31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Aboriginal Land Rights in Queensland
-I present the following petition from 1 1 8 citizens of* Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Federal Government recognise land rights in the States, such as Queensland, in a similar manner to the recognition of land rights in the Northern Territory i.e. enact an Aboriginal Land Rights Act for Queensland;
That the Federal Government support the abolition of the Aborigines Act (Queensland) 1971 and the Torres Strait Islanders Act (Queensland) 1971 and take such action as they may deem necessary to ensure that the provisions of the Queensland Discriminatory Laws Act 1975 and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 be enforced in so far as they relate to Aborigines and Islanders;
That the Federal Government assume responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland under the powers given them by the Referendum of 1967. The State Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement, Queensland should be abolished and Aboriginal and Island reserves in Queensland should have the choice to be self-governed with local government status.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
Aboriginal Land Rights in Queensland
– I present the following petition from 55 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Federal Government recognise land rights in the States, such as Queensland, in a similar manner to the recognition of land rights in the Northern Territory i.e. enact an Aboriginal Land Rights Act for Queensland;
That the Federal Government support the abolition of the Aborigines Act (Queensland ) 1 97 1 and the Torres Strait Islanders Act (Queensland) 1971 and take such action as they may deem necessary to ensure that the provisions of the Queensland Discriminatory Laws Act 1975 and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 be enforced in so far as they relate to Aborigines and Islanders;
That the Federal Government assume responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland under the powers given them by the Referendum of 1967. The State Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement, Queensland should be abolished and Aboriginal and Island reserves in Queensland should have the choice to be self-governed with local government status.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 55 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government to renew for a further term of at least 3 years the State Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1974/77, renewed for one year expiring on the 30th June 1 978.
The demand for dwellings has not slackened as the waiting list (all States) of 12,060 single and 4,120 couples as at the 30th June 1977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing 1975 under the Chairmanship of the Rev. K. Seaman (now Governor of South Australia) which recommended additional funds to State housing authorities to meet the demand for low-rental accommodation in the proportion of $4 for $1 with the proviso that the States do not reduce their existing expenditure and
That the Act include married pensioners eligible for supplementary assistance and migrants as specified by the Seaman Report and that particular consideration be paid to the special needs and requirements of the prospective tenants in the location and design of such dwellings.
Furthermore, your petitioners desire to draw the Government’s attention to the hardships of many pensioner home owners caused by the high cost of maintenance.
The Social Security Annual Report 1976-77 shows that 24.6%, or 283,000 home owing pensioners, have a weekly income in excess of the pension of less than $6 per week.
Your petitioners strongly urge the Commonwealth Government to establish a fund whereby loans can be made to means tested pensioners for the purpose of effecting necessary maintenance to their homes. Such a loan to be at minimal interest rates sufficient to cover administrative costs and to be repaid by the estate upon the death of a single pensioner before probate or upon the death of the surviving spouse in the case of married pensioners or where two pensioners jointly own the dwelling.
Administration to be carried out by local government bodies.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned members and ex members of the Citizens Forces of Australia respectfully sheweth:
On 14 February, 1975, the then Australian Government deprived the Officers and men of the Australian Citizen Naval Military and Air Forces of the distinctive and historicDecorations and Medals for long service and good conduct, namely the Reserve Decoration, the Efficiency Decoration, the Air Efficiency Award, the Efficiency Medal and Long Service and Good Conduct Medals, awarded for long and meritorious voluntary service in the citizen forces:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray
Your Honourable House take appropriate action to resume the award of the several distinctive Reserve Forces Decorations and Medals for Long Service and Good Conduct to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Army Reserve (CMF) and the RAAF Citizens Air Force. by Senator Jessop and Senator Cavanagh.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government to renew for a further term of at least 3 years the States Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1 974-77, renewed for one year expiring on the 30 June 1978.
The demand for dwellings has not slackened as the waiting list (all States) of 12,000 single and 4,120 couples as at the 30 June 1977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing 1975 under the Chairmanship of the Rev. K. Seaman (now Governor of South Australia) which recommended additional funds to State housing authorities to meet the demand for low-rental accommodation in the proportion of $4 for $1 with the proviso that the States do not reduce their existing expenditure and
That the Act include married pensioners eligible for supplementary assistance and migrants as specified by the Seaman Report and that particular consideration be paid to the special needs and requirements of the prospective tenants in the location and design of such dwellings.
Furthermore, your petitioners desire to draw the Government ‘s attention to the hardship of many pensioner home owners caused by the high cost of maintenance.
The Social Security Annual Report 1976-77 shows that 24.6 per cent, or 283,000 home owning pensioners, have a weekly income in excess of the pension of less than $6 per week.
Your petitioners strongly urge the Commonwealth Government to establish a fund whereby loans can be made to means tested pensioners for the purpose of effecting necessary maintenance to their homes. Such a loan to be at minimal interest rates sufficient to cover administrative costs and to be repaid by the estate upon the death of a single pensioner before probate or upon death of the surviving spouse in the case of married pensioners or where two pensioners jointly own the dwelling.
Administration to be carried out by local government bodies.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Guilfoyle.
– I have pleasure in drawing the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the Gallery of the Hon. Kingsford Dibela, M.P., Speaker of the National Parliament of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. On behalf of honourable senators I extend to him a warm welcome. With the concurrence of honourable senators I propose to invite Mr Dibela to take a seat on the floor of the Senate.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
-I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer Is the current deficit of the Federal Government running in excess of $6 billion? If so, is this the highest deficit of any Australian government since Federation? In view of the Treasurer’s statement last month, that it is no longer the size of the deficit that is important but the way in which it is financed, I ask the Minister: Does this mean that the Government has now scrapped its goal of a deficit of less than $2.5 billion for this financial year and will allow the deficit to exceed $3 billion or even $4 billion if it sees fit?
-I would have thought that all honourable senators would know that the monthly level of deficit, particularly the level at the end of March in any year, was no indication whatsoever of what would be the final residual size of the deficit. For Senator Wriedt’s benefitpresumably it is new information for him, otherwise he would not have asked the question- I inform him that tax collections, particularly company tax collections, in the last quarter of the year are very heavy indeed and of course they make quite irrelevant any figures at this time for the balance of the deficit. The figure of $6,000m which Senator Wriedt suggested has no bearing at all on what the residual result may be. The only time that a deficit in reality came to nearly $6,000m was the deficit arising out of the last
Budget of the Whitlam Government. That was a record deficit.
– Are you serious about that figure- nearly $6 billion?
-It was $3.5 billion. You fiddled it.
-I regret that Opposition senators have now become so sensitive about the Budget deficit which they presented in their last Budget. I am asked whether the deficit will be larger than the $2.2 billion for which we have budgeted. The Treasurer in another place has indicated that there will be some increases. I have indicated in the Senate basic reasons for this. One of those reasons was that, due to the significantly better fall in inflation then even we had budgeted for, the intake by way of taxation will be less. I take it that even Senator Wriedt would not oppose that. Equally, it will be known that because of fewer demands for imports and more manufacturing undertaken locally, less money has been received in customs duties. I take it that that fact would not be sneered at. Equally, there has been an increase in expenditure, significantly in terms of rural assistance and particularly assistance to the devastated beef industry. I take it that no one is opposing that.
Equally, those honourable senators who understand the nature of the deficit will understand, as the Treasurer has said, that it is not the size of the deficit but its management that is important. In particular, this depends upon how much the deficit can be financed by non-bank borrowings because that, of course, withdraws from the community an equivalent amount of money to that being spent by way of the deficit. I hope the Senate will be unqualified in acknowledging that there is a record intake of non-bank borrowing and that will more than offset the degree to which there will be any excess in the deficit over the $2.2 billion for which we have budgeted. I am not in a position to state what will be the final size of the deficit. Certainly, it will be somewhat bigger. I am sure we all hope that it will not be significantly bigger. My final answer is: No, the Government has not scrapped its Budget strategy. A strategy which is producing a significant decline- indeed, a halving- of inflation and a significant decline in interest rates, deserves acknowledgment and praise, not scrapping.
– I direct a supplementary question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Is it not a fact that in 1975 precisely the same arguments were being used by his Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, concerning the size of the deficit at this time of the year? Is not the Minister aware that I was not saying that the size of the deficit this year will be of the order of $6 billion on 30 June 1978? I point out to the Minister that we have passed that stage also. As the Minister admits that there has been miscalculation on the Government’s part this year and that the deficit will be higher, is he prepared to say at what level the deficit will be on 30 June 1978? Is he prepared also to give a commitment that the deficit will not be higher than it was on 30 June 1975, 30 June 1976 or 30 June 1977?
– I do not have a recollection of what happened in 1 975 -
- Hansard has.
– I will be very happy to be reminded of the position because some most pleasant results were immortalised in the ballot box for us in 1975. 1 simply say this in regard to what happened in 1975: The electors sat in judgment on the performance of the then Opposition in 1975 and translated it into government. I notice that Senator Wriedt talks about miscalculations in the Budget. I take it that he finds it an offence to have reduced inflation successfully lower than the rate which was calculated in the Budget. Therefore, it can be assumed that a furthering decline in inflation, in his view, is a miscalculation. If that is so, the Government willingly accepts the mote in its eye.
Senator Wriedt will remember that in my answer to his previous question I said that I was not prepared to state precisely what the Budget deficit would be because no one can know precisely until the end of June what it will be. For example, the taxation collections in the last month can alter the size of the Budget deficit appreciably. I repeat: The amount of non-bank borrowing has been a record and, therefore, will more than offset any increase in the nominal size of the deficit. The management of the deficit will be such that it will be minimised in any inflationary impact that it might have.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Minister will be no doubt aware that the Queensland Government abolished the two reserves known as Aurukun and Mornington Island after the debate that took place and the Bill that was passed here last week. Can the Minister inform the Senate what steps the Federal Government now intends to take to preserve the rights and the dignity of the Aboriginal people in the two communities now known as Mornington Island and Aurukun?
– It may be known that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs have made certain statements since the announcement by the Queensland Government last Friday. At present, various options are being examined by the Federal Government. I am not able to announce any conclusions that have resulted from those examinations of the options, but I am able to say that the Queensland Premier has sought discussions with the Commonwealth Government and he and his Ministers will be in Canberra tomorrow to have discussions, firstly with a group of Ministers, and secondly with the Prime Minister. Perhaps following those discussions some further announcements can be made by the Commonwealth Government.
-I ask the Minister for Education: Under what conditions is the secondary allowance benefit for students in years 1 1 and 12 of school payable to students who are living independently of their parents? I further ask: Were the provisions regarding this allowance changed early in 1978? What changes were made and why? How many applications are currently pending consideration by the Department in Canberra? When will they be dealt with?
– Since this requires an answer in specific detail that I do not have on hand at the moment, I shall take the question on notice and give the honourable senator an answer.
– I direct a question to Senator Carrick in his capacity as Minister for Education and possibly in his capacity as Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Minister been acquainted of the fact that a number of university academic staff have recently had their declared expenditure investigated by the Australian Taxation Office and, in many cases, study leave expenditure has been queried? Is the Minister aware that some of these people believe that this investigation by the Taxation Office may be connected with the Government’s current inquiry into study leave? Could he inform the Senate whether there is any such connection between the Government’s inquiry into study leave and these actions of the Taxation Office?
-I understand that various members of the staff of tertiary institutions have indicated that individual members of those staffs have had their personal income tax investigated by the Taxation Office. That, of course, is not unique to academics. It is, I think, an endemic condition of the Australian system. I understand that it is quite possible that they may have been asked about conditions of study leave. I make it emphatically clear that any action that the Taxation Office may take in this matter or in any other matter is completely independent of the Government and does not derive in any way from any action of the Government.
The Government initiated an inquiry into study leave through the Tertiary Education Commission. It is a statutory body and it will bring down an interim report in the weeks ahead. I am not informed of its nature. The Tertiary Education Commission would have had no reason to approach the Australian Taxation Office. In any case, the Taxation Office is an independent body. Certainly, the Government made no such approach. I make that quite clear. Any information sought by the Australian Taxation Office about details of expenditure incurred by academic staff members of a university while on study leave would be sought on an individual basis in the first place and in the light of the circumstances of each case. Such information would be sought simply to determine the correct amount allowable, as a deduction for expenditure, in the particular staff member’s income tax assessment. Any action by the Taxation Office in this regard is taken in the ordinary course of administering the income tax laws. It has no connection whatsoever with any inquiry currently being made by the Government.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Social Security, refers to reports at the weekend that from 30,000 to 60,000 people are being removed from the unemployment benefit list as a result of the saturation investigation currently being conducted by the Department of Social Security. I ask the Minister: How many people have been removed from the unemployment benefit list in recent months and for what reasons? Is it true, as reports have stated, that the Department expects most of those people to be returned to the unemployment benefit list when investigations have finished?
-I read one report at the weekend which suggested that some 30,000 people had been removed from the unemployment benefit list as a result of field officers’ visits. I had numerous discussions with the Press yesterday about this matter. I am unable to state any figure which results directly from field officers’ visits. Any figures that are cited in regard to unemployment beneficiaries ought to be viewed in the light of the fact that about one million people go on and off unemployment benefits in any one year and about 100,000 people have their benefits terminated each month. There is a movement in and out of this area according to eligibility. Field officers have been making visits in the normal way to unemployment beneficiaries in recent weeks. They provide information that brings our files on individual beneficiaries up to date. Field officers do not terminate unemployment benefits. Rather, they bring the information into the Department. Large numbers of unemployment beneficiaries have moved off the unemployment beneficiary list in recent weeks because many of them have returned to work or are in receipt of income or in other ways have become ineligible. I am unable to cite any figure that would have a direct relationship to the recent field officers’ visits which we have been discussing in this place. I think any figures which have been cited are of a speculative nature.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General. I refer to a report in the Melbourne Sun on 10 April of the weekend meeting between Commonwealth and State AttorneysGeneral and in particular to the statement that all State governments except those of Queensland and Western Australia are prepared to transfer family law powers to the Commonwealth to enable the same laws and facilities to apply to the custody and welfare of ex-nuptial children and to all matrimonial property in order to overcome the effects of High Court judgments in 1976 which limited the effectiveness of the Family Law Act. Is it correct, as was further reported, that the proposed transfers of power will not be enacted without the approval of all States? Does this mean that the proper interests of the overwhelming majority of Australian electors are to be vetoed by the irrational and selfish demands of the Queensland Government? Is there a constitutional or any other reason why the majority of States cannot transfer such powers despite the obstruction of the Queensland Government? Will the Commonwealth press for this transfer to take place?
- Senator Missen has drawn my attention to a report in today’s Melbourne Sun of the meeting of Attorneys-General. That report is based upon a Press statement which was issued and which reads:
The meeting considered the form of a Bill to refer certain family law matters to the Commonwealth. Enactment of legislation would be subject to the approval of the governments of all States concerned and the Commonwealth Government.
In fact, what was intended to be said was that the matter of a reference of power was for the decision of the States and whether legislation could be enacted in respect of any State would depend on the decision of a particular State. It was not intended to convey that enactment of legislation by the Commonwealth depended upon the concurrence of all States in a reference of power. The State governments have yet to make their decisions. There seems to be some speculation about which governments will or will not refer power. I do not want to speak or make any public statements on behalf of any of the State governments. It is a matter for them to decide. I have said that I do not see it as necessary that all States should refer power as a condition of the Commonwealth Government’s deciding to act on a reference of power. Really the matter can be decided by the Commonwealth Government only when we find out finally how many States are prepared to agree upon a reference of power and that information is conveyed to me as a formal decision of the State governments. Then I will take the matter to the Commonwealth Government for a decision as to whether a sufficient number of States have indicated a willingness to refer power for us to act.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Can the Minister tell the Senate the number of sheep being exported from South Australia that are in fact purchased from South Australian breeders and the number of sheep State by State that are purchased from breeders in those States and then shipped to South Australia? Further, will the Minister give an undertaking that the Federal Government will compensate the South Australian Government for the cost of constructing homes for abattoir employees in places such as Murray Bridge and Peterborough if killing works at these centres are forced to retrench workers due to the increasing number of sheep being exported live?
– I think the honourable senator will recognise that I could not answer that question accurately for him. May I suggest, if he really is interested in the matter, that he place the question on notice so that I may seek an answer for him.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact, as the New South Wales Premier, Mr Wran, has recently claimed, that the current cutbacks in the building of freeways in Sydney is due to a reduction in Commonwealth road grants? Has Mr Wran announced that he will seek an additional $50m for roads at the June Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting?
-I understand that the New South Wales Premier has indicated that he intends to seek perhaps an additional $50m for roads but I have had no official communication on this. He may well do so at the Premiers Conference, and that is his privilege. I also understand that one of the alibis of the New South Wales Government for not building freeways is an allegation that there is a shortage of money. I think the electors in New South Wales have a long memory and will know that it was the stated policy of the New South Wales Labor Government to be opposed to the building of freeways and that the opposition to and the setting aside of freeways, especially in particular areas, is simply New South Wales Labor Party policy. Any lack of funds for urban arterial roads is a problem entirely for the New South Wales Government. The problem is of its own making because the present law requires that 80 per cent of revenue from road charges is to be spent outside the County of Cumberland. So the State Government has caused that problem itself. The public really is seeing the effects of the decision that the Premier has made himself and which he now tries to shift to the Commonwealth. His Transport Minister announced the abandonment of Sydney freeways on 23 February 1977- more than a year ago. The New South Wales urban arterial allocations were made on 25 February. That was so one year ago or more. The important thing for the people to understand is that the total Commonwealth road grants to New South Wales, including those for national roads, for the current year 1977-78 increased by 12 per cent over the previous year. That is the largest percentage increase for any State. Mr Wran’s policy on the abandonment of freeways is of course criticised strongly by independent experts. For instance, the National Roads and Motorists Association is critical of the abandonment of the 23 kilometres of freeway in the inner city. A wide range of people, including State and local government representatives have criticised the policy. The abandonment of freeways is not the result of lack of money; it is the result of a precise decision made by the Labor Government and stated long before any question of money was involved. No doubt the Federal Labor Party supports that policy.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. It concerns the quarterly survey of unemployment benefit recipients compiled by the statistics section of her Department. Unlike earlier surveys, the past two issues include no breakdown of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in receipt of the benefit. Can the Minister explain why this group of unemployed persons has been excluded from the national statistics and will this practice continue in future surveys?
– I am unaware that the breakdown has been changed. It was certainly not by request or direction from me that there was any change in the statistics. It was always a matter for conjecture whether the statistics that related to Aboriginals were accurate because of the methods that the Department could use to determine whether a person could be described as an Aboriginal. I shall check to see why the quarterly survey does not show those figures. If they are available, I shall see that they are given to the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development or to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, following the recent report of the National Energy Advisory Committee which makes recommendations designed to produce significant cost and energy savings. Is the Minister aware that it is estimated that emission controls on motor vehicles cost $150 per normal family car and can cost as much as $500 on some cars and that fuel consumption is increased- with about 9 per cent drop in miles per gallon- and also that fuel costs increase by some 7 per cent? In view of the need to conserve fuel, will the Minister have discussions with State Ministers with the aim of removing emission controls from motor vehicles and will he have inquiries made as to the efficiency of emission controls on motor vehicles, including the percentage reduction in emission pollution with the use of such controls?
– I am aware that the regulations insisting upon new emission controls on vehicles have incurred significant extra costs. I am not aware whether the precise figures that Senator Young put forward are correct, but they would be within that kind of bracket. Equally I am aware that there must be a significant extra fuel consumption because of the mechanical nature of the process to control emission and I would accept that probably the extra percentage cost is as the honourable senator says. I thought I read that there was some question of reflection at both Federal and State levels on this matter because of the world shortage- and growing shortage- of automotive fuels with the thought that perhaps some reconsideration might be given to the process for the introduction of fuel emission systems of a particular kind.
– Such as lead control.
-Lead control should be considered. We must balance two aspects. We must balance, on the one hand the need for pure air, and therefore, the control of emission, and the question of the environment against the immediate threat of the growing scarcity of fuel. I will refer the basic point raised by Senator Young to the Minister for Transport and ask him to consider the matter and convey to the State Ministers the idea that Senator Young has articulated.
– And the percentage of efficiency.
-I will ask the Minister to look into the percentage of efficiency.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services. I ask the Minister whether his attention has been drawn to remarks made in another place last Friday by the honourable member for Fadden concerning the redistribution of Federal electorates that took place last year in Queensland and also to allegations made by Mr Donald Cameron concerning the Minister for Finance. Has the Minister, as the Minister responsible for the administration of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, discussed this matter with the Prime Minister and /or with the honourable member for Fadden. Will the Minister agree that the allegations made against Mr Eric Robinson automatically challenge and involve the propriety of the Distribution Commissioners for Queensland, especially the Electoral Commissioner for that State? Does the Minister intend to carry out an investigation of the allegations and, if so, will he report the outcome of the investigation to the Parliament?
– I am aware not only of what Mr Donald Cameron said last Friday but also of what he has been saying in other places since about the time of the declaration of the poll for the seat of Fadden last December. The Government has quite a simple attitude on this matter. If Mr Donald Cameron alleges that there has been any breach of Commonwealth law, he should take those allegations to the Commonwealth Police and ask that they be investigated. This has been put to him by me, by the Prime Minister and by the Government generally, certainly since January this year. It is still my view that, if he believes that he has evidence which would support a charge of a breach of Commonwealth law by any Commonwealth officer or distribution commissioner, he has a duty to take those allegations to the Commonwealth Police. As far as I am concerned the onus rests on him.
I have no intention of taking any initiative in this matter. I am old fashioned enough to believe that those in this community who make assertions ought to prove them. As honourable senators would know, as a result of a memorandum tabled in the other place by Mr Sinclair, the Leader of the House, Mr Donald Cameron was given the opportunity to put what he believes to be his allegations before the SolicitorGeneral and the Attorney-General. Both officers reported that no action was warranted as a result of what he told them. If Mr Donald Cameron still believes that he has further or better evidence considered by the two law officers who reported to the Prime Minister some time back, again I invite him to go to the Commonwealth Police. If he does not know where to find them, I will arrange for them to call upon him.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence a question dealing with Australian industrial participation in the contract for the German Leopard tank. I ask: Did the contract with Krausse Maffei, the maker of the Leopard tank, allow it to avoid Australian industrial participation if Australian made items were not competitive in price, quality and delivery? What steps were taken by the Government to ensure that the local defence industry, not just government factories, were given early and guaranteed access to sub-contracts? What subcontracts, if any, have the local defence industry and/or Australian Government factories obtained in relation to that tank?
-I have some information. It may not be sufficient to answer the honourable senator’s question. The information which I have is that there is a $30m requirement for offsets as part of the tank purchase which has to be achieved within seven years from contract. We still have four years to go. I can further inform the honourable senator that it is a longestablished and fundamental feature of the offset policy that Australian manufacture must be competitive in price, delivery and quality. We cannot expect overseas purchasers to accept any disadvantages in these terms. Krauss-Maffei and several of its sub-contractors have made visits and representations to Australian industry, with little success.
Because of our concern over lack of progress and the belief that the offset approach by Krauss-Maffei was inappropriate, the Department of Defence arranged for a KM representative to be brought to Australia last November and again in February this year to meet and discuss with industry the development of suitable bid packages for both the Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks. Specific bids have been lodged recently by industry and government factories for Leopard 2 hull components and artillery ammunition. It will take some time for these to be analysed by KM. We have begun recently and separately planning for the production of high usage spares in Australia to meet Australian Army needs. Orders have been placed in government factories for tank gun barrels and three types of ammunition, and we are arranging a licence for tank track manufacture in industry. Premiums will be necessary to support these arrangements, and the price involved will be too high for European sales. The honourable senator can be assured that the Government is actively pursuing the matters which he has raised in the Senate today.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. To render my question intelligible, it will be necessary for me to quote briefly from a letter from the Minister for Defence which was addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, and conveyed to him an answer to a question which I had asked back in May 1976. The letter states, in pan:
On 4 November 1976 you undertook to provide Senator Brown with information concerning the review of DFRB/DFRDB reversionary benefits arrangements, a matter which he had raised earlier during the Senate debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) 1 976-77.
As I mentioned in the Parliament on 4 May 1 976, 1 issued instructions to my Department to prepare amendments to the Defence Force legislation so that in future members of the Services schemes are placed in comparable circumstances with members of the Commonwealth Public Service superannuation schemes where a recipient spouse remarries.
