31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 1 , 502 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned Secondary Students of the Australian Capital Territory respectfully showeth that-
An attack is being made on the public school system of the ACT by the abandonment of the staffing formula in order to implement staff ceilings. This will inevitably lead to deterioration in the standard of education in ACT schools.
In particular, high schools and colleges will be forced to reduce the number of optional subjects available to students in 1979. These options were available in 1978 when the staffing formula was operating.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the senate in parliament should: Ensure that the staffing formula which operated in 1978 for the staffing of ACT schools be the same formula for the staffing of schools in the ACT in 1 979.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray ‘
Petition received and read.
-On behalf of Senator Sibraa, I present the following petition from 33 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 that 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 government and also deprives many needy pensioners of increases that are essential to their subsistence.
The foregoing facts impel the undersigned Petitioners to request the Australian Government to uphold the principle that the 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.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
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:
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 Senator Harradine and Senator Evans.
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 Martin (2 petitions) and Senator Harradine.
-Can the Minister for Social Security inform the Parliament whether a new social security office has been established at Kununurra in Western Australia? Was a duplex, used for social security staff, purchased at that centre for the extremely high price of $ 146,000?
-I will need to seek advice on that matter from the Department. I will see that Senator Keeffe is advised as soon as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science. Is it true that Professor Don Aitkin of the Macquarie University, Sydney, has been awarded $75,000 by the Australian Research Grants Committee for a study of Australian political behaviour? What criteria are used by the Research Grants Committee in awarding such sums? How many grants of sums of over $20,000 have been made by the Committee for research in the social sciences and to whom have they been awarded?
-Senator Rocher asks a particularly important question regarding the administration of the Australian Research Grants Committee. Some of the subjects that are covered by those grants raise questions in the public mind as to whether research into those subjects is warranted in an era when funds are particularly short. I suppose it could be said that the grants are made in all scientific disciplines, including those of the social sciences. It is under the heading of the social sciences that some titles of subjects of research come under question. I think that that is the basis of the query by the honourable senator and it is not an unreasonable query.
I think that the Australian Research Grants Committee scheme was introduced in 1965. Currently it is under the chairmanship of Professor Ross. A body of experts decides upon the allocation of funds upon application by a person who wishes to have support for the project he puts forward. That body determines allocations on the basis of the excellence of the work that such persons intend to do. I think that the honourable senator can be assured that it is essential in a country such as ours, as it is in other countries, that funds should be allocated to support research of excellence. That is purely the basis of the ARGC scheme. At the present time the Committee, headed by Professor Ross, evaluates proposals that are put forward on the basis of assessments by appropriate experts in a particular field. The excellence of the project and the excellence of the investigator are basically the sole criteria used.
The honourable senator questioned the value of the allocation in the instance to which he referred. In the period from 1970 to 1975 only seven other grants of amounts in excess of $20,000 have been made. I am aware of some of the uncommon titles of subjects of investigation and perhaps one would question their relevance. I note that in the social sciences Professor Henderson from Melbourne, for instance, has received some of those larger grants for investigation of projects, such as the use of manpower in social welfare services and other subjects such as that. I think Australia can be proud of the work that has been done by the group known as the Australian Research Grants Committee. In an era when funds have been short I think the Government can be particularly proud that in this current year $ 1 2.3m has been allocated. Last year the amount of $ 10.4m was allocated. Honourable senators can see that the Government is very anxious to support research of excellence in this area.
-I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister: What arrangements have been made for the sale of Australian uranium to South Korea? Has Australia signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with South Korea? Has South Korea signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons? In spite of that, is that country currently developing a nuclear weapons capacity? Will the Minister report later- if he is unable to do so today- to the Senate on these matters?
– All the details are not available to me. I ask that Senator Button put the question on the Notice Paper and I will seek an early reply for him.
– My question which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development relates to the announcement by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development on Tuesday, 14 November, that the Commonwealth will reduce its grants to voluntary conservation groups from a $2 for $1 basis to a $1 for $1 basis. I ask the Minister: Is it true that this cut in government support for conservation groups will cause a number of groups, which currently receive funds, to receive no money in the future? Does he agree with the statement of Dr Geoffrey Mosley, the Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, that in 1979 approximately only three environmental organisations will be able to operate under the new guidelines? Does this reduction in expenditure, along with this year’s cut of $50,000 in funds for voluntary conservation groups which, I understand, particularly applies to the Australian Conservation Foundation, represent a change in the Government’s attitude on the preservation and conservation of the Australian National Estate?
– The amount of the grants and the method of their disbursement which was announced recently does not represent a change in policy. The Government clearly wishes to assist voluntary conservation bodies and the reduction of $50,000 has to be seen in the light of the general restraint which has been exercised by the Government in a number of fields of expenditure. The suggestion that this will cause a number of groups to receive no money in the future could only be on the basis that these groups will not be able to raise any money and thereby qualify for a matching subsidy. I point out to the honourable senator that the announcement that the change in the subsidy arrangements is for the next financial year has been made at this early stage so that it does not affect the immediate operations of such groups. In fact, it is in the next financial year that they will have to look to raising money so that they attract the $1 for $1 subsidy instead of a $2 for $1 subsidy which will apply up to that point.
I think Dr Geoffrey Mosley is being unduly pessimistic in his assessment of the situation. Of course, his organisation is the one which has had, I think, the most substantial reduction in the grant which is being made to it from $ 1 50,000 to $ 100,000. In that regard, because it probably is a matter of some interest to honourable senators, I point out that the Australian Conservation Foundation is in fact the largest recipient of grants. It has income from non-Commonwealth sources of something over $200,000. So in terms of an ability to carry the burden of some of the reduction that organisation is, I think, the best based. With respect to the Australian Conservation Foundation, I also point out that on my information it has a declining membership. Bearing in mind that the question asked relates to the whole position of voluntary organisations, it is important that such organisations maintain public support and the support of an active membership. The decline over the last few years in the membership of the Australian Conservation Foundation ought to be a matter of concern to it and to anyone who believes that it has an important role to play in conservation in Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. It is based on the lessons that I hope we learned from the Telecom dispute in which there was slow intervention by the Government. I ask: Following the lessons learnt in that dispute, what role is the Government playing in the protracted dispute with Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd and the reconstruction of the industry, which seems to foreshadow a high degree of redundancy?
– This matter is certainly being considered by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, who has been following closely the situation at the APM mill at Botany and the industrial dispute which resulted in retrenchments there. The matter has, of course, been referred to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission where it properly belongs and I understand that there will be a hearing on it before the Commission today. The Minister has directed the Commonwealth Employment Service to assist in every way possible so that those workers who have been retrenched can be helped to find other employment. The CES has made special facilities available for the retrenched workers and has made every effort to place those who have registered for alternative employment. A number of referrals have been made already. At least 12 placements have been confirmed and a number of others are still under consideration. Certainly, the Minister will continue to watch developments and will continue the efforts that the CES is making in regard to placing those who have been retrenched.
