families, such as migrant families where both partners have to go out to work, will be hit very hard indeed. The lowest paid workers again will be hit very hard. Most of them have to be working for three months before being entitled to receive sick pay from their place of work. Usually sick pay in those sorts of low income areas of work lasts for only five days. It seems to me that the Government is going to save very little by this new provision- perhaps half a million dollars; it is hard to assess- but thousands of families might be reduced to poverty as a result of the loss of eligibility, particularly in the case where working wives of sick husbands have to give up work.
I remind the Senate that when a working wife does have to give up her job to support her husband her whole family goes on to the social security benefit. I wonder what sort of cost benefit this sort of change actually represents over a period of time. It seems to me that a much fairer way of reconciling the anomaly that existed under the old provision would have been to introduce some sort of provision which would permit either partner to retain eligibility if the family income was very low. I remind the Senate that the poverty line as defined in the income figures for the June quarter of 1977 for a married couple with two children was $111.90 a week, which represents a yearly income of about $6,000.
– The average wage is now $200 a week.
– I heard some comment from the opposite side of the chamber about the average wage. I sometimes wonder what Government senators know about working families and their incomes. As I said, an income of $110 a week represents a yearly wage of about $6,000. The Australian Bureau of Statistics publication of income distribution statistics for May 1977 showed that 24.5 per cent of all workers fell within the group of people earning around $1 10 a week or less. That is a very high proportion of the work force. Of course, not all those wage earners had families to support; some of the them were part time workers and so forth. I recognise that. Nonetheless, the ABS statistics show that 24.5 per cent of all workers in our work force earn around $6,000 a year. That is the figure which Professor Henderson-
– That is the same figure.
– If Senator Archer would pay attention to the figures I am sure that they would be quite a novelty to him. It comes as no surprise to me that he is expressing amazement and surprise at the figures.
– But you admit it is a crazy figure?
– I shall repeat what I have been saying because I think it is important background information in this debate. The situation being created by the new provisions being introduced by the Fraser Government will affect most low income families. I am presenting evidence to the effect that 24.5 per cent of all workers earn about $6,000 per annum. That figure represents the poverty line where the income earner has to support a non-working spouse and two children. So we have this very large group of people living on the poverty line who will not be eligible for sickness or, indeed, unemployment benefit when one partner-
-That is a mystery; how do you work that out?
– If Senator Archer doubts the figures I am quoting I shall be quite happy to get the ABS publication and table it. As I said before, it comes as no surprise to me that these figures are a novelty to him because I do not think he or any of his colleagues interest themselves in what happens to low income families in our community.
I am looking for the figure representing women in the work force. Of course, it is a figure which is not growing as quickly as used to be the case. I did have the figure for the number of married women in the work force, but I do not seem to be able to find it now. This time I shall not quote from an ABS publication, but there are roughly 1,500,000 women in the work force. I think about two-thirds of those women are married. So approximately 1,000,000 women would represent dual income families. I mention that figure to demonstrate to the Senate that the dual income family is a fact of life in our community, particularly in the low income areas. Many honourable senators present tonight might be able to afford not to have a working spouse, but for the low income workers in our community the dual income family has become a necessity. So these provisions which discriminate against the dual income family or take no account of the hardship which flows to them when unemployment or sickness prevents one partner from continuing to earn his or her wage are, I think, quite irresponsible.
In conclusion I repeat that the Opposition opposes entirely the unjust but soon to be legal provision which will deny the eligibility for unemployment benefit to school leavers for a period of six weeks after leaving school. We have opposed this practice while it has been a de facto practice and we shall continue to oppose it when it becomes a legal practice. Of course, when a Labor Government is returned that provision will be repealed. With respect to the other provisions of the legislation, we have no objection. However, I was pleased to have the opportunity to draw the attention of some honourable senators at least to the very difficult circumstances facing low income families in our communitydifficult circumstances which the new provision with regard to sickness benefit will do nothing whatsoever to alleviate and in future cases will do a great deal to worsen.
– The Senate is debating the Social Services Amendment Bill, to the second reading of which the Opposition has moved an amendment. That amendment has been spelt out by Senator Grimes, but I shall spell it out again. It reads as follows:
At end of motion, add “, but the Senate deplores the failure of the Government to abolish the seven day waiting period when introducing payment in arrears for unemployment benefit”.
Some time ago I asked the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) a question on this very matter. I pointed out to her the hardships which were going to be incurred by many people in the community who, through no fault of theirs, found themselves unemployed. I pointed out to her also by way of question the added financial burden this measure was going to place on the community welfare organisations in all States. The Minister gave a lengthy reply. Before I sit down I shall quote that reply, together with some comments which have been made by Mr Ron Payne, the South Australian Minister of Community Welfare, who, I understand, was in Canberra today talking to the Minister for Social Security. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill or even when the Minister replies in this second reading stage she will be able to alleviate some of the worries which I and the South Australian Minister, Mr Payne, had about the added burden which is going to be thrown on the resources of the various States. Let us look at the provisions in this Bill relating to the payment in arrears of the unemployment benefit. At page 8 of the second reading speech of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) he said:
Under the new procedures, a person who makes a claim for unemployment benefit on the day on which he becomes unemployed will not be entitled to receive any benefit in respect of the first week of unemployment. After the end of the second week, he will receive the benefit for that week on submitting a statement confirming that he has not been employed or received income that would make him ineligible.
Volume 3, No. 2, of the Newsletter of the Council of Social Service of New South Wales which was put out in October had some very stringent and caustic comments to make about the measures which are contained in this Bill concerning unemployment benefit payments in arrears. The Newsletter has this to say under the heading: ‘Live for a month on one week’s benefit’:
Changes in procedures for the payment of unemployment benefit, due to be implemented on November the first, are going to create considerable hardship for those registering after that date. At the recent ACOSS Congress in Canberra Senator Guilfoyle outlined the new procedures . . .
Day I . . . register and receive form.
Day 15… return form- this will be a claim for the previous seven days only.
Day 1 7 ( at the earliest; on experience it is more likely to be 2 1 or so) cheque for seven days’ benefit will be received.
Day 29 . . . return second form for claim for previous 14 days.
Day 3 1 or later (as above) … the second cheque will be received.
So in effect people are being asked to cope for a month or more on the payment of one week ‘s benefit only.
That will apply, as has been pointed out here, if there is no lag in the payment of the unemployment benefit. We have had experience of the late payment of the unemployment benefit, particularly in country areas, because of staff ceilings, the work load and the dramatic increase taking place week by week in the number of people registering for it. We know- and all the people with some expertise who are in a position to know are telling us this-that with the addition of school leavers the number of people registered for the unemployment benefit in this country will be in the vicinity of 450,000 by about the middle of February. Where will we be then? What will we be faced with? Will the staff now employed by the Department of Social Security be able to keep to the time table which the Minister for Social Security has spelt out in the Bill or will people without incomes be deprived of the wherewithal to feed their wives and children and themselves and pay all their commitments?
Despite what honourable senators opposite say, a lot of people who are unfortunate enough to be unemployed and have to go on the unemployment benefit have no reserve in their bank because they have not been on a very high wage. Perhaps I could instance my own case. These people are born of working families which have had no opportunity to provide them with a higher education to fit them for a job which would bring in a high income. They go out on to the labour market and take whatever job they can get. If they have no skills that is usually the lowest paid job in the community. They have no opportunity to put any money aside. Their parents have never had the opportunity to provide them with a financial start in life. They do as many young people like to do and take unto themselves a wife. When they do that they try to provide themselves with a home. It is not long before the average Australian young couple commences to have a family. They never get above scratch. They never get ahead. They are never able to provide themselves with the luxuries of life that most honourable senators opposite have. The opportunity never offers itself.
