31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services. When did he first inform the Prime Minister verbally, in writing or otherwise about his conversation with Mr Pearson dealing with the change of name for the seat of McPherson? When did he inform the Attorney-General verbally, in writing or otherwise about the same matter?
-I do not intend to answer questions about communications, whether verbal or in writing, which I have with the Prime Minister or with any other of my ministerial colleagues.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that the second World Assembly of the World Council of Indigenous People was held in Sweden from 24 to 27 August 1977 and was attended by people from 18 countries? Is the Minister also aware that it was decided that the next meeting of the Assembly would be held in Australia? Can the Minister say what financial help the Australian Government would be prepared to give the Assembly to ensure the success of its meeting in Australia?
– I am not able to make any statement about what financial help would be given. I will seek some information from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. If any decisions have been taken on this matter that I can convey to Senator Bonner I will see that he is advised after Question Time.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Education. I refer to his statement in this chamber last week relating to student organisations. I ask: Did he at the beginning of March 1976 write to the Secretary of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party saying that the problems of student organisations were matters for universities themselves to resolve and that the cure, if any cure were needed, in relation to student organisation problems was the same as the cure for problems within the trade union movement, that is, it must originate from the members themselves? If the Minister did write such a letter at the beginning of March 1976, what peculiar circumstances have arisen since then which have led him to change his mind?
– I presume that the background to this question- otherwise it could not be asked- is that Senator Button does not agree with what his Leader said the other night, that is, that the Australian Labor Party is opposed to compulsory membership of student organisations.
– You may presume what you like; just answer the question.
– I just want to find this out because apparently there is implicit in this question some suggestion that the removal of compulsory membership in student organisations is a bad thing. Having said that and having now observed the conflict that lies in the Labor Party, I wish to say that I am unaware of whether I wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party in March 1976. It is possible that 1 did, but I do not think anybody would believe that I could recall, amongst the hundreds of letters that I write a week, a letter written two years ago.
In fact my stand has been absolutely consistent, and I repeat it. It is that in all communications that I have made I have said that the universities and the colleges are given the role of statutory corporations to guarantee academic freedom. They have a responsibility within themselves to amend their rules and ordinances so that the students on the campuses should have full democracy. I have talked to the vicechancellors and the principals of the colleges and have stressed that they have a direct responsibility to look at their rules and ordinances and to amend them if necessary to bring about full democracy. Incidentally, that included the preservation of the rule of law on the campus. I have said that the main solution is the same as that which applies in the trade unions, that is, the full participation of students by voluntary effort in bringing about democratic results.
There is nothing that I have said in the past that is inconsistent with what the Commonwealth Government is aiming to do today, that is, to do what the Declaration on Human Rights under the United Nations Charter suggests is fundamental to all. I refer to the freedom of association of students. I think that is fundamental.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister for Education ascertain and inform the Senate whether he did in fact write a letter such as the one to which I have referred to the General Secretary of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party? Will he inform the Senate at a later stage whether he said in that letter that it was a matter for the universities themselves? Is he now saying that the statement which he made to the Senate last week leaves it to the universities themselves, or is it a matter of government intervention?
– There is no ground whatsoever on which Senator Button should seek to ascertain the text of a letter that I may or may not have written to the General Secretary of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party. In fact he would be the strongest opponent of the publication of any correspondence that might be written to the General Secretary of the Australian Labor Party. Although there is no such ground at all, I will look up the letter. However, let me make it perfectly clear to the honourable senator that nothing I have done or the Government has done is inconsistent with the principle that we support. I again repeat that Hansard will show that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate says that the Labor Party is opposed to compulsion of association of student organisations.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry give any details of a report this morning that the United States will increase its beef imports? What are Australia’s prospects in this regard?
-Senator Maunsell has drawn attention to a particularly important matter to primary producers, especially beef producers. The Minister for Primary Industry has given me the following information: The United States Government has reached a decision to permit substantial quantities of additional beef to enter the United States market in order to stem the rising beef prices. I understand that the President of the United States will announce the actual figure shortly; therefore I do not wish to say any more at this moment about the details. I only add that the additional quantity will represent a substantial boost to the Australian beef industry which has suffered a protracted period of depressed circumstances since early 1974. The additional quantity to be permitted to enter the United States of America should be equivalent to the opening of a new major market. I am glad to see that cattle prices in Australia in the last few weeks, particularly in the southern States, have risen. No doubt this is partly due to the fortuitous rains, but this news from the American market will surely be of further assistance in raising prices towards a level consistent with viability for beef producers.
I draw attention to an answer given by the Minister for Primary Industry in the House of Representatives on 22 February in which he drew attention to the need for the United States to relax meat import restrictions to meet Australian Government representations to that end. The Minister hoped that there would be such a relaxation. In due course it must be expected that relaxation of overseas restrictions against Australian beef will have some effect on consumer prices in Australia. The Minister went on to say that he hoped that Australian consumers would remember that the cheap meat that has been enjoyed in this country over the last few years had been very costly to producers. It had even meant negative incomes for some beef producers. The Minister states that the Government will continue to press for enlarged access to other markets currently restricting Australian imports.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, follows the question asked by Senator Maunsell. The Minister will know that on 20 March this year the Minister for Primary Industry stated that a beef export entitlement for the United States market could be- 1 use his words- worth as much as 31.5c per lb. The 31.5c per lb is obviously the difference between the United States price and the lowest alternative export market price. Does this therefore mean that the maximum income gain to Australian cattle producers from a higher United States quota- if all the gain were passed on to the cattle producers- will be 70c a kilo or $7m for each 10,000 tonne increase in the quota?
– The honourable senator has placed a construction on the words of the Minister for Primary Industry. I personally am not particularly impressed with most of the constructions that are put on the words of other Ministers by the honourable senator who asks the question. His interpretation is that the maximum price to cattle producers will be 70c per kilo. I know of no suggestion that that will be the figure. If he were well involved with the market he would know of some of the low prices that have been received by producers particularly in Victoria. Certainly, I do not imagine that the Minister’s comments indicate anything like a return such as the honourable senator mentioned.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. If the Minister for Science cannot confirm or deny the figure, which appears to be the estimate of the Minister for Primary Industry, will he undertake before the day is out to obtain from the Minister an estimate of the increase in price which will follow the transfer of beef to the United States and other export markets?
– It is regrettable that we have an Opposition which is so bereft of knowledge in this area of primary production. I suppose that is something we have to contend with. I have always said that the leaders of the Australian Labor Party would be hard pressed by having the honourable senator from Western Australia breathing down their necks as a possible leader of the Labor Party in the future in this place, and I was very concerned for the interests of primary industry. Senator Walsh is attempting to have the Minister or me suggest that a certain price will be reached in this very expansive market that is likely to open up with the United States of America.
I think that Senator Walsh really would be aware- I cannot consider that he is not awarethat Australia has a great volume of beef in storage at present. It will be of great assistance to Australia if we are able to rid ourselves of that surplus. The Government holds the view that, when people in other competing markets realise the interest of the United States of America in taking extra volumes of meat, it necessarily follows that they will be alerted and interested in bidding. It will be of benefit to the producer that in the markets all around Australia there will be an increasing interest to secure forward supplies of beef. That will cause an acceleration in the market. Senator Walsh asked that I request the Minister to state what is the figure. Senator Walsh mentioned a figure of 70c a kilo. I certainly would not be foolish enough even to ask the Minister for Primary Industry to meet Senator Walsh’s request.
– I refer the AttorneyGeneral to the Human Rights Commission Bill which was introduced during the last Parliament and which has not yet been reintroduced. What are the Government’s intentions with respect to the Bill? Is it to be reintroduced, and, if so, when?
– The Human Rights Commission Bill was introduced into the Parliament about this time last year by my predecessor, for the purpose of lying on the table so that comments could be received from a wide range of people and organisations interested in its provisions. The Bill was not proceeded with during the last Parliament, but that was not by any means because the Government has lost interest in it.
– You had to get permission from the Premier of Queensland, didn’t you?
– I will have something interesting to add to that point when I get to it. I reviewed the comments on the Bill during the recess period. I had intended to reintroduce the Bill, taking into account the comments, during this present session. However, one of the matters of most concern in this legislation is to endeavour to obtain the co-operation of the States. I had come to the conclusion that that would not be possible and that the Bill would proceed in relation only to Commonwealth legislation and practices of Commonwealth public servants. However, during the last two or three months I have had some indication of interest by some of the States in the provisions of the Bill with indications that they wanted in some way to be associated with it. As a result of that, the Government decided that these matters should be explored. Mr Peter Bailey, who is the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, is conducting or about to conduct discussions with the States to see whether there is still any way in which they can be associated with the Bill. To enable that to be done, the Bill has not been proceeded with this session. But it is the Government’s firm intention and commitment to proceed with the Bill in the Budget session, either in relation to Commonwealth legislation or, we hope, in association in some way with the States.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources aware that the Federal Government has had the final report of the Industries Assistance Commission on the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd in Tasmania for one month? Is he also aware that the current agreement on assistance to Mount Lyell expires at the end of this month and that, despite the fact that the Federal Government has asked the Tasmanian Government and the company to come up with a proposal for assistance, the Federal Government refuses to make public the contents of the IAC report? It also has refused to divulge to the Tasmanian Government and to the company the contents of the report. I ask the Minister: Is it reasonable to expect any proposal to be formulated by the Tasmanian Government and the company while the Federal Government refuses to tell them what is in the IAC report? Will the Minister convey to his colleagues the urgent need for the contents of the report to be made public so that both the Tasmanian Government and the Mount Lyell company are not kept in the dark by the Federal Government?
– The Leader of the Opposition has asked me a number of questions. In his first question I think he asked whether I was aware that the final report of the IAC on the Mount Lyell Mining company had been available for a month. I cannot answer that in exact detail. I understand it has been presented but whether it was presented a week or a month ago I do not know. In answer to his second question, yes I am aware that the current proposals for assistance to the Mount Lyell company are to expire, I think on 30 June. A Bill is before either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
– Before the Senate.
-That Bill is before the Senate. It will validate that agreement. I am not aware of any refusal by the Government to make the IAC report available to either the Tasmanian Government or the Mount Lyell company. I will seek information from my colleague on that point. As to whether or not that is reasonable, I do not think it is a judgment for me to make at Question Time or until I have ascertained the facts. I will take up the last question asked by the Leader of the Opposition with my colleague in another place as a matter of urgency because I can well understand Senator Wriedt ‘s concern about the fact that the current arrangements will expire 21 or 22 days from today. Something will need to be concluded at the earliest possible date between the Commonwealth Government, the Tasmanian Government and the Mount Lyell company. I will pass on his request to my colleague at the earliest opportunity.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science. As InterScan was a research project of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and is now accepted as the international aircraft landing system, can the Minister offer any information regarding the technical development of that equipment? Is there a possibility that electronics manufacturers in States such as South Australia would be considered for the production of equipment or components which may be required?
– I am aware of Interscan, of course. I have noted progressively during the last month or two that it may have been forgotten by some who are interested that it was basically Dr Paul Wild of CSIRO who was the major researcher in this matter, in a joint project with the Department of Transport, whereby this InterScan project was produced.
– We have all heard that before. Why do you not answer the question?
– I see that Senator Wriedt is very unhappy about this matter. I do not know whether he is very unhappy because a senator from South Australia is now very keen to see that production of some of the hardware that will flow from the development of InterScan occurs in South Australia. I was anxious to answer the honourable senator and to say that I hoped South Australia would be able to figure in -
– South Australia has the best Premier to entice business, has it not?
– I imagine that Senator Messner would not be so concerned if he really believed the suggestion put forward by Senator Mulvihill. But Senator Messner is concerned and he is very anxious to see that manufacturing industry in appropriate areas in South Australia gets some benefit from this project. I recall an earlier question when this matter was discussed when the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Wriedt, questioned whether his own State would be able to do anything in relation to InterScan production. Of course, production is still some time away. A great deal of research still needs to be done in relation to the hardware, the optical and electronic work that will be required for InterScan.
– That is exactly what your own colleague said in the House of Representatives two days ago. It is what I said. You would not know what he said, would you?
– As a Minister. I am very anxious to take note of those things that the Leader of the Opposition has said. I usually get an idea of the thinking, if there is any, within the Opposition on these matters. When Senator Wriedt mentioned InterScan and Tasmania, one of the Government senators. Senator Rae, rushed to my office with a very good magazine which the former Premier of Tasmania had brought out. I have a copy of it here. It speaks of a Tasmanian manufacturers ‘ directory for 1 977.
– What about a telephone directory?
– I say to Senator Button that perhaps this is one of those times when a television view of the matter would be good, because I think that manufacturers and those who are interested in the production of any hardware, particularly electronic and optical production, together with other matters, should view this magazine which contains a list of Tasmanian manufacturers. Perhaps if Senator Wriedt had been aware of this magazine produced by his former State Premier, a man of his own political persuasion–
- Mr President, I take a point of order on the question of relevance of the Minister’s answer. The question was asked by a South Australian senator in relation to a particular South Australian problem. The Minister is now reading from some obscure Tasmanian magazine which seems to me to have the most marginal relevance to the question that has been asked. If Question Time is to proceed on a proper basis, the Minister’s answer cannot go as wide as that.
– Order! The Minister will please reply to the question as asked by Senator Messner.
-Mr President, I was doing just as you have asked. Indeed, I am very upset that Senator Button, a Victorian senator, should come into this chamber and criticise a magazine produced by a former Labor Premier. I was attempting to give it some credit. But undoubtedly Senator Button, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in this place, thinks that what a former Tasmanian Premier put out is rubbish. Well I do not think so. Mr President, I was attempting to draw the attention of any reasonable senator from Tasmania to the fact that there existed information as to the type of production that could be found and could be encouraged in that State. There is a lot of other information in that document. It may be a very good thing if the South Australian Premier were to think likewise and draw the attention of industry at large to the fact that South Australia and its manufacturing industries could produce this very important product. I think the question raised by Senator Messner is a most important one for manufacturers in his State.
-Mr President, that babble has almost driven the question out of my mind. I direct a question to the AttorneyGeneral. I am interested in the question asked by Senator Chaney. Does not the human rights legislation flow from an international agreement? If it does, is it not binding on the States, and is it unnecessary to approach the States with regard to such legislation? If that is the case and it is binding on the States, would it not be expected that the first person to answer before such a commission would be the Premier of Queensland who took police files into the State Parliament to intimidate members of his own coalition against proceeding in a certain way?
– First and foremost, I will not answer any questions relating to what the Premier of Queensland may or may not have done in some matter which is entirely within the affairs of the State of Queensland. The position is that there is an international covenant on civil and political rights. The Bill seeks to provide that the Human Rights Commission should operate in relation to the law of the Commonwealth with regard to the provisions of this covenant. However, that covenant has not been ratified by Australia, and the ratification of that covenant is a matter which is being discussed very earnestly with the States at the present moment.
The reason for the problem is that many of the areas of jurisdiction contained in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are traditionally matters which come within the power and the province of the States. Whatever might be the views of Senator Georges about the external affairs powers of the Commonwealth and, indeed, whatever the ambit of those powers might be in law, the policy of this Government is one of co-operation with the States and not one of riding roughshod over the States. Therefore our whole approach to this subject is one of cooperation with the States, which is unlike the attitude which obviously Senator Georges and other members of the Australian Labor Party have.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity either as Minister representing the Minister for Defence or Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to reports that Russia has reactivated the naval base at Kam Ranh near Vietnam. Has the Government any information which would confirm this report?
– I have no information in my briefing papers on that matter. I will seek information from either one or both of my colleagues in the other place.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations aware of a report which appeared in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review and which stated that the Prime Minister, in a meeting with United States businessmen in New York, said that Australia had a better record of industrial relations than do the countries of North America? Does the Minister agree with this statement? If so, why is the Government pursuing a campaign of open harassment against the Australian trade union movement?
– I utterly reject the last part of the question. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, whom I represent, has, I believe, an outstanding record of attempting to co-operate as far as he possibly can with the trade union movement. The reestablishment of the National Labour Consultative Council, I think, is a notable example of what he has achieved and what I am saying. I am not aware of what the Prime Minister said. I am not aware of the comparative statistics in relation to industrial problems in Australia and North America. I will pass on that question to the Minister to see whether statistics can be obtained.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I draw his attention to an article on public radio in Canberra which appeared recently in the Sunday Sun. The article stated:
A fight over radio licence between the Country Party and local community groups is dividing Canberra.
The article further stated that a group called the Monaro Community Broadcasting Society Incorporated is making a determined attempt to take over the 2XX licence. Can the Minister confirm or deny this allegation, for the benefit of the chamber?
– I can simply give some information concerning the situation of 2XX. The fact is that 2XX has operated under one of the experimental licences granted by the previous Government. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications recently invited applications for one AM licence for a public broadcasting station to operate in category C- that is, a community group station- in the Canberra area.
Two applications for this licence have been received, one from the present operators of 2XX and the other from the Monaro Broadcasting Society.
Under these circumstances it will be necessary for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to hold a public inquiry for the granting of the licence. I should emphasise that from this point on all aspects of the licensing procedures are the responsibility of the Tribunal. There is no government intervention. All those interested in the grant of the licence should submit their views to the Tribunal as quickly as possible. I think that is the situation as it now stands.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether she recalls that the Minister for Health stated on 24 May:
The reduction in the percentage level covered by medical benefits and the increase in the patient gap is expected to lead to a reduction in medical insurance contributions.
The Minister further stated:
The change in medical benefits is expected to lead to a reduction of 46 cents a week family rate in medical insurance contributions, reducing the average rate to $4.54 a week.
Is the Minister aware that the last paragraph in a letter circulated by the General Manager of Medibank to all Medibank staff in the last few days states:
I regret that I do not see us as being able to offer any reduction in medical insurance rates from 1 July 1978 as a result of these changes.
Can the Minister explain the miscalculation on the part of the Government?
– I have not seen the letter that has been claimed by Senator Wriedt to have been circulated to Medibank staff, nor do I have any information that I can give him on this matter other than what has been stated here on behalf of the Minister for Health on previous occasions. I shall refer the matter which the honourable senator has now raised to the Minister for Health and seek an explanation from him.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General. I refer to various queries in the media and also to a news release from Mr Paul Everingham, Majority Leader of the Northern Territory Executive, indicating that the Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund was not finalised through any fault of the trustees, but that it awaited a legal ruling on the allocation of the remaining funds and that that matter had been referred to the Attorney-General ‘s Department. In view of the fact that final distribution of funds has been held up for a considerable time, is the Minister in a position to indicate when the legal matters will be resolved and so facilitate the winding-up of the Trust Fund?
– I am aware of some of the legal problems to which Senator Kilgariff refers. I had some inquiries made about them recently. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to provide an answer for him at the moment. I shall endeavour to get that information as soon as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Have any approaches been made to the Chairman or other members of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal within the last few months suggesting changes in the points system for Australian content on television? If so, will the Minister inform the Senate what has been suggested and what response has been made?
– I have no immediate knowledge of any such approaches at all. I imagine that this would have been part of the discussions when the Tribunal held its original public inquiry into the broader aspects of its functioning. Nevertheless, I shall ask my colleague in another place whether he has any information and if so, to convey it to Senator Ryan.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs whether it is not a fact that housing loans are given by the Commonwealth Government to people who profess to be Aborigines, some of whom probably have hardly a blush of Aboriginal colour in them.
– That is a fact. Is it not a fact that they are given housing loans on which they pay interest as low as 2 per cent and also that they are given loans to purchase businesses at 5 per cent interest? Will the Government consider extending those very low interest rates to other Australians, particularly to our young people who are building homes? Would this not be fair in view of the fact that those other Australians pay for these subsidies through taxation to the Commonwealth Government. Would it not also stimulate the building industry, creating more employment and more work generally? Would it not also help to eliminate the racist policy of this Government?
– This Government does not have a racist policy. This Government has been working to achieve the integrationthat is, the living together- of all people in Australia. A number of programs seek to assist various groups of people. Senator Wood has drawn attention to the housing loans that may be made available to assist Aborigines to house themselves and their families. He referred also to Aboriginal projects which could be given financial assistance. The Government regards the programs, in both instances, as desirable and effective means of assisting Aborigines. On the question of assisting other Australians to own their own homes, I draw attention to the home purchase schemes which have been a very objective part of the Government’s policy. The Government is also deeply involved, in conjunction with State governments, in the provision of welfare housing and from time to time a number of proposals have been put forward by this Government to assist Australians to attain the very desirable objective of home ownership. To suggest that one sector of the community is receiving assistance to the detriment of another overlooks the fact that this Government governs for all Australians and seeks to have programs that will assist them wherever necessary.
– I ask a supplementary question. I do not believe that the Minister indicated whether the Government would be prepared to give those low, concession interest rates to individuals who want to have their own homes.
– I did canvass in general the extent of the assistance that the Government provides through home purchase schemes, welfare housing schemes and other means, as considered appropriate, to those who seek assistance. It is necessary to have special programs for Aborigines that make available to them some of the benefits that exist through the range of programs that are available to other Australians. To apply the Aboriginal Housing Loans scheme to other Australians who do not claim to be Aborigines would defeat the purpose of the special provision that has been made for Aborigines.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health by referring to a circular letter dated 6 June 1978, in which the Minister for Health stated that the Government had decided to amend the National Health Act to enable individual health insurance funds to apply for permission not to pay for certain items of medical service listed in the medical benefits schedule, for example, items relating to the termination of pregnancy. I ask the Minister: Will legislation to that effect come before the Senate before the winter recess? Also, will Medibank Private be among those health insurance funds that will not pay for medical costs associated with terminations of pregnancy?
– It is expected that the House of Representatives will conclude its business today and I am unaware of any legislation to give effect to the changes announced recently by the Minister for Health, that would be available before the winter recess. I will seek guidance from the Minister as to when legislation will be brought down. I will also seek a response in regard to the matters raised by the honourable senator concerning Medibank Private.
– My question also is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. I was interested in the Minister’s reply on Tuesday of this week in regard to appeals against determinations of tribunals, and disallowances. Can she indicate the extent of the disallowance practice? Can she further indicate the proportion of people who, after receiving a positive recommendation from a social security appeals tribunal find that its determination is ultimately disallowed by the Director-General?
– I believe it was Senator Coleman who asked me the question this week regarding tribunal decisions. I said then that numbers of appeals were dealt with by the Director-General and by the Department. I now have a table which shows the number of appeals dealt with by the tribunals and the method of finalisation of them, covering the period from 1 July 1977 to 31 March 1978. It shows the number of appeals made, the number of appeals upheld, the number dismissed by the tribunals and the number recommended by the tribunals but dismissed by the Director-General. The table shows that the number of appeals which were upheld or partly upheld represented 12.6 per cent of total appeals dealt with by tribunals throughout Australia. There are figures in the table that may be of general interest and I seek leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry aware of reports that the United States Congress is delaying ratification of the International Sugar Agreement? Will its failure to ratify the agreement mean that the levy to establish the Sugar Stock Holding Fund cannot be collected from United States importers and that Australian sugar cane growers and producers could have to pay the entire cost of holding the 400,000 tonnes of raw sugar which Australia is committed to hold under the International Sugar Agreement?
– I have no information along the lines that the honourable senator seeks. I will seek that information from the Minister for Primary Industry and attempt to provide an answer to the honourable senator later today.
-Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs been drawn to the reported remarks of the Secretary of the Wollongong Trades and Labour Council this morning that refugees coming to Australia from Vietnam are not in fact genuine refugees but include former pimps, brothel keepers and other undesirable people? Can she give the truth about this outrageous and unfair statement?
– I understand that in his statement the Secretary of the Wollongong Trades and Labour Council was reporting remarks made in Wollongong by the Vietnamese Ambassador who, it must be realised, has something of a vested interest in trying to persuade the Australian community that the Government is accepting all kinds of undesirable people amongst those fleeing from his country. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and I have stressed on a number of occasions that the Government is determined to screen arriving Vietnamese to ensure that they are genuine refugees according to the Geneva Convention. Machinery has been established to consider individual applications for refugee status and the information available to date gives no support whatsoever to the remarks made in Wollongong. The comments were made in complete ignorance of the checking procedures we have introduced for arriving refugees. The Government will continue to pursue a humanitarian course in its approach to genuine refugees from wherever they come. We are convinced that this is the course which all reasonable-minded people in Australia would expect us to take. I again state that there is no basis for the remarks that were made in Wollongong recently.
Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he is a trustee of the trust established under the Parliamentary Allowances Act? Is it within his knowledge that the last report submitted by the Actuary to the Parliament in November 1971 it was reported that to eliminate a deficiency of $1 14,000 it would be necessary for special contributions to be made by existing members? After that report, was the legislation changed and in the four years following has the deficiency increased to $7.38m?
– The answer to the first question is yes. The Leader of the Opposition in this place and I represent senators on the trust. As to the second question, I have a vague recollection of the matter raised by the honourable senator though I cannot say with certainty whether it is true. I know that the honourable senator has asked a question in those terms previously, but since I have not checked the 1971 report I cannot answer with any certainty. That is a matter of fact, which the honourable senator knows to be true or not to be true, arising out of that report. As to the third question, yes, as I recall it the legislation was changed during 1973. At that stage, I am fairly certain, I was not a trustee of the fund. The person who might then have been called our side’s trustee was Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson. So I am not fully aware of why it was done. But I have no doubt that the reasons and all the details of the Bill could be found in the record of the parliamentary debates that took place when that amending legislation went through. I have no doubt that the honourable senator has as much capacity to check that as I have. Therefore I am really unable to answer the third question other than in the terms that I have used.
-I wish to ask the Minister a supplementary question. With great respect, I think the Leader of the Government in the Senate has misunderstood my question. I did not ask for the reasons for the amendment. My question was: Following an amendment of the legislation in 1973 was not the deficiency for the following four years now $7.38m? I just add to that question: Would the Minister not consider it his duty as a trustee to keep the Parliament informed of the growing deficiency?
– I do not know how that sum mentioned by the honourable senator is arrived at. I cannot vouch for its accuracy. I have no doubt that he has obtained that figure as a result of a question on notice. I do not know how often the trustees meet. I have been a member, I think, for 2!6 years, in which time there have been about three meetings. I should imagine- I think I can be fairly certain in asserting this-that the activities of the trustees are audited by the Auditor-General of Australia. I think I would be able to say that with some confidence because I would be very surprised if they were not audited by the Auditor-General. All I can say is that so far as I am aware it has not been brought to my attention that the Auditor-General has at any time made any suggestion that the trustees have been derelict in their duty. As honourable senators know, the Auditor-General is quite stringent in watching the interests of the Parliament and the expenditure of taxpayers’ money. I repeat that since I have been a member of the Parliament I have not been aware of any comment being made by the Auditor-General concerning the activities of the fund, its deficit, the management of the fund, its contributions or any other aspect.
I therefore say to the honourable senator that it is reasonable- I put it no higher than that- for members of this Parliament to accept that if there is no criticism from the Auditor-General the fund must be reasonably managed. I believe that the Auditor-General is the right person to make such criticism because he has no political interest and no personal interest in either praising or criticising the activities of the fund. He is an independent person whose office is held in high regard in this Parliament, and I assure honourable senators that should the AuditorGeneral ever bring such matters to the attention of the trustees, naturally the trustees would have to report fully to the Parliament and set about correcting those things to which the AuditorGeneral had drawn their attention.
– I direct a question to either the Minister representing the Minister for Transport or the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. Does the Minister recall that I put to him a series of questions in relation to the efficiency of emission controls on motor vehicles, particularly their percentage efficiency in relation to exhaust gases such as carbon monoxide, and also the effect of lead additives in petrol? As emission controls on motor vehicles are extremely inefficient in that they greatly increase fuel consumption, will the Minister endeavour to obtain an answer to my question so that some assessment can be made of whether emission controls which are not necessary in so many parts of Australia, and which quite frankly were really introduced to assist pollution control in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, are really efficient and worth while?
– I am aware of Senator Young’s long-term interest in this matter and of the facts he has put forward with regard to both the asserted inefficiency of emission control devices and the heavy burden of extra fuel consumption. My recollection is that I had sought information from another place on this matter. Certainly I brought it to the attention of my colleague in another place. If I have not got that information I regret that and will endeavour to obtain it.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. It relates to farmers’ incomes. Yesterday in the House of Represenatives the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, said during a debate on government rural policy which had been raised by the Opposition:
Average income for farmers is expected to be $ 1 5,680, an increase of 40 per cent and only slightly below the record level of 1973-74.
We all know that the record level occurred during the reign of the Labor Government. Can the Minister give the Senate the source of that forecast? Did it come from the Bureau of Agricultural Economics or the Treasury?
– I have not studied Hansard to see the response of the Minister for Primary Industry to a matter raised in another place yesterday. If the answer which I gave to Senator Sir Reginald Wright following Question Time here yesterday is to be taken as correct- if I recall correctly, I was quoting from a note which had been given to me- in about April this year the Bureau of Agricultural Economics forecast that there would be a rise in income for primary producers which would give them an average yearly income of a little over $ 1 1 ,000. That reply was made to Senator Sir Reginald Wright’s suggestion earlier in the week that farm incomes would drop drastically by 1 1 per cent.
– No. I asked the question whether it was so.
– I gave an answer which I recall indicated that the level of income would be somewhere around $11,000. If the Minister for Primary Industry were basing his statement yesterday on some other figures, I do not have them. I will attempt to secure them for Senator McLaren.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the report on the great whitewash which was made public by the Premier of South Australia last week. What action does the Federal Government intend taking to ensure that appropriate security measures are observed in South Australia following the Salisbury affair and the consequent determination of the Dunstan Government to restrict the activities of the South Australian Police Special Branch?
-That is a fairly difficult question to answer.
– 1 take a point of order. Mr President, if you heard the question you would realise that the honourable senator is reflecting on a report of a royal commission set up by the South Australian Government. I understand that he used the term ‘great whitewash’. I suggest that the phrase should be withdrawn as it is certainly offensive to Justice Mitchell.
– An honourable senator is competent to comment on any finding.
– I would like to speak to the point of order. I suggest that the phrase is a clear reflection on a member of the judiciary of South Australia. The expression ‘great whitewash ‘ is a reference to a report put down by a commissioner who is a member of the Supreme Court of South Australia. I support what was said by Senator Bishop. I submit that the statement is offensive and should be withdrawn.
- Mr President, I wish to speak to the point of order. I submit that when judges make themselves available outside judicial duties to undertake government inquiries it is proper to protect their deliberations before their decisions are made public. But it is equally imperative that their decisions, once public, should come into this place for comment and debate.
– I have stated, and I say again, that comments in respect of persons may be made but they must not be derogatory.
-I shall not get into a debate about the Royal Commission. As the honourable senator knows, Mr Justice Hope of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, is at present conducting an inquiry. I think the terms of reference are public. Mr Justice Hope is acceptable to all political parties in this place, and I think, in Australia. Honourable senators will recall that he was appointed by our predecessors to conduct an inquiry into the security services in Australia. Arising out of a number of incidentsespecially the Hilton bombing incident but not the South Australian Salisbury incident- the Government commissoned two inquiries. One was conducted by Sir Robert Mark and it concerned the police forces of the Commonwealth. At the same time the Government asked whether Mr Justice Hope would also look at other aspects of Commonwealth-State police co-operation. I think it would be wrong for me to comment on the activities of any of the State governments during this period. I am certain that Mr Justice Hope will receive the co-operation and goodwill of all the Premiers, police commissioners and Ministers responsible for police matters in Australia as he attempts to carry out the inquiry under his terms of reference. Whilst I can understand the honourable senator’s interest in this matter I counsel him to wait for the conclusion of the report of Mr Justice Hope. Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on notice.
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. Earlier when Senator Withers was dealing with this question two points of order were taken in respect of which you ruled. You said that remarks about Justice Mitchell should not be offensive in any way. Senator Jessop did make offensive remarks. The implications of your ruling were that he should withdraw those remarks. With the greatest respect, the honourable senator has slipped out of yet another direction from you as President of this chamber. There has been no withdrawal.
– As I have said, derogatory words must not be used.
– I would have withdrawn those words had I been requested, but I was not requested to do so. I should like to speak to the point of order. My term ‘whitewash’ was in relation to the terms of reference of the Royal Commission which were defined by the Australian Labor Party Government in South Australia specifically to exonerate its irresponsibility in the matter. I am happy to withdraw the term that I used because 1 did not intend it to be a reflection against Justice Mitchell.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations whether he has seen reports by trade union officials that in the current economic situation unions are having greater difficulties in getting some employers to observe awards. Also, there seems to be a resurgence of the problems which arose earlier over the failure of businesses by bankruptcy and so on. As the Minister will know, this has some bearing on the recent report of a Senate committee of inquiry into the priority of Crown debts. Will the Minister ask his colleague in another place to activate his officers in the inspectorate area to see whether this is the trend and to see what action might be taken to prevent it? Finally, has the Minister yet been able to study the recommendations of the Committee into priority of Crown debts which affect entitlements such as long service leave and superannuation which arise in connection with this general matter?
- Senator Bishop’s question, which he managed to sneak in beyond the appointed hour- I give him full marks for having achieved that- comprised a number of questions. I will take them on board and endeavour to obtain an answer for him from the Minister.
-Senator McLaren asked me a question on 6 June about the possibility of a reduction in the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy. My response to him basically was correct but the Minister for Primary Industry has added the following comment: The Government has made no decision to reduce the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy by $20 per tonne when the present legislation, authorising the rate of subsidy at $60 per tonne for contained nitrogen in nitrogenous fertilisers, expires on 3 1 December 1978. A review of the outlook for those industries using nitrogenous fertilisers is being undertaken at present to determine the appropriate arrangements to apply during 1979. When this review is completed the Government will consider the matter and make a decision.
With regard to the second part of Senator McLaren’s question, the Government has not given consideration to establishing a price equalisation scheme to apply to all fertilisers sold throughout Australia. It could be stated, however, that it is the policy of the Government to ensure, as far as is practicable, that continuity of supply of fertilisers at the cheapest possible price is available to Australia’s rural industries.
– A question was asked by Senator Archer on 6 June relating to building construction. The Minister for Construction, whom I represent, has given the following response: It is overstating the position to say that a generation of new buildings will be falling to pieces. Australia, in common with the rest of the world, has its share of problems but they generally relate to cladding rather than to structural elements. In February 1977 the experimental building station of the Department of Construction initiated a survey of cladding failures in government buildings throughout Australia. A limited number of private buildings will be included in the survey and it is expected that a report on the subject will be published about September this year.
It is the Department’s intention to identify the causes of failure and to suggest methods of guarding against them. Numerous factors contribute to cladding failures, including the use of unsuitable materials, introduction of innovative and unproven components devised to solve problems of increased scale in many post-war buildings, lightweight materials, adoption of techniques aimed at reducing requirements for on-site labour, and problems of quality control. Of the many buildings erected in the post-war period, only a relatively small proportion are known to have experienced significant cladding failure. The extent and nature of the problem, however, will be defined more clearly on completion of the Department’s survey.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Australian Survey Office for the year ended 30 June 1977. That report appears to be a year out of date and I am having investigations made as to why that is the case. Mr President, I also inform the Senate that there is no statutory obligation to present this report. It is provided within the Department and I present it to the Parliament for the Parliament’s information.
– For the information of honourable senators I table a statement by the Public Service Board regarding action taken in relation to the report of Messrs R. J. Perriman and G. P. Temme into the case of Mr W. F. Toomer. Mr Toomer has been, since January this year, employed as a quarantine officer at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne. It is to be hoped that the move to Melbourne will signal a turning-point in Mr Toomer ‘s relationship with his Department.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a supplementary report of the National Population Inquiry entitled ‘Population and Australia Recent Demographic Trends and Their Implications. ‘
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) Pursuant to section 16 of the Stevedoring Industry Acts (Termination) Act 1977 I present the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority for the period from I July 1977 to 26 February 1978.
-Mr President, I present a progress report from the Standing Committee on Science and the Environment on its reference relating to the continuing scrutiny of pollution. The progress report relates to herbicides, pesticides and human health.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-by leave-I move:
The Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment is charged by the Senate to maintain ‘continuing scrutiny of the problems of pollution, including ways and means of preserving the environment from pollution’. These terms of reference require the Committee to keep watch over a great variety of matters affecting the environment.
From time to time some matter arises which causes special disquiet in the community. One such matter of current concern is an alleged connection between the use of certain agricultural chemicals and their long-term effect on human health. This matter, although noted by the Committee earlier, was recently highlighted in Australia by the media, which threw doubt generally on the adequacy of pre-release testing of agricultural chemicals. In particular a link is alleged to exist between the spraying of herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, and certain types of birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
The Committee was disturbed by some aspects of the matters highlighted and members felt they should attempt to learn more about the problem. It accordingly resolved on 9 May 1978 to carry out an informal examination of the matter within the context of its reference relating to the continuing scrutiny of the problems of pollution. Informal discussions have been held with representatives of the Department of Primary Industry, the Department of Health, and agricultural chemical manufacturers. Documents touching upon some aspects of this matter have also been studied.
As it was an informal examination, the Committee does not consider it appropriate at this time to report the detailed technical matters considered by it. However, several matters are considered to require careful examination. These include:
The adequacy of the prescribed testing which forms part of the requirements for clearance of agricultural chemicals as a prerequisite of registration and use; whether or not the mechanism for review, revision and implementation of the requirements for clearance is satisfactory; and whether or not the procedures for labelling agricultural and veterinary chemicals are satisfactory. This last needs to take into account, amongst other things, those members of the Australian community whose first language is not English.
With the above in mind, and noting that the Victorian, Queensland, and South Australian governments have instituted inquiries into the matter, the Committee feels it is not in a position to recommend a formal Senate inquiry at this time. The Committee intends to keep the matter under continuing review. It recommends that a final decision on a Senate inquiry be deferred pending examination of the findings of the Victorian and Queensland governments.
Procedures for reporting and investigating possible long-term or obscure effects of the use of agricultural chemicals appear to be but weakly defined. In particular, current machinery for the systematic collection of relevant information such as the occurrence and frequency of congenital abnormalities and various kinds of cancer seems inadequate for the purpose. The Committee accordingly recommends an examination of this matter by the Minister for Health. I commend the report to honourable senators and seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I present the report of the Joint Committee on Publications on its inquiry into the publication of Commonwealth Acts, statutory rules and legislation of the Territories.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– by leave-I move:
This is the fifth special report which the Joint Committee on Publications has presented to the Parliament since Standing Orders were amended in 1970 to give the Committee investigatory powers. It is the second special report which has been presented during this Parliament. The inquiry arises out of the Committee’s concern regarding the delay in the publication of Commonwealth Acts, statutory rules and other Commonwealth and Territory legislation. It finds that the availability of most Commonwealth legislation in a readable updated form is in a most unsatisfactory state. I give the Senate examples:
I could go on further. However, I think the point has been made. It is almost impossible for members of parliament, the judiciary, members of the legal profession and the individual citizen to be aware of the Commonwealth legislative provisions which exist in this country. The Committee regards this inquiry as one of an interim nature and at a later date will undertake a more complete investigation into further matters which relate to the Commonwealth’s legislative publishing program. The Committee felt that, as a first step, it was more desirable to report the current parlous situation to the Parliament and to make recommendations designed to set in motion action to improve the situation.
In the short time available to the Committee it interviewed officers from the Attorney-General ‘s Department, who are responsible for the Commonwealth legislative publishing program. In addition, officers from the Australian Government Publishing Service presented evidence on production and selling procedures. The officers from the Attorney-General’s Department advised, that in the near future, they intended to publish consolidated volumes of laws of the Australian Capital Territory, consolidated volumes of statutory rules and some annual volumes of Acts and statutory rules. For reasons which are more fully explained in the report, the optimism suggested in the Department’s publishing program was not shared by the Committee. The officers explained that they were having difficulty in filling vacant positions within its Publications Branch. They also stated that new procedures at the Government Printing Office which required additional proof-reading contributed to the delay.
The Committee is of the opinion, however, that the delay in publishing the Commonwealth’s legislative program is due mainly to the lack of forward planning. The Committee has made recommendations designed to rationalise the publishing program of the Department and lay down what it feels to be a satisfactory publishing timetable. This is to be found in paragraph 16 of the report.
Basically, the Committee has asked that greater priorities be attached to the reprinting of Acts and statutory rules when substantial amendments have been made. Also, the Committee has suggested that, in future, all consolidated volumes of legislation, whether they be Acts, statutory rules or laws of the Territories, be produced on a regular basis at five-year intervals. The Committee is aware that the Department with its present establishment will have difficulty in meeting this suggested timetable and, therefore, it has recommended that a Public Service Board review of the Branch be undertaken to ensure that appropriate resources are allocated to the Department to enable it to adhere to the Committee’s recommended publishing timetable. In the interim, it suggests that a task force of officers be employed to overcome the present backlog.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and officers of his Department, and officers of the Australian Government Publishing Service, for the prompt assistance which they provided to enable the Committee to complete this inquiry. Finally, I draw the attention of the Senate to the support and diligence which I received from the Committee in completing this inquiry. Without this, the investigation which was carried out at such short notice would not have been possible. I would like also to attract the Senate’s attention to the fact that two members of the Joint Committee, namely, Senator Donald Cameron and Senator Tehan will not be with the Committee after 1 July, due to their retirement from the Senate. I wish to thank these gentlemen for the support which they have given the Committee over the years. I wish them well in their retirement. I commend the report to the Senate.
– I endorse Senator Missen ‘s remarks about this report. I repeat that the situation, which the investigation revealed with regard to the availability of readable updated legislation, Acts, statutory rules and territory ordinances and regulations as amended, is most unsatisfactory. I also endorse the remarks of Senator Missen to the effect that a continuing review of this area is necessary. Senator Missen referred to the urgency of the inquiry and the very short space of time allowed for it. He also pointed out that many serious issues surrounding the unsatisfactory situation remain to be investigated. I take this opportunity to endorse Senator Missen ‘s remarks with regard to the support of the secretariat in bringing the report before the Parliament in such a short period of time. We look forward to the implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Publications, particularly with respect to the ongoing review of this matter. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Senator Sir REGINALD WRIGHT (Tasmania) by leave- I give my strongest support to what has been put to us by Senator Missen. I regard it as an inexcusable dereliction of duty, on the part of those who have the administration of the law, that the law as printed in a final form is not available to members of the public and many sections of the professional world who have to advise them. It is one of the essential arteries of democracy, and the neglect of it leads to all the confusion, mistakes and substitution of administrative decisions for law. I think that one of the most imperative things in the publishing activities of the Government is to bring up to date the statutes and regulations of this Parliament. I see with dismay and sadness a substitution of a whole mountain of immaterial printing that should be relegated to the sixteenth stage for the legislation of this Parliament which should have first priority, not because it is necessarily important, but if we make law it is important that the people we represent know what laws we make by which they are bound.