– My supplementary question is somewhat outside the ambit of the Minister’s answer. I ask: Has any specific role in this matter been considered for the Industrial Relations Bureau, which I think was to go into the social aspects of such problems?
– I am not aware whether the Industrial Relations Bureau has become involved in any way in this dispute, but I will refer that specific question to the Minister and ask him to provide further information in relation to it as well.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether she is aware that the Family Planning Association of the Australian Capital Territory, which is funded by this Government, was supporting the setting up of a public abortion clinic when the issue was debated in this place last week? Can the Minister say whether abortion should be considered as a legitimate method of family planning? If not, should not the Family Planning Association of the Australian Capital Territory condemn abortion rather than support its expansion and, indeed, concentrate its efforts on the necessary education of the community concerning the true family planning methods of contraception.
– With regard to the first part of the question, may I say that the Minister was aware of the Family Planning Association’s support last week of the public abortion clinic. The Government is of the opinion that the role of the Family Planning Association is in the dissemination of information on family planning and the provision of clinical services relating to acceptable methods of contraception. The Minister for Health does not regard abortion as a desirable method of family planning and does not support the action of the Association in seeking to exert influence on honourable senators in respect of the debate which occurred in this chamber last week on this matter. However, in saying that, I stress on behalf of the Minister for Health that the Association does not carry out abortions at its clinics. Doctors employed by the Association may, at the request of a client, make referrals, as indeed may any doctor in the exercise of his professional practice.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications by referring him to Australian Government Gazette No. 28 of 13 July 1978 wherein an examination was advertised for entry to the Telecommunications Commission as lineman in training in all States except Queensland. Is the Minister aware that quite a large number of applicants responded and that, insofar as Tasmania was concerned, the examination was held on 16 September, on the understanding that the top successful candidates would be interviewed for the 12 jobs?
Is the Minister aware that on 1 1 October 1978, before those interviews took place but after the examinations were held, the whole scheme was cancelled? Is the Minister aware of the fact that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has condemned the misleading advertising of private employers that leads to disillusionment amongst job applicants, and does that action of the Commission fall within that category?
– I am not aware of any of the facts which have been raised in the question asked by the honourable senator. They are matters which I would have to check. Certainly, on the facts he has put before the Senate it appears that there has been a misleading advertisementindeed, it goes beyond that- and a course of conduct which led people to believe that jobs would be available which apparently have not been made available. I assume that the honourable senator would like an explanation of why that has occurred, as well as an answer to the primary question he put, which was whether this is in line with the matters that have been condemned by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I can only say that on the facts made available it certainly does appear that people have been misled. I will get the facts for the honourable senator and try to find out why that occurred.
-Can the Minister for Education inform the Senate of any recent developments in respect of the Australian Maritime College.
– I appreciate the interest of Senator Archer, indeed of all Tasmanian senators, in the development of the College which will, of course, be a very significant industry, apart from an academic institution, in Launceston. Honourable senators will know that the Maritime College Act received royal assent on 20 June this year and was proclaimed on 10 October. It established the College as a corporate body and provides for a Council to govern the College ‘s affairs. I am happy to report that appointments to the Council were made on 10 October. The Council met for the first time on 11 October and elected Mr T. B. Swanson as Chairman and Mr J. K. Edwards from Launceston as Deputy Chairman. I think all honourable senatores will acknowledge that these two men are outstanding Australians with very expert knowledge and leadership.
The transfer of the land at Newnham, adjacent to the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, from the State of Tasmania to the Commonwealth will be effected in the very near future. Work recently commenced on alterations to Newnham Hall, for its early use as a College centre, is progressing. At Beauty Point, down the river towards the sea, the old jetty and cool store have been demolished. Tenders for buildings and a jetty will be called soon, with construction planned for commencement early in 1979. Approval has recently been given for the design of a fisheries training vessel, to cost an estimated $1.8m. It is expected that construction will commence early next year. Negotiations to purchase a navigation training vessel are also proceeding. A business manager, assistant academic registrar and finance manager were appointed recently. Senior academic staff have been appointed, to commence duty on 1 February 1979. All this makes for very good progress. The College, of course, is running at this moment some training courses in tanker safety generally. In terms of offering special expertise to Australia as a whole in all forms of maritime activity and notably in fisheries, this could be an historic development.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Is it a fact that many traders and employees throughout Australia are disadvantaged during an insolvency of a debtoremployer by the Crown’s taking priority for the payment of its debts such as pay-as-you-earn tax instalments? Can the Attorney-General give an indication of when the Government intends to announce any decision on the Senate Committee report on priority of Crown debts in bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings? May we expect some response before we rise for the summer recess?
– I am aware of the Senate Committee’s very interesting and valuable report on this matter. It is being studied at the present moment. The Government has given an undertaking that it will respond to parliamentary reports within a period of, I think, six months. Time does go very fast around here but I do not think that the six months has gone by yet.
– Five months.
-Five months, is it? I thank the honourable senator for that information. The matter has an even greater degree of urgency than I had realised. I certainly will inquire into what progress is being made in relation to the report but I do not expect that there will be any response, certainly of a formal character, within the next week. However, I am grateful for having had my attention drawn to this matter and to the time that has elapsed and I will take some action in relation to it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer and I refer to the recent Loan Council meeting. Is the Minister aware that since this meeting the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia has expressed concern that the overseas countries which lend money to State governments might attempt to tie the loans to massive import deals requiring Australia to import the plant and machinery to be used in approved projects? Will the Minister, through the Treasurer, reassure the Association that where possible goods and services arising from the loans will be generated from Australian sources? Does the Minister agree with the contention put forward by the Association that overseas orders should not be placed unless the Loan Council is satisfied that this requirement has been met?
– This is a significant question and I am grateful to Senator Jessop for raising it. I have not seen the statement by the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia expressing concern about this matter but I think that it is good that it has been expressed so that the concern can be examined and dissipated. I do not now act with first-hand knowledge but my clear understanding is that all loans that are made must have, in the general terms upon which they are made, the approval of the Loan Council, so I could not believe that any attachments of the nature sought would be made. I remind Senator Jessop and all honourable senators that a major undertaking of the Federal Government which has the expressed co-operation of the Premiers is that we should throughout Australia launch a ‘buy Australian’ campaign and a series of activities will be developed aimed so to do. I believe that I can give that assurance. Because it is of significance, I will take the matter to the Treasurer and have it further clarified.
asked me yesterday a question relating to this matter and to guarantees. I am informed that the infrastructure financing guidelines provide that semi-government authorities may seek Loan Council approval to undertake overseas borrowings in their own right. The guidelines require that any such borrowings be guaranteed by either the Government concerned or some appropriate institution. The normal practice would be for each State government to guarantee the borrowings of its own authorities, and exchange risks associated with overseas borrowings by authorities would be borne by the authority or the State concerned.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security whether it is the Government’s intention this year to refuse the unemployment benefit to workers laid off during the Christmas period or the three-week factory shutdown that we have over the Christmas-New Year period. If this is so, would she advise any persons considering accepting work in the next month to take only casual work so that they will not be considered as employed during the shutdown and therefore ineligible for the unemployment benefit, as happened last year?