The Minister for Defence wound up by saying:
I have been informed that the examination is nearing completion and that a full report will be available for my and the Government’s consideration in the near future. I will be announcing the outcome as soon as I am in a position to do so.
I am prompted to ask this question because of the Superannuation Acts Amendment Bill 1978, which seeks to amend the Superannuation Act 1922, the Superannuation Act 1976 and the Superannuation Amendment Act 1976. I ask: What progress has been made in respect of the preparation of these appropriate amendments to the DFRB legislation? Further, I repeat my request of 4 May 1976: Will the Minister treat this as a matter of urgency because of the extreme personal difficulties being caused to many retired servicemen and their wives?
-I shall have to seek that information for the honourable senator. As I recall, in the last period of sittings of the Parliament before the general election some amendments were made to the Act to which the honourable senator referred. I have forgotten exactly when that occurred.
– It dealt only with the formula to maintain the relativity.
-Is that what it was? I shall seek the information for the honourable senator from my colleague as a matter of urgency.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry a question relating to the sugar industry. Why nas the Government taken such a long time to make up its mind whether this industry should receive an increase in the price of domestic sugar? As this is a very important industry in Queensland and partly in New South Wales, why cannot we get a decision on this matter, particularly in view of the fact that this industry’s price for domestic sugar is well down taking into account the inflation which has taken place over the years? Will the Government give as much consideration to the sugar industry, which is a very important industry in Queensland, as it does to some other questions that it fiddles around with and does not know very much about? As this matter is urgent, will the Government get on with the job and do it properly?
-The honourable senator has asked a very important question about a very important industry in Queensland, and I acknowledge his interest in the matter. The main thrust of his question related to the reason why there had not been an increase in the local price of sugar. That is a matter that I must refer to the Minister whom I represent and I will seek to provide an answer for the honourable senator. I believe that this Government has shown a great deal of interest in the various primary industries, and I do not doubt that the honourable senator would agree with that. Some of the policies that the Government has followed in relation to primary industry generally have been most outstanding. I do not know that during my term as a senator a government of any complexion -
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. In the first place, in responding to the question the Minister admitted that he would have to seek an answer from the Minister he represents, and that is fair enough. But then the Minister went on to debate the question. I invite your attention to Standing Order 100, which states:
In answering any such question, a Senator shall not debate the matter to which the same refers.
I also bring to your attention a ruling given on 29 September 1971 by the then President, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, when I took a similar point of order. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack subsequently gave this ruling:
Earlier this afternoon during question time Senator Brown objected to the answer being given to a question asked by him. I gave a ruling that a Minister is entitled to answer a question in his own way. I still uphold that ruling but I wish to state to Ministers answering questions that standing order No. 100 applies to Ministers answering questions just as much as other standing orders apply to other honourable senators asking questions.
I suggest that the Minister is debating the issue because he cannot give an answer. I can understand why he cannot give an answer.
– Order! The Minister will answer the question and seek to avoid any suggestion of debate in his answer.
– I can assure you, Mr President, that I was not debating the matter by any means. The thrust of the question that was put to me was whether the Government had been considering an increase in the domestic price of sugar. For those who are capable of thinking, there are two sides to this particularly important question. I acknowledge that Senator
Brown, with his knowledge of the Standing Orders, may be anxious to interrupt and say that the matter is being debated. However, for his benefit and that of the honourable senator from Queensland, the fact that prices are held down by a government that is anxious to assist a particular industry is most important. In relation to keeping down inflation the Government has done something that has been of enormous benefit to the people in the sugar industry. It has provided an incentive for them to develop and use chemical fertiliser, which the Opposition cut out when it was in government.
– Order ! The Minister must not debate the issue.
– It is not a case of debating the subject. It is a case of drawing attention to the fact that where the local price of a particular item is concerned, the Government’s efforts to keep down cost pressures on a particular industry must be taken into account. The present Government has done that across the field of primary production. I will refer the matter of a prospective rise in the price of sugar to the Minister whom I represent.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to a report that the Deputy Premier of Queensland has urged the Commonwealth Government to close the Gulf of Carpentaria. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether any formal request on this matter has been made by the Queensland Government to the Federal Government? Also, I ask whether the Government has given consideration to the closure of the Gulf and, if it has, what has been the result of its investigations.
– I am somewhat puzzled by the question. Closure of the Gulf for what purpose; closure against what?
- Mr Knox did not say.
-That is what has me somewhat puzzled. I do not know how one can close off the Gulf of Carpentaria except with a groyne or a net.
– Do you know what the answer is?
-I do not.
– Well, do you know what the question is about?
– In my ignorance, I do not know what the honourable senator is talking about. I understand that the Gulf of Carpentaria is an area of water. I thought one could close that off, as Caligula did, only with a line of ships, or with a fishing net, a boom or something else. I know of no proposal to close off the Gulf of Carpentaria. I do not know from which side it is intended to be closed. If the honourable senator could be a bit more explicit in his question I might be able to assist him further.
-I direct a question to the Attorney-General. I ask: Is there any substance in the statement reported in today’s Age newspaper, that many marriages unnecessarily end in divorce because the Family Court does not refer these couples to marriage guidance counsellors?
-The Family Law Act, which established the Family Law Court, has established the position of counsellors attached to the Court. This has been a major advance in the administration of family law, as the court itself does not have to proceed on purely legal grounds but has the facility of expert guidance from people skilled in marriage counselling. In addition, for many years a number of very important bodies have been concerned with marriage counselling throughout Australia. In many cases they are funded by the Commonwealth Government. Marriage counselling organisations exist to help people before they get to court, and if the marriage has reached the stage where the proceedings are taken to court, there is the availability of marriage counselling experts at the Court. Between the two avenues available to people there is a much greater assistance in avoiding the breakdown of marriage these days than there has ever been before. I am not aware of the particular complaint that has been made and, as Senator Jessop has drawn my attention to it, I will look further into the matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I note that earlier today the Minister was unable to give to Senator Wriedt an estimate of the end of year fiscal deficit after nine months of the fiscal year have elapsed. In view of that fact, can he explain to the Senate how Mr Fraser, Mr Lynch and some other members of the present Government were able to assert in December 1975- after 5 months of the fiscal year had elapsed- that the 1975-76 deficit would be between $4.5 billion and $5 billion? Why can the Government not apply the same formula as Mr Fraser and Mr Lynch used at that time for estimating this year’s deficit, presumably with much more precision, since nine months have elapsed instead of five months?
– All things are in perspective. What is asked of me today is the reasonably -
– Truth is not in perspective; it is an absolute.
-Yes, and that is what will be given. I am asked what would be a reasonably precise figure for the end of financial year deficit? As I said, how much it may be in excess of $2.2 billion is not able to be stated because of a number of variables. In particular, it is not known because of the practice of the Taxation Office taking in quite unpredictable amounts of money in the last month or two of the financial year. If Senator Walsh is in the delightful situation of being able to predict how much money will be paid and how many taxpayers will be encompassed at a particular time, he has extrasensory perception beyond most of us. We are talking about a deficit of a magnitude which is marginally in excess of $2.2 billion. In 1975-76, the Labor Government of the day budgeted for a deficit in the order of $2.6 billion or $2.7 billion. I stand to be corrected on the figure. In fact, when the Liberal-National Country Party took over government, the deficit was running at a rate of between $4 billion and $5 billion. That was indicated by the necessity for this Government to cut government expenditure significantly to bring the deficit down to the dimensions of $3 billion or less. So the two positions are quite unrelated. The one was -
– They are absolutely related. Step by step they are related. When you took over government it was the very first question you asked.
– I deliberately pause because I always want Senator Wriedt ‘s interjections to be recorded in Hansard. I think they ought to be immortalised. In fact, what I have said in this answer is absolutely correct. The Whitlam Government, of which Senator Wriedt was a senior Minister and Leader in the Senate, budgeted for a deficit of about $2.6 billion and had expenses running at nearly $5 billion. That is vastly different from the position under my Government- the Fraser Government- which budgeted for a deficit in excess of $2.2 billion and which, because of good news in terms of lowered inflation and lowered imports, will have a mildly increased deficit which will be financed by very substantial increases in non-bank borrowing. Indeed, because of this fact the Budget deficit will be managed very well indeed and will not have an inflationary impact.
– I direct a supplementary question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. The Minister, in his answer, referred to a deficit, I think in December 1975, that was running at a rate of $4 billion to $5 billion. Will he explain the precise meaning of the words ‘a rate of? If those words have a precise meaning, why cannot the same calculations be applied now in the 1977-78 financial year?
– The difference is simply this: If one takes -
– You are in Government now. You were in Opposition then, or seeking to have your Government legitimised by an election.
– The answers are best recorded from the interjections of honourable senators opposite. It is quite clear that they are enormously defensive about the mess that they made in 1975. It is quite clear that they are highly sensitive to this completely irresponsible budgeting and spending that occurred. The questions asked of me today were related to the period between the end of March and the June quarter of the year. If we look at the trading figures, we find that the whole situation of balance is warped. We are now approaching that part of the year when there is a big inflow.
– Was that not a problem in 1975?
– When I referred to the fact that the Budget deficit was running in the order of $4 billion to $5 billion at the end of 1975, I was not looking simply at the trading figures themselves. I was speaking in the knowledge of the intake of revenue for the rest of the financial year and a projection of what the deficit would be at the end of June 1976. It was only because of the intervention of the Fraser Government that this was not so. Otherwise, the deficit would have been in the order of $4.5 billion to $5 billion.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, follows written advice to New South Wales doctors that, while in terms of the Medical Practitioners Act in that State it may be legally permissible to refer patients to chiropractors, it is not legally permissible to refer patients to osteopaths.
I ask the Minister: Have osteopaths in Sydney, graduates of what was the Sydney College of Osteopathy, awarded to themselves new diplomas in the years since 1 968. allegedly changing themselves in sequence from osteopaths to chiropractors, then to doctors of chiropractic and, latterly, to all of these? Has this all been without significant or sufficient extra study? What is the standing of the College awarding these diplomas? What is the standing and significance of each of the different diplomas which have been awarded?
– I doubt whether I am able to answer all of the matters in the question raised by the honourable senator. I am aware that the report of the Australian Government Committee of Inquiry into Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Homeopathy and Naturopathy which was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament last year stated that in July 1975 the New South Wales College of Osteopathy closed and the chiropractic section was absorbed into the Sydney College of Chiropractic; the osteopathy section into the South Pacific College of Natural Therapeutics; and the naturopathic teaching into the International College of Natural Therapeutics. The registration of training institutions in the States is a matter for State government authorities. The New South Wales Higher Education Act provides for the establishment of universities and colleges of advanced education and the awards of degrees. The New South Wales College of Osteopathy is not a university or college of advanced education. The College or its successors would simply need to be registered under the New South Wales Business Names Act. Any such organisation may award diplomas in New South Wales, and the awarding of such diplomas is not controlled by the New South Wales Higher Education Act. That is all the information I have on the subject. I will seek from the Minister further information for the honourable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs: Is it a fact that one of the options being examined by the Government is the establishment of Aboriginal land trusts in Queensland? If this is a fact, will the Minister ensure that no control is exercised over such land trusts by the Queensland Premier, Mr Bjelke-Petersen, the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Islanders Affairs, Mr Porter, or, in fact, any member of the Queensland governing parties?
– I am not able to comment on the options that are presently being examined by the Commonwealth Government, but I am able to assure the honourable senator that the rights of the Aborigines as outlined in the Senate last Friday will be foremost in the mind of the Commonwealth Government as it examines the options and as it discusses these matters with the Queensland Government tomorrow.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Defence aware that cadets in the Naval Reserve in Western Australia have been planning a training camp for May and that such camps, in the past, received a subsidy from the Commonwealth? Is the Minister aware that in February of this year the cadets were advised that funds from the Commonwealth would not be forthcoming and that the cadets involved could cancel the camp or go ahead if they wished? Is it a fact that the subsidy in the past has been the amount of $10 per head per cadet? Is the Minister aware that community groups are providing assistance to bring boys from Carnarvon to Perth at a cost of $1,900 and that the removal of the Commonwealth’s subsidy is a matter of some concern to the cadet group? Can the Minister say why the subsidy is not available?
-The Minister for Defence has advised me that a camp for Naval Reserve cadets is to be held at Garden Island, Western Australia, at the end of this month. It is government policy that cadets’ travel costs should be met up to an average of $ 10 per cadet per annum. I am further advised that there has been some difficulty about the allocation of the amount. This relates to whether payments should be made to individual cadets or whether there a bulk amount should be allocated to States or units for division as appropriate. I further understand that there is a difficulty about whether the amount should be paid in advance or on a reimbursement basis. The Minister assures me that he hopes shortly to resolve all these difficulties. As soon as he has resolved them, I will have the honourable senator informed.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I draw the attention of the Minister to the alarming figures relating to lung cancer involving people employed in extracting uranium. The figures put a new picture on hazards involving uranium in Australia. In view of the code that Mr Street gave us last year, can we have an immediate evaluation to see just what uranium mining hazards really mean in relation to cancer in the light of recent United States statistics?
– I do not know whether this is an appropriate question to address to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations or whether it should be addressed to Senator Guilfoyle who represents the Minister for Health. However, I shall pass the question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and endeavour to get an answer from him.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. As new shipping schedules involving the Blue Star Line and the Gulf Line have not included any Tasmanian ports, and as centralising facilities applying to Melbourne and Adelaide do not include Tasmanian transshipment, will the Minister take steps to have these companies recognise the position of Tasmanian shippers who need the service for their trade to the Middle East but who, at present, are disadvantaged in some cases to the extent of almost $ 100 a tonne on freight from Tasmania to Melbourne?
– I have a brief on shipping to Tasmania. It is an important subject. My advice is that the Gulf shipping lines and the projected Blue Star Line service envisage offering part centralising facilities from Tasmania for full container loads only. The equivalent cost of a Sydney-Melbourne cargo movement will be borne by the shipowner. All lines in this trade from Australia will call at Tasmania direct, given sufficient inducement. This problem cannot be viewed as being solely related to Tasmania. Other regions on the mainland have been faced with similar problems. As there is no liner conference in this trade, shipowners compete on commercial terms. Perhaps shipowners could raise the matter initially with the Tasmanian Shippers Association with the intention of giving sufficient inducement for direct calls by organising the cargo flow. There may also be value in taking the matter up with the Australian Shippers Council. The Bureau of Transport Economics is currently studying centralisation arrangements in Australia although its report is not expected in the immediate future.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs:
How is one to interpret the sentence in the reply of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to question on notice No. 45 which was handed to me on Friday? In referring to a letter from Mr Jess to the Rt Hon. P. R. Lynch the reply stated:
This letter and my reply -
I take it that is the Minister’s reply- dated 12 October 1976 are available.
What is meant by the words ‘are available’? Will the Minister make copies of the letter and the reply available for tabling in the Senate? If that is not a proper course, will she make a copy available to me as the suspicious inquirer or, alternatively, will she make a copy available to the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate? Will the Minister also table the minute of instructions by the Minister to the Department?
– I shall have the matter of the reply to question on notice No. 45 referred to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs without delay to see what information is available for the honourable senator.
-Has the attention of the Leader of the Government in the Senate been drawn to the recent commencement of a practice in the State of Colorado in the United States of America, which is rapidly being applied by other States in the United States, and which requires governmental regulatory bodies to go out of existence each six years unless they justify their existence to the legislature in open public inquiry? If not, will he draw this matter to the attention of the Government with a view to establishing the worthiness and relevance of such a process in the Australian context?
-I know that such an operation is working in a number of countries. I shall certainly draw this matter to the attention of the Prime Minister.
– The Speaker of the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea desires to retire from the chamber. I ask honourable senators to be upstanding until the honourable gentleman leaves the chamber. Thank you.
– I present the eighth report of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of
Parliamentary Proceedings. The general principles adopted by both Houses provide for the broadcast to cease when the motion for the adjournment is moved or at 11.30 p.m., whichever is the earlier. This provision has applied since 1946. On 22 February of this year the House of Representatives agreed to new Standing Order 48, which provides for the motion for the adjournment to be put to the House automatically at 10.30 p.m. and, in most instances, an adjournment debate of approximately 30 minutes duration follows.
The question of broadcasting the adjournment debates has been considered by the Committee and it was the unanimous opinion of the House of Representatives members of the Committee that adjournment debates in their House, provided they occurred before 1 1 .30 p.m., should be broadcast. No change is proposed to the existing arrangements concerning the adjournment debates in the Senate. The Committee proposes that its recommendation take effect as from tomorrow, Tuesday, 1 1 April.
Motion (by Senator Withers) proposed:
That the report be adopted.
– This motion gives us the chance to examine the way in which the adjournment debate should be handled in the Senate as well as the way it should be handled in the House of Representatives. I note that the House of Representatives has chosen the way in which it wishes to handle its adjournment debate. I take it that it has adopted a formal structure for its adjournment debates with five-minute speeches only for its members and the right of reply from the Minister. On that basis the House of Representatives has decided that it is appropriate that proceedings should be broadcast. I suppose it is not now inappropriate that the Senate at least should examine the question of how we have conducted our own adjournment debates and how we may care to do so in the future.
I have always valued adjournment debates in this place as the time when I can bring up any issue which has concerned me. We do not have a Grievance Debate in the Senate. So the adjournment debate traditionally has given us the opportunity to discuss matters which in the other place might be brought up by using other forms of that House. The adjournment debate in the Senate has proved over the years a very effective way by which honourable senators are able to bring to public attention issues which they think are important and in respect of which there is no other provision under the Standing Orders of the
Senate. I would not like to see any progression in the Parliament to procedures which lessen our rights. I would certainly not like to see any abrogation of the right which we have to speak on the adjournment debate as our Standing Orders provide at the present time, to speak for a considerable period of time provided we can maintain a sufficient number of our colleagues in attendance to give us a hearing.
I think it is appropriate that on the presentation of this report, although it is referring to what is happening in another place, we take the opportunity to set down what some of us think about what should be the procedures in the Senate because it seems to me that if we make any move at all towards the broadcasting of adjournment debates there would go with it automatically the requirement to alter the nature of our adjournment debate and to alter the way in which it is conducted- to alter the structure of the debate, lt would be unthinkable, for example, for us to keep the present format of debate under which an honourable senator can, if he wishes, rise to his feet and address the Senate for 30 or 40 minutes if the matter is of sufficient importance. It would not be possible, if we moved to emulate the practice in the House of Representatives, to keep that kind of debate running. We would have to adopt rules under which honourable senators were restricted in what they could say and certainly restricted as far as the length of debate was concerned. I am not certain that that would meet the convenience or wishes of honourable senators. Whilst we may gain some publicity or some better communication of what was being said in adjournment debates I think we would lose some of the freedom that we have to address the Senate in our own way for as long as we think is necessary and with the freedom which we think is appropriate.
Further, I think that the broadcasting of the adjournment debate could prove to be a mixed blessing. I think we would agree that the fact that the adjournment is not being broadcast has produced a different quality of debate in the Senate. Honourable senators do not get up automatically in order to have another 1 5 or 20 minutes of broadcast time. Those honourable senators who speak on the adjournment in this place do so because they genuinely desire to be heard by their colleagues on some matter of importance. I am inclined to the view that if we had a broadcast adjournment debate in the Senate, sooner or later we would see the development of honourable senators speaking to use up the broadcast time, whether or not genuine issues might have motivated them.
– They would use it for propaganda purposes.
– I am indebted to the honourable senator; it would be used for propaganda purposes. On many evenings in the Senate there is no adjournment debate; on some evenings there is a prolonged debate. I think honourable senators have accepted over the years that, because there is this genuine desire to discuss issues, we generally wait and give an audience to speakers on the adjournment to allow them to express their views and to give them a hearing. Sometimes if the issue is sufficiently important we have a vigorous debate. I can think back- I am sure Senator Button can think back- to the time when the late Senator Greenwood was serving in the Senate when I believe we had some extremely vigorous debates on the adjournment on various issues from time to time. I believe that if we broadcast the proceedings, we would lose our right to speak for the length of time that we have had traditionally and we would also lose the genuineness with which adjournment debates have been conducted.
While I accept that we are looking at a report which deals with another place and its procedures, it raises for us the question of how the Senate might care to regard its practices; whether honourable senators might seek some change in the arrangements for broadcast. I would like to place on record my belief that the present arrangements on balance suit the needs of the Senate better than other arrangements which would cause us to alter the adjournment debate even if they did give us the opportunity to broadcast the contents of that debate.
– I have been provoked by Senator Baume to make just a very brief contribution to the debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings. I agree very much with many of the things that Senator Baume has said and I understand that members of my Party, such as Senator Douglas McClelland, who have been members of the Committee have expressed somewhat similar views. What I find most lacking in report is that it is assumed as a matter of desirability in the interests of the listening public that if there is an opportunity to broadcast parliamentary debates, it should be taken up by the Parliament itself; that listeners will in some way be gratified by that decision; that the process of parliamentary democracy in Australia will be better understood; and the cause of the Parliament will be advanced by increasing the hours of broadcasting.
It is interesting that that is a criterion which we do not apply to any other form of programming. The first questions which are asked in relation to television programming and radio programming are: What is the audience reaction; what is the audience need; what does the audience want? It really is quite extraordinary that a report of a committee of this Parliament should decide in relation to the House of Representatives to extend the hours of parliamentary broadcasting without any reference to those questions which are the normal criteria by which broadcasting performance is judged.
– And the consumer.
-Senator Brown used the word consumer. Of course that is the normal thing. I should have thought that the Parliament would in fact have been much better served if there was a limitation on the hours of parliamentary broadcasting and a much greater concentration than at present on issues of fundamental importance which the Parliament does debate.
– That might involve editing.
– It would be editing which has not bothered the House of Commons at Westminster. They seem to be capable of doing so on a bipartisan basis with a degree of maturity which I am sure, Senator Baume, we could arrive at after many years of discussion. It is an extraordinary omission from the report and I am grateful to see that the Senate, through the Senators on the Committee- perhaps Senator Baume is doing the right thing for the wrong reason- is asserting its independence of the view taken by the House of Representatives on this matter. I hope that we will have an opportunity further to consider this question, particularly in relation to the very nature of the sorts of issues which are discussed in the course of the adjournment debate. If one really thinks about who might listen to the radio at 11 p.m. or 11.30 p.m. at night, there is always the example of the mythical shift worker who rushes home from his shift in order to turn on Parliament. Quite apart from him -
– What about the people in Western Australia?
-There are Western Australians who might be -
-It is only 8.30 p.m. there.
– Western Australians would, of course, have the competition of the very vital media in Western Australia. That might be a source of competition to the broadcasting of Parliament. One wonders who would be listening to a broadcast of this kind at 1 1 p.m. or 11.30 p.m., particularly when one considers the generally parochial nature of issues which are raised here. I can recall that from time to time on odd occasions Senator McLaren has raised one or two matters relating to situations at Murray Bridge or somewhere else.
– They are quite important matters, too.
– I know they are, Senator. The point I am making is that while all honourable senators do that, in terms of the broad listening audience, they are probably of less widespread interest than we might anticipate. I welcome the remark made by Senator Baume and I support the observation he has made.
– I welcome the opportunity to express a point of view on this matter. Contrary to what might be believed, I do not take the view that the House of Representatives is always wrong. In this instance it is a great pity that Parliament permits itself to sit as a pretence without a quorum in both Houses, unmistakably so in the House of Representatives where that can be a fraction of the representatives there pretending to operate as a Parliament. On broadcast days there is an improvement in that situation. The Senate is not so bad. But, speaking from nearly 29 years experience, the attendance in this chamber for the purposes of the broadcast is proceeding downhill rather rapidly. Unless the spirit of genuine debate is revived in each chamber so that the Parliament becomes a forum for genuine debate, I think it will be found that the mobs outside, growing in intensity and purpose at a rate much more than Parliament’s purpose, will be an effective challenge to Parliament.
By way of a preliminary remark I wish that both Houses would immediately adopt television. If the Houses did, each station could televise whatever pan of the proceedings it wished and have completely uncensored access to the parliamentary proceedings so that the public could see the performance their representatives put up as an assemblage. They send us here, not because of our great acumen or genius or experience; they send us here as representatives of themselves. It would be nice sometimes for them to understand how many of them are represented by how few in the ordinary proceedings of Parliament.
