31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the Senate that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) leaves Australia today for discussions in New York, London, Paris and Bonn. He is expected to return on 1 9 June. During his absence the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) will act as Prime Minister. Yesterday I informed the Senate that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) had left Australia and that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) would be acting as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I must now inform the Senate that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) is acting as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Minister assisting the Prime Minister.
Human Rights in the Ukraine
-I present the following petition from 1 88 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That Ukraine, a nation of some 50 million people, is deprived of those national and individual rights and human freedoms which are deemed sacred in Australia.
Those who have the courage to speak out in defence of national and human rights in Ukraine are dealt with by the Moscow government in a manner which is abhorrent to every freedom minded Australian.
The most recent manifestations of these repressions is the sentencing, in March of this year, of Myroslav Marynovych and Mykola Matusevych, two young intellectuals, to 12 years of imprisonment and exile for their membership of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords.
In view of the fact that in similar cases in the past, intercession by Western Governments and professional groups has alleviated the severity of such sentences, your petitioners most humbly pray that the honourable senators in Parliament assembled will take steps to:
Condemn the use of prisons, prison camps, Siberian exile, drug therapy and psychiatric institutions in order to silence views which differ to those of the Soviet Regime.
Intercede specifically on behalf of Marynovych and Matusevych, whose sentences can still be reviewed by the Soviet Government.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Webster.
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:
Your petitioners therefore hum bly pray:
Your honourable House take appropriate action to resume the award of the several distinctive Reserve Forces Decorations and Medals for Long Service and Good Conduct to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Army Reserve (CMF) and the RAAF Citizens Air Force. by Senator Lewis.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I ask: On the departure of the Prime Minister overseas today, has the Government finally settled Australia’s negotiating position for the next round of multilateral trade negotiations to be held in Geneva next month? Does that involve a decision to cut tariffs by 40 per cent over an eight-year period from 1980?
-As the honourable senator would understand, that is a matter to be decided by Cabinet. Cabinet decisions will be announced by the appropriate Minister at the appropriate time. I will pass on the question to my colleague the Acting Prime Minister to see whether he wishes to make a response to the honourable senator.
– I ask a supplementary question. In view of the importance of the proposals that have been put by the Prime Minister in the last week or so, the significance of which, I am sure, no one would under estimate, in support of a 40 per cent tariff cut over an eight-year period, is the Minister saying, in fact, that the Prime Minister has gone overseas without a firm decision having been taken by the Government? If a firm decision has been taken, is it not proper that the Australian people, and certainly this Parliament, should be advised whether such an important decision has been made?
– I was trying to say to the honourable senator that it is not for me to disclose what has or has not occurred in Cabinet. I will ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he wishes to make a response to the honourable senator’s question.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I ask: Has the Department of Transport received an incident report from the captain of flight QF7 concerning his experience in landing at Perth Airport on 17 March? If so, is it a fact that the main runway lights failed just prior to landing? Is it a fact that facilities do not exist in Penh to lay an emergency flare path? Is it a fact also that the main runway at Perth Airport is not equipped with an instrument landing system? Are there any other runways at major Australian airports not equipped with instrument landing systems? Are there any plans to install an instrument landing system on the main runway at Penh Airport? If so, when will work be completed?
– As I counted, Senator Sim posed six questions. With the help of my notes, I will take them in order. The first question was whether the Department of Transport had received a report from the captain of a Qantas jumbo jet 747 flight concerning his experience in landing at Perth Airport on 17 March. My advice is that the answer is yes. Senator Sim asked secondly whether the main runway lights failed just prior to landing. Again my advice is yes. He asked, thirdly, whether it is a fact that facilities do not exist in Perth to lay an emergency flare path. Again the answer is yes. The honourable senator’s fourth question was whether the main runway at Perth Airport is equipped with an instrument landing system. My advice is that runway 24 is fully equipped with an instrument landing system and that runway 20 will be fully equipped with ILS by early 1979. That is the advice I have received.
With regard to the fifth question, which was what other main runways at Australian airports are not equipped with ILS, my instruction is that all runways which have an operational requirement for a scheduled landing system have ILS installed. The final question was whether there are plans to install this essential equipment on the main runway at Perth Airport. I refer, of course, to my previous statement that runway 20 will be fully equipped by early 1 979.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and follows the question asked by Senator Sim. It seems to me to be very much related to a question asked yesterday or the day before by Senator Missen concerning the run-down in capital available to civil aviation services in Australia. The Minister may recall that I quoted some figures from the Budget papers and I asked him to relate those figures to the ones that he had quoted from the Minister for Transport. I ask: Has the Minister the figures available for the Senate? If there is seen to be a run-down in capital available to the Department for these navigation aids, is it a matter of concern to him that, firstly, the Government is saying that there is no back-up facility- the Minister referred to that yesterday- in the event of a failure such as the one that apparently occurred at Perth on 1 7 March? Secondly, is the Minister saying that the airstrip in Perth, which presumably is designed for the big, long-range aircraft, is not equipped with an instrument landing system? Is that due to the fact that insufficient capital is available to install one?
– Due to preoccupation, I have not managed to relate those figures but I shall do so and see whether I can give the honourable senator an answer by tomorrow at least. I apologise for that. It escaped my attention in the pressure of other things. I do not believe that the two questions are related. I do not believe that what has happened at Perth airport has anything to do with the questions asked by Senator Missen and others about general maintenance. I am advised that one runway, runway 24, is fully equipped with an instrument landing system, which is operational. There is no suggestion that it has not a function. Runway 20 has never been equipped with an ILS so it is not a question of a break-down. It is a question of new developments. I remind the honourable senator that that would mean that runway 20 had not had this equipment during the time of this Government or of previous governments. It is therefore something that is now deemed to be desirable and action has been taken to establish it by early 1 979. This problem has arisen because of the size and nature of the aircraft on the particular airstrip and presumably because of particular wind conditions at the time. I do not pretend to any expertise on this matter, and I would not want to give an inaccurate answer. May I take the whole question on board and see what I can do?
– My question is directed either to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport or to the Minister for Science. I refer to an announcement that the whole of the port of Tientsin is now using solar cells to power all its lighthouses and light buoys. I ask whether any of Australia’s lighthouses or light buoys are powered by solar cells. If not, would not such power be an economy that would be worthwhile effecting in Australia? If this power source is not being used for our lighthouses and light buoys, can steps be taken to evaluate the worth of using such a system for these navigational aids?
– I am not equipped to say whether Senator Lewis’s statement about the port of Tientsin is correct. If it is correct, then of course it is interesting and demands a study to assess its practicability. Certainly the matter overrides the two departments that Senator Lewis had some difficulty in distinguishing. It is a matter for the Department of the Minister for Transport, whom I represent here, to relate to port facilities, lighthouses and light buoys. Certainly such a reasonable, effective and cheap method of providing the energy system makes common sense. I shall direct the question to my colleague the Minister for Transport and, if I may, to my colleague the Minister for Science, who may wish to pursue the matter in its more theoretical application relating to other methods of storing and using energy.
– Is the Minister for Education aware of the fact that the States Grants (Universities) Act 1976 sets out as one condition of Federal grants to States for universities that the States ensure that no university charges fees? Is he also aware that the Act goes on to exempt certain classes of payment by students from the definition of ‘fees’, including fees payable in respect of an organisation of students? Do the Government policies expressed in that Act of 1 976 still apply, without change, and in particular has the possibility of further conditions being imposed been ruled out at the present time?
-I am aware that in 1973 or 1974, when the previous Government abolished the fees, an arrangement was made by the States that, whilst tuition fees should not be paid, it should be competent upon the institutions themselves to apply fees for two purposesfor the authentic maintenance of sporting, recreation and general amenities and also for student associations. Indeed, that has been done. So the answer to the first two questions asked by Senator Button is: Yes, I am aware. As to the implications in his following question, I have said in this place that, since it came to office, this Government has been concerned that students’ fees should not be used for purposes other than those that are authentic, in the sense of proper student usages within the university or college, and equally it has been concerned that a student in conscience making an application not to pay a part of his student association fees, as distinct from his sporting or amenity fees, should have the ability not to do so. That principle is well established throughout many organisations, and indeed the trade union movement embraces similar principles. As to the general situation, I hope in the early future to make a statement on this matter in the Senate.
– I ask a supplementary question. In answering me, the Minister for Education referred to changes that were made in 1974 when university fees were effectively abolished. My question was directed to the 1 976 Act of this Government which followed the same policy. I ask the Minister whether he was aware of that element of the question- whether that principle is enshrined in this Government ‘s policy and legislation at the moment.
– As Senator Button may recall, the 1976 Act was part of an undertaking by the Fraser Government in its election policy that it should not vary the policies implemented by the Whitlam Government. But I do not hide behind that. Let me simply say this to the honourable senator because, on reflection, that could be taken as being a precious answer: The fact is that the emerging situations of students and indeed the dialogue in the community have convinced the Government that the principle of total compulsion to pay student association fees, both within the institution and for extrainstitutional purposes, has defects and that some of those defects ought to be remedied. I make that quite clear with regard to the 1976 situation. Anything that this Government may do is as a result of experience over some 21/2 years.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Science, relates to the importance of the development of alternative sources of energy. Is the Minister aware that significant advances may have been made in Canberra in the treatment of abattoir waste material to develop methane gas? Can the Minister say whether this might be a viable source of energy and, if so, for what purposes it might be used? Is his Department or the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation associated with this development? Is the Government providing or will it consider support for this research in Canberra?
– I am aware from information which has flowed to me that interest has been shown by a gentleman known as Mr Coulthard in obtaining two objectives at the Canberra abattoir. I understand that he has been a researcher in this area for a number of years. I think that his basic research into the treatment of waste material has occurred over quite an area of country, but recently it has occurred more particularly at the Canberra abattoir. Apparently by a fermentation method the researcher has attempted to exploit numerous ways of disposing of sewage and waste material and, whilst studying the waste disposal problem, has found a fairly cheap alternative energy source of producing methane gas. Some of the information which has come to hand has been of particular interest.
I understand that the unit which is now operating at the Canberra abattoir is operating on the total abattoir waste and has been operating continuously for four months. I understand that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has no details of the performance characteristics, but it is understood that the unit is producing gas of a very high quality, with between 60 and 70 per cent of the gas produced being surplus to the requirements for heating the system and driving the motors which stir the material. Surplus gas is also used for compression purposes and Mr Coulthard is able to use it to drive his own vehicles which are fitted for this purpose. The CSIRO has not had other than basic communication with him. I do not think they have collaborated in any way. But I understand that earlier in the piece they were involved in evaluating his system at a Victorian piggery where gas was being generated from waste. With his plant now in full operation and with the support of private industry which has followed, Mr Coulthard is probably well placed to accelerate the marketing of the particular module which he has developed. I understand that he is attracting particular interest from overseas at the present time.
So basically a system is working in Canberra which may be most valuable in the manner in which it is disposing of waste and generating a form of fuel.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Prime Minister and refers to an article which appeared on the front page of the Australian on Monday of this week entitled: ‘PM to push for tariff trade-off’. The article states, among other things:
The Federal Government will agree to cut tariffs by 40 per cent over eight years if the major industrial nations guarantee to stabilise prices for commodities and agricultural produce.
I ask the Minister: Is there any substance in this report? In my view, if there is, it would spell disaster for our manufacturing industries.
– The honourable senator might not be aware that in the first question asked at Question Time today Senator Wriedt asked whether the Government had come to a conclusion as to what its attitude should be at the multilateral trade negotiations, which I think are to commence in Geneva in a week or so- quite shortly. I replied to Senator Wriedt that when the Government had made its decisions as to what our negotiating stance will be the appropriate Minister would announce those decisions. I said that I would ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he is prepared to take notice of the question which Senator Wriedt has asked and whether he is prepared to give a response to it in respect of what would be our negotiating position at the multilateral trade negotiations.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. In view of the contraction of the employment base in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Australia over the past several years, can the Minister assure the Senate that, as a matter of policy, the Government continues to support the presence in Australia of a viable pharmaceutical manufacturing industry or has there been acceptance of an alternative view that Australia could equally as well become a distribution point for pharmaceuticals manufactured overseas?
– I can assure Senator Baume and the Senate that the Government’s policy is to recognise the importance of the manufacture in Australia of a wide range of ethical drugs. To this end, the Government has recently re-endorsed the principle that Australia should have a viable pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. The arrangements as to how that can be assured and in particular the need for any changes in Government policy in order to assist an efficient pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Australia are presently under consideration. It is expected that an announcement on this matter will be made shortly.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is it a fact that the Government plans to dismiss over 1,000 permanent employees and 2,000 casual employees of the Australian Services Canteens Organisation to allow defence forces staff to operate canteens on a part-time basis? Can the Minister give any reason for this decision and advise the Senate what action the Government plans to ensure that all the workers displaced by this decision are able to find alternative employment?
-I have no knowledge of any intention of the Government to take such action. It may well be that the honourable senator is better informed than I am. As it is obviously a matter which is disturbing the honourable senator, I will see whether I can obtain an answer for him before the end of Question Time.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport by saying that no doubt the Minister is aware of the offer by Qantas Airways Ltd to give travel assistance to the 1980 Australian Olympic team. Has Qantas considered offering similar facilities to the Commonwealth Games team which is to go to Canada later this year? If not, will the
Minister ask Qantas to examine the feasibility of such assistance?
– I am aware of the fact stated in the first part of Senator Townley’s question. I am not aware whether a similar offer was made with regard to the Commonwealth Games team to go to Canada. I will take up the matter with the Minister for Transport and obtain an answer to the honourable senator’s question.
– The Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry will recall my question to him on 24 May in regard to hedging by the Australian Wheat Board on the Chicago grain futures market and his reply to me on 26 May to the effect that the Board has the facility to hedge individual contracts in the futures market in the United States of America and that the facility was provided in conformity with the exchange controls exercised by the Reserve Bank of Australia. For clarification, I now ask the Minister: Is he saying that the Board, in fact, did engage in hedging operations? If so, did these operations take place between 15 June and 15 July 1977 with the full knowledge and approval of either or both the Reserve Bank and the Treasurer?
-As the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry in the Senate my answer to Senator McLaren’s question are no and I do not know.
– Is the Attorney-General aware that the Commonwealth Ombudsman has received 2,500 written complaints and another 2,500 complaints made in person or by telephone since he commenced operation on 1 July 1977 and that at any one time there is a backlog of 1,000 complaints? Has the Ombudsman sought a substantial increase in staff to meet these unexpected needs? Does the AttorneyGeneral agree that it is essential that complaints by citizens against administrative mistakes and injustices require urgent attention by the Ombudsman and his staff? Is the Minister prepared to recommend a substantial increase in the Ombudsman ‘s staff?
– The Ombudsman does not come within my area of responsibility but within that of the Prime Minister. As the question has been directed to me rather than to Senator Withers I will refer the matter directly to the Prime Minister for an answer.
– The Minister for Social Security will be aware that the maximum amount allowable for pensioners to earn before their pension is affected is currently $20 a week and that this rate has been operable since October 1972 despite the fact that the pension itself has increased considerably during the same period. When is it anticipated that the $20 figure will be increased- preferably doubled?
– Any discussions with regard to changes of pension arrangements are naturally the responsibility of the Government and any decisions that are made would be announced at an appropriate time. As far as the free area of income is concerned it is acknowledged that there has been no increase in this for a number of years but it is also pointed out that relaxation of the limit does incur increased expenditure as far as the payment of pensions is concerned. These things need to be taken into account when looking at the overall income security system in this country. As I say, these matters do receive consideration. If any changes are to be announced they will be made by way of policy decisions.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is it a fact that a joint working party has submitted a report concerning a merit promotion system for research scientists within the Australian Defence Scientific Service? Is the Minister aware of the low morale among research scientists particularly at the Weapons Research Establishment in South Australia due to the current rundown and consequent uncertainty with respect to career prospects? In view of this fact, can the Minister say when the report was presented to the Government? When will it be made public and when will the Government be in a position to make a decision on the recommendations contained in it?
-I have some information relating to that matter as follows: The Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration recommended that the system of reclassification of positions according to the performance of the occupant be extended to all professional areas where there is scope for personal initiative. On 14 July 1977 the Public Service Board agreed to an examination of the defence science area to see whether a form of merit promotion similar to that practised in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation or the Atomic Energy Commission should be applied to defence scientists. The examination was to include not only consideration of all aspects of entry to and advancement within the research science grades, but also to take account of relationships with experimental officers and engineers in research environments.
A group comprised of a staff member of the Public Service Board and two members of the Department of Defence reported in February 1978. The Board has sought further information on aspects of the report, in particular relating to the need to ensure that proposals for any new system are properly justified and take proper account of requirements of other professional groups in the Service and differing circumstances in organisations such as the CSIRO and the AEC. As the honourable senator will know, the proposal has considerable financial and other implications. The Public Service Board and the Department of Defence are currently considering the further aspects raised by the Board.
– I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry to a report in this morning’s newspapers that the retail price of sugar will rise by 4c a kilogram following an agreement by the Federal and Queensland governments to a price rise for producers of $30 a tonne to take effect from Monday. I also remind the Minister that during the course of the recent sugar debate I raised with him the problem of sugar producers on the north coast of New South Wales and the Minister said that he would discuss that matter with the Minister for Primary Industry. I am wondering now whether he has done so and, if so, what information he might be able to provide to me.
– I raised with the Minister for Primary Industry the matter which the honourable senator mentioned on 9 May of this year. My understanding of the situation is that CSR Ltd- this refers directly to the companies which it controls in New South Wales and which are processing sugar- will close its three mills if growers do not approve of the proposal put forward by the executive of the New South Wales Cane Growers Association for their purchase. Apparently that was by no means the first indication that growers had received of the determination of CSR to sever its connection with these mills. The company made it plain as long as three years ago, when a CSR spokesman addressed the 1975 annual meeting of the Association, that it wished to sell those mills to the growers. There have been other public indications of the company’s wish since then.
The honourable senator indicated that there were Press reports of mass meetings of cane growers from the three mill districts being held in Lismore and that growers had accepted, by a fairly large majority, the recommendations of the executive that the mills be purchased. The purchase price was indicated to be $5. 5m with an additional amount for working capital which would bring the figure up to about $6.1m. The Minister for Primary Industry indicated to me that the New South Wales Government had undertaken to lend $3.1m to facilitate the cooperative’s purchase of the mills. The Commonwealth Government has been asked to arrange matching finance. Cane growers are to contribute a substantial amount towards capital expenditure, working capital and other expenditure. The Federal Government has been considering this request for financial assistance but before taking a decision it has asked the Australian Industry Development Corporation to examine urgently a feasibility study prepared oh behalf of the cane growers and to report whether the AIDC can provide the funds sought. That is the most useful information I am able ‘to convey to the honourable senator.
– Is the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations aware of the guerrilla warnings issued yesterday by the reelected secretary of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation? Can he advise whether the Government accepts the threats and promises made by this gentleman? How does the Government see such threats as affecting Australia’s likely building program and the employment prospects of those who come under this gentleman ‘s jurisdiction?
– I regret that I have not seen or heard of the warnings made by the Secretary of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation which were the subject of the question asked by Senator Archer. I shall refer the question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and endeavour to obtain an early answer.
– The Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry will remember the dairy industry policy which was announced last week and which sought to limit to 96,000 tonnes the underwriting commitment on butter and associated products by allocating a proportionate quota to all dairy factories. I ask: Will the quota allocation to factories be affected by the Victorian Government’s refusal to participate in the scheme as reported in this morning’s Press? If the Victorian Government will not cooperate, what legal mechanism can the Commonwealth use to apply quotas to factories in the States?
– I have not noted the attitude of the Victorian Government. Yesterday I noted the announced attitude of one or two of the other States. It appeared to me that a review by Mr Sinclair of the attitudes that have been stated would be likely. I am unable to say what legal mechanisms may be available to the Federal Government but I imagine that, in general, the proper performance of the operation of stage 2, as announced by the Federal Government, will depend upon the attitude of the various States. All States will be encouraged to join in and be party to the operation of stage 2.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Administrative Services. I refer to a previous question I asked regarding a Commonwealth transport desk and telephone being provided in a central position at the Adelaide Airport for the convenience of passengers particulary those from interstate. Is the Minister aware that Ansett Airlines of Australia and Trans-Australia Airlines no longer allow paging at the airport to assist drivers in finding their passengers? This creates problems for many people particularly those from interstate. As more taxis than Commonwealth cars are currently being used it is difficult for passengers to identify readily their drivers who do not, of course, wear uniforms. Will the Minister give further consideration to the establishment of a central desk at the airport.
-I recall replying to a question about this matter which the honourable senator asked the other day. As 1 recall my reply, I said that there was a direct telephone line at the end of the TAA desk displaying a sign reading Commonwealth Car Inquiries’. As the honourable senator knows, I am not very familiar with the layout of the Adelaide Airport. It is obvious from the honourable senator’s question that he believes that the present arrangement is not satisfactory. Only one solution would be satisfactory to the honourable senator, and that is that a proper desk be located where people can find a driver, as is provided at Perth, Melbourne and Sydney airports. I do not think that my Department would resist putting in such a facility. As the honourable senator would know, whether such a desk could be placed at Adelaide Airport is a matter for decision by my colleague, the Minister for Transport, who allocates space in airports for such facilities. In view of the honourable senator’s further request, I will take the matter up directly with my colleague the Minister for Transport. I think someone else interjected the other day that there was also a lack of the same sort of facility at Brisbane.
– There is a telephone there.
– There is no desk at Brisbane. There is a telephone.
-I am informed that there is a telephone but no desk. Do I take it that there is no central point to which passengers can be easily directed to find a driver and that people have to seek out drivers and identify themselves?
– That is right.
-I will have a look at that matter to see whether we can do the same in Brisbane and Adelaide. If any other honourable senator has a like request for a facility at any other airport I will see what I can do.
-I think the provision of such a facility at Warrnambool is going a bit too far. The people at Murray Bridge will want one next to dispense the Border Watch.
– We want an airport there first.
– Yes. I have picked up some of the interjections. If any honourable senators would like me to take this matter up in regard to other airports, I will do so. I have been informed now about Adelaide, Brisbane and Darwin. I will ask my colleague in another place whether he is prepared to make space available for a proper facility for members of parliament.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Education. Is it correct that the proposed Casey UniversityAustralian Defence Force Academy will have an initial enrolment of 1,250 students? Has the advice of the Australian Vice Chancellor’s Committee and the Tertiary Education Commission been sought on whether this number could be accommodated in existing universities and colleges?
– The question is not one specifically for me. I say that in no defensive fashion. This is a matter for the Minister of Defence; it comes directly under his portfolio. Whilst I have taken part in Cabinet discussions in the formulation of this policy I should not reply directly on behalf of the Minister for Defence. With the indulgence of Senator Withers, who wears the other cloak representing the Minister for Defence, I will seek the information for Senator James McClelland.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen the report on teenage smoking which states that in New South Wales alone last year adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age spent $40m on cigarettes and that the total amount spent on cigarettes in Australia last year has been estimated at $ 1,200m? In the light of these figures, can the Minister say how much was spent on health care insurance directly out of the pockets of Australian citizens last year?
– I have no figures that would relate to the total cost of health insurance paid by individuals in Australia last year. I will draw the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health and see what comparison he would wish to draw between the expenditure by individuals on smoking and on their own health care.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Prime Minister, but it may have to be redirected to another Minister. Has he heard of the Last Chance gold mine at Kanowna in Western Australia, United Nickel Ltd, Inter Copper Ltd, Kerdos Properties and the Minaso Trust? Does the Minister know that the Kanowna field produced some 400,000 ounces of gold, but was abandoned more than half a century ago? Is he also aware that John Wollcott Forbes, Frank West, Charles Kean, Dr Alfred Gasser, Joseph Jones, Bernard Amstutz and Australia’s own mining entrepeneur, Senator Ian Wood, are board members and/or promoters of the Last Chance mine? As the initial capital comes from possibly dubious sources, I ask the Minister to examine the background of the company in accordance with the provisions of the Trade Practices Act in order to protect small speculators who may be persuaded to invest in a company which has little chance of being a success.
– My attention was not directed to all the terms of the question because it was not addressed to me. As the question concerns the Trade Practices Act it should have been directed to me because I represent the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I suggest that Senator Keeffe put his question on notice.
– My question is directed either to the Leader of the Government in the Senate or to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The Ministers will recall the representations made over a number of months about the position at Whyalla since the decline in the shipbuilding industry. I refer particularly to a report of a South Australian working party which has been expected from the State Government by the Australian Government and which is now in its hands. It concerned mainly the development of a rolling stock manufacturing complex in Whyalla. Can either Minister inform the Senate what is the target date in respect of any determination of recommendations arising from that report and when are they likely to be announced?
-It is difficult to say whether it is a Premier to Prime Minister communication or whether my colleague the Minister for Industry and Commerce is looking at the technical side of it. Both Senator Durack and I will seek out the information for the honourable senator and let him have it as early as possible.
-Has the Minister for Social Security been made aware of recent Press reports stating that pensions and other social welfare benefits have been denied to women who are living at the same address as a male? Will the Minister undertake a complete review of the guidelines presently used to determine eligibility for pensions and other benefits to ensure that payments are not suspended or cancelled unless the Department of Social Security has reliable evidence to prove that either a domestic or a bona fide de facto relationship does exist?
– I have not seen recent Press reports regarding the withdrawal of pensions or other social security benefits from women because they are living at the same address as a male. He would be aware, I think, that there are eligibility requirements for those people who claim either a deserted wives pension, a supporting mothers benefit or other women’s benefits. They need to comply with the eligibility requirements. In some cases they need to comply with the requirement that they are not placed in a better position than are married people living under the same circumstances. However, I will take note of his suggestion that the present guidelines should be reviewed. I remind the honourable senator that any person who has a pension withdrawn has a right of appeal under the social security appeals system. The suggestion that there is a blanket withdrawal of pension because a woman is living at the same address as a male could not be substantiated on any of the information I have.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government. Has his attention been drawn to remarks made last week by his colleague the Minister for Productivity, Mr Macphee, at the Australian Chamber of Commerce conference in which Mr Macphee said that it would be beneficial if the Federal Government had a four-year rather than a three-year term? Does the Minister agree with this suggestion? If so, does the Government intend to take any steps to bring it to fruition?
-I understand from Mr Macphee that this was but a passing reference made in a speech into which he had put a considerable amount of work. He was somewhat surprised that the thoughtfulness of the major thrust of his speech was ignored but that this one item was picked out and headlined. I suppose one should stop being surprised. The suggestion has been bruited about a number of times that the life of the House of Representatives ought to be extended. A number of my backbench colleagues have been quite interested in this proposition for some time but there are some problems with implementation. I think that Tasmania has the only State parliament in Australia at the moment which has a four-year term. It was previously a five-year term but was reduced not so long ago to four years
I am not certain whether this matter is on the agenda or ever has been raised for consideration at the Constitutional Convention. So far as I am aware, the Government has no view or policy on this matter. Should it ever make such a policy decision, I would imagine that it would do so on the basis of its being referred to the Constitutional Convention for comment. The tradition of threeyear parliaments is so entrenched in the five mainland States and the Commonwealth that I imagine any parliament would be reluctant to move unless it was part of a general movement right around Australia to cover all parliaments.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Does the Minister recall that some months ago I asked him whether the Australian Government would guarantee that there would be no storage in Australia of nuclear waste disposal substances from other countries? I believe that the Minister said that he would pass the question on to the Prime Minister. I ask, firstly, whether the Prime Minister has made a clear statement that under no circumstances will there be any importation of nuclear wastes for storage in Australia. Secondly, has the Minister seen a report that the Philippines is looking to Australia and Canada as possible sites for the disposal of high level radioactive nuclear wastes? Will the Government make a clear statement, if it has not already done so, in which it indicates quite emphatically that under no circumstances will high level radioactive wastes be imported into Australia for storage?
-I recall answering a question about this last year on behalf of my colleague Mr Anthony. As I recall it, it arose out of a Press report that a group of scientists from either Australia or Japan had suggested that somewhere in the remote part of Western Australia would be an ideal place to store nuclear waste.
– It was a group of Australian scientists.
– Was it? There was also a Press report at some stage of a gentleman who was out here from Japan making the same sort of suggestion. I am relying on memory, but I think I said at the time that, as advised by my colleague Mr Anthony, the Government had no intention of entertaining such proposals. As I am relying on memory, I will ask the Acting Prime Minister for an up-to-date statement on the whole matter of importing nuclear waste from overseas for storage in Australia.
– I direct my question to the Attorney-General. Is it a fact that in the case of the Crown v. Csidei in the Northern Territory Supreme Court a mistrial has been declared following a statement in the Northern Territory News by the editor of that newspaper, Mr John Hogan? If that is a fact, will the Attorney-General advise the Senate, first, how much the trial has already cost the taxpayers of Australia; secondly, how many cases will be disrupted because of the forced adjournment; thirdly, whether the Government will take action against Mr John Hogan?
- Senator Robertson’s first question asked how much the mistrial had cost. I will endeavour to have that matter costed. I have not the figures with me, of course. As to disruption of other cases, I will seek an investigation into that matter and advise the honourable senator later. As to the third question, I am giving it consideration.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources: What discussions, if any, have been held between Commonwealth and Victorian government officials regarding possible proposals by the latter Government to install a nuclear power station at Portland in Victoria? As the proposed site is within the Prime Minister’s electorate, has he had any discussions with any group about such a station being built?
– I have no knowledge of any discussions taking place. I will ask the Acting Prime Minister whether there have been any such discussions.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As the Minister responsible for royal commissions, has he received a request directed to the Prime Minister from the Returned Services League for a royal commission into the Iwasaki project at Yeppoon? Is the Minister aware that the RSL is concerned about the alienation of Australian land? Can the Minister, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, give the Government’s view about the alienation of Australian land?
– I am not aware of any request from the Returned Services League to the Prime Minister for a royal commission. As to the Commonwealth Government’s view of the alienation of land, I take the honourable senator to mean the freehold ownership of land by other than Australian citizens. That perhaps rightly belongs to my colleague Senator Carrick, representing the Treasurer. I think the policies on this matter are spelt out in the Government’s foreign investment guidelines and I do not recall them with any great particularity. I feel certain that within the foreign investment guidelines the Government’s view on the capacity of nonAustralian citizens to purchase land within Australia is spelt out.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Health confirm that it is the Government’s intention to reduce to a meagre 75 per cent the present 85 per cent payable in respect of the standard fee for service to pensioners? Does the Minister acknowledge that at present within the medical profession there exists a tacit agreement whereby its members on the whole accept the 85 per cent in full payment for their services, thus alleviating any further pecuniary burden on the pensioners’ already strained finances? 1 preface my further question by congratulating members of the medical profession on the compassionate leniency which they extend at present to the pensioners. I further ask the Minister: What consultation, if any, took place with the Australian Medical Association prior to this reduction being considered? Did the Minister receive any assurance from the AMA that its members would continue to render services to pensioners at this proposed level of payment? If the Minister cannot give this assurance, does she agree that the present medical service will deteriorate and that this in itself is a further discrimination against those members of our society whose very age demands that they receive the best medical care available? Does she also agree that the provision of such care should be well within their financial resources to allow them to enjoy fully the twilight of their years with dignity, free from further unwarranted financial worries, as is the birthright of every Australian and, in particular, of those who have given a lifetime of service to our nation?
– The Minister for Health recently announced some proposed changes to the health scheme and he mentioned that there would be a reduction to 75 percent of the schedule fees. In answering questions on his behalf recently I also stated that he was to have discussions with the Australian Medical Association in the near future. As to the acceptance of 75 per cent as full payment of the fee, the Minister for Health stated that he hoped that doctors would be able to come to an arrangement to accept 75 per cent instead of 85 per cent, as under the former arrangement. I understand that the discussions have not been held. If they have, I am not aware of the decisions that have arisen from them. I shall draw Senator Bonner’s question to the attention of the Minister for Health and see that the honourable senator is advised as soon as any decision is taken.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Last week I asked the Minister a question about the terms and the extent of the inquiry into an ethnic television channel. At the time the Minister was unable to inform me about the matter. This morning I heard on an FM radio broadcast an announcement that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications had decided to establish a new channel for ethnic television and to extend ethnic radio throughout Australia. Will the Minister confirm this statement? Will he now inform the Senate to what extent groups and individuals involved in ethnic broadcasting were consulted by the Government before it reached this decison?
– The question includes quite a number of pieces of information that are not within my first-hand knowledge. I did not hear the item on the radio this morning and I do not know specifically the policy that the Minister is pursuing on this matter. I regret that, if I undertook to get some further information for Senator Ryan, so far I have not done so. It is not for want of good intent. I shall get all the information and let her have it as soon as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I preface it by remarking that people who are referred by the Commonwealth Employment Service to job vacancies often spend considerable amounts on fares to attend their interview. My attention was recently brought to a case where a person spent $3.50 in fares, only to find that the taxi driver to whom he had been referred by the CES did not keep the appointment. I therefore ask whether there is any system under which those who are referred by the CES to a vacancy may receive some reimbursement of fares?
– I shall refer that question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.
-I now direct to the Minister representing the Treasurer part of my question which I had directed to the Minister for Administrative Services. It relates to the Iwasaki project. Will he advise whether an environmental impact statement has been received in connection with this project? Will he also advise whether the foreign investment guidelines have been adhered to? Perhaps he can also give more details on the Commonwealth’s attitude to the alienation of Australian land?
-I direct Senator Georges’ attention to an adjournment debate some time ago in which he and I participated, and the report of which I re-read recently. The fact is that, in that debate, I indicated that the Government had authorised the preparation of an environmental impact statement. From memory, I said that the statement was expected to be finalised by about mid-June. That can easily be checked by reading the Hansard report of the adjournment debate. However, that is my understanding. I think my advice then was that, in terms of foreign investment guidelines, that committee had not yet completed its findings and, therefore, as yet no report on it has come forward. The third matter is a matter of Government policy. How much of it, having been stated, can be put to paper or to word of mouth is, I think, for the Treasurer to indicate and not for me as Minister representing him. But I do take the matter seriously and I shall obtain information on it.
– By way of a supplementary question, I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer: Will he accept the seriousness of the situation because in Queensland it is accepted that Iwasaki has the go-ahead? What the Minister is saying- and I think he ought to reaffirm it- is that as yet no such go-ahead has been given.
– My advice, which was given a few days ago and which I think is confirmed by my colleague, is exactly as I have just said, namely, that the environmental impact statement is due about mid-June. I said that no decision had been made, or no recommendation had been made, or there had been no crystalisation of ideas by the foreign investment people and that, therefore, no Commonwealth policy had been formulated. It is fair to say that a substantial amount of the policies for the establishment of the Iwasaki project at Yeppoon, assuming the Commonwealth matters are put aside for the moment, lie wholly within the jurisdiction of the Queensland Government. That is consistent with the answers which I have already given to the questions. I am clear on this. Should any action have been taken in the days which have passed since last I heard about this matter, I shall correct my statements tomorrow.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) I inform the Senate that the President has received a letter from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Withers, requesting that Senator Drake-Brockman be discharged from further service on the Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House and nominating Senator Maunsell to be a member in his place.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That Senator Drake-Brockman be discharged from further service on the Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House and that Senator Maunsell be appointed a member of the Committee in his place.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I inform the Senate that the President has received a letter from Senator Ryan proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to maintain the independence, objectivity and high standard of national broadcasting.
I call upon those senators who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of senators required by the Sessional Orders having risen in their places-
– I raise for discussion in the Senate today the following matter:
The failure of the Government to maintain the independence, objectivity and high standard of national broadcasting.
This is not the first time that this matter has been raised in the Senate in recent years. Various attacks by the Government on the Australian Broadcasting Commission and its functions are already on record in Hansard. They include such attacks as the 1 5 per cent cut in funds in the first Lynch Budget, the imposition of staff ceilings and the staff wastage policy, what I might refer to as the Sir Henry Bland fiasco, the changes to the legislation affecting the ABC which have weakened its independence, the introduction through legislation of a Special Broadcasting Service in terms which in the future will allow the Special Broadcasting Service to encroach upon the national broadcasting functions of the ABC, and the removal for blatantly political reasons of the ethnic radio station 3ZZ by the simple expedient of refusing to supply funds.
The Opposition raises this matter again today because the position of the Australian Broadcasting Commission as the national broadcasting service of this country continues to be weakened by a combination of hostile government policy and what can be termed as self-censorship by senior management within the ABC. Although a new Minister- Mr Tony Staley- has been appointed to take charge of the ABC and has spoken out in support of the ABC, apparently he has done nothing to stop the inefficiency of the staff ceilings policy, to stop the reduction in funds, to stop the restriction of services and to stop the drain of creative people from the ABC. It appears to us that he has done nothing to implement those acceptable recommendations of the Green report.
The functions of the ABC, as set out in the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, are extremely important. The ABC is a crucial part of the fabric of our democratic system. Section 59 of the Act states:
Subject to this Act, the Commission shall provide, and shall broadcast or televise from transmitting stations made available by the Austraiian Telecommunications Commission adequate and comprehensive programs and shall take in the interests of the community all such measures as, in the opinion of the Commission, are conducive to the full development of suitable broadcasting and television programs.
The Commission is required to broadcast daily from all national broadcasting stations regular sessions of news and information relating to current events within the Commonwealth and other parts of the world, to employ an adequate staff, both in the Commonwealth and overseas countries, for the purpose of collecting news and information to be broadcast, to endeavour to establish and utilise in such manner as it thinks desirable in order to convey the greatest benefit on broadcasting or television groups of musicians for the rendition of orchestral, choral and band music of high quality and so forth. Many other requirements are placed upon the ABC.
It appears to the Opposition and, I think, to members of the community generally that the ABC has been hobbled in its ability to carry out these crucial functions by what ultimately results from government policy. I mention briefly that there is an overwhelming necessity for the ABC to extend the services that it has established over the years. For example, there are many country areas which are not properly serviced by the ABC in respect of either radio of television broadcasting. We in the Oppostion find this totally unacceptable. Citizens living in remote areas and in country towns contribute through taxation to the running of the ABC just as do citizens living in cities. Yet the access of citizens living in remote areas and country towns to the services of the ABC is totally unsatisfactory in many cases and very unsatisfactory in other cases.
For example, in Alice Springs, which is an important centre of population in the outback area, there is no local content on television. One of the constant sources of complaint that we hear is that the equipment provided for the ABC now is substandard and leads to unsatisfactory or inadequate broadcasting in many cases. I cite what I presume to be an illustration of this inadequacy of equipment the recent decision by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to go outside the ABC and to employ a private television production company to produce a recent address to the nation. This was an unprecedented decision. I have asked questions about the reasons for it. I have not received answers as yet, but it would seem that the Prime Minister considered the facilities of the ABC not to be up to standard and that his response was to go outside the Commission rather than improve the facilities.
I come now to the most serious charge which I wish to make in the course of this debate against the Government’s management of the ABC and the conduct of the ABC generally, that is, the development of political bias. Traditionally, the ABC has had a very high credibility among the citizens of this nation for reporting objectively matters of importance. However, I believe that that reputation is no longer justified. I would like to describe at some length why I make this charge. For as long as public affairs reporting has been allowed to develop in the ABC there have been charges, almost always from conservatives, that the ABC is biased, that it is dominated by left wing influence and that it harbours sinister communist cells. I am reminded of a statement in this chamber along those lines by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Withers, shortly after the election of the Fraser Government. He said, that the ABC was full of left wing propagandists and that he intended to clean it up.
The program Four Corners, now in its eighteenth year, was the first to attract controversy because it broke new ground in Australian journalism. It was consistently innovative and I think most honourable senators would agree that it brought depth, maturity and respectability to television journalism. Then came This Day Tonight and more ground was broken. The more successful these programs were in exploring sensitive issues and increasing public awareness, the more strident became the critics, with conservative politicians leading the way. The impact of these critics has been most noticeable since the 1975 federal election. After that campaign ABC reporter Richard Carleton was forced to leave the ABC, not by command but by attrition. After the 1977 election campaign the removal of another ABC current affairs reporter, George Negus, was more blatant. Negus was unceremoniously removed from Canberra. He was not sacked outright but he suffered the indignity of seeing his name excluded from staff rosters and from pre-season promotion of TDT this year. So he left. I think it is common knowledge that both Carleton and Negus, with their style of persistent and relevant questioning, had upset the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, although I understand that the current Minister for Post and Telecommunications, Mr Tony Staley, has protested that this was not the case.
TDT now offers what can fairly be described as an extremely thin veneer of specialist political cover through the current reporter for the Parliament, John Penlington. John Penlington of course is a reporter whose prestige is high, and deservedly high. However, he has been given what must be a nearly full time job of running the Canberra news bureau without serving TDT as well and the end result of this is reflected in the figures. In the months of February and March 1977 George Negus made 16 political reports from Canberra. For the same period of this year John Penlington has made seven appearances on TDT. I point out that if anything political activity in Canberra has been more worthy of interest this year than it was last year. If that trend continues- there is no reason to believe otherwise- TDT will have lost more than half of its national capital content. The value of having a full time political commentator of course is that he develops a knowledge and expertise in that field and one could expect his questions and comments to be informed and to the point. If political content is to come from reporters outside Canberra, for example, in Sydney or Melbourne, or from a part time reporter in Canberra, the risk is that these reports will be superficial and lightweight. One can only assume that this is what ABC senior management, the Prime Minister and the Government want.
George Negus was removed from Canberra under the guise of streamlining the TDT public affairs operation. For the first time in 10 years, at a time when political awareness and knowledge of politics are higher than ever before, it suddenly becomes unnecessary for TDT to have a full time correspondent in the national capital. I also remind the Senate that some time before George Negus was removed from Canberra ABC management, by dropping altogether a program called State of the Nation, showed its anxiety not to displease the Government. At that time State of the Nation was the only specialist political television program being aired on any of the four television networks. Its budget was almost insignificant and its elimination represented almost no cost saving to the ABC. To what extent such actions have come about as a result of direct pressure from the Fraser Government and to what extent they are the result of self-censorship and of management over zealously interpreting the wishes of the Government, is not entirely clear. Certainly during the last election campaign there was at least one example to direct pressure successfully being applied by the Fraser office.
On 26 October 1977 the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, appeared on TDT on request for a half hour phone-in program. The following day, 27 October, the Prime Minister announced the election date. A few days later the Fraser office began to pressure TDT management for a similar program of equal duration. TDT executives apparently resisted the pressure on two grounds; firstly, that earlier in the year Mr Fraser, Mr Lynch and Bob Hawke had each conducted phone-in programs on TDT of 35 minutes, 60 minutes and 36 minutes duration respectively, without the same facility being provided to the Opposition Leader. Secondly, Mr Whitlam had been invited to discuss a specific issue which was then current; his credibility as Leader of the Opposition and for which there was no onus on TDT to provide a balance. Within days, however, TDT was informed by David Barnett, Mr Fraser ‘s Press secretary, that it would be accommodating Mr Fraser for half an hour on 15 November, two days before Labor’s campaign opening. Several hours later senior management confirmed Barnett ‘s edict.