– I think it would be understood that the test for eligibility for unemployment benefit is the weekly income that is received, but where the shutdown period for a person who is employed is taken into account during the Christmas period, there are some people who, through a short term employment, do not have any entitlement for holiday pay, recreation leave or anything of that sort. However, there is the general practice that a person who is employed, who is in the holiday period and who will then be resuming work at that place of work, is not unemployed. As far as giving advice to people not to accept permanent employment is concerned, certainly I would not be giving that advice. I do remind the Senate that there is always the application which can be made for consideration for special benefit if no other income is received by the person during the long Christmas shutdown.
– I ask a supplementary question. Is it not a fact that the decision to penalise in this way people who do not have holiday pay was in fact first made in 1977 and before that they would have been paid? Can the Minister tell us under what circumstances people in this condition will be eligible for special benefit?
– The eligibility for a special benefit is at the discretion of the DirectorGeneral and there are tests which are made with regard to income of the person and his needs. The difficulty does arise for a person who has been recently employed at a factory or business which does have the long Christmas shutdown but, as I said, the general principle involved is that a person who is employed and returning to that place of employment could not be considered as unemployed in the usual sense of the work testing arrangements of the Commonwealth Employment Service. However, I believe that people in this situation would seek seasonal part time work or other work that may be available during the holiday period. If they had no other income the usual test of a special benefit can be applied by the Director-General on their application.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science. I make the preliminary observation that my question arose a few days ago at a meeting of the Parliamentary Science Group with Professor Geoffrey Badger, Chairman of the Australian Science and Technology Council. Is it the Government’s policy to introduce on a regular basis an annual science budget or annual statement which will consolidate the various expenditures on science in the whole range of departments and commissions? If it is the Government’s policy, when will such an annual statement be first made?
– It is the Government’s stated policy that there should be produced a science budget and a science statement, as Senator Teague has suggested. I acknowledge the attendance of Senator Teague and other senators from both sides at the very interesting lecture which was given by Professor Badger, Chairman of the Australian Science and Technology Council. That body of course is considered to be the one which gives the highest advice to government in science matters. He did discuss aspects of these two subjects at that lecture. In stating that it is the Government’s policy, I can say that I have had no great pleasure at the amount of progress that I have been able to make towards those two ideals.
The honourable senator may accept that, so far as the Department of Science is concerned, it is quite simple to prepare a science budget on those matters which are within the control of my ministry, but in the Federal area a great deal of scientific research and technological research is done not only by other departments but also by universities and colleges of advanced education, which of course have a basis of Commonwealth funding. The honourable senator, with his background, will acknowledge that it is quite difficult to obtain the projected budgets or the subjects which will be the basis of scientific research in future years. Funding goes not only into State budgets which should be comprehended within a science budget, but also into the private sector.
There has been progress made by my Department in attempting to develop the project SCORE- the Survey and Comparison of Research and Expenditure- of which the honourable senator will be aware. I hope that during the next year or so we will make substantial progress towards preparing a statement relating to the total expenditure on science and the projected budget for the whole area of science and technological advance.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is it true as reported in this morning’s Australian that the British Government has snubbed Australian requests to remove waste plutonium buried at Maralinga in that it has failed to respond to Australian requests to this effect by the required deadline of 7 November or, indeed, at all? If this is so, and if the British Government continues to remain unbeguiled by the subtleties of Australian diplomacy, what other plans does the Australian Government have in mind for the safeguarding of this material?
-I regret that I have not seen the Australian newspaper this morning.
– You are getting like Senator Withers.
– I have not caught up with the Australian newspaper, simply due to the pressure of other activities. It is a good newspaper. I read it normally. I will look at the item referred to. I have no knowledge that there has been any breakdown in discussions between the British Government and the Australian Government. The Commonwealth Government is advised by the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council which is a body of expert, world renowned scientists. That advice will be sought and that counsel taken to ensure that what is done in future with plutonium at Maralinga or elsewhere will be done for the total safety for all Australians.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Education. In view of reports that the closure of Dhupuma College on the Gove Peninsula has been under consideration for the past few months, has the Minister any information that would allay the concern of the Aboriginal people in the vicinity of Nhulunbuy and Yirrkala?
– I can understand Senator Kilgariff^ real interest and concern in this matter. Honourable senators will know that Dhupuma is one of three Aboriginal residential colleges, the other two being Kormilda at Darwin and Yirara at Alice Springs. Honourable senators will recollect that Dhupuma College is a series of makeshift buildings which belonged to the old European Launcher Development Organisation tracking station. I have already reported to the Senate that they are in a state of growing disrepair and that the cost of maintenance for the future is becoming prohibitive.
Several months ago all communities with children at Dhupuma College were contacted by my Department in the Northern Territory. Consultation with community leaders resulted in a number of varying opinions, particularly in regard to Kormilda College as an alternative if Dhupuma should close. Major concerns included the vast distance between Darwin and Arnhem Land communities, which limited contact between students and their families, and the large number of tribal groups at Kormilda which are seen as undesirable by some Aboriginal communities. I had discussions in recent weeks with three or four major Aboriginal communities in the area surrounding Dhupuma and these concerns were expressed to me. With these factors under consideration, together with other information and recommendations offered by senior educational officers, my senior officer in the Northern Territory, Dr Eedle, recommended to me that the College be kept open on a trial basis for one more year with its future role to be reviewed again in 1979. 1 am happy to say that I approved this recommendation on 2 November.
Transitional classes for year seven students, short term courses and accommodation for students attending the Nhulunbuy Area School will continue in 1979 in order to measure the support expressed by the communities, the parents and the students during consultations this year. Basic repairs and maintenance will be carried out to allow temporary the facilities to continue to be used.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Social Security, follows the question put to her by Senator Grimes. The Minister may recall that, over the past years, there have been a number of individual cases of people who claimed unemployment benefit in circumstances which Senator Grimes outlined and who were paid that benefit. I refer particularly to those engaged in State relief work whose payments for that work included an amount for part annual leave entitlements and who were discharged because of a lack of funds. On investigation the Department paid those people unemployment benefit, particularly in locations where there was no available work. I refer to the southern part of South Australia. In particular I ask the Minister to consider those employees in the vehicle industry in South Australia, many of whom are not entitled to any annual leave payments at all because of the short time that they work on the production lines. I ask her to consider their position in light of the fact that in the past they were acceptable as beneficiaries. I think that fact places them in a different category from the general group of people who might be able to get other employment. Will the Minister consider those circumstances and give the Senate some information?
