31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from nine citizens of Australia:
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 showeth:
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 historic Decorations 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.
The proposed substitution of the National Medal for these Decorations and Medals varies the principle of selective recognition of efficient voluntary service in the citizen forces in that it recognises the period of service only and embraces also full time service as well in the defence forces as in the police, fire brigade and ambulance services.
This deprivation caused and is continuing to cause serious discontent amongst personnel of the Citizen Forces who willingly and cheerfully give of their spare time outside their normal full time civilian careers, to serve Her Majesty and Australia.
The Reserve Forces of Australia have been recognised by the present Government as a valuable- and costeffective component of the Defence Forces. Anomalously, whilst the Government is actually supporting recruiting for these Forces it has imposed and continued this deprivation which as foresaid has depressed the morale of the Citizen Forces.
Her Majesty has not cancelled the said Decorations and Medals.
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 Citizen Air Force.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services in his dual capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to reports that contracts have been let in the United States for the establishment of a ground station for the United States defence satellite communications system. I ask the Minister: Is this correct? If so, has the Government been informed of this? Is it the intention of the Government to inform Parliament of the details of this matter and will legislation be introduced to authorise such activities?
-I know nothing at all of this matter. I looked through my question brief before I entered this chamber; it includes no information on this matter. However, I will seek the information for the honourable senator from my two colleagues.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In view of the announcement by the Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at its 34th session that measures have been taken, in confidential session, in respect of nine countries including Indonesia, what action did the Australian delegation undertake to ensure a full investigation of the human rights situation in Indonesia where tens of thousands of political detainees, mostly held without trial for up to 12 years, are still being held under conditions of extreme hardship?
– I am advised by my colleague that on 10 March 1978 the Chairman of the 1978 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights announced that the Commission, in closed session, had given consideration to allegations of human rights violations in nine countries. He listed those countries as being Indonesia, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Republic of Korea, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, and Malawi. The proceedings of the Commission in closed session remain confidential and members of the Commission, including Australia, as a matter of practice do not divulge the details of any discussion. In making his announcement, the Chairman of the Commission said that the resolution of the Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific, which establishes the procedures for closed session consideration of human rights situations, provides that all actions envisaged for the implementation of the resolution by the Human Rights Commission or its Sub-Commission shall remain confidential until the Commission may decide to make recommendations to the ECOSOC. As no such recommendations were made at the 1978 session, the Commission’s discussions this year on the countries named by the Chairman must remain confidential.
-I direct to the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question concerning reports in the Press about ‘sealed ‘ diaries being held by the Australian War Memorial. I do not know whether the administration of the Australian War Memorial falls within the administrative responsibility of the Leader of the Government in the Senate or of one of his ministerial colleagues.
– It falls within the portfolio of Home Affairs now.
– In the Press statements on war-time episodes in New Guinea, the records are referred to as being ‘sealed diaries’. I want to establish how diaries which are left to a museum can remain sealed. What is the use of giving these diaries to a museum for general scrutiny if they are to remain sealed? May I have a definition of a ‘sealed diary’?
– I am speaking from memory rather than from knowledge of the situation which existed when I was previously responsible for the administration of both the Australian Archives and the Australian National Library. As I understand it, donors who voluntarily deposit records, diaries, books or any sort of papers with either of those two institutions can attach such conditions to them as they think fit. I know that some people give their papers to either one of those institutions under certain embargoesthat they should not be released for 20 years or 50 years or until after the death of the last person mentioned within those papers.
– Or with your approval.
-Or with the approval of the donor. That relates to papers which citizens might give to either of those two institutions. As the honourable senator no doubt would know, many honourable senators and members of the other place make their papers available to one of those institutions. Most of the papers I had as Leader of the Opposition have been deposited with the National Library, but again under some embargo because they contain some comments which ought not to be made public for some years.
– I’ll bet.
– That is fair enough, especially if the comments relate to honourable senators opposite. I should imagine that they come into the category of ‘sealed diaries’. As to the matter relating to papers held by the Australian Archives, I think that the administrative arrangements for access to archival material are public. But, as the honourable senator would know, proposed legislation will set out in a legislative form the conditions under which archival material is kept. That relates to archival material from government sources which belongs to the Crown and which is deposited at the archives by statute. Although I cannot recall the wording of the proposed legislation, I should imagine that it will still provide for citizens who voluntarily give their papers to the archives being able to attach to them such conditions as they think fit.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate investigate the conditions which apply at the Mitchell Library in New South Wales, where a number of people, including myself, have deposited papers? I handed to that library eight years of correspondence which I had as an Australian Labor Party official without imposing any conditionsanyone can read them and be damned. That is open government. I think that Senator Keeffe has probably done the same. I would like the Leader of the Government in the Senate to look at this legislation and ensure that anyone who has written letters stands by them and lets anyone read them, as we have done with the letters we have deposited with the Mitchell Library.
-I shall pass on that comment to my colleague the Minister for Home Affairs.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services and Minister representing the Minister for Defence and relates to the regulations governing the award of the National Medal. These regulations list as eligible members of the Defence Force, the Australian Police Force, the Australian Fire Service and the Australian Ambulance Service. I ask: Has any action been taken to consider for this award servicemen in all these services who were eligible by length of service but who retired prior to the introduction of the award, in particular those servicemen of the armed forces who have continued Service obligations through membership of the Emergency Reserve Forces?
– Again speaking from memory, I recall that representations have been made to my colleague, the Minister for Defence, about this matter. I think that to date he has refused to go back beyond the date of the original issue of the medal. But as the honourable senator has raised the matter again, I will take it up with my colleague and ask him whether he is prepared to reconsider his decision.
– I direct a question to you, Mr President. Are you aware that due to the large influx of security staff and others into Parliament House this morning, the staff and food resources of the staff canteen were sorely stretched? Is it a fact that supplies of many items ran out early in the morning and that permanent members of the staff in Parliament House had to wait for up to 30 minutes for service? Will you, Mr President, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, take some positive action to ensure that normal canteen services are maintained when visiting dignatories are present?
– Yes, I certainly will go into this matter of the provision of refreshments in Parliament House when an increase in patronage is likely to occur. I was not aware of the situation to which the honourable senator referred.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister aware that Medibank is refusing to reimburse fees for pre-match medical examinations for amateur boxers? Does the Minister know that such medical checkups are a requisite to ensure the health and well-being of the participants in this sport? Will the Minister examine this matter to see what can be done to help the participants?
– I am not able to deal with the question myself. I will see that it is referred to the Minister for Health so that an early report and response on the matter raised by Senator Bonner can be obtained.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate or to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I refer the Minister to recent events in the motor vehicle industry and to continuing Press reports that the Government has before it a submission which might lower the local content plan presently adopted by the Government. With that in mind, together with the sackings at Chrysler Australia Ltd, the Minister would agree that workers and industry are becoming very concerned about the position. Can the Minister tell the Senate whether the Government has yet reacted on the application made by the South Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the South Australian
Royal Automobile Association for the Government to review its position as to sales tax? Can the Minister state whether the Press reports in respect of that review, which were repeated this morning in one of the State’s newspapers, are accurate?
-Probably I am the Minister who should answer this question although the sales tax matter is really one for the Treasurer. The Government already has announced its attitude to that proposal. I think that Senator Bishop is asking whether the Government will reconsider its attitude on that matter. I will pass on that question to the Treasurer, although I do not represent him in this place. I think that that will be the most convenient way to handle the position. The honourable senator also asks, as I understand it, whether the Government is prepared to review the motor vehicle plan. It is a fact that some submissions have been made to the Minister for Industry and Commerce in regard to a review of the motor vehicle plan. At this stage those submissions are confidential and it would not be appropriate to indicate publicly what proposals have been made to the Government. All I can say is that the Government is giving urgent and serious consideration to any proposals of this kind that are put to it.
However, I can say on behalf of the Minister that in general the Government has established its policy in relation to the motor vehicle plan. This plan is understood clearly by all manufacturers and, I think, by people generally. The government certainly is not disposed to take lightly any changes to that plan. However, if advantages to the whole industry and to the community can be clearly demonstrated the Government will consider any such changes in that light.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Does AUS Student Travel Service Pty Ltd have a charter aircraft leaving Australia for Rome on or about 14 June? Have young Australians paid $555 to form this charter? Will they be issued with tickets for travel to Rome? Is the fare and trip structure in accordance with the Air Navigation Regulations? Have travellers been advised that this Malaysian Airline System charter to Rome will carry them only to Kuala Lumpur; that they will stay overnight in Kuala Lumpur; that they will be ferried- whatever that means- to Bangkok and then flown to Rome? How and by what airline is each stage of the trip to be conducted? Does the offer of this trip by
AUS Student Travel breach the Air Navigation Regulations? Is it intended to allow MAS to offer packages not permitted to our national flag carrier?
- Senator Baume was good enough to indicate that he was proposing to ask me a question along these lines. I have some information but not total information on the matter. My understanding is that AUS Student Travel has not arranged a charter flight from Australia to Rome on or about 14 June. However, I am informed that Malaysian Airline System has submitted an application to the Department of Transport to operate a charter flight on behalf of AUS Student Travel from Sydney and Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on 14 June and a further charter flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur on 15 June. I am further advised that the AUS Student Travel mid-year 1978 program indicates that onward connections are available via Bangkok to Rome on scheduled services which, I understand, are to be operated by Thai Airways International. The application submitted by MAS to operate charter flights on 14 June and 1 S June are still under consideration by the Department. The Minister has stated publicly that the practice of selling charter fares in combination with scheduled service fares below the levels approved by the Australian Government is in breach of the Air Navigation Regulations. My understanding is that one segment of the question remains unanswered. I will get more information and let Senator Baume know the details.
-Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that because of constitutional difficulties Queensland could become a State without a properly elected government? What action will he take to see that the Commonwealth Government ensures that the right and privileges of Queenslanders as Australian citizens are protected?
– Perhaps I should remind Senator McAuliffe that in fact in Australia we live under a federal constitution. Indeed, under that constitution the Senate represents the States. There is a constitution for the Federal Parliament and Government and a constitution for each State. The question he raises fairly and squarely falls within the ambit of the Constitution of Queensland and the legislation of the Queensland Parliament and is actually none of my business.
– Is the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs aware that concern has been expressed by some local government bodies about the financial situation of local government? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether he has been approached for more Commonwealth assistance and, if so, how the current level of assistance to local government compares with that of previous years?
– I am aware that such claims and expressions have been made. As to the second part of Senator Lajovic’s question, I was approached only last week by representatives of the federal body of the local government associations. They joined my colleague, Mr Groom, and me in very amicable discussions on the whole field of local government finances. I have some information here that might be helpful to Senator Lajovic and will put the present position of local government finances into perspective. Excluding the Regional Employment Development scheme and other employment grants, all of which were cut out by the previous Labor Government, the overall level of assistance to local government in recent years has run as follows: in 1973-74, $84.5m, with no general revenue assistance; in 1974-75, $189m, including $56. 3m general revenue assistance: in 1975-76, $239. 7m tax sharing, which includes $79.9m in the first year of the Fraser Government; and 1976-77, $276. 8m, which includes $140m tax sharing. The amount for 1977-78 is not clear, but it would be in the order of $3 1 Om. I point very briefly to the important fact that further benefits for local government will come with our continuing policies to reduce inflation and to reduce interest rates. Nothing can benefit local government more than the progression of that policy. I again remind the Senate that at the time of its greatest nominal wealth in 1974-75 local government was forced to put up rates by 30 per cent in order to hold its basic services. Today local government has some ability to expand.
– I ask the Minister for Social Security: Has there been a significant increase in the number of sickness benefit payments over the last few years? If so, has the increase been disproportionate to the general population growth rate increase? Further, have a considerable number of people on unemployment benefits been transferred to sickness benefits? Finally, can the Minister give any other reason why the number of sickness benefit payments has increased over recent years?
– There has been a significant increase in sickness benefit payments over the last few years. In fact, during the Estimates Committee hearings last year, I think, I referred to the fact that the steady increase in sickness benefits was worthy of note. As to the increase being disproportionate to the growth rate increase in the community, I am not aware of that but I am able to say that there has been a steady growth in sickness benefit payments. I am not able to say how many people have been transferred from unemployment benefits to sickness benefits because the testing for those two benefits is on a different basis, the unemployment benefit being subject to a work test by the Commonwealth Employment Service and the sickness benefit being subject to a medical certificate. However, I think it is fair to say that there could be an interchange between the two benefits.
I have asked my Department to report to me on the increase in sickness benefit payments. I have had no definite report from the Department, although it also has been interested in the growth shown in sickness benefits. It is also fair to say that every pension and benefit has shown a significant increase over the past few years, ranging from age pensions, supporting mothers’ and supporting parents’ benefits to sickness and unemployment benefits, to the extent that we now pay pensions or benefits to some 2 million people in this country. I will seek a report from my Department as to whether it has had an analysis made of the increase in sickness benefit payments that has been noted and will see that the honourable senator is advised accordingly.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer concerning sales tax on the Optacon, which is a device for assisting the visually handicapped in reading. I know that many specified items that are used for the sole purpose of assisting visually handicapped people are exempted from sales tax. These include braille machines, braille watches and talking books. I raised this question previously and was told that it was being examined. I now ask whether the Minister can say what stage has been reached in considering the exemption from sales tax of the Optacon, which is for use only by the visually handicapped?
– I am aware of Senator Knight’s interest in this matter. Quite some time ago he asked a question about it of my colleague,
Senator Cotton, with regard to the previous Budget. The Optacon is a device which enables visually handicapped people to read by converting the images of letters to a tactile form which can be sensed by the fingers. Such devices are taxable at the rate of 15 per cent, whereas, as Senator Knight properly says, specified classes of goods for the blind, such as braille watches, braille playing cards, braille writing frames, braille machines and talking book machines, are exempt. The Optacon is not included among those classes of goods.