Senator MISSEN (Victoria)-by leave-I thank the two senators for their support and their remarks. I hope that more will be said about this matter. I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
- Mr President, I seek the indulgence of the Senate to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. In an article on page 2 of the Canberra Times of last Saturday, 3 June 1 978, a certain Mr Arthur Gray alleged that I and the Attorney-General, Senator Durack, exchanged harsh words in the corridor outside the Senate. The article went on to state:
Senator Durack was quite emphatic that he ‘would not help ‘ Senator Withers.
Mr President, that reference in the article is absolutely untrue. The Attorney-General and I have always had a close and friendly personal relationship, and at no stage did we exchange harsh words either in the corridor outside the Senate or anywhere else; nor has Senator Durack ever been emphatic that he would not help me, although there are certain obligations placed upon him which I accept without reservation.
The allegation could easily have been checked with me or my office. It was not. I do not know whether the author of the article claims to have observed the conversation at first hand, or whether he relied upon an informant. If the former, I can only say that he must have misinterpreted it. If the latter, then he should be more careful about his sources.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) In the light of what has been said, I too seek leave to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I have refrained from seeking leave to make any comment on this matter until Senator Withers had returned to the Senate. It seemed more appropriate that we should do so at the same time. I have really little to add to what Senator Withers has said, except to completely and utterly refute the allegations that there were any harsh words of any kind exchanged between Senator Withers and myself in relation to the censure motion that was then before the Senate. Certainly, I did not in any shape of form refuse to help. I had other government matters to which I had to attend during the period when the debate on the censure motion was proceeding. I endeavoured to come into the Senate as frequently as I could during the debate. If there is some suggestion that I was not helping because I was not present throughout the whole debate, that is the explanation.
Another extraordinary statement appears in the same column, by Arthur Gray. It was that I was supposed to be annoyed when Senator Sir Reginald Wright indicated that the AttorneyGeneral should assist the Government move to gag the censure debate, on the ground of it being sub judice.
-Senator Sir Reginald Wright has already, by his reaction, refuted that suggestion. I simply do not know what is being referred to. The account seems to me to be utterly garbled. In fact, the only conversation I can recall having with Senator Sir Reginald Wright during the debate was that, in relation to a sub judice point. I asked him whether he was aware of a recent authority, which I then proceeded to obtain for him.
Motion (by Senator Sheil) agreed to:
That the following matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce: All aspects of Australia ‘s forestry and forest products industries.
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill for an Act to give to members of the public rights of access to official documents of the Government of the Commonwealth and of its agencies.
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Copyright Act 1968.
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to the preservation and use of archival resources, and for related purposes.
Senator Sir REGINALD WRIGHT (Tasmania) I move:
I speak briefly to the motion in order particularly to inform the Leader of the Government in the
Senate (Senator Withers) that after his answer to my question relating to the trust and the fund I had intended making a personal explanation because I believe that I was misunderstood by him in its implication to his disadvantage. I simply want him to understand that my question carried no implication of dereliction of duty as a trustee.
I point out in advancement of my motion for formal listing of the second reading of this Bill this week that all that would be involved would be a speech by me, which would take about 10 minutes but which would present facts and remove all this basis for misunderstanding. With great respect I want the Leader of the Government in the Senate to understand that when the actuary’s report was made no longer necessary in 1973 all the assets of the trust were transferred to the Commonwealth and all the liabilities henceforth were to be payable out of Consolidated Revenue. If these facts are put before the chamber and the public in an orderly way we will all be informed. I do not see why, in fairness, any member of this chamber should not be accorded 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour to make a substantial second reading speech on a matter of the highest import. The matter may not be of the greatest dimensions in terms of the finances of the country but the nature and quality of this impost on the people is of the greatest importance to the respect for and the position of this Parliament. I hope that the Government will see that point of view.
My motion is not, as it might have been suggested by me, that the Standing Orders be suspended to enable me to move a motion that the second reading of this Bill take precedence over other business. My motion is simply that the second reading of my Bill be listed for consideration some time this week. I ask that the Senate give serious consideration to accepting that proposition because the facts should be laid publicly before the chamber. On the basis of those facts no doubt in due time the matter will be debated, with no disadvantage being created by my absence.
– Because Senator Sir Reginald Wright is leaving the Parliament on 30 June I have no objection to the Bill being called on after all Government business for this period of sitting has been concluded. I do not know whether the honourable senator’s motion seeks that result but, I am prepared to give the honourable senator an undertaking that at the conclusion of the Government’s legislative program and after the necessary formal motions have been moved I would be prepared to move that the Bill be called on for consideration so that the honourable senator may have 10 to 15 minutes, as he put it, to deliver his second reading speech. Of course, he must understand that I would have to move that that debate be adjourned because the matters to be raised in the speech would require consideration by the Government.
– There is no need for that.
-I undertake that, at the conclusion of the Government’s legislative program and after the necessary formal motions have been moved, I will move- I do not say that the motion will be carried- and then it will be for honourable senators to accept my motion, that the honourable senator’s Bill be called on to enable him to deliver his second reading speech.
– I require a seconder for the motion.
– I second the motion.
– I thank Senator Haines, but in view of the statement of the Leader of the Government in the Senate I seek leave to withdraw the motion.
Leave granted; motion withdrawn.
– I had proposed by way of explanation to make some comments in relation to that matter and I now seek leave to make a brief explanation in relation to an event which took place yesterday. It is relevant to the subject matter of the motion just moved by Senator Sir Reginald Wright.
– At least one of this morning’s newspapers carried a report which represented that last night a number of honourable senators supported Senator Sir Reginald Wright’s amendment, not his motion, that his Bill be called on. I want to make it clear that my view remains unchanged from the way I voted previously. Last night I and, I believe, some other honourable senators thought that Senator Sir Reginald Wright should have the opportunity which has now been given to him by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) at least to make his second reading speech before he retires from the Parliament. It was only that matter that I supported; not his Bill.
-by leave- Yesterday the Opposition could have frustrated Senator Sir Reginald Wright if it had so desired but it did not do so because it believed this to be a matter between him and the Government. I rather enjoyed the exchange which took place yesterday. Anyone who is prepared to take on Senator Sir Reginald Wright deserves the treatment that he meted out to honourable senators yesterday. I do not believe that any honourable senator here should be given preferential treatment to that given to any other honourable senator who has been in a similar position. I recall Senator Bonner and Senator Ryan having introduced legislation, and that legislation then took its position, and rightly so, in the Government’s program. Senator Sir Reginald Wright is in a different position because he retires on 30 June. The Opposition accepts what the Government is doing in this matter and looks forward to the information that Senator Sir Reginald Wright will provide in his second reading speech. This does not necessarily mean that we agree with him but, of course, how can we agree if we do not know what he has to say? We look forward to hearing what Senator Sir Reginald Wright has to say.
Debate resumed from 6 June, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Walsh had moved by way of amendment:
At end of motion, add ‘but the Senate is of the opinion that the operative date for all the clauses in the Bill terminating tax avoidance schemes should be 1 July 1977, and that the Government should adopt as a matter of principle applying to all such amendments in the future that the operative date should be the beginning of the financial year in which the Government announced its intention to legislate.’.
– I had just commenced my speech in reply to the second reading debate on this Bill the other day when the debate was interrupted. The debate was wide-ranging and interesting. Views were expressed forcibly, particularly on this side of the Senate, in relation to some provisions of the Bill. Some Opposition senators spoke critically about some aspects of the Bill and of the Government, but I think it is fair to say that the Bill has received the general support of the Senate. I thank the Senate for its support and for giving the Bill a second reading. Most of the matters which were raised in the debate will be raised again in the Committee stage to which we will now proceed. I think it is preferable that any answers I have to give on behalf of the Government to points that are made be given in the Committee stage.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I did not speak during the debate on the motion that the Bill be now read a second time because of the shortage of time to deal with the large volume of business before the Senate and the arrangement that senators should speak only once on a Bill. Therefore I should like to speak for a little longer than one might normally speak when making a point in the Committee stage merely to explain why I wish to move the amendments which I understand have been typed. I ask that they be circulated in the chamber. The amendments refer to clause 3 and clause 5 which in part read:
The amendments relate to the retrospectivity provisions in the Bill. I make it quite clear that I totally support the Bill in every respect in regard to the elimination of the tax avoidance schemes and particularly the elimination of the Curran scheme. However, I do not support the introduction of retrospective legislation whereby the Bill has effect from 16 August 1977. 1 believe that in relation to any matter where a penalty is imposed retrospectivity is totally undesirable where the law is changed to make unlawful an act which people believed was lawful at the time they did it.
A brief outline of the historical facts in relation to this legislation is that in 1 974 the High Court decided that a sharebroker called Curran could legitimately use artificially created losses to set off against his income. In late 1974 the then Treasurer, the third-last Labor Treasurer, Mr Crean, said that the Labor Government would take steps to make that type of action unlawful. In other words, he would close that tax avoidance gap. Nothing further was heard on the matter until 1977 when the second-most recent Liberal Treasurer, that is, five Treasurers later, said that the Government proposed to take action in relation to closing the gap on tax avoidance. He did not mention that any such action would be taken retrospectively and he did not specifically mention the Curran scheme. So it was not until the present Treasurer, Mr Howard, in April this year, introduced this Bill that anyone had any reason to believe that retrospective legislation was being considered let alone would be introduced. I therefore do not accept any of the arguments that have been put that people had warning that the Curran type schemes would be made unlawful retrospectively.
If the Treasurer on behalf of the Government makes a statement that we will take certain action to eliminate something or to make something unlawful and that the legislation will have effect as from today, and there is a public announcement to that effect and it is quite clear, I have no objection at all. But when no warning at all has been given about introducing retrospective legislation or an intention to introduce it, other than merely a broad statement such as that which was made by the then Treasurer, Mr Lynch, in August last year, that is not a basis on which the Government can justify the introduction of retrospectivity, nor do I believe that its introduction can be justified on the basis that there will be a large loss to revenue unless the gap is closed retrospectively.
The fact is that if a government elected by the people has been negligent in permitting a large loss of revenue to take place, then I am afraid that the people who will have to carry the can for that loss are the people who elected that government. It is not a matter of imposing a penalty selectively on a few to make up for lost revenue. I do not support any measure which puts a price on principle, and really that is what the argument on lost revenue is all about. People say that there should not be retrospectivity unless the cost to revenue is very great. I believe that people are entitled to act according to the law, whether it is good law or not so good law. People are entitled to have their actions judged in accordance with the law as it exists at the time they take action, and that is fundamental. A number of speakers in both this and the other chamber have cited various authorities in relation to this point and I will not detain the Committee by repeating the quotations. I believe that Senator Tehan cited some most apt examples in this chamber.
I also refer very briefly to section 260 of the existing Act which was quoted by Senator Sir Reginald Wright in his speech. I will not quote it again. That section, broadly interpreted, as it was intended to be, I imagine, could mean that where Curran-type schemes are manufactured for the sole purpose of avoiding tax- which is the allegation which has been made in regard to what has been happening since 1974- the Commissioner of Taxation could set aside the claims and his action could be upheld in the High Court. I still hope and trust that the Commissioner will be taking action to use the powers under section 260 in relation to every one of the artificial taxation avoidance schemes, and particularly the Curran scheme. But again, any limitations on the interpretation of section 260 are not in my view a justification for the introduction of retrospectivity.
A point made by Senator Sir Reginald Wright in his speech was that taxation is for the whole of the business year and is determined at the end of that year, and therefore the law can be changed at any time during that year so long as it is clear at the end of the year what the law applying for the whole of that year may be. I suggest that that theory would create total business chaos. Business decisions, investment decisions, personal investment decisions as well as the totality of business decisions must be made having regard amongst other things to the incidence of taxation and the effect of taxation on the available cash flow in relation to the particular business being undertaken. To change the rules halfway through the year is in my view to invite a total loss of confidence in the business community. It is to invite total business chaos. It would be clearly as disastrous as some of the actions which were taken by the Labor Government which were not intended to create business chaos during the period Labor was in office but which in fact did do so. This action would be identical to some of those absurd actions such as using the Commonwealth Public Service as the trend-setter in wages and creating the most incredible inflation that this country has seen. I believe that if that sort of attitude which was put forward by Senator Wright were adopted- and even the introduction of retrospectivity is nearly as bad- it would create uncertainty leading to a loss of confidence and would lead to further regression in the economy. I would hope that no one would ever accept that proposition.
– It is bad enough the way things are now- a few weeks to the end of the financial year but nothing has been done during the year.
- Senator Townley makes a point which I accept. I congratulate the Government for taking action to close tax loopholes but I do not congratulate it on the grounds of expediency. I certainly do not congratulate it on the introduction of retrospectivity because in my view it is totally unjustifiable.
Reference has been made to the Liberal Party platform. It has been suggested that the platform permits retrospectivity because it says that tax avoidance schemes will be eliminated. It does not say that tax avoidance schemes will be eliminated retrospectively. In fact it says that the rights of taxpayers are safeguarded by ensuring that taxation adjustments do not have retrospective effect. I adhere to the Liberal Party platform which is quite clear on this matter. I adhere to the view which has been expressed by my own Party in my own State, through its State Executive and various of its electorate committees and branches, not to have a bar of retrospectivity. With that in mind I move:
-Senator Rae, I note that you have two amendments to move.
– May I move them both together?
– I would like you to do that.
– I further move:
In clause 5, sub-clause (2), leave out ‘ 16 August 1977’, insert ‘7 April 1978’.
If these amendments are carried two consequential amendments will arise. As I do not expect the amendments that I have moved to be carried I have not circulated the consequential amendments. I make that point for the sake of completeness.
-I also did not speak during the second reading debate because of the timetable which has been set down. I will speak fairly briefly at the Committee stage. I want to say a couple of things about the amendments that have just been moved by Senator Rae. The main purpose of this Bill is to counter a number of tax avoidance schemes and also to give effect to some of the policy initiatives of the Government. The Government specifically wants to stop the Curran scheme which the High Court declared legal on 4 November 1974. A little later in 1974, after the High Court decision, the then Treasurer said that the Government was considering amending the income tax law to counteract the High Court decision. In the 1977-78 Budget Speech the then Treasurer, the Right Honourable Phil Lynch, announced the Government’s intention to combat a number of tax avoidance schemes which were supposed to be causing a loss to tax revenue. The Curran scheme was not specifically mentioned and the legislation was not introduced in that Budget sitting, as the Treasurer said it would.
Honourable senators should not think for a minute that I am supporting this type of a scheme. I personally have no association with any of the schemes and nobody I know has any association with them.
– You move in very sheltered circles.
– I heard Senator Walters say that nobody in Tasmania even knew about the schemes. The fact that this type of a scheme has been allowed to go on for so long without the Government amending the legislation to me is nothing less than astonishing. As I have said, in 1974 Mr Crean said that he was going to fix it, as did Mr Lynch almost three years later. Now the Government says, in my opinion, that it is tossing principle to the wind and making the legislation retrospective to the date of that Budget Speech. As Senator Rae has said, aspects of the Liiberal Party policy platform clearly state that the Liberal Party is not in favour of retrospectivity on tax matters. In fact, it is very much against it.
I think that the platform of a political party is like the rules of, say, a football game. You cannot drop some of the rules if they do not suit you and still keep playing the game. The whole of the platform has to be followed. That is why I am afraid I have to differ quite strongly from my Tasmanian colleague, Senator Walters, who spoke earlier in the second reading debate. I believe we should follow that Liberal Party platform. Even further than that, I believe that a basic principle of our democratic system is that tax legislation should not be made retrospective prior to the date that a clearly definitive announcement is made that the law will be changed in a particular way. Such an announcement was not made until the Treasurer (Mr Howard) made an announcement, I think, on 7 April this year. Also I think it is essential that once an announcement is made the Government should enact the legislation relating to that announcement within a short time, otherwise we have government by ministerial statement. The places where that happens are usually called dictatorships. If we expect people to plan their affairs within the law, and those who were using the Curran schemes were planning within the law as declared by the High Court, the two things I have outlined must be done by government. I think it is well to remember that tax legislation retrospectivity is forbidden in the United States and in France. I believe that our Constitution should be altered so that such retrospectivity becomes illegal here.
– That is a constitutional amendment that could be put to the people.
– I think it would be passed, too. I will have a talk to the honourable senator a little later about that. I believe that retrospectivity is unwise. It is against the Liberal Party platform. I believe that all members of the Executive of the Liberal Party in Tasmania, except one, are against this retrospectivity clause.
– Ha, ha!
-That is quite true. People down there have a lot of sense.
– Order! Senator Townley, please address the Chair.
-Certainly, Mr Chairman. I believe that the Liberal Party, with this Bill, is creating a precedent which is unnecessary and which will be dangerous in the hands of future governments. We have already seen the attempt by the Labor Opposition, with the amendment to the second reading motion that was defeated without division, to backdate this legislation to the beginning of the financial year. I think that gives an indication of what the Labor Party is likely to do in the future if ever it forms the government.
Had the Government acted with sensible speed this retropectivity would not have been needed. Those who are now complaining about the loss of revenue during this financial year should surely have been complaining in the same way in the three previous years. I have not yet seen any adequate proof of the amount of loss to revenue that will occur from these schemes. Anybody who says that the loss could be either $500m or $2,000m-a factor of four to one-to me does not know what he is talking about. Surely the Treasurer should be a little more accurate than that. I do not think any real figure has been put on the amount of loss that the Treasury expects from the schemes. These nebulous figures seem to have been plucked out of the air. Anyway, principle should not be thrown to the wind just because of the amount of money involved. I am worried about the precedent. We could have a government which is short of funds for instance at the end of a financial year making a capital gains tax retrospective for five years.
- Senator Messner can say ‘Oh’, but this is the precedent we are creating. This is the precedent that the Liberal Party Government is creating. We could have income tax rates altered at the end of a financial year and made retrospective to the beginning of the year.
– And a capital gains tax.
– It is possible to draw absurd logical conclusions about retrospectivity.
– It is possible to relate this matter to a football game which has been won by one team narrowly, and then somebody saying to that team: ‘We are sorry, you didn’t win. You had to get twice as many goals. We are altering the rules from back at the beginning of the season. You are losing all your points ‘.
– It is not like that at all. It is like playing an extra ten minutes.
– It is not. Even that is just as bad. It is the same as bringing in a Bill providing an investment allowance and saying to people that everything they bought before last Christmas is subject to an investment allowance. How crazy it would be for us to bring in retrospectivity in this type of way. I believe we are establishing an ill-conceived precedent. It is something that I do not like and that future governments will be able to use to create a whirlwind to upset the taxpayers. I believe it is the Government’s clear responsibility promptly to amend the law if it is producing undesirable effects. If the Government chooses not to do that it is failing in its responsibility and should not be allowed to use retrospectivity to shut the door after the horse has bolted. No one will feel quite as safe once this law is passed and once this principle is established. Taxpayers will never know what is going to happen to them next. As I said earlier, neither I nor anyone else that I know has taken advantage of the schemes that this legislation is primarily designed to cover. I support the amendments.
– I also support the amendments that have been moved by Senator Rae. I congratulate Senator Tehan and Senator Rae on what they have said. I think Senator Tehan summed up extremely well the attitude of members on this side of the chamber who object to retrospectivity. I think we have to ask: Why is it necessary for taxpayers to seek to avoid taxation? It is clear that the Australian people are being overtaxed. That of course is the responsibility of successive governments.
– Order! Certain Standing Orders are set down. No one is allowed to interject when he is not in his seat or when he is walking around the chamber, and no one is allowed to lean over the back of his seat. Honourable senators may move around the chamber in the aisles provided at the back. Senator Townley made the point that we should abide by the laws that are set down. I say the same.
– I totally agree with what you have just said, Mr Chairman. I refer to the recognition by the Liberal-Country Party Government of the need to restructure taxation. The Treasurer, Mr Snedden, as he was then, instituted the Asprey Committee for that purpose. That was long overdue. Had it not been for the fact that we had introduced the inquiry perhaps no one would have thought about the fact that taxation in Australia is grossly in excess of what it should be. Of course that is the reason why tax agents, lawyers and accountants seek ways and means within the law to minimise the tax that is payable by their clients. A general pra.titioner friend told me the other day that a specialist doctor earns $1 10,000 a year. His expenses are $30,000. His taxation, according to this friend who was talking to him a day before, was $40,000. His provisional tax was $40,000. When one is met with that sort of situation one has to do something to try to reduce the taxation commitment. I am as anxious as anyone else in this chamber to prevent tax avoidance or tax evasion. I do not want to go into the legalities of those terms. I support the Government entirely in moving to prevent unnecessary exploitation of the taxpayers of Australia.
The Curran scheme that has been the subject of comment during the debate is estimated, according to the Treasurer (Mr Howard), to have cost the revenue something between $500m and $2,000m, which is an incredible gap. This illustrates how difficult it is to be sure about the figure. In any case it must have cost the revenue quite a lot of money. As the Treasurer said, if we close one gap several others open, and people are able to work upon those gaps legitimately in the pursuit of reducing their income tax. I join others who have been critical about the way the Government has gone about introducing retrospectivity. The then Treasurer, the Right Honourable Phillip Lynch, in his Budget last year made a vague attempt to say that the Government intended to move to close taxation loopholes. Had he been specific and said: ‘We will move to deal with the Curran-type scheme. We are going to introduce legislation to deal with that, and it will be retrospective from this day nominated’, I would go along with it. I could then say: ‘We have a principle in the Liberal Party with respect to taxation retrospectivity. The Treasurer has clearly stated our intention in this regard, and I shall go along with it’.
It is true that I have had many representations from lawyers, accountants and taxation consultants on this subject. I assume that some of those may have vested interests in it. It is also true that the majority of representations I have had have come from friends of mine whom I know particularly well. I know that they are not taking advantage of the Curran scheme. Many of them are Liberals who believe in Liberal principles with respect to taxation measures. They oppose retrospectivity as a matter of real principle. It is untrue that there are not people in this community who would suffer as a result of this legislation. There are people who legitimately committed themselves by way of investment, believing that their advisers had been acting within the law. They have taken advantage of such advice. I suggest that a number of people will suffer as a result.
– On the other hand, some would not take advantage of it because they believed it would be morally wrong. What happens to them?
– I am not arguing about morals. Far be it from me to have a debate with a lawyer in this place. I know just how effective the legal representatives in this chamber are in debate. As a simple suburban optometrist I would never have a debate with a lawyer on the question of morals.
– You are not totally oneeyed.
– Yes, I am not entirely oneeyed either. I do not want to repeat too much of what has been said, but I should like to quote two passages from Senator Tehan ‘s speech which I thought -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Chairman. Are we not in the Committee stage of this Bill? Is not Senator Jessop engaged in a second reading debate? If he is engaged in a second reading debate perhaps we could all enter the debate again and put our views as to the retrospectivity of this legislation. If we are in Committee stage I suggest we should be kept to the line.
– We are in Committee. I suggest that Senator Jessop speak to the amendments or to the Bill as we are dealing with the Bill as a whole.
– Referring to the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill and to the amendments that have been moved by Senator Rae, which I support, I should like to quote from page 242 1 of the Senate Hansard. I draw attention to the passage where Senator Tehan was making a point on Tuesday. He said:
The point I make is that once a government, of whatever persuasion, sets itself up in moral judgment as to the laws of the country and decides to make one of seven schemes retrospective, in my view it is an injustice; it is a departure from and an abandonment of a fundamental legal principle and can lead only to trouble.
I support that view and I support the amendments. I suggest that the Government, when it is considering taxation measures of this character in the future, should bear in mind that it is necessary for the Treasurer or for whoever makes the statement to say: ‘We will deal with this particular type of scheme in a legislative sense. It will be retrospectve from this particular date ‘. I will go along with that. But if the Government tries to push over Liberal Party principles in any other respect, I will oppose it.
- Senator Rae, in speaking to the amendments which he moved, said that the highest incidence of inflation occurred under an Australian Labor Party Government. Of course, Senator Rae knows that that is not correct because in 1951 under Menzies the rate of inflation was 25 per cent. I think we have to put that fact on record.
- Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. I do so to try to keep the debate within bounds. We should not be dealing with inflation. Surely that is not what this Bill is about.
- Mr Chairman, I should like to speak to the point of order. If what Senator Durack says is the case then a point of order should have been taken against the person who introduced inflation into the debate.
– Order! That is not a point of order. I again stress to the Committee that we are dealing with the Bill as a whole and with two amendments. I ask Senator McLaren to keep his remarks relevant to those two points.
– That is what I was endeavouring to do, Mr Chairman. I now refer to the remarks made by Senator Townley in supporting the amendments. He supported Senator Rae’s remarks when he said that the Senate, like members of the Liberal Party ought to stick to the rules. But, of course, we well know that Senator Townley is on record as not having stuck to the rules of the Liberal Party. When he was dropped off the Senate ticket he came into the Senate as an independent Liberal and then he rejoined the Liberal Party.
– Order! I ask the honourable senator to get back to the Bill.
– I will leave it at that. Senator Jessop also referred to a breach of Liberal Party policy. It is very nice to sit on this side of the chamber and listen to the Liberals arguing amongst themselves about this legislation. I think that all honourable senators on the Government side who have spoken in support of the amendments to this legislation have pointed out how they have been inundated with correspondence from lawyers, taxation experts and accountants drawing attention to the terrible ramifications of this legislation because it is made retrospective. I too have had reams of correspondence from these people. In much of their correspondence they have pointed out that we ought to remind ourselves of democratic principles. Of course, I wrote back to all those people and told them that they did not see fit to come out of the woodwork in November 1975 and talk about democratic principles. The only time they come out of the woodwork is when the hippocket nerve is being hit.
I congratulate the Government for bringing in this legislation. I also congratulate the Treasurer, Mr Howard, who is on record as saying that if there are any loopholes which are exploited by the passage of this legislation he will move very quickly to close them. I congratulate him for making that statement. In speaking in support of these amendments, Senator Jessop talked about a friend of his who had a taxation account of $40,000 and who also had to pay provisional tax. This has been said before. People are saying these things in support of their argument to try to put the story over that they pay provisional taxfor example $40,000- every year. Of course, Senator Jessop knows full well that provisional tax is paid only once. It is not paid every year. For example, it is paid this year to off-set one ‘s charges for next year. If any taxpayer can prove to the Commissioner of Taxation that in fact his income will not be such the next year that he has to pay the $40,000, then he can get a massive reduction in income tax. That takes place.
These are the specious arguments that have been put up by the so-called wealthy section of the community. When the vote is taken on these amendments we will be able to look around and see the rebels in the Liberal Party who, in effect, really support the silvertail section- the wealthy section- of the community. Senator Jessop used the argument that his friends came to him with complaints about this legislation which had been brought into the Parliament by the Treasurer. Of course, as I have said, as soon as the hip-pockets start to get hit the Liberals come out and protect their friends. They are not concerned about protecting every taxpayer in the community. Senator Jessop is on record as saying that he is concerned only with protecting his friends. Honourable senators on this side of the chamber will not support this amendment moved by the people who support the wealthy section of the community.
– I oppose the amendments moved by Senator Rae in respect of retrospectivity for this Bill. It seems to me that Senator Rae has based his argument on the point that in fact no notice has been given about the type of legislation to be introduced against the Curran-type schemes. The fact is that when we consider the issue we find that a very clear statement was made in the Budget Speech last year, stating that there would be a crack-down on tax avoidance schemes. Not one person in the community who had anything to do with taxation, with accountants or with the business world generally, and who knew something of the Curran-type scheme, would not have assumed that that would have been the first scheme to have been struck down by legislation.
The point that I believe we have to realise is that in fact- I am not taking it as a separate issue but as a point related to that statement in the Budget- clear evidence was given in a statement to that effect back in 1 974 by Treasurer Crean. All the tears that we have seen in the last few weeks concerning this matter are nothing but crocodile tears. They come from people who were fully aware of the rigours of the game- as Lord Greene put it- which we were playing. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that because, clearly, from contacts that I had in the community with people who were seeking to take advantage of Curran-type schemes, the only question in their minds was whether this legislation would be made retrospective. There was no consideration of whether the particular scheme had merit.
The Government is thoroughly justified in taking the action that it has. Another point that has been made relates to the position of Liberals and the Liberal Party platform. Senator Townley and others have mentioned that we are required not to allow retrospective legislation on taxation matters. On the other hand, the same policy, in the same section states that there must be equity in taxation amongst various groups of taxpayers. Consequently, I believe that Liberals have been faced with a dilemma in relation to this matter. But obviously they have to choose what I believe is the greater principle and that is, the matter of equity amongst taxpayers. On that basis I form my judgment about where I stand on retrospectivity in respect of this matter.
The fact is that the Curran-type scheme has absolutely no commercial realism to it whatsoever. It is totally artificial whereas it can be argued that other schemes do have some commercial realism. I believe this brings us to a very interesting point when we are considering the whole tax avoidance industry as it has become known. We know that today there are people in the community who are in fact taxation scheme wholesalers. They are not legitimate taxation advisers in the sense that they are not advising people to take advantage of a legal situation in order to plan their finances properly for marginal taxation benefits. The wholesalers, the sharks, in the tax avoidance industry come up with a fancy scheme which is designed to rip off all taxation and to deny the revenue any access to taxation on taxpayers income, in respect of not one year, but many years.
This is precisely the situation that pertains in regard to the Curran-type scheme. Again I hope that the issue of retrospectivity that has been raised in this legislation will make that wholesaling industry aware of the rigour and the rules of the game it is playing. I hope that it does have an effect on the sharpness of the industry’s teeth and that in future the Government will stand up against these sorts of operations. I repeat: These are not the legitimate operators in what is known as the tax advisory industry. These people have nothing else in mind but profit for themselves when they come up with some bright idea and peddle it around the market-place as though it were some commodity or other.
In making up my mind on the question of retrospectivity, I have been very much concerned as to whom we are really supporting in the tax advisory industry. The facts are that the wholesalers who have been flogging these schemes will be let off the hook, will escape from the wrath of their own clients, by virtue of the activity that we have undertaken. We are in fact saving them. They would already have collected large sums of money from their clients and because these schemes will now be over-ruled, the client will tend to blame the Government rather than the wholesaler himself for that action. I believe it behoves us as members of Parliament and of the Government to take as much of a public stance as we can in this matter to draw attention to the activities of these outrageous wholesalers in the tax industry.
I draw attention to the fact that it will be the legitimate side of the tax advisory industry that will suffer in the eyes of the public unless some action is taken by the Government along the lines of that which we have just taken. The point is that a lot of legitimate advisers would not recommend the Curran-type scheme to their clients because they believe it to be morally wrong. Unless those people are supported by the action the Government is now taking, they will feel let down. They will feel that they themselves ought to get involved in these outrageous schemes because the Government will not stand up for them. Consequently, I believe the Government’s action in making this particular clause retrospective to 16 August last year is very much in our interests, the Government’s interests and the nation ‘s interests.
While we are talking about the issues of retrospectivity in this Bill and the whole question of tax avoidance, I wish to echo some of the arguments put forward by Senator Sir Reginald Wright in regard to section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. I shall not read out that section again but there is a real need these days to have that section of the Act brought up to date in such a way as to ensure that there is clarity in regard to the understanding of the taxpayer’s position on tax avoidance schemes. I hope that the Government will attempt to look into the question of overseas law in respect of the United Kingdom, the United States and perhaps even New Zealand, where the law has recently been amended to provide that tax avoidance schemes are individually proscribed. I believe that that would be a way of getting around the problem and, as I have said, I hope that the Government will take some action in that regard.
Because of this particular deficiency in our tax law, I believe that we, as a Parliament, are giving far too much power to the Commissioner of Taxation in regard to his discretion on matters affecting tax avoidance schemes. In fact I have been through this Bill and I find that 56 different types of options are given to the Commissioner to form a judgment about a particular situation in regard to avoidance schemes. What this means is that the Commissioner himself, if he is satisfied, will form a judgment about the legality or otherwise of particular arrangements. This is an abrogation of this Parliament’s rights and ought to be eschewed at all opportunities by members of parliament. We ought to be as specific as we can in the tax law so that people can properly plan their affairs in a legitimate way and so that they are not put out on a limb, so to speak, and find themselves wanting when it comes to the application of the law in their case.
I should like to refer to one discretion that I know of that is being exercised by the Commissioner in relation to section 99a of the Income Tax Act. That section refers to the transfer of income to beneficiaries of a trust. Last year we passed legislation in this chamber in relation to will trusts- trusts arising by wills- for the benefit of infant beneficiaries being created artificially on the death-bed by some totally unrelated person. What the Parliament did at that stage was to give the Commissioner a discretion to decide whether or not a will trust created in those situations was legitimate. We now find that in some cases the Commissioner has been exercising his discretion against beneficiaries in those sorts of trusts, quite outside the terms of reference of the legislation which we decided upon last year. In fact trusts that had been created years ago have now been limited in their application by virtue of handing over that discretion. I believe that point has to be recognised as an important issue as far as this Parliament’s relationship with the Government is concerned.
I conclude my remarks by again referring briefly to the situation with regard to section 260. I implore the Government to look at that section to ensure that it is expanded to take account of tax avoidance schemes. A recent case known as Cridland ‘s case, which is covered by this legislation, is an example of the total limitation of that section. I believe it is something to which the Parliament and the Government ought to pay immediate attention.
– I rise to support the amendment moved by Senator Rae. In doing so I should like to speak very briefly on several questions -
– Hear, hear!
-I said ‘very briefly’, Senator. I am noted for speaking very briefly. I should like to speak very briefly on several questions that have been raised during discussions both on the Bill and on the amendment. I trust I am in order in doing so. The first question to consider is: When is a tax avoidance scheme fair and acceptable and when is it not? This question was canvassed at some length, and I, might say, very nicely, in the Shakespearean sense of the word, by Senator Lewis earlier this week. But to me, the answer is that it is not fair and acceptable when that scheme is available only to a small and very wealthy section of the community who, in taking advantage of a scheme which is undeniably legal but of doubtful morality, could place an additional burden on the average taxpayer who cannot avail himself of that scheme.
The second question that has come before the Senate is: When is a warning not a warning? This is a question which can be bandied about forever. Probably it is less a legal question than a semantic one. In August 1977, the then Treasurer announced that the Government intended to close certain loopholes in the taxation laws. That he did not enumerate these loopholes is to my mind irrelevant. Those people who gambled on the Curran scheme and other schemes took a deliberate risk- a risk that any gambler takes. They were playing for high stakes and should have been prepared to lose their bets and accept that their gamble did not pay off. Indeed, I cannot accept in this instance Senator Rae’s contention that these people should not be inconvenienced by government intervention in the 1977-78 business ventures. They were warned that intervention was not only possible but also likely in certain areas. Yet they were still determined to take the gamble. In the event, they lost. I have precious little sympathy for them.
– Why support the amendment?
-I am coming to that. I have little sympathy for them, particularly when it is realised that they will suffer not any real loss but an illusory one which arises merely out of greedy dreams. I indicate to Senator Chaney that the third matter is the one which prompts me to support Senator Rae’s amendment. Should discretion be allowed, when the loopholes are closed, as to which loopholes are closed retrospectively and which are not? That part of the Bill which Senator Rae is attempting to amend seeks to backdate to August 1 977 the provisions which relate only to the Curran scheme. I gather that the Bill seeks to close the other loopholes only from April 1978. To me it ought to be a case of all seven or none of them being made retrospective. Since the Government has elected to discriminate in the retrospectivity of its legislation, I support the amendment. I indicate that in doing so, since half a loaf is generally considered better than none and, I presume, that one-seventh falls into much the same category, I intend to support the Bill as it stands in the event of the amendment being lost.
– I wish to address myself to some of the other clauses of the Bill. Just for the record, I indicate that I support the Bill in its present form and will not be supporting Senator Rae’s amendment. The speech which has just been made by
Senator Haines was most interesting. I think her description of those who indulge in Curran schemes as people indulging in greedy dreams was most apt, and it is a description which I adopt. One reason why I support the Government in this matter, quite apart from the doubts I have about whether what is proposed is truly retrospective in any event, is that in the last 12 months I have had a large number of inquiries from people about the Curran scheme. All those inquiries have been as to what was the Government’s intention with respect to retrospectivity. The inquiries came from both professional people and participants in such schemes. In every case that I struck, the people involved were well aware of Mr Crean ‘s statement in 1974. They were well aware of the Treasurer’s statement in the Budget. In all cases they had been warned or were warning their clients, where they were professionals, that there was an element of risk.
Quite frankly, I think this is an area in which we had a group of punters. They were taking a punt with their eyes open, and they will just happen to lose their bets if this legislation is passed. I have no sympathy for them. I believe that the principle against retrospective legislation which is designed to protect the citizen does not apply in this case. We are dealing with people who entered into utterly artificial schemes with a view usually to paying no tax at all. Their intention was not to reduce their tax burden but to pay none. The people involved were usually taxpayers with very high incomes. They comprised large numbers of medical practitioners and other professionals earning incomes that would be the envy of most of their fellow Australians. They were extremely greedy in their approach. Most of them want to pay no tax at all. I will be delighted if this legislation is passed and that greedy dream is brought to the ground.
The other matters I want to raise relate to the provisions of the Bill, and particularly clause 20, which are supposed to be carrying out the Government’s intention announced on 24 August 1977 in the House of Representatives to introduce a new income tax concession. In a speech Mr Anthony made in the House of Representatives on that date he said: . . to introduce a new income tax concession to encourage exploration for, and development of, off-shore petroleum deposits. The new concession will be available in respect of moneys subscribed after today as paid-up capital to companies holding valid licences or permits under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act . . .
I have some concern about the clauses of the Bill which relate to the carrying out of that proposal. My concern is not one which would lead me to put forward amendments because I believe the legislation is so complex that to try to amend it in this chamber on the run would be likely to produce some rather dreadful results. It seems to me that what has happened in the preparation of this legislation is that it has been geared particularly to the needs of the participants in the Woodside project. Most of Mr Anthony’s statement lays emphasis on the fact that the development of the Woodside areas is of great national importance. The Government announced a series of measures which would assist that project to get off the ground. Notwithstanding that the statement of intention with respect of tax legislation was meant to encourage exploration generally and without limitation to that particular project, it appears that the provisions of the legislation are geared not to the general encouragement of exploration but to the particular needs of a particular project.
I for one would like to see the Government reconsider some of the sub-clauses of clause 20 of the Bill. In particular, I refer to sub-clauses (4), (5), (6), (9), ( 15), and so on, which to my mind effectively leave problems for those companies which would be seeking to raise risk capital from the Australian community. In other words, in the case of a company which is going to the public and saying: ‘Let us raise money to put in this very risky area of off-shore oil exploration’, I think there are some deficiencies in what is proposed. The sorts of deficiencies are, for example, the requirement that, in the case of a company in the same year raising moneys required not for exploration but, say, for company administration, the 30 per cent rebate be reduced on a pro rata basis. A company may be formed for the purpose 01 indulging in exploration of off-shore areas. That is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. It is something which involves putting its money at risk and something which we want Australians to do. Too much of the risk capital in ‘.his country is provided by foreign investors who then pick up and go away with the considerable rewards that may follow. So we have a legitimate area of activity for companies formed in Australia to seek money from small individual investors.
If a company is formed and seeks to raise that sort of money, it will cost it a proportion of its funds to do so. For example, a commission is paid when the funds are raised through a stockbroker. A company must have some administration expenses and part of those administration costs will directly relate to mounting an off-shore exploration effort. I think it is a pity that the funds which are raised and which of necessity must be raised for those purposes effectively reduce the benefit of the concession which is granted by this legislation. I understand the administrative difficulties, which officers of the Department have been kind enough to explain to me, which arose under the provisions of section 77D in the case of a company which has shares, some of which are entitled to rebate and some of which are not. I understand the administrative difficulties which can be involved. I believe that it ought not to be beyond the wit of both the Government and the Taxation Office to work out administrative procedures which would avoid the problems encountered in the past. I cannot see why a company should not raise funds in earmarked lots so that, for example, certain shares not subject to rebate are issued in a block and certain shares, all of which are subject to rebate, are issued in a block. The blocking of the shares would depend on the assessment of the company of how it intended to spend money in the future.
So I ask the Government at this stage simply to take on board the fact that if it wants to encourage Australian investors it might look again at those provisions which I think will discourage Australian-owned companies from getting risk capital from small Australian investors. I am also a little concerned- again, I do no more than draw this to the attention of the Government and ask it to give it further consideration- at the fact that provisions which as a protective device have been inserted and which require public companies to be involved if the rebate is to be obtained. In this regard I am talking about the situation where there are intervening companies between the subscriber and the actual exploration company. I understand that there were considerable abuses in this field using section 77B, and for that reason the Government has to be careful. Companies in Western Australia have drawn my attention to the fact that there are substantial private companies in the resource areaforeign companies and companies from North America in particular- which are not public but which have considerable funds that they wish to bring into this area. I would not want to discourage them. I believe that it is possible- I simply lay it before the Government as a representation which I have received and which seems sensible to me- to water down the requirements and still avoid the problems of the past. I do not ask the Minister for an immediate response in respect of this matter, other than to give an undertaking that he will request the Government to again examine these matters which have already been the subject of representation to the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and some response by letter from the Treasurer.
– I think it would be appropriate if I were to intervene just briefly at this time to reaffirm the opposition of the Australian Labor Party to retrospective legislation. However odious one may feel the practices are that one is legislating against, it is our view that retrospectivity is a very evil principle and one which is undermining the principles of the rule of law. We are supporting this legislation because we believe that on no fair construction of the meaning of the word retrospectivity’ is this legislation in fact retrospective. It deals with the present financial year. For that reason the Australian Labor Party proposed an amendment that the legislation should, in fact, be made ‘retrospective’- if one is going to use this word which I do not think is appropriate and I do not mean that in the sense in which one can express moral opposition to retrospective legislation- or applicable from 1 July, that is the beginning of this financial year.
We hold the view that if taxation avoidance schemes such as the Curran scheme, which are dealt with by this legislation, were excluded from 1 July, it would be this financial year which is covered. After all, whatever provisional tax one may have to pay one is taxed on the earnings which one has received within a financial year. That was why we moved that amendment. It was not because we did not oppose the principle of retrospectivity. If there were any disagreement with any other opponents of retrospectivity, it was over the meaning of what is retrospective. We do not believe that our amendment was a proposal which would have made the law any more retrospective than that which is proposed in the Government’s Bill. We think it would have been a tidier way of doing it. Nonetheless, we support the Bill which is before the Committee at the present time. At the same time we reaffirm our total opposition to retrospectivity of legislation as a principle, and we reaffirm our view that this is not retrospective legislation.
