31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 78 citizens of Australia:
The Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the Victorian Federation of State School Parents ‘ Clubs respectfully showeth:-
That as citizens of Victoria and parents of State school children, we are most concerned that the quality of education available in our school be of the highest possible standard.
We believe that this can only be achieved if adequate Federal funds are provided. The recently announced policy of direct cuts to Government schools for 1979 must have an adverse effect on them.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should arrange for:
. Withdrawal of the Guidelines to the Schools Commission for 1979 and acceptance of its recommendations for Government schools.
An increase of a minimum of S per cent in real terms on base level programs for 1979.
Restoration of the $8m cut from the Capital Grams for Government Schools.
Increased recurrent and capital funding to Government schools. and your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 132 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That any downgrading or closures of Country Rail Services in South Australia would have grave consequences for the Railway Industry, Primary Industry, Individual Country Communities and the State as a whole and calls on the Parliament to ensure that the Federal Minister for Transport takes the necessary action to maintain all existing services.
That continued and increased Public Subsidy is fully justified in the long term National Interest.
Petition received and read.
-I present the following petition from 355 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble Petition respectfully showeth:
That the decision of the Australian Government to depart from its 1975 election promise, a promise re-affirmed during the 1977 election campaign, that pensions would be increased twice-yearly in line with increases in the C.P.I-, will seriously add to the economic burdens now borne by those citizens who are wholly or mainly dependent on their pensions.
Your petitioners are impelled by this fact to call upon the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to review the abovementioned decision, and to determineThat pensions will be increased twice yearly in line with rises in the C.P.I, as promised by the Prime Minister in his 1975 policy speech.
Your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 19 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate, in Parliament Assembled.
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas the Fraser Government was elected in December 1975 after promising that pensions would be adjusted instantly and automatically in relation to quarterly Consumer Price Index Figures;
And whereas the Government subsequently announced that pension adjustments should properly be made half yearly each May and November;
It is the current intention of the same Government to legislate for pensions to be adjusted only once a year, and this constitutes a serious breach of generally accepted ethics, of Democratic Governmnent, and also deprives many needy pensioners of increases that are essential to their Subsistence.
The foregoing facts impel the under-signed Petitioners to request the Australian Government to uphold the principle that trustworthiness of Governments should at all times be above question.
And to appeal to the Parliament to prevent the imposition of further economic hardship upon Australian pensioners, by rejecting any Bill which has for its aim the introduction of annual adjustments of Pension rates.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
Human Rights in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
– I present the following petition from 87 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament Assembled.
The Petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
Lithuania, a nation of over 3 million people, is deprived of human freedom and those national and individual rights which are deemed sacred in Australia today.
In 1940, Lithuania was occupied by the USSR in coalition with Hitler Nazi Germany, Lithuania, with a history of seven centuries as an identifiable State and also twenty-three years as a modern republic, now represents a compelling case study of the violation of human rights by the Soviet Occupation Regime. The Lithuanian nation accepted Christianity in 1251. By 1386 most the Lithuanian State had accepted Christianity and Western European culture.
Those who have the courage to speak out in defence of national and human rights in Lithuania are dealt with by the Moscow government in a manner which is abhorrent to every freedom-minded person in Australia.
In recent time the following Lithuanian dissidents have been imprisoned in concentration camps: Viktoras Petkus, Balys Gajauskas, Nijole Sadunaite, Algirdas Zypre, Petras Plumpa, Sarunas Zukauskas, Vytautas Kavoliunas, Povilas Petronis, Ona Pranckunaite, Petras Paulaitis, J. Matulionis and many others.
Your Petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should condemn the following methods which the Soviet Regime makes use of to silence dissidentsprison camps, psychiatric institutions, drug therapy and exile in Siberia. We further ask you to intercede on behalf of the above mentioned Lithuanian dissidents in order to free them from their imprisonment.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 46 citizens of Australia:
To the honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of North Queensland, support this protest at the unjust treatment by the Federal Government of people depending on the old age pension, which is considered to be below the poverty level.
That we protest at the Federal Government’s failure to provide all sections of the Australian community with conditions of retirement more comparable to that section who now retire in comfon under superannuation and long service leave schemes.
That immediate action be taken to provide that all sections of the Australian work force be allowed to retire under a more comparable level than that which exists at present.
That we protest at the re-introduction of the means test for people over seventy years of age, especially those people who have already been assessed by the Social Security Department before being placed on a full age pension.
That we protest at the Government’s failure to honour their promise to have pensions adjusted in line with the C.P.I. cost of living adjustments, which is applied to all other sections of the community.
That the amounts allowed for earnings by single and married pensioners should be increased to a more comparable level to the high cost of living, before it affects the pensions.
That the amount allowable before a pensioner pays income tax which covers all forms of income, including the annual pension, should be increased, as the high cost of living warrants this consideration.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
ACT Termination of Pregnancy Ordinance
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the Termination of Pregnancy Ordinance (No. 16 of 1978) has the effect of prohibiting the Operation of private abortion clinics in the ACT.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Honourable Senators should vote to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Melzer.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Chipp and Senator Sheil.
To the Honourable, the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth.
That the provision of payments for abortion through items of the Medical Benefits Schedule is an unacceptable endorsement of abortion which has now reached the levels of a national tragedy with at least 60,000 unborn babies being killed in 1977.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will so amend the Medical Benefits Schedule as to preclude the payment of any benefit for abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senators Webster, Chipp, Missen and Melzer.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the people of Australia having taken part in the government of Australia through universal suffrage in December 1975 and again in December 1977 and that on the basis of their expressed choice at the ballot box the people of Australia gave authority to the LiberalNational Country Pany Coalition to form a federal government to bring into effect specific policies promulgated throughout the length and breadth of Australia by the said Coalition and that, whereas by virtue of being elected through universal suffrage, the Government Members now sitting in the House of Representatives were authorised to implement their stated objectives by legislation and that such authority did not extend to acting otherwise or to enact legislation not previously submitted to the will of the people, namely: ° Revoking the legislation for twice-yearly pension payments. ° Imposing a freeze on the free-of-means-test pension. 0 Unemployed divided into those with dependents and those without. o Imposing income tax on pensions under age pension age- invalid and repatriation service pensions; rehabilitation allowances and incentives; sheltered employment and allowances for tuberculosis sufferers (civilian and service) and any other impositions.
Your petitioners submit that all or any of the foregoing proposed legislation of the Lower House, if implemented, will greatly disadvanatage many thousands of citizens as either against their will or not submitted to universal vote as the democratic right of the Australian people, therefore,
Your petitioners call on the Senate as the House of Review to take appropriate action to release these persons from burdens unfairly placed in order to finance a deficit not of their making.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Melzer.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government Business take precedence of General Business at 8 p.m. on Thursdays for the remainder of the present period of sittings.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the Senate notes with concern the lack of action by the Australian Government to relieve Australian citizens of the disadvantages of dual nationality, particularly as experienced in visiting former homelands, and urges the Government speedily to implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on dual nationality, tabled in the Senate on 14 October 1976.
-I ask the Minister for Education: Has the Tertiary Education Commission written to Australian universities indicating that from the beginning of 1980 they should achieve a level of study leave which, averaged over the two years, 1980 and 1981, will not exceed 7 per cent of available man-years in staff time? Does this request not imply that the Tertiary Education Commission in this letter has adopted an approach different to that of the final report of the Tertiary Education Commission and the statement by the Minister which indicated that study leave would be phased in over three years, including the year 1981? Is the Minister aware of the letter from the Tertiary Education Commission to the universities and did he instruct the Commission to write in those terms?
– I have not seen the text of any such letter. I will seek it out, study it and compare it with the Cabinet decision and the Tertiary Education Commission report, and respond to Senator Button.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I draw the Minister’s attention to the finding of the recent health survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that 2.6 per cent of children aged between one and five years had not received any triple-antigen vaccination for whooping cough, tetanus and diptheria and that 3.8 per cent of children in the same age group had not received polio vaccination. I ask the Minister whether action is being taken to ensure that all children will receive these vaccinations to protect them from the risk of potentially fatal illnesses.
– I am not aware of the recent survey nor do I have any information from the Minister for Health on this matter. I will refer the question to him and seek the informaton for Senator Walters.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs and follows questions I asked him last week about consumer affairs. Is the Minister aware that a number of products declared unsafe by the New South Wales Department of Consumer Affairs or in respect of which that Department requires special warnings to be given to consumers are on sale in the Australian Capital Territory? Specifically, these goods include car jacks which collapse under stress, rotary paint strippers which can cause eye injury, children’s tents without adequate ventilation, portable fire extinguishers which do not conform to proper standards, children’s bath fun foam which can cause suffocation and baby walkers and folding tables which can cause injury to young children. Has the Government carried out a survey to establish whether goods so certified by the States are on sale in Canberra? What steps will the Government take to warn and protect consumers who may not be aware of the problems associated with such goods?
– I am not aware of the detail of the goods which are being sold in the Australian Capital Territory and which have been declared unsafe by the New South Wales Consumer Affairs Council, nor am I aware whether the Government has done any survey on the matter. I am not quite sure whether this question comes within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs or whether it comes within the jurisdiction of the Minister for the Capital Territory, but I will ensure that the question is directed to the right Minister.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. It follows a question I asked last week on the cost advantage of electric power produced from nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom in comparison with that produced from oil and coal. Will he obtain information on the cost of electricity produced from nuclear power compared with power produced from oil and coal in the following countries: The United States, Canada, countries of the European Economic Community, Sweden, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries? What proportion of electric power needs are met from nuclear power stations in those countries? Would cost advantages for nuclear power, if they exist in these countries, also apply to Australia?
– Last week Senator Sim asked me a question about the report of the Atomic Energy Commission in the United Kingdom which I said I would seek to obtain and read. I must confess that I am having great difficulty getting hold of the document which does not seem to be readily available in Australia. Now he wants to extend the inquiry to the United States, Canada, Sweden, the Eastern Bloc and so on. It is a fairly tall order that he is putting on my plate. However, I will make the inquiries. I will certainly refer the matter to the Minister for National Development and see whether the information that Senator Sim seeks can be obtained.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs been drawn to the attitude of the Malaysian
Government and the Singapore Government to the 2,500 Vietnamese refugees aboard the Hai Hong as reported in the Press yesterday? Have approaches been made to the Australian Government by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to allow these refugees to settle in Australia? If no approach has been made, what will the Government’s reaction be if the ship comes into Darwin harbour in the same way as the 46 refugee boats before it have done?
– I have no detailed knowledge of the matter raised by Senator Robertson. As it is a matter of importance I will refer it immediately to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to see whether he wishes to make a statement on it.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Education. Despite the fact that it is the Government’s wish to hand over the Northern Territory branch of the Department of Education in good condition to the Northern Territory Government on 1 July 1979, is it not a fact that the Public Service Board has rejected submissions for increases in staff in regional areas? I cite as an example the position of senior education adviser for Tennant Creek and new positions to enable the training of Aboriginal youth as teachers and teacher’s aids, to be placed in isolated areas and outstations where conditions for the placement of white staff is difficult. It is also correct that the Public Service Board has decided not to create these positions because the transfer of the responsibilities of the Department of Education to the Northern Territory Government will take place shortly and it has been decided to put the Northern Territory in a holding situation regardless of what this lack of action may create? Is it also a fact that while the Federal Government calls on the States to give Aboriginal people more employment, it too has responsibilities within the area of its authority?
-Senator Kilgariff asked a series of questions relating to the preparations for the handover of responsibilities in education to the Northern Territory Government as from 1 July 1979. The questions covered a number of very complex issues. There is no question that the Government is taking all possible steps to hand over the functions of the Department of Education in the best condition possible. Only a few days ago I had a very lengthy conversation with Mr Robertson, the Northern Territory Minister for Education, on these matters.
The first part of Senator Kilgariff^ question related to increases in staff in regional areas. It is true that my Department submitted to the Public Service Board in July a proposal for some 20 additional Commonwealth Teaching Service positions, the occupants of which would be located in and spend substantial periods in regional areas. It should be made clear that no overall increase in the Northern Territory’s Commonwealth Teaching Service ceiling was requested. The Public Service Board has agreed to give priority consideration to the creation of about one half of the regionally based positions in the proposal.
The second part of the question dealt with new positions to enable the training of Aboriginal youth as teachers and teaching aides. My Department provides Aboriginals with the opportunity to progress from employment as a teacher’s aide to employment as a teacher with the Commonwealth Teaching Service. We have had considerable success, particularly with the full time departmental course at Batchelor Teacher Education Centre. We are proposing to develop new in-service training centres in Ti Tree. One that has now commenced is the training course at Ti Tree centre where teachers ‘ aides from that area can gain the same sort of qualification by spending half of each day in their schools and the other half undergoing a training course.
It is true that the Commonwealth itself has a national Aboriginal employment strategy. It is working to develop that strategy. It has a responsibility, along with the States, local government and enterprise, to employ Aborigines. We are working to the best of our endeavours to fulfil that responsibility. The Education Department in the Northern Territory itself is a signficant employer of Aboriginal labour.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Bearing in mind the announcement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs yesterday that bugging devices were found in the Australian Embassy in Moscow as long ago as last June, five months ago, why has it taken the Government five months to give such advice to the Australian Parliament?
-I think Senator Douglas McClelland would know that it is a well establishment practice which has been followed by successive governments not to comment generally on matters involving security or intelligence.
On this occasion, however, a Press report had been published which, while not accurate as to details, was likely to give rise to extensive and perhaps damaging speculation. The Government decided in the circumstances that it would be better on this occasion to reveal the facts publicly. The Government was aware of this matter some months ago. It conveyed its awareness to the representatives of the foreign government concerned. In the normal course of events, the incident would have remained at that level but a semi-accurate story was published in the Press. My understanding is that my colleague published the truth yesterday so that there could be no doubt about the facts.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. It concerns the Commonwealth funded Special Youth Employment Training program. Is the Minister aware of reports that a sizeable number of employers are taking advantage of the program by using the $45 a week Government subsidy to hire cheap labour while giving no real training to the young? Do the Department’s records indicate whether substantial numbers of youths employed under the program have been laid off immediately on expiration of the subsidy? Does the Minister agree that this criticism has brought into question whether the program is intended to provide a partial solution to the employment problem, or whether it is simply acting to decrease temporarily the level of jobless school leavers? Will the Minister take steps to ensure that the Special Youth Employment Training Program is not misused in the future?
– I am aware, and certainly the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is aware, of reports and complaints that are made from time to time- indeed they are made in this chamber- that a number of employers are taking advantage of the Special Youth Employment Training Program. However, the Minister does not accept that there is a sizeable number of instances of this kind although he would agree that from time to time instances of misuse of the scheme are brought to his attention. He and his Department take steps to prevent such misuse from occurring. The scheme has been designed as a training program and not an employment subsidy scheme. The intention is not to establish a job creation scheme or to provide an employer with a permanent supply of subsidised labour. The view of the
Government is that the program should apply only to unemployed young people who are unable to compete on the open market because they are not attractive to employers. This approach has the endorsement of the National Training Council. It is important to point out that the Government has established the scheme so that unemployed young people can gain work skills which enhance their prospects of stable and satisfying working lives. The program has met with a great deal of success. Approximately 80,000 young people have been assisted under the scheme since it was introduced in October 1976. Surveys taken by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations show that on completion of the training period approximately one-third of the trainees were still with their original employers and overall two-thirds were still in employment. As I have said, although the Minister is aware of some abuses of the scheme, in the Government’s opinion these do not detract from the overall outstanding success of the scheme in helping unemployed young people.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and follows the question asked by Senator Douglas McClelland. Can the Minister identify the Press statement or statements which occasioned the Minister for Foreign Affairs yesterday to make the statement that he did? Also, can he indicate to the Senate whether it is now Government policy that in future when garbled or inaccurate statements are made in the media involving matters of security, the Government intends on each occasion to make an accurate statement on that particular matter?
– I will seek out the basis of the statement and let Senator Wriedt have the information. The future policy on such matters is something for my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs to comment upon. I simply report that my understanding is that a Press report was published which had substance but lacked accuracy. It was felt by the Minister concerned that a correction of it would be sensible; otherwise there would have been a running comment and I have no doubt that the Opposition would be seeking from us whether the report were true.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for
Health and refers to the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme which was introduced by the Commonwealth Government on 1 October this year. I fully support this scheme and any other scheme that will assist isolated people. However, I would like further information on three aspects of this scheme. Firstly, will the Minister consider the placing of advertisements in all country newspapers in Australia to publicise the scheme so that country people will become aware of what is available to them to help equalise health care costs as compared with capital city residents? Secondly, will he consider giving details of what criteria will be used when travel by air will be authorised, bearing in mind the long distances and hot conditions that often prevail in the country areas of Australia? Thirdly, will he consider widening the scheme to cover where necessary specialist dental and optical treatment where that is not available in the locality of the person requiring such treatment?
– I am advised on this matter by the Minister for Health that the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme was advertised in the national rural Press. However, consideration will be given to advertising the scheme in country newspapers circulated in denned isolated areas. Although surface travel is regarded as the normal means of travel eligible for assistance, air travel may be considered where the medical condition of the patient requires it. The referring doctor must certify as to the need. Also, consideration may be given to air travel where surface travel presents undue difficulties. However, each case in this category will be decided on its merits.
Benefits under the scheme are restricted to treatment provided by a medical specialist or consultant physician, as recognised in the Health Insurance Act. Thus, only treatments carried out within their particular specialty attract benefits under the scheme. However, it is the Government’s intention continually to evaluate the scheme to ensure it is meeting its aim of assisting people in isolated areas to meet health costs. Whilst widening the scheme to cover specialist, dental and optical treatment can be considered, the Minister can give no commitment as to their inclusion in this scheme at this stage.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health: With respect to the second part of my question, who will actually authorise the air travel?
– As I stated, the referring doctor must certify as to the need for air travel and consideration may be given to air travel where surface travel presents undue difficulties. I am not aware of the administrative arrangements with respect to that, but I could have that checked for Senator Thomas and see that he is advised. But the referring doctor stressing the urgency of the treatment would be one of the requirements to have air travel approved.
– I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Special Trade Representations a question which arises from statements made by the Prime Minister in his nationwide address on Sunday, 12 November, when he said:
How many of you know that Australian companies are exporting furniture to Sweden and colour TV sets are being exported into the toughest market in the world- to Hong Kong- against Japanese competition?
I ask the Minister Firstly, how many companies are exporting furniture to Sweden; what is the volume and value of the exports; and how many Australian workers are engaged in the manufacture of this furniture? Secondly, how many companies are exporting colour television sets to Hong Kong; what is the number of the sets and the value of the exports; how many Australian workers are employed in the manufacture of these sets; and are all of the component parts for the sets manufactured in Australia or are they imported from Japan or from some other country?
-Mr President, the question really should be directed to the Minister for Trade and Resources, whom I represent, so I will direct it to him. The tone of Senator McLaren’s question somewhat surprised me because he did not seem to be aware of, or to understand, or even to be in favour of the really remarkable amount of export initiatives that there are in Australia, to which the Prime Minister referred. In fact, Senator McLaren seemed to be a bit disappointed that Australians really are successful in many of these activities. I think it was most commendable that the Prime Minister should have -
– On a point of order, Mr President, the function of Question Time is for a Minister to answer a question directed to him. He cannot import tone, as the Minister calls it, into a question. He must either answer a question or not answer it.
– The point of order is not sustained.
– If Senator Button does not like the word ‘tone’, I will change it to ‘implication’. Certainly a number of details about these matters should be publicised as widely as possible. I hope that detailed answers can be provided for Senator McLaren as soon as possible so that even he will understand the successes that are obtained.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. I preface it by saying that it has been stated that, by 198 1 , there will be approximately 45,000 surplus teachers at an expense to the taxpayer of $795m and that these teachers will have no prospects of jobs in the teaching profession. In view of the fact that the average teacher load of Victorian secondary school teachers is already only 16.2 hours a week compared with an average of between 2 1 and 25 hours a week in the United States, Canada and England, the further fact that the overall student population is now on the decrease in Australian schools and the final fact that no evidence supports a contention that lower teacher loads provide any better quality of education anyway, I ask: What action has been taken or is being considered to encourage these potential surplus teachers to transfer to other activities which offer reasonable job prospects and which would assist in containing soaring education costs?
– When the Fraser Government came to office it became clear throughout Australia that, despite an enormous increase in the employment of teachers, if the trend of recruitment of teacher trainees continued there would be a considerable surplus of teachers in the mid-1980s. Taking the most optimum class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios of world class that one could take, there would have been a very heavy surplus of teachers. The fact is that in 1975 some 25,000 teacher trainees were recruited. The Government has acted upon that and there has been a significant reduction in the number of teacher trainees. At the same time, there has been a very significant increase in the number of teachers in the overall work force. I should put these two facts in perspective: Between 1972 and 1978 there has been an increase in the number of teachers in Australia from 132,000 to 172,000. That is an increase of 31 per cent or almost one-third, compared with a very minor increase in the school population. This in fact has meant that class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios are of world class. In the space of two years, as a result of action by my Government, there has been a huge increase of 1 1 per cent to 12 per cent in the number of teachers employed. There has not been disemployment; there has been employment. There has been a move to slow down the rate of teacher training because of the fact that in the coming year there will be not only a stagnation but also the start of a decline in the number of students in schools.
One of the reasons for an emerging surplus is that whereas until some years ago the average resignation rate of teachers each year from the work force was between 12 per cent and 13 per cent, in more recent years it has been about 9 per cent. That has meant that over the past two years on that trend about 15,000 more teachers have been retained than would normally be the case. One cannot tell what the loss of teachers will be in the future or what the resignation rate will be. One wants to attract the very best teacher trainees that is possible. A working party of the Commonwealth and State has agreed on a working document. The Tertiary Education Commission has published figures showing that the intake of trainees is being regulated. We are producing this reduction while maintaining an increase in total enrolment in universities and colleges. It is quite clear that those persons who might otherwise have gone into teacher training are going into other areas of tertiary education. That is happening automatically. Nevertheless, I am bound to say to Senator Lewis that it ought to be possible and it is possible for persons trained as teachers to obtain alternative work of skill within the community. There are demands for such people.
– I ask the Minister for Administrative Services: How many Ford Fairmont vehicles in the fleet of the Department of Administrative Services have suffered driver seat collapses? Are the motors of these vehicles prone to vaporisation and consequent cut-out even in mild weather? Have there been instances of brake lock-ups with these same vehicles? Has the Ford Motor Company of Australia been notified of these faults? If so what, if any, action has that company taken to remedy the situation?
– If there is any truth in the matters which have been raised by the honourable senator I am a little surprised that I have not heard about them. I must say that one of the interesting things about this portfolio is that one is very accessible to a portion of the department that one administers. My common experience is that car drivers let me know all of the matters that are concerning them in the administration of the Department and of the car pool. I am pleased to say that not one of them has complained of seat collapse, brake problems or vaporisation. I could go on to list some of the things about which they have complained. I will, however, check on the matters that have been raised with respect to the Ford Fairmonts and let the honourable senator have a detailed reply.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry whether he can advise how many fishing joint ventures have so far been approved under the guidelines for the 200-mile zone legislation, how many have been rejected and how many are still awaiting decision. Can the Minister also advise whether there are any administrative problems holding up approvals and when the allocation for the balance of the waters may be completed?
– I am unable to give an accurate answer to the honourable senator because the question comes within the portfolio of the Minister for Primary Industry whom I represent. Some facts need to be obtained and I think I should get them accurately for the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and refers to a letter that I wrote to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications on 20 October 1978 requesting an extension of time, from three months to 12 months, for public discussion of the report of the task force on the national communications satellite system. I gave many reasons why this extension should be granted, including the importance to the general public, the employment implications and in particular the lack of availability of the report at the time it was tabled. I have had no reply from the Minister to my request for an extension of time. Is the matter still under consideration? When can I expect a reply?
– I was not aware that a little over three weeks ago the honourable senator had written to Mr Staley on this matter. I must say that for an honourable senator to have to wait between three and four weeks for a reply on an inquiry of that kind would not be unusual, in my experience. I will mention the matter to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and ask him to expedite a reply to the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister for Health aware of media reports that a super-international horse race is being planned for Flemington in early 1980, in which overseas horses are expected to take part? Has the Department of Health been contacted on this matter in respect to Australia’s quarantine laws? If so, what is the Government’s attitude?
– I understand that the Minister for Health is aware of the proposal being put forward by certain Victorian racing interests that an international horse race be planned for the early 1980s, in which overseas horses would be invited to take part. I also understand that no official approach has been made to the Department of Health to date. However, the matter has been raised informally by an official of the Victoria Racing Club with a view to arranging detailed discussions on this proposal with quarantine officers in the near future. The attitude of the Government to the proposed race is that horses imported to Australia would be required to comply with normal quarantine requirements. I will see whether there is any further information on the matter that can be provided to Senator Maunsell.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Under the new borrowing arrangements with the States, is the Commonwealth Government, or the particular State government to act as guarantor for the loans? If the Commonwealth is to act as guarantor, will the figures involved each financial year show up in the Federal Budget?
– As soon as I get an absolutely precise answer from the Treasurer -
– The answer is no.
-We now know the answer, because Senator Georges says that it is no. However, we will find out from the Treasurer whether, in fact, Senator Georges has diagnosed the answer correctly.
-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Do I gather from what the Minister has said that he personally does not know the answer or that the matter was not discussed with the Premiers at the meeting held last Monday week?
– The Senate will know that I am no longer the Minister assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs and therefore I did not attend the Premiers’ Conference. I do have a fair amount of past experience in this matter. It is sufficient to warn me that what I should do is go to the records of the Premiers’ Conference and define precisely what ought to be the answer. Indeed, if there is any urgency in this matter, I will get the information for Senator Wriedt for tomorrow or next week.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. On 2 June this year I reminded the Minister that the Minister for Health had reported that sums totalling some millions of dollars were owed to Medibank by private health funds because of payments made by Medibank on behalf of private funds during the period of restructuring the health scheme so that individual contributors would not be disadvantaged. I pointed out that the Hospital Benefits Association of Victoria, which owed at least $ 1.4m,. said that it would not pay. I asked what action the Government intended to take to see that the amounts owed were paid. The Minister advised that the matter would be referred to the Minister for Health for reply, but I have received no reply. In view of today’s report that Medibank Private is some millions of dollars in the red, I again ask what action the Government intends to take to recover money owed by private funds.
– I regret that Senator Melzer has not had an answer to her previous question with regard to the private health funds. I will again seek that information from the Minister for Health and see whether he is in a position to make a statement immediately with regard to the matters that have been raised. I am aware of some of the things that were mentioned by the honourable senator, but at this stage I do not have a detailed reply from the Minister. I will need to seek an answer from him.
Senator Walters having addressed a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs-
– Order! The question does not come within the scope of the Minister’s responsibilities.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen an article in a recent issue of Hemisphere magazine stating that a new medicine, vitex cannabifolia volatile, an extract of a herb, is successful in treating bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory complaints? Can the Minister say whether this medicine is available in Australia and whether it is widely used by the medical profession?
– I will refer the question to the Minister for Health to seek some information on the matter that has been raised.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer the Minister to a question previously asked by Senator Georges and which was replied to by the Minister for Transport on 10 October 1978. The Minister claimed that Qantas Airways Ltd was the first Australian airline to seek permission to allow aircraft to take off with visibility as low as 350 metres. I ask the Minister whether arrangements can be made to table the written submissions by Qantas and Ansett Airlines of Australia which sought the reduced minimum. In view of the loss of about 550 lives following the collision of two jet aircraft on the Canary Islands runway in fog in March 1 977, how does the Minister justify the introduction of a 350 metres take-off minimum for Ansett Airlines of Australia, or any other airline for that matter, and how does his Department guarantee that in conditions of fog at 350-metre visibility the runway will be clear of vehicles and aircraft, should a breakdown in communications occur? Further, should an emergency occur when the visability is only 350 metres, what prescribed time limit is allowed for the rescue and fire fighting services to locate the aircraft? Will the Minister also name the airports at which the 350 metres take-off visibility applies?
- Senator Keeffe raises a matter which has always been of keen interest in Australia. One has a certain superstitious reluctance to refer to the very good safety record of Australian airlines. That, however, is a fact. This is in part of course a function of the very high standards which have been required by the Government and by the airlines themselves. The 350 metres visibility limit is a matter on which I have no detailed knowledge. I shall refer all of the detailed questions which have been asked by the honourable senator to Mr Nixon to obtain a reply for him.
– I direct my question to the Attorney-General. I refer to the negotiations that have been proceeding for some considerable time now for the transfer to the Commonwealth of power with regard to family law in the areas where there is divided jurisdiction as a result of High Court litigation in the last few years. Can the Attorney-General tell us whether there have been negotiations or any indications by the States recently that they are now prepared to transfer the necessary powers to the Commonwealth?
– The situation is really much the same as it was some time ago when I answered a question- probably from Senator Missen- in relation to it. Certainly there is no change in the attitude of Western Australia and Queensland. I was talking to the AttorneyGeneral of Queensland the other day who made this perfectly clear, as he always does when I meet him or talk to him about the subject. But, as far as the other States are concerned, as far as I know I have not received any formal advice in relation to the matter. I am grateful to Senator Missen for raising it again. I shall try to get an up to date report for him but I have no reason to believe any hitch has occurred in the attitudes of the Attorneys-General of the other States. I shall check to see what progress has been made in each State in respect of the reference of this power.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. What officers are exempt from the provisions of the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act 1960? If no officers are exempt, has the Attorney-General authorised any officers of the Department of Defence to tap telephone conversations of Department of Defence employees at their place of work or their private residence? What facilities exist to prevent telephone tapping? What facilities exist for detection of illegal telephone tapping activities? What officers are charged with policing and enforcing the Act? Do they have access to the Department of Defence?
-Mr President, I would follow the general rule of not giving an answer to questions in relation to security matters. Insofar as that question does ask whether I have authorised interception in respect of any particular class of people or telephones, I certainly would not answer it. However, there are some aspects of the question which are obviously not of that character or do not appear to be of that character. In view of that aspect of the question, I think I would invite Senator Wriedt to put it on notice. I shall endeavour to obtain a detailed answer for him.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to the Joy report on railway standardisation which was presented to the Government some time ago. I am anxious to learn what stage has been reached by the Government in the study of that report and whether any decision has been made concerning the standardised line between Adelaide and Port Pirie?
– I do not have any information on the matter raised by the honourable senator. I shall seek a reply for him from the Minister for Transport.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. By way of preface, I mention that my question is prompted by an actual incident involving a recipient of unemployment benefit. Are persons receiving unemployment benefit who have had a win at the races or who have collected prizes at bingo or on poker machines obliged to record their win in statements of income required fortnightly by the Department of Social Security? If so, how many people does the Minister expect will lose their unemployment benefit because they backed Arwon last week in the Melbourne Cup?
– I am not aware of the practice of the Department in determining eligibility on the basis of those wins that were mentioned by Senator Colston. I shall check the procedure and advise him accordingly. Equally, I am unable to answer how many people were fortunate enough to back the winner of the Melbourne Cup last week.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and preface it by pointing out that my mother was not scared by a telephone, neither was she stamped upon. I ask the Minister: As booklets of stamps were a most convenient way of buying stamps when they were available and were philatelic items valued by collectors, most probably because the stamps often had portraits of Prime Ministers on them, will the Minister ask the Minister for Post and
Telecommunications to consider the reintroduction of stamps in booklet form? May I suggest that the booklet be of the value of $5 which, no doubt, the Minister will realise in a flash represents twenty-five 20c stamps.
– I am rather put off by the thought of stamps carrying likenesses of Prime Ministers. When we think of all the things we do to stamps it seems terribly undignified. I was not aware that the practice of issuing stamps in booklet form had been discontinued although, now that the honourable senator has mentioned it, it is a long time since I have seen a booklet of stamps. I will seek information from the Australian Postal Commission on why that practice was discontinued.
– My question about Whyalla is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. No doubt the Minister will recall questions from both sides of the chamber which have been asked over a number of months following the closure of the shipyards and representations from both sides of the chamber about possible industrial activity at Whyalla. The Minister may have seen the recent statement that in Whyalla there are a number of social problems arising from unemployment and that there are many vacant houses in Whyalla. Although a Minister has visited Whyalla and has had discussions with the local council- I think Senator Jessop might have accompanied him- I do not recall any report having been given to the Senate in response to the questions we have asked about studies being made in conjunction with the South Australian Government and whether the shipbuilding activity might be reviewed together with endeavours in relation to railway rolling stock. I ask the Minister whether he can obtain a general report about the examinations which have been made by the Federal Government, perhaps in concert with the State Government, and give it to the Senate. Can he advise whether there is still co-operation between Federal Government and State Government officials to pursue whatever economic activity is possible for Whyalla in order to avoid those social problems which have attracted some public discussion in that State?
-Senator Bishop has raised a matter which, as he has said, has been raised in the Senate on a number of occasions because of the concern felt by honourable senators from South Australia about the Whyalla situation. I did see a report in the Advertiser of 14 November about the situation and, in fact, the honourable senator drew my attention to it. I must say, however, that his own recollection answers the question in part. There is a continuing Commonwealth interest in the problems at Whyalla and I think it was true that Senator Jessop went with the Minister for Industry and Commerce to that town in June or July- I think it was June- and had discussions with the local authority and with industry in the town. As far as I know, and as Senator Bishop has said, there has not been any report to the Senate or to the Parliament about what is currently happening. Certainly I will seek information for the Senate and make it available as soon as possible.
I am a little concerned about the report to which Senator Bishop drew my attention because it appears from it that some action is being taken by the State Government which is exacerbating the problems in the town. The local Australian Labor Party member for Whyalla is reported in the newspaper, when commenting on the severe social problems, as saying that he believed that the Community Welfare Department in Adelaide had encouraged and advised people to take advantage of the cheap Whyalla housing. If that is happening it does seem to me to be a most short-sighted approach on the part of the South Australian Government and I would urge Senator Bishop to urge his Labor colleague in that State not to take that approach to the relocation of those people seeking housing in Adelaide. It seems fairly clear that while Whyalla remains in a relatively depressed position it is not wise to be encouraging migration to the town, particularly of people who already have social problems.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel in the report to which Senator Bishop referred me. I notice that the State Director-General for Economic Development commented in the same article that the loss of employment has not been as bad as expected and that in fact there has been some absorption into the steel works of the people who have lost their jobs at the shipyards. Reference is made in that article to the constant on-going endeavour to try to find employment in Whyalla. I think I can assure the honourable senator that the Commonwealth would be anxious to co-operate with State authorities in alleviating that position.