The question of exempting the Optacon from sales tax came up for consideration, I think, in connection with the last Budget, but no sales tax exemptions were made in that Budget. Considerable doubts were expressed then as to whether sales tax exemptions of this kind are or were the most equitable and efficient approach to providing assistance for handicapped people. As Senator Cotton pointed out on the earlier occasion, those who can afford to buy mechanisms such as the Optacon, of course, get the benefit whereas those who cannot afford them do not. Therefore, for individual purchasers, this is a difficult problem. All that I am able to say at this moment is that this form of assistance to the disabled is being kept under review, and I will bring it once again to the attention of the Treasurer.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. I take the Minister’s point about the relative advantage to visually handicapped people who may be better off financially, but I ask in particular whether consideration can be given to exempting from sales tax organisations, particularly voluntary organisations, which might want to make use of the Optacon for their members.
-I think Senator Knight makes a worthwhile contribution in drawing attention to the fact that if a group purchase were made the terms of the purchase would be different. I will bring that matter to the attention of the Treasurer and ask him to give it consideration.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer him to my question of 6 April concerning negotiations between Australia and Indonesia over the seabed resources between this country and East Timor. On that occasion the Minister said that he would get advice from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I now ask: Firstly, are negotiations between Indonesia and Australia concerning seabed resources between East Timor and Australia still continuing and, if so, when are they likely to be concluded? Secondly, will not the conclusion of any arrangement with Indonesia on this issue effectively amount to a de jure recognition of the Indonesian takeover of East Timor? Thirdly, what is the attitude of the Portuguese Government on this issue?
-I apologise to the honourable senator for the fact that to date I have not been able to get him an answer to the question that he asked on 6 April. I will attempt to expedite that matter today, and I hope to have an answer for him at least by tomorrow. I come now to the question that the honourable senator asked this afternoon. I personally do not know whether negotiations are at present taking place or are to take place. The matter raised in the second part of the honourable senator’s question is one of law, and I do not think it is for me or the Foreign Minister to give a legal opinion. I shall seek urgently from my colleague the information sought in the third part of the honourable senator’s question.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I preface it by saying that no doubt the Minister is aware that Tasmania is divided into three telephone zones, each with its own telephone book. No doubt he is aware also that some telephone calls made in those zones are STD calls. For instance, a telephone call made between Burnie and Smithton is an STD call. That is not always convenient for those people who have to pay for the call or for those who have to use a public telephone. I ask: Will the Minister ask Telecom Australia to examine the possibility of making all telephone calls within each of those zones in the State of Tasmania a local call? Will he also ask Telecom Australia to consider the possibility of having only one telephone book for the entire State?
– I am aware that Tasmania is divided in three telephone zones, for which there are three telephone directories. I accept from Senator Townley, although I am not aware of it, that some calls made within the zones would be STD calls. I will ask Telecom Australia to look at the suggestions made by Senator Townley. I know that many people have argued that the costing of telephone calls should be simplified and rationalised. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister concerned and ask him to bring it to the attention of Telecom, to endeavour to get the matter considered and to give a reply to Senator Townley.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. I preface it by reminding the Minister that, as a result of the recommendations of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties, the Australian Council for Educational Research surveyed the skills of Australian 10- year-olds and 14-year-olds in October 1975. This survey revealed serious unmet needs in remedial reading and number work. I ask: What initiatives have been taken by the Federal Government to overcome these deficiencies.
– I am very well aware of the report made by the Australian Council for Educational Research in response to the special inquiry in another place. It was, as Senator Ryan would know, the first really detailed report of its kind in Australia, the first one on which we can rely for basic knowledge as to the then current degree of basic skills of 10-year-olds and 14- year-olds. I am aware that, as the honourable senator says, the report showed that there was some aberration, some defect, in the quality of delivery of basic skills. There has been some argument since that tries to assert- maybe it is correctthat we are no worse off than other countries. The fact is that the situation is not good enough, and no government could accept that it was.
Throughout Australia there is now a dialogue, particularly on the part of the Australian Council for Educational Research, endeavouring to seek ways in which we can correct the basic skills. One of the important terms of any national inquiry into teacher education will be to attempt to ensure for the future that all teachers are given basic training in remedial teaching. The fundamental finding, if there was one to be picked out, of that report was that there is a need for all teachers to be able to detect, as quickly as possible, early difficulties for early remedy at the class level. Throughout the States and the Commonwealth at the moment there is a move to provide effective remedial teaching. The whole matter, along with a number of other reforms, is at this moment under consideration by my Department. Inevitably, there is a need for the focussing of attention again on basic numeracy and literacy as distinct from the feeling that was abroad, that one could get by with innovation or experiment without those things. I regard this matter as one of the most important factors in the field of my responsibility.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Mr Justice Toohey, the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, completed the Borroloola land inquiry some months ago and I understand a report has been made to the Government. As this inquiry has brought about considerable public interest, particularly in the Northern Territory, is the Minister able to indicate to the Senate whether it is the intention of the Government to make comment on the report and/or to table it in both Houses of Parliament? If so, when?
– The Aboriginal Land Commissioner has reported to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs his recommendations on the claim under the Land Rights Act. As required by the Act, the Commissioner’s report has also been provided to the Minister for the Northern Territory. Discussions between the two Ministers are proceeding at present and the Minister expects to be in a position shortly to announce his decision on the report. Publication of the report will then occur. Policy considerations surrounding the publication of reports of the Land Commissioner before a decision is made by the Minister under the Land Rights Act are also being considered and will be announced when the Minister announces his decision on the Borroloola case.
-I preface my question to the Attorney-General by reminding him of an answer given to me earlier this year by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to a question I asked about Australia’s position under United Nations Convention 710. In his answer the Minister stated:
Inquiries have been made overseas to determine the attitude to the convention of other States which are parties to it. As soon as replies have been received to all the inquiries which have been made, the Departments concerned will be in a position to make recommendations to the Government on what action, if any, should be taken in relation to that convention.
I ask the Attorney whether he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs are aware of the existence of a number of Australian groups opposed to the free availability and sale of pornographic publications? If they are, can the Attorney-General say whether these or other people will be consulted before the Government arrives at a decision about the enforcement or otherwise of United Nations Convention 710? If they are not to be consulted, I ask why overseas attitudes are considered to be of more relevance than Australian opinions on this issue?
– Australia’s position under United Nations Convention 710, which refers to pornography, really is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs rather than for myself. I am certainly aware of the existence in Australia of many people, including the organisations to which Senator Haines referred, who are concerned about the matter. I am receiving representations from people, particularly people in South Australia, expressing concern along the same lines as expressed by Senator Haines. I am certainly well aware of this problem. I emphasise that under customs regulations the import of pornogaphic material is prohibited. In fact, action is taken when this material is intercepted at the point of entry. However, as with any other prohibited material, there is always the possibility, indeed probability, of the material getting past the censors.
The power of the Australian Government to control the import of this material is limited to the point of entry. Restriction on the sale of Pornographic material is a matter for the State governments. This is one of the problems that arise under this Convention. Although the Commonwealth can take certain positive steps under its powers, of course it cannot dictate to the States the steps to take in matters within the powers of the States. I assure Senator Haines that I am well aware of the attitudes and concern being expressed. I am currently reviewing some of the material about which complaints have been made to me, but at this stage I am not in a position to say anything more than that.
-My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I refer to the impact of Russian influenza in the northern hemisphere over the last year and the authoritative statements indicating the spread of the menace to Australia this winter. In the light of advocacy by doctors that people should obtain inoculation against this strain of influenza very soon, can the Minister assure the Senate that sufficient serum for this purpose is available to meet expected demand?
– I understand that the influenza vaccine currently being produced by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the 1978 winter will be effective against three strains of influenza virus-the A/USSR/9070-Iike strain; the B/Hong Kong-like strain and the A/Texas-like strain. The A/USSR strain has become evident in the northern hemisphere only recently. Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have commenced production of a new vaccine.
So far some 750,000 doses have been distributed. Some two million doses will have been produced by the end of May and the Laboratories are geared for production beyond May if that becomes necessary.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has stated that the use of influenza vaccine in normal healthy adults is not usually necessary but that certain special risk groups are probably justified in seeking annual vaccination. These are groups with heart and chest complaints, people with chronic, debilitating diseases and persons aged 65 years and over. Persons under 2 1 years of age are likely to have had no experience with the A/USSR strain. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories have recommended that persons in this age group who fall into the National Health and Medical Research Council’s special risk categories receiving this year’s trivalent vaccine should receive a second dose of vaccine after an interval of about one month. The situation appears to be well in hand. There should be no shortage of influenza vaccine in the forthcoming Australian winter.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Education. The Schools Commission, in its report for the triennium 1979-81, suggested that the opportunity now exists for the Northern Territory to plan an educational organisation which will be appropriate to both present and future needs of students in the Territory. The Commission indicated that it would be willing to assist in studying and defining the suitability of available options. I ask whether the Commission has been asked to carry out studies in the Northern Territory to assist in structuring an appropriate education organisation.
– As to the future, the question of structure is one for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. But in the past and currently, my Department has been working with all instrumentalities, including the Schools Commission, in looking at these matters. I am not aware that any special request has been made to the Schools Commission beyond the present work. If there has been a request I shall let Senator Robertson know.
– I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to the long delay in mail deliveries in Adelaide and South Australia generally, due to the postal workers’ ban on overtime in South Australia. Will the Minister arrange for a further increase in additional staff which could help overcome the great delay in mail deliveries in South Australia. As well as giving work to a greater number of people such an increase would avoid the payment of overtime penalty rates, which the postal workers do not appear to want as they have already placed a ban on it.
– I am aware, as is everybody else, of the delays in mail deliveries which are currently affecting South Australia and which have been endemic to the continent. We all deplore that situation because of the tremendous inconvenience and the cost and suffering it causes. I shall convey to my colleague in another place the suggestion which Senator Young has made that there should be an appropriate increase in staff to overcome the delays and to bring about a more efficient service.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. He will recall that a Mr Wylie Fancher of Atherton and Townsville incurred a telephone account of many thousands of dollars while acting for the Queensland Government and the then Federal Opposition in an undercover search for the alleged overseas loan raisings by the Australian Labor Party Government. Will the Minister inform the Parliament whether the telephone account has been paid by the Queensland Government or by the Federal Government? If the answer is in the negative, what action is being taken by Telecom Australia to recover the outstanding amount?
– I have no first hand information. I ask Senator Keeffe to put the question on notice.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. In view of representations I have received will the Minister ascertain whether Touchfones which are currently being heavily promoted have passed all reasonable operational trials? Are they proving to be more or less trouble free than the type of telephone they are designed to replace?
– I recall that when I was last asked a question about Touchfones I showed a remote and continuing lack of knowledge about them. I have caught up a little since then.
– You are in touch.
– I have got into touch, yes. In fact, I made a response on the general approach by the public. I think that the public’s response in seeking usage was less than had been anticipated. I am not aware of what has happened in terms of the trials or whether these telephones are more or less effective and trouble free than the ordinary dial telephones. I suppose each of them is subject to human error, perhaps one more than the other. I will seek out that information and let the honourable senator know.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Given the present community concern about revenue collection, does the Minister believe that the Commonwealth revenue collection apparatus is sufficient in terms of research facilities and trained personnel to keep up with the growing number of legal and accounting practices which specialise in designing tax avoidance schemes for the wealthier sections of the community to the disadvantage of the majority of taxpayers?
– I think it is a matter of very real concern to all people who pay tax, and pay it without seeking avoidance, that the tax collection system should be efficacious. I do not suppose that anyone could say that the facilities are sufficiently good at any time to keep up with or ahead of those people who seek avoidance because every law will have its loopholes. I am aware that my Government has in recent months taken steps at all levels of the Australian Taxation Office to strengthen detection processes and to tighten the law. In general, we believe that tax avoidance should not be allowed for some people while the burden of tax is borne largely by the ordinary working person who has no such luxury. I believe we have increased the research and detection methods. I cannot say that they will necessarily be good enough; only experience will tell. I can say nevertheless that my Government is determined to carry out the undertaking in its Budget Speech in August last year to mitigate as far as possible tax avoidance systems.
SenatorCAVANAGH-Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister seen or heard of today’s Press report- it was not in the cartoon section- of the dissatisfaction of a group of Aurukun Aborigines who visited Canberra last week and its statement that the Federal Government is not concerned now that the agreement with the Queensland Government must have the approval of the Mornington Island and Aurukun Aborigines and wants to avoid a confrontation with the Queensland Government. As this attitude is contrary to the previous published statements of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, will the Prime Minister make a statement to the Parliament on this question. As such serious views of this matter were taken by Senator Bonner, has he submitted his resignation to his political party as a result of the change in the Federal Government’s action?
– I know of no resignation or intended resignation by Senator Bonner. He is a colleague whose company we enjoy and I think he is totally committed to our side of politics. I will ask the Prime Minister whether he intends to make a statement on this matter. As to the more general thrust of the honourable senator’s question, could I just put in this way: He was a member of a government- a Minister of a government- in the Federal system which for three years decided that the best way to run this country was to have continual confrontation with the States. As a result, particularly in this area of Aboriginal affairs, nothing happened. The situation got worse and worse. Whether one talked about turtles or anything else, in a confrontation situation nothing was done.
We said in opposition- it has been our policy in government- that the best way to make the federal system work is by co-operative federalism. The Commonwealth Government will get a lot further with its policies when it has the active support of State governments, and the understanding of State governments, of what it is attempting to do. The Commonwealth Government has actively sought in the past two and a half years, and will actively seek for the rest of its term- according to Mr Wran we will be in Government for the next six years- the help, assistance and co-operation of the State governments, be they Country Party, Liberal Party, Liberal-Country Party or Labor governments. We believe totally that the best way to run a federal system is by co-operation and that confrontation leads only to disaster.
– I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister not heard that the Labor Government, during its three years in office, reached agreement with five out of the six States that the responsibility for planning and coordination of Aboriginal Affairs rested properly with the Commonwealth Government, and that when Labor was thrown out of office it was considering a proposal to claim all Aboriginal settlements in the one State which would not cooperate with the Federal Government, namely, Queensland?