With regard to the adjournment debate, Mr President, reminding you of my length of experience, just as the substantive proceedings of the Senate during the first 15 years of my experience here were much better attended and more vigorously and purposefully debated, so too it was scarely ever necessary for an honourable senator to speak in an adjournment debate. The President exercised the judgment whereby he would intrude that privilege upon the chamber only on matters of substance and whose importance was of some immediacy. It is true, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) reminded those loquacious speakers on the Opposition benches who over the past three or four years have spoken in adjournment debates on petty little matters and in pettifogging ways, those matters really are not worthy of a national Parliament. Therefore, as we have allowed the adjournment debate to degenerate in this way, some procedures are necessary to improve it. Much as I am anxious not to restrict the right of ordinary senators to speak in an adjournment debate, the man who cannot say what he has to say within 10 minutes has too much to say in an adjournment debate.
– How long will you talk on this matter?
– I am speaking of an adjournment debate. While under the Standing Orders honourable senators are entitled to speak for an hour or more in this debate and having regard to that prospect that some speakers might follow me and speak for 50 minutes, it is appropriate that I should take a commensurate time to elaborate my point. Under the present procedures, very rarely will the Senate be sitting into the evening on its second broadcast day; therefore, the adjournment debate will usually be broadcast one day a week. If on the other two evenings the ordinary provisions prevailed and we had an adjournment debate whereby for 40 minutes three speakers were entitled to speak each for 10 minutes and the appropriate Minister had 10 minutes to reply, far from derogating from the individual senator’s right to speak in this place, the suggested procedure would improve it and would offer new opportunities. That is why I am urging it for serious consideration. I want the mere back bencher- to use a phrase which was murmered on Thursday or Friday last- to have a right to speak with the greatest good will. I was cultured in an environment that reminded me that it is shameful to be silent and let barbarians speak, and I use no other pointed reference than barbarians.
It is timely that the ordinary member of this Parliament had a greater chance than he had under the present restrictive procedures. He has a chance to ask a question; the Minister has the chance to answer and usually to emphasise in a repetitive way, I should think, the answer in his own way. A lot of questions are answered simply by submerging the real truth and evading the actual office of questions. The right of the individual member therefore is largely capable of being distorted by the Minister. When it comes to the ordinary procedure of the Senate, it is only on a matter of public importance that the Opposition parties or an ordinary member can put forward matters. How seldom it is that a back bencher feels impelled to put forward a matter of public importance. If he does, he takes two hours of the Senate’s time, or whatever it is, and there is a serious interruption to the procedures of the Senate. If the adjournment debate is supposed to provide an opportunity for an ordinary member of the Senate to put forward a point of view on a policy matter or to raise an issue on behalf of an elector, then the adjournment is the appropriate time for every back bencher to stand, irrespective of his status in the Parliament. No doubt you, Mr President, would distribute the call as things went on and experience unfolded so that there was an equity as between those who seek to take advantage of it and those who do not.
We should televise everything that the media wishes to televise, not in the interests of parliamentary members but in the interests of the people of the great country outside, who wish to be communicated with. Where are the members of the Press Gallery today? Often there is not a soul in the gallery, usually there are only one or two, and nothing is ever reported unless the speaker demeans himself by taking his material to the Press Gallery. The country needs to be informed much more adequately of what takes place here so that it can gain a growing understanding of the way in which the ordinary member is being prevented day after day and week after week from actually putting his own views in policy and the views of his constituents who he feels are worthy of representation. The whole business of Parliament has been taken over almost completely by governments and their programs smother the whole idea of expression. Therefore I say to the Senate: Do not let us proceed to this proposal with antipathy simply because it is not an idea of the Senate. Let us consider it and let us decide whether or not we would get a much more effective status for the ordinary member if he spoke for 30 minutes one night a week with the aid of the air waves, with a Minister having the right of reply, than he has now on the adjournment debate, with all the commercial problems of publishing in the daily Press news which becomes available after 1 1 p.m. We should consider whether we would not be doing a service to the country by providing the opportunity one night a week for the Senate to operate under such a procedure. I think there is real merit in it.
– I find myself in very strange company in this debate. When I first came into this place, Senator Wright said to me that the adjournment debate was the forum for injustices. To marry that assertion, with which I agree, with a pledge I gave when I came into politics, I like to believe, as a former shop steward, that I am still a shop steward here. I use any parliamentary device to ventilate grievances. I say without any inhibitions whatsoever that a skilful 10-minute burst on the adjournment, accompanied by the tabling of appropriate documents, can achieve some very far-reaching administrative decisions. I take the Senate back to one memorable occasion when a New South Wales State government and a Commonwealth government of the same political complexion, although I suppose that was just a political accident, were having a fight with the New Zealand Government over Australians taking their dogs to New Zealand. People might smirk about dog owners, but this incident happened to involve a couple of former Snowy Mountains workers who had worked for five years in Australia and were going on to a national project in New Zealand. When the dog arrived at Auckland airport it was sent back to Australia; it eventually had three trips over the Tasman. At 1 1.10 at night, and I pay tribute to Senator Rankin for this, I was able to table some lovely documents, including what the New Zealand Nationalist Party- that is the equivalent to the Liberal Party- Minister said about a State Liberal Health Minister and a Federal Health Minister. Without wishing to score any points, I can say that within 48 hours the misunderstanding had been cleared up, and the details of it appear in the record of the Estimates Committee debate.
A second matter relates to more bureaucrats at the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place, Sydney, when my colleague and trade union comrade Ray Gietzelt was unable to get information on office cleaners. People might ask: What about a few office cleaners? What about a few tunnellers on the Snowy Mountains project?’ I am democratic and I am a socialist as well, and I believe that life is all about removing injustices. I have heard some smug people talk about whether senators were administrators or innovators. In the school on the workshop floor from which I came a person was judged every quarter by how many cases he had won. I believe that a 10-minute burst on the adjournment debate at night, together with the tabling of documents on the Senate floor, is the appropriate way to handle those matters. Ministers of either political party should follow that practice and Senator Douglas McClelland will bear me out on this matter because he is a skilful exponent of it; we do not make an apology to anybody for it.
I will take this wonderful idea of democracy and participation a little further. On the matter of communications, I have been advised of grievances by Barney French, the Secretary of the Federated Rubber and Allied Workers Union of Australia. We might not get to bed until midnight, but French is out at 7.30 in the morning attending stop work meetings involving tariffs or some new technique, and Ministers would be involved in such matters. If I ring French at 10.30 p.m., when he is still at the Sydney Labour Council, and tell him that at 1 1 o ‘clock I am going for a particular Minister’s jugular vein- I say that in the vernacular and I know it will not be misunderstood- the next morning when French goes out to a stop work meeting he knows what has been said here the previous night. That is the art of communication. I do not care which government is in power, but if a matter comes up and a Minister is in Western Australia or in northern Queensland and someone else is acting for him, passions become inflamed.
If we want to lubricate the parliamentary system, I believe that this is the way to do it. If an opinion-maker in the trade union movement wants somebody on the Opposition side to put up a matter, particularly to a Minister in his own portfolio, in 10 minutes a member can say all he wants to say and he can get documents incorporated. A few days later he can blandly ring up the Minister and seek an answer, as I did this morning to Mr MacKellar on a matter that I raised last Thursday. I leave the Senate with this thought. The motto of the British printing trade union states: ‘The man who suffers an injustice with the power to remove it deserves not compassion but contempt. ‘ I think that is a sentiment with which Senator Wright and everybody elsewould agree. For that reason I believe that this innovation ought to be accepted.
– I have been invited to become involved in this debate in my capacity as the chairman of a Senate committee which for some considerable time carried out an inquiry into all aspects of broadcasting and television. Whilst that particular question may have related to broadcasting as it concerned programs for reception in the home and in the community, because of the amount of time taken up by parliamentary broadcasting on our airwaves the matter of parliamentary broadcasts came very much into our discussions. Mr President, I note with interest the line in the report which you have just put down, that no change is proposed to the existing arrangements concerning the broadcasting of adjournment debates in the Senate.
When we are talking about broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings and about the broadcasting of adjournment debates not only are we talking about a matter which finds its way into so many homes and so many areas where people have broadcast receivers; we are also talking about the whole matter of Parliament and its relation to the people. If honourable senators refer to the Australian Senate Practice by J. R. Odgers they will see that the first broadcast of proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliament took place on 10 July 1946, some 32 years ago. For a considerable portion of time and for a considerable portion of* the Parliament’s life its proceedings have been broadcast. However, Mr President, the important thing which you raised this afternoon is whether the broadcasting of adjournment debates should be proceeded with or whether we should cease the broadcast at a given time.
I want to emphasise the importance of the adjournment debate within the Senate. It provides members with the opportunity of doing a number of things. It invites them to raise certain matters which are of their particular personal concern. It invites them to deal with areas, issues and opinions which, for a variety of reasons, they have not been able to raise during the day. It gives them the opportunity to make personal explanations. It gives them the chance to fill in gaps in the debate which, for a whole variety of reasons, may not have been possible during an earlier hour of the day, the day before or even the week before. It also gives members with some particular interest the opportunity to present it to the Senate and to place it on the Senate record. As we have already heard today and on many occasions in recent times, it gives them the opportunity to make submissions on personal issues, local issues or even policy issues. It invites them also to take the opportunity to make personal representations.
Mr President, I draw this list of things together because in this chamber members represent a particular State. In the other place they represent a particular area or constituency. Therefore it is altogether wise for a member of the House of Representatives to take the opportunity to present a case reflecting something of his own constituency. Of course, he can take this out of the record in due course and distribute it to the local Press or to interested people, as the case may be. I know that the same circumstances can very well apply to honourable senators but it may also be said that the same relationship does not apply here as in the other place. Therefore, Mr President, the matter of whether we broadcast these sorts of things comes up for particular attention and special review.
I would welcome the opportunity to broadcast adjournment debates in certain circumstances. Having said that, I immediately come into conflict with my own opinion as to whether we have a strictly supervised time of broadcasting adjournment debates which would provide a specially devised and rigidly adhered to time limit for honourable senators to make their presentation and for the Minister to reply. One of the advantages that an adjournment debate in this House provides is that a member can stand and speak for as long as he or she may so desire. Honourable senators take a responsibility for the length of time that they use and the Minister in reply takes the responsibility in the same circumstances. However, if that be the case, it is really untenable that a radio broadcast at that hour of the night should be allowed to continue. On the other hand, let us not forget the fact that there are people who listen to radio broadcasts at 1 1 o’clock at night and there are divisions of time right across this country. So we have to balance the situation.
Whilst this particular situation may have existed for some 32 years we should take up the point that Senator Wright has raised earlier this afternoon, and that is the emergence on the scene of the televising of the Parliament. I personally have never been enthusiastic about the televising of parliamentary proceedings. In an age in which the media are assuming a greater degree of importance and in an age in which information services are receiving a greater degree of attention, with institutions such as the National Library of Australia coming into prominence in relation to the distribution of proceedings relating to all aspects of our national and public life, we have to look very seriously at the matter of telecasting parliamentary proceedings. We have to take the responsibility for the circumstances that that provides and we have to measure up to the demands which such a situation imposes upon us. After all. here we are expressing our views that the Executive of the day is getting away from Parliament and that Parliament is not in control of the situation. If the media, whether by way of microphone or camera, are focused upon us. it is the responsibility of honourable members and senators to ensure that Parliament is supreme and is not subservient to the Executive.
There is also the small and minor matter of whether one of the advantages of the adjournment situation as we now have it is that we have unlimited time. Parliament should never be restricted by time in these situations. The community at large of necessity, and quite wisely, has to work to some form of punctuality and to some form of timetable. I believe that the broadcasting of the adjournment proceedings of Parliament should be free and unrestricted. If that facility of broadcasting is taken away from us, the Senate still has the opportunity to be broadcast during the entire day on the days that are allotted to the Senate. Whilst a number of arguments can be put in favour of consideration being given to the broadcasting of adjournment debates in the Senate under certain clearly defined and restricted procedures, I think that in the present instance we should leave the situation as it is, for review, as I am sure the Committee will review it from time to time.
- Mr President, as members of the Joint Statutory Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, you, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack and I attended the recent meeting of the Committee which brought down the report which we are debating. The original purpose of the convening of the Committee was to determine what the future of broadcasting arrangements would be under the new sessional arrangements, whereby the Parliament is sitting for two weeks out of every four weeks. Honourable senators will be aware that under the previous sessional arrangements, whereby the Parliament sat for three weeks out of every four weeks, the Senate was broadcast on three out of every nine occasions.
But now as a result of the Senate’s sitting on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of one week and on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the second week, and the Senate now being broadcast on the Friday, the percentage time has increased from three out of nine days to three out of eight days, or roughly from 33 per cent of the total broadcasting time to about 37 per cent. If the Senate adjournment debate is to be broadcast, that can only take place on a Wednesday night, because as I understand the present Sessional Orders, the question is to be put at 4.30 p.m. of a Friday and that question is not open to debate. Therefore, the broadcasting of the Senate adjournment debate can relate only to the Wednesday night. As we know, a Senate adjournment debate can take place on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights of the first week of sitting and on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the second week of sitting. Really, we are only contemplating, discussing or considering the broadcasting of Senate adjournment debate only on Wednesday evenings.
We all know that the Senate sessional orders provide that at 1 1 p.m. the President shall take the Chair and put the question: ‘That the Senate do now adjourn’. The existing arrangements also contain a provision that the cut-off time for broadcasting in any event will cease at 1 1 .30 p.m. In fact, if the adjournment debate is to be broadcast in the Senate, we are talking about a broadcast for half an hour on one night- Wednesday night- between 11 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. Under the existing arrangements, on a night when the Senate is not being broadcast, an honourable senator can speak for an hour in the adjournment debate. But if the Senate adjournment debate were being broadcast, under the existing arrangement between the parties it would mean that an honourable senator could speak for the full half hour when that adjournment debate was on the air because at 1 1.30 p.m. the broadcast would cut off. The adjournment debate would go on but the broadcasting of the debate would cut out at 1 1.30 p.m. because it has already been agreed that the broadcasting in any event shall cease at that time.
Having realised those matters, I think it is fair to say that you, Mr President, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack and I, whatever our personal views might be on the subject of broadcasting or not broadcasting the Senate adjournment debate, felt that, if the Senate determined to have the Senate adjournment debate broadcast on a Wednesday night, there would have to be a reorganisation of our existing Standing Orders as occurred in another place. We all remember that the House of Representatives, I think it was last year amended its Standing Orders in respect to its adjournment debate. The House of Representatives was concerned to provide that a member could speak for a maximum period of five minutes in an adjournment debate with a maximum of six speakers taking part in the debate. The House of Representatives also provided that a maximum time of 10 minutes be allowed for a Minister to reply to the totality of matters raised in the 30 minute adjournment debate. But in the Senate, under our existing arrangements, wc would have a situation in which an honourable senator could speak for half an hour in an adjournment debate being broadcast and anyone else wishing to pursue the line of debate that he had initiated would be deprived of the opportunity of continuing the debate on the air. If honourable senators want the Senate adjournment debate to be broadcast, I suggest to them that we will have to look at the existing Standing Orders.
– Of course.
– It is inevitable, even before we agree to the broadcasting of the debate. I am in complete agreement with the remarks made by Senator Wright on this occasion. A situation could arise in which a member of the House of Representatives took advantage of the adjournment debate in that House to be critical or condemnatory of a senator. That honourable senator, in a complementary adjournment debate in the Senate, would not be able to take advantage of a debate which was broadcast to give a reply. I know that there are other circumstances in which he could seek an opportunity to reply. He could make a personal explanation or something of that nature. But I mention that in the totality, it being only one night a week for a period of half an hour, we could perhaps look at making an amendment to the Standing Orders. Until such time as that is done, I believe that the report of the Committee should be accepted.
– I do not wish to pre-empt the remarks of Senator McLaren who wishes to speak in the debate. But I say this to him: At 4.30 the Orders of the Day will be called on and this debate will finish. It is necessary that this report be adopted. If it is not, the House of Representatives cannot operate this system tomorrow. If the honourable senator is to speak in the debate, will he please make sure that he finishes his remarks before 4.30 p.m.
– I take heed of the warning given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers). I enter this debate only because my name was mentioned by one of my colleagues and also because of some remarks made by Senator Wright. He said that Opposition speakers in the main in the last two or three years were bringing forward very petty matters in the adjournment debate. I put on the record that any matter I have brought forward in the Senate, whenever I have spoken in an adjournment debate, has not been considered petty by myself or by the people for whom I brought forward the matter to obtain some remedial action. I point out also that many Opposition senators have spoken in adjournment debates, during the last two years anyway, because of the very lengthy answers given by Ministers at question time. This prevents many Opposition senators having an opportunity to ask a question at Question Time. We have to take the opportunity of speaking in the adjournment debate at night. I hope that two of the Ministers in particular take notice of those remarks.
I agreed with Senator Wright when he said that the adjournment debate of the Senate should be broadcast. There is the possibility of some problems arising if we have to amend our Standing Orders. But I see no reason for a great problem arising because on a Wednesday night- that is the only night in question- if the adjournment debate is to be broadcast, those honourable senators wanting to speak in the debate would know they had only five minutesthat allows three speakers from each side of the Senate- and when the debate went off the air we could listen to those honourable senators who want to speak for an hour if they wish to do so. There will be no taking away of the privileges of honourable senators. I hope that the Standing Orders Committee will look at that matter. We would not be giving honourable senators any extra speaking time but we would be acting in accordance with lines of privilege which honourable senators presently have. As Senator Douglas McClelland pointed out, on other nights honourable senators would have the time that is normally available to them to speak in an adjournment debate.
I wanted also to reply to Senator Davidson. He said that there were special reasons why the proceedings of the House of Representatives should be broadcast. He said that members of the House of Representatives are closer to their constituents than are honourable senators. I refute that statement. In South Australia, there are no Government members of the House of Representatives who live in the country. They all live in Adelaide. I am the only Senate representative who both lives in the country and has an office in the country. I am closer to the people. So Senator Davidson ‘s argument falls flat on that basis. I am conscious of the fact that I have been warned by the Leader of the Government in the Senate that my remarks must be short. At this stage, I will sit down.
– in reply- I thank honourable senators who have participated in the debate. I am quite certain that you, Mr President, have taken note of the matters they have raised and no doubt of your own volition will raise them at the next meeting of the Standing Orders Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present copies of documents tabled in the Queensland Parliament by the Hon. L. R. Edwards, M.L.A., on Tuesday, 4 April 1978. Due to the limited number available at this time, copies will be placed in the Senate Records Office. Additional copies will be made available for circulation to honourable senators towards the end of the week.
-by leave- Perhaps the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) could explain at some time whether this procedure is to become practice. We have documents which were tabled in another parliament being tabled in the Senate without any comment or without any opinion expressed by the Minister who presented the documents. Perhaps I see something in this that need not be a matter of concern. I would have thought that with these documents in particular, expressing such a firm point of view, the Minister would have added to them by way of comment, introduction or conclusion.
– I will take notice of what the honourable senator says.
– by leave- As this statement on the further development of the tactical fighter force was put down in the other place last Friday- no doubt all honourable senators have had notice of it- I ask for leave to incorporate it in Hansard.
I wish to inform the Senate of the decision taken by the Government to proceed with further development of the Tactical Fighter Force project.
-I present the following paper:
Further Development of the Tactical Fighter ForceMinisterial statement, 10 April 1978 - and move:
That the Senate take note of the statement.
– I have had the chance of looking at the statement that the Leader of the Government (Senator Withers) has just had incorporated in Hansard. I wish to make the observation that it is difficult to understand the Government’s intention in putting down this statement. It tells us nothing new to what has already been made public by the Government in respect of this particular re-equipment program for the Royal Australian Air Force. I trunk it is well known by everybody who is interested that this so-called short list of particular types of aircraft has been in the Government’s mind now for some months. Yet we do not seem to have obtained any further information in this statement. One can understand the enormous decision that has to be taken in the light of the expenditure involved which will be eventually, I think, about $2 billion. We do not appear to be any further advanced than we were before the statement was made.
The only point which I think should be emphasised is that concerning any offset arrangements, which appears at paragraph 7 of the document. We know that it has been the policy of successive governments to obtain the maximum offset arrangements for any military equipment that is purchased overseas for the Australian armed forces. Again, it appears that very little progress has been made in obtaining what can be described only as reasonable offset arrangements. Obviously, we will hear more of this issue as time goes by. I have no doubt that when the final decision is made the Government will have given full consideration to it.
One other aspect of the paper that should be mentioned briefly is that the intended use of this equipment has not been made clear. For example, paragraph 26 of the statement indicates that the equipment is needed only for defensive purposes. Paragraph 17 talks about attack operations. I do not know whether there is some technical difference between those two purposes, but apparently it is significant that there seems to be some thinking that these aircraft would not be used purely in a defensive role but may be aircraft required for what may be termed off-shore operations or for areas extending well beyond Australia’s shores. I think this is something about which the Government will need to think very seriously, because the latter type of aircraft obviously would involve much greater expenditure. As I have indicated, we will get further information on this as time goes by. I wish that the Government could be more explicit at this stage about its intentions. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Consideration of House of Representatives’ amendments.
After Part III of the Evidence Act 1 905* the following Part is inserted:
PART IIIA.-ADMISSIBILITY OF BUSINESS RECORDS
7a. (1) In this Part, unless the contrary intention appears- proceeding’ means a proceeding before the High Court or any court (other than a court of a Territory) created by the Parliament: 7d.( 1 ) This section applies in relation to a statement tendered in a criminal proceeding for admission under section 7d. Where the statement-
House of Representatives’ amendment No. 1-
In the definition ‘proceeding’, after ‘any ‘, insert ‘other’.
House of Representatives’ amendment No. 2-
In proposed section 7q. omit ‘which, if admitted, would’, substitute ‘which has been obtained illegally or would, if admitted.’.
– I move:
I understand from my colleague the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack), for whom I am speaking at the moment, that these amendments are of a technical and drafting character and are as a result of matters raised in the Committee stage both in this chamber and in the other place. I see that Senator Button is nodding his head so my brief must be correct. They are not matters of great substance in the Bill but arose out of matters which were picked up during the Committee stage of the Bill. They have been tidied up in the House of Representatives. Therefore, I commend the amendments to the Committee.
– I think that this is an example of co-operation between the two Houses of Parliament. Some of those amendments which have been tidied up by the House of Representatives were in fact moved in this chamber. There was some lengthy discussion about them, as I recall it. We are very happy with the technical tidying up that has been done.
– I should like to comment on proposed section 7 Q which is of some significance and which was suggested to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs by an adviser. At present the proposed section states:
This Part does not affect the power of a court in a criminal proceeding to reject evidence which, if admitted, would operate unfairly against the defendant.
The suggestion which was put to our Committee when it was dealing with another matter and which was drawn to the attention of the Senate was that this did not include the situation where evidence may be obtained illegally. It was suggested that it was not adequate to provide which, if admitted, would operate unfairly’. It should go further than ‘operate unfairly’. If evidence is wrongly or illegally obtained then it should be possible for the court to reject it. The amendment has the effect of redescribing proposed section 7 Q in these terms:
This Part does not affect the power of a court in a criminal proceeding to reject evidence which has been obtained illegally or would, if admitted, operate unfairly against the defendant.
It is quite clear that that would be a ground on which the court could reject evidence- that is, evidence by way of a document if it had been in fact obtained illegally or if admitted would operate unfairly. This amendment makes it clear that the court may use either of those grounds to reject evidence.
-Is that in relation to the whole document?
– The whole Bill only relates to documents. This is the Bill which relates to the admissibility of business records in evidence in proceedings. The whole Bill deals with that. It makes it clear that particular ground for objection continues. I think it is a useful amendment, as is the other amendment.
Amendments agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 5 April on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Walsh had moved by way of an amendment:
At the end of motion, add ‘, but the Senate is of the opinion that the Bill-
implement the election promise of the Government ‘to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country’; and
improve the adequacy of the existing petroleum marketing and distribution system in country areas; and
b ) is silent on the defects in the system outlined in the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum ‘.