Another example of what I can interpret only as political bias was more recent and that was the refusal of equal time to the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Hayden, following an address to the nation by the Prime Minister on the occasion of his leaving on a trade mission to Japan. Again no satisfactory reason was given for this although the request did go to the Commissioners themselves. That kind of provision of equal time should be a matter of policy which should be implemented by management. Earlier this year I asked a question on notice to which I recently received an answer regarding the ratio of appearances of Federal Labor politicians and
Federal Government politicians on Tasmanian ABC. The answer stated that there had been 30 appearances by Federal Government politicians and eight appearances by Federal Opposition politicians. Again one wonders what has happened to the guidelines regarding the balance and objectivity in presenting to the Australian public, and in this case to the Tasmanian public, a fair coverage of Federal politics.
Probably the biggest threat to the ABC is the Government’s wastage policy. That is the policy whereby a certain reduction in staff must be achieved. It cannot be achieved by sacking permanent officers so it has to be achieved by not replacing officers who leave through retirement or ill-health or to take a job elsewhere. Wastage is not an efficient way of streamlining an operation like the ABC. The loss of creativity and experience through this policy is severe. Even before the wastage policy was introduced the clerk to program-maker ratio was seven to one. Presumably that ratio is now even worse. Another comment I make about this policy is that it has led to harsh employment practices with regard to temporary staff. There have been a number of instances of temporary employees being put off before they are due for permanency. There is a particular case of a woman named Grace Gorman, a temporary employee, who has been sacked after four years employment in the ABC with no rights of appeal even though she has contributed to the superannuation fund during this time. I believe that it is totally unacceptable for any government with a policy of fair employment practices to tolerate a situation of this kind within a statutory body.
I think the most serious effect of the wastage policy is the drain of creative and experienced people away from the ABC. The tragedy for the ABC is that in the area of program making it has invested time and money for years developing television and radio expertise of producers, directors, film editors and so on. That investment is being rapidly dissipated. Staff losses are escalating. The more creativity is lost the more morale declines and of course the more morale declines the more the creative drain accelerates. One example of what is happening can be found in the cine-camera area. In the Sydney branch of the ABC there are 28 positions for cinecameramen. Only 16 of these are currently filled by qualified cameramen; the rest have been filled by assistants on higher duties. In the Sydney news department alone recently six of the seven cameramen were assistants on higher duties. Cameramen with as much as 15 or 16 years experience are leaving out of sheer frustration.
If we look at TDT and Four Corners we see that almost all the original reporters and producers- the real innovators of those programs- have gone, not just from public affairs but also from the ABC altogether. I shall name some people involved in this phenomenon. They are: Stuart Littlemore, Michael Willesee, Gerald Stone, Peter Couchman, Peter Luck and producers Tony Ferguson, Don Simmonds, David Salter and Lachie Shaw. The kind of experience that these people represent cannot be found overnight; it takes years to build up. That building process it seems is just not taking place any more. Experience is being lost and little effort is being made to replace it. The end result is a weak and discredited ABC. TDT is a prime example of what has happened to a program that is forced to function under these conditions. TDT has lost its former high credibility as a current affairs program and is now a pale shadow of what it once was. Clearly unsatisfactory staff management policies prevail in the ABC at the moment. As I have suggested, this situation has arisen because of government policies and also, to an extent apparently because of senior management staffing policies.
This brings me to the question of the position of the staff-elected commissioner of the ABC which is currently held by Marius Webb. During the course of this debate I seek an assurance from the Minister that the Government intends, at the termination of Mr Webb’s period of appointment, to continue with the principle established during the period of the Labor Government of having one commissioner, out of the total of II, elected by staff members. It is quite clear that the ABC has enormous staff problems. It would be totally unacceptable for the staff to have no voice at all on the Commission.
One area in which there is a serious problem and which, as far as I can understand, has received no attention from the Government relates to discrimination against female employees within the ABC. A detailed report on this subject was made last year. It has not been tabled in the Parliament. I have certainly seen it and I presume that Government supporters have had access to it. This report documents a serious case of sex-based discrimination within the ABC. Only two women are members of the Commission. The Fraser Government introduced an amendment to provide for two women commissioners. One hopes that in future appointments that very small number will be increased and that the interests of women staff members will be reflected in the choice of commissioners.
I hope that I and my colleagues who will be participating in this debate will make out a case that the Minister will have to answer. I hope that we will make out a case that the ABC has lost credibility because of what amounts to government policy. The time has come for the Government to take a serious look at the role and function of the ABC in our political system. I believe it is time for a thorough investigation, perhaps even a royal commission, into the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I believe that the following sorts of questions should be investigated. The first one relates to the role of commissioners of the ABC and their method of appointment. I believe it is undesirable that the appointment of commissioners to the ABC has become purely a party political matter. I do not believe that that results in a balanced body appropriate to concern itself with the policy matters of the ABC. I think that other ways of appointing commissioners should be invesitgated. I certainly think that the principle of a staff elected commissioner should be embodied in legislation.
Another matter is the role and the length of service of the General Manager. I point out to the Senate that the current General Manager of the ABC, Mr Talbot Duckmanton, has been in that position for 12 years, whereas with the British Broadcasting Corporation changes are made to the comparable position every seven years. That matter should be considered by the Government. The staffing policies of the ABC need thorough investigation. There seems to be a need for much greater devolution of decision making to the production level and for a degree of worker participation which does not exist at the moment. Obviously a need exists for a clear statement to be made on a non-discriminatory and equitable employment policy within the ABC.
The funding of the ABC is an annual problem. I believe that the Government should investigate the desirability of triennial funding and of guaranteeing a level of funding over the years. These two changes would bring a measure of real independence to the ABC. lt is totally unrealistic at this stage of government policy and principles about funding public bodies to expect any statutory body that has to depend on an annual budgetary allocation to act with true independence from the government of the day.
I believe that program priorities also need urgent review. Clearly a change is needed in program priorities if the ABC is to produce high quality, diverse programs with a high degree of
Australian content. I believe they are the sorts of programs that the community desires. There is the overall desirability of removing national broadcasting from blatant political interference, from which I believe it has suffered during the period of the Fraser Government. I think a number of legislative measures concerning the appointment of commissioners, the role of the General Manager and the source and nature of funding could achieve that removal from party political interference.
As I said at the opening of my remarks, a new Minister has recently been appointed to have responsibility for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He has said a number of things with which the Opposition would concur. I wish to read to the Senate some of the remarks made by the Minister, Mr Staley, on the program Broadband on 21 March of this year. Mr Staley said:
I believe that the ABC is so important to life in this country that I can hardly feel that life in Australia would be worthwhile without the ABC . . .
He went on to say: 1 think that to have a good Australian society we need to have a good ABC, a good, strong, viable, ABC which encourages a critical approach which, as well as providing all the other sorts of national services which it does provide.
He went on further to say: . . I believe in an ABC which is free of political interference and an ABC which can vigorously debate controversial issues in the Australian community as well as providing the national sort of services that so many Australians enjoy.
I refer to those statements of the Minister, Mr Tony Staley, and I say again that I find myself in agreement with them, and the Opposition finds itself in agreement with them. Our argument with the Government in relation to the ABC is not in these statements of principle expressed by Mr Staley but in what has happened. Mr Staley has made these statements and, ironically enough, he made them on the program Broadband which is one of the few programs which deals in any depth at all with controversial issues or current political issues. He made them on the program Broadband shortly after the time allowed for that program had been halved, with no proper explanation being given for that action. Despite his giving tacit support to the program by appearing on it, the time allowed for the Broadband program or this type of in depth political program has not been increased.
If the Minister does believe, as we in the Opposition believe, that the ABC is a crucial part of Australian life, if he does believe that the ABC should be independent and should be able to handle controversial issues and should offer high standard programming of all kinds on radio and television, what does he intend to do about those beliefs? I hope that the Minister for Education in replying to my remarks will give us some indication, because so far all we have had from Mr Staley is this statment of principle. We have had no action.
Another Budget is forthcoming. At this stage we have no indication that the financial inadequacies from which the ABC has suffered in the last couple of years will be remedied. We have had only a very modest and almost insignificant change in the staff ceiling for the ABC- a change which will allow for a net gain of a mere 20 officers. We have had no suggestion from the Minister that he is looking properly at the problems of management and at the problems of inequitable staffing policies; we have had no expressions of concern from him about the reduction in Australian content, about the loss of the ABC of very popular Australian programs, which were developed through ABC talent and which have now been taken up by commercial stations. We have had no statement of principle, other than his remarks on the Broadband program, about the role that this Government sees for current affairs reporting, such as the kind that the television program This Day Tonight used to do and the television program Four Corners still does.
We are seeking in the course of this debate such a statement. The sittings of this Parliament are shortly to conclude and these very serious questions remain unanswered. I put it to the Minister and to the Government that they will be responsible if national broadcasting in this country erodes to the stage where it has no credibility whatsoever. I look forward to hearing the remarks of government supporters and the Minister during this debate. I urge the Minister to address himself to the very serious issues that I have raised.
– I remind the Senate the substance of the matter of public importance is this:
The failure of the Government to maintain the independence, objectivity and high standard of national broadcasting.
That is the assertion of the Senate Labor Opposition. I will address myself factually to that assertion. I believe that a discussion on national broadcasting is important. I believe it ought to be taken seriously and I think we ought to examine closely the alleged facts stated by Senator Ryan.
The first element of the matter of public importance is that the Government is accused of failure to maintain independence. The fact is that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is an independent statutory body set up to run itself by means of a Commission and by means of a staff appointed by the Commission. The first challenge then is to answer the question: How is its independence corrupted? Senator Ryan has raised some problems concerning finance limitations, with which I will deal in a moment or two.
I deal first with independence in terms of independence of decision making, and independence in control of staff, in control of programming and the whole range of matters. That leads to the next challenge which is in relation to our alleged failure to maintain objectivity. The fact is that the Commission is managed by some 1 1 commissioners. If Senator Ryan is correct in her assertion that the ABC today is asserting political bias, making biased judgments, what she is saying is that those 1 1 commissioners are in fact deliberately carrying out policies which are politically biased. That is a very serious assertion to make against the integrity of the commissioners. Yet, those people deserve to be defended in public. I, for one, simply say that I do not believe that a man of the quality and integrity of, shall we say, Laurie Short, would allow himself to be used or even allow himself to be in the presence of bias or any kind of corruption relating to the independence, objectivity or integrity of the Commission. Yet there has been no indication from men like Mr Laurie Short- men whose politics undoubtedly would not support the Government- and others whose politics do not support the Government that they believe these claims.
Here is the nub of the matter: If indeed those people were to believe these claims, of course they should act on them. They have not done so. So, one must presume that these people believe that that is not the case. I accept their integrity. After all, if what is alleged is going on, Mr Webb must also be involved in this political bias, as such, and is contriving to cover some kind of conspiracy. Yet no evidence has been given of this. Does anyone say that a man of the immense public stature and integrity of Mr Norgard, the Chairman of the Commission is a man who lacks integrity? Does anyone seriously say that the Chairman is a man who is deliberately provoking and contriving political bias or lack of objectivity? That is the nub of the matter. It is of no use Senator Ryan running away and saying: ‘ft is not the Commission; it is the Government’. No actions can be taken in the Commission unless the Commission decides upon those actions.
From time to time the veiled suggestion is made that members of the Government are seeking to influence the Commission. But Senator Ryan has not given one example in her speech of 30 minutes of any member of the Government, directly or indirectly, seeking to influence the Commission in any policy or programming or staffing matter whatsoever. I put it to her seriously that as a senator she has a responsibility not to reflect upon the character and integrity of the 11 commissioners. She certainly has a responsibility not to make assertions in the Senate without having real evidence to substantiate them. I remind the honourable senator that yesterday the Labor Opposition was suggesting that people were giving false and misleading information. In the absence of proof, in the absence of the Opposition standing up and being counted, I deplore very much any suggested attack by scattergun tactics upon the 1 1 commissioners or the senior management of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I put it squarely on record that the Government believes in the solid integrity of the Commission and its senior management and that, in the course of its government, it has never sought to influence the Commission in any decisions by way of seeking political bias or political advantage.
– The first proposition is quite indefensible.
-If Senator Button wanted, he could have the chance to speak, but simply by making that brain fever bird kind of interjection he does not help at all. If the Government were intervening and trying to bring about political bias, it could be successful only if the Commissioners themselves were party to what would be a conspiracy to achieve that bias. Is that what is being said? Where is the evidence? There is not a tittle of evidence. A great little game has been played in this regard by the Labor Party over the years, that is, never to allow criticism at all- try to stop criticism- of any action of the ABC by way of its public statements or programs because if it can intimidate the Government into being frightened to make any criticism the ABC can have not only liberty but also licence.
I want to make it prefectly clear what the ABC is. No body or individual in Australia is above the law or above the will of the people. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, like this Parliament, is the servant of the people and it is given independence not as an end in itself but in order to achieve objectivity, to achieve under section 51 of the Act comprehensive and adequate programming. It is not given independence for licence; it is not given independence to do its own thing and to present its own beliefs and subjective values. It is given independence so that it can achieve balance and objectivity. That is the test. Anyone who tries to stop full discussion by the Australian community upon whether a particular program of the ABC is good or whether a political commentator has said the right thing is doing a grave disservice to the working of the democratic institution. Those honourable senators who are members of the Estimates committee with which I am associated, have pressed for the fullest knowledge of what is going on in the ABC to be made available by way of dialogue in the meetings of the Estimates committee. As the Minister responsible, I have pressed for that. I have sought to bring out all the information, bearing in mind that at the meetings of that committee I sit with the staff members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission who are there to be questioned in public and whose evidence is recorded in Hansard. So there is an opportunity to find out and examine what is happening. It is important that the full spotlight of publicity should bear upon it. No evidence at all has been given to suggest that the Commission itself, in terms of its membership and structure, is not both independent and objective in its judgments. One can take individual programs and argue about them but the whole objective of the Act is to present, not on a particular day but over a period, adequate and comprehensive programming. Nobody has suggested that the integrity of individual Commissioners, of all the Commissioners or of the senior management is in any way tainted. But if that were not so, it would not be possible to make the allegation of political bias because the Commissioners themselves make the decisions. Let me examine that.
A lot has been said about the great changes in the staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Over the years it has changed staff; people have come and gone; good names have come and gone. In the past the staff has changed more rapidly than in the most recent years. The well known public names have either gone overseas or into commercial broadcasting or television. There is a natural change. To suggest, because there is a movement of people in the creative arts, that it is something to do either with strangulation of funds or pressure by government is to fail to understand the nature of the creative artist, the journalist and the person who moves.
– But the people I mentioned went out of frustration.
-Well, some people would leave this Senate out of frustration after that kind of interjection. If someone leaves any business management because he is frustrated is that to be a ground for condemnation of the management? That is ridiculous to the nth degree.
Let us look at what has been alleged. It has been alleged that, through political intervention, men like Carleton have left. Where is the evidence that this is so and who in fact -
– Have a yarn with him.
- Mr Deputy President, I want to take up this matter. Senator James McClelland said: ‘Have a yarn with him’. I hope, having now made this inference in public over the radio, that he will produce the evidence, because the situation must have been that some political person persuaded the Commissioners, against good judgment, to make a bad judgment and get rid of that person. That can be the only situation. Let us have it backed up.
– I will give you a bit of chapter and verse.
– Let us have the chapter and verse of this matter, including the names of the Commissioners involved. Is Mr Laurie Short thoroughly tainted and without integrity? Are Mr Webb and the rest of the Commissioners in the same position? I ask that because the Commission itself is fundamentally responsible for decisions concerning staff. Are we to say again that the status of Mr George Negus was altered because a politician persuaded the Commissioners, against their own integrity, to do so? Are we saying this?
– Why was it done?
– Here is an example of this absolute nonsense. A woman here today is asking ‘Why was it done?’. She made an allegation here but gave no facts at all to support that allegation. What she has done is to taint the integrity of 1 1 decent Australians. She says that if that is not so, why was it done. So she accepts that the inference of her suggestion is a challenge to the integrity of these Commissioners. I take it poorly when the Commissioners, being members of a statutory authority and not being able to protect themselves here, are under challenge as to their quality and integrity. The fact is that every honourable senator knows- nobody more so than Senator James Mcclelland, who has shared with me many interesting years of examination of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and its services- that the structure is such that only an imperfection in the character and nature of the Commissioners themselves could bring about -
– Or the politicians.
- Senator Georges says: Or the politicians. ‘ No decision can be made by a politician unless the Commissioners concur.
– What about station 3ZZ? The Commissioners did not concur in that case.
– Let us take it easy. This is fascinating. These interjections are so helpful to the situation. No decision can be made by politicians unless the Commissioners agree to what the politicians say. Senator Georges suggests that the Commissioners are capable of manipulation. I am sorry that this should be said. Let me deal now with what has been said.
– I am being misrepresented.
– They are changing sides now. They are hopping like grasshoppers because they cannot bear to get to the actual nub of the matter. What happens in the Australian Broadcasting Commission happens because day by day 1 1 Commissioners make these decisions–
– They do not meet day by day.
– Day by day decisions are made by the Commissioners. They have full executive and administrative authority. Is it suggested that politicians insidiously go to the ABC and suggest these things? I could tell the Senate of Labor Ministers who lived inside the ABC during the Whitlam Government’s tenure of office; they disregarded the senior management of the Commision and spoke to junior staff with not a whisper of a suggestion that this was improper. What was said was: ‘Have you noticed what happened to George Negus? It was a decision by the Commission. Notice what happened to Carleton. It was a decision by the Commission. Notice what happened to Penlington.’ Penlington is back here absolutely free to pursue the policies of the Commission and he does a darned good job doing so. It has been said that bias can be proved because Mr Whitlam asked for something and somebody would not grant it to him.
The question of equal time and equal presentation on the ABC has been going on as a public debate throughout the lifetime of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and nobody ever has been able to say that the policies that were decided in the end were not fair. The decision as to equal time is made by the Commission itself.
– It was a practice during the Whitlam Government.
- Senator Ryan suggests that it was a practice. During the term of the Whitlam Government the Commission ruled repeatedly on the question of equal time. There is ample evidence of this. Where is the lack of independence? Where is the lack of objectivity? Opposition supporters would say: ‘The Government has cut funds to the ABC. Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1976-77 states at page 102 that an amount of $ 1 39.597m was to be expended on the national broadcasting service for that year. For the current year the amount is $15 1.133m. It is true that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in common with all public authorities, had some economic restraint imposed upon it- no more and no less.
– Do you think that is right?
-I think that the need to reduce inflation and interest rates from the disastrous peaks to which they rose during the term of the Whitlam Labor Government is absolutely right. Professor Henderson of the Committee of Inquiry into Poverty said: ‘If you want to help the poor the first thing to do is to beat inflation’. Senator Ryan asks whether economic restraint is right. Of course it is right.
-Is it right to treat the ABC the same as other statutory bodies?
– Do not worry, Mr President. I enjoy Senator Ryan’s interjections. They increase the strength of my own argument. Let me make this clear. If my memory of the evidence given before the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts some years ago is correct, the total staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Australia at that time was equal at least to all the staff of all the commercial radio and television stations in Australia. Let us get some idea of the dimension of this situation. The ABC ought, therefore, to be able to compete at least equally with the whole of the commercial sector in terms of -
– We want it to be a lot better, Senator.
– I am well aware that Senator Ryan wants to nationalise the communications services. The Labor Party has been trying for years insidiously to do so. The Whitlam Government tried to demolish a commercial television station. It used a number of devices in attempting to do so. The fact of the matter is that the Labor Party believes inherently in the socialisation of communications. I think it wants its own government newspaper and government station. That has often been said in the Press and I take it that it is so.
– In this context tell us about the special broadcasting services.
– They are very helpful to me today. I would be very happy to tell the Senate about the special broadcasting services. I am very happy to state that in terms of both public and special broadcasting services the Government has not liked the idea that governments can invoke a licence, under ministerial direction, with no prior public inquiry. So, with regard to public broadcasting -
– But you have done it.
– It has been done before, notably by the Whitlam Government. The Government is proposing in future, in terms of public broadcasting, that the renewal and initiation of licences shall be done by means of a public inquiry. The Government thinks that is a pretty good idea. I refer now to independence and objectivity. The Government has amended the Broadcasting and Television Act so that the licences issued for radio and television stations to the commercial sector shall be issued after public inquiry by an independent authority without any right at all for the Minister or a politician to intervene. The Government has, in fact, brought considerable independence and objectivity into the situation. It has been said that economic restraint has been the reason why Negus and Carleton have gone, the reason why creativity has gone and the reason why Australian content has been decreased. In a budget of $ 1 5 1 m for the national broadcasting and television service in Australia, any economic restraint can be effected at levels that do not destroy in any way the programming and the creativity of the service.
– Exactly, but you did the opposite.
- Senator Georges, again being helpful, says that the Government did the opposite as though we, the politicians, told the Australian Broadcasting Commission to sack the creative artists.
– But you -
– I am so interested that I do not miss the nuances of Senator George’s meaning. That can be the only meaning.
– Yes, exactly. In other words, what Senator Georges has said is that the decision to alter the programming and creative artists content of the ABC is a political one- and he nods- which for political reasons the Commissioners have done against objective judgment.
– Do not exclude management from that comment.
– Here is the nub of the debate today. It is not an attack on this Government; it is an attack that has been made by Senator Ryan, and made very carefully, on the integrity of the Commissioners of the Australian Broadcasting Service.
– No, it is not.
-No? No, says Senator Ryan now, running for cover. Yet her argument is that they have done the will of the Government against their better judgment. Is that right? Have they done the will of the Government? If they have not, and Senator Ryan seems to say no now–
– They did not have the opportunity in most cases.
– Is it in fact their decision or is it a decision that the politicians have induced them to make? The Opposition is on absolutely imperfect ground. Either the Commissioners have done what they intended to do, completely freely and I hope objectively, or they have been persuaded quite improperly by politicians against their better judgment.
– Yes, in a subtle sort of way.
-Yes, in a subtle sort of way. I hope that Hansard has recorded every interjection and I hope that every Commissioner of every political persuasion looks at it.
– And the management.
– In case Hansard has not recorded it, Senator Georges said ‘and the management’. There is a suggestion there that the management is politically influenced. Is that right?
– For sure.
– I will not have an opportunity on my feet to say that so I say it by way of interjection.
– That is one of the most serious charges against people who cannot protect themselves that I have ever heard. I happen to have known people such as Mr Duckmanton and Mr Semmler and all these other people, whatever their political persuasions, over virtually a post-war lifetime. I believe that they are people of immense integrity, and if any members of the Opposition thinks otherwise let them come outside with me into Kings Hall afterwards, free of the privilege of this place, and let them say who amongst the Commissioners has been corrupted, who amongst the senior management has been corrupted. If they do not do so, let them be condemned for using the coward’s castle of this place to imply quite improper motives to people who are not here to defend themselves.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission in terms of the decisions it makes, in terms of the staff it appoints or dismisses, in terms of the programs it creates, in terms of the creative artists it employs, makes those decisions itself and without any kind of influence. Now the Labor Party is in full retreat because it is unwilling to infer what Senator Ryan so utterly wrongly imputed. In our- time we have extended the facilities of the national broadcasting services into remote areas. We have brought in new rules to take politics out of the licensing of stations. We have brought in new rules to remove politics from public broadcasting, to widen the system altogether. We have brought in a special broadcasting service to serve, amongst others, ethnic broadcasting needs. The simple fact of the matter is that today Senator Ryan came here to allege that there is a lack of independence, objectivity, and high standards due to the Government’s failure. She in no case established any kind of factual evidence. All she did was to use a scattergun and, in so doing, indulged in the kind of character assassination tha t I personally regret and I hope not to hear again in this chamber. We as a Parliament set up statutory corporations. We have a duty on both sides of this House to defend the people and the institutions themselves. I gladly do so.
-The Senate is debating the failure of the Government to maintain the independence, objectivity and high standard of the national broadcasting service. In answer to that charge, the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick), who represents the responsible Minister in this place, offered three defences. First of all, he offered a smattering of wild assertions, many of them incorrect in fact and many of them highly subjective. Secondly, he said that it is not open to the Parliament to criticise men on the Australian Broadcasting Commission who cannot defend themselves. That is an absurd political proposition for a Minister to advance. Of course the function of this Parliament is to conduct a discussion and debate about the workings of statutory authorities in this country. Of course it is the function of this Parliament to criticise, where it thinks it appropriate, officers of statutory authorities and members of a body such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is an absurd political proposition for a Minister in the Fraser Government to assert otherwise. The third defence he offered was simply to say that this Government never interferes. There are classic examples of this Government interfering, but let me cite just one from the report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the year ended 30 June 1977:
The Commission on several occasions indicated that it wished to continue the 3ZZ service. The Government announced on 30 June 1977, however, that funds would not be provided in 1977-78 for the continued operation of 3ZZ and, as a result- on 15 July 1977- the station ceased operation. The Commission regrets the loss of 3ZZ which provided a service valued by a wide variety of community groups.
That, in itself, is a classic indictment of the stupidity of the Minister’s statement that this Government never interferes. In moving this motion the Opposition is not saying that some cataclysmic crisis has been brought about by this Government or anybody else in the affairs of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. There is a lot of public goodwill towards the Australian Broadcasting Commission and what we regret, and what this motion had been brought forward to illustrate, is the slow decline in the standards of the Commission in terms of the words used in the matter of public importance. For example, there have been significant cuts in the drama productions of the ABC. I ask the Minister to instruct a subsequent speaker on the Government side to deny that those cuts have been of the order of 50 per cent in the last couple of years. There has been a significant decline in the number and quality of public affairs programs. There is a danger that the ABC ultimately will end up as some sort of musack station if the atmosphere of greyness and lack of diversity in programming continues.
The Opposition asserts that we should aspire in this Parliament, and this involves criticism of bodies such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, to the highest standards in a national broadcasting service. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that we do aspire to the highest standards and that the Australian Broadcasting Commission reaches the highest standards. The people of Australia are proud of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and would like it to reach those standards. What do we mean in this motion by the words ‘the independence’ of the Australian Broadcasting Commission? The classic example of what is really meant by independence in a broadcasting service relates to the British Broadcasting Commission at the time of the Suez war in 1956. The British Broadcasting Commission was instructed by a Minister in the British Government not to broadcast certain matters relating to the war because it would be detrimental to the morale of the British troops in Egypt. The BBC declined to accept the Minister’s instruction not to broadcast certain matters because it felt it had a responsibility to broadcast the news and the truth. That is an example of the sort of thing we mean by independence.
What do we mean by objectivity in a broadcasting service? May I quote from another distinguished Director-General of the British Broadcasting Commission on what it means by independence and the sort of thing to which we should aspire in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Sir Charles Currannothing to do with the Curran case in Australiaas Director-General of the BCC had this to say:
I suggest that we can ask ourselves three test questions to judge whether we are fulfilling our proper duty. First, have we been fair to those whose actions and words we are reporting? Second, have we been fair in giving access to the medium to those who have views likely to command a significant degree of support? Sometimes we may also have to ask ourselves whether we have given access to those who may not have significant support but who clearly have a significant idea.
He went on in that vein. Of course, if we could get a statement like that from Mr Norgard, the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, about the aspirations which he has for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, then we would have fewer grounds for criticism in this country. If we could get a statement in similar terms from the Minister, asserting the independence and the objectivity of the ABC then, of course, this matter of public importance would never have been raised. But those things do not happen in this country. In relation to the question of high standards, to which Senator Ryan referred, the same sort of criticism can be applied.
If one runs briefly through the history of the Australian Broadcasting Commission one can see that it has been through a period of considerable turmoil and change over the years. I think it is true to say that in the period when Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister of this country in a strange way a very genuine independence was enjoyed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. A chairman and a general manager were appointed, and they were left largely to run the Commission on their own without any interference. That sort of thing really came to an end with the election of the Fraser Government. It came to an end in a way, to which there has been some allusion in a previous discussion. When this Government came to power certain things happened in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. First of all there were the cuts in funds, to which Senator Carrick and others have referred. I do not necessarily say that those cuts in funds were responsible for the decline in the service, but Sir Henry Bland as Chairman of the ABC once said: ‘The ABC has been cut to the bone by this Government’. So there must have been a suspicion in the mind of Sir Henry Bland that the cuts in funds had something to do with that.
Secondly, there has been a quite deliberate campaign- the Minister knows this quite well- by people such as Mr Nixon, the Minister for Transport, and by Senator Withers, to attack the ABC and the ABC commissioners. Senator Carrick, when he was speaking earlier, forgot to mention a classic attack which was made on the ABC commissioners by somebody who he would say was in coward’s castle. It was made in the Senate by Senator Withers early in 1 976 when he referred to the commissioners who had been appointed by the previous Government. Of course, the attacks by people such as Mr Nixon and the criticisms of the Australian Broadcasting Commission which he has made over a number of years have descended to the lowest common denominator of intellectual debate in this country.
The other matter which Senator Carrick carefully chose to avoid was the effect on the ABC of the establishment of the special broadcasting service. The Government probably recognises now that it made a disastrous mistake, in terms of ethnic broadcasting and independent broadcasting, by appointing that body. That mistake has had a slightly detrimental effect on the morale of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I personally take the view that at this time there ought to be a public inquiry into the affairs of the Australian Broadcasting Commission- perhaps it should be a royal commission- of the kind which the British Broadcasting Corporation has held, 1 think, every seven years.
The reasons for that are quite simple. There are very real problems in the ABC. There is the very real problem to which Senator Ryan referred, of the decline in the morale of the ABC staff. There is the fact that the special projects department of the ABC is gradually being whittled away. There is the fact that its program making is increasingly being centralised in Sydney with a detrimental effect on the program makers and the program making facilities in places such as Adelaide, Melbourne and elsewhere. There has been a very strong centralisation of program making, close to management in Sydney. There has been a consequent decline in the standard of the ABC regional services. There is an extraordinary and unfortunate relationship between the program staff and the administrative staff of the ABC. I say ‘extraordinary and unfortunate’ because that situation probably stems from the Public Service model structure of the ABC. That means that, in the ABC, people are required to move out of creative program areas into management areas if they want to be promoted.
There is a very strong suspicion in the community that the top management of the ABC is in a very real sense top heavy. Let us look, for example, at the top level of the radio structure of the ABC. We find that there is an Assistant General Manager (Radio), a controller of radio programs and a director of radio programs in each of the two networks. That is the top management structure. One might ask whether that sort of structure is really necessary when the ABC has an admitted limited program making capacity in 1978. Added to that there is a strong suspicion of interference in the program making function by top management and the commissioners. For example, I would like the Minister to instruct another speaker in this debate to tell us whether it is true that in the pipeline there is a new ABC program called ‘Science Bookshop’ and whether the commissioners of the ABC have directed that no book will be reviewed on that program unless it has been first to the commissioners for approval. I would like the Minister to advise some subsequent speaker in this debate whether he can deny that that is the fact.
All these are matters of concern to the wide public support which the Australian Broadcasting Commissioner has enjoyed over many years. As I said earlier, we do not say that there is a cataclysmic decline in the ABC, but there is a slow erosion of the sorts of standards which it reached a few years ago- the sorts of standards which it enjoyed in a different and much less complex society, for example, under the Menzies Government. That is a matter for concern. It is a matter which justifies criticism of the commissioners of the ABC, which justifies criticism of the management of the ABC and which, in my view, should quite clearly lead to a public inquiry into the affairs of the ABC. Amongst other things, that public inquiry should be responsible for an assertion, supported by the Minister, that this Government regards the independence of the ABC as an important matter and is prepared to guarantee it by the sorts of appointments which it makes. That inquiry should deal with the method of funding the ABC and whether a national broadcasting service is appropriate in 1978.
All these matters are of concern to a widespread area of the public. It is not sufficient- I say this for the Minister, with the greatest respect and for want of a better word- to waffle his way through this debate, not dealing with any of the real issues of concern to members of this community and to members of the ABC staff. He should not try to sweep all that discussion under the carpet by making the sort of silly suggestion that the commissioners of the ABC are in no way open to criticism and that they are in no way responsible to this Parliament for the administration of what was once a great national broadcasting service. It is in that spirit that the Opposition commends the matter of public importance to the Senate.
– I wish that when the Opposition put down this matter of public importance it had correctly worded it. I would have thought that front bench spokesmen for the Opposition would have taken greater care when putting such a matter forward. If they gave this matter considerable care when putting the words together, they have not given any care whatsoever to debating the points that are set out in the Notice Paper today. The matter for discussion states:
Senator Button, who has just resumed his seat, paraphrased the matter slightly and added the words: ‘the national broadcasting service’. But neither he nor Senator Ryan gave any convincing evidence relating to independence, objectivity and a high standard of national broadcasting. I say that it is not a question of the failure of the Government to maintain these things but rather it is the failure of the Opposition to prove the point. Senator Ryan, who opened for the Opposition today and who is the spokesman on these matters, in no way brought any argument to bear on the matters of independence, objectivity and high standard of national broadcasting. Her speech was mainly - almost exclusively- about personalities, programs and matters of that kind. I strongly suggest that, if it was her objective to bring these matters before the Senate- I accept that it was- the Senate certainly was entitled to much better treatment and the wording of the matter of public importance should have been redrafted.
I, with the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick), take exception to the way in which Senator Ryan made statements in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and cast aspersions on the commissioners and the senior management of the ABC. She claimed that the ABC is biased and that there are many aspects wrong with it. She implied that the blame should rest with the Commissioners. The Minister referred to two or three people who serve the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I add the name of that very distinguished and cultured person, Professor Leonie Kramer, who recently took her place as a Commissioner of the ABC.
In any discussion which relates to aspects of national broadcasting, we recognise that broadcasting is an instrument of great power and a social communications force; indeed, it is a national resource. It is one the greatest elements in mass communication. It is one of the most influential phenomena of our society. It is pervasive, effective and influential. Because it is all of these no government can afford to ignore it. Successive governments have maintained a Commission to run the national broadcasting service, namely, the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In a wider field, the Government must ensure that standards are maintained, that opportunities are provided and, indeed, that transmission is of the best technical capacity available. I am very disappointed that thus far during this debate no reference has been made to these aspects by Opposition honourable senators. Some references have just been picked out for the purpose of illustration.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission through the years maintained and today maintains its concern for minority programs. It maintains its concern for contemporary demands in our society- the classical tastes, a wide range of news services, discussions on public affairs and the complex range of needs and demands of a modern society. What does Senator Ryan mean by ‘failure’, which is a word she used in raising the matter of public importance, but which she hardly referred to it in her speech? By what standards does she measure failure? By what standards does she measure success? In a political situation it could very well be argued that election results have something to do with success and with failure, perhaps not as much as she would like to acknowledge, but on the other hand they cannot be dismissed. After all, during the Whitlam Administration fairly substantial emphasis was placed on broadcasting. Because of the relationship of broadcasting to other areas of national life and policy, the word ‘failure’ which she used is very much questioned.
What does Senator Ryan mean by the word independence’? Did she indicate to the Senate any way in which the Government has failed to maintain the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Commission? She knows that the Government has allowed considerable freedom to its statutory authorities and its commissions. It would be utterly irresponsible for any government not to recognise that a statutory authority, whilst it is independent, has a degree of accountability. What does she mean by the word ‘objectivity’ in this context? I did not gain anything from her argument or from Senator Button ‘s argument in relation to objectivity. Does she mean to say that objectivity has something to do with sensitivity as far as broadcasting is concerned? One would argue strongly that the ABC is concerned with the feelings of listeners and with their sensitivities. Objectivity sometimes means giving validity to offending other people’s sensitivities and feelings about what is desirable or undesirable. So the responsibility of the Government in the pursuit of high standards is to act in the best interest of the greatest number of people. Governments must consider not only the demands of a noisy minority who might take pleasure in offending some standards. It must take account also of the requirements of the great variety of people who make up the Australian community.
I draw attention to the fact that the Opposition has been unable in its arguments to indicate to the Senate what it means by ‘high standards’. The word appears frequently in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, in which that Committee reported to the Senate on the employment of musicians by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The report states in a very early paragraph:
Indeed, there was a general concensus of opinion that had the ABC not established and developed its orchestras in each of the States, it would be doubtful, to say the least, if the symphony orchestra in Australia would have attained anything like its present high standard of musical achievement.
The high standard of orchestras might relate only to a small number of people and might have limited application, but I simply draw that statement to the attention of honourable senators because it illustrates the philosophy which the ABC has adopted in all its work. The Government has maintained a consistent approach in ensuring the absolute independence of” the Australian Broadcasting Commission. During this Government’s period in office Ministers responsible have expressed the view that the ABC must be independent of government influence in its programming decisions. It is true that some financial and other restraints have been imposed. But over the period a number of decisions have had to be made on the public sector which, of necessity, have had some influence on the operation of the ABC. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has not been treated in any way differently from other public sector organisations. As every honourable senator knows, part of the Government’s overall economic policy is to control the level of public sector expenditure so that the inflation rate will be brought under control.
The ABC has not been singled out for special treatment. Indeed, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) has made it clear that the Government is always open to approaches from the Commission for a more flexible policy in these matters. In February last year as a result of a Commission approach the Commission’s allocated budget for 1976-77 was increased by $5. 5m. A similar approach was made in the context of the Commission’s 1977-78 budget and the Government is doing everything it can to meet the Commission’s needs. It is true also that the Commission, as part of the public sector, has been subject to certain staffing limitations. But here again, as a result of approaches by the Commission, these restrictions have been lifted to some degree and the Government has every hope that it will be able to lift these further in an effort to improve and diversify programming and other services.
I take up the point made by Senator Ryan that the ABC is not serving the nation. If she looks at the forty-fifth annual report of the ABC she will note some of the principal services which the ABC provides. There is an AM radio service on three networks throughout Australia; a colour television service is available to 98 percent of the population, and the programs have a 60 percent Australian content; and there is a nation-wide independent news service which, I emphasise, produces and broadcasts 1 1 1,000 bulletins every year. Only recently the Government announced a program to bring television services to remote areas of Australia. This program involves the establishment of 36 new repeater stations and 40 translator stations. It is planned to establish the majority of these new installations over the next three years. I have a list of approved projects for the extension of television services to remote areas, which I have shown to the President and to the Minister. I seek leave to have the list incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
New South Wales
Walgett (T), Narromine (T), Warren (T), Trangie (T). Riverina-
Wilcannia (R), Ivanhoe (R).
West Wyalong (T).
Theodore (T), Moura(T), Mundubbera/Gayndah(T), Pentland(T), Wondai(T), Murgon (T), Jericho (T), Aramac(T), Tambo(T), Greenvale (R), Boulia(R).
Millmerran (T), Texas (T), Taroom (T), Wandoan(T), Injune(T), Surat (T), Quilpie(R), Birdsville Bedourie(R).
Dimbulah (T), Coen (T), Laura (T), Mt Molloy/Julatten(T), Cooktown(R), Normanton (R),Karumba(R), Thursday Island (R), Georgetown (R), Croydon (R).
Biloela (T), Miriam Vale (T).
Hail Creek (T).
Coober Pedy(R), Marree(R), Oodnadatta (R), Quorn(T), Hawker (T).
Salmon Gums(T), Northampton (T), Kalbarri(T), Eneabba(T), Exmouth(R), Broome (R), Derby (R), Wyndham(R), Kununurra ( R), Laverton(R), Leonora (R), Menzies(R), Leinster(R), Meekatharra(R), Mount Magnet (R), Murchison (R), Cue(R), Onslow (R), Yalgoo(R), Halls Creek (R), Fitzroy Crossing (R).
Jurien (T), Leeman (T).
Pine Creek (T), Newcastle Waters (T). Mataranka (T), Adelaide River (T), Daly Waters (T), Borroloola (R), Jabiru (R).
– The Opposition has placed some emphasis on the independence of the ABC and on its attitude towards affairs generally. This is naturally included in the matter of the right of reply upon which some emphasis was placed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden). It is important to point out in respect of the right of reply that the decision is made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission itself on the basis of a long-established formula. The basis and the details of this formula are known to the leaders of all political parties. They are very well aware of it. As I understand the position, the essence of that formula is that in the event of a Prime Minister making an address to the nation the Leader of the Opposition has the right to reply if the contents of that address can be seen to contain party political matter.
In the case which Senator Ryan and Senator Button put to the Senate, the Chairman of the Commission wrote to Mr Hayden and explained the situation. He stated that the decision was taken by the Commission itself. There was no political pressure applied and no direction given.
As honourable senators opposite want to parade this point before the Senate this afternoon, let me draw attention to the situation in June 1974 when Sir Billy Snedden was Leader of the Opposition. He sought equal time to reply to an address to the nation delivered by Mr Whitlam. The address concerned the 1 974 election results. At the time, the then Chairman of the Commission said that Sir Billy Snedden should remember that Mr Whitlam was the Prime Minister and that the responsibilities that accompanied the office often transcended party politics. It can be seen that there is no room for complaint. I dismiss the complaint that is made that Mr Hayden ought to have the opportunity of responding to addresses made by the Prime Minister ( Mr Malcolm Fraser).
The series of arguments which Opposition speakers in the debate have put to the Senate today have little or no reference to the terms of the matter of public importance that the Senate is debating. Honourable senators opposite have made great play of the Negus affair. I wish to quote what was stated by Mr Duckmanton, the General Manager of the Commission, in a letter written in March of this year in relation to this matter. He said:
The catch-cry which surrounded the departure of Mr Negus- that it was due to ‘political pressure’ is one that is often paraded by critics of the ABC. I must make it plain, therefore, that the decision to make changes in the Canberra bureau did not result from criticism of the work of Mr Negus by political leaders. Mr Negus is aware of this because I told him so myself. … To suggest, as does Mr Minogue-
He wrote the letter to which Mr Duckmanton was replying- . that ‘any semblance of objective political reporting’ is deliberately discouraged by the ABC is ludicrous-
Some comment has been made of the fact that there is less political content in ABC broadcasts today. The subject matter of broadcasting must be determined by what the customers- the listeners and the viewers- want. Perhaps it is pertinent to observe that at this stage of political stability the great mass of Australian listeners and viewers are not as interested in political content as they used to be. The whole matter of public importance presented by the Opposition simply falls to the ground and I ask the Senate to reject it.