– I have noted the special cases that were mentioned by Senator Bishop. I will certainly see that consideration is given to those who are in any way in a particular category during the annual leave shutdown of factories and of work schemes. I will see what consideration can be given to particular cases and I will perhaps have some discussion with Senator Bishop about individual cases which he would like to draw to my attention.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. In view of the Minister’s answer to Senator Martin’s question last week about the Australian Broadcasting Commission transmitting sporting events from commercial channels to Western Queensland and the implication in his answer that it would cost the ABC money to buy the rights to some of these programs, I ask: Should not all sections of the Australian community be treated equally and therefore should not funds be distributed so that equal access to the various forms of the media can be provided for all the people of Australia? Specifically, why cannot adequate program funds be provided in the electorates of Maranoa, Kennedy and Leichhardt before funds are provided for capital cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne for special interest and ethnic groups who already have an adequate media access?
– I think that it is very easy to say that all sections of the community should be treated equally and to accept that as a principle. But it does not necessarily solve the problem which was raised by Senator MacGibbon. I think in the answer that I gave to Senator Martin I dealt with only one aspect of the problem with respect to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and its sporting broadcasts. I now understand that there are also administrative difficulties in providing different programs in certain parts of the ABC’s organisation. They are complications quite apart from the financial implications which I mentioned to Senator Martin. Although I do not have any statistics in relation to additional provisions for people in remote areas, I have little doubt that on a per head basis the costs incurred in providing programs to people in country and remote areas is high compared with the cost of providing them in the more concentrated areas. Needless to say, one accepts that people in remote areas have to be given some provision. I simply say in response to the honourable senator’s question that that is a difficult equation and one which is not going to be solved by some sort of mathematical approach in terms of equal treatment. I do not think that it would be economically possible to provide the same variety of programs throughout the country as is available in the more closely settled areas but obviously it is important that people in remote areas should receive an adequate service for their needs.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and refer to the prefabricated homes supplied for erection on Groote Eylandt and Bathurst Island by Stawell Timber Industries. I ask: How many houses were built by this method at each of the communities? Is it a fact that the homes have a cyclone rating of category 1 but have been erected in an area of high cyclone probability? Is it the practice of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to put the supply of prefabricated homes out to tender?
– I will need to refer the several matters raised to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to seek information for Senator Robertson. I will do that without delay.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I refer to an earlier question I asked him about an appeal lodged by
Ms Helene Chung of the Australian Broadcasting Commission on the ground of racial discrimination against her by a senior ABC officer. Has the Minister received a report from the Commission on this appeal? Is the report in the Age of last Friday, 10 November, correct? Mr Derek White, the senior officer in question, when speaking of Ms Chung is reported as follows:
Is the Minister satisfied with the decision of the Commission; that is, that Ms Chung had no grounds for claiming racial discrimination? Can he give a report to the Senate on this matter?
– I have received today some additional information but it is not all of the information which has been sought in the question of Senator Ryan. This matter has been raised in a previous question, I think at the time the appeal was lodged by Ms Chung. I have been advised today that in fact the appeal has been refused after going through all the procedures under the Australian Broadcasting Commission rules right up to the Commission level. I would need to give some consideration to whether a Minister might make an independent evaluation of the matter. I can see possible objections to threatening the independence of the ABC in that matter. That is not to say that the ABC ought to have complete freedom in the matter of racial discrimination any more than should any other section of the community. It may well be that if there is discontent about the matter it would be more appropriately dealt with under the statute which has been passed by this Parliament than by a Minister acting and thereby raising the possibility or suggestion that there is political interference with the ABC.
-Has the Minister representing the Treasurer seen reports attributed to Australian Labor Party economics spokesmen, and particularly to the South Australian Attorney-General, Mr Peter Duncan, that in government the Australian Labor Party would introduce a wealth tax? Are such taxes which require annual valuations of property already in existence overseas and known to be disproportionately costly to collect? Does this mean that such a tax would be inequitable since it would impose a heavier cost burden on taxpayers than other more efficient taxes? In view of this would the ALP’s wealth tax be not only inequitable and inefficient but also confiscatory?
Does such a tax appear to have been dreamt up by the ALP idealogues purely to satisfy left wing pressures to continue the implementation of its platform objective of socialisation which was restored to respectability in Victoria last weekend?
– I raise a point of order. This question asks the Minister for an opinion.
– I ask the Minister to disregard those areas of the question which seek opinions.
-I believe that I can validly answer the substance of the question without resorting to opinions. I have seen newspaper commentary on suggestions that a wealth tax might be introduced. I am aware of considerable experience overseas with the use of wealth taxes in a variety of countries. I am able to say without qualification that these taxes have proven to be wrong, inefficient, costly in collection and thoroughly destructive of incentive.
Opposition senators interjecting-
– Those honourable senators who laugh and who pursue the socialist cause of wanting to destroy the mainspring of free enterprise- that is, the risk-taking of private capital to produce that wealth which can then be taxed and put to work for the general good- of course will want to see the disincentive of a wealth tax. I do want to remind all other honourable senators who have an interest in providing the good things for Australians- the social welfare, the health, the education and the defencethat those things come from the mainspring of both company tax and personal income tax. They can come only when free enterprise has within its resources the volume of capacity to provide risk-taking capital to earn profits that can then be taxed. Of course, that is anathema to left wing socialism. Clearly those people who support left wing socialism, as does the Australian Labor Party throughout Australia, as has been expressed recently throughout Australia, would applaud the introduction of a wealth tax. Those people who want to develop Australia, who want to share the real wealth of Australia between the rich and the poor, will want to develop risk capital and to provide incentives.
– Can the Minister representing the Treasurer indicate whether the Government has given consideration to abolishing sales tax on solar appliances? If not, can the Minister indicate what is the Government’s attitude on the matter, in view of the importance of this technology to Australia?
– I will direct that question to the Treasurer and get some information.
– I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Productivity a question about the activities of the Australian Government Clothing Factory at Coburg, Victoria. I refer to the annual report of the Department of Productivity for 1977-78, which states in Appendix J, referring to the Australian Government Clothing Factory.
The fact that some traditional customers such as Telecom Australia and Australia Post, now buy uniforms by public tender could eventually reduce the work load.
Is this an acknowledgment that the price at which the Australian Government Clothing Factory supplies uniforms is not competitive with prices of uniforms supplied by private tender? Will the Government consider opening tenders for the supply of uniforms to our defence forces to manufacturers other than the Australian Government Clothing Factory in an effort to reduce costs?