– I ask a supplementary question. I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that 300 homes are vacant because of the closure of the shipyards. I know that the steel works has taken in some workers. The issue of the work studies in which the State and Federal governments were engaged related to a question of whether the Federal Government might assist the setting up of industry and in particular the possible creation of a rolling stock manufacturing industry. I am asking the Minister: Did Mr Lynch, when he went to Whyalla, give any report in respect of those matters, or has that sort of venture been given up?
– They are very proper questions on which I hope to be able to give a reply to the honourable senator.
-My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the concern in the Riverland area of South Australia with regard to the two present Industries Assistance Commission inquiries on potable spirits and grape growing. Can the Minister say when these respective reports will be received and when the Government will be in a position to announce its decisions on these matters which are of vital importance to the brandy industry in South Australia?
– I acknowledge Senator Messner ‘s interest, which he has disclosed on many occasions in the Senate, in this particularly important industry to South Australia. I am not able to comment very comprehensively on the status of the Industries Assistance Commission reports. I note from information I have before me that in August the Minister for Primary Industry announced that a reference on grapes and wine had been sent to the Industries Assistance Commission for inquiry and report by 3 1 July 1979. 1 can say only that I would imagine that at the moment those reports are not very close to being received. However, if there is a difference between that information and the information which Mr Sinclair may give me, I will give that information to the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to the ailing particle board industry which is operating at only 60 per cent of its capacity. Can the Minister counter the fears of the Australian Timber Workers Union that anticipated tariff recommendations would have a disastrous effect on the modern mills at Oberon and Tumut in New South Wales?
– I think this question refers broadly to the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on timber products, plywood and veneer. That report is currently being considered by the Government. It is expected that a decision will be made quite shortly, but in the meantime there is nothing further that I can add to or in any way expand on the question that Senator Mulvihill has asked.
– My question is directed the Minister representing the Prime Minister. It arises from the answer that he gave yesterday on behalf of the Prime Minister to question on notice No. 956, in which answer the Prime Minister referred to an answer he had given on 16 August last year. I direct the Minister’s attention to the section of the Prime Minister’s answer last year in which he said:
The Minister’s -
That is, Mr Sinclair ‘s-
Will he ask the Prime Minister whether Mr Sinclair at that time had informed him that he was a director of the Walsh companies and had been for some years? If he had not been informed, what action did he take against Mr Sinclair for his failure to disclose to the Prime Minister his pecuniary interests? If he was aware of Mr Sinclair’s involvement as a director of the companies, why did the Prime Minister mislead Parliament by concealing the knowledge?
– Order! The honourable senator must not make an imputation about misleading the Parliament. He will withdraw the remark.
-Did the Prime Minister mislead Parliament in concealing his knowledge of Mr Sinclair’s far more significant involvement as a director of those companies?
– I take a point of order. Mr President, you asked for a withdrawal.
– I would not allow the words which the honourable senator used firstly but he has now changed them.
– I will direct the question to the Prime Minister.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. It relates to the debate in this chamber last Thursday. Does the Government regard the well-known Menhennitt ruling as applicable to the citizens of the Australian
Capital Territory? If the position in this matter is not clear, does the Government intend taking any action to clarify it?
– I think the question seeks a legal opinion. As I understand it there has been no actual reported case of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory adopting the Menhennitt ruling. However, the ruling has been adopted substantially by the New South Wales Supreme Court. I will look into the matter raised by Senator Hamer to see whether there is a need to make any specific provision in relation to the Australian Capital Territory law.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. I ask that when the comparisons between the costs of nuclear generated electricity and the costs of other sources of electric power sought by Senator Sim today are supplied, such costs include realistic estimates for the dismantling of nuclear power houses at the end of their useful life, and storage of radioactive materials resulting from such dismantling during the necessary time spans.
-I will add Senator Mason’s question to the general exercise which seems to be getting larger every week. Whether such information can be obtained is another matter. I will certainly refer the question to the Minister for National Development for his consideration.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It refers to the bugging of the Australian Embassy in Moscow. Is it a fact that staff ceilings, financial constraints and travel restrictions that affect the section of the Department of Foreign Affairs that deals with personnel and protective and technical security have resulted in fewer inspections of Australia’s overseas missions, thereby increasing the security risks at these missions?
– I am not aware that any impact of staff ceilings or shortages of personnel has any link with this matter or that there are fewer inspections of overseas missions. The significant thing about the bugging is that it was detected and revealed. No doubt Senator Sibraa will have read the statement on the matter by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In case there is any link with any of the factors he raised I will refer the substance of the question to my colleague.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. Is it possible for an organisation such as the St John’s Ambulance Service to purchase a four-wheel drive vehicle without having to pay the import duties and tariffs normally associated with a transaction of this nature, bearing in mind, of course, that the vehicle would be a fully equipped ambulance to be used solely to bring aid to those injured in off-road accidents or to render assistance in areas devastated by natural disasters such as bushfires or cyclones similar to Cyclone Alby which brought great havoc to a large area of Western Australia not long ago? If the answer to the question is no, will the Minister investigate the possibility of his Government implementing amending legislation to allow organisations that are concerned with the saving of lives and the alleviation of suffering to purchase these vehicles free of import duties?
-1 will refer this question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs and endeavour to obtain an early answer for the honourable senator.
– Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware of a new index known as the physical quality of life index produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which has been used to measure quality of life based upon the factors of infant mortality, life expectancy and literacy? As a result of this index Australia is found to rank behind Japan and only just ahead of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sri Lanka in our region. If this is a fact, does the Government feel that this indicates that its policies must pay greater attention to improving these quality of life indicators in addition to expressing its concern about more traditional economic factors?
– I have heard about such an index. I know nothing about its technical details or its accuracy. I am not aware of its ranking of Australia in a particular order. One of the necessities for improving the physical quality of life is that a country return as fast as possible to economic stability, productivity and prosperity so that in the public and the private sector more of our resources can be applied to help in the physical quality of life. Nevertheless, the question has some important overtones and I will seek further information.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Yesterday the Minister provided further information about three Navy patrol frigates which are being built in the United States of America for the Royal Australian Navy. In particular he said that the contracts for those frigates were: Firstly, of a fixed price incentive type; secondly, with a ceiling price; and thirdly on an agreed basis for escalation. I ask the Minister: Firstly, what exactly is a contract of a fixed price incentive type and how does it operate; secondly, what is the ceiling price in the contract; thirdly, what is the agreed basis for escalation; and fourthly, will the cost of the ships be determined by reference to the average costs of all the FFGs built by Todd Pacific?
-I will seek the information for Senator Wriedt.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I claim to have been misrepresented by Senator Durack in Question Time today. I asked him a question in relation to the export of furniture and television sets. In reply the Minister said that the tone of my question gave the impression that I was opposed to exports of any manufactured goods from Australia. I want to explain that I am not opposed to exports of goods. I was seeking from the Minister some facts about how many television sets and how much furniture had been exported. They are the facts I seek. If a good quantity of these goods were exported I would fully support such export.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Foreign Investment Review Board for 1978.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the election statistics for the Senate election and general election of members of the House of Representatives held on 10 December 1977. These election statistics form part of the information and electoral education services of the Australian
Electoral Office. Each senator will receive a copy of the appropriate State volume. Due to the limited number available, reference copies of the full set of these volumes have been placed in the Records Bills and Papers Office and the Parliamentary Library.
Also, for the information of honourable senators, I have a statement outlining the information and electoral education services which the Australian Electoral Office has been developing over the last two years and in particular the most significant advances that have occurred in the areas of ethnic groups, Aborigines and school children. These are matters of great interest to senators and members of the House of Representatives and I will welcome comments and suggestions as to how procedures might be further improved. In light of the general interest which I think will be shown in this statement, Mr President, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
STATEMENT BY SENATOR THE HON. F. M. CHANEY, MINISTER FOR ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES, ON THE TABLING OF ‘ELECTION STATISTICS’ AND ON ELECTORAL EDUCATION SERVICES, NOVEMBER, 1978
Election Statistics’ has been produced by the Australian Electoral Office and comprises 7 volumes, one for each State and one for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. I have arranged for each Senator and Member to receive the relevant volume for his or her State or Territory.
This book gives a most detailed breakdown of the election results and will provide a basic reference for students of political science as well as for Senators and Members. The statistics have been compiled by Division and Subdivision and details are given of the percentage vote obtained by candidates, parties and groups.
Mr President, there is a tendency, I believe amongst all of us, to regard the Australian Electoral Office as an organisation which concerns itself almost solely with the maintenance of the electoral roll, the running of elections and the counting of votes. This is not so. Our electoral system has far wider implications than this and the Australian Electoral Office has a very significant community role to play. ‘ Election Statistics’ forms part of the information and electoral education services which the Australian Electoral Office has been developing, particularly over the last two years.
This activity of electoral education- the development of programs designed to assist people to give meaningful effect to their rights and obligations under the electoral law- is one to which I would like to refer now.
Mr President, those Senators who were present during the hearings of the Estimates Committee E dealing with the estimates of the Australian Electoral Office will recall the interest evoked when some of the initiatives of the Electoral Office in this important field were referred to. I believe that the achievements of the Electoral Office in this field are significant and that they demonstrate a desire by the Office to assist voters. They have been developed without fuss and fanfare and have been aimed at the needs of the community rather than at publicity for the Electoral Office itself.
I am particularly anxious however that these developments should be brought to the attention of Members of Parliament because of the effect they are likely to have on the people we represent and because Senators and Members may have other useful suggestions to bring forward for consideration. In this regard I can assure honourable senators that I and the Government will continue to support the initiatives which have already been commenced and will look for the introduction of further developments in the electoral field.
In recent years the Australian Electoral Office has been developing and implementing programs designed to assist people in understanding the electoral process. It has been making most significant moves especially in the areas of ethnic groups, Aboriginals and school children as well as aiming to reach the community as a whole.
Honourable senators may have seen already the very simple information pamphlet which the Electoral Office has produced and which describes clearly and succinctly the electoral rights and responsibilities of those in the community who are entitled and obliged to enrol and to vote. This pamphlet, which is a far cry from publications which earlier generations may have expected to receive from a public service organisation, sets out to explain electoral matters in a way which can be readily understood by all.
The pamphlet has been translated into 9 major ethniclanguages in order to provide the widest possible spread of information. The English version of this pamphlet has already been distributed widely, particularly in conjunction with habitation reviews, which are the roll checking cyclical programs carried out by the Electoral Office on the basis of inquiries at all households. The multi-lingual pamphlet which will become available shortly will be further distributed through Government offices and copies will be made available to migrant organisations. Supplies have also been offered to all local government authorities to assist them in their work with the ethnic groups in their areas.
Additionally, under an arrangement with the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Chief Australian Electoral Officer is writing personally to each person who acquires Australian citizenship, sending a copy of the pamphlet together with an electoral claim card and post free return envelope.
This leads me to outline for honourable senators other aspects of the work which the Australian Electoral Office has been undertaking on behalf of our ethnic communities. In keeping with the Government’s directives in relation to providing services for members of ethnic communities, the Australian Electoral Office has made wide use of ethnic radio and ethnic newspapers not only at the time of elections but also during non-election periods.
For example, for three months this year special enrolment advertisements for citizens from Malta and Cyprus were displayed in Turkish, Greek and Maltese newspapers. Enrolment advertisements in more than 20 languages have been played regularly on the ethnic radio stations 2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne. This kind of material was broadcast frequently prior to the elections in 1977 and was continued between April and August 1978. The broadcasts will be repeated at the end of this year and played again in 1 979.
Honourable senators will also probably recall that in addition to the quite extensive advertising in ethnic press and ethnic radio prior to the elections, the Australian Electoral Office undertook the display in polling booths of voting information on posters in a variety of languages depending upon the ethnic concentrations in the particular areas. These posters were supplemented by pamphlets, again in foreign languages and again designed to make the voting process meaningful and understandable to all persons. Voters in polling places have also received personal assistance because the Australian Electoral Office has endeavoured to ensure that Poll Clerks fluent in one or more languages have been employed at those booths where large numbers of former migrants are expected to record their votes.
This assistance to ethnic voters is a continuing activity. For example for the Referendum on Self-government for the Australian Capital Territory, the Australian Electoral Office has produced tapes on voting information for broadcasting in ethnic language programs on the Canberra community radio station 2XX. lt is also printing bi-lingual leaflets containing similar information for distribution to ethnic community organisations prior to polling day.
The Australian Electoral Office also has been adopting broadly the same approach in relation to Aboriginals, particularly at the last Federal elections and at the August 1 977 Northern Territory Legislative Assembly elections. Not only were Poll Clerks fluent in the Aboriginal languages employed, but special instructions were issued on the assistance which should or could be given to assist persons who were not literate in the English language. Special cassettes, films and video tapes were produced both in English and Aboriginal languages in order to explain voting procedures and to assist voters to record a meaningful vote.
I believe that the large reduction in the informal vote for the Legislative Assembly elections was in no small way due to the work of the Electoral Office. But more than that perhaps is the value to the Aboriginal people themselves. On this point I was particularly heartened to see a copy of a newsletter produced at the Maningrida Aboriginal community and published in September 1977. The significance of that particular issue was that amongst other things it said Good Job Electoral Office’ and then went on to praise the Office for its work in assisting the Aboriginal voter.
I was also very pleased to note the attention which this work has been attracting in academic circles. In the ABC’s Notes on News’ in June of this year, Dr Dean Jaensch, Senior lecturer in Politics at Flinders University, commented that ‘notable progress is being made in the area of political education of Aboriginal voters in the north. The Australian Electoral Office shoud be given praise and support for the work it is doing in this area . . .’
Honourable Senators are also aware that funded by the Commonwealth Government, a special electoral education program was conducted in the Kimberley area of Western Australia by the Adult Aboriginal Education Section of the Technical Education Division of the Western Australian Education Department. The training material for that program was developed in co-operation and consultation with the Australian Electoral Office.
In the longer term, however, the Australian Electoral Office has recognised the need to develop programs of electoral education on a continuing basis for Aboriginal people in order to consolidate on the important and significant results which had already been achieved. A special program has been designed and is expected to commence in March 1979. $100,000 has been provided in the 1978-79 budget to fund the initial stages which are aimed at non-urban Aboriginals. The program will be conducted in the first instance in South Australia and Western Australia and will be extended to the Northern Territory and other States as it develops. It will involve two mobile education teams which are planned to include Aboriginal members. The program has been designed by the Australian Electoral Office which has been working in close co-operation with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the National Aboriginal Education Committee.
I mentioned earlier, Mr President, the responsibility seen for the development of electoral education programs for school children. In conjunction with the Curriculum Development Centre, the Australian Electoral Office has been developing a special electoral education kit for secondary schools. The kit, which is aimed at Years 9 and 10 students, is in the final stages of development and is aimed at helping the voters of tomorrow understand the workings of our electoral system and assist then in the enrolment and voting process. It is expected that in March 1979 there will be a distribution of a free copy of this kit to every secondary school in Australia.
It is also hoped to complement this program with general dissemination of electoral and enrolment information through the display of attractive, and it is hoped, eyecatching posters which I believe are a welcome improvement on the staid approach of the past.
In this vein, Honourable Senators may also have heard the enrolment advertisements which have recently been broadcast on commercial radio in all States except New South Wales where, because of the State elections, the broadcasting was delayed until last week. These advertisements have been produced in what is hoped is a catchy style particularly suited for use on commercial radio. They are aimed at reminding those turning 18 of the need to enrol and those people who have changed their address of the need to tell the Electoral Office of this change.
Mr President, speaking now as the Minister responsible for the Electoral Office, I can say that I personally am particularly pleased with the work that that quite small organisation has been doing in the area of electoral education. That comment, however, is not made with any sense of complacency. There is a great deal of electoral education to be undertaken. There is also a large program of other work ahead of the Electoral Office itself if it is to continue its endeavours to improve its service to the community. I repeat, however, that it is heartening to see under way activities which are being developed solely for the benefit of the community. I repeat also my thought that Senators and Members may have further useful suggestions to make in this regard. Within the limits of the resources available to it, both financial and staff, I am confident that the Australian Electoral Office will continue its important work in this field.
-by leave- I move:
That the Senate take note of the paper.
The Opposition would want to be associated with the commendation of the Australian Electoral Office for the initiatives that it has taken in respect of a number of matters which are the subject of this statement. The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) referred to the fact that, over the past three years, the Electoral Office has seen fit to begin a campaign to educate the electorate about the responsibilities of the electorate and about the need for it to vote formally and intelligently in respect of all matters for which the community has some responsibility. The initiatives taken by the Electoral Office in that respect are to be supported. However, I would like to make brief reference to one or two specific matters.
It seems to me that, in order to consummate what the Electoral Office has sought to do, the
Government ought to have another look at the whole issue of how best to overcome the problem of informal voting, which is a significant factor in elections, particularly those for the Senate. We have some evidence to indicate that to adopt the principle, for example, of optional preferential voting would do a lot towards achieving the objectives which the Government and the Electoral Office have sought to achieve in the initiatives to which I have referred. I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that in New South Wales some 30-odd years ago the then State Government introduced a form of proportional representation and subsequently opted for a system of optional voting. One amendment to the voting procedures enabled voters in local government elections, for example, to vote by recording a vote for more than half the number of persons who had nominated for the position. Another amendment enabled voters to vote by recording a vote for one candidate in addition to the number of candidates to be elected. That achieved the objective of reducing the number of informal votes cast and simplified the electoral process without necessarily taking away the right of the electors to record a full formal vote inasmuch as they could extend their preferences if they so desired.
More recently, the New South Wales Government- I think it is worth noting that this was done in co-operation with the Opposition parties in New South Wales- brought about a very significant change in electoral procedures for the Legislative Council. Those important electoral amendments for the first time introduced to New South Wales the optional voting system. Whilst I have not been able to get the precise final figures on the advantages that accrued to the electors in the recent Legislative Council elections as a result of this change, I think it is true to say that fewer than 5 per cent of the voters involved voted informally under a similar method of voting to that which is used for Australian Senate elections except in relation to optional preferences. Shortly figures will become available which will confirm the tentative figures I have. This represents the lowest percentage of informal votes recorded in an election at large for a considerable number of years.
Let us look at the debate when the Senate last dealt with this matter of optional preferential voting. I refer to the debate on 16 April 1975 when the then Leader of the Government in the Senate and, I think, possibly the shadow Minister at that time Senator Withers, were dealing with this question of optional preferential voting. Subsequently evidence has developed in relation to the New South Wales experience which confirms that it is in the best interests of the voters and of democracy that an optional system of voting should exist, particularly in relation to the Australian Senate. The arguments that were produced on that occasion by the spokesman for the then Opposition- the Liberal and National Country parties- have not been borne out in fact. An analysis shows that whatever actions may be taken by the Electoral Office to avoid informal voting and to reduce the incidence of it, that unless we carry the system through to an optional system we will only marginally and minimally reduce the degree of informal voting.
I have taken the time to look at the figures for the last three Senate elections, that is the double dissolutions in 1974 and 1975 and the election in 1977. The results show a consistent pattern of informal voting at Senate elections, For example, in New South Wales in 1 974 the figure was 12.3 1 per cent. It dropped to 9.74 per cent in 1975 and 9.59 per cent in 1977. In Victoria, in 1974 it was 11.13 per cent, in 1 975 it was 8.11 per cent and in 1977 it was 9.1 per cent. In South Australia, the figures were 1 1.38 per cent in 1 974, 9.95 per cent in 1975 and 10.39 per cent in 1977.
– What about Tasmania? Have you the Tasmanian figures?
– Yes. The figures for Tasmania are 11.21 per cent in 1974, 9.88 per cent in 1 975 and 7.09 per cent in 1 977. 1 think the emphasis that is placed on ethnic affairs in this report of the Minister, and the attempts that have been made by the Electoral Office, have been designed to overcome that problem. I do not challenge that. I think it is probably not without some significance that the process of improving the situation began in 1975, 1 hope following the debate in this place. On that occasion the government of the day, the Australian Labor Party Government, attempted to introduce optional preferential voting but this move was defeated by the decision of the then Opposition parties, together with some of the independent senators. I would imagine that the Electoral Office, having gleaned some of the valid points that were made in that particular debate, set about trying to rectify the problem and subsequently it took the initiatives. I draw the attention of the Minister and of the Senate to the fact that an even better breakdown of the figures shows, for example, that the number of informal votes in the seat of Sydney in 1974 was 20.5 per cent. In Reid, it was 16.2 per cent and in Grayndler it was 16.1 per cent.
– That is Senate informal votes.
– Yes, that is Senate informal votes. I think that highlights the importance of the steps that have been taken by the Electoral Office. In those areas we have perhaps the largest concentration of ethnic communities. Therefore the steps that have been taken by the Government but more particularly, I should say, by the Electoral Office, are very valuable steps. By the use of radio, television or ethnic newspapers the Electoral Office has taken steps to reduce the incidence of informal voting. The percentage of informal votes in areas such as Bradfield, Berowra, Wentworth and Warringah were 5.59, 7.3, 7.4 and 9.2 respectively. I think that underlines the fact that we have a problem in relation to people of ethnic background, as well as those whose educational standards are perhaps not as good in one area as opposed to another; that there is a case for educational programs to be carried out and for the Government to re-examine the advantages of optional preferential voting.
I have pointed to the reduction in the number of informal votes in both local government and State elections in New South Wales. There is a case for the Commonwealth Government to reexamine the highly exaggerated and emotive terminology used by the then Opposition speakers in 1975, when this matter was before the Senate, when Senator Withers was endeavouring to suggest that the amendments which our Government was putting forward were designed to hoodwink the Senate and the community generally, that they were not an attempt to make voting simple. He also made the point that the Labor Party Caucus itself did not vote in such a way. The fact is that the Labor Party Caucus does have an optional voting system for the election of its officers and its executive.
It is worth noting that whilst steps have been taken to reduce the incidence of informal voting, the most effective way of doing so would be for the Government to reconsider the proposition relating to the introduction of optional preferential voting which was before the Senate in 1975. We have a new Minister for Administrative Services. Electoral matters come within his jurisdiction. In the interests of making every vote an effective vote in a democratic society we should try to reduce the incidence of informal voting. In some areas as many as one in five lose the value of their vote because of inability to understand the process. For example, in the 1974 Senate election there were 73 candidates for New South Wales. Although some people would have said that that was a conspiratorial attempt to bring about a desired result, in fact it changed the course of history. If the Labor Party had not been disadvantaged by the high incidence of informal voting in 1974 and Mr Westerway had won the third position in New South Wales, there could have been an entirely different political ball game. I am sure that this Government would not want to be associated with the view, fairly widely held, that by denying to voters a means of avoiding informal voting it is negating the principle of effective voting and democratic processes. It is in those circumstances that we ask the Government to have another look at optional voting; in fact, it could examine a whole range of electoral matters.
As I understand the position, one of my colleagues in another place proposes to move, before the Parliament adjourns, that there be a parliamentary examination of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in order that the true will of the people will be expressed properly in every vote recorded, whether for the Senate or the House of Representatives. Those few remarks are designed to encourage the Minister, and I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- I table the additional information received by Estimates Committee B and seek leave for it to be incorporated in the Hansard record of the Committee’s proceedings.
-by leave- I table the additional information received by Estimates Committee F and seek leave for it to be incorporated in the Hansard record of the Committee ‘s proceedings.
– I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I seek leave to move the second reading of the Bill forthwith.
-Is leave granted?
– No. I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
I am pleased to introduce this Bill, which makes a number of changes to the Public Service Act that will be particularly welcomed by members of the Australian Public Service. The Bill deals with a wide range of matters, and is in fact the most substantial amendment to the Public Service Act since that Act was passed in 1922. Also, many of the provisions are necessarily quite complex, and public servants could be expected to seek an opportunity to study the impact of legislation so vital to their lives and careers.
The major parts of the Bill concern, firstly, the rights of officers of the Australian Public Service who move to other areas of Commonwealth employment and, secondly, the disciplinary provisions applicable to Public Service Act staff. These and some other parts of the Bill are based on proposals put forward by the Joint Council, an employer-employee body established under the Public Service Act to examine matters of general interest throughout the Public Service. The
Government is very conscious and appreciative of the valuable work undertaken by Joint Council, which in fact held its 59th meeting in Darwin last week. The Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration recommended an expanded role for the Joint Council and the establishment of consultative processes within Departments, and the Government is awaiting a report on these recommendations from the Public Service Board, after the Board has completed discussions with employee organisations, departments and authorities.
I turn now to those parts of the Bill- primarily the proposed new Part IV of the Public Service Act- which relate to the rights of officers of the Australian Public Service who move to other areas of Commonwealth employment. In this regard, the Government is conscious of the need to encourage mobility within the Commonwealth employment sector and of the significant advantages that derive from such mobility. The Government’s intention is that the provisions in this Bill should assist officers to gain appropriate experience outside the Public Service properthat is to say, the central Public Service- without loss of their Public Service rights. This entitlement, however, will not be at the expense of the rights of officers who remain in the Public Service. This part of the Bill is based on the report of a sub-committee of the Joint Council set up to review the Officer’s Rights Declaration Act, an Act which currently specifies the rights of staff who move from the Public Service to some other area of Commonwealth employment. The review was proposed by the Public Service Board against the background that the present Act presents numerous technical difficulties of a legal and administrative nature and that changes in the size and nature of Commonwealth Government employment have also meant that it is now operating in quite a different situation from that which existed in 1928, when the Act was introduced.
Two of the main difficulties with the present Act concern, firstly, the loss of promotion and promotion appeal opportunities in the Public Service of public servants upon taking up employment in an authority, and secondly, the unfettered right of such persons to be reappointed to a position in the Public Service whether or not an appropriate vacancy exists at the relevant time. The new scheme proposed by the Joint Council to replace the existing Act overcomes these difficulties by adopting a ‘two tier’ approach. The first tier covers officers who join a Commonwealth authority for periods up to three years. It provides for leave without pay from the
Public Service, with the preservation of all of the rights normally applied to staff on leave without pay. The second tier covers those who at the end of the initial three year period decide to stay with the authority. It provides that these officers sever their direct connection with the Public Service, but retain certain specified rights such as the right to apply for transfer and promotion to Public Service positions in accordance with the normal merit procedures set out in the Public Service Act.
The Joint Council also proposed that officers who are appointed by the Governor-General or a Minister to a statutory office should be covered by the first tier for the duration of their term of office. In addition, the Joint Council recommended that where officers are transferred out of the Public Service to an independently staffed authority as a result of the transfer of functions to that authority, the second tier should apply to cover the Public Service rights of transferred officers. The Bill reflects these recommendations of the Joint Council. The Government’s intention is that the new scheme should apply to all officers of the Public Service who take up employment outside the Public Service Act with Commonwealth authorities and bodies, including Commonwealth owned companies such as Qantas Airways Limited and Commonwealth Accommodation and Catering Services Limited, and, with their agreement, joint Commonwealth-State bodies.
Provision is made in the Bill so that the scheme recommended by the Joint Council may be extended to non-Commonwealth employment in circumstances where the employing authority agrees that such extension is appropriate. For example, agreement has been reached with certain State Governments that the provisions will apply to the transfer of staff of the Australian Legal Aid Office to those States. The Government’s policy is that, from the commencing day of the new scheme, the present Officer’s Rights Declaration Act will no longer be available in relation to officers of the Public Service who take up employment with Commonwealth authorities after that date. The present Act will continue to have effect in relation to persons who, on commencing day, are covered by that Act. However, these persons may at any time thereafter elect to be covered by the new provisions. In addition, where such persons exercise the right of promotion appeal in relation to a Public Service vacancy, that action will constitute an election to be covered by the new scheme.
The opportunity has also been taken to correct certain inequities and administrative problems that inadvertently occurred in relation to the transfer of staff of the former PostmasterGeneral’s Department to the Postal and Telecommunications Commissions. In addition, provision is made so that various other particular transfers of staff from the Public Service to Commonwealth authorities which have occurred while this Bill has been in the course of preparation may be brought within the provisions of the second tier. These transfers, all of which have occurred as a result of the transfer of functions from the Public Service to a new employing authority, include the transfer of staff to the Northern Territory Public Service, the transfer of staff of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to the National Gallery, and the transfer of canteen staff of various Departments to Commonwealth Accommodation and Catering Services Limited.
I turn now to the other major part of the Bill, namely the revised disciplinary arrangements, located primarily in the proposed new Divisions 6 and 6A of the Public Service Act. The disciplinary provisions in the Public Service Act have remained virtually unchanged since 1922, and a sub-committee of the Joint Council undertook a comprehensive review, aimed at bringing the provisions into line with modem concepts of the role of the disciplinary process in public administration.
The report is based on the adoption of certain fundamental principles which have been accepted by the Joint Council, the Board, and now the Government. These principles can be summed up in the following way: the primary aim of disciplinary provisions should be to facilitate efficient administration and public confidence in the integrity of the administration; there should be no unnecessary concern with the private lives of staff members; provisions should be seen as a complement to other management processes of supervision, leadership and staff counselling, with disciplinary action generally being a last resort; the disciplinary process should continue to be essentially administrative rather than judicial, but the principles of natural justice and fairness should be observed. The new disciplinary code in the Bill makes various changes to the current scheme which take into account the principles I have just mentioned, and are designed to make the disciplinary process function more efficiently and effectively.
I might briefly mention some of the more important changes. Consistent with the approach that disciplinary provisions are an integral part of the management process, there is greater emphasis on the primary role of Departments. In particular, powers now exercisable by the Board in relation to disciplinary action following a criminal conviction, and certain suspension matters, will in future be the responsibility of departments. Greater emphasis is placed on specification of the rights of persons against whom disciplinary action is taken, including such matters as right of reply to charges, entitlements to reasons for decisions, extension of appeal rights to cover all formal disciplinary action, and provisions enabling findings to be reviewed when new evidence comes to light. So as to emphasise the principle that there should be no unnecessary concern with the private lives of staff members, disciplinary action based on ‘improper conduct’ will only be possible where the conduct is relevant to the officer as an officer, and a similar approach is taken to possible disciplinary action following a criminal offence.
New provisions have been included to avoid the need to use the full disciplinary processes where officers absent themselves from duty without authority. Action will be able to be taken that will have the effect of deeming such persons to have forfeited their office. There will, however, be appeal rights. The proposed changes have been generally endorsed in the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. The Royal Commission also was of the view that the special disciplinary provisions in section 56 of the Public Service Act relating to First and Second Division officers should not continue to apply to Second Division officers. In the Bill, Second Division officers are grouped with Third and Fourth Division officers for disciplinary purposes. Special provisions will continue to apply to First Division officers. These are similar to current section 56, but do make some changes; in particular, the entitlement of any person to formally charge an officer under section 56 is considered to be inappropriate and has been deleted, although the Bill, in proposed section 57, gives statutory recognition to the right of any person to make an allegation.
A number of other proposals are included in the Bill. The existing specific provisions in the Public Service Act enabling the Board to grant leave without pay are replaced with a general power vested in departments to grant leave for such purposes as are prescribed in the regulations and on such terms and conditions as are prescribed. Within guidelines which the Board proposes to issue, Departments will have greater flexibility under the new provision in organising their resources. Joint Council proposals in relation to recognition of prior service and recreation leave arrangements are implemented together with a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration that current restrictions on the appointment of graduates to the Public Service should be eliminated. A new provision will enable the Public Service Board to waive the normal probationary requirements for officers of the Service in appropriate cases. Other changes of a more technical nature are also included.
The Bill is long, and many of the provisions are quite technical. Several factors have contributed to this, including the number of separate proposals incorporated in the Bill, the need to apply the new provisions dealing with mobility of officers to a number of existing situations, and the technical complexities arising from the current legislative framework of Commonwealth employment. I commend the Bill to the Senate-
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Primary Industry Bank Act 1977. Honourable senators will be aware that the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) have announced that the Commonwealth has agreed to assist the Primary Industry Bank by making available to it $30m from the Income Equalisation Deposits Trust Account at an initial interest rate of 5 per cent. This Bill, which is largely machinery in nature, will facilitate the use of the IED Trust Account for that purpose.
There have been a number of significant developments relating to the Primary Industry Bank since legislation on this matter was before the Parliament earlier this year. The Primary Industry Bank of Australia Ltd was incorporated under the New South Wales Companies Act on 28 July 1978; it has an initial paid-up capital of $5.625m shared in nine equal parts between the Commonwealth, the seven major trading banks and a combination of four State banks. A general manager and other staff for the Bank have been appointed and operational policies and procedures have been established. Information on various detailed aspects has been released by the Bank and some loans have already been approved.
The Bank was granted an authority to carry on banking business on 21 September 1978 and Part III of the Primary Industry Bank Act 1977, which brings the Bank under the provisions of the Banking Act 1959, was proclaimed to come into operation on the following day. The banking authority was granted subject to two conditionsone in effect restricting the Bank to a refinancing role in respect of loans to primary producers and the other restricting it to refinancing loans with a minimum term of eight years.
The Treasurer and the Minister for Primary Industry announced on 15 October that loans made by the banks and re-financed by the Primary Industry Bank will carry maximum interest rates to end borrowers of 10.5 per cent per annum for loans less than $100,000 and 12.5 per cent for loans of $100,000 and above. The Treasurer and the Minister subsequently announced on 7 November that the rates to end borrowers had been reduced to 10.0 per cent and 12.0 per cent for ‘small’ and ‘large’ loans respectively. This followed the announced reductions in interest rates on overdrafts drawn under limits of $100,000 and less and on new loans of less than $100,000 from the Term and Farm Development Loan Funds. These maximum interest rates- and indeed all aspects of the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the Bank- will be subject to review from time to time, and at least annually in any event, in the light of general interest rate developments, budgetary considerations and any other relevant factors.
Without entering here into detailed commentary on the debate that has already been engendered on the question of interest rates there are three points that I would like to make very briefly. First, the interest rates- I refer particularly to the 10.0 per cent- are concessional in that they are lower than would be possible in the absence of government financial assistance and lower than those generally available to primary producers from commercial sources for long term loans. The fact that long-term loans will be available to primary producers at what are in effect short term rates is highly significant given the benefits that accrue from access to such loans. Secondly, although the interest rate to be charged on the IED funds, at 5 per cent, is equal to the rate paid to depositors, it needs to be borne in mind that the effective return to depositorsand the cost to the Commonwealth- is much higher than the 5 per cent because of the accompanying tax benefits. Thirdly, the IED funds, although they will represent an important source of funds to the Bank, will be supplementary to market borrowings by the Bank on which rates much higher than 5 per cent will, of course, need to be paid. The establishment of the Bank and the provision of considerable government assistance enabling long-term borrowing with interest rates below those that would apply under commercial conditions brings to fruition the coalition parties’ election commitments in this area.