– Despite the lofty tone adopted today by the Minister for Education, Senator Carrick, the attitude of the conservative parties towards the Australian Broadcasting Commission can only be described as paranoid. Let us get out of the stratosphere which is Senator Carrick ‘s natural habitat and into the street brawling arena where his leader is more comfortable. I ask honourable senators to listen to what the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Withers, said in a debate in this place tin 24 March 1976. He said:
Do not raise the Australian Broadcasting Commission. You blokes have been leaning on it for years. It is full of your supporters and has been pumping out your propaganda year in and year out. That is not a matter of opinion; that is a matter of notoriety.
I ask honourable senators to note the standard of proof that Senator Carrick demands of facts, as satisfied by Senator Withers, who said:
It is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of notoriety.
I ask honourable senators also to listen to another threat to this great, independent organisation which Senator Carrick assures us never comes from his side of politics. Senator Withers said:
The sooner it is cleaned up the better as far as I am concerned.
When I appeared on television programs rather frequently some years ago I had an opportunity to observe that this alleged leftist bias of the ABC was a fantasy of over-heated conservative minds. I well recall one occasion when I appeared with a man whose name has been mentioned- Richard Carleton- for an interview. I think it was on the program This Day Tonight. After the interview I received a letter from a Labor zealot congratulating me on the way in which I had handled that anti-Labor fanatic’. That was his view of Carleton. Yet I know that members of the
Liberal-National Country Party establishment have always regarded Richard Carleton as, at best, some sort of dangerous pinko. The fact was that before the interview with Carleton I had a social drink with him. Then we went before the cameras and he did his best to maul me. I think that I can say modestly that he was unsuccessful. Then we went and had another drink. He was merely doing his job of trying to put a politician in his place and I was doing my job by attempting to demonstrate that I knew how to handle myself. It would be a good idea if all politicians who submit themselves to an interview were to bear in mind the old dictum of Harry Truman: If you cannot stand the heat keep out of the kitchen. I never received soft treatment from George Negus. I have never asked Carleton or Negus what their politics were or how they voted. I would consider that to be as impertinent as asking a man whether he preferred men or women. It is not my business.
The naivety of Senator Carrick in suggesting that somehow or other it is an attack on the integrity of all 1 1 commissioners to suggest that there was any political pressure involved in the treatment of Carleton, Negus or any of the other interviewers is quite staggering. Does Senator Carrick seriously believe that in the case of every contract, every matter concerning any servant of the ABC, the ABC commissioners meet and decide what the man’s fate will be? If the ABC were run like that by these part time commissioners it just would not function at all. What I am suggesting is that a wink or a nod to the timorous top management of the ABC would be enough, let alone the threats of a man like Senator Withers or the implied reign of terror in threats of cuts in the Commission’s expenditure. Are we to believe that these things do not weigh with the people running the ABC, that they are completely indifferent to the atmosphere created by political parties, not to mention the thuggery of the comments made by Senator Withers? Of course, I will refer a little later to an even worse example concerning Mr Peter Nixon. The fact of the matter is that to a political conservative in this country political objectivity, as exemplified by the ABC, is synonymous with political hostility. So accustomed have the conservatives become to regarding the media as their own exclusive possession that they cannot tolerate anything less than fawning adulation.
Senator Carrick challenged the Opposition to produce one example of a member of the Government of his political persuasion or from his side of politics attempting to interfere with the independence of this independent statutory authority. I will give one example for starters. Let us see how it satisfies his request for information. I refer to what was said by Mr Peter Nixon at a time when he was the caretaker PostmasterGeneral in other words, when he was the man whom the ABC might expect to be in charge of its destiny if and when he were to be something more than a caretaker. He said:
Never in its history will the Australian Broadcasting Commission be under such close scrutiny as during the coming election campaign.
Then he went on to suggest the appointment of an independent moderator from the judiciary. I suggest to Senator Carrick that that is as good an example as even he could want of interference in the independence of this independent statutory authority by a member of his side of politics.
– It is no example at all.
-Does Senator Carrick believe that that is not interference? I suggest that what this Government has done to the ABC is best exemplified by the citing of a few simple figures. In 1975, the ABC produced 156 hours of television drama. This year, 1 978, it will produce 75 hours of television drama. The facilities of the ABC are appallingly under-used. Studio time for drama in the ABC’s drama studios amounts to no more than nine days per fortnight. Let us contrast that with the position of the British Broadcasting Commission. Does any honourable senator opposite suggest that the economic situation in the United Kingdom is so much more favourable than it is here that the British Government, as distinct from the Australian Government, can afford adequate funding of the national broadcasting service? The comparable figures for the use of studios of the ABC is 10 days a week- that is taking double shifts into account- as against nine days a fortnight in Australia. This year the ABC will barely meet the standards of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal of broadcasting six hours of Australian drama a month. This, as 1 think was suggested by Senator Button, is the broadcasting authority which should be a pace setter in this community and which should set an example to the other broadcasting authorities and institutions in the community. I suggest that a government which can find $20m for a couple of private planes for the use of a Prime Minister should bow its head in shame over the state of affairs in the ABC which I have just uncovered.
One of the most disquieting facts is the manner in which top management in the ABC has bent supinely before the chill breeze from Canberra. But that is not surprising when we examine the background of the ABC commissioners. Senator
Carrick suggested that we were committing some sort of act of cowardice, some act almost of lesemajeste, in suggesting that all was not well with the credentials of every one of the commissioners. He suggested with some horror that we were imputing political bias to some of the commissioners. I will not leave Senator Carrick in any doubt about what I am saying. Yes, I am imputing political bias to a couple of members of the Commission who were appointed by Senator Carrick ‘s Government. I will list them. Sir Bernard Callinan of Victoria was a vicepresident of the Victorian Branch of the Democratic Labor Party. He has addressed a number of closed National Civic Council functions. Mr Fraser appointed him in September 1977. Dr Rupert Goodman of Queensland, another member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, is an educationalist. He too, has been a regular speaker. His specialty is the progressive plot in education. I need not mention the fact of course that ‘progressive’ in the lexicon of such a reactionary is a pejorative term.
Is it not reasonable to ask why this splinter group of a splinter group is able to put two of its associates onto the Commission? The answer of course is perfectly plain; that is that Mr Fraser is well aware of Mr Santamaria ‘s obsession with and hatred of the ABC. Mr Fraser seeks to harness this obsession to further his own crusade and that of his Government against the ABC. Time and again on his television program Mr Santamaria has returned to the leftist conspiracy within the ABC. His magazine, News Weekly, is devoted almost as much to the evils of the ABC as it is to the Red menace in the Indian Ocean. He has even found subversives in religious broadcasts. On the commission- I make no criticism of Mr Laurie Short who is a friend of mine and the opinion of him expressed by Senator Carrick is my opinion also- Sir Bernard Callinan and Dr Rupert Goodman have been the hardliners. The most farcical example of that was adverted to by Senator Button, although he did not name Sir Bernard Callinan, who demanded that he should be supplied in advance with the names of potential speakers on a new science book review program. This pressure has had its effect on the weak-kneed middle management. Censorship and discouragement of innovation at that level is crucial because it never gets on paper. A manifestation of this discontent is in the fact that yesterday at noon a deputation of radio producers saw Mr K. Mackriell, the Assistant General Manager, Radio, to discuss the appallingly low level of staff morale in the ABC. Senator Ryan quoted a few of the remarks of the
Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Mr Staley, in an interview which he conducted on Broadband recently. I would like to mention a couple of others. He said:
That is a beautiful understatement but one which shows some recognition on that side of politics that there is some ground for suspicion. He said:
Mr Staley said that he had always been a:
If Senator Carrick finds it mysterious that there are people on our side of politics who have their suspicions about his vaunted respect for the independence of this statutory body. I suggest to him that he should listen to some of the voices in his own party. It may be that some confort is to be taken from the fact that the Minister who is nominally responsible for the administration of the ABC should hold these highly enlightened opinions about the ABC. I do not for a moment question Mr Staley ‘s sincerity on this matter. I am not suggesting that the Government parties consist of just one monolith of reaction. Every now and then there is to be found among them a man of some enlightenment and Mr Staley obviously is one of them. But unfortunately as we have discovered in the last couple of years, man proposes and God disposes, and God’s real name is Malcolm Fraser. So we cannot take too much comfort from the fact that his Minister for Post and Telecommunications should have an enlightened view of the ABC because we have heard examples here today that Mr’ Staley ‘s views are far from universally held in his own party. Of course, it is already notorious to use the words so beloved of Senator Withers, that the Ministers in this Government do not exercise the authority which they should, but everything is ultimately referable to the Godhead.
Even though Senator Carrick sees nothing sinister in the fact that George Negus disappeared from the ABC immediately after having been bold enough to have cross-examined the Prime Minister-to-be about the airy-fairy promises that he made, which later turned out to be merely rhetoric to deceive the electors, even though he sees no connection between those facts at all, we on this side of politics are suspicious enough of
Mr Fraser to see his hand in the matter. Therefore, although we applaud the statements of Mr Staley, we do not take much comfort from them. We do not kid ourselves into thinking that they are the views that will prevail. That is why we think it so necessary to say every now and then what we have said in this place today; that is, to warn the Australian people that unless they are vigilant about what happens to the ABC it could soon disappear as an important and enlightening factor in Australian life.
– I notice that when Senator James McClelland opened his remarks this afternoon he talked about the paranoia in which the Government parties supposedly view the ABC. Yet I pose the question: Which side of this chamber brings up debates such as this? I can recall that on 1 5 September 1976 Senator Button brought on an urgency motion, the wording of which was:
The failure of the Government to ensure the independence, integrity and high repute of Australia’s national Broadcasting Services ‘.
Those words are almost the same and the meaning is completely the same as contained in the matter of public importance proposed today. I agree with Senator Carrick that there is every good reason why a public utility such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission should come under the scrutiny of this Parliament. I submit that there is every opportunity to do so both within the Estimates Committees and during the course of debate on the Appropriation Bills.
Here we have the Opposition bringing up these urgency motions, now called matters of public importance. It is quite noticeable why it has done so. In the first instance Senator Button used the urgency debate initiated by him to launch an attack on Sir Henry Bland. In this instance it came out, mainly by interjection, that the Opposition did establish the real reason for the debate. It is the so-called political subjectivity of the commissioners and the management of the ABC. So we find ourselves in the situation of debating a similar matter. I draw to the Senate’s attention the fact that we did this recently in relation to the Aboriginal case in Queensland. On two consecutive matters of public importance we discussed literally the same thing.
Mr President, you can have no doubt that we will hear the cries of self-righteous anguish next week as the Opposition says that we have not had time properly to debate all the legislation before this chamber as we seek to get up at the conclusion of this autumn session. Much has been said about the funding restraints on and the staff ceilings of the ABC. Of course it is history now that when we came to office the financial situation that we found Australia in was nothing short of disastrous. I mention the rate of inflation and interest rates. They are not the subject of debate today but I need to mention the situation. We had to do something drastically. The ABC is no sacred cow; nor should it be. We as a Government have a responsibility to the taxpayers, and we accepted that responsibility. The ABC was one of the many areas in which we introduced restraints on funding and staff ceilings. I make no apology for that. What I do take issue with is that unfortunately we recognised the independence of the ABC and possibly did not stipulate where those cutbacks should be. I have been critical that the cutbacks that the ABC made were in the production area and not in the middle echelon, administrative, fat areas. I think this is most unfortunate. But we recognise the ABC’s right to operate its business as it sees fit.
Much has been said about those who have supposedly left the ABC under pressure from this Government. Of course everybody knows that many people who work for the ABC do so under contract. When their contracts come up for renewal they may be dissatisfied with the ABC or the ABC may be dissatisfied with them. Who knows? It is not for us to debate that. Inevitably the people who have left have usually gone on to greater things and found that their experience with the ABC has done them a lot of good in the long term. They have been able to go onto other better things in the commercial broadcasting sphere or to other broadcasting spheres overseas. I think in the majority of cases most of them have done well for themselves and the experience that they have gained with the ABC has stood them in good stead.
In the original debate on this matter that took place on 1 5 December 1 976 that I referred to I said in my opening remarks:
Dear old Aunty, as she is affectionately known right around Australia, cops it from the Right, gets blasted from the Left, gets castigated by the radicals and gets maligned by the conservatives.
I think that is probably the situation.
– It has not changed.
– No, it has not changed. Of course Aunty cannot quite be all things to all people even though she does seek to do this. Of course there will be people right around this country who will take issue with specific programs that are contrary to their own personal points of view. I guess it would be a mundane world if they did not do that. People are not like a herd of cows who can be run through a crush and branded with one brand. We are indeed different people and the ABC, being the largest broadcaster in Australia, sees its role as trying to cater for all tastes. We are a pluralistic society and the ABC must cater for all sections. Section 59 of the Broadcasting and Television Act- I think Senator Ryan alluded to this- states:
Subject to this Act, the Commission shall provide, and shall broadcast or televise from transmitting stations made available by the Australian Telecommunications Commission, adequate and comprehensive programs and shall take in the interests of the community all such measures as, in the opinion of the Commission, are conducive to the full development of suitable broadcasting and television programs.
I submit that in this instance the operative words are ‘shall provide adequate and comprehensive programs’. I alluded to this when I mentioned that we are a pluralistic society and the difficulties that an organisation with the ramifications of the ABC must find in trying to cater to all tastes. It must also be recognised that because of its vast network the ABC in many instances has a monopoly. By having a monopoly it also has certain responsibilities. It must realise that the programs that it provides to a lot of areas of Australia are the only programs that the public in those areas will see or hear.
I was touched by Senator Ryan’s convenient concern for the people of rural Australia. I wish that concern had been paramount when her Government was in power. One of the reasons it is in Opposition now is its lack of concern. It was the previous Liberal-Country Party Government that introduced ABC translators right around the rural areas of Australia. Even now it has been announced that the Government will undertake a program to bring television services to many more of the remote areas of Australia. The program involves the establishment of 36 new repeater stations and 40 translator stations. It is planned to establish the majority of these new installations over the next three years commencing in the 1978-79 financial year.
– A lot of them were in train when we were in government.
– Yes, but the program was initiated before the Australian Labor Party got into Government. At that time I was living in the far north-west of Queensland. We were the recipients of the benefits of that program initiated, as I said, by the Liberal-National Country Party Government when it was in power prior to 1972. Now we are going to pick up that program and continue it to do something further for the people in rural Australia.
Under the Act the programming responsibility is that of the ABC Commissioners; not of the
Government. I am sure that the Commissioners would welcome any congratulatory remarks as well as constructive criticism. I have written to Mr Duckmanton on occasions when there has been a program that I thought had been handled extremely well. A public utility such as the ABC must come under the scrutiny of either individual members or of this Parliament as a whole. Nobody has any quarrel with that. As I said, I am sure the Commissioners would welcome criticism or general comment by the public in general and by members of Parliament about the running of the ABC.
With regard to objectivity, I guess all too often it is like beauty; it is in the eye of the beholder. We are a pluralistic society and many people have individual ideas about the objectivity of certain programs. We realise in all aspects of theatre and film that the director or producer puts his own stamp on a production. This applies also in the case of broadcasting generally. However, in the case of news and current affairs programs there is less excuse for any subjectivity at all. Of course herein is the problem which we will always have with the ABC. But I must say that I have never yet heard the use of any reference material from ABC news and current affairs programs by honourable senators on this side of the chamber. Recently Senator O ‘Byrne in the debate on nuclear energy on 10 May devoted about 20 per cent of his speech referring to a Four Corners program. So much for objectivity. I have no knowledge of any honourable senator on this side of the chamber using reference material from any ABC program.
Senator Ryan thinks that ABC standards are not high enough. This is a reflection on the talent and creativity of the people in the ABC at this time. Any organisation, company or statutory corporation has to cut its cloth to suit. Nonetheless, the ABC has a certain amount of money available to it and it must make the best use of it. I believe that the programs emanating from the ABC, from the programming departmentboth the programs it buys and those it produces- set a standard by which most other programs should be judged. I think the standard of the ABC is second to none. I do not support the assertion contained in the matter of public importance before this chamber.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have much pleasure in tabling the report of the National Advisory Council for the Handicapped. I seek leave to make a statement.
– The report reviews the activities of the National Advisory Council for the Handicapped during the period July 1976 to December 1977 and makes recommendations on the development of policies and services for handicapped people. The National Advisory Council for the Handicapped was established in 1975, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice C. L. D. Meares of the New South Wales Supreme Court. It is responsible for advising the Government on the wide range of matters relating to the rehabilitation of disabled people. To this end the 1 1 members of Council were appointed for their personal knowledge and expertise in matters relating to rehabilitation and the provision of services to the handicapped.
Committees of Council are responsible for examining and commenting on specific aspects of rehabilitation, including the education and training of rehabilitation personnel, research needs in the field of rehabilitation, rehabilitation engineering, medical and vocational aspects of rehabilitation, priorities within the handicapped persons assistance program, consultation with handicapped people and review of the invalid pensions scheme. Council and its committees are serviced by a secretariat within the Rehabilitation Division of my Department. The secretariat is also responsible for servicing the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Rehabilitation, which brings together Commonwealth departments with interest and involvement in services for handicapped people, lt provides a forum for the exchange of information at a Commonwealth departmental level and provides the National Advisory Council with advice on issues relating to services provided by member departments.
While the report stands in its own right, I believe some aspects are worthy of particular comment. I am sure that all honourable senators will welcome the emphasis of the report on making existing programs and services as cost-effective and efficient as possible. In this regard, Council has concentrated a good deal of attention on the education, training and continuing professional development of staff associated with services for handicapped people and on the evaluation of the impact of services. Most importantly the Council has, at my request, undertaken a demonstration project in Melbourne of consultation on policies and services for blind and visually handicapped people. Council is presently examining the considerable and complex material stemming from the consultations, which involved intensive discussions within three groups- the users of services, the workers in agencies providing services, and agency administrators and policymakersand will be reporting to me fully on the project. Council produces a national rehabilitation digest which is published quarterly and distributed to Commonwealth and State departments, universities and other educational institutions, hospitals and health centres, organisations providing services to handicapped people and individuals with handicaps. The digest can be purchased through the Australian Government Publishing Service.
With the assistance of the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Rehabilitation, Council is examining ways in which existing Government programs can provide for greater access by handicapped people to all facets of community life. This is an especially appropriate issue in the lead-up to the United Nations International Year for Disabled Persons, designated for 1981. On questions of access, Council has long been concerned with the importance of mobility for handicapped people unable to use public transport and has, in its report, considered the existing taxation concessions for handicapped people and their translation into more direct and satisfactory forms of assistance.
Improved access of handicapped people to education is another matter which Council regards as of utmost importance. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has already indicated Government’s intention to provide additional funds to reduce the burden on parents of educating handicapped children and has asked that Council be involved in developing details of this initiative, which is an important aspect of the broader issue of access generally. Council has also made recommendations concerning the establishment of chairs of rehabilitation medicine, priorities for funding under the Handicapped Person’s Assistance Act, rehabilitation research and independent living centres. It draws attention to the newly established State advisory bodies on rehabilitation and emphasises the importance of their role in improving co-operation and co-ordination among agencies serving handicapped people.
I wish to record the Government’s appreciation of the constructive work being undertaken by Council. I believe its advice to be of value not only to the Government but also to all handicapped people in the community and to all those who are concerned with their welfare. I shall be referring the report to relevant Ministerial colleagues for examination of its implications for their areas of responsibility. Mr President, I commend the report to you and to honourable senators.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Pursuant to section 29 of the Aboriginal Land Fund Act 1974 I present the annual report of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission for the year ended June 1977.
– by leave- I move:
I draw attention to the fact that this report is for the year ended June 1977. From my simple calculation it is now 1 1 months since the end of that period. I raise this matter in particular because the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has been rather scant in its treatment of this chamber especially in the presentation and substance of its reports. This ought not to be allowed to go unnoticed. It would have been of assistance to the Senate and to Senate Estimates committees to have had this report before the Estimates committees held their deliberations. I think we ought to continually attract attention to any department that delays presenting its reports to the Senate. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the report of an independent inquiry into the operations and capital works program of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.
-by leave -I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present a report by the Industries Assistance Commission on the music recording industry in Australia.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
-On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, I present the 169th report. I seek leave to make a statement.
-The 169th report refers to a Department of Finance minute relating to the Committee’s 157th report, presented in April 1976, which dealt with items arising from the Committee’s examination of the AuditorGeneral’s Report for 1973-74. The practice of presenting a Department of Finance minute as a report is the result of arrangements made between the Committee and the Treasury in 1952. The Committee forwards a copy of each of its reports to the Minister for Finance for consideration immediately that report is tabled in Parliament. His reply, in the form of a Department of Finance minute, is then examined by the Committee and included in a later report to the parliament.
The Department of Finance minute is meant to ensure that the Committee’s recommendations are acted upon, and that the Parliament will be informed as soon as possible, where appropriate, of the steps taken to implement the Committee’s proposals. In this context, the Committee welcomes the announcement by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) requiring departments to respond quickly to the recommendations made by parliamentary committees, as some delays have been experienced in the past by the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee is currently considering additional procedures to ensure that its recommendations where appropriate for the improvement of administration in the Public Service are in fact implemented.
In the 157th report the Committee had been critical of the Department of Defence, the Department of Education, the then Department of Manufacturing Industry and the then Australian Council for the Arts. Tractors were required by the Department of Defence to be airportable, but were subsequently found to have insufficient clearance to fit in aircraft intended to carry them. Further, the Committee noted that the poor design features of transportable homes purchased for a Royal Australian Air Force base made them very expensive to demount and relocate.
The Department of Education failed to obtain ministerial approval to extend the broadbranding of incomes when calculating living allowances under the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme. The Committee was particularly critical of the lack of adequate training and supervision, and the high turnover of staff in the salaries area of the departmental administration, leading to a very high incidence of errors in payments. In relation to the then Department of Manufacturing Industry, the Committee was particularly critical of aspects of the Production Performance Allowance scheme introduced by the then Department of Supply into its factories in 1964. There was some disagreement between the now Department of Productivity and the Committee over the use of terminology in the Committee ‘s report.
I wish to emphasise that the Committee is concerned to obtain at all times complete and accurate information. Evidence to the Committee is given under oath and it is the responsibility of witnesses to ensure that the information provided is correct. The Committee has stated repeatedly that where departments discover that evidence is deficient a supplementary submission should be provided, prior to or during a public hearing, or to clarify and amplify previous evidence. The Committee also considered criticism by the Auditor-General of a number of unsatisfactory features relating to the expenditure and activities of the then Australian Council for the Arts. In spite of an apparent general acceptance of the Committee’s recommendations by the now Australia Council, the Committee still has reservations as to whether proper controls are being maintained. The Committee proposes to keep a close watch on the activities of the Australia Council.
When I tabled the last reports from the Committee at the end of the 30th Parliament, I drew the Parliament’s attention to two matters on which the Committee had not reported. These references are still before us. They are: The Committee ‘s inquiry into the administration and financing of property owned or leased by the Australian Government overseas and the use of automatic data processing in the Commonwealth public sector. In relation to the former reference the Committee has recently completed the taking of further evidence and will be in a position to report in the Budget session.
Senators should be aware that the Committee regards the inquiry into automatic data processing as an extremely important inquiry. It is a major growth area of Commonwealth expenditure for which no detailed figures are readily available. The cost of MANDATA, the first area on which we intend to report, gives some indication of the growing use of computers. The MANDATA project is a case study which fits well into the Committee’s terms of reference for the inquiry, which are:
In relation to computing in the Commonwealth public sector:
I should like to take the opportunity of acquainting the Senate with the progress of” our investigation into MANDATA. MANDATA is a computer system being developed by the Commonwealth Public Service Board for personnel and establishments covered by the Public Service Act. Its principal purpose is to increase the efficiency of administration and to assist in manpower resource management throughout the Commonwealth Public Service. When complete, MANDATA should replace the traditional labour-intensive manual record keeping. It is expected, by the Public Service Board, to effect significant staff reductions and provide a wide range of management-oriented information concerning personnel and establishments. This, it is claimed, will lead to tighter management within departments, permitting further staff savings to be made.
A feasibility study of MANDATA was performed in 1971 by the then Management Services Division of the Public Service Board, which estimated costs of the MANDATA project to be $ 10.1m for the equipment and implementation of the system, and $2m to $2. 7m a year to operate it. The decision to establish MANDATA was taken by the Government in 1 974 on the basis of a report of an interdepartmental committee chaired by the Public Service Board, which is responsible for examining the purchase of all computers for departments prior to seeking Cabinet approval. The Government approved, in February 1974, expenditure of $7.2m for the purchase of equipment for MANDATA, to be spread over three years. However, by June 1977, when the Public Accounts Committee became interested in this program, the total actual expenditure was $13.2m, made up of $ 10.6m for equipment and implementation costs and SI. 6m for operating costs.
Due to the Government’s concern about spiralling costs a study was carried out by management consultants in 1 977 and the Public Service Board produced a revised estimate for computer equipment and implementation costs of $25.4m, more than double the 1971 estimate. Operating costs were expected to be $6m per annum, an increase of 120 per cent to 200 per cent on the original estimate. I point out to the Senate that inflation between 1971 and 1977 accounts for only a part of this large increase. If the effects of inflation are removed by calculating the 1971 estimate at 1977 prices, the 1977 cost estimate for computer equipment and implementation is still more than the 1971 estimate by over 1 00 per cent, or $ 1 2m.
A further matter of general concern to the Committee is whether sufficient scrutiny has been exercised over ADP expenditure by statutory authorities, which are not required to refer computer proposals to the IDC. The original concept of MANDATA in 1971 took into account the inclusion of the employees of the then Australian Post Office. However, when Telecom and Australia Post were established in 1975 these Commissions decided to withdraw and establish their own systems, thereby reducing the total number of personnel to be included in MANDATA by approximately half, and also reducing the viability of the project. The effect on the cost effectiveness of MANDATA following the withdrawal of Telecom and Australia Post concerns the Committee. Of more significance, however, is that these organisations are developing their own equivalent systems, which could cause considerable unnecessary duplication of effort and cost. The Committee proposes to inquire into the reasons why Telecom and Australia Post withdrew from MANDATA; what their plans are with regard to their own personnel and establishment systems; what these systems will cost; and whether it would be feasible for them still to use MANDATA.
The Committee notes also that the differences in rules and regulations for the 75,000 Defence Force personnel may justify the establishment of a separate system for the Defence Force rather than its inclusion in MANDATA. The Committee will examine this matter further. The Committee also is concerned that there were significant delays and expense involved in establishing a permanent site for the installation of MANDATA and the purchase of equipment valued at $750,000, which is now no longer required for MANDATA. We suspect that it is most unlikely that this surplus and obsolete equipment can be sold. The Committee considers that in the public, as well as the private, sector departmental management should be highly involved in the setting of specific goals for computer effectiveness. The Committee therefore intends to examine the extent to whir-h senior departmental management has participated in the assessment of the need for and the planning of projects such as MANDATA.
It would appear that the Public Service Board in 1971 greatly under-estimated the costs of equipment, development, and operational costs of MANDATA, as well as the development time scale required. In endorsing the Public Service Board’s proposals to proceed, the interdepartmental committee on ADP accepted these under-estimates but we have yet to discover the reasons for this decision. As both the Public Service Board and the IDC have a responsibility for reviewing the ADP proposals of other Public Service departments, the Committee will be examining this aspect in detail.
According to the Public Service Board, at the time of the initial feasibility study the project seemed to be well justified on direct cost savings alone. It appears now that the project is justified only if the management-oriented information which it will supply can be used to effect overall staff reductions in the Public Service. I must stress that an important assumption underlying the calculation of benefits is that improved management in the Public Service resulting from MANDATA will yield overall staff savings of 1 per cent, which is approximately $ 11.8m per annum at 1977 prices. As the benefit to cost ratio on a present worth basis is 1 18 to 100, it would appear to the Committee that, on previous estimating performance, we have good grounds to be sceptical about the anticipated management benefits occurring.
The 1 977 analysis made by independent consultants is central to the Committee’s assessment of the estimates of benefits. The Committee requested a copy of the consultant’s report to allow it to look more closely into the assumptions upon which these imputed management benefits are said to have been based. For the Committee to produce a report which is accurate and fair to all concerned, we believe it is essential for us to have access to the consultant’s report. I am pleased to be able to advise the Senate that the Prime Minister has asked the Public Service Board to make the report available to the Committee. Previously, the Committee had been formally informed that the report would not be made available on the grounds that such reports are traditionally made on an ‘in-confidence’ basis to their clients and that reports of interdepartmental committees are regarded as internal working documents and advisings to the Minister. The Committee maintains that it is following its traditional path by requesting documents that have a relevant bearing on the implementaion of Government policy. We do not question and have not questioned the basis of policy but we question the basis of its effective and economic implementation. If committees of the Parliament are to function effectively, there needs to be a high degree of trust between the Public Service and the committees. I am unaware of any case in recent years where committees have been irresponsible in the way in which they used confidential information made available to them. It remains of fundamental importance to the effectiveness of Parliament that its committees have access to all information relevant to their reports to this Parliament other than Cabinet documents. I commend the report to honourable senators.
-by leave- I move:
I have moved this motion for very good reasons. I congratulate Senator Messner for the report that he has presented and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts for its diligent investigation. This is the 169th report of the Committee. It merely bears out what has been said on both sides of the House, namely, that there are two committees of the Parliament that play a very important role. One is the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances and the other is the Public Accounts Committee. It would be to the advantage of State parliaments to consider the records of those committees and to introduce similar proceedings of their own.
Honourable senators from both sides of the House participate in the proceedings of those committees. I take it that in his remarks Senator Messner has given credit for the work of honourable senators from both sides of the House. I have moved that the Senate take note of the report to allow us at a later stage, in a more leisurely fashion, to debate the very important contents of the report. We have no opportunity at the moment to do so. For that reason, I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator McLaren) agreed to:
That the following matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Social Welfare: The management and financial affairs of the Ralkon Agricultural Company Pty Ltd, Narrung, South Australia.
– I inform the Senate that I have received a letter from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wriedt) requesting that Senator Brown be discharged from further service on the Standing Committee on Social Welfare and nominating Senator McAuliffe to be a member of the Committee in his place.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That Senator Brown be discharged from further service on the Standing Committee on Social Welfare and that Senator McAuliffe, having been duly nominated in accordance with Standing Order 36AA, be appointed to fill the resultant vacancy.
Message received from the House of Representatives intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate to this Bill.
Message received from the House of Representatives intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate to this Bill.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Withers) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Loan Act 1977 to increase by $300m the amount which may be borrowed for defence purposes to meet a prospective increase in the Consolidated Revenue Fund deficit for 1977-78. In the second reading speech on the Loan Bill 1977 the relationship between the overall Budget deficit and a potential deficit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund was explained in some detail. Honourable senators were informed that a Loan Bill is the simplest and the traditional means of providing appropriate legislative authority for avoiding a Consolidated Revenue Fund deficit, by enabling defence expenditure to be reallocated from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the Loan Fund. Such a method has been adopted for many years by successive governments.
At the time of the Loan Bill 1977 the Budget estimates envisaged a prospective deficit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of $90 lm. The Loan Bill sought authority for borrowing for the purpose of financing defence expenditures to a limit of $1,1 00m, to provide a relatively small margin over the estimated Consolidated Revenue Fund deficit. At the same time, it was explained that the estimate of the Consolidated Revenue Fund deficit was inevitably a qualified one and that the actual figure would be affected by unforeseen developments during the year which would cause departures from the Budget estimates of receipts and expenditure of the Fund. Because of a number of unforeseen developments it now appears possible that the earlier authority could prove to be insufficient, given the inherent uncertainties which still surround many of the estimates. Even at this stage, we cannot be certain of the extent to which it will be necessary to use the additional authority now sought. There is always some uncertainty about a figure which is, in effect, the residual of the receipts and expenditure of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, both of which are now, of course, very large aggregates. Minor variations in such aggregates can produce relatively very large changes in the residual.
This Bill seeks Parliament’s authority to charge up to an additional $300m of defence expenditure in 1977-78 to the Loan Fund, bringing the total to $ 1,400m and to endorse the necessary increase in borrowing authority. I emphasise that the effect of the Bill is simply to permit the reallocation of defence expenditure between two of the funds which record the Commonwealth’s financial transactions. The Bill does not authorise any defence expenditure over and above that approved and appropriated by the
Parliament in the Appropriation Bills. Borrowings under this Bill, as with previous similar legislation, will be for the purpose of financing defence expenditure and will not, therefore, require approval from the Australian Loan Council. On present indications it is our belief that the existing authority, which enables defence expenditure to be reallocated to the Loan Fund, will be fully availed of by the end of this month. It is therefore essential that an additional authority, in the form proposed in this Bill, be approved quickly. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 9 May, on motion by Senator Webster:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Walsh had moved by way of an amendment:
At end of motion, add but the Senate-
deplores the Australian Government’s failure to:
secure a larger basic export tonnage as established under paragraph 1 of Article 34 of the Schedule;
inform the cane growers that the loans available from the Stock Financing Fund under Article 53 may not cover the entire cost of holding stocks of sugar;
announce any specific arrangements in the event of the loans from the Stock Financing Fund being less than cost of storage; and
acknowledge that the$US0.11 per lb quota trigger price is not a guaranteed price and that the present world price is well below and likely to remain below$US0.11 per lb; and
Condemns the Minister for misrepresenting the Agreement’s pricing provisions and their likely impact on Australian export prices ‘.
– The Senate is debating the International Sugar Agreement Bill 1978, which has had a rather slow progress through the Senate. It was introduced in this place on 12 April and debate did not occur after the second reading speech until 9 May, which is the last date on which anyone in the Senate spoke on this Bill. So it is now 22 days since any comment was made on it and I have been in continuation for 22 days. During that time there have been major changes in the international situation with regard to sugar. Because it is so long since I spoke on the Bill I intend to recapitulate some of the comments I made on 9 May. My remarks refer principally to Queensland, not because I am a representative of Queensland but because by far the greatest amount of sugar produced in Australia is grown there. In fact, 95 per cent of Australia’s sugar is grown in that State. Sugar is a very important crop, not only for Queensland but for Australia. Australia is the fourth largest producer in the world of cane sugar, and sugar is second in value to wheat amongst crops grown in Australia. In Queensland it is of far greater value than any other crop grown, the value of the sugar crop being about 50 per cent of all crops grown there.
If one considers the value of sugar exports from Australia one gains an idea of the value of sugar to Australia. In 1966-67 the value of sugar exports was $638m. That amount does not mean much unless it is related in some way to the value of other exports. It is interesting to note that in that financial year $638m represented 12.4 per cent of the value of Australia’s rural exports and 5.5 per cent of all exports. Not only is the sugar industry important in terms of the value of export earnings, it is also important as a major employer throughout Australia. The employment statistics obtained in the Australian census on 30 June 1971 indicated that a total of 22,274 people were employed directly in the sugar industry. Those employed in sugar cane growing and harvesting numbered 12,403, and a further 9,87 1 people were employed in the manufacture of raw and refined sugar and other by-products. The total of 22,000 is a not inconsiderable number. The employment figures included persons employed transporting sugar on the Colonial Sugar Refineries’ own railway tracks but did not include persons such as railway employees and stevedores who would occasionally handle sugar and sugar products. Thus there were probably far more than the 22,274 people I mentioned who owed their livelihood to the sugar industry in Australia.
When I spoke previously on this Bill I mentioned briefly the three international marketing arrangements that have affected Australia’s sugar industry. I would like to go over them once again because they are pertinent to the Bill under discussion, which outlines a marketing agreement to help the sugar industry in Australia. The first of the three arrangements is the International Sugar Agreement, which was first negotiated in 1937 and sought to lift depressed world market prices by a system of export quotas. World War II, however, precluded its operation. In 1953 a new International Sugar Agreement was negotiated. There were then various breaks in the agreement, followed by newly negotiated agreements. The second marketing agreement was the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, which was signed in 1951 following a conference of British Commonwealth sugar exporters. As the name indicates, the agreement was signed by Commonwealth countries which either exported or imported sugar. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement terminated at the end of 1974. The third marketing arrangement affecting Australia’s sugar industry was the United States Sugar Act. Under that Act Australia was allotted a percentage share of United States foreign sugar requirements. Like the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, the United States agreement also terminated at the end of 1974.
As well as those three principal marketing agreements, Australia traditionally has held long term contracts with countries overseas since it became a sugar exporter. At present we have longterm contracts with Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. It is noteworthy that in recent times we have had some difficulties with some of these contracts when the sugar price has become much lower than it was when the contracts were first signed. Nevertheless these long-term contracts are vital to the welfare of the Australian sugar industry.
I now turn to the current agreement that we are discussing in the International Sugar Agreement Bill. The basic objectives of the new agreement which are outlined in this Bill are to achieve stable conditions in international trade in sugar within a price range which is acceptable to both exporters and importers and to provide adequate supplies of sugar to meet the requirements of importing countries at fair and reasonable prices. What must be realised, however, is that there is no guarantee of a minimum price in the agreement. There is an aim in the agreement to establish a price for sugar within the range of SUS0.1 1 to SUS0.21 lb. However, the short-term prospects of reaching SUS0.11 are not good. Although the aim is to have the price within the range of SUS0.11 to SUS0.21, the stabilisation price intended is about $US0. 1 4 or SUS0. 151b.
When I was speaking in this debate three weeks ago I pointed out that the current international price at that stage was SUS0.076 lb, which was far below the minimum priced aimed at of SUS0.1 1 lb. Since then the price has firmed slightly, and yesterday in London the market price was SUS0.085 lb. So there has been a marginal increase in price. But even if we take this latest price of SUS0.085 lb we can see that it is far below the minimum price aimed at of $US0. 1 1 lb and far below the intended stabilisation price of SUS0.14 to SUS0.15 lb. So I point out that there is no guaranteed price in this agreement. The agreement aims at getting a price within a certain range and, at the moment, that price range is above the international price for sugar.
I pointed out when I spoke on an earlier date that failure to get the European Economic Community to sign this agreement was a fairly bitter blow to the Australian sugar industry, in fact to all the signatories to the agreement. If the EEC is determined to go it alone, I have grave doubts that the minimum price that is intended will ever be reached. If it is reached, it may take a long time. The EEC is the world’s largest producer of sugar and the fact that it is not a signatory means that there is a major gap in this agreement.
At the conclusion of my remarks on the last occasion, just before the Senate adjourned, I was citing an article in the London newspaper, the Guardian in relation to the EEC and the amount of surplus sugar that was available. Let me quote this again because I think it is pertinent to the argument that I will be developing. In April of this year in the Guardian there appeared an article, part of which stated:
The West is overflowing with sugar; world stocks are expected to soar to well over 30 million tonnes and probably reach record levels at the end of this season, the European Common Market is expected to have a surplus on its hands this year of 3.3 million tonnes and world prices are in the doldrums.
Common Market governments backed by their powerful sugar lobbies, have refused so far to join the International Sugar Agreement- in spite of all their talk about the need to stabilise commodity prices- because they refuse to accept restrictions on their exports. Britain, traditionally relying on secure supplies of cane from Commonwealth countries, is expanding its own beet industry, encouraged by high guaranteed EEC prices.
When one considers that article one can see that the fact that the EEC is not one of the signatories is of vital importance to Australia. If we were able to have the EEC as one of the signatories to the agreement, the agreement would provide a much better future for the Australian industry. However, looking at all the factors that are involved we realise that, even though the EEC was not a signatory, Australia had no real choice but to sign the agreement. If we were to have a stabilised industry in Australia, especially in Queensland, and if we were to be able to plan ahead properly and expect not to have the boom or bust situation that we have often had with the sugar industry, Australia had to sign the agreement.
Of course, there will be some disadvantages to Australia. If the world free market price does not reach $US0. 1 1 lb as I indicated earlier, Australia will be restricted to its minimum export entitlement of approximately 2 million tonnes. If we add another 0.9 million tonnes for domestic sales we can see that the amount of sales that would be provided by the sugar industry would be less than that at previous production levels. That will mean either that we will have less sugar grown or that we will have a surplus and therefore storage problems. The prospects for the Australian sugar industry depend heavily on the International Sugar Agreements achieving its objectives. A stable export price is imperative for the sugar industry in Australia. For that reason, but with the reservations that I have noted, the Opposition does not oppose the Bill. I support the amendment which has been moved by my colleague Senator Walsh.
– As Senator Colston has said, this debate has been carrying on for some time. I think it was three weeks ago that the main debate took place in this chamber. Whilst I intended then to answer quite a few of the statements made by the Opposition, as the amount of time is limited, at this stage I will not cover much ground and I will not hold up the Senate. I support the International Sugar Agreement Bill as I believe that it is absolutely necessary for Australia to have some sort of an agreement. I agree with those who say that it is unfortunate that the European Economic Community is not a signatory to the agreement. After all, politics is the art of the possible, and if the EEC cannot come into a scheme there is no way in the world that Australia or any other nation can force it to come in. The conditions on which it would have been prepared to come into the International Sugar Agreement would have meant less tonnage for Australia because of the over-production problems of the EEC. However, 84 per cent of the world sugar trade is involved in the International Sugar Agreement, covering some 37 producing countries and some 11 importing countries.
The whole object of the International Sugar Agreement does not bring about a reserve or a guaranteed price. In fact, I do not know of a world agreement which guarantees prices for primary industry commodities. The beef producers of Australia are finding that out at this time. Probably the only industry in Australia which has some sort of stability in that direction is the wool industry, but of course that industry has a completely different problem. It does not have the problem of over-production. I think that 30 years ago wool fulfilled 19 per cent of the world’s needs for apparel fibre. Although we have increased production and have sold every bit of wool we have produced since then, today we can supply only 6’/i per cent of the world’s needs for apparel fibre. Through the International Wool Secretariat we have agreements with other countries which operate through the mechanism of a floor price plan. But there is no way in the world that that system can operate with wheat, sugar, meat or any other commodity which is in over-supply.
The best we can hope to do is to remove the fluctuations from the market. If we look at what has been happening over the last few years in the sugar industry we can certainly see a need for the removal of fluctuations. In November 1974 prices on the overseas market varied from something like $50 a ton to $650 a ton. In 1974 they even varied from $ 143 a ton in January to $650 a ton in November. Quite obviously a situation such as that has to be controlled. Such a situation is not in the interests of the producers or of the consumers. It is quite obvious that if we have prices such as $650 a ton every country and every farmer will try to produce sugar to get in on the high prices. Then, when the market is over supplied and the price drops everyone will want to get out. What the consuming and producing countries want is some sort of stability in production and price. It is quite obvious that once the price of any material goes too high consumers will look for substitutes. It is in the interests of the sugar industry that prices do not go too high but that they at least remain at some stable level. That is the whole reason for the International Sugar Agreement. We certainly hope that international sugar agreements will be carried into the future. I certainly hope that at some stage the European Economic Community will become a signatory to the Agreement.