– The Senate will recall that I was unexpectedly called on to speak on the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Bill at five minutes to 1 1 on the evening of 5 April when I made some introductory remarks. The Senate is now debating that Bill and the amendment moved thereto by Senator Walsh. It is important to repeat the amendment because therein is the hub of the matter. It states: , but the Senate is of the opinion that the Bill-
is silent on the defects in the system outlined in the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. ‘
There is no doubt that honourable senators from the Opposition who preceded me in this debate have clearly stated that the Bill does not equalise the price of petrol throughout Australia. The Bill is the result of a promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). When the matter was scrutinised at a later stage, he found he was not able to satisfy that promise. When one looks at fuel distribution in Australia one realises just how complex, how distorted and how grossly unjust it is. A simple proposition, such as this Bill, does not solve the problem. There is no doubt that it does give some assistance to those who live in remote areas in that it subsidises the freight charge. But it does not remove the great anomaly whereby a person in a remote area may pay up to 30c and sometimes 40c a gallon more than his counterpart in a capital or provincial city may pay.
- Mr Deputy President, I have certain degrees of tolerance but the state of the Senate should command your attention. (Quorum formed).
– In case anyone is under the mistaken impression that I called the quorum to get myself an audience, I place on the record that that is clearly not the case. Nevertheless I am grateful to Senator Wright for bringing in some honourable senators who should be interested in the remarks that I have to make. For those who have just entered the chamber I point out that we are debating the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill. I have merely stated that the Bill does not do what the Government intended. It certainly does not carry out what the Opposition intended by its policy and that was to give justice to people living in semi-remote and remote areas in the price of fuel, particularly petrol. The view of the Opposition is that it will be necessary for the Government to refer to the very excellent document which was produced by the Royal Commission on Petroleum. It is the fourth report, entitled The Marketing and Pricing of Petroleum Products in Australia ‘.
The complex nature of the industry demands immediate attention by the Government. In the market place there is a severe distortion which leads to the injustices which this Bill, only in a very small part, will help to remedy. It is the responsibility of the Government to take legislative action to correct the injustices. It is not sufficient to allow the oil industry itself to do so. Several conferences have been held on the matter. My opinion is that the Government has reached a point of dissatisfaction with the oil companies which do not appear to recognise the needs of the market place. In fairness to the oil companies and the oil industry, I point out that it is necessary to realise that refinery problems are complex. The refining of the product by breaking it down into various components, creates many difficulties. Some companies have difficulty in moving and distributing some of their products, whereas they are able to remove or to sell a major part of another section of that product. This situation leads to that company exerting great pressure in order to obtain sales in the market place. Also, the pricing policy of Australian crude oil has led to companies scrambling in the market place for volume. They seek this volume in order to maintain their Australian allocation and they engage in what I consider to be unfair practices in the market place.
The royal commission report indicated that errors which were made two decades ago have led to our problems today. The companies over invested in distribution outlets and are now going through a process of divestment. In doing so, they are causing considerable hardship which would never have been permitted if the industry had been rural. The hardship in rural industry has led to some legislation going through the Senate which will reconstruct the industry and allow those who participate in it some chance to disengage. What has happened in the market place in relation to petrol distribution as a result of the divestment policy which the companies are now following and which must be supported by the Government, is that many small distributors are being forced to the wall in a discount operation which is grossly unfair. I have spoken before in this chamber about the practice of a giant coming into an area and destroying a small operator. In the past we considered that to be an unfair practice. It is now considered to be a fair practice that the small and the weak company should be forced into bankruptcy, and that is what is happening throughout Australia.
– Could you not say on the other hand that the small groups or the small companies have taken advantage of low costs and high volume while they have been in the discounting business?
– Yes, that is true. I would agree that XL Petroleum Pty Ltd was the first to come into discount operations because the price of petrol was at such an extravagantly high and unfair level. It was well known that the price of petrol some two years ago was 10c or 12c a gallon more than it should have been. This allowed discounters to come in and to sell petrol at a discount. Then several other operators came into the market place and did likewise. The companies encouraged jobbers, that is, people who were able to gather together a sufficient number of outlets to distribute large volumes of fuel which allowed them to negotiate for and obtain a lower wholesale price. The argument is that the wholesale price is the same for everybody, but that is not so because some groups coming together can negotiate with companies to get a special rebate on the wholesale price and often that rebate could be as much as 10c a gallon or some fantastic amount below the wholesale price which allows the discounter to move into the market place and increase the volume of sales.
-Is not ACTU-Solo Enterprises Pty Ltd the chief discounter?
– I would say there were other companies before ACTU-Solo. The ACTU-Solo company obtained an allotment to Australian crude which allowed it to come into the market place. I am not a supporter of that operation. In fact a co-operative of which I am a member in Queensland was forced into a position in which it was disadvantaged by this practice. When a kindred organisation came into the area and began operating, in order to defend ourselves we were force to join. I am making no excuses. I believe that this practice, which ACTU-Solo participated in, led to a degeneration in the market place. It led to a reduction in conditions of those who were employed in the industry and I would have thought that the trade union movement would have considered their position first. Admittedly motorists were paying a far greater price for their fuel than they should have been. In some places, especially in country areas and remote areas, and particularly in Tasmania, they were paying far more for their petrol than they should have been. They pay a high price because companies seek to maximise their profits in remote areas to make up for the substantial losses in areas where heavy discounting takes place. They may deny that, but that is a fact. That is what is happening.
– The Royal Commission on Petroleum does not support that argument.
-It may not support that argument but my experience from the limited way in which we operate in Queensland with 13 outlets, which were confined to members of the co-operative before we were forced to go into a discounting operation, is that if it were not for our operations in Maryborough and in Gladstone we would be in severe trouble with our outlets in Brisbane. I am pointing out that in respect of a small organisation with a limited number of outlets it would not be able to survive at all without outlets in other areas. Although the Royal Commission on Petroleum did not find this to be so it seems to me that for the small organisation to survive in heavy discounting operations as exists, say, in the city of Brisbane there would need to be some reasonable profit margin in areas which are not very remote- say, areas to the north of Brisbane, up to some 60 kilometres to 100 kilometres away, where the price of petrol could be as much as 23c a litre whereas in Brisbane the price could be as low as 15c a litre. My own experience is that one price offsets the other. A differential price policy allows a whole operation to remain economic.
I seem to have strayed from my argument. All I am saying is that the Government needs to look at the Commissions’ report and begin to implement the recommendations. The Government needs to accept that the distribution of fuel throughout the Commonwealth is important not only industrially but also from a security point of view. It is important for the Government to appreciate that if we are to consolidate and to conserve our reserves of fuel we ought to have a less wasteful method of distribution. It seems to me extraordinary that the Government has produced this piece of legislation without at the same time giving consideration to further legislation which will lead to a correction of the malpractices that exist.
I have for some time advocated a system of orderly marketing. In our rural industries we have been striving towards orderly marketing. In the distribution of electricity we have established orderly marketing. Yet in this very important field of petroleum we have failed to establish orderly marketing. I think we ought to be looking at the New Zealand experience and we should set a minimum price at which petroleum is purchased and a maximum price at which it is sold. I am not saying that by such a policy we ought to be protecting inefficient industries or inefficient operators. All I am saying is that having corrected the problem that we have inherited following 20 years of one brand stations we should then go on to the area of orderly marketing. This cannot be done in isolation from the other problems that the industry faces. My fear is that if the catch as catch can which exists in the industry at the present time continues without any check more people will be hurt. At the present time the small operators are being hurt. The people employed in the driveways are being disadvantages; the small operators are being forced into bankruptcy and conditions are poor. My fear is that one or two companies may be seriously disadvantaged. There are two Australian owned companies. One is Golden Fleece Petroleum and the other is Ampol Petroleum Pty Ltd. My fear arises because of the policies that are now being followed by the giants.
Incidentally, in reply to an earlier interjection from Senator Wright or Senator Thomas that the small operators seem to concentrate on discounts in areas which have a high volume in distribution to achieve a substantial profit, let me say that this policy is now being followed by the major companies. One or two major companies are now starting to concentrate on high volume areas. They are now starting to neglect low volume areas. Companies like Esso are following that policy now. They are closing down the low volume outlets in order to concentrate on high volume outlets. My belief is that when these giant companies, supported by profits from overseas and capital from overseas, begin to operate in this way it may mean that both of our Australian companies may suffer in the process. This view is based not so much on a careful scrutiny of the problem; it is based merely on my experience. My experience, as I have explained, clearly supports the view that industry needs to be thoroughly re-organised and that the oil companies themselves- jockeying for positions as they are at present- are not to be trusted with that re-organisation. The Government must firmly take to itself the responsibility for bringing some order into the industry.
Without being too highly critical of the legislation that seeks to support people in remote areas, I believe that the amendment- in particular the second part, ‘to improve the adequacy of the existing petroleum marketing distribution system in country areas’ and the third part, the proposition that we should look at the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleumought to be supported, even at this late stage. I am the last speaker on the Opposition side- I say this merely to give some warning to those senators on the other side who will speak. Although members of the Opposition seek to amend the Bill, we are in support of the proposition that the effects of this Bill will be useful; but they go nowhere near far enough. There is report of another organisation that ought to be consulted by those who are interested in the necessary reforms. I refer to a document which I have in my possession. I was tempted to have it incorporated in Hansard but it is a substantial document and perhaps it would be better for me merely to refer to it. It has been prepared by the Australian Automobile Chamber of Commerce. I would suggest that any senator who is interested in the problems that face this industry which is important to us all should read the document.
– What is the date of that document?
– I am afraid there is no date to this document but it refers to events of the early 1950s, and it covers the whole problem, discussing the Royal Commission on Petroleum and the crude oil policy. It is a document that cannot be ignored because it has been prepared by those people who represent the fuel distributors throughout the country. I am afraid I cannot give the honourable senator the date of publication at the moment, but I have other correspondence to which I do not wish to refer which would possibly give the necessary information.
-The political point that I presume the Opposition Whip (Senator Georges) rose to make was the oft repeated statement that the Bill before us does not give proper expression to the announcement in the Liberal Party policy speech. The point that he tried to obscure was that in the benighted frenzy that overtook the Whitlam Government seized with the serum of Dr Coombs, that Government made a highwater mark of sour disapproval of country dwellers by repealing the county petroleum subsidy scheme. Those are the two political matters that would solely concern politicians on this matter. A few remarks at random have been strewn abroad that the industry needs ‘re-organisation’; that word I suppose means the same as in other contextsrationalisation. Of course that is a euphemism for the socialist idea of a government taking control with its bureaucracy administering the industry. Dealing with the first point, I intend to quote at full what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said in his policy speech. He said:
Petrol prices in all country areas will be reduced to within a cent per litre of the normal city retail price- without any increase in city prices as a result.
Honourable senators will notice that that is a three-line statement, in the rigid compression that television and radio impose on a policy speech, giving the final result of this one point of policy. I would have thought that some Opposition member persistent enough in his interest to have that statement explained would have looked at the accompanying information that was made public simultaneously with the policy speech, in which it is stated:
Immediately after the election the Government will take action to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country, without adding to city prices.
This will he done bv subsidising freight costs outside the metropolitan area on motor spirit, aviation fuel, automotive distillate and power kerosene. In effect, it will reintroduce the country freight differential scheme abandoned by the Labor Government.
The scheme will bring country prices down initially to less than one cent per litre (4 cents per gallon) above city prices and to less than half a cent per litre (2 cents per gallon) in the life of the new Parliament. (Estimated cost 1977-78 around $10m; 1978-79 $31m and in the three years around $50m. )
I have a mild request to alert the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) that I would like him to reply to give some idea of the basis of that arithmetic-$10m this year. $31m next year and, in the three years, $50m. That is, $50m aggregate; not each year. How does one have $3 1 m in the second year and then an aggregate of $50m? I am not here to destroy the policy speech which I read; I make only a mild request that the arithmetic be gone over. I do not want to promote a debate within the Government benches which are fully manned at the moment that at least six senators are present and the Opposition has three senators present.(Quorum formed). Having read the full content of the policy speech and the accompanying document. I believe that it is quite apparent that what was being proposed for the country was a proposal to subsidise the freight costs outside the metropolitan areas and in effect, to reintroduce the country freight differential scheme that was abandoned by the Labor Government. I believe that the difference that has evolved since this scheme was originally introduced in 1965 is that there has become prevalent a marked disparity in petrol prices due to the discounting to which Senator Georges referred and also to a lot of novel methods by which the companies reduced their prices to individual retailers. These include rent control, rent of premises and incidental advantages. When we talk about this scheme achieving a price margin of 4c a gallon, even if we insist that we will improve the concession to the country without altering the city price, without increasing the city price, we will have an uneven level of price operating in the metropolitan area and we will not have a parallel margin of price differential in the country. The substantial result is achieved, as was expressely referred to in the policy speech, by selecting the main item of cost from the metropolis to the country, and that is the cost of subsidising the freight cost.
In his second reading speech the Minister for Administrative Services explained that the program would subsidise freight differentials involved in transporting eligible petroleum products from refining ports and seaboard terminals to country sale points. I remember that when the Senate’s proceedings were being broadcast last week we listened to a whole recital from Senator Walsh who referred ro several inland towns in Australia and pointed out that their differential was either nil or very small. I assume, in favour of the Ministry, that the point at which the subsidy of the old scheme began was exactly the same as in this scheme, namely, refining ports and seaboard terminals. When I first saw that phrase ‘seaboard terminal’ I was minded to get a further explanation for it because it occurred to me that, if it was a seaboard terminal at which overseas petroleum products were unloaded into this country, Tasmania could be relegated under this scheme to a position of real benefit because I know of no overseas liner or tanker that brings petroleum products to Tasmania. As I understand it, the Bill does not refer to a seaboard terminal in that sense. It refers to the seaboard terminal used by the oil company. Therefore, if it transmits its oil to Devonport and it is piped into three or four seaboard tanks or to Hobart into three or four seaboard tanks, that is the point from which the freight journey begins and upon which subsidy is maintained.
I ask the Minister to tell me specifically in his reply whether or not that is precisely the same situation as occurred in the old scheme. I assume this was so. I say that because I am conscious that when in 1965 I had a little more vigour to carry on my weary labours against such immensely increasing frustrating elements in this place and whereas I stood then for proper parliamentary procedures, I concede in this case that the beneficiaries of the scheme, that is the people in outback, for whom Senator Kilgariff argued so strongly before, are laudable. I conceded that a scheme which is established by an enactment of Parliament, based upon, I think, 800 retail resale points throughout Australia with a fixed differential in relation to each one, is a scheme over which parliament will not have much chance to exercise supervision or oversight. Nevertheless, at that time I had more confidence in the Auditor-General than I have now and I thought he would handle any wayward straying from the scheme. I hope that the differential under the old scheme was based on the seaboard terminal, as is this scheme. The only other point I wish to make is that the contention has been advanced that by giving this freight differential the Government is not, in effect, giving a price differential between the country and the city. That is true only in the sense that the price differential or margin may not be 4c a gallon. In many metropolitan discounting areas it will not be so.
There are two aspects to that. The first is that so far as its immediate incidence on Tasmania is concerned, inasmuch as it is only a freight differential from the seaboard terminal to the place of resale, there are very few places in Tasmania and a quite inconsequential proportion of the total product used in Tasmania that will attract a subsidy. If that is so, so be it, because Tasmania has less mileage for motorists to travel than the mainland States. We have less people who will in any real sense fit the description of outback consumers. If we get subsidised freight on the basis of our island position- through this legislation this Government will confer upon the State a greater economic benefit than anything yet done on a general economic scale for Tasmaniathen I would not see the debate on this Bill as the occasion to complain.
The second issue relates to the contention that a freight differential of 4c a gallon would not give the countryman that differential in price. That could be so only because, due to the organisation of the industry and the way the companies are treating metropolitan discounters at the present time, there is something in those commercial arrangements which enables the metropolitan companies and discounters to take a dive in the opposite direction from the purpose of the Government’s policy as set out in this Bill- that is to say, they are giving special benefit to the highly populated metropolitan areas. The combined effect of the discounters and the oil companies in bringing in this discounting system is to give a very special benefit to the highly populated metropolitan areas. The purpose of this Government’s expenditure of $ 10m this year and $3 lm next year out of the taxpayers’ money is that the differential should be for the benefit of the outback and not inner Melbourne, inner Adelaide or inner Sydney.
– Like all of Mr Nixon ‘s statements, that $3 1 m is no longer operative.
-I beg your pardon?
– That $3 1 m is no longer operative. The current estimate is $36m. The $3 1 m was the Prime Minister’s figure.
-If the honourable senator will pardon me, I do not like confusing parliamentary debates with unnecessary detail. I like to keep to things on the main stream. Whether the figure is $31m or $3 6m, the fact is that the resellers operations, together with the operations of the companies which for high volume sales are making special arrangements to encourage the continuance of discounting, are in exactly the opposite direction to the policy of this Bill.
Having said that, I must ask for further elucidation on the interjection from my colleague Senator Thomas. When Senator Georges was speaking Senator Thomas ventured the proposition that the companies, by giving this special discount to metropolitan discounters, were not increasing the price to country dwellers. This can be put in two ways. It may not be that they are increasing the price to country dwellers, but undoubtedly commercial arrangements are suchthey have been such ever since I have been able to count 100c in a dollar- that if I had forgo $ 1 ,000 profit in the metropolitan areas to encourage high volume discount sales I would not have that $1,000 to give away to Cairns or the outback. I say that regardless of what Mr Justice Collins said. I do not regard his report as infallible. I do not enlarge upon that because I have not examined his report with the degree of responsibility that would entitle me really to criticise it, but on the aspects which I have read, I am not over-impressed. I make the point that if the Ampol organisation were to give away $1,000 for the benefit of Brunswick it would not have that $1,000 to enable a reduction of price in Bourke or Alice Springs or in the outback.
I am quite content to accept with appreciation the policy speech of the Prime Minister. It was a much more welcome announcement to me than it was to hear that estate duty was to be lifted from all estates, including those of $500,000 and above. That does not excite my idea of Liberal equity in modern democracy. When I heard that the Prime Minister was to reintroduce this scheme, contrary to some rather sour remarks that I heard spoken of him elsewhere one or two months beforehand, it was very welcome news to me because it meant that we had at last come to the idea that we should do something for the outback and for the country and that we should restore this scheme, which was a notable achievement of the Menzies Government, to try to bring some equity into the cost of living in the outback.
Seventy years ago it was almost bipartisan policy on the part of every Labor government in New Zealand and Australia to say: ‘Go out and develop the outback and we shall see that you are supplied’. When Dr Coombs and Mr Whitlam came along Mr Whitlam denied that there was a need to improve the sewerage systems and congestion in the streets of the cities. Therefore, one of the first things which Dr Coombs found that he should repeal was the differential in the price of petroleum products between the city and the outback. Having found reference to this in the policy speech and then having queried it in the Act, because some debaters here and below have suggested that this Bill is in disconformity with the policy speech, I am here to say that, on my understanding, this Bill conforms completely with what was said in the policy speech.
Having pointed out how the commercial arrangements of the companies, combined with their transactions with the discounters, are operating completely opposite in purpose and effect in industry to the purpose of this Bill, I wish to add that I hope that the Government will treat this matter as one of the important matters to preoccupy its mind. It is more important than Aurukun and Mornington Island to get petrol to Alice Springs and Bourke at a price which, in reality, will have added to it only the freight differential to get the petrol there. That should be the only difference in the cost of petrol sold there and petrol sold at Brunswick.
– I support the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill 1978. In doing so I emphasise that what we are doing is virtually fulfilling an election promise made last year by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I refute the claim made in the amendment moved by the Opposition that this Bill does not carry out what was stated in the Prime Minister’s policy speech. There the Prime Minister made it very clear and very concise- he did so without any excessive verbiage- so that it would be clearly understood in the electorate that the Government, if returned to power, early in its new Parliament would bring down the price of petrol in country areas to a price differential of less than lc a litre or 4c a gallon and eventually in the life of this Parliament would bring the differential down to 2c a gallon.
– This is provided for in this legislation. I think the Parliament should be reminded also, as Senator Wright reminded it in his speech, of the fact that whilst we are introducing a Bill, in reality we are reintroducing legislation. We are bringing back for country people something that was abolished by the Labor Party when it was in power. That is a matter with which I will deal a little later on. Firstly, I think it is necessary to say that for many years, in fact from 1965 until the Labor Party abolished the scheme, rural dwellers- not the rural industry but rural dwellers-obtained great benefit from the price equalisation scheme for fuels covering a range of products from refined crude oil. In itself, that brought great benefit to country areas and country people, and it was most unfortunate that the Labor Party saw fit to abolish such a benefit to country dwellers.
Under this scheme freight differentials in the transportation of eligible petroleum products from the refining points and from the seaboard terminals to country sale points will be subsidised. Senator Wright raised this question with the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) and asked that it be answered later. As I understand it, seaboard terminals are the points of discharge of the refined products, such as the cities on the Queensland coast, for example, where refined products can be discharged from the refineries into tanks. That is the base from which the freight differentials would be calculated. I emphasise that that is the position as I understand it, and no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I wish to point out that the provisions of this legislation follow what the Prime Minister has said previously, that is, that country sale points will have a freight differential of no more than 4c a gallon or 0.9c a litre over any city prices. As the Government has said, and it has been made clear in this legislation, eventually this will be brought down to within a range of 2c a gallon.
Senator Wright referred in his speech to the various costs of the scheme this year and for the next two years and said that there would be a great escalation in the following year. He queried the overall mathematics without going into the detail of it. Again as I understand it, if one looks at the overall position in Australia and draws a circle to get the margin for bringing the differential down to 4c, certain costs are incurred when one moves a long way out. But when the differential between city and country prices is reduced to 2 cents a greater escalation of costs is involved because there is less volume and a much higher freight input within those costs as one moves to outlying areas. I have taken notice of Senator Wright’s query and I too would be pleased if the Minister could give a further explanation of that point.
– Another point in response to Senator Wright’s query on costs surely would be the fact that when we reduce the margin more areas are brought in?
-That is the point I was trying to make. As the margins are reduced so we move further out into more distant areas where there are higher freight rates and less volume. Hence there is a great escalation of costs in that case, and if we were to move to no differential at all between city and country prices we would find a far greater escalation in the overall amount of money required for the subsidy.
– When the legislation mentions S50m, do you understand that to mean $50m a year?
– I stand to be corrected by the Minister, but that is as I understand it. Dealing again with the detail of the Bill, the scheme is to be operated by Commonwealth grant by way of the subsidy to the various States, and of course this will subsidise the oil companies and their distributors. As has been stated today, although under this scheme there will be a decrease in country prices there will be no decrease in city prices. In that respect I wish to quote from the second reading speech of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), which states:
Honourable members will appreciate that the proposed Australia-wide scheme is directed solely to subsidising freight costs in excess of 4c per gallon. It will therefore have no effect on the prices of petroleum products in metropolitan and other areas where freight differentials do not exceed the 4c subsidy margin.
I think it is important to take that point on board because some people, well-intentioned or otherwise, have given the impression that city consumers will be paying for the freight subsidy in country areas. That is not correct. In part, city consumers along with other people- the taxpayers of Australia- will subsidise the freights but city consumers alone will not subsidise them.
It is necessary to spell out two very important areas. Firstly, the freight differentials to be subsidised will be based on costs submitted by individual oil companies to the Prices Justification Tribunal and accepted by the Tribunal, and I underline that. In other words, no oil company or major distributor can say that its costs are X dollars. The company will make application to the Prices Justification Tribunal and its prices must be qualified and quantified and accepted by the Tribunal as factual costs. There should be no rigging of the books. However, if there is and if the company is caught, then the penalty provided is that it will lose its licence. In addition, oil companies and distributors have to enter into an agreement to pass on to consumers the full benefit of the savings. In other words, they cannot absorb those benefits into their own cost structures and so inflate their own profits. I think it is important in these two areas that, firstly, genuine costs will be assessed and confirmed by the Prices Justification Tribunal and, secondly, every assurance will be given that the full benefit provided by way of government subsidy to the oil companies will in turn be passed on to consumers in the country areas.
Another point in the legislation that I think is extremely important deals with the previous history of the fuel equalisation scheme. When the Labor Party was in power in 1974 fuel equalisation was suddenly abolished overnight, and on that occasion it was abolished by ministerial direction alone. That can no longer happen, and it has been spelled out very clearly in the legislation and in the Minister’s second reading speech that in future the Parliament will make the decision and it will not be left to ministerial discretion. For the record, I should like to read the relevant statement in the Minister’s second reading speech which appears at page 5 1 8 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 8 March 1978:
This scheme was terminated by ministerial action in 1 974. The Government considers, however, that a scheme of such great significance to rural consumers of petroleum products should not be capable of termination by ministerial action only without reference to the Parliament. Accordingly, the Bill before the House provides that, except as authorised by a resolution of each house of the Parliament, the Minister shall not revoke -
I emphasise the words ‘shall not revoke ‘- or otherwise terminate the operation of the scheme.