I turn now to the specific provisions of the Bill. The Commonwealth’s power to make funds available to the Bank from the IED Trust Account is provided by section 8 of the Primary Industry Bank Act 1977. The amendments in this Bill will enable that power to be used flexibly and in such a way that the interests of IED depositors are fully protected. The Bill provides, in clause 3, for amendments to section 8 of the Act by the replacement of the existing sub-sections (2) and (3) and the addition of three new subsections (5), (6) and (7).
The existing sub-section (2) provides for loans to the Bank from the Trust Account. The proposed new sub-section (2) expands the provision to make it clear that such loans can be made in either of two ways- by investing funds standing to the credit of the Account on deposit with the Bank or by paying moneys out of the Account to the Bank. The Government proposes to make available the $30m referred to earlier in this speech in the former manner- that is, by placing funds held in the Account on deposit with the Bank. Such transactions from the Trust Account are classified as a financing item, more specifically, as a negative financing item, rather than as an outlay. Of course, that in no way alters the fact that the assistance represents a very real transfer of funds from the public sector adding to the Government’s overall financing task.
The proposed new sub-section (3) is very similar to the existing sub-section of that number, with some drafting changes to take account of the proposed new sub-section (2). The proposed new sub-section (5) ensures that any funds paid to the Bank from the Trust Account are repaid to that Account rather than to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The proposed new sub-section
I take this opportunity to explain to the Senate how the available $30m of IED funds will be provided to the Bank. It is not envisaged that the funds will be deposited with the Bank in full from the outset. They will be allocated to the Bank in portions through the course of 1978-79 and beyond, as necessary, in such a way as to permit the Primary Industry Bank to lend to banks at maximum rates of 8.5 per cent in respect of loans below $100,000 and 10.5 per cent in respect of larger loans. This will in turn permit the banks to lend within the maximum rates of 10 and 12 per cent that have also been announced. The maximum effective margin for the banks of 1.5 per cent will cover administrative costs and risks over the full period of the long term loans. Suggestions that either the Primary Industry Bank or the prime lenders will be able, through these arrangements, to make undue profits are quite wrong. I mention that in these sittings the Treasurer will be submitting a report to Parliament as required under section 10 of the Act. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
Senator CARRICK (New South Wales-
Minister for Education) (3.50)- I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
This Bill, which relates to the Northern Territory, has a simple purpose. Commonwealth and State government departments and authorities are entitled to exemption from sales tax on goods purchased for their official use and not for sale. The relevant exemption, however, does not extend to departments and authorities controlled by the Northern Territory Government which came into being on 1 July 1978.
The Bill is designed to extend this exemption to goods for official use and not for sale by departments and authorities under the control of the Northern Territory Government. A memorandum explaining the provisions of the Bill is being circulated for the information of honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Chaney) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise the Treasurer, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to guarantee loans raised by Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd to finance the purchase of its tenth Boeing 727-200 series aircraft. This aircraft is scheduled for delivery in May 1979. The Boeing 727-200 series aircraft has now been in operation for a number of years and it has proved to be a most suitable aircraft for Australian conditions. In comparison to the earlier 727-100 model, it is noticeably quieter, provides greater passenger capacity and is less demanding on energy resources. This aircraft type will still be useful in meeting the airline’s needs, even if it were decided, at a later date, to upgrade the aircraft fleet of the domestic airlines by the acquisition of the larger wide bodied je ts.
The Australian National Airlines Commission, Trans-Australia Airlines, which operates the same number of Boeing aircraft as Ansett, will not require a Commonwealth loan guarantee on this occasion, as they have indicated their intention to finance their tenth Boeing 727-200 aircraft from their own internal resources. Both Ansett and TAA have sought to acquire the additional aircraft to meet the anticipated long term increase in demand for domestic air traffic and older type aircraft in the fleet will be progressively disposed of to keep fleet capacity and demand in balance.
The proposed Government guarantee will be limited to an amount of $US 11.12m or its equivalent. This amount represents 80 per cent of the estimated total cost of the aircraft and associated equipment. The proposal will not involve the Commonwealth in any expenditure. It will merely create a contingent liability for the Government to the extent of the outstanding balance of the loan. Australia’s aviation industry has been recently subject to some of the most comprehensive reviews in its history. As honourable senators will be aware, the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) recently tabled the report of the review of Australia’s international civil aviation policy. Following Government consideration, negotiations have now commenced which I expect in the near future to lead to greater opportunities for all to use international air travel at the lowest possible cost.
On the domestic scene the reports of the domestic air transport policy review committee have been released and the Minister for Transport is looking for public reaction to the recommendations contained in the reports. These views will be taken into account before decisions are finalised. The domestic airlines have already shown some speed off the mark in their reaction to the reports. Since the release of Part I which covers trunk route services and the two-airline policy we have seen a number of innovations with regard to domestic fares. An example is the introduction of stand-by fares on selected sectors for a trial period in order that their operation, and potential for further extension throughout the airlines networks, may be assessed. A further example is the extension from 1 November 1978 of the advance purchase excursion domestic fares to Canberra and Darwin so that all capital cities and Launceston will be eligible for this concession. The Minister for Transport is looking to a further extension of concession fares wherever it is practicable to do so.
The first meeting of the Aviation Industry Advisory Council- AVTAC- was held in September this year. This body has been established to provide advice on policies, plans and programs relating to industry and to act as a forum for discussion of important matters which are the joint concern of the industry and the Government. Certainly after only one meeting the value of AVTAC has been clearly demonstrated and the Minister for Transport is looking forward to the role it will play in developing Australia’s aviation industry.
Honourable senators will recall that the domestic air transport policy review committee concluded that the two-airline policy should be continued although with some significant changes. Negotiations are now proceeding with the airlines on the review recommendations with a view to finalising changes to the airlines agreements which will of course be brought before this Parliament for ratification in due course. However the airlines obviously must continue to modernise their fleets to meet customer demand. Adequate forward planning is essential and the commitments to the industry involved in this legislation are an integral part of that process. I am sure that the honourable senators will agree with me that the Australian airlines are making a significant contribution to the development and welfare of this country, with an air safety record equal to the world’s best. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 14 November. Schedule 2.
Department of Foreign Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $525,983,000.
– I think it appropriate today for me to raise a matter which was not raised in the Estimates Committee proceedings, for the reason that I mentioned before: One does not have the gift of bilocation or trilocation. I refer to the estimate of $134,000 for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics-Australia Agreement for Scientific and Technical Co-operation. I am wondering what point discussions on this agreement have reached. Am I to understand that a situation has been reached where some guarantees have been sought by our Government in respect of the personnel involved in this agreement?
I refer to a question I asked on 7 April 1 978 relating to the visit of Mr Valadimir Kuzin who has a well documented history as a KGB agent and of subversive activities on behalf of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in liberal democratic countries. That question related to the grant of a visa to Mr Kuzin by this Government. I referred to the fact that three years ago on 1 1 November 1975- a date which a number of senators would remember- the late Senator Greenwood asked a similar question of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee). He questioned whether Mr Kuzin was to be provided with a visa to come to Australia. Senator Willesee responded that it was not intended to provide a visa for Mr Kuzin because- as I recall reading his reply- Mr Kuzin had not sought one. The point I make is that Mr Kuzin is the head of the Foreign Relations Section of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics State Committee for Science and Technology. Is it a fact that the Government has sought some guarantees from the Government of the Soviet Union relating to the personnel who are using or who may use that organisation as a cover for their activities? I think that is an appropriate matter to which the Government should respond, particularly in view of the revelations yesterday by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock).
The second matter I refer to concerns the estimates for the Australian Development Assistance Bureau. I would like to be assured by the Government that moneys that are paid by taxpayers through ADAB to the International Planned Parenthood Federation are spent in accordance with the policies of the Government and the generally accepted viewpoints of the community. I also seek guarantees that the work that is performed by the use of moneys provided by Australian taxpayers is not counterproductive. In other words, there are very efficient and acceptable methods of family planning about which there have been international conferences and which only in recent yearsindeed, over the past 18 months- have been developed to a point which makes them easily understood and acceptable to the people who are in most need of that type of family planning education. There are methods which are now acceptable in the types of communities which have a perceived need for the type of family planning education that is required. However, I would point out to the Government that in Bangladesh there is a very real concern that an international abortion provider, Population Services International, is operating m that field on a profit basis. What I am seeking from ADAB through the Government is guarantees that the moneys expended by ADAB are used to fund projects consistent with the approaches taken by the
Government and by the community generally. Nothing that I say should reflect against the work that is done by ADAB. Two weeks ago I had an opportunity to see some of the very good work being done by ADAB in the field of animal research and animal husbandry. I congratulate that organisation on the work that it is doing. However, I raise those two points in the Committee of the Whole to see what response can be forthcoming.
- Senator Harradine has raised a number of questions, including one on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics scientific agreement. I do not have the details readily at hand but I shall seek those details. He raised two aspects of money to the Australian Development Assistance Bureau for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, first as to the policies that Australia might apply to the giving of that money and, secondly, to the methodology of events. I shall seek that information and let Senator Harradine have it.
I understand that yesterday Senator Mulvihill asked a question with regard to Australians in foreign armed services. I am advised that the Crimes Foreign Incursions and Recruitment Act 1978, administered by the Attorney-General, prohibits the recruitment in Australia of persons who serve in any capacity with an armed force in a foreign country whether the armed force forms part of the armed forces of that foreign country or otherwise. The Act does not prevent an Australian from travelling overseas and enlisting in a foreign armed force nor does it penalise an Australian who does so. However, the Government does not approve of Australian citizens serving abroad as mercenaries. I have been advised that it is obligatory for a member of the Australian Defence Forces to obtain ministerial approval through normal service channels before he may be permitted to serve with a foreign power. This applies to both regular and reserve members. The circumstances of each case would be dealt with on merit having regard particularly to foreign policy implications. I shall seek answers from the responsible Minister to the honourable senator’s other question concerning medals.
– I raise a matter which I raised during the hearings of Estimates Committee A concerning the Australia-China Council. The Estimates show an amount of $500,000 had been appropriated to a trust account for the purpose of establishing the Australia-China Council. On questioning one of the officers, Mr Bowden, indicated that the decision to establish the Council and to appropriate this sum of money was a direct response to a Cabinet decision. On further questioning, the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) reiterated that it was a Cabinet decision and that there was no indication how that money was intended to be expended. However, Senator Carrick did offer to give a breakup of the intended amount. I wonder whether the Minister could get that information now in order to give us some idea of why half a million dollars should be allocated in the first year of the proposed council.
– I regret that I do not have that information immediately available. I will seek it out and let Senator Wriedt have it.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
-That concludes consideration of the departments examined by Estimates Committee A. We now move on to consider the group of departments examined by Estimates Committee B. Is it the wish of the Committee to take the votes in group B together?
-Mr Chairman, I am sorry to do this but I was in a Minister’s office discussing something in relation to Estimates Committee A when consideration of its group of departments concluded. I crave the indulgence of the Committee to go back briefly to the report of Estimates Committee A.
– As I mentioned, I was providing some information to a Minister’s office on the subject that I want to raise in the debate. I did not realise that we were going to finish so quickly the consideration of the departments dealt with by Estimates Committee A. The matter I wish to raise relates to questions asked about the Auditor-General’s Office. The Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) might have been given an indication that this subject was going to be raised today although it was dealt with by the Committee of the Whole yesterday. I apologise to the Committee for not being here yesterday to deal with this subject then. There is an issue of some principle in relation to the evidence given by officers of the Auditor-General’s Office before Estimates Committee A which the Committee of the Whole should note and probably form an opinion on. I refer to questions which I asked and which appear starting on page 92 1 of the Senate Estimates Committee Hansard of 23 October 1978 seeking information on annual reports of departments and statutory corporations. I asked a question about when reports had been received, which reports were currently under scrutiny by the Auditor-General’s Office and which reports had been finalised since 1 July 1978. In the supplementary information table for this Estimates Committee there is a letter dated 25 October 1978 from the Auditor-General’s Office which refers to a number of items and on the third page it refers to my question. It contains the following statement:
The Acting Auditor-General has explained to the Chairman -
That is to me- that it was the intention to include information in relation to the receipt and processing of financial statements of statutory authorities and certain departmental activities in the Supplementary Report of the Auditor-General for 1977-78 which is in course of preparation. In this context paragraph 21.1 of the Supplementary Report of the Auditor-General for 1976-77 is relevant. Reference was also made to the procedural difficulty posed by the request which would have required information to be supplied to a committee of the Parliament in advance of that information being transmitted to the whole Parliament.
It was signed by Mr V. McMahon, Acting Assistant Auditor-General.
I have had a number of conversations with Mr McMahon and the Auditor-General on this subject. My concern and the concern of my Committee as expressed in its report was a claim that information should not be given to an Estimates Committee when that information is at some time in the future due to be transmitted to the whole Parliament. My particular concern was that it seemed to me that if we accept that answer we rule out the possibilities of Estimates committees pursuing a lot of information because it can be said that since a statutory corporation or some other body is obliged to put in a report to the Parliament and because the information sought would be contained in the report, Estimates committees should not require answers which involved the giving of that information. Estimates committees are a little more than committees of the Parliament. An Estimates committee is the Senate in its functions. Estimates Committee A noted its concern on that point in its report and I am sure that other honourable senators have taken note of it. Estimates Committee A also commented on a claim of procedural difficulty which might be relevant to the Audit Amendment Bill 1978 but that is another matter.
I note that other Estimates committees also have expressed some concern about reports, the principle of reports, and the fact that we are receiving reports in Parliament sometimes years after the year to which the reports relate. I refer particularly to Estimates Committee B report in which concern was expressed about a report for the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. That Estimates Committee in its report to the Senate said:
The Committee commends to the Senate, for general application, the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations in relation to the Australian Housing Corporation Annual Report .1974-75 that:’. . . if a Report, with accounts in a form approved by the Department of Finance, and/or the AuditorGeneral’s Report, is not ready for presentation to the Parliament within 9 months of the end of the previous financial year, then the Minister should, within 1 5 sitting days, present an interim report to the Parliament on the Corporation’s activities, together with informal financial statements, and an explanation for the unavailability of the unaudited accounts. ‘
My concern during the meeting of the Estimates Committee related to a number of reports and to one in particular, namely, the report of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. My concern also related to the general concern which has been expressed in the Senate on the subject of the lateness of reports from departments and statutory corporations. When we were looking at this general question from me to the Auditor-General I noted my particular reason for asking it. My reason was that if a honourable senator attempts to pursue the reasons that a report has not been tabled in the Parliament it is not uncommon to have two excuses used. One excuse is that the report is with the AuditorGeneral and has been held up and, therefore, cannot be tabled. The other excuse is that it is with the Government Printer and that is the reason for the delay. When one tries to pursue those excuses one tends to get into the endless motion-type activity. Usually there are denials from both the Auditor-General and the Government Printer that they are the ones responsible for holding up reports. Frankly, I doubt that the Auditor-General or the Government Printer is to blame for the extreme delay that we experience in receiving reports of any sort, interim or otherwise, from departments and statutory corporations. That was my motive for pursuing the question. I explained that and we have proceeded from there.
Nevertheless, there was reference in Mr McMahon’s letter to the procedural difficulty posed by the request for information to be given to an Estimates committee in advance of it being given to the Parliament. I subsequently had a discussion with the Auditor-General which I thought was a private conversation between him and me as a member of the Estimates Committee. He has since written a letter to me as
Chairman of the Senate Estimates Committee. I mention that because I would not want other members of the Estimates Committee to think that I was having conversations with the Auditor-General which would pre-empt the opinion of the Estimates Committee as a whole. I thought that my conversation with the AuditorGeneral was an exchange of views on the subject between him and me. There is nothing sinister about that. However, he has written a letter to me which I think ought to go into the record. I am sure that he would not object to that course. The relevant part of this letter states:
I have now decided that to assist Estimates Committees I will include in future Annual Reports (which normally are presented to the Parliament sufficiently early to be available to Senate Estimates Committees prior to their inquiries) a schedule broadly comparable to those shown at paragraph 21.1 of my Supplementary Report for the year ended June 1 977, and to be included in my next Supplementary Report which I hope will be presented to the Parliament this month.
At this stage I do not propose to include in this schedule information regarding the receipt by the Office of financial statements for those authorities which balance at the previous 30 June as only a small number would, by the date of preparation of the Annual Report, have lodged financial statements with this Office. The schedules would, however, set out information relating to those authorities which balance immediately prior to that date . . .
That is, 30 June-
I trust the inclusion of this information in Annual Reports will assist Estimates Committees in their consideration of the problem.
The inclusion of that information will bc helpful. However, with the limitation that it would not apply to those reports due on 30 June and given that we get the Auditor-General’s report in the Parliament usually at the end of September, some three months later, I think the acceptance of that limitation when requesting the Auditor-General for that particular information, which is very simple information, would make the ability of the Auditor-General to help us very limited indeed. In my conversation with the Auditor-General he indicated the section of the Audit Act which he believed precluded him from providing an Estimates committee with the requested information, which was simply: Date of receipt of the report, date on which the Auditor-General cleared it and which reports were currently with him. No details were required about the content of the report or why reports might have been held up. He indicated to me that he believed that section 14C of the Audit Act was the section which would have precluded him from making that information available to the Estimates Committee. I read section 14C, amongst other sections of the Audit Act, and in my humble opinion I do not think it does preclude the Auditor-General from providing that information which I requested to an Estimates committee.
The reason I raise the matter is twofold. I think there is a general principle involved for Estimates committees in relation to the information that they can seek from any department or statutory corporation before an Estimates Committee. Can we accept an assertion that information is going to appear subsequently in a Frankly which can appear at any time- weeks, months, even years after the question is actually asked at an Estimates committee? Does that not severely hinder Estimates committees? Should we accept that limitation? I would suggest not.
The second point relates specifically to that information requested of the Auditor-General at this time as to whether section 14c of the Audit Act has the effect which has been suggested. It is a rather large subject to have raised and there are some limitations of time in Committee of the Whole. I did rather belatedly deliver to the Minister’s office a copy of a letter from the Auditor-General to me plus a copy of that section of the Audit Act. I am not sure whether he is able to give a quick reply in relation to that matter. I am not sure whether the Auditor-General’s Office has not itself sought the AttorneyGeneral’s opinion some time in the past in relation to that section of the Audit Act. Perhaps the Minister could give the Committee his opinion on, firstly, whether we can seek in Estimates committee information which will subsequently appear in a report; and, secondly, whether the Auditor-General has not been altogether too restrictive in his interpretation of section 14c of the Audit Act in response to this question. If he has taken too restrictive a view of the Audit Act, I would still like to have the information.
- Senator Martin was good enough a short time ago to leave some relevant information in my office, but of course I have been in the chamber and have not had time either to contemplate it in depth or to seek expert information. In general terms I think the Committee would agree that our aim is to provide the maximum information possible to Estimates committees. In light of that fact, the points that Senator Martin raises are matters of principle and policy that I think can be determined only by reference to the responsible Minister and- I agree with her on this point- possibly with consultation with the Attorney-General. I think the best answer I can give purely as the representative Minister is that I will ensure that that is done and I will seek the information for her.
-In the light of that answer from the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick), perhaps he could seek some further information which could follow on from the advice he might receive. Section 1 4C sub-section 4 of the Audit Act states:
The last preceding sub-section shall not prevent the making, divulging or communicating, in any report of the Auditor-General, of conclusions, observations or recommendations which are based on information obtained in pursuance of section 13, 14 or 14b of this Act.
I reiterate that in my opinion the AuditorGeneral is not precluded from divulging the sort of information for which I asked. However, if he is, it seems to me, when looking at sub-section 4 and the words ‘. . . any report of the Auditor-General’ he is really treating the annual report of the Auditor-General as the only one in which that information can be given. Therefore I ask the Minister whether in pursuing this matter- it appears that the Attorney-General may advise that there would be difficulties in providing the information I requested- it would not be possible to request the Auditor-General to give a special report on this subject, perhaps at the time when Estimates committees are sitting, so that through all departments and statutory corporations information can be sought and matters pursued on the basis of the information we may receive from the Auditor-General. In fact, if such a report report possible, could not a verbal report or a brief written report at an Estimates committee constitute the sort of report to which I refer? If the Auditor-General is of the opinion that because he is an officer of the Parliament and can report only to the Parliament, I do not see that as a particular obstacle. We can argue whether a Estimates committee, because it is a Senate committee, is receiving information on behalf of the Parliament. In any event, before Estimates committees sit it would be possible, if the Auditor-General knew that general information was required, to provide it to the Parliament in a very simple form, but in a form that could be labelled a report; if that gets us around the Audit Act but helps the committees to function more satisfactorily.
- Mr Chairman, that is in the too-hard basket for me. I will add it to the matters that I will refer to my colleagues.
– On this matter of the Committee’s consideration of the Auditor-General’s activities I refer to the report of Estimates Committee A, in particular to the efficiency audit function of the Auditor-General. I think that report has a significant bearing on the role of the Parliament in that it refers to legislation which was designed to give effect to the Government’s decision to permit the Auditor-General to undertake efficiency audits of departments, statutory authorities and government-owned companies. The Estimates Committee was informed in the course of the hearings that the Auditor-General’s Office is currently pursuing that activity despite the fact that the legislation is still before the Parliament and does not yet have its concurrence, and that 18 people are already employed in that function. Estimates Committee A recognises in its report that governments and the Public Service should take initiatives in policy and administrative matters, but it also raised the issue of such anticipatory action in relation to the Parliament’s consideration of legislation.
I take the opportunity of discussion in the Committee of the Whole simply to refer to that reference in the report of Estimates Committee A. I would be interested to have the Minister’s response on the matter. It may be that it will have to be provided subsequently. It does seem that when a Bill is still before the Parliament and does not have the Parliament’s concurrence nor the assent of the Governor-General- we can find ourselves in a situation where the activities covered by that legislation are already being pursued and that in fact as many as 18 people are being employed in those activities- there are raised questions as to what extent departments or authorities of government ought to anticipate approval of legislation by the Parliament. That of course raises the issue of what would happen if that legislation were not approved. I reiterate that Estimates Committee A does recognise that departments and authorities may well be criticised if they do not take action to be prepared to implement those policies on which the Government has clearly indicated it will take action and on which, as in this case, it may introduce legislation. They may well be criticised for not taking action. It seems to me that in this case the Department may well have gone too far. This is a matter that involves very significant principles in the workings of the Executive and of the bureaucracy in particular in relation to Parliament. I think it is a matter to which the Government ought to address itself. Perhaps the Minister can give this Committee some explanation as to why this situation has occurred.
– The matter is properly one to raise in the Senate. I think that Senator Carrick has already indicated to the Senate that he proposes to refer the points which have been raised to the responsible Minister. I do not see the matter in the stark terms in which it has been referred to by the honourable senator. I think that he himself has conceded that there could well be criticism if the Government announced its intention to pursue a certain course, eventually proceeded to enact legislation through the Parliament and there was then a long delay before any action could be taken because of the lack of staff or any sort of developed methodology to tackle the task. I do not think there is any suggestion that what has been done in the present situation is illegal. The question has been raised as to whether a change of policy of this sort ought to be prepared for before the actual legislation is passed. All I can do is acknowledge the point and agree that it should be put to some study.
I direct the attention of the Senate to the fact, however, that the Australian Legal Aid Office was established without any legislation. It was carried on for years- I think it is still carried onwithout enabling legislation as such. Officers are recruited. I think that they remain formally members of the Attorney-General’s Department. They perform a function. In other jurisdictions such as Canberra and Western Australia where legal aid commissions have been established by legislation, the function is performed under statute. Again, it might be thought that in the long term that is an undesirable situation. On the other hand, there is no doubt that that is an avenue open for government to proceed along.
I think that there was a legal challenge by Victoria to the Australian Assistance Plan which suggested that it was not open to the Government to proceed to implement that program without enabling legislation. My recollection of the case is that the High Court said clearly that that was not so. Whilst I acknowledge that a principle is involved and that the matter is properly raised by honourable senators, I do not see it in the sharp terms that have been used by them.
– I accept what the Minister has said. He acknowledged that significant matters of principle are involved. He said that the matter should be put to study. Could we have some indication or assurance as to whether the results of that study will be made available to Estimates Committee A?
– Quite clearly from what was said by Senator Carrick and from what I have just said, some response ought to be given to the matter which has been raised after it has been considered by the responsible Minister.
– I address my remarks to the topic raised by Senator Knight. During the hearing of Estimates Committee A of the Auditor-General’s Office I raised several questions in relation to the efficiency audit. I asked:
Are the staff members that the Auditor-General employs for the efficiency audit over and above the staff ceiling?
A Mr McMahon replied:
No, they are part of that staff ceiling.
That means that 18 members of the AuditorGeneral’s Office are engaged on the efficiency audit about which some comment has been made by Senator Knight. I do not intend to traverse that area again. I also asked a question in relation to Division 515, subdivision 1, item 01. 1 said:
The explanatory notes refer to the anticipated high incidence of long term sick leave for officers prior to retirement. Can the Committee be given a further explanation?
A reply was received in a letter to the Secretary of the Committee dated 25 October. It stated:
The item on page 5 of the Explanatory Notes entitled filling of vacant or reclassified positions’ includes provision of $1 15,000 to cater for an additional 5 officers at $23,000 each above the actual number of 10 officers for 1977-78 giving an estimated total for this financial year of 1 5 officers. To date 5 of the estimated 15 officers have proceeded on long term sick leave.
The 1 5 officers on long term sick leave, expressed as a percentage of the total staff of the AuditorGeneral’s Office of 605, represent 2½ per cent. The Public Service Board’s annual report states that throughout the service there were 1,766 retirements due to invalidity for the year ended 30 June 1978 as against a total number employed in the service of 155,995. The percentage rate of retirements in that case is 1.13 per cent. It would seem that the long term sick leave rate for the Auditor-General’s Office is high compared with the Service average. I ask the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) whether we can have some explanation of why the long term sick leave rate is so high in comparison with the average of the whole Public Service. I am concerned in view of the fact that 1 8 members of the staff ceiling of the Auditor-General’s Office are engaged to do the efficiency audit. This brings the number of officers employed by the Office below its staff ceiling. The numbers are further depleted by 15 officers who are on long term sick leave. It depends on the answer I get from the Minister as to whether I pose a further question to him.
– I am advised by the officers that there is a different age distribution in the Auditor-General’s Office as against the rest of the Service. The Office has a larger proportion of officers who are in an older age group. That is probably the explanation of the matter that Senator McLaren has raised.
– In view of the fact that the AuditorGeneral’s Office employs officers in a different age group, what action is it taking to replace those elderly people in the Public Service with younger men while they are on long term sick leave? Does the Government’s staff ceiling prevent it from doing that? It appears now that with 18 officers engaged on an efficiency audit and 15 senior officers because of their age on long term sick leave, 33 personnel of the Auditor-General ‘s Office are not engaged on the ordinary work which the Office has to do. I would like to know what effect that will have on the work of the Auditor-General’s Office. Has any action been taken to recruit younger personnel into the Service to take up that slack or is the Office unable to do so because of a Government instruction?
– I do not think that there has been any particular attempt by the Auditor-General’s Office to recruit youth. I understand, again from the officers, that there is recruitment both from below and across the Service. Therefore a mixture of people are entering the Auditor-General’s Office. The only comment I add- it is no more than a comment- is that I suppose some experience is often an advantage in handling the work carried out by the Auditor-General’s Office. To have inexperienced people running the rule over departments is probably not the optimum way to go about it. Again, that may well be a sensible explanation for the emphasis on the employment of older people. I am advised that at present no particular effort is being made to recruit youth to reduce the hump which the honourable senator has mentioned.
– I am not suggesting that the AuditorGeneral’s Office should be recruiting inexperienced youth. I am concerned about the gap of 33 officers. Eighteen officers are engaged on the efficiency audit in respect of which legislation has yet to be passed to put it into operation legally. Fifteen personnel are on long term sick leave and will not come back into the Service because of their age. I take it that their long term sick leave will take them to the eve of their retirement. If this is the case, what is the Auditor-General’s Office doing to find replacements to do the work of those people. The way I read the answer given is that once people take long term sick leave to the eve of their retirement they are finished with the Service. Am I correct in saying that?
– With respect to recruitment, my advice is that there is, for the reason I have mentioned, emphasis on recruiting people with degrees and people with experience. On the particular problems relating to officers on sick leave, I understand that when it becomes clear that an officer will not return to the Service he can be placed on the unattached list and a replacement for his position can be recruited. However, if an officer is simply away temporarily he remains part of the staff for the purposes of staff ceilings and therefore a replacement cannot be recruited. In relation to diversion of officers to the efficiency audit, I think that throughout consideration of the appropriations Senator McLaren will be commenting that if there are staff ceilings there must be a restriction of function. As I said in the Senate yesterday, if one accepts the principle that the Public Service shall not be allowed to grow beyond a certain size, that government expenditure on government itself should not be allowed to grow above a certain size, that means that there must be an assessment of priorities and directing of work in the areas which warrant priority. The Government supports the move of the Auditor-General into the area of efficiency audits. That is a Government decision to give some priority to that area of work. It has diverted officers to preparing for that task and developing a technique for doing that work. I think that most people outside would welcome this development in ensuring that there is more efficiency within the Public Service so that there is a better return on the spending of government money. That is a policy decision by the Government. It is a decision taken within certain staff ceilings. Therefore it simply means that we have given that area priority over other functions.
– I think that the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) has misunderstood what I am getting at. I am not suggesting that there ought not be efficiency audits. I think they are good if good results can be obtained. But my concern is that as 18 personnel of the Auditor-General’s Department are now engaged on this efficiency audit the work that they had been doing in the past surely must suffer. The Estimates committee was told that 15 personnel in the Department were to go on long-term sick leave this year. The Minister, in his earlier reply to my first question, said that the percentage rate was much higher where officers are on long-term sick leave in the Auditor-General’s Department and throughout the Public Service generally because of the age of the personnel involved. The Minister has now said that some of these officers may come back to work. I want to ascertain from the Minister through his officers how many, if any, of these officers will come back and serve in the Department. That gets back to the nub of my question: What is the Department doing to recruit experienced personnel to do the necessary work? If 33 personnel of the Department are diverted from the normal work of the Department surely that work must suffer. If it is not being done by other staff a tremendous workload is being put on the officers of the Department and there will be the added cost of overtime for people who have to do the work. This applies not only to the Auditor-General’s Department; it applies in many departments. It applies in this very Parliament where because of staff ceilings parliamentary officers are loaded with extra work. There must come a time when there is a breakdown of efficiency and health and more people will be applying for long-term sick leave. This can be avoided if we take a rational look at the whole situation. I ask for answers to the questions I have posed to the Minister in relation to the Auditor-General’s Department.
– I cannot add a great deal more to what I have already said. The only additional information I have obtained is that the staff ceiling for the Auditor-General’s Department has been increased by 12. So there has been an increase and a process of recruitment is going on. The Auditor-General has been given a new task. He has been given an increase in the staff ceiling which will not encompass the totality of that new work. Therefore, undoubtedly there is some diversion of resources. I do not think the matter can be taken any further.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
-We now turn to consider the group of departments examined by Senate Estimates Committee B. Is it the wish of the Committee to consider the group as a whole? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
Proposed expenditure, $78,604,000.
Department of Trade and Resources
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 1 8,890,000.
Department of Employment and Industrial Relations
Proposed expenditure, $282,7 1 6,000.
Department of National Development
Proposed expenditure, $49,967,000.
Department of Special Trade Representations
Proposed expenditure, $462,000.
-I draw some aspects of the report of Estimates Committee B to the attention of the Committee. I draw the attention of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) to page 2 of that report where, in relation to the Department of National Development, the Committee refers to the effect of staff ceilings where government undertakings are fulfilling a commercial role. The Committee was particularly concerned with the situation at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission where radio isotope production, which is a commercial undertaking of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, and potential sales are being hampered as a result of the operation of staff ceilings. In its report, the Committee also referred to the report of Senate Estimates Committee E in May of this year which drew attention to the same problem in relation to the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. It is my recollection that this factory was unable to engage an extra 100 employees in an area where there was unemployment. These employees could have been gainfully used for the purpose of production for sales which could have been obtained overseas. It seems to me that there is a good case for the Government giving thought to changing the system to ensure that where a commercial undertaking is being operated by a government agency it should be able to put on such staff as are necessary to fulfil the commercial role. I ask the Minister, as this is something which has been commented upon on a couple of occasions, whether the Government has taken the matter any further and whether the Minister can give the chamber any indication as to the Government’s reaction to these recommendations which have twice come from Estimates committees.
-I seek a ministerial response on three matters which arise under the estimates for the Attorney-General’s Department. The first matter concerns a question which I raised in this chamber a week ago when speaking on the subject of legal aid. I have also made it the subject of a question on notice to the Minister; so far without response. It concerns the important question of the level of funds committed, as the expression goes, for legal aid offices to use for the purposes of referring matters to private legal practitioners. Briefly, the situation is that the commitment level provided for this financial year in the Budget was $ 12.2m. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack), in his statement to the House on 26 October, acknowledged that there was a backlog of some $333,000 nationally. This means that the offices had used up their commitment beyond current levels to a sum of that order.
The Attorney-General in his statement said that he would release commitment funds to enable the present backlog to be taken up. The question on which I seek a response from the Minister, have done in the past and persist in doing so now, is whether this means that the commitment level for this financial year, viewed in total, will be increased from the original $ 12.2m by that sum of $333,000 so that the working commitment level which the legal aid offices can now rely on for the whole financial year in fact will not be $ 12.2m but a sum of the order of $12. 53m? I would appreciate a specific response to that narrow but very important question on the administration of legal aid.
The second matter on which I seek a response is almost minute in terms of the financial impost that it would involve if the Government were prepared to outlay the sum in question. But I think the question does raise a quite significant matter of principle. My question concerns a matter that was raised in the course of the Estimates Committee hearings. I refer the Minister in this respect to the relevant Hansard transcript of 13 October at pages 325 and 326. The matter relates to the provision by the Government to Australian university law schools of transcripts of argument in constitutional cases which was raised at that stage of the Committee’s hearings. That question has been the subject now of a follow-up written reply which I think was tabled by the Chairman of the Committee yesterday.