– I think it is a great pity that again the Senate has fallen, as the public has fallen, for the three card trick and is involved in a debate during the Committee stage in particular on retrospectivity instead of on the detailed provisions of this Bill. In my view the detailed provisions of this Bill should have been examined very closely and finely. There are many clauses of the Bill which I would like to have gone through. In particular I refer to the proposal that the Commissioner should be given discretions. This is constantly referred to through the Bill. In fact it is referred to more than fifty times. Really it is a terrible pity that this debate is being contracted, and that such of the debate that is taking place relates mostly to retrospectivity.
– There is no reason why you should not refer to the other matters.
– I intend to do so. I draw the attention of the Minister to clauses 1 1 and 13. In particular I refer to clause 1 1 ( 1 ) (f) which seeks to insert new sub-section (6a). It requires a person who wants to claim a gift of property as an allowable deduction to submit to the Commissioner of Taxation not less than two valuations in writing of the value of the property. Not satisfied with that, those valuations must be from an approved valuer. So the Commonwealth is to set up the bureaucratic nonsense of establishing a register of approved valuers and requiring someone who perhaps wants to make some generous gift to get two of those people to value the property. As if that is not hard enough on that person who has to go to all that trouble to make this gift, for some reason or other the draftsman of the Bill is not satisfied and is frightened that the approved valuers might in some way or other be got at. In proposed new subsection (6E) (a) (ii) the Commissioner is again given a further discretion in relation to the value of that gift. So the person has to produce two approved valuations and still he does not know how much he will be allowed as a deduction. If we are going to that stage, why do we not go the whole hog? Why do we not say that the only amount that will be allowed as a deduction will be an amount that the Commissioner will determine? How he determines that amount is up to him. We could then give the Commissioner power to advise the donors how much he will allow before they make their gift. That would be a much simpler process altogether. I draw the Minister’s specific attention to that clause. In my view the whole clause needs to be rethought and a substitute clause introduced.
I now turn as quickly as I can to clause 13(1) which seeks to substitute new sub-section (3), which states:
A dividend paid by a company during the prescribed period . . . shall not be taken into account … if the dividend was paid in pursuance of an agreement . . .
This is in relation to the assessment of a sufficient distribution by a company. I say that every time a public company issues a prospectus inviting the public to subscribe and every time a shareholder accepts the invitation to subscribe, the company enters into an agreement to pay that subscriber a dividend in accordance with the provisions of the prospectus. The prospectus will set out whether the new shares will participate in the current dividend or in a dividend from 30 June next year. The prospectus is required to set out those things. Here is an agreement between a shareholder and a public company, and yet this specific clause is so badly drawn that it says that in those cases that dividend will not be taken into account as a sufficient dividend by a company in those circumstances.
Senator Sir REGINALD WRIGHT (Tasmania) ( 12.48)- I am indebted to Senator Lewis for drawing attention to the question of discretions, as Senator Messner did. I just remind the Senate that in 1964 we had a terrific crisis here when the Government was kept up all night and had to divide a Bill because of my opposition to discretions which have been seeping into the taxation laws since then like sewage. Nothing that depends upon the principle of retrospectivity so undermines the rule of law as to give the Commissioner of Taxation a discretion on what he thinks is honest and what he thinks is not. When we couple with that the secrecy in which he works in relation to individuals, it is indeed a reproach but it is also an opportunity for unparalleled corruption. It is a tribute to our Australian Public Service that the integrity of the Taxation Office has not been questioned. When one considers that it is an office constituted of so many officers who, in a subordinate capacity, have to review these matters that it is completely impossible for a Commissioner or for the upper echelon to take into account all of the complicated transactions involved in a particular assessment, one realises that the opportunities for corruption are simply frightening. That all comes from secrecy and the exercise of discretion. I say that only to add whatever influence I can in urging an intense investigation of this matter and the substitution, for what now prevails, of proper rules.
The Commissioner, the Government and the draftsmen say that one cannot devise rules. That is how all of this evil began in 1964. The Cabinet of the day had spent2½ years in seeking to devise rules but came up with failure, as expressed in the need to give discretion; that is how they excused it. The Commissioner went on to issue public bulletins in which he devised formulae by which he would be guided in the exercise of his discretion. They were perfectly simple and could be understood. If Parliament had had the wit to devise them they would have been quite proper for insertion in the statute. Everybody would then have known what the law required, as distinct from giving the Commissioner the right to determine whether or not, in a certain case, a particular rule applied.
The second matter I mention in deference to what Senator Rae said concerning my interpretation, in regard to Curran transactions, of the principal of retrospectivity. I think that there has been a misunderstanding and, if I may say so with respect, that Senator Wheeldon falls into the same error when he discusses retrospectivity with regard to a year of assessment. If, for instance, for the first time, one were to bring into a man’s assessable tax gambling debts, where he was not carrying on a business for gambling but was indulging in a little punting on horse racing, or was investing in Tattslotto, it would, of course, be retrospective- if made to apply to a win enjoyed before the Act was enacted. This is not an instance of that. This is a case where a loss is invoked to reduce income, artifically created by the declaration of a dividend out of a capital reserve. It is simply a conversion of one’s right to an interest in that capital reserve; one calls it a dividend and then says that the amount thereof represents money in one’s pocket which one can consider to be a deduction against the sale of shares, and so reduce one’s income.
My proposition with regard to that is that it is an appalling pity that the Commissioner did not apply to it section 260. If he found that judicial interpretation had prevented a successful application of the section, then, as I have advocated- I am most grateful for Senator Messner ‘s adoption of the idea- section 260 should be amended so that specific matters are described. I hope one day we will have the capacity to use the English language to describe in a paragraph of about six lines a particular transaction, instead of the roaming, meandering draftsmanship which takes 13 pages to describe one proposition. Section 260, in principle, applies to Curran transactions. Everybody agrees that there is a distinction between Curran himself, a stockbroker, and other people who artificially create pseudo share-selling transactions. There the principle, the true interpretation of section 260, applies. I go further and say that even in the case of Curran himself it is a complete misunderstanding of what is meant by losses to claim that if one has the right to create a dividend in a company, and goes through the process of doing so, just because it is then in the form of an offset account it is a loss when applied for the purposes of the share. That to me is not acceptable. That is the opinion of Mr Justice Stephen who dissented in Curran ‘s case. Some of the things of value in this life have come from people who sometimes dissented. As I have said with regard to the Fifth
Amendment of the American Constitution, it comes from those who are considered by their contemporaries to be the ultimate in cantankerousness.
I thoroughly reject the idea that the Minister should have the right to say in future, after a decision: ‘I am going to bring in legislation on that, to condemn it’. Unless he brings it in within three months, or a reasonable time- not with the swiftness with which the parliamentary pensions amendment was introduced, within 24 hours- it is for the Parliament to decide whether the Minister’s idea is to be accepted. If he is given the right of decision and waits for 1 1 months to act, the whole community remains in suspense as to whether Parliament will adopt that decision or not. Therefore, Parliament has to insist on action from these dilatory, pettyfogging Ministers who in this case have failed to act since 1 974. 1 refer principally to the Labor Government and its successor. The Labor Government was chiefly involved. Parliament will not, I hope, accept truly retrospective legislation in cases where there has been a long delay such as this.
I do not consider this to be truly retrospective legislation; nor do I accept the assertions of the Minister that the amount of revenue at loss here is colossal. The only information that the Minister has is based upon an assessment of the applications for remission of provisional tax that have come in in the last four or five months. That would not be sufficient to indicate a greater loss than say $40m or $50m- certainly nothing like $500m or $2,000m. I do not accept that, and that is the reason why I shall vote against Senator Rae’s amendment and for the Bill. I shall vote for the Bill, agreeing reluctantly to the insertion of the date 17 August. If it were a declaratory Bill, declaring the law, it should have no date; it should apply along with the Act. That is truly what it is. However, it would be only timewasting to try to achieve that. By inserting that date the Government is really forfeiting revenue in respect of all of those transactions that accrued before August. A declaratory measure should apply to all bogus transactions, of whatever date, to which the legislation on its true interpretation should have been applicable.
Sitting suspended from 12.59 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was pleased to hear Senator Wheeldon say that he and the Australian Labor Party are opposed to retrospective legislation, particularly in this area. I am of the same opinion. However, I do not look upon this legislation dealing with tax avoidance as being retrospective legislation. Many people in Australia were aware from what the then Treasurer, now the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch), said when he introduced the last Budget that some legislation could be introduced. But those people were hell bent on doing all they could for their own benefit to adopt the Curran scheme in order to avoid tax or, to put it another way, to welsh on their fellow Australians. This has cost the country many millions of dollars and in turn has affected all people who legitimately pay their taxes, even though they may employ tax consultants who do their utmost to legally minimise the tax paid by their clients.
The Curran scheme has been described in many statements and editorials in the Press as a total rip-off. The Government has introduced this legislation having given fair warning of it but without having been specific. I accept the criticism that has been made in this respect. Nevertheless the legislation will affect incomes in the current financial year- we are still dealing with the current year- but if the Government had done nothing, the people using the Curran scheme would have been receiving benefits for the next two to five years. So, rather than look upon this legislation as retrospective I look upon it in completely the reverse way in view of the benefits that could be obtained from tax avoidance schemes in future years. I totally support the moves of the Government in this area. I appreciate the fact that there always will be loopholes and that it will be very difficult to close all of them. I am glad that the Treasurer (Mr Howard) has accepted the suggestion and that he will always give notice of impending tax legislation. From the day that notice is given people using certain practices for total tax avoidance will be pulled up by some dragnet legislation. I felt that I should refer to those matters in this chamber to make my position clear.
I now want to deal specifically with something about which Senator Chaney spoke earlier today relating to clause 20 of the Bill. This clause deals with incentives for investment in areas of exploration and development, specifically in the north west of Western Australia. I am one who supports this move. I appreciate the great potential of the area which we as a nation need to develop. But I am also aware that we will need to invest many millions of dollars to get this project off the ground. There is a need for the Government to give some incentives in this area. Whilst I appreciate that this clause deals to some extent with the Government’s statement which relates to the north west area and which was set out at about the time of the presentation of the Budget, I am disappointed that the Government has not also included in this legislation further tax incentives for on-shore exploration and exploitation. There is a great need for these incentives to make sure that we explore as effectively and efficiently as we can for all our resources. At present some of them are totally unknown; others are not. Oil companies, with their great expenditures and risk capital, need incentives to move into this risky area of exploration.
I would like to see the legislation go even further than dealing with on-shore exploration. I would like to see the Government move into areas covered by old sections 77 (C) and 77 (D). I appreciate that under those sections great problems arose. In the past there were loopholes and tax avoidance was practised by many people. This is the reason the Government closed off these avenues of avoidance. I hope that the Minister will refer to the Government the suggestion that it should give further serious consideration to providing more incentives for investment by companies in exploration because there is a need for further Australian equity in this area. At present people are given no incentive to invest their money in exploration. If something could be done by way of tax incentives, we would give greater encouragement to Australians to invest more money in this risk area and so take part in the future development of Australia.
Mr Chairman, I appreciate the limitations of time. I could say much more on this matter but I hope I have said enough for the Minister to appreciate my concern and to appreciate that I support Senator Chaney ‘s proposal. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to providing further tax incentives over a broader field for both on-shore and off-shore exploration. There is a particular need for more off-shore exploration and consequently there is a need to ensure that there are incentives for companies and for Australians to invest in the development of their country, particularly in this area of high risk.
– I rise at this stage to record my objection to what Senator McLaren said earlier in the debate. Quite unfairly he accused me of expressing concern for people who are my friends. The effect of his remarks was that I was protecting silvertails and such people. I do not very often take exception to what Senator McLaren says but on this occasion I believe -
– Inanities come from him.
– They were inanities, as my colleague points out. I do not usually wish to dignify Senator McLaren by responding to his remarks, but I must respond on this occasion because the statement was perfectly incorrect and untrue. It tended to denigrate me in this chamber. I point out quite clearly that my attitude in this matter is based on many representations I have received. Some representations have been from lawyers, accountants and tax agents. Some of them may well have vested interests in the matter under discussion, but the large majority of people who have objected to the retrospectivity contemplated in the Bill are small people in the economic sense. They are people who are liberally-minded but who object to the principle established in this Bill. They believe that retrospective action with respect to tax should not be contemplated by a LiberalNational Country Party government. I am very conscious of the fact that Senator McLaren has a compulsive urge to make speeches on all subjects, particularly at the end of the session and much to the embarrassment of his colleagues.
- Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order to help Senator Jessop. His remarks are really quite irrelevant and he ought not to be drifting off the subject no matter what the temptation or the provocation may have been. After all, the Government is committed to passing this legislation by a certain time tomorrow.
– I think the honourable senator has gone beyond his point of order.
– I remind Senator Jessop that time is an important factor.
– This Bill covers a wide area. The Minister earlier took a point of order about the irrelevancy of some speeches. I am giving Senator Jessop an opportunity to speak on various points but I suggest that he should not attempt to disparage another honourable senator.
– I did not have that in mind at all. I was suggesting that the honourable senator made some disparaging remarks about me. That is the reason why I made that comment.
– You must not canvass my ruling.
– I certainly would not do that, Mr Chairman, because I believe that during the time that I have been a member of this chamber your rulings have been perfectly fair in every respect. I conclude my remarks by suggesting that honourable senators bear your ruling in mind when they take part in debates in this place and stick to the facts. That applies to honourable senators on both sides of the chamber. They should also bear in mind that, as we are nearing the end of the session, short speeches are preferable.
– In speaking to the amendments moved by Senator Rae, Senator Jessop made certain remarks, to which I replied. I do not retract anything that I said. When Senator Jessop reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that what I did was to repeat what he said. I take objection to his remarks that my speech comprised inane remarks.
– Order! The honourable senator has made his point.
– Yes, I have made it and I will make it every time I think it is necessary.
– I desire just to say a few words on this -
– On what?
– On these amendments.
-Order. The honourable senator is speaking on the Bill and the amendments.
– I oppose the Government’s bringing in of legislation of this character, which involves retrospectivity, using the excuse that this is legitimate action. We hear some rather odd arguments put up by people when they want to wriggle and twist and then they want to make the Liberal Party platform look like a piece of elastic, as Senator Messner did.
-Order ! I do not think you should allude to a particular senator, Senator Wood.
- Senator Messner said, on the one hand, that the Liberal Party, according to its platform, was opposed to retrospective legislation but, on the other hand, that it is in favour of tax equity. How can tax equity ever become involved with retrospectivity? I think that that is a rather unusual combination.
– It is like Actors Equity.
– He is a member.
– Actors Equity might be in your line, Senator Messner. If you are a member of Actors Equity, as Senator Bonner says, that probably accounts for your twisting and turning in respect of this platform, or stage, if you prefer. The High Court of Australia said in 1974 that Curran-type schemes are legal, but to hear people talk now, one would think that such practices are the worst possible criminal offence.
– Just immoral. I think everyone has agreed to that.
– Just immoral? I suppose we should be careful how we as members of” parliament address our remarks- morally or immorally. If the High Court says that something is legal how can we say that these people, who act within the legal framework, are the greatest bunch of so-and-sos? I believe- and I think that every sensible, thinking person would agree with me- that it is only right that people should be taxed fairly and that people should meet their tax obligations. But the High Court has said that Curran-type schemes are legal. If the Government wants to remedy the situation why does it not introduce legislation to operate from today or from whenever it is proclaimed? The introduction of retrospective legislation makes me wonder about the sincerity of the Government and whether the people of Australia can trust the word of this Government. Nothing belittles a government more than if its word cannot be trusted. I believe that there are many people in Australia who can be justified in thinking that there is no certainty in the actions of this Government and that if it can introduce retrospectivity in this case, in what other case can it introduce retrospectivity?
I have been a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances for a very long time. Members of that Committee have discussed that aspect of retrospectivity. We have opposed its application wherever possible and we have tried to shorten the period as much as possible. Retrospectivity is something that I do not like. I personally think that this Government should be ashamed of itself for bringing in this bush-ranging type of legislation which goes back so far.
-When I first spoke in the Committee stage I was under the impression that the debate would be confined to the amendments that I had moved. I thought that there would be relatively few speakers and that a vote would be taken on amendments fairly quickly. But that did not happen. Having confined my remarks, as I now find unduly, I wish to speak again briefly to refer to one or two other aspects. Firstly, I want to ask the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack): Why has the Government chosen to use this form of retrospectivity as a means of achieving its objective, as opposed to moving to amend section 80 of the Income Tax Assessment Act which provides for the carrying forward of losses of previous years?
Had the Government been concerned to save the revenue, had it been concerned to uphold the principle of no retrospectivity, then one approach could have been simply to say: ‘As from the announcement in April of an intention to amend section 80, it will not be possible to carry forward any of the losses of the Curran scheme type from any previous year’. That sort of an approach would not have applied full retrospectivity it contains a retrospective element in its effect- but at least it would have been better than the method which the Government has adopted. I ask the Attorney-General to comment on what is wrong with adopting that approach. It is an approach which is still being put forward.
As a matter of fact, during the luncheon break I received a further telegram from a firm in Melbourne making that suggestion. The name of the firm is not familiar to me. I do not know whether it is a firm of solicitors or accountants. It was a suggestion that I had previously put to a firm of solicitors in that State, an esteemed firm of solicitors in Melbourne, which has in no way been involved in any of the Curran schemes but which has a very strong view in relation to retrospectivity. I asked the firm for its view as to an amendment to section 80 and its considered view was that it regards that approach as preferable to the Curran proposal but still considers that it involves retrospectivity because it seeks to change the position after the action has taken place. In summary, it is the lesser of two evils but, as a matter of legal principle, it was the view of that firm, which would be well known to the Minister, that there should be no element of retrospectivity in any legislation. It was the combined view of the partners of that esteemed firm, which has not been engaged in any of the touting for business of whacking through tax avoidance schemes and the other things that have been commented on.
I have found some of the reference to so-called legal authority in relation to retrospectivity to be less than the standard which I had hoped for from some of the speakers from which it has come. I make no further comment than that. I ask the Attorney-General: Why can section 80 not be used as the means of saving the public purse by simply making the artificially created losses losses which cannot be carried forward for deduction? There are other aspects to which I would like to have addressed myself but I did not think that time was as liberally available as some of the other speakers apparently thought it was. I shall contain myself to making just one of about ten points that I deleted from my earlier speech.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator DrakeBrockman) I call the Attorney-General.
- Mr Chairman, I was hoping that I would be able to close the debate. I know that I cannot under the Standing Orders, and I think Senator Messner is on his feet trying to get the call.
– I rise only to reply to the point made by Senator Rae. Very quickly may I just make the point that section 80 would involve an amendment to prevent losses being carried forward to another financial year. If we accept the proposition that the action being taken under this Bill is not truly retrospective, the action which Senator Rae suggests would be.
– I have waited until what is I hope the end of this debate before speaking. I hope, as at the conclusion of a second reading debate, to sum up and to refer to the arguments. The questions that have been raised in this Committee debate relate not only to the amendments. They ranged over a number of other aspects of the Bill. The amendment itself is directly concerned with the issue of retrospectivity. The Senate, of course, will not be surprised to know that the Government will not accept the amendments.
– The Government will not accept the amendments. The Government has, however, considerable respect for the arguments that Senator Rae and others have advanced. It is, of course, certainly an exception that the Government would legislate retrospectively. I know that Senator Sir Reginald Wright, Senator Wheeldon and Senator Young have all put strong arguments on why this Bill does not come within the principle against retrospective legislation. However, the Government accepts that it is legislating in a way in which it does not normally legislate. It does not matter whether we call the legislation retrospective or not.
The Treasurer (Mr Howard) has made the future position quite clear. He has already put into practice his principle that if a government has decided that a particular tax avoidance scheme will be eliminated the decision will be announced as soon as it is made. I take it that there is almost universal acceptance in this chamber of that course. When the legislation is passed it will be retrospective to a certain date.
Nevertheless, everyone will have due and fair warning and nobody can really complain. That is the way the Government desires to operate in these situations. That is the way in which it hopes to be able to operate in the future. However, the Curran scheme represented a very special situation. Treasurers have given a fair amount of indication over the years that the scheme was not acceptable and that it would be changed. The arguments for that I think have been very well advanced in this debate, particularly by Senator Messner. On behalf of the Government I certainly adopt those arguments. I do not want to go over that ground again.
I think I should clear up one important aspect of this matter- the question of the revenue loss that is involved if this legislation is not made to operate from 16 August last year. Senator Sir Reginald Wright has questioned the estimates given, but the Commissioner of Taxation is definite, from the sound information on which he makes his estimations, that hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly as much as $500m are involved in this issue. Although that may not be of itself sufficient reason to bring in legislation, it is an important aspect to be considered. Senator Sir Reginald Wright has questioned the estimates and said that they rely on applications made by taxpayers for variations of their 1977-78 provisional tax. In fact, the Commissioner did have direct evidence of the resort to Curran schemes from other sources and not simply from applications for variations of provisional tax. Information came to him particularly towards the end of the last financial year. Information of this type has also been received from members of the accountancy profession. The estimates that I have given are based on all that sort of information.
Let me give a vivid illustration. Very recently and subsequent to 16 August 1977 a Curran scheme involving the creation of current losses of $100m which had been implemented through a single company was brought to the notice of the Commissioner. That information has come to him quite recently. If the scheme were successful the revenue loss from that scheme alone would be $50m. Senator Jessop referred to the arguments that have come in many cases from what he called liberally-minded persons. I suppose he means supporters of the Liberal Party. I do not know whether the people who have been making these strong representations are supporters of the Liberal Party, but certainly I have received a great many representations as I am sure have all honourable senators. I have also received from accountants and lawyers for whom I have a high respect indeed representations to the contrary. Senator Messner I think mentioned that he has received similar representations. The lawyers and accountants- particularly those personally known to me- who have made it their business to take the opportunity of speaking to me have said how much they support what the Government is doing. They said that they would not, as professional men, have a bar of advising their clients to enter into these schemes or take part in them themselves. Therefore, the representation is by no means one-sided. I am sure that most honourable senators would have received contrary views from members of the legal and accountancy professions.
I refer now to the arguments about retrospectivity. There have been arguments about the differences between tax avoidance and tax evasion. The Curran scheme is said to be dignified by a High Court decision and so on. References have been made to the platform of the Liberal Party. Although, as I have said, the Treasurer accepts that we are committed to a principle of not legislating retrospectively, not only in regard to taxation but also in regard to many other matters, the taxation platform of the Liberal Party also states a principle of equity in the tax system. How can there be equity in the tax system when an ordinary taxpayer of this country is having to foot the bill out of his own pocket for the benefit of a few who are avoiding their obligations in this artificial and completely non-commercial way to the tune possibly of $500m? The major question the Government had to decide was the basis of equity in the system. It is also to be noted that the policy of the Liberal Party states that tax avoidance schemes will be eliminated. In this day and age we have a tax avoidance industry- wholesalers, I think Senator Messner called them. We are in a grey area in some cases as to whether we are dealing with avoidance or evasion. I think a new word has been coined: Evoision. I have heard of a different scheme of tax evoision.
– I have a total’ evoision’ to that.
– I think we all have an aversion to that. We are in a grey area. The Curran scheme- it may be technically and legally a question of tax avoidance- nevertheless has no commercial basis whatever. Many other schemes of this kind do not have proper commercial validity as their base.
Another matter to which I refer in this argument about retrospectivity is the high legal principle that is said to be involved. Certainly it is true that a major principle of statutory interpretations is that statutes are not interpreted to have retrospective effect. That is the presumption. Nevertheless, this principle is not absolute. There have been some quotations on the subject from distinguished judges, particularly the quotation in relation to tax avoidance legislation by Lord Greene. I do not propose to quote Lord Greene’s remarks again but I propose to quote from a judgment of Mr Justice Isaacs, one of the most distinguished judges who ever graced the High Court of Australia. In the case of George Hudson Ltd v. Australian Timber Workers Union in 1923 he said this in relation to the legal principle in regard to a presumption of retrospectivity:
But its application is not sure unless the whole circumstances are considered, that is to say the whole of the circumstances which the legislature may be assumed to have had before it. What may seem unjust when regarded from the standpoint of one person affected may be absolutely just when a broad view is taken of all who are affected.
The legal principle itself has to have regard to all the circumstances. I could speak at much greater length in regard to what has been a very interesting debate. Points were raised outside this area altogether by Senator Chaney and Senator Young. I assure them that the Government will look closely at the points that they have made. Certainly it is the Government’s wish to give every incentive for exploration activities on the mainland and off-shore. I assure Senator Sir Reginald Wright, Senator Messner and others who have mentioned section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act that the Government is very concerned about the ineffective application of the section now as a result of High Court decisions. It is giving close consideration to the whole aspect of section 260 with a view to seeing whether it can be amended in a way which will give it the sort of effect which I believe we all thought it had. I accept the views that have been put strongly by Senator Sir Reginald Wright in relation to this matter. Perhaps after 30 June when he will have more time to devote to simplifying the laws he will bring some of his great legal talent to bear in trying to redraft section 260. 1 look forward to receiving from Senator Sir Reginald Wright early in July a draft of a new section 260. I assure him that we will give it the closest attention, as we have always done to his legal submissions.
Another matter of substance raised is the question of the widespread discretions that are provided in this amending Bill, as they have been provided in previous taxation legislation. We as a government do not like creating discretions but unfortunately in this area there are practical reasons why there need to be discretions. We shall keep the legislation under review to see where these discretions can be eliminated or modified if in practice it is found that this can be done. An interesting comment appears in the issue of the Taxpayer of 3 June 1978. I am sure nobody would expect Mr Risstrom and his Association to be taking a soft view on the discretions of the Commissioner of Taxation. In relation to the debate on this subject in the House of Representatives, the article stated:
No one would deny that the ideal way for tax legislation to be framed is for it to state implicitly what is to happen, and without giving the Commissioner some leeway to draw a dividing line.
Certainly the Taxpayers’ Associations wish it were that easy. However, for some 15 years (since the first large-scale use of discretionary powers in the 1964 Bills . . . ) few have been able to complain of the way those powers are exercised.
The Commissioner of Taxation will continue to act in a reasonable way and will discuss the exercise of discretion with people who raise it with him. He will endeavour to give indications, as he has done in the past, of the way in which these discretions are exercised.
-The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) has not made any reference to the point that I made in relation to clauses 1 1 and 13 of the Bill which I specifically raised with him.
– I thought I was trespassing a bit on the Committee ‘s time. I tried to deal with the broad issues. In relation to Senator Lewis’ point on agreements under clause 13, I think he will find that the term agreement to provide a benefit is defined in proposed new subsection (4a) to be an agreement under which money is to be paid, property transferred or services provided for less than full consideration. I think that if he reads the rest of the clause he will find that an agreement does not have the specific effect that he believes it has. It is a rather technical question. If he cares to have further discussion about it I know the officers present will be happy to talk with him.
That the amendments (Senator Rae’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator the Hon. T. C. Drake-Brockman, D.F.C.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Durack) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 3 May, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. In the circumstances, it is not necessary for me to say much on the subject except perhaps to make the comment that payroll tax is an iniquitous tax. I believe that at the last election we outlined our view that payroll tax was a tax on production. So far as the Opposition was concerned, payroll tax should have been abolished and some other form of tax applied in order to gain revenue. It seems extraordinary to me that recently we abolished for justifiable reasons probate and death duties as a means of taxation and of gaining revenue. Yet, at the same time, we continue to impose payroll tax which bears very heavily upon industry, upon commerce and especially upon those people who are engaged in industry which, in the present economic circumstances, is finding it difficult to maintain viability.
This Bill is merely an instrument by which the Government ceases to apply payroll tax in the Northern Territory so that responsibility can be taken over by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. I wonder why this Bill is not a part of the package of Bills with which we will be dealing shortly. It could have been. We could have debated all these Bills together. It does give me an opportunity to express one or two points of view on payroll tax. The sooner that the Government of this country comes to the view that payroll tax ought to be abolished and that it should use its undoubted influence upon the States, the better. Senator Durack indicated this morning the tremendous influence this Government has upon the States. He believed that by approaching the States he would be able to get some ratification of an international agreement. Of course, if he is as hopeful as that on the matter with which we dealt this morning, I do not doubt that he is as confident when it comes to the abolition of payroll tax. The States can apply payroll tax to gather revenue in a substantial sort of way. Payroll tax in Queensland is based on a levy of 5 per cent of the amount paid to employees. That is an imposition upon the earnings of people. It is a straight-out imposition based upon the level of earnings and not on the profitability of the concern. I would have thought that the Liberal Party would have been the first party to take the initiative to see that this tax was removed.
At election time we made an error in our policy speech. We tried to achieve this worthwhile result, but we tried to trade it off. In trying to trade it off, we may have made an error. We were not able to convince the electorate that the abolition of payroll tax was a worthwhile initiative. Nevertheless, it is on the conscience of the Government and those who support its cooperative federalism that this payroll tax persists. This Bill is merely a means by which the new State- one must use this term to describe the Northern Territory. Is it a new State? It ceases to be a Territory, does it not?
– Well then, what is it that we have here? I do not want to go off on a flight of fancy. Of all the Territorians here, I am the oldest because I was born in Darwin some 58 years ago when it was a rugged outpost. The fact that I stood on one leg for the next 10 years of my life might have been the result of the environment in which I was born.
– Which leg are you standing on now?
– I am not sure of that. Nevertheless, it was apparent to those who knew me well in my earlier years at school that if someone wanted to search me out in the playground they looked for the chap who was standing on one leg. I do not know whether it was some sort of instinctive reaction to the fact that I was born in the Territory at a very early stage in its development. I am not certain about that.
– But you were a left.legger?
– Yes, I was a left legger. I should have been awake to that earlier. I would have thought that all the legislation with which we will deal later and which relates to the Northern Territory leads to the inevitable conclusion that we have created an extra State, an extra Parliament, more politicians and more expenditure, even though it may not be justified as far as the Northern Territory is concerned. I am not sure of the total population of the Northern Territory. Senator Kilgariff could possibly tell me. I believe the total population of Darwin is about 34,000 people.
-It is 50,000.
– Darwin has a population of 50,000. Then all the work that the Australian Labor Party did and all the money that it provided for the reconstruction of Darwin have achieved a worthwhile end, that is, an increase in the population of Darwin from some 34,000 to 50,000. But in spite of the points which may be raised concerning this legislation- I do not doubt that Senator Robertson will bring forth these points- I question whether it is advisable for us to be moving the Territory towards state-hood so rapidly. I had better get back to the subject matter of the Bill before somebody takes a point of order against me. The Bill before us will amend the Pay-roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Act 1971 to terminate the tax upon wages related to the Northern Territory of Australia and for related purposes. I am pleased to announce that the Opposition does not oppose the Bill.
– in reply- Mr President, Senator Georges’ speech appears to have been more related to another item on the Notice Paper which is scheduled for a later hour this day. I hope that means that when that item is reached today there will be one less speaker on it. I thank Senator Georges, the Opposition and the Senate for their support of this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 7 June, on motion by Senator Webster:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
– We are dealing with the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1978 and associated Bills. The Opposition’s criticism will be of the main Bill. We will be moving an amendment to it. Allied with this amendment for reasons which will become apparent as we go through the debate will be a matter dealing with the Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Amendment Bill 1978. There is no opposition from us to the rest of the Bills. But no doubt individual senators will have some comments to make and some queries to raise. I shall address myself to the main Bill and to the amendment which we propose.
Self-government for the Northern Territory has been a dream of Territorians for many years, not only just in the last few years but way back, I think to 1911. We have all heard many stories of the early days when people were looking for a greater degree of autonomy and perhaps wished to remove the yoke of the Administrator. That is some of the early history. But certainly since the 1939-45 war there has been a surge forward in self-government for the Territory. In this place and in other places I have drawn attention to the work of people who have contributed a great deal in this regard. I notice that in another place the names of Jock Nelson and of a few others were mentioned as those who pressed for selfgovernment.
Self-government for the Northern Territory has always been the policy of the Australian Labor Party. It is in our platform. It is now gratifying for us to see self-government coming to the Territory. I remind the Senate that Labor played its part in the bringing of self-government to the Territory. It was a Labor government which, in 1974, created the first Legislative Council with a number of elected members. It was the Whitlam Government which, during its term of office, gave the Territory a fully elected Legislative Assembly and also made the financial arrangements which enabled people to enter the Legislative Assembly. The criticism had been made previously that one would have to have money to be able to sit on the Legislative Assembly because the remuneration for doing so was not sufficient. In fairness, I must say that the LiberalCountry Party played its part during the period between the setting up of the Council and the granting of the first fully elected Legislative Assembly. The Liberal-National Country Party increased the number of elected members to the point where there were more elected members than there were nominated members. This, in itself, was a great move forward. The present coalition Government, of the same political persuasion, is moving towards the achievement of the total goal.
The concern I feel- and I express it now- is that the Government is moving forward without reference to the people of the Northern Territory. On another occasion in this place I drew attention to the fact that even though the Australian Capital Territory is perhaps further away from self-government at this stage, already the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) has sent out letters to people explaining what is happening about self-government for the Australian Capital Territory and seeking people’s opinions. This sort of thing has not been done in the Northern Territory and it is a great pity that this is so. I think this point will be made clear as we progress through the debate. Also, despite the fact that we made representations about this matter, the Federal Government or the local assembly has thought it wise to consult with Labor. I think Senator Chaney made the point in an earlier debate that not all the talent and not all the ideas are on one side of the chamber. Of course we all support that proposition. But when we are moving towards something like selfgovernment which, let us face it, is basically a bipartisan sort of move, it seems a great pity if there is no attempt to take advantage of some of the expertise or, to use Senator Chaney ‘s words, the talents and ideas, that might exist on the other side of the chamber in the Assembly and perhaps in this chamber as well.
I feel that there was not adequate consultation with the Legislative Assembly by the Federal Government. I shall bring forward certain evidence later on to prove this point. It seems that a lot of decisions were made in Canberra without adequate discussion with the Legislative Assembly- an assembly comprising people of the Government’s own political persuasion- and certainly not with the people of the Northern Territory. Again my concern is that we are perhaps moving too quickly towards selfgovernment for the Northern Territory. Of course immediately I say that, someone will say: Well, that is a lot of nonsense. You have been waiting for self-government for so many years, why stop at this stage? Why be concerned that there is a quick movement in a brief space of time?’ I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Northern Territory suggested a staged devolution of powers. It suggested that the whole process should be spread out so that there would be no traumatic experience for those people in the Northern Territory who occupy positions in the majority party in the Assembly. The last concern I must express is that the whole process is moving before the Northern Territory is ready for it. Not only are the people of the Northern Territory not ready but also perhaps adequate preparations have not been made. One wonders whether the superstructure is there and ready. One wonders whether the foundation is firm enough- if one can use that sort of analogy- on which a sound structure can be built.
Let me make it quite clear that the vast majority of people in the Northern Territory want self-government. The question we have to think about, of course, is the timing of it- when it should come about- and the conditions under which it will come about. At this stage I move:
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– Honourable senators will note that the amendment covers two broad areas- the Northern Territory (SelfGovernment) Bill, which is the main Bill, and the Ashmore and Carrier Islands Acceptance Amendment Bill. I will address my remarks, first of all, to the Northern Territory (SelfGovernment) Bill, and then I will comment on the other Bills. In the next few minutes I shall put forward a proposition in support of our contention that the Northern Territory (SelfGovernment) Bill 1978 should be withdrawn until a referendum or a plebiscite has been held. The Constitution calls for a referendum to be held before a new State is created. Whilst honourable senators will understand that section 124 of the Constitution does not exactly mention a referendum, it is generally agreed by Quick and Garran and other commentators that it implies that a referendum would be held before a new State were created.
The Government and, it appears, Senator Georges see the step of granting self-government as a movement towards statehood. Without being facetious about it, I think that has been made clear by government policy. Mr Fraser made the policy statement when he came to the Territory some time ago. So it is clear that the granting of self-government is one step towards statehood. I think if we were to look through the Bill we would see that it embodies the principles for statehood. In fact I believe that the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) when introducing the Bill in the other place referred to it as perhaps a constitution for the Northern Territory. I doubt whether it is that. Nevertheless, he had that in mind. So if selfgovernment is a first step towards statehood, then surely some referendum or plebiscite should be held. That would seem to be automatic.
The other principles implied in the Bill suggest that the giving of decision-making powers is what the Bill is all about. Surely one can put the point that the first decision that has to be made is when, and perhaps the second decision to be made is on what basis that power is to be conferred. Surely if the people of the Northern Territory cannot be trusted to elect a group into power and if that group in power cannot be trusted to make these sorts of decisions, we ought not to be talking about self-government. We ought not to be thinking that at some future time the Northern Territory will have statehood. I believe very strongly that the Federal Government has a responsiblity to find out from the people of the Northern Territory what are their views on this matter. I will present some evidence later to show that there are several other major bodies in the Northern Territory which support the holding of a referendum.
Let me turn to an argument which the local Country-Liberal Party members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly have put forward, namely, that the election of last year gave a mandate for statehood. The report of a statement given to the Northern Territory News by the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Marshall Perron read as follows:
Speaking at a public forum organised by the Territory Australian Democrats on Saturday, Mr Perron said: ‘There can be no dispute that our election victory was a mandate to institute the changes now imminent.
The election was fought primarily on the issue of selfdetermination and when it would arrive.
Our policy, as you know, was that self-government was overdue.’
So we know from the Deputy Leader of the majority party, Mr Perron, that that party quite clearly saw the issue of the election as that of statehood. The party believed that it was given some mandate. But if we examine the situation we find that the Country-Liberal Party gained 4 1 per cent of first preference votes. So if its members are using the election result as an argument that they have a mandate for selfgovernment, then they are backing the wrong horse. Obviously many more than 50 per cent of the people of the Northern Territory do not want statehood, because they did not give their first preference vote to the Country-Liberal Party. It is clear that a referendum on the issue, being counted on the number of single votes would have failed. So if the result of the election is to be used to determine whether the majority party has a mandate, it is obvious that the people of the Northern Territory do not want statehood. I do not take it in that way and I think it is a specious argument to put forward.
What do the Territory people feel about statehood? I intend to quote fairly freely from newspaper reports, if I may, because I think that is the best way in which to reveal the situation. I will take examples from the local newspapers and from the national newspapers to indicate what the people of the Territory say about selfgovernment. We do not know what they say, and this is one of the many reasons why we seek a referendum. We know what some people think. For example, we know what Don Chipp thinks. Another article in the Northern Territory News stated:
Australian Democrats Leader, Senator-elect Don Chipp today urged Territorians not to be ‘conned’ into statehood by Canberra.
The Democrats believe strongly in self-determination, but I, Chipp, as a national leader with 1 6 years of parliamentary experience holding 10 portfolios behind me, plead with Territorians not to accept it from Canberra until they have read the fine prim on funding, ‘ he said.
Devolution of power is the catch-cry under the heading of new Federalism in Canberra right now.
The Australian Democrats support the principle, but all of the six States and almost every local government authority I have seen in the past 12 months say it’s the sweetest con job in federal history.’
Having referred to that sort of statement, I am more concerned now to turn to the people of the Northern Territory and to find out what they think about the matter. I mentioned in my introductory remarks that little consultation had taken place with the people. I mentioned also that there had been little consultation with the majority party. A report in the Northern Territory News on a comment made by Mr Everingham, the Leader of the majority party, stated:
Mr Everingham said today Prime Minister Mr Fraser had contacted him on Friday and called him to Canberra for the talks.
He was not sure at this stage if and when he would speak with the Prime Minister.
The talks will touch on vital aspects of self-government. They come one day before the Bill comes before Parliament.
One feels that that is a little late for consultation. The article continued:
Mr Everingham said there were a number of points about the Bill he was not happy with. However, he expects the talks will bring some measure of compromise.
Two days after he had been to Canberra and had returned to the Territory, a local newspaper article stated:
Majority Party Leader Paul Everingham said today that he wasn’t ‘entirely happy with some of the things we do know about’ the legislation for self-government.
For instance, we would like to see the Commonwealth prescribe its own areas of control, ‘ he said.
It’s more difficult for us to do the reverse- to say where we won ‘t be in control. It’s difficult to be exclusive. ‘.
Towards the end of the Press interview he said:
We did manage to get hold of fairly complete details of the legislation, but the Commonwealth has the incomprehensible attitude that no legislation should be revealed to anybody before it is introduced to the House ‘.
A further article which appeared in the Star newspaper stated:
Mr Everingham says there were talks between his executive and the Federal Government about the Bill, but convention had stopped him reading it before it was tabled in Parliament, and the attitude of the Department of the Northern Territory towards negotiations had been ‘less than satisfactory’.
So Mr Everingham is concerned about the convention which stops him from looking at the legislation. He regards that as an incomprehensible attitude for the Commonwealth Government to take. I find it surprising that he should be worried about convention. He obviously has forgotten the events of October and November 1975. The Australian Labor Party has constantly called for a referendum. At the present time a petition calling for a referendum is circulating and it has more than 4,000 signatures on it. I know that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) will dismiss the petition and say that people will sign anything, but I think that the gathering of more than 4,000 signatures in a fairly short time shows some interest in the subject. We believe it is significant. I personally feel that the number of signatures on the petition will become much larger.
– What is the total number of electors in the Territory?
-There are 30,000-odd electors. People indicate their interest not only by signing petitions but also by attending meetings and so on. A number of meetings have been held in the Northern Territory for the purpose of discussing possible developments in the Territory. Those meetings have been mounted by the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, various associations, chambers of industry and so on but not, unfortunately, by the Government. That is rather surprising. However, other groups have got together and have mounted meetings so that all of these matters could be discussed. I think that indicates that there is a good deal of interest in the Territory in this subject. That has been shown by the following comment which appeared in the Australian Financial Review:
All three recognised opposition parties, the ALP to the Left, the Democrats at the centre and the Progress Party to the Right, as well as representatives of the public servants, the biggest single group of employees and at least one major black organisation have demanded such a poll.
That is the poll to which I am referring. The article continued:
More significantly, those people who would normally be assumed supporters of the ruling party are apprehensive.
At the nub of the opposition is money. How much will selfgovernment cost, and more importantly, who is going to pay? Typical of those with doubts is Mr Dennis Power, proprietor of Power and Buckland Pty Ltd (Sunny Citrus) one of the Territory’s major suppliers of fruit juice, who in apt metaphor says: ‘ We will be sucked dry. ‘
The Star newspaper, which is the second newspaper in the Northern Territory, conducted a poll among businessmen to see what they thought about it. An article in this newspaper which reported on the poll commenced by stating:
There is mounting opposition to the idea of selfdetermination or Statehood for the Northern Territory.