This is most important. Whilst there is a need in some areas for ministerial discretion and ministerial direction within his discretionary powers, there are areas in which such things should not be left to the Minister alone or to the Executive alone, but which should be left to the Parliament. Fuel equalisation for country areas is one area that should not be left to either the Minister or the Executive. I am certain that if this area had been covered previously by legislation, under which the Parliament rather than the Minister would have decided, we would not have seen the abolition of the scheme. Alternatively, if it had been abolished there would have been a terrific fight on the way down in both chambers of this Parliament. There are many people within these chambers who have some appreciation and understanding of the problem and the costs of rural dwellers. I am not referring here to rural industries but to rural dwellers. The further out into the country one goes the more one realises how much costs affect those citizens.
For a long time members of the Australian Labor Party talked of decentralisation. They talked genuinely about decentralisation and they introduced many aspects towards encouraging decentralisation. But in the process of doing that they abolished a scheme that was of great importance and that gave much encouragement to further decentralisation in this country. When I speak about decentralisation I am not speaking about the coastal areas but I am speaking about taking people right out into the country, to decentralise and to encourage the establishment of industry, whether it be in the primary, rural, mining, manufacturing or tertiary sectors of industry. There is a need to further encourage decentralisation but that will not be achieved if we have governments, like the Government we had in 1 974, abolishing schemes which bring a great deal of benefit to many rural dwellers in this country.
Let us look again at the man on the land. I am dealing here with primary industry and rural matters. We know that certain things were done during those three years of Labor Government. I refer to the abolition of the superphosphate subsidy and to areas of taxation with regard to the farming community. I am not here to debate those issues today but I do not pass over them. I mention those very important matters as they adversely affected the man on the land. As I said earlier, fuel costs affect not only the farmer. They affect all people, particularly people in outlying areas of Australia who have to pay high freights. Fuel costs are a big cost factor for the farmer and the man on the land. It is interesting to note that some 19.5 per cent of all refined petroleum products is used for farming and for rural industry. Transport uses some 2 1 .3 per cent.
– Where did those figures come from?
-I found it very difficult to get these figures. The figures I am quoting came from an automobile chamber of commerce. I have had them checked elsewhere. I understand them to be correct but I stand to be corrected by any other honourable senator. As far as I am concerned, they are factual. The thing that amazes me is that transport- we see a great volume of transport on our roads today- consumes some 21.3 per cent of all refined petroleum produced and the rural industry consumes some 1 9.5 per cent. Of course, transport is a big cost factor for people in outlying rural areas.
– Those figures are not right. It is more than 2 1 per cent.
– If the honourable senator does not agree with those figures I would like him to have them checked. When looking at the other rising costs incurred by primary industry over which primary industry has no control and when looking at the volume of petroleum products absorbed by primary industry, we see that the costs for petroleum products alone amount to a very great proportion of the total costs of the farming community. We can go into other areas, but the fuel factor is a big cost factor for the farmers. A reduction in this cost will be of great benefit to them particularly at the present time when they have no control over most of their inputs and no control over most of their outputs or products for sale. Coupled with that are the tragedies of drought that they have suffered in the past two or three years. We hope that that situation will not continue in the current year. Fuel equalisation will play a very important part in the cost structure of the farming community as well as of the rural community.
Having said those things, I wish to make passing reference to discounting in cities. This matter was raised today by both Senator Georges and Senator Wright. There are many small companies operating in Australia, particularly in the city areas, that have one or two prime sites in one or two cities and that is virtually all they have. It is very easy for those people to obtain a high volume of sales, a great throughput and a big turnover, ensuring that their costs are spread fairly thinly over the great volume of fuel put through those service stations. Let us forget about the major companies. The small companies with very few outlets, very low costs, high volume and a great turnover are able to offer petrol to the customer at a discounted price. But companies- I shall not mention nameswhich act as distributors not only to metropolitan areas generally but also to country areas in close proximity to cities, to country areas well outback and to country areas right outback, absorb and incur terrific costs. No doubt they are selling fuel in many cases at a very small margin, so they are not in a position to offer discounting, as the small companies can offer.
– But the big companies are doing the same thing now.
-I was going on with that, Senator Georges. I hope that I have made this clear. This situation has been going on for quite a number of years and, unless something is done, it will continue. I feel that in many ways it is grossly unfair that some of these small companies, which do not have great costs, which do not accept the responsibility of trying to be distributors in the outlying areas with very small margins of profit, which are concentrated in the prime positions in the densely populated areas, are able to offer discounting to the customer. Let me give another reason for the fact that we are seeing discounting at present. This virtually goes back to the Gorton days. The price set for Australian indigenous crude oil was such that it was to the disadvantage of oil companies to have to take that crude oil at that stage. John Gorton, the then Prime Minister, had great foresight. He saw that eventually overseas freight costs and the volumes of crude oil needed to fulfil our requirements were such that the freight factor would play a very important part in the end cost. It was not really until the energy crisis that we saw a great escalation in the price of crude oil. Then, rather than it being a disadvantage for oil companies to take a quota of Australian crude oil- a quota which was related directly to the volume of petrol and products those companies sold in Australia- it became an advantage for them to take the cheaper Australian crude oil. As I understand it, the price of indigenous crude oil was about $4.30 a barrel compared with $12.60 -
-It was $3.40.
– There is a difference in price. It costs $3.40 a barrel but landed price gives an average difference of around -
– Landed costs were between $11 and $12
– That is overseas. I was talking about the indigenous landed oil which cost $4.30 a barrel as against $12.60 a barrel for imported oil. I have given those figures off the top of my head. I think that the correct price is the one I have just given to the Senate. Today we have a situation in which the distributors like to maximise their volumes of petrol sales, if I could put it that way, because the greater the sales, the greater the quota of Australian indigenous crude oil they can take. There has been encouragement in this area for oil companies to increase their sale of petroleum products. Out of that increase in sales, the companies have been able to obtain the benefit of cheaper Australian indigenous crude oil which cost about $4.30 to $4.60 a barrel, compared to some $12.50 a barrel for imported oil. In the future, with the Government’s policy whereby the price for Australian crude oil is closer to the import parity price, these benefits gradually will be reduced until the time will come when the Australian crude oil price will reach the import parity price and the price difference will be minimised. Nevertheless, for many years the expansion of petrol sales by oil companies in Australia has been one of the ways of expanding their quotas of indigenous crude.
I am not trying to defend oil companies. I have already mentioned my criticism of some of the oil companies in regard to price cutting. However, major oil companies are also able to cut down on their labour costs by setting up selfserve stations in some of the prime areas with volume sales. The labour component is very expensive today. One could say that the oil companies are cutting back on the capital intensity of their operations. When the customer serves himself, the oil companies again are able to cut their costs. By offering other services to motorists, encouraging volume sales in those areas and cutting their overheads, the oil companies have been able to give discounts to many Australian motorists. I have noticed that in recent times quite a number of the service stations that are giving discounts are service stations that have changed to self-service rather than have people man the pumps. That statement does not apply to one particular company. Quite a few companies today are doing this. I refer particularly to my State of South Australia where the oil companies, with the introduction of self-service facilities in prime positions, have been able to increase sales of petrol and to continue to offer discounts to the Australian motorist.
Having said that, I return basically to where I started: The whole idea of this legislation is to reintroduce a scheme that was abolished by the Labor Government in 1974 and to bring the difference in the price of fuel in the country much closer to that in the cities. Under this legislation the difference in price is 4c a gallon. One anticipates that because of the Government’s commitment on this matter, by the end of this Parliament- in three years’ time- we will see that difference down to 2c a gallon. Whilst that will make petrol cheaper for country people, as I have said it will not increase the price of petrol for city people. Nevertheless, we as a nation must accept and expect that fuel prices in this country will rise. At the present time Australia is 70 per cent self-sufficient in its fuel needs. If we continue with our present rate of consumption- it is going up very rapidly because of the increased numbers of vehicles on the road- it is estimated that by 1 985 we will be only 25 per cent to 30 per cent self-sufficient in oil requirements. The great gap must be filled either from further finds of indigenous crude oil or from overseas crude oil. As I said before the price of overseas crude oil is about $ 12.50 to $ 12.60 a barrel. One can see that filling the gap can end in only one result. Firstly, it will mean a greater import cost, estimated at some $4,000m by 1985 and, of course, it will lead to higher fuel prices. I could go on to deal with the need to encourage oil exploration. There is a need to introduce a scheme whereby the price of indigenous crude oil will gradually come up to the import parity price. This in itself would have an effect upon petrol prices. But also it would bring into production some of the less marginal pools of oil which are not economic at the present time. There is a need to increase the price offered to companies to make those pools economic fields. In Bass Strait alone, many areas which were previously referred to as pools of crude oil, given the right price would be regarded as economic. In that way we would greatly increase our reserves of crude oil in Australia.
Whichever way we look at the position, in the not too distant future we will be facing and we will continue to face increased fuel prices in Australia. That will continue for quite some time. One of the ways in which we could cut down our import bill for crude oil would be to find more indigenous crude oil in Australia. I hope that this will be the case. We must be optimistic about this. Nevertheless, if an oil company were to announce a big find tomorrow morning, there would be a considerable lead time. It would take many years before that oil could be on-stream from the refinery to consumer. In this interim period we must face the fact of having to pay a higher import bill for crude oil because we will need more overseas crude oil. We, the consumers in this country, will have to face higher costs for our fuel because that imported crude oil is so much dearer than the Australian indigenous oil. I give my wholehearted support to the legislation. I cannot accept the opposition of the Australian Labor Party to it and I will be voting to reject its amendment.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– The Senate is debating the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill 1978. Unfortunately, the Opposition has only one speaker to this Bill. My colleague Senator Young has covered many of the points that I intended to cover. I do not wish to speak at great length, but I should like to explain the fact that this Bill is to amend the original States Grants (Petroleum Products) Act, which still stands. This Act cost the Commonwealth taxpayers $25. 7m in 1972-73. The significant fact is that this Act still stands. Under this Act the Labor Party discontinued assistance by way of a fuel freight subsidy in July 1974. The Act itself was not repealed by the Labor Government. It used section 4 of the existing Act to remove any benefits that accrued under this scheme.
This legislation has many benefits, and they have been well covered by previous speakers from this side. I shall touch briefly on three of them. The first, of course, is the reduced cost of production to fuel users in remote areas. It reduces freight costs substantially, and it assists in decentralisation. Senator Young covered the point of decentralisation very well. The scheme will be carried out by means of grants to the States pursuant to section 96 of the Constitution. It requires supporting legislation in each of the States. The oil companies submit their freight differential costs to the Prices Justification Tribunal. A point that needs to be made at this stage is that the Tribunal will have to accept the freight differential to be charged by the oil companies.
At this stage I should like to touch on some of the points raised by my colleague Senator Wright, who, in his contribution to this Bill, invited me to answer some of the points that he raised. He drew attention to the fact that I had interjected when Senator Georges was making his speech. Senator Georges was referring to the fact that the fuel companies received extra income in the country areas at the expense of the city areas. The interjection I made was that this point was not supported by the fourth report of the Royal Commission into Petroleum, chaired by Mr Justice Collins. I should like to enlarge on that point of view. This report was brought into the Parliament on 18 May 1976. That report certainly does not support the comments made by Senator Georges. In fact, the royal commission report said quite strongly that the profit made by fuel companies in country areas was not excessive and did not support a price reduction in city areas. Senator Wright made that same point in his speech. I should like to point out the facts to Senator Wright. He is a man whom I greatly admire. Unfortunately, it has not been my good fortune to be in the Senate for long enough in his company really to appreciate the full value that he has given to this Senate. He is a man we will miss greatly, probably more than anyone. He has made a great contribution to this place. It is my intention to keep in touch with him after he retires from this place. There is no doubt in my mind that in the last few months of his occupancy of a position in the Senate he will leave a great mark.
Senator Wright also tried to argue, when referring to the discounting that goes on in the capital cities but not in country areas, that it must be at the expense of country service stations and country consumers. As I said earlier, the Royal Commission into Petroleum did not support that argument. The point that must be remembered is that the cost of retailing fuel in areas where the throughput is low, where the volume is low, must be greatly in excess of those areas where the throughput is great. That is one of the main reasons why the cost of retailing in country areas is so much greater than it is in the city areas.
The Bill seeks to subsidise the cost of freight so that the freight component will mean that the cost of petroleum in the country areas will be no more than 4c a gallon or almost lc a litre more than it is in the city. As Senator Young quite rightly pointed out, all these changes are subject to disallowance by either House of Parliament. Under the provisions of this Bill, the Minister cannot revoke or otherwise terminate the scheme, as the Labor Government did in 1974. 1 strongly support this Bill because it will assist greatly in reducing costs in country areas. It will reduce freight costs and will reduce costs in many ways to remote areas. However, in the short time available to me I should like to underline some of the difficulties in this Bill. As Senator Georges and other honourable senators have mentioned, the discounting of petrol in some city areas is quite rife. I tend to blame the ACTU-Solo company in many regards. It tended to be the pacesetter in this regard. It certainly was not the first company to engage in discounting, but it became the pacesetter.
I should like to underline one of the problems that particularly worries me with regard to city fuel prices. I have a friend in Perth who is a retailer on behalf of a major oil company. This person puts a normal margin of about 3c a gallon on the fuel he sells. Not far down the road, this fuel company owns and manages a site. It sells fuel for less than the amount at which my friend is able to buy it wholesale. In my belief, this is quite indefensible, and I would support very strongly any government action that could overcome this problem.
The Labor Party, of course, is very wise after the event. It has said that it would have supported many of the recommendations of the Collins royal commission. We had many experiences in the three years of Labor Government of its hand descending very heavily on many industries. We almost saw the abolition of many industries. I do not blame the Government whatsoever for not taking up the main recommendations of the Collins royal commission, because it advocated a very strong government hand in the control of the fuel industry in Australia. We have had many experiences in recent years which indicate that government is not the ideal instrumentality to do this.
The Government has taken the initiative to overcome some of the problems in the retailing of fuel in metropolitan areas. It has set up a committee to discuss the whole problem and there have been a whole series of meetings, chaired by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Wal Fife, to try to reach a conclusion on these problems. I have no doubt that under the able chairmanship of the Minister a solution will be reached to the problem. But I strongly recommend to the Government that it not take the heavy handed action which was recommended by the Collins royal commission. The difficulty from the country consumer’s point of view in accepting the Bill which is before the Senate at the moment is that it is very difficult to work out just what is a city price. Country people can be excused for believing that what is really a discount price in the city is, in fact, the real city price. Some people ‘s expectation of what this Bill will do will, I am afraid, fall far short of realisation, purely because of the heavy amount of discounting that is going on in city areas.
The second point I make about the difficulties of this Bill is that the action recommended by the Government, if carried out when this Bill is passed, draws an arbitrary line in Australia. People who live on one side of that line will get all the benefits of this Bill and those who happen to live on the other side of that line will get no benefits whatsoever. I happened to chair a Government committee which made recommendations to the Government on this matter of fuel freight costs. Our recommendation was that instead of bringing in a freight equalisation scheme as is being proposed under this Bill, and if partial equalisation were to be applied- as it certainly will be- then equalisation should be applied as a percentage over all freight costs on fuel in Australia. If this were done everybody living outside metropolitan areas would get some benefit from the scheme. It would overcome the problem caused to those who accidently happen to live either inside or outside that arbitrary line from receiving or not receiving the benefit. I strongly recommend to the Minister and to the Government that they take heed of this recommendation and, on some future occasion, endeavour to introduce this type of scheme.
I shall explain the scheme in greater detail. Almost the whole of Victoria will get no benefit at all from this proposed legislation. In my own State of Western Australia only a few people will get any benefit at all. Even some people in the most remote areas of the north-west of Western Australia will get only some benefit because they happen to live on the sea side of that line and they are within the 4c a gallon or lc a litre margin. If the freight component were subsidised on a pro rata basis- that is if the percentage total freight cost were applied as a percentage of the freight cost- then everybody who lived outside the metropolitan area would get some benefit. In my mind that would not be an unfair subsidy. I strongly support the legislation. I reject the Opposition’s amendment to which I shall refer briefly and which states:
I think that point was very well and adequately dealt with by Senator Wright. The amendment continues:
The Bill does not attempt to touch on those areas whatsoever- and ( b ) is silent on the defects in the system outlined in the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum.
I have said that I reject completely the main recommendations of the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. It seeks to set up a government instrumentality which would exercise very tight control over the whole industry. I do not think that the Government is the best vehicle to use to carry out that sort of action. I sincerely hope, for the future of fuel consumers, fuel retailers, fuel wholesalers and fuel companies in Australia that some solution to our discounting problems in the city can be found. I am quite confident that under the Minister, Mr Wal Fife, some solution will be reached. I sincerely hope the solutions are not those recommended by the Collins Royal Commission on Petroleum.
– I support my colleagues and the Government on this piece of legislation, the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill. I have said in this chamber before that there is probably greater imbalance between the rural and urban sectors of our community than between any other sectors. There should always be an interrelationship. We are dependent upon each other. If we could disregard for one moment the economic factors, a case could be made out on purely social grounds for legislation such as this to help overcome some of the social problems that are confronting the rural people today. Not the least of those problems is the excessive price that they have to pay for their fuel. Fuel is almost everything to them. Because of the downturn in rural population mail services have decreased. Many rural people do not yet have a telephone service, some of their wireless services are not the best and some are without television. So they need to be able to commute to towns and to other people’s places for social functions, for meetings that encompass whatever industry they are involved in and to buy their supplies. The list is almost endless. The price of fuel is an integral pan of their lives. If for no other reason, I believe a case could be made out for supporting the Bill on those grounds.
As has been said and as has been acknowledged, the Australian Labor Party discarded the previous scheme. It greatly increased costs and hardships for people living in rural areas. I think the ALP in its saner and more reflective moments will probably agree that its negating of that legislation was the rock on which it perished as far as rural Australia was concerned. The purpose of this legislation is to subsidise the freight differential from refining ports and seaboard terminals on petroleum, power kerosene, automotive distillate and aviation fuels. There are a lot of misconceptions about what this legislation actually does. I think it should be spelt out that it limits the freight costs so that the consumer pays no more than 0.9c a litre or 4c a gallon freight. As has been indicated in the election speeches of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) the cost will be further reduced to less than 0.5c a litre or 2c a gallon in the life of this Parliament. The expected cost in 1977-78 is $ 10m; in 1978-79 it will be $31m; and after that, in 1979-80, it will be about $50m a year, naturally rising as the use of fuel increases in rural Australia. Sixty per cent of Australia’s primary produce goes to overseas markets but, unfortunately, as has often been said in the chamber not only by myself but also by all honourable senators with any commonsense, primary producers’ costs are local. Herein lies the problem. We are competing on a world market but Australia has a very high cost structure. Throughout all the time that producers have been confronted with these difficulties the quality of the product has been maintained, and I might even say that it has been improved. Their productivity has increased, of necessity if for no other reason, yet their net return has become smaller. Many of our primary producers have no control over the sale price of the product and this of course is one of their major problems. They also have no control over their production costs which are built into the system. They cannot look at their product and say: ‘Well, it cost me so much to produce this; I allow so much to live on and that is the price that I should receive for it. ‘ It just does not work that way, unfortunately, at this point in time.
In 1 978 Australia is still dependent on its rural producers to maintain its balance of payments. Last year 45 per cent of our foreign exchange was received from the sale of our primary produce overseas. What is more important, approximately 250,000 people, 4 per cent of the nation ‘s work force, produced that wealth. Surely this should be considered when we think of the tremendous effort that these people are making towards Australia’s well-being and our balance of payments situation. Last year a mere 4 per cent of the nation ‘s work force produced almost half of our foreign exchange revenue. Our rural producers certainly are not getting a proper return for their labour or for their products. It is no news to anybody that our growth in mineral exports will lessen significantly this year because of the general downturn right around the world in the industrial countries. Already my Premier from the State of Queensland and the Premier of Western Australia- the States that have a tremendous amount to do with the export of our mineral products- as well as the Deputy Prime Minister have been overseas trying to hold the line so that our exports are not reduced. But blind Freddy and his dog, as the saying goes, would have to realise that we will not markedly increase our exports in minerals or indeed our industrial products this year. Our primary producers are going to bear the brunt of this. In addition, they will continue to sell their produce and earn a great part of our foreign exchange revenue.
The rural industries must sustain our international cash flows and of course our resultant high standard of living. All that the rural producers ask for is a share in the prosperity that this nation experiences. Food costs to the consumer are high. They are a lot higher than what it costs to produce them. The producer receives only a very small percentage of that cost. As I indicated earlier, unfortunately what he receives bears no relationship to the cost to produce those goods.
This Bill has no effect on fuel costs in metropolitan areas or in any places where the freight differential at this point in time does not exceed the 4c a gallon. The Bill does not take anything from one section so as to give to another. As has been mentioned by previous speakers, this scheme will help the decentralisation policy. It will assist in the movement of people away from the large metropolises into the country areas. Of necessity the trend in agriculture in the last 25 years has been towards mechanisation and intensification. This has meant an increased dependence on fuel. Thus the inbuilt costs once again have gone up, and producers have had no control over that increase. As we have said, by this legislation the Government is seeking to give producers some parity with the price of certain fuel paid by people living on the seaboard of Australia. Rural producers produce a large bulk of our export earnings, yet they are being penalised because of their geographical location. So the Government must assist decentralisation. It must assist producers. This legislation is an incentive. Fuel is a basic requirement of producers. They have to get their products to the market. Their stores and their goods have to be delivered to them. Their transport costs are all important. Undoubtedly this legislation is going to help to hold the line in respect of transport costs because it must be apparent to anybody who uses any common sense at all that one of the basic problems that producers have in getting their products to the market, whether it be internal or overseas, is the transport costs.
It has been said previously that the mining industry was being greatly assisted with fuel equalisation. That is right. Nobody is questioning that. But at this point in time with the price of minerals such as copper particularly and lead being so low it does have a great effect on the mining industry whose transport costs also are high. There are only a few of the large mining companies that are making massive profits. There are the smaller miners such as the copper gougers and the tin scratchers who also are affected rather dramatically by high transport costs. If we can do anything to reduce their costs and thus help to maintain and sustain our mining industry, something will be achieved towards the betterment of our country. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to support this legislation. It will help directly the primary producer. It will help directly all those people who live in rural Australia. It will help the mining industry- the small and the big companies- and the primary producers with their transport costs. In addition, as we become a mobile nation more and more people are seeking to see Australia first- to see Queensland first, we hope, but at least to see internal Australia. A lot of people have cars and caravans. Reduced fuel prices in remote areas will be an inducement for them to travel around Australia before they go overseas. This legislation will reduce their holiday costs. So it gives me great pleasure to support this legislation. I commend it to the Senate.
-in reply- Honourable senators have contributed particularly well to this debate and I thank those who have outlined their views on this very important subject. This Bill delivers yet another proposal which the people of Australia endorsed at the last election. The importance of this measure can be recognised best probably by those who live in remote areas and those who have experience of remote areas. I think that proper consideration by others of the incidence of the unequal fuel prices which people living in urban areas have to pay compared with the cost paid by people in remote areas can be seen as having a multiplying effect on the costs not only of primary producers but also business houses in remote areas and the trading costs of corporations and organisations which carry on business in the country areas of Australia.
The States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill 1978 basically is amending legislation which enables the Minister to formulate a new scheme to equalise fuel costs between city and country areas. The scheme will cover motor spirit, power kerosene, automotive distillate and aviation fuels. Obviously those liquid fuels comprise by far the largest part of the energy inputs required by producers in areas away from the seaboard. Freight costs have always constituted a substantial element in the relatively high prices which are paid by rural consumers, particularly in the very remote areas, for these various energy products. This scheme will subsidise some freight cost differentials to the extent that country consumers of the fuel products covered by the scheme will pay a price which I believe is equitable compared with the disadvantages that are suffered by people who decide to satisfy their interests and their Australian national objectives in inland areas.