Most of the speech by Senator Douglas McClelland concerned the plight of sugar growers in northern New South Wales. In the past three weeks events which have occurred have more or less ameliorated some of the problems. Having gone through northern New South Wales and having talked to many of the sugar producers, I understand that the problem is not that CSR Ltd, which is getting out of milling operations, is asking too much for its mills. In fact, most of the producers in that area believe that the price which the company is seeking for the sale of those mills is very fair. But the fact is that the industry did not have the funds. It had no liquidity with which to purchase the mills.
– What price? Are you referring to the price of $20m or $6m.
-No, the $6m price. That is the price being paid. The fact is that the producers in the industry did not have the money to buy the mills. They want loan funds from either the New South Wales Government or the Gederal Government. I understand that they will receive funds. The New South Wales Government has given them a guarantee of funds and they are negotiating with the Federal Government at the present time. The funds will be provided in the form of loans which will be repaid over the years through a levy which will be imposed on growers. Whilst I do not have any brief for the CSR company, I do state that the price finally sought from the growers was more than fair in the eyes of the growers.
A lot has been said also about the Australian sugar industry and what will happen to it. It has been suggested that there will have to be a cutback and that we will have to store tonnes of sugar and so on. The Australian sugar industry has always been a controlled industry which operates on peaks. Every expansion which has taken place in the industry has not been undertaken totally by bringing in new producers. In a great deal of the expansion programs the tonnages of each grower have been increased. In the last few years when it was found that sugar contracts were available and that we could sell more sugar on overseas markets than was previously thought, peaks of individual growers were not increased but, once individual growers had reached their peaks they were allowed to produce above their peaks to enable extra production.
– They also increased the assignments.
– That was so years ago.
– It was in 1976.
– Yes, in each expansion they increased assignments. But the increased sugar sales have been met by production in excess of the assignments. This has been the case for I do not know how many years. But there was never a situation in which assignments were allotted on the previous year’s production or the previous year’s sales. Assignments were always well below those figures. The sugar industry has operated on the basis that, once all the peaks have been met, if another 10 per cent of sugar is required to fulfil sales contracts, the individual growers are permitted to produce an additional amount to supply to the mills. By this means they get what might be called a bonus.
This time, because there will be a shortfall on sales, all the sugar industry has done is to bring growers back to peaks. There might be extra sales again this year; we do not know. There might be additional sales somewhere else. If that is the case, the mechanism will operate again and over-peak production will be allowed by the various mills and the Sugar Board. So no grower will be cut back. It will be a case of cane being left in the ground and not of sugar being stored. I think that the sooner we proceed with the passage of this Bill in the interests of the Australian sugar industry the better. I conclude my remarks and give my support to the Bill.
– Because of the interruption in the debate on the International Sugar Agreement Bill 1978- which is very important to Queensland, the State which I represent- I think it is necessary to remind the Senate before it votes on this legislation of the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition. I merely read it now to make the Senate aware of exactly what the Opposition intends to achieve. The amendment is self-explanatory and was moved by Senator Walsh. It states:
At end of motion, add ‘, but the Senate-
deplores the Australian Government’s failure to:
secure a larger basic export tonnage as established under paragraph 1 of Article 34 of the Schedule;
inform the cane growers that the loans available from the Stock Financing Fund under Article 53 may not cover the entire cost of holding stocks of sugar;
announce any specific arrangements in the event of the loans from the Stock Financing Fund being less than cost of storage; and
acknowledge that the $US0. 1 1 per lb quota trigger price is not a guaranteed price and that the present world price is well below and likely to remain below $US0.11 per lb.
It is important for the sugar industry to know that that is the purpose of our amendment. The amendment continues:
I am tempted to go into that matter in detail; nevertheless, the intention of my intervention is merely to re-emphasise and to attract the Senate’s attention to the amendment which the Opposition has moved to the motion for the second reading of this Bill.
– in reply- I thank all honourable senators for their general support of the International Sugar Agreement Bill. I thank my colleagues on this side of the Senate for their particular support of the Bill. I will deal shortly with the amendment moved by the Opposition. I think it is fair to say that this amendment arises out of ignorance and misunderstanding of what the International Sugar Agreement is all about.
I will deal with the matters as they arise in the amendment. Firstly, the Opposition seeks to condemn the Government because it failed to secure a larger basic export tonnage as established under paragraph 1 of Article 34 of the schedule of the Agreement. That is a very easy proposition for honourable senators opposite to advance when they did not conduct the negotiations. No evidence has been produced to show how Australia could have obtained a larger basic export tonnage. We just have the comment that the Government could have done better. That is an interesting proposition. What the Opposition is saying is that it will tell the Government the problem but not the solution.
– Resign and give us a chance.
-I would have thought that anybody who puts up the problems also ought to put up the solutions. Honourable senators opposite had their opportunity to let the negotiations go forward. It ought to be understood that, at the conference where the International Sugar Agreement was negotiated, the industry was fully represented and that the industry judged that the International Sugar Agreement was acceptable to it. That was the judgment of the industry at the conference.
The Opposition’s amendment then attempts to criticise the Government for what it is pleased to call the Government’s failure to inform the cane growers that loans available from the stock financing fund under Article 53 of the Agreement may not cover- honourable senators opposite do not even know themselves- the entire cost of holding stocks of sugar. My information is that this fund will help significantly. It was a major breakthrough in that both the consumers and the producers will contribute to the cost of stocks. I am further informed that this is a first- I repeat, a first- in an international commodity agreement. I would have thought that, rather being condemned for a failure on that count, the Government would have received praise for achieving a major breakthrough in the negotiation of international commodity agreements. I am also instructed that the cane growers, the millers and the Queensland Government are fully aware of the operations of the fund.
The fourth leg of the Opposition’s amendment deals with the failure of the Government to acknowledge that the preferred price is not a guaranteed price. I fail to understand why the Opposition should feel that it is a guaranteed price. I am not aware that the Government has ever said that this price is other than a trigger price. I refer honourable senators to an answer given by my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony), in the House of Representatives on 13 April this year in answer to a question asked by Mr Braithwaite, the honourable member for Dawson. I think that I ought to read the whole of the answer. Mr Anthony said:
I have noticed some comments coming particularly from the Opposition relating to the International Sugar Agreement. Those comments cast great doubts as to whether Opposition members really support the International Sugar Agreement and its provisions. They are certainly crying poor mouth about it, hoping, I think, that it will Tail. They are in an equivocal position at the moment. If it fails, I suppose they will say: ‘We told you so’. If it is successful, they will support it strongly.
Under the International Sugar Agreement certain disciplines are imposed upon sugar exporting countries and certain undertakings are given by importing countries. The Agreement is aimed -
I point out that the Minister used the word aimed ‘ and not ‘guaranteed ‘- . . at achieving a price range of between 1 lc and 21c per lb. Anybody who understands this scheme will know that it will take some time, by limiting the supply of sugar, to get prices within this range. Once prices hit either end of this range certain obligations must be undertaken either to release more sugar or to put more production controls on it. We know that at the moment there is an over-supply of sugar in the world. The industry is convinced that if there are no production controls the price of sugar this year will drop to about 5c per lb.
The world sugar industry has agreed to put some disciplines on production. A basic export tonnage has been given to every country. Further imposed upon that basic export tonnage is a cut of 1 5 per cent to try to tighten the market. It is hoped that in the second half of this year there will be some tightening of the market. It has taken longer than one might have wished because a significant number of countries unloaded extra sugar onto the market before the provisions of the Agreement came into operation. At the moment, the sugar industry is in full support of the International Sugar Agreement, as are the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government.
Mr Anthony concluded his answer by stating:
It is all right for the Opposition to be equivocal and nitpicking about the Agreement but it is of absolute importance to the Australian sugar industry. As I have said, I believe that we will see the effects of it in the second half of this year.
I do not know that I can add anything more to the comments I have made about the amendment put forward by the Opposition. I submit to the Senate that the amendment ought to be rejected.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Walsh’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Senator Withers) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I rise to speak briefly to the motion for the third reading of the International Sugar Agreement Bill. I do so mainly to respond to the comments made by Senator Withers 10 or 15 minutes ago in which he criticised the Opposition’s amendment on a couple of quite specific grounds. He criticised the amendment on the grounds that it said that the loans available from the stock financing fund established under article 53 of the schedule to the Bill may not cover the entire cost of holding stocks of sugar. I remind Senator Withers that that amendment was drafted and moved about one month ago. Some more information has since come to hand and we need no longer be uncertain about whether those stock financing provisions will in fact cover the financial cost of stock holdings. We now know that they will not because the Queensland Government and/or the Queensland sugar industry with a government guarantee has made arrangements to borrow overseas $50m to pay for those stockholding provisions. So if the levies envisaged under the International Sugar Agreement were to provide the capital necessary to hold the stocks envisaged, why is the Queensland Government borrowing money overseas to do it? Senator Withers can criticise the amendment on the ground that it is obsolete but he certainly cannot validly criticise it on the ground that it is irrelevant or wrong. On the same point, and again since this amendment was drafted, the Australian Financial Review of 1 1 May last carried a report headed ‘US Congress delay disrupts sugar pact’. It refers to the possibility of the United States Congress not ratifying the Agreement and, in particular, to the possibility of the Congress not approving of the contributions to this stockholding fund. The article states:
The fund is designed to buy up to 2.5m metric tons of sugar.
Contributions to this fund are to be made through a proposed levy collected in consuming countries on every ton of sugar imported.
Congressional delay in ratification means that no legislation can be passed to authorise US Customs and Excise to collect the levies from importers.
It goes on to say that without the contributions of the United States the International Sugar Organisation will have great difficulty in getting the fund off the ground. The article then refers to the possibility of the United States having a legitimate legal excuse for withdrawing entirely from the levy and stockholdings provisions contained in the Agreement. So, far from that point being trivial or irrelevant, it has assumed much greater significance since our amendment was originally moved about a month ago.
I wish to comment now on a couple of other points that Senator Withers raised. He said that he was not aware of any reference by any Minister to anything other than a trigger price in the Agreement. He claimed therefore that the amendment moved by the Opposition which condemned the Minister for Trade and Resources and Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) for misrepresenting the Agreement’s pricing provisions and their likely impact on Australia’s export prices was unwarranted because no such misrepresentation had taken place and he was not aware of any Minister referring to anything other than a trigger price. If he had read my speech made at the second reading stage of the debate or if he had read the newspapers he may have been aware of references to other than trigger prices. To refresh his memory I will quote a few of them. A Press release of 6 October 1977 under the name of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and referring to Mr Anthony’s return from Geneva following a breakthrough in the conclusion of the new International Sugar Agreement reads:
The agreed price range of 1 1 to 2 1 cents, -
It referred to the agreed price range and said nothing about trigger prices- equivalent to SA220 to $A420 a tonne, will mean a lift in returns to the world sugar industry of the order of $2,000m when measured against the prevailing world price which has been as low as 98 Pounds Sterling ( about $A 1 55 ).
The Minister for Primary Industry said that there would be a lift in returns of $2,000m as a result of this agreed price range, as distinct from what he depicted as a catastrophic price of SA155 a tonne.
That is the price level which applies now, around $155 a tonne. Six months after that statement was made what the Minister then identified as a catastrophic price is the price which is prevailing, notwithstanding this Agreement. In a statement in the House of Representatives on 13 October 1977 Mr Anthony said:
The Agreement establishes a price range at 1 1 to 2 1 cents United States per lb. . . Provision is made for review of the price range and upward adjustment when this is considered appropriate.
In a statement on 26 October 1 977 Mr Anthony returned to the same theme. He released a Press statement which read:
The first breakthrough had been the negotiation in Geneva of an International Sugar Agreement. This Agreement promised stability in the face of an almost certain world sugar recession. It also established a price range of 1 1 to 2 lc per lb-
In Townsville in an election campaign the Minister for Trade and Resources became even bolder and he said, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald ofl December:
The article then stated:
From then -
That is the middle ofl 978- when the sugar agreement started to operate, the market would tighten and sugar prices could be expected to rise.
I think I have quoted enough from Mr Anthony and Mr Sinclair to demonstrate that they have consistently over a long period misled the industry as to the limited protection for Australian sugar growers provided by this Agreement. They have consistently misrepresented this Agreement as something which establishes a price range. It does no such thing. There is nothing in this Agreement to prevent the price of sugar from falling to zero provided that certain quantitative restrictions on the amount of sugar exported are observed by the signatories to the Agreement. Australian sugar producers are caught in a twoway squeeze. There will be a 1 5 per cent quantitative reduction in the amount of sugar they are able to market and there will be subtantially lower prices.
Largely in anticipation of this result, there has been sustained pressure for a substantial increase in the domestic price of sugar. On 10 April the Minister for Primary Industry wrote to Dr Everingham saying that new information had come to light and a decision would be announced shortly. I understand according to yesterday’s newspapers that some such decision has been announced and the Government has approved a price increase of $30 a tonne. That falls far short of the $80 a tonne the Australian industry was seeking to compensate it for its market losses. I think that is indicative of the negligible effectiveness of the present Minister for Primary Industry. He has taken three months to get any decision at all out of the Government on this issue when in that same period the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has issued no fewer than 1 5 Press statements on agricultural matters.
This can be interpreted only as a tacit vote of no confidence in his own Minister for Primary Industry when he has to intervene in agricultural matters that often. But most importantly, the present Minister for Primary Industry in his failure to secure what the sugar industry is looking for has demonstrated that he has no political clout whatsoever compared with such influential figures and fellow members of the Melbourne Club with Mr Fraser as Sir Rupert Clarke, the chairman of Cadbury Schweppes Australia Ltd. Compared to people such as that Mr Sinclair clearly carries absolutely no political clout within the Government.
’- in reply- I think it is a pity that Senator Walsh made those concluding remarks. If Senator Walsh feels so strongly about the matter I would have thought he would have at least convinced his caucus to vote against the Bill and not just come in here and nit pick at it and tell us what a disaster it is. Even if the Bill does not satisfy the honourable senator on everything he would like, he may agree that anything which achieves even a scintilla of stability within the sugar industry of Queensland would be welcomed loudly because the more stability that can be brought into the sugar industry in Queensland the greater pleasure it gives to all senators and members from that State. I draw the attention of Senator Walsh to Mr Anthony’s second reading speech where he said:
The Agreement empowers the Fund to make loans to exporting members, to help them defray the cost of holding stocks.
The honourable senator ought to know that only one figure was struck for all countries. There really could not have been differing figures for different countries under an international agreement. I repeat to Senator Walsh that the scheme is to help to defray costs; it is not to cover costs. If he does not know the difference between those terms I do not have time at the third reading stage to inform him.
He also raised the problem of the United States of America. He said he was concerned about the delay in the ratification of the Agreement by the United States. The fact of the matter is that the United States has until the end of June to ratify the Agreement. The United States Administration is committed to ratification and regards an international sugar agreement as ‘the cornerstone of its domestic policy’. All Senator Walsh has done is attempt to justify a nit picking, hopeless, irrelevant amendment which he proposed at the second reading stage three weeks ago. He ought to have had enough courage to go to his caucus and to say that this Bill is a disaster and the Australian Labor Party ought to oppose it. But he has not had the courage to do that. I understand that the better sense of his colleagues in caucus prevailed and whilst he has been allowed a little licence to indulge in his prejudices this Bill has the support of all parties in the Parliament.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 25 May, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose any of these three Bills. Probably it is not necessary for me to say any more than that. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech set out the purpose of these Bills. If anybody wants to know why the Opposition does not oppose the Bills the reason can be found in that second reading speech. As the Minister pointed out, the High Court of Australia in recent days has been seized of the problem which is set out in the second paragraph of the Minister’s second reading speech. We do not oppose the Bill. However, in our view there are one or two things to which the attention of the Minister should be drawn. If there is a failure to make available regulations for sale and distribution, as I recall the legislation, the Minister for Administrative Services is required within 1 5 sitting days to report that fact to the Parliament. It is not clear in the legislation, as I read it, within 1 5 sitting days of what the Minister is required to do that. Is it within 15 sitting days of the apparent failure? I should be grateful if the Minister can answer that question.
The second point is that there is no sanction in the legislation for the Minister’s failure to act as required by the legislation and to comply with these provisions. The difficulty about that is that there is a great deal of talk in this chamber and elsewhere about ministerial responsibility, about what it means and so on. In our view it would have been preferable if the legislation had indicated some sanction in respect of a failure to comply with that provision. I know that Ministers of this Government are mindful of this question or they certainly appear to be mindful of this question in debates which take place here. I know that Senator Chaney in this place frequently refers to the views of Professor Gordon Reid on the question of ministerial responsibility. I know that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has given a great deal of lip service and rhetoric to the importance which he attaches to ministerial responsibility. The Opposition would like to know what the Government means and how it fleshes out the notion of ministerial responsibility about which it talks a lot. This issue has been in the forefront of recent debates in the Senate. We feel it would be an improvement if something were inserted in the legislation regarding the function of the Minister. Apart from that, I indicate that the Opposition does not oppose the Bills. We make the suggestions to the Minister in a constructive spirit. Perhaps if he is in earnest about these matters, his Department could have a look at them and perhaps the legislation could be considered further.
– in reply- I thank the Opposition for its support of these three Billsthe Ordinances and Regulations (Notification) Bill, Statutory Rules Publication Amendment Bill and the Seat of Government (Administration) Amendment Bill. The Bills are in a sense one measure designed to deal with a problem that has arisen when copies of regulations and other statutory rules and ordinances of the Australian Capital Territory have not been available for purchase. Senator Button has raised one matter which would be better dealt with during the Committee stages, but as he has raised it now I think I should deal with it. The answer to the query he raised is contained in proposed new sub-section (3)(b) which is included in clause 4 of the Statutory Rules Publication Amendment Bill. The period of 15 sitting days after which a statement must be made by the Minister for Administrative Services relates to the date of the publication of the notice of the statutory rule. That, of course, is known generally as the gazettal of the statutory rule.
The other matter that Senator Button raises is much broader and relates, as he puts it, to the question of ministerial responsibility. It is a fact that the proposed new sub-section lays on the Minister for Administrative Services the obligation of causing to be laid before each House of the Parliament a statement setting out why copies of the rules were not available for purchase, if, in fact, that is the case. Broadly speaking, the obligation is one of ministerial responsibility in the wide and properly understood sense of that term. Senator Button has chosen to use this matter as a vehicle for a sideswipe at the Government’s attitude to this subject. I would have thought that this Government had indicated some real and very live conceptions of ministerial responsibility. I would have thought that the matters about which Senator Button is apparently having his sideswipe show that the reverse situation applies. In fact, wherever this matter has been challenged by anybody the Government has responded immediately. It insists on the highest standards of ministerial responsibility.
Whether there is any other sanction apart from that is perhaps a question of construction of the legislation. I must say that I have not specifically considered the point. It may well be that a breach of a statutory obligation could lead to a breach of criminal or common law. That would depend on the circumstances. Certainly the view of the Government is that the obligation is imposed firmly on the Minister. He is responsible to the Parliament. A deliberate failure by him would result in the most serious consequence a Minister can suffer, namely, the requirement to resign. If copies of the rules are not available for purchase on a particular day that occurrence would be well known. It is not something that a Minister could cover up, to adopt another favourite phrase in this day and age and which I am surprised Senator Button did not use. The circumstances ensure that no public cover up could occur. It would be public knowledge that copies of a particular regulation or ordinance were not available for purchase on the day of gazettal. The Minister would have a clear understanding of his responsibility. As 1 say, he would have to discharge that responsibility primarily to the Parliament and he would not be able to get away with anything because of the notoriety attached to the whole exercise. I really do not see why there is any need for a specific sanction to be placed in this legislation. Anyway, so long as this Government remains in power, I do not think the question is likely to arise.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time.
– I do not wish to pursue at great length the point in which the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and I were engaged a few minutes ago. The point the Opposition was trying to make- I thought I was doing so in a constructive spirit rather than by way of a sideswipe- related, in a sense, to the protection of the Minister, If a Minister has the stimulation of a provision in the legislation relating to his responsibilities, one would assume he would discharge his responsibilities better and in fact be protected by that provision. It would be extraordinary if” the Attorney-General overlooked this responsibility. In some sense that could become a dereliction of duty. Having regard to the subject matter of this legislation that could become the subject of an attack or criticism.
The final suggestion of the Attorney-General, that as long as this Government is in office we can rest in confidence about the details of the legislation, I find an extraordinary aid to the construction of legislation. That is really a new principle of interpretation which I have not heard before, even from the present Attorney-General. I do not wish to pursue the matter further. The suggestion was made, I thought, in a constructive spirit and it is something that might be adverted to in future legislation.
– Now that we are engaged in the Committee stage and can deal with the Bills in a non-political way, I think the explanation of the problem is that if we had some sanction on a failure to have the rules available for purchase, we would be in the same trouble in which we found ourselves with the previous legislation. We had to look for some other sanction than one which would render the rules invalid and which would lead to the problems with which this legislation is designed to cope. We hit upon this method of requiring a Minister to take the responsibility of providing an explanation. The major sanction that we have in mind is that it is a Minister’s responsibility. Senator Button raised the question of what sanction is imposed on the Minister. I have already dealt with that matter.
The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that copies of the regulations or ordinances will be available for purchase as soon as possible. We are trying to put the weights on the people concerned to make sure that that is so. As I said, that is done by requiring the Minister who is responsible for the publication of such documents to make a statement if there is a failure. We think that is a satisfactory way of overcoming that dilemma. If any further sanction is put on that, one runs the very grave risk of the regulations being invalid and a technical point being taken in a court at a later stage.
Bills agreed to.
Bills reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bills (on motion by Senator Durack) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 25 May, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
-Again the reasons for these pieces of legislation have been spelt out by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech. They arise from changes in administrative arrangements made by the present Government following the election of 1975, and they are self-explanatory. The Opposition does not oppose them.
– I thank the Opposition for its ready acceptance and support of these measures.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time.
– I have circulated printed amendments to the Administrative Changes (Consequential Provisions) Bill. I suggest that with the leave of the Committee they be dealt with as a whole rather than clause by clause.
– The reason for the amendments is that it was assumed that the Audit Act would be amended during this session. The amendments to these Bills would have been dealt with by amending the Audit Act. However, that is not to be the case and it is necessary to tidy up the whole matter by moving these amendments now. It has become necessary to include them in this package of legislation. The amendments refer to clause 5 and 6, and to Schedules 1 and 2 which read in part:
Section 62b of the Audit Act 1901 is amended by omitting sub-section (2) and substituting the following sub-section:
1 ) In this section-
Schedule 1 .
AMENDMENTS OF ACTS
Aboriginal Land Fund Act 1 974- Sub-section 17 (2) and 29(1).
Aboriginal Loans Commission Act 1 974- Paragraphs 1 9 ( 1 ) ( 0 and 24 (2 ) ( f ), section 29 and sub-section 36(1).
Albury-Wodonga Development Act 1973- Sub-section 24 (2) and section 32.
Albury-Wodonga Development (Financial Assistance) Act 1973- Sub-sections 6(1) and (3), section 7 and subsections 10 (2) and (3) and 11 (2).
Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Act 1970- Subsections 1 1 (2) and 19(3).
Apple and Pear Stabilization Act 1 97 1Subsection 13A (3).
Appropriation Act (No. I) 1977-78-Sections 3, 5 and 7 and Division 310 of Schedule 2.
Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1977-78- Sections 3 and 5 and Division 850 of Schedule 2.
Appropriation (Urban Public Transport) Act 1977- Section 6.
Atomic Energy Act 1953- Sub-sections 26 (2), 27 (2) and 31(1) and section 33.
AMENDMENTS OF ACTS
Air Accidents (Commonwealth Government Liability) Act 1963-Sub-section 1 1 (2).
Audit Act 1901 -Sections 7, 13, 16, 20,21a, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35, 36a, 37b, 38 and 4lD, sub-sections 42 ( 1) and ( 1a), sections 45, 46, 48, 50a, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61 and 62a, sub-section 62b ( I ) and sections 66 and 70C.
Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) Termination Act 1976-Sub-section23 (1).
The Audit Act 1 90 1 is amended-
Finance of the Commonwealth’, and any securities or deposits taken or made in pursuance of this section may be taken or made by him in his corporate name.”.’.
Atomic Energy Act 1953- Sub-sections 26 (2), 27 (2) and 31(1) and section 33.’, insert-
Audit Act 1901 -Second Schedule.’.
Sections 7, 13, 16, 20, 21 a, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35, 36a, 37b, 38 and 4lD, sub-sections 42 ( 1) and ( 1a), sections 45, 46, 48, 50a, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61 and 62a, sub-section 62b ( 1 ) and sections 66 and 70c. ‘, substitute-
Sections 2a, 7, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 21a, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36a, 37b, 38, 40, 4 1 d, 42, 43, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 50a, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58, 58a, 60, 61 and 62a, sub-section 62b ( 1 ) and sections 66, 70a and 70c.
Amendments agreed to.
Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 1978 agreed to without amendment; Administrative Changes (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1978 agreed to with amendments; Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve Amendment Bill 1978 agreed to without amendment.
Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 1978 reported without amendment; Administrative Changes (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1978 reported with amendments; Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve Amendment Bill 1978 reported without amendment. Report adopted.
Bills (on motion by Senator Durack) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 1 1 May on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
– I move:
These Bills properly are being taken together as they represent in their entirety a somewhat new approach which is being adopted by the Government to the taxation laws. The vestiges of estate duties and gift duties, which are being eliminated and which at present are payable under laws which prevail in Australia would have to be regarded as modest in the extreme by comparison with practically any other comparable country. The Australian Labor Party does not agree with the policy which the Government has adopted. It does not agree with these Bills. It believes that they should be withdrawn and that an appropriate tax on capital should be provided for under the law.
Before I deal with the merits of the Bills, which I intend to do only briefly in any event, I should point out that, in saying this, I do not mean to suggest that the Opposition is not aware of the fact that a great many people in the past have perhaps been unnecessarily and harshly afflicted by death duties. It certainly has been the case in past years where a surviving spouse has often been placed in a very difficult situation through the imposition of death duties on the value of the family home. Certainly there are very great difficulties with regard to farmers, for example, but those difficulties apply to anybody who carries on a business which may pass on from the father to the son. It may be a great enterprise; it might be a small artisan or a small shopkeeper whose son is working with him or whose wife is working with him in the business. On the decease of the principal of the business the surviving members of the family sometimes in the past have been placed in a crippling position as a result of the imposition of death duties.
We are not advocating that that state of affairs should be restored. We are not saying that there are not very valid grounds, certainly in many instances, for a substantial amendment to be made to the laws relating to estate duty and gift duty. The only cursory mention I make of gift duty is that in fact without the existence of estate duty there would be very much less reason for laws relating to the imposition of gift duty than there are at the present time. I think all of us recognise that the primary purpose for somebody with reasonably substantial assets to make gifts is in order to avoid the incidence of probate duty or death duty on his decease. Having mentioned that, I think we can talk about these matters concurrently. What in fact we are talking about under these four Bills- this is why it is appropriate for them to be linked together- is the imposition of some form of tax on the passing on of an estate from a deceased person to those closely related members of his family who are dealt with in the Bills which are before us.
It is the view of the Australian Labor Party- I would have thought that this is a view which is held not only by socialists but by a number of people who believe in the equality of opportunity and in a more egalitarian society- that there should not be an unrestricted flow of capital from one member of a family to another member of a family. I think that one should recall that death duties were first imposed in Great Britain in the early 1 890s under the last administration, I think it was, of Mr Gladstone whose Chancellor of the Exchequer was that famous Liberal and a man who is still regarded as being one of the most eloquent exponents of Liberal philosophyand I mean Liberal; I do not mean Conservative philosophy- and who, on the introduction of the death duties in the House of Commons, used the expression: ‘We are all socialists now’. When he said: ‘We are all socialists now’, I do not think that Sir William Harcourt was saying that he was an advocate of the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I do not think the influence which Marx and Engels had on him was very great.
But what Sir William Harcourt was saying was in line with the thinking of Gladstone; in fact, it was in line with the thinking of their predecessors. I refer to people such as Sir Robert Peel who was not himself a Liberal. Their thinking was that the purpose of civilised democratic constitutional government in countries such as Britain was to carry on the traditions which had been established by the glorious Whig revolution of 1688, to take by gradual constitutional means with the consent of the electors steps towards a state of society in which, whether the means of production were publicly or privately owned, at least there was, as far as one could possibly achieve these means by legislative action, equality of opportunity amongst all of the people to live in England, which was the country with which they were dealing. It was believed by them that one of the greatest hinderances to an egalitarian society- to a society where all people, whatever their abilities may be, whatever their dedication to hard work may be, whatever their good fortune may be subsequently in their lifewas lack of equality of opportunity. At least they would start off their lives with some sort of economic equality.
In fact, the original imposition of death duties in Britain by the Liberals was primarily directed to the break-up of the vast landed estates. I think it might be remembered that in 1909 or 1910, during the great confrontation between the Liberal Government and the House of Lords, Lloyd George was the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to the situation which prevailed, as he saw it, in the United Kingdom at that time, when the great majority of Englishmen were strangers in the land of their birth. They were strangers in the land of their birth because they knew that all around them the vast estates, the vast wealth of the country, was not owned by them but by others who for the most part had not acquired that wealth themselves, whether honestly or dishonestly, but had inherited it from their fathers, who in turn had, in many of the cases- indeed, in most of the casesinherited it from their fathers, and so on back to the time, very frequently, if not of the Norman Conquest at least to the actions of Henry VIII against the monasteries when people of quite humble origins suddenly found themselves in possession of great priories which were passed on for many years to their descendants.
I am obliged to Dr Blewett in another place for drawing the attention of the Parliament to the views of none other than Winston Churchill, the great British statesman who for many years was a member of the Liberal Party and then became a member of the Conservative Party. In fact, I think it could be said of Churchil that he did not join parties but parties joined him. In any event, he started off as a Conservative and then he joined the Liberal Party. Then he went back to the Conservative Party. However, there are some of us who are in the position where we cannot afford to be too critical about people doing that sort of thing. In fact, one might say that I am rather a Churchillian figure myself. I think it has to be said of Sir Winston Churchill that there are very few, if any, of the views which he expounded when he was a Liberal which he did not continue to expound as a conservative. The reason why he broke with the Liberal Party shortly after the Second World War was certainly not because of any disagreement with regard to the matter of death duties or taxation. The disagreement was primarily, as I understand it, with regard to matters of foreign policy and not of domestic policy.
In any event, with his customary eloquence, in 1909 when Lloyd George was taking part in these debates to which I referred a few moments ago, Mr Churchill as he then was said:
It has long been recognised that the state, which guarantees individuals the succession to their property, which secures them the peaceful entry upon the enjoyment of their property, has the right at the time of the death of the former occupant to levy a toll . . .
Churchill was saying that it was because there was a secure and ordered constitutional government that one person was able to pass on to his successor the fruits of his labour or the fruits of what he had inherited from somebody else’s labour.
– When did he say that?
-He said that in 1909. This was a question of a principle; he was not discussing the rates. I may say to Senator Messner who has interjected that it is a position from which the present Conservative Party has not departed. It is not advocating the abolition of death duties, so I do not think that there is anything that Sir Winston Churchill said in 1909 which Mrs Thatcher would not say in 1978. 1 do not think the date is particularly relevant to this. It concerns the establishment of a principle. That is what is involved. When one refers, for example, to the Gospel of St John one does not say: ‘On what date was that said?’ Speaking as something of a secularis, I think that perhaps that similar consideration should be given to the words of Sir Winston Churchill.
– The point is that he may have changed his view if he were living today.
-Not having the facility of communing with departed spirits, I find that very difficult to answer. As I have already mentioned, a successor of Sir Winston Churchill as Leader of the Conservative Party has not changed her view, and I see no reason for believing that Sir Winston would have changed his view either. Sir Winston Churchill also said in the course of the same debate:
Taxes upon estates at death are necessary, legitimate and fair.
I do not want to enter into a debate about the virtues of socialism or private enterprise because that is not what is at stake here. One does not need to be a supporter of socialism to be a supporter of death duties. As I understand it, the argument that has been put forward by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is similar to the arguments used by Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and other thinkers who seem somehow to have dropped out of the constellation of oracles to whom we were once advised to look for our inspiration. There was a time when they were quoted to us. As I understand the doctrines of
Professor Friedman and Ms Rand- I am unaware of her marital status; I should not think that she is married, but if she is -
– Be charitable.
– I am being very charitable, but I can say only that if her husband had to rely completely on the market forces he might have had a rather difficult life. As I understand the doctrines that people like Ms Rand and Professor Friedman are putting forward, they are that the ideal society is a competitive society, a society in which people achieve things because of their even striving, because of the market forces which are available and because of their ability to provide the needs which are perceived by their fellow citizens or other people with whom they have to deal and that all of us should be in a position where we have to strive for our livings. In fact, without making it appear too crude, in a sense they are advocating a sort of law of the jungle, that the best society is a competitive society and that life was not meant to be easy. I am merely quoting some of Senator Lewis’ mentors, some of the people he would read about back in Warrnambool. The doctrine is that this is the way in which society ought to be conducted.
As I understand it, in all fairness to the Liberal Party, its philosophical principle is that those who ought to be rewarded are those who have striven the most and provided services for which others are looking.
Vast amounts of wealth can be inherited, vasts amounts of capital can be accumulated as a result of the fluctuations of financial fortunes which are quite independent of the person whose assets increase and fortunes can be accumulated because of increases in the value of land or a sudden shortage of some commodity of which one is in possession or because of inflation, changes in the exchange rate of currencies and so on. Clearly that is not a case of effort. It is not a case of people striving in order to be rewarded and obtaining their wealth because of the contribution they have made, in whatever selfish way. I think that Ms Rand herself talks about the virtues of selfishness and says that the virtues of selfishness in the long run benefit the common weal. If we are to have a society in which wealth can be passed on and accumulated without effort on one ‘s part we will not have the sort of open society for which Liberals- I mean Australian Liberals; I do not mean British Liberals- claim that they stand and we will not have the sort of just society for which members of the Labor Party say the country should be working.
Of course, there are all sons of problems relating to death duties. There are those that I have mentioned already with regard to the people who have a farm or who run some small business which would be bankrupted if heavy death duties were imposed on it. Of course it is reasonable for a man or woman, during the course of his or her working life to regard as one of the incentives for him or her to work the ability to accumulate some money to hand on to his or her children knowing that if the children fall upon adversity some time later on in life he or she will have left them some money to tide them over. It is an incentive for those people to work. To have confiscatory death duties clearly is a most unjust and inefficient way of conducting the economy. The Labor Party does not advocate that. We say that there ought to be some form of taxation which provides for the collection of revenue for the nation from accumulated wealth of the kind I have just mentioned. We are not necessarily arguing on this occasion for the retention of death duties. If honourable senators opposite look at the amendment moved by the Opposition they will see that it is to the effect that these Bills should be withdrawn until such time as an alternative form of tax on capital is introduced. We are not necessarily arguing for the retention of death duties. There may well be some other form of taxation on wealth which can be applied.
If one looks at the position in the 22 countries which are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and which are the most advanced industrial countries with either a free enterprise economy, if we are to use that term, or a mixed economy- certainly the countries outside the Soviet bloc and the communist bloc- one will find that if this legislation is passed Australia will be the only one of the 22 countries which will not have death duties, a capital gains tax or a net wealth tax. Australia will have none of them. Clearly, there are no major capitalist countries or, for that matter, any very significant minor capitalist countries which are not members of the OECD. Every one of those countries, many of which have the most conservative governments, believe in the principles which Harcourt, Gladstone and Churchill adumbrated so many decades ago and which, nonetheless, still are valid today because we live in a society which needs to be regulated and in which provision of this kind has to be made and every one of them apart from Australia, as will be the situation if this amendment is defeated today, imposes one form or another of those taxes.
For example, in the United States not only are death duties payable but also a capital gains tax is payable. Both are payable. We are to have neither. The United States does not have a net wealth tax but it has both death duties and a capital gains tax. Exactly the same situation applies in the United Kingdom. Switzerland would be in many respects the paradigm of a capitalist country. I do not suppose there is any country which, when one considers the small resources which it has available to it, has been able more effectively than Switzerland to make a capitalist system work while at the same time at least providing a basic social security system. It is by no means one of the most advanced systems in Europe; equally it is by no means one of the most backward. Switzerland is a country which has been highly successful in the management of its economy. It is a country about which no one has heard it said that enterprise has been stifled or that capitalists have been forced to go elsewhere to establish their businesses. It has a peculiar constitution whereby the Cabinet is based proportionately on the representation of the parties in the parliament but it has certainly never been dominated by the fraternal party of the Australian Labor Party- the Swiss Socialist Party.
In this model capitalist country not only are there death duties and a capital gains tax but also there is a net wealth tax. All three are imposed in Switzerland. On the other hand, Austria, which has a socialist party government, a social democratic government, does not have death duties or a capital gains tax but it does have a net wealth tax. The figures in this regard are available. I do not want to go through all of them. I merely refer to Japan, which has death duties. All of those countries, in one permutation or combination of death duties or a capital gains tax or a net wealth tax, make some provision whereby capital cannot accumulate into the hands of families at the expense of the rest of the community. It may well be that after much greater consideration that has been given to the matter since the Bill was introduced the Australian Labor Party would agree with the Austrian proposal, would agree with the abolition of death duties and the imposition instead of a net wealth tax or a capital gains tax. Speaking purely from my own point of view, I would prefer a capital gains tax to a net wealth tax. It seems to me that there is something unjust in a net wealth tax that does not apply to a capital gains tax. The latter takes into account the sort of gains that people make fortuitously and not by effort, whereas a net wealth tax may well be a tax on somebody who has accumulated his wealth as a result of a completely legitimate effort on his behalf.
Whatever the merits of the matter may be, and we are not saying that we condemn in themselves the proposals in these Bills, they affect only a relatively tiny proportion of the total population of Australia. The amount of revenue derived from them is minuscule, I suppose, when one looks at a Budget like the Australian Budget. But we are concerned about the principle. We believe it is quite extraordinary that a country such as Australia, which some decades ago led the world in social legislation, which had a reputation for its egalitarianism, should be the only country of all those 22 countries to have no tax on deceased estates, no tax on capital gains, no tax on net wealth, no tax whatsoever on any of those things. We are now moving into a position which had become intolerable in Great Britain over 80 years ago. We are moving into a position where we are doing things that Senator Goldwater would not have advocated.
We do not believe that this is a correct approach to a very important problem. We believe this is a regressive measure. We believe it is a measure which allows the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. We believe it is an economically inappropriate measure in that it is not one of those things like the reduction of income tax or sales tax which can prompt people to engage in further efforts or enterprise. There is no encouragement of that sort in this Bill. We believe that it is a concession to a relatively small number of people who have been excited by Poujadistessuch as a former senator from my own State who was with us for a while- to take up an issue of this kind. Of course, one is always able to arouse a certain amount of enthusiasm from people who think that a tax is being abolished. Admittedly, in many respects the case which was put for probate duties was not put very well. I repeat that it is not the principle of probate duties that we are arguing for today. We are arguing against the principle of abolishing any tax whatsoever on wealth. I commend the amendment to the Senate.
– I should like to commence by referring to some of the remarks of Senator Wheeldon in respect of his understanding of English history and the way in which death duties have developed over the last 70 or 80 years. He referred particularly to a statement by Winston Churchill back in 1909 and made the point that Churchill said that a death tax serves two main purposes, lt serves to support the progressivity of the tax structure by the indirect means of a progressive levy on wealth once a generation. It also directly limits the growth of large inherited fortunes, a trend that most people would agree has undesirable social consequences. I put it to the previous speaker that had Churchill been alive today and considered the tax structures of today’s modern nations, and Australia’s in particular, he would not have come to that judgment.
– If you will listen I will go into that. It is quite clear that the rate of income tax applying in England in the early part of this century and in the 1 9th century and previous centuries, when the great wealth of Britain was established, was very low. I have not had time to check it but, from memory, the rate of income tax applicable in Britain at that time was something like sixpence in the pound or less.
– What year was that?
– I am talking about 1909. In that event, it seems to me to be quite inconsequential to draw the conclusion Senator Wheeldon has drawn, that whereas there may have been some consideration at that stage to establish a death duty, there would not be the same opportunity for those people who had accumulated wealth to accumulate it under the tax structures that apply today. I think that is the essential difference, and so renders his argument totally inconsequential.
– Why is Mrs Thatcher not in favour of abolishing death duties?
– I am not here to defend Mrs Thatcher. The honourable senator had his opportunity to speak on an earlier occasion and made a point concerning Winston Churchill. I have made a point in contrast. A very important element that flows from this point is the principle of equity between taxpayers. It is well known that the form of death duty operated by the Federal Government is very inefficient. It is costly to collect, and I will quote from the records of the Commissioner of Taxation to indicate the percentage of tax collected in relation to the cost of that collection for four different types of tax. In the case of personal income tax, collection costs are about one per cent of the total collected; sales tax is about 0.6 per cent of collections; gift duty is of the order of 8. 1 per cent; and estate duty is of the order of 3. 1 per cent. The proposition I put to the Senate is that in the event of there being such a disparity between the costs of collection, an inequity is imposed upon taxpayers in that those from whom it costs more to collect are in fact contributing more to the community than they ought to contribute in proportion to other taxpayers. I think it is essential to recognise that point in regard to equity.
The second matter is that the amount of money involved in regard to both estate duties and gift duties is a mere $90m; that is 0.6 per cent of the total taxation collections of the Federal Government. The point arises that some of the States will continue to apply death duties, and I believe that they are in a far better position to levy these sons of taxes than is the Federal Government. For instance, in terms of that element about which I have just spoken, the efficiency of collection and the cost of collection, the States have at their fingertips all sorts of facilities, including valuations of land and their relationship with various business regulating bodies within the community, and they are able to assess these sorts of taxes a lot more efficiently than is the Federal Government. That leads me to the point that we have had a duplicated system for far too long. As one who has been a practitioner in the field of advising people in regard to their estates generally, I can say that this has been an extremely worrying problem in terms of getting efficient processing of estate duty matters. Indeed, it has drawn out affairs for quite a deal of time. That comment applies more particularly perhaps to the State bodies. Although I have said that they are more efficient than the Federal organisations, the States still tend to take a great deal of time in handling the affairs of deceased clients.
I turn now to some more general points. Whether we like it or not, there is in the community a perceived disincentive arising from the application of death duties. People are affected by the thought that whatever they accumulate they may well lose in taxation to the government in the event of their death. People, particularly those in some key areas of the economy, refrain from developing their estates to the fullest possible extent. That comment is heard clearly whenever one talks to people in the rural community or those engaged in small buinesses. In fact, it is those two areas which have most felt the impact of federal estate and gift duties. The previous speaker mentioned that the estates of only 12 per cent of the people who die in one year are affected by federal duties. It so happens that, of that 12 per cent, most were in small businesses or rural areas. If we look at the position of farmers we find that in 1971-72, whereas farmers represented 4.6 per cent of personal income tax payers and contributed 4 per cent of income tax, they contributed 29 per cent of estate duty. That indicates quite clearly that it is this area which has been most affected by this particular form of tax.