A snap Star survey of the Darwin business community showed real fears about what the cost of self-rule will mean.
Another section of the community which showed an interest was the Aboriginal groups. A newspaper article reported what Bob Liddle, the leader of the Aboriginal people in Alice Springs, had to say. The article stated:
I am calling for a referendum from an Aboriginal point of view, ‘ he said in Alice Springs this morning.
We’ve had an Aboriginal council meeting here in Alice Springs, with representatives from the rural areas, to discuss the effects the transfer of powers will have on Aborigines.
We agreed that by introducing State-type powers the local administration will have to raise more revenue by increasing charges.
It ‘s inevitable that the Aborigines will be worst hit.
It would seem from those comments that the main area of concern is lack of consultation. Also some queries are raised about financial arrangements.
Mr Perron, speaking at another forum; not the one I just mentioned before; made this statement:
The financial implications of the Territory’s moves towards self-government are the least understood area of the current historic constitutional development.
It is not surprising that this should be so. We have had a situation in which the Minister for the Northern Territory has made one statement and the leader of the majority party in the Northern Territory has made another statement on the same subject. An article in the Northern Territory News stated:
Mr Everingham had been quoted as saying that the Government would make sure that aid to the Territory would be enough to maintain a standard of services ‘at an overall equivalent to those presently provided ‘.
But a statement issued by Mr Adermann in Canberra said that the Commonwealth would ‘endeavour’ to ensure that assistance to the Territory was sufficient to maintain standards.
Of course, those statements do not mean the same thing. There is a possibility in the Northern Territory, which is causing some concern, that a Territory income tax to provide additional finance will be introduced. Honourable senators may recall that Senator Wriedt and Senator Kilgariff asked Senator Carrick questions in this place on this matter. In reply to a question Senator Carrick said:
It could apply - he was speaking of income tax- but at this moment it is not included in the foreshadowed legislation.
Senator Wriedt then asked if it were possible that Northern Territory residents might be obliged to pay a separate income tax in the years ahead under the present Government’s policy. Senator Carrick replied inter alia:
It would be a matter for the Northern Territory to raise in the future . . .
Mr Perron, who seems to be the spokesman on this matter, during the same forum I have just mentioned said: ‘The Territory will be no worse off than the States and this is the best we can hope for’. The following comment was made by a Northern Territory newspaper commentator who, after listening to Mr Perron, said:
There appears to be ever increasing reasons why our Legislative Assembly should not accept the Federal Government ‘s ‘offer’ of self-government.
Perhaps our MLAs don’t yet see it that way- at least the Majority Party ones- but it seems the public does.
What is becoming clearer with each passing day is that on July 1, if our ‘leaders’ go ahead, they will be governing a Territory without adequate income.
The important question is what will it cost? A figure has been suggested a number of times by Mr Everingham speaking in the Northern Terri-‘ tory on Australian Broadcasting Commission programs and during Press conferences. He has given a figure of $6m. He said that this money will be raised from motor vehicle registrations, stamp duties and turnover tax. When the question was put to Mr Everingham during an ABC program when he was being interviewed with Mr Isaacs, the Leader of the opposition party, he said:
Then he made a statement which I am sure he has regretted many times since that the cost of self-government for the Northern Territory would be a can of beer a week. There are over 30,000 taxpaying units in the Northern Territory and on that basis the cost would work out at roughly $200 a unit. I appreciate that the cost would vary between different units but obviously the cost will be a little more than one can of beer a week. Therefore there is a vagueness and ambiguity which is causing some concern. I certainly would not go as far as the Northern Territory News went when one of its commentators said that the government of the Northern Territoryhe was speaking of the majority party- was inept, introspective and, frankly, incredible. I do not think that is so at all. I think the government is composed of sincere people who are attempting under great difficulties to do a very big job. I believe they are not being given the support by the Federal Government to assist them in this matter. I am reasonably critical of this and I am sure that my colleagues will support me in this respect.
The other major area of concern that I want to mention is public servants. Public servants right from the word go- and there are large numbers of them in the Northern Territory- have been concerned about the transfer of rights, about their seniority and about what will happen to them after 1 July. An article in the Australian Financial Review states:
Australian public servants and unions are balking at their transfer to the Northern Territory Public Service in the first stage of a transfer program scheduled for 1 July.
So far they have been told that workers already employed will retain the terms under which they now work.
But, according to Mr Ferguson - who is a member of the union which conducted a research project into the problem-
Mr Campbell ; the Public Service Commissioner; seems to be saying that ‘perhaps Australian public service conditions will not necessarily be the most suitable for the creation of a Territory Public Service ‘.
Mr Campbell had already said ‘conditions would have to be looked at in the light of value for the Public Service dollar’.
And it was feared that his lack of guarantees about the terms of employment for workers recruited to the Territory Public Service after July 1 meant an attempt would be made to eliminate such traditional benefits as the district allowance.
I just finish off this general area by making the comment that the Federal Government and the local majority party should consult and be seen to consult with each other. I think it is most important that the people of the Territory accept the proposition that they have been consulted and it is clear that this consultation has taken place.
I wish to make some very broad comments about the Bill itself. I will be brief because of a shortage of time and because these matters may be raised during the Committee stage. We are very concerned about the role of the Administrator. Under this Bill the Administrator- and no doubt some of the lawyers who may speak to this legislation will have some comments to makeseems to have undue constitutional power. From my reading of the Bill it seems that the Administrator is put in almost the same position as the Governor-General. Of course, this is not appropriate in the Northern Territory situation. It should not be the same. It should be subject to many more constraints. I think there should be a requirement for him to consult the Government and to act on its advice. I do not want to buy again into this argument because we will raise this matter at the Committee stage. Certainly the Administrator as, of course, the GovernorGeneral, should be required to seek advice and to act on that advice. Let me make it quite clear that I have no criticism whatsoever of the present Administrator, a man for whom I have the highest regard. He is a man of very high principles.
I will speak about clause 7 of the Bill during the Committee stage. The clause states:
Every proposed law passed by the Legislative Assembly shall be presented to the Administrator for assent.
The Administrator may withhold this assent. If he does so, there is no law. I will be looking at clause 8 where the Administrator reserves a proposed law for the Governor-General’s pleasure, the Governor-General may withhold assent. It seems that the Territory politicians, whatever colour they happen to be at the time, will have two hurdles to mount and still they may have no assent. As far as I am concerned, and I think the general proposition would be accepted, elected people should have the opportunity for their legislation to be dealt with effectively. Of course, they should have the say. This is the very cornerstone of democracy. Again, the Administrator may appoint times for sittings, decide the number of Ministers, appoint and terminate the appointment of Ministers, and so on. Again, this is contrary to democracy. I was interested to note that in another place Mr Lionel Bowen made this statement:
To vest all power in one man really denies power in every way to the Northern Territory itself.
At the Committee stage I will also be making some comments about the quotas and asking whether they should not perhaps be decided on population rather than on the number of electors. I know that we have a slightly different situation in the Northern Territory. As one can understand, many of the Aboriginal people are not on the roll. We could have quite easily a situation in which, between a decision being made on the quotas and the actual polling day, hundreds of Aboriginal people could be enrolled in an area. Our objection, of course, is to the wide, 20 per cent disparity. Federal law allows for 10 per cent, and this is what we will be seeking by an amendment at the Committee stage. We do not want the situation that existed in the last election, when the number of electors in electorates ranged from 1,686, through 2,063 and 2,486, up to 2,922 persons. I know that this will bring a smile to the faces of some people whose electorates number more than does the entire population of the Northern Territory, but I want simply to indicate the range and the variation from the quota.
The Opposition has no objection to the legislation relating to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. We have talked to the union leaders about it, and they seem to be quite happy with it. I want briefly, before concluding, to comment on the situation concerning the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, to which the other section of my amendment is devoted. The Northern Territory has not been consulted on this matter. I raise it basically because it is one that can be left out- to highlight the lack of consultation that has been present. This is typical of the cavalier attitude that the Federal Government has shown in regard to the formulation of this Bill. Both sides of the Legislative Assembly- the majority CountryLiberal Party and the minority Labor Party- are in favour of Ashmore and Cartier Islands being retained in the Northern Territory. I am not discussing that issue, but rather using it to highlight the lack of consultation that has been present. The principle lying behind it seems to be a little like that of the Government some time ago to land rights for the Aboriginal people; that is, that the Aboriginal people can have the bits that we do not want.
It seems to me that there are two sound reasons why we should support the amendment on the Ashmore and Cartier Islands. Firstly, up till now it has been considered a part of the Northern Territory. If I recall correctly, section 6 of the 1933 Act provides for this. Secondly, the people of the Northern Territory see possible financial implications as far as they are concerned; they hope to derive some revenue from this area. There is little point in giving selfgovernment if the Federal Government retains the revenue-producing sources. The amendment is promoted by the fact that consultation has not taken place. We put very strongly the point that the Northern Territory is entitled to be involved in decision-making. As I have mentioned, if we take it out of the package it will have no effect. We can leave the decision until later and can meanwhile consult our colleagues in the Northern Territory.
I would like to conclude by reading a comment in an editorial in the Canberra Times which, speaking about the whole movement towards self-government in the Northern Territory, had this to say, inter alia:
In view of all this, the demand of Labor in the Northern Territory that the Territorians be formally asked to say whether they agree to the financial and political arrangements proposed seems to be eminently reasonable.
It is not to argue whether a referendum should be held to decide whether self-government is wanted or not. In a democracy self-government is both a right and a responsibility that cannot be shirked. But what form it shall take and how it will be financed is essentially a matter of choice by the people themselves.
– In speaking to the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1 978, and the associated Bills, I would first say that in these last two weeks history has been made in the Federal House of Parliament by the introduction of this legislation. It produces a most unique situation: For the first time a Territory is developing into selfgovernment and is moving along the road to statehood. Indeed, it would be true to say that with the Territory developing as it is, and with its responsible government status emerging- a government with plenary powers- for the first time the Territory is being recognised.
I have listened to the remarks of Senator Robertson and must say that to some degree I am a little disappointed. It would have been better, with the Territory making this tremendous step forward, if we could have come together to present a unified viewpoint. However, the Opposition is taking, to quite an extent, a somewhat negative attitude. I do not intend this afternoon to play on what the Australian Labor Party has done, what the Liberal-National Country coalition has done and so on. Over the years a tremendous effort has been made by all political parties to produce the present situation. However, I must say that in the last year or two, although Opposition members have indicated in a manner their support for these constitutional changes, they have been party to a continual questioning and erosion process which I do not think helps the Bill.
I wish to retrace briefly the steps of constitutional change over the years. I think it is necessary that the people of Australia should appreciate the situation. One can best describe this most important constitutional change over the years as the political pioneering of the Northern Territory, lt has indeed been an extremely hard road. Honourable senators will recall, when looking at the history of the Northern Territory, that the Territory was first incorporated in New South Wales in 1825 and was annexed by South Australia in 1863; That in 1890 South Australia conferred parliamentary franchise on the people of the Northern Territory; and that in 1901, the date of Federation, the Northern Territory enjoyed full parliamentary franchise by virtue of the Federal electorate of Grey.
In those days, despite the fact that the Territory was an extremely isolated area, the population of which was very small, the pioneers were becoming recognised; they had, by 1910 or 1911, achieved a considerable degree of political responsibility, certainly recognition. But in 1910 came the Northern Territory Acceptance Act and the Northern Territory Administration ActFederal Acts- which returned the people of the Northern Territory to the status of being just numbers in a territory. Full parliamentary franchise had been removed. An Administrator, with nine senior officials, was appointed. I suppose this was really the beginning of the struggle for political representation, for the people of the Territory to have a say in their own affairs.
One can learn from the history of these pioneering giants who did so much for the Territory in those days, the various ways in which they produced, by continual battling with the Federal Government, a situation in which their rights were recognised and by degrees, they enjoyed increasing constitutional change. Even so, it took a long time. In 1923, for the first time, the House of Representatives included an honourable member from the Northern Territory, without voting rights. In 1947 we had the beginning of the Northern Territory Legislative Council, which Senator Robertson has mentioned.
In 1958 the Legislative Council resigned after it had done battle with the Federal Government over its recognition. In 1 959 limited voting rights were granted to the member for the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives. In 1 962 a remonstrance was presented to the Federal Parliament. In those days I was a member of the Legislative Council. A delegation consisting of the President of the Council and other people presented the remonstrance- a political instrument- to the Federal Parliament pleading for recognition and for some say in their own affairs. However, the Federal Government did not debate the issue. In 1964 another delegation, of which I was a member, followed up many of the earlier moves. In 1959 there was a further constitutional change. In 1968 full voting rights were given to the member for the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives.
In 1973 the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory was formed, and there are members of the present Parliament who were members of that Committee. I believe that the Territory owes a considerable amount to the members of that Committee- Liberal Party, Country Party and Labor Party members. They presented the report which really set the guidelines for the political development that is taking place now. It is not my intention to examine the report now. The moves that have been made in the last few years have emanated from that report. Members of this Parliament who participated in the making of that report can say with some feeling that they have played a major part in what is happening today. Following the report of the Joint Committee, a fully elected Legislative Assembly was established in 1974, and over the next two years it participated in preparing for the changes we are now debating.
Let me go back over the years in order to describe to the Senate the feelings of the people in the Territory. They wished to have some say in their own affairs. After the Federal Parliament passed the Northern Territory Acceptance Act and the Northern Territory Administration Act in 1911, the Territory went into limbo. An Administrator and senior officials ruled the Northern Territory, and the people of the Territory had no say whatsoever. They did not have even an advisory body. It was quite wrong that those Australians who lived in the Northern Territory were denied the political rights that the rest of the people of Australia had.
In 1947 the Commonwealth Government saw fit to form a legislative council in the Northern Territory consisting of 13 people- seven nominated official members from the Commonwealth Public Service and six elected members representing the six electorates that were formed in the Northern Territory. Despite the fact that a legislative council had been formed, it was a very sad day because the elected members of the Northern Territory had very little say in the affairs of the Northern Territory. No matter what the six elected members said on behalf of the Northern Territory, the seven official members from the Commonwealth Public Service voted en bloc against them. So we had what was in those days termed the ‘seven-six’ treatment. Feelings ran very strongly at that time. There were street marches and demonstrations, but there was never any violence. The feeling and mood of the people in those days- that is, from the 1 940s on- were extremely strong.
Because of the strength of their representation and their voice that echoed throughout Australia there were, by degrees, constitutional changes. In 1958 a further change was made, and the old colonial system arrived in the Northern Territory. There were then eight elected members, six nominated members and three non-official members of the Legislative Council. I was a nonofficial member at that time. It was an odd situation but, thank goodness, that constitutional change did not last for long. It was not right that the people of the Territory should have had inflicted upon them a majority of nominated people and a minority of elected people. This situation continued for a considerable time. There were many political giants in the Northern Territory in thos;: days. There was no political difference between Liberal, Country Party or Labor people on this matter. They joined on one issue.
It is disappointing to some degree that at present the Opposition is wandering away from the single aim of moving the Territory forward. The Opposition tends to question without real reason. I think there are answers to the various queries that have been raised. One of the champions of the Northern Territory was Mr Justice Ward. He was one of the leading Labor members in those days. He made some very interesting statements. He was a most remarkable man. In 1 960 he said:
The Territory will never develop as has been shown everywhere else throughout the world until the people take the reins of government completely in their own hands.
In 1959 he said:
I have no doubt that in the interests of Australia as a whole the sooner from every point of view that the Northern Territory has self-government, the better.
Later, in 1973, he said:
The people of the Northern Territory are as capable of managing their own affairs as any groups of people in the British Commonwealth and they also stand condemned in the eyes of the world unless they exert every possible effort to achieve completely responsible and representative government within the Australian federal system.
What Mr Justice Ward said in those days has been carried on by the people of the Northern Territory to bring the Territory to the position it is in today- where it is about to accept responsible self-government. Many other important things have been said. I go back to the submissions presented to the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory on behalf of the Executive of the Northern Territory Australian Labor Party. I have to bring up this point because there now appears to be a wavering to some extent from the principle that was laid down by those strong leaders of the past. The submission was presented by Mr John Waters and Mr John Isaacs, who is now the Opposition Leader in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Mr Isaacs said:
In making the following submissions we urge the Committee not to recommend any deferment of the question of which powers are to devolve upon the regional Executive.
The submission talked about a fully elected legislative council and its responsibilities within the Northern Territory- responsibilities in areas such as health, mining, law enforcement, labour, secondary industries, urban and rural affairs, land courts, the Department of the AttorneyGeneral and so on.
– They are Liberals, are they?
– No, they are leading Labor people in the Northern Territory who are now saying something different to what they said a few years ago in their submissions to the Committee, which did such a tremendous job for the Northern Territory.
This debate is restricted because the Senate is nearing the end of the session and the legislation has to be passed through the Senate to bring about responsible self-government for the Northern Territory as from 1 July. There has been intense activity over the last two years. The Minister for the Northern Territory, Mr Evan Adermann, has visited the Territory a good many times. I have lost count of the number of visits but they far outnumber the visits made by any other Minister who has held the Northern Territory portfolio in the Federal Parliament. There have been discussions between the Minister, the committee of Ministers and the various interdepartmental committees which have Federal responsibilities in the Northern Territory. I think that about 14 or 15 Ministers have had responsibility for matters involving the Northern Territory. It has been a very fragmented situation. Discussions have taken place at a considerable rate. Naturally, there have been discussions with the Northern Territory Executive. I think it is true to say that, despite the extreme pressure that has been continuing over the last two years and with the change in Ministers and in the Executive of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly at times better consultations and communications were needed. There have been breakdowns in . communication. When these lapses have occurred I suggest that there has been a surging forward which has resulted in improved communication and many matters have been ironed out.
The transfer of powers from the Federal Government to the Northern Territory is a very complex situation. I commend the people of the Northern Territory such as the Paul Everinghams, the Marshall Perrons and the people associated with the Public Service who have been assisting them, for the work that they have carried out over the past years. They have worked extremely hard. They have been extremely busy. They have been to Canberra time and time again and negotiations have gone on into the late hours of the night. On 1 January we saw the transfer of some State-like responsibilities to the Northern Territory. This means an initial build-up in the Northern Territory Public Service. There was a secondment of public servants to the Northern Territory Public Service. Under this legislation a multitude of State-like powers will be handed over to the Northern Territory as from 1 July. Naturally the list is extremely large. Very few powers will be left to be transferred at a later time. The main powers that will be transferred at a later time relate to health, which I understand will be handed over to the Northern Territory as from 1 January 1979, and education, which will be handed over from 1 July 1979.
The people of the Northern Territory should not be alarmed because it may be thought that the administrative framework is not available in the Northern Territory. The fact of the matter is that the framework does exist. The administrative body has been in the Territory under the Commonwealth Public Service. Fortunately there are very many expert and dedicated senior public servants and officials in the Northern Territory. Whereas in the past they used to answer to Canberra they will now answer to the responsible Ministers in the Northern Territory. So I see absolutely no problem whatsoever, following the changeover on 1 July, in the administration of the various responsibilities because the men are now in the Northern Territory. They are dedicated men and I believe they have the expertise with which to carry out the administration of the Northern Territory. They are settled there. They know full well their responsibilities and where they are going in the future.
It was said recently by a very senior Minister that responsible self-government in the Northern Territory is a courageous step. As one who has lived most of my life in the Northern Territory I agree with him. It is a courageous step that is being taken but nevertheless the people are undaunted. However, I do see some problems in the future for which one must have regard and which one must watch carefully to ensure that this embryo of a State will continue to grow and will at some time in the future- I do not hazard a guess when- go into statehood. As a layman I believe that all people in Australia should have the right to say whether the Northern Territory should become a State. I think that the pan of the Constitution dealing with this subject is a little hazy and is difficult for a layman to understand. But it seems to me that eventually when the Territory reaches the time when it is ready for statehood there should be a referendum in which the people of the Northern Territory and of Australia should participate.
I referred earlier to problems which the Northern Territory will face in the future and which it will have to watch. The Northern Territory is in a unique situation. It encompasses about 520,000 to 540,000 square miles. Within the Northern Territory a considerable amount of land is held under Federal Acts. As I have already indicated, this situation may continue.
– What would you do with Sir William Gunn’s pastoral leases. Would you make parks out of them or give them to the miners?
– The honourable senator is floating some sort of suggestion. As I said, we will have to be careful in the future. If the Northern Territory is to have a sufficient area of land to warrant responsible self-government and to ultimately grow into a State, we will have to be careful that legislation under the Federal system of government does not continue to encroach on Northern Territory land. Of course I am talking about Aboriginal land rights, on which there has been agreement. But there is a growing tendency to increase the area of land under Federal control and to decrease the area under Territory control. We have witnessed the move by the Federal Government to set up national parks. The land involved is Federal land, not Territory land. If we want the Northern Territory to ultimately develop into a State we will have to ensure that there is sufficient land in the Northern Territory to enable it to become a State.
Much has been said regarding the finances of the Northern Territory. I think it has been most unfortunate that the people of the Northern Territory have continually been bombarded with misinformation and misinterpretation and that red herrings have been dragged across the trail in an endeavour to frighten people about the cost of responsible self-government for the Northern Territory. Anyone, no matter to which political party he belongs, who studies the principles of federalism and the Commonwealth grants system knows that it is clearly indicated that the cost to the individual will not be that which is being proposed in some quarters. I look upon the Territory as being in a situation similar to that of the smaller States. The Territory’s wants will have to be recognised. Action will have to be taken to bring the Territory more or less into parity with the bigger States. It will have to receive financial assistance similar to that given to Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania- those States which have been funded to such a degree that they are in a fairly good situation today.
I have shown two statements to the Opposition Whip. One is titled ‘Financial Principles for Northern Territory Self-Government Agreed ‘. It is a statement issued by the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) earlier this year. I also have a Press statement issued on 20 May by the Cabinet Member for Finance and Planning, Mr Marshall Perron, which also refers to the financing of the Northern Territory. As both these statements are short I ask that they be incorporated in Hansard.
The documents read as follows-
FINANCIAL PRINCIPLES FOR N.T. SELF-GOVERNMENT AGREED
The Minister for the Northern Territory, the Hon. Evan Adermann, and the Chief Secretary and Majority Leader in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, Mr Paul Everingham, M.L.A., today announced that agreement had been reached on the framework of principles within which the financial arrangements for Northern Territory selfgovernment would be drawn up.
These principles had been developed at a meeting on 20 February between Mr Everingham and his Deputy (Mr Marshall Perron, M.L.A.) and a Committee of Commonwealth Ministers comprising the Ministers for the Northern Territory, Education (representing the Prime Minister for Federal Affairs) and Finance and Treasurer and the AttorneyGeneral. Federal Cabinet has now endorsed the agreed position reached at that meeting.
In addition, the Government has acceded to a request by Mr Everingham that the Northern Territory Government be given access to the Commonwealth Grants Commission from 1 July, 1978 on a similar basis as a claimant State. This proposal had been advanced by Mr Everingham as a fundamental condition of any satisfactory financial agreement.
The basis of the financial arrangements will be the Commonwealth/State financial model with the Northern Territory receiving payments analogous to tax sharing, specific purpose grants and special revenue assistance in recognition of the disabilities of the Territory. The Commonwealth will endeavour to ensure that assistance to the Northern Territory is sufficient to maintain standards of service at an overall equivalent to that presently provided pending the examination by the Grants Commission of the Territory’s current revenues and expenditures. This examination will take some time to be completed and in the interim period the N.T. Government will be financed in much the same way as in the present financial year with due allowance being made for those functions to be transferred on I July next.
In the meantime, officers are proceeding with the refinement and quantification of the many detailed aspects of the financial arrangements necessary to the completion of the Letters of Understanding to be signed by the Prime Minister and the Majority Leader. Further announcements will be made as this work progresses.
The agreements now reached have opened the way for the introduction in the Parliament and the Legislative Assembly of the legislation necessary to establish the Northern Territory Government. This will include a Commonwealth Act creating the new body politic with its own Ministers and a series of ordinances relating to the internal administration of the new Government.
Mr Adermann emphasised that it was a primary concern of the Commonwealth to ensure that the Northern Territory proceeds to self-government on a sound financial basis. The Minister said that before Statehood, the Commonwealth will retain a special relationship with and a special responsibility for the Territory.
Mr Everingham expressed his satisfaction at the outcome of the financial discussions to date. He said that he was confident of the ultimate success of full self-government as a consequence of the Commonwealth’s agreement in respect of the Grants Commission. He said the Commonwealth is meeting its responsibilities and fully supporting our move to self-government.
NORTHERN TERRITORY OF AUSTRALIA
P.O. Box 4396 Darwin, NT 5794 Cabinet Member for Finance and Planning May 20, 1978
The Cabinet Member for Finance and Planning, Mr Marshall Perron, said today he wanted to end confusion in the Labor Party about Federal funding for the Territory after self-government.
Mr Perron was commenting on fears expressed by ALP Secretary, Mr John Waters, that in future Commonwealth funds for the Territory would be tied to allocations to the States.
Mr Perron said the entire basis of Commonwealth-State financial agreements seemed not to be appreciated by the Labor Opposition. The fact is, the States do not get an equal share of the Commonwealth cake even on a population basis.
Mr Perron said the Labor secretary appeared to believe that each State got the same amount of Federal dollars for every person living in that State.
The real situation was that Canberra took disabilities and special circumstances into account including problems posed by distance, communications and lack of basic development.
Mr Perron said this meant that the poorer States received a bigger share proportionately in the annual cut-up of Federally controlled funds.
On a population basis, Tasmania for example received far more than any other State.
Mr Perron said the Territory’s special circumstances and needs had been argued forcibly in the financial negotiations with the Commonwealth Government in the lead up to selfgovernment.
We see ourselves in a somewhat similar situation to Tasmania, but with greater needs. There is no danger of a cut in Federal spending in the Territory after July 1, said Mr Perron. In fact, he added, I would have thought that even the Labor Opposition would by now have become convinced of the expanding opportunities which self-government will bring to the Northern Territory.
– As I have said, the field covered by this legislation is so vast that I am not endeavouring to cover it. I am endeavouring to pick out a few of the major points, not so much to answer criticisms as to give to people, particularly people of the Northern Territory, who may read this debate some understanding of the issue. At least they will be able to read from another source all the things that relate very significantly to them.
Much has been said also about the Northern Territory Public Service and the Commonwealth Public Service. Once again, it is difficult to show these people that their future and their privileges are being safeguarded. Over the last few months these people have been bombarded by so many statements that their confidence in the future in some instances has been eroded. The multitude of negative statements that has been made has not given the true situation of what will happen about Commonwealth public servants being seconded to the Northern Territory Service. I have here a news release of 3 1 May issued by the Majority Leader of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I have shown it the Opposition for its consideration. I ask that leave be given to incorporate the document in Hansard.
– Order! Has the document been shown to the Minister for Science who is at the table?
– I am sorry, no.
– I ask that you do so.
The document read as follows-
P.O. Box 4396. Darwin, N.T. 5794.
May 31, 1978.
The Leader of the Opposition has again displayed his total lack of understanding of the Northern Territory Public Service and the transfer of functions from the Australian Public Service on 1 July, the Majority Leader, Mr Paul Everingham, said today.
Mr Everingham was commenting on Mr Isaac’s call to the Majority Party to resolve the conditions of service for new recruits to the Northern Territory Public Service before 1 July.
Mr Everingham pointed out that all basic conditions of service had been finalised for some time. The Public Service Commissioner had issued comprehensive by-laws covering virtually the whole range of employment conditions.
However, Mr Everingham said joint management-union consultations were being held on the most appropriate ongoing conditions to apply to the NTPS.
The conditions being brought over by transferred Australian Public Servants were based on what had been considered appropriate for a public service based substantially on Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.
Those conditions were not necessarily the most appropriate for a State-type Public Service in the Territory.
The Majority Leader said he shared Mr Isaacs ‘ desire to have all staff receiving the same entitlements and hoped this would be achieved when the consultative Council finished its discussions.
Mr Everingham said he hoped a new package of entitlements developed by the union and management representatives would be so attractive that transferred staff would prefer to adopt them rather than retain their current entrenched conditions.
– The news release relates to Commonwealth Public Servants transferring to the Northern Territory Public Service. One can imagine that the Commonwealth public servants, who have served for many years in Commonwealth departments and whose future has been secure, have some qualms about the transfer. These people can be advised very strongly that their future within the Northern Territory Public Service is assured. Their privileges and standards of employment will more than equal those of the Commonwealth Public Service. Indeed, the Commonwealth public servants who have transferred to the Northern Territory Public Service in the last few months have settled in to a situation which a lot of them never dreamed about before. They find themselves suddenly in an area of activity and an area of decision-making- an area in which they are participating for the first time. They are having a real say in the running of the Northern Territory. Previously, the Commonwealth public servants, like the people of the Northern Territory, had absolutely no say in the running of the Territory. They were just an arm of the bureaucracy of the centralist administration that held the Territory in tight reign for many years. Of course, I refer to the system of government from Canberra which, I believe, generally speaking has not been of benefit to the Northern Territory. This long arm of administration has seen the expenditure and the wastage of many millions of dollars in the Northern Territory. Under the new administration within the Northern Territory the Northern Territory taxpayers will get far more for their money because expenditure in the Northern Territory will be supervised by Northern Territory people. The eyes of the people of the Northern Territory will be on the new administration. Of course, if a mistake is made in a regional government it is very easy to rectify.
I will not discuss all the points of the Bill during the second reading debate, but it is quite true that I do not agree with some aspects of the Bill.
The Majority Leader of the Northern Territory Executive does not agree with them, either. He and various Cabinet members have been in Canberra in the last few weeks. After continued consultation with the Government on many issues contained in the Northern Territory (SelfGovernment) Bill, amendments have been agreed to by the Government and the Northern Territory Executive. As a result, the Bill is now in much better shape and in a shape required by the Northern Territory. But, as Senator Robertson has indicated, one or two areas are still not suitable to the Northern Territory. I speak particularly of clause 35 which states that the Government by regulation will list those areas of State-like responsibility that will be handed over to the Northern Territory. So, the Government, by regulation, will endeavour to list every item of responsibility that will be handed to the Northern Territory. I believe that this course is not feasible. I have been given many explanations stating that it will be feasible and workable. I and many other members within the two Federal Houses believe- I know that the Government parties federal affairs committee has qualms about this-that within the Government ranks there are considerable qualms about this Bill. It is felt that it would be much better if the new powers that are not to be handed to the Northern Territory were spelt out by regulation by the Commonwealth Government. We are saying that the reverse should be the case. I do not wish to pursue this point much more but I direct the attention of honourable senators to a debate in the House of Representatives on 3 June 1 978 on the Northern Territory self-government legislation. I draw the attention of honourable senators particularly to page 3053 of the Hansard record, a speech given by Mr Ian Wilson, the honourable member for Sturt in that House. It is a fine speech which clearly indicates the present situation.
I turn to other aspects of the legislation. As I said before, many faults have been corrected. However, I believe- Senator Robertson made the point also- that in relation to some aspects the power of the Administrator appointed by the Federal Government is too great. This has been qualified to a degree by the Federal Government. The situation is not so oppressive as it was before when it could have been described only as being so oppressive as to be an over-kill. However, that situation has been altered to quite a degree. The position of the Northern Territory Administrator is unique inasmuch as in the Northern Territory he will be wearing two hats at different times. He will be a type of State governor when he is overseeing Northern Territory matters, and in those areas of Commonwealth responsibility that are retained he will be a type of agent-adviser to the Northern Territory on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.
I fully support this Bill. I have lived in the Territory for many years and know many people there. They wish, no more and no less than other people of Australia, to have a say in their own affairs- how money should be spent and how money should be raised. People of the Territory have the ability to do this in various ways. They are individuals. They are pioneering. They are hardy. They have the ability to run their own affairs in the Northern Territory. Under the Commonwealth grants system financing of Northern Territory Government projects there will be assured.
I wish to make one or two brief comments on other package legislation. One of these relates to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill. There is a changing situation because of the transfer of powers to the Northern Territory. In a particular circumstance under the Aboriginal land rights legislation a report is required to be made to the Minister responsible in this area. I have a letter dated 24 May this year relating to Aboriginal land rights in the Territory. The present legislation requires the Aboriginal land commissioners to report to the Minister for the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly now requests that not only should he report to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs but also that he report to the Northern Territory Executive. Because of the changing situation of the Minister for the Northern Territory- a position which becomes non-existent on 30 June- responsibility in this area will come under the Department of Home Affairs. The Assembly requests that an amendment be made to the legislation to ensure that the commissioners report to the Northern Territory Executive. I ask that this letter be incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
P.O. Box 4396. Darwin, N.T. 5494.
Senator B. F. Kilgariff, Secretary,
Federal Affairs Committee, Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600.
Dear Senator Kilgariff,
I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to Section 50 ( 1) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory)
Act 1976. This section requires the Aboriginal Land Commissioner to report to the Minister for the Northern Territory as well as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on his findings in respect of Aboriginal Land Claims to unalienated Crown Land and the likely extent of traditional land claims by Aboriginals to alienated Crown Land. He is also required to advise both Ministers in connection with any other matter relating to land in the Northern Territory that is referred to the Commissioner by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister for the Northern Territory.
With the transfer of responsibilities over land, mining and other functions in the Northern Territory as from 1 July 1978, the role of the Minister for the Northern Territory in his current administration of land will change and therefore it would be appropriate for the Chief Minister of the new Northern Territory Government to replace the Minister for the Northern Territory in the Act.
It is clear that where land grants are recommended under the Federal Act which will have a bearing on land use in the Northern Territory and where detriment to parties in the Territory involving compensation could occur, the Government controlling Crown Lands in the right of the Northern Territory should be consulted before any decision is made by the Commonwealth pursuant to Section 1 1 of the Act.
The matter of appropriate amendments to Section 50 of the Act has been raised with the Prime Minister and I have sought an undertaking that the Chief Minister will be consulted on possible land grants after 1st July, 1978 and prior to the enactment of enabling legislation.
I ask that the Committee review this matter which I believe is both necessary and desirable in the interests of the Northern Territory and to comply with the intentions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
Yours sincerely, PAUL EVERINGHAM.
– I thank the Senate. Other Bills relate to the transfer of powers, the Ombudsman Amendment Bill and the Remuneration Tribunals Amendment Bill. Shortly, following the passage of this legislation, there will be a Northern Territory Ombudsman. Also, the salaries of office holders in the Northern Territory will be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. I think it is a wise method when fixing salaries for members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly to be able to use the facilities of the Federal Remuneration Tribunal. I think this would be acceptable to the members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and the people of the Northern Territory. In the present situation there is no necessity for further wastage of time in the transfer of powers to the Northern Territory by having an opinion poll. I have indicated that over the years the people of the Northern Territory have striven hard for this transfer of power. For many years it has been a plank in platforms and it has been discussed by the people of the Northern Territory. They wish to have a say in their own affairs. Statements have been made that a referendum should be held on the question. Perhaps such statements come from those who also have other interests. I believe that a section of people in the Northern
Territory- not necessarily political- does not wish to see advancement of the Territory. These are people who are in the Territory for a short time.
– What is your definition of an old Territorian?
– I suppose a definition of a Territorian would be similar to the definition of a person from a State. My definition of a person of the Northern Territory is a person who lives in the Northern Territory, whose home in the future is to be the Northern Territory and- I presume also to say- who is dedicated to its development and political development. I should like to refute one point. An honourable senator previously spoke of various people who have made various statements. It is indicated that Mr Bob Liddle, who is President of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, had made a statement against responsible self-government. He visited me last Saturday week- less than two weeks ago- and said that he had no part in the statement that came out in his name and that in future if any statement of a political nature or of a nature relating to the type of discussion that is before us today comes out in his name it should be ignored because it will be put out without his confirmation.
I commend all those people who have been associated with this move towards responsible self-government for the Northern Territory. I think the least I should do is perhaps to name one or two of the people who I consider to be political giants- people who have endeavoured to make history and who have helped the Northen Territory achieve this important milestone in its constitutional development. I referred earlier to Mr Justice Ward who was one of the leaders of the Labor Party years ago. I should also mention Dr Letts who, of course, was awarded the Commander of the British Empire on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List last week. No doubt he received it for the efforts he has made on behalf of the Northern Territory. Another person who is worthy of mention is Mr Withnall who has spent, I think, some 2 1 years in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. There is that old battler, Tiger Brennan, who I think Australia has come to know over the years for his very vigorous approach to the matter of ensuring that the people of the Territory have a say in their own affairs. Finally, I mention Mr Fred Drysdale, Mr Harry Chan, who was a leading person from the Chinese community and also the mayor of Darwin, the President of the Northern Territory Legislative Council, Tony Greatorex, and the many other people who have contributed to the development of the Northern Territory.
I support the Bills. In relation to the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, I agree with Senator Robertson that there has been a lack of consultation. My understanding of the situation is that the Federal Government has moved to exclude the Ashmore and Cartier Islands from annexation with the Northern Territory. I think it is inexcusable that consultation has not taken place. I believe that in relation to all matters which concern the Northern Territory and, for that matter, any State in which the Federal Government has some interest, consultation must take place before the Federal Government takes action. As much as I would like to see the Territory retain control- if control is the appropriate word- over the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, I do not think that the claim is sufficiently well founded. I think we have to be realistic about this. In closing my speech, I should like to refer to the Australian Encyclopaedia which, when referring to the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, states:
Cartier Island is situated lat. 12° 32 “S., 123° 33’E., about 547 kilometres north of Derby, WA. Ashmore Islands (East, Middle and West) lie about 48 kilometres north-west of Cartier. All the islands lie at the outer edge of the continental shelf. They are small and low and are composed of coral and sand. Vegetation consists mainly of grass. Turtles are plentiful at certain times of the year and beche-de-mer is abundant. The islands are uninhabited.
Great Britain took formal possession of the Ashmores in 1 878 and Cartier was annexed in 1 909. By Imperial Order in Council of 23 July 1931 the islands were placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia. They were accepted by the Commonwealth through the Ashmore and Cartier Acceptance Act 1933, under the name of the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands. The Act authorised the Governor of Western Australia to make ordinances having the force of law in, and in relation to, the Territory. An amendment to the Act in July 1938 annexed the islands to the Northern Territory, whose laws, ordinances and regulations, wherever applicable, thereupon applied.
As I have indicated, naturally I would like to see no land lost to the Northern Territory but I believe that in the present circumstances our claim to the Ashmore and Cartier Islands has no firm basis. I support the Bills but I do not support the amendment.
– The Senate is debating what has commonly been termed by honourable senators the Northern Territory package. I want to confine my remarks to the Northern Territory (SelfGovernment) Bill. To that Bill and to one other Bill, Senator Robertson, on behalf of the Opposition, has moved that at the end of the motion that the Bills be now read a second time add: except that the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1978 and the Ashmore and Carrier Islands Amendment Bill 1 978 be withdrawn and redrafted because:
I shall confine my remarks to the first part of the amendment-
We witnessed Senator Kilgariff during his speech this afternoon incorporating several Press statements in Hansard. He practically guaranteed that the people of the Northern Territory- in particular, the Majority Leader and those who sit behind him- are completely satisfied with what the Federal Government will do for them in the way of financial matters. Of course, we will live to see whether in fact that statement is borne out. When Senator Kilgariff commenced his speech today he said that he was disappointed that we have not reached a common viewpoint on this package of legislation. Of course, we on this side of the chamber sought co-operation with the parties opposite when we introduced legislation to give Senate representation to the Northern Territory. Did we get any co-operation then? The people who sit opposite fought us all the way. They fought us in this chamber when the legislation was introduced and they voted against it. We had a double dissolution in 1974 and the matter was debated by a Joint Sitting of both Houses. Honourable senators opposite voted against it then. When they lost there, what did they do? They took the matter to the High Court.
It is all very well for Senator Kilgariff to get up in this chamber today and to express the opinion that he and his Party are concerned that the people who live in the Northern Territory should have a say in the running of the Northern Territory and in the government of Australia, but it is on record everywhere one likes to look that the members of the Country Party except Mr Calder who was practically led by the nose in the division at the Joint Sitting to cross the floor and vote against his Party, did not vote with the government of the day to give the people in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory representation in this chamber. If the Whitlam Government had not introduced that legislation Senator Kilgariff would not be sitting in this place today and talking the way he is. He would not have been able to do that.
I will give Senator Kilgariff his dues. I should like to refer to the committee which was set up to inquire into the question of whether the members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly should be fully elected. When Senator
Kilgariff appeared before that committee- I think it was in Alice Springs- I asked him whether he was in favour of Senate representation for the Northern Territory. He said: ‘Yes’. He then said to me that he was bringing all the pressure he could to bear on his Party in Canberra to get it to agree to the proposal. But Senator Kilgariff failed in his endeavours to influence his Party as he has done in so many other endeavours. His Party voted against that legislation. If it had not been for the Whitlam Government, the Territories would not have had representation in this chamber to this very day. I can remember some of the specious arguments that were put up in this place. Senator Jessop stood up in this place and said that if the Territories were given representation in the Senate we would have–
– He would resign.
– He did not say that. If he had said it he would not have meant it. Other honourable senators opposite say that they will resign if they do not get their own way in the Party, but then they capitulate and change their minds when the pressure is put on. Senator Jessop was saying that the Antarctica, Flinders Island, Kangaroo Island and other places would have to be given representation in the Senate if we gave it to the Territories. As a matter of fact it was suggested that we would be giving representation to penguins and seals. However, due to the perseverance of the Whitlam Government the Northern Territory now has representation in this chamber.
Earlier today Senator Jessop, criticised me for daring to speak on legislation towards the end of each session. I say to Senator Jessop that I reserve my right to speak in this Parliament on any legislation I wish. The main reason I have to speak on legislation towards the end of each session is that the legislation in which I am vitally interested is not brought in by the Government until the death-knock. If I am to be accused of speaking in this place on that legislation, I could not care one bit because my duty is to speak on legislation which affects me. I am vitally concerned with this legislation dealing with selfgovernment for the Northern Territory, because I was one of the members of the Committee which was set up by the Whitlam Government immediately after our election to government in 1972, to look at and report on constitutional development for the Northern Territory.
- Senator Sheil, too.
– I am pleased that Senator Kilgariff mentioned Senator Sheil because he replaced a man who held up the sitting of that Committee for six months. We could not get on with our work because of a dispute between the Liberal Party and the National Country Party about a member of the Committee. I shall have something more to say on that later.
In looking at the legislation now before us, we must firstly refer to the second reading speech put down in this place by the Minister for Science (Senator Webster). It states:
May I say that I consider it an honour to present this history making measure to this Senate.