– I think that the answer to the first part of the honourable senator’s question is no, there is not an acknowledgment in this that the prices at which the Australian Government Clothing Factory supplies uniforms are not competitive. In fact, the situation is that some bodies which formerly were required to deal with the Australian Government Clothing Factory, particularly the Post Office, now go to public tender or are free to go to whichever supplier they choose. In fact, the Government Clothing factory still manages to maintain quite a substantial part of its business, which I think is a good indication of its efficiency.
However, it is true that the defence forces do give priority to the Australian Government Clothing Factory. In that circumstance I think it is of particular value that the factory continues to do some work for bodies which are in a competitive tendering situation because it does provide some sort of guideline against which one can examine the Government Clothing Factory and its efficiency. I think it is worth noting that in Appendix J to the annual report of the Australian Government Clothing Factory, to which Senator Lewis was kind enough to direct my attention, it is pointed out that the Factory is operating at a relatively high level of work load and employment. I think that there is a fair amount of confidence that that will continue to be the situation.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. I ask whether those persons who are employed as watchmen at Maralinga have been instructed not to eat rabbits or wildlife caught in the area as they may be impregnated with plutonium poisons?
– I will refer the question to the Minister for National Development. I do not know whether he is actually responsible for the employment of watchmen. Firstly, we will find out who are the watchmen.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to a matter I have raised several times before in the Senate, that is, the excise on Australian brandy. I ask: Is it true that in the Budget Papers the Government estimated the fall in Australian brandy sales to be 5 per cent or 6 per cent on last year’s sales as a result of the 83 per cent increase in the brandy excise? Does the Government continue to estimate the fall to be 5 per cent or 6 per cent? Is it also true that the brandy industry has estimated the fall to be 39 per cent in a full year? Given this major difference in estimates, will the Minister give to the Senate today the evidence and reasoning on which the Government’s estimate of 5 per cent or 6 per cent is based?
-Senator Teague asks whether it is true that the Budget estimate assumed a decline in consumption of about 5 per cent. The answer is yes, that is so. He also asks whether the Government continues to maintain that estimate. I am advised that at the moment the Government maintains that estimate. He also asks whether I am aware of industry reports that there would be a consumption decline of 39 per cent. I am aware of those reports. The Budget estimate was a judgment formed by the authorities responsible for revenue estimates in the light of previous experience of the response of sales to changes in excise rates. It is relevant, of course, that the excise rates on other spirits also were increased. I stress that this is not an isolated increase but one must look at consumption as a whole in that regard. There is insufficient information to hand at this stage to justify a change in the Budget estimates but the Government is aware of the industry forecast and will keep the matter under review. I invite Senator Teague to look at page 2791 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 14 November which contains a reply to question on notice No. 1927 asked by Mr Giles. In that answer a lot of very interesting statistics are given of the trends of consumption for a variety of liquors over the years in relation to the various imposts upon them. One of the interesting facts is that the brandy share of the total market is of the order of 22 per cent to 24 per cent, which is a very significant share in world terms.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I ask: Has the Government’s attention been drawn to the report on nuclear power costs which is the twenty-third report by the Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives, United States Congress, made on 26 April this year? The report states:
Radioactive waste is a significant and growing problem . . . there is still no demonstrated technology for permanently and safely disposing of this waste.
Further, the report goes on to state:
After 30 years of nuclear power development, technology to dismantle a large commercial reactor has not been demonstrated.
I ask the Minister: In view of this conclusion, and the serious admissions by this responsible body, what steps will the Government take to curtail the sale of uranium for commercial purposes? Also, will the Government, until adequate safeguards are provided, review its unilateral decision to mine uranium?
– I personally have no direct knowledge of the particular document to which Senator Gietzelt refers. I am not even aware whether it is publicly available. I know that for a considerable time it was not. However, I will refer to those of my colleagues who are involved his question as to the substance of the document and any qualifications that it may or may not make. The safeguards that the Commonwealth Government is applying to the use of its uranium products throughout the world are the most stringent of any country. Those safeguards are enshrined in any of the agreements for sale that we are making. I emphasise that this Government has the advice of world-recognised experts in the field of radioactivity and has received an assurance that it can indeed proceed with the mining, milling, marketing and exportation of uranium for subsequent processing through power generating plants, without this posing a threat of a significant kind. We understand that, and proceed on that basis. I remind honourable senators that substantially the Ranger report by Mr Justice Fox also said this.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce: Can the Minister give advice on the operation of the ‘early warning system’ for ASEAN countries as outlined in the statement by Mr Peacock on 13 November 1978. Can he also advise at what stage Australian industries are informed, and how the relative Australian and ASEAN industries rate in determining the matters under consideration?
- Senator Archer raises a matter of considerable importance because the two-way trade that Australia has with ASEAN countries is now of the order of $1.4 billion a year. Obviously, that represents a very significant element in our overseas trading. The Senate is probably aware that, late in October, the Australian Government agreed with ASEAN to have in cases where there was a trade interest, a system of early warning on possible industry assistance measures by Australia. This simply extends the situation in which domestic interests already have a process of consultation and information available to them, in the course of which their views are sought. The present proposal simply extends that so that other areas with an interest also have an opportunity to contribute their views. It would be useful for the Senate if the quite brief statement setting out what consultation is required were incorporated in Hansard. I seek leave to do so.
The statement read as follows-
Procedures for the operation of the early warning system
– My question to the Leader of the Government follows an earlier question that was asked concerning wealth taxes. Is he aware that the bottom 10 per cent of Australian income earners own less than one half of one percent of the national wealth? Is he aware that the top 10 per cent of the income earners of this country own 58 per cent of the national wealth? Does the Government agree with this obviously inequitable distribution of national wealth and, if it does not, what action to rectify it does it propose to take?
– In general terms I would direct Senator Wriedt ‘s attention to a publication called, I believe, Poverty in Melbourne, by Professor Henderson dated approximately 1972. I think he will find in the preface the comment that there was really no poverty in the world sense in Australia because in world terms there was the greatest distribution of wealth as between rich and poor. That was written, I may say, following two decades of Liberal Government. I am unaware of the figures. I am aware that the Liberal Government’s major attempt to distribute wealth by making all Australians home owners was resisted by the Labor Party, which opposed the concept of ‘little capitalists’. The fact is that we were able to say -
– That was the Fisher Government, was it?
-It was the Whitlam Government which in fact set back home ownership in Australia very considerably. Prior to that we were able to say that any person on the average weekly wage in Australia could buy a home out of one-quarter of one spouse’s wage and become a ‘little capitalist’ over a lifetime, as did nearly 75 per cent. It is not Liberal-Country Party governments that have the mote in the eye in regard to sharing wealth. It is in fact the Labor
Party, because under the Labor Party, as the poverty inquiry showed, there was a greater distortion and a greater development of poverty than had happened in the decades before.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question. I ask the Minister to direct his answer to the question. I ask: Will the Minister say whether the figures I have quoted are accurate? If they are accurate, will he indicate to the Parliament whether the Government believes in this ill distribution of national wealth, and tell us what action the Government proposes to take on it?