Briefly, the situation is that back in July 1975 the then Labor Attorney-General, Mr Enderby, approved the supply to university law schools of such transcript of constitutional litigation. But with the change of government, before the scheme had been implemented, the new Attorney-General, the present Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory, Mr Ellicott, decided against the implementation of the scheme. As a result, no such transcript has been made available to any university law school. The order of magnitude that we are talking about is transcript for some 10 or 12 constitutional cases, because that is all that are, being heard per annum by the High Court. It now appears from the written reply that we are given that the cost to the universities of purchasing such transcript is quite high based on the Government’s current pricing policy of charging for zeroxes of all such public documents at a rate of 50c a page. The cost to university law schools on that basis would be of the order of $9,620. However, the actual cost to the Government of providing such transcript would be the minute sum of$l,815.
I ask the Attorney-General: Why on earth has the Government been so mean spirited as both to reverse the original decision of the Labor Government in this respect and, indeed, to maintain that policy subsequently. I fear that there might be reasons behind this which go further than simply its cash aspect. There would appear to be three possible reasons. One is that it would be too expensive given the current Government’s obsessive preoccupation with Budget ceilings. The second possible explanation is that such material would be of no conceivable utility to anyone, or at least would not be of such utility as would outweigh the expenditure of such a sum of money. The third possible explanation is that the provision of such material to university law schools, researchers and their students, somehow would be inappropriate.
If the third explanation is the one that in fact is motivating the Government, this would appear to raise quite a serious issue of principle. As I have said, looking at each of those possible explanations in turn, it does not appear credible that the cost factor, some $1,800 in any given year in terms of actual moneys having to be expended by the Government, could really be the crucial consideration when we are talking of estimates for the Attorney-General’s Department totalling some $78,604,000. As to the question of the usefulness of such material, I suggest to the Attorney-General that this can hardly be in doubt, even though we are advised in the written answer supplied to the Estimates Committee that the previous Attorney-General, Mr Ellicott, did mention that he personally doubted the worth of the transcripts to law schools as objects of research.
Might I suggest that, if Mr Ellicott was indeed of that opinion, he was rather sadly mistaken because the utility of such transcript in litigation of this kind to law school teachers and students is very great indeed. It provides a great opportunity to understand and appreciate the art of advocacy as practised in the highest court in the land at supposedly the highest level which that art attains and, indeed, in matters of the greatest possible significance, both for the legal system and for Australia as a whole. It would contribute also much to students’ and researchers’ understanding of the dynamics of adjudication, as it were- the process of opinion formulation by High Court judges as it emerges with tentative questions and answers becoming more certain in the course of argument. It is of very great interest to legal researchers and analysts of High Court decisions to be able to compare the opinions, or judgments as they finally come down, with the nature of the arguments that have been given and the material that has been put to the judges in the course of argument. Very often it appears- sometimes regrettably, sometimes rather less so- that the basis of the judgment as finally handed down varies quite considerably from the nature of the argument and the content of the argument that is put during the course of the court proceedings.
I also make the more general point that to improve in any way the community’s knowledge, through at least its professional members, of the operation and dynamics of the High Court is something hardly to be sneezed at. It is becoming increasingly recognised, particularly with the more dramatic events of recent years, that the High Court is an institution playing a role of significance in our political and governmental system which is at least on a par with the significance of this Parliament and which in many ways is a role which is approaching the significance of the Executive. Any way that assists people to come to grips with the way that that organisation works and to understand it can hardly be regarded as a matter without utility.
That leads one to the suggestion, which I now put to the Attorney-General, that the guiding motivation for this so-called budgetary decision might well have been the third possible explanation, namely, that the Government or those people whose advice the Government took regarded the provision of such transcript to law schools as being somehow inappropriate. I have been led to understand- I communicated this understanding to the Minister in the course of the Estimates Committee proceedings- that at least one of the High Court justices had taken the view that it was inappropriate or wrong for students to be exposed to the argument that takes place in the High Court before such argument has been shaped up or the High Court judges’ opinions have reached final fruition in the form of their final written opinions. That that is so was not disconfirmed by anything which was said in the written reply to which I referred, in which it is acknowledged that the Chief Justice made some comment upon this whole issue. Indeed, we are told:
The Chief Justice has expressed the view that transcripts of argument are made to enable Justices to refresh their recollection when considering judgment.
The fact that the Chief Justice took that particular view of the function of transcript rather suggests that he was also of the view, as I suggested might have been possible, that the provision of this material to law school academics, researchers and students, was bad; that it would give them misconceived ideas of the nature of the judicial process; and that perhaps not only would it make them excessively willing to criticise High Court judges for what they produced in their final opinions, which these academics are prone enough to do at the moment, but also might it tempt them to start using the text of what fell from judges in the course of argument as further grounds for criticising them. If this indeed is the kind of thinking that lies behind this petty and rather small-minded governmental decision, it would appear, that our judges are demonstrating a quite extraordinary sensitivity to criticism and a quite inappropriate sensitivity given the importance of the position that they hold. They ought to be considerably more robust. As their contribution to creating greater community awareness of what they are about, they certainly should not pose any barriers to the dispersement of this kind of material.
The third matter which I briefly seek to put before the Attorney-General and get a response from him, is in relation to a matter which was debated also at the hearing of Estimates Committee B of 10 October. The relevant exchange appears at page 80 of Hansard. The question arose concerning the guidelines applied by the Attorney-General in determining what legal costs would be met by the Government in relation to certain conciliation and arbitration proceedings, in particular intra-union disputes. The Attorney-General and his officers indicated that there had been some recent tightening up of the guidelines which had been applicable in this area. The Attorney-General further indicated that he would give consideration to making a detailed public statement as to the content and operation of these guidelines. In relation to this particular point, I ask the Attorney-General: Has he finally made up his mind whether he is going to make such a statement? If so, when can we expect it to be made?
- Senator Rae referred to the comment on staff ceilings at page 2 of the report of Estimates Committee B which mentions that staff ceilings should not be a factor in regard to the development of a marketable commodity. The advice given to me is that when staff ceilings are determined for the Public Service as a whole, both because of the need to contain Government expenditure and also to determine a particular level of growth in the public sector as part of an overall economic strategy, it is quite appropriate for both those reasons for this criteria to apply to any commercial operation that is undertaken by any body which is subject to staff ceilings. Another matter raised concerned the marketing of radio-isotopes by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The question of the future development or viability of this activity would, of course, be taken into account in determining the appropriate staff ceiling. However, I am informed that the radio-isotope market is limited to special institutional requirements. Where the demand comes from and so on was all explained at the hearing of the Committee. It is a very competitive area. If the Government were to develop its activities in that area it would really be entering into direct competition with the private sector.
– There is nobody in the private sector.
-This is what I am informed.
– In fact Australia is exporting in competition with overseas but there is no other production in Australia.
– Perhaps I should put it another way. I am not qualified to get into an argument here as to what the market is for radioisotopes. If such a question arises in accordance with what Senator Rae is saying, then these factors would be taken into account in determining the staff ceiling. No doubt the views of the Senate Committee as expressed in relation to this matter also will be taken into account. At this stage, the staff ceilings for this year are already fixed and determined. There will be no changes in the overall staff ceilings this year although, as happens from time to time, there could be a rearrangement of staff ceilings if a particular need arises. This is not a matter which will give rise to any change in the staff ceilings for the present year.
I should now like to refer to the questions raised by Senator Evans. I am pleased to inform him that the level of commitment for referring matters to private legal practioners which I indicated was a provisional level of $ 12.2m this year has been increased to the figure of $ 12.6m which was the figure provided last year. Senator Evans referred to a backlog. I directed that these cases be committed in advance of the new guidelines coming into operation, in the expectation that the new guidelines would, over a period of time, represent a saving. Although they would not represent a saving immediately, over the course of the year they would even out. Nevertheless, the fact is that we have achieved the same level of commitment for this year as we did for last year. That will be very helpful in meeting the demands made on the Australian Legal Aid Office. I have, of course, listened on two occasions to the views of Senator Evans on the question of the provision of transcripts of arguments in constitutional cases. I have not taken any action in relation to this matter yet. The view taken by my predecessor in relation to this matter and the view I have taken is not based on anything that has been said by any judges of the High Court about the wisdom of providing the transcripts. It was an economic measure which my predecessor took.
– Of a peculiarly cheapskate kind.
– It might be if we looked at it in relation to one area. I imagine a situation where transcripts of an argument in a particular class of proceeding before the High Court are made available for researchers. No doubt, there is a great deal of interest in the arguments presented in taxation cases in the High Court. There may be an even greater number of people interested in having the argument in taxation appeals made available to them. Criminal lawyers might like to have the transcripts of arguments in criminal cases. This is one of those things that could go on and on. I will have to look at the matter in the light that a precedent might be set.
The third point raised by Senator Evans referred to the guidelines to be applied in the exercise of my discretion under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to grant costs to certain people. This is a matter which I have yet to put to Cabinet for discussion. Although it is not really a government decision as such- the decision is at the Attorney-General’s discretion- it is a financial matter which needs to be discussed at least with some of my colleagues who are concerned with the appropriation of money. I said that I would tighten it up. I thought that I had explained, or that the officer concerned had explained, this to the Estimates committee. I have tightened up the basis on which costs are actually met. Instead of just giving carte blanche and picking up the tab, we have said that we will agree to costs on the basis of so many days. We have got out some rules, which I thought were tabled at the committee hearing, as to what costs would be allowed, when the cost of senior counsel could be allowed and so on. I thought that they had been tabled. The information was certainly available and I thought that it was provided.
The broader question, as to what guidelines would be adopted, has not been determined, but the matter is being examined not only in relation to my discretion under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act but also in relation to a similar discretion I have under the Trade Practices Act and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act. The combination in all these areas is now such that instead of the program being a very small program, as it was when introduced, it has grown considerably, and the potential for growth is substantial. Therefore, it should not be left entirely to broad discretion. Some guidelines should be determined. I agree that they should be made public when they are determined. They will be.
– I support what Senator Rae said with regard to staff ceilings. I was concerned with the answer of the Attorney-General (Senator Durrack) to Senator Rae. I refer to this statement in the report of Estimates Committee B.
Committee B agrees with the conclusion reached by that Committee that ‘all Government undertakings fulfilling a commercial role should so far as possible, be managed on a commercial basis rather than that appropriate to the Public Service ‘.
I read out that statement because I want to emphasise that what we are talking about is not staff ceilings in the broad sense. We are talking about the effect of the policy on staff ceilings on an area of commercial enterprise within the Atomic Energy Commission. As I understand the position, the Commission does conduct a commercial enterprise, in regard to its radioactive isotopes, in Australia. It also exports them against overseas competition.
I also understand that the Commission could expand its markets if it had more staff. Therefore I pose this question to the Minister: Would he be prepared to communicate with the Commission and ask how many additional staff it would like, to assist in the further development of this commercial enterprise? We are not talking about government cutbacks and savings in government expenditure but about investment in labour in an area where there will be a return on investment and further revenue for the Atomic Energy Commission. I would be pleased if the Minister would look into the matter and find out from the Commission how many staff members it would like in order to expand its commercial operations; also, what the Governments attitude would be towards such an expansion, to increase the commercial activities of the Commission.
– I think that all I can do is draw the attention of the Minister for National
Development (Mr Newman) to the views on this matter that have been expressed by Senator Rae and Senator Young, as well as those expressed in the report of Estimates Committee B.
– I seek a specific ministerial response concerning a matter which arises out of the estimates of the Department of Trade and Resources and which relates to the appointment of the Uranium Advisory Council. It is now something like eight months since Mr Anthony announced that he expected in the near future to invite individuals to be members of the Uranium Advisory Council, yet no announcement of any kind in this respect has been made by the Minister to date. Indeed, it became clear from the evidence of the officers of his Department at the Estimates committee discussions that little progress had been made in selecting appropriate members, that indeed little thought had been given as to how the Council, once established, would operate. This cannot but lead one to suspect that the Government just does not want any independent scrutiny of its uranium policy and decisions.
One notices in particular in this respect that the Ranger agreement itself and the nuclear safeguards agreements which have now been entered into with the Philippines and Finland have all been finalised without the advice of the Uranium Advisory Council or the scrutiny by that Council of the proposed terms of the agreements in question- this, despite the various problems that have emerged and the many criticisms that have been made in relation to the method of reaching these respective agreements, and their content. Therefore, I ask the Minister specifically: When can we expect the Uranium Advisory Council to be appointed, set on foot, and established on an on-going, proper basis?
– I am advised that the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) has made good progress with approaches to people and the consideration of people for appointment to the Uranium Advisory Council. These matters are well advanced. Although I cannot be as specific as perhaps Senator Evans expects me to be, it is expected that an announcement will be made in the near future. I cannot be any more definite than that. I would raise a question concerning the way in which the Committee is proceeding to consider this report. I am setting questions on all of the departments involved, one after the other. The officers cannot sit here, in close communication with me. I understood that the report was to be dealt with in order of departments. I understood that was done yesterday in dealing with the report of Estimates Committee A. It certainly would be much more convenient for the Minister if that could be done.
– The point made by the Minister is noted. I understand that at the beginning of the consideration of group B a question was asked of this Committee as to the manner in which the departments were to be taken. The Chair notes the problem which the Minister in charge faces.
– I would like now to draw the attention of the Committee of the Whole to page 3 of the report of Estimates Committee B, in which reference is made to annual reports and the fact that these are sometimes delayed and, when delayed, the job of the Estimates committee is made more difficult than it would otherwise be particularly where it is dealing with one-line appropriations. The Committee drew particular attention to the situation with regard to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and the fact that its most recent report was not available for reasons which were not, on the face of it, the fault of the Commission. The Committee said:
Where the certification of financial statements is the cause of delay in the presentation of a Report, the Committee sees no reason why the Report should be withheld, but rather believes that it should be presented with a qualifying statement explaining the nature of the delay in relation to certification.
This is a matter which has also been dealt with by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, which, in a report relating to the Australian Housing Corporation, made the following recommendation: . . if a Report, with accounts in a form approved by the Department of Finance, and /or the Auditor-General’s Report, is not ready for presentation to the Parliament within 9 months of the end of the previous financial year, then the Minister should, within 1 S sitting days, present an interim report to the Parliament on the Corporation’s activities, together with informal financial statements, and an explanation for the unavailability of the unaudited accounts.
It does seem to be a matter whereby it would be proper for the Senate to take an interest in seeking to have made, if necessary, an amendment to the law to ensure that there is a better system for the tabling of accounts to this chamber and to the House of Representatives in the fulfilment of the role of the Parliament in ensuring accountability and scrutiny of the organisations established by government.
I simply wanted to draw attention to this part of the report. It may be that it will have to be at some other time that we can take the matter further. But this is something which arose specifically during Estimate Committee B hearings. I draw the attention of the Committee of the
Whole to that and hope that when on an appropriate occasion the matter is raised, there will be general support in this chamber for an amendment to the law.
– Are there any questions relating to the Department of Trade and Resources?
-Yes, Mr Temporary Chairman. Once again I refer to page 4 of the report of Estimates Committee B where, under the heading of ‘Department of Trade and Resources’, reference is made to the fact that grants have been made available to the Queensland Government totalling, over three years, some $10m. The first of these was made pursuant to an agreement of 23 February 1977. The grants are in respect of the closure of Fraser Island as a result of Commonwealth Government action and are to enable the Queensland Government to undertake employmentgenerating activities in the area affected by the closure of Fraser Island. What has happened though, is that although the Commonwealth has requested an audited statement that the expenditure was undertaken in accordance with the terms of the grants, no such audited statement has been received. Thus the Committee viewed with some concern the fact that although the Queensland Government had agreed to the terms when the agreement was made in February 1977 that an audited statement would be supplied, no such statement has been received. The Committee suggested that if there was not an acceptable explanation as to why such a statement had not been received, the Senate might like to reconsider its view towards approving the payment of further funds until something is done about this matter. I now ask the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) whether it has been possible for any explanation to be obtained and if not, what the current state of play is in obtaining an audited statement from the Queensland Government in relation to the expenditure of the moneys that have been granted to it.
– Since the Estimates committee hearing, the Department of Trade and Resources has been in contact with the Queensland Treasury and has been advised that audit certificates for the financial years 1976-77 and 1977-78 have been completed by the Queensland Auditor-General, although these certificates have not yet been forwarded to the Department. Nevertheless, apparently they are in existence and hopefully they will be obtained in the near future. Certainly we will do our best to see that they are obtained.
– Are there any questions relating to the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations?
– I have two short questions relating to the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. It is possible that the answers will have to be given at a later stage because I cannot see the departmental officers in the chamber. My first question- and Senator Button reminded me about this- relates to the Industrial Relations Bureau. We are all aware that the Industrial Relations Bureau is being set up. I think it has most of its establishment. Honourable senators will of course recall the debates in the Parliament on the scope of the activities of the Industrial Relations Bureau. The Minister will recall that during debates on the conciliation and arbitration Bills there has always been the argument that the old inspectorate section which has now been taken over by the Bureau was never anxious to prosecute employers and prosecutions against unions were certainly more numerous than those against employers. It would appear from the figures taken out over the years that actions were not often taken against employers when they might have been. Senator Mulvihill raised a number of questions about employers and contractors working at airports. Is the Minister able to indicate to what extent the Bureau has now reached its top establishment? Further, in respect of those duties other than what we call punitive duties, is it attempting to ensure that awards and general standards are observed in industry? I appreciate that that information might have to be given later.
The other matter I raise relates to the employment position at Whyalla. Earlier today I raised part of this matter by way of question to Senator Chaney as Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The Minister well knows that the general position in Whyalla has been raised in thus place by honourable senators on both sides of the chamber. It was felt that to the greatest extent possible there should be some means of creating employment in Whyalla. The shipyards there are closed and the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd had not been able to take on the great number of people who were available after the closure and who were thus in the employment market. The result has been, as I mentioned earlier today, that over 300 homes in Whyalla are now vacant and these apparently will be filled by people coming from the city.
This has created some social problems. I know that the State Department of Community Welfare has been active in consulting these people. In discussions we had in this place and from reports by the then Minister for Trade and Resources, Senator Sir Robert Cotton, and from those who have followed him in that portfolio, it was indicated that the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations would visit Whyalla and would regularly take up the question of employment facilities in that city. At one time it was thought that the Department was not active enough in that regard. The Minister may wish to take on notice those questions and also the extent to which the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, in concert with other departments, sees the possibility of creating employment opportunities in the city of Whyalla, having regard to the discussions which I know are taking place between the State Government and the Federal Government officers and the studies that have been made.
– I am sorry that an officer of the Department was not in the chamber when this discussion was brought on. But I think that the situation we have been experiencing in our consideration of these Estimates should be a lesson to this House and we should go through the departments one by one so that people can have some sense of order and so that departmental officers can get themselves in place. Senator Bishop raised the matter of the Industrial Relations Bureau. The Estimates Committee B hearings were attended by Mr Lenihan and he as asked a lot of questions about the Industrial Relations Bureau. He was asked to what extent it had recruited people, what its policy was and so on. I think that because of the matters that the honourable senator raised what Mr Lenihan said would be of interest to him. I draw his attention to the transcript of the proceedings of the Committee on that question. Insofar as the honourable senator raises a matter of policy concerning the Industrial Relations Bureau, I shall refer that matter to the Minister and indeed to Mr Lenihan- I do not know whether that was dealt with specifically. As to Whyalla, I gather that what the honourable senator is saying is that there has been some criticism of officers of the Department for not being present there perhaps more often or questioning just what their attention is being given to with the problems in Whyalla at present. I shall certainly pass that on to the Minister and I shall ask him to supply an early answer for the honourable senator.
– I wish to deal with the scheduling of Estimates Committees hearings. I do not seek anything other than what the Minister noted I wanted to say. I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to page 4 of Estimates Committee B’s report where reference is made to the problem that arose where in the scheduling of Estimates Committees on 19 October, Committee B together with Committees A and F, were schedule to sit at 12 noon. In fact some controversial legislation was introduced by the Government and listed for hearing in the Senate for debate on that day. The Estimates Committees scheduled to sit, with all the attendant officers from the various departments, were forced to wait until evening before they were able to commence. It was a mammoth waste of a lot of people’s time. I hope that we will not have a repeat of what I think could be described as a fiasco. The Committee does wish to draw the attention of the Senate to the huge waste of money and resources and of everybody’s time as a result of that action. We have suggested that, when the Estimates Committees are scheduled to sit, they sit and that the Senate does not continue to take up the time that has been listed as it does involve so many officers being brought to the House of Parliament and to be in attendance, waiting for the Committees to start. Having the officers who are to appear before three Estimates Committees hanging around for six hours or more of wasted time is not in the best interests of efficient government.
– In relation to Senator Rae’s comment, naturally I would agree that as far as possible committees ought to sit when scheduled to sit. A great deal of the time of public servants is used- I suppose the word ‘waste ‘ is correct- because, in the operation of Senate Estimates Committees, it cannot always be clear when an Estimates Committee is going to finish one department and another department is going to start. In this instance the problem was occasioned by a need for the Senate to keep sitting because there was an urgent Budget measure, as I recall it, that was required to be dealt with and disposed of by the Parliament on that day for reasons of implementation by a date which was to be incorporated in the legislation. That was the reason why that happened. It was unfortunate that it did occur in that way. I would hope that we may be able to schedule business in a way that that does not happen. Certainly it would be the intention of the Government to minimise the occurrence of those events.
– I wish to make three short points in relation to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission estimates which appear under the Department of National Development. The first point concerns the research function of that Commission. There is now to be an inquiry into the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. It was announced by the Minister on 2 November. However, that inquiry has several manifest faults in that it fails to go far enough in reviewing the work of the Commission and leaves virtually untouched the non-research functions of the Commission. The terms of reference direct the review to look at ways to expand the Commission’s energy research role; the focus is very much on the expansion of that role even though for some time there has been- this emerged again in the course of the Estimates Committee hearings- some considerable criticism of the quality of the AAEC research. The question has loomed very largely in scientific discussion whether the AAEC should be actually reduced in status in this area to the extent that its currently quite dominant role in Australian atomic energy research should be reduced. The further point I make with respect to that inquiry is that manifestly, because of its importance to the community as a whole, it should be a public inquiry and not an internal inquiry as now appears to be proposed.
The second point that I make about the Commission goes to the staffing of the Commission. This is a matter which has been raised in one of its guises by both Senator Rae and Senator Young. I draw the Senate’s attention to the further specific information which has been supplied in written form by the departmental officers. This material is on page 83 of the document and indicates- among other things- that the appointment of another six staff members engaged in isotope production and the manufacture of radio pharmaceuticals and the provision of irradiation services would result in a revenue gain per annum of the order of $350,000. On no view could the staff costs involved, given perhaps some additional overheads, come to anything like that sum.
– The point I made is that, while it gave examples of six, I wanted to find out from the Minister how many more it would like? How much more would it be if it had what it required in the numbers of staff?
– That point is well taken by Senator Young and deserves to be repeated. I join with him in pressing the Minister and his Department on that particular matter.
May I mention also under the heading of staffing that there has been a great deal of concern expressed by the relevant union, the Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia, that the staff ceilings and staff cuts which have been imposed at the Atomic Energy Commission research establishments are adversely affecting a variety of areas of work including safety operations and certainly including environmental controls and studies. Again, these concerns were not alleviated by the evidence which was heard by the Estimates Committee. I suggest that, if the Government were as genuinely concerned about nuclear safety and environmental responsibility as it purports to be, this would be an absolute priority area for its attention and would be at the top of its priority list in terms of additional staff rather than as shown here, apparently at the bottom, and one of the first areas to be adversely affected by the operation of the present staff ceilings.
The third point that I make about the Australian Atomic Energy Commission is that it certainly appeared from the detailed discussion at the Estimates Committee, which I do not here rehearse with any elaboration, that the Australian Safeguards Office is a complete farce and charade. It is a creature of the Government’s public relations machine rather than something which has any obvious useful role to play in either the formulation or implementation of Australian nuclear policy in the very sensitive safeguards area. It is and must remain a matter of concern that the Australian Safeguards Office clearly is not perceived to be in any way independent of the governmental structure; it is absorbed within the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. But, what is more immediately pertinent, as appeared from the Estimates Committee hearings, is that its functions are extremely unclear and its staffing absolutely derisory. It has a present staff of four people and that apparently is not proposed to be increased in any way in the present financial year notwithstanding that we have been led by Government publicity on this subject to anticipate that that agency would have an absolutely essential and strategic role in the formulation and implementation of the Government’s nuclear policy.
– I wish to refer to the River Murray Waters Agreement and in particular to the limitations upon the powers of the River Murray Commission. From discussions and inquiry during the meeting of the Estimates Committee I became very aware of just how much the River Murray Commission is limited. We appreciate that the River Murray
Waters Agreement was signed back in 1914. In fact, the interest in the River Murray originated as far back as the 1890s in the Constitutional Convention which dealt more with trade and shipping on the river than with the water itself. Since then there have been improvements to the River Murray Waters Agreement and the establishment of the River Murray Commission, a Commission comprising the Commonwealth Government and the three States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. However, the Commission virtually deals only with water quantity and not with water quality. In my own State of South Australia where we are at the end of the line, if I. may put it that way, we have had great problems with the quality of water flowing down the River Murray. It has affected irrigation as far back as Victoria and New South Wales and on top of this Adelaide today is dependent on water reticulated and pumped from the River Murray to help with domestic supplies and services in the city of Adelaide.
As I understand it, the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) put out a Press statement recently dealing with amendments to the River Murray Waters Agreement and in it he said:
Over the past year or so, the Commission has thoroughly reviewed the existing Agreement to identify the changes which will now be necessary. These have been included in a substitute Agreement which has now been accepted by the Commonwealth and South Australia -
I repeat ‘by the Commonwealth and South Australia’- as a basis for negotiating a new Agreement. New South Wales and Victoria are examining this document and their acceptance will be necessary before a new agreement can be negotiated and matching legislation introduced to ratify it.
He goes on to state:
There has been increasing concern on the part of people and local organisations along the River Murray at the delay in giving legislative effect to the agreed water quality functions . . .
I emphasise the words, ‘water quality functions’- for the River Murray Commission .
What concerns me greatly is that under the proposals, as I understand them, the new Commission still will have no power whatever when it comes to water quality. All that the River Murray Commission really can do is make representations to a State with regard to any concern the Commission may have about water quality. It does not have any power to determine or set standards with regard to water quality. All it can do is make requests and these requests can be made only if there is unanimity within the River Murray Commission. If there is an offending
State among the three States represented on the Commission and that State does not agree with what the rest of the members of the Commission are propounding, there is no unanimity and, therefore, no request can be made to the offending State. It will be tragic if this situation is allowed to continue while new discussions for an agreement are taking place. Whilst the River Murray Commission does have control of the main stem or stream, as it is referred to, that is the River Murray, it has no control or power whatever over any inflow from any tributary or drain into the main system.
South Australia has been sitting at the end of a drain for a long time and the drain has been getting worse for a number of years. I commend the States and authorities which are doing so much to overcome the salinity problem but Victoria and South Australia, which are dependent on the River Murray system, could finish up with a lot of trouble as a result of the proposed newsprint mill which is to be built at Albury. As I understand it, this mill is to be built away from the River Murray main stream but it will be close enough to enable effluent to flow into the River Murray. We know that paper mills, newsprint mills, are a great user of water and a great polluter. We have seen the effects of a paper mill which is operating in the south-east of South Australia. We have seen the tragedy of what has happened over the years through pollution. Now we are facing great risks, and I emphasise that they are great risks, with regard to the establishment of a newsprint industry in close proximity to the main River Murray stream because, as I understand the proposals, the Commission will have absolutely no power to give any directions with regard to water quality or effluent that may come into the river system.
In fact, it is worse than that for the Commission can only make representations to, say, the appropriate New South Wales Minister providing all the members of the River Murray Commission are unanimous that they should make representations. If a State establishes an industry and the standards which it sets are not satisfactory to a body such as the River Murray Commission, I can hardly see the offending Minister, who is sitting on the Commission, agreeing to the Commission making representations to him about the matter. To me the proposal is fraught with problems. In fact, I go further and say that it is fraught with danger. We have to realise that the River Murray today is the major river of this country. It is a river which flows virtually through three States- it is a border for two and flows through South Australia- and a river upon which so many people in those States, including those in the city of Adelaide, are dependent. It should be looked at as a national resource and not a resource for only four different groups.
– The Pel ‘s scheme.
- Senator Rae just passed some comment, and I will refer in a moment to what the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution said in its report of 1970 which was presented to this chamber and to the Parliament. I think it is necessary that consideration be given to the overall river system as a single resource and that there be more responsibility or power given to the River Murray Commission itself. In its 1 970 report on water pollution the Senate Select Committee said:
This Committee has no doubt that the salinity of the Murray River is one of the biggest water pollution problems facing Australia. It threatens large exporting primary industries and its menace is growing every year. Despite the work of a number of dedicated growers, there is some evidence indicating irresponsibility on the part of individual growers, a lack of co-ordination between the States, an even more lamentable lack of anti-pollution powers among the organisations involved with the management and use of the Murray . . .
I think we have to underline the words: . . even more lamentable lack of anti-pollution powers among the organisations involved in the management and use of the Murray, and a pressing need for some overall organisation which could analyse the problem and effectively solve it.
I heartily support what that Committee said in 1970.I think it has greater relevance today than it had then because today we are facing the problem of a new industry on the River Murray, an industry which is renowned for its problems of pollution. Yet the River Murray Commission will virtually have no power to set standards in any way in relation to the inflow into the river from that industry. It concerns me greatly that all the Commission can do in any case is make representations which can be made only if its partners are unanimous that the representations should be made. I hope that the governments concerned will Took more closely at this situation and give more power to the River Murray Commission, particularly where industrial development takes place, to make sure that South Australia which for years has been on the end of the drain, will not be placed in great danger of actually going down the drain.
– I listened with great interest to Senator Young’s contribution on the matter of salinity in the River Murray. I draw to the Committee’s attention the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources brought down in the Senate recently. The reference was:
The Commonwealth’s role in the assessment, planning, development and management of Australia’s water resources.
We devoted quite a large amount of our time to the matter of salinity generally and salinity in the River Murray in particular. I refer the Committee to page 49 of the report in which we stated:
The Committee considers that the River Murray Commission is not an appropriate body to undertake concerted, long-term action to deal with the problems of salinity, water logging, despoilation of wetlands and saline drainage into the River Murray. The salinity problems associated with irrigation have their origin in the catchments or lands adjacent to the rivers over which the existing River Murray Commission has no control.
I underline that point. The points raised by Senator Young are very valid, but it was the consideration of our Committee that because the problems of salinity emanate in tributaries of the River Murray, in some cases many hundreds of miles from the River Murray itself, that the Commission itself has no powers to deal with the problem. I read further from our report:
The problems of the River Murray are of national significance and the Committee considers that there is an urgent and vital role for the Commonwealth in respect of the development and preservation of the River Murray Basin. The Commonwealth should take the initiative through the Australian Water Resources Council in preparing and implementing a long term comprehensive program for the management of River Murray salinity problems including regulation of land use as well as water management.
Finally, I quote our recommendation:
The Committee recommends that salinity be recognised as a national problem and receive a high priority and increased attention in future with the Commonwealth taking the initiative in implementing a long term solution outside the framework of the National Water Resources (Financial Assistance) Act 1978.
– I have some information on this question, most of which I think was given to the Estimates Committee, but it may be as well, the matter having been raised here, to mention it. The background is that since the end of 1976 the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have been engaged in discussions about amending the River Murray Agreement to take into account in its operations water quality as well as volume. On 2 November a preliminary draft agreement proposed by the Commission to give effect to the agreed changes was accepted by the Commonwealth as a basis for discussion for a new agreement and complementary legislation. The document is still being examined by New South
Wales and Victoria. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) wrote to State Premiers on 30 October informing them of the Commonwealth’s position and proposing discussion as soon as possible. I think that brings up to date the position since the Estimates Committee discussed the matter. It does not of course overcome the fundamental constitutional problem in that even though the Commission may take into account the quality of water, the question remains of how a commission of this kind can enforce regulations over such matters when the powers still remain with the States. I think all those matters were canvassed at the committee hearing and I do not think there is anything more I need to say about them.
– I thank the Minister for his response, but I still wish to express my concern. The danger is still there and my concern is still there. I appreciate that it could be very difficult to resolve a situation such as this with regard to quality. The River Murray Commission for so long has been dealing with quantity on its own and not with quality. Quality is the key to the lock at present, with industrial development taking place- what I can call dirty industrial development- in a newsprint mill. I would hope that the new agreement will resolve the situation so that the Commission will be able to set certain standards with regard to industrial pollution of water. This problem is entirely different from the agricultural problems caused by the salinity of the River Murray where the States and certain organisations, in conjunction with the Commonwealth, have done an extremely good job in their research into this area. We have a new problem probably arising which relates to industrial pollution. I hope that the Commission will have some powers at least to set some standards to make sure that a State such as South Australia, and the irrigation areas further down the river system, will be fully protected, as they should be.
– I want very briefly to support what Senator Young has said. He has gone into the matter very fully and the Committee does not need a repetition from me. It is clear of course from previous debates in the Senate that South Australian senators in unity have raised this question of water pollution of the Murray, the quality of water in South Australia and the progress being made. It is of great significance to our State because we are heavily dependent upon the River Murray for water. The matter which Senator Young raises is one of special significance and I hope that the Minister will take note of it and see to what extent consideration might be given to allowing related controls to prevent further worsening of the River Murray, a situation which we know is now developing very rapidly.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of the Special Trade Representative
Proposed expenditure, $462,000- agreed to.
-Mr Chairman, as I understand the procedure, it is now appropriate for me to refer to a couple of matters that arise from the report of Estimates Committee B. I wish to move two motions which arise directly from that report. I move:
Page 2 of the report of Estimates Committee B referred to the fact that whilst there is some scrutiny through the Public Accounts Committee of expenditure under the Advance to the Minister for Finance the procedures of the Estimates committees would be far more effective if the committees had before them not only the appropriations but also that part of a department’s expenditure which is included in the Advance to the Minister for Finance. The whole of the expenditure could then be seen in total rather than having the dissection which exists at the moment when some expenditure is dealt with under the appropriations and other expenditure is dealt with under the Advance to the Minister for Finance, the details of which are not available to the committees when they are considering the proposed expenditure of departments.
Estimates Committee B recommends that expenditure by individual departments under the Advance to the Minister for Finance should be referred to the appropriate Estimates committee for consideration in conjunction with the particulars of their proposed expenditure. It is not intended- I emphasise this-that details of that expenditure should not also be referred to the Public Accounts Committee. Rather, the Estimates committees should have the details before them so that they may look at the proposed expenditure in total. In no way at all is this recommendation intended to change the specific consideration of the expenditure under the Advance to the Minister for Finance being undertaken by the Public Accounts Committee. I think that this is a fairly straightforward matter. I do not think that I need to elaborate on it further. I moved the motion as Chairman of Estimates
Committee B which unanimously made the recommendation.