Time and again we hear honourable senators opposite complaining that when the working man asks for an increase in wages he is holding the country to ransom. I go on record again as saying that every increase the trade unions ask for on behalf of their members is justified. They are endeavouring to get a higher working standard and a better standard of living for their members. Now we have reached the stage where there is a higher and higher rate of unemployment because of what this Government is doing. It is cutting back on public expenditure. As I have said in this place on many occasions, the first repercussion of a cutback in public expenditure is that private enterprise does not sell the goods which it employs people to make and so it retrenches its employees. When there is no other work available those people have to turn to social security and receive the unemployment benefit. This Government is making it harder and harder for the growing army of unemployed in this country to receive any benefits at all. Now Christmas is upon us. I well remember Senator Hall saying in this place when he was not a supporter of the Government but a trenchant critic of it that Mr Fraser was the man who cancelled Christmas. How many Christmas celebrations will be cancelled in 1977, as from the first of this month, because of this legislation? People will have to try to live for one month on a week ‘s unemployment benefit payment. What this Government is doing will create hardship. I venture to say that it will create family breakups.
The Government has no consideration for people on the lower structure of income and their wives and children. It is unfortunate that we should have in office a government which has no concern whatever for the people on the lower wage structure but has every concern possible for great companies like the Utah Development Company. Legislation beneficial to these companies has gone through the Parliament. We saw the removal of the coal levy. The Utah company is now in receipt of millions and millions of dollars which it does not require yet we find that the Government is making it harder and harder for the very people who need some subsistence to receive it. Last Saturday in the Greensborough byelection the working people showed their disgust at what this Government is doing. I hope that opinion is carried through to 10 December and that this Government is put back where it rightly belongs, on the opposition benches.
When the Labor Party was in government we were criticised most harshly for being spendthrifts and for wasting money. At least we spent the money in areas of need. We make no apologies for that. I say to Senator Guilfoyle again that when we are in office and we bring down our next Budget we will again care for the needy people in this community. If we are again accused of being spendthrifts, so be it. I think it is a good thing for a government to be accused of if it is providing money for the people in the community who need it. Never mind the wealthy section of the community; they can look after themselves.
– Can we quote you?
– Of course the honourable can quote me. I have said this publicly on many occasions. I have never been afraid of criticism of a government of which I was proud to be a member for making money available for a better life for people on lower living standards. It should be borne in mind by Senator Archer that if it were not for the workers of this country the people he represents would not be the wealthy section today. The wealthy people could not do the dirty work. They are notable. They could not work on an assembly line, in a shearing shed, in a quarry, or making roads and occupations of that sort. They are not physically able to do it. Yet the very people who have to do these jobs are the ones most severely criticised by the people opposite. Mr Ron Payne, the Minister for Community Welfare in South Australia, had to make a special trip to Canberra today to speak to the Minister. I raised a matter with the Minister on 27 October. I asked:
In view of the fact that the recent Government decision to pay unemployment benefit in arrears as from 1 November will cause added hardship and severe financial stress to many thousands of persons who are unable to find employment and that this in turn will force these people to seek assistance from State government welfare services, what action, if any, has the Minister taken to assist State governments and to compensate them for being forced to carry out this added burden which is rightfully the responsibility of the Federal Government?
I shall quote part of the Minister’s reply. She said:
At present I am having discussions with welfare bodies and also considering closely, through my National Consultative Committee on Social Welfare, the matter of emergency funding. Where there is eligibility for a Commonwealth benefit or pension, I have asked that this be facilitated and that the minimum period of delay be caused to those people who have eligibility. In other circumstances, special benefit is obtainable by people, at the discretion of the DirectorGeneral.
That is the very thing to which Senator Grimes referred tonight- the discretion of the DirectorGeneral. The Director-General cannot have his finger on every emergency problem that exists in this wide Commonwealth. He has to wait until his officers advise him of a problem. How many weeks will that take? How many weeks will it be before the emergency assistance is made available? The Minister went on to say:
As far as compensation to State governments is concerned, in many cases they have their own programs of assistance and their own means of assistance.
That is the very question I put to the Minister. Because of the added burden that was to be placed on these facilities I asked what provision the Minister had made to provide adequate monetary compensation to the various State governments. Obviously none. She went on to say:
Sometimes this is provided through a family support scheme or whatever term may be used to describe the immediate assistance that is given in cases of hardship. The States equally provide assistance through voluntary agencies and through other programs which for many years have been part of the welfare programs in this country.
Of course, if it were not for organisations such as the Smith Family, the Salvation Army and many others that I could mention, there would be a great number of people suffering day in and out. Yet the Minister indicates that because of these restrictions she is imposing, such as the payment of unemployment benefit in arrears, such organisations will be able to fill the gap. That is what she must have been referring to when she spoke of voluntary agencies. The Minister said further:
However, as I said, the matter of emergency funding is receiving consideration through welfare bodies and my consultative Committee.
These are the pertinent points to which I should like to refer in view of what Mr Payne had to say today in the Adelaide Advertiser. In contrast to the Minister’s comment, ‘It has been a matter of discussion with State Ministers. Information has been collected on the matter’,- on the front page of that newspaper we read:
State to put case to Canberra.
Special aid for jobless plan.
The State Government is prepared to pay special benefits to newly unemployed people suffering genuine hardship while waiting for Commonwealth benefits.
Of course, it is well known that when it has been necessary for a gap to be filled the South Australian Labor Government, under the premiership of Mr Don Dunstan, has always been ready to fill the breach if it could. We found that in the case of the canned fruit industry, where the State Government converted its loan to a grant, in contrast to this Government’s point blank refusal of my request made on many occasions that it convert its portion similarly. I quote further from the Adelaide Advertiser:
The plan, approved in principle last week was announced yesterday by the Minister of Community Welfare (Mr Payne).
He is flying to Canberra for today’s meeting of State welfare ministers.
There is an emergency proposal which cannot be regarded as anything other than an effort to keep unemployed families fed ‘, Mr Payne said last night.
The Federal Government assumed that State governments could support those awaiting unemployment benefits.
That was the whole crux of my question the other day. I quote further:
It is ignoring the long established precedent that income security matters are a Federal responsibility,’ he said.
Mr Payne said he would defy the Minister fo Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) by forcing the unemployment issue at the meeting called to discuss children’s services.
He described as ‘inhumane’ the Federal Government’s changes to the payment of unemployment scheme under which a newly unemployed family man was given one pay in five weeks- on the 18th day of unemployment, then on the 35th day.
Mr Payne said he had not received a reply from Senator Guilfoyle since sending a letter on 22 September criticising the Federal action, and following it with a telegram and a telex message giving details of the State Government’s plans to pay interim benefits to those in great need.
Yet the Minister said on 27 October, in answering a question that I posed to her, ‘It has been a matter of discussion with State Ministers.’ Mr Payne is reported further in these terms:
The State could pay the special benefit only on an irregular basis because it could affect the person’s eligibility for Commonwealth unemployment benefits.
Mr Payne said the Federal Government must liberalise the payment of existing special benefits for those financially distressed during the waiting period, or should allow State governments to provide special help which later would be reimbursed, together with an allowance for administration costs.
It was hoped the South Australian Government’s plan would not have to be implemented if he succeeded in Canberra today.