-Senator Wriedt did not listen. I said that I had no information on those figures. I certainly will find out whether the figures are correct. I spent some considerable time pointing out that this Government, as distinct from the previous Labor Government, has taken and is taking very great measures to distribute wealth between rich and poor more adequately than in most other countries in the world.
– Since Senator Button today was vocal on a question regarding nuclear weapons and Korea, let me give some information. I understand that there have been Press reports alleging that the Republic of Korea had decided in the early 1970s to build nuclear weapons. The Republic of Korea is a party of good standing, so we are told, to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to which it adhered in April 1975. This involves a binding undertaking not to manufacture nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on the Republic of Korea’s nuclear industry to verify that material is not diverted from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
There are significant practical, economic and political deterrents against the Republic of Korea building nuclear weapons. These include its continuing reliance on the United States security guarantees and on outside supplies for its planned large scale peaceful nuclear energy program. The Republic of Korea plans to have over 40 nuclear reactors by the year 2000 generating some 60 per cent of its electricity. It estimates its requirements for yellowcake between now and the year 2000 to be of the order of 80,000 tonnes. The United States, whose strong support for nuclear non-proliferation and stringent safeguards is well known, is co-operating in the development of South Korea’s nuclear energy program. It would not be doing so were there any evidence that South Korea was pursuing a nuclear weapons development program. I remind the Senate that in recent years there has been a very considerable tightening of the nonproliferation controls which nuclear supplier countries have imposed on exports of nuclear materials and equipment. The stringency of the nuclear safeguards policy adopted by Australia reflects these concerns.
– May I very briefly answer a question that Senator Wriedt asked yesterday on the Moscow bugging devices. Senator Wriedt asked whether I could identify the Press report which prompted the Minister for Foreign Affairs to reveal publicly the details of the discovery in June this year of eavesdropping devices within the premises of the Australian Embassy in Moscow. The report was an Australian Associated Press report written by Mr David Jensen of the AAP. References to the report appeared in some Australian newspapers yesterday. Senator Wriedt also asked whether it was now Government policy that in future when garbled or inaccurate statements were made in the media involving matters of security the Government intended on each occasion to provide a similar statement to that made yesterday by my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I would reply that it would depend on the individual circumstances. As I said yesterday, it is not normal practice to comment publicly on matters involving security or intelligence and to the greatest extent possible the Government wishes to adhere to that well-established and well-tried practice. In the case in question it was felt that to remain silent on the claims in the AAP report would lead to extensive, running and possibly damaging speculation. In all the circumstances the Government decided that it would be better to reveal the facts publicly.
Finally, Senator Sibraa yesterday asked, in regard to the same matter, questions about the processes of security inspections of Australian missions abroad. This is an area in which I hope the honourable senator would accept that it would not be appropriate for the Government to offer public comment.
– I wish to add to an answer given in the Senate last week when
asked me a question relating to fish stocks and to operations within the Australian fishing zone off Portland, Victoria. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will be undertaking research on temperate species of southern Australia as part of its research program to support the management of the Australian fishing zone. These species are widespread throughout southern Australia and research on species found off Portland will form part of this program. There are a number of Australian trawlers able to operate from Portland in deep water trawl fishery operations and on the continental slope. These trawlers already have been used for surveys in the Portland area. The question of management of the trawl fishery off south-eastern Australia is under the consideration of my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry.
– I add to an answer that I gave to Senator Archer when he asked me a question about mortgage insurance. The Minister for Primary Industry has told me that he has arranged for his Department to consider the possibility of mortgage insurance as part of an overall program for the progressive improvement in credit arrangements in the rural sector. Senator Archer will be very pleased to know that consideration is being given to the proposition that he put forward.
– I add, for the pleasure of Senator Primmer, to an answer to a question he asked me about footrot in goats.
– Feral goats.
– I thank the honourable senator for prompting me. The question concerned goats in Senator Primmer’s area of Victoria. I am advised that footrot is a specific disease of sheep and that there is no evidence to suggest that the goat is a carrier of or is affected by the disease. The international disease recording agency, OIE does not record footrot in the goat. Leading research workers on footrot in this country do not believe that the goat can act as a carrier of this disease. To eliminate totally the remote possibility of transmission of the disease from the sheep to the goat and vice versa it would be necessary to carry out transmission experiments under a wide range of conditions. At present such research is considered wasteful of scarce resources.
- Senator Keeffe raised a question with me this morning and I am now able to provide information. He asked me about an office for the Department of Social Security in Kununurra in Western Australia. I am advised that a housing duplex consisting of two threebedroom family units has been purchased through the usual procedures of the Department of Administrative Services for use by staff employed at the office of the Department of Social Security at Kununurra. The price which was paid represented $72,500 for each of these two family units and that price is in line with prices for comparable housing in the north-west of Australia.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Dairying Industry Research and Promotion Levy Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairying Industry Research and Promotion Levy Collection BUI 1978.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That Government Business take precedence of General Business after 8 p.m. this day.
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:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
This Bill which is designed to correct a technical deficiency in existing very old legislation, seeks the approval of Parliament to extend the conditions under which the Commonwealth may provide necessary tax exemption undertakings in relation to its overseas borrowings, specifically where borrowings do not involve the issue of stocks or other securities. It is and has been a standard requirement of overseas lenders that the Commonwealth provide an undertaking that principal and interest payments on our overseas loans will be exempt from Australian taxes except where the moneys are payable to persons who are residents of Australia or of any of the Territories of Norfolk Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands or Christmas Island. The authority for the Commonwealth to provide such undertakings has been derived from section 6B of the Loans Securities Act 1919.
The Commonwealth’s continued reliance upon section 6B of the Loans Security Act 1919 for authority to give tax undertakings is constrained by a technical requirement that the Commonwealth may only give such undertakings where stock or securities are issued in evidence of the debt. It is perhaps not surprising, however, that not all forms of borrowing which have evolved over the many years since the Loans Security Act was enacted and which may be undertaken by Australia, necessarily involve the issue of securities as standard procedure. This is so, for instance, where a loan agreement between the parties is legally sufficient for lenders as evidence of the debt and no specific security is required to be issued by the Commonwealth in the form required by the Act. As already indicated, this situation reflects the diversification and refinement which has occurred in international capital markets particularly over the last decade, and in the forms in which loans can be arranged in those markets. In some recent Commonwealth loans it has been necessary to provide for special arrangements with lenders in respect of a now standard form of international loan operation.
Against this background, the present Bill provides a means to correct this technical deficiency in the existing very old legislation. It does not involve policy issues- it merely extends longestablished provisions in the present legislation. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Mcintosh) adjourned.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator Webster) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill 1 978, the Live-stock Export Charge Amendment Bill 1978 and the Livestock Diseases Bill 1 978 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Motion (by Senator Webster) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a first time.