– They are not as skilled in avoidance, Senator, are they?
– I was about to come to that point, Senator Button, because I think it is important to recognise the point that Senator Wheeldon made, that whereas equity depends upon each paying his share, the facts are that those who are in the best possible position to organise their affairs pay less in this area. It is a fact that it is more difficult for small businessmen and rural people so to organise their affairs as to be able to reduce the impact of death duties because, simply by virtue of the occupation that they follow, they need to remain in control of the factors of production- that is, the land itself, the machines that comprise the business or the property. By virtue of that fact it is quite clear that those people are disadvantaged in relation to other people in the community who have a better opportunity to organise their affairs. I believe that that is a significant thing and it is very much highlighted in everyday practice by the activities of the banks and other money lending institutions which require that sort of control to be retained by the operators of the businesses.
Let me touch on one or two other matters that relate to the whole area of these two taxes which we are discussing today in order to bring to the Senate’s attention the state of affairs in South Australia. As honourable senators would know, most of the States are moving toward the abolition of estate duty, or succession duty as it is called in South Australia. South Australia has stated that there will be definitely no movement in that area. However, in the last lear or two the State Labor Government has provided for estates passing between spouses to be free of succession duty. Whilst this is certainly a move in the right direction, it has simply exacerbated the problem that exists for many small businesses and rural people. The reason for that is quite obvious. When these sorts of assets move from a deceased male farmer to his wife, no duty is paid at that point, but on the eventual death of the wife, because of the progressive rates of tax that apply, the whole of that estate is taxed at a far higher rate than it otherwise would have been. Consequently the estate which passes to the eventual descendants, is reduced significantly, to the point of economic unviability. I believe that that is probably a very clever trick on the part of the Dunstan Government in South Australia to ensure not only that it benefits from the great ripoff by way of tax in this area, but also that rural producers are made unviable. .
It is interesting to compare that doctrinaire approach with the one of Mr Wran in New South Wales. I note that on the day following the announcement by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that estate duties were to be abolished, Mr Wran said that this was directly in line with his objectives in New South Wales. Another South Australian, Dr Blewett, a member of the House of Representatives, made his attitude on this matter quite clear in the debate on this legislation on 10 May 1978. He said that under a Labor government- heaven rue the day that occurs- there will be a reintroduction of death duties. He went on to say: . . this will be done through the reimposition of death duty, the introduction of a wealth tax, by revamping capital gains taxation or a combination of all these actions is something which will be determined in the years ahead. But of two things I am certain. One is that a tax on capital will be imposed.
So there cannot be any doubt about what the left wing regime in South Australia thinks about this matter. It is in direct conflict with the New South Wales Labor Party on this matter.
– What is the present position in New South Wales?
– I understand that the present position is that the New South Wales Government is considering the abolition of death duties in next year’s Budget. That is the undertaking at present. I conclude by congratulating the Government on what I believe to be a courageous move in the area of death duties. For the reasons outlined, I support the Bill.
I must refer to the amendment moved by the Opposition that requires an alternative form of tax on capital to be introduced. I point out to the Opposition that there are capital taxes applicable today, whether they are levied by the Federal Government or not. The State Government levies death duties, as I have just mentioned. There are land taxes applicable. There are rating systems imposed by various State governments. Of course, there is the infamous section 26 (a) of the Federal Income Tax Assessment Act which taxes capital very effectively, except for those who cannot really afford to pay it.
-The Senate is debating a number of Bills which are designed to implement the Government’s undertaking, given at the 1977 election, to abolish estate duty and gift duty. The Opposition opposes this legislation largely on the grounds which are suggested by the amendment. The Opposition has moved that the Bills be withdrawn until such time as an alternative form of tax on capital is introduced. For reasons which I propose to show, we find the Government’s position on this matter extraordinary. We find it extraordinary not so much because the Government has again bowed to what one might describe as fashion in relation to this matter but because all the advice, or a very large proportion of the advice, which the Government has commissioned on this question has been against the abolition of death duties and estate duties, and also because the situation which I have described, of the abolition of these duties without the implementation of some form of capital gains tax, will make this country unique in the Western world. That is a matter to which I wish to turn.
The important political point is this: In the 1977 policy speech the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), when he committed himself to the abolition of death and estate duties, also made much fuss about the importance of Australian society being motivated by a principle of reward for virtue. It was said over and over again in various forms that it was important to encourage initiative, excellence and hard work by offering appropriate rewards. That is not a principle with which we in the Opposition disagree. But we find that principle entirely inconsistent with the abolition of these duties which, of course, will result in people being remunerated in significant ways by receiving substantial rewards for which, in a personal sense, there has been no effort, no initiative, and no striving towards excellence on the part of the beneficiaries of those sums of money, estates, and so on. The Government will have no further say and will play no further part in collecting towards Consolidated Revenue a proportion of wealth which has been gained in that way.
I give the Senate a specific example: It seems to us extraordinary that a Government presided over by Malcolm Fraser, a Prime Minister who talked in his policy speech about what I think he called the fifth freedom, namely, the freedom to spend one’s own earnings as one wishes- a government which is committed to that sort of principle- should countenance legislation such as this. For example, this legislation provides that the family of a man who might happen to fly over Western Australia in an aeroplane, see a lump of iron ore and as a consequence amass a multi-million dollar fortune- one could make some comments about the personal effort involved in acquiring that sort of fortune- could on that man’s death become beneficiaries of that fortune without any portion of it coming to the Commonwealth of Australia in the form of estate or death duty. Apparently the Government sees nothing inconsistent in that. We believe that there are serious ideological inconsistencies in the Government’s position on this legislation.
It is not just the principle regarding taxes upon estates which was announced by people such as Sir Winston Churchill in the early years of this century, when he described these taxes as being legitimate and fair’ taxes, which is important. As the late Professor Downing put it in his contribution to the book Taxation in Australia: Agenda for Reform, the important and quite simple fact is: . . property confers advantages on its owner independent of and additional to the income it yields.
Of course it does. Property confers power in Australian society. It confers the capacity to borrow money on attractive terms. It confers the capacity to involve oneself in business enterprises in a way in which that capacity is not conferred on people who are not recipients of large sums of money of that kind. So all sorts of problems flow from the amassing of wealth and the passing on of that wealth without any duty being payable to the Commonwealth Government. There are not only problems of principle, as one might put it, but also I believe there are very real practical problems when one has regard to the fact that the abolition of those duties, I understand, will leave the Australian Taxation Office in a relatively deprived position as it will not be able to obtain information about aggregations of wealth in this country compared with its present situation.
I said that the passing of this legislation would leave this country in a unique position. I refer the Senate to some documentation in support of that argument. I shall turn firstly, to the situation in Canada but, before doing so, I remind the Senate that, as I have suggested, if this legislation is passed Australia will have one of the least equitable taxation systems in the Western world. Not only is the matter of equity important but also, as I pointed out, the matter of wealth distribution is important. After all, duties of this kind are a progressive tax; they are not regressive. Presumably in collecting revenue they have to be substituted by regressive taxes of one kind or another.
I illustrate what I was saying about other countries by referring to Canada. When estate duty was abolished in 1972 Canada brought in a comprehensive capital gains tax at exactly the same time. That tax filled the vacuum which was left by the abolition of estate duty. Ireland, where estate duty was abolished in 1975, introduced a capital acquisitions tax- an inheritance tax, as the Irish call it- which includes gifts which had been covered by the former estate duty if made in the five years prior to the death of the donor.
Ireland also introduced a net wealth tax and a capital gains tax. I might say that Ireland is often the butt of stories which Irishmen might properly regard as offensive and which suggest that Ireland in some way is a backward country. What will a taxation expert of international repute say about us after this legislation is passed, when he compares our situation with the situation in Ireland? There new legislation was substituted for the abolished estate duty legislation.
– What is the standing of any taxation expert to whom you refer? What relevance has he to our judgment?
-I am sorry. Perhaps I should not have said taxation expert. I probably should have said anybody with an intelligent interest in this subject matter. I was not trying to set up a jury as it were. Anyone with an intelligent interest in this matter would be capable of reaching that conclusion.
– I believe such experts do exist.
-Yes. I turn from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom which, in 1974 and 1975, replaced its estate duty with a new capital transfers tax. The new tax blocked the avoidance loopholes in the former estate duty by taxing gifts, providing for accumulation and the more effective taxation of discretionary trusts. In Finland, Denmark, Japan and Sweden the method of taxing aggregations of wealth is by a capital gains tax, with a method of deferred liability. As I understand the manner in which that system works- I gained this information from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development publication The Taxation of Capital Gains, published in October 1 977- the gains are not taxed at the actual death, when there is no actual realisation, but they do not escape tax altogether. The successor of the deceased is treated as having acquired the asset at the cost at which it was in fact acquired by the deceased. When the successor of the deceased disposes of the asset tax is payable on the whole of the gain arising since the deceased first purchased the asset. As I understand it, that is the method called deferred liability which applies in Denmark, Finland, Japan and Sweden and which is ancillary, as it were, to a normal capital gains tax operating in those countries.
I have mentioned a number of countries which one might normally regard as being of equivalent economic sophistication to a country like Australia. When this legislation is passed, I think that it can properly be said that Australia is not of equivalent economic sophistication to those countries in respect of its taxation system. Of course, it is very easy for Government senators to say in this chamber: ‘The tax structure in Australia is all out of kilter. It is all wrong. One of the means of reforming that tax structure is to abolish death and estate duties’. I submit that that is not an argument which has anything to do with death and estate duties. It is an argument in regard to the repeated failure of governments of various political persuasions over many years to grapple with the problem of the tax structure in this country.
Governments have made tentative efforts to tackle the problem of the tax structure. It was perhaps first done in a significant way in 1972. The then Treasurer, the Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, announced on 11 April 1972 that the Government had decided to institute a full scale public inquiry by a committee to be appointed to examine the operation of the taxation system which would put the Government in a better position to have an overall look at tax policy. Senator Wright and I a few days ago had what I trust was a friendly exchange about what happens to reports on matters of this kind presented to this Parliament. The committee was then set up- it subsequently became known as the Asprey Committeeby the Liberal-National Country Party Government for the specific purpose of undertaking an overall examination of tax policy. Government senators have complained in the Senate today about estate and death duty legislation which is a minuscule segment, but an important symbolic segment in my view, of overall tax policy. They justify their criticisms of the current legislation regarding estate and death duties on the basis that the whole tax structure is wrong.
Of course, this question has to be asked: What are those same honourable senators doing about the whole tax structure? What are they doing about the report of the Asprey committee which was supposed to look at the whole tax structure in this country. When dealing particularly with the abolition of estate and death duties, the Asprey committee made one or two comments. Before referring to any specific quotations from the report of the Asprey Committee let me say this: The Committee tackled one of the problems to which I believe Senator Messner referred, that is, the quite important and legitimate grievance of farmers. The method of abolishing estate and death duties to solve the particular difficulties of farmers in those matters is like getting an elephant to crack a nut, if I may use that expression. The Asprey Committee took the view that all these matters could be remedied by the introduction of sensible legislation. Such legislation would alleviate the position of rural producers. As I understand it, in the view of the Asprey Committee, there is almost nothing that cannot be done by virtue of a little initiative in amending the existing legislation to assist particular situations of hardship.
Of course, the Opposition is concerned about those particular situations of hardship. We are also concerned about the consequences of this legislation being passed through the Senate because, as I said earlier, it will allow large aggregations of wealth to slip through the net without the imposition of any duty. That is bad in principle. It is bad for society and it is something which this Government or any government ought to be prepared to tackle either while the people who collect that aggregation of wealth are alive or when they are dead. That is the important principle as we see it.
– But it is proposed that there should be no net.
– That is so. I said earlier that Professor Downing has drawn attention to the benefits which were conferred on the holders of large sums of money in addition to the actual income from those large sums of money. The Treasury, a maligned- and sometimes properly so- but nonetheless significant and important source of Government advice on this matter, has had a number of things to say about the desirability of the abolition of estate and death duties. In Treasury taxation paper No. 1 1 , the Treasury has taken the view- it seems to me to be rather harsh- in relation to the position of farmers.
– What date?
– Perhaps I could give the honourable senator the date later. I do not have a note of the date at the moment. The Treasury had this to say:
Forced sale of farms may aid rather than hinder rural reconstruction by permitting the consolidation of small or inefficient holdings. Indeed, if the business or farm is an efficient economic unit, the liability to estate duty can usually be met by borrowing against the potential future income of the asset.
That is a Treasury comment. I regard it as a rather cold bureaucratic sort of comment from economic advisers. Much more is involved in the problems which rural producers face than just that question of what is glibly called reconstruction. Further observations about the abolition of estate and death duties are made in other parts of the Treasury taxation paper No. 1 1 which is dated December 1 974, 1 inform Senator Wright. Senator Georges has just drawn the date to my attention. I refer the Senate to those statements in Treasury taxation paper No. 1 1 insofar as they deal with this specific problem. They are simply these:
If Australia had no death duties and did not impose any other form of capital tax, Australia would be in an exceptional position on this aspect of capacity to pay. It would be the only advanced western country levying no other direct tax apart from income tax.
Another portion of the document states:
The estate duty system enables the taxpayer, after paying his income tax, to enjoy for his lifetime the benefit of any savings he makes and duty on the capital value of his estate would not be taken until after his death, when it, in effect, becomes income in a broad sense to somebody else and that somebody else bears the tax.
The paper goes on to state:
Estate duties are, however, important and basic in the tax system. They serve socio-economic objectives which may include the desire (i) to reduce inequalities in the distribution of wealth, or progressive growth in such inequalities, and possibly of the resulting distribution of income, and (ii) to provide a reasonable approximation to equality of opportunity for all individuals.
I thought that those matters which I have just quoted from the Treasury taxation paper were matters to which Mr Malcolm Fraser was committed in 1 977.I thought that he was committed to reward for virtue and to reward for hard work. I did not believe that he was committed to very substantial rewards free of duty for no work at all. That is the effect of this legislation and that is the effect which is pointed out in the quotation which I have just read from taxation paper No. 11 of the Treasury. I have referred to three specific matters which concern the Opposition in relation to this legislation. It is wrong in principle for the reason which I have just illustrated by way of the quotations from the Treasury papers, it is contrary to the advice of the Government ‘s own advisers in terms of the report of the Asprey Committee, which was to have an overall look at tax policy in Australia, and it is totally contrary to the advice of the Treasury paper on estate duty and gift duty. I repeat that it is wrong in principle and it is contrary to the advice of those two papers to which I referred.
As well as being wrong in principle and contrary to that advice it is totally contrary to the experience of the other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and all other countries of equivalent economic sophistication in the Western world. While the citadels of capitalism, as some people on the far Left might call them, like the United States and similar countries are going one way Australia is going the other way in relation to this matter. While they are introducing wealth taxes and while they are introducing a capital gains tax, we are by this legislation abolishing the last vestige of tax on the aggregations of wealth in this country. That is the third reason why we oppose the legislation. It is wrong in principle, it is contrary to advice received and it is contrary to the experience of all other member countries of the OECD and the Western world. It is contrary to the experience of the other countries to which I have referred.
Fourthly, we say that it is wrong in the light of the Fraser Government’s own rationale and it is wrong in the light of the Fraser Government’s own philosophy as we are capable of divining it from the policy speech and as we are capable of understanding it. This is not what the people of Australia were promised. As I have said, they were promised a reward for work and not the abolition of a form of taxation as a reward for no work, which is precisely what they are getting as a result of this legislation. The fact of the matter is that the introduction of this legislation is one of the very few policy speech promises which the Prime Minister of this country has kept. Why has he kept this one? Because, as he put it in his policy speech, estate duty has caused distress and hardship to thousands of Australian families, to small businesses and to farmers. So what! So has taxation. The whole taxation system in this country has caused distress to all of those people. The Government is not going to solve the basic problem just by fiddling around with estate duty so that people can aggregate wealth. The fact of the matter is that the abolition of estate duty and probate duty has become a popular and fashionable issue- a band wagon on which Mr Fraser has jumped or a wagon to which he has hitched his star.
I only have suspicions about it but quite early in the piece, a few years ago, an organisation known as the Women’s Electoral Lobby, whichI regard as an important and exemplary organisation in Australian society and an organisation which has made a vital contribution to the democratic life of this country, became hung up about the abolition of death duty between spouses. The members of that organisation suddenly got it into their heads that the little woman should get it all without any government interference, without any death duty or estate duty being payable. For some reason the Mrs Lang Hancocks of this world, if there is such a person, should get all the multi-million dollars that her husband earned so hard by flying over Western Australia in an aeroplane! They said she should get it all because it was only fair to her to have it all. Of all people, the first person to catch up with this cry from the Women’s Electoral Lobby was Mr BjelkePetersen in Queensland. He was one of the first people to introduce this type of legislation and it is now- if I might paraphrase the Bible- more difficult for a rich man to get into Surfers Paradise because of the abolition of this legislation than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Surfers Paradise has been crowded out by people who have gone there to avoid the death duties applicable in other States. The abolition of those duties is fashionable. As Senator Messner said, Mr Wran will abolish the payment of death duties in New South Wales. Perhaps the Tasmanian Government will abolish them. All these things–
– It has never said so. It has its tentacles in at every stage.
-I will wait until the Tasmanian Budget is brought down and then see what happens. The fact of the matter is that all I said is that it is possible that the Tasmanian Government will abolish death duties. I am sorry if I was misinterpreted in any way. The fact of the matter is that the abolition of death duties is very fashionable. Mr Fraser caught the fashionable mood and decided that this was one way of explaining to the world his sympathy and concern for all those people about whom he talked in his policy speech. All I am saying is that it is a phoney way of showing his sympathy and concern. If he really wants to show it he should grapple with the issues which are raised in the Asprey Committee’s report and not do it in this way. THe fact that State governments regard it as fashionable to abolish death duties, the fact that schmaltzy sorts of cases can be made out about it by individual groups in this community, is not a reason for doing it when one considers the principles involved, when one considers the rationale of this Government in terms of its own policies, when one considers what is happening overseas and when one considers what the advice of this Government has been. In those circumstances the Opposition opposes the legislation. We think that death and estate duty should be abolished only in the context of introducing some other tax on wealth in this community for the very real reason that, as we all know and perhaps sometimes like to forget, the very possession of wealth does not mean just that one has more money to spend. It means that one is a much more powerful and influential citizen in this country. That is something with which we have to concern ourselves.
– What an incredible philosophy.
– The honourable senator ought to try it some time. He might do better than he has done to date. The fact of the matter is that it is true. It is true in terms of the statements of the honourable senator’s leader. Senator Lewis ought to make a special effort to try to reconcile his own silly interjection with Mr Fraser’s policy speech. It will be an interesting exercise indeed. The Opposition opposes the legislation for the four basic reasons which I have indicated in the course of my contribution to this debate.
– I rise to support the Estate Duty Assessment Amendment Bill and the associated Bills - the Gift Duty Assessment Bill and Gift Duty Amendment Bill- which are before the Senate this afternoon. I want to be as brief as possible. As a prelude to the few remarks I want to make I shall refer to just a couple of the things that have been said by Senator Wheeldon and echoed in some way or other by Senator Button. In the first place I think it should be recognised that the abolition of estate duty and the gift duties surrounding it was one of the major platforms and one of the significant platforms in the last election campaign. Quite clearly, more than just the rich, the privileged or those who had inherited great things must have voted for this concept because a very large majority of Australians returned the Fraser-Anthony Government. Clearly, a very significant majority of Australians across the whole canvas of our community supported this proposal along with the many other propositions which were put and which are being carried out. Senator Wheeldon earlier in the piece spoke of estate duty as an inheritance tax. I suppose that from one point of view that is clearly what it is. But he spoke of it as an inheritance tax as if inheritance itself were some sort of foul, evil thing. I think Australians in general have gradually grown to recognise that that is not the case in a free society. Inheritance is part of a free society and a part that needs to be guarded so that that society can develop to its maximum.
It is interesting to notice that Senator Button and Senator Wheeldon, although I thought both were totally against the abolition of estate duty, have more or less said: ‘We do not oppose the abolition of estate duty as long as we can get rid of it and re-impose or introduce some form of capital gains tax in its place. In other words the Opposition is prepared to do away with one disincentive so long as the Government provides the opportunity to implement in its place another disincentive or anti-progressive element. Mr Deputy President, I ask you to remember when inheritance is being referred to as more or less an evil that those who have produced the inheritance, whatever it may be, have paid taxes directly and indirectly on its development throughout their lives. Those who receive the inheritance will continue to pay taxes directly and indirectly on it throughout their lives. So no inheritance is bereft of tax. It has been taxed throughout the entire time of its compilation.
Senator Wheeldon went on to say that he thought perhaps there was a good argument for the reduction of sales tax. Of course there is. I do not suppose there is anyone in this Government in either House who would not like to reduce sales tax, but it can and will be reduced only as the circumstances of the economy permit it to be, circumstances which must allow the Government to raise the funds that are necessary to carry out its commitments. It is a desirable circumstance to reduce sales tax but it has to be viewed in the light of the capacity of the Government to meet its many and varied responsibilities.
I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that in abolishing estate duty and the gift duty that surrounds it the Government is honouring yet another- I mark the words ‘yet another’- of its election promotions or undertakings. Indeed, it has carried out a significant number of the undertakings that were given in 1975 and again in 1977. Senator Button implied that this was not the case. Without going through a whole list of achievements, honourable senators will recall that the inflation rate was reduced from something like 14 per cent to perhaps 6 or 7 per cent in two years. This is perhaps the most remarkable contribution that the Government has been able to achieve in honouring the undertakings it made when it came to office nearly three years ago. The abolition of estate duties, as we are aware, dates back to 2 1 November of last year. But more than that, there was an undertaking that there will be a total abolition from 1 July 1979. In addition, the Government has already moved in regard to benefits that may pass from grandparents to grandchildren. This is a significant benefit.
In view of the earlier damaging references about inheritance being some form of evil I ask whether the Senate considers inheritance to be relevant to the concept of the family. The family unit is still the basic unit of this free society and we tend to guard it in that capacity. It is my view that inheritance, the family unit and the abolition of death duties are virtually one and the same concept; that one is significant and definitely referable to the others. I believe it is also worth observing that in the last year or two practically every State government in Australia has taken some sort of step towards the abolition of estate duty. I remind the Senate that the first and most significant- in fact the ultimate- step was taken by the Government of Queensland on 1 January, I think, 1977.
– That is significant.
– Yes, it is significant because it has caused Mr Wran in New South Wales to talk of abolishing estate duty in that State. He is suggesting that he will do that purely and simply because massive amounts of capital investment and massive numbers of job opportunities are moving out of his State into a State where the opportunity to develop is considerably freer. I think that Australians should be aware of this. The Labor Government in New South Wales and the governments in other States are already foreshadowing the possibility of the abolition of estate duty. In all the other States there has been a definite undertaking that death duty will be abolished in the relatively near future and in some it has been abolished in part already.
The size of the estate may well have little to do with the capacity of an estate to pay. The capacity to pay surely is largely relevant to the liquidity element in that estate. The tragedy of much of this duty over the years has been the destruction of estates- small, medium and large. I emphasise the area of the small and medium estates. Under the tax situation that exists in New South Wales today an estate of a mere $35,000 attracts a duty liability of something approaching $3,000. Had it not been for the abolition of federal estate duty in that area it would attract something in the vicinity of $4,500.
Senator Button referred to the need for tax reform. I put the attitude to the Senate that this abolition of estate duty and gift duty is a significant tax reform because it resolves that there should not be continuing and extra taxation on the dead. People pay tax totally and absolutely through their lives, often at an increasing rate. The concept of continuing that taxation on the product of those lives or livelihoods is a concept that a significant number of Australians have now thrown out the window. They want no more of it. In producing this legislation the Government is producing a measure of tax reform. The Government’s history in this area is significant indeed.
Already in the last Budget it has introduced the three-tier system of income tax which is probably the most dramatic change in principle of income taxation, the greatest incentive to an enormous range of wage and salary earners that has ever been introduced into an Australian Budget. Indeed, the Government has abolished the limit of $16,000 on income averaging. It has enabled people to move in and out of the averaging system. This means that nobody will pay more income tax on a specific income than anybody else. That has not always been the circumstance. In the lifetime of this Government it has introduced tax reform in clear areas- the family allowances system; the full indexation of income taxation, which was righting one of the rip-offs of the Whitlam era; the tax cuts of February 1977; and the total indexation of pensions to the full consumer price index. These reforms- I ask honourable senators to mark the word ‘reforms’- in the taxation area have cost the Australian Government and saved the Australian people something like $2 billion in one full year. They are significant indeed.
The Opposition this afternoon has highlighted the fact that the sort of abolition that we propose and which will be brought about when these Bills are passed is not found all around the world. This form of estate duty is still maintained in many countries in the developed world. The Opposition puts that fact forward as an argument against the abolition. Is Australia to continually tie herself to what is seen to be the circumstance necessary in other countries or can Australia, in the taxation field, prove herself to be an innovator? If Australia is one of the few developed countries that has seen fit to abolish this tax, she moves into the lead in that field of taxation and becomes an innovator. I believe we should be proud of the circumstance rather than continually decry it.
Estate duty tax was introduced in this country in 1914 as a method of raising revenue in a wartime circumstance. That was one year before income tax itself was introduced. The tax was quickly grabbed by socialist theorists as a measure of equalising the wealth distribution. I suppose in the very early stages the tax may have had some significance partly because wealth was perhaps more dominantly in fewer hands than it is today where it is to be found across the whole canvass of the Australian socio-economic community. Today matters in that relation have changed considerably. This form of taxation has been seen as some sort of instrument to enact a socialist dream of equality and equalisation. But people have recognised that such a dream has no place for human nature. It is not capable of being arrived at. This legislation is a useful and proper way of combating that sort of disaster which, incidentally, lasted for some three years in this country.
Ultimately I briefly look at what has been done over the years by the implementation of estate duty and the gift duties that accompany it. I suppose one could say without any shadow of doubt that it has brought about an extraordinarily lucrative area of operation for those professions of accountancy and law. Like a lot of socialist institutions, such as the socialisation of medicine, one of the ironies is that the practitioners are among the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, in our country. This is one of the fascinating ironies of socialism. I think it is worth while that we should be aware of some of the things that this form of taxation has produced. In the form of revenue it has produced less than one per cent at great cost. Senator Messner indicated the cost of collection. It has produced, unquestionably, a large measure of human hardship across a wide field of people involved in the medium down to the small area of development. These are the people who very often have been forced to sell assets whether they be landed assets or assets of a rural estate or of an industrial nature. The forced sales were probably made at ridiculously low prices and so contributed nothing to the economy but disaster to those who had built up the assets. It has, in fact, destroyed in many cases economic units. It has caused a circumstance in which the capital and labour being expended are no longer being expended at a point anywhere near the optimum.
The tax has been a disincentive to development and consequently a destroyer of job opportunities. It has caused great numbers in our community to concentrate as years go by on retaining a significant measure of liquidity in order that the beneficiaries of an estate may be able to receive a significant part of it. By forcing that sort of liquidity on the community, the community has been denied significant development opportunities and job opportunities. More serious than that I believe it has, in a number of industries particularly across the whole canvas of rural Australia, tended to drive generations of expertise and knowledge out of the industry. This is one of the areas which can seldom be replaced and certainly cannot be replaced in the short term. It has created a significant problem to productivity and to the societies and communities of rural Australia.
A few moments ago I said that the tax was relatively insignificant as a raiser of revenue. Once it is abolished it is my belief that the revenue will suffer very little and certainly only in the short term because the eradication of the problems that are relevant to estate duty will be an incentive to initiative and development and will produce a greater national product and consequently a greater return in the income tax field. So the loss of revenue is probably a red herring which has been dragged across the road in this discussion.
I do not want to talk at any further length. I merely close my remarks by saying that the abolition of this form of taxation carries out an undertaking of the Government. It will enable a greater measure of initiative and consequently greater productivity and job opportunities to come into this country. Productivity and job opportunities are essential today. Individuals will be able to use what they are able to make as they see fit and will deny perhaps a certain level of taxation in that area to a government on the grounds that an individual and groups of individuals have more right to spend what they can justifiably and legally make than the state. There is no reason to assume that the state is the great provider, the great source of all knowledge, the body that should be entrusted with the expenditure of masses of money made purely by the individual. The state can provide no more than it takes from the individual. The tragedy of this country has largely been the level of taxation. On that ground it is not surprising that the Opposition should be opposing this legislation for it is notoriously a party of high taxation. Any form of taxation being denied to the Treasury is anathema to it.
It is fascinating when I reflect that Senator Wheeldon said it would be a good idea to reduce sales tax which, of course, is an indirect tax. Yet I seem to recall that in the last year of the Labor Government, when Mr Hayden was Treasurer, indirect taxation was increased by about $600m. So the Opposition’s amendment results from a strange twist of the imagination to suit this afternoon ‘s debate. I have pleasure in supporting the legislation and opposing the amendment.
– The amendment proposed by the Opposition to the Estate Duty Assessment Amendment Bill 1978 and associated Bills states:
Leave out all words after ‘that’, insert ‘these Bills be withdrawn until such time as an alternative form of tax on capital is introduced ‘.
This is a deliberate amendment, designed to make certain that one form of revenue collection is not dismantled until such time as it can be compensated for by what honourable senators on this side would consider to be a much more just way of raising revenue from the aggregated wealth of individuals. We know all the abusesthey have been explained by honourable senators on both sides- that are inherent in the present legislation. From time to time these abuses- one can term them abuses- have been eased by amendments such as the lifting of exemptions and by introducing legislation which has made more tolerant the arrangement between a person and his or her spouse. If the present legislation is to remain it is necessary for progressive reforms to be made. I think that what members of the Opposition have been trying to impress on the Senate today is that, having accepted that there are substantial problems with this legislation because of the various evasive devices that are available to a special and privileged few, we should be seeking a method by which we can apply some tariff or tax upon the accumulated wealth of a person as he progresses through life. It has been accepted that the person alone cannot achieve that wealth. He needs the support of others; he needs the support of society; and he needs the support of the state in order to accumulate that wealth. Land taxes, I think it would be accepted, are continual taxes upon the net worth of a person as far as his land holdings are concerned. That idea could be extended to other areas of net worth. Surely there can be no dispute that society has a need to maintain itself, to defend itself, to educate itself and to keep itself healthy by these avenues of taxation. We say that the present estate duty legislation is faulty but it should not be dismissed unitl such time as an alternative tax has been introduced.
We have been panicked into the abolition of these duties, I believe, because of the decision taken by the Queensland Premier. I do not say the Queensland Government, but the Queensland Premier who is a representative of the Queensland Government. In fact, I could say that by the method under which he operates he is the Queensland Government. He made a firm decision which was to his great personal advantage. He decided to abolish death duties for the reasons indicated by Senator Scott. He wanted to create a situation where moneys would flow into Queensland. Having taken that important decision unilaterally- so much for this federalism policy of which Senator Carrick so often speaks- to create a haven from death duties in Queensland, every other State in self-defence needed to follow, even Tasmania. Moneys will flow as people move to protect themselves from estate duties which may still exist in their States. If it were necessary for each State to follow the despicable Queensland initiative taken by the Queensland Premier, surely it is even more necessary that the Commonwealth should retain these taxes until such time as an alternative tax is introduced.
An amendment has been moved by the eloquent Senator John Wheeldon. His eloquence is to the advantage of this chamber and to the advantage of us all. His recall is extraordinary. In today’s debate I think he put the case fairly clearly. It is hard to refute the arguments which he presented. We put the case that these duties need to be retained until such time as an alternative is achieved. Senator Wheeldon suggested several alternatives. But make no mistake about it, the New South Wales Government was forced to follow the Queensland Premier’s decision because, as the New South Wales Premier said, there was a flow of moneys from New South Wales into Queensland. There would be a flow of moneys from Victoria and from all other States if Queensland alone became a haven from death duties. Such is the nature of the individual in this society, who seeks to protect beyond his death the assets that he has accumulated, having made no provision in his own time for the protection, education and support of members of his family who have had to survive themselves by their own efforts.
– You do not think the assets should carry through to the next generation?
– I believe that one has to watch very carefully just how those assets flow because the aggregation of wealth in this way could mean that surpluses would accumulate in the hands of the few to the great disadvantage of the many. Within only a few generations we would find examples in Australia of the situation that exists in some European countries where some families have a massive accumulation of wealth and a multitude of families have very little. So much for the protection of the family, Senator Scott.
The Federal Government is now doing exactly what Mr Bjelke-Petersen did, but in an international way. We would create in Australia a haven for many people from overseas, who seek to exempt themselves from or to avoid the death duties in those many developed countries that Senator Wheeldon enumerated. That is what will happen. There will be a flood of alien capital into this country. We will find that our land and assets will become alienated and, if I may be allowed to exaggerate a little, we will become slaves to that type of capital. I believe that although in the short term this would be advantageous, in the long term it would be disadvantageous to the type of society which we have endeavoured to create and, I think, have succeeded in creating. The Iwasaki project in Queensland, a Japanese project, involving many millions of dollars, which has been criticised in this place has, I think, been somewhat prompted and assisted by the fact that in Queensland there are no longer such imposts as death duties. I do not doubt that Mr Iwasaki would like those assets to flow, without any limitation whatsoever, to his family. I believe that the case has been well put by speakers on this side of the Senate.
I make one further point. I find it extremely difficult to understand how any Government supporter or any member of the Senate can vote on such a proposition. It must be a terrible bind to have to vote on a proposition which may, in some cases, mean a difference of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. How can any honourable senator in this place vote for this legislation without first establishing an alternative way by which his wealth can be taxed. There is no doubt that members of this Parliament, more likely on the Government side than on the Opposition side -
-That is the nature of the two parties. One party defends those who have and the other defends those who have not. Therefore those who are likely to be affected -
– What about ex-State parliamentarians?
– I presume the honourable senator is talking about pensionable parliamentarians?
-No, the $21 1,000 in a lump sum.
– If any member of Parliament is in the position where he will obtain $200,000 in a lump sum by way of pension, he ought not to be voting on this legislation. He has an interest that will be of benefit to him to the extent of perhaps half that amount. It would be more ethical for parliamentarians in respect of this sort of legislation to establish firstly the alternative which the Opposition is proposing before they vote on it. I wonder in what position the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) found himself when he voted on this legislation. I am certain that the Premier of Queensland gained substantially, not by thousands of dollars but by hundreds of thousands of dollars, as a result of the legislation which he prompted and forced through the Queensland Parliament. I ask honourable senators to consider that the course the Opposition is proposing is the only reasonable course to take. It is that these Bills be withdrawn until such time as an alternative form of tax on capital is introduced.
-We have had three speakers for the Opposition in the debate on this matter this afternoon. Senator Georges has just said that the Opposition has put forward this deliberately designed amendment so that this tax will not be dismantled until there is an alternative tax to replace it. Senator Georges puts his arguments as though the Opposition is trying to have two bob each way. In fact, of course, the Opposition had all its money on an outsider called payroll tax which fell at the first hurdle in December 1977 and is still trying to recover. We heard Senator Button, engage in his usual personal and vitriolic attack on the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), this time for carrying out the terms of the promise made prior to the last election. We are used to Senator Button’s vitriolic attacks on the Prime Minister. This time he extended the attack to a Mr Lang Hancock, apparently for discovering minerals in Western Australia and made a personal attack on all wealth, indeed on people in this country trying to make a quid and hand it on to their children. Senator Button put forward that proposition as an attack on all people trying to pass on some assets to their children. I suggest that his proposition is out of all step with the opinions of the people of Australia.
Earlier in the debate Senator Wheeldon made a very reasonable and sensible speech which was quite up to the usual standard which I have come to expect from him. Unfortunately, it was based on wrong principles. During the course of his speech I put this to him and he acknowledged my comments. Senator Wheeldon ‘s argument was based on the need to break up the great landed estates. He made it perfectly clear that this legislation originated in England with that purpose in mind. He acknowledged that in England there was inheritance going back many centuries. But, of course, Australia has no great landed estates. We have not had any since the 1 890s. What we had after the 1 890s were cut to ribbons by this particular iniquitous tax which we have put up with for 64 years since it was introduced in 1914 as a temporary measure to finance our contribution to World War I. Senator Wheeldon acknowledged this fact because, in the course of his speech, he mentioned that Australia already is an egalitarian society. That is true. The vast majority of people in Australia own their own homes and have a few assets which they are putting together and endeavouring to pass on to their children. They have been concerned for many years about the iniquity of this tax and the problems they have had to go through to overcome them.
I refer to Senator Wheeldon ‘s comments about the great landed estates of England and ask: What are they in Australia? In Australia we have dairy farmers with great landed estates consisting usually of perhaps 250 to 300 acres of land carrying about 100 cows with a house and improvements, probably worth between $ 120,000 to $ 140,000. Similarly, we have people who are running fat cattle or fat sheep on perhaps 600 acres of cheaper land with fewer outbuildings but with a home on it- again worth perhaps $120,000 to $140,000. Would these be the great landed estates we are talking about? Surely these people are entitled to own that sort of asset on which to run their farms. After all the farmer’s most important asset is capital. Unfortunately, a farmer must have land and he must have stock or some other form of plant or livestock in order to make money. An architect can have a licence; a lawyer can be admitted to practice; a doctor can have his qualifications but to be a farmer one must own land or have access to land. Accordingly, to be a farmer, one must have what appears on the surface to be wealth.
I acknowledge that there are farmers in this community who have assets which would greatly exceed the $ 120,000 to $ 1 50,000 which I suggest the average farmer would have. Of course, we do not know what their liabilities are. The problems Sir William Gunn is having in Queensland quite clearly indicate that the members of the rural community in this country are suffering terribly from the liabilities they incur in order to maintain their land and their livestock. I know of many instances of the difficulties people have had. I know of one family of three sons who worked on a dairy farm with their mother and father. They worked on it before they went to school in the morning and after they came home from school in the evenings. In due course, in the late 1950s, when death duties were at a very high rate and land values were also very high, they lost their father and within a fairly short time they lost their mother. This was at a time when there was no quick succession rebate. Consequently within a period of some 1 8 months they faced double death duties because of the death of their mother and father. Those three fellows staggered on for 15 or 16 years until 1975. They were never able to pay off the amount of money they had borrowed to pay the death duties occasioned by the loss of their parents, and the three years of inflation under the Labor Government finished them. The result is that the three men now work in various labouring jobs. Their farm was sold and in 1975-76 they eventually paid off the death duties incurred in the late 1950s. I know of another family where, when the husband was alive, he and his wife farmed their property very effectively. It was a large property and they farmed it with the aid of five assistants. Since the husband died the wife has had to cut back until she is now running the property with the aid of two men. In her seventies, she is unable to keep going and at this stage must sell the farm property in order to pay the death duties that are still outstanding by way of borrowings.
This is an iniquitous tax that has been imposed for many years. I could recite dozens of examples of the problems that people have had to face because of this terrible tax. It does not affect only people on the land, but I would like to refer to one statistic about people on the land. Only about 6 per cent of the Australian community are farmers but they pay about 36 per cent of the revenue collected in death duties. Farmers must have capital to carry on. Many people in Victoria and throughout Australia have been fighting for years to have this tax abolished. I would like to pay a special tribute to two of my colleagues in Victoria, Mr Reynolds Rippon and Mr Phillip Russell, who have spoken long and often in opposition to the tax. It was a great day for them when the Prime Minister announced that the tax would be abolished.
The Labor Party has put forward as an amendment- Senator Georges referred to this matter- that an alternative form of tax on capital be introduced. I would like to know what sort of tax on capital the Labor Party is talking about. Labor senators use vague words, but I would rather that the people of Australia understood what they were talking about. On their proposition, a person with assets of say, $100,000, which is not much more than a house, a couple of cars, furniture and perhaps a few quid in the bank, if he pays tax at an annual rate of one per cent, would be required to pay $1,000 a year. A farmer with assets worth $ 1 50,000, if he pays tax at one per cent, would be required to pay $ 1,500 a year. There would be no question of whether or not he has the income with which to pay the tax. As a farmer he may have incurred losses in that year. For all we know, he may have been down the drain by many thousands of dollars as a result of drought or some other seasonal problems. But the Labor Party would have him trying to meet a payment of tax on his capital.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– The Bills which are the subject of this cognate debate abolish estate duty and gift duty in respect of property passing to and gifts made to spouse, children and grandchildren. Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was giving some examples of the iniquities of the tax, which was introduced as a temporary measure 64 years ago to assist our country in its conduct of the First World War. I was drawing attention to the particular iniquities for farmers and I was pointing out that to be a farmer a fundamental requirement is to have capital. A farmer simply must have capital in order to carry on his job. He must have land, stock and plant. That is why this tax has created so much difficulty for peole on the land. People on the land make up only about 6 per cent of the taxable population of Australia but they have been contributing about 36 per cent of the death duty revenues collected by the Federal and State governments.
In England the purpose of estate duty and gift duty legislation had been to break up the great landed estates, but I pointed out to the Senate that there are no great landed estates in Australia; they are mostly small properties. Those of us who have any knowledge of what is happening in rural areas of Australia will appreciate that all the efforts of governments are being directed to an amalgamation of properties to make them larger so that they can be run more economically and so that greater profits can be earned, so as to make them reasonable concerns instead of being, as they have been for many years, properties from which it has been difficult to make more than a bare, meagre living.
Before the suspension I had just turned to the Opposition’s proposal which is set out in an amendment. The Opposition proposes that these Bills be withdrawn until such time as an alternative form of tax on capital is introduced. What Opposition members have made clear in this debate is that they want some form of tax on wealth, a tax on capital, and they have given two alternatives- firstly, a straight out capital tax and, secondly, a capital gains tax. Let us take a wealth tax. Let us presume that the rate they fix would be one per cent per annum on the net assets of the taxpayer, and I suggest that so far as the Opposition is concerned one per cent would be the minimum. That would mean that a person would have to live for 100 years before he had paid out the full value of his assets. So I suggest that one per cent would be a minimum. Let us take the ordinary fellow with his house, his car, his television set, a few other assets and a few quid in the bank with a total of, for example, $50,000. At one per cent he would be required to pay $500 a year wealth tax or capital tax and that would be for every year. Every year he would have to make some declaration as to the value of his assets, and no doubt that would be subject to all sons of requirements. On that basis he would then have to pay out the amount of this tax- at whatever rate it was fixed- and that would not be relevant to his income.