I will be interested to know if that happened. As I said earlier, the Minister may be able to tell us what transpired at the meeting and whether she has been able to tell Mr Payne and the other State Ministers that the Federal Government will help the States make this emergency assistance available to these unfortunate people who are out of a job. Despite the claim of Government supporters that there are dole bludgers and people who will not work, the greatest proportion of the unemployed do want a job but cannot find it under the programs and policies of this Government. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the Senate that the State Ministers were told that she could come to the party and make emergency assistance available. Otherwise, it will be a very bleak Christmas indeed for many hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, because parents do not have a fulltime job and cannot provide for their families the most meagre Christmas. As I said earlier, that is a great tragedy.
When Senator Walters spoke to the Bill she tried to recite chapter and verse concerning what this Government had done to help the family man. She mentioned the family allowance as assisting the family income, but when recently I spoke on the Budget I mentioned the fact that that allowance penalised certain people in the community. I cited the case of husbands who were either separated from their wives or divorced, and had court orders against them for maintenance; that they now found that they could not claim reimbursement in their income tax returns for the support of dependent children; that they were paying an extra amount by way of maintenance because of that fact. Many of these husbands are in dire straits and seriously embarrassed financially.
Unless the Government does something to assist these people extreme social problems will arise in the very near future. When I made that point on 6 October Senator Baume agreed that I was quite right, that the Government had done nothing to cope with that problem. Certainly, the family allowance is of great assistance to people on very low incomes, but other people also live in the community. People in a slightly higher income bracket are now finding that they are in circumstances similar to those on lower incomes because, they cannot claim a tax deduction for maintenance payments to dependent children. In many cases a man who has been divorced has remarried and has children of the second marriage. Such a person will be seriously embarrassed financially. It is all very well for the Government to stand up and prate about what it has done to help certain sections of the community, but it should also take into consideration what it has done to disadvantage other sections.
I conclude by saying that this Bill contains provision for the making of payments to lone fathers. I referred to this also in my speech on the Budget, criticising the Minister for having, when she was on the Opposition benches now occupied by Senators Mulvihill and Button, constantly attacked the Labor Government for not bringing in a measure to provide subsistence for lone fathers. Yet nothing was mentioned in the Budget Speech in that regard. However, when her leader brought on a hurried election and the Government had to scamper around and bring in something that would appeal for votes, it sought to amend the Bill and afford provision over and above what the Budget had contemplated. It brought in this amendment as a vote catcher. It has done the same thing in primary industry with the beef producer. There was no mention in the Budget of assisting beef producers, until the cattlemen’s union passed a vote of no confidence in the Minister for Primary Industry. All of a sudden we found that the Government had to amend the Budget in that respect.
– Stop weeping.
-I am not weeping. I am saying that the Government is incapable of bringing forward a budget that will satisfy the needy in the community, whether they be primary producers, lone fathers or anyone else; that it brought down these amendments only because the Prime Minister saw fit to go to the people 12 months sooner than he need do- because of political expediency. I am not growling about that because, after the Greensborough by-election on Saturday last, I am very happy. If that result is repeated throughout the country we are going to find Senator Missen sitting once again on this side of the chamber. No doubt he will then be saying that we ought to be spending much more money on social security and services for people. Honorable senators opposite have criticised us in the past for doing just that. That is what Senator Missen will be doing. However, I am happy to say that after the result of Saturday’s by-election we will be in government very soon.
As I said in my opening remarks, we will be giving very close and urgent attention to the underprivileged of this great country. Irrespective of what honourable senators opposite may say about our wasting money, we will be taking measures to see that these people are properly looked after, as they ought to be. They are Australians. Instead of pandering to the multinational organisations by doing such things as removing the coal levy, as I have said, thereby putting millions and millions of dollars into the pockets of Utah, and instead of bringing the price of crude oil up to the world parity price thereby increasing the cost of petrol by 1 lc a gallon, most of the profits of which will go into the pockets of the wealthy petroleum companies, the Government ought to be putting money into the larders of the underprivileged people of this country.
– I thank the Opposition for the manner in which it has supported the measures contained in this Bill. I have noted the comments that members of the Opposition have made with regard to their reservations and the amendment which the Opposition intends to move in the Committee stage. I believe that one or two of the matters that were raised during the debate should be clarified at this stage.
I refer firstly to the matter raised by Senator Grimes with regard to the Social Security Appeals Tribunals. As Senator Grimes acknowledged, these Tribunals were established at the instigation of the Whitlam Government. I have previously said that where the decisions of the Social Security Appeals Tribunals are not upheld by the Director-General, it is proposed that those matters be then referred to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. So people who come under the Social Services Act will have the ultimate appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in the same way as people who come under any other Federal Act. I am interested in the comment of the Opposition with regard to the Social Security Appeals Tribunals. It is my firm belief that there should be the same right of appeal to people who came under the Act for which I am responsible as there is under any other Act. I believe that the step which we have taken to refer to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal any matters which are the subject of disallowance by the Director-General will overcome the reservations expressed by Senator Grimes.
I am interested in what has been said with regard to the discretion of the Director-General under the Act. It should be understood that determinations need to be made. I was fascinated to hear some concern expressed about the special benefit with regard to the discretion of the Director-General. I would suggest that if, in order to fill the gaps that may exist in other benefits, any benefit ought to be a discretionary one this special benefit is the one that is most appropriate for a discretionary payment by the Director-General. I believe that it is important that he should have discretion to meet the needs of those people who are either not eligible for any other benefit or for some reason are in extreme and necessitous circumstances.
I turn now to the supporting parent’s benefit. Senator Grimes raised the matter of the discussions with the States and the difficulties that he felt would occur with the introduction of this benefit. In my second reading speech I announced that the Government has decided to provide for a benefit to be paid to supporting fathers on the same basis as supporting mothers. I stated in that second reading speech that the Government will be discussing the new benefit with the States to gain their acceptance of the inclusion of supporting fathers on the same terms as supporting mothers. I referred to the fact that two States- Western Australia and South Australiaalready provide assistance to supporting fathers and said that negotiations will be undertaken with them as well. The letters from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to the Premiers have been prepared and should be reaching the Premiers soon. In order to ensure that this measure is introduced immediately we have said that while we are discussing this matter with the States we will pay special benefit to any supporting father who requires the benefit at this stage.
As far as the introduction of the benefit is concerned, there seems to be some reluctance to accept it as a measure that is of benefit. The gap in our social security system is one that I acknowledged, as was said by Senator McLaren, in 1974 or 1975 when we were in opposition. I recall moving an amendment to a Bill that had been introduced by the then Government and saying that there was a gap in our social security system and that I believed that this was a category of need that had not been covered by a pension or benefit from the Commonwealth Government. I am delighted that that gap has been filled and that a supporting parent’s benefit has been introduced at this stage.
The handicapped child’s allowance also was raised by Senator Grimes. He expressed- quite rightly- the necessity for people to have details of the way in which it Will be applied and the way in which assistance can be given. This allowance is in addition to the existing handicapped child’s allowance, which is not means tested and which is granted on medical criteria. A discretionary handicapped child’s allowance was introduced in this year’s Budget. An allowance will be payable to a parent or guardian where the family income does not exceed the adult minimum weekly wage plus $6 for each child or student child of the family. This is a benefit that will be paid in relation to children who do not reach the medical criteria of the handicapped child ‘s allowance but who have other needs. It could be of assistance if such a benefit is paid to cover the continuing expenditure which may occur in such a family.