Well, they are phoney words coming from Senator Webster because when we tried to set up this Committee which put in train the legislation we are now considering, he put up all sorts of arguments as to why the Committee should not do its work. As a matter of fact, as I said a while ago, he held up the Committee’s work for more than six months. If we look at the history of the Northern Territory- Senator Kilgariff spoke at length about the great efforts made by people in the Northern Territory to bring about an elected government for the Territory- we find that it was not until 1947 that there was even a governmental body in the Territory which represented the people. That was the first Legislative Council for the Northern Territory which was set up when Ben Chifley was the Prime Minister in 1 947. How long did we have tory governments in office in Canberra before that which never did a thing about giving the people of the Territory a house of parliament? It took Ben Chifley to give them that in 1947. Of course it took the Whitlam Government to give them a fully elected Legislative Assembly, on which I shall elaborate a little later. So the Labor Party was not tardy in what it did to try to give the people of the Northern Territory a voice in the parliamentary system.
There is another matter that concerns me with this legislation, and in this regard I refer to that part of the second reading speech by Senator Webster which states:
The maximum term of the Legislative Assembly will be extended from three years to four years from the date the Assembly first meets after a general election.
So just four lines in the Minister’s second reading speech are devoted to the term of the Legislative Assembly. No reason at all is given as to why the term of office of people in the Assembly should be extended to four years. Nothing was said in the second reading speech that the Committee recommended that there should be a house of 1 9 elected members and that the election of those members should be carried out by way of optional preferential voting. Immediately this
Government came to office it deleted the word optional’. Now we have a preferential voting system in the Northern Territory. Yet the evidence given to the Committee on which I had the privilege of serving led the Committee to believe that we should recommend that the system of voting in the Northern Territory should be optional. Optional voting was used for the first election, but as soon as this Government came to office it reverted to the old system of preferential voting, despite the wishes of the people in the Northern Territory who gave evidence to the Committee.
No reason was given for doing so. Of course we know what the reasons were. We saw the real reasons why the people who sit opposite believe in preferential voting. What happened in the Kimberleys in Western Australia last year in a State election? They put up a couple of bodgie candidates so that they could retain the seat, after the episode in Western Australia last year. The reason is that they can split the vote, in particular the vote of Aborigines. So the pleas of people who recommended to the Committee that we should have a system of optional voting were not even taken into account by this Government.
Senator Kilgariff also mentioned and gave credit to a few people who strived over the years to give the Northern Territory some form of government whereby the people who live in the Territory could elect their own representatives. He did not say anything about the Whitlam Government or Mr Whitlam. Gough Whitlam said in our policy speech of 1 972 that we would give the people of the Northern Territory a fully elected legislative assembly. Senator Kilgariff never mentioned Mr Whitlam.
– I was talking about Territorians.
-Oh, yes, Senator Kilgariff was talking about the people. As I pointed out earlier, those people could not do a thing until they got a Labor government in Canberra which gave them the right to have a fully elected Legislative Assembly. They could not do so under Liberal-Country Party governments over the years. So he should give credit to people such as Gough Whitlam and to the Labor Government. He should give credit to people such as Kep Enderby who was the first Minister for the Northern Territory. There is another first for the Labor Government- a Minister for the Northern Territory in its own right. Before that we had a hotchpotch- things all scrambled in together- under the portfolio of the Minister for the Interior. He had responsibility for everything, just the same as Aboriginal affairs were lumped in with a whole host of other things so that one could not find out what the Minister concerned had responsibility for. So there again we find people opposite clearly omitting to give any credit to the Labor Government for what we have done for the Territory.
I notice that Senator Kilgariff never made any mention of the wonderful work done by Mr Bert James, the honourable member for Hunter, who was Chairman of that Committee. He did a really good job in carrying out the work of that Committee. He was very dedicated to the work of that Committee, unlike some honourable senators opposite, particularly one to whom I have already referred. That senator showed very little dedication, although he did all he could to hold up the work of that Committee.
I wish now to refer to some extracts from Hansard. On 10 April 1973 the Deputy President read out a message concerning the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory. He said:
I have received message No. 30 from the House of Representatives proposing the appointment of a joint select committee on the Northern Territory. Copies of the message have been circulated to honourable senators.
On 1 May we considered message No. 30 from the House of Representatives. What was the fate of that message? Senator Webster had something to say about that message. I shall quote only part of what he had to say because all of his remarks are recorded in the Senate Hansard of 1 May for anybody to read. I have quoted his words on this at length in this Parliament before, but because this Bill is now before us it is necessary to quote his words again. Senator Webster criticised the Whitlam Government. I remind honourable senators that this was on 1 May- not even three months after the first meeting of Parliament after the Whitlam Government was elected. Indeed, I do not think that the Parliament sat until the middle of February.
– Which year, Senator?
– It was in 1973. We came to office in December, the Parliament assembled in February and we received the message from the House of Representatives on 10 April- pretty quick work in setting up a committee to look at the question of a fully elected legislative assembly for the Northern Territory. What did Senator Webster have to say? He said:
Since this Government has taken office those matters have not been reported upon.
He was talking about matters dealing with the Legislative Council.
We are very anxious to hear whether it is the view of the Labor Government that further responsibility is to be granted to the Legislative Council or whether it is the wish of the Government to guide the committee.
He then went on to say:
I am quite frightened that this Committee which is being set up will act against the interests of the people in the Northern Territory.
Of course the Committee itself proved Senator Webster very wrong on that occasion. He went on to say:
The Australian Country Party holds the view that it must not oppose the establishment of this Committee, although I doubt that it has any particular value.
Senator Webster had that to say, yet today one of his colleagues said in this place what a great step forward the legislation was. As I have pointed out, if it had not been for the Whitlam Government there would not even be any selfgovernment legislation for the Northern Territory in this place today. The Liberal-National Country Party Government had all those years in which to do something about it, but nothing was done until things were set in train by the Whitlam Government.
– The offer was made before Labor came to power,
– Yes, the offer was made, but the Legislative Council, of which Senator Kilgariff said today he was a past president, could not agree on the offer made by McMahon. It fought and squabbled for months over the matter. It did not come to a decision on it until the Labor Party came to office following a Federal election and set things right.
-Senator Kilgariff should talk to the people in the Northern Territory. He should read some of the debates in the Northern Territory Hansard which I have read over the years. If he did so he would see the fights which took place. The Council would not agree with what McMahon offered. So Senator Kilgariff should not blame the Labor Government. Within a couple of months of being elected to office we set things in train to give to the people of the Northern Territory the right to vote. Then there was the fight between Senator Webster and the Liberal Party- I do not intend to refer to this at length because honourable senators can read about it in Hansard- &s to who should be on the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory. The fight was about whether a member of the National Country Party of Australia or a member of the Liberal Party should be a member of the Committee. Of course, no decision had been made by the time the Parliament went into its winter recess. Nothing was done until 30 August after the Parliament had resumed. On that date the motion was moved to reconstitute the Committee. So the whole winter recess was wasted just because the then Opposition could not agree on who was to be a member of that Committee. That is fair enough. We see in the Hansard report from which I have quoted- I do not intend to go over it again- that Senator Webster was elected to the Committee. How many meetings of the Committee did he attend? He attended very few. We hardly ever saw him. He could not care less about the work of the Committee. Yet he is the person who delayed the setting up of the Committee. He delayed the Committee in its work.
– How many meetings did I attend?
– It is in the Hansard. I do not have time to dig it out. I referred to that matter by reading from the Hansard of 14 November 1973. Senator Webster’s record of attendance was very poor indeed. That is particularly so in view of the fact that he is the one who held up the work of the Committee by trying to become a member of it. I can remember one occasion when the Committee spent a whole week in the Northern Territory. Senator Webster came up one day and he was gone the next. Yet other members of the Committee, including Country Party members, attended meetings regularly. I give credit to Senator Sheil in this regard. When he represented the Country Party on the Committee at least he attended very religiously to his duties. That is something Senator Webster did not do. So that is the sort of thing we had to go through. In speaking to the motion moved on 30 August to reconstitute the Committee, I stated:
I am pointing out that in the short life of this Government we have endeavoured, in every possible way, to give people in the Northern Territory a stronger voice in the affairs of this nation. 1 am quite confident that when the proposed joint committee is set up it will do, in its initial stages, the very thing of which Senator Webster is afraid.
I read those words a few moments ago. I went on to say:
It will look at the constitution of the Northern Territory. This is vitally important because an election for the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory will be held in about October next year.
That was October 1974. 1 continued:
Of course, one of the first matters the Committee will consider is the constitution as it stands and it will endeavour to bring down a recommendation to this Parliament that it should give the people of the Northern Territory a fully elected Legislative Council at the next election.
That is just what we did. Yet when we have been discussing electoral matters honourable senators on the Government side on many occasions have said that the Labor Party could not be trusted on electoral matters. It was the Labor Party which had the sole responsibility for drawing up a fair and equitable electoral redistribution. It was so fair -
– What did you do?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- Order! There are too many interruptions. Senator McLaren is addressing the Chair.
– I am endeavouring to do that, Mr Acting Deputy President, to put the record straight. The boundaries drawn up under the Labor Government were so fair that we did not win one of the 19 seats contested. So much for the argument that electoral boundaries drawn up by the Labor Party would be crooked. I think what I have said defeats for all times the argument that honourable senators on the Government side use. The Labor Party won quite a few seats at the following election and I am sure that we will win quite a few more when the next election is held. Under this Bill the Government is trying to extend the life of the Assembly for another 12 months after the next election. No doubt the government parties are hoping that they will win so that they can hang on to office.
– But that was your recommendation. Mr Isaacs, in a submission to the Committee, recommended four years. It is over in your corner.
– I am talking about the Joint Committee. Did Mr Isaacs also recommend that optional preferential voting be abolished? Of course he did not. Let me return to the matter of the setting up of this Committee. It was not set up until 13 September 1973. The proposal to set it up was first introduced into this place on 10 April 1973. It was five months and three days later that the President announced in the Senate, on the motion of Senator Murphy, that Senators Keeffe, McLaren, Marriott and Webster be members of the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory. Yet in a speech Senator Webster made he referred to our tardiness in doing something for the Northern Territory. Three months after we were elected to office he criticised us for not having done something for the Northern Territory. It took the Liberal Party and his own Party five months to iron out their difficulties and nominate the person who was to serve on that Committee. So we find that it is the
Government parties which have a bad record in this regard, not the Labor Party.
Senator Kilgariff said that the Public Service was quite happy with the deal it would get. That is contrary to the evidence which was given to the Committee in the Territory and also in Canberra. The Public Service representatives who appeared before the Committee were very much afraid of the type of deal they would get once control of the Public Service was taken out of the hands of the Commonwealth and given to an administration in the Northern Territory. The first thing they told us of which they were very much afraid was that their scope for promotion would be very limited indeed. While the Public Service was under the control of the Commonwealth officers could be placed anywhere in Australia. They had a wide scope for promotion. But under the administration of the Northern Territory they will have very limited scope. When I visit the Northern Territory at the end of next week I will be very interested to hear what the public servants think about the promises which Senator Kilgariff tells us have been made by Mr Everingham, namely, that their livelihood will be safeguarded and that they will have no worries. I will be very interested to hear their reaction.
– You will have none after next week.
– Next week will not be long enough. Senator Robertson said that there should be no haste in handing over control to the Northern Territory. The Committee in its report recommended that the handing over procedure should be phased in over a period of six years. But what has the Government done? Just as it has done in the case of the States, it has made a great play of the fact that it will give the people of the Northern Territory some authority. But hidden behind that statement is the fact that the Northern Territory will be burdened with raising its own finances to run its affairs. The Federal Government is shedding the financial responsibility which it now has. It is shovelling it off on to the Northern Territory, which is what it is doing to the States under its so-called federalism policy. It lets the States pick up the tab. That is what will happen in the Northern Territory.
Unless I miss my guess, after 12 months of self-government under this legislation, the people of the Northern Territory will come to Canberra and complain that they are being forced to raise their taxes in order to fund the enterprises which are now being funded by the Commonwealth. There is no way out of it. The
States have been forced to do that. In South Australia we have been forced to increase our electricity charges, our motor registration charges and all the charges that fall into the very narrow avenues available to the States to raise revenue. We are being forced to do that because of the attitude that the Government takes under its federalism policies. The people in the Northern Territory are in for a rude awakening. They have only one outlet. That is why a few weeks ago we saw a mad rush to pass the uranium legislation. The people in the Northern Territory have been conned by this Government into believing that the mining and selling of uranium will be their salvation. It has been suggested that a large amount of revenue will come from that activity. But they are completely wrong in that belief. That will not be the case. It will take the people of the Northern Territory some time to realise that. No doubt when that happens Senator Kilgariff will rise in his place- I will be in the chamber as well- and plead a case for more finance for the Northern Territory so that it can reduce the local taxes it had to impose in order for the Territory to run its own affairs.
– Financial arrangements have been made to recover that.
- Senator Kilgariff says that financial arrangements have been made. But how often has this Government, since it came to office in 1975, repudiated financial arrangements it has made with the States? What guarantee does Senator Kilgariff have that the financial arrangements that have now been made will not be changed. We have conclusive proof on the public record that Mr Everingham is completely satisfied. But what guarantee do we have that the Government will not repudiate some of the arrangements that have been made?
– We will do as well as South Australia under the Grants Commission.
– The honourable senator says that the Northern Territory will do as well as South Australia but the Northern Territory has a long way to go before it even hits first base compared with South Australia. Senator Kilgariff says: ‘We have the guarantee that the financial arrangements will be satisfactory’. I could hark back to a provision in Northern Territory legislation of 1910 under which the Commonwealth Government had a responsibility to build a north-south railway line. That was 68 years ago, and the Commonwealth Government has not met its responsibility under that legislation. We do not have a railway line from Port Augusta to Darwin. As a matter of fact, when this Government came to office it closed up part of the railway line from Larrimah to Darwin. Yet Senator Kilgariff comes in here and promises that the guarantee is watertight, that the people in the Northern Territory have nothing to fear.
The Opposition cannot do anything about this matter because its numbers here are few. But we will see what is in the coming Budget, the next one and the next one for the Northern Territory. I would say that after two Budgets the people of the Northern Territory will be screaming their heads off for finance from the Federal Government. They will not be able to collect enough money from the very small population up there to run their government. They will be calling on the Federal Government to fund them. But what will the Federal Government say? It will probably repeat what Senator Kilgariff said here today. No doubt the people of the Northern Territory will read his speech and say that they fought for years for legislation to give selfgovernment to the Northern Territory and that they can run their government.
– Will you deny us that?
-That is what they will be saying. The Federal Government will say to Senator Kilgariff: ‘You were satisfied with the arrangement; you have no right to get up here and plead for extra money’. I do not deny the Northern Territory self-government. Of course I do not. I did not deny the people of the Northern Territory a fully elected Legislative Assembly. In fact I was a member of the committee which inquired into constitutional reform for the Northern Territory. I was happy to sign my name to the report which recommended a fully elected Legislative Assembly. But we did not recommend that self-government be handed to the people of the Northern Territory overnight. We recommended that it be phased in so that the people of the Northern Territory would not have the problem of having something lumped on their doorstep overnight.
As Senator Kilgariff said earlier, it is important that this legislation be passed, because selfgovernment is to come into being on 1 July this year. I do not want to keep repeating myself but I say again that the people of the Northern Territoryand 1 am not talking about the leader of the majority party in the Legislative Assembly; I am talking about all the residents of the Territorywill ask questions because many of them believe that this legislation has been foisted on them. That is why the Opposition, after taking into consideration representations that had been made by many people in the Territory, has moved an amendment to the Bill to the effect that before the legislation is enacted a referendum should be held in the Northern Territory to gauge the feelings of the people and to find out whether the people want self-government.
I have often suspected that the reason the Labor Party polled so poorly in 1974 was that the people of the Territory took out their spite on the Labor Party because it gave them a fully elected Legislative Assembly. Some people said to me that they did not want a legislative assembly. The same son of thing has happened in the Australian Capital Territory. This Government will not hold a referendum in the Australian Capital Territory to ascertain whether the people of Canberra want self-government because it knows if it did the result would be a large majority for the No case. I am afraid the Government also believes that, if a referendum is held in the Northern Territory and the people told what they would be committed for under selfgovernment, the result would be a large no vote.
However, the legislation is before us. The Opposition supports the legislation with the proviso that it not be enacted until a referendum of the people in the Northern Territory is conducted so that they can have a say. Throughout his whole speech this afternoon Senator Kilgariff said emphatically that it is time the people of the Northern Territory were able to speak for themselves. Yet, the honourable senator denies them the right to speak for themselves on the question of self-government. He flatly denies them this right. I will have something further to say on this matter during the Committee stage.
I have made the point I wanted to make. I have said that I was a member of the committee, chaired by Bert James, which was set up by the Whitlam Government to look into the question of constitutional reform for the Northern Territory. The members of the Committee were happy to recommend that the Legislative Assembly be fully elected. People ask: Who paved the way for the legislation that is now before us. Who gave the people the right to elect 19 members to the Legislative Assembly in the first place? It was not the people who sit opposite; it was the people who now sit on the Opposition benches.
I conclude my remarks by again reminding the Senate that it was the people who sit opposite us who did everything in their power to deny Senate representation to the people of the Northern Territory. As I said, they opposed legislation to give the Northern Territory Senate representation every time it came before the Parliament. They opposed it at the Joint Sitting. When they were defeated there they took the matter to the High Court and they lost. I think it is to the great credit of the Whitlam Government that the people of the Northern Territory now have two senators sitting here. It is to the great credit of the Whitlam Government that the people of the Northern Territory have the right to elect 19 members to the Legislative Assembly instead of those members being appointed. I think that Senator Kilgariff made the complaint that he was an appointee when he first became a member of that body. The people of the Northern Territory were given some autonomy by the Whitlam Government and not by the people who sit opposite, because they did all in their power, through legislation, to deny them that right.
– I support the Bill that is before the Senate and oppose the Opposition’s amendment. I listened with very great interest to the contributions of both representatives of the Northern Territory in this place- Senator Robertson who led for the Opposition and Senator Kilgariff who spoke before Senator McLaren. I think the speeches of both honourable senators certainly increased the knowledge of the chamber about the Northern Territory and helped us to see not only the advantages of this Bill but also some of the problems that exist. I thank them for their speeches.
I am less thankful to Senator McLaren who seemed to me to spend the first half of his speech with his eyes rigidly fixed on the past. I thought that, in speaking to a Bill that is ushering in a new ara of political representation, of a new political system in the Northern Territory, the honourable senator made an extraordinarily backward-looking speech, a speech which really descended to saying: ‘We did more than you did’. I found the internal illogicality and confusion of the speech quite unsettling and, really, it removed any pleasure I might have had in taking part in this debate. For example, I found it very difficult to follow whether or not he was saying it was a good thing that we had an elected Assembly. The honourable senator concluded his speech by saying that credit should be given to the Whitlam Government for this reform. He also said in his speech that he thought the fact that the Legislative Assembly had been made a fully elected body was the reason the Labor Party was decimated in the election that took place immediately after. The whole context of his speech and his claims about the great contribution made by the Labor Party sat very oddly with the lamentable polling of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory during the term of the
Whitlam Government- a rate of vote-getting which showed the complete disenchantment of that community with the Whitlam Government. I thought that the contribution made by Senator McLaren really advanced us very little. This Bill -
– He didn’t buy votes like you did.
- Senator Robertson again interjects in his angry manner and says: ‘ We do not buy votes’. Yet his colleague has just been saying that the legislation before us is a confidence trick to thrust burdens on to Territory electors. The honourable senator cannot have it both ways. I would suggest that Senators Robertson and Kilgariff, if they could bear it, should closet themselves for a while and decide which line of argument they are going to follow in the debate. I can see no common ground in the propositions that they are putting forward.
– You meant to say Senator McLaren, not Senator Kilgariff.
– Yes. Senator McLaren could be closeted with Senator Robertson. With any luck, only one of them would emerge.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- Order! I think we had better get back to debating the Bill.
– I am indebted to Senator Kilgariff for pointing out that it was a submission by the Australian Labor Party in the Northern Territory to the joint committee, to which extensive reference has been made, that there should be a four-year term for the Legislative Assembly in the Territory. I think that is worth mentioning.
– You got that material only ten minutes ago.
– I acknowledge that I got this information just now from Senator Kilgariff. It shows the confusion of ideas that have come forth from the Opposition on the subject of this Bill. If there had been a little more co-ordination to determine their attitude we might have got somewhere in this debate. However, with one criticism that was offered by both Senator Robertson and Senator Kilgariff, I agree. That concerned the inadequate consultation with respect to this legislation by the Government with the various bodies in the Territory that might be regarded as being interested. From what I have been told, the consultation with the Territory Executive, with the Legislative Assemblyincluding the Opposition- and with the community of the Territory generally- has been inadequate. The Bill has been produced in an unnecessarily confidential or secretive manner, which has prevented the Government from having the benefit of the kind of wide-ranging discussions that are desirable in areas of constitutional reform.
If the Territory is to take further steps along this road, I would urge the Government not to make the same mistake again. I would hope that the Senate, particularly Territory representatives, would consider whether there should be reference to a Senate committee of the question of further constitutional development- with a view to ensuring a public avenue of debate and consultation that can be used in the Northern Territory by the Opposition, by the majority party, by the public and by all interested parties. That would ensure that views could be presented that could be taken into account in plenty of time before the next steps towards statehood are made. I suggest that in the Budget session we ought to consider a proposal of that sort and to the terms of reference which might appropriately be given to a Senate committee on the subject. Also, there has been insufficient acknowledgement in the debate of what I see as very constructive provisions of the Bill, when considered as representing the embryo constitution of a new State.
Senator Robertson referred to his concern, and to the fact that he intended to propose amendments to reduce the quota variation from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. I can understand that Senator Robertson would put that view forward. With respect to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, my own view is that a 10 per cent variation is appropriate. I would hope that the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly would maintain a 10 per cent variation from quota, but I ask all honourable senators, including Senator Robertson, to bear in mind that for the first time we are to have in what will be effectively a State constitution a requirement to ensure that electoral boundaries will be fair. It is the requirement that has existed, under Federal legislation, for nearly 75 years of Federation, and under which in general very fair electoral boundaries have been drawn. I see the provisions of clause 1 3 as representing a considerable step forward in terms of the constitution of a State. I would hope that it would act as a precedent for some of the States of Australia.
I also direct the attention of the Senate to the provisions of clause 14, which represent another safeguard, of a type which I believe would receive the unanimous approval of honourable senators. Thereby, all persons who are entitled to vote in Federal elections are assured of the right to vote for the Legislative Assembly- a useful safeguard, I would have thought, in this fledgling State. Clauses 49 and 50 are also worthy of note at this stage. They incorporate provisions which are properly part of any modern constitution. Clause 49 is very familiar and guarantees that the lawyers of the Territory will enjoy the fruits of endless litigation, just as the lawyers of Australia have enjoyed the fruits of litigation under section 92 of the Australian Constitution.
Clause 50 provides that the Legislative Assembly cannot make laws for the acquisition of property otherwise than on just terms. That provision is not, to my knowledge, found in any State constitution, but is very properly included as an essential safeguard within this embryo constitution. Probably there has been quite enough debate on the Bill but I wanted principally to draw attention to some of the problems that, in my view, do remain. I do not propose to move amendments, because I think the kind we have considered would make the problems worse rather than better; but the Government is under an obligation to take a close second look at this legislation and probably to bring forward amendments to it during the next session of Parliament. I refer honourable senators to the speech of Mr Ian Wilson in the House of Representatives on 2 June, beginning at page 3034 of Hansard, and to his further comments during the Committee stages, as reported at page 3053, in which he foreshadowed the possibility of certain amendments being moved.
The problem to which Mr Wilson referred relates to the provisions of clauses 6 and 35. We have a very odd situation in which this Bill gives the Legislative Assembly plenary legislative powers under clause 6; but under clause 35 proceeds to hand out executive power in dribs and drabs. I find that quite illogical. It was that disparity which we considered tackling by amendments to clauses 7 and 35. What we have effectively done in clause 6 is to grant the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory legislative powers that are in excess of those which are enjoyed by any State. In other words, we have gone beyond what, as I understand it. the Territory wants- State-type powers- and have given it the widest possible legislative authority. That legislative authority is restricted only by the powers which remain to the Commonwealth under clause 7 or clause 9 to disallow laws. One must bear in mind that clause 9, which empowers the Governor-General to disallow laws generally, is of the kind that was generally. in other constitutions, fallen into disuse. Also, we must bear in mind the fact that this legislation may operate for quite some time; that there may develop conventions whereby the Commonwealth will be precluded from intervening in Territory legislation. It is quite wrong for the Commonwealth to legislate in terms which do not specifically restrict the Legislative Assembly to the exercise of State powers; in other words, to give the Legislative Assembly power to impose duties on excise, for example, is to my mind an error and one that we could live to regret.
If one wanted to take it to a ridiculous extent, it would even be possible that the Territory could raise its own army. If we bear in mind some of the sabre rattling that goes on in the neighbouring State of Queensland, and even to a rather lesser degree in my own State of Western Australia, we perhaps ought not to take that threat too lightly either. I would ask the Government to give earnest consideration to making it clear that clause 6 is meant to give no more than State-type legislative powers to the Legislative Assembly. I think we will live to regret it if amendments limiting the operating of clause 6 in that way are not introduced.
With respect to the granting of executive power, we have chosen an exceedingly untidy way to go about it. I have considerable concern for the fear which is felt in the Northern Territory that the granting of a list of executive powers will give rise to what might be termed demarcation disputes over precisely where executive powers lie in any situation. I can see room for legal problems for the Territory Executive if we follow the course which the Government has indicated it will follow and regulate simply by setting out a specific list of functions.
I was originally attracted to the proposition put forward by Ian Wilson that we amend clause 35 by putting the word ‘not’ so that the regulations would say which functions the Territory did not have executive authority for. However, I now think that if we followed that course the Commonwealth would have to indicate what are all its powers under section 6 1 of the Constitution and would have to be extremely careful to cover all areas of Federal authority. So I see the amendment as one which would cause more problems than it would solve. The objections to clauses 6 and 35 underline the unsatisfactory way in which this Bill has been prepared and the limited extent to which it has been discussed by people who are capable of making a sensible contribution to its form. The Government must undertake to re-examine the legislation in the next few months and to come back to us with better answers than it has come up with to date.
– Did you mention clause 75?
– I did not mention clause 75 because that is a clause which, after a lot of deliberation with the Government, we finally got into a form which is roughly acceptable to me and, I hope, to the Senate. The proposition that we can make regulations under clause 75 which can vary other Commonwealth law is one which is probably offensive to some honourable senators. However, this provision has now been made subject to a rigid time limit and cannot operate after 30 June 1979. Regulations can be made only with the consent of the Administrator of the Territory acting on the advice of the Territory Ministers. So there are safeguards applying to the way in which those regulations can be used. The fact that that provision has been included in the Bill again shows that inadequate attention has been given to the preparation of this legislation. It is there as a safety net and it is a safety net which in my view ought not to be required, and this simply underlines the proposition which I put previously.
I am sorry that to some extent I have had to qualify the support that I have expressed for the Bill. It is fundamentally important that people all around Australia should have maximum control over their own affairs. I believe in the decentralisation of power and I think it is desirable that the relatively small population of the Territory should, to the maximum extent possible, run its own affairs without interference from Canberra. To that extent I welcome the Bill and support it wholeheartedly, although I regret that the Bill is not as good as it could have been. I conclude my speech by asking the Government to ensure that it gives the Bill close attention over the next few months.
– I intervene at the latter stages of this second reading debate to seek from the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) some information about the future of Ashmore and Cartier Islands and to raise the question of who will have authority over matters such as patrol boats and conservation. Are these matters to be completely under Commonwealth control? What is to be the situation in relation to Australia’s wildlife conventions and treaties such as the Japanese Migratory Bird Treaty? Will that land be kept in its present state? Do we visualise any communications installations on the land?
Let me put it in a more clear cut fashion: On numerous occasions conservationists have been concerned about the depredations by Indonesian and Taiwanese fishermen who have used this area as a staging centre. When giving definitions from the encyclopaedia Senator Kilgariff made some reference to the fauna in the area. My information is that the habitat has been affected by these fishermen, and I would like some understanding of how the Australian Government proposes to protect this area. What plans does it have for the area? Could we have an undertaking that if this area is to be excluded from the concept of Northern Territory neo or semistatehood, the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service will check on the flora and fauna living in this area?
-in reply- I thank honourable senators for their contribution. The cognate debate on these Bills has been most interesting. It has been a most important debate for a very important area of Australia. So far as it has been able in the very short period it has been in office, the Government has attempted to bring forward self-management for the Territory. The two honourable senators who spoke initially in this debate, Senator Robertson and Senator Kilgariff, come to this chamber with great knowledge of the Territory, gained from their background and their interest in the public affairs of the Territory over many years. This chamber is fortunate to have both of them as advocates for the action that the Government is taking in respect of the Territory. Senator Kilgariff outlined the background of this movement within the Territory towards self-management and his account will stand in the record as one of great interest.
Senator McLaren’s address will be noted more for its political nature than for any great contribution it made to the debate. He spent a great deal of time dealing with my relationship with the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory that was set up some time ago. I had very little regard at all for any of the committees which the Whitlam Government set up and for the way in which they handled their affairs. The attitude that I developed was one that was taken by the people in general when they decided to take action to see that that Government was removed from office. My attitude was more or less a reaction to the way in which those committees performed in relation to many matters, and certainly the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory was one about which I had some doubt. I regularly visited the Territory on many occasions looking at environmental questions and the conditions of Aborigines. I was a member of the
Public Works Committee and probably have been to the Territory more often than Senator McLaren, despite his great connection with the Territory. The Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, of which I was also a member, gained much information from their visits to the Territory.
During my many years in this place I have had a particularly strong attachment to the Territory and a regard for the great strength of character which is typical among the people in the Northern Territory. I compliment the two senators who represent the Northern Territory in this place.
– I hope we don’t adopt your attitude to committees. I hope you are not suggesting we do that to your committees.
-No, but perhaps honourable senators opposite do not have the reason to do it. I gained my attitude in relation to many of the affairs of that Joint Committee on the Northern Territory when I saw it trying to act in a certain way, and on many occasions I expressed my views about that.
– That is a matter of opinion, is it not? You started fairly early if you started in three months. You did not give us much of a chance. It seems a strange attitude, Mr Minister.
– I did not hear Senator Robertson but I would not be influenced by the comments that were made by his colleagues because those comments were untrue. The comments made by Senator Chaney were of particular interest. He put a legal point of view. He indicated to the Senate something which I understand a number of honourable senators on the Government side would have liked to have reiterated if they had been given the opportunity to speak in this debate. I am aware of the views of some honourable senators on this side of the chamber on certain clauses of the Bills. I think the remarks they withheld perhaps would endorse some of the comments made by Senator Chaney. His comments will stand as a guide for the Government- for it to be alert as to what may be the problems that face the Territory and. indeed, face the central Government in this very difficult move which is taking place. However, it is an historic move and it is one which honourable senators on both sides of this chamber support. We wish to see this enormous Territory with its great potential move gradually so that it can manage its own affairs. I suggest that the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time.
– Is it the wish of the Committee to take the 13 Bills together?
– No, I would prefer to take them separtely. I make the observation that I have a series of amendments to the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill. I would like to comment on the Ashmore and Carrier Islands Acceptance Amendment Bill and on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1978. Apart from that, the other Bills can go through without comment from me.
– Is it possible to deal with those Bills upon which there is no dissension?
– Perhaps we could dispose of those Bills on which there is more or less unanimity and then deal separately with the Bills on which amendments are foreshadowed. The Bills now before the Committee are:
Remuneration Tribunals Amendment Bill 1978.
Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1978.
Pay-Roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Ombudsman Amendment Bill 1978.
Northern Territory Supreme Court Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal Amendment Bill 1978.
Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Amendment Bill 1978.
Commonwealth Motor Vehicles (Liability) Amendment Bill 1978.
Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1978.
Air Accidents (Commonwealth Government Liability) Amendment Bill 1978.
Is it the wish of the Committee that these Bills be taken together in the Committee of the Whole? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
Bills agreed to.
Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1978
Clauses 1 to 6- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Upon the presentation of a proposed law to the Adminstrator for assent, the Administrator shall, subject to this section, declare-
– I move:
I draw attention to sub-clause 7 (2) (a) subparagraph (ii). I invite honourable senators to look at the series of amendments which I have circulated. The purpose of this amendment is to return power to the Legislative Assembly and remove power- what we regard as the extraordinary power- from the Administrator in this legislation. It seems to the Opposition that it is a travesty of democracy where the Administrator has power to veto or to override the elected government, that is, the Legislative Assembly. Let us look at the situation of the Administrator. He is, of course, appointed by the Federal Government and obviously is under some influence from that Government, whichever flavour it happens to have. If the Administrator withholds assent it is really the Federal Government which is withholding assent. In other words, it is making a farce of the so-called self-government; the Federal Government retains the control. If the clause remains unaltered the Bill becomes an insult to the elected representatives of the Legislative Assembly and they become little more than advisers. The solution which we have recommended in our amendment is the simple addition of the words that have been suggested. These words give an opportunity for review; they give an opportunity for a re-think; they give an opportunity to alter; to make use of the expertise of the Administrator’s advisers, officers and so on; but the power is retained in the hands of the Legislative Assembly, where we contend that it belongs.
I believe that this right is the fundamental principle of our system- that the Administrator must follow the advice of his advisers. I regard that very strongly as the cornerstone of the Westminster system. It has stood the test of time, and it would be unfortunate if it were not included in this Bill when we have the opportunity to lay down a new constitution, as one of the speakers called it. The Administrator can make suggestions. He can point out legal problems. He can point out constitutional weaknesses, but in the final analysis, it is my contention and the thrust of our argument, he must take the advice of the elected representatives of the Legislative Assembly. If the Government is sincere in wanting to give the Northern Territory self-government it must accept the amendment. If the Government really is sincere about wanting self-government for the people of the Northern Territory it has no alternative but to accept this amendment or something like it, but at least put power back into the hands of the Legislative Assembly. It is my honest belief, however, that the Government will lose the credibility of the people of the Northern Territory if this amendment is not accepted. As far as I am concerned, I have to say that this amendment, which is the key one as far as I am concerned, is the litmus test of the Government’s real intentions as far as self-government for the Northern Territory is concerned. If the Government does not accept the amendment I think we must call for a vote to ascertain which people support the principle which I am propounding and which people are posturing in this situation, because it seems to me quite clearly that it is a situation of a principle versus a posturing.
There has been much talk in this place in the last few months about people saying one thing but doing another. If we talk self-government, if we really mean self-government, we must put real power, real decision-making into the hands of the Legislative Assembly. It is not an advisory body. I remind honourable senators of the second reading speech of Senator Webster who represents the Minister for the Northern Territory in this place. He stated:
The people of the Northern Territory, in common with other citizens of our Federal Commonwealth, have the right- indeed the duty- to control their own affairs through a democratically elected legislature. This is what we are now seeking to achieve.
If we are seeking to achieve that end then this amendment must be carried. I am quite sincere. This is too important a matter to worry about the usual loss of face if an amendment is not carried, about lack of confidence or other such nonsense. We are dealing here with the future of the Northern Territory. This Bill, as has been said, is truly historic. It deserves our closest consideration and our purest intents. I commend the amendment.
– When we were debating the second reading of this Bill I inadvertently misled the Senate in relation to some dates. I said that I had included in the Senate Hansard of 14 November 1973 some figures relating to the attendance of Senator Webster at some committees. Senator Webster, in his concluding remarks said that his attendance was very good. I have been able to find the reference to those figures. It appears at page 627 of the Senate Hansard of 3 1 July 1974. In speaking to the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill I referred to Senator Webster’s record and said:
I want to remind the Senate of, and to put on record, the great interest that he took in this committee after having held up the establishment of the Committee. The Committee up to yesterday met on 28 occasions. We had 1 6 public hearings of which Senator Webster attended seven; we had 12 private Committee meetings of which Senator Webster attended seven. So out of a total of 28 meetings of this joint committee, Senator Webster saw fit to attend fourteen.
So his attendance record was 50 per cent.
– I do not think it is necessary to respond to Senator McLaren.
– He has bowled you over.
– If the record of the attendance of honourable senators at committees is to be put down I think we can perhaps turn up a few records that will not stand in very good stead for some honourable senators.
– Mine will stand very well.
– If Senator McLaren finds that he has better than a 50 per cent attendance record he will be doing particularly well. Perhaps Senator McLaren should put down his own record before he starts pointing the stick at somebody else. We can bet our life that that is something Senator McLaren will not do. Whenever Senator McLaren starts abusing somebody else we can bet that the honourable senator’s record will not be disclosed. That has been one of the features of Senator McLaren’s attendance in the Senate for many years. I do not think we need to hear from him in the future.
The important matter with which we have to deal is the amendment moved by Senator Robertson for the Australian Labor Party. I do not think one can accept Senator Robertson’s comments that this Bill does not provide for selfmanagement for the Territory. He said that the intervention of an administrator is something he believes to be incorrect and that an administrator should not have the right either to approve or disapprove proposals on Territory management. The same situation exists in every State of the Commonwealth. Each State has a governor. No State has a right, purely through its elected assembly, to make laws and to decide that those laws will be followed. The same situation applies federally. No matter what legislation is passed by the House of Representatives and then by the Senate it does not become law until the effect of the Constitution is carried out. I think the situation put forward in this measure is no different from that.
Senator Robertson suggested that the administrator would be a political appointee and a political head. That challenge was made. One can be inclined to the view that governments on various occasions have appointed people who previously have had political affiliations. The allegation could be made that they have acted in a partisan way. I have not seen that occur in the Territory, whether the administrators have been put there by the Labor Party or by parties from our side of politics. I think the administrators have acted in an impartial way. The Government cannot accept the amendment. It is our wish that an administrator should act in all instances, where it is possible, like a State governor. That is the thrust of clause 7.
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Robertson’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator the Hon. T. C. Drake-Brockman, D.F.C.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I deal now with clause 7(2) (b). I move:
Clause 7 (2) (b) (ii) reads: that he withholds assent to the proposed law;
He in this case refers to the Northern Territory Administrator. Clause 7 (2) (a) deals with matters in respect of which Ministers of the Northern Territory are to have executive authority. In other words, these are the powers that are to be transferred. This is what the Bill is all about. Clause 7 (2) (b)- the one we are referring to now- deals with all other powers. The Opposition is happy to see the matters referred to the Governor-General because this would provide an opportunity to review the situation, a possibility for the Governor-General and his people to check the constitutionality and legality of the measures in areas for which the Northern Territory Ministers do not have responsibility. In other words they are not areas for which the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has responsibility. But we are concerned that the Administrator should have the ability to withhold assent from Bills dealing with these matters because they seem to us to be outside his area of responsibility. The amendment seeks to have the responsibility for assent or withholding of assent with the Governor-General. We feel that it is putting the responsibility where it belongs. Of course, in this case the Governor-General would be properly guided by his Federal advisers. I commend the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
– I move:
This amendment deals with the situation where the Northern Territory Administrator reserves the proposed law for transfer to the GovernorGeneral. Our amendment is in keeping with the philosophy and practice that we have already discussed in both the second reading debate and the comments I made on the amendments proposed to clause 7. We claim that the GovernorGeneral should not have the full right in this matter. A responsibility for matters other than that exercised by the Ministers of the Northern Territory should be exercised by the Federal Parliament. The Parliament should have the opportunity to debate and to make decisions and then to advise the Governor-General of the decisions. Apart from the philosophical reason we put forward for this amendment, it would give an opportunity for some channel of appeal for the members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. They would have an opportunity for their legislation to be looked at by their big brothers, if you wish, in the Federal Parliament. I commend the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
– I move:
After sub-clause ( 3 ), insert the following new sub-clauses: (3A) As soon as practicable after the GovernorGeneral has disallowed a law or part of a law under this section, the Minister shall cause a notice of the disallowance made by the Governor-General to be laid before each House of the Parliament, and either House may, by resolution passed before the expiration of 1 5 sitting days of that House after the notice is so laid, disallow that disallowance. (3B) Where either House of the Parliament passes a resolution in accordance with sub-section (3a) disallowing a disallowance of a law or part of a law made by the Governor-General, the second-mentioned disallowance shall be deemed not to have been made. (3C) If, after the expiration or the 15 sitting days referred to in sub-section (3a), neither House of the Parliament has passed a resolution disallowing the disallowance made by the Governor-General, the Minister shall cause a notice of the disallowance made by the Governor-General to be published in the Government Gazette of the Territory. ‘.
As it stands, clause 9 allows the GovernorGeneral to disallow any Northern Territory law within six months without appeal to the Federal Parliament. We could actually see the situationalthough the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) has suggested that this could never happen- in which the Governor-General might disallow a law without recourse to any other opinion at all. By the amendment we have suggested that the Northern Territory Administrator should return laws to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly if he wishes to withhold assent. The logic here is that if the Governor-General wishes to withhold assent he should refer the law to the Parliament for further discussion. If it is referred there is a debate and a further opportunity for the matter to be aired. The proposed law could be given a second chance, as it were, in the Federal Parliament. We feel the decision should not be an Executive decision. It should not be simply the Executive which makes the decision on this matter. We see the laying of the proposed law on the table as a safeguard. But it is the principle that is important in this case and which we want to stress all the way through. As we see the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly having the decision making function, so we see the Federal ParliamentParliament, not the Executive or the GovernorGeneral making the decision on these matters. I commend the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 10 to 12- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
– I move:
This matter has been alluded to by a number of speakers, including Senator Chaney. I do not want to canvass the arguments that have already been put forward in the speeches. I simply put the proposition that there is no reason why the Northern Territory should have a differential from that which applies in the Federal situation. There does not seem to be an argument for that. There is a general feeling in the comments of authors that one reads that a one-tenth allowance is a reasonable proposition. When I was speaking briefly on this matter I reminded the Senate that a large number of Aboriginals are yet to be enrolled. The figure of the differential could become even much larger than 20 per cent between the declaration and the poll.
I feel that the proposition we are looking at here, to return to a 20 per cent allowance, is rather backward looking and regressive. I do not have to canvass here the point of view put forward by the Australian Labor Party, that we believe in one vote one value. We do not want to see the situation that existed when the last Legislative Assembly poll was held. I fail to see any reason why we should introduce this provision. Perhaps the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) has some good reason for it. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment so that when we are starting out in the Northern Territory we start on the same footing as the rest of Australia and the rest of the democratic world. I commend the amendment.