Debate (on motion by Senator Mcintosh) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from15 November.
Department of Science- proposed expenditure, $204,267,000-agreed to.
Department of Primary Industry- proposed expenditure, $ 109,256,000-agreed to.
– I am sorry to be late again, Mr Chairman. This time I was involved in a collision with one of the Hansard reporters in the corridor as I tried to get into the chamber to discuss the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry. I understand that that is the Department from which the Committee has just moved. I wonder whether I could raise a couple of points in relation to those estimates.
– The Opposition does not object to that proposition. If Senator Martin seeks leave we will grant it.
– I have explained briefly the circumstances and I seek leave to speak on the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry.
– I want to pursue a couple of points which came up during the sittings of Estimates Committee D. One is a point I hoped to raise in the Estimates Committee but I missed the critical time because the Committee finished consideration of the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry more quickly than I expected. The Minister for Science (Senator Webster) will recall that on the subdivision relating to expenditure for beef classification I asked a number of questions concerning the $2m which was being appropriated under the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry, to be spent by the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. Some supplementary information was given in papers which were subsequently tabled in the Parliament. A number of questions were asked about what the $2m was for. A statement was made to the effect that the $2 m was not automatically made available for AMLC use and was subject to ministerial approval. There were also some extraordinary statements that members of the Department were not sure what the $2m was for. I made the comment at the time that this seemed out of keeping with the general basis of government funding and that it was extraordinary that the Government should ask for $2m in the Budget apparently having agreed to the request- without knowing the breakdown of that money.
There was much toing and froing on the subject of consultants and whether we could be given some information. I want to put that on the record in the debate of these estimates in the Committee of the Whole. Some rough breakdown was given to us of the $2m including money to appoint engineering and computer consultants. I asked for details about that. I said at the time that I believed that was a fairly standard practice in Estimates committees. A check of the Hansard report of other Estimates committees will show that requests for details relating to the employment of consultants from public funds are common and that the information is fairly freely given. The Minister at the time pursued an argument relating to commercial confidentiality but that argument was later dropped. I assume that he does not want to pursue it any further. I do not believe that it can be made in this case.
Another matter which arose in the discussion concerned me in relation to the general operation of Estimates committees and the quality of information that they are given. On page 847 of the Hansard of Senate Estimates Committee D on 20 October 1978I asked:
Can we have a breakdown of the $200,000 which is a fairly large sum? Did you say that a computer consultant was employed?
A Mr Rowe who is listed as one of the departmental witnesses replied:
A computer consultant is presently employed by the AMLC for this work. He was appointed only recently.
I asked for further information. As I have mentioned, the Minister and I then had some debate as to whether I could ask for that information. Then, quite unannounced, a Mr Mackey introduced himself to the Committee and commenced answering questions on the subject. Mention of Mr Mackey first appears in Hansard at page 847. He is not listed as one of the witnesses from the Department of Primary Industry. As it happened, I knew who Mr Mackey was, but, as I said, he approached the table, introduced himself- which does not appear in the Hansard report- and then started to answer questions on the subject.
It was clear from Mr Rowe’s answer that a computer consultant had been employed by the AMLC. Mr Rowe made the comment: ‘He was appointed only recently’. I understand from information which has come to me privately since then that the consultant at that stage had been appointed for four or five weeks. When we pursued the matter and the Minister indicated to witnesses that they could answer the questions, the information that we were given was rather different and led to my abandoning that line of questioning at the Estimates Committee. Page 850 of the Hansard report shows Mr Mackey as having said:
I am not sure whether the arrangements in relation to the computing firm have been finalised. I would like to check on that before naming the computing firm.
I do not know whether Mr Rowe could have named the computing firm but he did indicate quite firmly that the consultant had been employed, and fairly recently. Mr Mackey ‘s answer raised a doubt whether the firm had been engaged and therefore the matter could not be pursued. The fact is that the firm had been engaged and its identity was no secret. That information appeared in supplementary evidence which came to the Committee. In fact, I knew by the time the supplementary information was available the name of the firm and how long it had been employed. It was no secret. But this difference in evidence from two witnesses meant that, at that time, the line of questioning had to be abandoned because we were given such equivocal information, and an indication from a witness who, at that stage, had taken it upon himself to answer questions, that the firm may not have been engaged and that, in any event, if it was he did not know about it and could not answer questions on it. That has some implications for the operations of Estimates committees.
We have in the committees the opportunity to question not only Ministers but also the officers of departments. That procedure has been well established for some time. If officers appear who are not informed on aspects such as this or who give information which is, as in this case misleading, albeit not seriously misleading, one questions the value of the process and specifically of our having those officers available. I was concerned also at a question that Mr Mackey directed to the Minister during the debate in which we were involved, relating to whether questions could be asked and should be answered. Initially we had Mr Rowe answering questions quite freely. There followed this debate between the Minister and me and, in the end, I was asked to restate my question, which appears several pages further on in Hansard. Mr Mackey said to the Minister:
Do you wish me to answer this?
It quite clearly is not for Ministers to determine whether or not officers will answer questions. There is a restriction on Estimates committees which relates to government policy. I do not think that anyone challenges that. If questions are asked relating to government policy, nobody expects that departmental officers should answer them. However, it has been established by the Senate as an important function of Estimates committees that senators may ask questions of fact of departmental officers. That is a right of senators; it is not subject to anybody else’s ruling if- they are questions of fact, not of policydepartmental officers may answer. The question from Mr Mackey to the Minister ‘Do you wish me to answer this?’ cast a doubt on the functioning of the Committee at that time in the very important area of the right of senators to crossexamine departmental officers. It was unfortunate in the light of the information which subsequently has been made available to us that that question preceded a statement by the witness which indicated that in fact he could not answer the question because he did not have the information to answer it. At the time I had a number of reasons for raising this issue in the Estimates Committee which I would have sought to pursue then. I had previously given an indication of an interest in the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation and specifically its report for 1977-78. I would like briefly to touch on that. The Minister for Science as the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry in the Senate is aware of my concern. I have mentioned it in other Estimates committee hearings. It went on the record yesterday. I wonder whether, after all that forewarning, we could have an answer. One of the reasons for my concern about one area of operation of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation concerns its report. Section 49 of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Act requires that the Corporation: . . shall, as soon as practicable after 30 June in each year, prepare and furnish to the Minister a report of its operations during the year ended on that date, together with financial statements in respect of that year in such form as the Treasurer approves.