-That only gives force to what I have said. The honourable senator now admits that in the dying days of the Labor Government it preferred the path of confrontation merely because it could not get its own way the first time round.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry: Does the Government intend to amend the legislation providing for the establishment of a rural bank? If so, will the amendment be introduced during this session of Parliament? What interest rate will be charged by the rural bank to its clients, that is, the other banks and stock firms? Finally, when will the director of the rural bank be appointed? Will this person be someone who at present is associated with a private trading bank which will be a client of the rural bank?
-The Minister for Primary Industry has made announcements relating to the Government’s progress in the establishment of a bank refinancing organisation. My understanding is that this matter is before Cabinet at the present time so that the exact functions of such a bank can be determined. I am unable to say when a director will be appointed or who will be appointed. I shall seek an answer for the honourable senator as soon as possible.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs seen a report that the United States Administration estimates that more than 3,000 boat people arrived in Australia last month? Is this report correct? If not, what is the actual number of refugees who have arrived in Australia to date? Is it a fact that hostel accommodation for these people is now at a premium? What plans, if any, has the Government for the provision of more hostels should the need arise? What effect, if any, is the increasing number of refugeees having on the normal intake of migrants to Australia? In other words, as the number of refugees increases, is the Government cutting down in any way the number of migrants admitted to Australia from other countries?
– I have not seen a report that 3,000 boat people entered Australia last month, which Senator Douglas McClelland told us has been released in the United States. I am unable to say the actual number of boat people who have arrived to date. I am also unable to provide information with regard to hostel accommodation. I shall refer those matters to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and obtain an early answer for the honourable senator.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware that the Indonesian Government has again refused the International Red Cross permission to visit East Timor to carry out its humanitarian work? Is this not a rebuff to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Peacock, who early last year said that he expected the Indonesian Government to recognise the rights of the International Red Cross? Does the Government regard the International Red Cross as a highly respected and impartial international body? In view of this, will the Leader of the Government raise this latest refusal with the Prime Minister and ask him to communicate with the Indonesian President with a view to the International Red Cross being permitted to be stationed in Portuguese East Timor?
-I am not aware of the matter raised in the first part of the honourable senator’s question. As to whether this action would represent a rebuff to my colleague Mr Peacock, I doubt that very much. It is not for me to comment upon the manner in which the Government regards the International Red Cross. The honourable senator asks also whether I will raise this matter with the Prime Minister. Yes, I will pass on the honourable senator’s question to the Prime Minister to obtain an answer.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development or to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce, whichever Minister regards it as appropriate for him to answer. Is it a fact that the Callaghan report in relation to Tasmania made certain recommendations about the potential development of Tasmania’s tourist industry? Is it also a fact that since December last the Federal Government has been awaiting recommendations or proposals from the Tasmanian Government on the Callaghan report? Is it true that to date no such proposals have been put forward by the Tasmanian Government, notwithstanding the urging coming from the Federal arena? Is it an important aspect of the development of Tasmania that the Tasmanian Government should make the proposals as soon as possible so that the Commonwealth can play its part in developing that important industry for Tasmania?
– I think that it is appropriate for me to answer this question. I am not aware of the response by the Tasmanian Government to the report. I certainly would agree that it is most important for the Federal Government to have that response. Of course, it is certainly most important for Tasmanians that there be a response generally to this matter. I will refer to the Minister for Industry and Commerce the specific question about the Tasmanian Government’s response and endeavour to obtain an answer.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security. Is it currently required that a worker who terminates his employment of his own accord must wait for six weeks before he is eligible to receive unemployment benefit? If so, does he have to be registered as unemployed for that six-week period or is it acceptable for him to register at the end of the period provided he can show that he has been seeking work during that period?
– It is a fact that a person who becomes unemployed voluntarily has the payment of unemployment benefit postponed for six weeks. It is also a fact that if, during that period, such a person seeks work on his own account, that will be taken into account in determining the date on which he will be able to receive unemployment benefit. In other words, the honourable senator has answered the question in the way in which he has asked it. If a person endeavours to obtain work on his own account following his becoming unemployed voluntarily, that time during which he sought to obtain work is taken into account when determining the date on which he will receive his unemployment benefit.
-Mr President, I direct a supplementary question to the Minister for Social Security. I was trying to determine whether, during that six weeks, it is obligatory that that person be registered as unemployed with the Commonwealth Employment Service or may he wait for six weeks and then register and become eligible for unemployment benefit at that time?
– It would be desirable for such a person to be registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service because it would be able to give him assistance. Amendments were made to the Social Services Act last year with regard to school leavers and others. As a result action taken on one’s own account to obtain employment can be taken into account when determining when unemployment benefit shall be paid.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I seek some enlightenment on the Government’s intentions regarding stage 2 of the proposed dairy industry marketing arrangements. Specifically, is it expected that any legislation will be introduced in this session of the Parliament to provide for the implementation of stage 2? Failing that, will the Minister ask the Minister for Primary Industry for a ministerial statement within the next couple of weeks setting out the Government’s intentions in this matter?
– I have some information relating to the progress of stage 2 but I think it would probably serve the Senate better if I obtained a proper statement from the Minister for Primary Industry relating to the exact situation at the moment. I will get that information for the honourable senator, perhaps later in the day.
-I ask that further questions be placed on notice. For the first time in two and half years we have completed Question Time in less than 60 minutes.
– And dealt with 30 questions.
– Yes. I think we are to be congratulated.
-Earlier today Senator Button asked me a question about a possible United States military installation to be built on the North-West Cape in Western Australia. I have been advised that there is no such intention. The allegation published in the Australian Financial Review on 8 May 1978 is unfounded speculation. I can inform the honourable senator that an agreement was signed in October 1977 for the establishment of a solar observatory at Learmonth, Western Australia, under joint AustralianUS management. The honourable senator may recall that on 27 October 1977, as reported in Senate Hansard on page 1853, my colleague the Minister for Science made a statement in the Senate on this matter. It appears that it has taken from 27 October 1977 until 8 May 1 978 for the Financial Review to come across this item and then speculate that some horrendous defence installation is about to be built at the same place.
-On 4 May of this year Senator Martin asked me a question relating to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. I have an answer from the Minister for Primary Industry as follows: It is true that a decision was taken in mid 1977 to make arrangements for an elected Producer Consultative Group to be established under the provisions of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Act 1977. It is also true that the Government placed a high priority on the commencement of operations by the new Corporation and, to facilitate this objective, set up an interim producer consultative group which was comprised of members nominated by livestock producer organisations. The intention was to replace this interim body with an elected Producer Consultative Group by March of this year. Commitments of the Australian Electoral Office late in 1977 necessitated a variation of the time-table orginally proposed and subsequently a number of other developments have influenced the finalisation of arrangements for an election.
It should be emphasised that from the outset there has been a strong division of opinion amongst producers on this issue with two of the four national livestock producer organisations being opposed to an electoral basis for the selection of members of the producer consultative group. A significant development in this respect is a move within the producer organisations to achieve unity at the national level. Included in the unity proposals is a proposition that members of the producer consultative group be nominated by a cattle council and a sheep council. The proposed target date for formation of these councils is 1 January 1979.
If there is a real prospect of these moves coming to fruition it would be foolish and irresponsible for the Government, in a time of budgetary constraint, to spend a lot of money by proceeding with an election for a producer consultative group against the majority of industry opinion. It should be noted that elections conducted in accordance with the principles suggested by producer organisations would cost in the order of $250,000, more than double the amount originally envisaged. There would of course also be recurring expenditure for subsequent elections and by-elections. In the light of the above considerations the Minister for Primary Industry judged it appropriate to canvass industry views again and on 13 April 1978 he wrote to the four national producer organisations concerned. The purpose was not to give notice of a decision to defer the election but rather to provide the organisations which represent Australian livestock producers with an opportunity to give further thought to the desirability of proceeding with an election at this time.
– by leave- On behalf of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), 1 present a statement relating to accommodation for married servicemen. As the statement was put down by my colleague in the other place last Thursday and appears in the House of Representatives Hansard and has become public knowledge since that date, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The statement read as follows-
The Senate will be aware that on 1 June 1977 the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) tabled the report of the Standing Committee on Expenditure concerning accommodation for married servicemen. The Government considers that the problems associated with defence service housing exceed, in some aspects, the terms of reference of the House of Representatives Committee. It has therefore decided that the inquiry and investigation arising out of the Committee’s report should be made more wide ranging and comprehensive to cover all aspects of defence housing and will include an examination of the scope for selling a proportion of the housing stock, particularly where such accommodation is frequently unoccupied. The inquiry will be carried out in the first instance by a senior level interdepartmental committee. This decision has been made having full regard to the report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure.
Until the results of the inquiry are available, and instead of following the formula for the servicemen’s group rent scheme, which would have led to substantial immediate increases in rent, the Government has decided as an interim measure to increase rent based on movement in the rent component of the consumer price index during 1977. This will mean an increase of 9.6 per cent. The increase will be effective in early July and rental for servicemen’s housing will be varied by amounts ranging from 50c to $4 per week. Turning to the Standing Committee ‘s significant contribution to the subject of service accommodation, I would like to commend the members for their obvious concern for the welfare of servicemen which is evident in the report, and which I share. There is considerable merit in many of the Committee’s recommendations, which are directed at producing greater flexibility and more economical ways of providing accommodation for married servicemen. The Standing Committee’s basic recommendations are aimed at the discontinuation of many plans for the construction or acquisition of housing for use by married servicemen; the introduction of explicit rent allowances/concessions to compensate servicemen for housing related disabilities that are not compensated for by other schemesthis is contrasted with the present situation where the difference between market rents and the rents servicemen pay represents an implicit subsidy or rent concession; the gradual divestment by the Commonwealth of part of the existing defence stock by selling some Commonwealthowned houses and returning some stock to the States.
A number of fundamental issues which require further examination will be examined by the interdepartmental committee. These issues include matters such as: Whether there is a ready availability of private rental housing to meet the special needs of married servicemen; the viability of a new housing allowance and /or concession scheme as a replacement for existing schemes; recognition and acceptance of a rental subsidy for married servicemen.
In addressing these aspects of the Standing Committee’s report, it may assist honourable senators if I briefly recount the history of service married accommodation. Until 1955 it was not the general practice to provide housing for married members of the Defence Force in metropolitan areas except for a limited number of houses for key personnel. Houses were provided for some married personnel in other localities. By 1955, the size of the Defence Force had considerably expanded, and lack of housing for married members had become so critical as to cause a serious morale and re-engagement problem.
Consequently, in 1956, the government of the day approved a vigorous program of providing married quarters for servicemen to enable the
Defence Force to be deployed readily across Australia. Successive governments have continued this policy. Since 1956, some 16,000 dwellings have been provided for servicemen under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. A further 3,000 dwellings have been acquired through the Department of Administrative Services or built through the Department of Construction. As a result there are now about 23,000 dwellings available for the use of some 28,000 married servicemen actively seeking official married accommodation. The shortfall of 5,000 dwellings is met by renting from the private market, and servicemen in this category are assisted through the existing temporary rental allowance- TRA- scheme. In addition, there are a further 10,000 married servicemen who make their own housing arrangements.
The Standing Committee on Expenditure has recommended not only the discontinuation of building or acquiring new housing other than in on base’ situations or elsewhere where the private housing market cannot meet the Service demands, but additionally the gradual reduction of existing defence stock. This would involve many servicemen in due course seeking accommodation for their families on the private market. An important issue is therefore whether this far reaching change in established policy would adversely affect the ready deployment of the Defence Force or the morale and welfare of service families. The Committee has also made several recommendations in regard to rents and associated allowances for married servicemen. Experience has shown that these are complex and sensitive issues about which servicemen themselves have strong feelings.
When the Committee of Inquiry into Financial Terms and Conditions of Service for the Regular Armed Forces- The Woodward Committeereported to the Minister for Defence in December 1972, it noted that there was a series of variable and confusing rent situations met by servicemen as they moved from post to post, and it recommended a greater consistency of treatment both in standards of accommodation and in rental contributions. From 1972 to 1975 intensive study within the Department of Defence was directed at a system which would: Disassociate rents from salary as far as possible and relate them instead to the quality of the dwelling provided; apply standard rents to houses across Australia regardless of their source, location, type of construction or actual costs; prevent frequent rent increases to some Service tenants.
The Defence Group Rent Scheme, incorporating the above principles, commenced in April 1976. The Scheme was based primarily on relating rents to housing quality and to this end every one of approximately 23,000 houses was measured and inspected to assess its compatibility with the authorised scales and standards for servicemen. It was decided that there should be six basic categories of dwellings and a rent was struck for each. The total of these rents when collected would equal the total of assessed economic rentals. In other words, the estimated cost of providing service housing would be returned to revenue. Thus the confusion and unpredictability of previous arrangements were mitigated. Regardless of where a serviceman was posted he could be sure of the maximum rent he would be required to pay. However, during the two years’ operation of the Group Rent Scheme, steep rental increases have occurred. These have resulted from costs of upgrading older houses, high costs of maintenance and increasing construction costs.
Apart from building or acquiring Service housing, it has also been the policy of successive governments to provide financial assistance to servicemen who are posted to localities where married quarters are not available. This assistancetemporary rental allowance- is very similar to longstanding provisions made for the Commonwealth Public Service, and includes provision for special consideration to be given to individual cases. The Committee has recommended the ultimate phasing out of both the existing temporary rental allowance arrangement and the Group Rent Scheme, and their replacement with a rent allowance or rent subsidy related to rank and local market conditions. In considering the Committee’s report, the Government confirmed the Committee’s view that defence housing policy had a direct bearing on deployment and efficiency of the Defence Force.