– I also want to speak in support of the amendment. I think that in all fairness to everybody concerned the Opposition amendment should be carried. This provision ties in with the complaint that I made in the second reading debate that the Government on assuming office in 1 975 immediately altered the method of voting in the Northern Territory by reverting from an optional preferential system to the exhaustive preferential system. We find now that the Commonwealth Electoral Act will be further aborted- that is what I really think it is- by bringing back the 20 per cent tolerance instead of a 10 per cent tolerance.
It is my view that this is a case of the National Country Party tail wagging the Liberal Party dog. I do not know what promises have been made by the National Country Party to the Liberal Party for the amendment of the Electoral Act to this effect as it applies to the Northern Territory. Honourable senators will recall that while the Australian Labor Party was in government we amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act to reduce the tolerance to 10 per cent. I congratulate Senator Withers, who is in charge of that legislation, for the fact that when the latest amendments were introduced he did not submit to the pressure of the National Country Party to restore it to a 20 per cent tolerance. He stuck to his guns. It seems quite odd to me that the Government has now buckled under to the Country Party and is introducing a 20 per cent tolerance in the Northern Territory.
As Senator Robertson so ably pointed out the 20 per cent tolerance will cause great problems in areas where there are many Aboriginal voters. We talk about democracy but I think this again is throwing democracy out of the window for the sake of trying to safeguard some of the Country Party seats in the Northern Territory. We are well aware that very shortly there will be two parties in the coalition in the Northern Territory. There will be a Country Party and a Liberal Party. This legislation, of course, was brought in purposely to safeguard the seats of some of those people who will go it alone in the Country Party in the Northern Territory. I think that in all fairness to the people who live in the Northern Territory the amendment put forward by Senator Robertson should be accepted.
– I do not agree with the amendment moved by Senator Robertson which is to restore the tolerance to 10 per cent. The situation now is that the honourable senator referred one manone vote. Senator Robertson referred to this. I think he must appreciate that in the Northern Territory now- particularly in Darwin which has a population of 50,000 and has 50 per cent of the population of the Territory.
– It was 45,000 this afternoon. You have jacked it up by another 5,000.
– No, Senator Georges, I said that the population was 50,000. 1 think you will find that that is the true figure.
– You should check it out. At my last count the population was 34,000.
– For what it is worth about 50 per cent of the population of the Northern Territory live in Darwin. In Alice Springs there are some 15,000 people and there are people in the smaller centres. The situation in the Northern Territory is that the bulk of the population live in four or five centres. In fairness, I think we must recognise the people who are living further out in the Territory. I have mentioned on other occasions that the Territory has an area of about 540,000 square miles. If we were to adopt the one man- one vote approach and then wanted to have no more than a 10 per cent variation, what will happen in the Northern Territorythat is all we are talking about at the moment- is that we will have even more electorates than we have now.
We have to give consideration, as Senator Robertson has indicated, to Aboriginal settlements, to the people in the mining towns and cattle stations. We have to be able to give some reasonable representation to the people in the outback. One can only achieve this if we have a reasonable variation between the city and the outback electorates. Senator McLaren has indicated that this move was initiated by the National Country Party. Far from it. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to pass on to the members of the Labor Party a piece of paper- I am happy to do that- which indicates the size of the electorates and the number of voters in those electorates in the Northern Territory. It also indicates which parties are holding those various electorates. If one examines it, one can see that the Australian Labor Party holds quite a lot- it has a predominance really- of the country electorates.
– What does that prove?
– I am wondering why the Labor Party wishes to change the electorates which would have the effect of bringing more people into the city electorates and leaving fewer people in the outback electorates. There is some balance in the situation as it now exists because the ALP has won the electorates of Arnhem, Fannie Bay, MacDonnell- Arnhem and MacDonnell are bush electorates- Milner, which is a city electorate, Sanderson, and Victoria River. Correspondingly, of course, the Country-Liberal Party has various electorates. Regardless of the political nature of the situation, in fairness to the people of the Territory- I have said this before- we should ensure that the people in the outback get reasonable representation and that the electorates become no bigger than they are now. Some of them are extremely large.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner we were discussing clause 13 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1978 and the variations of 10 percent, 20 per cent and so on. In particular we were looking at the proposal contained in sub-clauses (4) and (5) of clause 13. Sub-clause (5) reads:
For the purposes of sub-section (4), each electoral division shall contain a number of electors not exceeding, or falling short of, the quota calculated under that sub-section by more than one-fifth of the quota.
As I indicated previously, because of the large area of the Northern Territory and its small population, when looking at this situation the Committee must take into consideration the fact that people in the outlying areas must be assured of reasonable representation. Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I had circulated to the Minister for Science (Senator Webster), who is in charge of the Bill and to the Opposition Whip a review of the electoral districts in the Northern Territory. It sets out the various electorates of the Northern Territory, the size of those electorates and the number of voters within each electorate. There is also a breakdown of how these seats are held at present- either Country-Liberal Party, Australian Labor Party or Independent. Mr Temporary Chairman I seek leave to have this chart incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
– I think the chart is indicative of the present situation. If one wishes to speak politically- and I guess that is what many honourable senators are doing- when one takes into consideration the 20 per cent variation, Labor Party senators will find that those electorates in which the Labor Party is represented now are well safeguarded. I do not think there is anything further to say on this matter, except perhaps to point to the situation in a couple of electorates. For example, Tiwi, which is held by the CLP, is 30,180 square kilometres in size and has a voting strength of 1,858, while Sanderson, which is held by the ALP, is only 34 square kilometres in size and has a voting strength of 2,927.
– You can include Port Darwin, too.
– Yes. Taking a comparison of the Sanderson electorate with the Tiwi electorate, and allowing a 20 per cent variation, one can see that there is no anomaly as far as representation is concerned. All in all, I believe that the proposal contained in this legislation is in keeping with the representation in the Territory. I believe that there should be no political repercussions about the matter because what the legislation ensures is that the people of the outback, the people in those far-flung areas- the people on Aboriginal settlements, in mining areas, on pastoral company leases and so on- will feel and will also find that there will be adequate representation. If we do not abide by this principle, and if the quota in the Northern Territory is reduced, I suggest we will find that there will be more and more electorates within the higher population areas of the Northern Territory and those people, who are as much a part of the Territory as the people in the towns, will suffer.
– It was not my intention to enter this debate but I could not let go by some of the claims made by Senator Kilgariff without commenting on them. The question under discussion is whether we should have a tolerance in electorates of onefifth, or one-tenth as proposed in the amendment moved by Senator Robertson. In speaking to the Bill, Senator Kilgariff said that we should keep the tolerance at one-fifth. He used the usual argument about square miles or area. 1 think this argument is entirely fallacious. In a short time I shall try to point out why it is fallacious.
If we look at a one-tenth variation situation and a one-fifth variation situation, we see that there is a vast difference between the two. Just for the purposes of illustration, let us take a quota of 1,000 voters. I realise that the quota is much more than that, but if we take the quota as 1,000 and we have a tolerance of one-fifth, we can have electorates containing only 800 voters. Alternatively we can have them containing up to 1,200 voters. So the electorate with the larger number of electors is 50 per cent greater in number of electors than the one with the smaller number- 800 to 1,200. If we have a 10 per cent tolerance and again the quota is 1 ,000 voters, the number of voters can be down to 900 or it can be up to 1,100. In this respect, the electorate with the larger number of electors has about 22 per cent more electors than the one with the smaller number. So even though we are speaking of a 10 per cent tolerance, the practical consideration is that we can end up with a range of 22 per cent. To be more precise, the electorate with the larger number of voters has 22 per cent more electors than the electorate with the smaller number of voters. But in the other case, the corresponding figure is 50 per cent, which I believe is too high.
I am in total agreement with the idea that people in remote areas should have the same type of representation as people in smaller areas. I admit that I nominally live in a capital city. I say ‘nominally’ because I do not see it all that often. I think that Senator Bonner is agreeing with me. He has similar problems. However, I should think that being a senator, I would have a far greater idea of the types of deprivation that one encounters in country areas than would a person who was a member of the House of Representatives and who lived in a capital city because, after all, I travel a great deal of Queensland and I visit remote areas. So I shall be honest about it: I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that people in remote areas should receive the same sort of representation as people in city areas. But to be practical, we must understand that there can never be the same sort of representation in country areas as that enjoyed by people in city areas. People living in city areas have easy access to their member. They can go quite easily to the telephone at the corner of the street and ring him up. This sort of access is not available to people in remote areas, but we should try to do as much as we can to ensure that representation is of an equal kind.
I have not seen the chart which has been incorporated in Hansard, but the statement was made earlier that the Australian Labor Party holds a predominance of the country electorates. I think that is irrelevant. It does not really matter whether they are held by the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Country Party, the Liberal-Country Party or Independents. That is irrelevant. We are looking at the matter of representation for the people in those electorates.
Prior to the suspension of the sitting, Senator Kilgariff said something along the lines that we can achieve the type of equal representation about which we are speaking if the tolerance above and below the quota is 20 per cent. I believe that there are better ways of achieving this equal representation. I do not believe it can be achieved by putting in the legislature more members to represent people in remote areas. I believe that the way to achieve it is by following the course which we have started to adopt in the Federal Parliament, and that is to give more facilities to those people who represent people in remote areas. The senators from the Northern Territory are provided with some facilities which take into account the fact that they represent people in remote areas. For instance, the senators from the Northern Territory can claim as much as $6,000 a year for travel facilities, which could be either charter flights or other types of travel. A member of the House of Representatives whose electorate covers a certain area can claim up to $6,000 a year for similar charter facilities. If the area that a member of the House of Representatives represents is a little less, he can claim up to $4,000 a year. If the area represented is smaller still those charter facilities are not available, except in emergencies. These are the sorts of matters we should be looking at.
Apart from having that facility available to them, I believe that the senators from the Northern Territory and the honourable member for the Northern Territory have facilities for overnight stays in the Territory. That facility is not available to honourable senators from the States and is not available to members of the House of Representatives who represent electorates which are smaller in area. These are the sorts of things at which we should be looking. We should be ensuring that facilities are available for the member to communicate with his electorate. We should also be looking at ways in which the electors can communicate with their representative. From time to time people in Queensland want to telephone me from areas outside the Brisbane metropolitan area. If I know the caller or that the call involves a genuine emergency I will accept a reverse charge telephone call. I am not sure whether that can be done in the Northern Territory, but it seems to me that it would be a reasonable way of ensuring that an elector in a remote area is as close to the office of the member who represents him as is the person who lives in the city. I do not think it is unusual to receive reverse charge telephone calls because such calls are even accepted by the Government now. Some honourable senators may remember that I asked the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) whether people in remote areas could call her Department in times of emergency by means of a reverse charge telephone call. She responded by saying that that was satisfactory, provided that a genuine emergency was involved. I have dealt only with charter flights, allowances for travelling around the electorate and telephone facilities.
– Years ago the Prime Minister, even before he became Prime Minister, put out a card telling people to make reverse charge calls to him in Canberra.
-If we use the types of facilities to which I have referred there will be no need to weight the legislature with additional members from remote areas to look after those people who live in remote areas. If we were to have additional members we would find that we would still have fairly large areas to be represented. To get around this problem regarding remote areas in which only small numbers of people reside, we could provide the facilities 1 have suggested. I think that in that way people would be well represented. I strongly urge that the Committee looks carefully at the amendment moved by Senator Robertson which seeks to leave out ‘one-fifth’ and insert ‘one-tenth’. I believe that we can ensure that those people in remote areas have representation similar to people who live in city areas by providing adequate facilities for their members.
– I appreciate what Senator Colston has said. I appreciate also the fact that at least he sees the principle behind this situation. Of course, the honourable senator was talking about representation. After all, we are dealing with the Northern Territory now, but he was really talking about representation in the Federal sphere, whether it be by members of the House of Representatives or senators. I acknowledge his point about Northern Territory senators having special privileges which other senators do not have in regard to communicating with their constituents.
– Rights, not privileges.
– I stand corrected. They are rights. 1 agree with the honourable senator. They are not privileges. The honourable senator must realise that we are not talking about a federal situation. We are talking about the Northern Territory being represented by members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. The situation is quite different there. The situation is more like that in the States, because members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, like members of the State parliaments, represent parts of the Territory which are divided into electorates. The nitty gritty of what we are discussing is what is going on in the various legislatures in the Territories and the States.
The honourable senator mentioned various matters, including communication and so on. In the Northern Territory communication is extremely poor. I am now talking of the difficulties faced by the people of the outback. They have to use radio telephones, if they have that facility. The radio telephone system is overloaded. I can assure the honourable senator that communication in the Northern Territory is extremely poor. I do not intend to debate that matter now, except to indicate to honourable senators that I will continue to ask the Government to provide better lines of communication. As I said, the radio telephone system is overloaded. I have been out in the bush, so has Senator Robertson. No doubt he has had some experience in relation to this matter. In trying to reach base in Alice Springs or in Katherine on a radio telephone, one may sometimes have to wait an hour. It is an impossible situation. Apart from that, of course, we have Radio Australia and what have you. All the promises in the world have been made to provide better communication facilities for people in the outback, but that has not eventuated. As I have said, communications in the outback have deteriorated. I think we must take that into consideration.
As the legislation deals with the Territory, I think we have to look at the special circumstances of the Territory. As I have said, it has a population of 100,000 people, the majority of whom live in the towns. The people who live in the outback certainly have to have representation. I believe that that representation has to be within reason. Under the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill we can make a reasonable assumption that the provision for a tolerance of one-fifth above and below the quota will ensure that those people in the outback will be heard. As I have indicated before, all the Opposition will do by reducing that tolerance from one-fifth to 10 per cent is to force people into the heavily populated areas, and thus reduce the representation afforded the outback areas. Because of the large area of the Northern Territory some people will find it physically impossible to cover all of their electorates to ensure that people living in those areas are properly represented.
– The Opposition cannot stress too forcibly its opposition to clause 13 (5) in which the Government proposes to reduce the tolerance in an electorate from one-tenth to one-fifth. The Bill, which has just passed the second reading stage, seeks to give residents of the Northern Territory self-government. However, it also imposes upon those residents the responsibility of raising extra revenue to carry out the functions of self-government. As every income earner in the Territory will be called upon to contribute on or as near as possible a fair share basis why should they not be entitled to enjoy a vote along the same lines? It has always been the policy of the Australian Labor Party that members of Parliament should represent people, not trees and acres.
Senator Kilgariff put forward the argument that a member of Parliament is at some disadvantage if he has a big area to represent. But a member of Parliament does not represent empty spaces. He represents people who live in an electorate and that is what counts. The people who live in country electorates will be called upon, on as near as possible a fair share basis, to contribute finance to run the Territory, as will those people who live in the suburbs of Darwin. Why should country electors be given the extra privilege of having more members of Parliament per head of population than the people who live in Darwin? I cannot see the basis of the argument. What I do see arising out of this Bill, if it goes through in its present form, is that the next time we have legislation before the chamber for a redistribution or for an amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act the Government will come in here, having had its arm twisted by the National Country Party, and say: ‘Look, we have the system in the Northern Territory of a 20 per cent tolerance. To be fair and just we should have a Commonwealth Electoral Act on the same basis.’ I can see that that will be said. But why should we be going backwards instead of forwards? A 20 per cent tolerance will not mean that the people of the Territory will get better representation, just as a 20 per cent tolerance does not mean that the people in the Stateswhere the tolerance is now 10 per cent- will receive better representation.
Senator Kilgariff has had incorporated in Hansard a list of electoral district areas. The list sets out the size of the electorates and the number of voters in the electorates. I notice from the table that the electorate of Stuart which is held by the Country-Liberal Party Coalition has an area of 325,420 square kilometres. I also notice that the electorate of Victoria River, which is held by the Labor Party, comprises 254,100 square kilometres and that the electorate of MacDonnell, which is also held by the Labor Party comprises 261,400 square kilometres. I have not heard any objections from the two Labor Party members who represent those areas that they cannot properly represent their electors because the electorates are so large. I have not heard the two members say that they are unable to do the job. Of course they can do it.
The table also shows that members of the Country Party, along with some other members, represent very small electorates. For example, the electorates of Jingili and Port Darwin are very small. This fact was referred to a while ago by Senator Robertson by way of interjection. The electorate of Gillen is only 14 square kilometres in size. They are very small electorates. I do not see the purpose of having this table incorporated in Hansard because it does not mean a thing. The table shows that 12 members of the Country-Liberal Party coalition represent a total area of 736,891 square kilometres. It also shows that the Australian Labor Party with six members represents an area of 610,629 square kilometres. It is worth noting that the Labor Party represents about 50 per cent of the number of voters represented by the Country-Liberal Party. Yet, six members of the Labor Party are able to represent these people. The Labor Party with six members has 125,000 square kilometres less than the CLP in the Territory to represent. Yet the CLP is saying, through Senator Kilgariff, that it cannot do the job. The Labor Party is not complaining. Its members can do the job. If a member is dedicated to the job of representing electors, of course he can do it. There is no problem at all.
As Senator Colston pointed out senators representing the Northern Territory have certain privileges to enable them to get around their areas to look after their constituents. However, senators from the States do not receive that assistance. We do not even get as much assistance as members of the House of Representatives. For example, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie in Western Australia who represents nearly all of the State and the honourable member for Grey who represents about nine-tenths of South Australia receive an extra allowance. But a senator who represents the whole of a State gets less than that received by those members of the House of Representatives. But they can do the job. Those members have the facilities which they can use to get around and serve their electors if they so desire. Of course, we know that there are many who do not do that. They domicile themselves in a capital city. That happens in South Australia. They hardly move out of it. They have an office there and they never get away from the Town Hall clock. That is why we believe and why we will always emphasise that there should not be a greater tolerance than 10 per cent. As I said earlier, the Labor Party believes in the philosophy that members of Parliament represent people; they do not represent livestock, trees and acres.
– Honourable senators who have spoken in this debate have made some very interesting comments. I refer in particular to the speeches made by Senator Colston and Senator McLaren. Their contributions will be interesting to study. Honourable senators on this side of the chamber will no doubt be interested to read their arguments as to why there should not be a disparity from a particular quota. The Government is unable to accept the Opposition’s amendment. It takes this position for a number of reasons. It believes that in an area such as the Northern Territory there must be a disparity of at least onefifth from a quota.
I do not think that any better argument could have been put forward than that put forward by Senator Colston. The Government does not believe that this is a case of one vote one value which, of course, is an old catchcry that nobody really believes and nobody knows what it means. Senator Colston put it very well when he said that what we are looking for is at least some equality in representation. He put it very clearly when he said that people who are well removed from the clustered city areas are not, even under the present federal electoral system, able to achieve electoral equality. That is what we arc looking for- equality of representation.
Senator McLaren said that everybody pays taxes. Everyone pays to support the Parliament. However, the fellow far removed from the city does not get equal representation because he does not have the same access to his member. Indeed, the points made by Senator Colston in this connection are very true. Senator Kilgariff incorporated a table in Hansard giving details of electoral district areas. Senator McLaren based his argument on acres. I wish he would get up to date. Part of my responsibility as the Minister for Science is in the field of metrification. Instead of the honourable member saying that the Labor Party does not represent cows or acres I would like him to say that it does not represent cows or hectares. I want him to become a little more modern in his thinking.
Senator McLaren may have noted that the distribution set out in the table came about under the proposals of the Labor Party when it was in government. They specified in 1973, that their Distribution Commissioners should not consider percentages. The criteria to be followed by the Distribution Commissioners were set out in the Northern Territory (Administration) Act of 1910-1973 in section 4CE, titled ‘Matters to be considered in distribution’ as follows:
For the purpose of a proposed distribution of the Territory into Electoral Districts, the Distribution Committee shall give due consideration to-
distribution of population;
b ) com m unity or diiversity of innterest
means of communication; and
What they produced was what Senator Kilgariff has illustrated. If we look at the figures we note that the electorate of Tiwi, with 1,858 voters, had to compete- if that is the word- with, for instance, the electorate of Sanderson, with 2,927 voters, which represents a disparity greater than 50 per cent.
Regrettably, one finds the time of the Senate wasted by honourable senators opposite who say: ‘We need disparity of not 20 per cent but 10 per cent. ‘ The fact is that within this Committee there is no argument but that there should be a disparity. We do not agree that there should be equality of voting so far as numbers are concerned; that every electorate should have the same number of voters. No honourable senators opposite believes that, much as he might attempt to claim that he does. Honourable senators from both sides of the chamber agree that there should be a disparity. The only argument that remains is as to how great it should be. The Government believes that in the case of the Northern Territory it should be 20 per cent.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 14 to 21- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
– I move:
My amendment seeks to specify times for the sitting and proroguing of the Legislative Assembly. The clause contains no requirement that the Assembly meet regularly. There would be nothing to prevent its meeting in order to obtain Supply and then not meeting again until the next Supply period occurred. It would appear to be fairly logical to set down clear guidelines as to what ought to happen. It is not sufficient to leave it to the Administrator to say: ‘I think there ought to be a meeting of the Assembly now. Let us go ahead with it’. The amendment calls for the first session to be held 30 days after the return of the writ. That seems to be a reasonable proposition. We have also proposed what seems to be a long period of time- a maximum of 12 months- as the interval between sessions. Probably we were guided somewhat by the activities that have taken place in Queensland. Again, we put the proposition- and I do not want to belabour the argument- that it should not rest on the whim of the Administrator, or on his integrity. Obviously, it would be better to set guidelines and let them be followed. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
– The Government is unable to accept the amendment. I believe that the term Big Brother’ which was used by Senator Robertson earlier perhaps pervades his thinking on this issue. Clause 6 of the Bill provides for the
Administrator to call meetings of the Legislative Assembly as he sees fit. The Government believes that that is consistent with the philosophy behind the conferral of self-government for the Administrator of the Northern Territory to rely, by convention rather than by legislative requirement, on the advice of the Northern Territory Executive in regard to meetings of the Assembly. I think the distinction should be made that it will not be the Administrator who will make the decision: It will be done on the advice of the Executive.
– That is not covered. The Minister knows that. The Bill does not say that. It says that it shall be at the Administrator’s discretion. That is what we are trying to cover.
-That is the situation that normally applies within the States.
– The Minister for Science (Senator Webster) has sought to explain away the problem with which Senator Robertson’s amendment deals. Sub-clause (2) of clause 22 provides:
At the request of such number of members of the Legislative Assembly as is prescribed by enactment . . .
We are concerned that the legislation does not call for meetings to be held at any set times. As Senator Robertson has pointed out, the Opposition is afraid that there might be a repetition of what took place in Queensland, where one party with a large number of members in the Parliament as a result of a gerrymander can refrain from sitting and the people can do nothing about it. There is no way in which they can prevent that from happening. The amendment would compel the calling together of the Legislative Assembly after a certain lapse of time. It would ensure that a period of not more than 12 months shall intervene between the end of one session and the first sitting of the next. We could be faced with the possibility in the Northern Territory, now that the Government is to extend the life of the Assembly from three years to four years that there could be a period of two years in which there would not be a session of parliament. We could have government by regulation instead of government by legislation. The amendment submitted by the Opposition, through its spokesman Senator Robertson is designed to guard against that and to ensure that the people of the Northern Territory will be able to have their say through their elected members.
Senator WEBSTER (Victoria)-Minister for Science) (8.36)- The Government believes there is no sound reason why it should amend the Bill, and cannot accept the amendment. Senator
McLaren’s remarks are very disparaging of the present members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I would have confidence that even those members there who represent the Australian Labor Party, if there were great delay in calling the parliament together, would see to it that attention was drawn to that fact. Senator McLaren does not seem to think that they would be competent to do that. In my opinion, any member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly who was worth his salt would see that that was done.
– The Minister has claimed that my remarks were disparaging to the members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. That is not so. He said that if the Legislative Assembly did not meet the members of the Opposition would soon call the attention of the people to that fact, but what good would that do? The people of Queensland have called to the attention of the electors to many things. What good does it do if one has not the numbers in the House and if the Premier does not want parliament to sit? What can the public do? We are trying to guard against that. The amendment will ensure that the rights of the people of the Northern Territory will be protected. As the Bill stands, no protection at all is afforded them.
– I am quite sure that if Senator McLaren believed what he has just said we would see a lot less of him in this place.
Clause agreed to.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 23 to 32- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
I draw attention to sub-clause (5) which states:
Meetings of the Council shall be convened by the Administrator and not otherwise.
I wish to follow up what was said by the Minister when last speaking to clause 22. It appears that we have to make it quite clear that nothing that has been said about the Administrator or about members of the Legislative Assembly relates to the present incumbents of those positions. I thought we had made that clear earlier. What we are trying to do is establish principles so that the Northern Territory will have the best constitution we can achieve for it, and in our amendment to this is what we are attempting to do. We are attempting to provide that instead of the Administrator making his own decision- despite what the Minister has said, that is what the Bill implies- he should convene a meeting of the Council only if the Legislative Assembly requests. We know that there are conventions bur conventions have been broken in the past.
I will not accept the proposition that because this was done for the States the Northern Territory should follow the example set. That is a poor reason to put forward for doing it and it is not worthy of the Minister. In what we are trying to do for the Northern Territory in its unique situation we should learn from the mistakes of the past. If it has been a mistake to have done this in the past, let us do something different for the future. But this is where the Northern Territory seems to be missing out because we appear to be saying simply: ‘Let us duplicate what has been done elsewhere and that will be OK for the Territory’. Senator Kilgariff and I, and many others, have said, not in this place but outside, that when we have a Northern Territory Public Service let us make sure that we learn from the past and do not duplicate all the mistakes of the past; and if we are to have an education authority in the Northern Territory let us have a unique education authority and not simply follow what has been done everwhere else. When I was working with the Department of Education and was responsible for setting up a new section I spoke to my colleagues in the various States about it and they said: ‘You are lucky, you can learn from our mistakes. We cannot change because we are so established, but you can start with sound principles’.
That is all that the Opposition is trying to put to the Minister now, but I do not think he is getting the point that we are making. Our comments are not a criticism of the Bill as it stands. We are trying to put forward a few ideas which might be considered by the Minister so that we will have in the Northern Territory the best possible set of conditions as we move forward to selfgovernment. The Opposition maintains that it is not democratic for meetings of the Council to be called only by the Minister, and clearly in the Bill that is his responsibility. Obviously the Council should meet when the Assembly requires it to meet and when the Assembly directs the Administrator to call it to meet. Ours is a simple amendment to put into the Bill the requirement, rather than leave the situation to convention which, of course, sometimes fails. I commend the amendment.
– The Government does not see the wisdom of the amendment which Senator Robertson has moved. His proposal is that the Administrator shall convene a meeting of the Executive Council if the Legislative Assembly, by resolution, so requests. Whatever may be the idea behind the amendment, it in fact suggests that the Council will not meet other than at the request of the Legislative Assembly. The proposition that meetings of the Executive Council should be held only at the request of the Legislative Assembly is impracticable. Surely it is possiblein fact, very likely- that meetings of the Executive Council, as it is denned in this Bill, will be necessary when the Assembly is not meeting. For that reason the amendment is not acceptable.
– I would like to make one comment on the proposed amendment which reads:
The Administrator shall convene a meeting of the Council if the Legislative Assembly, by resolution, so requests.
After 1 July the Northern Territory will be moving into responsible government under the Northern Territory Executive. It is not the role of the Legislative Assembly to ask the Administrator to convene the Executive Council; the Administrator will convene meetings of the Council. This means of course, as we are talking about the Executive Council, that meetings of the Council will be held at the request of the Majority Leader. It has absolutely nothing to do with the parliamentary role of the Legislative Assembly. We are talking about executive government and the Council will be convened by the Administrator at the request of the Majority Leader.
– I thank the Minister for his political instruction. Although it helps it does not change my philosophy on this matter. I believe that having the Executive Council called only when the Administrator says so is not right and my belief has been reinforced. It has been made clear by Senator Kilgariff that the meetings of the Executive Council will be at the request of the Majority Leader through the Administrator. The point I am trying to make is that there ought to be machinery for this procedure and I think the Minister sees this. There ought to be provision for the Executive Council to come together but what we are trying to do is take this responsibility away from the Administrator and give it to the elected Assembly. If the Council can say when it should come together we certainly would accept that proposition. I want the responsibility moved away from the Administrator who under this legislation has the power to say that the Executive Council will meet only when he says so and, in the words of the Bill, ‘ not otherwise ‘.
– In view of the contribution by Senator Kilgariff I am more concerned than ever. He said that all the Majority Leader had to do was call upon the Administrator to call a meeting of the Executive Council. As Senator Robertson said, the Opposition is passing no reflection upon the present Administrator but the Federal Parliament has experienced the exercise of power by the Federal Administrator, the GovernorGeneral and the Administrator in the Northern Territory will be acting in exactly the same capacity as the Governor-General. When certain requests were made by the majority leader of the Federal Government to the previous Administrator of the Commonwealth, the former Governor-General, he did not accede to them, not even after a vote of confidence in the then Government was taken in the Parliament. He ignored them and we are afraid that the same thing could happen in the Northern Territory if there are no safeguards embodied in the legislation. If there are not, everyone will have the fear that we could go through the same exercise as we went through on 1 1 November 1975. As Senator Robertson has pointed out, those three words in sub-clause (5) cause us great fear. I will read the whole sub-section. It reads:
Meetings of the Council shall be convened by the Administrator and not otherwise.
Getting back to what Senator Kilgariff said, that the Majority Leader can ask the Administrator to call a meeting of the Executive Council, but what happens if the Administrator refuses? What happens if you have an Administrator with the same political leanings as the previous GovernorGeneral and who, for political purposes, would not convene the Council? If we face that problem how will we overcome it? We will certainly not overcome it in this legislation because the provisions are wide open to let the Administrator of the Northern Territory- I am not talking about the present Administrator, but some Administrator in the future- do exactly the same thing as the previous Governor-General and forget all about conventions.
Clause agreed to.
There shall be such number of offices of Minister of the Territory, having such respective designations, as the Administrator from time to time determines.
– I move:
Quite clearly we are rehashing the arguments which have been put forward throughout the debate. The Bill clearly says that the Administrator will have the responsibility in this matter. I accept the comments which have come from the other side that the Administrator will be guided, but there is nothing in the Bill that says he will be guided. This is what the Opposition is trying to get into the Bill. We are trying to get into the Bill a provision which will ensure that the sorts of things that Senator McLaren talked about cannot happen. Obviously it is the responsibility of the majority party to say how many Ministers it wants. It can pass on the information to the Administrator. If he takes the advice everything will be OK. But we must prepare for the situation in which some Administrators might not take the advice. Of course, as has been pointed out, Administrators have not always been responsive. There have been interesting times in our history when they did not respond. I appreciate that there is a different situation at the present time, but as Senator McLaren has pointed out, Governors-General have not always taken advice either.
Surely it is better to have the responsibility with the majority party; in other words, back with the elected representatives. This is the point that I am perhaps pushing to a boring degree, but I have to make it over and over because it is not sinking in. If it is simply a traditional way of saying this, why bother? Why bother simply to have a traditional way of saying things? Why not have in the Bill a provision that the Majority Leader will designate, or whatever provision we want? But we want to keep responsibility away from the appointed Administrator. I repeat what
I said earlier: There is a unique opportunity to be different. We can learn from others. I think that in this as well as in other instances we could have learned from the history of the last few years. It could have assisted us in making a decision on the number of Ministers. I commend the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 35 agreed to.
The Administrator may appoint a member of the Legislative Assembly to a Ministerial office, and may, at any time, terminate the appointment.
– I move:
Very briefly, the appointment of Ministers is dealt with in this clause. We simply have to say again that this clause gives the responsibility to the Administrator. Surely this is the prerogative of the senior officer of the elected group, whether it is the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary or the Majority Leader- whatever term is used. It is not the responsibility of the political appointment to the position of Administrator. In order to avoid possible problems in the future should the Administrator fall out with a Minister and sack him on the spot, which the Bill says he can do, appointments should be made with the approval of the Legislative Assembly. If it is a formality of appointment- and I make the statement that I made in respect of the previous clause- let us change the wording. There is no need to stick with the wording. Here is an opportunity for change. We should let the Assembly have the control over appointments and be seen to have the control. Let it be seen to have the control as a safeguard against the unwitting powers of the Administrator. I commend the amendment.
– Again the Government is unable to accept the amendment. Basically I think it can be seen that there is a difference in the philosophical approach being put by the Australian Labor Party and that which has been adopted by the Government in this instance. We believe that the basis that we have set forth is the proper one for the Territory as it starts its new life.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of the Bill- by leave- taken as a whole and agreed to.
Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Amendment Bill 1978
– I rise to ask only one question. The Minister for Science in reply to the second reading debate failed to give me an answer to the question I asked about controls over the islands. I had referred to encroachment by foreign fishermen.
– The situation is, as was explained to us this afternoon by several speakers, that the Ashmore and Cartier Islands were annexed to and became pan of the Northern Territory. The Bill proposes to remove them from the Northern Territory. The question one must ask as a result of the second reading speech by the Minister for Science is: Why is it inappropriate for the Ashmore and Cartier Islands not to remain with the Northern Territory? Why cannot they remain annexed to the Territory after 1 July? Why should the islands not be part of the Northern Territory instead of, as was put in the Minister’s speech, part of the internal mainland territory?
We raise this question, as I indicated in my speech during the second reading debate, simply to draw attention to the lack of consultation with the people of the Northern Territory and the lack of consultation by the Federal Government with the Legislative Assembly on this matter. I was heartened to hear Senator Chaney speak as he did in the debate earlier tonight. I will not canvass the arguments again but I just put the point that both parties in the Northern Territory object to this amending Bill, and it seems strange that the Government is just going ahead regardless of the views of the people of the Northern Territory. I do not want to stress the financial implications. I do not think they are the important ones. The important issue is the arbitrary action of the Federal Government- almost cavalier, one could say- and this is resented by the people of the Northern Territory. The point that I make is that it seems a very insecure foundation on which to start building if we are going to disregard totally the people of the Northern Territory by not consulting with them and take this action hoping that at a later stage the Territory will cooperate in all matters.
– I respond to the comments from the two Opposition senators. I think that the comments by Senator Robertson must be answered. In fact, the Ashmore and Carrier Islands have never been a part of the Northern Territory. When the honourable senator says that they should be, he is putting a proposition to which the Federal Government has not agreed. The islands have been a part of Commonwealth Government territory and they will remain so. The Northern Territory may wish to have those islands added to the Territory but they are certainly not part of the Territory at the present time. In relation to Senator Mulvihill ‘s query, the Ashmore and Carrier Islands will be treated as internal Commonwealth Territory. Commonwealth legislation and other legislation apply to the Territory of the Ashmore and Carrier Islands at present will continue to apply.
Bill agreed to.
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1978
– If there were sufficient time the Opposition would move amendments to this Bill. I understand that the Government has pressing problems so I will not introduce amendments at this stage, but 1 would like to comment if I may. Firstly, the amendments that we would have moved would have been identical to those that were moved to the first amending Bill earlier this year. They would have carried forward the same philosophy as was contained in our amendments to the first amending Bill. The Committee and the Minister for Science will recall that the amendments dealt with the matter of secrecy and the matter of proclamations being laid on the table. The stand which the Opposition took at that time was consistent with the stand that we took in 1 976, and of course it was consistent with Australian Labor Party policy.
The amendments were moved in the other place and I draw those to the attention of the Minister. There was a full debate. The Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) was present in the House of Representatives and he took part in the debate. He would have listened to the amendments. The purpose of the amendments was hopefully to strengthen the Act.
I have spoken in this place on land rights on many occasions and I will not speak on that subject at length tonight. 1 merely draw attention to the fact that care is needed in this area. It is at the very heart of Aboriginal culture. I am sure that the Minister in this place who represents the Minister for the Northern Territory understands this. I ask him to relay to his colleague in the other place the fact that we on the Opposition side in this chamber support and endorse the amendments that the Opposition moved in the other place, and we would ask that they be taken on board and, as they were not accepted in the other place, perhaps considered in future planning for the Northern Territory.
– Just a brief word on the matter. The situation now of course is that following the transfer of powers all lands will be transferred from the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory. The lands having been transferred to the Northern Territory can, under Aboriginal land claims, be acquired under the Federal Act without any compensation to the Northern Territory. The situation can be taken a step further. It may be necessary for the Northern Territory if not to acquire, at least to lease, land which has become Aboriginal land under the Federal Act. The Northern Territory, under the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, will have to pay a lease fee for the land. The situation could arise where land which has been made over to the Northern Territory could be acquired by the Commonwealth Government without compensation. If an Aboriginal land claim were successful the land would then be covered under the Federal Act. If the Territory is to have use of that land, which is understandable in certain circumstances, it will have to pay a lease fee. I think an illustration has already been given in the other House concerning the Borroloola police station. I think there is an anomaly. I would like to see the Government reexamine the situation. If the Territory has to use land which is acquired under a Federal Act it has to pay money for it. I see no reason why the Federal Government, if it wishes to acquire land under a Federal Act, should not pay compensation to the Northern Territory government.
– I note the comments of Senator Kilgariff. I will certainly draw them to the attention of the Minister. I think it is appropriate to thank Senator Robertson for the courtesy he extended, in the interests of getting these Bills through, in not pressing the amendments that he may have had in hand. We acknowledge the amendments that were moved in the other House. Undoubtedly they will be given attention by the appropriate Minister. I thank honourable senators for the speedy passage of these Bills.
Bill agreed to.
Bills reported without amendment, report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Webster) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a third time.
– I will not take up too much of the Senate ‘s time. I put on record the fact that the Opposition has put up nine amendments, none of which have been accepted by the Government. During the course of the second reading debate Senator Chaney criticised the legislation and said that it should be referred to a select committee. He said that amendments ought to be made to the legislation during the Budget Session. He also said that the Bills give to the Northern Territory powers wider than the powers which the States have. I wanted that placed on record. It is obvious that the legislation will not be referred to a select committee, as Senator Chaney suggested, because he did not move for such referral. I hope, when we come back in the Budget Session, that the Government will take heed of what Senator Chaney said and bring in the necessary amendments and make the Bills worthwhile.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a third time.
Debate resumed from 1 1 May, on motion by Senator Webster:
That the Bills be now read a first time.
– I speak on two matters at the first reading stage of these Bills. The first concerns the stringent application of section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act and the addition to taxable income of imputed rent in situations where subcommercial rent is paid by employees of companies and of governments. The stringent application of this section has relevance in virtually all parts of Australia. It has become apparent recently that it is to be applied to farmhouses, including those occupied by owners.
The aspect on which I want to speak tonight relates in particular to the Pilbara area of Western Australia. It is clear that to maintain the same after-tax income many workers in the Pilbara currently occupying company houses and in some instances government houses will need pay increases of up to $20 a week because of the imputation as income of the sub-commercial rent or the difference between the rent actually being paid and the assessed commercial rent for housing. For example, where the commercial rent is assessed at $50 a week for a house and the actual rent being paid is $ 10 a week. $40 a week will be notionally added to the occupant’s taxable income. The extra tax on that $40 a week is likely to be just over $ 1 3 a week or about $690 a year.
It will therefore be more difficult to attract labour into this area. It is likely that there will be a higher turnover of labour. One can almost certainly anticipate an increase in the number of industrial disputes as workers endeavour to maintain the same level of after tax income by extracting from their employers higher wages. It is likely that that result would occur at any time. The situation is particularly viable for this consequence now because incomes in the Pilbara region for those associated with mining are already falling regardless of any adjustments to the taxation system. Because of cutbacks of orders from Japan principally and to a lesser extent from other markets overtime has been almost eliminated.
A succession of Liberal-Country Party politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland, despite a great deal of publicity and some extravagant pre-trip claims, have failed to secure any additional orders from Japan for minerals and coal. The actual deliveries of iron ore, coal and many other minerals will be reduced. Consequently, overtime has been almost eliminated, and gross incomes will fall by about 25 per cent. Net incomes, as a result of the application of section 26E, will fall more. At a time when there will be widespread dissatisfaction in the remote mining areas of Australia about falling incomes, the Government evidently proposes to exacerbate that potentially disruptive industrial situation by rigidly applying section 26E.
The Government has told us nothing about its intentions with regard to other non-income perks that are paid to various executives which are not called income, such as free holidays, either free or concessional health cover and membership of clubs. Indeed, a couple of weeks ago the Treasurer (Mr Howard) dodged a specific question on this matter in relation to occupancy by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of the Lodge. He was asked whether a commercial rental for that building would be added to the Prime Minister’s income. This situation demonstrates that in this matter, as in many others, double standards seem to prevail. It seems particularly ironic that this provision should be applied rigidly in the Pilbara area, one of the more remote and unpleasant parts of Australia in which to live. Many of the residents do not even have the benefit of sealed roads. Perhaps it is not surprising that some of those people have resigned from the Liberal Party. I understand that at Tom Price the entire membership of the local branch of the Liberal Party has resigned from the Party.
I am informed that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie, Mr Cotter, has complained to Mr Duckmanton, the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, over a recent ABC news report. It was stated by the ABC in respect of this matter that the member for Kalgoorlie had expressed an attitude which was unsympathetic to the claims being made by his electors; that is, the people in the Pilbara and in other parts of the Kalgoorlie electorate. It is surprising that Mr Cotter should have lodged such a complaint with the ABC in view of a letter on this matter which was dispatched from his office on 20 April 1 978, to a constituent of his at Dampier which is an iron ore port in Western Australia. The letter is headed: ‘Tax on Rent Subsidy’. I shall not read the whole letter because it is fairly long but I shall quote the most pertinent sections of it. In answer to a complaint from this constituent Mr Cotter wrote:
I find completely unacceptable the proposition that a small section of the people in the Pilbara area of my electorate should be subsidised by the taxpayers in other parts of my electorate.
The point Mr Cotter was making was that if some people in the Pilbara were getting accommodation at a rental of, say, $10 a week and other people in his electorate somewhere else were paying $30 a week for the same standard of housing then, in effect, those’ employees who paid $10 a week for houses were receiving an extra $20 a week as non-taxable income. Therefore Mr Cotter claimed that they were being subsidised by taxpayers in other parts of his electorate. In response to the complaint about high living costs in the Pilbara generally he continued:
Incidentally, I am informed that the results of an independent inquiry into the cost of living in the Pilbara area is approximately 8 per cent less than living in the Perth metropolitan area. At the same time the average income in the Pilbara is much higher.
I am not aware of the source upon which that assertion is based or what survey it is taken from. I am also not aware of whether the low rentals, which are common if not prevalent in the Pilbara, were a component of the alleged low cost of living in the region. However, I note that Senator Carrick, in response to a recent question in the Senate, repeated the assertion that living costs in the region were lower than in metropolitan areas. Mr Cotter’s letter continued:
I fully realise the hardships and diffiulties of living in the Pilbara having spent some years living and working in the Pilbara and Upper Gascoyne under the harshest conditions imaginable -
That is, living there himself- but I cannot support the continued tax free subsidies to these areas at the expense of the taxpayers in other and sometimes more remote and disadvantaged areas.