I point out how difficult this would be for a farmer. Let us take a farmer with a net worth of, say, $100,000. He might very well suffer a loss in that year of $3,000 or some such figure. It would not matter so far as a wealth tax is concerned; he would still be required to pay $ 1 ,000 tax on the basis of one per cent of his net worth. Surely Opposition members do not put this proposition forward as a valid, genuine alternative to the Government’s proposals. They have put it forward for philosophical reasons and they have put it forward, in general terms, as an alternative form of tax on capital, without specifying it. I am spelling it out to the people of Australia so that they will know what the Opposition is talking about.
Senator Wheeldon, who spoke first for the Opposition in this debate, in a very reasonable and sound speech- except for his failure to follow a couple of principles, in that in my view he based his argument on the situation in England instead of on the situation in Australia- acknowledged that he would not be happy with such a tax. But that was not the view of Senator Ryan, who has now joined us in the Senate. On 13 May 1978 Senator Ryan had something to say about this tax. She was so proud of it that she issued a media release about the subject. The opening paragraph of that media release stated:
Senator Susan Ryan, Labor Senator for the ACT, has spoken out against the new Government legislation to abolish federal estate duty between married people.
So she is saying that when dad dies he should not leave his estate to his wife free of duty, but that somehow or other she has to find out of his assets some death duty or some tax. She went on quite generously and said that she had no objection to the abolition of estate duty between spouses up to a limit around $100,000. Somewhere or other she has plucked out of the air $ 100,000 and said: Well, it is all right if they are only worth $100,000’.
– The marital home is not usually worth more than that.
– Is that based on her anticipation, Senator? In any event at least she is being generous to that extent, but what about the children in the family? It is quite clear that her view must be that if anything is left to children or grandchildren it must be taxed as hard as it possibly can be because an Australian Labor Party government will not allow anyone to leave anything to anyone in a younger generation. She made that quite clear when later on in this same media release of 13 May she said, and I quote from her proud boast:
Wealth should be taxed, capital should be taxed.
That is quite contrary to the wishes and ambitions of the people of Australia. That is exactly what people are trying to do at the present moment. They are trying to establish some sort of capital, by putting a few quid away, that they can leave to their children when they die. I think that is a very proper and reasonable aim. Let us look at the alternative proposal.
– Why do not you tell them about the Russians, because even they allow their dachas to be passed over to their children without attracting the attention of the Presidium.
– Thank you, Senator. I was not aware of what the Russians do but I am grateful that you were able to put that in Hansard for me. As I said, Senator Wheeldon has acknowledged that that would be a most unreasonable tax. In all the circumstances, he suggested that it might be better if we look at a capital gains tax. There is already in existence a capital gains tax. There is the iniquitous section 26 (a) of the Act but that is a capital gains tax which is based on the proposition that a person buys a property with a view to subsequently reselling it at a profit, and that profit is taxable. But what the Opposition is putting forward here is that regardless of whether or not a person buys his property and intends to resell it later at a profit, if he subsequently makes a profit on the sale of any property then he is taxed on it. That would apply in all circumstances because there is no limitation of $100,000 or any such proposition.
Let us look at the reasonable, ordinary bloke in the street who has a house that he bought prior to our last Labor Government for about $ 12,000 or some such figure. By now the house would probably be worth about $30,000. If he were to sell that house a Labor Government would tax him on his $18,000 so-called profit. But where is the profit? The fellow has the same house he owned prior to a Labor government coming into office and inflating values beyond all reason. Why should some ordinary bloke in the street who happens to sell his house have to pay tax on this so-called capital gain when, if he goes to buy an alternative house, the value of the house he tries to buy will also be inflated? There is no profit in this situation, as far as I can see.
What the Australian Labor Party is proposing is a tax on inflation. The fellow who owns his house has no control over the inflationary consequences of government policy. The Labour Party in government would inflate the economy and in due course would impose taxes on the inflated values and the so-called paper profits. The result of that would be that the Labor Party would achieve its socialist objective of ruining the economy of this country, destroying the assets of people, making sure that the home owners in Australia are not able to continue to be the majority of people in Australia because that is what the Labor Party does not want- it does not want the people of Australia to be able to own their own homes and own their own assets. It wants some other sort of socialistic regime. This is the way it would go about doing things.
– We want a more egalitarian society.
– We already have the most egalitarian society in the world. Let there be no doubt about that. One of the consequential advantages of this legislation may be the immigration to Australia of people of wealth and all the benefits which their wealth would bring to this country if it were invested here. I do not care whether people come from Japan with $22m or from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with $22m. If they bring $22m into this country I will welcome them. I believe that this legislation will be an incentive to the thrifty. It will give the ordinary Joe in the street the opportunity to go out and to try to save a quid, knowing he will be able to keep it for his life and leave it to his wife without worrying about some burdensome duty which some government is inflicting upon him. In due course he will be able to leave it to his grandchildren or to his children, as he sees fit, without having to pay some life insurance company some enormous premium on some policy in order to meet the death duties which might be imposed.
Finally, I must congratulate the Government on adopting the proposal to extend the exemption to grandchildren. I am well aware of many inequities which exist in the country, in particular with rural people when a grandchild is working on the land and the grandfather wants to leave some parcel of land to that grandchild. Under earlier proposals, under which the duty was to be abolished just on the passing of property between spouses and to the first generation, a grandchild in that situation would have had to have waited until the death of his father. Now under this legislation the Government has gone right ahead with its proposal and so abolished the duty on assets that people now will be able to leave their assets directly to their grandchildren. I congratulate the Government on this legislation. I congratulate it on its extension of this exemption. I most strongly urge the Senate to support the Bills.
– The Estate Duty Assessment Amendment Bill, the Estate Duty Amendment Bill, the Gift Duty Assessment Amendment Bill and the Gift Duty Amendment Bill are probably the most important Bills which have come into the Parliament this session. I want to speak to this legislation because I want to place on record my view of it. The introduction of this legislation is possibly the most scandalous act the Fraser Government has performed in two and a half years of political perfidy. A fundamental principle is involved here. My view, which I want placed on the record, is that inheritance taxes are as fundamental to a society which has any respect for social justice as is a progressive income tax. I want to make two points about this legislation and about what the Government has forecast will follow. The Government will forgo revenue of $80m. It is always popular with some sections of the community to forgo a tax or to offer an electoral bribe. Let us be very clear about this. In forgoing this revenue of $80m from a tiny minority of people who inherit windfall gains somebody else will pay the bill. An amount of $80m will be obtained from someone else because the Fraser Government is going to abolish inheritance taxes. From where will it be obtained?
– In government would you introduce a wealth tax?
– I would impose some tax on capital. That is the reason I am supporting the Opposition amendment and opposing this scandalous piece of legislation. From where does the Fraser Government propose to obtain this $80m which it is going to forgo? For the saving of a miserly $24m, the Government announced this week that it will disrupt the entire health policy of the nation. As a result of the passage of this legislation the Government will forgo more than three times the amount of money which it will save through its health policy changes.
Does the Government intend to cut the family allowances, about which it has boasted so much over the past two and a half years, or does it intend to cheat the unemployed again, as it did in the previous Budget. In a shonky move the Government delayed for one week the payment of the unemployment benefit to the rapidly expanding army of people who were unemployed as a result of this Government’s economic policies. The Government saved $27m last year by cheating the unemployed out of one week ‘s unemployment benefit. Does it propose this year to pay for its bribe to the wealthier sections of the community by cheating the unemployed out of three weeks ‘ unemployment benefit? I know that those questions will not be answered. The Government will boast about its handout to the rich and to the descendants of the rich through this legislation. It will not tell anyone who will foot the bill.
I understood Senator Lewis, who preceded me in this debate, to say in criticising Senator Ryan that all remissions of taxation were popular with the public. In a mindless, knee-jerk sort of way that is probably true; they are popular until the public actually begins to realise the implications of remissions of taxation. Senator Lewis went further to say that money to fund governments should not come from the rich. Given that governments must have money, if that money does not come from the rich there is only one other place from which it can come, namely, from those people who are not rich. So I would like it to be clearly noted in the Senate tonight that what Senator Lewis is advocating is that the rich should be forgiven taxation and that the gap should be made up by the not so rich and/or the poor.
Senator Scott said that no wealth is accumulated unless it is taxed. To say the least, that is a naive proposition. About six months ago there was a good deal of publicity about family trusts which were established by senior Ministers of the Government for the explicit purpose of evading tax on incomes. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was tackled about this on 23 November. A few days afterwards he was forced to sack his Deputy Leader. He was asked:
Do your private family companies, family trusts have the effect of lowering the rate of tax that you pay?
The Prime Minister replied:
Family trusts are designed to help keep the family’s assets together, yes.
So, contrary to Senator Scott’s naive assertion, income largely escapes taxation if one does as most of the senior Ministers of this Government seem to do and establishes a family trust for the explicit purpose of evading tax on income. At the same time, last November, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) was also challenged publicly on his family trusts. He was asked whether the trust had been set up to avoid taxation. He replied:
Because you have a family operation, because you want to keep it in the family name, because you do not want to be forced to liquidate your property when you pass on and not enable your children to take it, then you try to make other arrangements.
That is not the most lucid answer which Mr Anthony conceivably could have given by any means. But what he is claiming, if one studies the answer very carefully, is that his family trust was established not for the purpose of evading tax on income, but for evading probate duty. If that is true, now that this Government is proceeding to abolish probate duty, I assume that we can expect the rapid dissolution of the Anthony family trust if, in fact, Mr Anthony was telling the truth at that time. More importantly, not only is tax on acquired money sometimes evaded, as it is by most of the senior Ministers in the Government; but also, sometimes the wealth is not even acquired honestly. For example, in Melbourne in the 1890s vast fortunes were acquired by defrauding depositors in so-called land banks established by, among others, the Baillieu and Fraser families. Today, the descendants of those who acquired, by fraudulent means, these vast fortunes sit in Parliament and vote for legislation to permit the unimpeded inter-generational transfers of those ill-gotten gains.
Senator Scott, in response to an interjection, acknowledged that it was highly significant that the first move at a government level in Australia to abolish taxes on inherited wealth was made in Queensland. I point out that that is what this legislation proposes to do. It proposes to abolish tax on inherited wealth. The Government will continue to tax income that is earned but it will abolish any form of taxation on income or wealth that is acquired by windfall means. As I say, Senator Scott acknowledged that it was highly significant that this move had originated in Queensland. I entirely agree with him. I shall read into the Hansard record an extract from the Four Corners television program of 6 November 1 977. It is from an interview with the Premier of Queensland who was the prime mover in this matter. From this transcript we can gain a fairly accurate understanding of the ethical standards which are held by people who favour and who initiated this sort of legislation. Paul Lyneham, the Australian Broadcasting Commission reporter, said:
Mr Bjelke-Petersen ‘s enthusiasm for mineral development in Queensland goes far beyond mere political rhetoric, for the Premier himself has a personal interest in the development of the State’s coal reserve.
That was an accusation of vested interest. Mr Bjelke-Petersen, in his customary lucid style, replied:
No I think you can- you shouldn’t say a thing like that. I have no coal interests, or my family have no coal interests. I don’t know what makes you say- you ought to withdraw that. I wouldn’t threaten you with a writ but you shouldn’t say it because it is not true.
Even in Mr Bjelke-Petersen ‘s tortured English, it is perfectly clear that he unequivocally denied that he or his family had any interest in coal mining. Paul Lyneham then replied:
These official documents from the Brisbane Stock Exchange and the Companies Office show that a company called Oilmin has tendered to the Queensland Government to supply coal to a State electricity commission power house in be commissioned in the mid-1980s. The list of shareholders of Oilmin shows that Johannes Bjelke-Petersen holds 2 1 ,000 shares. However the largest single shareholder in Oilmin is another company called Artesian Basin Oil, which owns one million shares in Oilmin. This document shows that one of the directors of Artesian Basin Oil is Florence Isobel Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier’s wife. Artesian Basin Oil has 24,804 shares on issue. Of these Johannes Bjelke-Petersen owns 12,154, roughly 49 per cent. This gives the Premier a small but valuable interest in Oilmin, the company that’s tendering to supply coal to the Queensland Government.
Mr Bjelke-Petersen replied:
Well the whole situation in relation to what one might hold, or my family might hold, has got nothing to do with the whole subject that you may wish to debate. You’d like to revive it again or some of these things that was on much on the news when I became Premier, when attempts were made.
I am not sure what those last couple of lines are supposed to mean but that is what he said. However, it came through very clearly that Mr BjelkePetersen issued an unequivocal denial that he or his family had interests in companies supplying coal to the Government of Queensland. He was then confronted with the irrefutable evidence that that was not true. I agree with Senate Scott that it is highly significant that the idea for this legislation which the Fraser Government has introduced and which I presume will pass through this Parliament, originated in Queensland. This Government seeks to emulate the ethical standards established by the Government of Queensland. It has been more successful in doing that than it has been at many other things.
I want to deal with a couple of other points. Much has been made of the effect of inheritance taxes on family farms. I know that occasionally severe liquidity squeezes are imposed upon farming properties because of the death of the principal owner. But I want to make one point which those honourable senators who have spoken in favour of this Bill have not made. If it is held to be a sacred principle or an inviolable principle that farming properties should pass from generation to generation within the one family- I do not necessarily hold that view- the abolition of inheritance tax does not go nearly far enough to ensure that. It is also necessary to enact a law of primogeniture so that the property passes to the eldest heir or the eldest descendant. A far more common cause of a liquidity squeeze in a farming business after the death of a major owner is not the existence of inheritance taxes but the fact that in the will the property may be distributed between several descendants. That is a more common cause of a severe liquidity squeeze than the imposition of inheritance tax per se. If the Government is serious about this matter- I broaden my remarks to include the State governments as well- an obligation exists to enact laws providing for primogeniture.
In those situations where inheritance taxes impose a liquidity squeeze on a family farm or, I suppose, on many family businesses, I think that significant improvements can be made to the position. In fact, they already exist. Time is given to pay. Where problems arise- this can apply also outside agriculture- because the valuation at the time of death may be unrealistic in comparison to the market value at the time the probate is actually payable, I think it is quite reasonable to give to the people who inherited the estate the option of accepting the monetary value of the estate and transferring the property to the authorities or alternatively of taking the property and paying probate on the assessed value. We hear a great deal of rhetoric from members of the Liberal Party of Australia about incentives. I am aware that my colleague, Senator Button, has dealt with this matter already. But I think that this is a very important point which bears repeating. The rhetoric of the Liberal Party runs along these lines: It is terribly important that people be rewarded for personal effort expended. Therefore, remuneration has to be related to effort and so on. Whatever merit that proposition may have, this legislation contradicts it. This legislation provides that if a person is born of rich parents, he will inherit that wealth whether or not he makes any effort. It seems to me that the only incentive that that can possibly provide is for the unborn to choose rich parents. That is the absurd proposition which is being put to the Senate.
The factual position with regard to the current assessment of inheritance taxes is that only 12 per cent of all estates in the most recent financial year, 1976-77, had any Commonwealth duty assessed on them. What we are saying is that 88 per cent of estates do not pay the duty but the Commonwealth is going to abolish the impost for the other 12 per cent who represent not entirely the most wealthy- I will return to that point later- but the more wealthy people in our community.
Moreover, the average duty payable on 80 per cent of the assessed estates was only $ 1 3,036. So, approximately 2Vi per cent of all estates was dutiable in excess of the $13,036 average. We can see from that fact the highly regressive nature of this legislation. This tax was one which was paid only by the relatively wealthy. I think it is important to note also that for an estate passing to a spouse the first $90,000 is exempt from Commonwealth inheritance taxes. The estates of people aged over 50 contribute over 95 per cent of the duty paid; there are very few dependent children involved. It is a tax which currently hits only the relatively wealthy. There are very substantial exemptions applying for estates which are transferred to the spouse and somewhat fewer exemptions applying to estates which are transferred directly to the children.
One of the arguments which could have been used by people who were supporting this Bill and which have not been used- one of the few arguments and possibly the only valid argument against inheritance taxes- is the degree to which the taxes are evaded. It is certainly true that the beneficiaries of many very wealthy estates are advantaged by the affairs of those estates being arranged specifically to evade inheritance tax completely. That, I suggest, is not an argument against inheritance tax per se; it is an argument for tightening up the existing law. It is well known- indeed, the political events of the last six or seven months have given a fair bit of publicity to this fact- that taxes on income are widely avoided or evaded. There is a distinction between the two terms which I think is scarcely an important distinction but which does have some technical meaning. Tax which is avoided is that which is dodged within the law; tax which is evaded is that which is dodged outside the law. I think the term ‘avoidance’ is somewhat euphemistic; however these are terms which are commonly used and understood by people who take an interest in these matters. It is well known that tax is widely avoided and widely evaded.
One of the important checks currently available to the Taxation Department on the degree of tax avoidance and evasion is the requirement on death for the submission for probate of estates. I instance the examples of estates which are very large or from which recent transfers above the amount of money that can be accounted for from the income which has been declared have been made for gift duty purposes and so on. A very important check for the Taxation Office on tax avoidance and tax evasion is provided in this way but this Government now proposes to abolish that process.
I think that this legislation, perhaps more than anything else that we have seen in this session or indeed in the last two and a half years, epitomises the values of the Fraser Government. This legislation is the result of one of the very few election promises that this Government has kept. The highest priority has been given to a measure which permits the unimpeded inheritance, the inter-generational transfer of wealth, forever and ever. Somebody else will pay for this piece of mock generosity by the Fraser Government to the rich. Surely this must be the only country in the world with anything resembling a democratic Government which in this particular measure and with the tax changes which became operative from 1 February is actually distributing the burden of taxation to the disadvantage of lower income earners. Taxation in this country under this Government is becoming more and more regressive. I think that is a scandoulous situation of which any Australian with any sense of social justice should be thoroughly ashamed and to which any such Australian should be voicing his or her opposition. I support the amendment moved by my colleague, Senator Wheeldon, that these Bills should be withdrawn until such time as an alternative form of tax on capital is introduced. (Quorum formed).
– in reply- This ends the second reading debate on four quite important Bills which discharge a policy undertaking, made by the Fraser Government in its last election campaign, which has the widespread support of the Australian people. Two of the Bills relate to estate duty or what is more popularly known either as probate duty or death duty and the other two relate to gift duty. I remind the Senate, in order that we will know the substance of the vote taken at the second reading stage, that the first change that is made by the Bills relating to estate duty is that estate duty will not be payable by the estate of a person who died on or after 2 1 November 1977- that was part of the election policy promise- in respect of” a family property that is passing to the surviving spouse, a child, a grandchild, a parent or a grandparent of the deceased person. Estate duty would not be payable in respect of property passing to the
National Trust of Australia, Northern Territory, on or after 16 November 1976 or to the National Trust of Australia, Australian Capital Territory, on or after 20 December 1976. Amendments on estate duty assessments will be permissible within three years of the due date for payment of the duty to adjust deductions allowed for State death duty liabilities following alterations to these liabilities. Estate duty will be abolished in respect of the estates of people who die on or after 1 July 1979. That applies regardless of the succession. So, as from 2 1 November 1977, abolition of duty within a family will apply and after 1 July 1979 abolition of probate or death duty in general terms will apply. A similar series of provisions applies to gift duty. To this proposition the Australian Labor Party has voiced its opposition and has said by its amendment that it would of its choice retain and enforce estate and gift duties but, if these Bills go through, it would want to replace those duties with a capital tax. So the people of Australia should understand clearly that the Labor Party has gone on the line in this debate as saying that if it is ever given the chance again to govern it will impose a capital tax.
– There is not much chance of that.
-Senator Knight of the Australian Capital Territory interjects. I hope all the people of the ACT understand that Senator Susan Ryan tonight put herself and her party on the line by saying that she was in favour of applying a capital tax to the people of the ACT. A great deal of nonsense has been talked about this matter. There has been all sorts of wording about the wealthy. A number of things should be understood about the people of Australia. Australia is one of the most egalitarian nations in the world if not the most egalitarian. In Professor Henderson’s analyses in 1972 he showed that the distribution between the wealthy and poor is more total in Australia than anywhere else other than perhaps the Scandinavian countries and that we do not have the extremes of rich and poor as exist in other countries. The necessity that gave birth to this kind of tax, particularly in the late nineteenth century, to break up great estates where the main wealth of a nation was in the hands of a few is irrelevant to Australia because in Australia the main wealth of the nation is in the hands of many. That is the fundamental situation to understand. In Australia in the 1950s and 1960s the Government shared wealth so evenly that we do not have these extremes. The other thing to remember is that before the Whitlam Government came to office 75 per cent of the people in this country owned their own homes. Therefore in terms of the threat of the application of State and Federal estate duties they were all, as little capitalists, threatened. The Liberal Government gave the opportunity for people to be little capitalists. Of course, the Labor Party said that it did not want people to be little capitalists.
– Oh, that is rubbish!
– Yes, indeed, it was rubbish. The one wish that the heads of the ordinary Australian family want is the chance to build a home; to get to own the home over a lifetime; to put some furniture and possessions together and to get a car- the Labor Party obviously does not want this- and then upon their death to be able to set up their children with a few thousand dollars here and there to help them along and to be a little better off than they were. That is the Australian way of life. That is what the Labor Party does not want. That is what it is all about. The Labor Party is opposed to people owning their homes, getting together a bit of capital and then- this is a crime in the eyes of the Oppositionpassing it on to their families. It is a crime in the eyes of the Opposition for the ordinary people, the sons and daughters of these spouses who die, to have sufficient capital to become selfemployed.
If one thing is wanted in Australia it is the generation of capital for self-employment for the small businesses. About 80 per cent of the employment in Australia is by small business. Here we have a fascinating thing. The Labor Party is on record as showing that it is opposed to the amassing of capital for small business. From where does the capital come? It comes from the estates in this regard. Let me go one step further. In Australia we have one of the highest progressive taxes in terms of income tax in the world. We have one of the lowest indirect taxes. The Labor Party has gone quiet because it is frightened that I will remind the Senate that in its time in government it trebled personal income tax, doubled sales tax and doubled customs and excise duties. My goodness, the natives get restless when one reminds them of that. Honourable senators opposite say that we are the people who hit the poor.
Who are the people who did this? If one looks at the personal income tax situation one will find that the so-called affluent of this community are taxed primarily at the rate of 60c in every $ 1 . But beyond that, if one takes into account the indirect taxes and charges, out of each $ 1 earned by those people at least 75c to 80c is taken by the Government in taxes to provide for hospitals, schools, roads and bridges. That is how we redistribute wealth. So as people accrue wealth in their lifetimes they are made to pay. They are made to do so through progressive income tax. What is being asked for in this Bill is a simple thing. It is that the people who over their lifetimes have worked hard and paid 60c, 70c or even 80c in the $ 1 in tax in one way or another will be able at the end of their lifetime to pass on whatever capital they have accrued to their children or to others so that that capital can regenerate business and, sinful as it is, create employment. Unless there is capital to generate the businesses where will be the employment for the 80 per cent of people employed by small businesses? The whole thrust of the Labor Party’s attack on this legislation is that the Labor Party is opposed to the amassing of capital for small businesses to get under way.
The Labor Party has gone further than that. It has said not only that it is opposed to this legislation but also that if the people elect it to government- fools that they would be to do so- it would impose a capital tax. Indeed, as Senator Lewis reminded us, the Labor Party was going to impose a capital tax on the sale of a house. It was going to get right to the heart of the small home, the small family. This is iniquitous. The Opposition talks about the passing on of a massive amount of money. If a person dies and leaves $ 100,000 to his four children each of them receives $25,000. Is this a massive thing? What does the Opposition want to do? Does it want to strike at that? One has only to say it to understand how ridiculous it is.
I know of no legislation which will be more favoured by the great bulk of the people of Australia. It is noted that each of the States is coming into line. The Labor States, doctrinaire as they are in their socialism, are going to come into line because they know that unless they do so now the electors will force them to do so. None of the States will be able to refuse to abolish these duties because the people of Australia want this because it is an equitable measure. There can be no more equitable measure. I repeat that it is the duty of government to take an equitable share of people’s earnings during their lifetimes and to redistribute it. Our Government has shown that it is capable of doing that. It has created the conditions of home ownership, of small amassing of property. It is not a wicked thing, and it ought not to be regarded as a wicked thing, for somebody to amass capital and put it to purpose- to employ people in Australia, to develop this nation, to provide the wealth that provides the services for this country. To say this is to understand the nonsense of the Opposition ‘s attack. I commend the Bill and reject the proposed amendment.
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Wheeldon’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative. Question put:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 1 1 May, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose either of these Bills. As the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) stated in his second reading speech, the purpose of both Bills in the different areas of education is to amend the relevant Acts to provide, as it were, topping up grants in respect of education expenditure for the last year. In the case of schools, the legislation finalises the adjustment of 1977 grants for cost increases to December 1977. It makes additional grants for 1978 of $15. 8m to cover some cost increases and it is assumed that that process will be taken forward in the Budget session. In that sense, these Bills strictly are machinery Bills. Insofar as tertiary education is concerned, the Bills also provide supplementation for cost movements from July to December 1977. That is the purpose of the legislation and because it is confined to that purpose, as I indicated, the Opposition does not oppose either of the Bills.
While speaking about the question of education funding, I take the opportunity to make one or two comments about the situation of schools, and perhaps the tertiary education area, in relation to funding. I assume that shortly the Minister will be issuing guidelines in relation to funding schools and the Schools Commission report, preliminary to the 1978 Budget. The Opposition’s concern is that in issuing those guidelines the Minister will take account of the needs as expressed in the Schools Commission report, both in respect of recurrent funding and capital funding, particularly the needs of government schools. It is to be hoped also that the Minister will take account of the expressed views relating to the needs of the tertiary education area of universities and other institutions, particularly in relation to capital expenditure.
On a number of occasions during Question Time and discussion in this chamber, the Minister has drawn attention to the Government’s overall economic policy. It is not my purpose to debate the validity or otherwise of that policy in the course of comments on these Bills. But I would remind the Minister that a government must decide on the priorities in order to spend that money which is available. I find it extraordinary that the Government is able to find up to $100m for the proposed Casey University, which represents an expenditure on a potential 1,240 students. Some noises about suggest that the Government may not be able to find the funds necessary to fulfil the Schools Commission recommendations or to meet even some of the requirements of other tertiary education institutions in Australia. Of course it may be said that that ordering of priorities is not the Minister’s responsibility. That is my very strong suspicion: It is not the Minister’s responsibility; but it is the Government’s responsibility.
It is also the Government’s responsibility to generally allocate expenditure for capital works. Having regard to recent survey material, to material contained in the Schools Commission report and to the expressed need of the schools system, it might well be recommended to the Government through the Minister that a very substantial proportion of the Government ‘s capital works program should be devoted to schools because, whatever the current economic difficulties, I think the Minister would share the view that the long-term wealth of this country in a very real sense depends on the education system, the way in which it works and the product of it. In 1978 the Commonwealth made $ 139m available for school buildings out of a total school building program of $439m. That figure represented $60 per pupil given by the Commonwealth Government and $130 per pupil from the States. For non-government schools in the same period in 1978 Commonwealth capital grants total $3 1.39m, or approximately $50 per pupil. So the Government was involved in quite a substantial degree of expenditure in respect of both government and non-government sector, but it was a relatively small expenditure compared with that of the States.
In spite of that expenditure, there is no doubt that funds provided for government school capital works have fallen far short of meeting the needs of the State education systems, especially in relation to the urgent upgrading needs and the replacement of old schools. That matter of course is perfectly obvious to anybody who visits a number of schools in this country, particularly in inner metropolitan areas of the big cities, because there is still a pressing need for the upgrading of those old schools, which involves a higher level of expenditure on capital works. In dealing with this matter, the Schools Commission reported that school building programs for the 1976-78 triennium were running at levels which allowed for only 52 per cent of needed new schools, 28 per cent of needed extensions, 22 per cent of replacements and 7 per cent of major upgrading projects. These capital requirements are so in spite of the fact that the enrolment situation in our schools is static.
I do not wish to canvass the whole question across the spectrum of needs. I just want to establish that as far as the Opposition is concerned, when one is considering this sort of legislation, it is appropriate to draw attention to the very pressing needs of the schools system and of the tertiary education system. I know that the Minister for Education is aware of these needs. I know that he has received representations from many people and organisations which have drawn his attention to these needs. In no sense do I criticise the Minister for non-awareness of the sorts of problems with which the education system is confronted. But I point out that he is part of the Government which determines priorities in expenditure. As I said earlier in another text, in my view some of the priorities which the
Government has arrived at are quite extraordinary. In our view it is quite extraordinary that the Government can spend about $ I billion on various allowances, the names of which temporarily elude me, in concessions to business. But if some of the reports about the place are to be believed, it is not able to find the necessary money to tackle some of the problems to which I have referred. It is even more extraordinary that it can find the money for an extraordinarily indulgent and extravagant institution like the Casey University Military Academy, as I understand it is to be called, and still leave the needs problems in Australian schools, to which I have referred, not tackled in the way in which they ought to be tackled. I use this opportunity to express concern about this question of priorities. Otherwise the Opposition supports the legislation and commends the Bills to the Senate.
– As Senator Button stated, these two Bills, the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill and the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill have one purpose only and that is to provide the supplementary finance to take the funding of the whole field of education, from primary through to tertiary, to the end of this financial year. I agree that this is not the time for detailed debate. However, as Senator Button opened up some of the field, it is fair to say something on this subject. Senator Button, of course, foreshadowed the fact that fairly soon I will, on behalf of the Government, be introducing guidelines for the calendar year 1979 for both the tertiary and schools areas. That is the subject of another debate.
Senator Button expressed some anxiety. Suffice to say that the same anxieties have been expressed three times on an annual basis since the Government has been in office and the anxieties have proved false. These two Bills stand as witness to that. In the tertiary sphere this year all those who sought to go to universities and colleges, in general terms, found a place. There was at least a constant enrolment, if not a little better than that. In the technical and further education sphere there has been a very significant expansion. The Tertiary Education Commission and its councils have proved highly successful. The Government is eagerly awaiting the report of the Williams Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training. I am, I hope, in the not too distant future, about to launch an inquiry into teacher education. There is an inquiry into nurse education under way at the moment. Therefore, the story of the funding of tertiary education, as witnessed by this Bill and by the students in their faculties, is a good and successful one.
With regard to schools, let the Schools Commission report be the witness. The Schools Commission report indicates that the targets set by the Schools Commission for primary schools to reach in 1980 and for secondary schools to reach in 1982 have, in most States, been reached by now or surpassed. Certainly they will be reached and surpassed in all States in the course of this year. These goals have been achieved years ahead of the target dates. I will give the Senate a dramatic idea of what has been happening in the schools. There has been talk of teacher shortages. In the period from 1972 to 1978, particularly within the last few years, there has been an increase of over 3 1 per cent in teacher numbers. There has been an increase in the number of teachers in the workforce from 1 30,000 to about 172,000. Something like 40,000 more teachers are in the workforce, or 3 1 per cent, for an increase of about 4 per cent, or fractionally more, students. There has been a massive injection of teachers into the workforce and, therefore, the teacher/pupil ratio has been greatly improved.
– Largely as a result of projects you opposed.
-I did not hear that interjection. I am sure 1 would have enjoyed it. I am perfectly happy to give Senator Button the opportunity to say what he -
– You are running short.
– No, I was going to reply. Senator Button talked about the need for capital funds for schools. The real situation in relation to capital funds for schools is that in 1975, the last year of the Whitlam Government, that Government reduced the education budget for the following year by $ 105 m. The effect of that was that the Whitlam Government cut capital works for schools by $85m. It is no good Opposition senators coming here and giving us a lecture on the need for capital funds for schools when in fact the great cut in capital funds came from the Whitlam Government. In the schools area this Government has surpassed the goals set by the Schools Commission. It is a sad thing that there has been a widening of the gap between the achievements of government schools and nongovernment schools to the disadvantage of the non-government schools where very real disadvantage exists at the moment. Ninety per cent of primary school students in non-government schools lie in category 6 of the Schools Commission, which is the area of greatest disadvantage. Whilst this Government has achieved and in some areas passed the goals set, many of the States now have schools- I am proud of this - whose standards are at least level 1 in the Schools Commission category. Many of them have passed level 2. So we have had some great achievements. Of course there is always the need to do more. But the fundamental thing the community is saying to this Parliament is this: We thought that the application of massive amounts of funds would have produced better education. We are no longer convinced that quantity is the goal. What we seek now in an improvement in quality by the Government and by the community.
– What does all that gobbledegook mean?
– The Labor Party’s interjection is: ‘What is all that gobbledegook?’ In other words, the Labor Party is saying that the community’s demand for the upgrading of quality is gobbledegook. Let me give that the cold lie. The fact of the matter is that the community as a whole believes, rightly or wrongly- and I think rightly- that the level of basic skills in numeracy and literacy is not good enough. It needs to be lifted, and this Government is going to see, whether by its own actions or by persuasion, that it is improved. This Government is going to try to equip people better for jobs. Senator Button said that he was not going to venture into the economic policies of the Government, but that the restraints and cuts and so on were matters to be queried. He also said that we were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on investment allowances which could go to schools. One of the basic jobs that is necessary in education is to see that the economy is returned to normal from the disaster of its wreckage by the Labor Party so that jobs can be created again.
– That is rubbish and you know it.
– There has been an interjection that needs to be commented upon. Senator Robertson is not only out of place in one part of his anatomy but out of place-
– I am physically out of place but spot on with facts, which is more than you are.
– Let me remind Senator Robertson of the famous story of General Washington, who used to get from one of his general’s dispatches signed: ‘From my headquarters in the saddle’. Washington said of that general, as I say of Senator Robertson: ‘The trouble is that his headquarters are where his hindquarters ought to be.’ It is well to remember that. Having got the headquarters and the hindquarters back in place-
– Speak for yourself.
– Yes. I have no responsibility for your glutaeus maximus or your glutaeus minimus, and indeed I am delighted that I have not. It is essential that investment allowances should be applied to industry if we are to create jobs. It is essential that inflation be brought down if we are to create jobs. It is essential that interest rates be brought down if we are to create jobs. That is what we are doing. So when the community judges what we are doing in education let it judge us, yes, that we have reached and surpassed our targets in schools. Let it judge us, yes, that in the tertiary area we are taking in the young and educating them. Let it judge us, yes, that in the economy we are bringing down inflation and interest rates. Fundamental to what we are doing is the need to restore job opportunities in this country, those job opportunities that the Whitlam Government destroyed. I commend the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time, and reported without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) proposed:
That the Bills be read a third time.
– During the course of the debate that we just heard on these Bills, in reply to Senator Button the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) made certain statements concerning education expenditure in this country. Once again I wish to nail the mistruth that Senator Carrick perpetuates constantly in this Parliament -
– I thought he was talking about George Washington.
-That could well be. I wish to nail the mistruth that Senator Carrick reiterates about the Labor Government having reduced expenditure on education in its last year of office. I am not going to delay the Senate for any length of time. I quote from the 1 975 Budget Speech, that is, the last Budget Speech of the then Treasurer, Mr Hayden. That Speech sets out the figures for Commonwealth expenditure on education for the three years of the Labor Government. I do not think that the Minister will question the correctness of these figures. Page 28 of that document indicates that in the year 1973-74 total spending on education by the Federal Government, that is the first year of the Whitlam Government, was $858. 7m.
– That is $400m more than McMahon gave.
-That is right. It had doubled over the expenditure by the Liberal Government in the previous year. In 1974-75, the second year of the Labor Government, again we doubled total expenditure on education to an amount of $ 1 , 67 1 . 6m.
– That was four times the Liberal Government’s allocation.
-That is right. There was a fourfold increase in two years. In 1975-76, the third year, we again increased expenditure to $I,908.2m. The Treasurer’s Budget Speech showed an increase of $236. 6m in education expenditure in the last year of the Labor Government. Senator Carrick comes into this chamber so often and talks about the fact that the Labor Government in its last year of office reduced expenditure on education. Let us nail that lie, Mr Minister, a term which you–
- Mr President, I do not usually take offence. However, not only is it not a lie but I will table in a moment a table prepared by my Department showing that it is a truth. The Leader of the Opposition is trying to mislead the Senate. I ask that his remark be withdrawn.
- Senator Wriedt, the word has been said to be objectionable.
-Mr President, if you find it objectionable I will withdraw it. The only reason I used that word was because the Minister himself has a habit of using it. He has used it on many occasions in this chamber.
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. I have never in this chamber accused an honourable senator of lying. I have never done so in this chamber and I would not willingly do so. I ask that that be withdrawn.
– Those figures which I have quoted -
- Mr President, I ask that the statement that I have on occasions accused honourable senators of lying be withdrawn. I find that offensive.
– He used the expression nail the lie’.
– On the point of order, Mr President, it is impossible for us, without looking at the record, to show that Senator Carrick is incorrect. On many occasions he has accused us of lying but he has accused us as a group and not as individuals. Perhaps he is trying to slip around it. Nevertheless, he has in his statements included us all as being liars. We have not taken offence because, coming from him, it has been taken for its true worth, lt is nothing coming from him.
– Order! No honourable senator may accuse another honourable senator of lying. Will you please withdraw, Senator Wriedt?
– I will withdraw any imputation of a lie on the part of any member of this chamber, if you so desire, Mr President. The three years that I have quoted cover the three Budgets of the Labor Government. Those figures show an increase of 120 per cent- more than double- in outlays on education by the Labor Government in those three years. Let us come to two years of the Liberal Government. If we consult the Budget Speech of the then Treasurer, Mr Lynch, delivered last year- that is our current financial year- we find that in the first Budget of this Government total education spending was increased to $2, 160.1m. In the current year it has been increased to $2, 371m. In its three years in office the Labor Government increased funding for education by over 100 per cent; in its first two years in office this government has increased it by about 15 per cent. I am not sure of the precise figures. Yet we hear constant repetition of what the Labor Government allegedly did. How many times have we heard the argument about decreased capital expenditure? If any government should be condemned for its policy on capital expenditure, this Government should be condemned. In the two years of operation of this Government’s federalism policy every State has suffered massive decreases in capital payments. In the two years between the 1975-76 Budget of the Labor Government and the 1977-78 Budget of this Government there has been an effective reduction of $ 800m in payments to the States for capital works. One of the principal reasons why this country is in a state of economic stagnation is that the States do not have the capital funds available to spend on schools, hospitals, roads and so on. Those matters are covered by legislation which we will be coming to later this week.
I have risen at the third reading stage only to point out, to place on the record and to make it clear to any person who may be listening to this debate that in its third year in office the Labor Government continued to increase its expenditure on education. The Schools Commission’s report shows that the standards have been brought up in many cases to the standards that were originally envisaged in the Karmel report mainly because of the efforts that were made during the three years of office of the Labor Governmentnot because of the efforts of the present Liberal Government.
– in reply- I rise only to correct statements that have been made. In a moment I will be seeking leave to incorporate in Hansard an official table of actual budgetary expenditure shown both by financial years and calendar years, prepared not by me but by the Commonwealth Department of Education. I take it that no one is suggesting that the Commonwealth Department of Education is putting down false figures.
– Are you suggesting the Treasurer is?
-I ask Senator Wriedt whether he accepts a statement prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Education.
– If there is a difference, I will accept the Treasurer’s figures.
-If there is a difference, would he say that the Department of Education is wrong? Let me go one step further. In Budget speeches the figures are given for financial years but the amounts of money for universities and schools are given in calendar years. Let us look at the figures. In the second year of the Whitlam Government, 1974-75, in its second last Budget the total amount spent on universities, colleges of advanced education, technical and further education, and schools, was $ 1,556m. In the following year, in the Budget brought down by the Whitlam Government in August 1975, the amount was reduced to $ 1 ,506m, a drop of $50m in the financial year. So there was a drop and not a rise, as Senator Wriedt said, in the last Budget of the Whitlam Government.
By contrast, in the first Budget of the Fraser Government the amount went up to $ 1,569m. Since the money is always provided to universities and colleges in financial years, I repeat that in 1975 the Whitlam Government provided $ 1,595m out of its previous year’s Budget- that is, the Budget for 1974-75. In its last Budget it provided $ 1,490m for the calendar year 1976, which represented a drop of $ 105m. In the following year- the first Budget of the Fraser Government- the amount was $ 1,537m. Turning now to the expenditure on schools, because I was challenged on this matter, in 1975 the capital expenditure was $2 17m. In 1976, out of the last Budget of the Whitlam Government, it was $132m. That proves that there was a cut of $85m in the capital funds for the schools. They were the moneys provided by Parliament in the Bills brought down to provide moneys for colleges
and schools. I seek leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– by leave- I think that the Senate is indebted to Senator Wriedt for the figures which he quoted. I have quoted them quite often in this chamber to rebut remarks made by the Minister for Education, Senator Carrick. Tonight, Senator Carrick has incorporated in Hansard a document which he said was prepared by the Department of Education. He talked about the amounts allocated to education during financial years and he referred to the last financial year under the Labor Government, when that Government was unceremoniously sacked. I want to quote the estimated figures from that Budget, which honourable senators opposite stonewalled in here month after month until 1 1 November 1975 when, because of what went on over the other side of the lake, we were sacked. After we had been sacked, the Appropriation Bills were put through the Parliament hastily. In those Bills an amount of $ 1,908m was allocated for education. Senator Carrick quoted the amounts that had been spent. If there was any underspending of that amount it can be attributed to the Fraser Government, not to the Labor Government. We appropriated the amount to which I have referred and the Budget statement is here for Senator Carrick to see.
If the expenditure in 1 975-76 was less than the amount spent in 1974-75 the blame lies with the Fraser Government and with Senator Carrick, as the Minister for Education. He should not try to put the blame on the Labor Government. Senator Carrick is trying to prove by the table which he has had incorporated in Hansard and which we will see tomorrow that the Budget statement is not correct. Senator Wriedt quoted the expenditure on education in the first Budget of the Labor Government. He said that the actual expenditure in 1973-74 was $858. 7m. Of course, we all know that in the last Budget of the McMahon Government the expenditure on education was about $450m. As Senator Wriedt rightly pointed out, Labor increased that expenditure in its first year of government by something like $400m. In the next year we nearly doubled the amount, the expenditure being $1,67 1.6m. In the following year, as Senator Wriedt said, we appropriated an amount of $ 1,908m for education. If that money was not expended, that was not the fault of the Whitlam Government. It was not the fault of Mr Beazley, the then Minister for Education. It was the fault of Senator Carrick. It is no good his coming in here and trying to confuse the people who are listening to this debate tonight by producing Budget figures and trying to distort those figures by talking about the figures for financial years. He should go out and talk to people who are concerned about expenditure on education. They know who allocated the most money to education.