The Bill itself has been criticised in some areas as not being adequate for today’s requirements. That could probably be said of all Bills which attempt to make a contribution towards the successful operation of those people who are disadvantaged compared with the majority of people in ths community. We have heard in this place the thrust of the argument of Senator Walsh, who leads for the Opposition in this matter, in proposing an amendment on which we will vote shortly. It is worth noting that one of the three basic points on which Senator Walsh criticised the Bill on behalf of the Opposition is that it fails to implement the election promise of the Government. At that stage he went on to quote a very small part of the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), alleging that this will mean a total equalisation of prices. The previous legislation which applied prior to 1974 was an equalisation scheme but it did not equalise prices completely. Certainly the Prime Minister at no stage held out that there would be a complete equalisation. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s policy speech states:
This will be done by subsidising freight costs outside the metropolitan area on motor spirit, aviation fuel, automotive distillate and power kerosene. In effect, it will reintroduce the country freight differential scheme abandoned by the Labor Government.
The scheme will bring country prices down initially to less than one per cent per litre above city prices and to less than half a cent per litre in the life of the new Parliament.
That is, the present Parliament. Those words in themselves indicate the total action that the Prime Minister envisaged for this measure.
It was suggested-again I think by Senator Walsh- that Gove, as a remote area, may receive no freight subsidy. I am advised that the Prices Justification Tribunal has recommended 11.5c per gallon as the rate applicable to Gove for petroleum delivery in drums only. One can well imagine large mining towns or isolated areas which have the opportunity to buy very large volumes in bulk. I am advised that Nabalco takes bulk deliveries and therefore previously it received no subsidies and in all probability it will receive no subsidies under this legislation. I might add that under this Bill the Minister is given the power to exclude from the benefits of the subsidy any sales which he is satisfied do not require to be afforded the benefit. Of course that would require an assessment by him that the subsidy was not necessary, perhaps at a large isolated port because of an ability for very large volume purchases and therefore a smaller price being paid. Undoubtedly good businessmen in those areas where large volumes can be bought will see to it that the purchase price is cut down. That power to exclude large mining towns in the north and north west from the benefits of the subsidy, incidentally, was issued under the previous scheme. I understand that the Minister intends to use that power again if he is satisfied in the interests of the nation that large undertakings do not require the benefit of this scheme.
I reiterate that this is a most important measure. In the last 2lA years of the FraserAnthony Administration no piece of legislation has given me greater pleasure to introduce than this Bill. I am not sure how members of the Opposition can equate their minds in declaring that they are interested in people in rural areas and having to admit to their electors that it was their Government while in office that cut out the subsidy scheme.
– We have done more for them than you have ever thought of doing.
– It stands to their everlasting disgrace and, as Senator Cavanagh is muttering, I do not doubt that he feels that very keenly. The fact is that the Labor Party whilst it was in office took away this benefit from people in rural areas. They say now that they would do something better or that they would make the scheme wider or see that it was gained by people in other areas.
But the facts speak for themselves. The present Government has acted to introduce a measure promised to the electors of Australia. It has done so very quickly. I think the measure will benefit all people who have suffered impediment to their business activities and indeed their social lives by having to pay extremely high prices for a fuel which is so basic for all people, whether they are producing on a farm, or purchasing goods for some rural town to which mark-ups are then added. As I said earlier, it has a multiplying effect for the final purchaser of the goods. Whatever the interests of rural people, the provisions of this Bill will assist them economically. That is one aim of the present Government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Walsh’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I have a couple of queries which are partially general but which refer in particular to proposed new section 4 (1) (a) relating to the scheme itself and to its costing and to proposed new section 5 (3) (b) which deals with the power given to the Minister to determine to whom payments may be made and, by implication, to whom payment may not be made. I thank the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) for the partial reply in his closing remarks to the question I raised about the subsidy payable at Gove, but I want to clarify it. The document supplied by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) stated that a subsidy of 1 1.5c per litre was payable at Gove on motor spirit and, I think, distillate but in his remarks the Minister states that the subsidy is 1 1.5c per gallon. I want to clarify whether it is 1 1.5c per gallon or litre and further whether the Minister can make a statement at this time whether a subsidy of either 1 1.5c per gallon or litre, whichever it is, will in fact be paid on the fuel used by Nabalco Pty Ltd.
In my speech on the second reading debate I requested details of the costing estimates of the proposal. I referred to the sum of $3 6m mentioned in the Minister’s second reading speech and, specifically, to the assumed increases in transport costs for fuel generally since 1972-73. My calculations suggested that there was little allowance in an overall cost estimate of $36m for increases in transport costs in the six years from 1972-73 to 1978-79. As I understand it, the amount of $36m applies to next financial year and not to this financial year. If the information is available, I should like to know what percentage increase in transport costs has been assumed in that six-year period from 1972-73 to 1978-79.
The final point I raise is whether the Minister for Science can give an undertaking that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) will desist from their campaign to coerce or to force oil companies into cross- subsidising fuel costs. I refer to the continual campaign which has been waged for the past six months by both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to coerce oil companies into selling at uniform prices throughout Australia. There is only one way that that can be done, that is, if the oil companies increase prices in the capital cities and some of the other major outlets in Australia where discounting is fairly common in order to reduce prices in the country.
I did mention this in my remarks during the second reading debate. I requested some comment on it, but no comment was forthcoming. I think this aspect is very important and is very relevant to the electoral undertaking of the Prime Minister in which he unequivocally stated that country prices would be brought down to this level without increasing city prices. It is quite obvious from the present and past attempts of the Prime Minister and his Deputy to force oil companies to sell at discount prices in the country, or at the same prices in the country as in the major outlets, that unless the Government plugs that revenue loss to the oil companies or compensates from Government funds those companies for that revenue loss the oil companies must increase prices in the city. There is no logical way of escaping that conclusion, which is very important, given the Prime Minister’s assurance that prices would be equalisedmisleading though that term is- or the differential will be reduced to less than lc a litre without increasing city prices. I ask the Minister whether the Prime Minister and his Deputy will desist from their attempts to make the oil companies pay that cross-subsidy from city purchasers and other high volume outlets which operate in the capital cities to the more remote outlets.
-With respect to the points raised by Senator Walsh, if I stated that the amount was 1 1 .5c a gallon I was mistaken. I was reading from a document, and I am certain that that document referred to litre. The correct amount is 1 1 .5c a litre. Regarding the question of whether a subsidy would be payable at Gove, I am advised that it originally was a provisional schedule, based on information supplied by the Prices Justification Tribunal at the time. Apparently the Prices Justification Tribunal has since advised that the rate of 1 1 .5c a litre at Gove was to be applied to drum sales only. The legal schedule, which will be signed when the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) formulates the new scheme, will include all such amendments that flow from the Prices Justification Tribunal.
I am unable to answer the third question which the honourable senator raised. My understanding of his question was that the assumed increases in costs of fuel transport since 1972 appeared not to be comprehended in the figure of $36m which, I think, was mentioned in the second reading speech of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers). I am unable to say other than that the costs were worked out for major centres and that in discussion with the major oil companies the figures which have been produced have been reckoned to be realistic figures. I am unable to do any better than that for the honourable senator in response to his request for a complete break-up of the escalation in transport costs since 1972.
The honourable senator suggested that I might ask the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) to desist from making statements which the honourable senator suggested in some way were forcing oil companies to take certain action. I do not doubt that the honourable senator recognises that I cannot give him any assurance as to what the Prime Minister or the Leader of my Party might say in this respect, but I am quite sure that the thrust of what they have said in this instance is an attempt to see that costs applicable to transport and to the use of liquid fuel have had the effect of keeping prices at a more stable level over a number of years. By the introduction of this measure, apparently we are achieving something which both sides of the chamber support, namely, making a real contribution towards the ongoing costs of living and of production in rural areas.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Webster) read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Webster) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the borrowing power of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation to enable it to borrow with provision for the Commonwealth to guarantee repayment, moneys for the purpose of promoting the sale and consumption of apples and pears and apple and pear products. Currently the Corporation has the power to borrow for the purpose of promotion of fruit traded by itself. However as the Corporation does not trade, its activities in the promotional field are wholly in respect of fruit marketed by others. This means that the Corporation is unable to borrow funds to finance these promotional activities.
The Corporation is funded by both a levy on exports of fresh apples and pears and a levy on apples and pears used both for processing and for sale on the fresh fruit market. Experience in 1977, the first year of operation of the levy of domestic sales, revealed that as the flow of funds to the Corporation is seasonal, moneys were not available in sufficient amounts to meet the expenditure on promotion during the peak periods. The export promotion activities of the Corporation are conducted over the period May to July and the main domestic market promotion is timed to coincide with the period of peak availability of fruit which is from March to July. The flow of revenue to the corporation is not substantial until late in the year resulting in difficulty being experienced in meeting accounts presented during the first half of the year. The Corporation does not have sufficient reserves of funds to meet the situation.
Extension of the Corporation ‘s power to borrow moneys for promotion purposes will obviate the problem of seasonality of money flow and enable the Corporation to plan more adequately its program of promotional activities in the knowledge that it can, if necessary, cover the cost with borrowed funds until such time as the proceeds of levies are available. As in the past, the powers of the Corporation in respect of borrowing will be subject to ministerial approval. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 5 April, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– We come to one of the most exciting Bills which is likely to come before the Senate during this session, namely, the Superannuation Acts Amendment Bill 1978. 1 suppose it is exciting because of its sheer dryness and complexity. I suppose every Commonwealth public servant in Australia will take exception to my saying that, but I am quite sure that very few public servants have to deal with a Bill of this nature in the Parliament. This is an obvious illustration of the sort of legislation that we have to wade through here. Only a person well versed in the matter of superannuation funds could possibly understand it. It is also an illustration of the manner in which the Public Service wraps up its secrets in legislation so that politicians cannot understand them. The Bill covers 53 pages, and one would need to be conversant in about six different areas of finance to know what it means. For the record, I will refer specifically to one paragraph of the Bill.
– It would make interesting bedside reading.
-I can think of better bedside reading than this. Just as an example, the sort of problem that we face in this Parliament is brought home in this legislation. Many times before in this Parliament it has been stated that draftsmen in the Public Service ought to be able to find a means whereby legislation of this type can be expressed in terms that can be understood. Clause 7 1 of the Bill states.
Section 1 70 of the Principal Act is amended-
– You made that very clear.
– I have grave doubts whether the Minister herself or the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) understands what that is about. I do not understand it and I do not intend even to try. The position of this Government is no different from the position when my Party was in power. If we cannot get on top of the draftsmen in the Public Service and make them realise that that sort of jargon is not for the Parliament, then I do not know that there is any purpose in this sort of legislation coming before the Parliament. I have seen difficult Bills that were brought before the Tasmanian Parliament expressed in infinitely more simple terms than this and they gave us some chance of understanding intelligently what the legislation was about.
However, there are two or three comments that can be made in very broad terms. As the Minister for Finance said in his second reading speech, it is extremely complex legislation, and he did not attempt to go into great detail. The basic reason for introducing this Bill is to overcome some of the anomalies that have existed since the 1976 legislation was enacted. We know that under the old Commonwealth superannuation scheme some contributors were paying as much as 40 per cent of their weekly salary into the Fund. That has been altered, and a contributor is now required to pay a maximum of only five per cent . The Bill also aims to tidy up both the new scheme and its application to the principles of the old scheme. There are a few improvements from the point of view of contributors or beneficiaries. One or two substantial improvements have been spelled out by the Minister in his second reading speech, and there is no need for me to go through them.
One other matter to which I should refer concerns the possibility of taxation being imposed on the Superannuation Fund. As the second reading speech points out, private superannuation funds are subject to certain taxation laws but I understand that those laws do not apply as yet to the Commonwealth superannuation scheme. However, it does appear from the second reading speech that the Government is likely to remove some of the exemptions that apply to the superannuation fund and to the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust. I think it would be proper for the Government to make clear whether it has given consideration to the removal of the exemptions or some of them, such as stamp duty, and the date from which the exemptions will apply, if they are to apply. The Government could be more frank with the beneficiaries of this legislation. It has a long history, going back certainly until 1974 that I can recall. There has been four years of intensive argument throughout the Public Service. There was intensive lobbying when we were in government and no doubt there is still intensive lobbying so far as the present Government is concerned.
There appears to be no indication as to whether certain things are intended. For example, is it intended that the Bill should provide that costs such as sharebrokers’ costs, mortgage preparation charges, estate agents’ fees and the like are to be charged against the Fund? If that were the case the amendment would not seem unreasonable. However, if all the costs of running the scheme are to be charged against it the impact on the Fund would be substantial. I would appreciate it if the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) could clarify whether that is the intention at some time in the future. We do not oppose this legislation. As I said at the outset, I do not think that anybody here would know enough about it to oppose it or support it. However, we do know that the legislation introduced in 1 976, although not the same legislation that we introduced in 1 975, nevertheless does form the basic superannuation scheme for Commonwealth public servants. We hope that these amendments will tidy up and improve it in some small way.
– I think Senator Wriedt has demonstrated amply in his comments the complexity of this legislation, and I must say that I share some of his concern. One notes that the National Roads and Motorists Association recently produced a document on car insurance in plain English, and even the Bible has been translated into plain English. One hopes that the next step will be to produce legislation in plain English. This is extraordinarily complex legislation, partly because it deals with the remarkably complex question of superannuation and partly because it deals with a range of technical and, in most cases, machinery amendments. In one sense, perhaps we at least should pay tribute to the people who drafted it for their understanding of this legislation, on the assumption that they do understand every feature of it. As Senator Wriedt has pointed out, the Bill comprises 42 pages and some of the amendments contained in it are extraordinarily complex and difficult. However, as I have pointed out, most of them in fact are technical.
I will refer back quickly to the fact that in the second reading speech in 1 976 the Minister who introduced the Superannuation Bill pointed out that should any shortcomings emerge in the legislation that had been introduced and was subsequently passed the Government would take action to remedy those shortcomings, where appropriate. The purpose of this legislation is to remedy anomalies that have arisen in the application of the 1976 Superannuation Act, and it is salutary to remember that the superannuation scheme introduced in 1976 was in fact a highly simplified scheme relative to the one that had been in operation. The problems we all have with the legislation again emphasise the complexity of the subject.
I do not think that there is any need to go over the important innovations in the original legislation of 1 976- for example, the introduction of a uniform 5 per cent contribution provision with an option to contribute to up to 10 per cent, a wide range of new benefits, and some special provisions important to temporary employees, women and the handicapped. The new scheme in 1976 was a simplified scheme and one that contained a number of important innovations. The legislation before us now is designed to correct some of the anomalies and, in some respects, to improve that original legislation where difficulties have occurred either in application or in interpretation. I think it is worth making the point at the outset that the new legislation does not affect any of the benefits provided for Commonwealth employees in the 1976 legislation and no additional significant costs to the Commonwealth are involved in the new legislation.
I refer very briefly to a couple of the major amendments contained in the Bill. First of all the Bill corrects in the Superannuation Act 1 922 an anomaly relating to benefit entitlements of children of contributors who died in service before 1 July 1976. Clause 6 of the Bill provides, for example, that children of deceased contributors, where the children are aged 21 to 25 and are undertaking full-time education, will now be entitled to benefits in the same circumstances as the children of pensioners who died prior to 1 July 1976. Whilst that is obviously a very important amendment, and important to a number of individuals in the community, it emphasises the extent to which in the course of time anomalies have appeared. This legislation is designed to overcome those sorts of anomalies.
As pointed out in the Minister’s second reading speech, the amending legislation also amends the 1976 Act in a number of ways. For example, in clause 42 of the Bill there is an amendment that provides for the apportionment of a spouse’s benefit according to relative needs where a deceased contributor is survived by more than one eligible spouse. This is an amendment to section 1 10 of the 1976 Superannuation Act. It is intended to confirm the Government’s original intentions and it has become necessary to write that section in greater detail. It ensures equity under the provisions of section 1 10 and also now provides for the further apportionment of benefits to surviving children. Once again that is a significant reform, one that is obviously important to many individuals within the community and one which corrects an anomaly in the legislation.
I refer also to another amendment to the 1976 Act. That Act presently does not allow a member of the scheme or the spouse of a deceased member to alter a decision that had been made for a particular form of benefit once it has been made- for example, the election between a lump sum benefit and the payment of pension. The Commissioner for Superannuation has received requests from time to time to reverse a decision to take a lump sum instead of a contributorfinanced pension. The Government has now agreed as the Minister pointed out in her second reading speech, that in some circumstances it should be possible to cancel some such decisions- - for example, where it is apparent that at the time of the decision all the relevant information was not available to the person who had to make the decision.
The Bill also includes an amendment to provide for three months in which the person may make the decision instead of one month. I understand that the one-month period has been found in many cases to be too brief. Of course, it is often the case that people are facing bereavement, and to make what are often very complex decisions about financial matters such as this becomes very difficult in such a short period. To provide three months is appropriate and a sensible amendment in the interests of people who need to make those decisions. Obvisously it needs to be administered flexibly so as to provide the most humane administration of the legislation which relates in those circumstances to people who may be facing personal difficulties.
In conclusion I mention just two or three things. It is important to note that there was some concern last year that the Government-financed portion of Commonwealth employees’ superannuation pensions might be brought up to date in accordance with average weekly earnings or the consumer price index, whichever was less. It has now been confirmed by the Minister- this legislation also confirms it in that it does not include provisions- that the existing situation will not be changed. I hope that those who were concerned that there might be a change from the consumer price index criterion to average weekly earnings will be reassured first of all by the Minister’s confirmation of the situation and by the fact that this amending legislation has been presented and that the alleged changes to the use of average weekly earnings as a criterion are not included in it. Let me also make the point that it would seem, because of the great complexity -
– We are debating that. Would you mind a question? To what do you apply the average weekly earnings?
– It was alleged that it would be applied to the Government-financed portion of the pension.
– Instead of the one CPI amount?
-No. The point I was making was that the CPI will be applied to the Government-financed portion whereas it had been suggested that it might be the CPI or average weekly earnings, whichever was less. The Minister has confirmed that it will remain the CPI, as it is now. That relates to the Government financed portion of the pension.
I mentioned in my speech on the original Superannuation Bill of 1976 that some consideration ought to be given to one group which seems to me to be disadvantaged under this legislation. That group is not dealt with in the amending legislation now before the Senate. I refer to divorced spouses of deceased contributors where a contributor had remarried. The divorced spouse, who may have been married to the contributor for many years and thereby has clearly contributed to the ultimate benefits, even if indirectly, receives no benefit. In many cases that has caused considerable hardship to people known to me. There is recognition in the legislation that a spouse does contribute indirectly to the benefits to be gained by the contributor. That is recognised in that benefits can be apportioned between a legal spouse and a de facto spouse after the death of a contributor. The fact that that is recognised, that there is provision in section 1 10 for the apportionment of benefits on a relative needs basis by the Commissioner for Superannuation, seems to me to indicate that very close consideration ought to be given to similar benefits for divorced spouses along with the legal spouse in the case of a deceased contributor.
– Surely that matter can be taken up in the Family Court at the time?
– Yes, it can, but there are limits to that particular avenue. It is one that Senator Walters and I have examined in considerable detail. We have sought advice through the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and we feel that there is a need for some provision in this legislation to ensure that the interests of individuals in these cases are protected, because as far as we are able to ascertain they are not fully protected under the provisions of the Family Law Act.
– But surely only because the divorced spouse does not necessarily recognise her entitlement at the time of the divorce and the lawyers do not tell her about it?
-No, Senator, that is not my understanding. I believe that in the Superannuation Act if there is a situation in which under other laws such as the Family Law Act a person is left in a clearly disadvantaged position despite the fact that he or she may have contributed, even indirectly, over many years to the benefits which that spouse assumes would be available- if necessary on the ground of relative needs, as is the existing case for a legal spouse and de facto spouse- there should be some similar provision for a former spouse, a divorced person, and the legal spouse at the time of death or subsequent to the death of the contributor. I raise the point on this occasion because, as Senator Wriedt has pointed out clearly, the whole question is enormously complex. It seems to me to be one area in which we could give some consideration to possible further amendment to the Superannuation Acts to ensure equity for all involved. It may be that what I am suggesting is not necessary. But it is something that I would like to see dealt with fully and examined in the greatest possible detail.
As has been pointed out this is complex legislation dealing with a very complex issue. It is an issue that very few people have time or leisure to address themselves to in any detail. The legislation, now an Act of considerable importance and length, is amended by a Bill of equal importance, of considerable length and of great complexity. It seems to me to be important that we should try to produce this and other legislation in a form more readily understandable to those people who may be affected by it. I suggest to the Minister that we might consider reprinting all the legislation, as amended, applying to superannuation for Commonwealth employees so that it is readily available and readily accessible in appropriate form to them.
In closing, I say that despite all the problems and despite the fact that there may be other areas that need to be considered, I think that this is important legislation which introduces further important reforms. It certainly clears up a number of anomalies which have emerged in the existing legislation. My understanding is that it will be a continuing process in this very complex field to ensure that the anomalies and difficulties that arise will be covered in the future. I think that this is legislation which is important to all Commonwealth employees. Because of the enormous complexity of the area, it is commendable that it should have been introduced as rapidly as it has. I strongly support the legislation.
-Mr President, I will take very little of the Senate’s time. I wish to speak for a few minutes only in the debate on the Superannuation Acts Amendment Bill, mainly in support of Senator Knight. As he has said, an anomaly still exists in regard to a divorced spouse which is not dealt with in the amendments to the Superannuation Acts. It was brought to the notice of the Senate in 1976 by Senator Knight, Senator Ryan and me. The Bill in 1976 dealt with a legally married spouse living with a contributor at the time of that person’s death and the legally married spouse not living with the person at the time of death but dependent upon that person. It also dealt with de facto relationships and the case of a person considered a spouse not legally married to but dependent upon the contributor and living with that person at the time of death. There were other variations. However, the divorced spouse had no entitlements under the legislation. I believe this to be an anomaly, as Senator Knight said. Recognition of contributions was made in that Bill. The recognition was made in this way: A widow whose husband has died had entitlement to the pension of her husband. For the first time, once she remarried and was no longer dependent on that pension, she was nevertheless still entitled to keep that pension. This provision clearly recognises, without any shadow of a doubt so far as I am concerned, the spouse ‘s share in that contribution. The couple may well have been married for 30 to 35 years. I do not think that any honourable senator or any married person would quibble that, where there is one income in the family and a contribution is made to a superannuation fund, the wife certainly helps contribute to that fund. She goes without, perhaps in a personal and a family way, along with her husband in making that contribution. This was definitely recognised in the Bill. The widow was able to retain the pension when she remarried and was no longer dependent upon her former husband.
The Bill also deals with the case where a separation had occurred before the death of the partner and the partner had been then living in a de facto relationship. It was left to the discretion of the Superannuation Commissioner to divide that pension between the person living in the de facto relationship and the separated spouse if the separated spouse was still dependent upon her husband. This has set a precedent which I believe can be taken into account now in the same way as the divorced spouse is taken into account. If a woman has been living with her husband and has been contributing to the fund for a considerable number of years, at the Commissioner’s discretion this provision could apply in the same way as it does to the separated spouse and the de facto relationship.
We would all know of marriages in which things go wrong in latter years. After a considerable time a marriage may break up. The couple may be divorced and the husband may enter a de facto relationship or he may remarry a couple of years after. For the purposes to the legislation of 1 976, the de facto relationship had to be continuing for only three years. Let me cite this example: A marriage of long duration could break up. The divorce takes place. The husband lives in a de facto relationship for just three years and dies. Because of the de facto relationship of just three years’ standing, the whole pension to which the divorced spouse has contributed for a great number of years will be paid to the de facto spouse. The divorced spouse no longer has any entitlement. I ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) whether she could bring this to the attention of the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson). Honourable senators, including myself, have already done so. I ask the Minister to give this matter consideration. I believe that this anomaly is not dealt with fully in the Family Court and could be considered under this legislation.
– I rise impromptu in this debate because I feel no necessity for constraint of time having regard to the exigencies or lack of them in the Government program for this week. Therefore, I take up the points that have been mentioned by Senator Knight and by Senator Walters. First, everybody recognises that the Public Service needs to be of the utmost efficiency and the utmost integrity. One of the matters that it should look to in that regard is to assert its own rights to keep those two qualities exclusively. But every year, probably two or three times a year, there is sufficient time within the Public Service to bring forward Bills of this dimension- this one contains 53 pageswhen we had a full consolidating Bill before us last year. It struggled through its difficult and dangerous existence during the years of the Labor Government at our challenge. But it survived and came through a little improved last year but with benefits ample. All I say is that the members of the Public Service must spend more time on servicing the public rather than themselves.