That was the view which Mr Cotter expressed in that letter to a constitutent. Whatever the merits of this case may be I think there is room for general agreement that probably it is, to say the least, incongruous that Mr Cotter, having dispatched a letter such as that, should have the audacity to complain to the Australian Broadcasting Commission on the ground that the ABC depicted him as being unsympathetic to the complaints of people in his electorate. I think Mr Cotter’s own pen shows that he was, to say the least, unsympathetic.
Another matter I wish to raise concerns a question asked in the House of Representatives on 6 June by the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Short) in which he complained about a statement- although I was not named it is absolutely clear that I am the person referred tomade in the Senate the previous week about Sir William Vines who is, I think, still the chairman of the Dalgety company. He has more recently been in the news because he has been designated as the director of the Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Trust. Mr Short complained when addressing his question to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) that the statements I had made about Sir William Vines were cowardly and untrue and that they constituted a vicious attack. The Speaker interrupted and said that the question was out of order but because of the nature of the question he would permit an answer to be given by the Acting Prime Minister. Some people might think it is a rather extraordinary comment for the Speaker to say that a question is out of order but that he will allow it to be answered. But that is not the point 1 want to take up. Mr Anthony then answered and said how terrible it was that anyone should misuse parliamentary privilege to make allegations about an outstanding Australian, et cetera. He concluded by saying:
All I can say to people who want to sling off and make remarks about Sir William Vines is that many Australians will rise to defend him. I am one of those people.
I note that the only two Australians who have risen to defend Sir William Vines are Mr Anthony and Mr Short. That is not the matter I want to pursue in this debate either. I return to the substance of the allegations I made about Sir William Vines. It concerns a particularly fraudulent rationale which was foisted on the wool industry in the late 1960s initially by the International Wool Secretariat of which Sir William Vines was then the Director, later by the Australian Wool Industry Conference and ultimately by the then Liberal and Country Party Government. In an attempt to justify the export of Australian merino rams- a trade to which I personally am not opposed, but for different reasonssome astounding propositions were put forward. I read from the AWIC document which was derived from the IWS. It states:
If present trends continue wool will become a minor raw material no longer able to influence the stability of the wool textile industry. It is in Australia’s interests to see that the likely increase in demand for wool, through increasing world population and rising living standards, is met.
It appears from those words that wool should supply a particular percentage of the world ‘s textile market is more important than the price which is received for the wool, regardless of the percentage. The document continued:
Lifting the embargo -
That is the embargo upon the export of fertile merinos- is unlikely to influence the price of apparel wool because any increase in production achieved through this action would be gradual.
That is probably true. The document continued:
In the long term, however, ability to hold wool’s price would be assisted by increased availability of supplies.
What was being postulated there was that if more wool were put on the market it would fetch higher prices. That is an extraordinary proposition to say the least and one which, if it were valid, would constitute an unanswerable case for abolishing the reserve or floor price scheme, which seeks to extract a higher price from the market by quantitatively restricting supply. But the key to the whole argument is found in the next part of the document which states:
While demand influences price, the supply/demand relationships for wool as an international commodity are not highly elastic. Short supply does not necessarily mean high price, just as adequate supply docs not necessarily mean low price.
That proposition stands truth on its head. By definition, inelastic supply means that moderate changes in the quantity supplied will induce substantial changes in prices received. If William J. Vines will repudiate publicly that spurious and fraudulent argument and explain why he failed to do so when he was the Director of the International Wool Secretariat, I will withdraw my comments about him and I will apologise for them. But until then, the charge stands. I repeat: It is most appropriate that a fraud and a charlatan such as William J. Vines should be chosen by the -
– Order! I must indicate to honourable senators that, whilst no Standing Order prevents derogatory references being made to a person outside this place, this matter should be left to the good judgment of honourable senators. It is not nice to hear this sort of attack on a person who is not able to reply to it in this place. I make that observation.
– I repeat that if Mr Vines cares to repudiate this fraudulent argument and explain why he did not do it when it was most relevant, I will withdraw my remarks and apologise for them. Until then I think it is appropriate that he should be chosen by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to be Director of the Robert Menzies Trust. I think it is equally appropriate that Mr Vines should be defended -
– I rise to a point of order. Senator Walsh appears to be reading his speech. I ask you, Mr President, whether we can seek an assurance from him that he is not reading his speech.
– I should like to speak to the point of order. No one in this place is less likely to read his speech than Senator Walsh. If he just happens to be looking down at the desk that is merely accidental.
– He should hang his head in shame for what he is saying.
– If honourable senators opposite want to provoke the debate at this hour they are going the right way about it. If they do not agree with what Senator Walsh is saying then they should take it in silence. That is my advice u> them. He is certainly not reading his speech. I am not going to–
– Let him tell us that he is not reading his speech. That is all I want.
– If Senator Peter Baume is setting the standard for what we will be doing now and right through tomorrow, by all means let him question a person’s right to read a speech when we might find ourselves in a tight situation, endeavouring to get the debate through as quickly as possible. I read a speech yesterday, lt was not my speech. I was making it on behalf of someone else. 1 do not think it was a very good speech but nevertheless I did my best. There were 23 pages of it. I stopped reading it at page 17 and said what I had to say from then on. Senator Walsh would be the last person to read his speech. He is not reading his speech now and the point of order is not justified.
– I call on Senator Walsh to continue his speech. As I see the situation, Senator Baume, Senator Walsh certainly was quoting extensively. It does not appear as though he is reading a speech prepared for presentation. That is my assessment of the situation. I point out that speeches must not be read in this place, according to the Standing Orders. I call on Senator Walsh to continue his remarks.
– It is equally appropriate that a man such as William J. Vines should be defended by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) at the instigation of the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Short), a man whose pipeline into this country’s corrupt establishment is so efficient that he left his Treasury position on the highly significant date of 6 November 1 975.
– I had no intention of speaking on the first reading of this Bill but Senator Walsh’s comments invite some response. The first response I make is that I am advised that Mr Vines is out of the country and, therefore, is not really in a position to respond to the challenge which has been issued by the honourable senator opposite. We are all used to the sorts of attacks that are made on people by Senator Walsh. Few of us now pay much heed to them. I think that he should wait until Mr Vines is in Australia before carrying on in the manner in which he has tonight. I found it rather offensive to listen to an exponent of cold economic logic, such as Sentor Walsh, who has so often lectured us on the logic of tariffs, the whole question of economic policy and how one must apply sense to these matters, play party politics on the question of section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
I ask Senator Walsh whether he believes that payments which are made to workers, to executives or others, in kind rather than in money, should be exempt from income tax. Does he believe, for example, that company executives who get expensive seaside residences thrown in as part of their remuneration should escape taxation in that respect? Does he believe that there should be one law for those who receive their salaries in cash and a different law for those who receive their salaries in kind? It seems to me that that is the proposition Senator Walsh is putting forward. I would think that the workers of this country, whom I believe you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and Senator Walsh purport to represent, would have said that all men should be taxed equally and fairly whether they receive their salaries in cash or in kind. The real irony of the situation to which Senator Walsh referred is this: In the last month or two Mr Peter Cooke, the Chairman of the Trades and Labour Council in Western Australia–
– The Secretary.
– I thank Senator Walsh. Mr Peter Cooke, the Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council in Western Australia, has gone around whipping up a great deal of emotion about the possibility that workers in the Pilbara will be taxed on the non-cash benefits that they receive as part of their remuneration. What a dreadful thing! What an anti-worker thing to happen! I think their logic is rather poor. Of course, the politics of the situation are quite obvious. I will be attending several mass meetings in the Pilbara this weekend, in company with Mr Cotter, organised by good old Mr Peter Cooke. Mr Peter Cooke will be attending. No doubt those workers will come along and ask why they should have to pay tax on the benefits that they receive from their employers. Before Senator Walsh leaves the chamber, let me tell him that the Taxation Office has advised me that no investigation into this matter was under way but because such a fuss has been made about it, it has no option but to put the matter under the microscope. In fact, thanks to Mr Peter Cooke and thanks to Senator Walsh, the workers of the Pilbara will now have their non-cash benefits subject to scrutiny. They can thank Mr Peter Cooke and Senator Peter Walsh if their tax burden is thus increased.
There is a great amount of irony in the present situation because the majority of electors in the Pilbara- I am sure you will be interested in the Pilbara, Mr Acting Deputy President- are trade unionists. Those trade unionist electors have seen through the sham that is offered by people like Senator Peter Walsh and Mr Peter Cooke. They consistently return a Liberal State member of Parliament and they consistently vote for Liberal senators and for a Liberal member of the House of Representatives. They are now being taken for a glorious ride by Senator Peter Walsh and Mr Peter Cooke. As a result of their politicking in this field I can give them the assurance that the Commissioner of Taxation will be examining the position in the Pilbara. If the workers of the Pilbara have an increased tax imposed on them in the 1979-80 year then I think they can thank Mr Peter Cooke and Senator Peter Walsh for that impost.
I believe that the benefits received by workers in the Pilbara or anywhere else- in the form of concessional rentals, the use of motor vehicles, entertainment allowances and so on- should be subject to assessment in the same way as the cash benefits which are received by workers in other occupations are assessed. Mr Acting Deputy President, I would be very surprised if you did not agree with that principle. At the moment we have Labor politicians playing petty politics, whipping up emotions because in that area, which is an area of a substantial trade union majority, they cannot get the votes. So they are indulging in this little exercise, which I believe will be quite futile, to get votes. I say to the Senate that when I go up to the Pilbara next weekend I will speak as directly to those trade unionists as I am speaking to the Senate now. There is no reason for those trade unionists to get any exceptional treatment, any treatment over and above that afforded to any Australian citizen. I believe that the trade unionists in the Pilbara will accept that, as they have accepted the benefits of being represented by Liberals for many years.
– Before I speak about the matter for which I put my name down to speak, I should like to make a couple of remarks on what Senator Chaney has said. He accused Labor politicians of playing petty politics. I am sorry that he is now leaving the chamber. I wanted to tell him that we witness the playing of petty politics every day in this chamber by South Australian Liberal senators, as we witness it in South Australia. They try to convince the people of South Australia that industry is leaving the State and that no new industry will come to South Australia. If that is not playing petty politics, I do not know what is. Either yesterday or today we heard Senator Scott saying in this chamber that we should not indulge in that sort of thing. Yet the people who sit on the other side of the chamber with him do so every day in this place. Now we hear Senator Chaney saying that we should not engage in petty politics. It is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.
The matter I rose to speak about tonight is the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory to be built at Geelong. I have raised this matter in this chamber on quite a few occasions. Yesterday, when Senator Webster was answering a question about this Animal Health Laboratory I interjected and he retorted rather harshly. My interjection was: lt was initiated by the Whitlam Government. What are you talking about?
What did Senator Webster have to say? What were his first words? He said:
We hear comment from that crazy fowl farmer on the other side and it makes one wonder.
I heard those remarks and I did not take any objection to them because Senator Webster makes such remarks all the time. But when he made them, the thought crossed my mind that he had coined the phrase from an article by Mungo McCallum in the Nation Review. He is always referring to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) as ‘the crazy grazier’. That probably disturbed Senator Webster so he has tried to tag that phrase on me. But as I have told him on many occasions, I have not been a poultry farmer since January 1971- almost eight years ago. 1 have not had a fowl on my place since then. However, it appears that I have to remind Senator Webster of that fact. He went on to say:
The fact is that the Whitlam Government was not able to get this project off the ground. It is a fact that the Fraser-Anthony Government has got the project off the ground and it is going ahead at the present time. Opposition senators are highly excited because when they were in office they were unable to secure the funds to commence this most important primary industry project.
Why were we not able to procure funds? I shall refer later to a Press statement put out by the Labor Government in April 1974 that we were going to construct this laboratory. But of course we were bludgeoned into having an election. We were told that if we did not go to the people in 1974 there would be no money because the then Opposition would chop off Supply. Of course wc had to go to the people and we were not able to carry on funding that project. But Senator Webster continued:
We can tell from the interjections how annoyed Senator McLaren is because his Party was not able to start the project when it was in office, and I know how he felt.
That is one thing on which I will agree with Senator Webster. I was terribly annoyed that we were not able to get on with the project. I was terribly annoyed with the way in which the then Opposition behaved in this Parliament when we were elected to govern this country, because they put every obstacle in our way and prevented u.s from doing so. Senator Webster went on to say:
He felt terribly annoyed and he is still annoyed.
Of course I am still annoyed. Later he said:
The Laboratory will help all areas of industry, including the poultry industry-
I still have a lot of sympathy for the poultry industry and I work to see that people in the industry can carry on in a viable way and make ;i reasonable living. Senator Webster went on to say:
Of course the Labor Party agrees with that. That is why in 1974 the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, put out a Press statement to the effect that the Animal Health Laboratory would be constructed. That Press statement was incorporated in Hansard, but for anyone who cares to read it in full it is recorded at page 506 of the Senate Hansard of 24 August 1977. For the purpose of my remarks tonight I shall quote part of it again. Press statement No. 209 put out by Mr Whitlam on 2 April 1 974 said in part:
The Australian Government has approved a project to provide major protection for the Australian livestock industry.
It has decided to build a laboratory complex, to be called the Animal Health Laboratory, at Geelong, Victoria.
At the time that Press statement was released, a series of photographs of the site were taken. So that there will be no misunderstanding on the part of honourable senators as to where the site was, I hold up one of those photographs. The Press release continued:
The capital cost of the complex is expected to be $56m. This spending will begin in 1976-77 and will be spread over five years.
Of course if we had not been obstructed in our task in this Parliament when we first made the announcement in 1974, the project would have been commenced in 1976-77. It is now 1978 so it would have been well under way and would have been in operation by 1981. But Senator Webster was one of those who took great pleasure in seeing that we could not find the money. But what did Senator Webster say to me in answer to a question I asked on 15 March 1 977? The question reads:
I address my question to the Minister for Science. I refer to an announcement made on 2 April 1974 by the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, to the effect that the Government had allocated $S7m to construct an animal health laboratory at Geelong in Victoria on land owned by the Government. Was construction of this laboratory commenced last year, as scheduled under the Whitlam Government? If construction has not commenced, can the Minister say what is being done in the interim to safeguard Australian animal health by way of testing and treatment of exotic diseases? Finally, when can it be expected that construction of the laboratory will commence if it has not already commenced?
Senator Webster’s answer was:
The interests of this animal health laboratory are such that its construction comes within the responsibility of the Minister for Primary Industry. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will actually manage the laboratory when it is built. The honourable senator has a keen interest in this matter and I know that he and Victorian senators are anxious to see the secure laboratory built. I will attempt to obtain some information for the honourable senator during the day.
I referred to this matter again on 31 March and on 26 May 1977. 1 made a speech on 24 August in which I referred to a letter that I had received from Senator Webster in answer to the question I had asked. Senator Webster wrote to me on 23 March. I shall read that letter which appeared in the Hansard of 3 1 March. On 24 August I again had the letter incorporated in Hansard. I shall read it out again for Senator Webster’s information because obviously in his answer yesterday to a question about the construction of that National Animal Health Laboratory he overlooked the fact that it was not only the Labor Government that could not get funds. There were extraneous circumstances why we could not get them- we were prevented from getting them. But when we look at Senator Webster’s letter, we find that the present Government was not prevented from getting the money as we were by an obstructionist Opposition: It was this Government’s own decision not to go ahead with the project. Senator Webster said in his letter to me:
Dear Senator McLaren:
You will recall your question without notice on 15 March seeking information about the proposal to construct an animal health laboratory at Geelong, Victoria.
I now have additional information from the Minister for Primary Industry, who has the responsibility for construction of the laboratory.
He advises me as follows:
Construction of the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong was not commenced last year.
It has not yet commenced, as the project was deferred early in 1976 because of the need for the present Government to institute deliberate and careful restraints on all forms of expenditure. The position will be reviewed again this year. Existing arrangements with reference to laboratories overseas are being maintained to ensure that we have support if necessary to aiding in diagnosis of any introduced exotic animal disease.
That is the answer Senator Webster gave to me by letter on 23 March 1977. In his policy speech delivered on 26 November 1975 Mr Anthony said:
We will pursue the establishment of a Maximum Security Laboratory and Quarantine Station to guard the nation’s livestock.
Yet Senator Webster had the temerity to say in an answer in the Senate today that the Labor Government could not get the money. He tried to blame the Labor Government. As I said in my interjection, it was the Labor Government under Prime Minister Whitlam which initiated the construction of this Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong. Nobody can take that credit away from us. So it is of no use Senator Webster blaming the Labor Party for not going ahead with the construction of that vital laboratory which is needed in view of the fact that we are now faced with the fear of a bluetongue outbreak in this country. I will be visiting the Northern Territory next week after the Parliament goes into recess. I will be having a look at the research which is being carried out at Berrimah into the bluetongue disease.
It is of no use Senator Webster trying to make political capital out of the fact that we were not able to proceed with the construction of this laboratory, because it was his coalition friends who prevented us from building it. They forced us to an election in 1974. They forced us to an election again in 1975 by not passing the Supply Bills under which we could have financed the construction of this laboratory. Senator Webster then wrote to me and said that he had been informed by the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, that because of restrictions on capital spending construction of the laboratory had been delayed and that the Government was not going ahead with it. I am pleased that Senator Webster now says that construction has commenced. I hope that the Government proceeds with it very rapidly because it is sorely needed. I hope that once it is constructed the work which is carried out in the laboratory will help to provide some measure of safeguard to the primary industry of this great country so that we can prevent the outback of any exotic diseases in Australia.
– I will not comment on the words spoken by Senator McLaren. He has his views on these matters and we have listened to what he has had to say. In relation to the comments made by Senator Walsh, it is regrettable to most of us that we had to listen to the personal attacks that he makes on eminent Australians from time to time. The vicious words he uttered against Sir William Vines are certainly offensive to me. Not only are they offensive but also, coming from one who could not even be compared with the person he criticises, they have no weight. The Senate may be anxious to learn that Sir William Vines was not personally responsible for the preparation of the so-called White Paper on the merino embargo, which appears to be the source of the comment made by Senator Walsh. That document was prepared by the former Australian Wool Board in 1967 for the Australian Wool Industry Conference. At that time Sir William Vines was in London occupying the position of Managing Director of the International Wool Secretariat. Some of the material included in the paper was contributed by the IWS. Senator Walsh’s comments in relation to the part that Sir William Vines played are completely out of context.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave of the Senate to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Ilansard.
The speeches read as follows-
Wool Industry Amendment Bill 1978
The object of this Bill is to amend the Wool Industry Act 1972 so as to extend the statutory accounting provisions in respect of the floor price scheme for wool to include the 1978-79 season. When the floor price arrangement was introduced in September 1974, it was designed to operate for the 1974-75 season only. Accordingly, the financing and accounting provisions provided for in legislation at the time were restricted to operations in that season. These provisions consisted of two measures. First, the Wool Tax Acts were amended to impose a special 5 per cent levy on sales of wool by growers in 1974-75. The levy was intended to provide a reserve for meeting any losses that might arise out of the floor price arrangement. Secondly, the Wool Industry Act was amended to provide for the establishment of the Market Support Fund as a repository for the proceeds of the 5 per cent levy and also to lay down special accounting provisions for the reserve price operations. With subsequent decisions to continue the floor price scheme in 1975-76, 1976-77 and 1977-78, successive amendments were required to cover operations in those years.
Consequent upon the Government’s decision to extend the scheme to include the 1978-79 season, it is now necessary similarly to extend the coverage of the accounting provisions in the Wool Industry Act as well as to continue the special 5 per cent levy on wool sales for another year. The first of these steps is the purpose of this Bill, and involves merely an alteration of a specified termination date so as to include in the existing arrangements wool purchased by the Australian Wool Corporation under the floor price scheme up to 30 June 1979. The other legislative step required is amendment of the Wool Tax Acts to continue collection of the 5 per cent levy on wool sales during 1978-79. Bills to effect this amendment will be introduced immediately after the measure which is the subject of my speech.
In moving to extend the floor price scheme and the associated accounting arrangements and the 5 per cent levy on wool sales, the Government is acting with the concurrence of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. The Conference has proposed to the Government that these arrangements be continued as a feature of the marketing of Australian wool, with repayments of earlier levy contributions being made to growers at appropriate times. Growers would continue to contribute levy payments to maintain the Market Support Fund at a desired level. The repayments proposal has been developed only in outline form at this stage.
I shall be discussing the proposals with representatives of the Conference at an early date in the context of broader discussions on a range of wool marketing issues. If these discussions lead to the development of a suitable scheme under which repayments could be made to growers on an agreed basis, detailed records of levy payments will be required for the operation of the scheme. It is likely that any legislation to implement a repayments arrangement would contain compulsory provisions requiring woolselling brokers and other wool traders to maintain and make available records of levy payments made by individual growers. All brokers and wool merchants therefore would be very wise to maintain records of wool levy payments. I understand that most already do so.
I believe that the Government’s approach to the matters I have dealt with will meet with wide approval in the wool industry and in the community at large. In particular, the extension of the floor price arrangements will continue to provide the growers and users of wool with a base of stability from which they can plan and budget with confidence. Whilst the actual level of the floor price for next season will not be determined and announced until the current season ends, the Government has already decided that the floor price for 1 978-79 will not be less than the present level of 284 cents per kilogram clean, whole clip average. I commend the Bill.
Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos 1-5) 1978
These five Bills will amend the Wool Tax Acts (Nos. 1 to 5) 1964 so as to continue in force for another year the special levy of 5 per cent of the sale value of shorn wool which is collected in connection with the floor price scheme for wool. The levy was introduced at the inception of the scheme on 2 September 1974 to provide a fund for meeting any operating losses on the floor price scheme. Originally, both the scheme and the levy were to operate for one season only. Their operation was extended successively to the 1975-76, 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons and the present statutory provisions for the payment of the levy expire on 30 June 1978.
As already announced, it is now proposed that the floor price scheme for wool be extended further to operate during the 1 978-79 season and that the levy of 5 per cent be continued similarly. If there is to be no interruption in the collection of the levy, the statutory provisions under which the levy is imposed must be amended before 30 June. Revenue from this levy is credited to the Market Support Fund established by the Australian Wool Corporation.
For administrative convenience the special levy of 5 per cent is collected in conjunction with the 3 per cent levy that represents woolgrower contributions towards the financing of programmes of wool research and promotion and the administration of the marketing functions of the Australian N Wool Corporation. The present total levy of 8 per cent has been in force since August 1975.
All the five Wool Tax Bills are similar in their text, which simply extends the operation of the special 5 per cent levy until 30 June 1979. The Acts which they amend are also similar but each covers a different wool marketing channel. The need for five separate Acts arises from a constitutional requirement that laws imposing taxes should deal with one subject of taxation only. I commend the Bills.
– The purpose of the six Bills which are being debated concurrently is to sustain or to renew the 8 per cent levy on gross wool proceeds which has been struck for some years, and that is being done for two purposes. Three per cent of the 8 per cent levy is struck to fund or to fund partially research and promotion activity both within and outside Australia, and the remaining 5 per cent of the levy is to be paid into the Market Support Fund which has been used along with other funds to finance the stockpile of wool which the Australian Wool Corporation bought mostly in 1974-75 and which has gradually been run down since that time. However, I understand that the Corporation is still holding some 1.1 million bales or thereabouts in that stockpile. The Market Support Fund levy has been aggregating since it was first introduced in September 1974 and currently stands, I believe, at approximately $170m. That Fund will be the subject of an amendment which I shall move subsequently and about which there will be some further discussion.
I wish, first of all, to make a couple of comments about the research and promotion component of these Bills. The Government also supplements expenditure or the funds raised through this levy for research and promotion activities. I think one could quite reasonably cast some doubts or have some reservations about whether all the moneys raised by this levy have been expended wisely. We were assured by the International Wool Secretariat in the late 1 960s that the Secretariat’s promotion activities would create a quality image for fine merino wool- that is, merino wool with a low micron count, a low fibre diameter-and that because of this quality image which had been created for fine merino wool the price differential between fine merino wool and broader or stronger merino wool would increase. That has not happened, although the IWS in the late 1 960s made that the major criterion by which the success or otherwise of its promotion campaign could be measured. For that and other reasons, not the least of which is the spurious nonsense about the relationships between supply and price for wool to which I referred in the first reading debate, one is entitled to have considerable reservations about the astuteness of people who, at least in the past, have been managing the IWS research and promotion program- especially the promotion program.
For Senator Webster’s benefit I indicate that I am aware that the White Paper of the Australian Wool Board in 1967 was not written by Sir William Vines. I understand it was written by a scientist called Dr Moule, although I am not sure of that fact. My objections are directed not to the White Paper but to some of the points to which it refers when quoting from International Wool Secretariat material. The material from which I quoted was circulated by the Australian Wool Industry Conference. That material was cited by Professor Lloyd, who was Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Melbourne in 1970 and who I understand still holds that position. For a period he took a position in the Industries Assistance Commission. That material may be found in a book entitled Policy for Agriculture, published by the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Western Australia. I think it is to be found at page 89 of that book; I am not sure of that because I do not have the book with me. That material was cited by Professor Lloyd and criticised by him on precisely the same grounds on which I criticised it. He was equally scathing. He said that it displayed a remarkable ignorance of the process of price formation and an inability to tell the difference between a movement along an existing supply or demand curve and a movement of the curve itself. The arguments of the Australian Wool Industry Conference were derived from the International Wool Secretariat of which Sir William Vines was the director at that time. They are arguments with which he was aligned.
Turning to the Market Support Fund, the 5 per cent levy was first introduced by the Labor Government in 1974 in conjunction with the introduction for the first time of a firm seasonal reserve price, set at that time at 250 c a kilo for clean 21 micron wool. The yardstick for the reserve price is now fixed on average wool quality, not on a particular micron measurement as it was then. This without doubt was a major achievement- probably the major achievement of the Labor Government- in the agricultural area. It was a measure which had been long and fruitlessly sought by the industry. It was achieved finally by changing the Federal Government, after 20 years of Federal Government sloth and inertia in this area, after 20 years of Country Party impotence, indolence and/or incompetence. According to many members of the Country Party throughout that period the Country Party was, of course, always eager to introduce this measure but it was prevented from doing so, so they said, by the Liberal Party or sometimes by the Treasury, as if the Treasury were an autonomous institution not subjected to the directives of government. There are two possible conclusions that can be drawn from that claim. One is that it really was not so at all and that members of the Country Party were just shifting the blame on to the Liberal Party because they knew they were not carrying out the wishes of the people they purported to represent. The second conclusion is that they were impotent within the coalition Government and that they lacked the necessary competence to achieve this sort of reform.
Like many reforms, of course, that have been introduced by non-conservative governments, by non-inert governments, this one, thankfully, has been maintained by the present coalition Government. I expect it will continue to be maintained. After someone takes the initiative, conservative governments, although sometimes they reverse reforms, more often than not go along with them, as the present Government has done in this case. Indeed, to listen to some of the claims by spokesmen for this Government, one would think that the whole idea was a product of initiatives of the Liberal and National Country parties in the first place.
At the time this firm reserve price, which is partly financed by the Market Support Fund, was introduced the wool market was severely depressed. Within 12 months the Labor Government had committed more than $300m to the Market Support Fund or to the stockpile which was then being held and which had prevented what undoubtedly would have been a catastrophic decline in wool prices. I do not have uptodate figures, but in total I would expect there is still something like $200m worth of wool held in that stockpile, some of which has been financed by the Market Support Fund, some of which has been financed by loans from commercial institutions and some of which has been financed in the past by government.
More recently the Government gave permission for the first time to the Wool Corporation to borrow up to $ 100m overseas for financing wool stocks. The Corporation had made previous applications to the Government to borrow overseas, I presume because finance could be obtained at lower rates of interest, but without success. At the end of last year the Government changed its previous policy on this matter and allowed the Corporation to borrow overseas. It seems perfectly clear that the reason for this change was not a desire to comply with the wishes of the Corporation but a desire to achieve a totally cosmetic reduction in the deficit which is, of course, a highly politically embarrassing phenomenon for the Government. It could be called the ballooning deficit. If the Government borrows funds overseas those borrowings make no difference to what is recorded at the end of the fiscal year as the Government’s deficit, whereas if the Corporation borrows overseas the Corporation can then repay the outstanding moneys it owed to the government. I believe it has done so. The deficit, or what is called the deficit, is reduced at the end of the financial year by that amount. In any significant terms, of course, that is meaningless. It makes absolutely no difference to the money supply or any other economic indice whether the money is borrowed overseas by the Government or by the Corporation. In this instance, for reasons that have nothing to do with the welfare of the wool industry, the Government granted permission for the Corporation to borrow overseas to achieve that synthetic reduction in the deficit.
There has been considerable pressure for some time from most, if not all, of the important wool grower organisations in Australia that this Market Support Fund be ultimately turned into a revolving fund. What is meant by that term is that after a person has contributed for, say, seven years, to a seven-year revolving fund he receives his contributions back in year eight, and the withdrawal of that money is matched by contributions received in year eight. There seems to be a fairly widespread consensus that at the time the Fund reaches about $300m- it is at present about $ 170m- such a revolving fund ought to be introduced. That will not be this year or the next year. This proposal, if it is acted upon, would most likely commence in two or three years time. Such a scheme would have some problems, one of which is that not all records of the contributions in 1974 and perhaps in later years are extant. On behalf of the Opposition I move:
I have moved the amendment because it puts forward an idea which the Opposition at least believes would be worthy of serious consideration, for which I personally can see no valid objection in principle. There may be administrative problems. The question of at what aggregate level contributions to the Fund should become revolving may become arguable, but in principle I do not believe there is any valid argument against the establishment of such a fund. Given the administrative problems, particularly the problems with records which do exist, it would take some time to determine the most efficient or most desirable mechanism for introducing the fund. That is why we are calling for this investigation now by the Government which can be laid before the Parliament, debated by Parliament and examined by people in the industry.
When this Bill was first introduced I wrote to 15, I think it was, of the major wool growing organisations in Australia seeking their views on a market support fund. They have now all replied, and all have expressed their agreement in principle with the idea. Most, indeed, have gone much further than expressing their agreement in principle. They quite vigorously support the idea. Of course, this is fairly common knowledge. Some of the major organisations have been campaigning for it for some time. I understand that there is considerable opposition to the proposal on the part of woolbrokers. Within my lifetime anyway, they seem to have opposed every progressive reform advanced for the wool industry. They are also opposing it perhaps just because of their chronic inertia. As well, on a more mercenary level. I understand that the brokers want to retain control of the levy collection, something that they may lose if the revolving fund concept is introduced.
– Order! It being 10 p.m., in conformity with the sessional orders, I put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
WOOL TAX AMENDMENT BILLS (Nos. 1 to 5) 1978
– I understand that the deduction, which is a total of 8 per cent where wool is sold through a broker, is made at the time of sale and that the contributions of levies collected by the brokers is not made to the Australian Wool Corporation until the end of the month. There is an average of 14 days during which time brokers are able to invest the levy on the short term money market which returns them about half a million dollars a year, so I am reliably informed by a woolgrowers organisation. The woolbrokers, in addition to their chronic inertia, which would lead them to resist this proposition, also have a more direct pecuniary interest to preserve.
My final point concerns the 1973 Australian Wool Corporation marketing report. I shall not canvass the details of that report, or the reservations which some people, quite validly in my view, have expressed about some of the crucial marketing methods involved. But it appears that there is no doubt that there is majority- I suspect an overwhelming majority- support from within the industry for the basic proposition in the 1973 marketing report that there should be a single seller or exporter of wool from Australia, and that that should be the Wool Corporation; further, that the Corporation should have complete control over stocks and exports- which it does not entirely have now- and that as a secondary benefit economies of scale through different handling methods could be more speedily implemented and so on.
Incorporated also in the crucial aspect of the 1973 marketing report was the proposal that a central marketing body once it had control of the entire clip could enter into long-term contracts to supply users at stated prices. A user would know some years in advance what the price of the raw material would be. Perhaps an inflation adjustment would be necessary, but there would not be the wild variations in wool prices that have been characteristic of the market, particularly in the pre- 1974 period. 1 repeat, there is ground for reservations about whether that objective can be successfully achieved. In particular, of course, there is always the possibility that stocks will not be available at a given time to supply the quantity of wool demanded at the stated or fixed price. Obviously, in that situation the Corporation would have to ration stocks on some non-price basis. That would, in the short-term at least, fail to maximise returns to the growers and could lead to criticism of the Corporation and dissatisfaction with the marketing system on the part of those would-be customers who failed to obtain supplies in the volume required.
Despite those valid reservations, it appears clear that there is overwhelming support for the principles embodied in the 1973 report. The proposition I put forward- I do so quite seriously in a non-partisan way, hoping that it will be commented on in a non-politically partisan way by Government supporters- is that if this is what the industry really wants, at the time the market support fund reached a level adequate to fund the likely stockpiles, that is probably around $300m or $40Om with a couple of years still remaining, the Government of the day could pass enabling legislation to give the Australian Wool Corporation control of the clip. This would be done on the clear understanding that it had the funds needed from the market support levy to finance the stockpile and that the growers could then market the clip in the way that they chose, with the Government providing the legislative framework within which that could be done, without being committed to heavy financial contributions as has happened in the past, particularly in the 1974-75 period.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the motion.
– I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Webster) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
Honourable senators will be aware that, pursuant to Section 66 of the Constitution, provision for the annual sum payable out of Consolidated Revenue for the salaries of Ministers of State is made in the Ministers of State Act 1952-73. The Act was last amended in 1973, and the annual sum appropriated is now insufficient to meet current Ministerial salaries as recommended by the Remuneration Tribunal. That is the reason for this proposal.
At the same time, clause 4 of the Bill repeals the sections of the principal Act which previously provided for the allowances payable to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Ministers of State. These allowances are now determined from time to time by the Remuneration Tribunal. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Walsh) adjourned.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator Webster) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the National Health Amendment Bill 1978. the Health Insurance Amendment Bill 1978, the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Amendment Bill 1978 and the Hospitals and Health Services Commission (Repeal) Bill 1978 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Bills (on motion by Senator Webster) together read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
The speeches read as follows-
This Bill provides for amendments to the National Health Act to implement three separate decisions of the Government. Firstly, the Bill fulfils an undertaking by the Government to assist persons who live in isolated areas to obtain specialist medical treatment, which is not available locally. For these people, the costs of obtaining specialist treatment is considerably greater than if they were living in the major cities. Take, for example, the case of a child living in Bourke who is referred to a Sydney specialist because there is no appropriate specialist closer.
Whilst the acceptable form of travel under the scheme will normally be surface travel, air travel will be permissible when medically necessary. If in this example it is necessary to travel by air, the costs of return economy class travel for the parent and the child amount to $204.20 and when one adds the cost of accommodation for, say two days and nights, the total cost to the parents could be of the order of a further $60. Therefore, the total cost would be in excess of $250. The arrangements under this legislation will involve the parents in an outlay of $20 per person patient contribution, for fares and a refund of a maximum $ 1 5 per person for the overnight accommodation. Thus, under the isolated patients travel and accommodaton scheme, the parent of such a patient will be entitled to receive a maximum benefit of $224.20 for an approved specialist consultation whilst making a patient contribution of $40 towards the cost of the fare.
People living in large urban and metropolitan centres do not always generally appreciate some of the disabilities suffered by people living in the remote regions of Australia. Many small communities do not have ready access to general practitioners and hospital services let alone specialist attention. The Government through its financial assistance to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the community health program, the mobile dental clinic under the school dental program, and the encouragement to graduate doctors to practice in rural areas under the family medicine program is endeavouring to improve the access of health services to people in remote areas. The isolated patients travel and accommodation scheme will add a new dimension to the efforts being made to help bring people in isolated areas within reach of services that others in the community take for granted.
There are those who complain that decreasing the medical benefit from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the medical benefits schedule will bear heavily on the sick. In cases where a specialist charges the schedule benefit as the fee for his consultation this will result in an increase of $2.60 per service. This remains a relatively small additional direct patient contribution compared to the high costs of travel and accommodation incurred by those sick people who have to travel great distances for such services. Although we are endeavouring to impose a sense of responsibility on both the providers and users of health services, we are also endeavouring to redress, at least to some extent, the additional hardships of people living in remote areas who have little or no service facilities available.
The basic scheme is established by clause 4 of the Bill, which inserts a new Part in the National Health Act. The scheme will provide benefits to subsidise the costs incurred by patients who reside away from major population centres and who are required to travel long distances for specialist medical treatment. The isolated areas concerned will be identified by reference to local government areas in regulations under the Act. The Australian Capital Territory and the local government areas listed in regulations, urban and near urban, will be excluded from the scheme. All other areas, including all of the Northern Territory, will be included. Benefits will not extend to residents of external territories or for services rendered outside Australia.
To be eligible a person must be referred for specialist treatment, which is only available at a centre more than 200 kilometres away. It will be necessary for the patient to obtain the prior approval of the Director-General of the Department of Health by satisfying him that all the relevant criteria have been met. In cases of emergency this qualification will be dispensed with. In such circumstances the Bill provides for subsequent approval.
The benefits will comprise a travel allowance and an accommodation allowance. Proposed new section 1 7 provides that the travel allowance payable will normally be the economy class return fare of the most direct scheduled road or rail service, less a prescribed amount. This amount, which in effect is the patient’s contribution to the fare, will be $20. Where the return fare is less than S20, no travel allowance will be paid. Other types of transport will be allowed where the referring medical practitioner certifies that the patient’s medical condition would be likely to worsen if economy class surface transport were used.
An accommodation allowance will be payable where, for the purposes of treatment, it is necessary for a patient to stay away from his residence overnight. Proposed new section 18 provides that the maximum allowance in this case will be $ 1 5 per night. The allowance will be payable for one or two nights, or up to eight nights where the consultant physician or specialist certifies the necessity for the extended stay. The accommodation allowance will not be paid to a patient who becomes an inpatient of a hospital for the period he is in hospital, or in cases where the patient does not have to pay for commercial accommodation.
The Government recognises that there will be some patients who, because of their age or particular medical condition, would need to be accompanied on their journey. The Bill, therefore, includes provision for payment of additional benefits where it is necessary for a patient to be accompanied by a professional attendant or an escort. A professional attendant would be a nurse or other person with the capacity to attend to the patient’s medical needs, and an escort would normally be a parent, guardian or relative. As a general rule, allowances will be payable for either an attendant or an escort, but not for both. However, in certain circumstances, usually a child under 14 years of age and as provided in the proposed new section 14, a patient may be accompanied by both an attendant and an escort. The allowances payable to attendants and escorts will be at the same rate and generally subject to the same conditions as apply to approved patients.
There will be certain exclusions from the scheme, and these are set out in proposed new sub-sections 13 (2), 17 (5) and 18 (3) of the Bill. In essence, benefits will not be payable where a journey to obtain a professional service is made by ambulance or any form of emergency transport, or where the patient has received or claimed an amount for compensation or damages, or receives assistance through some other scheme. Clause 12 of the Bill provides for appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review of decisions relating to the approval of patients under proposed new section 13 and to the approval of professional attendants and escorts under proposed new section 14. The scheme is to come into operation as soon as the necessary regulations under the Act have been made. The estimated cost in a full year is expected to be $7m.
Whilst the Bill provides for the Commonwealth to administer the scheme, it is intended that Commonwealth and State health authorities will co-operate in that administration. Preliminary discussions have already been held between officers of the Department of Health and representatives of the State authorities on this matter. It may well be that administration of the scheme will eventually pass to the States. The viability and scope of existing services in isolated areas will not be undermined, nor will services available through the community health program and other support programs be constrained by any travel and accommodation subsidy scheme.
The primary aim should still be wherever practicable to bring the services to the people. One recognises that assisting people financially to travel to the services is only a ‘second best’ option. A continuing review of the utilisation of the scheme will be undertaken. This will assist in identifying any deficiencies in the scheme. The isolated patients’ travel and accommodation assistance scheme is a major component of the Government’s commitment to improve the accessibility of health services for isolated communities and to alleviate health costs to people in these areas. Further, the Bill introduces legislative provisions for the introduction into the health insurance arrangements of the concept of optional deductibles, which were foreshadowed in a statement by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on 24 May 1978.
The proposed new provisions allow health insurance organisations to plan and with the approval of the Minister for Health, operate benefit tables in addition to, or in place of, the basic medical and hospital benefits tables now operated by registered organisations. These new arrangements can apply to both medical and hospital benefits. The proposed provisions will operate from a date to be proclaimed. It is not intended that they should be brought into operation until the new concept has been discussed in detail with the health insurance industry and other interested organisations and appropriate guidelines adopted. These guidelines for deductibles will be the benchmarks against which the acceptability of proposed medical and hospital benefits plans, incorporating deductibles, will be measured. The Bill requires the guidelines to be prescribed by regulations.
I emphasise that contributors to medical and hospital benefit plans offering deductibles will be regarded as contributing to standard medical and hospital benefit tables and for this purpose payment of those medical and hospital contributions will exempt such contributors from payment of the health insurance levy. At this time nursing home benefits will not come within approved medical and hospital benefit plans offering deductibles. However, the Government will be prepared to consider their inclusion if at some future time it is shown that such a widening of the scheme would be desirable. Appropriate legislation would be enacted if such schemes were deemed to be desirable.
As I stated previously, this innovation has two objectives: Firstly, to reduce health insurance contributions for those willing to accept a larger direct share of responsibility for the costs of their health care; and secondly, to provide a deterrent against over-use of health services. The Bill, in amending section 73ba, imposes a further condition to which the registration of medical benefits organisations are to be subject. This condition prohibits such organisations from entering into bulk billing arrangements for medical services other than those provided to eligible pensioners and their dependants. This amendment places medical benefit organisations in the same position as that which will apply to Medibank Standard under the new bulk billing arrangements.
Finally, the Bill provides for an increase in the general patient contribution for pharmaceutical benefits. I draw honourable senators ‘s attention to clause 1 1 which will increase from $2 to $2.50, the maximum amount that approved pharmaceutical chemists may charge for the supply of a pharmaceutical benefit. This increase will take effect from 1 July 1978. As in the past, eligible pensioners- that is those holding a pensioner health benefits card- will not be charged for pharmaceutical benefits. Similarly, no charge will be made for repatriation pensioners.
It is now over two years since the patient contribution was set at $2. The increase of 25 per cent to $2.50 is broadly in line with the movements in prices and incomes since March 1976, and therefore is more of an adjustment than a change. The increase in the patient contribution is one of the means by which the increasing expenditure on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme can be reduced. This increase is expected to result in a saving of $20m in the financial year 1 978-79. 1 commend this Bill to the Senate.