Pending a final decision which will be made when the report of the interdepartmental committee has been received and considered, the Government has decided to follow the Standing Committee’s recommendations to make increased use of a number of alternative sources of housing to meet the requirements for housing for servicemen- thus getting better value for money. These sources involve use of private builders, acquisition of existing houses on the open market and hiring of other dwellings. In other areas, particularly in capital cities, greater emphasis is being placed on use of the private rental market. The Real Estate Institute of Australia and a major project builder have been asked to assist in the review of scales and standards of housing for servicemen so that Service housing is more closely aligned with that in the general community. I believe that these changes will not only lead to more economical ways of building or acquiring defence housing, but that greater use of the private rental market will provide satisfactory accommodation for a substantial proportion of servicemen.
The Government accepts the Standing Committee ‘s view that servicemen have certain housing related disabilities. In pursuance of the Committee ‘s basic recommendation to provide explicit rent allowances, the interdepartmental committee will investigate, together with other possibilities, the feasibility of introducing a viable rent allowance/concession scheme to replace existing schemes for married servicemen. The existing schemes will not be replaced unless and until satisfactory and comprehensive alternatives have been developed to replace them. In anticipation of further debate on the Standing Committee’s report on accommodation for married servicemen, I commend the matters to which I have referred for the consideration of honourable senators.
– by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- On behalf of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), I present a statement relating to the purchase of aircraft for No. 34 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force. As this statement was put down in the other place last Thursday and appears in the House of Representatives Hansard and is public knowledge, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The statement read as follows-
I wish to inform the Senate of the decision the Government has now taken in regard to the acquisition of two aircraft to be operated by No. 34 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force. The Government is concerned that the means of air travel available to national leaders and, from time to time, to visiting dignitaries and groups of ministers, fail to provide protection against terrorist activity or other threats against security. Where commercial flights are used this risk extends to all passengers. An assessment of aircraft security considerations has been undertaken. This indicates that the security risk in travel by foreign-owned commercially scheduled aircraft or by privately owned chartered aircraft, whether Australian owned or foreign owned, is unacceptably high.
Personal contact with governments of other countries is now becoming increasingly important in inter-government relationships. This factor is imposing increasing demands on the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and his staff to travel overseas, often at comparatively short notice. It is not practicable always to look to Australian airlines, be it Qantas or the internal commercial carriers, to provide at relatively short notice charter aircraft for overseas flights. Internally similar considerations apply. In a country so dependent on air travel, internally and externally, the Government recognises that the use of special transport aircraft owned and operated by the Defence Force offers a positive advantage in isolating from normal commercial traffic what could at any time be attractive targets for terrorist activity.
In considering how this and future governments might best respond to situations of risk which cannot be forecast, but ought to be insured against, and recognising that situations can arise with unpredictable suddenness, the Government has examined various options. Honourable senators will know that the No. 34 Squadron is presently equipped with two HS748 aircraft, three Mystere 20 aircraft and two BACIII aircraft. Of these the BACIII has the greatest range and passenger capacity but, even for long range flights within Australia, intermediate refuelling is required. Whilst this is generally acceptable, the major disadvantage of the current aircraft fleet is that they are twin-engined aircraft unsuitable for long over-water flights. The option of chartering Qantas Boeing 707 aircraft which has been a practice of Australian governments in the past, will no longer be available once the last of the Qantas 707 aircraft are phased out in the not too distant future. Aircraft types then available would be too costly for charter, and they would not readily be available without severely disrupting normal scheduled airline services, particularly at relatively short notice.
The practical option remaining is for the Government to acquire aircraft capable of long range over-water flights. Such aircraft would necessarily have at least three engines, and an extended range capability. Enhanced passenger space and facilities and baggage capacity compared to existing aircraft in the special transport fleet are necessary. The Government therefore has decided to acquire two Boeing 727 type aircraft. The possibility of acquiring second hand aircraft will be examined. Such aircraft can be acquired on world markets at reasonable cost and aircraft with adequate airframe life remaining should be available if we proceed now. As these Boeing aircraft are presently in Australian airline service, the possibility of linking in with their maintenance and spares support organisation is being examined. This would minimise the costs and the demands placed on Air Force resources.
The cost of two Boeing 727 type aircraft will depend on detailed evaluation of available aircraft and of the prospects of successful price negotiation. I will inform the Senate when I have more information on this aspect. For the time being the existing aircraft in No. 34 Squadron will remain in service. When the Boeing 727 aircraft come into operation, an examination will be made of the longer term rationalisation of the aircraft in No. 34 Squadron, against the background of security requirements and the pattern of increased usage. All aircraft in No. 34 Squadron are available for service transport duties in the event of an emergency.
– by leave- I move:
Speaking briefly to the paper put down by the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers), this matter was debated in the other place and there has been a lot of public comment on it. The few remarks I wish to make are mainly for the record in this chamber, but I think it is important that we should consider the matter briefly. As always, any decision by the Government to do anything with No. 34 Squadron and the aircraft that are used by it is a matter of public interest, particularly since the issue of the use of VIP aircraft blew up in this chamber some years ago.
I want to make it quite clear that, as an Opposition, we accept the need for proper security arrangements in the use of these aircraft. I do not think that anybody could reasonably say he would want his family travelling on the same aircraft as a Prime Minister. I personally would not want to travel on aircraft with any Prime Minister. There is no question that Prime Ministers are much more subject to action by ill-intentioned persons than any other figure in the community, and that includes important people like senators. If we accept that principle, I think it is only reasonable that proper precautions should be taken. If the Government believes that there is a need for security precautions to be taken to that extent, I do not think anyone would argue with it. It is the manner in which this decision has been made that is of concern to the Opposition. We are told that the purchase of these two aircraft is necessary. We are told that they have a longer range. We went through this exercise last week, and I stand by the comment I made then that I do not believe the marginally improved range of this type of aircraft is critical. I do not purport to be an authority on that subject, but the Government ought to be able to provide information to substantiate the claims it has made.
Looking very broadly at the issue, if new aircraft are to be purchased for the VIP squadron, it is incumbent on the Government to place before the Parliament the options available to it. We do not know the costs involved in the charter of aircraft for overseas travel, and that is what we are really talking about. We have not been given any information as to their availability or what it would cost. I presume that the Government itself has not considered whether it would be more economical for these aircraft to be operated by the Department of Transport, for example, in the same way as the old Department of Civil Aviation operated aircraft for its own civilian purposes. It may be that if the various options were considered in depth and the Parliament advised, we might find that what the Government is proposing is the cheapest and perhaps the most effective way of doing this. I do not think that there are any grounds on which we could accept the proposition at this stage.
The suggestion that these aircraft will be bought, as some newspaper said this morning, for around $10m is, of course, quite fanciful. I am glad that the statement of the Minister concedes that the price for each second-hand aircraft and the back-up facilities would be at least $7m to $8m, if not more. Because of the strength of the market around the world for second-hand 727 aircraft, I doubt very much whether this Government will even be able to purchase this type of aircraft, let alone get them at that favourable price. I do not wish to say anything further except to re-state the position of the Opposition, namely, that we do not believe that decisions of this nature should be taken in the quite arbitrary manner in which this decision has been taken. Until such time as the Government is prepared to place before the Parliament a properly considered statement as to the options available to the Government we will continue to have the greatest reservations about this decision. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I seek leave to amend Notice of Motion No. 1 standing in my name relating to the days and hours of meeting of the Senate for the remainder of this sitting so that it will read in accordance with the list distributed to honourable senators. The alterations that have been made change the times of meeting in the afternoons, and the time of resumption following a luncheon suspension to 2.15 p.m. They also extend the time for the adjournment for tonight only to 10.30 p.m.
After I gave notice of these days and hours of sitting last week representations were made to me by a number of honourable senators about the sitting resuming at 2 p.m. I concede the strength of the representations made by colleagues from both sides of the chamber. I think it is fair and sensible to resume at 2.15 p.m. each day. The change to 10.30 p.m. for the adjournment tonight is solely because Estimates Committees are sitting today. If we were to rise at 10 p.m. tonight we would be depriving the Estimates Committees of half an hour of sitting time.
I know that the Senate will regard this as an extension of its hours of sitting but I point out to the Senate that in the past sitting times have tended to be increased in the last few weeks of a session. My motion proposes to increase somewhat our hours of sitting but the Government has taken the quite deliberate decision- this does not apply to those nights when the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast- to rise at 10 p.m. The Government believes quite firmly that as the hours of sitting are extended and the time for the meeting of the Senate becomes earlier it is fairly important that honourable senators should not be sitting here half the night. One thing which is not good for government is for the Parliament to sit late at night when people get too tired. Apart from the Wednesday nights, when the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast until 1 1 p.m., I hope that everybody will be home and in bed by 10.20 p.m. I commend the motion to the Senate.
– On behalf of the Opposition I indicate that I will be moving an amendment to the motion just proposed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers). I do not want to stand here for 10 minutes talking about it because we know the issue. Therefore, I move:
I concur with Senator Withers’ comment about adjourning at 10 o’clock at night. There is no question that we in this place almost drive ourselves to drink by sitting here long after all of us are too worn out to really care what is happening. I suppose that if we knock off at 10 o’clock at night it is much more likely that we will drive ourselves to drink. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Nevertheless, we certainly have no opposition to the 10 o’clock closure but we object to sitting on 5 June for the simple reason, of which everybody is aware, that it is a public holiday in three or four States. Because it is a long weekend, many functions have been arranged to which many members of this chamber are committed. They have made commitments on the basis that we would not be sitting on 5 June.
I can understand the rationale of the Leader of the Government. He feels that this is a lever to get us to do the right thing so that we will be able to rise on 2 June. If we do not talk too long we will not need to sit on 5 June. But we know that we cannot compress our consideration of legislation. Many important Bills have to be passed and we ought to be given the proper time in which to debate them. With respect to him, I do not think that we should feel that we must rise by 2 June. I am sure we would all like to finish by then but not at the expense of proper discussion of the legislation that comes before this chamber. Therefore I have moved an amendment. If the amendment is defeated- 1 suppose there is a fair chance that it will be defeated- Senator Withers may reconsider sitting on 5 June. I am not trying to ‘sell’ him but I do not find him an unreasonable person in the way in which he conducts the business of the chamber. If the amendment is lost, I hope that when we have completed our next two-week sitting period we will look again at our sitting times.
– I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt). I do so for obvious reasons. I raised one of them in the Senate the other day when the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) gave notice of a motion to amend sitting hours. This Government has been very adamant and very outspoken on the need for economies. No thought has been given to what it will cost to have the Parliament sit on the Queen’s Birthday holiday, Monday, 5 June. Every person working in this place apart from senators will have to be paid penalty rates. Apparently Senator Withers could not care less about that, but every other time when the various departments and particularly when people in need in the community have wanted something extra we have been told that there are economic restraints placed upon it.
My other reason for supporting the amendment- my Leader hit upon this- is that Senator Withers is using his timetable as a threat. He is implying that if we hurry through all the business of this place and forget about its being a house of review, we will rise on the Friday prior to the holiday. Senator Withers laughs at that, but there is no question that that is his idea. That does not influence me one bit. 1 feel that we should have the Monday holiday and, if we have to come back the next week, we should do so. Monday, 5 June, is a public holiday in every State of Australia. When I raised this matter the other day Senator Withers said that it was not a holiday in his State. I looked up the list of public holidays and found that it is Foundation Day in Western Australia. It is the Queen’s birthday holiday in every other State. My prime concern as a long-standing member of the Australian Labor Party is that in three States my Party holds its annual conference over that weekend. I do not know whether Senator Withers has some ulterior motive or whether he is hoping to keep Labor senators away from their conferences in my State of South Australia and in New South Wales and Victoria. He has the numbers to achieve that aim by defeating the amendment.
Of course the people at large should be acquainted with the fact that we are being asked to sit here while our conference is going on. At some future time we will hear Senator Withers say that we cannot make up our minds as to what our policy ought to be. He is deliberately keeping accredited delegates away from the conferences. It is all very well for honourable senators opposite to laugh. I am wondering what the attitude would be if the Liberal Party were holding its conferences- particularly the conference of the New South Wales branch, which is experiencing internal strife at the moment- on Monday, 5 June. In that event the Senate would not be sitting on the Monday. The Liberal Party would want all its Federal members, particularly its senators, in attendance at a Party conference. It is a different matter when the Labor Party is holding a conference. The Labor conference has not come up at short notice. It is well known that every year for many years in the three States I have mentioned the Labor Party has held conferences on Queen’s Birthday weekend. This is why I lodge my strongest objection to honourable senators being asked to sit on Monday, 5 June.
– If Senator McLaren is so interested in not paying overtime let us get out of this place earlier at night and not keep the Senate here for an hour or two on the adjournment debate as a lot of overtime is payable then. I ask him to think of the cost of keeping drivers and other people waiting and to have a little bit of consideration for the workers whom he keeps up late at night. When the Government set down 5 June it was not until Senator McLaren raised the matter that it was realised that it was a public holiday anywhere. For years Western Australian senators have had to catch aeroplanes on public holidays on Mondays to be here on Monday night for a Tuesday sitting of the Parliament. I have become so used to leaving home on Mondays, be they public holidays or not, that I tend to forget that there is such a thing as a public holiday on a Monday for Western Australian members and senators. All I can say is that I did not select this date as some deliberate plot. It was not until Senator McLaren raised this matter in the Senate that I realised that it may be a public holiday. Then, of course, I realised that I might be able to fulfil a long standing ambition. If I keep Senator McLaren here on that day no doubt the South Australian Branch of the Australian Labor Party will make me a life member of that organisation. I also say to the honourable senator that I have no knowledge as to when the ALP meets in various states. I understand that the Queensland division of my own party is meeting on that day. Until today I did not even know that.
– You are remarkably ill informed.