– I second the motion. As Senator Rae said, it is an entirely reasonable proposition that the whole of a department’s proposed expenditure be scrutinised by the Estimates committee concerned. This recommendation is in no way designed to displace the function of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts but it would seem that in order to enable the Estimates committee to fulfil its proper role, a role which is conferred on it by the Senate, it should have available to it, concurrently for its scrutiny, the details relating to the Advance to the Minister for Finance. I emphasise that the recommendation came from a bipartisan Estimates committee. I take pleasure in seconding the motion.
– I have had no notice of this motion. I do not know whether it involves the Department of Finance or the Senate staff. On the face of it, it may appear to be appropriate but I have had not had any instructions on it. As it is nearly 6 o’clock, I suggest to the Committee that it may be appropriate to suspend the sitting. Hopefully, we will be able to respond to the motion when we resume.
– I apologise for the fact that the Minister has not received a copy. I thought that the motion had been made available. I certainly agree to the matter being dealt with when we resume. I will make sure that the other motion I wish to move is circulated immediately.
– I would like the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) to consider another matter during the suspension of the sitting. I thought that the Public Accounts Committee carried out the scrutiny of the Advance to the Minister for Finance. I hope that this motion will not cut across that long established principle which is written into our procedures.
Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
-Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I had moved a motion which read:
That the Committee, having considered the Report of Estimates Committee B, recommends that expenditure by individual departments under the Advance to the Minister for Finance be referred to the appropriate Estimates Committees for consideration in conjunction with the Particulars of Proposed Expenditure.
I explained the objective of Estimates Committee B in making this suggestion. It has been pointed out to me by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) that there may be some ambiguity because the motion does not specify the year to which it relates. I am happy to clarify this and I feel that the best way would be to amend my motion by adding after the words ‘Minister for Finance’ the words ‘for the preceding financial year’ so that the motion would read:
That the Committee, having considered the Report of Estimates Committee B, recommends that expenditure by individual departments under the Advance to the Minister for Finance for the preceding financial year be referred to the appropriate Estimates committees for consideration in conjunction with the Particulars of Proposed Expenditure.
I seek leave to amend my motion accordingly.
– Having had the opportunity to consider this matter during the suspension of the sitting for dinner and in the light of the clarification by the proposed amendment by Senator Rae, to his motion, the Government is happy to accept the motion.
– I second the motion as amended by Senator Rae. The proposed amendment is desirable and clarifies the situation. I express my pleasure that the Government has acceded to the motion in its new terms.
– I should like to know whether there has been adequate debate on this proposition. If there has not been, for the sake of those who were not in the chamber perhaps there could be some explanation of the need for such a motion. If there was a debate of course honourable senators will be able to read the Hansard record.
– There has been debate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-As I foreshadowed, pursuant to the recommendations of the report of Senate Estimates Committee B I wish to raise another matter; that is, the question of the Committee’s capacity to be able to take evidence in camera. On page 4 of its report the Committee stated:
While the Committee commends both the AttorneyGeneral and the Minister whom he was representing for acceding to the request -
The request was that the Committee be provided with details of Decentralisation Advisory Board loans or grants, interest rates thereon, general policy and the way in which they were being administered. At first there was a coyness on the part of departmental officers to give any details at all. After an adjournment and the Committee members pressing the request the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack), as Minister representing the Minister for National Development, was able to give the information sought by the Committee. However, what happened raised the question of commercial confidence. The Committee did not press for details of the interest rates applying in respect of individual loans. There was some suggestion that perhaps it was perfectly permissible- had the Committee pursued it- that we should be able to get the information. As opposed to that, there were some members of the Committee who thought that that information was appropriate to be made available to the Parliament but not made available publicly- in other words it could be given in camera- 1 do not go into that question but rather the question which it raises.
This question first arose early in the history of Estimates committees when the Estimates committee dealing with the appropriations for the Australian Broadcasting Commission sought some information at the instigation of Senator McAuliffe, if my memory serves me correctly, in relation to what the ABC was paying for certain programs. The ABC said that it did not wish to answer because it was in a competitive commercial situation and that the information which was being sought, if made public, would disadvantage it in its competitive commercial situation. Increasingly we have the situation where a large part of the appropriations- 63 per cent- is by special appropriations of one sort or another. Statutory authorities of various sorts are dealing with huge amounts of public finance in a way which is very significant in the national economy. I think that the Parliament, in the exercise of its function of scrutinising public receipts and expenditure and ensuring accountability of the various types of government undertakings- be they provided to departments in direct government expenditure or indirectly through statutory authorities- is entitled to know, and must be provided with a sufficient basis to be able to ensure that it can know what is happening with the various types of undertakings which come for scrutiny.
Estimates Committee B saw the need to give the opportunity for consideration where a statutory authority in a commercial position said: ‘We do not want to disclose that publicly. We are not trying to withhold the information from you but it may help our competitors’. I can understand that and sympathise with it, not in every case where it may be raised. Such a procedure ought to be available to be raised by the statutory authority and the committee concerned should then decide whether it would take the evidence in camera.
– Was the information given as requested?
– We did not press the request about the detail of the individual loans but we pressed the request concerning the interest rate policy and that information was given. This matter raised the question which has come up from year to year and which the Committee wants raised here tonight. This question comes up at almost every Estimates committee hearing that takes place. There is some authority or organisation which says: ‘That is a matter which could adversely affect our commercial competitive situation if we were to disclose it on the public record’. As the Standing Orders exist at the moment whether any evidence can be taken in camera is a matter for decision by the Senate, not by a committee. My view, which I put tonight to the Committee of the Whole, is that that is not a practical way to overcome the problem.
If an Estimates committee in the middle of its hearings has a situation where somebody says: ‘I do not want to answer that question because it will adversely affect us in a competitive commercial situation’ surely the Senate should be prepared to leave it to the Committee to decide whether to take that evidence in camera. But to bring the matter to this chamber and have it debated, then eventually after all the processes have been gone through to go back into the Estimates Committee and take the evidence in camera is a cumbersome, clumsy process and a waste of time of the Senate. It is an inefficient process which ought to be changed. In the light of those attitudes which I have just expressed Estimates Committee B seeks not a decision here tonight but to have the matter referred to the Standing Orders Committee for final result. I move:
We seek no more than that this matter be referred again to the Standing Orders Committee so that, in the light of what I have said and in the light of the practice and the experience of Estimates committees, it might be reconsidered by the Standing Orders Committee.
– I second the amendment. Senator Rae, myself and Senator Georges, as members of the former Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange, sat on that Committee for five years and had to make many decisions whether we would take evidence in public or in camera. I think that we have had as much experience in this area as anybody in this chamber, along with the other three members of that Committee, only one of whom is left in the Senate. There is no question that a difficulty arises where information is sought which is of a commercial nature and which could be regarded as prejudicial to a government statutory trading organisation such as the Australian National Line or the Australian National Airlines Commission. They are very big organisations dealing with large sums of money.
It is only proper that this matter ought to be clarified. We normally know what procedures to adopt in our Select Committees and, I assume, with our Standing Committees. I am assuming that we do know what to do because I cannot say for sure offhand. But certainly as Estimates committees deal specifically with matters of finance, it is a proper proposition. It is surprising that we have not taken a step such as this before. It has been a matter of concern to us at previous Estimates committees sittings. I suggest that it would be in the interests of the Senate if in fact we pass this motion and allow the Standing Orders Committee to have a look at it.
– I do not oppose this matter being referred to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration and report to the Senate. I cannot see any real dangers in adopting that procedure. I hope that when it is considered by the Standing Orders Committee that Committee will be cognisant of the fact that the scrutiny of the Advance to the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) is carried out by the Public Accounts Committee.
– I am getting away from that. I have not heard that explained yet. I always thought that committees of the Senate could take evidence in camera. I have been on committees that have taken that course of action.
– Estimates committees cannot go into camera.
– I do not know whether it is good to allow Estimates committees to do so. Has it ever been done? Yes, I contested this matter with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. My action brought about a change in the regulations. At the time, I was supported by ex-Senator Murphy and ex-Senator James McClelland. The matter was referred to the Committee of the Whole and the Senate decided that the ABC had to make the information available. As the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) will recall, the late Senator Greenwood, who was the Attorney-General at the time, and the ABC argued against me. They said that if the Commission made the information available it would be at a disadvantage compared with its competitiors in commercial radio. This matter was pursued at great length. It had the support of ex-Senator Sir Robert Cotton, Senator Guilfoyle and the late Senator Greenwood. The matter was referred to this Senate as a whole. It carried a motion that the ABC had to make the information available. That course of action was followed only on the final decision of the Senate.
I hope that when these matters are referred to the Standing Orders Committee all the research will be done. I am a member of the Standing Orders Committee. I indicate now that I think that the way the matter was researched and pursued by the Senate on the earlier occasion to which I referred seemed to fill every requirement that was necessary. Being heavily involved in that matter at that time, I am at a loss to see what this will achieve when the Senate can achieve it by raising the matter at Estimates committee hearings. If the department or authority concerned still wants to withhold information, the Senate can ask that body to make it available. If it still insists that it will not make it available, the Senate as a whole, if it thinks that it is important enough, can vote and direct the department to make the information available. That provision is already in existence. I do not know what this motion will achieve.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The Committee will now move to group C. Within this division we will be looking at the departments of Social Security, Aboriginal Affairs, Health, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Veterans’ Affairs. If it is acceptable to the Committee I would like to take the departments individually so that the vote for the Department of Social Security and the other departments are agreed to without requests, rather than taking the whole group at once with questions being directed to the vote for all those departments. There being no objection, we will follow that course.
Department of Social Security
Proposed expenditure, $304,604,000.
– Estimates Committee C took a long time to examine the estimates of the Department of
Social Security. I believe that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and the officers of the Department co-operated extremely well with the Committee and gave all the information that was sought. I wish to make only one comment. To me, the problems of administering social service benefits through a vast number of departments these days were indicated clearly. We should take due note in this respect of the advice that the Minister and the head of the Department gave. They indicated that, for them to fulfil their responsibilities to the extent that is desirable in relation to the enormous social service funding these days, the Public Service Board should take note of the request that certain positions should be created and that those positions should be filled to allow the Department to become efficient to the degree that the taxpayers and the Government seek.
Further, I believe that, when looking at the staff ceilings imposed on the Department, there is room for an extension. I should like to refer particularly to the area of Aboriginal welfare and to the problems being experienced by the Aborigines in gaining suitable employment. I believe that there is room for more liaison officers of that Department to work with the Aboriginal people.
-I take this opportunity of asking the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) just what has eventuated in New South Wales, what results have been achieved, what progress has been made and what the Government is doing in connection with those recent cases of misuse of benefits that involved the Greek community.
– Alleged misuse.
– Yes, alleged misuse. I would like the Minister at this stage to give us some information on whether the Government is proceeding in the matter and, if so, at what level. Also, how many people are still involved, what assistance is being given to those who cannot afford it and does the Government intend to persist with court proceedings?
– I am advised that in regard to the alleged abuses against the Act which were raised recently in New South Wales, the cases are at the moment in the hands of the courts. I understand that hearings are scheduled for late January. As far as the Government is concerned, it has no further statement to make on it. The matters are in the courts. I do not have figures with me which will answer Senator Georges’ questions specifically, but I may say that they are no different from the figures given earlier. However, I could supply them. The last advice I received was that court proceedings were expected to take place in late January.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $95,907,000.
– I wish to make some few remarks regarding expenditure on Aboriginal affairs. I say few because once again the discussion of the estimates of the Department took several hours before Estimates Committee C, and those who are interested will find a great deal of information relating to the proposed expenditure in the pages of the Hansard record. One sees that for this year, in Appropriation Bills (No. 1) and (No. 2), an expenditure of approximately $ 130.5m is contemplated. It is not my intention to go through the ramifications of the activities of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs except to comment on matters that are of particular interest to me.
I would first like to bring to the notice of the Committee the proposed expenditure on housing, which is dealt with in division 813, subdivision 1, item 01. In 1977-78 there was an expenditure of $10.13m. For 1978-79 the proposed expenditure is to be $ 1 1 . 1 3 1 m. This indicates that in the coming year a very real attempt will be made to increase the housing for Aboriginal people in all States. In the Northern Territory in particular it is pleasing to see that the Aboriginal housing situation is once again on the move forward. A little while ago it encountered real troubles. There was a lot of financial outlay but very few results. There was a tremendous amount of wastage. A tremendous amount of money was being skimmed off by consultants and so on but I believe that, with the reorganisation of Aboriginal housing projects, we will see the money being spent to real purpose. The Aboriginal people will find real benefits rather than having an amount of money allocated which was really of no advantage to them.
I note that in regard to the employment program, in which I am very interested, a considerable change is taking place. Previously there had been the unfortunate situation with unemployment benefits or what the Aboriginal people call ‘sit down money’. The Government, as they used to say, took the money away from them on the one hand through work projects and, on the other, gave them money to sit down. Naturally, they called it ‘sit down money’ and took it as meaning that the Government did not wish them to work. That was extremely bad, as it would be for anybody. I am not singling out Aboriginal people in regard to that particular feeling. However, various improved schemes are now being developed. I am more familiar with employment schemes in the Territory than with those outside it. I have looked at Bamyili, which is south of Katherine. That scheme will employ Aboriginal people. A block grant is being made to the community. Aboriginal people are organising this scheme themselves. Very few Europeans will be employed. I believe that at Bamyili two or three Europeans will be employed. That scheme has given a new feeling and a new initiative to the Aboriginal people. It is a tremendous place to see, and one that would give anybody heart as people see what can be done for the future. I know that some people are a little wary of the development of that type of scheme, inasmuch as it involves money going into Aboriginal towns or settlements. The suggestion is that really nothing creative comes out of it. The fact is, of course, that it is money that is going into these settlements, which, after all, are towns and the Aboriginal people are looking after it under a councildirected operation, and doing extremely well. We have to be prepared to wait until certain things happen within the Aboriginal people. We have to wait until they find their feet and become accustomed to our way of life, and become more independent. At this time it is very good that the Government is encouraging these types of schemes. They are giving the Aboriginal people more heart, more encouragement, much more self-reliance and the confidence that they can do things without having to lean on the Europeans. Therefore, I would congratulate the Government on developing this scheme.
Of course, the Government’s program goes beyond that type of scheme as well. I appreciate that there is some wariness in the development of the scheme. This year we will see such schemes developing not only in Bamyili and Galiwinku, which is on Elcho Island off the Arnhem Land coast, but also in a place called Papunya which is a very big problem area. It has been described as a disaster area for, and of, Aboriginal people. It is going to be a real test as a scheme developes there. Still, I have my hopes and I believe that it can be done successfully. Of course, the Government’s program goes even further. In the development of self-initiative in Aboriginal people there is the block funding of Aboriginal councils. Once again we are seeing people being encouraged to take up town-like or local government responsibilities and carry them out.
I am speaking very briefly on this matter and it could appear that I am glamorising the situation; far from it. All I am saying is that the initiative that is taking place is proving worth while, but there are many problems ahead. I would hope that with some sympathetic treatment such problems would be overcome.
I wish to speak briefly now on the matter of Aboriginal health on which I spoke during Estimates Committee C hearings. On that Committee I had a bit of a brush with an honourable senator opposite, but perhaps it was more of a misunderstanding rather than our being at odds over the situation.
– I had a brush with somebody else apart from you, senator.
– I do not hold it against the honourable senator, although he did call me a ‘bloody Jeremiah’, if I remember correctly. However, that was in the heat of the moment. At any rate I do believe that what we were endeavouring to do and what we were saying was on the same track.
As I have indicated before, I am concerned about the general health of the Aboriginal people and I think that anybody associated in any way with the Aboriginal people would feel the same way. The Aboriginal people are going through a very difficult time. As I said before, with the vast amounts of money spent on the Aboriginal people it was to be hoped that better results than one sees at present would have been brought about. I refer, for example, to a newspaper article of a few days ago which bears the heading: ‘Aboriginal baby death rate rise’. The article states in part:
The Federal Health Department is concerned at an increase in the Northern Territory Aboriginal infant mortality rate last year. the rate rose from S2.8 per 1,000 live births in 1976 to 74.6 in 1977.
The rise was further confirmation of the urgent need to improve conditions, the depanment said.
So the article goes on. Generally speaking, since I was a child living in the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal infant mortality rate, which was then in the hundreds per thousand, has dropped. The fact is that this is a very difficult situation. One wonders whether at the moment the problem is too diversified. Perhaps too many authorities are involved in this issue. It does give me concern that- once again I speak of the Northern Territory, although no doubt this would apply also to Queensland and Western Australia and places like that- we have overlapping authorities within government. There are the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Department of Education and the Department of Health, so there is a considerable overlapping of authority by those departments. I wonder whether the services that are provided and the money that is spent are for the good of the people.
On quite a few occasions during the Estimates Committee C proceedings the matter of evaluation was brought up. I wonder whether, considering all this money that is being spent, it is ultimately for the good of the people. I wonder whether the best is being done for the people when we have overlapping authorities and a duplication of services. I note from information that has been provided to the Committee that an evaluation is to be carried out. In fact it has been commenced and I understand it will continue for the next two or three years. I support this move because, as I have said before, I am not a knocker- in fact far from it, I am a supporter- of any good that can come out of a system that will help these people. I do have grave doubts about the overlapping of responsibilities and such.
I wish to make one or two final points. I come once again to the review of Aboriginal legal aid as set out in the Department’s estimates. It has been indicated to us by departmental people and by way of an answer by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) that a charter is to be formulated setting out the guidelines for the operation of Aboriginal legal aid. I think this is most necessary. I am not singling out Aboriginal legal aid as an area that should be receiving the most attention. All I am saying is that anybody who is funded by taxpayers money should have a charter and should have guidelines. I suggest now that there are insufficient guidelines for Aboriginal legal aid. There are some other matters that concern me, but I do not raise them now. So if there is to be some rhyme or reason to Aboriginal legal aid and if Aboriginal legal aid is to give service to the Aboriginal people, I look to the Government and I look to the Minister to bring forward these guidelines and this charter as quickly as possible.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– During Estimates Committee C proceedings the Department of Aboriginal Affairs came under very close scrutiny. I think it is admitted that for the first time the Department of Aboriginal Affairs gave very detailed information which was helpful to the Committee, at least for the short period when I attended the Committee hearings. So we have a report of a substantial nature from
Estimates Committee C. Many questions were asked. I do not know whether we have all the answers to them. However, we did get more information this year than we have done on previous occasions.
I wish to refer briefly to the matter raised by Senator Kilgariff. He gave some information on a matter upon which I had based a question to Senator Guilfoyle as the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and that is, the Aboriginal infant mortality rate in the Northern Territory. According to the Department of Health annual report the Aboriginal infant mortality rate in the Northern Territory took a sharp percentage rise in the years 1976 to 1977. 1 know that we can raise this matter when the proposed expenditure for the Department of Health is brought on, but I think it is necessary to raise it in connection with this Department’s estimates because I would have thought that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs would have a specific concern about this sharp increase in the Aboriginal infant mortality rate. It is a concern that should be reinforced when one remembers that the expectation was that the infant mortality rate would decrease. There having been such a sharp increase after so much money being spent in that area, the situation must now be considered as urgent. It has been said before that if those figures related to white babies and if the rate of infant mortality were to be related to some problem in a white community, it would be considered an emergency situation and emergency measures would have been put into effect. That may be being too critical, but surely the Department must now have some explanation for the situation. Senator Guilfoyle will recall that I asked her whether the Government was prepared to make a statement on this matter. I do not think that such a statement has come forward. Perhaps the Department has a view on this. Perhaps the Department has a reason for the situation. Perhaps it can give us some explanation. What is to be done about the situation?
I am reminded of a question asked by Senator Puplick this morning which placed our position in this area in a very poor light compared with the positions of countries north of us. I think our infant mortality rate placed us just slightly ahead of Sri Lanka and one or two other countries in South East Asia. Has our poor reputation come about as a result of the heavy infant mortality in the Northern Territory? We go to tremendous measures to protect the life of a single child; why do we not take similar measures to protect the lives of hundreds of children? It is in stark contrast to our debate last Thursday when we were debating the rights of the unborn child. Now we seem to have evidence that we are neglecting the life of the child itself, especially the Aboriginal child. If I sound serious it is because I am serious and I feel the matter ought to be taken up. Senator Kilgariff has raised the matter. He represents the Northern Territory and for that reason he has a special concern. His concern has spread to the rest of us but I wonder whether it has spread to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. If it has not, why has it not?
-The Estimates Committee was particularly concerned at the late tabling of annual reports. With respect to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Department’s annual report, the report of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the report of the Aboriginal Land Commission were all to be late. We were not able to know when the latter two reports would be tabled. I refer to the statement by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister (Mr Viner) who, when commenting on the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment which was tabled yesterday, said:
The Government shares the Committee’s concern, and continual efforts are being made to ensure that government departments and statutory authorities submit reports to Parliament with the minimum of delay.
He also said:
In cases where annual reports cannot be finalised, for example, where there is a delay due to a statutory requirement for the Auditor-General’s certification to appear in the report, it is sometimes possible to submit interim reports which provide the Parliament with much of the information contained in the final report and lacking only the official certification.
The final sentence of that paragraph reads:
Standing instructions require this course to be followed. 1 draw to the attention of the Committee of the Whole the fact that standing instructions require this course to be followed. I would like this Committee’s support in stating that this should be adhered to with regard to annual reports prior to meetings of the Estimates Committees.
– I take the opportunity to refer to the comments of Senator Kilgariff and his interest in the programs of housing and employment and also the other matters which he raised and the matters raised by Senator Georges with regard to infant mortality. Like Senator Georges and others, I treat very seriously the figures first brought to our attention by Senator Cavanagh and Senator Georges at Question Time a short time ago. I do not have any official response from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or the Department of Health at this stage.
I believe I undertook to refer the matter to both departments but I am able to say that the infant mortality rate is increasing in the Northern Territory. The Department is supporting the community-based health services in the areas of Central Australia. In 1978-79 an amount of $ 1.47m will be spent on community oriented health services. These services are relatively recent. They were first funded last year and they will be evaluated as many other programs will be evaluated. However, I shall seek again a response with regard to those figures that were drawn to the attention of the Senate by Senator Georges and I think Senator Cavanagh.
-Can I take the matter a little further? The amount of money which the Government intends to spend is a little more than it intends to spend on those infamous turtle farms in Torres Strait when during the investigations we found that it was proposed to spend Sim on what was perhaps the greatest hoax of all time. That Sim was to support some six or seven turtle farms in the Torres Strait region. That is another matter but I contrast it with what we are doing in endeavouring to correct a very serious situation in the Northern Territory as far as the health of Aboriginal communities is concerned as evidenced in infant mortality figures. I say to the Minister that we cannot let the matter rest, because if there is such a high mortality rate with infants then the overall standard of health of the whole community must be poor because many survive but do so in a very deprived state. The errors of the past are still very much with us.
The Government should reconsider the proposed expenditure. It should forget about budgetary restrictions and requirements and regard this as a matter of extreme emergency. It may be necessary for us to improve the dietary position of whole Aboriginal communities in certain areas in order to allow children to be conceived and reared with sufficient nutrition. I am not an expert on these matters, but Dr Kalokerinos is one doctor who has written so urgently about the protein shortage in the nutrition of Aboriginal children.
– Vitamin C.
-And many other vitamins as well. It is a problem that becomes more serious as the child becomes older. The Aboriginal community can be intellectually repressed because of poor dietary provisions in the prenatal period and the immediate adolescent period. I put it again that it is an emergency which parallels those that suddenly occur in
South East Asia- emergencies caused by flood, famine and earthquake- and to which we apply substantial sums of money. I do not question that aid. All I say is that we have an emergency which from this distance does not appear to be apparent. For instance, if all these children were to suddenly die by some sudden disaster caused by flood or by earthquake, we would be racing to the assistance of those communities, but because it is an insidious thing which has been suddenly revealed to us in the health report we seem not to give it the importance that we should. If I repeat myself, it is because I am trying to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. I can see a response in the Minister but nevertheless I think we have to take that response further than this place to see whether we can get the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Health to consider it to be urgent. Cabinet and the Treasurer (Mr Howard) should also consider it to be urgent and apply the necessary moneys which will provide the health teams to go into those areas to correct the sorry situation.
– I recognise the genuine concern of Senator Georges in this matter but I doubt that money can really buy the health of the Aboriginal child. More is required than the pouring in of money. This is related to some of the criticisms I have made before. The problem is the understanding by the Aboriginal people of matters of health. Their way of life has come a long way since they lived in their tribal state. Although they do not live in a completely tribal state now, they still retain that way of life to a degree. In the tribal state, they lived in small groups. They lived on the banks of rivers, in the river beds and so on. They were nomadic. Because of their small numbers, the ground on which they lived did not become fouled, tainted or whatever description one might like to use. The fact is that a change has occurred in their way of life. Our desire has been to give Aboriginal people welfare. We have brought them into settlements where they can live permanently. However, they still endeavour to lead their old way of life to some degree. For too long they camped on the ground in the settlements. This results in problems with disease. To quite a extent Aboriginal people do not understand vitamins, the use of vitamin C or of orange juice, and similar related matters. These are very real problems. As I have said before, I do not think that money provides the real solution to these problems.
One action that can be taken to help- and this is a point that I pursued with respect to education- is for more and more Aboriginal children to be trained as teachers aides and teachers to work among their own people. There are many hundreds of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory being educated at the Kormilda and Yirara Aboriginal Colleges who have the ability to become health aides. Some advantage may be gained by placing among the older Aboriginal people the many young Aboriginal people, at present undergoing training, who know our way of life. This is not the complete answer; it is but one of the answers to the many problems that exist.
– I thank the Committee of the Whole for the way in which it has dealt with this problem. It is a serious problem and we are indebted to those honourable senators who have shown a serious interest in it. The remarks made by Senator Georges will be conveyed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner). 1 simply wish to place on record that the figure that I mentioned earlier was the amount to be spent on programs undertaken by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Of course, there are other expenditures through the Department of Health on hospital and health services for the Northern Territory. Some $23. 4m will be spent on those services this year. However, the figures we were talking about and the figures to which Senator Georges addressed himself are for those programs within the special knowledge and interest of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Health
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 ,9 1 5,79 1 ,000.
-As Senator Kilgariff and Senator Georges have said, the officers of the Department of Social Security, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and, I would like to include also, the Department of Health were asked for a tremendous amount of detail by houourable senators on the Estimates Committee. In the process of supplying the answers some errors are bound to be made. These errors are completely understandable. However, I wish to bring to the attention of the Committee of the Whole tonight a correction to one of the answers recorded in Hansard. During the hearing of Estimates Committee C, I asked what reserves were considered necessary for a health insurance fund to be viable. Mr Carroll, in answer to that question, said:
There are varying opinions on this amongst actuaries. Professor Pollard was recently commissioned by the Voluntary Health Insurance Association of Australia to report on the matter of reserves for health insurance organisations in Australia. In his report, which the VHIAA lodged with the Minister, he recommends that there be a regulatory requirement that all health insurance organisations have a minimum reserve of one month with a desirable maximum of three months.
It has come to my attention only recently that in Professor Pollard’s report, which was not available to me before or which I did not seek before, his recommendations are not as stated by Mr Carroll. In fact, Professor Pollard said that the funds should be encouraged to operate with a solvency margin of about three months of breakeven contributions and that the minimum solvency margin be about two months of breakeven contributions, not one month. I think that generally we ask a tremendous amount of the officers and the fact that there are some odd inaccuracies does not surprise me. The officers would be really quite remarkable if that were not the case. On many occasions the information which they supply to us is from memory.
Another matter that I bring before the Committee of the Whole is that Estimates Committee C was concerned about an evaluation of the drug program. In its report the Committee said that, in response to a request for further information, the Department replied that there had been little research conducted in Australia into the incidence of drug use and on measuring the impact of drug education programs on the level of drug abuse. The Department has collated the findings of the drug use surveys but has been unable to draw reliable conclusions because of the sparseness of survey work and the lack of comparable data. I draw to the attention of the Committee of the Whole some of the recommendations in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare entitled ‘Drug Problems in Australia- an intoxicated society?’. One of the major recommendations in that report was that the Commonwealth Department of Health should develop and disseminate a standard protocol for the collection of comparable data and that researchers working on drug use problems should be encouraged to use this protocol. Another recommendation was that all drugeducation programs be evaluated against the stated aims of the National Drug Education Program. I draw these recommendations to the attention of the Committee of the Whole this evening and to the attention of the Department.
– I raise again a question which has been raised by me and other honourable senators concerning the future of Medibank staff. I appreciate that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has replied recently to questions asked by me and other honourable senators but the replies do not give any guarantee of security for the staffs in all States. I was more concerned about what might happen to Medibank staff in South Australia. A number of people presently employed by Medibank have approached me. Obviously it is impossible for management to state exactly what might happen in respect of one particular employee. I want to know whether the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and the officers who are available here tonight are able to indicate more precisely what is the future of the staff employed in my State of South Australia. Perhaps I should first read- and you, Mr Temporary Chairman, would not object to this course- a letter to me dated 14 November from the Minister for Health which, I suppose, gives the latest information. In the letter, the Minister said:
I refer to your question without notice to Senator Guilfoyle on 26 September 1978 (Hansard page 891) on the future employment of Medibank staff. Sena tor Guilfoyle undertook to refer your question to me for advice.
As a result of the new health insurance arrangements certain functions of the Health Insurance Commission have been transferred to the Department of Health. A significant number of Medibank staff currently engaged on these functions, including bulk bill processing and payments to private hospitals, will be offered employment in the Department of Health without any loss of present entitlements. Arrangements are currently being finalised for an offer of employment to these people. A number of other positions created in the Department for new functions have been advertised and Medibank staff will be eligible to apply for these.
In relation to the remaining staff, I understand that the Commission will need to maintain present staffing levels in processing centres retained by it during the transitional phase after 1 November to complete the processing of Medibank standard work. After that period some staff will become surplus to requirements but it is still not practicable to identify precisely the number as this will be affected by the market share obtained by Medibank Private and the number of people who elect to register with Medibank Private for payment of Commonwealth Medical Benefits. On this point I am pleased to mention that current business trends are most encouraging.
The Commission has advised its intention of closing the Canberra and Geelong Processing Centres as part of a program of rationalising its processing facilities It is proposed that closure will take place on S January 1979.
The Public Service Board and the Depanment of Employment and Industrial Relations will be actively seeking to obtain alternative employment for the staff from these centres and others who may subsequently become surplus.
I am hopeful that an improved market share by Medibank and re-deployment arrangements by the above authorities will result in redundancies being kept as low as possible.
The letter was signed by Ralph Hunt. Although that is a very helpful answer the fact is that honourable senators from my State and perhaps from other States have been approached by people who presently work for Medibank. Their outlook for the future is not secure. Some 30 people will be transferred to the Commission but there are some whose fate cannot be determined. From representations I am informed that it cannot be precisely stated what their future is. I wonder whether more up to date information is available from the Minister or the Department about the position in South Australia. There has been some publicity about commitments of the Medibank organisation with respect to loans which were provided to it. I wonder whether those obligations may impose another form of insecurity on the staff. If the Minister is able to provide that information tonight I will welcome it but if it is not available tonight the Committee will be pleased to receive it at a later stage.
-The letter from the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) which was read by Senator Bishop provides the latest information that I am able to offer with regard to the negotiations which are still proceeding with the Public Service Board and the staff associations. At this stage the Department of Health is reimbursing the Health Insurance Commission for the persons who are working in the Medibank centres. As stated by the Minister, there is an undertaking that as much assistance as possible will be given once it is known whether any redundancies will result from the changes to the health schemes. There is no other information that I can give to Senator Bishop but I am grateful to him for his forbearance in suggesting that I may give it to him at a later stage.
-There are two areas about which I want some information from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). They relate to the people who are caught up in the chronic illness position and to Medibank Private. I would like to know what is the position from the point of view of the Government of people who are caught up in the area of chronic illness. I thought that the whole system that we brought into the Parliament was designed to protect those people who were chronically ill, yet I find people continually ringing my office wanting to know what sort of coverage they have in that area. From what I have read of the Estimates Committees reports so far I still do not know the answer to those questions. I knew that prior to the current situation Federal funding was always their absolution. The private funds did not cover chronic patients but passed their cares and problems on to the Federal Government which paid their bills. I know that private funds have never assisted chronic patients, yet from some of the statements that have been made by the private funds one would find that hard to believe.
I would like to know from the Minister what exactly is the position of chronic patients, what exactly is the assistance given to them by the private funds and what exactly is the assistance given by the Federal Government. The other matter that has worried my office in the last two days is in the area of Medibank Private. What exactly is the position of that private fund at the moment as regards financial assistance? We have heard all sorts of stories that it has problems, that it is in the red. We know that the private health insurance funds have not paid Medibank Private the money that is owing to it. I ask, for the benefit of the people who have insured themselves with Medibank Private, just what is their position, where does the Government stand in that area and what is the position of that organisation as regards its financial difficulties?
– I understand that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has made some statements in relation to medical benefits for those suffering from chronic illnesses. A further statement is to be made quite soon by the Minister with regard to this matter and I am unable to pre-empt that statement. I think Senator Melzer, in asking questions about Medibank Private seeks information with regard to a private health fund about which the Government would not be able to make a statement any more than it would be able to make a statement about any other private health fund. However I will refer Senator Melzer ‘s remarks and the questions she has raised to the Minister to see what information can be made available, bearing in mind that this is a private health fund.
– Estimates Committee C was responsible for looking at the estimates for the Department of Health which are covered in Appropriation Bills (No. 1) and (No. 2) and which amount to over $2,000m which is a very large budget for 1978-79. Of course, the Department’s responsibilities throughout Australia are vast and varied. One notes that on 1 January part of its responsibilities will disappear. That is when it will hand over the health services under its administration in the Northern Territory to the Northern Territory Government. Covered in these Estimates are the sums of money that will fund the Department of Health up to 31 December. Thereafter the funds will be made available to the Northern Territory Government. Overall, I commend the departmental heads who came before this Committee as it sat long and into the late hours. They gave full information to the members of the Committee. I believe that their contribution was a very good one.
There are one or two points that I would like to make. Speaking once again of the outback health situation I see that there will be room in this transfer of powers for the re-evaluation of health services to ensure that there is no overlapping and that the money will go further than perhaps it does now. That is a criticism which perhaps may not add up. But certainly it is time for an evaluation. Once again I see a necessity for reviewing health facilities to ensure that there is no overlapping of responsibilities and a resultant wasting of funds and personnel. Also, I see the matter of the Northern Territory aerial service, the Flying Doctor Service, the service for Aboriginal people and so on, once again coming into this evaluation to ensure that there is utmost efficiency.