The Bill before the Senate contains provisions which give effect to certain measures announced by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on 24 May. These relate to the levels of medical benefits to be payable for medical services and the abolition of bulk billing, except for persons with pensioner health benefit entitlements. Other major provisions in the Bill relate to changes in the public and private health insurance system and the cost sharing of the operating costs of the Australian Capital Territory hospitals. As advised in the Minister’s statement on 24 May, the level of medical benefits payable by Medibank and health insurance organisations for medical services is to be reduced from 1 July 1978. The Bill in clause 5 provides for medical benefits to be paid at the rate of 75 per cent of schedule fees, with a maximum patient contribution of $10 for any one service where the schedule fee is charged. However, the level of medical benefits to be paid for services provided to eligible pensioners and their dependants is to be negotiated with the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Optometrical Association and the Australian Dental Association. The level of benefits specified in the Bill for services provided to these persons is 85 per cent of the schedule fees.
The Bill enables a lower level to be prescribed by regulations following the negotiations with the professional bodies I have mentioned. The amendment effected by clause 7 abolishes bulk billing for medical services other than those provided to eligible pensioners and their dependants. The level of medical benefits payable in these circumstances will be the rate negotiated with the AMA, the AOA, and the ADA. A consequential amendment resulting from the proposal to restrict bulk billing is contained in clause 9.
Since the changes to Medibank from 1 October 1976, persons from overseas temporarily residing in Australia and Australian residents temporarily overseas, in general, have been either subject to the Medibank levy or covered as privately insured persons with private health insurance organisations in Australia registered under the National Health Act. Such persons from overseas may have eligibility for health care coverage provided by their overseas employer or a health insurance fund in the overseas country. Further, Australian residents temporarily absent from Australia may be adequately covered by an overseas plan or may take out adequate private insurance, suitable to local conditions, with an overseas fund. However, such coverage does not provide exemption from the health insurance levy. This means there are circumstances in which persons in the categories to which I have referred are financially penalised by being subject to the levy or by contributions to an Australian private health organisation registered under the National Health Act, while having adequate and satisfactory health insurance cover by an overseas operator.
The Government has decided to vary the arrangements to assist these people. Accordingly, the Bill, in clause 4, provides that such a person may be deemed to be a privately insured person by a declaration of the Minister for Health, where the Minister for Health is satisfied that a person has adequate coverage and protection against liability for medical and hospital expenses. This action will exempt that person from payment of the health insurance levy. The declaration will apply for a period specified in the declaration and I propose that such approvals will be reviewed on a regular basis.
Whilst introducing this concession within the health insurance arrangements, the Government is concerned that any change to the existing position should not lead to a breaking down in universal coverage in Australia. For this reason permanent residents in Australia, Commonwealth and State public servants overseas whose conditions of remuneration adequately cover their position and Australian citizens overseas who are employed as locally engaged staff at Australian establishments outside Australia and entitled to the provision of health care reimbursement of expenses as part of employment conditions, are excluded from the concession.
From 1 August last year the Government introduced measures directed to restraining medical benefits expenditure on pathology services. lt has come to the Government’s attention that over the past few years there has been a gradual but significant increase in health screening activity. In many cases such services are provided to apparently healthy people; for example, for purposes of recreation or sport and for testing of individual’s physical fitness. Under existing legislation medical benefits are payable for such services regardless of there being any indication medically for the necessity for the service or its effectiveness. I am sure honourable senators will agree that the medical benefits system should not operate in such circumstances and that the costs of such services should be borne by the individual electing to have them rendered. The Bill provides, in clause 5, that unless the Minister for Health otherwise directs, a medical benefit is not payable in respect of a health screening service.
Of course, it is not intended that benefits be prohibited where the examination or test is reasonably required for the management of the medical condition of the patient, and the direction power of the Minister will be for this purpose. Medical consultations by patients’ own doctors for medical check up, in the course of normal practice, would continue to qualify for benefits. It is also intended that the services provided by several non profit organisations, namely Medicheck (Sydney) and the Shepherd Foundation in Melbourne should continue to attract medical benefits provided that they meet certain conditions. Broadly, these are that both Medicheck and the Shepherd Foundation use their records for specific research studies designed to establish the value of the screening services provided by these centres and that they bear the costs involved in undertaking the studies. This proposal conforms with the Government’s policy of curtailing expenditure under the health insurance arrangements and eliminating abuses. It is estimated that savings up to $10m in a year could accrue to Medibank and the private health insurance organisations from the non-payment of medical benefits for these unnecessary services.
Recently there was been considerable comment in the media on the claims of Mr Milan Brych to be an expert on cancer. It is not intended, at this time, to reopen the debate or the question of Mr Brych ‘s qualifications except to state once again that the Government does not consider Mr Brych to be a qualified medical practitioner, nor has it ever intended to give any impression of recognition of Mr Brych because of the payment of medical benefits for his services. Indeed an offer has been made to Mr Brych to allow his treatment, therapy and clinical methods to be evaluated by a top team of specialists and scientists. So far Mr Brych has not responded to this offer. The Government is still awaiting a response from Mr Brych to this specific offer. The Minister for Health has publicly stated that, at an appropriate time, the Health Insurance Act would be amended to exclude services rendered to Australian residents overseas, by persons such as Mr Brych, from attracting medical benefits. At the present time the Act provides for medical benefits to be payable for such services when rendered by a person authorised to practise medicine under the law of the country concerned. The Act thus presently relates only to registration and not to qualifications.
Clause 6 of the Bill enables the Minister for Health, where he is satisfied that a prescribed person is not acceptable as such for benefit purposes, because of lack of training, unavailability of proper medical or surgical facilities or for any other reason, to declare by notice in the Commonwealth Gazette that the person is unacceptable as a prescribed person. The notice does not take effect for at least one month after publication to enable persons who may be undergoing a course of treatment with the person concerned to make other arrangements.
I emphasise that the Government’s action is motivated by a concern to avoid a situation where Australians are encouraged to seek treatment from unqualified persons overseas by virtue of the availability of medical benefits. The Minister for Health considers discretionary power to be necessary in these circumstances because of his concern that people may regard benefit payments as implied ‘recognition’ of what appears to be inexpert and possibly dangerous treatment.
A further amendment in the Bill relates to Commonwealth payments in respect of recognised hospitals in the Australian Capital Territory. Under the hospital cost-sharing agreements between the Commonwealth and the States, the Commonwealth is obliged to pay 50 per cent of the net operating costs of recognised hospitals to the States, based on agreed budgets. Commonwealth payments are made to either the State Treasury or State Health Authority. No Commonwealth payments are made direct to individual recognised hospitals in the States. The amendments made by clause 7 of the Bill are designed to place Commonwealth payments under the Health Insurance Act for recognised hospitals in the Australian Capital Territory on a comparable basis to those payments made to States. Firstly, this is achieved by the Bill providing for Commonwealth payments under the Health Insurance Act to be based on an approved budget for a period, usually a financial year, covering all recognised hospitals in the Territory. The budget is to be submitted by the Capital Territory Health Commission. The Commonwealth payment for this purpose shall be 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs shown in the budget of recognised hospitals or 50 per cent of the actual net operating costs of the hospitals, whichever is the less. At present, the Commonwealth is required under the Health Insurance Act to meet 50 per cent of the actual net operating costs of the hospitals.
Secondly, there is a new provision for the Commonwealth to make a further payment where the Minister for Health is satisfied circumstances justify the making of such a payment.
However, the total Commonwealth Payment under the Health Insurance Act shall not exceed 50 per cent of the actual net operating costs of recognised hospitals in respect of the period. Thirdly, the Commonwealth payment is to be made to the Capital Territory Health Commission. The Commonwealth payments are to be made, as they are to the States, subject to conditions determined by the Minister for Health who, in determining the conditions, must have regard to the heads of agreement set out in Schedule 2 of the Health Insurance Act. This will ensure that obligations accepted by the States under the agreements, such as free treatment for Medibank Standard persons and levels of hospital charges, will also apply in respect of recognised hospitals in the Australian Capital Territory.
Recognised hospitals in the Northern Territory will continue to be administered by the Department of Social Security until their operation is transferred to the control of an independent Northern Territory Administration. This transfer is expected to take place from 1 January 1 979. At that time it would be appropriate to examine the position of recognised hospitals in the Northern Territory. In the meantime, the Department will institute administrative procedures for the Northern Territory, which in effect establishes the application of principles of cost sharing along the lines adopted with States.
Provision is also made in the Bill to rectify an anomaly resulting from the hospital agreements entered into in 1975 between the Commonwealth and the States being declared invalid in May 1976. Section 17 and repealed section 18 of the Health Insurance Act, which was repealed with effect from 1 October 1976, prohibited the payment of medical benefits in certain circumstances. The legislation before the Senate provides that medical benefits shall not be payable on any claim received by Medibank- unless an account was rendered prior to the date of this announcement- in respect of medical services provided for a patient who would have been a hospital patient or an outpatient of, or diagnostic services provided to an inpatient of, a hospital that would have been a recognised hospital if the relevant hospital agreements had been valid prior to 1 October 1976. Any claims received in respect of that period and rejected on the basis of sections 1 7 and repealed section 1 8 being applicable will be re-examined. Of course, if the doctor has already received payment from a hospital for such services, medical benefits will not be paid.
A remaining provision of the Bill, clause 8, contains a consequential amendment resulting from the abolition of the Hospitals and Health Services Commission. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
This Bill will amend certain health insurance levy provisions of the taxation law. It provides that, commencing in the 1978-79 income year, where a child of a divorced or separated couple would, under the existing law, be taken to be a dependant for levy purposes of both parents, the child will be taken to be a dependant solely of the parent who is paid family allowances for the child. This will avoid the situation that could arise at present where both parents may be required to pay levy up to the full family ceiling through the same child being taken as a dependant of each of them.
The Bill will also exempt from levy for the 1978-79 and subsequent years foreign government representatives in Australia and their families, unless the person concerned is an Australian citizen or a person who ordinarily resides in Australia. At present these people may be liable liable for the levy but not eligible for standard Medibank benefits.
Another change to the health insurance levy arrangements will follow from an amendment of the Health Insurance Act that has just been proposed by my colleague the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). Under that amendment an Australian resident temporarily overseas, or a non-resident temporarily in Australia, who has adequate health care cover under an overseas health fund or plan, may be treated as a privately insured person. Broadly, the effect of this will be that such persons will be exempt from the health insurance levy. At present only those whose private insurance is with an Australian health fund qualify for exemption from the levy in this way.
The Bill also makes some changes of a technical kind, which I do not think I need discuss in this introductory address. A memorandum explaining the Bill in detail is being circulated to honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
This Bill will give effect to the Government’s decision to abolish the Hospitals and Health Services Commission. The Commission was established as an interim committee by the Labor
Government in 1973. The Act to provide for its formal establishment received royal assent on 19 December 1973. The Commission has achieved its purpose and it is time for a body with wider terms of reference to take over. Honourable senators will be aware of the Government’s determination to bring about a greater coordination of health and welfare programs. This determination was illustrated by the recent appointment of the Social Welfare Policy Committee of Ministers and its supporting Permanent Heads Committee. These committees have been established to ensure the integrated development of plans and policies and to review existing policies and programs in the health and welfare field.
To support the Permanent Heads Committee the Government has established a policy secretariat under the control of the former Chairman of the Hospitals and Health Services Commission, Dr Sidney Sax. It is this secretariat which will take over where the Hospitals and Health Services Commission leaves off. The social welfare policy secretariat will be physically located in the Department of Social Security. It will have responsibilities ranging over the whole field of health and welfare and will in fact absorb some of the ongoing activities of the Hospitals and Health Services Commission.
Let me emphasise that the new secretariat will have far wider responsibilities and a wider range of functions than the Commission. Detailed statements have been made on the duties and functions of the secretariat and I do not wish to repeat them here. Let me summarise by saying that Dr Sidney Sax and his secretariat will cover the whole range of social welfare and health programs, with a far-ranging brief that will support the planning and programming activities of many departments but primarily, of course, those of the Department of Health and those of the department of Social Security.
The Bill before the House provides for the repeal of the Hospitals and Health Services Commission Act and makes necessary administrative provisions concerning the winding up of the Commission. I draw honourable senators’ attention to clause 5 which provides for the transfer of the Commission’s assets and liabilities to the Commonwealth and to clause 8 which authorises the Minister to give directions as to the disposal of the Commission’s documents. I also draw honourable senators’ attention to clause 6 of the Bill. This clause provides that grants made under the Hospitals and Health Services Commission Act and subject to conditions will continue to be subject to those conditions and will be under the control of the Minister for Health.
Some former activities of the Commission will be carried on by the Department of Health. The National Health Services Advisory Committee, which honourable senators will recall was set up under the auspices of the Hospitals and Health Services Commission late last year, will continue to function and to provide the Government with independent advice on health matters. Dr Sax will continue to chair this Committee. The Committee provides a forum at which health policy issues can be debated and from which advice can flow to the Government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
WOOL TAX AMENDMENT BILLS (Nos 1 to 5) 1978
– I support these six wool industry Bills. They are basically machinery Bills but give us a necessary opportunity to make a few reflections on this most important industry. I am sure we were all somewhat interested, in a manner of speaking, in what the previous speaker, Senator Walsh, had to say. I was somewhat surprised that his speech was not totally typical of him. It had the usual measure of spleen but it seemed to lack the emotional scream to which we have became accustomed. However, I wish to correct the inference in his comments that for 20 years or more the Liberal and National Country Parties had messed around with the wool industry and that it was not until the 1 973-74 period that a solution to the marketing problem was found by the Australian Labor Party. I want to put that claim a little straighter and a little clearer.
The 1973-74 period marked the culmination of many years of strife and intelligent argument among the members of a great and independent industry. They took literally decades to come to a conclusion on marketing. In 1965, which is relatively recent in the terms of those discussions, the industry threw out a recommendation for a reserve price for wool. Mark my words, it was only in 1970, when disaster had finally overtaken the Australian wool industry, that the then LiberalCountry Party Government established the Australian Wool Commission, the forerunner of the Australian Wool Corporation. The Commission virtually put a base in the industry and established a guaranteed average price of 36c per lb.
This proved to be basic to the ultimate decision of the Australian Wool Industry Conference to recommend the establishment of what became known as the Australian Wool Corporation. I think it is important that honourable senators and the community should be aware of what happened. I make a final reference to Senator Walsh. His usual condemnatory remarks about the National Country Party, which I represent in this coalition Government, are nothing more today than they have been for many years, that is, a compliment to us. It seems strange that Senator Walsh and his party should adopt the attitude they have adopted as the ‘saviours’ of rural industry, when the electorate sees fit to elect Labor candidates in only two or three of the 45 rural seats.
Let me refer briefly to the Bills which I am glad to see are not opposed. I presumed they would not be. They seek to reintroduce for another 12 months, as happens every 12 months, the 5 per cent levy to finance the fund established to meet expenses incurred as a result of losses in the operation of the reserve price system, and the 3 per cent levy for research and promotion, a percentage which is matched by the Government. It is worthy of note that this country no longer can be said to ride on the sheep’s back. It was true that for perhaps 1 50 years the country basically rode on the sheep’s back. That has changed but not dramatically because this country still achieves in excess of $ 1 billion annually in export earnings from its wool industry. It is pertinent to point out that the sheep does not ride on the back of the taxpayer. Many Australians forget that significant fact. These Bills are evidence that this great and significant industry is in no way a load on the Australian taxpayer. It pays its way from these 5 per cent and 3 per cent levies and any money it needs for the operation of the reserve price system is borrowed and paid for at commercial rates of interest. It is important that Australians across this great country should recognise that this industry is significant to the extent of having been almost synonymous with Australia throughout our entire history. It is an industry which is not reliant on the taxpayer for its support, maintenance and development.
The Australian Wool Corporation has succeeded in establishing a reserve price system, a base in the market place, which has been of enormous value to the grower because it has enabled him to budget with some measure of certainty. It has assisted the development of this massive industry. It has been of equal advantage to the user of wool, to those people who produce tops, yarn and cloth, to the retailer, and finally to the consumer. For the first time the reserve price system has succeeded in ironing out significantly the peaks and troughs which were an enormous problem not only to the producer but also to those people who use wool. Wool is a remarkable fibre. It possesses various characteristics which give it advantages and make it extremely difficult for products from the chemical and synthetic field to compete with it. It has a tensile nature and is non-flammable. It has an absorb.tive quality which to this time has not been achieved by any synthetic material. It has an amazing capacity for insulation and is used even in the building trade as well as in the furnishing trade.
All Australians should be aware of the significance of research and promotion and the work of the International Wool Secretariat in this field. The research efforts of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and other bodies have enabled wool to retain a fast colour, to be washed in washing machines, to be crease-proof and to be, in every sense, a premier competitor in the textile field. This is basically the result of the 3 per cent levy plus the Government contribution being applied to research and promotion. It is high time that Australian producers and users recognised the value of the IWS contribution to research and promotion and ceased doing what Senator Walsh did in his characteristic way, that is casting aspersions on research and promotion as though they were unnecessary.
I know that time presses so I draw my remarks to a close by saying that I support wholeheartedly the Bills that are before us. They are referable to the survival, maintenance and development of certainly the senior industry in Australia and one of the most significant industries in Australia. The amendment is hardly worth reference because the sort of negotiations that one would expect between a responsible government and responsible representatives of the industry are constantly under way. There is virtually no doubt that as soon as the Government and the industry- in particular the industryare convinced that a certain method is found of converting into a revolving fund the money that is constantly coming year after year into.the market support fund, it will be implemented. I commend the Bills to the Senate.
– I support the Bills before the Senate tonight. They are very important measures. They give continuing support to the wool industry, support which over the last few years has done so much to assist the industry. As Senator Douglas Scott has said, this legislation deals with the aspect of a further levy upon the industry itself to support the floor price scheme for wool. I appreciate the problem of the restriction of time facing the Senate as we approach the end of the session so I will not go over the ground that Senator Scott has already covered, other than to say that I fully support his remarks. I wish to go a little further in regard to the floor price scheme for wool because this was something on which the industry, divided as it was for many years in the early post-war period, could never agree to, but eventually industry representatives got together via what is known today as the Australian Wool Industry Conference- the AWIC.
Reference was made to the Conference itself. This is the body of wool growers, large and small, which discusses the industry from a factual point of view. Also it discusses the industry with the Minister for Primary Industry in the federal sphere. I mention this because it is a very important point. As I said, the industry is composed of many wool growers, large and small, but the members of the AWIC are elected by the wool growers themselves. I am proud of the fact that I was one of the foundation members of AWIC. Having said that, I support the proposals put forward by the Government in this legislation in regard to the levy to support the floor price scheme for wool which has brought so much stability to the industry over a number of years. It has the support of both government and industry.
I was concerned the other night when I heard Senator Walsh speak very critically in this place about the AWIC and also about Sir William Vines in regard to the export of merino rams from Australia. Whilst you, Mr Acting Deputy President, may feel that I am digressing, I feel there is a need for me to give support to both the AWIC and Sir William Vines because of the fact that the AWIC still plays a very prominent and important part in representing to the Federal Minister the voice of the industry. The same recognition in respect of the AWIC was given by Senator Wriedt as the Minister for Primary Industry when the Whitlam Government was in power. I was extremely concerned the other night when I heard Senator Walsh speak in the way that he did. We have come to accept that unfortunately every time Senator Walsh makes a speech in this place he becomes vindictive and extremely personal, whether it be against a senator or against some individual within the community. I take exception to the language he used as recorded on page 2258 of the Senate Hansard for 1 June. He said:
Incidentally, it is Sir William Vines. Senator Walsh involved the AWIC in that he referred to the fact that Sir William Vines was involved with the International Wool Secretariat which also is closely related to the AWIC.
Tonight we are dealing with legislation to support a floor price for a marketing scheme for wool. It took many years to introduce this scheme but once it was introduced not only the industry but also the nation benefited. The AWIC itself had a good deal to do with this scheme. The AWIC also had a good deal to do with the arrival at a final decision on whether or not Australia should export merino rams from this country. I hope that you, Mr Acting Deputy President, will allow me to pass the remarks I now wish to make because 1 regard the comments made the other night by Senator Walsh as derogatory to that body of the wool industry which is so responsible and which plays such a responsible part in discussions with governments, of whatever political colour. It has in discussions with the Minister supported proposals which are propounded by the Government at the present time and which are under discussion and debate in the Senate.
I take great exception to the fact that a senator saw fit in this place to pass such derogatory remarks about a man whom I and many others regard as one of the finest Australians we have been fortunate enough to bring back to this country. I emphasise the words ‘to bring back to this country’. Sir William Vines had made his mark internationally with an industry entirely divorced from the wool industry and in fact entirely divorced from Australia as far as origin was concerned. But he was approached and he saw fit as an Australian national to take up the challenge within the International Wool Secretariat and accepted the position as director of the IWS. I will say that not only the industry but also this country owes a great debt to Sir William Vines for the great contribution he has made on behalf of Australia. We will never really get used to Senator Walsh. We expect him to be so vindictive and so personally abusive about an individual, but I am astonished that he should say these things about a man who is regarded by so many people as being a great Australian.
Having said those things, the blame was placed the other night fairly and squarely at the feet of the AWIC in regard to the decision to export some merino rams from Australia. The blame was placed squarely at the feet of Sir
William Vines in regard to the final decision that was reached. Might I say that this was a decision that was reached by the industry itself. Discussions were held throughout the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia by the wool industry as to whether or not we as a nation and as an industry should agree to the exporting of merino rams which in turn may affect, according to the arguments which were put by some people, the marketing of Australian wool and the quality of our wool. As a result of those meetings decisions were reached. Also from those meetings delegates to the regional conventions were elected. From those conventions delegates were elected to the State councils where discussions took place as to whether individual States and organisations within those States would agree to the exporting of some merino rams.
Marketing was one of the great concerns of the industry, but nevertheless agreement was reached, and delegates from those State conventions were elected from the two major organisationsthe Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council and the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation. Those delegates make up the structure of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. Those delegates presented the decisions reached in their own States in regard to the exporting of some merino rams. Senator Walsh stood in this place and condemned an individual. I make it perfectly clear that the individual himself did not make any decision; the industry made the decision and the Parliament put it into practice by legislating accordingly.
I take the matter one step further. Another great Australian will go down in history and be remembered with great respect for the contributions he made to Australia generally. I refer to the late Sir Ian Clunies-Ross who later became the leader of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. We all know of the contribution that that organisation has made nationally and internationally. I quote a statement that the late Sir Ian Clunies-Ross once made:
The embargo - on merino ram exports- was imposed because of one ill-founded fear and would, I am confident, have been lifted before this but for another fear no less ill-founded. The first was that, by the export of Merino sheep, we should increase the volume of fine wool production outside Australia, so leading to increased and harmful competition with our own wool. The second fear is that, if the embargo were now lifted, prices of rams on the local market would rise appreciably.
As for the first of these fears, there is no evidence that the free export of Merino rams prior to 1 929- that is, for a good 50 years -
I emphasise the words ‘for a good 50 years’- after the establishment of the Merino stud sheep industryhad been productive in any way of the consequences which the embargo was supposed to prevent. Probably were it not for the fact that substantial shipments of Merino sheep had been made to Soviet Russia, the ban would never have been imposed. As to the second fear, when free export was allowed, the volume of sales and the average price paid for Merino sheep were never such as to have any impact on domestic ram prices, even though individual sales were from time to time of considerable value to particular studs. How could the sale of a few hundred Merino rams, out of yearly replacement of 100,000, have any marked influence on price levels?
That statement was made by a man who remains in history as a great Australian, a sound adviser and a scientist. He devoted a lot of his time to the wool industry before he moved into the CSIRO. He expressed no concern whatsoever about problems regarding marketing.
I think it is important to emphasise that condemnation has been rained upon an individual in this country, Sir William Vines, by an honourable senator who did not bother to go into history and find out the real facts of the wool industry. For some 50-odd years prior to 1929 some 22,511 sheep- not just rams; ewes and ramswere exported from Australia. We heard a lot about the genetic structures and the development of flocks the other night. I know that Senator Walsh professes to be an economist; I did not know he was so good when it came to genetics and so on. I would like to know who was the author of what he quoted the other night. Be that as it may, that is part of parliamentary debate. I do not accept that any honourable senator should be allowed to get away with making derogatory remarks in this place about a great Australian who, because of his involvement and senior position with a big international firm, gave up an opportunity to be probably fabulously wealthy today. He saw fit, as an Australian, to come back and take up the challenge- having been on the land himself as a boy- to help an industry which at the time was facing all the problems posed by the entry of synthetics into the apparel fibre world. I think there is a limit to how much of the garbage that was poured out the other night Australia and the Senate can accept. I have made sure that I have answered the criticism tonight. I have a great regard for this man who has done so much for the industry in Australia.
Let me give a little more background to the Australian merino industry. It all started by chance. The special wool in Australia cannot be matched by any other country, with the exception of parts of South Africa and New Zealand. Because of our overall environment- I use the word ‘environment’ in its broad term- and because of the breeding that has taken place here with relationship to that environment, we have been able to breed a type of sheep and a type of wool in Australia that has remained unchallenged in the world. It is interesting to note that the Australian wool industry started when two sea captains were in South Africa en route to Australia. They went to a dispersal sale of a merino stud and bought some of the stud sheep. They brought them to Australia. Those that survived were sold to a man called Macarthur. He is the man who, along with others, bred these sheep. He is the founder, the father of the merino industry in Australia. The point I make is that we did not have merino sheep initially. They came from South Africa. The original flock was from Spain. The blood line is still there today.
I mention these things tonight because an honourable senator saw fit the other night, when referring to the marketing of wool and expressing concern about it, to use devious means to condemn a man who has made such a contribution to the wool industry. We have exported rams from Australia. The future of the industry has not always been as bright as it should be, but that has been due to international economic situations. But the industry, with all its problems, still has faith in the Australian Wool Industry Conference and the decisions which it makes, which were condemned by Senator Walsh the other night. The industry has confidence in the proposals put forward by the Government and is prepared to accept a levy to continue to support the floor price scheme for another 12 months. It realises that the establishment of such a scheme has been a good solid economic basis for the industry. It has given great support in the past and no doubt will give the same support in the future, as will people like Sir William Vines and the Australian Wool Industry Conference. I support the legislation that is before us this evening.
– in reply- Honourable senators who have spoken on these Bills have indicated the importance of them. I thank honourable senators from both sides of the chamber for their support of the measures. The comments made by Senator Young in relation to criticism were well noted. It is regrettable that from time to time individuals who are really great Australians and acknowledged to be so by the community are criticised in that way.
– We will finish up with a third reading debate.
-Senator Georges, it is important that the man ‘s character is -
– Yes, but Senator Young did all that was necessary.
– As long as the honourable senator recognises that. He could probably have some comment to his Senate colleague, which would be a good thing. There would not be one member of this Senate- at least on the Government side- who would not like to stand in this place and acknowledge the great strength and wisdom of Sir William Vines. Nobody in this place has known him longer than I. He sold paint to me when he was first a traveller on the road for Berger Paint Pty Ltd. That would have been back in the early 1 950s. One thing that one can acknowledge about such a man as Bill Vines is that every time one sees him he has grown in stature, and one recognises that he is a greater man. Regrettably that is not the case with many of those who criticise him.
I turn now to the effect of these Bills. They in no way affect that part of the wool tax- that is the 3 per cent that is directed towards wool research and promotion- but relate only to the 5 per cent component which wool growers contribute to the Market Support Fund. A contribution of 5 per cent will be continued for a further year with the concurrence, as was mentioned, of the Australian Wool Industry Conference.
Comment was made about the revolving fund. The Government does not oppose in principle the establishment of a fund on a revolving basis. The feasibility of this is at present under study and wool grower organisations are looking at this matter. To date a detailed proposal has not been presented to the Government, but a number of detailed aspects will have to be examined. For example, what proportion of the fund should safely be returned; what level in the fund do growers ideally wish to ensure is maintained; a challenge, for instance, of whether there is a common wish by growers to continue payments of tax into the Fund. The Government does not wish to rush growers in their examination of these proposals. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will be discussing these matters with them in the ensuing months.
I turn now to the adoption of the Australian Wool Corporation marketing report which proposed acquisition by the Corporation of the export portion of the clip. The Government has already authorised the Corporation to follow a number of aspects of the report, for example, the operation of the floor price arrangement, limited direct wool marketing by the Corporation and increased shipping powers for the Corporation to ensure that its resources are available in the negotiation of favourable freight rates. These are particularly important matters.
Other aspects are far-reaching in their nature and, perhaps once implemented, would be unable to be reversed if other procedures were subsequently found to be preferable. So the Government believes that there should be a clearer demonstration of the need for these other aspects and the predictability of their success. The Senate is dealing with Bills that relate to an industry which is the highest export income earner for this country. Its importance has been acknowledged. I recognise that many honourable senators on both sides of the chamber would wish to have spoken further on this legislation. I thank them for their assistance in hurrying the passage of these Bills.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 4 May, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Senate is considering certain amendments to the Commonwealth Banks Act which would enable the Commonwealth Development Bank of Australia, as the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) mentioned in his second reading speech, to lend to all kinds of businesses. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill, but I will be moving an amendment later. We have substantial reservations about its effectiveness. The changes which are proposed can be fairly described as cosmetic and, unless there is a substantial injection of funds by the Australian Government and an easing of the terms and conditions under which loans are made to small businesses, the Bill will be largely ineffective. The amendments are the end of a strange saga in the present Government’s attempts to assist small business and to extend the range of clients which the Commonwealth Development Bank might serve. It also represents contradictions in Australian Government policy about the institutional arrangements for financing Australian industry.
One of the election promises made by the Australian Government in 1975 was the establishment of a special Australian Rural Bank. At the same time, there was a promise to provide assistance to small business. Both proposals were related because they involved an extension of the Australian banking system. Interestingly, the Australian Bankers Association opposed the establishment of the Australian Rural Bank and had reservations about the proposals to assist small business. When Senator Cotton was Minister for Industry and Commerce he received a detailed submission from the Commonwealth Bank which indicated that the Bank had changed its mind about the Australian Bankers Association submission on the Rural Bank and suggested that the charter of the Commonwealth Development Bank should be extended and the position of the Bank as a lender of the last resort removed. The Bank’s proposal was supported by the major primary producer industry organisations which believed that the Australian Bankers Association members did not adequately meet rural industry requirements.
After a process which was extremely difficult at the time Senator Cotton eventually revealed that the Government had acceded to ABA pressure and the Commonwealth Development Bank charter would not be extended, but an institution now to be known as the Australian Primary Industry Bank would be established. The board of the Bank will be dominated by representatives of the trading banks. There will not even be a representative of the pastoral finance companies which are substantial lenders to primary industry. The Government still has not announced the full composition of the Bank board and there is no indication about the rates of interest and the terms and conditions of refinancing loans made available from the Bank. In contrast, the Government after much procrastination eventually handed down a statement on small business finance on 13 October 1977. During that statement the Minister said:
Early this year the Government detected a growing concern in the business community that funds flowing from the finance organisations appeared inadequate for the growth and development of small business.
The Minister, of course, used the word ‘detected’ which hardly described the position. Since the Liberal Party came to power, bankruptcies in small business have reached post-war records. Senator Cotton went on to state:
We will introduce legislation to extend the charter of the Commonwealth Development Bank to enable it to lend to all kinds of businesses. This will remove the present restrictions which confine its lending to the rural, tourist and industrial sectors.
However, the changes are largely cosmetic and certainly do not go to the full extent originally promised by Senator Cotton. As primary producers pointed out, one of the real problems with the Commonwealth Development Bank is that its hands are tied because it is a lender of the last resort. That situation has not been changed for either rural, tourist and manufacturing industries, or the new range to which the Bank may lend. The Minister’s second reading speech restates the situation as follows:
As is the case under the Development Bank’s present charter, prospective borrowers will need to establish to the satisfaction of the Bank, that the finance sought is not otherwise available on reasonable and suitable terms and conditions.
This has been one of the real predicaments in the rural sector and will now be expanded to the small business sector. Applicants for Development Bank funds, who are probably in a deteriorating financial position, will have to run the gauntlet of the trading banks before they can get their feet in the door of the Development Bank. Thus the extension of the charter has very limited value. It increases the amount of paper work and means that potential users of Development Bank funds will waste long periods of time going through the proper channels. This hardly constitutes a real improvement in the terms of conditions of lending for small business. Significantly, the Government has failed to fulfil the second part of Senator Cotton’s promise to small business. In the same speech which he made on 1 3 October he said:
We have decided also that the Commonwealth Development Bank will bc enabled to provide equity finance to small business.
Unless the Government places some strange interpretation on the meaning of the word equity, the Bill before the Senate should contain some provision allowing the Commonwealth Development Bank to purchase shares. It does not appear that such a provision exists, or if it does I cannot see it. If there is no such provision, then the Government has failed to fulfil the commitment given by Senator Cotton as late as October last year. In addition to the doubts already expressed, there is also the problem of the amount of funds provided to the Bank. The problems of small business are enormous. We all realise that. There have been a series of Government and non-government reports which have clearly shown that small business in all States is experiencing serious financial problems. Some of them arise because the Australian Government is a notoriously slow payer and bills take up to three months to be paid. In the interim, business is forced to obtain temporary, high cost short-term loans from the banks. This sort of problem will not be met by the Development Bank.
The Government has agreed that the lending limit to the Development Bank shall be increased from the existing ceiling of $4m. Although the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in his speech claims that the approval for borrowings will now only be a formality, there is no firm indication that there will be a substantial increase in the funds available through the Development Bank. We suspect there will be no additional funds, only a re-arrangement of the balance of lending between the rural sector and the new areas to which the Bank is now empowered to lend. It is for this reason that the Opposition wishes to move an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. I move:
We recall the large contingent of small businessmen who arrived on the steps of Parliament House before the last election. We remember the promises given by the Government that they could look forward to a brighter future. Instead of that, the depressed state of demand, the bleak international outlook and the Government’s tight monetary policy have squeezed small businessmen further and further. In the meantime, many of them have gone to the wall. There has been no hope and the present measure is one of the best current examples of too little too late. With the thousands of small businesses which have gone bankrupt in the last year or so, it must be obvious even to the Government that unless steps are taken which will inject the necessary finance into this area of our economy, then more shall businesses will continue to go to the wall. We indicate the fact that we will not oppose this legislation. There are some areas in which we accept that there are improvements. However, we believe- in view of the urgency and the magnitude of the problem which the Government, I am sure, did not envisage 12 months ago. or even longer, when these measures were first consideredthat although in principle this legislation may be helping the small business sector of the community, it obviously will not be able to do enough.
– I shall say a few words about the Commonwealth Banks Amendment Bill which is very important from the point of view of small businesses. I commend the Government for introducing this particular piece of legislation at this time, following the promises made before the election in December of last year. It is a step in the right direction. Whilst the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Wriedt, seems to see this legislation as some sort of bailing-out operation for small businesses that is certainly not the case. I am afraid that he misses the fundamental problem of small business which, of course, came about as a direct result of the Labor Government’s period in office. I am referring fundamentally to the question of high taxation caused through inflation and to inflation itself which has caused problems of financing for small business organisations.
The problems that small business face will not be overcome by a sudden injection of funds through the banking system. We have to overcome fundamental imbalances in the economy, such as inflation, in order to put small business on a sound footing. The purpose of legislation such as this is to provide that small businesses which are discriminated against in the capital markets on a fundamental basis have an opportunity to redress that wrong which is largely brought about by the first call on available funds going to large businesses. It is that problem which this Bill seeks to redress. That is the fundamental issue in this particular matter. It is surprising that this point was missed entirely by the Opposition in assessing the worth of this particular Bill.
I shall refer to one other point which concerns working capital for small businesses. Certainly, the Commonwealth Development Bank has a history of supporting small businesses of a rural type, and those in tourism from the point of view of providing capital for new fixed asset purchases, that is equipment, plant and so on. One of the major problems which small businesses face is that they find it very difficult, particularly in times of inflation, to finance the expanding needs for debtors, stock and working capital of the sort. That is a very real problem. Whether that banking system can cope with that is something which has been problematical in the last few years. Indeed, most small business have gone broke as a result of not being able to get support from their banks for those sorts of needs. It is a truism in business that businesses go broke in the short term; not in the long term. If they cannot meet their debts today or tomorrow they will go broke. Yet, they may have the capacity to be able to find money in the long term.
Consequently, I draw that point to the Government’s attention. I hope that the Commonwealth Development Bank recognises fully the need to be able to assist small businesses as much as possible in the area of working capital, as distinct from the provision of capital for the purchase of fixed assets. I do not think that the Opposition offers very much by its amendment. Certainly there is a need for further funds to be provided. But as the Government is considering other measures in regard to the financing of small businesses- this is spelt out in the second reading speech- it seems to be inopportune to discuss such an amendment as the Opposition has moved. I support the Bill.
– I thank Senator Wriedt and Senator Messner for their contributions to this debate. I recognise that other honourable senators would have wished to speak on this important matter. I certainly have had many proposals put to me that this is one Bill which the Senate must pass during this session because it is considered so necessary by many areas of business. They see it as increasing the availability of money and probably the opportunity for more competitive banking to a greater extent than in the past. The Bill also abides by an assurance that was given by the Government that the Commonwealth Banks Act would be amended to enable the Commonwealth Development Bank of Australia to extend its lending to all types of business for the benefit of such sectors as retailing, wholesaling, professional services and other areas of business, which this Bank was unable to do previously.
The questions put by Senator Wriedt probably relate to the complaint I have heard relating to all business over past years and that is the lack of availability of money. He said that bankruptcies had occurred because of the shortage of money. I do not know that bankruptcies often occur because of a shortage of money: Bankruptcies occur when the escalation of costs is so great that businesses find themselves in a very difficult liquid position. Indeed, as Senator Messner has mentioned, we saw this situation in the earlier years. Some businesses we’re not au fait with what was taking place in relation to that new thing- inflation- that hit us during the early 1 970s. Companies were taxed way beyond their means, the value of money had depreciated and people found that whatever they purchased–
– Oh, Senator, it is a bit late to start an argument of that sort.
– I am very pleased to see that Senator Georges is anxious to learn about this matter. If he knew anything about retailing he would know that when Labor was in power the escalation of costs was so rapid that most businesses started to go to the wall. The result of those Labor Government years and the escalation in costs, particularly of labour, was that businesses found themselves in a great deal of difficulty. What this Bill does is to open up another source of lending through this Commonwealth Development Bank for new areas. This Bill is welcomed by most sections of the community. I thank honourable senators for the contributions they have made to the debate.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Motion (by Senator Webster) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I shall not detain the Senate for very long, but there is a matter that I wish to raise on behalf of a constituent concerning what appears to be, from the evidence presented to me, a case of faulty administration or maladministration within the Department of Education. I notified the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) of this matter earlier in the day. It concerns a Mr Fred Ward of 83 Blencoe Street, West Leederville, Western Australia, and the regulations which govern eligibility for the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme. Regulation 44, which is No. 1 79 of 1 974 pursuant to the 1 973 Act, provided that if a student embarked upon a course of study which comprised less than threequarters of a full workload the student was ineligible for TEAS. That regulation was repealed in December 1976, I understand, and replaced by another regulation which changed the eligibility criteria from a whole year basis to a whole year or a term or semester basis. That is, any student who was enrolled for less than three-quarters of a full time study workload for a term or semester was ineligible for TEAS even if on average throughout the year the student exceeded the three-quarters of a full workload requirement. The regulation was effectively backdated from December 1976, when it was gazetted, to January 1976.
I do not want to pursue the question of backdating so much as the fact that the Department continued in 1 977 to supply information relevant to the original regulation 44 of 1974 and not to the regulation as amended in 1976. The Department wrote to Mr Ward on 9 March and enclosed a pamphlet which stated:
Your entitlement to allowance is conditional upon . . . (b) your undertaking at least three-quarters (or two-thirds in certain cases) of the normal workload prescribed by your institution for a full-time student in a year ofa course, in 1977.
The allowance was paid to Mr Ward throughout 1977 but early in 1978 the Department notified him that he was not eligible for the allowance in 1977 and would have to return all of the $3,058 that had been paid in 1977 before he could receive an allowance in 1978. In a further communication to Mr Ward on 21 March 1978 the discrepancy was acknowledged by the Department, which stated in its letter:
Your references to the ‘Information for Applicants’ booklet and the ‘Conditions of Award’ pamphlet have been noted.
That was when Mr Ward pointed out the discrepancies between the information supplied to him and the relevant information which applied at that time. The letter continued:
In the case of both the ‘Information for Applicants booklet and the ‘Conditions of Award’ pamphlet, this literature was produced prior to the amendments to Regulation 44 of 23 December 1976.
The Department was claiming that because of that it was exonerated from all responsibility. A letter from the Minister written in similar terms on 6 April 1978 stated:
While it is true that these amendments -
That is. the amendments to the regulation of 1976- were not included in the 1977 Information for Applicants booklet, you will appreciate that the booklet had to be printed well before the end of 1976 in order to be available for students intending to study in 1977.
What the Minister appears to be doing in that letter is justifying the continued circulation ofinformation which was inaccurate at the time it was being circulated by his Department on the grounds that it was relevant and accurate at the time it was printed, regardless of the fact that it was not relevant or accurate at the time it was circulated. The worst example of all of faulty administration was a further communication from the Department to Mr Ward on 1 1 April 1978, which again supplied him with the obsolete and inaccurate information with which he had been supplied in 1977. The letter pointed out that the allowance was conditional upon:
In other words, they are precisely the same conditions which the Department had notified Mr Ward prevailed a year earlier and which had in fact ceased to apply way back in 1976. 1 notice that the Minister for Education is not in the chamber. Obviously he has other commitments. No doubt the information will be conveyed to him. I issue an appeal to the Minister on behalf of Mr Ward and, I presume, other applicants who would have been affected, to use his ministerial discretion in view of the fact that inaccurate information has been supplied by his Department. I issue an appeal to the Minister also to endeavour to see that in the future the Department supplies students with information which is relevant and accurate.
– I have noted the comments made by Senator Walsh. I will direct Senator Carrick ‘s attention to them. I regret that he is not in the chamber. He has been tied up with a Cabinet meeting for most of the evening. Senator Walsh can be assured that Senator Carrick is alert to the problem and that he has a note relating to the particular case to which Senator Walsh has referred. Had he been available he would have had that note with him. Nevertheless, I will direct his attention to the matter again by asking him to look as the Hansard and I will see that a reply is forthcoming to Senator Walsh.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 June 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780608_senate_31_s77/>.