– I do not suppose Senator Robertson could tell me on which date this year the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party is meeting. He would not have a clue and I would not expect him to know. Somehow or other everybody seems to object to coming to this place. All senators are elected to serve in this place. They are paid to serve in this place, not at party political conferences. I should have thought that their first duty was to represent their electors in this place. As the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) said, I am not unreasonable about sitting times. I try to accommodate most people who have a genuine grievance. I indicate to the Leader of the Opposition that whilst the Government is not prepared today to support his amendment, if it appears at a later stage in the session that we will be able to achieve everything on four sitting days in the final week, I am certainly prepared to have a hard look at it and to attempt to accommodate the senators who could be in difficulties. I am not being pig headed about this matter and I am not being party political but I assure Senator McLaren that I have no intention of coming back for another week after 5 June.
– You are paid by the electors to be here.
– There is a limit to how long the Government will put up with a few people who attempt to monopolise conversation in this place day in and day out. If people ask sensible questions they get short, sensible answers. There were 30 questions today which ran out in 58 minutes. I do not think this is the time or place to talk about what we may do in the future. Whilst the Government is not prepared today to accept the amendment, I and, I am certain, my colleagues, are quite prepared to look at it at a later date depending on the progress of legislation in the next few weeks.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Withers)- by leaveagreed to:
That the sitting of the Senate be suspended until 15 minutes past 10 p.m. or such earlier time as the President may take the Chair to enable Estimates Committees A and C to meet.
– The sitting of the Senate is suspended until 15 minutes past 10 p.m. or such earlier time as the President may take the Chair to enable Estimates Committees A and C to meet until 10 p.m. Estimates Committee A will meet in the Senate chamber and Estimates Committee C will meet in Committee Room No. 1. The bells will be rung for two minutes prior to the meetings of the Committees.
Sitting suspended from 3.55 to 10.15 p.m.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages of the passage through the Senate of the Enviroment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill 1978, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1978 and the Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Bill 1978 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Bills (on motion by Senator Carrick) together read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
The speeches read as follows-
Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill 1978
In moving the second reading I want to say that this is an historic occasion. The six Bills introduced by the Government give effect to commitments made in this Parliament last August at the time the Government announced its decision on uranium. In these Bills, the Government gives evidence of its determination to strike a responsible balance between economic development and the protection of the environment.
Honourable senators will recall that very significant deposits of uranium were discovered in the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory in the early 1970s. In 1975 an Inquiry was instituted under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, into the proposal by the Ranger Consortium to develop uranium deposits at its site, some 200 km east of Darwin. Fundamentally, the Inquiry was designed to provide a basis on which the Government could take responsible decisions for environmental protection. A Commission was appointed to inquire, and here I quote from its Terms of Reference in respect of all the environmental aspects of:
The First Report of the Ranger Inquiry, which was tabled in October 1976, discussed the broad issues confronting Australia as a country with rich and plentiful uranium resources. The questions of proliferation of nuclear weapons, the risk of diversion of nuclear materials from peaceful uses and the problem of safe disposal of radioactive wastes were considered. The Second Report, tabled in May 1977, considered the many issues relating to the specific proposal that uranium be mined in the Alligator Rivers Region.
The Second Report contained recommendations on measures to ensure that the necessary degree of environmental protection was provided over the full period of uranium mining developments in the Region. As announced last August, the Government decided that the environment of the Region would be protected from the consequences of uranium mining through a series of actions.
To establish a major National Park in the Alligator Rivers Region.
To appoint a Supervising Scientist to coordinate environment protection in the Region.
To set up a Research Institute to provide a centre where research and monitoring staff can work together.
To establish a Co-ordinating Committee to include representatives of all agencies involved in research and monitoring activities, the mining industry and other relevant bodies.
To develop a uniform national Code of Practice to apply to uranium mining and milling in Australia.
To adopt strict environmental controls and standards in relation to uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region.
The Bill now before the Senate establishes an office of Supervising Scientist, a Co-ordinating Committee, and a Research Institute for the Region under Commonwealth authority in a way that recognises the existing responsibilities of Commonwealth and Territorial agencies in the Region and the interests of the Northern Land Council and the mining companies.
Mr President, I would like to refer to the main clauses of this Bill, which, I am sure honourable senators will agree, is a very significant piece of environmental legislation. In particular, honourable senators will appreciate the scope of the environmental protection measures, in a geographic context, by reference to the schedule attached to the Bill which is in effect a copy of Map 3 from the Second Report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. The Alligator Rivers Region as defined comprises the catchments of the East, South and West Alligator Rivers, Field and Barron Islands and the territorial sea adjacent to this area. The main land area consists of the sandstone Arnhem Land plateau, lowlands, flood-plains and tidal flats, as well as hills and river basins at the headwaters of the South Alligator River. It was defined in this way by the Ranger Inquiry to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem which is representative of a large part of the far north of Australia.
I should like to refer also to the definition in Clause 3 of the Bill of ‘prescribed instrument’, honourable senators will see that the Supervising Scientist will have functions in respect of a very broad range of activities conferred by prescribed instrument’, which include activities carried out under the laws both of the Commonwealth and of the Northern Territory.
It is expected that much of the administration and enforcement of these ‘prescribed instruments’ will remain with existing authorities under arrangements to be agreed with the Northern Territory Executive. This emphasises the co-ordinating role of the Supervising Scientist as distinct from any suggestion of direction of government agencies operating in the Region.
I draw the attention of honourable senators to the definition in the Bill of ‘uranium mining operations’. A very wide range of actions and activities directly associated with uranium mining in the Region are included. It does not however cover prospecting and exploration, nor matters concerning the provision of infrastructure services. These will be controlled by the Director of National Parks and Wildlife, through the plan of management for the Park, to be prepared and administered under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with the Office of the Supervising Scientist. The functions of the Supervising Scientist are set out at Clause 5, and as honourable senators will see, his role is basically threefold: The first is to collect data on the effects on the environment of the Region of uranium mining operations. The second is concerned with the development and promotion of standards, practices and procedures for the protection of the environment and with measures for protection and restoration of the environment in the Region. The third main function is to co-ordinate and supervise the implementation of requirements for environmental protection under prescribed instruments. I emphasise that these functions relate to the consequences of uranium mining activities in the Region.
The Supervising Scientist will advise the Minister on all these matters and will perform other functions, consistent with his principal role, in accordance with prescribed instruments. In carrying out his functions the Supervising Scientist is required to comply with directions from the Minister and to provide the Minister with any information that he may require.
In the clauses dealing with the appointment of the Supervising Scientist, honourable senators will note the provisions covering pecuniary interests. I am sure honourable senators will appreciate the need to make sure that the Supervising Scientist can undertake his functional responsibilities free of any imputations of financial interests.
The Bill includes the usual provisions for remuneration, termination of appointment and the appointment of a person to act as the Supervising Scientist.
Part 3 of the Bill establishes a Co-ordinating Committee for the Alligator Rivers Region. The Bill provides that the Supervising Scientist may convene meetings of the Co-ordinating Committee and that he will preside at all meetings of the Committee at which he is present. The functions of the Co-ordinating Committee are essentially to assist the Supervising Scientist in his role of protecting the environment from the effects of uranium mining operations in the Region. It will consider and recommend programs for the collection of data, consider and keep under review standards, practices, procedures and measures for environmental protection and restoration, and keep under review requirements, and their implementation, under prescribed instruments.
The Co-ordinating Committee is the focal point of the system proposed by the Government for the protection of the environment from the consequences of uranium mining operations in the Region. Honourable senators will appreciate that there are many varied and at times, conflicting interests to be considered and reconciled in the Alligator Rivers Region. There are many organisations and authorities operating in the Region pursuing objectives within their own scope of authority. The role of the Co-ordinating Committee is to provide a forum and a mechanism for these interests and organisations to communicate, consult, consider and reach understandings and agreements on the protection of the environment.
It will be the task of the Supervising Scientist, presiding at meetings of the Co-ordinating Committee, to obtain comprehensive and coordinated advice and recommendations which take account of all interests and which have as their primary objective the protection of the environment from uranium mining in the Region.
In this context the membership of the Coordinating Committee is obviously very important. The Bill provides that the Co-ordinating Committee consist of the Supervising Scientist, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife, and other members appointed by the Minister. The Bill provides that the Minister keep a list of each Department, Authority, Incorporated Company, or other body that in his opinion has an interest in uranium mining operations in the Alligator Rivers Region. The Minister will make appointments from people nominated from that list. 1 expect that membership of the Co-ordinating Committee will include representatives of Commonwealth and Territory government agencies involved in the research, monitoring and environmental protection programs, the Northern Land Council and the mining companies.
Other provisions for the Co-ordinating Committee contained in the Bill deal with normal administrative procedures, and cover the appointment of deputies and arrangements to be made in situations where a member may have a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in matters under consideration by the Committee. This latter provision is particularly important because of the need to provide protection in respect to the commercial interests of the mining companies who will be represented on the Committee.
Part 4 of the Bill establishes an Alligator Rivers Region Research Institute. The Institute is to be managed by the Supervising Scientist; it will provide him with the staff and equipment he needs to carry out his functions. Clearly it will be necessary for a comprehensive and well equipped field laboratory to be located in the Region.
Honourable senators will be pleased to know that under the direction of Mr Robert Fry, who has been seconded from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission to the Department of
Environment, Housing and Community Development to undertake preliminary functions of the proposed Supervising Scientist, steps have already been taken to establish monitoring of base-line environmental conditions in the Region. Using temporary field laboratories, a significant amount of work has already been undertaken to establish a data base for later development of environmental protection programs.
Part 5 of the Bill covers the need for the Supervising Scientist to be supported by high calibre staff, with the necessary professional and technical skills. For this reason it gives the Supervising Scientist the powers of a Permanent Head in respect to staff. With the approval of the Public Service Board, he will be able to engage people and set their terms and conditions of employment. We believe it essential that the Supervising Scientist has this administrative flexibility because of the specialised functions that he is required to perform.
Clauses 27 and 28 of the Bill give the Supervising Scientist the power to obtain information and to have access to buildings and places in the Region to enable him to carry out his statutory functions including those of managing the Institute.
Clause 3 1 deals with the confidentiality to be observed by the Supervising Scientist, his delegates, his staff and members of the Public Service who may deal with matters arising under this Act, from time to time. The Bill also ensures that there is close collaboration between the Supervising Scientist and the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. The Director is responsible for the proposed Kakadu National Park. This Bill provides that the Supervising Scientist perform his functions and exercise his powers in accordance with the plan of management in force under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act.
I wish to draw the attention of honourable senators to provisions which require the Supervising Scientist to report on his activities. Clause 36 sets out a quite comprehensive list of details that the Supervising Scientist is required to include in an annual report. An important provision within this clause is the one requiring the Supervising Scientist to furnish a statement setting out the cost of his operations during the year.
Honourable senators should note that the Supervising Scientist furnishes his report to the Minister but that under clause 36 ( 5 ) it is mandatory for the responsible Minister to then lay that report before each House of the Parliament within 1 5 sitting days after it is received by the Minister. That provision is vitally important as it provides an opportunity for scrutiny of the Supervising Scientist reports by honourable senators and members from either side of the chambers.
I want to say particularly that the Government is most concerned to ensure that Aboriginals, whose land and lifestyles are certain to be influenced by the development of large-scale mining operations in the Region, are treated fairly. I believe the package of legislation now before the Senate provides adequate measures to achieve this. Equally, I look forward to the constitutional development of the Northern Territory. I confidently expect that the Commonwealth and the new Government of the Territory will form a genuine and respected partnership in this important enterprise.
Mr President, I believe this Bill and the Bills that follow demonstrate the Government’s determination to protect the environment in the Region, and to safeguard the interests of people in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1978
This Bill is the second in the package of three Bills under the portfolio of Environment, Housing and Community Development which the Government has decided to introduce as part of its policy for uranium mining developments in the Northern Territory.
The Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill which I have just introduced dealt with scientific institutions and arrangements- the establishment of an Office of a Supervising Scientist and a Scientific Research Institute.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 to facilitate the declaration of Kakadu National Park in the Alligator Rivers Region. Since the Park will include land over which Aboriginal land claims have been, or will be, granted, the amendments provide for the leasing of Aboriginal land to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife to manage as a national park.
The Alligator Rivers Region is important in the context of world conservation. An area of outstanding beauty and grandeur, it also has great significance because of its social, cultural, biological, anthropological and archaeological attributes. The Region also contains some of the largest uranium deposits in the world- a resource of great economic potential to Australia.
The Alligator Rivers Region encompasses a variety of landforms ranging from high plateau through lowlands and floodplains to tidal flats. The natural habitats contain a wealth of flora and fauna of great potential interest not only to Australians but all mankind. Nearly 1,000 species of plants have been recorded in the Region and there is an impressive abundance and diversity of animals.
The large number of Aboriginal archaeological and art sites bears witness to thousands of years of Aboriginal occupancy and the cultural significance of the Region. Of particular concern are the Aboriginal paintings rated with the great Paleolithic art sites of France and Spain and the Bushmen paintings of Africa. The prehistoric paintings are a priceless inheritance.
The Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry recognised the intrinsic value of the Region, and central to its recommendations was the establishment of a major national park to safeguard these assets. The Commissioners saw this as the most effective way of minimising the impact of uranium mining on the physical, biological and cultural resources of the Alligator Rivers Region.
This Bill takes full account of the principal recommendations of the Ranger Inquiry and the Government’s decisions of August 1977. The need to ensure that conservation and resource use in the Region are harmoniously blended has been uppermost in our minds in preparing legislation to establish Kakadu National Park.
The most significant amendments relate to Aboriginal land and its use as a national park. The Northern Land Council, in evidence to the Inquiry, suggested that land in the Region which became Aboriginal land should be leased to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and be declared a national park under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. The Ranger Inquiry accepted this suggestion and recommended the Act be amended and the process of declaration be expedited. This Bill enables these recommendations to be implemented, with the Director entering into a long term lease agreement with Aboriginals.
Clause 9 of the Bill ensures that the traditional Aboriginal land owners, through the appropriate Land Council, are fully consulted in the development and implementation of the plan of management for the park. Although major disagreements are not expected, provision is made to overcome any problems that may arise between the Land Council and the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. In resolving any differences the advice of appropriate Ministers will be sought. If necessary an impartial person will be appointed to advise on any issues arising in the implementation of the management plan. The management plan prepared by the Director and approved by Parliament will ensure environmental protection, and that appropriate management practices are employed, taking into account the interests of the traditional Aboriginal owners.