Even if Senator Carrick were right, even if his figures were correct and our expenditure on education in one financial year was somewhat less than it was in a previous year, he cannot argue that that was not substantially more than it was when the Liberal and Country Party Government went out of office. The amount we appropriated for this purpose in 1975-76 was nearly five times the amount the McMahon Government budgeted for this purpose in 1972-73. I provide those figures again. We on this side of the chamber can prove, by using the actual Budget documents, that in fact the Labor Government did set the standard for education. We did provide the money. We also recognise the fact that in the three years this Government has been in office it has made some slight increase on the last amount which we appropriated when we were in government. Senator Wriedt spoke about that. I think we will find when we look at the percentages of increase in appropriation by this Government that they are very much less than the percentage of increase in expenditure on education by the Whitlam Labor Government immediately after we came to office. We only have to look down the table in which the expenditure on education are itemised, as I did a moment ago, to see this.
I refer to a matter about which I spoke the other day on the first reading of a money Bill, namely, expenditure on pre-schools. Under the previous Liberal-Country Party Government there was no expenditure at all on pre-schools. Not one cent was spent on pre-schools by the McMahon Government. In our first year in government we spent $6. 8m on pre-schools. The next year we provided $45. 6m and the next year $74m. What has this Government done? It has resorted to a system of block grants for the States. As I pointed out by citing a series of figures the other day, the allocation for preschools is considerably less under this Government. Yet every time a matter dealing with education comes up in this Parliament Senator Carrick has the audacity to claim falsely that the Whitlam Government did not do the right thing by education and that we reduced expenditure on education. I have said before and I will say it again and again, in this place, on the public platform and when I talk to educationalists, that our record of expenditure on education is a proud one. When Senator Carrick can match that record he will be able to hold his head on high.
– I shall be very brief. I draw the attention of all honourable senators and the community to the table which I have incorporated in Hansard. It is an official table. It in fact bears out what I have said. I add only one thing: In 1975 the Whitlam Government had before it the triennial reports of the commissions. It set aside those reports. It did not adopt them at all. It set aside a sum of money which was vastly less than was recommended in the reports. I do not blame it; it has gone into an economic recession which needed this response.
– It was a mess.
– Yes, it was a mess.
– It had already done more for education in two years than you did in the previous 10 years.
-Senator Wriedt said that his party did more in two years than we did in 10 years. When we came to office the Teachers Federation and the parents’ bodies asked: ‘Will you give us a guarantee that you will keep up the progress of schools so that they will reach the Schools Commission target?’ I said: ‘We will do the best we can’. The fact is that what we have done is to reach and to surpass the targets several years ahead of time. That is not a bad record.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a third time.
Sefator Keeffe- May I take a point of order at this point of time, Mr President?
– The Minister was talking about having a table incorporated. I do not think that he sought leave to have it incorporated.
– Leave was granted earlier. He was referring to a document which he had incorporated.
Debate resumed from 26 May, on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Senate agrees that the Commonwealth Parliament participate with the Parliaments of the States in the continuing work of the Constitutional Convention established to review the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution and accordingly resolves:
1 ) That, for the purposes of the Convention-
a Delegation from the Commonwealth Parliament consisting of sixteen members of the Parliament take part in the deliberations of the Convention, of whom six shall be members of the Senate and ten shall be members of the House of Representatives;
the six members of the Senate comprise two members of the Liberal Party of Australia, one member of the National Country Party of Australia and three members of the Australian Labor Party;
three Senators, two being members of the Liberal Party of Australia and one being a member of the National Country Party of Australia, nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate; and
three Senators being members of the Australian Labor Party, nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, be members of the Delegation:
That the Prime Minister be the Leader of the Delegation, and the Leader of the Opposition be the Deputy Leader
That a member of the Delegation cease to be a member if-
he ceases to be a member of the Commonwealth Parliament;
the House of the Parliament of which he is a member terminates his appointment; or
he resigns as a member of the Delegation by writing addressed to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case requires:
5 ) That where, because of illness or any other cause, a member of the Delegation is not available to attend a meeting, or part of a meeting, of the Convention, the Leader or senior available member of the Party in the House from which the member was drawn may nominate an alternate member (being a member of the House of which the first-mentioned member is a member) and the member so nominated shall be a member of the Delegation for that meeting, or that pan of that meeting:
That, in the event of a member of the Delegation ceasing to be such a member, the Leader of the Party in the House from which the member was drawn may nominate another member (being a member of the House of which the first-mentioned member is or was a member) to replace the first-mentioned member
That the Leader of the Delegation from time to time make a report for presentation to each House of the Parliament on matters arising out of the Convention, and that the Deputy Leader of the Delegation may make an accompanying report.
– I started to speak on this matter some time ago. At that time I sought the adjournment of the debate so that we could give further consideration to the position of this chamber and the position of the Commonwealth generally in relation to this Constitutional Convention which has been proceeding now for nearly six years. It has not achieved any great success. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that there has been a marked lack of success. I believe that one of the reasons for this is that the Constitutional Convention is basically representative of the executives of the governments of Australia and the executives of the oppositions of Australia and is not representative of the parliaments of Australia, nor of the people of Australia. I regard that as a somewhat fundamental defect which needs rectification.
I believe that this chamber is totally inadequately represented. It has six representatives as against 10 representatives from the House of Representatives at this Convention, yet this is an equal chamber. Within the total federal compact which was arrived at as a result of the numerous constitutional conventions of the 1880s and 1890s which led to federation, this chamber was created as an equal House. It has powers, it has responsibilities. But it has not always been given opportunity either to respond to or to exercise those powers and responsibilities. I think that this is all too typical of the way events have led us in Australia. The troubles we have, which are fundamental, with our Constitution in practice are because executive power has been permitted to override constitutional arrangement. The constitutional arrangement was that we had two equal Houses. But when we come to a constitutional convention we find that this House has six representatives and the House of Representatives has 10 representatives. The situation, therefore, is that we are grossly outnumbered by the other House, even though we are equal Houses. The principle of equal Houses just does not apply.
I believe that if we have delegates to a constitutional convention representing the executive governments of the houses of parliament of the various States of Australia, what we will have is discussion which takes place on the basis of what is most convenient for an executive government rather than what is in the best interests of democracy and federalism in Australia. I believe that our real concern ought to be what are the interests of our federal compact; what are the interests of federalism in Australia; where are the defects in the Constitution which time has revealed; and how best can we overcome those defects. I think that the fiasco of the referendum last year- it was a most unfortunate fiasco- is the best demonstration I can produce of why we ought to be cautious about how we approach the next Constitutional Convention and any which are held thereafter. What was demonstrated in that referendum was that in relation to an attempt to deny the Senate its position of equal power and equal responsibility a majority of people in three States did not agree.
Thank God for Section 128 of the Constitution. Thank God for the requirement that there should be a referendum. Thank God for the opportunity for democracy to prevail in a way which relates peculiarly to a federal compact. That is, that powers are not taken away from a State simply because some States have grown bigger and some States have not. If that happens, all that will be demonstrated is what one of our more beloved colleagues has said on many occasions. I refer to Senator Reg Wright who unfortunately retires from this chamber on 30 June. He has often said that those who live closest to the bakehouse get the best bread. That is a salutary thought for anybody who lives in a small State. For anybody who lives in a Territory that would like to become a State, it is even a more salutary thought.
– Then we will be all right.
– Except for Senator Knight who thinks that because he lives in the Australian Capital Territory where the people are the closest to the bakehouse, they will have the first choice. All I can say is that they may well find themselves put in the oven. I think we can be proud of our Federation. We can look at our Federation and our Constitution and say, ‘Thank God for futureology’. That is a new word. Thank God for the futureology which was displayed by those people who attended the constitutional conventions of the 1880s and the 1890s’. They put together a compact which prevented in most instances the numbers overriding the principles.
I was disappointed when recently a situation arose in respect of arrangements for the sittings of the Parliament. Those members who lived closest to the bakehouse- that is, within a 20- minute or a 40-minute flight of Canberraoverwhelmed the other members in respect of what the arrangement ought to be. It was decided that the Parliament should sit frequently and often and that members should flit back and forth for lots of sittings but not to prevent members from getting home for dinner. That was almost the basis upon which the decision was taken. I regard that as unfortunate. I think that Australia is a great deal bigger than Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
One of the points that the Constitutional Convention must remember is that a great Australia will depend upon the whole of Australia, not just Melbourne and Sydney; not the mob of people who are living on protection, on the well-being and the resources developed by the producer States of Australia. It will depend not upon a situation which has developed as a result of the policies of a government dominated by Melbourne and Sydney, regardless of the party that is in power. The people of those areas are protected by a whole series of policies at the expense of the other people of Australia. It is important to bear this in mind when we are talking about the Constitutional Convention, when we are talking about safeguards, when we are talking about the role of the Senate, when we are talking about the Senate as a States House, when we are talking about the compact that was originally agreed to when people surrendered their rights to be independent and were brought together as one Australian nation. It was not a surrender; it was a contract, a compact or an agreement whereby they would be protected from the overwhelming numerical power of the two major population centres. This is what this chamber is all about. The States of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania exist today as a result very largely of the existence of this chamber.
I would be the first to recognise that these States have not fared all that well. What we have done in relation to tariff protection policies, in relation to featherbedding manufacturing, in relation to ensuring that some people got the best of the goodies and some people had to work for them has not been altogether desirable. That does not mean that I wish to advocate we should break up the Federation. But it does mean that there is good reason to ensure that we do not just hand over entirely the total powers of the governments of this country to the areas which have managed to featherbed their populations. For that sort of reason and for a host of other reasons about which I would like to speak but about which time does not permit me to speak, I would like to stress to the Senate the importance of ensuring that our Constitution is not monkeyed with on a basis which panders to popularity and not to principle. I would like to suggest, for instance, that honourable senators ensure that this chamber receives a better and more adequate representation at the Constitutional Convention. There will be six members of this chamber present, a total of 72 representatives from the States and 10 members from the House of Representatives. Where is this chamber placed? It is almost nowhere on the list. I wonder whether a Constitutional Convention which is a meeting of the executive nominees of the various government of Australia, a Constitutional Convention which virtually disregards one of the equal Houses of the Parliament of the Commonwealth is a Constitutional Convention which we should support.
I propose to support the motion, but with reluctance. I think that it is appropriate to mention some of these matters to show that we are not just going along in a supine manner with the continuation of an undesirable situation. I think there is a necessity for a little consideration to be given, even to some of the principles for an elected Constitutional Convention. I know that Bills have been introduced as far back as 1921 to give consideration to an elected convention to consider the Constitution. I do not think that we can dismiss that fact. We should continue to talk about it. Why should the people of Australia not have some say directly about those people who are to discuss the future amendments to their Constitution, as opposed to the executives which are so far removed by processes of election from the people that, whilst we can say that democracy prevails, we cannot say that for this purpose democracy prevails. The executives were elected, not for the purpose of considering the Constitution, but to run the day-to-day government of their States or the country. That does not mean that they have an absolute right to nominate who shall go to a Constitutional Convention, who shall participate in it and who shall express views.
I say: Thank God for the people of Australia who are prepared to be sufficiently independent to say, when the referendum was held, that they did not mind if those members of Parliament who were opposed to it were gagged almost out of existence- gagged from being able to speak in this chamber and elsewhere when those proposals were being put forward. The resentment against the use of the gag on that occasion to ram through the referendum proposals and to prevent people who felt strongly about these matters from having an opportunity even to say why it was that they proposed to vote against them will take some years to work out of the system. I think that whilst we have an opportunity to discuss this Constitutional Convention we ought to give some thought to what it means. It is not a junket. It is not just an opportunity for a few people to gather together to say a few words. A few words! That reminds me of the fact that only 1,500 words were expressed on the most controversial matter in the last four referendum proposals dealt with at the Constitutional Convention in Hobart. Only 1,500 words were spoken by delegates on the question of the so-called simultaneous election proposals. Probably, I have already said more than 1,500 words tonight in this speech. Yet, that was the so-called discussion of a matter which was fundamental to the future of this chamber, fundamental to the way or the direction in which our federalism and our nation will go in the future. It really has been a farce. If honourable senators read through the debates, they will see that the consideration of questions and the real debate just has not taken place. What has happened is that there has been caucusing, party division and a situation in which the real matters have not received proper discussion, in which they have received a caucus vote from a number of executive appointments from both the major political parties in this country. I am decrying neither one nor the other. I am simply saying that that is not a good enough approach to the question of constitutional amendment. If we continue to adopt that approach we will have a situation such as we had in May last year when the country, the parties and the people were divided on basic principles. That was demonstrated by the result of the referendum last year. It is one thing for some people to say that 60 per cent of the people of Australia voted in favour of simultaneous elections–
– Sixty-two per cent, actually.
– I thank the honourable senator. It is one thing to say, as Senator Missen reminds me, that 62 per cent voted in favour of the proposal for simultaneous elections. Maybe they did. I just wonder how many of the people to whom the proposal mattered voted. I know that in my area 74 per cent of the people voted against the shoddy simultaneous elections proposal. Shoddy it was because the proposal did not represent what was meant. Over a period of years people who took an interest in politics, people who took an interest in their Constitution and people who took an interest in the future of their country were led to believe that a situation existed whereby if they were to agree to a proposal for so-called simultaneous elections, that that would destroy the power of the Senate. As I have many times heard expressed in this chamber, the Senate should act as an independent House of review. Its review function should be related to the States and their role in our Federal compact. It is a review function which is related to the review of the Executive and, in particular, to ensuring that it has the power to require accountability out of not only the Parliamentary Executive but also the administrative executive.
All these matters were debated. In three of the States under our fundamental principles a majority of people said no. I thought that that was one of the most encouraging things that I had seen for many years in this country. What it meant was that people generally were prepared to distinguish between different referenda proposals. It has been said many times that in Australia we cannot get a referendum through because people will just act conservatively. The referendum last year showed that that is just not true. The average Australian voter is intelligent, he does pay attention to the issues and he casts an intelligent vote. The referendum result meant that in three of the six States a majority of voters saw themselves as people in a smaller State threatened by what was happening. They did not see their position threatened by the other proposals and they agreed to them. They distinguished between the various proposals being put forward. I thought this was an encouraging sign from the point of view of constitutional reform.
I believe that the arguments in relation to constitutional reform have tended to be negative. Some people have said that there is no point in putting up proposals for constitutional reform because people will not vote for them. It has been said that they are just ‘ no ‘ voters, that a majority of them are negative voters or that a majority of people in a majority of the States are negative voters and that we cannot get a referendum through. In fact, a significant number of referenda have gone through. What was demonstrated last year was that where we put up sensible reform people will vote yes and where we put up dangerous reform, the people of some States or of some parts of Australia will vote no. I think this is an encouraging sign. It makes us believe that it is worthwhile looking to a constitutional convention which represents the people from all the States and from the various Houses of the Parliaments of Australia. I hope that one day the convention will represent the people more directly than that. I hope that the people will elect their own delegates. But at least we can say that if we propose a sensible reform, which is acceptable across the board to Australian people, it is likely to be accepted by them. That makes the continuation of the attempt to consider the reform of the Constitution worthwhile. But if reform is done on a basis of playing party politics, if it is done on a basis of seeing whether we can snap through something or other and then whack it over the people, then I believe, as last year’s result shows, we are not likely to succeed.
I hope that when we further consider the reform of the Australian Constitution the Senate will be adequately represented. I hope that the smaller States will express a view which is independent of a view which may be expressed by others of the same political colour but who perhaps come from some of the bigger States. Australia is a divided nation. That was part of the problem that brought it together. It was part of the reason why my State of Tasmania was at the forefront of the Federation movement. The people of that State believed that it was absurd to continue to have tariff barriers and transport, communication and commercial problems between States. They thought that it was better to try to have one Federal economy. But they did not say: ‘We will simply surrender all our rights, all our future to wherever the numbers may be in some featherbedded industrial centres’. Unfortunately in Australia, as a result of the free trade versus protectionist debates which took place relatively early in the history of this Federation, a number of industries have been featherbedded A not unnatural result has been the accumulation of population in those areas.
To the people who think that the future of Australia is to be found in the featherbedded areas I can only say: ‘Come on the next constitutional convention when there will be an opportunity for those who have been producing and working to talk, to ensure that the compact agreed to originally is not destroyed. Otherwise the result will be that the secessionist movement which has been seen in a number of States and which is not unreal will start to gain force until it reaches the stage where secession will become a reality’. It is not a matter of Sydney and Melbourne sneering at the other States; it is a matter of them recognising that numbers are not the only answer. Numbers are not the basis upon which we get agreement as to how best to manage a national economy. Numbers are not the answer when we have a compact which is put together by specific arrangement. Some of those who were smaller in number and who were likely to remain smaller in number contributed significantly to the economy far more by earning overseas exchange and they will continue to have a say. Otherwise they will be better off by separating from this Commonwealth.
Those people would in many ways be better off saying: ‘We are sick and tired of being in a situation where we are regarded as being something of a poor relation notwithstanding the fact that we produce more, that we earn more by way of overseas trade and that we could better run a separate economy. We are talked down to by the financial centres, the manufacturing centres, the centres of big population, the centres which carry sway in the other House of this Parliament because of their numbers ‘.
Thank God, they do not carry the sway in this chamber. Here we have equal representation between the regional areas, the States which were the original members of the compact. I look forward to the day when we can reform some of the areas of the Constitution. But woe betide the day when Melbourne and Sydney think that they can just ride roughshod over the small States and over the producer areas. If we would look at the economics of the situation we would find that three States would be far better off if they ran independent economies instead of participating in this national economy. I do not advocate that step. When we are talking about constitutional conventions, about a States house having inadequate representation out of the total Commonwealth parliamentary representation, and about what changes we ought to be making to the Constitution, I ask people to bear in mind that it is not unreal to suggest that many parts of Australia would be better off to go it alone than they would be to succumb to being ridden over by a feather-bedded majority.
-I have listened with great interest to what Senator Rae has said tonight. Although there are some aspects of what he said with which I am afraid I cannot agree, I find a great deal of support for him in a number of propositions which he has made concerning the Constitutional Convention and our representation at it. I support the motion but, like Senator Rae, I strongly advocate that we should be leading on to a popular convention, one elected by the people. Perhaps in a moment I shall illustrate this with an example that he gave in regard to the matters decided at the referendum last year on which he and I took determined stands on different sides of the questions. I think one could use those matters now to come to some agreement on certain matters which Senator Rae has suggested. I shall not go into the question on which he finalised his case, that is, what might be described as the possible disappearance of Tasmania from the Federation.
– I was thinking of Western Australia and Queensland as well.
– Oh yes. We must give them some consideration. I agree.
– All three produce more than either your State or New South Wales.
– I should be happy to argue that point at another time perhaps, but not on this motion. I think it might be said that we pay a lot of tax to the other States too.
– Oh yes? Don’t come that one, please.
– I am not going to buy into this argument. I might even say: Look at the record on constitutional change. Tasmania, I think, has voted for only seven out of 5 1 propositions in the history of the Commonwealth. I feel that that is not a wonderful record in regard to constitutional change. My State has a much more positive record on this matter. I hope that in the future we will see a lot more support for constitutional change. I agree with Senator Rae that last year three out of four of the referendum proposals were reasonably understood by the people and were voted upon, carried and became part of our Constitution. This gives good hope for the future. But I could not be taken as agreeing with some of the things Senator Rae said tonight in regard to the fourth question. I do not believe for one moment that there was a danger in that proposal but unquestionably there was thought to be a danger by many people in the Commonwealth. Of course 62 per cent thought otherwise. But one must surely acknowledge that there was clearly a lack of understanding of the proposals- right or wrong. In this case a great deal of emotion was displayed and on the surface a great deal was said in the course of the campaign by people interested in the subject.
– That is the final argument of the totalitarian.
– I am really agreeing with you, Senator.
– Big Brother knows best.
– No, I am not saying that, Senator. You are seeking to find disagreement. I am not saying that Big Brother knows best whether he comes from Victoria, Tasmania or anywhere else. I am saying - I am agreeing strongly with Senator Rae- that a popularly elected convention would bring a great deal more knowledge of and concern for constitutional change to the people of Australia. Surely that does not involve the concept of Big Brother for one moment. I understood Senator Rae’s argument. The argument I am supporting here tonight is that unfortunately the form of selection of delegates at the Convention means that they come from the parliaments ofthe States and that that is far too limited.
– From the executives of the parliament.
- Senator Jessop points out that the delegates are appointed from the executives of the parliament. By and large the delegates tend to be Ministers or shadow ministers and leaders of oppositions and therefore tend not to represent a cross-section of the whole of the parliaments. What I am saying is that if we moved now to an elected convention where people had to choose delegates and had to think whether those people would be the most suitable persons to be delegates at a convention for the purpose of looking at a constitutional change, I believe we would have a better understanding of the proposals that are put forward. Probably there would be much more interest taken by the public, Press and others in the workings of the Constitutional Convention than is taken at the moment. I trust that I have convinced Senator Rae that the last thing in the world I am interested in is Big Brother or just giving leadership.
I think the ideas of change and the important changes to the Constitution that ought to be looked at are matters that have to appeal not just to our side or to the Australian Labor Party but must have a fairly broad acceptance across the chasm of politics if they are actually to have a chance of acceptance by the people. That was so with three of the proposals last year. Although in three of the States there was massive support for the fourth one there was not that support across the chasm of different State interests for it. Therefore, it was not carried. Senator Rae included the problem of the Senate not being adequately represented in the delegation to the Convention as it is formulated. The Senate has not a wide enough representation on it. This leads to the result that Sub-committee D of the Convention which was sitting between conventions to consider the question of Supply- the problem which is one of the major issues in Australiadid not have a senator on that body. It is most unfortunate that that body can come to a decision without having one senator on it.
– No, I shall not use a word like ‘reprehensible’. That has too much of a constitutional flavour. But, on the other hand, I will say that it was unfortunate, to use my moderate expression, that this should be so. I hope that while appointing delegates to this Convention and of course taking an active part in it as senators and members we will not overlook the fact that there is a need for a much deeper public interest and appreciation of this matter. We have a lot of things to do in relation to the Constitution. It is clear from reading the papers of the current Convention that it has not found yet a solution to the major or most serious problems that have divided the Australian people on the Constitution. Clearly if such solutions are to be found, as I have said, they have to appeal to a broad-based group of Australians and to be seen to be reasonable and not serving the interest of one political party or another.
While supporting this motion, nonetheless we ought to recognise the thin nature of the popular support for constitutional change at present. There is a need for us in a period of relative calm in this country to face up to the problems of our Constitution- the outdated nature of some of its terms; the fact that there are unresolved issues that have caused a great deal of crisis in Australia in recent years- and regard those matters as urgent matters that should be calling on people of goodwill to find solutions. I support this motion. Despite the slight difference of views between Senator Rae and me I think we are basically in agreement about the problems in question tonight.
– You deceived me.
– We deceived Senator Georges. I suppose that is an achievement for the day. Nonetheless, we are in agreement upon the essential importance of the Senate of constitutional change and on the need for greater knowledge and deep understanding of it, and on the need for a democratically elected convention. On that point, before Senator Georges ruins this happy note of harmony, I conclude my speech.
– I join in the debate for a short period to congratulate my colleague Senator Rae on what I believe to be a fine speech demonstrating clearly the need to preserve the integrity of the Senate and the interests of the smaller States in particular. I believe in and support the view that the representatives who are sent to the Constitutional Convention ought to be representatives of the Parliament who are duly elected by both sides of the Parliament to represent our interests in what I believe could become a quite significant quorum and not representatives of the Executive. I, too, was quite disappointed that Subcommittee D had no Senate representative when matters relating to this chamber were discussed.
– The whole future of it was discussed.
– As my colleague reminds me, the whole future of this chamber was discussed. In regard to the rejection of Supply, I believe that this chamber ought to have that ultimate sanction over the Executive, irrespective of which party it represents. But I also believe, in a constructive sense, that the Constitution could be changed to compel the Senate to face the people at the same time as the House of Representatives in the event of the Senate’s exercising of its justifiable right to reject Supply. Mr President, you may recall that I was one of those who put on the brakes when the Opposition of the day was moving towards the rejection of Supply. I do not believe this chamber should take that action unless very severe circumstances arise. I rose at this time to support and congratulate my colleague on what I believed to be a very significant speech in defence of the Senate.
– in reply- I thank honourable senators for their support of the motion and for the interesting contributions that have been made to the debate. The making or amending of constitutions is not easy. As honourable senators will recall, our own Constitution has had a very checkered career, especially in the last 10 years. There are always men of goodwill who have an urge to do something and there are always those who have an urge to prevent something being done. The nature of mankind and the nature of politics does not change overmuch. The history of Australia, certainly during the 1890s, generally has been that the men of goodwill have triumphed. That is why we now have the Commonwealth of Australia.
– There were no men of goodwill on 1 1 November 1 975. You used your numbers to destroy the Constitution. It is extraordinary that you should forget all about the events of 1 1 November 1975.
-The honourable senator somehow seems to imagine that the Constitution belongs to a government. It does not. It does not even belong to the Parliament. It does not belong to the Senate. It happens to belong to the people. What so many people tend to forget is that the
Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia was accepted by popular vote in all the six colonies in 1900. The Constitution was brought into being as a result of a popular vote. People tend to forget that. Occasionally one is lectured that the Commonwealth is the creation of the States or the creation of somebody else. In fact, it is the creation of the electors of Australia.
– As a whole.
-No. The vote was State by State. I think the honourable senator ought to go and refresh his mind. As I recall it, my own State was threatening not to have a referendum and to stay out of the Commonwealth.
– It is a pity it did not.
-Senator Mcintosh would be delighted with that comment. It was only as a result of a revolt on the eastern goldfields of Western Australia when a threat was made to petition the Queen to form a separate State there with Esperance as its port that the then State Government gave way and held a referendum which was carried by quite a large majority and resulted in Western Australia coming into the Federation. I make that point because occasionally the view is put that the Constitution belongs to the Commonwealth Government or the State governments, to the Commonwealth Parliament or the State parliaments or to a particular House of this Parliament. It happens to be the people’s Constitution and can be amended only by the people. Governments may have a capacity to initiate but the ultimate decision resides with the electors of Australia. That is what I think the Constitution is all about and ought to remain all about. Most constitutions throughout the world which are imposed from the top tend to fall into disrepair and fail, but constitutions which have the support and goodwill of the overwhelming majority of the electorate survive and the governments which operate under them carry the respect of the electorate.
I know that my own colleagues have raised a number of matters concerning the Constitutional Convention. I have heard a number of issues, canvassed, such as whether the representation of the two Houses is out of proportion and whether the balance of 10 members to six members ought to be eight members to eight members. I have heard it argued that there is an imbalance between the States’ representation, which numbers 12 a State, and the Commonwealth’s representation, which totals 16. If my mathematics are correct, the State parliaments have 72 representatives and the national Parliament has only 16.
– Only six from the Senate.
– Yes, only six representatives from the Senate. These words might sound strange coming from my own mouth, but there are some cases where numbers do not count but quality does.
– Ha, ha!
- Senator Georges does not believe me on that. I believe that the quality of the senators at the Constitutional Convention far outweighs the numerical strength they will bring to bear. I do not agree that the last Convention was a fiasco. I thought that it had a mixed bag of results. Four proposals were finally agreed to. These four were to referendums and three of them were carried. That is the highest number of referendums carried this century. To get three out of four passed -
– Will you quote me in context about the fiasco? Only 1,500 words were spoken about a matter which became one of the most intensely fought questions over a period of years. That was the point I made when I said it was a fiasco. Some 1,500 words comprised all the debate.
– That may be so. But that does not necessarily make it a fiasco. If the 70 delegates there are in agreement and the debate falls short it is not a fiasco. After all, many Bills pass through this place after maybe only 1 50 words of debate, but that does not make the legislation or the intention that the Parliament is achieving a fiasco. It is an interesting sidelight that there were four propositions on which 13 Houses of Parliament in Australia reached agreement. It shows that there is more goodwill about for constitutional reform than some people imagine. The Constitutional Convention is a method of getting the Commonwealth Parliament, which is the lone initiator of referendum proposals, to put certain things to the people. It is ultimately the people who judge whether the Constitution ought to be altered.
– Thank God.
-I agree with the honourable senator. A number of other matters were canvassed. One comment was made in the debate to which I always take exception. I know that my colleague Senator Jessop will not mind my saying that I object to the use of the term smaller States’. I come from a bigger State; it may be less populous but it is not smaller. Those of us who come from the less populous States refer to ourselves as smaller States rather than face the egos of those people from the less important but overpopulated States of Australia. I think those States ought to be known as the overpopulated States and that the States such as that from which I come should be known as the less populous States. I am not prepared to accede to the proposition of big and small States in a federation, because in this place we are all equal. No matter what the population or the geographical area, we come in here as equals and I think that in a federation States must be treated as equals but not as being big, small or anything else. I do not despair of course because there is a very interesting population shift in Australia at the moment. As I understand it, the fastest growing States are Queensland and Western Australia. It is rather interesting that in the last redistribution three of the older States each lost a seat.
– But there were -
-Oh no, I say this with the greatest of goodwill. Queensland gained an extra seat. Do not ask me its name but, as I recall, it was created due to the growth of population on the Gold Coast. As I understand it the expectation is that when the Electoral Commissioner makes his determination as a result of these statistician’s figures midway through this current Parliament, Western Australia will gain another seat. It is a rather interesting commentary -
– Do not make too many forecasts. They may be held against you.
– Yes, I know it is a dangerous exercise. It is interesting that in the last wash-up New South Wales lost two seats, Victoria lost one, South Australia lost one but Queensland gained one and it would appear that Western Australia will gain one next time. So there is this sort of change in balance. I, being the eternal optimist, will see the day when Western Australia will do what was done in California. As I understand it, California is almost as important in terms of population and electoral representation to Congress and the Presidential Electoral College as is New York State. I do not think it has surpassed it. I do not mind how big New South Wales or Victoria are or what is their representation in the House of Representatives. I just look forward to the day when my State will, if not surpass them, at least equal the representation of those States. I think one should always think positively about these matters; not negatively.
– We still rely on quality.
– Yes, we still rely on quality from Western Australia because, like going to the Constitutional Convention, we might not have the numbers but we have the quality.
– Why do you not carry on for the rest of the night?
-I was just about to finish. I was about to say that I am delighted that the Senate has expressed these remarks. I hope to see most of honourable senators at the Convention.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 30 May, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a first time.
– When the Senate adjourned last night Senator Sheil was speaking but as he is not present tonight it is obvious that he has completed his statement to the nation. I want to start by correcting some of the statements that were made in this chamber last night by Senator Collard . I want to refer briefly to the rather racist tirade on which Senator Sheil based his speech and his whole contribution to the debate. I will not discuss those matters in depth because I want to talk about the Aurukun and Mornington Island communities which have not hit the headlines for the last few days.
I think it would be appropriate first of all to correct some points that Senator Collard made. One thing that disturbed me is that in my almost thirteen years in this chamber it was perhaps the most vicious personal attack that has been made on me by an honourable senator from the Government side.
– It was reprehensible.
– Yes, ‘reprehensible’ is a very appropriate word. On 4 May I spoke here about the Iwasaki project at Yeppoon. I quoted from documents, all of which were signed, and I quoted from statements that had been made to me personally by responsible people. There was no way that any of that information that I gave to the Senate on that evening was incorrect. But Senator Collard chose to pick out certain pieces and in his own speech he admitted that he used selected pieces. One of his references was to my statement that the project would be built on rich land. I maintain that it is a rich land area, even the famous boglands with the crustaceans and fish breeding grounds in that area. He claimed that the statements I made in relation to the plan and that the price had escalated since the Iwasaki project began were untrue. I maintain that he is totally incorrect because he claimed that four allotments could be gained from one acre. Then he cited what is virtually a fictitious figure because the quarter acre allotments can be purchased only by people in the very wealthy class; yet he divided each acre into quarter acre allotments.
He claimed that I know nothing about the area. I am sorry that he is not in the chamber tonight but he will be able to read my speech in Hansard tomorrow. I want to point out that I have been visiting that area for almost half a century. One of my first adventures in Rockhampton was trying to steal the goldfish from a pond in the botanical gardens when I was about six or seven years of age until my mother caught me and I had to empty both pockets and put the goldfish back again. Senator Collard quoted Mr Iwasaki as saying that the area, as far as possible, will be left untouched. He referred particularly to the boglands areas. That is not a promise to us at all. The fact that Mr Iwasaki has made that statement does not mean that it is true. I first raised this matter in the Senate- before the end of this session I want to talk about another franchise agreement, that is in relation to Mount Larcomwhen Mr Iwasaki was able to persuade the Queensland Premier to make available a franchise agreement which gave him virtual dictatorial control over the whole of this area.
I notice that Senator Collard is now present so I am pleased to be able to continue my speech. The good senator said that a survey taken in the area did not find one prawn. That would depend on what area was searched for prawns. The breeding grounds are there and Senator Collard knows that. He criticised me for my suggestion that only menial jobs would be available to Australians. There is honour in all labour. I do not care whether a job is menial because I have done both types in my life. What I am saying is that up to 90 per cent of the staff employed on this project will not be Australians but Japanese nationals and that will not do very much at all to relieve the unemployment situation in this country.
– What evidence do you have?
– The honourable senator, as a member of the National Country Party, made all sorts of wild statements saying that nobody is opposed to the project but then he went on to denigrate the people who are leading the groups that are opposed to it. It was an unfair criticism and, if I might say with great respect, it was also blatantly untruthful to make such a statement. We know that a large section of the returned servicemen’s organisations is opposed to the selling out of lands to people from other countries. Not only the Returned Services League but also the Legion of Ex-servicemen and Women and other ex-service bodies have expressed these sentiments at numerous conferences. The fact that the Premier of Queensland was a conscientious objector in World War II is his own business. I have no objection to that at all. I admire people who have the courage to be conscientious objectors but the Premier of Queensland blotted his copybook. It has been said publicly and he has never repudiated it. One can assume only -
– I repudiated it the other day.
-Nobody takes much notice of Senator Collard because he has a great capacity to fiddle with the truth. I am not calling him an untruthful man. It is just that he is able to fiddle with the truth. The only thing to which I object is the way the Premier of Queensland then interfered in the Indonesian confrontation with East Timor and the way he encouraged national governments of the day to increase our commitment in Vietnam. If one is a conscientious objector in one war, one ought conscientiously to object to all wars. Apparently he has not carried out the principles that he once adopted. Some rather rude references were made by Senator Collard to Mr Harris and his campaign against the Iwasaki project. Senator Collard said:
I say we should welcome him.
He was referring to Mr Iwasaki. There are a lot of reasons why the whole project ought to be examined closely by this Government. I am amazed that a National Country Party senator should get up in this chamber and indulge in the sort of tirade that Senator Collard engaged in last night. I believe it is only fair that I should repudiate some of the quite false statements that he made. The reason I raised this matter in the chamber in the first place is that no environmental impact study has been carried out, except by the organisation. If an organisation wants to establish a project, it has a great ability to produce impact studies that favour its attitudes. There is no guarantee, in terms of the foreign capital involved, that the Government would approve of it anyway. Even the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick), when he replied to me that night, agreed that certain aspects had to be examined. I hope that before this session of the Parliament is completed we will get some of the results. I want to go a little further before I return to my friend Senator Collard. On 11 May a number of people signed a petition. It states:
We the undersigned Federal Members and Senators strongly urge the Federal Government to institute a public inquiry into the proposed $100m Iwasaki tourist resort at Yeppoon in Central Queensland under Section 11 ( 1 ) of the Federal Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974.
It was signed by Dr Doug Everingham, the member of Parliament for Capricornia, by Barry Cohen, who is our shadow Minister for the Environment, Senator George Georges, Senator Mai Colston, Senator Janine Haines and myself. Mr Ben Humphreys indicated also that he wanted to sign it but the petition had been issued before he was able to make contact with us. I quote section 11 ( 1 ) for the record. It states:
For the purpose of procedures approved under this Act and for achieving the object of this Act, the Minister may direct that an inquiry be conducted in respect of all or any of the environmental aspects of a matter referred to in any of the paragraphs of section 5, whether or not the environmental impact statement has, in accordance with procedures under this Act, been furnished to the Minister.
That is one of the big problems we have raised. It has been raised by my colleague Senator Georges, by me and by others. We want to know what happened. I refer again to the statement I made on 4 May 1978. I reiterate that almost every section of that statement was based on signed documents. In the few cases where there was not a signed document, my information came from thoroughly reliable people. Senator Collard interjected in the first two minutes of my comments when I stated that the Iwasaki Sangyo Company had taken control of over 20,000 acres of choice land on the Queensland coast at virtually bargain prices. He interjected and said that it was a wilderness. I continued:
Senator Collard says that it is a wilderness. It is choice land. If Senator Collard would like to listen he will find that the area has some value, even if it is not the sort of place where he would like to grow beef cattle. Mr Iwasaki will pay a little over $3,000 an acre but only a few kilometres away land is available for $ 100,000 an acre.
Last night Senator Collard quoted a sum of $150,000.
– You quoted that amount.
-The amount of $100,000 is the figure I quoted.
-But you quoted $150,000 a few minutes later.
– I made reference to an amount of $150,000 later. The actual amount quoted, if it is not taken out of context, is $100,000 an acre. These blocks are then divided into quarter acre blocks and sold for $ 1 1 ,000 each. If one looks at this matter in the right perspective, quite obviously the figures that Senator Collard quoted were a misstatement of fact. My statement of 4 May continued:
As it was Senator Collard who interjected, he might ask some of his friends in his own party in Queensland why they are suddenly speculating in a certain area.
Last night Senator Collard said that he was not one of those who were speculating. He suggested that I might like to get a commission for selling some land in the area. Quite frankly I have never indulged in that sort of practice in public life and I never will. I accept Senator Collard ‘s word that his bank manager will not let him speculate in such land sales either. He would probably be interested to know that one of the National Party Ministers in Queensland is endeavouring to purchase a fairly substantial holding in that area and that two other members of the National Party who sit in the Parliament of Queensland already own land there and are speculating on the strength of the Iwasaki project. If that is not misusing one’s parliamentary position, I do not know what is. I suggest that Senator Collard goes very slowly in this matter or he will have people from the Queensland State Parliament attacking him for upsetting their speculation in that area. On 4 May, I further stated:
The bog lands are a marine nursery for the prawns and produce 70 per cent of the catch for the fishing industry based on Yeppoon.
All surveys have indicated that this is true. It does not matter how much Senator Collard tries to distort the facts.
-Senator Collard admitted last night that he knows nothing about fishing. Yet he came in here and posed as an expert and contradicted the statements that have been made by experts. I suggest that he should grow up politically and accept logic and fact if he is to take part in debate in this chamber. In my comments of 4 May I further stated:
This fact has been confirmed by Mr Don Tuma, a marine biologist with the Queensland Fisheries Department. Mr Iwasaki has stated that the average elevation of the developable property is 1.3 to 1.5 metres below the high water mark.
If there is any filling-in in that area, quite obviously it will affect the marine breeding areas. I have here a copy of the Bill which covers aspects with respect to an agreement between the State of Queensland and the Iwasaki Sangyo Company of Australia Pty Ltd and for purposes incidental thereto and consequent thereon. I discussed this matter last night with the President and the Minister for Education. We reached a consensus that it was much too big to be incorporated in Hansard. I have received assurances from both the Minister and the President that I will receive a duplicate of it. Therefore, I seek leave to table the document.
-On Thursday, 4 May a media release was issued by Mr Ray Harris, who is the president of the local environment group. It states:
Opponents of the $ 100m proposes Iwasaki tourist resort at Yeppoon, Queensland have accused the Federal Government of a ‘cover-up’.
We believe that the Federal Government is scared of the Queensland Premier’ Mr Ray Harris, a spokesperson for the Capricorn Coast Protection Council, said. ‘This is why various Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are refusing to see a deputation to put our opposition ‘.
Representatives of the Capricorn Coast Protection Council and the Capricornia Master Fishermen’s Association have been seeking appointments with Federal Ministers for over two weeks. ‘We know that both Mr Iwasaki himself and Mr Bjelke-Petersen have seen a number of Federal Ministers, including the Treasurer, in recent weeks’.
It is most improper for the Federal Government to make any decision on this serious matter without hearing all viewpoints, including long standing opposition from various sections of the local community’, Mr Harris said.
One of the major areas of concern is destruction of the fishing industry, employing at least 200 people, earning $3m per year and, moreover is an industry which has sought no subsidies whatsoever during the current economic downturn. ‘
In Queensland the State Government ignores the ordinary people. In this situation the Australian Government has a responsibility to Australian citizens to listen to their views and opposition’, Mr Harris said.
For the benefit of Senator Collard, I point out that Mr Harris’s phone number is 391790, if Senator Collard wants to ring him and check the veracity of the statement. On the same date I issued a Press statement in these terms: the Iwasaki land deal on the Central Queensland coast would become a scandal of international proportions if the Federal Government did not intervene.
From what the Minister said on the evening of that date, I gather that the Federal Government does propose to intervene and at least to make sure that the financial and environmental matters are looked after. Those are the two fields in which the Federal Government has the power to intervene. My Press release continued:
The Queensland Premier has now become a dealer in real estate and with the aid of the notorious franchise agreement, the Iwasaki-Sangyo Company has taken control of over 20,000 acres of choice land on the Queensland coast at bargain basement prices.
Mr Iwasaki will pay only a little over $3,000 per acre, yet only a few kilometres away similar land sells for well over $100,000 per acre.
Of course, the good senator from the central district claims that those figures are incorrect. Last night he was selling building blocks at $ 1 1 ,000 a block, which is a vastly different price from the $3,000 for which Mr Iwasaki can buy an acre of building land. I continued:
The whole deal is very shady and has been carried out with the utmost secrecy.
The greatest tragedy of all is that there has been no effective environmental impact study and the adjacent wetlands will be ruined.
The wetlands constitute the main breeding area for a thriving fish and prawn industry which is currently worth about $3m annually and, totally unsubsidised, keeps 200 people in employment.
Two major requirements are foreign investment controls and the need to comply with Federal environmental impact study legislation.
There appears to be some reluctance by the Federal Government to intervene. Is this because of the political mauling the Federal Government received at the hands of Premier Petersen over the Aurukun and Mornington Island Affair?
If the Federal Government fails to take immediate action in accordance with existing Federal legislation, then the Commonwealth Government will have to share responsibility with the Queensland Government for the social, cultural, economic and ecological disaster that will result from the Iwasaki-Petersen deal if it goes through in its present form.