The allowance will be paid at the rate of $ 1 5 a week or the amount of expenditure associated with the child ‘s disability, whichever is the lesser, with a minimum payment of $5 a week. Where the medical criteria and income test are satisfied the minimum rate of $5 a week will be payable without the need to investigate the level of expenditure associated with the child’s disability. If the expenditure is claimed to exceed $5 a week the amount claimed will need to be substantiated in order to attract a higher rate of payment. If the rate of allowance so determined is greater than $5 a week it will be rounded up to the next dollar. For example, an expenditure of $6.40 a week would attract a payment of $7 a week.
The types of expenditure that would be acceptable for the purpose would be such things as expenditure on medical and paramedical services, especially physiotherapy, after the deduction of health insurance refunds, the cost of transport incurred in seeking medical and other services, expenditure on special diets, prosthesis, spectacles and mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, expenditure on clothing in excess of the usual requirements, expenditure on shoes in excess of the usual requirements, school fees in excess of the usual cost, usually arising out of attendance at a special school, and expenditure on occasional child care and special activities- for example, swimming lessons for spastic children. Again I stress that that list is not inflexible. It is a matter of continuing expenditure being incurred. A low income family can be assisted by the payment of a handicapped child’s allowance to cover these matters.
asked what would be the cost of the payment of unemployment benefit to school leavers if we did not have a postponement for six weeks before they became eligible for unemployment benefit. On the basis of there being some 200,000 school leavers in a year receiving the benefit for that period of six weeks, the cost would be around $40m. That would be required if all of those school leavers were immediately paid unemployment benefit. Whilst the judgment of Mr Justice Stephen is often quoted, the aspect that has not been given the importance that I believe it should be given is his statement that it was reasonable to impose some period of time for a school leaver to satisfy the DirectorGeneral that he had taken reasonable steps to obtain employment.
It is in that context that we have introduced in the legislation before the Senate a provision that for a period of six weeks after leaving school at any time of the year a student would not be eligible for unemployment benefit. I stress that special benefit is available in the case of the necessitous circumstances mentioned by Senator Ryan. Application may be made for special benefit by any student who is in necessitous circumstances or whose family is dependent upon his immediately gaining employment. The benefit can be applied in such circumstances, and I am sure that the officers of my Department make that possibility known to a person in necessitous circumstances.
Senator McLaren raised the matter of the State Minister, Mr Payne, having to make a special trip to Canberra today for emergency funding arrangements. Mr Payne’s trip, and that of other State Ministers, was to discuss with me the matter of child care. The meeting was arranged at the State Ministers conference in May this year. At the meeting today we were able to discuss the funding of this year’s Budget appropriation of some $4m for new projects in child care. We were able also to set up a meeting between State and Federal governments to arrange a three-year program for children’s services, starting from the Budget next year. Senator McLaren referred to the matter of emergency funding and quoted from an article in the Adelaide Press arising from statements made today by Mr Payne. He also referred to an answer that I gave previously in relation to emergency funding, and seemed to express some disbelief that I should have said that the matter had been discussed with State governments. At the last two meetings of State Ministers of which I am aware the matter of emergency funding has been discussed, and arising from the meeting prior to the last one we have assembled from all round Australia the programs and assistance that are given by State governments in emergency circumstances. That is a matter of continuing discussion, and the querulous way in which Senator McLaren referred to my answer to his question indicates that he does not understand the continuing nature of the discussions with State Ministers. However, arising from the discussions today with State Ministers, we have arranged that on Friday of this week State officials, joined by officers of my Department, will meet to discuss emergency funding. We hope that at that meeting some proposals will be put forward for joint Commonwealth and State consideration of emergency funding. As I said earlier in my answers to questions, already I have had some discussions with voluntary agencies and with the Australian Council of Social Service on the provision of emergency funding. It should be understood that there are many voluntary agencies which for many years, as a characteristic of their operations, have given assistance in cash, in services or in goods to people in distress. It is a strong characteristic of the Australian society that such agencies have operated for a very long time. I am aware of the burden of cost that has been borne by them and I am aware also of the generosity of the Australian people in assisting them. However, I have initiated discussions with regard to the voluntary agencies and also arranged today for my officers to join with State officials on Friday of this week to deal with this matter.
Another matter raised, although not in the context of the Bill before the Senate, was that of family allowances and the difficulties encountered by some fathers who are paying maintenance for children who no longer are in their custody, care and control. At the time that the family allowance scheme was introduced this problem was known to us. It was stated then, and it still would be valid as far as I am concerned, that any father who is paying a maintenance order for children could apply to the court for a review of that maintenance order. We said at that time that any father who found himself in those circumstances would have the facility of legal aid granted to him for that purpose. That is one means of reviewing the maintenance that he pays in order to take into account the loss of rebate in the form of a taxation deduction which he previously had but which no longer exists because of the introduction of the family allowance scheme.
The change to a system of payment of unemployment benefit in arrears also was raised. I have noted the concern expressed by honourable senators, but I am assured by the DirectorGeneral that, with the changes made to our computer programs and because of the way in which new applicants for unemployment benefit will be dealt with, by day 1 6 the first cheque will be paid to people who have applied for unemployment benefit and fortnightly payments will be made thereafter. I stress that those people who were receiving unemployment benefit prior to the change in the legislation will not have their schedule interrupted. I am assured that the new applicants who will be claiming unemployment benefit can be dealt with in such a way that a minimum of delay will occur before receipt by them of the first payment. Again, the special benefit provision can be used by people who are in necessitous circumstances, although it must be understood that the special benefit is not an alternative to another Commonwealth benefit but one that is used as an emergency payment to people who have no other resources for themselves and their families. I think those were the most salient matters raised in the debate. I thank the Senate for the way in which it has received the new measures in this Bill. As I understand it, an amendment is to be moved by the Opposition in the Committee stage of the debate.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
– I seek some explanation of the Government’s intentions on this matter. As I see it, a widow becomes entitled to a widow’s pension on the death of her husband, whereas a widower, even if his wife dies in childbirth, under this legislation is not entitled to a supporting parent’s benefit for six months. The present unsatisfactory situation is that only two States have benefits available for such people. I do not consider- I am sure the Minister does not- that a special benefit is an adequate substitute for a supporting parent’s benefit in view of the manner in which it has to be applied for. It should be borne in mind also that the take-up of this benefit is not expected to be very great, other than in the first couple of months when a disturbance to the family occurs and a person is in great distress. I wonder what the Minister intends to do about that situation. Is it in fact the situation and does she intend to allow it to go on in those States that may or may not introduce such a benefit?
– This is a matter that the Government wishes to discuss with the States. The reason for the difference between the widow and the widower is that it was not intended that a class A widower’s pension would be available to the widower in the way that a class A widow’s pension is available even if there are no dependent children under the age of 16 years. The matter of a widower being eligible immediately is one that the Government considers to be appropriate. If the present position does not satisfy the widower we will pay a special benefit to the widower until he is eligible for the supporting parent’s benefit. I assure the Committee that when we are discussing this matter with the States we will raise the question of widowers or other supporting fathers having available to them, without the previous stringent guidelines, a benefit of a special nature to cover the period of six months during which we will be discussing the matter with the States. I am hopeful that we will have some agreement from the States and that they will assist as they do with the supporting mother’s benefit. However, that is still a matter for discussion. At this stage I give an assurance that a benefit will be available to all supporting fathers immediately. For those who have been supporting their children for six months or more, the supporting parent’s benefit will become available immediately this Bill is passed. It is those new supporting fathers who become eligible who will be covered by the Commonwealth while we are reaching agreement with the States.