Aboriginals, with their long involvement with and concern for the natural environment have a key role to play in park management. I envisage that opportunities for their employment in the park will increase as the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service develops training programs and other measures for Aboriginal advancement.
The Ranger Project Area and the Pancontinental and Noranda lease areas will be excluded from the national park. The park will be declared in two stages. Stage 1 will become a national park immediately and will include all the land subject to Aboriginal land claims recommended by the Inquiry. The second stage will be under special Commonwealth control prior to its declaration. Under the provisions of Clause 6 of the Bill, a conservation zone will be established over this stage to ensure that the wildlife and natural features of the area are adequately protected and conserved pending its incorporation in the national park.
The Bill enables the making of regulations to control and regulate such activities as mineral exploration and tourism within the conservation zone. Arrangements for mineral exploration of the conservation zone, for which my colleague in another place, the Minister for National Development will have primary responsibility, are being developed. These will be pursued as a matter of urgency so that the addition of Stage 2 to the national park may take place as quickly as possible. Every care will be taken to minimise environmental disturbance during the exploration phase.
Developments in the conservation zone will be consistent with concept of its future transfer to the national park. Ministers having particular responsibilities in the conservation zone will exercise these through special administrative arrangements and the Director will carry out his functions in accordance with these arrangements. In this way, integrated management of the whole area to be national park will be facilitated.
The Government decided that the mining town to serve mines developed in the Region should be included in Kakadu National Park on land leased from the Director, and be subject to the plan of management. Town planning and development will therefore be integrated with that of the park as a whole. Appropriate amendments are included to provide for the preparation of a town plan which will specify details of zoned use, building standards, transportation, public recreation and essential services such as water, electricity and sewerage.
Another recommendation of the Ranger Inquiry accepted by the Government concerned the making available to the Director of information about activities affecting the park or future park areas. Clause 13 confers on the Director appropriate rights of inspection and access to information whilst respecting the confidentiality of information where necessary. My colleague, the Attorney-General, will be introducing a Bill to confer jurisdiction on the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, in relation to the enforcement by it of certain legal requirements for the protection of the environment in relation to uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region, at the suit of the Director of National Parks and Wildlife, or the appropriate Land Council.
Clause 12 enables the Director, subject to the agreement of the Minister, to set and impose fees for entry to parks and for the use of services provided by the Director.
Clause 15 extends the Director’s powers of delegation so that he can delegate appropriate functions to persons, including Aboriginals or groups of Aboriginals, who would not be eligible under the delegation powers of the Principal Act. This is a very important provision and will facilitate the involvement of Aboriginals in the practical management and protection of the park to be established on their land.
Section Two of the Principal Act deals with plans of management. The Ranger Inquiry saw the plan of management for the park as being the principal means of co-ordinating management of the area to ensure that park development proceeds rationally. Within the national park, activities such as those of the Supervising Scientist will operate in accord with the plan of management.
Honourable Senators will note that the definition of the Region in this Bill differs from that contained in the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill which I have already introduced. As defined in this Bill the Region does not extend into the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve and does not include the Gimbat or Goodparla pastoral leases.
In its Second Report the Ranger Inquiry recommended that consideration be given to the resumption of Goodparla and all or part of Gimbat with a view to their incorporation in the park. The significance to the national park of these areas lies in their location in a land system poorly represented within the proposed boundaries and in the fact that they contain the upper reaches of major rivers, the protection of whose catchments is important for the proper conservation of the park. The Government accepted the Inquiry’s recommendation that Gimbat and Goodparla be considered for later addition to the Park.
A number of associated Bills are being introduced which result from the Government’s uranium decisions. Certain provisions in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill, the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill and the Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Bill are related to this Bill.
Declaration of the Kakadu National Park will be the culmination of efforts dating from 1965 when the Northern Territory Reserves Board recognised the national significance of the area and put forward a proposal to create a national park. Subsequently a wildlife sanctuary was established under the authority of the Department of the Northern Territory. I would like to pay tribute to the far sightedness of those authorities and people in the Territory and elsewhere who quite early recognised the great qualities of the area for conservation. I trust that the same interest and support would be available to the Commonwealth in its stewardship of the Kakadu National Park, through the co-operation of the Northern Territory Executive.
The national park will be considerably larger than the existing wildlife sanctuary and the area proposed as a national park in 1965. The establishment of Kakadu National Park is indicative of this Government’s concern for the natural environment and Aboriginal interests.
Social problems arising from the influx of new people into the Region and the desire of some Aboriginals to follow traditional life styles will need sensitive understanding. The preservation of Aboriginal paintings, the control of introduced animals such as the buffalo and the protection of endangered species will require detailed research. The integration of different uses such as conservation, scientific research, education, fishing, tourism and mining will be a complex but rewarding task.
Highly skilled and innovative persons sensitive to the special requirements of the Aboriginal people and sensitive to the unique nature of the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region will be needed to ensure the success of the Government’s intentions in this field. New principles of management will have to be established and new standards set because the situation in the Alligator Rivers Region is unique not only in Australia but in the world.
Mr President, I am sure that all Australians can take pride in the fact that we will have a national park of world standard in the Northern Territory, as a result of decisions made by this Government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Bill
The purpose of the Bill is to confer jurisdiction on the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in relation to the enforcement by it of certain legal requirements for the protection of the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region.
The Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry saw the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and the Northern Land Council as having a special interest in reinforcing the environment protection machinery in the Alligator Rivers Region. It saw as an advantage of the recommendations it made with regard to Aboriginal ownership of land and the creation of the national park that there would be people with the interest and knowledge to protect the environment from the consequences of mining operations.
The Inquiry therefore recommended that the environment protection provisions be made legally enforceable and that both the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and the Northern Land Council be given the right to enforce those provisions, particularly by way of injunction to restrain or compel action. It envisaged that the jurisdiction to issue injunctions should be conferred on the Northern Territory Supreme Court and recommended that the Court would have a wide discretion as to the exercise of its jurisdiction in such cases.
This Bill will give effect to the Government’s decision to accept the Inquiry’s recommendations. It confers jurisdiction on the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, at the suit of the Director of National Parks and Wildlife or the Northern Land Council, to make orders for the enforcement, in relation to uranium mining, of environmental requirements which are contained in Commonwealth and Northern Territory laws and in instruments made under those laws, and it gives the Court a wide discretion as to the exercise of this jurisdiction.
It should be noted that the Bill does not give the Court power to impose new environmental requirements- only to make orders in relation to requirements which are imposed elsewhere.
The Bill also provides that the Court may order the repayment of costs incurred in work to remedy any detriment to the environment. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages of the passage through the Senate of the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1978 and the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Bill 1978 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Bills (on motion by Senator Carrick) together read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
The speeches read as follows-
Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1978
The main purpose of this Bill is to amend the Atomic Energy Act 1953 as part of a package of legislation giving effect to the Government’s decision on the further development of Australia ‘s uranium resources.
A fundamental element of the decision announced in this House on 25 August 1977 was that development of the Ranger uranium deposit would proceed on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Whitlam Government and Peko Mines Ltd and Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia Limited. Amendments to the Act contained in this Bill will enable the Australian Atomic Energy Commission to participate on behalf of the Commonwealth in a joint venture with Peko/EZ. This is in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding, which used the Atomic Energy Act as its legislative basis.
The opportunity is also being taken to strengthen and clarify the legislative basis for the application of nuclear safeguards within Australia in accordance with the agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Australia in connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Certain minor amendments of an administrative nature are also proposed to update the Act.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth and the Ranger partners, concluded on 28 October 1975 by the Whitlam Government, represents a blueprint for development of Ranger and is a manifestation of the policy of the Whitlam Government for Northern Territory uranium development. The Memorandum of Understanding was itself an elaboration of the so-called ‘Lodge Agreement’ made on 30 October 1974 between the Whitlam Government and Peko/EZ. Under the Memorandum of Understanding, the AAEC will participate in the Ranger project on the basis of providing 72 lA per cent of the capital. The Commonwealth will receive 50 per cent of the net proceeds of sale, and Peko and EZ 25 per cent each.
In his statement of 25 August 1977 announcing the Government’s uranium decision, the Prime Minister indicated that this Government is most conscious that the Memorandum of Understanding would not have been our preferred approach to mineral development. However, the Government would not wish to disturb arrangements entered into in good faith by the companies with the previous Government. As a consequence, the Government did not accept the recommendation of the Ranger Inquiry that the Atomic Energy Act not be used for the grant of authority to Ranger to mine uranium. The Ranger Inquiry recommended against the use of the Atomic Energy Act on the grounds that this legislation was enacted largely with defence considerations in mind.
After reviewing this matter, the Government nevertheless considered that the Atomic Energy Act could provide an appropriate basis for mining operations at Ranger, in accordance with the agreements concluded between the companies and the Whitlam Government in 1974 and 1975. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anthony, indicated in his statement of 25 August 1977 that in reaching this decision the Government had regard to the view of the Ranger Inquiry that its concern over the appropriateness of the Atomic Energy Act would have less force if the Uranium Advisory Council recommendation of the Inquiry were adopted. The Deputy Prime Minister stated on 25 August 1977 that the Government had accepted this recommendation, and in his statement to the House of Representatives on 10 April Mr Anthony provided details of the terms of reference and structure of the Council which the Government has agreed to establish.
Accordingly, we are proposing amendments to sections 17 and 34 of the Atomic Energy Act which will substantially broaden the basis of the Act and clearly authorise the participation of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission in the Ranger project for the purpose of ensuring the supply of uranium. Not only will the amendments we are proposing provide a clear legal basis on which the Ranger project can be authorised to proceed, but they will also remove the main obstacle that the Ranger Inquiry saw in proceeding with the Ranger project under the Atomic Energy Act.
I now turn to the matter of nuclear safeguards. As honourable senators would be aware, Australia ratified the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons on 23 January 1973. By ratifying this most important international instrument, Australia undertook, amongst other things, not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive safeguards and to accept safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency covering all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities within Australia, under our jurisdiction or carried out anywhere under our control.
Accordingly, and pursuant to the Treaty, Australia subsequently entered into an agreement with the IAEA for the application of nuclear safeguards in Australia. This agreement provides that Australia shall establish and maintain a national system of accounting for and control of material and that safeguards shall be applied in such a manner as to enable the IAEA to verify the national system’s findings.
The legislative base for the control of nuclear materials in Australia is part III of the Atomic Energy Act 1953, headed ‘Control of Materials ‘. This part part the Act gives the Minister power to control nuclear material and the Act provides for regulations to be made to that end. The national system of accounting for and control of materials was, therefore, established under the Minister responsible for the Atomic Energy Act. The body involved, the Australian Safeguards Office, answers directly to the Minister through the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.
To date no regulations have been promulgated under the Act in relation to safeguards. At present, all nuclear material which is required to be inspected by the IAEA is located within the Atomic Energy Commission. Hence, it has been possible to ensure Australia’s compliance with safeguards obligations under the NPT by ministerial direction.
It is necessary, however, for regulations to be in place to ensure this compliance as the inventory of material for which safeguards are required increases and spreads beyond Atomic Energy Commission and Government ownership. Furthermore, following the announcement by the Prime Minister on 24 May 1977 of Australia’s policy on nuclear safeguards to apply to exports of Australian uranium, Australia will be entering into government to government bilateral agreements with customer countries. Those countries may wish to make these agreements reciprocal. For Australia’s part we will certainly be most happy to do so as a practical demonstration of our view that the conditions we wish to see applied are conditions which we consider responsible countries should readily accept. It will be necessary for us to demonstrate that we have the ability to enforce these conditions within Australia.
It is therefore desirable that regulations in relation to safeguards be made in due course.
Section 34 of the Atomic Energy Act at present provides that the powers conferred in relation to the control of materials shall be exercised only:
The Government has taken the view that these provisions should be strengthened and clarified, to ensure that relevant powers of the Commonwealth, including the external affairs power, can be drawn upon in relation to safeguards matters. We believe that it is most important that the fullest possible range of powers should be available for the implementation of our domestic safeguards obligations arising from agreements.
Section 38 of the Act presently provides that the regulations may prohibit or authorise the prohibition of certain activities in relation to nuclear materials, except under and in accordance with a licence. It is now considered that safeguards requirements are both regulatory and prohibitive in nature. In view of this, it is proposed that section 38 be amended to specifically allow for the making of regulations which may make provision for and in relation to regulating or controlling such activities. The effect of the amendment is that control of material can be exercised through the issue of licences, or by regulation, or by both.
Honourable senators will note that clause 10 of the Bill provides for the making of regulations in relation to the working of minerals from which, in the opinion of the Governor-General, a prescribed substance can be obtained. In this regard I should make it clear that it is not the intention to include within the scope of the regulations the working of minerals which contain only small traces of prescribed substances.
A number of minor amendments of an administrative nature are also proposed. Clauses 4, 6 and 7 of the Bill update provisions of the Principal Act relating to staff and officials of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, to bring them into line with current drafting practice. In addition, section 31 (2) (b) of the Principal Act is amended to meet the request of the AuditorGeneral that he no longer be required to report on the ‘state of affairs’ of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. It should be noted that this exemption will in no way impair the AuditorGeneral’s reports on the financial statements submitted to the Minister by the Commission, and is in line with suggestions made by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee which examined the matter in 1976. Finally, it is proposed that section 6 1 of the Atomic Energy Act be deleted as it is no longer required in view of recent amendments to the Judiciary Act.
Mr President, this Bill, together with the related Bills which are being introduced, are a further earnest of the Government’s determination that the development of uranium mining in Australia will be carefully controlled and proceed in a responsible manner with Full regard to the need for protection of the environment and the welfare of all Australians. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Bill 1978
The object of this Bill is to establish mechanisms for protecting the health and safety of the people of Australia, and the environment, from possible harmful effects of nuclear activities here in Australia.