A second point I make is this: We have had a report on superannuation generally submitted to this Parliament within recent months. It has stressed the unique advantages of Public Service superannuation compared with 90 per cent of what exists in private industry. I say ‘90 per cent’ because 10 per cent of the superannuation in private industry is simply exploitation by the people who live in the directors’ offices. They know all about the provision of private industry superannuation. The system is exploited for the benefit of directors and executives and not the general body of employees.
So if we have a report that the private citizen is very much worse off than the public servant in regard to superannuation the time has come for equity between the two groups. There is no attempt whatever by the government to tackle that problem and to bring it into focus. I agree it is a hefty problem, a major problem, but are we to drift along, nurturing all the different sections of the community? If so, those who live within the region of the Treasury, getting best fed, will be advantaged. They are not only public servants; parliamentary superannuation is to be bracketed in the same generous situation. We parliamentarians contributed last year to the scheme about $0.5m and drew out about $3m.
Nobody takes any notice. This chamber is dead, and the people who service it for the understanding of the public are dead or deaf and dumb. The newspapers take no interest in that. Why? Because newspaper executives are in the 10 per cent that I mention. The parliamentary superannuation, on which I will be retiring after 30 June, is overgenerous. There is no equity whatever between it and the private sections of industry. It has to be remodelled. We have to put in more or take out less. Debate on this Bill ought to be adjourned for five years. Let us have an experience. Let us bring in a superannuation Bill once every five years.
Let us take this business of an election for lump sum or weekly payments. The whole purpose is that a person has one draft to make upon the superannuation fund and the Government. The Government pays its contribution yearly as the need for it arises. The contributor makes his contribution to the fund, and it is invested. It is subject to inflation and losses. The Superannuation Fund Investment Trust will be going greedily for non-trust investments such as the real estate market, the stock market or the mining market- anything that may boom- not knowing that people have to earn their money. The losses will be avalanched in the course of a very short space of time. So, the fund is a capital fund. The contributors invest, as 1 said, with all the increasing risks. There is a recurrent contribution made by Consolidated Revenue. We have one superannuation, although a husband and wife or a husband and de facto can be on the government payroll.
– ‘Yes’ says Senator Walters. She throws up her hands as much as to indicate to me that there is no argument against what I am about to say. So we have one superannuate, one unit earmarked for that pension or lump sum. The very essence of the idea of election between recurrent annual payment and lump sum is that a person makes an election. The people who have the responsibility of investing the funds know, and Consolidated Revenue ought to know- that is to say, if Parliament has any regard whatever for Consolidated Revenue as a fund of which it is trustee for the taxpayerthat it is robbing the taxpayer.
Fancy a superannuation Bill, such as this, for the Public Service, when the lowest fitter in the land pays income tax at the rate of 32c in the dollar on income over $3,400 a year. That 32c in the dollar is nearly a third of his earnings, if he is on $4,000 a year. Do not tell me that the Taxation Office regards the exemption and then averages it out, because the highest incomes in the land start to be taxed at $3,400 a year, There we are. I am saying only that the taxation burden on men’s earnings in this country is enormous and outrageous. It deters anybody from having the incentive to take the risks, earn and make their own initiatives in providing for themselves. Therefore, we are trustees of Consolidated Revenue. Therefore, a person must make his election responsibly, and all those who directly receive the benefit should be bound by it.
After a person has made an election, how much time does he have in which to change it? I understand from Senator Knight that this Bill provides for only three-month intervals -
– A person has three months in which to make up his mind- to make an election.
– Then a person makes an election. Over what period is it competent for the superannuate to change it? There is silence in the chamber. I thought that is the response I would get. That is to say, a person can change it at any time. The administration of the Superannuation Board would look only to its beneficiaries and expect us to look to the Treasury. Joe Blow may be paid $40,000 or $50,000 in superannuation. He may have gone out of the Public Service because of illness, and his illness may predispose him to inebriation. That is $50,000 gone. That does not affect the position. In five years time Mary says: ‘I am poor, distressed. I want to make an election to take out a periodical sum ‘. It defies human understanding how anybody can administer a sum with responsibility and entertain such a conception.
I have heard reference made to the position vis a vis divorce. The position here is that Public Service superannuation, from the point of view of marital status, has exploited every trick in the game. It was necessary for a person who got a superannuation pension from this fund to be a dependant of an employee of the Public Service. Now she could have a fortune of $500,000, but she could still be entitled to draw the pension just because she was his wife.
-Right! What rot.
– That is how it is.
-It is no more right than my foot. We provide superannuation for the superannuate, and if he had dependants they were entitled to come within the scope of the benefaction that was provided for the superannuate. So, we take advantage of marriage for that point of view, but when we move to another stage of marital status we say that a person is living with a de facto wife and we should make her a dependant of course. I do not know whether the question has ever arisen where there have been two or three de facto wives.
Let us not expatiate that problem. There we are. I just say that marital status is being used to advantage irrespective of the circumstances. The absence of marital status is also used to provide for dependency. I think I remember protesting about this matter last year, in this Bill or in recent months. I did not take up the time of the Senate then because the opportunity did not present itself. But it was provided that the beneficiary, who gets a superannuation pension qua widowed, and who marries a millionaire, a man who is worth half a million or somebody who can provide the average weekly earnings, will not have that benefit terminated by the marriage. There is a need to conserve money. In a moment we will be considering a Bill to curtail softwood plantings. This is the way we splurge and waste money, just because public servants have the insight and industry to over-reach us. We do not really have the time to delve into these Bills and demonstrate the inequity.
– How many millionaires’ widows are on the pension?
-So as not to waste rime, I put a case of that sort. My proposition applies to a widow who is earning a sufficient living or to a widow who has a fortune on which she can live reasonably well. It is a denial of all proper aspects of superannuation that a beneficiary’s dependant as a widow gets her benefit under that status, but when she ceases to be a widow by remarrying she does not take him for better or for worse and rely on him. But of course, that situation does not matter much because after 12 months she can say: ‘Well, goodbye, ta ta, I am off again’. The family law situation is such that she can go off and get a divorce. Then, we have Senator Walter’s problem. A person goes to the divorce court and a judge says: ‘Well, you have come for a divorce. It does not matter what your merits are. I do not want to listen to you or to your husband talking about your conduct, or about how you treated the kids or about what you have done for the Public Service. All I am interested in is what money should be paid’. The Public Service superannuate says: ‘I have a pension of $20,000 a year’. Perhaps they do not say: May it please your Honour ‘in the Family Court. I have not treated them as courts, nor have I had the privilege of appearing in them. What the judge says is: ‘Really, Joe Blow, as a superannuate you ought to be paying this woman $120 a week’. He says: ‘I have got another doxy, a de facto who has a couple of kids and I have to support them ‘. This is fact. The judge says: ‘Oh dear, I have to consider the couple of kids and the potential, that is those in sight and those unseen. I will reduce the annuity from $120 a week to $60 and then Senator O’Byrne, Senator Wright, Senator Guilfoyle, the President and all the taxpayers they represent will pay you, madam- a disappointed madam- another $30 and we will compromise at that’. Senator Walters says that that woman should be still getting his superannuation payments.
– Did she help contribute?
– The point I make about that original assessment of $120 a week is that the judge is commanded by the Family Law Act, in fixing alimony, to take into account any superannuation rights either accrued or accruing to either spouse. That is a lovely term which from my point of view includes a de facto or de jure relationship. Now Senator Walters says that although the judge has taken that situation into account as commanded by the Family Law Act, under this Bill we should make it possible for the wife to get the full superannuation payment if her husband dies tomorrow or in eight years’ time, despite the blithe and easy divorce of which she has taken the benefit. That is the way in which it is expected the Consolidated Revenue should be raided.
– in reply- We are indebted to Senator Wright for over-simplifying the Superannuation Acts Amendment Bill which everyone else has chosen to call complex. This Bill honours a commitment of the Government made when we introduced the original Bill in 1976. We said that the legislation was extensive and complex and we gave an undertaking that if there were any anomalies, shortcomings or difficulties in the Act as it operated we would put forward amendments at an early time. This has been the objective of the Government with regard to the Commonwealth superannuation scheme. The Senate has raised one or two matters which I feel could be the subject of comment before we deal with the Committee stage of the Bill.
Firstly, Senator Wriedt read to us what he considered to be the inexplicable part of clause 71.1 should perhaps share with him my briefing on this matter which is a very simple half dozen lines. It tells us that this clause amends section 1 70 of the principal Act to incorporate the definition of ‘unreceived amounts in respect of life assurance policies’ and ‘unreceived moneys of the existing fund’. Sub-section 3 of the Act is amended to include in the value of the net assets of the old superannuation fund the amounts that were described in the definitions inserted by clause 71. In other words, the Bill provides for the equivalent of a private sector scheme administrated by a trust deed. It is a very complex document. The particular part of clause 7 1 that was referred to by Senator Wriedt is the technical part of the definition of what constitutes the net assets of the superannuation fund. I know Senator Wriedt was using that example merely as an indication of the complexity and difficulty in understanding the technicalities of the Bill. I hope that what I have just said will clarify for him the intent of that particular clause.
Senator Wriedt raised a question about taxation and the superannuation fund. As I indicated in my second reading speech the Government has decided that the taxation exemption of the superannuation fund is to be the subject of an examination. The Government has made no decision in relation to any form of taxation and it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the results of the forthcoming examination. But as I said, it is something that the Government has intended to do and we may hear more of that in due course when the results of the examination are analysed. Senator Wriedt also raised the matter of the charging of administration costs to the superannuation fund. At present it is not possible under the Act to charge the costs of acquiring investment assets to the superannuation fund which, it is agreed, is the normal practice in private sector schemes. The Government has made no decision at this stage to charge the full cost of administration of the superannuation scheme to the superannuation fund. The points raised by Senator Wriedt have been noted.
Senator Knight in his speech in support of the Bill mentioned the updating of superannuation pensions. He said that he was satisfied that the consumer price index was adhered to as the basis for that. I draw attention to the statement on 4 November of last year of the then Minister Assisting the Treasurer in which he announced that the Government had reviewed proposals to change from July 1978 the present arrangement for indexing pensions payable under the Superannuation Acts of 1922 and 1976. The Minister recalled at that time that during the Budget discussions the Government gave consideration to imposing a limitation on pension increases along the lines that had previously applied to the Superannuation Act 1922 pensions. Under this limitation the superannuation pension increases would have been related to the lesser of the increases in the consumer price index or average weekly earnings. Mr Eric Robinson said that the Government had decided the limitation would not be proceeded with and that superannuation pension increases would continue to be related to movements in the consumer price index. I think that was a matter that was referred to by Senator Knight and queried by Senator Wright. I have read that statement by the Minister to clarify the basis for the changes.
Senator Knight referred to the fact that he had hoped to see in the near future a consolidation of the superannuation legislation linking the amendments to the original Act. I have to say that this is a matter for the Attorney-General ‘s Department. I can only say that I will draw the hopes of Senator Knight to the attention of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and if it is possible to arrange in a short time a consolidation of the Superannuation Acts J am sure that this would have the attention of the AttorneyGeneral. But I am aware of many othe Commonwealth Acts that likewise need consolidation.
Senator Knight referred to the position of divorced spouses. This matter was referred to also by Senator Walters. I think it is also fair to say that it was referred to by Senator Wright. The matter of divorced spouses, I would have to say, was not as I think it was presented by Senator Walters, that is, that it might have been omitted from our considerations. The Government did not omit consideration of the benefit to divorced spouses. It had consideration but it was not thought fit or timely to introduce changes into the legislation at this time. Senator Walters cited examples of what she regarded as precedents for what she suggested was a reason for including divorced spouses under this legislation in that form. I think it is fair to say that none of the examples she cited are relevant or could be regarded as parallels for the proposition which she proposed.
Senator Wright referred to the Hancock Committee report on national superannuation schemes and he mentioned that there was criticism in that report of government schemes, both Commonwealth and State. In the final report of the National Superannuation Committee of Inquiry a majority of the Committee reported that the benefits available to members of the public sector superannuation schemes in Commonwealth and State governments were higher than those generally available in private sector schemes. Senator Wright also referred to the limited number of people who are in the private sector superannuation schemes. I think from recollection that the Hancock report said about 15 per cent of employees are in private sector schemes, or maybe 15 per cent of all employees are in those schemes, but I do seem to recall that figure.
The National Superannuation Committee of Inquiry report was given to our income security review committee last year for study and report. That report will now be the subject of consideration by the social welfare policy secretariat. It should be understood that that national scheme was proposed as an alternative to the age pension scheme which presently exists. It should be accepted that the age pension scheme that we have at present is a non-contributory scheme and one which provides roughly the equivalent of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Hancock Committee had many proposals that are worthy of study but they must be seen as ones which would form part of a contributory scheme rather than one that is a direct alternative to the non-contributory pension scheme which applies right throughout social security benefit schemes in Australia at present.
Senator Wright mentioned the investment policy of the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust. He considered that there was a possibility of loss through investment in real estate. Section 42 of the Superannuation Act 1976 imposes safeguards to protect the fund. No speculation is permitted in this fund as is normal in most trust funds in respect of investment. Senator Wright opposed in 1976 the inclusion of de facto spouses. At the time that that provision was included the Government was aware of great hardships under the former superannuation scheme because it was not possible to pay benefits to those spouses and very often de facto spouses and dependants were suffering hardship and were in great need. The inclusion at that time in 1976 of this category of beneficiaries resulted from an investigation and a recognition of the neeed that existed. I think the figure of $20,000 was cited by Senator Wright. I think I would have to say that any public servant receiving a pension of $20,000 would need to have earned about $40,000 per annum before retirement. We do not have the number of permanent heads which would be required to create a problem of the magnitude which may have been mentioned by Senator Wright.
I think that covers the main areas of discussion in second reading debate on the Bill. I thank the Senate for its attention to this Bill. I thank those honourable senators who have shown an interest in it, consulted the Minister and obtained interpretations of what is now proposed in the amendments to our 1976 Act. I foreshadow an amendment which the Government wishes to move to clause 6 1 in the Committee stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to clarify a question in relation to clause 5 which is described as ‘restoration of widows’ or widowers’ pension previously cancelled on remarriage ‘. The clause seeks to amend section 48aa of the principal Act. The second reading speech says:
The 1976 amendments made spouses’ benefits available to a wider range of persons including, under certain conditions, a de facto spouse and the spouse of a marriage after retirement.
I wonder whether this covers the situation of a married superannuate whose spouse predeceases him before retirement and who, after retirement, remarries. Would the second spouse be entitled to the pension that otherwise would have been payable to the first spouse if she had not predeceased the superannuate before his retirement?
– The marriage to the second wife would need to have continued for a period of five years before she would be eligible for the same benefit that would have applied if the first marriage had continued.
– Notwithstanding the fact that the superannuate ‘s spouse predeceased him while he was still in employment, that is, before retirement?
– Yes, that is right. There would have been an entitlement if there had been a continuing marriage. The second marriage would have had to be of five years duration before the benefit would be payable to the second wife.
-Does that mean five years during the time that the superannuate was in the Public Service or five years during the period that he was a superannuate? That is to say, is five years of service required before retirement from the Public Service or can the five years apply to any time before the superannuate ‘s death?
– If the superannuate marries after retirement, he would need to have been married for five years before his second wife would be paid.
– I do not have the principal Act before me, but who has the power to restore a widow or widowers’ pension previously cancelled on remarriage? The proposed amendment uses the words ‘having regard to such matters (if any) as are prescribed and such other matters as he considers relevant ‘. In what circumstances is it restored? What are the grounds for restoration and who has the right to make the judgment?
– The Commissioner restores the benefit and it is restored on the grounds of need.
– Is the restoration limited strictly to the case of benefits previously cancelled on remarriage? I understand that we passed an amendment in 1 976 enabling widows to continue to receive their pension notwithstanding remarriage. I have no doubt that that applies also to a widower where the woman was the superannuate. In what circumstances is this pension cancelled on remarriage? Is it cancelled in the case of a remarriage while the public servant is still serving? If he goes onto superannuation and his wife receives a pension, and after his death she remarries, as I understand it the superannuation continues. Is this clause designed to allow that provision of 1976 to go back and rake over all the cases of remarriage before that Act and apply the benefits retrospectively?
– I am seeking advice on this point. We are dealing with the 1922 Act spouse’s pension which was cancelled before the start of the new scheme in July 1976. The pension was not cancelled on remarriage after July 1 976. It is to go back to the 1 922 Act.
-The 1922 Act?
– Yes, this clause is related to the 1922 Act, to give the power to review those pensions, to restore them and put them into the same category of benefit as those in the Act of 1976. Those pensions were not cancelled on remarriage after July 1976 under the previous Act.
– I make a last intervention. It is remarkable how one’s instinct leads one on- a divination of what was undoubtedly inevitable. Step by step we disregard remarriage. Provision was made in 1976 to apply to prospective cases. Now, by a side note ‘having regard to such matters (if any) as are prescribed ‘-‘if any’ would come under the regulations and therefore come under parliamentary control- or such other considerations as the Commissioner considers relevant, we restore a pension even in the case of a person who has remarried at any time between 1922 and 1976 and so lost a superannuation pension. If that is not the position I would wish to be corrected, but if it is the position I protest that it is monstrously unjust and monstrously wrong to dredge over such a period and adjust pensions by reason of an extraordinary provision laid down in 1 976- to apply it to pensions that were cancelled between 1922 and 1976 on the ground of remarriage. I protest that it is completely absurd for anybody to be given a discretion to restore them. If I am not correct in that I ask to be corrected. If I am not corrected, apparently my proposition stands and, if this is so, I say it is absolutely absurd.
– I just repeat what I said earlier; that this clause to which attention has been drawn is the one which deals with the 1 922 Act and the spouses’ pensions which were cancelled before the start of the new scheme in July 1976. It is intended to go back and reinstate those pensions. The question was asked with regard to pensions after 1976 and I advised that pensions were not cancelled on remarriage after July 1 976. That is the explanation of the clause. I have noted the remarks made by Senator Wright. I will draw them to the attention of the Minister and of the Government. I have no further response to make on that point other than the explanation which I gave with regard to the meaning of this clause.
– I take the opportunity to raise again with the Minister for Social Security Senator Guilfoyle) the matter which is effected in part by clause 42 of the Bill and section 1 10 of the existing Act. It relates to the proposition I had raised in the course of the second reading debate concerning divorced spouses of deceased contributors. In doing so, I refer to the Australian Law Journal of October 1 977. Under the heading ‘Current Topics’ is an item which deals with this issue. I draw the Minister’s attention to a statement by the then Attorney-General in May 1977 when he said:
We are just at the beginning in relation to the working out of family law, not just in relation to the terms of an appropriate Family Law Act, but also in relation to its effects and implications in other areas of law and administration, such as social services. It is a basic problem. It is basic to our society.
In this article in the Australian Law Journal the writer points out:
The point is that the Superannuation Act makes no provision whatever for any payment to a divorced wife upon the death of her ex-husband contributor- only for payments to a legal wife, such as the woman whom the deceased remarried, or to a de facto wife.
The same article goes on later- this is the significant element and it relates also to the comments made by Senator Coleman earlier when I probably did not deal adequately with the points she raised- to state:
The Family Law Court has no power to deal with payments to be made under the Superannuation Act after the death of the particular contributor concerned; such payments are solely governed by the provisions of the Superannuation Act.
– Who is the author?
-It is an article entitled Current Topics’ in the Australian Law Journal of October 1977. I seek the indulgence of the Senate to have this page and a half of the Australian Law Journal incorporated in Hansard so that the full text of the article is available.
The document read as follows-
Unfair treatment by Superannuation Act 1976 (Cth) of wives of contributors divorced under Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)
In an address delivered at Melbourne on 17 May 1977 on the occasion of opening new Family Court premises there, the then Commonwealth Attorney-General (Mr R. J. Ellicott, Q.C.) made reference to the impact upon society of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) as follows: ‘We are just at the beginning in relation to the working out of family law, not just in relation to the terms of an appropriate Family Law Act, but also in relation to its effects and implications in other areas of law and administration, such as social services. It is a basic problem. It is basic to our society. ‘
One of the most serious repercussions of the operation of the Family Law Act has been the creation of a new disadvantaged minority, namely divorced wives, and more particularly those divorcees who unfortunately happen to be the ex-wives of deceased contributors under the Superannuation Act 1976 (Cth), which constitutes the new superannuation scheme affecting the hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth public servants in Australia, and which will also be a pace-setter for other superannuation schemes, both new and revised.
At the root of the matter lies the concept of no-fault divorce reflected in the Family Law Act, more especially in s. 48. This concept was described succinctly by the then Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) as follows in an address delivered at the ‘Women- Today and Tomorrow’ Seminar held at Castle Hill, Sydney, on 13 August 1977: ‘A fundamental change has been the abolition of fault as an element in marital breakdown. The new Act replaced the fourteen grounds of divorce under the old Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 with one single ground- irretrievable breakdown of the marriage evidenced by separation for twelve months. ‘
That either party to a marriage, thus subject of an irretrievable breakdown, can proceed to a divorce in the Family Court of Australia by a relatively painless path, and, depending on the venue, within days untie the marital knot by a tenminute hearing before a Family Court judge has been a matter of comment not only in the local press, but in overseas newspapers (see, for example, article bearing the title, ‘NoFault Divorce Law in Australia’, in the New York Times, 7 May 1977). However, as pointed out in the monthly publication of the International Labour Office (ILO), The World of Labour and Development (issue of September 1977, Geneva), ‘often the heaviest cross is borne by divorced women ‘ under systems of dissolution of marriage in which fault plays no role or only an increasingly residual part (ibid., p. 13).
It is this possibility of obtaining relatively speedy no-fault divorces under the Family Law Act 1 975 that nas created the problem affecting superannuation rights of divorced wives as dependants under the Superannuation Act 1976 ( C,h). A middle-aged or elderly Commonwealth public servant, entitled to superannuation, may engage in a relationship outside the marriage, leading to its irretrievable breakdown if he has lived apart from his legal wife for twelve months or over, so that he can immediately, irrespective of that wife’s wishes, obtain a divorce and remarry. The point is that the Superannuation Act makes no provision whatever for any payment to a divorced wife upon the death of her ex-husband contributoronly for payments to a legal wife, such as the woman whom the deceased remarried, or to a de facto wife. On her ex-husband ‘s death, the surviving divorced wife, who may have lived with him for a period between twenty and thirty years, while he was contributing and building up superannuation entitlements, will be entitled to nothing under the Superannuation Act, while the second wife, who may have lived with the deceased for only one year or two years, will as his surviving legal wife receive the whole of what would otherwise have gone to the divorced wife had a divorce under the Family Law Act not been obtained by the deceased. There is no provision in the Superannuation Act for apportionment between a divorced wife and the surviving legal widow, although curiously enough s. 1 10 enables an apportionment to be made between a surviving legal widow and a surviving de facto wife. The Family Law Court has no power to deal with payments to be made under the Superannuation Act after the death of the particular contributor concerned; such payments are solely governed by the provisions of the Superannuation Act.
The utter injustice to divorced wives of this position under the Superannuation Act hardly requires stressing. It cannot be maintained that apportionment by the Commissioner as between the divorced wife and the legal wife would not be practicable or viable, because s. 1 10 reflects the legislature’s view that apportionment is practicable and viable as between a surviving legal widow and a surviving de facto wife. Indeed the absence of provision for a divorced wife in the Superannuation Act is inconsistent with the approach of the legislature in s. 79 (4) (B) of the Family Law Act, under which, in proceedings relating to the property of parties to divorce proceedings, such as the matrimonial home, the Family Law Court is enjoined to take cognisance of the contribution made directly or indirectly to the acquisition, conservation or improvement of the property by either party, including any contribution made in the capacity of home maker or parent; a wife who has lived for many years with a contributor under the Commonwealth superannuation scheme may be said to have contributed as a homemaker to the building up of her husband ‘s entitlements. The approach in the Superannuation Act is inconsistent with the general principle of the law of civilised nations of respect for vested rights.