– I also raise a question about clause 3 regarding qualification for benefit. I cannot follow the reason why a woman cannot claim a supporting mother’s benefit if the child is not born in Australia. For the same reason I cannot understand why a father cannot claim the benefit if the child is not born in Australia. Perhaps there is some explanation which the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) may be able to give. I cannot agree with the qualification which is set out in the Bill. It seems to me to be unjust. I would like to be told why the children have to be born in Australia before the parent qualifies to claim the benefit.
– The residence qualification is the same in this Bill as it is with regard to the supporting mother’s benefit. There has been no change in eligibility as far as residence is concerned. The residence qualification for the supporting mother’s benefit, when it was introduced, related to children who were born in Australia. The same application of residence qualification is applied to the widow’s pension and to other areas. We have not changed this qualification. I think it is accepted that the benefits should cover children born in Australia. The supporting parent’s benefit is a means of assisting those children. We believe that the continuance of the residence qualification is an appropriate way to deal with other matters.
– I am not satisfied with that answer. The number of children not born in Australia would be very limited. Surely the children of supporting mothers or supporting fathers who would be excluded from this benefit under the provisions in the Bill would be very minimal. To me it does not require these qualifications to exclude them from the benefit. I think the answer the Minister has given to me is insufficient.
-As I explained, the same provisions existed before we changed the benefit from the supporting mother’s benefit to the supporting parent’s benefit. That eligibility applied. We have now introduced the supporting parent’s benefit on the same terms of eligibility. If we look for a residence qualification, it is stated in the Bill as five years. That is the way in which the benefit has been applied in the past. It continues in the future. If there is some disagreement with that aspect, I point out that this is unchanged when compared with the previous benefit. That provision has now been extended to cover supporting fathers as well as supporting mothers.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 10- by leave- taken together.
-Could we have some clarification of the very real problem which we see in the broad discretions which are given to the Director-General of Social Services and his various officers in the Department of Social Security. I appreciate the explanation which the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) gave when summing up in the second reading debate. But we still have vague expressions in proposed new section 105 ja where a handicapped child’s allowance is not paid if the family is ‘by reason of the provision of that care and attention, subjected to severe financial hardship’. This follows clause 4 which relates to section 105h in which we find another one of these vague expressions:
We ask: What sorts of guidelines will the Government lay down for the Director-General or his delegates throughout the Department so that they can make that sort of distinction? What will be marginally less than the care and attention, et cetera? What will be severe financial hardship?
– I stated the explanation briefly when I was responding at the end of the second reading debate. This alternative qualification was introduced so that there will be a flexibility with regard to the payment of the handicapped child’s allowance. The existing handicapped child’s allowance is awarded on medical criteria. It is not means tested. The medical criteria are determined by the Department of Health acting for the Department of Social Security. There is no way in which a child who does not meet those medical criteria is able to receive a handicapped child’s allowance until we have passed this proposal.
This proposal widens the eligibility for allowance to include those children who do not meet the medical criteria which presently exist but who are substantially handicapped and have a continuing expenditure for their special needs. As I stated earlier, this allowance will be payable to a parent or guardian where the family income does not exceed the adult minimum weekly wage, plus $6 for each child or student child. The allowance will be paid at the rate of $ 1 5 a week, or the amount of expenditure associated with the child’s disability, whichever is the lesser, with a minimum payment of $5 a week. As far as the medical criteria are concerned, we will be guided by the Department of Health in determining the degree of handicap of the child. There will not be the same strict criteria as are applied to other handicapped child’s allowances which now exist. There seems to be some misunderstanding in the community as to the handicapped child’s allowance. The allowance was introduced by the Whitlam Government as an alternative to institutional care. The allowance was to be paid to families who cared for handicapped children in their own homes as an alternative to institutional care. That is the way in which the existing handicapped child ‘s allowance is administered.
The medical criteria are determined by the Department of Health on behalf of the Department of Social Security. We felt that there were children with a degree of handicap which would warrant assistance. The expenditure which is occasioned by families is something which should have some support. It is because of this that we have introduced a flexible arrangement under which we are able to determine the substantial handicaps of children who need continuing expenditure. I have read a list of the items that would be within what we see as continuing and essential expenditure. But as I said at that time, there is still a degree of flexibility. If some other item I did not mention could be seen to be a requirement of a handicapped child that could be considered.
It could be said that the delegates of the DirectorGeneral may have some difficulty in determining this. I believe that the instructions that have been given by the Director-General to his Directors and others in our State offices will enable them to refer to the Director-General the applications which they believe could require assistance. If there is any difficulty at State office level in determining the degree of handicap the matter could be referred to the Director-General personally. We believe that this system provides a flexibility which will mean that more handicapped children will benefit. We would like to test it and see how it works out in assisting those who have just missed because of the medical criteria that presently exist.
– I would just like to comment that I see greater difficulty in the definition of the word ‘marginally’ than I do in the financial criteria. I do not believe that we can always expect consistency from my medical colleagues. There already is some difficulty in understanding the various definitions of ‘severely handicapped child’. I think we may have trouble with the definition of handicapped child’. I certainly do not deny the necessity for a needs based benefit.
I would like to ask one more question about proposed new section 105QA (c) in clause 9. This relates to the cessation of the handicapped child’s allowance granted under section 105ja. The clause provides that the allowance can be terminated by a person’s income going up, one would assume, by the failure of a person to comply with the requirements for information about their benefit, or ‘for any other reason’. Why is it necessary to have the clause so wide as to include the words ‘ for any other reason ‘?
– I think the honourable senator will agree with me that a clause of that kind is often included in legislation. We have stated that the Director-General should have regard to income, to the failure of a person to comply and to the fact that the degree of handicap no longer causes the continuing expenditure or the child reaches an age where some other benefit or some other situation occurs. There is always a provision for the termination or cancellation of a benefit or allowance. I see this as no more than the usual type of provision that is included in legislation. I think that if the means testing and other criteria continue there is no reason to believe that there will be an instant change to the present arrangements. But as with other handicapped child allowances, this allowance is always subject to medical review. The allowance is sometimes paid for a period subject to review. I believe that an allowance of the kind we are now introducting is one that equally would be subject to review of the grounds on which it has been paid. If cessation of payment is then required that can happen under this section. I do not see that as being a means of deterring the payment or leading to the abrupt cancellation of any allowance, I see it as a general provision dealing with the cancellation of any allowance.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 11 to 13- by leave-taken together.
– I would like to ask two questions in relation to clause 12. Although I do not have the Act with me I presume that this is the clause that provides for an income for test to be applied to the sickness benefit. If so, could the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) advise whether her Department has made any estimate of what savings would be made due to the income test being applied to the sickness benefit? Secondly, what extra cost will be involved because women are now eligible for the sickness benefit?
– We do not have any estimate of the savings that might arise from this, nor do we have any estimate of the extra cost. I think if we look at the way in which the change has been made, and that is to test the family income, I think we could agree with some of the claims made by Senator Ryan in her speechthat there is no real difference in the way in which a woman will be tested for the sickness benefit. There is now no difference between the sickness benefit, the unemployment benefit or any other pension administered by my Departmentthey are now all tested on a family income basis. I am unable to give any estimate of what could be the saving or cost. I can only say that the eligibility requirements for a married woman will not change except that eligibility will be subject to a family income test. Where as a male previously had access to a benefit regardless of the income of his wife he will now be tested on a family income basis. I would think that the differences are marginal but the note of discrimination in the legislation has been removed by this provision.