In the development of the provisions and procedures outlined in this Bill, the Government reviewed overseas regulatory mechanisms for their relevance to Australia. We noted particularly the very specialised nature of the nuclear industry, the likelihood of potential hazards involved in the nuclear fuel cycle and the limited extent of the nuclear industry in Australia at present. At the governmental level, we needed to take account of our federal system of government, with its division of powers between the Commonwealth and the States.
After considering all these factors carefully, the Government decided to regulate and control nuclear activities in Australia by codes of practice and to legislate to enable such codes to be approved following consultation with the States and the Northern Territory, to be implemented through the laws of a State or Territory.
The Bill before the Senate does represent an innovative concept in Commonwealth/State legislative arrangements. Honourable senators will recall the Prime Minister’s statement, read in the Senate on 25 August 1977 concerning this legislation:
There shall be a uniform Australian code covering the mining and milling of uranium. The code will be mandatory and implemented progressively by legislation together with the States and Territories commencing with the Code of Practice on Radiation Protection in the Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores’ which has already been prepared and published by the Department of Health. The code of practice will be prescribed by Commonwealth legislation but where State or Territory legislation has an equal or more stringent code, the Commonwealth legislation will be held in reserve and the administration of the code will be left entirely in the hands of that State or Territory.
Mr President, I am sure honourable senators will agree that this legislation should command the support of all sections of the Australian community. It will enable governments to ensure that the nuclear industry in Australia is so regulated as to afford the utmost protection to people and the environment. Our forthcoming involvement in the mining, milling and transport of uranium in the Northern Territory underlines the need for responsible governments to have appropriate protection strategies in force. It is therefore particularly important that this Bill be passed as soon as possible, in view of the imminent development of the Ranger uranium deposits at Jabiru, in the Northern Territory.
Mr President, I wish to advise honourable senators that following representations from State Premiers the government has included provisions in the Bill to make the application in the States of sub-clauses 11(1) and (2) and subclause 13(1) of the Bill dependent on formal proclamation. This will provide an opportunity for further exchanges of view between the Commonwealth and the States on procedural and other aspects of the legislation.
A major provision of the Bill is at clause 7, which requires that the Minister shall furnish proposed codes of practice, and proposed variations, to the appropriate Minister of each State. These shall also be furnished to the appropriate Minister of the Northern Territory, on or after 1 July 1 978, in line with the constitutional development of the Territory. The Commonwealth Minister may make the proposed codes and proposed variations available for public comment. The clause further requires that opportunities are available for consultation between the Commonwealth, and the States and Northern Territory, in respect to the proposed code, or proposed variation.
Subject to this consultative process, the Bill provides at clause 8 that the Governor-General may, by order, approve codes of practice, and variations; he may also, by order, revoke such codes or variations.
Clause 8(3) outlines the matters which may be included in codes of practice developed under this legislation. They include standards to be observed, practice and procedures to be followed, and other measures, such as licensing and supervision, relating to nuclear activities. Their immediate application will be to regulate the mining and milling of uranium in the Alligator Rivers Region in the Northern Territory. The environmental conditions which each mining company in the Region will be required to observe will provide for consistency with the relevant codes as they are promulgated, where comparable or more stringent requirements do not already exist in the conditions.
I should emphasise that this legislation is concerned with health and safety of people, and the environment, as distinct from safeguards, the purpose of which is to ensure that nuclear material in peaceful use is not diverted to nonpeaceful purposes or to nuclear weapons. It has already been explained to the Senate that as a result of Australia’s adherence to the NonProliferation Treaty, Australia has undertaken certain safeguards obligations. We have established a national system of accounting for and controlling nuclear material as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty and by our safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The domestic legislative base for giving effect to these obligations has been the Atomic Energy Act, and will continue to be that Act as amended. This applies also to the implementation of any obligations arising from bilateral safeguards agreements we enter into with other countries.
For these reasons safeguards considerations will not be included in codes of practice to be developed under this Bill. Similarly it is not intended that codes relating to the medical, industrial, and agricultural use of radio-isotopes will be developed under this Bill, as satisfactory arrangements already exist.
Clause 9 of the Bill sets out the procedures for public notice to be given of orders made by the Governor-General, and for their scrutiny by both Houses of the Parliament.
Part 4 of the Bill contains provisions relating to actions which the Commonwealth may take in respect to the implementation of the codes of practice. Honourable senators will appreciate that the codes in themselves do not have the force of law. It is our expectation that their implementation will be through laws of the States and the Territories. Clause 11 authorises the making of regulations to carry out, give effect to, or secure the observance of, the code in a State or Territory where, in the opinion of the GovernorGeneral the law of that State or Territory does not regulate or control nuclear activities in the manner prescribed in the code of practice. This regulation may be invoked only after a date prescribed in the order approving the code and as I mentioned earlier, sub-clauses ( 1 ) and (2) of this clause are subject to formal Proclamation, at a date to be fixed. Provision is made in clause 10 for the regulations to exclude or modify the application in Commonwealth places of State laws that give effect to a code.
Should any unforeseen situation arise as a result of a nuclear activity, which is not regulated or controlled by a Commonwealth, State or Territory law, and which is likely to affect health, safety or the environment, the GovernorGeneral will have power, under clause 1 3 of the Bill, to authorise the appropriate Federal Minister to act to control hazards associated with the situation. Again, this provision does not apply to the States until a date to be proclaimed.
Mr President, the Government appreciates that the powers conferred on the GovernorGeneral under this clause would need to be used with the utmost discretion. It is our hope and indeed our expectation that the provisions of the clause would never be invoked. However, it is our judgment, after considering all relevant factors, that a contingency provision of this nature is a proper and responsible discharge of our duty to provide for the health and safety of people in Australia, and the environment. Honourable Members will note the constraints provided in sub-clauses of Clause 13. Any order made under this power expires at the end of three months, but this may be extended by a further three months, by order of the Governor-General. Orders made under the provisions of this clause have effect only in relation to situations likely to affect health and safety, or the environment, that arises from nuclear activities, as defined in the Bill. Finally, any authority vested in the Minister under this clause is subject to disallowance by the Parliament.
Mr President, I do want to stress that the provisions of clause 13 apply only when no Commonwealth, State or Territory law exists to control a potentially hazardous situation arising from nuclear activity, as defined in this legislation. Honourable Senators will appreciate that some time could elapse before there is, in all the States and Territories, an appropriate body of laws developed under the procedures envisaged in this Bill. During this period, hazardous situations could be dealt with through actions authorised under clause 1 3.
Generally, we would see the steps involved in arriving at approved codes of practice as including: initial drafting by the appropriate Commonwealth Department (for example Department of Health for health codes, Department of Transport for transport codes, Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development for general environment protection codes); consultation on the proposed draft code with relevant State and Territory Ministers; the release, where appropriate, of the draft code for public comment, particularly by in dustry and Trade Unions; consideration of the draft code by relevant Advisory Councils such as the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council; final consideration within the Government and submission to the Governor-General; the provision of an order in writing by the Governor-General approving the code; tabling of the order approving the code of practice in both Houses of Parliament.
Honourable Senators will see from this that the development of codes, which involves many interests, could well be a lengthy process. More time will elapse while the States and Territories establish the required implementing laws and procedures.
Mr President, I wish to mention now the action that the Government has already taken in respect to the involvement of the States and the Northern Territory in this legislation.
In August 1977, the Prime Minister wrote to the State Premiers and recently the Minister wrote to Mr Everingham, Majority Leader of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, inviting State and Territory officials to take part in developing codes of practice. The response has been positive to the need for these national codes. We will be following up on these matters with a view to advancing the development of codes and their related laws and regulations at the earliest possible time.
On the general question of progress with codes, I am sure honourable senators will be pleased to know that one important code of practice on radiation protection in the mining and milling of radioactive ores has already been prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Health in consultation with other Commonwealth and State authorities, industry and Trade Unions. It has received wide acceptance and is now already in the process of being brought into line with the provisions of this Bill. Other national codes of practice which will need to be given priority include the management of mining and milling wastes, and transport of yellow cake, in view of the Government ‘s policies for uranium developments.
Mr President, in concluding I want to emphasise that this Bill is designed solely to protect Australians and their environment. It is responsible environmental legislation that will provide for the development of protection measures in respect to nuclear activities in Australia. Not to act to provide these measures would be irresponsible in the light of the Government’s decision to proceed with uranium mining developments. Any suggestion that the codes and regulations to be enacted under this legislation would be arbitrary and repressive is refuted by the provisions in the Bill for development of the proposed codes of practice through consultative processes with the States, and for public comment. In a similar context, I draw the attention of Honourable Senators to the role of the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council. This body of eminent non-government professional people has already played a most significant part in advising the Government on the effects of the various actual and potential sources of ionising radiation exposure on the Australian population and the environment. The Council will have a much wider responsibility as a consequence of the present proposals to advise me on the development of codes of practice, and I look forward confidently to a continuation of this very valuable relationship with the Government.
In presenting this Bill the Government is honouring its undertakings to the Australian people and the Governments of the States and territories. This legislation demonstrates very clearly our determination to see that uranium development in Australia is regulated and controlled to ensure the protection of the environment and the health and safety of Australians. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Walsh) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
This Bill is intended to give effect to the Government’s decisions on the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry as far as they affect Aboriginal land rights. The opportunity is also being taken to seek some machinery amendments to facilitate the administration of the Act and to remedy defects which have been found in the operation of the Act.
Honourable senators will recall that by virtue of Section 11 (2) of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, the Ranger Inquiry was enabled to enquire into and report on Aboriginal land claims in the Alligator Rivers region effectively as if it were the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. The Ranger Inquiry recommended that traditional Aboriginal claims to a large portion of the vacant Crown land within the region should be granted to an Aboriginal Land Trust. The amendments will implement this recommendation. The Minister announced in his statement on 25 August last year that the decision to negotiate the purchase of Mudginberry and Munmarlary pastoral leases meant that these areas would become available to form part of the National Park and that the traditional land claims to these areas could be heard in accordance with provisions of the Land Rights Act and recommendations submitted by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. Negotiations with the lessees for the acquisition of the leases have been continuing and are not yet complete. However, in anticipation of their eventual acquisition the Bill will provide for Aboriginal land claims to be made over land in Stage 2 of the proposed Kakadu National Park notwithstanding that the land may have become part of a National Park.
The Government proposes that when the leases have been acquired, opportunity would be given to the traditional owners of the land to make a claim before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. Depending upon the recommendation of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner and the Minister’s consideration of his report, there will be opportunity for this land to become Aboriginal land within the meaning of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. It will be a condition of any land grant that the land to become National Park should be leased back to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. The next step would therefore be for the Northern Land Council on behalf of the traditional owners to make an agreement with the Director of National Parks and Wildlife which would cover the lease of the land to the Director so that it might become a National Park and to provide for the management of the park. Provision will be made that if agreement cannot be reached between the Northern Land Council and the Director the Minister can appoint an arbitrator to determine the matter.
In relation to the Ranger area, the Inquiry considered representations made on behalf of the traditional owners regarding the proximity of the Ranger area to the sacred sites at or near Djidbidjidbi (Mount Brockman). The Inquiry recommended in chapter 14 that the Land Rights Act be amended so as to move the southern boundary of the Ranger project area as delineated in Schedule 2 of the Act further away from the Aboriginal sacred sites. This is being done.
The Ranger Inquiry found that it was common practice in the NT not to grant mineral leases as such but to notify applicants of the Administrator’s approval to the grant and of any conditions specially attached to the grant and that this is regarded as substantially the equivalent of a grant. The effects of this practice were not taken into account in the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976. The Inquiry, by Recommendation 14.2, recommended that section 40 ( 1 ) of the Land Rights Act should be amended so that the prohibition against granting a mining interest without consent should certainly include the common case of mining leases being approved by the Administrator, but not formally granted. The Bill does this by an additional definition of grant which will ensure that an approval to grant a mining lease is treated in exactly the same way as an actual grant of a mining interest.
The Inquiry was concerned to ensure that the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and the Northern Land Council should be able to reinforce the environmental protection machinery. It has already been announced that the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act will be amended to provide for the Director of National Parks and Wildlife to have appropriate rights of inspection and information. This Bill seeks similar rights for the Northern Land Council as recommended by the Inquiry at Recommendation 18.2 (s).
As I have already indicated, the opportunity is being taken to seek some further amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. But I would stress that none of these amendments alter the original policy expressed in the Act. This is a complex piece of legislation and since it has been in operation it has been found that some amendments are required to ensure the effective administration of the Act and to remove the possibility of interpretations contrary to the intention of the Act.
It was the intention in the drafting of the principal Act that in establishing a Land Trust it ought to be sufficient to describe in general terms the beneficiaries of the land held by the Land Trust. However, the Government has received legal advice that the Act requires specific identification of the Aboriginal groups involved. Because of this advice, the establishment of Land
Trusts has not been possible. The Minister has been unable to recommend to the GovernorGeneral the grant of any land to Land Trusts because of the difficulty of identifying in specific terms the beneficiaries involved. Consequently title has not been granted in respect of those areas of land described in Schedule 1 of the principal Act. To determine the traditional owners in this detail would be a complex and time consuming task which is intended to be the long term responsibility of the Land Councils in establishing a register of traditional owners under Section 24 of the Act. It is therefore intended to amend the Act so that specific identification will not be required. This will enable the early establishment of Land Trusts to hold title to the land described in Schedule 1 of the principal Act which includes all of the major Aboriginal reserves in the Northern Territory.
The Aboriginal Land Commissioner has drawn the Minister’s attention to the fact that there are defects in the protection given to him and to voluntary witnesses in hearings before him. He has also pointed out that he cannot administer an oath or affirmation to a voluntary witness. The Bill will seek to remedy these defects and to give the Commissioner the same protection and immunity as a Justice of the High Court.