An unusual aspect of the Health Department estimates this year which is creating interest not only to honourable senators in this chamber but also to the people of Australia is that the Health Department Will be responsible for northern surveillance. This year $2.6m will be made available. I understand that tenders have been called. Applicants have submitted tenders. We are now waiting to see who will the the first people in light aircraft responsible for northern surveillance. Northern surveillance is merely one cog in a large engine of surveillance and defence. I congratulate the Government on bringing about the commencement of surveillance. I hope that in the very near future it will be in a position to indicate who are the successful tenderers. I hope they will be experienced pilots of the north who now fly day by day along the northern coast. I see a case here too for the participation of Aboriginal people, particularly as observers.
I make another point which concerns particularly the ladies of the outback. I refer to the scheme to assist isolated patients with travelling and accommodation expenses. The allocation for 1 978-79 is $5.2m which, I think, is a good sum of money to assist people who live far in the outback, some 200 kilometres from the nearest suitable specialist treatment et cetera. This scheme will be a great help to the people who live in very isolated areas. Because of their circumstances they have very little financial backing to enable them to go to hospital.
One item concerning people in isolated areas does not seem to have been covered. I wonder whether the Health Department has considered the woman who is expecting a child. It is my understanding that this situation has not been covered within the scheme. I ask the Government to consider it. Many young girls in the outback who are having their first child are very far from medical attention. They need to go to a central point. I suggest that the funding be extended to cover these persons who need medical treatment, guidance and accommodation in centres along the track, in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and other places. I ask the Government to consider this aspect.
– I support my colleague, Senator Melzer, in her comments in respect of the organisation that is commonly known as Medibank. Senator Melzer raised a question as to whether the Medibank organisation was in a position of solvency or insolvency. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said that she would refer Senator Melzer ‘s question to her colleague, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) for reply and amplification. Frankly, it is some time since I have seen the National Health Act. I should like to know whether it is the responsibility of Medibank, as a government sponsored organisation or an organisation augmented by funds from the Commonwealth, to provide a financial report or an annual report to the Parliament as at 30 June each financial year. If it has to report to the Parliament before this date why has the report not been handed to the Parliament?
- Senator Douglas McClelland raised a question with which we have dealt on Estimates Committee C. We were told that the Health Insurance Commission’s annual report would not be available for some time. We were not told when. No date could be given to us.
– That is scandalous.
– We applied a certain amount of pressure because the same answer was given last year. That is why I spoke this evening, particularly in relation to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs but also about annual reports in general. I bring to the notice of the Senate that an interim report could have been available and should have been available before the Estimates committee considered the estimates of these departments.
– In response to Senator Douglas McClelland, I understand that the Health Insurance Commission is compiling a report on Medibank to 3 1 October. That report is in the course of preparation and is expected to be released in the near future. I am unable to give a precise date. The Government has no responsibility to table in this place a report from Medibank Private. It is a private health fund. It has the same responsibility to report under the National Health Act as other private health funds have. I will see whether I can ascertain a date on which the report to 3 1 October will be available and advise Senator Douglas McClelland accordingly.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $59,018,000.
– I have three matters to raise. I hasten to advise the Chairman of Estimates Committee C, Senator Walters, that they have developed since the Committee sat. I refer to the numerical multifactor assessment system known as NUMAS. When the score cards are compiled according to the formula are they returned to the central office in Canberra for a decision? I relate this matter to an article in the Canberra Times which referred to certain departmental changes. It also referred to the appointment of what was called a regional director for southern Europe. Mr Ron Harris has been appointed. I do not know whether we will have other command areas such as southern Europe and whether regional directors in other places will be appointed. In addition to letting me know about the score card concept under NUMAS I would like to know what is visualised in relation to these areas of command.
We know that assessments will be made on a points system. I take it that X-rays and health matters will be a separate operation. I wonder whether those operations will be carried out in Europe or in London. I think that we used to have an X-ray section in London which sometimes used to be well behind in its work. I will deal with the matter in golfing parlance. I am referring to the possibility of a countback. One could compare the points system with the last nine holes. There will be two columns. I think that an applicant has to get 30 points out of 50 in each column. I think the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said that one or two applicants may score within two points of the minimum and that in those cases there would be a little flexibility. I use the golfing analogy again: Will the Department take a countback on one column against another or, ultimately, will the Minister rule on these very close assessments?
I wish to deal with two other matters. One deals with an assertion by Dr Paxinos in the Hellenic Herald of 27 October. He referred to the 400,000 migrants who are eligible to seek citizenship but have not. His theory was that in this tight employment position there is a certain hesitancy by some people to approach their bosses to lose a day or half a day to go to Sydney for a citizenship interview. It is quite possible that in this situation, with sickies and absenteeism, a hardline is taken even to those who have legitimate requests. Dr Paxinos suggests a return to Saturday morning interviews. When my New South Wales colleague, Senator Douglas McClelland, and I visit our offices on a Saturday morning we see people going for interviews. Dr Paxinos asserts that there is a staff shortage in the Department.
The Chairman of our Committee, Senator Walters would well know that during the hearings I raised in depth the question of the added responsibilities of the Department in policing the departure tax. The Committee was assured that the Department had had extensive dialogue with the Public Service Board and within a month of the introduction of the tax the situation would more or less level out and the Department would have the capacity to service airports and to carry out the normal immigration functions. I accept all that. I have a sneaking suspicion that we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Has the number of employees in the citizenship section been cut back? In the light of the assertion in the Hellenic Herald, have we sufficient staff to carry out Saturday morning interviews which would encourage the 400,000 migrants eligible to take Australian citizenship to do so? The Minister for Productivity, Mr Macphee, might accept the idea because it would mean less time off by migrants in the work force to attend citizenship interviews from Monday to Friday.
I approach the final matter in a rather sombre fashion. It concerns an abortive mission that I undertook last night to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar. It involves a case I have retailed in this chamber a number of times. I refer to the case of Mr Arroyo, a 22-year old Chilean. In dialogue with the Minister I accepted that it was a debatable point whether Mr Arroyo was a tourist. I am not canvassing the Minister’s ultimate decision. I am grossly dissatisfied with the present situation. I received information only after I had spoken to the Minister and had had discussions with the regional director in Sydney Mr Austin. Mr Arroyo will be shipped out of Sydney tomorrow for Santiago. The thing that worries me is that people are adamant that some travel agents in Sydney are operating as migrant touts. That is the best description I can give. The Five Dock Travel
Agency is reported to have said to Mr Arroyo’s aunt: ‘You get him here as a tourist and we will introduce you to a solicitor’. I have already named that solicitor. Mr MacKellar raised the point that the New South Wales Law Society had investigated this man and was still looking at the case. He said that the Chilean had the right to take action through the Law Society to get back the $500 that he had paid in his abortive attempt to enable him to remain in Australia permanently.
The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has a Special Report Branch. I am concerned to know whether I have been conned. When I had to tell these people last night that we had not won the day I got reproachful looks. They insisted that a minority of travel agents are preying on migrants. There are fairly large communities of Latin Americans in four or five different groups- Chileans, Colombians, Peruvians, et cetera- in the St George area and in the central western suburbs of Sydney. Senator Douglas McClelland knows this. I make this eleventh hour appeal to the Minister: Why cannot the Special Reports Branch go out to the Five Dock Travel Agency and ask point blank whether this man is giving false information? Although I have not won this case, if this were done it might stop a lot of Latin American people in particular being battened down on by certain travel agents. I put a black ban on one man because I did not like his methods. It is not the man involved in this case. If the Chileans have to accept the decision of the Minister I would like to believe that they are not playing against a stacked deck as far as these travel agents are concerned.
While I am speaking about this Chilean case I would like information on another matter. I raise a hypothetical case which may arise in future in relation to Chilean migrants and the assessment we apply to them. A Chilean family meets our requirements. The Chilean Government may place an embargo on males between 22 and 27 years of age- they might meet our trade skill requirements, et cetera- saying that they are members of the Chilean Army reserve and cannot leave the country. This assertion has been made to me in the Chilean Club which is in the electorate of Lowe. I would like verification of the position.
Finally, on the Latin American aspect, I raise a matter relating to the Argentine. I raise the question of a certificate of solicitude which I would say is almost in a demi-political refugee area. I again raise the Monstard case. I raised this at the Estimates committee hearings. Our Government said that it would accept this girl from a penitentiary in Cordoba, a province in the Argentine. I emphasise that she is not a common criminal; she is a girl with strong political convictions. To the credit of our Government we said that we would accept her. As far as I know, the 90-day period involved has expired. I do not know the link between our Foreign Affairs office in Buenos Aires and our immigration people, but I would like some prompting of the Foreign Affairs officers in Buenos Aires to see what the Argentinian Government is doing now that Australia has offered to take this girl.
-I follow Senator Mulvihills introduction of the issue of the new points system, NUMAS, the numerical multi-factor assessment system. The Minister will recall that yesterday I asked a number of questions about the new system which has been announced since the Estimates committees met. I appreciate that at that stage she was not able to answer the questions. It may well be that the Minister’s advisers can clear some of the confusion in relation to this matter among some of the ethnic groups. In my question which was praised by these people I pointed out that in a total points score of 50 family unity is given only three points and is mixed up with a number of other factors. I went on to say that one would think that the stability of the work force and its citizens would emphasise the need for a greater weighing in this area. I also asked what sort of consultations had been held and whether there had been any procedures for appeals against assessments.
In summary, I wonder whether the Minister is now able to advise whether this new points system involves a new section in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs; what sort of establishment will be set up to decide upon that system? Will there be consultations progressively with representative ethnic bodies to ensure that decisions are not arbitrary because many determinations will be made by interviewing officers and assessments will be put on paper. Unless there is some right of appeal by way of members of Parliament or a body which can raise matters the determinations could operate unfairly. In particular States, say in South Australia, will a group repeat that sort of assessment performance as might be done centrally?
– I take up a reference in the report of the Commissioner for Community Relations. The section that was brought to my attention was a piece in the introduction which stated:
On the other hand, wide-spread attitudinal discrimination persists, the inadequacy of public and private services for a multicultural population remains a serious problem, and the gap between Aboriginal Australians and the rest of the community continues to affect every aspect of life in every part of Australia.
I raise this matter because of a case of blatant discrimination that has come to my attention. I cannot do better than read the letter that was sent to me by a member of the National Aboriginal Conference. It states:
On Tuesday, 12 September 1978, 1 approached Goodman and Donaghue regarding the purchase of lot 4 at 3 1 Ross Street, Bairnsdale on behalf of the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-operative Limited.
I raise this matter under some pressure because I do not believe that matters read out in this way ordinarily assist Parliament. This case is so blatant that I do not think I can do better than read the letter. It states:
The asking price of the land was $9,000, to which I made an offer of $8,500. Mr Perry the estate agent agreed to discuss my offer with the vendor whom he disclosed was a Mr J. Hall. On Wednesday 13 September 1978 Mr Perry phoned, stating that the vendor was willing to split the difference of $8,750. He was advised that $8,500 was my highest offer and at about 5.30 p.m. that day Mr Perry phoned again to inform me that the vendor would accept the $8,500 as offered. On Thursday 14 September 1978 I lodged a holding deposit of $200 with Goodman & Donaghue, with respect to lot 4, 3 1 Ross Street, Bairnsdale. Agreement was made to lodge a further $650 on receipt of the Contract of Sale which was to be available the next day, Friday 15 September 1978. On realising the name of the purchaser, Mr Perry remarked that the vendor may not be willing to sign the contract with the Co-Operative. A receipt was issued, the word ‘Aboriginal’ was omitted from the name of the CoOperative. Mr Perry requested the name of the Co-operative solicitor, to request permission for the word ‘Aboriginal’ omitted from the Contract of Sale.
On Friday 15 September 1978 a request was made of Goodman & Donaghue for a copy of the title of lot 4, to facilitate a sworn valuation. Mr Perry advised he was having difficulties obtaining the signature of the vendors. A copy of the title was refused. Later Mr Perry advised that the vendor, Mrs Hall was raising the price of the said land to $9,500, the reason given being that Mr Hall agreed to the reduction to the price of $8,500 without his wife’s permission. Inquiries since made regarding the ownership of lot 4 at 3 1 Ross Street, Bairnsdale show that 3rd Tostaree Pty Ltd is the owners of the land, and Mr J. Hall is the Director.
On Friday 22 September 1978 Mr P. Moss, Mrs R. Ward and myself met Mr Perry at Goodman & Donaghue ‘s office Main Street, Bairnsdale at 2.20 p.m. Mr Perry confirmed in the presence of the above persons the information regarding the raising of the price of the land in question, he also advised that he had authority to sell the land now at the new price of $9,500. We agreed to this price, Mr Perry was to have a ‘Contract of Sale’ prepared and ready for collection at 4.00 p.m. that same afternoon. Mrs Ward said that she would call back at 4.30 p.m. to sign the contract and pay the balance of the 10 per cent deposit required on the said land the amount being $750. When Mrs Ward arrived back at the offices of Goodman & Donaghue at 4.30 p.m. a ‘Contract of Sale’ was not available. A receipt was obtained for the balance of the deposit. Later I went with Mrs Ward and again visited Goodman & Donaghue ‘s at 4.50 p.m. and requested of Mr Perry a ‘Sale Note ‘. With reluctance this was given. Mr Perry, while obtaining information from the vendors solicitors, advised him that the land owners was the 3rd Tostaree Pty Ltd, yet previously, in the presence of Mr Moss, Mrs Ward and myself he stated that he always understood the owners to be Mr Hall and had no knowledge that Mrs Hall was the owner.
On Sunday 24 September 1978, Mr Perry phoned to inform me that the vendors would not now sell the land in question unless the Co-Operative purchased the adjoining land-the price requested being $ 1 8,000.
This piece of information was given to me by Mr A. K. McNeill. I want to know from the Government what will be done. That is blatant discrimination. There is no other word to describe it. This Senate some time ago brought down a report entitled: ‘The Environmental Conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the Preservation of their Sacred Sites’. In that report, we advised that we knew that one of the problems about Aboriginal people and white Australians was a problem of education, about where they stood and what they were all about. In that report, we said, for instance, that Aboriginal studies courses embracing contemporary and traditional culture and, if possible language, should be instituted in all Australian colleges of teacher education. We said that the Curriculum Development Centre should continue the work it had begun on investigating the best means of introducing Aboriginal studies into the schools. We said that the Federal and State authorities should immediately take steps to ensure the substitution of text books which present an erroneous and derogatory picture of the traditional Aboriginal society with accurate text books. We said that the Curriculum Development Centre should seriously investigate the feasibility of introducing the study of Aboriginal languages in secondary schools. We said all those things. We understood the problem and we faced up to it. We recommended that the participation of Australian people in the education curriculum be part of the Government’s responsibility in this area.
At the moment in Victoria, for instance, we have a situation where even the Greek people in the community cannot get to first base with this Government. We have the third largest Greek city in the world. Even in that area, the Victorian Government and the Federal Government will not face up to the problems which those people face. We have the Greek teachers in Victoria whose contracts have run out and whose contracts will not be renewed by the State Government or by this Federal Government. When we have such a large number of Greek people who need those sorts of teachers in this community, when we have that sort of problem which the
Federal Government will not face up to, one cannot help thinking that if the Greeks in Victoria with all the clout they have cannot get any sort of answer from either the State Government or the Federal Government, then where will the Aboriginal people in this community find themselves?
Previously in this House I have raised the problems facing the Aboriginal people in the Gippsland area of Victoria, for instance. I have raised in this House the fact that money has been spent in that area on carports for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people in towns in Gippsland in Victoria have had their garages pulled down and have had carports built for them by the Department. This has been done even when there has not been one person in a household who has a licence to drive a car. Yet, money has been spent on carports for them when the houses in which they live have not been painted and have not been repaired. Despite the fact that the Aborigines have faulty fuel stoves in their houses that have caused great problems and have disfigured their houses considerably, none of these problems have been looked at by this Government. Carports have been built for the Aborigines even when no one in the houshold has a driving licence. They have had fences pulled down because, presumably, the Department says that if they are fences that can be burnt they should be pulled down. The fences have been pulled down and wire fences have been put up. None of these matters has been raised with the people who live in the houses. Nothing has been done despite the fact that we know that all over Australia there is a basic need for housing for Aboriginal people. In the report on Aboriginal people to which I have referred, which was brought down by this Senate, we said:
The sub-standard housing which is available to the black urban community at greatly inflated cost is a constant source of medical problems. Little, and sometimes no plumbing, lack of hot water, in fact often only one cold tap to cover the needs of the entire household, poor ventilation, over-heated in summer, frozen in winter, conditions prevail and high incidence of respiratory ailments, chronic chest complaints, jaundice, gastro infections and general poor health are a result. Cross-infection and mass infection of the entire household because of crowded conditions are also common.
That report was accepted by the Senate and presumably by this Government yet, since that time, we have had gross government inaction. We are brought to the point of doubting whether this Government cares two hoots about what the Aboriginal people of this country believe in. That is one report that I must repeat. I have stated it in this chamber before and will say it again until something is really done about the Aboriginal communities of Australia.
We know that housing is the basis of their problems. At least, my Committee reported that way and this Senate accepted it: The basis of all of the problems that the Aboriginal communities of Australia is housing. The following quotation seems to me to sum up our attitude to the Aboriginal people of Australia. In our report, we said:
The total cost, at constant value, of providing 4,055 additional houses per year until 1982 would be about S750m. One might compare this with the S324m that it is estimated will be spent on reconstructing Darwin over three years.
In other words, we had one cyclone in Darwin that seemed to set the white Australian community on its ear. For some reason, we saw this as a tremendous problem and did everything that we could to make sure that that amount of money was spent, that those people were reestablished in the conditions that they enjoyed before that cyclone hit. Yet we know that every problem that the Aboriginal community of Australia has goes back to housing. Their health problems, their social problems- every problem may be traced to the fact that we do not house them decently, either in the way that we see decent housing or in the way that they see it. Yet, if we were to consider the amount that we spent on the community in Darwin after that cyclone hit we would see that we were talking here about a not very great amount of money to set right a very considerable portion of the population of Australia. I ask that the Government, in considering this matter, looks at this very real and human portion of the Australian population, and do something about it.
– I shall deal first with Senator Melzer ‘s comments because they referred to the report of the Commissioner for Community Relations. The Commissioner reports to the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and I will refer to him the comments which arose from the Commissioner’s report. Also, I will refer to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) the comments that have been made with regard to housing and other matters relating to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. As will be realised, we are dealing with the estimates of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, I will ensure that the Ministers concerned are advised of the comments that have been made.
In dealing with the estimates of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Senator Mulvihill first raised certain questions with regard to the NUMAS scheme, the Press release on which was made by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKeller) on 13 November. I know that both he and Senator
Bishop yesterday expressed interest in it and made certain inquiries seeking further information. I ought first to say that the goals of the NUMAS scheme are: To provide a nondiscriminatory and consistent selection system, to ensure that selection takes account of migrant settlement problems, to ensure that a proper level of selectivity is maintained; and to provide concessions to facilitate entry of nominated relatives. Those basically are the goals of NUMAS.
asked first whether it was necessary to return applications made under this new scheme to Central Office. I am able to advise him that the make-up provisions will apply automatically and that interviewing officers overseas will be able to determine the way in which the points are recorded.
The honourable senator also raised the question of the regional director for Southern Europe. The concept of the regional director has just been introduced. Rome is to be the first location, and the post will deal with Italy, Malta, Spain and Portugal. That is the only post at which a regional director has been appointed. I would assume that if the Minister finds that benefits will result from such posts, the concept could be more widely used in future.
The honourable senator also raised the matter of the citizenship of some 400,000 people and their need to have access to interviews at a time that would not interfere with their employment responsibility, not diminish productivity and so on. I will raise with the Minister the honourable senator’s proposal with regard to Saturday morning interviews, but I am not able to make any statement with regard to it.
The other matter that he raised related to departure tax and to the concern which I recall him expressing earlier with regard to the staff demands which the departure tax imposition might make. I recall his concern that this might result in the imposition of strains in other areas of the department’s work. I understand that 46 new positions are being provided for departure tax work. It is hoped that this will allow other staff to continue with the rapid processing of citizenship applications. It is believed by the Department that the new positions will permit the departure tax to be applied without diminishing the effort made in other areas.
I also understand that the deportee, Mr Arroyo, who was mentioned by Senator Mulvihill, is to depart for Chile tomorrow. The broad question raised, I believe, was whether the department, through its branch, could investigate travel agents ‘ actions which result in the sort of situation that we have had in this instance. I understand that Sydney travel agents are urging visitors to employ solicitors to press for resident status after arrival. This has caused some of the disappointments that we do know occur from time to time.
On the subject of the Department investigating travel agents, I point out that it had been investigating the sort of instance that was drawn to its attention by the honourable senator. Whilst the Department and the Government would not regard it as the most worthy form of morality in which to engage the Government really has no legal authority to do more than give as much information as possible to such people and prevent them from encountering situations in which such disappointment may arise. I believe that the Department would watch the situation and investigate any complaints made. Insofar as a broad prohibition of this sort of thing is concerned, I must say that it represents exploitation on the part of people who should not be using such methods to seek business of any kind. But the Government is unable to prevent that. I think that I have now dealt with all of the questions posed by Senator Mulvihill.
Senator Bishop raised the matter of the points system. I believe that in his question yesterday he mentioned family unity. Three points are given in respect of family unity and six points in respect of family reunion. Usually, the family reunion area scores additional points because there may be pre-arranged employment or economic support and a general viability that results from a family reunion.
The other question that was raised related to appeals that could be made against any decisions under this new scheme. I understand that review panels are being set up within the Department and that such a review panel will be capable of dealing with any inquiries. These panels are not representative of ethnic organisations. They are internal, departmental appeals. But I take note of the implied suggestion that consultation with ethnic bodies should occur. The other avenue of appeal of course against decisions taken by the Minister in this instance is the Ombudsman. Also a right of appeal will be created in the Federal Court. I believe that deals with the questions that were raised. If there are any other questions I will be happy to try to answer them.
– I have not raised this matter before, but it seems to me that if the examination of the point scoring is done in the foreign country- that is the home of the applicant wishing to migrate to Australia- it would take a long time for that information to reach Australia. I am sure that other honourable senators and honourable members have found, when making representations on behalf of people wishing to come to Australia, that when a case is referred to Italy or to some such country, the information never reaches Australia until two or three months later. So unless the record of the points score is transferred immediately to the central office or to the State directors the result will be an unwieldy and arbitrary way of assessing the value of a potential migrant. Let us take the case where a man goes to the London office and is tested there. He scores certain points. Is that information transferred immediately to Canberra and is it available to the people who are sponsoring him such as a family?
-I take this opportunity to raise the matter of an application for migration to Australia that has been going on for over three years. I refer to the application of a Mr Van Gameren of Portland in Western Australia to bring his brother-in-law, Mr Mujeeb Chowdary and family, to Australia from India. I note from my file that I first became involved in this case in July of last year. I do not want to go right back through everything, but on 6 October last year I received a letter from the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar, thanking me for my letter of 16 September on behalf of Mr Van Gameren concerning his brother-in-law, Mr Mujeeb Chowdary The Minister said that in order to give full consideration to the matter, it might be necessary for further inquiries to be made and that upon those inquiries being made, he would be in contact with me. On 23 January this year, the Minister again wrote to me and his letter said in part:
In these circumstances Mr Chowdary does not come within the restricted categories of people eligible for entry to Australia as migrants and I have decided that he should not be granted authority to remain in Australia for residence. Accordingly he should make arrangements to leave without delay.
I should explain that at that time Mr Chowdary was in this country as a visitor. However, as a result of my further representations I received a reply from the Minister dated 24 April of this year. In part his letter states:
Following additional information received on this case, I recently carefully reconsidered Mr Chowdary ‘s application and I decided to approve the grant of resident status to him and his family provided they meet normal health and character requirements and Mr Chowdary is able to obtain a firm offer of employment as a tradesman tanner or clicker.
The Regional Director of Migration, Melbourne has been informed of my decision.
– When was that.
-That was on 24 April. I then wrote to Mr Chowdary ‘s brother-in-law in Portland and informed him of that decision. On 9 May, Mr Donald Edward Charles of 100 Percy Street, Portland, who is in the saddlery and leather business, wrote to the Regional Director of Immigration in Melbourne, informing him that he had met Mr Chowdary while he was in Australia, that he was very pleased with the type of man Mr Chowdary was, and that he had an opening for Mr Chowdary should he be fortunate enough to be able to migrate to Australia. As I said, that letter was sent to the Department in Melbourne on 9 May. In the meantime, of course, Mr Chowdary had returned to India. On having the information passed on to him that provided he was of good health and good character, et cetera, and had a firm offer of employment, he would be eligible to come to Australia he was advised by his brother-in-law to contact the Australian Embassy in Delhi. Mr Chowdary did just that. He sent two letters and one telegram to the Australian High Commission in Delhi but received no reply whatsoever. In a rather frustrated mood, as one could well imagine, Mr Chowdary travelled over a thousand miles by train from Madras to Delhi with his wife and family to get to the Australian High Commission to see what could be done. I do not want to read in this place the letter I received from Mr Chowdary ‘s brother-in-law because it tips a large bucket on officers of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in Delhi. Admittedly Mr Chowdary was in a rather frustrated frame of mind when he wrote to his brotherinlaw. Some of the things he says in his letter may not be true, therefore I prefer not to read out the letter. But it is very condemnatory of our officers in our High Commission in Delhi.
As a follow up to that, I received a rather lengthy letter dated 17 October from Mr Chowdary ‘s brother-in-law in Portland, Mr Van Gameren, which set out the problems that beset Mr Chowdary when both he and his wife tried to contact High Commission people in Delhi to discuss this matter and to find out what was causing the delays. I am informed that as a result of all these frustrations and problems, Mr Chowdary has suffered a nervous breakdown.
On 4 October I telephoned the Minister’s office for some information as to what was happening in this case. I was informed that the Minister was considering the matter. I waited for another week or 10 days and again I telephoned the Minister’s office. Again I was informed that the Minister was still considering the matter. According to the Minister’s office, the question that is holding up this case is whether the offer of employment that Mr Chowdary received from the gentleman in Portland was of a nature laid down by the Minister when he granted permission to apply for resident status to Mr Chowdary. As late as last Friday my secretary rang the Minister’s Department and again was informed that the Minister had not got around to making a decision on the matter and that it was still under consideration. Quite frankly, I have become somewhat like Mr Chowdary- very frustrated. I just wonder when Mr MacKellar is going to give a decision in this case. I hope that Senator Guilfoyle, as Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, will refer this matter to Mr MacKellar and point out that I, like Mr Chowdary, am just about fed up with the delay.
– I wish to raise one or two matters that are related to the comments that have been made by my colleagues, Senator Mulvihill and Senator Primmer. Whilst they do not relate to the same cases, they do relate to cases of a similar nature. I say at the outset that I, as a senator representing the State of New South Wales, am far from satisfied at the way in which the regional office of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in Sydney is administered. Just recently I handled a case on behalf of a young person who had come to Australia from Hong Kong. On 29 February- I speak from recollection- that person had been given a letter from the Department saying that his application for permanent residence had been successful, subject to normal immigration and health requirements. At about the same time his employer made application to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, through a Sydney barrister, for the employee to be made a permanent resident of Australia. That representation created another file. In two circumstances relating to the one person there were two files, one of which approved of the person being granted permanent residence and the other one which rejected the application for permanent residence.
As a result of the young man coming to see me and my making representations to the Department, firstly in Sydney and then in Canberra, the matter was able to be sorted out. The letter that the young man received in February of this year saying that it had been agreed that he should be a permanent resident of Australia was adhered to. I believe this is a situation that should not exist within the Department in Sydney and, frankly, I believe that all of these problemsthere are a number of others that I could instance if I had the files with me- would not exist but for the problem of staff ceilings within that Department.
My colleague Senator Mulvihill has mentioned the case of a deportee to Chile. I wish to mention the case of a deportee to Greece. Both Senator Mulvihill and I travel around the State of New South Wales quite a bit. Some three or four weeks ago I was in the town of Yass- not far from here- after I had been to a meeting of my Party at Young. At the request of the State member for Burrinjuck, Mr Terry Sheahan, I interviewed some people in Yass concerning an arrest that had taken place the previous Friday of a young Greek girl. She had been taken from Yass to Canberra, locked up overnight and taken from there to the Villawood detention centre for possible deportation. As I remember the circumstances- unfortunately I do not have the whole of the file here- towards the end of November 1976 when this young girl was 17 years of age, her mother and father and she applied for a visitor’s visa to Australia. That was agreed to and they came to Australia. Having been here for approximately four or five months, they then decided to make application to remain in Australia, but whilst the application was being considered the mother and father, for personal reasons, decided to return to Greece.
At this stage the girl was 1 7 years of age. Her application remained in force. The passports of the mother and father were returned to them, but the passport of the girl was retained by the Department, as I understand it. The mother and father returned to Greece and the girl stayed here in Australia, believing that her application for residence in Australia was still the subject of consideration by the Department. One day, some four, five or six weeks ago, she was at the home of her sister and her brother-in-law, having a bath, when two officers of the Commonwealth Police entered the house, entered the bathroom and literally took her from the bath. They brought her to the Canberra lock-up and then took her to the Villawood detention centre.
I made representations to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) and I suggested that the circumstances of her apprehension were ‘most unpleasant circumstances’. I received a reply from the Minister only today and he has determined that this young lady should be deported. Let me emphasise that this young girl came to Australia two years ago with her mother and father, when she was 1 7 years of age, and when she was a minor. She is now 19 years of age. The letter from the
Minister is dated 13 November. In it the Minister says:
The situation with regard to the young lady -
I shall not mention her name- is that she entered Australia as a visitor with her parents on 4 November, 1976 after having acknowledged overseas that a genuine visit only was intended and she would not seek to remain or engage in employment.
She came here as a minor. I suggest that if any document was signed it may have been signed by her father or by her mother but not by her. It is wrong for the Minister- I acknowledge that this document was prepared by the Minister’s Department for signature by him- to sign a letter in which it is stated that ‘she would not seek to remain or engage in employment ‘. The letter goes on to say:
Subsequent to their arrival the young girl and her parents applied to the Sydney Office of my department for resident status.
That is true, as I have mentioned. The letter continues.
However, applications were not resolved as the family withdrew their requests . . .
I have mentioned already that the mother and father withdrew their requests because they wanted to go back to Greece for personal reasons, but the girl wanted to stay here. Her application was not withdrawn. However, the Department suggested to the Minister, and the Minister signed the letter, that the family withdrew their request for residence and asked for the return of their passports. I do not mind anyone being fair dinkum in this job. We all have a pretty difficult job and I know that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has a pretty difficult job when he is handling personal cases of this nature day after day. For some time I was Acting Minister for Immigration in the time that the Whitlam Government was in office. Then in the letter the Minister goes on to say that apart from this young girl and her parents, and I quote:
I assume they mean her brother- and son . . . meaning their son- also arrived in Australia as a visitor. The young man was instructed to depart Australia on 9 August, 1 976.
Incidentally, that was long before the other people entered Australia on 4 November 1976. If ever I have heard intimidatory or threatening words, they are these:
He has failed to do so and has long since become a prohibited immigrant. I have signed a deportation order against him.
The young man, I will not mention his name- would be now well advised either to depart Australia or contact my department to resolve his situation.
Unfortunately this young lady was literally arrested in a bathtub by the Commonwealth Police, taken from Yass, brought to the lock-up in Canberra and despatched then to the Villawood centre where she has been held for certainly three weeks, possibly four weeks. After that time the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has decided to sign a deportation order against her.
The administration of the Department in Sydney has been far from satisfactory so far as I am concerned, with one person with two files and now the situation regarding this young girl. In these circumstances I believe that people should be treated with a certain amount of respect. I cannot see any justification for this type of raid on people in this country. We all remember what used to go on during the time of the Vietnam War. One night in the Senate I raised the case of Commonwealth Police raiding a home in Newtown on-
– Christmas Eve?
-On Christmas Eve; that is right. We do not want that situation to exist in relation to these people. I ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to draw this matter to the attention of the Department. Whilst I and my colleague Senator Mulvihill have withdrawn from raising these cases on the adjournment debate in the Senate for the sake of the members of the Senate, if the situation does not improve in the Sydney office of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs henceforth I will be once again on the adjournment debate raising matters concerning migrants.
- Senator Bishop asked for further information regarding point scoring under the numerical multi-factor assessment system and said that if determinations were made overseas it would take a long time for the information to reach Australia. He also asked whether there was automatic transmission of information from overseas to Australia. As between 100,000 and 200,000 applications are received and between 100,000 and 200,000 people are interviewed overseas each year, there is no proposal in mind to automatically send all information to Australia under the new NUMAS scheme. However, if inquiries are made in Australia and information is required it would be cabled from the offices overseas. This is broadly the situation that has existed since 1973 whereby information is sent to Australia only when requested in respect of particular applications.
The matter that was raised by Senator Primmer about an individual application with which he has had a long and very painstaking association is still awaiting a response from the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar), but I know that he had some contact with the office on 4 October and again later. I will see whether I can expedite a final decision with regard to that matter. I will draw to the attention of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs the comments made by Senator Douglas McClelland about the Sydney office of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the particular cases he mentioned and seek from the Minister any response that may be appropriate.
– As a corollary of what the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said about the assessment of people, I ask: If the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs gets what appears to be a fairly clear-cut assessment from the region in which the application is made, where do security considerations come in? At what stage would the Department get a security check done?
– That information would be obtained by the processing officer overseas who is dealing with the application.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $352,337,000.
– I rise in the hope that this Government will reconsider at this late stage doing something for the returned servicemen and servicewomen who have served this country. I remind honourable senators of what the Repatriation Act of 1919 really meant. The Repatriation Act was framed with the promise and assurance that a war pension for disability with any accrued or fringe benefit would be granted for life and would never be withdrawn. War pensions were to remain free of income tax and free of any income and /or means test. Whether rich or poor, and irrespective of rank, all servicemen were to be treated as being equal. War pensions were never to be emasculated in any way. War pensions were never to be interfered with or manipulated for political gain to any political party that came to power. War pensions were to be a gift from the nation, an ex-serviceman’s right, and were to be for life. These words were said by the late Senator Millen in 1 9 1 9.