Clauses agreed to.
-The Opposition opposes clause 14. It has been opposed to this principle for almost the last two years. This clause in effect brings into legislation the abolition of eligibility for the unemployment benefit for secondary students for six weeks after they have ceased school. But the clause is wider than that because in almost all cases the period of six weeks begins after the examination for which they sat or would have sat had they completed their school year. The clause will abolish the payment of the unemployment benefit to tertiary students who leave before completing their course unless they can demonstrate to the Director-General that the reason they left was a good and sufficient one, whatever that may be.
When the Government first arbitrarily decided not to pay the unemployment benefit to school leavers for a period of six weeks from the end of the school year- it was not even done by regulation- the Opposition first of all pointed out that in its view this in fact was not in compliance with the Social Services Act. Members of the Opposition believed that this was the wrong way to go about what the Government wanted to do. We said that if the Government wanted to change the spirit or the letter of the Act in this way it should be done by legislation. It should be debated in the Parliament and publicly.
I am pleased to note that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) does not believe that Mr Justice Stevens in any way upheld that view in his judgment. My only comment on that is that if Mr Justice Stevens did not uphold that view I fail to see the necessity for the introduction of this amendment. In fact, in our view and in the view of all commentators on the subject, Mr Justice Stevens did uphold that view.
When people leave school at the end of their secondary education there are, of course, a few who claim and receive the unemployment benefit during their school holidays knowing that they have every intention of going back to school. The Opposition does not support this practice. It has never supported this practice. In fact this practice, quite clearly, is illegal. There are provisions under the social services legislation which require these people to repay the benefits they have received quite contrary to the Act.
Members of the Opposition have asked questions in the House of Representatives and in this place about how many people have received the unemployment benefit illegally at the end of each year. We have had answers varying from thousands, but never any particular number of thousands, to the honest answer of Mr Street in another place that he really did not know. When some people leave school at the end of their secondary education they do in fact have a holiday. They go to the beach with their parents or to wherever else their parents go for their holidays. In those circumstances they are not available for work, they do not comply with the work test or the provisions of the Act, and they are clearly not entitled to the unemployment benefit. No one expects them to be. If one of my children leaves school two years hence he may well go on a holiday, knowing that I am so soft hearted, but he would certainly not be legally entitled to collect unemployment benefit.
However, there are people in this community who are on very low incomes. There are people who have one, two or three children and who are on award wages as the fitter and turner is on award wages in Tasmania of about $ 1 37 a week. Some people are on less than that. When their children leave school they frequently need to get a job to help support themselves and their families but they cannot get jobs under the present circumstances although they are available for work. To have a better chance of getting work they need to have a small amount of money to help them with their dress and with transport and in the case of rural children, amongst whom the unemployment rate is very high, who may need to travel to the city to have any hope of getting work, they certainly need the $49 or whatever it is to assist them in getting work. We believe that this Bill and this Act when it is amended will discriminate against those people quite severely.The present guidelines for the special benefit, which the Minister holds out as some hope for these people, provide for people to get a special benefit when they have a sudden loss of income- we cannot say that a school leaver is in this category- or when they have a sudden increase in responsibilities. School leavers hardly come under this criteria.
The Opposition believes, and we have had presented to us no evidence to convince us otherwise, that the number of people who abuse this benefit is small and those who have abused it should be proceeded against. We have no argument With that. However, the Government is introducing legislation to gather up everyone in the net and this affects the less privileged in the community. The legislation goes further than that. Although the applicant may have completed or substantially completed his course of education, apart from sitting for his examination he will be still considered a full-time student until that examination has been held. We need to know what ‘substantially completed’ means. The six weeks period will not be considered to have started until the end of the examination for which the student would have sat unless he has informed the school or authority in writing that he does not propose to be a candidate at that examination. This is a very severe provision. We believe it is unjust in principle.
The Opposition also seeks some explanation of what are ‘good and sufficient reasons’ in the opinion of the Director-General for someone leaving his tertiary course before it has been completed. It seems to me that people basically fail to complete their tertiary courses for two reasons. The first is that they find they cannot cope or have made a mistake or are nor capable of doing it. The second, and the very likely reason, is that they are not able to afford to continue with it, and those who have been to tertiary institutions have seen both of these circumstances occur. It is hard to know what other reasons people have for leaving tertiary institutions. The only other reason I can think of is that they can get a job and earn a lot of money. I fail to see why it is necessary to introduce the provision I have just referred to into clause 14, even if the Government feels it has to introduce a dragnet provision to pick up the kids who may try to cheat on the system and get the unemployment benefit while on school holidays. This practice, I repeat, the Opposition does not support. However, we do not believe that it is a good principle to place in an Act which is meant to assist those who need help. We do not believe that in a time of high unemployment, particularly high youth unemployment, that it is a good provision to introduce.These people have been told all the time they have been at school since the age of five or six years that if they were good and studied hard society would find a place for them and look after them. They now will leave school and find not only that society has no place for them but also that the Government has some suspicion of them for the first six weeks after they leave school and will not help to look after them. The Opposition believes that the social problems of youth unemployment are enough without introducing this sort of restrictive provision.
Unemployment in rural areas is very high and employment opportunities in rural areas are very low. Frequently children in rural areas have to travel to the cities to have any hope of getting jobs. I would add to that comment that poverty in rural areas is relatively higher than it is in urban areas. Notwithstanding that, we are placing a further burden on low income families in rural areas by introducing a provision such as this. For those reasons we oppose clause 14.
- Senator Grimes has pointed out clearly why the Opposition is opposing this clause and I want to make some further reference to it even though I referred to it in the second reading debate. I see some serious problems arising if this clause is carried into the legislation. Whilst the clause is legalising something which the Government did illegally to school leavers last year, although it has claimed that it was within its rights in doing what it did and has maintained by inference that Mr Justice Stephen upheld its actions, Senator Grimes has pointed out that if what the Government did to school leavers last year was legal there is no reason to have this clause placed in the Act. I am concerned that if school leavers who are unable to get a job are deprived of the unemployment benefit for six weeks it will throw a further burden on State welfare services. Clause 18 of the Bill provides for the unemployment benefit to be paid in arrears. If a father is unemployed and gets only one weekly unemployment benefit payment in four or five weeks and has a child leaving school who is unable to get the unemployment benefit for six weeks, how will he maintain that child? The child will be deprived of the unemployment benefit for six weeks and that will throw a further burden on State welfare services.
The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in her reply to the second reading debate said that I apparently did not understand the situation when I spoke about Ministers coming to Canberra today. However, she did admit that after the meeting for which they came here they had another meeting and out of that meeting a decision was made that officers of her Department would meet with officers of the State departments to discuss emergency funding. So at least it can be said that notice was taken of the matter I raised in the Parliament some weeks ago about emergency funding as a result of the Government’s decision to pay the unemployment benefit in arrears. A statement made by Mr Payne was reported on the front page of today’s Advertiser. At least his trip to Canberra today has not been in vain because some action has been taken at long last I will say something about that matter when we come to discuss clause 18.1 hope that the Minister when she replies will explain how the Government intends to overcome the serious problem which is faced by a father who is unemployed and will receive only one week’s unemployment benefit in four weeks. How will he be able to maintain a child who has left school and who also is unemployed now that the Government intends to pay the unemployment benefit in arrears and the child cannot -
– Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Temporary Chairman do now leave the Chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– Can the Minister tell us what emergency arrangements will be made in the case of a parent who has a child or children leaving school who will be unable to lodge a claim for unemployment benefit because of clause 14 of the Bill which imposes a restriction of six weeks on the claiming of unemployment benefit? This will impose a further hardship on the people in this country who have a lower standard of living.