I do not withdraw any of that. I stick to all of what I said on that date. It is as true now as it was then. Let us look now at Mr Yohachiro Iwasaki. He has a very dubious background. I shall read only the first few lines of this document and then seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the other two pages. I obtained permission last night from the President and the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) to do this when I thought that I was going to speak. Mr Iwasaki was born on 1 May 1902 in Iwakawa, Ohsumi-cho, Soh-gun Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. He started in business in 1923 with Iwasaki Shoten- ‘shoten’ in Japanese means a shop- in Kagoshima. The document continues:
He is said to have worked as a wagoneer when young but he is a person of many legends and with his true past unknown. In Kagoshima he is known as a man who has built up his fortune on his own, a self-made tycoon in his own right he is not associated with the Iwasaki Zaibatsu . . . which was one of the Japanese monopoly groups before World War II.
He does not belong to the top-rated group of Japanese industrialists who dominate the Japanese economy. However he is a leading industrialist in his own province, Kagoshima Prefecture in the Kyushu area in southern Japan. He is the holder of several decorations conferred on him by The Emperor for ‘contribution to the public’.
The document goes on to give the share capital holdings of his companies, when they were established, and the amount in millions of yen that are in them. I seek leave to have the balance of the document incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted?
– We have not had an opportunity to see the document from which Senator Keeffe is quoting. However, if it covers the matters he mentioned, there is no objection.
– I can explain that. Both Senator Webster and the President examined the document last night.
– Then there is no objection to the document being incorporated.
The document read as follows-
Among his more notable offices are:
President of: Iwasaki Sangyo, Kagoshima Kotsu (transportation), Iwasaki Ringyo (forestry), Iwasaki Ginji Fudosan (real estate), Ibusuki Kanko (hotel), Olympic Kanko (tourism), Kagoshima Shosen (merchant shipping), Nankai Yusen (ferry service), Sengoku Unso (transportation).
Managing Director of: Okushima Electrical Industry, Chiyoda Fire Insurance and South Japan Broadcasting Co.
Chairman of: Kikuka Gakuen (private school), Iwasaki Scholarship Fund, Kagoshima Trade Association and Kagoshima Bus Association.
All the enterprises fully or partly owned by Iwasaki are organised in what is termed ‘The Iwasaki Group’ of companies.
The group comprises about 60 different companies, some of which are listed below with details when known.
The main companies are two:
Iwasaki Sangyo Co. Ltd- Head Office 7-17, 2-Chome, Ginga Chuoh-ku, TOKYO. Phones 03-561-0136, 03-561-1041 Branch Office 9-5, Yamashita-choh, Kagoshima-shi KAGOSHIMA. Phone 0992-23-0111. Branch Office 195, Minato-cho, Hakodate-shi, HAKODATE, Hokkaido. Phone 0138-41 -5278.
Share Capital 390.000.000 Yen ( 1 . 08m A$).
Established; April 1940.
Number of employees; about 280.
Board of Directors: Y. Iwasaki (president), Jukuzo Iwasaki (vice-president), Kyutaro Baba, Izumi Yoshiwara, Yoshio Iwasaki, Juhei Kanda, Ichiro Taguchi, Masakazu Hayashida, Eiichi Kimura and Junichi Fuchikami.
Industries: Forestry, Pharmaceuticals, Petroleum products, Tyre-trading and Tourism.
Kagoshima Kotsu Co. Ltd- Established: April 1943.
Capital: 645,000,000 Yen ($A1.8m) 34.4m shares (not listed stock).
Annual turnover: $A5.3m.
Industries: Local railway, cable car, bus and helicopter transport, road building, parks and recreational grounds, hotel and inn-keeping, toll-way.
Fleet: About 350 buses, 35 rail motor and cars, 3 helicopters and 5. 1 5 miles of toll-roads.
Other companies in the group are:
Tanegashima Kotsu- bus transport, Y18m.
Yakushima Kotsu- bus transport, Y10m.
Amami Transport- bus and track, Y6m.
Ibusuki Taxi- taxis, Y 1.5m.
Kagoshima Taxi- taxis, Y3m.
Makurazaki Taxi- taxis, Y5m.
Kezeda Taxi- taxis, Y5m.
Osumi Taxi- taxis, Y6.5m.
Sata Taxi- taxis, Y2.5m.
Amami Taxi- taxis, Y3m.
Tanegashima Taxi- taxis, Y3.5m.
Yakujima Taxi- taxis, Y5m.
Misu Taxi- taxis, Y5m.
Nankai Taxi- taxis, Y2.5m.
Miyakonojo Taxi- taxis, Y3m.
Kagoshima Kotsu Kanko- hotel and inn, Ylm.
Ibusuki Kanko- hot springs resort hotels, Y800m.
Opened in 1953.
Iwasaki Kanko- hot springs resort hotels, Y 1 00m.
Sata Kanko- hotel, Ylm.
Tanegashima Kanko- hotel, Y1/2m.
Amami Kanko- hotel, Ylm.
Kagoshima Shosen- shipping (coastal shipping in Japan).
Nankai Yusen- shipping (coastal in Japan).
Kinkowan Ferry Co.- ferry service (ferry service at Kagoshima).
Iwasaki Ringyo Co.- forestry and timber.
Iwasaki Plant Research Institute, plant research.
Iwasaki Fisheries Research Institute, fishery research.
In addition but under unknown trade names Iwasaki operates in mining, oil-refining ( 1 7 gas stations of refuelling stands in Kagoshima and Miyazaki Prefectures), Kagoshima Shimpo, local newspaper.
Most of the above companies have not been started by Iwasaki but taken over.
Other assets and affiliations:
Iwasaki owns large tracts of forest land in the Kagoshima Prefecture and almost monopolises such ownership in the Amami Oshima area.
Financial backing for the growth of Iwasaki Sangyo and Iwasaki Group does not derive from his private fortune, largely bound in fixed assets but from Iwasaki Sangyos shareholding in the Kagoshima Banking Corporation where I/S is the biggest shareholder and utilises the bank as its financial backbone.
As Kagoshima Banking Corporation is the most important local bank in that Prefecture Iwasaki has a big say in the local economy, often utilised to stifle and control opposition, in business.
Political influence. Iwasaki who is a supporter of the Liberal-Democratic Party is closely connected with Governor Kanamaru of Kagoshima Prefecture and has been known to exert political heavy influence for business and financial ends.
Industrial influence and brief history- Iwasaki has a long history in the timber industry and the company has been associated with railway sleepers for much of that period. His initial business breakthrough appears to have been linked with the supply of railway sleepers to the Japanese Army in its aggression war in China in the thirties. Some of the timber suppliers are reputed to have been extracted in China itself by Chinese slave labour.
Further war profiteering with railway sleepers was conducted by Iwasaki during the Korean war when his close association with the Commander of the 8th US Army enabled him a virtual monopoly on sleepers for the Korean railways.
The company still enjoys very considerable business with the Japanese railways for timber supplies of various kinds.
The two other important industries conducted are transport and tourism. In the transport field Iwasaki through Kagoshima Kotsu controls almost entirely the local transport system in Kagoshima itself and a major part of the busservice network over the entire Prefecture. Apart from bus services other branches are employed in trucking. The extensive taxi ownership is mainly located to areas where a high number of tourists are passing through or staying in the regime of other branches of the Group and forms close to a monopoly at such locations.
The tourism ventures to be of post-war origin and are centred around the Ibuski Kanko hotel and recreational complex with several smaller branches at other locations. In addition to the actual hotels and their facilities there are at least two other important parkland areas owned and maintained for tourism purposes by Iwasaki and apparently comprising hundreds of acres each, with numerous recreational and amusement facilities. The transport branches provide tours to such locations by bus, train and ship, in the Prefecture and to adjacent island resorts. His operations, if any, in international tourism are of very recent origin.
Iwasaki- home image- In his home Prefecture of Kagoshima he is generally known and criticised as being a cruel man’ or a man ‘who does everything for the sake of money earning’. He is considered ‘terribly stingy’ and ‘dirty with money’.
Another report says that ‘he controls the prefectural administrations for the interest of his own business’ and runs mad after gains and profits at the cruel sacrifice of medium or small business and small property owners ‘.
Iwasaki Sangyo and associated companies have a reputation for extending credit to the limit towards small and medium sized business ‘. . . enterprises owners frequently have to visit to make earnest appeal for payment. It takes about six months before they get their bills paid . . . ‘ On occasions extending of credit has been utilised by Iwasaki to soften ground for take-overs. During land purchases in the Amami-Oshima area on several occasions ‘. . . he only paid the first deposit leaving for long the rest unpaid and thus causing serious troubles to the sellers . . . ‘ Iwasaki’s treatment of employees is sometimes badly criticised.
Thus the employees of the Kagoshima Shimpo Newspaper were hindered by him personally to organise themselves in a trade union. In the end Iwasaki did give in but conditions are still reported to include ‘neglection of workers rights’. During 1972 a worker killed on company grounds by a company truck, was the reason for a pending court case. According to common practice in Japan the workers family were entitled to compensation by the employer but Iwasaki refused payment, blamed the driver of the truck and the case is now being fought in court.
A consistent policy appears to be that continuous pressure on employees is applied so that ‘from fear some workers escaped from the trade union’.
Iwasakis home addresses are:
One mansion in Kagoshima, 4-48, Kasugacho, Kagoshima, Japan.
One apartment in Tokyo, 7-12-20, Kita Karasuyama, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Sources: Kazuko Katsumato, Yamaguchi-ken, Japan. K. Mizuno, Tokyo Press Club, Tokyo. Chamber of Commerce and Industry Shimonoseki, Japan. Chamber of Commerce, Kagoshima, Japan.
-Let us now look at the background of the man who is Mr Iwasaki’s chief champion in this chamber. Senator Stanley James Collard is a senator for Queensland and a member of the National Country Party of Australia. He was elected to the Senate for Queensland in 1975. His committee service includes the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances from 24 February 1976, the Senate Legislative and General Purpose Committee on Education and the Arts from 24 March 1976, and Senate Estimates Committee D- big deal- from 29 April 1976. His party positions include those of secretary of the Kennedy Division of the National Party of Australia from 1967 to 1976, representative of the North Queensland National Party of Australia on the Queensland Management Committee from 1 972 to 1975, and campaign director for each election from 1966 for Mr Bob Katter, M.P. I am not sure what party Mr Katter belonged to at that time. However, Senator Collard was his campaign director.
– Is that the former Minister?
-We have gone into all those matters about Mr Katter. I shall not repeat them. Senator Collard was born on 25 March 1936 at Maleny, Queensland. He is married and his occupation and interests before entering Federal Parliament were locomotive engine driver and a senior lay member of the Methodist Church. Senator Collard and Mr Iwasaki have two things in common. At two stages in their history they have both been union bashers. I suppose that that is looked upon -
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I think that I am being misrepresented. I have listened with some interest to Senator Keeffe ‘s diatribe, but I have never been a union basher. I have been a proud member of a quite responsible union, and I do not think that comment is called for.
- Mr President, if Senator Collard wishes to do so at the end of Senator Keeffe ‘s speech, he can claim to have been misrepresented.
– I find the term ‘union bashing’ a little offensive.
– Yes, that is a point of order. Senator Keeffe, offence has been taken.
-Senator Collard will have an opportunity at the end of this debate to make a personal explanation.
– No, a point of order has been taken. The words ‘union basher’ are offensive to Senator Collard. Please withdraw them.
– Do I have to withdraw on behalf of Mr Iwasaki as well? I gather that Senator Collard has asked me to withdraw on behalf of both of them.
– I have referred to the offence taken by Senator Collard to the words union basher’. Please withdraw them.
– I will withdraw those words and I will put it this way: Mr Iwasaki is a union basher. That is included in the document I have incorporated, and it is a reliable document. In the case of Senator Collard, I will be a little more gentle and say that he has been less than friendly to most people associated with trade unions. On every occasion in this place he votes against arbitration legislation and in favour of the bosses. That is not being nasty to Senator Collard, that is just telling the truth about him. I conclude my comments on the Iwasaki matter, before going on to the Aurukun problems, by saying that I hope the Australian Government will look at the foreign investment aspects of the Iwasaki company. I hope also that a proper environmental impact study will be carried out and that the Queensland Government and the developers of the project, including Senator Collard if he has a personal interest in it, will be forced to ensure that the environmental impact of the propect conforms with the letter of the Australian law.
I now transfer my remarks to what was intended to be my original contribution to this debate, that is, to all aspects of the problem of Aurukun and Mornington Island in Queensland. I asked here the other day what the Australian Government would do if the Queensland Government decided to disband the council at either settlement and take over by armed force. That was not an idle or trouble-making question. The Queensland Government is prepared, if necessary, to move armed police into both settlements to take them over if it does not receive the co-operation of the councils. The council was perfectly justified the other day in turning back a number of State officials who tried to take over Aurukun. The other story that has been told in this Parliament- I am not accusing Ministers or anybody else of telling untruths about it-
Suicide of Romas Kalanta in Lithuania in 1972.
– Order! It being 1 1 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I feel that I owe the Senate a brief explanation for speaking at this late hour. I had sought to speak at the first reading stage of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1977-78 but, because of the legislative program, I have not been able to do so up to this time.
– You can do it tomorrow.
– I feel that it is appropriate to make this statement during the month of May because it refers to events in May 1972. This month marks the sixth anniversary of the events to which I want to refer and, as there is less than an hour of May left, I feel it appropriate and necessary to make the statement tonight. I refer to the suicide of Romas Kalanta in Lithuania on 14 May 1972. He committed suicide in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. His suicide was followed by others and by a number of demonstrations in Lithuania and other Baltic States. I feel that the Senate and others in Australia should remember the events that occurred in the Baltic States in May 1972. 1 will refer to reports in the New York Times and the London Times of May 1972 which gave some information about the events that had occurred in the Baltic States. For example, these reports referred to the fact that several thousand youths battled Soviet policemen and soldiers in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas in a riot that developed after Romas Kal anta ‘s suicide.
According to the information available to me, Romas Kalanta was a young factory worker from the city of Kaunas. He spent his evenings attending a night school. He was a talented student, a religious youth, and was not known to be an agitator. The London Times in May 1972 recorded that sources from Kaunas said that the disorders had eventually died down after Soviet parachute troops and KGB units drawn mainly from central Asian and the Caucasus garrisons moved in to reinforce the police. The reports also indicated that, earlier in 1972, 17,000 of Lithuania’s three and a half million Roman Catholics had signed a letter to Dr Kurt Waldheim, the United Nations’ SecretaryGeneral, complaining of alleged religious repression by the communist authorities in Lithuania.
It was reported that Romas Kalanta. who burnt himself to death, died shouting ‘Freedom for Lithuania’. In the rioting that developed later it is reported that there were several thousand young people involved at the time and after his funeral. I gather that there was a very unsettled situation in cities such as Kaunas in Lithuania and elsewhere in the Baltic States at that time. It was reported also that these events were contained by the parachute troops and KGB internal law enforcement units with some difficulty. The London Times reported:
Telephone conversations with sources living in other Baltic cities indicated that the reports of the Kaunas riots were spreading by word of mouth throughout the Baltic States.
These events were unprecedented in the Baltic States, obviously reflecting some of the feelings of those people and particularly their antiRussian feelings following the annexation of the Baltic States, including Lithuania, in 1 940. Previously they had been under the czarist regime for about 120 years.
Although since 1972 there have been fewer such demonstrations of the wish for greater freedom on the part of the Lithuanian people- fewer overt signs- I believe that these feelings are no less present and are perhaps stronger now than ever. I have already referred to protests concerning religious freedom that have been made to the United Nations. Honourable senators will recall the occasion when a Lithuanian sailor, Simas Kudirka, sought refuge on a United States coastguard vessel in 1970 and was later sent back and sentenced to 10 years hard labour for having made an attempt at freedom. I think that the following reported statement by him is very significant:
All I demand is an independent Lithuania, one that is not occupied by any army, and has a free, democratic system of elections.
I have raised this matter this evening because this month marks the sixth anniversary of those events in Lithuania and elsewhere in the Baltic States when the people of the Baltic States took a stand for their freedom and independence and, through those events, made their views known to the world. As a result, many people in Lithuania in particular suffered. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard some extracts from the Amnesty International Journal A Chronicle of Current Events from 1972 to 1973, which outline the events to which I have been referring and some of the subsequent developments.
The documents read as follows-
EXTRACTS FROM A CHRONICLE OF CURRENT EVENTS JOURNAL OF THE SOVIET HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT, PUBLISHED BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Events in Lithuania
On 14 May, in one of the squares of Kaunas, Romas Kalanta (born 1953), who had finished secondary education and was the son of a college lecturer died by selfimmolation, under the banner ‘Freedom for Lithuania’. Three of his friends surrounded the burning youth and would not allow anyone to approach him. They were arrested and charged with ‘premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances’ (equivalent of article 102 in the Russion Criminal Code). Their names are so far unknown to the Chronicle.
Kalanta died in hospital a few hours later. His funeral was scheduled for 1 8 May. A few hours before the appointed time his body was secretely taken from the morgue and buried. People who had arrived for the funeral went to the place of his self-immolation. A very large crowd gathered. The police set about dispersing it. The assembly offered resistance. Rumour has it that one policeman died. After this troops were called in, and they dispersed the crowd. The disorders’ continued on 19 May also. Many people were arrested. Some were given ten to fifteen days’ imprisonment for ‘petty hooliganism’. Criminal proceedings were instituted against several people.
A Kaunas newspaper printed a photocopy of a letter from the parents of Kalanta: ‘A great misfortune has befallen our family- the suicide of our son. Everyone will understand the grief of his parents. But some irresponsible elements, taking advantage of our misfortune, are talking of the persecution of relatives, and trying to disturb law and order in the town. Others, simply out of curiosity, are following their example, thereby causing us even greater pain. No-one has the human right to behave thus. The greatest comfort to our family would be to be left in peace.’ This letter was reprinted in newspapers in Vilnius in the Lithuanian and Russian languages.
The Chairman of Kaunas City Soviet Executive Committee [J. M. Seris] appeared on Kaunas television with ‘interpretations’. In particular, he said: ‘The investigatory organs have enquired into and elucidated the circumstances of his suicide. A forensic-medical commission was created. The doctors who participated in its work were: J. Andriuskevicene, Reader in the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University; V. Berneris, Head Doctor of Kaunas Psycho-neurological Hospital; J. Gutmanas, (39) Chief Psychiatrist of the Lithuanian Ministry of Health; I. Surkus, Professor at Kaunas Medical Institute; and other specialists in the field [among them A. Dauksene]. Having carried out a forensic-psychiatric examination and studied the documents, letters and sketches of the deceased at its disposal, and also taking into account the evidence of parents, teachers and friends, the commission came to the conclusion that Romas Kalanta was mentally ill and had committed suicide while in a morbid frame of mind. Certain irresponsible persons, a group of juveniles, not understanding, and incorrectly appraising, the above-mentioned fact, and devoid of any sense of responsibility, tried to disturb law and order’ in the town . . . We appeal to school directors, teachers, parents and young people and call upon them to assist in safeguarding the peace in this town. ‘ (40)
39 ) See Gutmana’s role in the S. Kudirka case. Chronicle 20.
This Speech was also reported by Vilnius Radio in English on 27 May. Similar accounts of the commission’s findings appeared in Kauno Tiesa 20 May and Sovetskaya Litva 2 1 May, and another such was given by I. Udaltsov at an official press-conference in Moscow on 25 May. According to an eye-witness of the events, however, Kalanta ‘s friends said that he was mentally healthy, a member of the Komsomol, and neither drunk nor disturbed when he immolated himself. See the Sunday Telegraph London, 2 July 1972. For other press coverage see agency reports dated 21 and 22 May.
In one issue of the paper Kauno Tiesa letters were published ‘condemning the acts of hooliganism’.
On 22 May the same paper printed an article ‘Who are They, these Disturbers of the Peace?’ The article says: ‘On 1 8 and 19 May a small band of hooligans caused a disturbance of law and order. In order to inform our readers who these hooligans are, the editors addressed themselves to the town Procuracy. There we discovered that the majority are persons with previous records of conviction on more than one occasion for hooliganism and other criminal offences. They are long-haired, degenerate, perverted hooligans, of unsightly appearance. Here are the character-references we have received on some of them’. The article continues with a description of five of those arrested in the square. One of them, Genrikas Pociunas, a school-leaver, has had criminal proceedings instituted against him for ‘breach of the peace, insubordination and use of violence against members of the police force’.
On 2 8 May, during a fair on the market-square of the town of Varena, Stonis (a sanitary technician born in 1949) and three of his friends hoisted the (Lithuanian) national flag. Stonis ‘s friends were seized immediately by the police, but he himself managed to get away. Next day in the same square he set fire to himself(41). He died on 10 June in a military hospital. The funeral took place under police and KGB supervision. For the duration of the funeral roadblocks were set up on all roads into Varena
On 3 June, on a Kaunas street (the square in which Kalanta died by self-immolation is under guard) a worker, Andriuskevicius (born 1912), set himself alight for the same reasons. He died the next day in a military hospital. He was buried secretly by the police in an unknown locality.
On 10 June in a Kapsukas street a worker, Zalickauskas (born 1910), tried to burn himself to death, but was seized. He is now in a military hospital (42 )
The Events in Lithuania
No. 27 (October 1972)
Some details have become known about the tragic suicide of Romas Kalanta and the events that followed it in Kaunas (see Chronicle No. 26). Kalanta died by self-immolation at about 1 p.m. (on May 1 4) in a city garden next to the Kaunas Musical Theatre and opposite the City Soviet Executive Committee building. Sitting on a bench in the garden, Kalanta wrote something in a notebook, tore out the sheets of paper and laid them on the stone edging of a fountain, poured petrol over himself, scattered what remained of it all a round and set himself alight. The youth asked people who rushed up to him to kill him. Soon he fell to the ground, still inside the circle of flames. The story of how Kalanta ‘s friends did not allow anyone to approach him (see Chronicle No. 26) has so far not been confirmed. The sheets of paper left by Kalanta were read by many of the people who came up to the spot where the suicide had taken place. The Chronicle does not know their precise content. All that is known is that Kalanta protested at the prevailing conditions in Lithuania and asserted that it was better to die then to go on living as before.
The burns received by Kalanta turned out to be so extensive that after he had been taken to hospital he had to be given injections in the soles of his feet. Rumour has it that Kalanta, delirious, repeated again and again: ‘I shan’t tell you anything’. It was also rumoured that the KBG maintained a constant guard by his bedside. Kalanta died a few hours later.
His body was taken by relatives to his home on Paperiu Street (Viliampole district). Access to the body was apparently open to all. Many people, especially the young, came to pay their last respects to the deceased.
On 18 May, long before the appointed hour of 4 o’clock in the afternoon, many people who wished to attend the funeral gathered at the house. When the hearse drove off from the house it immediately accelerated sharply, leaving the funeral procession far behind, and the mourners did not reach the cemetery until the burial was over. In the meantime a large crowd had assembled outside Kalanta ‘s home. A call to go to the place of the suicide was taken up, and people started chanting ‘To the city garden! ‘ All along the way new people joined in the demonstration; traffic came to a halt and the police did not interfere with the demonstrators. The procession was chanting ‘Freedom!’, Lithuania! ‘. Conversations sprang up amongst the marchers about the arrest of some of Kalanta ‘s fellow-students who had tried to decorate the place of bis self-immolation with flowers. Rumours circulated, evidently false, to the effect that Kalanta ‘s father had been detained. Upon reaching the city gardens the demonstration turned towards the City Executive Committee building. Shouts of ‘Free the arrested people! They are our comrades!’ rang out. The doors and windows of the building were bolted. The demonstrators crossed over into the gardens, where they held a meeting. One appeal made was that they should not cease their daily demonstrations until the arrested persons were freed. ‘We promise! ‘ the crowd chanted, ‘ Freedom for Lithuania! ‘ Girls laid flowers on the spot of the suicide. The demonstrators sang national songs. From the park the demonstration moved down Freedom Avenue in the direction of the KGB headquarters. Not far from what used to be a cathedral and is now an art gallery the procession was halted by police cordons blocking its path. For some time the row of policemen did not move a step. Now politely, now giving orders, they requested people to disperse. Someone in plain clothes grabbed a girl from the head of the demonstration and tried to drag her towards the KBG building, but the crowd forced him aside. On the cathedral steps brief and spontaneous meetings gathered time and again.
The police began to bear down on the demonstrators and force them into side streets and courtyards. Buses and police vehicles appeared and the police began herding demonstrators into the cars. Only then did real clashes with the police begin and fights break out- Near the cathedral a policeman was seriously injured (or, according to another version, killed) by a stone.
On 18 May the police and state security officials were unable to control the situation. Skirmishes with the police continued until nightfall.
On 19 May demonstrators began to gather at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Clashes with the police occurred. From approximately 7 p.m. military units were brought in to break up the demonstration for good. They beat the demonstrators, and also any people who happened to be in the streets, with rubber truncheons. According to rough estimates, about 400 people were detained. Prison cells were filled to overflowing and, in some, men and women were confined together. Also used to accommodate the detainees was the notorious Ninth Fort, a museum on the outskirts of Kaunas which was a Gestapo torture-chamber during the war.
Most of the detainees were released a few hours later after being questioned. Many were beaten up before their release. Some were freed after several days, while others were given 15 days’ imprisonment (see Chronicle No. 26). As it turned out, the demonstration had been photographed. Some of the people called in for questioning in the summer and autumn were confronted with photographs as proof of their participation in the demonstration. So far it is not known whether anyone has been arrested as the instigator of the demonstration.
The city gardens near the Musical Theatre were patrolled for a long time afterwards. It appears that detectives are still on duty there even now.
On 5 October the paper Soviet Lithunania reported that the Lithuanian Supreme Court in Vilnius had heard the case of eight people arrested during the disorders of 18 May in Kuanas (an article by P. Jankauskas and L. Marcinkevicius entitled ‘ Disturbers of Public Order Punished ‘). The defendants were charged under article 199-3 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code (equivalent to article 190-3 of the Russian Code). Two were charged in addition under articles 255 para. 2 and 99 para. 1 of the Lithuanian Code (hooliganism and damage to state property). All the defendants were found guilty.
Vitautas Kalade, age 25, a stagehand, was sentenced to three years of hard-regime camps; Antanas Kacinskas, age 24, to three years of strict-regime camps; Virginia Urbonaviciute, age 18, to one year of correctional labour (at her place of work); Rimas Bauzis, age 18, workers Kazis Grinkevicius age 24, and Vitautas Zmuila, age 23, comprehensive school students Jonas Prapuolenaitis, 2 1 , and Jonas Macijauskas, 19, to terms ranging from 18 months to three years of camps(49)
Events in Lithuania
On 14 May 1973, the first anniversary of R. Kalanta ‘s selfimmolation (see Chronicles 26, 27), extra detachments of police armed with rubber truncheons and equipped with portable two-way radios patrolled Kaunas. Pupils and officials of various institutions were also designated to help maintain order. There were many people on Freedom Avenue, where Kalanta burned himself to death, and the police did not allow them to stop moving. Various pretexts were used to see to it that pupils from many schools were taken out of town for a few days. In some schools ‘classes’ lasted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Some people attempted to place flowers on R. Kalanta ‘s grave or the site of his self-immolation. They were all detained. The number of detainees is not known.
– I simply conclude by saying that, on the first anniversary of Romas Kalanta ‘s self-immolation there were some demonstrations. Let me cite the last couple of sentences from the documents I have incorporated:
Some people attempted to place flowers on Kalanta ‘s grave or the site of his self-immolation. They were all detained. The number of detainees is not known.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.8 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 28 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is:
1974,2,667; 1975,2,550; 1976,2,744; 1977,2,940.
For years prior to 1974 I refer the honourable senator to table 1 of Appendix 2-B ofthe Second Report of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security.
Top secret clearances would be issued by Permanent Heads to people who would be required to have regular and constant access to national security information classified top secret, when enquiries had shown them to be suitable to have such access.
In his statement to Parliament on 25 October 1977 on the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security the Prime Minister stated that security checking of Public Servants would take place only when it could be reasonably expected that they would require access to classified security matters or areas. He also announced that a Security Appeals Tribunal, which will be established by legislation, will review
adverse or qualified security assessments and any supporting information provided by ASIO relating to those assessments.
asked the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 28 February 1978:
– The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Clerical Selection and Clerical Assistant Tests are used to determine an order of merit from which offers of appointment are made. There are in practice no passes or fails but rather comparative levels of achievement. Although applicants for Typist Grade 1 positions are required to pass a thirty word per minute typing test, no records are maintained on the number who fail to meet this standard. Those passing the test are offered appointment in accordance with an order of merit based on comparative typing speeds.
The Public Service Board has advised me that, at this stage, projected intakes for 1978 do not extend beyond 30 June. Departmental estimates indicate, however, that 2.792 Clerks Class 1, 2,450 Clerical Assistants Grade i and L260 Typists Grade 1 will be recruited during the period 1 January to 30 June 1978.
asked the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 14 March 1978:
– The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 4 April 1 978:
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: (l)and(2)-
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 13 April 1978:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
However, at times of increased security alert, luggage not accompanied by a passenger is subjected to manual searching before it is carried and freight deposited by an individual or by shippers whose credentials are not known to the airline is not carried during the period of the alert.
Canberra: Projects (Question No. 429)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory, on notice, on 3 May 1978:
– The Minister for the Capital Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: (1)I am informed by the National Capital Development Commission as follows:
36 projects have not yet been commenced.
Holt, Sections 54 and 69: Deletion of loop road from Powell Street and addition of new cul-de-sac. This project is due for completion in March 1979. It is being constructed in conjunction with Government housing in the area.
Florey: Addition of road reservations for initial development. The work is due for completion in May 1 978.
Canberra Central District: Modification of intersection of Barton Highway and Dunsmore Street and inclusion of link section of Dunsmore Street. The work is due for completion in July 1978.
Deakin, Section 66: Modification of the intersection of Kent Street and access road to Deakin Telecommunications Facility and shortening of access road. This is due for completion in May 1979. 62nd Series of Variations-
Latham, Sections 80-87: Addition of a new road layout to serve 59 standard detached housing blocks and five sites for cluster housing to provide approximately 60 units. The project is due for completion in September 1978.
Latham, Section 99-101: Inclusion of a new access road off Rudall Street to serve 46 detached housing sites. The project is due for completion in September 1978.
Evatt: Addition of new access roads off Moynihan Street near Copland Drive to serve approximately 100 standard detached housing blocks and a church site. This project is due for completion in July 1 978.
Holt, Section 47: Addition of two new access roads off Moyes Street and Chave Street which are due for completion in July 1978.
Belconnen, Section 50-53, 56-61: Addition of a new road layout for the north-western pan of the Belconnen Town Centre. This project is well underway and is due for completion in January 1 979.
Belconnen, Section 54: Addition of a road reservation between Benjamin Way and Eastern Valley Way. This project is being constructed in conjunction with the bus station and is due for completion in February 1979.
Phillip, Sections 30, 3 1 : Addition of two access roads off Parramatta Street joining with Townshend Street. This project will be completed in June 1978.
Wanniassa: Addition of access roads to the north and south of Sternberg Crescent adjoining Erindale Drive. This project is due for completion in November 1978.
Woden District: Addition of a new intersection between Erindale Drive and Long Gully Road. This work is included in the Erindale Drive Stage 2 contract and is due for completion in July 1978.
Tuggeranong District: Realignment of a section of the Monaro Highway south of Isabella Drive. This project is for completion in August 1978. 63rd Series of Variations-
Mitchell, Section 22: Addition of new access roads to the west of Dacre Street. This work will be completed in June 1978.
Phillip: Addition of a loop road to serve proposed sites for service trades. The work will be completed in June 1978. 64th Series of Variations-
Giralang, Kaleen, Belconnen District, Hall: Modifications and addition to the plan of a road reservation to provide for the duplication of the Barton Highway between Bellenden Road and Kuringa Drive. Work is well underway and is due for completion in April 1979.
Melba: Modification of the intersection of Copland Drive and McEarcharn Crescent. The work is due for completion in June 1978.
Belconnen, Section 52: Minor modification to the road reservation of Benjamin Way and Emu Bank to provide access to a proposed parking structure. This work is included in other projects in the Town Centre. It is due for completion in October 1978.
Belconnen, Weston Creek Districts: Inclusion on the plan of recreational roads at Coppins Crossing. This project is due for completion in September 1 978.
Yarramundi Reach: Extension of previously gazetted road. A contract has recently been let and the work is due for completion in November 1978.
Acton: Minor modification of alignment of Lawson Crescent: This work is included in the Weston Basin Section of the Molonglo Arterial which is due for completion in September 1979.
Yarralumla, Deakin, Curtin, Phillip: Inclusion of the alignment of a proposed new bicycle path from Commonwealth Bridge to Phillip. This project is due for completion in August 1978.
Hume: Addition to the plan of an access road off Jerrabomberra Avenue. A contract was let for this project in March 1978 and is due for completion in December 1978. 64th (A) Series of Variations-
Phillip, Section 13: Modifications to the plan to provide access to the boom gate controlled parking area. Construction is almost complete and the project will be handed over in June 1978.
Florey: Addition of new road reservations for initial development.
Belconnen: Modifications of Cameron Avenue and addition of new section of road.
Rivett, Section 9: Addition of cul-de-sac off Morell Place to provide access to sites for government housing.
Rivett, Section 8: Addition of cul-de-sac off Angophora Street, to provide access to sites for government housing.
Rivett, Section 40: Addition to cul-de-sac offCasuarina Street to nine proposed medium density house sites.
Holder, Section 30: Inclusion of Govett Street.
Phillip, Section 5 1 : Addition of three new access roads to service sites for 1 1 9 town houses and flats.
Kambah: Addition of access roads offCastley Circuit.
Isabella Plains: Addition of short section of Lansdowne Circuit to join with Erindale Drive.
Tuggeranong District: Inclusion of new alignment of Tharwa Drive.
Tuggeranong District: Inclusion of first stage of residential development in the Lanyon area. 62nd Series-
Belconnen, Sections 28, 29: Addition of new alignment of College Street west of Lathlain Drive to connect with Belconnen Way, and the extension of Josephson Street to connect with the new alignment. 63rd Series-
Belconnen: Addition of road reservations for Stage 2 of the proposed Emu Ridge medium density housing area.
City, Section 47: Deletion of a section of the gazetted area of Garema Place to provide a site for an electricity sub-station and a restaurant.
Fyshwick: Addition of a link road between Lithgow and Yallourn Streets.
Gowrie, Section 282: Addition of access roads off Bugden Avenue to serve detached housing sites.
Chisholm: Addition of roads for detached housing sites.
Tuggeranong Town Centre, Section 72: Addition of access road to serve Telephone Exchange, Mail Exchange and future District Thermal Station site.
Theodore, Sections 610-616, 673, 674: Addition of roads to serve a residential area of 203 detached housing sites. 63A Series-
Nil. 64th Series-
Hall: Duplication of Barton Highway from Kuringa
Drive to the ACT border.
Belconnen District: Deletion of sections of the old Charnwood Road.
McKellar: Addition of new road layout to serve the residential suburb of McKellar.
Florey: Addition to the plan of access roads comprising Stage 2 of the Florey development.
Evatt: Addition to the plan of a collector road and access roads to serve a proposed new residential area in South-West Evatt.
Belconnen, Section 54: Addition to the plan of an access road to serve mixed commercial, community and residential development.
Belconnen, Section 7: Addition to the plan of a turning circle on an access road off Nettlefold Street.
City, Section 32: Reduction in the width of the road reservation of Alinga Street between Moore Street and North bourne Avenue.
Weston Creek, Kambah: Modification of Tuggeranong Parkway to provide for grade-separated intersections at Cotter Road and Hindmarsh Drive.
O’Malley: Addition to the plan of access roads to serve O’Malley sub-divisions.
Phillip: Addition of a new distributor road to the end of the College Site. Woden TAFE College committed in November 1977.
Tuggeranong District: Addition to the plan of a new residential area in the vicinity of the Tuggeranong Trig Station.
60th and 61st Series-
Acton: Modification of existing alignment of access roads on summit of Black Mountain (Telecom project).
Waramanga, Section 8: Inclusion of proposed culdesac to provide access to medium density housing sites. 63rd Series-
Stirling: Modification of existing gazetted roads and addition of new roads.
Fyshwick, Section 7: Modification and deletion of part of Mildura Street and addition of two access roads between Mildura Street and Canberra Avenue.
Wanniassa, Sections 203, 262-265: Modification of gazetted road layout in area adjacent to Garratt Street, Langdon Avenue and Wheeler Crescent.
Arab Information Bureau
Senator Withers-On 22 February 1978
asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:
What is the Arab Information Bureau? Does it have any standing within this country? Is it supported with funds or otherwise by any foreign governments? Are any of the people who work within the Arab Information Bureau citizens of another country? Indeed, are any of them in Australia on diplomatic passports? What are the consequences of being placed on such a black-list? And what is the Government doing to protect those Australian companies whose overseas trade could be damaged by the actions of this organisation in placing them on a black-list because of their activities in legitimate trading with a country with which Australia has friendly relations?
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answers to the honourable senator’s questions:
I am aware of reports which were published in the Age on 5 January and in some other newspapers on subsequent days which purported to quote Mr Rudolph Abou Kater, who was described as a spokesman for the Arab Information Bureau. One implication of what Mr Abou Kater was reported to have said was that the list which includes the names of Australian companies said to be subject to the terms of the Arab League’s boycott against trade with Israel, also includes the names of private individuals who have been ‘black banned’ by Arab countries because of their support for Israel. Senator Wheeldon was said to be on the list in that capacity. I have no information about what the consequences (if any) are for the individuals concerned of their being on this so-called black list’. But I should perhaps in any case point out that the list or lists in question are compiled and held by the Arab Boycott Office in Damascus and not by some organisation in Australia.
As to the Arab Information Bureau, it is a private association of Australians of Arab origin which was formed in late 1973 with the aim of fostering a better understanding of and support for the Arab cause in Australia. In particular it sought to counter what its members apparently regarded as the adverse publicity which the Palestinian cause was being accorded by the Australian media at that time. As far as is known, the Bureau has never had either a permanent office or a paid staff or any formal connections with Arab Governments or overseas organisations. Nor, so far as we are aware, has it received funds from overseas sources. Mr Abou Kater, the spokesman for the Bureau, is, I understand, an Australian citizen. Neither the Bureau nor its members have been accorded any privileges or concessions in Australia.
It follows from the foregoing that, as far as is known, there is no formal connection between the Arab Information Bureau, in Melbourne, and the Arab League’s Central Boycott Office in Damascus which is responsible for the preparation of these lists. According to the press reports referred to above, it was Mr W. H. Hartley, not the spokesman for the Arab Information Bureau, who said that he ‘informed the Arab States of Australian companies which deal with Israel ‘. I do not know whether the Arab Information Bureau also conveys such information to the Central Boycott Office, but, as far as it is possible to judge, the Bureau would not appear to be in any position to affect the activities of Australian companies trading in the Middle East.
As far as the activities of the Central Boycott Office in Damascus are concerned, the Government’s long-standing policy is to allow Australian firms as much scope as possible to exercise their own commercial judgment in respect of decisions affecting their trading activities. The Central Boycott Office’s list does not seem to have had a significant effect on the plans or activities of Australian firms wishing to deal with both Israel and Arab countries.
– On 9 May Senator Wheeldon asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:
In view of the fact that increasing difficulties appear to be occurring in Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the present dispute between Bishop Muzorewa and his colleagues in the interim government, and also in view of the fact that Cuban forces, according to reports, apparently are preparing to intervene inside Zimbabwe, will the Minister ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether, before the sessional period finishes, a statement could be delivered to the Government as to the Government’s position on the resolution of this question? I might point out to the Minister that the Government appears to be delightfully vague as to whether it supports or opposes the internal settlement. It is a question which is of great importance to Australia. It is a question in relation to which Australia can bring about some influence. It would seem to be unfortunate if Australia intended not to have any policy whatsoever but merely to rely on the effluxion of events around it before it was dragged into adopting a position.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
In his foreign policy statement to Parliament on 9 May, the Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed the Government ‘s support for all attempts to find peaceful solutions to the problems in southern Africa based on the principles of majority rule and human rights for all. As far as Rhodesia (or Zimbabwe) is concerned, the Government sees the AngloAmerican proposals as providing the best basis for a lasting settlement acceptable to Rhodesians as a whole and internationally. It therefore supports the attempts of the British and American Governments to bring all the parties involved to the conference table.
The Government considers the agreement signed on 3 March by Mr Smith and the three black nationalist leaders as a positive development. However, it is by no means certain that it will be accepted by Rhodesians as a whole and this must be the final test of any settlement. It must also be recognised that the agreement falls well short of the AngloAmerican proposals as a basis for genuine majority rule. It provides for a number of entrenched clauses in the new constitution in such key areas as the judiciary, public service and police and defence forces. The effect of these is that the minority would be in a position, if it so desired, to block changes in these areas by virtue of its privileged position in the new parliament. It could, in effect, retain control of the instruments of authority for at least 10 years. Further, the transitional arrangements are not impartial but are weighted in favour of the Smith administration, with Mr Smith himself retaining the office of Prime Minister during this period. As such he is able to exercise an effective veto over decisions of the transitional administration. In these circumstances much will depend on the spirit in which the agreement is implemented. The recent controversy surrounding the dismissal of Mr Hove, Co-Minister for Justice and Law and Order, centred on this very point. Further difficulties are likely to arise if the present administration is unable, or unwilling, to meet the targets envisaged in the agreement.
The Anglo-American proposals, on the other hand, do not contain provisions which would allow the minority to preserve its privileged position. They provide for the protection of basic rights for all, on a non-discriminatory basis, through a Bill of Rights. They also provide for impartial transitional arrangements and internationally supervised elections. The Anglo-American proposals are, moreover, more broadly based and envisage the participation of all the parties concerned in the negotiating process.
The Government is aware of recent media reports that Cuban forces have substantially increased in some neighbouring countries as part of a specific build up against Rhodesia. These reports have not been substantiated. However, it should be stressed that the longer a settlement accepted internationally and by Rhodesians as a whole is delayed, the greater the opportunities for and likelihood of outside military interference.
New Federalism: Income Tax Arrangements
-On 10 May 1978 (Hansard, pages 1542-3) Senator Wriedt asked me as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs, about progress with the Income Tax (Arrangements with the States) Bill and I undertook to obtain further information from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has supplied the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Income Tax (Arrangements with the States) Bill was, of course, before the Parliament when Parliament was dissolved last year. During the period the Bill was before the Parliament it was the subject of discussion between officials and at Premiers’ Conference.
In the light of those discussions and comments received from Premiers the Government agreed to a number of amendments to the proposed legislation. In March, I advised the Premiers of the nature of these amendments and offered them a further opportunity to comment before the revised Bill was introduced.
The telex messages to which Senator Wriedt refers were follow up communications at the official level.
All Premiers have not responded and it is anticipated that the revised Bill will be introduced before the end of May.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 31 May 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780531_senate_31_s77/>.