It is also paradoxical that the legislature, which has purported to make provision for a no-fault, no-guilt divorce in the Family Law Act 1975, should by the absence of the necessary provision for a divorced wife in the Superannuation Act 1976 virtually penalise her as though she were the guilty party. This is discrimination in favour of the second wife; but, in the light of s. 110, there is no equivalent discrimination in favour of the legal wife where the contributor has died before a remarriage with the de facto wife.
As pointed out in two excellent articles on the whole subject by Gwendoline Wilson (see the articles entitled ‘Discrimination over marital status in Superannuation’ in the Canberra Times 14 and 15 September 1977), an important practical point, among others, is that statistically wives outlive husbands by a number of years, so that the position is most serious for divorced wives faced with the prospect that, upon the death of the ex-husband contributor, they will become disinherited of any right to a spouse’s pension under the Superannuation Act.
This legislative injustice under the Superannuation Act is one which can only be remedied by amendments to that Act enabling some form of apportionment to be made by the Commissioner or other officer as between a divorced wife and a surviving legal widow, having regard commensurately to the duration of the former’s marriage to the deceased, and to other relevant considerations. As the matter is one of some complexity, it is suggested that the Commonwealth Government should, in the first instance, appoint a committee of appropriate composition to investigate the matter and advise what amendments should be made to the Superannuation Act for providing for such apportionment
– I noted the comments of the Minister for Social Security in responding to the second reading debate in which she indicated that this matter had not been dismissed and that it was possibly one for continuing consideration. I simply ask that it be given serious consideration in view of what seems to be a limitation in the application of the Family Law Act and what is acknowledged to be a limitation in the Superannuation Act. I ask that it be considered so that the sorts of problems to which the former Attorney-General referred in May 1 977 might be overcome and so that what seems to me to be the problems of one group which has been specifically disadvantaged by the inadequacies of the provisions of the Superannuation Acts and by the amending Bill now before the Senate can be overcome.
– I have not seen the article to which Senator Knight referred. Perhaps I could ask him whether it is a statement which has been attributed to Mr Ellicott.
– I am sorry, Senator. It is not. The first quotation is a statement by Mr Ellicott in 1977 in which he pointed to some of the difficulties in the development of family law in Australia. The subsequent statements were from the Australian Law Journal’s article ‘Current Topics’ which, as I understand it, is an item that appears at the beginning of each edition of the A ustralian Law Journal.
– Having clarified that point, I have no objection to the article being incorporated but perhaps I should place on record some of the comments that the Government felt needed to be said about the proposal to include divorced spouses in superannuation benefits. The general community looks to the Family Law Act to provide the basis for the financial support of divorced parties. The proposal to include divorced spouses in the Superannuation Acts would put persons formerly married to Commonwealth employees in a special and privileged position vis a vis other divorcees. If the Commonwealth were to provide employer financed benefits for divorced men and women who were formerly married to scheme members or for non-dependent separated men and women married to scheme members, public and private sector schemes would criticise the Government for pacesetting. This would be difficult to refute as the Commonwealth has determined community standards through its family law legislation. It would undermine the present basis for determining eligibility for reversionary benefits in the superannuation scheme where a spouse was not living with the deceased person at the time of death, namely, that of substantial dependency. This would undoubtedly result in instances of expensive benefits being paid for by the Commonwealth when they clearly did not need to be paid for or by any reasonable test did not deserve to be paid for. It would benefit only those married to an employee with a pension entitlement.
Where a deceased employee had only an entitlement to a lump sum benefit no benefit would be paid to a divorced or separated spouse. It would relate quantum on the level of pension payable on the death of the employee notwithstanding that the divorce or separation could have occurred 30 or more years earlier. It would make the task of the Superannuation Commissioner of allocating pensions between spouses more complex and the administration of the scheme more difficult as it would introduce an additional class of claimant and an additional criterion to be observed in the allocation process. There would be problems in establishing the facts in many past situations and decisions of the Commissioner would be more liable to result in disputation. The cost of such proposals cannot be calculated. It would in part be met by the Commonwealth and this could be significant if the proposal flowed on to DFRDB and other Commonwealth schemes and in part by a reduction in the benefits that would otherwise be payable to other eligible dependants. I have stated those matters which were considered by the Government when looking at this question. Contrary to what I think Senator Knight interpreted me as saying, I intended to say that I did not want Senator Walters to feel that the Government had overlooked this matter but rather that it had received consideration and that there were fairly substantial shortcomings with regard to a proposal of this kind. It is for that reason that I have given those details now.
– There are just two questions I ask of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). Firstly, could the Minister say how much it will cost the Government to make these pensions retrospective to 1976? The second question concerns divorced spouses. At no time did I say that the Government had not considered this matter. I said that divorced spouses were not mentioned in the 1976 Bill whilst other spouses of varying eligibility were. Senator Knight and I referred this matter to the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) before the Bill was passed in the other place and I know that he gave it consideration. As a matter of fact at that time he looked very sympathetically on the proposed amendment that Senator Knight and I put to him and said he would give it consideration following the passage of the Bill. However, as the Minister just said, the Government would be subject to criticism from the private sector if the pension was made available to divorced spouses as the Government now sees the criterion mainly in the form of dependency. I believe that this proposal has been wiped as a result of the Government allowing a widowed spouse who remarries and who is no longer dependent on that pension still to be eligible for the full pension even if, as Senator Wright said earlier this evening, she marries someone of considerable wealth. This does away completely with the dependency aspect as the sole criterion for the pension.
Bearing this in mind the only other reason for her eligibility to that pension, if we disregard the dependency aspect, must be the fact that it is recognised that she has contributed to that pension during her years of marriage. If this is recognised, as to me the Bill certainly underlines, the contribution for a similar period by the divorced spouse must also in terms of justice be recognised. I ask the Minister to consider this aspect.
-Senator Walters referred to the cost of the restoration of pre- 1 976 pensions. The cost of such action is not known but it is believed that not many cases would come under this new provision. The Australian Government Actuary advises that all changes in the Bill will not have any significant cost implications. I thank Senator Walters for her explanation, with regard to the matter of divorced spouses, that it was her understanding that this aspect had been considered by the Government during its consideration of the scheme and the amendments to it.
I have nothing to add with regard to dependency of divorced spouses except to say that the widow was in receipt of the pension or entitlement. The divorced wife had not been in receipt of it. The widow was the person who was the surviving spouse at that time and who was in receipt of the pension. The divorced spouse could be in the position that some other person or persons were in receipt of an entitlement. As a broad statement, I should make it clear that, where a benefit is being apportioned between a spouse and a de facto spouse, it needs to be understood that it is the one entitlement that is being apportioned and not a double payment. I have noted Senator Walters ‘s remarks and, if she has already had discussions with the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack), I will see that this matter is again drawn to his attention for consideration.
– I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I want to raise with the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) a matter which might best be resolved by her passing some inquiries on to the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson). I am a little confused whether consideration of this matter has been finalised. My understanding initially was that it had not been finalised and that it would be considered further. Now I am not quite clear whether the prospect of further consideration of the matter is open.
I also raise the matter of cost. As the Minister has pointed out, there would be no additional cost in the division of benefits between a legal and a de facto spouse. In fact, under section 1 10 of the 1976 Act one amount of money would be divided between two recipients on the basis of relative needs. It would seem to me that if the amount were divided up between a previously legal spouse that is, a divorced person- and an existing legal or de facto spouse the same result would be obtained, namely, the division of an existing amount between two people. Therefore, there would not be any additional costs. I concede there might be some administrative costs. I might be wrong but it seems to me that there would be no additional cost and that in fact the same amount of benefit would be divided up between two people. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s comments, though, as I said previously, it might more readily be passed on to the Minister for Finance for some consideration.
Senator Walters dealt with the matter of dependency being overriden in the clause which provides for a widow to retain her pension on remarriage. That, together, with the provisions contained in section 110 of the original Act, which are covered in clause 42 of the amending Bill, refer to the division of benefits on the basis of relative need. It would seem to me that a similar formula in relation to relative need might apply, given the assumptions which seem to me also to be contained in the sections of the Act which deal with the benefit being retained by a widow who remarries. So in addition to these specific issues I raise with the Minister the general question of whether this matter is open for further consideration.
SenatorGUILFOYLE (Victoria-Minister for Social Security) ( 10.22)- I think that all matters covered by any Act or any Bill can always be the subject of further consideration from time to time. I do not suggest that these matters are not capable of being considered, discussed or investigated. I simply made the point earlier that it was not that this matter had been excluded from consideration, but rather that it had been considered and was not thought fit to be included. The situation with regard to divorced spouses is not very clear to me. I think I should have this matter investigated and have an answer given to Senator Knight on the proposal he has put. I simply made the point that the widow who would be sharing with a de facto spouse would be someone who would be in receipt of a benefit. The divorced spouse might be someone who had been divorced a number of years previously and who did not draw an entitlement under the Act at the time. I made the point of the sharing of one benefit only between those widows and de facto wives who might have some claims on the basis of need. It does seem that we are into an area of fairly complex discussion. I think I should note what has been raised by Senator Knight and by other honourable senators and have answers given to them with regard to any matters which have not been adequately covered in my remarks on payments to more than one wife or dependant. I do not think I have anything further which I can usefully add to what I have said already.
I have an amendment to clause 61, which reads in part:
Clause 6 1 of the Bill remakes section 1 54 of the Superannuation Act 1976 to take account of the 1977 changes to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975. The clause requires that all tribunals hearing appeals against decisions of the Commissioner for Superanuation should consist of a presidential member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and two non-presidential members. However, such a requirement is considered inappropriate in that many superannuation appeals would not warrant the presence of a presidential member. Also, because of the work load of a presidential member, delays in the hearing of superannuation appeals could occur. The amendment would overcome these problems. In addition, it would leave the past composition of tribunals unchanged. The Government is satisfied that the interests of the Commonwealth would be sufficiently protected, notwithstanding that under the amendment a senior non-presidential member may be a member of the superannuation scheme.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-I do not wish to keep the Senate for long. I am very conscious of the remarks made by Senator Wright this afternoon that one should speak only on important topics. I believe that this is an important topic. I wish to raise some matters which arise out of current charges being heard in Sydney involving the alleged fraudulent receipt of invalid pensions and sickness benefits. I am conscious of the fact that a court case is pending, and I have no desire to raise the specific charges or the possible outcome of the hearings, although I must say that some of the reporting in some sections of the Press has not shown the same regard for the problems that arise.
It is unfortunate that this case has been associated with just one community, namely, the Greek community. It may be that a person or persons unknown took advantage of the fact that there are many people of Greek descent whose English is inadequate and whose knowledge of our laws and our ways is scanty. In this case members of the Greek community were responsible for the situation coming to the public eye, as the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has said in answers to questions in this place. In doing so, the Greek community showed the sense of responsibility that it normally shows in our community. The matters which I wish to raise involve firstly a concern for the appearance that the alleged fraud in this case was not detected early; and, secondly, a concern expressed also by representatives of the Greek community that differences in language and bureaucratic systems may cause injustices not only now but also in future cases.
I believe that the concern amongst many sections of the migrant community is such that it probably warrants a detailed statement to the Parliament by the Minister. The court cases involve numbers of people in the Greek community allegedly receiving invalid pensions and sickness benefits, in each case for specific disorders, namely, psychiatric illnesses. In some cases it is alleged that they have been taking advantage of the portability provisions of the Act to receive the benefits overseas. The matter of alleged payments to persons to assist others to receive such benefits and pensions also arises. There are several points I should like to make. It would seem that in every case the pensions and benefits were paid initially in Sydney. It would seem that the districts of Sydney where the people receiving the benefits lived were very close together in the inner western suburbs. We often hear from the Government and from people in the community of the need to watch carefully the payment of all social security benefits to ensure that the taxpayer is not ripped off. For instance, that is the justification for the current investigations of unemployment beneficiaries throughout the country and the reason for a close watch being kept over the last two years on the recipients of the supporting mother’s benefit.
The Opposition shares the view that people should not obtain fraudulently or rip off, to use the common parlance, social security benefits in this country. In this case, when we became aware of the investigations leading up to the present situation and of the possible scale of the alleged offences, we co-operated to ensure that the course of justice was not interfered with. I believe it is important that the fraudulent receipt of pensions be prevented. Difficult though that is with our complex system of social security and the staff problems that occur frequently in the Department of Social Security, questions arise out of the present case suggesting that more could have been done either to detect the situation earlier or to prevent it. We are told unofficially, and in the Press frequently, that this practice has been going on for some seven years, and I believe that is a matter that needs to be cleared up by the Minister.
As I said, those allegedly involved are all from one region of Sydney. They are all of the same ethnic origin and they all allegedly suffered from psychiatric-type illnesses. They were all dealt with by a small group of medical practitioners and clinical psychologists in Sydney. Relative to the massive amount of unemployment benefits and pensions paid in the community, the amount of sickness benefits and invalid pensions involved in this case is quite small. One would have expected that the investigation officers whose task it was to keep an eye on payments would have been alerted by a pattern of benefit payments of this type. It is reasonable to expect that any profile of those receiving benefits would have shown unusual concentrations of these groups and that those suspected of fault would have been picked up much earlier. I may be wrong, but I would like some clarification of that. I believe that that is a reasonable expectation when we are paying out large amounts of money, and I should like to know why it was necessary for members of the community to bring this information to light.
– We do not know yet that anyone is guilty of an offence.
– I have made that point quite clear by using the word ‘alleged’, but I think it is important to bring it up, despite the pending action. The second matter I wish to raise is that the number of people receiving portable invalid pensions in Greece seems, on the face of it and if one compares the figures, to be disproportionate to the numbers in other large migrant groups such as Italians, Yugoslavians, or people from the United Kingdom. Certainly there could be other reasons for that difference, but I think that should have flagged the possibility that the group should be investigated much earlier than it was. It seems to me that the increase in payments made to Greece over the last two years has been considerable.
Dealing with the difficulty of a further source of possible detection, the officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health are charged with investigating claims for invalid pensions. Many of us have had difficulties in this area because of the fairly rigid restrictions on invalid pensions. The officers are faced with migrant people with little English who suffer from psychiatric disorders and therefore have no physical signs to speak of but have a certificate from a specialist. I can understand that those officers might rely largely on the certificate because they have little to go on as a result of physical or medical examinations. But when one looks at this case one cannot help but be impressed by the high incidence of people from one area and one community of Sydney, and one wonders why this group of beneficiaries was not detected earlier. All these questions have been asked not only by me but also by responsible members of the Greek community, and I believe they deserve an answer.
It has also been alleged in Press reports and in statements that payments were made of $1,000 for invalid pensions and $ 100 for sickness benefit certificates. Those reports may not be correct and I believe that if they are not then they should be corrected. But if payments of that magnitude were made it is hard to see how they would be considered worth while to the beneficiaries unless those beneficiaries were in fact earning other income. If a substantial number were earning other income then the routine procedures of the Department in at least some cases should have been able to pick up the fact that they were employed. After all, it is routine procedure that the Department contacts the employer to see whether a person is in fact working. From those few facts it seems that some overview of the situation by the officers of the Department of Social Security and /or the officers of the Department of Health should have detected the problem earlier, and I believe that the Parliament is entitled to a detailed statement from the Minister as to why the situation existed for so long without detection and what is being done to correct it in the future.
The second point I wish to raise, which also concerns the community involved, deals with the question of justice for those migrants who in future may surfer from such disorders, or in fact from any disorders that may entitle them to sickness or invalid pensions. In some overseas countries, including Greece, Turkey, and many of the Asian countries, the practice is followed of employing a go-between- in Greece I understand he is called a mesazon- to assist in dealing with the bureaucracy in such things as passports, permits and social security benefits. The service is paid for, and I am told by responsible people that in Greece it is a standard practice. In some other countries the payment of bribes is accepted as normal. It is not difficult to imagine that migrants from countries such as those, migrants whom we attracted as a matter of deliberate government policy, who have a poor grasp of the language and little or no knowledge of our customs or our bureaucracy, believe that the same sort of situation applies here. It is even more likely that they could be convinced by those who are wise in our ways and who know their ways that the same practice applies. Such migrants can be misled and caught up in a situation they do not understand. Our provision of foreign language speaking welfare workers, interpreters and welfare rights officers has been notoriously inadequate in the past in relation to dealing with migrants, especially when compared with the situation in some overseas countries. That comment applies not only to the present Government but also to previous governments going back for many years. I seek an assurance from the Minister that that possibility has been considered carefully by the Government and by the authorities in the prosecution of these cases.
There is considerable disquiet amongst the Greek community, which may or may not be justified, over the methods used by the Commonwealth Police in arresting alleged offenders in mass raids and weekend raids, methods that it is suggested are normally used in security or criminal cases. Another matter relates to the nature of the charges. Questions have been raised as to why the people involved- not the principals but the ordinary offenders- have been charged with conspiracy rather than with defrauding the Department of Social Security. As a non-lawyer, 1 am uncertain as to the reasons for that. The lawyers who represent the Greek community also are uncertain and suggest that this method of charging individuals may make defence difficult and more confusing for the defendants and their representatives.
– It has been condemned often in our courts.
-I accept that, Senator Wright. I just do not know the details myself. I raise it as a matter of importance. Migrants have considerable difficulty in assimilating and adjusting to conditions in this country. As I said before, we have not always been as helpful as we should have been. Surveys have suggested that some psychiatric disorders are more common in migrant communities as a result of the problems they have. In the past they have been subject to the depredations of all sorts of racketeers- more recently to insurance rip-offs, rent rackets and payments to obtain work. Unfortunately some of these people have been preyed upon by those who take advantage of their difficulties, and sometimes it is by their fellow migrants.
The alleged frauds at present in the newsthey have been considerably in the news and I suggest that the standard of reporting has been variable and at times very hurtful to the communityhave raised a lot of trouble and raised the worry that similar rackets may occur and similarly innocent people may be involved in episodes in other communities. Therefore I believe that I am justified in asking the Minister for Social Security to make- not necessarily tonight- a detailed statement on why there has been such a delay apparently in the investigations and what is to be done in the future. We also need reassurance that the full ramifications of the case involving possibly innocent migrants are understood by the Government and by those dealing with the people involved, and that where necessary help will be provided to them by way of interpreters and legal aid. The publicity given to the case requires that a clear explanation of the events is given not only to ensure that justice is done to both the taxpayer and the individual migrant but also to assist the community in understanding the difficulties which the Greek community is having in the present case. Finally, it is necessary to avoid any xenophobic reaction which may result from the wide Press publicity that has been given.
-Briefly, I thank Senator Grimes for raising this matter tonight. What has occurred in Sydney has caused grave embarrassment to the Greek community and I am pleased that the honourable senator has brought forward one or two matters- I do not quite agree with all the statements that he made- that should be noted with interest. Why was the Department of Social Security so lax as to allow the alleged fraud to become so widespread with the passage of time as to become a major fraud involving many people? The Department will have to accept responsibility for this. Surely if proper checks had been made both here and overseas such errors, if I can understate the situation in that way, would have become apparent and could have been brought to a halt quickly. It seems that many dozens of people- I was going to say ‘hundreds’ and perhaps that word is correct- have been drawn and enticed into doing something which is quite contrary to the law and for which there can be no justification.
Let me draw out another point that Senator Grimes made and that I have mentioned once before. For some reason or other departments use dramatic measures in the apprehension of people who may be in breach of the law. I remember complaining in the Senate about the raids carried out by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on the Chinese community when searching out illegal immigrants.
The Department used quite fantastic means, which intimidated the Chinese community and intruded somewhat into the privacy of members of that community. That was a cause for great concern. In recent cases in Brisbane the Department of Immigration took massive action in the early hours of the morning against Fijian visitors who had illegally over-stayed the period of their visas. It seems to me that that is an over-dramatic way in which to respond. I do not think that it is necessary for any department in Australia to use the Commonwealth Police in early morning raids. Again I thank Senator Grimes. His support for the Greek community will be received with considerable thanks by those members of it who apparently brought these escapades to the notice of the authorities. I find it very difficult to justify the action of any person who seeks to defraud society. I know that many responsible leaders in the Greek community feel exactly as I do.
– I thank Senator Grimes and Senator Georges for raising this matter in the manner in which they have raised it. It was raised with a degree of responsibility. The questions that were asked were naturally ones of interest to both of them. I am inhibited by the fact that this matter is already in the courts and considerable numbers of people have been charged with offences under the Social Services Act. Consequently I am not in a position to canvass either the alleged fraud or the evidence that may have been obtained by the Commonwealth Police in their very painstaking search of this particular incident. It has been suggested that there were delays in detection. I have to say that the investigation has proceeded over many months and it has been a very detailed investigation. Also I have to say that the Department of Social Security has relied on professional medical evidence from practising members of the medical profession and on the assistance of the Commonwealth Department of Health in determining the eligibility or ineligibility of people for sickness benefit and invalid pensions. This is the normal way in which eligibility is determined. Medical evidence from practising specialists and general practitioners is usually able to be accepted through the Commonwealth Department of Health.
In relation to the comments that have been made about members of the Greek community, I join with both honourable senators in deploring what has been sometimes an irresponsible approach in the reporting in the mass media. On the other hand I have to say that considerable cooperation was received from the mass media prior to the charges being laid by the police when stories of the investigation were in circulation and the Press delayed any reporting of them to enable the Commonwealth Police to finalise their investigation. Also I am concerned that there should be any feeling of damage to the reputation and standing of the whole of the Greek community in Australia as a result of this incident. As I have said and as Senator Grimes and other honourable senators said earlier, members of the Greek community were instrumental in enabling police to proceed with their investigations and in alerting the police to what they believed were abuses of the Social Services Act. The Greek community enjoys a very high reputation in Australia. It certainly can be assured by all of us that no damage has been done to that reputation as a result of this incident and of actions by people who are sometimes referred to as Greeks but who I think in most cases could be better referred to as Australians.
Last week, the Consul-General of Greece and the Acting Charge d ‘Affaires of the Greek Embassy visited me. I assured them that my only embarrassment was that there was a feeling of concern amongst members of the Greek community that something disgraceful had been perpetrated and that they all shared in this action. I assured the officials of the Embassy that the Government regarded the reputation of the Greek people in Australia as being of the highest standard and that it was in no way damaged by what has been referred to by Senator Grimes as perhaps an exploitation of members of the Greek community by others who may have professional skills and who used those skills in exploitation rather than in assistance.
It was said that we need to ensure that the members of the Greek community are assisted, as are all migrants and in particular the nonEnglish speaking migrants, to be aware of the systems and services that are available in Australia. As would be known by many honourable senators, the Department of” Social Security had a migrant services section which was recently transferred to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. But we are continually endeavouring to provide the services in other languages that are of assistance in helping people to know what benefits are available to them. Pamphlets on a number of subjects are printed in the Greek language. Columns on social security matters are printed in the ethnic Press. In Sydney and Melbourne we have close liaison between our State headquarters and ethnic radio. We have the telephone interpreter services, a welfare rights program and dual handset telephones on counter areas in our offices throughout Australia. All of these steps have been taken as part of our efforts to make sure that non-English speaking migrants in particular are aware of the programs that may be of assistance to them. It is certainly unthinkable that those people who need our assistance can be led into a situation where they are exploited and where they may be part of” some criminal acts that have occurred in connection with the Social Services Act.
I do not believe that I should canvass the way in which Senator Georges may have felt there was a over-dramatisation of the action by the police in the apprehension of those people who have been charged under the Act. I think that sometimes the reporting of law enforcement activities is overplayed when concentration should be on the actual way in which that law enforcement is carried out. But, to my knowledge, in this instance the Commonwealth police have been most thorough and painstaking in their efforts to finalise what was a very extensive investigation. They were assisted greatly by Greekspeaking members of my Department who were able to act as interpreters and in other ways for the police. I think probably what we are all saying in the Senate tonight is that this instance has shown us that there is a capacity for extensive fraud under the Act and that it is the responsibility of us all to see that only those people who are eligible to receive our pensions and benefits receive them. Where we are able to assist those people who need special help in knowing of the benefits to which they are entitled, we do this through interpreters and through other services that can be given in the way that I have described.
I thank the Senate for the opportunity to say what I have said with regard to the members of the Greek community. In particular, I thank those people who have assisted in showing that, where there are frauds under the Social Services Act, there are inevitable consequences in perpetrating those frauds.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.55 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1 978:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australia Post received additional net revenue of $3,749.58.
Use of Minister’s Name in Advertisement (Question No. 73)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 10 April 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780410_senate_31_s76/>.