-I wish to canvass some of the areas which Senator Grimes has canvassed and to ask some specific questions about them. The Government said in the second reading speech, as had been said a number of times, that many people have applied for unemployment benefit after leaving school and subsequently have gone back to school after receiving that benefit. I wish to find out tonight whether the Government now can indicate the numbers of people who have done this in previous years. I refer also to clause 14, which introduces proposed section 120A(l)(a). I think it was stated earlier that a person who leaves school and who will not be eligible for unemployment benefit after this clause has been passed but who is in necessitous circumstances might become eligible for a special benefit. I ask the Minister: What time factor is involved in obtaining a special benefit, from the date of application until it is received?
Are we to understand from proposed section 120A(l)(b) that a person who is undertaking post-graduate work will be eligible for unemployment benefit immediately upon ceasing that work if that person so chooses? With regard to that proposed sub-section, I imagine that the Director-General of the Department will issue guidelines as to what in his opinion constitutes sufficient reason for leaving a course. I am talking now about work that is not of a post-graduate nature. Senator Grimes spoke about this matter earlier. He mentioned a few reasons why people, with good reason, might leave their studies. Will the Director-General be issuing guidelines so that his delegates throughout the Service will be able to determine what are good reasons? If so, is it normal or would it be possible for those guidelines to be promulgated or mentioned in this place so that we will know what the guidelines are?
– I would like to follow up a question that was asked by Senator McLaren. Apparently, under the legislation school leavers will not be eligible to receive unemployment benefit for six weeks after they have completed their secondary school examinations. I ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle): Will the parents of these school leavers still be entitled to the family allowance and the student allowance during that six weeks period when the school leavers will not be entitled to receive unemployment benefit?
-Firstly I think Senator Grimes asked for a definition of the words ‘good and sufficient reason’ and whether an undergraduate who had ceased his tertiary education could receive unemployment benefit within the interpretation of those words. Senator Colston asked whether the Director-General’s guidelines in this area would be made public. The DirectorGeneral will issue guidelines, which will be made public, with regard to the determinations that he will make under the qualification of ‘good and sufficient reason’. I will suggest some of the areas that he will be considering in this category. It could be a matter of health or medical grounds upon which a student has discontinued his course. It could be the movement to another part of the State or to another State where the student no longer is able to continue his studies. It could be that he has failed his exams or has been required by the tertiary institution to discontinue his course. It could be a personal matter such as the death of parents so that he no longer is able to obtain support to continue his studies. The reasons would include matters of that kind. The Director-General will issue publicly the criteria that he will require to satisfy the words ‘good and sufficient reason’ stated m this provision of the Bill.
I think Senator Colston asked me how many people have applied for unemployment benefit and subsequently returned to school. I am unable to give the numbers in that category, but I think there is evidence in the Department that a number of people last year and the year before received unemployment benefit and then at the commencement of the school year returned to school. The next matter with which I will deal was raised by Senator McLaren and Senator Donald Cameron. Senator McLaren mentioned the situation of a parent who was receiving unemployment benefit and had to provide support for a student child who had left school. Where a parent was receiving a rate of unemployment benefit which took into account dependent children, that additional payment would be continued during the period of six weeks before eligibility for unemployment benefit had been achieved. The family allowance about which Senator Donald Cameron asked also would be continued during that period. If it were a family allowance for a student child, that would be continued until the period of non-payment of the unemployment benefit was covered.
I was asked also about the special benefit and the period for which it would be possible to apply for that benefit. Senator Colston drew attention to children in necessitous circumstances. The special benefit is a payment made at the discretion of the Director-General. There is no specific time during which that can be paid. There is no reason why, if the necessitous circumstances were so determined by him, the special benefit could not be paid for the whole of the six weeks period if this were required. There is no statutory waiting time before a special benefit can be paid. In other words, if the DirectorGeneral found someone in necessitous circumstances he could make an immediate payment and at his discretion could continue that payment until there was an entitlement to some other benefit.
The matters of rural poverty and rural unemployment were referred to by Senator Grimes. I think we acknowledge that in many country areas of Australia and also in our capital cities difficulties are experienced by new entrants to the work force in finding employment. They may be unable to find employment that meets their qualifications or to find a position in the range of employment available that meets their choice. But the Government believes that a period of six week after leaving school or discontinuing a tertiary course is a period during which efforts should be made by the student concerned to obtain employment.
In the summer time there is very often seasonal employment in rural areas. This has been a traditional means of work for students and others at that time. To classify any one category or area overlooks the real difficulties which people in other parts of Australia have in finding employment during the long vacation. But it has been a dme when efforts can be made to determine the type of work which is required, to seek apprenticeship opportunities and to do all of those things which are necessary in the transition from school to employment. It has been felt by the Government that this postponement of six weeks is a period which can properly be applied to the payment of the unemployment benefit to new entrants to the work force. That is the reason for the provision in the Bill. It is a means of clarifying eligibility in a way which has not previously been clarified in the Social Services Act.
– Nothing the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has said is likely to change my mind or the Opposition’s mind in opposing this clause of the legislation. This clause represents a major change to the Social Services Act to prevent school leavers and students in tertiary education institutions from receiving the unemployment benefit in circumstances in which they leave school or leave that institution before their course is finished. In the past two years no attempt has been made to give reasons for this change, apart from what the Minister calls ‘some evidence in the Department indicating that some people are in fact abusing the provisions’. For almost two years we have asked for this sort of assertion to be quantified and the Minister is still unable to quantify it.
The Minister said earlier in her second reading speech that if the 200,000 school leavers received the unemployment benefit it would cost $40m. That is a nonsensical statement. Not all school leavers seek the unemployment benefit. Many of them get work. Even many of those who do not get work do not seek the unemployment benefit. In fact, they do go on holidays, their parents do look after them and they do not seek the benefit during that time. When we asked for clarification of the good and sufficient reasons for the DirectorGeneral to pay benefits to those people who leave tertiary education courses before their course is completed we found that the reasons were so wide that it was hard to imagine someone not qualifying.
The reasons were personal ones, such as the death of a parent or moving away from the place where the tertiary institution was established. I assume that the Minister means also that there could be financial reasons for their being no longer able to complete the course. The only other reason one can really think of is that they find they cannot cope with the course, that they have made a mistake in doing the course. Plenty of people do make a mistake in attempting tertiary courses. Surely in those circumstances they will be entitled to some sort of benefit like every other adult in the community, as they would be.
The Minister still brings up the fact that special benefits will be available in necessitous circumstances. But we do not know what the guidelines for those special benefits will be. The last time we received the guidelines for the payment of special benefits m necessitous circumstances they involved a sudden drop in income, of which no child who leaves school can produce evidence. Under the guidelines as we know them it is going to be very difficult for any school child to receive special benefits. When one considers that a child of a person receiving the unemployment benefit is going to be considered by the Government to be satisfactorily paid if his or her parent receives the children’s allowance plus the family allowance, which might add up to about $7 or $8 a week, one can imagine what sort of restrictions are going to be applied before anyone will be eligible for special benefits.