The principal Act provides for the closing of the Aborigines Benefits Trust Fund which was established under Section 21 of the Northern Territory Administration Act and for it to be replaced by an Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account to be established under Section 63 of the Land Rights Act. Because it has not been possible to grant land to Land Trusts and therefore revenue from Aboriginal land has not commenced to flow to the ABTA, it has been necessary to maintain the ABTF to receive royalties for the benefit of Aboriginals. Minor amendments are proposed which will facilitate the closure of the ABTF and ensure that its assets are transferred to the ABTA.
The principal Act required that the Minister should set up at least two Land Councils in the Northern Territory. This has been done and the two Councils, the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council, have commenced operations and have proved themselves to be dedicated representatives of the traditional owners. Already, in anticipation of their being granted Aboriginal land, the Councils have entered into substantial negotiations with mining companies and other interests on behalf of the traditional owners. The Councils have demonstrated a responsibility and a capacity which fulfils the expectations of this Government to which the Minister alluded in his Second Reading speech to the principal Act in the House of Representatives in June 1976. Honourable senators will be aware that the Aboriginal Land Rights Act provides for the creation of additional Land Councils under certain circumstances. The Minister has received representations from the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands seeking the establishment of their own land council. Having ascertained that a substantial majority of the Tiwi people are in favour of a separate Tiwi Land Council, the Minister has agreed that such a Council will be created. In anticipation of such a move, the Bill provides that representations of the Councils on the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account Advisory Committee shall have relation to the number of Aboriginals living in the area of each Council in fixing the number of members that each Council can elect to the Advisory Committee.
It is also proposed to ensure that any land transactions affecting Aboriginal land should be registered under the normal Northern Territory system of land title registration. This will ensure that there is an accurate recording of dealings in Aboriginal land. In the Minister’s second reading speech to the Land Rights Act in 1976, he said that the Government believed that the Act would allow and encourage Aboriginals in the Northern Territory to give full expression to the affinity with land that characterised their traditional society and gave a unique quality to their lives. This has already occurred. The Minister and other members of the Government in their dealings with the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory have been impressed with the increased self-confidence of the people and the way in which they have accepted the fact that they are to become the owners of their land. We are aware that moves by Aboriginal people to assert their rights as provided by the Aboriginal Land Rights Act have caused some people to become wary and even fearful of the new situation which now prevails. The Minister has said in the past that this new confidence being demonstrated by the Aboriginal people is a measure of the success of the Government’s policy which provides for Aboriginal self-management. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act is a unique and historical piece of legislation. It provides the opportunity for Aboriginal people to participate in matters affecting their lives in a way which has hitherto been denied them. This needs to be accepted by those people who have in the past been used to making decisions for Aboriginals, or for those who have been able to take decisions which might vitally affect Aboriginals without thought for Aboriginal opinion. The amendments which are now being placed before the House are designed to give further effect to the Government’s policies in relation to Aboriginal land rights and to allow Aboriginals (as the Minister said in his statement to the House on 25 August last year) as owners of their land, to follow their own lifestyles on their own land to the extent that they choose, to participate in and influence the course of development of and on their traditional land, and to take advantage of the full range of opportunities which development may open up to them. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I rise to speak briefly on a matter which I raised in the Senate in Question Time last week and on which a statement was made in the Senate this morning by the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) representing the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). I refer to the producer consultative group for the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation.
The Senate will recall that the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Bill was considered by this chamber at the end of the autumn session last year. It was not a Bill on which I had the opportunity to speak but it was a Bill in which I had taken considerable interest because the beef industry is a major industry in Queensland. The difficulties that that industry, particularly the export section of it, has experienced in recent years has had a severe impact on sections of Queensland. We now face a position in Queensland where many beef producers rapidly are going bankrupt and thousands of people face a very difficult future indeed.
The Australian Meat and Live-Stock Corporation Bill was very important to many thousands of Queenslanders and was a Bill in which I took a particular interest although, as I have said, I did not have the opportunity to speak on it in this House. One of the aspects of the negotiations which led to the acceptance of that Bill by a number of members of the Government was, importantly, statements of acceptance by the Government of the principle of an elected producer consultative group which reflected a very strong feeling amongst many meat producers that that consultative group to the AMLC must be elected by them. At the time of the Bill the Minister gave certain undertakings. In a statement dated 5 July 1977 to which I referred last week he promised that an interim beef producers consultative group to be nominated by producer organisations would be set up to enable the October 1 977 target date for the formation of the AMLC to be met, but that arrangements would be made for an elected producer consultative group to succeed the interim body by March 1978- that is, a body elected by all the beef producers in Australia. On that basis many producers who had some misgivings about the Bill accepted it and they have looked forward to the opportunity of having an elected representative producer consultative group to express their point of view.
During the last fortnight recess from this place- a couple of weeks ago- I had brought to my attention by a large number of beef producers in Queensland the fact that they believed that the Government was backing away from the promise made by the Minister last year. They indicated to me that there were moves afoot, for various reasons, for the Government to defer the matter of the election of this group- indeed, they believed, to abandon the whole idea. When I returned to this place and pursued my inquiries in relation to it- because I was quite unaware of it- I found that no public announcement had been made by the Minister but that he had written to the leaders of certain producer groups in April indicating that the Government believed on certain grounds that the previous decision for a producer elected consultative group should be delayed and reviewed at the end of this year. Last week I questioned those grounds and the validity of them in view of undertakings and assumptions that were made last year. Today Senator Webster representing the Minister for Primary Industry made in this chamber a statement giving the reasons for the Government’s decision not to honour this promise to have elections by March of this year but to defer them.
I feel that I must, on behalf of beef producers in Queensland- it also affects other meat producers- take exception to the statement and place on record my feelings about its contents.
In the statement the Minister said that one of the reasons for the deferral of the election which should have been held in March was that commitments of the Australian Electoral Office late in 1 977 necessitated variation of the timetable originally proposed and, subsequently, a number of other developments influenced the finalisation of arrangements for an election.
Given that those elections should have been well under way- presumably during February and certainly by early March- I wonder why no statement on the need for deferral was made by the Government until I asked a question in this place last week. I understand that there would have been certain effects on the Australian Electoral Office presumably as a result of our having a Federal election last year. Nevertheless there had been no statement by the Government that that would mean a deferral of the election of this group. I do not accept the statements that these commitments were necessarily the critical element. If the commitments made the position difficult, the Government should have been well aware of this situation at the beginning of the year and should have said so. It should not have waited until April to inform the leaders of the producer groups that it had decided to defer the election and review the situation at the end of this year.
I indicated in my question that I was aware that not all producers or even all producer groups had supported the concept of a producer elected consultative group. That has always been known. However, I stated in my question that there were clear indications at the time the Government made its promise last year, that there was strong majority support from producers and within producer groups for this proposal. Today the Minister in his statement said that there was a strong division of opinion amongst producers on this issue, with two of the four national livestock producer organisations being opposed to an electoral basis for election of members of the producer consultative group. That is not news. What is not indicated in the Minister’s statement is that those two organisations by no means represent a majority of beef producers. The two organisations which have supported the proposal can, by virtue of the total of their membership, far more fairly claim to represent a majority of producer opinion. To state that two of the four organisations are opposed to an electoral basis for selection of members to this body might be taken to indicate a split down the centre, but it does not give the Senate the true facts of the composition of those who support and those who oppose the proposal.
The Minister in his statement went on to indicate that there has been a significant move towards unity within producer organisations. It should be mentioned that there has been published by certain groups a ‘stage 1 discussion paper’ in which they consider the possibility of the amalgamation of certain producer groups. However, it also ought to be spelt out to the Senate that the amalgamation was not suggested until February this year, by which time the election for the producer consultative group should have been well under way. It was not. For the Government to claim that as a basis for a decision to defer the election ignores the timing of the amalgamation proposal. Since the suggestion was not made until February, by which time the electoral processes should have been well under way, the Government cannot claim that as a basis. The Government may wish to claim that as a basis for now continuing to defer the election but it cannot claim that as a reason for a decision which apparently was taken at the end of last year.
There is further information in the statement made by the Minister relating to the unity proposals. I referred to that information in my question last week. One of the proposals is that members of the producer consultative group should be nominated by a cattle council and a sheep council. The proposed target date in the discussion paper for the formation of those councils is 1 January 1979. I indicate to the Senate that my information from a number of beef producers is that that proposal is not acceptable. Last year producers made very clear the fact that they want this producer consultative group to be elected by producers. The proposal that a cattle council and a sheep council should form the producer consultative group would take us to the position where representatives or organisations would form that group. The organisations of meat producers in Australia do not represent all meat producers. The cattle organisations represent approximately two-thirds of cattle producers. So if these groups constitute the producer consultative group, one-third of cattle producers will not have an opportunity to indicate what individuals they want on the producer consultative group, the type of representation they want on that group and the information which ought to flow from it to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. Time will tell the strength of the opposition to the notion that organisations ought to have the right to appoint representatives to the producer consultative group. Last year organisations accepted appointment to the interim producer consultative group only on the grounds that it was an interim group and that it would be followed by a fully elected body.
I mention one point which I took up in my question. One of the grounds for delaying the election which the Minister put to the producer organisations in his letter of April was the cost involved. He stated that it would cost an estimated $250,000. In the statement which the Minister made available to the Senate today he made the comment that in a time of budgetary restraint, to spend a lot of money by proceeding with an election for the producer consultative group against the majority of industry opinion would be foolish and irresponsible. He cannot claim that it is against the majority of industry opinion. Last year it was clearly believed to represent a majority of industry opinion. If, last year, prior to the passage to the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Bill the Minister gave undertakings to producers and producer organisations that the Government would support these elections, it was presumably prepared to support whatever those elections cost.
Today in his statement the Minister has said that the cost of $250,000 is more than double the amount originally envisaged. That amount was envisaged only 12 months ago. We have just gone through the process of examining the Supplementary Estimates before the Estimates committees. There may have been a decision to enter into new commitments which have doubled expenditure in some categories of government activity, but very few things have doubled in basic cost. If it is true that the estimate 12 months ago for this election was approximately $ 125,000 and if the estimate is now $250,000, the Minister has raised many questions which he ought to answer. I ask: Where did the original estimate come from? Why is there such a big difference between the estimate for last year and the estimate now, 12 months later? What has changed in relation to the estimate? What possible explanation can be given for that sort of increase? In any event, surely the Government assumed that whatever the estimated cost was last year, it would increase albeit at a gradually decreasing rate as the years went by. Nevertheless that was a commitment which the Government was prepared to give last year, which was also a time of budgetary restraint. Budgetary restraint has not become news to the Parliament within the last few months. If the Government believed or claimed to believe that this was such an important matter that the Government ought to fund it, that principle remains unchanged. The fact that the estimated cost is now $250,000 does not change the principle. However it raises questions about the validity of the original estimate. In that case, one could ask the same questions about the basis of the current estimate and whether it can be mentioned as a ground for the Government not meeting its obligation in this matter. The Minister, in his statement, concludes:
In the light of the above considerations the Minister for Primary Industry judged it appropriate to again canvass industry views and on 1 3 April 1978 wrote to the four national producer organisations concerned.
By 13 April we should have had a fully elected producer consultative group which should have established a relationship with the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. To write the letter to producer group- after the date which the Government had given as a firm undertakingindicates that scant regard has been shown for the opinions and feelings of people who consider this to be so important.
What particularly concerns me is that judging by the Minister’s statement today it is as clear as it can be that the Government has changed its mind about the undertakings it gave last year concerning an elected producer consultative group. We were given no official statement on that matter. We came by that information because the Minister wrote a letter to four individuals. A number of people raised the issue with me during the parliamentary recess when, by fortuitous circumstances, I was in certain areas of Queensland which have large numbers of beef producers. I think the Minister should explain why he has not made a statement before nowindeed, before March- on why the Government had apparently decided some months ago not to keep faith with the undertaking it gave 12 months ago. I believe the explanation which was given in this chamber earlier today by the Minister for Science, as Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, does not contain the answers that should have been given, and does not indicate well enough the reasons for the Government having taken this decision. I believe that a further explanation to the Senate, and certainly to the meat producers of Australia, ought to be given- one which clearly indicates why the Government has changed its mind. I suggest that the reasons for that change are not contained in today’s statement.
– I acknowledge the points raised by the honourable senator in relation to this matter. I hope that she recognises that her question in this place last Thursday was answered as promptly as possible. The answer was put down at the end of Question Time today, 8 May. I think the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) certainly attempted to give to the honourable senator the best answer that he could. I have noted the points that she has raised. The questions do not appear to me to be particularly important. I think the Minister indicated in his statement the intention to replace the interim body by an elected producer consultative group. The Minister acknowledged then, as he does now, that there is no unanimity within producer groups. I take it that that suggests that he was seeking a way of replacing the interim body over a period. That would be the responsible way of doing it instead of attempting to bulldoze a line through the dissenting views of both parties.
I do not know whether it was a part of the problem but I do know that since I have been in this place I have found that matters to be decided by an election of producers always raise the question of who is to have a vote. Many of my friends who live close to Melbourne and have a handful of cattle or fowls or sheep seem to get a vote on many things when they have not one vestige of interest in them so far as their livelihood is concerned. The point as to when a person should have a vote would appear to me to be a very important matter in deciding this issue. However, it was not within my power to decide who would have a vote if such an election were held.
It appears to me that the statement put down by the Minister is quite appropriate in that sense. He has mentioned the cost. I note the honourable senator’s query as to why the cost has doubled since the Minister’s original suggestion, if it has doubled. I can well understand why the Australian Electoral Office was unable to cope with the requirements of the Government. In November a Federal election was announced and the Electoral Office would have been more than busy during November, December and January. Again I acknowledged that if an election were to be held, it could have been put in hand probably in February, March or April of this year, as the honourable senator suggested. The honourable senator indicated that she would like some further information. If the Minister has any further information to give on this matter, I will obtain it as soon as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 May 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780508_senate_31_s77/>.