This is the first Government that has dared to interfere with this gift from the nation to the people who have served this country over many years in all theatres of war and I believe that it was despicable for this Government to break the promise that was given to these people who did so much. Many of these people have suffered injuries and now in the twilight of their lives have to pay taxation on their war pensions and have to be means tested. The whole balance of their lives has been upset. Something should be done about this situation even at this late stage. Over many years this country has faced many trials and tribulations. It has been through depressions, it has been through wars, but no government has ever felt it necessary before to break with tradition- to break this great promise that was given to these people. I believe that the Government’s action was in the worst of traditions and the Government certainly must hang its head in shame for what it has done to the people who have fought for this country. We would not be here as senators tonight but for these people and I believe that what the Government has done is an absolute disgrace.
It is nothing for this Government to break promises. One of the first things that I was educated to do as a very young person was to keep a promise that I made but this Government most certainly has gone back on every word, on every tradition and on everything that has been of value. This Government has betrayed those traditions and I believe that it does not do it or any government any good to break promises made in respect of the gift of a nation to the people who have served it. In answer to a question I asked last week about fringe benefits, Senator Guilfoyle said:
I am unaware that any specific problem has arisen with fringe benefits. Of course, fringe benefit entitlement is dependent on other income. The limit of $33 a week in the case of a single person has not been changed for some time. I understand that some pensioners, through superannuation or other payments over which they have no control, may receive more than the limit. To suggest that those pensioners are not aware that fringe benefits are means tested I think is not a statement of fact.
I have never told an untruth either inside or outside this place. I have documented, photostated, evidence that people have had to pay back their telephone concessions. I refer to a Captain Ted Hipkins who served this country in a theatre of war. He has lost his wife and his income is just a little over what it should be for him to obtain fringe benefits. He has had to pay back his telephone concession. I have a document which states that he has to pay back $1 1. 18 and this will be the situation for the next three months. He also had to pay back water and sewerage rate remissions. He is receiving only a few dollars more than the means test allows. Never before in his life has he been means tested. That is a terrible thing. There are some people who do not realise that their income exceeds by a few cents what the means test allows. This situation has arisen because interest rates have gone up and they have been unaware of it. This position may have gone on for 12 months and now these people are forced into destitution as a result. I do not believe that it has done this Government any credit to take these benefits away from the ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen who have served this country. This Government is the only government which has done so.
We in this country have faced many hardships and past governments have never sought to take away the benefits that were given as a gift by this nation to the people who have served the country. It is about time that promises made by this Government were honoured and kept. Although I think it is futile for me to do so, I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. I believe that every ex-serviceman and ex-servicewoman who has served in this country should most certainly be up in arms about the matter. At the next election, they will have a voice in the matter. Most certainly, we on this side of the Parliament will be raising the matter and reminding the people of this Government’s betrayal of them. I do not believe that its action has served any good purpose.
– I wish to make a few remarks on the topic that has been discussed by Senator Elstob. On 1 9 October, when speaking on the Social Services Amendment BUI I asked the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) as I had asked her on many previous occasions, to consider lifting the ceiling on fringe benefits for all pensioners in Australia. Senator Elstob has given concrete evidence tonight of the case of Mr Hipkins to which I am going to refer also. People such as Mr Hipkins go beyond the limit regarding the ceiling for fringe benefits and then they lose their fringe benefits.
As I pointed out to Senator Guilfoyle in this chamber on 19 October in the debate on the Social Services Amendment Bill, many pensioners in Australia are losing quite a lot of money because the ceiling has not been lifted. We are discussing the Repatriation appropriation at the moment; this matter applies to exservicemen also. I put a series of questions to the
Minister on 19 October when we were debating the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill. They were questions which were sent to me by Mr Hipkins. They are recorded on page 1494 of Senate Hansard of 19 October. I have received an answer to those questions from the Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Garland) dated 6 November. As this will not appear in the Hansard report unless I read it in I am afraid I will have to do that. I have to have this letter on the record for the benefit of the people interested in the battle that Mr Hipkins is putting up for his ex-service colleagues of many years.
– You can incorporate it if you wish, if it is a long letter.
– Perhaps to save time I could ask to have it incorporated. I thank the Minister. I seek leave to incorporate the letter dated 6 November signed by Mr Garland who was representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
The letter read as follows-
Acting Minister Tor Veterans’ Affairs, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600 6 Nov. 1978
Dear Senator McLaren,
I refer to your representations of 19 October 1978 to Senator F. M. Chaney, who represented the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in the Senate, on behalf of Mr E. H. Hipkins of 129 Woolnough Road, Largs, SA, concerning the Repatriation Amendment Bill and, in particular, eligibility to receive Commonwealth fringe benefits.
There are two main types of pension paid by this Department. The first, the disability pension, is a compensatorytype payment in respect of incapacity attributable to service. It is free of any income test and is paid at a rate commensurate with the degree of incapacity suffered from servicerelated disabilities.
The second type of pension available through this Department is the service pension. To be eligible, a veteran must have served in a theatre of war and have reached the age of 60 years, or alternatively, be permanently unemployable, lt is a welfare pension similar to the age and invalid pensions payable through the Department of Social Security. The service pension is paid at a rate assessed according to the financial need of the veteran concerned. To determine a level at which a veteran is considered to be in financial need, an income test is applied.
Commonwealth fringe benefits such as medical and hospital treatment, pharmaceutical benefits and telephone rental concessions are granted because of the low level of income of pensioners concerned, and eligibility is based on income limits prescribed in the Repatriation Act. These benefits can, therefore, simply be regarded as a form of assistance additional to the service pension and they are granted only to those pensioners who are considered to be in financial need. In the case of a single pensioner, eligibility to receive fringe benefits ceases when his income from all sources, excluding the service pension, reaches $66.00 per fortnight. This limit applies also to Department of Social Security age and invalid pensioners. As the basis of the grant of fringe benefits is the financial need of the pensioner, it would be inequitable to exempt the income from a disability pension when other compensatory payments such as worker’s compensation or superannuation paid because of invalidity have to be considered as income. The income test on eligibility for fringe benefits has always applied regardless of the age of the pensioner.
It was announced in the 1978 Budget that the current provisions which allow service pensions to be paid free of the income test to persons over 70 years of age will be modified in line with changes which will apply to pensions paid by the Department of Social Security from 2 November 1978.
The new provisions provide that existing pensions may continue to be paid at the current rate and that pensioners would continue to receive statutory increases providing their income did not exceed the limits that applied to other pensioners. In the case where a pensioner’s income exceeded the income limits, his pension would be frozen at the May 1978 rate and the November increase would not be paid to him. Similarly, veterans who are granted service pensions at 70 years or over will automatically qualify for income test-free pensions, but they will be paid at the May 1978 rates if their income exceeds the permissible level or at such higher rates as apply if they are able to satisfy the existing income limits.
The decision to modify the income test for pensioners 70 years of age or over was made for two main reasons. Firstly, it is considered that many pensioners in this category were at a distinct advantage to other members of the pensioner community. Secondly, the decision was made in the light of the Government’s policy of continued economic restraint and the subsequent need to re-direct its limited funds to the major pension and health-care areas.
I can quite understand the concern of some pensioners, like Mr Hipkins who one day have a benefit and the next day lose it. However, increases in the income limit in line with other adjustments within the community, would involve the Government in a great deal of additional expense. Furthermore, unless the income limit were abolished altogether, there would always be some pensioners who would fail to qualify.
In view of the many calls in the Government for funds, and as there is a limit to the funds that can be provided for the various Government expenditure programs, it is not possible to increase benefits for particular groups as often as it would like. However, this matter is kept under constant review.
Yours sincerely, R. V. GARLAND
Senator G. T. McLaren, 6 Third Street, Murray Bridge, SA 5253
- Mr Hipkins has made very strenuous approaches to all of the South Australian senators. I think it is unfortunate that it is only the Opposition senators who have sought to highlight in this chamber his efforts. Mr Hipkins has conducted a campaign in conjunction with newspapers in South Australia, particularly the Sunday Mail. His comments were featured very prominently in two of the issues of the Sunday Mail. As a result of that, he has received many letters from ex-servicemen pointing out that they are suffering deprivations similar to those he is suffering. As Senator Elstob pointed out, during both World Wars promises were made to induce people to join the Army and fight for Australia, but those promises now mean nothing to this Government. That is evidenced by the actions that it has taken to deprive these people of the benefits to which they are entitled.
To bolster my argument, I wish to read a couple of paragraphs of the letter from Mr Garland. Although it is incorporated in the Hansard report, I think it is pertinent that I quote a couple of the paragraphs. The last two paragraphs state:
I can quite understand the concern of some pensioners, like Mr Hipkins who one day have a benefit and the next day lose it. However, increases in the income limit in line with other adjustments within the community would involve the Government in a great deal of additional expense. Furthermore, unless the income limit were abolished altogether there would always be some pensioners would fail to qualify.
In view of the many calls in the Government for funds, and as there is a limit to the funds that can be provided for the various Government expenditure programs it is not possible to increase benefits for particular groups as it would like. However, this matter is kept under constant review.
That was the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, pointing out that he is aware of the situation and that he can ‘quite understand the concern of some pensioners, like Mr Hipkins’. Then he goes on to say that ‘increases in the income limit in line with other adjustments within the community, would involve the Government in a great deal of additional expense ‘.
There were no thoughts along those lines during World Wars I and II when the governments made promises to young men of the day to induce them to join the armed services and to go and fight for this country. I can well remember the outbreak of war in 1939. I think Mr Casey was then the Treasurer. Just prior to the outbreak of war, money could not be found to feed the unemployed. Yet on the eve of war breaking out, we found Mr Menzies standing up in this Parliament- he was the Prime Minister- and making all sorts of promises to the young men to induce them to go and fight for Australia. Money was found overnight to encourage people to go into the Army and to provide the armed services with the necessary equipment to fight a war. As I say, promises were made. I can well remember promises being made to young people of what would be done for those who would be lucky enough to return from the war.
Those people accepted the call to arms; they went and fought for Australia. Now they are aged, what is the reward for people such as Mr Hipkins? He is about 77 years of age; he answered the call for the First World War. Because they are just a few dollars over the ceiling they are going to be deprived of their medical benefits card. They cannot get telephone concessions, they can no longer get a concession on their local rates, their water rates, or their sewerage rates. This is a great burden on these people. I can assure the Minister that the action that Mr Hipkins has taken and the way that he is highlighting what this Government has done to ex-servicemen is not going unnoticed. Many exservicemen who in the past have stuck solidly to Liberal governments, because they have held the misguided belief that Liberal governments are the only governments that care about defence in this country and the only governments that are prepared to do anything for ex-servicemen, are going to have a change of heart at the next election. As I have pointed out to many exservicemen, they have been greatly misled in thinking that it is only Liberal governments which care about them.
The Committee will note that during the reign of the Whitlam Government we increased quite enormously the rates of pay for ex-servicemen and their superannuation so that many of the older men in the armed services could retire and open the way for younger men to avail themselves of promotion. We increased the allowable amount of money for which ex-servicemen could apply in the form of loans for ex-servicemen’s homes. We even amended the legislation so that ex-servicewomen could avail themselves of the war service home loan.
What do we find now? The Minister is admitting through his Acting Minister that this Government cannot afford to look after the people to whom it made all of these promises. I hope that the Government in its wisdom will do something along the lines suggested by Senator Elstob and have a re-think of what it is doing to the ex-servicemen of this country. I hope that it will at least bring in some remedial measures- I know it cannot do it now; but in the supplementary Estimates when we come back after the Christmas break- to give relief to these people. The Minister would well know that they justly deserve it.
– I think it is sad to note that at this stage all the benefits which the Labor Government gave to veterans have in fact been abolished or lessened. I was the Minister for Repatriation for about half of the period of office of the Whitlam Government. In that time we adjusted pensions and provided new arrangements to meet the requirements of the Returned Services League and were commended by that League for bringing into being most of its recommendations. Since that time, there has been a repatriation inquiry.
The repatriation inquiry generally supported the sorts of things which the Labor Government did. Unfortunately, as my colleagues, Senator Elstob and Senator McLaren have said, most of those things have been whittled away. After stating the eligibility provisions of the Repatriation Act, page 79 of the Budget Speech states:
Rates of pensions and allowances.
The Special, Intermediate and General Rate disability pensions and the war and defence widow pensions have been automatically adjusted each Spring and Autumn in line with movements in the Consumer Price Index. The Government has decided that Repatriation legislation will be amended to provide for automatic adjustment of these pensions on an annual basis, i.e. in November of each year.
Some figures worsen. Page 80 of the Budget Speech states:
The Repatriation legislation will also be amended in relation to the provision for the automatic acceptance of pulmonary tuberculosis as the basis for disability pension and the guaranteed minimum pension rate of 100 per cent payable in respect of it. It is proposed to review all pensioners in this category and to freeze at their present levels pensions which are found to be over-assessed. The Minister for Veterans ‘Affairs will be announcing details of this change.
In relation to service pensions page 8 1 states:
As with disability pensions, legislation will also be introduced to remove pulmonary tuberculosis as a basis for the grant of service pension. Those veterans currently receiving service pensions for this reason will, however, continue to do so . . .
The Government has decided to amend the Repatriation legislation to freeze the service pension paid to eligible veterans aged 70 years and over at its present level and pay future increases in the form of an income tested supplement. This will be consistent with the treatment of comparable social security pensions but these veterans will be eligible to have any disability pension treated in the same way as veterans under 70 years of age for the purposes of the income test.
The standards which were established by the Labor Government, which were acceptable for veterans and which have been promoted for many years in the Senate and supported by the Returned Services League and ex-service organisations have been reduced. One of the most glaring things that has happened has been the determination by the Government to sell all those plots of land which were accumulated to supply defence service homes. Honourable senators will remember that the Labor Government extended the eligibility of servicemen for defence service homes. That eligibility has been limited to some extent since the Liberal Party came into power. It is unfortunate that this should have happened. The RSL and other organisations have made their protests about it.
Whilst the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) is selling the land, the responsibility, of course, lies with the Minister for
Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann). In a news release on 8 November 1978, Senator Chaney pointed out that the developed building lots comprised 330 blocks in New South Wales, 88 in Victoria, 224 in Queensland, 190 in South Australia and 109 in Western Australia. The undeveloped land on offer included 238.8 hectares in New South Wales with a potential yield of 2,002 building lots, 294.1 hectares in Victoria with a potential yield of 2,423 lots, 196.3 hectares in Queensland with a potential yield of 2,001 lots, and 87.8 hectares in South Australia with a potential yield of 733 lots. The land in South Australia is held in prime housing areas. Unfortunately while the lots are being sold exservicemen who are entitled to the benefit are on the waiting list. The Returned Services League has looked at this decision and has said to the Government: ‘If you have finally decided to sell this land- we do not agree with that- why do you not use the money raised to make sure that the waiting list for servicemen is reduced?’ That suggestion has been rejected.
I rose to speak on this matter in support of my colleagues. It is unfortunate that the land bank which was a good idea to make sure that land would be secured at very low rates and held for the benefit of servicemen and ex-sevicemen should now be disposed of simply because the Government has a cost-cutting philosophy. I hope that the Government will review some of these decisions. Although it has been decided to sell the land it may have second thoughts. It might decide that the revenues from the sales will be used to assist the purchase of defence service homes.
– I have noted the comments of Senator Elstob and Senator McLaren with regard to particular beneficiaries or pensioners. I have also noted the comments of Senator Bishop with regard to defence service homes and other matters. I will draw them to the attention of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) for his consideration.
– As Senator Bishop has raised the matter of defence service homes I will add a few words. My attention has been drawn to a defence service homes village at Karawarra, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia. The selling price of the homes was substantially increased after last year’s Budget because the Government decided that the land component of the houses would be priced at an estimate of market value instead of at the cost to the Government or to the Department as it was prior to 1977. There has been a great deal of criticism of the Government’s decision to change the historical cost system of pricing. In this instance at least- I should be surprised if it had not applied in other instancesthere is prima facie evidence that the Government has over-estimated the market value of the land or the house built upon it or both. I am informed that 22 houses were offered for purchase and offers were received for only six of them. The obvious implication, of course, is that the potential buyers considered the price of those houses to be above market value. The Department then decided that it would call tenders for the remaining houses.
I placed a question on notice about this matter a few weeks ago. I sought to establish what tender prices were ultimately received and whether they were below the prices at which houses had previously been offered for private placement. If the Government finally disposes by tender of the houses which it could not place privately, I suggest that it is at least morally obliged to make an appropriate refund to those exservicemen who clearly would have been overcharged for the houses they bought. I invite the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to make some comment.
– The only comment I can make on Senator Walsh’s proposal is that I will refer it to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann). I understood Senator Walsh to say that he has a question on notice. I will see that an early answer is given to him.
– I again ask the Minister when the Government will do something about lifting the ceiling on fringe benefits. The Minister will recall that I first asked this question over 12 months ago and pointed out the problems that many pensioners, including ex-servicemen, are facing because of the present ceiling. The Minister told me then that she would look at the matter. Has the Government given any consideration to the matter? If not, when is it likely to consider it?
– All matters with regard to pensions, benefits and other programs in my Department were reviewed at the time of the recent Budget decisions. It was found to be impossible to raise the level of fringe benefits. This benefit represents a diminished value because it has not been changed for some time. When we look at the increase in the numbers of pensions and beneficiaries, as I have said, we see that about two million people receive pensions and benefits and a very large proportion of these people are eligible for fringe benefits. We reviewed all matters but it was decided that in view of the increasing expenditure in my Department’s budget we were not able to increase the level at which fringe benefits would be applied. This matter was reviewed in the Budget considerations and of course it is subject to review from time to time.
– I again remind the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), as I have done on previous occasions, that the lifting of the ceiling on fringe benefits does not solely place the burden on the Federal Government but also on the State Governments. The Labor Government in South Australia is prepared to shoulder that burden if the Commonwealth Government is prepared to lift the ceiling on fringe benefits so that more pensioners have medical entitlement cards. I should like to cite some of the benefits that accrue to pensioners, in South Australia in particular, who have a medical benefit card. At present the following State Government departments and authorities offer concessions to card holders: The South Australian Housing Trust, the Hospitals Department, the Public Department of Health, the Engineering and Water Supply Department which deals with water and sewerage rates, the Land Tax Office, council rates, legal aid services, the South Australian Gas Co., the Department of Lands, the State Transport Authority Bus and Tram Division, the Department for the Environment, the Department of Further Education, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust, the State Opera Company of South Australia, the South Australian Theatre Co., the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australia Motor Registration Division and the State Transport Authority Railway Division.
All these State Government concessions do not place any extra burden on the Commonwealth Government. But because the Commonwealth Government is not prepared to lift the ceiling on the means test it is depriving the pensioners in South Australia of some benefit from these authorities which I have mentioned. I am not aware of the authorities which grant concessions in the other States. No doubt honourable senators here could advise the Federal Government of what concessions are available to pensioners in other States. But those are all the Government instrumentalities in South Australia that are prepared to grant concessions. I do not know whether the Commonwealth Government reimburses the State Government for any concessions granted. Perhaps the Minister could answer that. As far as I am aware it does not. This is a burden which is carried by the South Australian Labor Government. Of course it cannot give these concessions unless pensioners hold medical entitlement benefit cards. I again make the plea to the Minister. Perhaps she can advise me and other honourable senators whether the Government reimburses State governments for the collective amount of concessions that are granted or whether I am wrong in claiming that the State governments shoulder the burden of these concessions.
- Senator McLaren sought information on this matter. Concessions that are given by State governments are not reimbursed by the Commonwealth Government. Of course it is competent for any State Government, which wishes to set any level that it may choose, to apply the concessional benefits which it offers to those who receive pensions. As a practice, State governments have accepted the fringe benefit level that is set by the Commonwealth. But if a State government wished to provide all those receiving pensions with some concessions, then there is no inhibition as far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned. A State government may make that policy decision. There is no real uniformity in the fringe benefits that are set by the State governments but there is a similarity of the provision of such things as council rates, transport concessions and so on. There is a broad similarity but no uniformity. There is no reimbursement by the Commonwealth Government to the States for these concessions.
– I did not want to enter this debate but I have had representations made to me by Mr Hipkins in Adelaide as to fringe benefits. His contention is that for the first time- against the promises of past federal governments- war disability pensions are now taken into consideration for the purposes of income assessment for taxation purposes and fringe benefits are eliminated at an income of $33 a week. I suppose there has to be some cut-out point where some people just miss out and some are covered. An extra 20c a week can make someone ineligible for concessions. Ex-servicemen in Australia today have war-caused disability pensions counted as income. Mr Hipkins has produced many documents to show that former Prime Minister William Morris Hughes guaranteed that such payments would not be counted for any purpose of income and therefore would not have a means test applied. An applicant for any other Commonwealth benefit would not have his disability pension counted. Apparently now for the first time such payments are to be counted. I have just received a copy of the War Pensions Bill that was introduced by Senator Pearce, the Minister for Defence, into the Senate on 17 December 1914. What he said then was pertinent and gave clarity to the purpose of war pensions. I have not read the whole speech yet but it states in part:
It would be an eternal disgrace to this young and rich Commonwealth if any of the relatives of those who are going to the war had to beg for a living.
The claim of Senator McLaren and Senator Elstob is that today ex-servicemen are begging for a living. The same conditions of eligibility for concessions apply to them as apply to other pensioners. If their incomes are above the benefit level they have to pay the full amounts of telephone accounts, rates, et cetera, even though some of these charges are made by the States and not the Commonwealth and the States accept the Commonwealth ceiling at which fringe benefits cease. The suggestion is that this level should be revised. If it is not revised then in Mr Hipkins’ case, and in many more cases in Australia, and in accordance with the promises of previous governments, pensions for war disablement should not be taken into consideration as income as they are today. Senator Pearce also stated:
We have followed the principle laid down in the Workmen’s Compensation Acts of the various States and of our own Workmen’s Compensation Act, where the amount of compensation varies according to the amount of salary received. In this Bill there is less difference, however, between the highest and lowest rates of pay than in any Workmen’s Compensation Act in existence.
There seems to be some reference in the speech to a payment being made in accordance with the capabilities and earning capacity of a man in effective adult life. We have departed a long way from that now. All our early promises were made when this Bill was brought in and when the first casualties of the First World War were notified in Australia. I think there has been an injustice. I have not been over-patronising to returned servicemen. Nevertheless, I think some promises have been made and there is an obligation on this Government to honour them. I ask the Minister for her reaction to the proposal now, for the first time, to count pensions for war-caused disablement as income. This has not been a problem before but now it is, as these pensions are to be taken into consideration for the purpose of assessment of income. This is contrary to every promise that has been made to servicemen in the past. Servicemen were promised everything when we wanted their service and now they are forgotten and we are hoping they will soon die out without protest.
– I support what has been stated on this side of the chamber this evening. I have a particular case to raise, concerning a Mr S. F. McDermott in Tasmania. Rather than delay the Committee, I simply indicate that I will raise this matter with the relevant Minister, subsequently. This is an extraordinary situation which means that as a result of the changes that have been made the future estimated cost of treatment of this ex-serviceman will be in excess of $1,000 per annum. He will need to pay out $1,000 per annum which he did not have to pay out previously. I wish to raise this case with the Minister but rather than-
– That is for recovery.
– Yes, that is for recovery. Rather than delay the Committee, I will raise the matter with the Minister directly.
– I rise again in view of the answer given by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to my question about concessions and concession cards for pensioners. The Minister said that there is nothing to prevent State governments from granting these concessions, but the Minister would know that the State governments have all relied on the Commonwealth to set the level. How will the State authority obtain from the Department of Social Security information about the amount of money a pensioner is in receipt of? Would the Minister’s Department be prepared to divulge this information to a State government if it were to inquire about the financial standing of any person in receipt of a pension? Would the Minister’s Department freely give that information to a State department so that it could then ascertain if a person who made an application for a concession was in fact entitled to it? That is my concern. It would cost the State Department of Community Welfare an enormous amount. I ask the Minister whether her Department would be prepared to divulge to the Minister for Community Welfare in South Australia any information pertaining to a pensioner which he might require so that he can decide whether a pensioner in South Australia should receive a particular concession.
-When I stated that it was quite competent for a State government to make a separate decision from that of the Commonwealth Government, I said that State governments have used the basis that the Commonwealth uses. We provide a fringe benefit card to those pensioners who have an income that is within the income limit. For a single person, the limit is $33. We can also provide a pensioner with a card which enables that person to receive other concessions. The card identifies them as a pensioner and they are granted concessions by some theatres, hairdressers and others outside government who provide to pensioners some concessions. If any State government wished to introduce a system whereby all people who receive pensions are entitled to fringe benefits from the State, a card, additional to the fringe benefit card, could be issued for that purpose. It would be a new arrangement.
The statement was made, I think by Senator McLaren, that we were depriving people of State government concessions. If a State government wished to give a concession to all pensioners an identification card from our Department indicating that a person was in receipt of a pension could be used. That would be a new procedure. I use that simply as an illustration. If a State government wished to take some separate action it could do so. There is no way in which we would inhibit a State government. It would be a new practice. I use that instance simply to indicate that a State government can use its own initiative if it wished to exercise it.
– The answer of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) is not satisfactory. That is not what I asked the Minister. There are many people over the age of 70 who are in receipt of a pension. No means test applies to people over that age and some of them could be millionaires. I well recall Sir Robert Menzies- I should not call him ‘Sir’ because I never use that title, so I will call him Mr Menzies- publicly stating that he was in receipt of an age pension. He had to pay tax on it of course. A few people in South Australia have financial means similar to those which Mr Menzies had. In South Australia we would not want to give those people any concessions because, in my view, they would not be entitled to them. In South Australia we would want, using the Commonwealth’s level of fringe benefits as a base, to give concessions to those people who need them. Of course, it is only in a very fine area now because the present Government has refused to lift the ceiling. It might need to be lifted only by $5 a week to enable many people to avail themselves of the fringe benefits.
I am not expressing any concern for the very wealthy people who are entitled to a pension because they can get by. I am expressing concern for the people who are on the border line. These people are affected because the ceiling has not been lifted. As I pointed out earlier, if they are retired railway workers or retired government workers in South Australia they might receive an automatic increase in their superannuation payments. When the schedule is set each October they might receive $2 a week increase. Just because they get that $2 it puts them over the ceiling and then they cannot claim any concessions on rates. In South Australia people whose income is not above the ceiling receive a 60 per cent concession on local government rates and a concession on many other things. They get a 15 per cent concession on motor vehicle registration, drivers’ licences and these sorts of things. This adds up to a considerable sum to a pensioner who is very near the borderline. These are the people for whom I am expressing concern.
I ask the Minister whether her Department would be prepared to single out all of these pensioners and make their names available to the State Government? It is quite simple for the Department to say to the State Government: ‘These are the names of all the people who are in receipt of a pension’. That is not good enough for the purpose that I am putting to the Minister. If we did that, we would be covering many people who, in my view, should not be entitled to any benefits or concessions. I am expressing concern for those people who are missing out on concessions because they are in receipt of a few dollars more than the ceiling.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
– The Committee will now proceed to the consideration of the votes in group D. Is it the wish of the Committee that we take the votes of group D together?
– I think we should deal with each department separately.
– We shall take each department separately.
Department of Science
Proposed expenditure, $204,267,000. (Quorum formed).
-I would like to ask a question within the ambit of the Department of Science. It concerns a matter that I have raised in this place.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m., under the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Chairman do now leave the Chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Temporary Chairman having reported accordingly-
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-Mr President, I do not propose to take up a great deal of the time of the Senate. I informed you earlier today of what I proposed to talk about and suggested that it might ultimately require you to give a ruling. I refer to a statement made in this chamber on 25 October 1978 by Senator Walters. I could not find her earlier today but was courteous enough to advise her of the subject that I proposed to raise. On page 1614 of the Hansard report of the Senate of 25 October 1978 it is reported that Senator Walsh interjected:
Is that the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia rate?
Senator Walters replied:
No, it is not. As far as I know- Senator Walsh might have inside information; I certainly do not- the MBF has not published its new fees yet.
But your husband is a director of MBF, is he not?
Senator Walters replied:
Good heavens, no! He certainly is not a director.
I am not saying that Senator Walters misled the Senate but I think her response was, if I may use the word, deceitful. I do not think the use of that word is ruled out by parliamentary practice. It was a deceitful reply because apparently Senator Walters’ husband had been until shortly before then a very prominent member of the Board of Directors of the Medical Benefits Fund. If one examines–
– Order ! I advert to what the honourable senator said earlier. He spoke of a ‘deceitful reply’. That is really a reflection on the person concerned.
-Can I say that it was a clever politician’s reply when evading an issue? At page 2861 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 3 November 1977 we find listed among the MBF directors for New South Wales one Mr D. J. Walters. The title of doctor is not included. It goes further than that. After all, the statement that Senator Walters made at that time was probably quite correct, but by the same token Senator Walsh was perfectly correct in asking whether or not this was a fact. This is a very sensitive field at the moment and nothing ought to be covered up. We have great problems with the private health funds and with the retention, I hope, of Medibank. On page 2862 of the Hansard report of the House of Representatives of 3 November we find question on notice No. 1098 which Dr Klugman had asked of the Minister for Health on 16 August 1977. That question reads:
I am not going through all of the details, because I did promise the Senate that I would make this a very brief contribution. The Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd lists the following directors: J. L. Amies, J. F. Lee, D. A. Brown, H. Stuart Patterson, W. H. Collins, N. L. Sherwood, J. M. Gosper, J. W. C. Wyett, A. K. Lavis, D. Braham, J. P. McPhee, R. S. Cohen, D. P. Rowe, H. H. Gibson, A. M. Johnson, A. H. Braby, J. H. McDowell, H. Budd, A. H. Pollard, R. S. Day, W. F. Simmons, G. L. Howe, A. W. O. Young and, surprise, suprise, D. J. Walters. A question was also asked by Dr Klugman, who is shadow Minister for Health in another place, in relation to the private health funds of Victoria.
On 4 November 1977, as reported at page 2924 of the Hansard report of the House of Representatives a similar question was placed on notice by Dr Klugman and replied to by the Minister for Health. The reply listed the governing body of the MBF in Tasmania. I think that is where Senator Walters comes from. I will not read out all the names but amongst them is a D. J. Walters. I seek leave to incorporate the names listed under the heading ‘Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd’, in respect of Tasmania.
The list read as follows-
J.L.Amies; W.H.Collins; A. K. Lavis; D. P. Rowe; A. H. Braby; R.S.Day; J.F.Lee; N.L.Sherwood; D. Braham; H. H. Gibson; J. H. McDowell; W. F. Simmons; D.A.Brown; J.M.Gosper; J. P. McPhee; D.J.Walters; H. Budd; G. L. Howe; H. Stuart Patterson; J. W. C. Wyett; R. S. Cohen; A. M. Johnson; A. H. Pollard; A. W. O. Young.
– It may be a case of mistaken identity. However, I am fairly sure that it is not a case of mistaken identity, because I looked up Who’s Who in Australia, 1977 and under the name WALTERS, Mary Shirley (Mrs D. J. Walters)- I am sure that Senator Walters will enjoy seeing in Hansard an extract from Who’s Who- it is noted that on a certain date she married a Dr D. J. Walters. I have reason to believe that it is the same D. J. Walters who sat on all these boards of the MBF. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the relevant extract from Who’s Who.
The extract read as follows-
Walters, Mary Shirley (Mrs D. J. Walters), Senator (Lib.) for Tasmania since 1 975; dau. of late Sir Eric John Harrison, K.C.V.O., K.C.M.G.; b. Aug. 31, 1925; ed. Kambala C. of E. Girls’ Seh.; Trained Nurse (Gen.) N.S.W.; m June 27 1949, Dr D. J. Walters, F.R.C.O.G., 2 s. 2 d.; recreations, golf, gardening; address, 80 Nelson Rd., Sandy Bay, Tas., 7005.
– Does it tell her age?
– I am rather chivalrous. I will not quote the lady’s age. As far as we are concerned she looks about 2 1 and we will leave it at that. Mr President I seek your ruling whether, following the provocative question that was asked by my colleague, Senator Walsh, the provocative denial that was made by Senator Walters on that day amounted to a misleading of the Parliament or was it that word which starts with a ‘d which you told me a while ago I could not use? I believe that if we are to be members of this chamber we have to be totally frank. It would have been just as easy for Senator Walters to have said: ‘Yes, of course he was but he has now resigned’- or ‘withdrawn’, or ‘been tipped out’ or something- and ‘and is no longer a member of these boards’. But to say ‘Oh goodness gracious me, no; of course he is not’ is misleading this Parliament. I think that most of us here will probably -
– Oh, come on; for goodness sake.
-Senator Harradine, you always come in here burbling at this hour of the night. You never speak sensibly at any time of the day and now you are trying to set up some sort of a show as the chief clown of the circus. You ought to leave this House.
– What you did not say was that Jerry Walters is a very respected gynaecologist in Tasmania.
– What I am going to say, Mr President, is that I am sure that if Senator Walters is prepared to give an explanation to the
Senate we will all accept it; but I hope that this situation does not happen again.
– I do not know the circumstances. Would Senator Walters care to reply to the honourable senator?
– Yes, I certainly would, Mr President. I would have imagined that Senator Keeffe would have been a little more accurate in naming the various boards, directors and councils, et cetera, seeing he had done his homework so well. He said that he gave me notice. He gave me exactly three minutes’ notice. Fair enough; I do not really need notice at all, anyway. He will find that there are no directors to the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. There are councillors.
– That is a very fine shade of difference.
– In point of fact, my husband was a councillor, and was previously on the council. He was not a director by any means. I was answering an interjection from Senator Walsh. I did not go into great detail. Otherwise I could have said: ‘Good heavens, no; he was not a director’ and then I could have gone into how inaccurate Senator Walsh was. I could have gone on to explain about the council. I could have gone on to explain that my husband was no longer a member of the council but that indeed he was the medical representative on the Tasmanian committee. I could have gone into all this sort of detail and used up my valuable time. I do not believe that I have misled the Parliament in any way at all. My husband was not a director at any stage whatsoever. There are no directors of the Medical Benefits Fund. My husband was on the council; he is no longer on the council and has not been for some time. But he is still one of the medical representatives of the Tasmanian Medical Benefits Fund.
– I speak very briefly about propriety and in particular about the evasion by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of questions which are clearly relevant to his responsibility as the head of this Government the standards which he purports to have laid down with respect to propriety by Ministers, and the alleged insistence by him of” the disclosure by Ministers to him of their business and pecuniary interests.
On 24 October I placed on notice a question in two parts addressed to Senator Carrick, as the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I asked:
That the Minister for Primary Industry is and has been, since at least the early 1970s, a director of both of those companies is a matter of public record which may be ascertained by anyone who cares to pay the appropriate search fee and go through the records of the Corporate Affairs Commission of New South Wales. So I was not asking the Prime Minister to disclose details of Mr Sinclair’s private business activities which were not already matters of public record. The question to the Prime Minister was whether Mr Sinclair had declared that pecuniary interest to the Prime Minister.