The Minister has conceded our point that people in rural areas have a high rate of youth unemployment and a low rate of job opportunities. She has added to that and pointed out that there is a high rate of unemployment and a low rate of job opportunities in urban areas. The Minister’s words were: ‘We realise these people have some difficulties’. What the Opposition is pointing out is that the Government is considerably adding to those difficulties and adding to those difficulties where the people can least cope with those difficulties, namely, in respect of the children of people who are unemployed, the children of low income earners- the poor people in this community. This piece of amending legislation will not affect anyone in this Parliament. We are high income earners. We can afford to look after our kids for six weeks after they leave school. This legislation will not affect the middle income earners in the community because in most cases they can afford to look after their kids when they leave school. It will only affect the people who are poor or the people in this community who are receiving benefits. That is why the Opposition opposes this amendment and will continue to oppose this amendment to the legislation.
– I did ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) earlier for clarification with regard to post-graduate students. Is it a fact that postgraduate students will be able to leave thenstudies and become eligible for benefits without having to wait the period of six weeks? Secondly, I must not have been explicit enough with regard to my question on special benefits. What I meant to ask was: Is there some indication of the average waiting time from date of application for special benefits to the date when special benefits are actually received by a person?
– I am sorry that I overlooked the question with regard to postgraduate students. As Senator Colston has anticipated, post-graduate students are eligible for the unemployment benefit. Post-graduate students who undertake post-graduate work and then cease that work have always been eligible for the unemployment benefit. As far as the special benefits are concerned, on the date of application or very soon thereafter a cheque can be issued. There is no statutory waiting time. It is a benefit which is dealt with as expeditiously as possible. Immediate payment can be made if the circumstances warrant it. It is usually a benefit which is paid very shortly after the application has been lodged. In fact, the applications are expedited and every effort is made to facilitate the payment.
That the clause be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator Coleman)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Remainder of the Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a third time.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill 1977 and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill 1977 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Bills (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
That the Bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted.
States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill 1977
– This Bill provides for the payment of grants to the States for government and non-government schools in 1978, the first year of the 1978-80 rolling triennium. In addition, the Bill adjusts grants for 1977 in respect of cost increases. Honourable senators will recall that the Government announced in June of this year that it would provide for expenditure in 1978 of $571m, in December 1976 prices, for government school programs, non-government schol programs and joint programs through the Schools Commission. The Commission’s report was tabled in the Parliament in September and recently I announced the Government’s acceptance of the Commission’s recommended allocations for 1978 consistent with the guidelines. The Bill gives effect to those decisions.
I direct the attention of honourable senators to the Bill. It provides for the continuation of all existing programs for government and nongovernment schools. These are: General resources programs- general recurrent grants, including funds for child migrant and multicultural education, emergency aid for nongovernment schools, and capital grants and specific purpose programs- disadvantaged schools and schools in disadvantaged country areas, special education for handicapped children including children living in institutions, services and development including education centres, and special projects.
Although the format of the Bill is different from the existing States Grants (Schools Assistance) Act 1976, it contains the same provisions. The new format more closely reflects the way in which the programs are administered. The base program for migrant and multicultural education is the same in total as for 1977, but has been adjusted between States and systems to bring the payments more into line with the actual distribution of migrant children. The provision for development activities and associated staff replacement has been combined into one schedule to provide additional flexibility for the States. Administrative arrangements will provide for flexibility of funding between development activities and the replacement of teachers. A minimum of about 40 per cent will be allocated to each of the activities and replacement elements of this program with the balance able to be used for either activities or replacement.
The Bill provides for funding of $3.7m for special projects of which some $3m is for school based innovations projects and $700,000 for national level projects. Details of the 1978 allocations for individual programs in each State are given in Schedules 1 to 8. The grants specified in these schedules have been adjusted to June 1977 prices, except for the non-government schools general recurrent program which includes some allowance for estimated future cost increases. On this basis the cost of programs for 1978 amounts to an estimated $61 lm of which $28.3m will be provided under the ongoing States Grants (Schools) Act 1972. In accordance with the Government’s guidelines for the 1978-80 trinnium, these grants will be adjusted in subsequent legislation for cost movements to the end of 1977 and for increases in wages and salaries components of recurrent grants during 1978.
As I have indicated, the Bill also adjusts the grants for 1977 from December 1976 prices to June 1977 prices. In line with normal practice the non-government schools general recurrent program includes final provision for cost increases to the end of 1977. The additional cost of these adjustments is $22m. Amendment legislation will be introduced in the 1978 Autumn Sittings of Parliament to finalise the supplementation of 1977 grants.
I commend the Bill to the Senate.
States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill 1977
The purpose of the Bill is to provide financial assistance to the States for universities, colleges of advanced education and technical and further education for 1978. The Bill gives effect to the financial recommendations contained in the Report of the Tertiary Education Commission for 1978. I informed the Senate recently of the Government’s decision to accept these recommendations which result in the allocation of an estimated total of $1,1 36.5m in June 1977 prices for institutions in the States. The amounts provided for each of the three tertiary education sectors are:
It will be recalled that the guidelines for 1978 provided for base levels of grants at the same real levels as for 1977 in the case of universities and colleges of advanced education and an increase of 10 per cent in real terms for technical and further education. The amounts now provided in the Bill take into account the small adjustments to capital expenditure recommended by the Commission in the light of its assessment of likely cash flow for the advanced education sector building program in 1978. The full building program proposed by the Advanced Education Council and recommended by the Commission is incorporated in the legislation to enable all projects to commence in 1978. In accordance with the Government’s guidelines for the 1978-80 triennium, these grants will be adjusted in subsequent legislation for cost movements to the end of 1977 and for increases in wages and salaries components of recurrent grants during 1978.
In the past, separate Bills have been required to implement the approved programs of the three tertiary education sectors. Following the establishment of the Tertiary Education Commission, replacing the three previous Commissions concerned with tertiary education, it has been possible to consolidate the necessary legislation in one Bill. In so doing, a common approach to the terms and conditions applied to grants for the three sectors has been adopted wherever appropriate. The new arrangements will permit a greater degree of flexibility in the administration of approved programs, thereby assisting the Commission in its functions of coordination and rationalisation for the tertiary education system. In particular, the Government believes it is necessary, in order to achieve efficient expenditure of the funds available, for there to be flexibility in the administration of the capital programs for the three sectors. Under the Bill, the Minister will be given power to effect transfers of capital funds between sectors and between States after advice from the Commission. Such transfers between sectors will be subject to consultation with the States concerned and, where any transfers between States are contemplated, will be made only with the agreement of those States.
The capital programs set out in the Bill will appropriate the total cash flow for 1978 approved by the Government under the guidelines. Provision has therefore been made in the Bill to limit appropriations under previous legislation to those which are required to fund the capital programs until the end of 1977. The effect of this provision is to withdraw appropriations for projects for which the States are not seeking support and for four projects in the advanced education sector which were included in the review of capital projects not under contract which was conducted by the Commission at the request of the Government under the guidelines for 1978-80. Any of these projects can be considered for inclusion in the 1979 program. In addition to appropriating funds for 1978, the Bill amends the States Grants (Universities Assistance) Act 1976, the States Grants (Advanced Education Assistance) Act 1976 and the States Grants (Technical and Further Education Assistance) Act 1976 to provide for adjustments to approved programs of grants for 1977, for movements in costs between December 1976 and June 1977. The additional funds provided are $24m for universities, $10m for colleges and $3.4m for TAFE. I commend the two Bills to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
– I move:
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the Apple and Pear Stabilization Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1977, the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1977 and the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1977 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) proposed:
That the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Debate (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 November 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19771107_senate_30_s75/>.