The second part of the question was:
In both of those cases, the only answer that was required was yes or no: Either Mr Sinclair did make a declaration of his interest in those companies to the Prime Minister, as the Prime Minister insisted that all his Ministers must do, or Mr Sinclair did not make a declaration. Either the Prime Minister has been informed of the identity of the person who authorised the payment of moneys which had allegedly been misappropriated or the Prime Minister has not been informed of it. A simple yes or no answer to both parts of the question is all .that was required.
The Prime Minister’s answer, however, was:
Mr President, I seek leave to incorporate from previous issues of Hansard those two questions and answers.
The document read as follows-
PECUNIARY INTERESTS OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT AND PUBLIC SERVANTS
Mr E. G. WHITLAM; I direct a question to the Prime Minister in the first question time in this Parliament 1 asked him whether the Government intends to proceed to implement the unanimous report of the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, whose members were drawn from both sides of both Houses in the last Parliament and whose report had been presented to both Houses on 30 September 197S. In particular I asked whether he had requested his Ministers to make declarations of interest which that Committee recommended they should make. He may remember that he replied that all Ministers had been asked to make declarations to him and that the recommendations of the Committee were taken into account in formulating that requirement. I now ask him whether the Minister for Primary Industry informed him of the full nature of his financial interests and responsibilities which have now been discussed in the media and how long ago that Minister first informed him of the changes in shareholdings and directorships flowing from changed family responsibilities? May I also ask him again whether the Government intends to implement the recommendations in the report
Mr MALCOLM FRASER;The honourable gentleman has referred to a number of matters. So far as the parliamentary Committee’s report is concerned, the honourable gentleman will know also that some recommendations were contained in the report of the Royal Commission on Public Administration which in a related way covers the Public Service. At the moment an interdepartmental committee is looking at the Royal Commission’s recommendations and at the parliamentary Committee’s recommendations to see to what extent they are compatible with each other so that the Government may be in a position to make a decision on the overall question of pecuniary interests in relation not only to parliamentarians but also to public servants. The honourable gentleman will be aware that it is not uncommon practice in a number of countries for public servants to be in a position of making statements concerning their pecuniary interests. It seemed to the Government that it would be sensible to proceed in parallel in the two areas- politicians and public servants- because obviously decisions relating to one would have significant implication on decisions relating to the other. In case the letter itself has not been tabled in the Parliament- my recollection is that it may have been- I am perfectly happy to table a copy of a letter that I wrote to all Ministers and to all later appointed Ministers to indicate the nature of the statement that is required of them. I will also table the covering letter to the Minister for Administrative Services who has the responsibility of seeing that ministerial staffs fulfil this same kind of commitment.
The Minister for Primary Industry has made declarations, as have other Ministers, and I have obviously, in view of the circumstances of the past day or two, spoken to the Minister concerning these particular matters. I am not aware of anything that has arisen in recent days which would indicate that any elements of the declarations made to me were inaccurate. The companies with which I am advised the Minister is involved are private companies. They involve two or three families at most.
Mr Sinclair; They are proprietary companies.
Mr MALCOLM FRASER; They are proprietary companies. The Minister’s involvement with the Alan Walsh company was as executor to his father’s estate. I do not believe that matters relating to pecuniary interest should be pursued to such an extent that any member of this Parliament would be precluded from being an executor to his father’s estate and from carrying out the responsibilities that are thereby involved. I think that that is a perfectly proper matter for any member of parliament or Minister to pursue. It needs to be noted also that to my knowledge this is the first government that has sought from Ministers a record of their pecuniary interests in a quite detailed manner and it is the first government -
Mr E. G. Whitlam;That is not so.
Mr MALCOLM FRASER; And in relation to Minister’s staffs?
Mr Charles Jones; Yes, we did that.
Mr MALCOLM FRASER; That might have happened rather late in the day. But let me say that my Administration has taken these matters very seriously from the outset and, 1 believe, with a proper sense of propriety. I am happy to table the letters, as I have indicated.
Mr SPEAKER;The letters are tabled.
Mr HAYDEN; I direct a question to the Prime Minister in which I refer to his often stated views on ministerial propriety and his action in seeking either the resignation or suspension of three successive members of his Ministry for alleged contraventions of legal or ethical conduct. In view of the inquiry just initiated by the Attorney-General of New South Wales into the operations of the Allan Walsh funeral companies from which a sum of some $300,000 allegedly has been misappropriated, could the Prime Minister indicate whether the honourable member for New England is to be suspended pending the conclusion of that inquiry? If not, could he indicate to this House what are the criteria he applies for resignations and suspensions of members of his Ministry whose conduct becomes the subject of public inquiry? In view of his expressed concern about the question of the pecuniary interests of members of Parliament, will the Prime Minister ensure that, in respect of any action he takes relating to the Minister for Primary Industry, he does not allow the Minister to hide behind the corporate veil of companies of which he is a director?
Mr MALCOLM FRASER The Minister for Primary Industry has advised me that when he became executor of his father’s estate, upon examining those matters he immediately commissioned inquiries into the affairs of a number of family companies in which three family companies were involved. That examination is proceeding. It is not yet completed. The Corporate Affairs Commission in New South Wales was advised and tax officers were advised that the inquiries were being initiated by the Minister himself. In addition, I am advised that the three families concerned in this matter are content with the way in which the investigations into these matters are proceeding. No other people are involved. Against that background, I do not believe that any action is required at this point. At some stage there will be an inquiry in the New South Wales Parliament as a result of an investigation that has been launched by the New South Wales Government under Mr Wran. Depending upon the nature of that inquiry, it will be examined fully and properly at that rime.
– I thank honourable senators. The crucial point of the Prime Minister’s answer to Mr Whitlam ‘s question is this sentence:
The Minister’s involvement with the Alan Walsh company was as executor to his father’s estate.
Nothing else in those two answers to which the Prime Minister said he had nothing to add had any relevance to the questions that I asked. The one crucial point which I have quoted seriously understated, to say the least, the true nature of Mr Sinclair’s interest in those companies. The Prime Minister said:
The Minister’s involvement with the Alan Walsh company -
The singular ‘company’ should have been the plural ‘companies’, but that is an excusable error:
It is true that the Minister had a connection with those companies as executor to his father’s estate, but it is also true that he was a director of both of those companies, at least since the early 1970s. Either the Prime Minister was aware of those facts or he was not aware of those facts. If he was aware of them he, to say the least, was less than forthcoming in attempting to answer that question. If he was not aware of them he should have been insisting that the Minister for Primary Industry give a satisfactory explanation of why he did not disclose those facts to him in January 1976. It is alleged that at that time the Minister lodged with the Prime Minister a full declaration of his pecuniary interests. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly: ‘There is no need for Ministers to disclose publicly their pecuniary interests. I have insisted that they be disclosed to me’. We now want to know from the Prime Minister whether the Minister for Primary Industry disclosed to him his involvement as a director of those two companies. There is a simple yes or no answer which the Prime Minister refuses to give. He is dodging the issue. What is he hiding?
The involvement of the Minister for Primary Industry with these two companies evidently goes somewhat beyond that which is revealed in the directorship of them. I have here a document dated 4 July 1978 and headed: ‘Special Investigation into the Affairs of the Walsh Group of Companies’. It is sub-headed: ‘Examination of Mr Creighton William Walsh held at Sydney’. The document relates to an examination conducted by Mr M. Finnane. Page 9 of the document reads:
Mr Finnance: . . . Whilst I haven’t finally come to a final determination of it, it would appear to me that the Sinclair Pastoral Company has been running at a loss for many years and has been heavily in overdraft, unapproved overdraft in excess of $100,000 for quite a while. It’s perfectly obvious to me that this money, in the time of George Sinclair, was used to prop that company up and reduce its overdraft, and it seems perfectly obvious to me that since that time the money has been used for precisely the same purpose and also to enable a house to be purchased at Woollahra.
Further down on page 9 Mr Finnane says:
I want to come to these particular transactions with you in some detail, but I find it very hard to see that there’s been any great break in the way in which these companies have been running since George Sinclair’s death. They seem to have been run in precisely the same fashion before and after his death and for the benefit of the same person really. I find it rather strange that members of your family aren’t hopping mad about it, and aren’t trying to get some of this money back. I don’t know whether they realise that there’s $600,000 or more involved.
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. Senator Walsh is purporting to quote from a document. I ask that he table the document so that the Senate will have the benefit of examining its authenticity.
– I am quite willing to table the document. I have it here. It is a one-page extract.
-Are you seeking leave to table it?
-When I have finished reading I will seek leave to table it, if that is satisfactory. The document continues:
Mi Creighton Walsh: That’s why I suggested you go up to Lake Macquarie and tell the truth.
I interpolate there that I understand that Lake Macquarie is where the elder members of the Walsh family normally reside. The document continues:
Mr Finnane: What’s Mr Mahony got to . . . why would he want to kill the position?
Mr Creighton Walsh: He seems to be crawling to Ian to protect Ian so that Ian won ‘t lose his job. That ‘s what he told me. He said go along with Torok, do whatever Torok says because, you know, we don’t want any scandal . . .
That is the end of the extract. I seek leave to table it.
– I do not think there is need to say more, except to repeat the crucial points which I am raising. The Prime Minister has told the nation that he insisted in January 1976 that all members of his Government make a full declaration of their pecuniary interests to him. That Mr Sinclair was director of these two companies and of other companies at that time is a matter of public record. That he was director of those two companies for some years before that is also a matter of public record. The Prime Minister has been asked a straightforward question as to whether Mr Sinclair declared those interests to him, and the Prime Minister has refused to give an answer. What, Mr President and senators, is the Prime Minister hiding?
– The matter concerning the subject of certain companies of which my colleague in another place has been associated has been the subject of two investigations. I think I am right in saying that one investigator, Mr Finnane, indicated today that he felt it would be good if, pending the completion of the investigation, there would not be public interventions in this regard. I hope the old fashioned understanding will be observed and that is that when an investigation is in process one should remain quiet, let the investigation come forward, and then discuss it. That has been a protocol in the Parliament. We have the extraordinary situation of a basis for an argument being a page which, when tabled we see is headed:
Extract from Page 9 of Statement headed, ‘Special Investigation into the Affairs of the Walsh Group of Companies’, and sub-headed ‘Examination of Mr Creighton William Walsh held at Sydney’.
It goes on to state:
The statement is dated July 4, 1978, and the examination was conducted by Mr Finnane.
I think this is utterly unethical. If the matter is to be discussed then the selective leaking of documents from an inquiry is appallingly bad in itself. It shows an appalling lack of the good old fashioned rule of law that one waits until the investigation takes place. I remind the Senate of the situation which is that there have been two investigations, the first one by chartered accountants appointed by Mr Sinclair, acting on behalf of all the directors and shareholders of the companies concerned. I stress that those inquiries resulted in the tabling of financial statements with the New South Wales Corporate Affairs Commission. It is important for the Senate to understand that those statements were to the satisfaction of the officers of the Commission.
I am advised that final statements have not yet been completed by the chartered accountants. All shareholders, except one minority shareholder in one family company, are in complete accord with this inquiry. I am advised that that particular person is not a director of any of the companies. The second investigation is that launched by the New South Wales AttorneyGeneral. It has been quite extraordinary in itself in that it has been characterised by a progressive leaking of information and raising of it in various assemblies, both the New South Wales Parliament and in the chambers of this Parliament. I put it that this is utterly extraordinary. The fact is that the deliberations should not be prejudiced in that regard.
The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has made it perfectly clear that this background has happened. I think Senator Walsh asked a question today and I indicated that I would draw the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister. I take the view which I hope all honourable senators will observe and that is that in all cases in which a person- whether he be a member of Parliament or a member of the public- is involved, and where there is a judicial or semijudicial inquiry in progress, it is a sound practice, in fact the practice of the British rule of law, that one awaits the end of that inquiry before seeking to impute motives in that regard. To trail out pages which purport to be pages of evidence which cannot be judged simply because they are selective and bear no necessary relationship to a total body of evidence or indeed, in the end, necessarily to the finding of the investigator is, I think, in poor ethics, in poor taste. I suggest to all honourable senators that we await the supply of further information by the chartered accountants and the final report by Mr Finnane. He himself shares that view.
– In respect of the matter raised by Senator Walsh and the reply by Senator Carrick, I think that there would be general agreement about the established procedures concerning the proceedings in a court of law and the discussion of matters relating to people who may be involved in those proceedings, but that was not the matter raised by Senator Walsh. Senator Walsh asked specific questions concerning specific statements by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It must concern everybody in this chamber and in the Parliament that the Prime Minister refuses, and Senator Carrick in his capacity as the representative of the Prime Minister in the Senate, also refuses to give specific answers to specific questions. This only furthers the doubts in our minds, which must be obvious now to everybody, as to just what has been going on and what in fact the Prime Minister is hiding. I just want to say, in support of what Senator Walsh has said, that the Senate should be under no illusions about the Opposition pursuing this matter until such time as it is given the truth and the facts by the Prime Minister.
– I enter into this debate at this late stage to make the point that for quite some time now we have had a running debate about the affairs of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and it seems to me that it is not now a matter for an investigation in New South Wales- it is very much a matter for this Parliament. We cannot continue to go on in this way with charge and counter-charge. Let us cast our minds back to other incidents in this place which led to the dismissal of the former Leader of the Government in the Senate. It was a very serious matter. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) took a high-principled stand, or so he said. I believe that it was an unfair stand but the former Leader of the Government in the Senate suffered by it . He suffered considerably because the whole of his career, the whole of his future, has been blighted by the decision of the Prime Minister. In fairness to Senator Withers, we have never really debated that dismissal. We have never raised the matter since then and stated that we believed that it was for the Senate to decide whether
Senator Withers had misled the Senate. We have not raised it since then because we felt that Senator Withers had suffered sufficiently at the hands of the Prime Minister without the Senate taking a further stand.
But here we have a different situation, a different attitude, a different position being taken by the Prime Minister as far as the Minister for Primary Industry is concerned. Really, it ought not to be allowed to continue in this way. I think that the matter ought to be brought to a head. It is quite possible that Mr Sinclair, the Minister for Primary Industry, is being treated most unfairly, but the matter ought to be resolved. There ought not to be a conflict as to whether evidence should be brought before this House which may enable us to determine whether Mr Sinclair is at fault. The Prime Minister says that he is not at fault, yet there is a very big question mark over Mr Sinclair. I believe that the Prime Minister is partisan about this matter. Senator Walsh raised the matter here tonight and Senator Carrick challenged him to give the source of his material. I think that Senator Walsh has tabled part of a document.
– It is an unattested document. Unfortunately, I have in my hand a document which is very important to this whole matter. My view is that the document I have here ought to be tabled and printed so that we can decide as a parliament just exactly where the fault lies. I have the document in front of me and I seek leave not only to table it but also to have it incorporated in Hansard.
– Sight unseen I cannot give leave.
– It has to be sighted.
– I would agree with that. However, the matter which has been raised in this way tonight and which the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) has refuted can in some way be supported by the document which I have. I seek leave to have this document incorporated. I am prepared, as I continue, to hand over the document to the Minister so that he can look at it and determine whether it should be incorporated in Hansard. If he does not give leave I can take the time of the Senate to read it, but I do not wish to do that. That would only extend the sitting of the Senate.
- Senator Georges, will you show the document to the Minister?
– Will Senator Georges identify it and its authenticity? Before the Government can attempt to adjudicate on the question of its incorporation it would want to know the authenticity and source of this document. If it is like a similar page which we had before, purporting to come from an inquiry, the documentation of which I have no doubt is secret at this moment, quite clearly any such document can have no credibility at all.
– I raise a point of order. Senator Carrick has clearly cast reflections upon the extract from a document which I read tonight.
– That is not a reflection on a member of parliament.
– It was part of the transcript of an examination by the Corporate Affairs Commission investigator, Mr Finnane, of Mr Creighton Walsh. Incidentally, it was one of those documents which the Leader of the Opposition sought leave to table in the House of Representatives yesterday and in respect of which leave was refused by the Government.
– The point of order is not sustained. It is not a reflection on a person.
– I am seeking leave to have the matter incorporated.
– I raise a point of order. I thought that there was a general rule- flexible, certainly; a matter for judgment certainly- that where there is a judicial or quasi judicial inquiry in progress it was not appropriate for this chamber to debate the intrinsic inherent issues in the matter which is being dealt with either by the court or by the quasi judicial inquiry. I imagine that Senator Georges would not wish us to debate a matter in which he might be involved. I do not wish to be provocative by answering some of the provocative interjections. The point I want to make relates to fairness. I think this chamber does have a reputation for paying some regard to the aspects of fairness and sensibility.
I do not think that honourable senators should be debating an issue which involves a member of another House and a quasi judicial inquiry that is taking place. I do not see any reason why we should debate and introduce documents in relation to a member of another House- I use this only by way of example because the previous speaker in the debate mentioned it- any more than we should have any sort of debate about any matter that might involve somebody else who is concerned with a proceeding which is taking place outside this chamber. I simply urge that some of the more vigorous members of the Opposition give some thought to the consequences of this action. I am reminded of what happened yesterday during Question Time. Probably politics became involved in Question Time and the debate proceeded back and forth across the chamber. This shows what can happen when we start using the chamber in a way in which perhaps it was not intended to be used. I would hope that we would not try to debate the matter that has been raised or table the document which honourable senators opposite are seeking to table just as we should not debate a matter involving anybody else who is involved in some proceeding which is actually underway outside this chamber.
- Mr President, I wish to raise a point of order.
– No point of order arises. The matter, to my knowledge, is not one about which there is a judicial inquiry. I call Senator Georges.
-Mr President, I am sorry to say that this matter has gone on far too long. I think that it ought to be brought fairly clearly before the Parliament. It just cannot go on in this way. As has happened in the other place, and it will possibly happen in this chamber, there is a tendency for the debate to degenerate into a continuing exchange.
-Of course, there has been a considerable amount of that on both sides of the Senate over a long period. I remember the long session that took place prior to the dismissal of the Labor Government. Both in this Parliament and in the Queensland Parliament there was a long and insidious campaign of muckraking. The problem that we face in respect of the Minister for Primary Industry has been a continuing one. The contents of this document sooner or later will be put into the Senate record. I have that document here before me. Part of the document has been tabled. I am insisting, since this is the case, that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) take a look at this document and allow me to have it incorporated in Hansard to bring the matter to a head.
– Where did you get it from?
-I am not answering that. I have the document in front of me. It is fair enough for honourable senators to ask me where I got the document from. All I can say is that I have the document. It is in circulation. It is a matter of speculation and rumour. It may not contain the matters that honourable senators opposite fear so much. I believe that the best answer to the problem is to have the document incorporated in Hansard. Sufficient time should be given to the Leader of the Government to take a look at this document to judge whether or not it should be incorporated in the Hansard record. If he does not wish it to be incorporated, we can take the matter on from there. I cannot speak again in the adjournment debate once I resume my seat. I do not know how it could be done but perhaps another honourable senator could be given an opportunity to have the document incorporated. In fairness, the Minister must see the document. That is a standard rule in the Senate. I did not have an opportunity to show him the document before the debate. I did not think that it was necessary until Senator Walsh raised the matter.
– The document will be shown to the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
The document having been shown to the Leader of the Government in the Senate-
-Is leave granted for the incorporation of the document in Hansard?
- Mr President, I am asked by you from the Chair whether leave is granted to have the document incorporated. I seek leave to amplify why we will not grant leave.
– In other words, you are not granting leave?
– We will not grant leave.
- Mr President, I rise to take a point of order.
– No point of order is involved. I have asked whether leave is granted and it has been refused. Leave is not granted. Does Senator Georges wish to continue?
– I am still on my feet. Apparently the Minister has indicated that he is not going to grant leave.
Honourable senators interjecting-
– Let us come to order. The Minister sought leave to make a statement while I still had the floor. That leave was refused. Whether it was in order or not, I do not know; but I would not have objected if the Minister had made a statement to explain why leave for the incorporation would not be granted. Now that I seek leave to have the matter incorporated he will refuse it. However, I seek leave to have the document incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted.
-Mr President, it is a lengthy document -
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I sought leave to make an explanation earlier. This document- I can only go on its title- purports to be part of a transcript of a current investigation being held by another government in another place. I submit that it would be utterly improper to seek to have incorporated in Hansard, and to attach privilege to, part of evidence that is being taken in a judicial inquiry elsewhere. Mr President, I suggest that from the chair you should give heavy consideration to this matter. If someone comes by what he purports to be selective evidence which is part only of legal proceedings with no guarantee of its accuracy and with no indication of where it has come from or how it has been obtained, I would say that it goes right to the heart of justice. Selectively taking out a portion of evidence and giving it the enshrinement of privilege in this chamber does a grave injustice to the whole course of what we understand to be democracy and justice. I suggest that leave should not be granted for any attempt to read this document into the Hansard report by a pretext, a device which would prejudice justice in another place.
– I rise to a point of order. Senator Carrick has raised a point of order as to whether Senator Georges is entitled to read this document into Hansard after he sought leave to have it incorporated and the Minister personally refused leave for its incorporation. There is no question that Senator Georges as an honourable senator in this chamber is entitled to read into the record any document that he has in his possession.
– I rise in support of the point of order which was taken by the Leader of the Government.
– What is the point of order? What Standing Order has been broken? Someone has asked for leave and it has been refused.
– Order! Reference has been made to action being taken. As I said before, to my knowledge this matter is not before a judicial inquiry. The Minister has made a plea to let that which is not a judicial inquiry but which is an investigation proceed without further discussion in this chamber. It was a plea not based on any Standing Order, as I understand it.
- Mr President, I want to take the matter a little further than did the Leader of the Government. I suggest that you should rule on this matter.
– No; wait a moment. I have ruled on the point of order.
- Mr President, may I ask on what grounds -
– I have ruled on the point of order. Is the Minister speaking to that point of order?
– I am about to state the grounds.
– There is no point of order at this stage.
– Is the Minister rising on a point of order?
– I am on a point of order.
– Are you taking a point of order?
– Yes. Mr President, it is a little difficult when everyone is speaking at once.
– I take a point of order. Under what Standing Order is the point of order being taken?
– Order! The Minister is raising a point of order.
- Mr President, I repeat: It is a little difficult to speak when everyone is speaking. The point of order which I raise is that I believe you should rule in the circumstances that this document cannot be read into Hansard. I refer you, Mr President -
– What are you trying to cover up? You wrecked the Senate three years ago and now you are trying to resurrect the ashes.
– I have no intention of proceeding until there is order in the House.
– Order! Senator Chaney has the call. Other senators may speak when I call them.
– I wish to refer to page 20 1 of the fourth edition of Australian Senate Practice by J. R. Odgers. Reference is made to a paper presented in Ottawa by Sir William Aston on the sub judice rule. I will refer to two points. Firstly I refer to paragraph (2) which states:
It is the fundamental right and duty of the House to consider and discuss any matter, if it is thought to be in the public interest.
I quote that paragraph because nobody has used that as an argument for saying that this matter ought to be permitted. Paragraph (3) states:
If it is not inconsistent with fundamental rights and duties, the House should avoid setting itself up as an alternative forum or body of inquiry or permit its proceedings to interfere in the course of justice.
I would also like to quote from a statement by Dr HV.Evatton page 200.
– I raise the point that the honourable senator is canvassing your ruling, Mr President.
- Mr President, your original ruling related to a submission by Senator Rae as to whether a matter could be debated.
– I referred back to an earlier ruling. I have ruled again in the same way- that the matter is not the subject of a judicial inquiry.
- Mr President, there is nothing -
– It is a different point of order, Senator.
– May I also quote -
– I ask again: Is the honourable senator canvassing your ruling, Mr President? You are very definite on it but you are wrong.
– I will listen a little further.
– It is open at a later point in a debate to raise a point of order and it is open for the same President or a later President to change his mind. The sub judice ruling is not-
– You are canvassing my ruling, Senator.
– I am seeking a further ruling from you, Mr President, at a later stage in the debate when an attempt is being made to read a document into the record, which is not what was being done previously.
– Who said it will be read into the record?
– That is what I understood.
– I think I should be allowed to continue. I have listened to the points of order. I think I have reasonably tried to put the point of view that this document ought to be incorporated in the records of this House. The incorporation of the document was resisted in the other House. It has now emerged in this House. I make the point that it is necessary for this matter to be brought to a conclusion. Sooner or later this document will be in the record. I put that case to the Senate. I have been refused the right to incorporate the document in the record. I now have to decide whether to read it into the record tonight.
– You are running out of time. Get on with it.
-I know exactly how the time is going. I have to make my own decision as to what I should do. I can decide to read the document into the record tonight. Nevertheless, I have come to the conclusion that I shall give the matter some further time. I think the Government is foolish in resisting. It is now a matter of speculation. The matter will be speculated upon and churned around. I think the best idea is for the Senate to accept the incorporation but it has not done so. It is now left for me to decide whether to attempt to read the document into the record tonight. I will consider what I will do tomorrow.
– I want to say a few words because I am concerned with what has been stated and with what some honourable senators seem to think is the right and honourable thing to do in such circumstances. It has never been accepted that we should not discuss a matter which is under inquiry. It has been accepted that we should not discuss a matter that is before a court as this may prejudice the tribunal. If we believed that an individual senator or member of the other place was corrupt and unfit to be a member of parliament, any discussion or disclosure of facts could be prevented by setting up a committee of inquiry. Surely no-one thinks that that is the right thing to do?
– We did not set up such an inquiry.
– An inquiry has been set up- I believe under statute. It is not even a quasi-judical inquiry.
– Yes, it is.
– It is not. It is an automatic inquiry into business companies under the Corporate Affairs Commission. The Commission is simply considering the matter in order to report to the Minister. If we are to permit corruption, bad dealings and unacceptable practices- I am not referring to this case- just because an inquiry is being carried out with no legal proceedings, we are remiss in our duties.
Honourable senators will remember comments by the South Australian senators when a judge was making inquiries into the dismissal of the Police Commissioner in South Australia. There are now court proceedings against four defendants, one of whom happens to be Mr Whitlam, in relation to the loans affair. Does that stop anyone from condemning the Khemlani Affair? The Transport Workers’ Union had to appear in court tomorrow- the hearing was brought forward to this afternoon- to answer charges under the Trade Practices Act. Surely this was a judical matter. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Street, came out in condemnation of the action of the defendants in that case. Writs had been taken out, the date of hearing had been set and the judge had been selected. Legal proceedings were taking place, yet the Minister thought he had a responsibility to make those comments. The Government is trying to say that we do not have such a responsibility.
Senator Georges resents what the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick), said. He truly believes that the document he sought to incorporate in Hansard is a record of an interview between the agent inquiring into the circumstances and a director of the company. That is all he put it up as. He wanted to have it incorporated. Because the Government is frightened of this issue, Senator Carrick refused to give him leave. He then wanted to make a statement justifying his refusal. He wanted to apologise to the Senate for not making the concession that has been given to him on many occasions. When he was refused leave to make a statement, he did so under other provisions of the Standing Orders. He defied the Senate which refused him leave and made a statement by other means.
I return to the original question. No charge was made that something was wrong. There was no request for information about anything that was before an inquiry. The Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was simply asked whether in accordance with his previous statements a declaration of pecuniary interests was given to him and, if so, whether the interest in the companies under scrutiny was disclosed. His answer had to be yes or no. What Senator Walsh is complaining about is the fact that the Prime Minister has evaded the question. Senator Chaney with all his fairness, decency and judicial training raised points of order tonight, which he would never raise in other circumstances, for no reason other than that he was trying to stop the disclosure of the facts in relation to the inquiry being conducted in New South Wales. I have spoken in this debate in the hope that we will not be placed in a situation in which whenever there is an inquiry into an individual’s affairs the Government will gag debate.
-Mr President, in case I am accused of misleading the Senate -
– Order! The honourable senator has already spoken in this adjournment debate. She must seek leave if she wishes to make a personal explanation.
– I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Thank you, Mr President. In case what I have said is interpreted as seeking to mislead the Senate, I wish to make a personal explanation. I am sure that Senator Keeffe would want a very accurate description of my husband’s position with the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd. I have contacted my husband. He is still a member of council. I was not aware of that when I spoke earlier this evening. Perhaps that shows the Senate how interested I am in my husband’s position with the Medical Benefits Fund. I was not aware that he is still a member of council. He is still a member of council because of his position as Tasmanian medical representative on the Tasmanian executive committee.
– Thank you, Senator. Mr President, I also sought a ruling on this matter. I am quite satisfied with the explanation given by Senator Walters, but if you still want to make a ruling I will be happy about that too.
– No. There is nothing for me on which to rule.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.57 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 13 September 1978:
– The Minister for Industry and Commerce has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 20 September 1 978:
How many persons in each State and Territory have been denied Australian citizenship in each year from 1969-70 to 1977-78, because of insufficient knowledge of the English language.
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Separate statistics of the number of persons denied Australian citizenship because of insufficient knowledge of the English language were not maintained before 1 July 1976. Until then such statistics were included with the statistics of persons refused on the grounds of an inadequate knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. The tables below set out the relevant statistics for each State and Territory in each financial year since 1969-70.
Applications refused on the grounds of an inadequate knowledge of the English language or of an inadequate knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 28 September 1978:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 10 October 1978:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
1 ) (a) The radar separation standard between identified aircraft, or formations of aircraft being controlled as one, is 5 nautical miles except that, when high definition ( 1 5 rpm) terminal area radar is in use, such as that at Sydney and Melbourne, the minimum separation is 3 nautical miles provided that the aircraft are within 30 nautical miles of the radar site.
Aircraft operating in a primary control zone established around an airport are provided with separation by ATC. This may be in the form of radar separation (3 or S nautical miles as applicable), vertical separation of 1,000 ft or more, or by aircraft maintaining laterally separated tracks. In VMC by day ATC may also provide separation by instructing the pilot of an arriving aircraft to follow a preceding arriving aircraft if the pilot has the traffic in sight and the controller is satisfied that adequate separation will be maintained. Within the airport traffic circuit the tower controller may also use his own visual observations to separate aircraft.
The separation standard applicable to aircraft operating in accordance with the visual flight rules is that one aircraft shall not come in closer proximity to another aircraft than 600 metres horizontally and 500 feet vertically.
In summary, therefore, a ‘near miss’ in controlled airspace is as defined above and in uncontrolled airspace it has been confined to the occurrences where the ANR 139 parameters have been infringed. Attachment ‘A’ sets out the occurrences classed as ‘near misses’ as reported in Australian airspace from 1973-1977 inclusive and Attachment ‘B’ sets out similar information on ‘near misses’ reported in airspace under the jurisdiction of the Sydney-Bankstown air traffic control system.
In Australian controlled airspace aircraft are positively separated by Air Traffic Control in accordance with internationally accepted standards.
As a consequence of recent incidents that have occurred in Australian controlled airspace, these standards are being reviewed, but at this stage there is no evidence to indicate that they are deficient or have in any way contributed to the incidents under consideration.
(In addition to the above occurrences, there were 5 collision accidents during the period, one near Parafield, South Australia; two near Bankstown, New South Wales; one at Ballarat, Victoria; and one near Moorabbin, Victoria.)
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 1 1 October 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 25 October 1 978:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The export of oysters has been banned until such time as my Department can certify that the oysters are fit for human consumption. Based on annual earnings in 1977-78 the industry is losing approximately $20,000 in export earnings each month the ban remains in force. The ban commenced on 6 July 1978.
3 ) Following the outbreak of food poisoning attributed to oysters in July this year, I cabled the New South Wales Minister for Conservation offering the services of my Department to assist his Department in enabling the earliest certification of oysters for human consumption. Officers of my Department have since been in regular contact with New South Wales fisheries and health authorities advising them on standards and procedures necessary to satisfy the requirements of importers of Sydney rock oysters. As soon as the procedures and monitoring arrangements are agreed by New South Wales authorities and have been implemented, the export of oysters can resume.
In addition a proposal for a grant of moneys from the Fishing Industry Research Trust Account to undertake research into the basic problem and overcoming it has been considered by the Fishing Industry Research Committee and referred back to the proponent, New South Wales State Fisheries for further information. This matter will be dealt with immediately a revised proposal is received.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 26 October 1978:
Did the Australian National Group consult any of the following groups before making its nominations of candidates for the International Court of Justice: (a) the High Court; (b) legal faculties and schools of law; and (c) national academies and national sections of international academies devoted to the study of law, in accordance with the recommendations of Article 6 of the Statute of the International Court. If not, which, if any, individual judges, academies and lawyers from those groups were consulted.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
I am advised that the Australian National Group did not have consultations of the kind referred to in the question. The Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick, and Emeritus Professor K. O. Shatwell are members of the National Group. The Statute of the International Court of Justice enables a National Group to nominate up to four persons. As stated in my answer to Question 7SS, the Australian National Group nominated Ambassador J. Sette Camara (Brazil), Professor Roberto Ago (Italy), Dr Abdullah El Erian (Egypt) and Professor Richard Baxter (United States). On 31 October these four persons, together with Judge Morozov ( USSR), were elected as Judges of the Court for 5 years from February next.
-On 20 September 1978 (Hansard, page 741) Senator Archer asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, a question without notice concerning the extent of loss of life and property resulting from arson, and the amount of Federal or State funding going into arson research. The Treasurer has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Statistics collected by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner show that claims incurred by private and public sector insurers in the Fire and Houseowners and Householders classes of insurance business during 1977 amounted to approximately $2 10m. While this amount would include some claims in respect of losses through causes other than fire, and while it does not reflect losses of uninsured property through fire or take account of non-property losses through fire, it would seem likely that the total annual losses from fire would be much less than the $5,00Om referred to by the honourable senator.
As regards the extent of loss of life by fire, statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that in 1976 there were 157 deaths through accidents caused by fires and flames, 62 of which occurred in private dwellings, buildings or other structures.
There are no official or industry statistics available on the losses of life and property through arson.
Turning to the question of research, I am not aware of any specific funds being made available by the Commonwealth for arson research nor of any on-going project specifically aimed at minimising losses of this nature. I should mention, however, that the Commonwealth supports the work of the Australian Fire Protection Association Limited by way of a grant-in-aid through the Department of Construction and has set aside $30,000 for this purpose in the 1 978-79 Budget. The Association’s objectives primarily concern the establishment of safeguards against loss of life and property by fire through educational efforts such as the publication of fire prevention bulletins.
I would suggest that any requests for information concerning arson research funded by the States be directed to the relevant State Ministers.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 November 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19781115_senate_31_s79/>.