The item to which I am referring, the provision of $2m, was for beef classification. I would have liked to have known what account the AMLC gives of itself on that subject of beef classification in its report. The report of course has not been received by the Parliament and presumably not by the Minister. But I have been reliably informed that for some time at the Sydney offices of the AMLC a document which is apparently called the ‘Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Annual Report 1977-78 (Preliminary)’ has been available for inspection by interested parties if they have indicated to the AMLC that they would like to look at it. I express the strongest possible concern that when a statutory corporation which is required by Act of Parliament to report to the Parliament after presenting its report to the Minister has not reported to the Parliament, and there is no sign of its report at this stage, but has something which purports apparently to be some sort of draft report, called in this case a preliminary report, which is available to certain members of the public but has not been made available to the Parliament. The subject of that report I have raised, as I have said, on a number of occasions including during the hearings of another Estimates committee when it was considering the estimates of the AuditorGeneral’s Department. I have also raised the matter in this chamber. I wonder whether the Minister can give an answer as to just what is the position with that report at the moment. Why has it been made available for scrutiny to people outside the Parliament when there is a clear statutory obligation on that Corporation to make that report available as soon as practicable to the Parliament.
The Minister may or may not wish to comment on the comments I have made in relation to the value of the information that was received at the Estimates committees’ hearings from departmental witnesses on specific information relating to employment of outside consultants from departmental funds or funds made available to a corporation, which is another subject in itself. Whether or not the Minister wishes to comment on that, I think that those matters should go on the record of this chamber as a note of some concern about one aspect of the functioning of at least one Estimates committee.
– We are now in difficulty because we allowed Senator Martin by leave to refer to estimates that had been passed. However, what she has had to say has been important and has received strong support from this side of the chamber. What she has referred to needs to be answered by the Minister for Science (Senator Webster). It may be that other honourable senators on this side have been stimulated to speak supporting her comments. The Clerk may be able to advise us whether by some device we can by leave go back to consider estimates that have been passed. I noticed that the advisers to the Minister possibly were caught off balance by the quickness with which we came to consider these estimates. Mr Chairman, perhaps you could consult and advise us shortly whether we can return to discuss further what Senator Martin has raised and allow the Minister to respond to it.
-A precedent was established when such a request was made and agreed to by the Committee yesterday so that certain things in relation to the estimates of the Auditor-General’s office could be debated. At that stage we had actually finished considering the estimates of Committee A including those of the Auditor-General’s office. Leave was given to consider items which long since had been passed. I think that the Committee has indicated that it is master of its own fate in such a case.
-Is it the wish of the Committee that we return to consider the matters raised by Senator Martin? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
Department of Primary Industry
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 09,256,000.
– Perhaps the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) would like to respond. I briefly state that I strongly support what Senator Martin has raised. It has been of concern to both sides of the chamber that public servants in statutory organisations need to appreciate the authority- I use that word in its correct sense- of the Estimates committees and to give information when that information is sought and not to hedge in any way. We have had a deal of hedging on several committees when information has been sought. Senator Martin also referred to the failure of various statutory authorities and even departments to have their annual reports prepared and submitted, even if they are only in preliminary form, to the Parliament before the estimates are discussed. That matter is important. Not only is the authority to which Senator Martin referred at fault; many other departments and statutory authorities also have been at fault in that annual reports have not been available. The excuse given has been that the reports have not been printed. I think it would be satisfactory to have preliminary or draft reports before the Parliament and for the printing to take place at some later stage. What Senator Martin has raised is extremely valid.
Statutory authorities and departments must realise that the Estimates committees’ hearings are not just an idle exercise; they are an important function of this Parliament and of the Senate. The information that is sought should be given and the representation before the committees should be at the highest level. In most cases it is; in some cases it is not. It has become a matter of repetition in this place for honourable senators to complain that we are still seeking a better response from certain instrumentalities. Senator Martin, as Chairman of the Senate Estimates Committee A, is in the best position to make an assessment and she has the support of honourable senators on this side in the statement and comments she has made.
– I acknowledge the queries that have been raised by Senator Martin. Speaking on behalf of the Department of Primary Industry, it appeared to me that the officers did all that was required of them to respond to the questions which were within the ambit of their knowledge. If any delay occurred between the time of questions being asked and answers being given by the Department of Primary Industry perhaps I could take some responsibility. In one case I interfered because it appeared to me that the information that was being sought would not necessarily be readily available at the committee hearing and it was perhaps more proper that it should be supplied as written information and given at an appropriate time.
I recall that the question of the employment of outside consultants took much time in the Committee and I take on my shoulders the responsibility for the time that was taken. Senator Martin raised certain questions. I acknowledge that honourable senators have the right to ask questions and of course witnesses have the right to reply that they do not have the information with them and will supply it in writing if that is acceptable. If we insist that witnesses before Estimates committees must give some verbal answer, I suggest that when questions such as ‘who is the consultant, for how long has he been appointed and what fee is he getting’ are asked we could find that a witness might well say: ‘Perhaps the accuracy of what I have in mind needs verification in writing’. In that event the committee concerned would get no answer at that time.
– He is not well informed if he cannot answer those questions. He should have had the material before him for those sorts of questions.
– Let us recognise the ambit of government. If questions concerning the use of consultants, such as ‘who are they, for how long have they been appointed and what are the facts surrounding the contract’, were to be asked for every government department I think the honourable senator would recognise that there could be a breakdown in the presentation of those facts at that minute. I do not think that a departmental officer would necessarily have that detail. However, I think that a reference to the Hansard record of the hearings of the Estimates committees will indicate that officers, certainly those of the Department of Primary Industry, performed very well and answered those questions which they were able to answer.
Senator Martin raised one or two points. The first that I noted was that she questioned- I think I understood her correctly- on what basis a decision was made by the Government to allocate $2m for the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation.
– For beef classification.
– Yes, for beef classification. She asked how that amount was made up. Since Senate Estimate Committee B met on 20 October 1978 it has been provided with a table, a copy of which I have before me, headed: ‘Table 1, Preliminary Estimates of $2m allocation to Carcass Classification Development 1978-79’. The total allocation as shown on that table is $2m. Mr Chairman, I seek leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
– I have that here and I referred to it in my speech. My question was: Why was it not available to us at the Estimates Committee hearing, when we were told that that sort of information was not available, or were led to believe that it was not available, and then it appeared as supplementary information?
– I would have to refer to the Hansard record to see whether it was said that the information was not available. However, on the point of whether the information was available, I have in mind that there was quite a deal of discussion on this matter. If we referred to the Hansard record we might find some of this detail was given then. From the table we see an allocation of $100,000 for engineering staff and labour in trial plants; an allocation of $48,000 for development of fat probe- I recall that we discussed that for some time- a total allocation of $105,000 for trials in computer maintenance, equipment modifications and installation, reworking ticket printer mechanics, purchase alternative ticket printers and reprogramming contingencies; an allocation of $100,000 for computer systems consultant and contingency for ticket printer redesign; and an allocation of $300,000 for survey of meatworks. The balance remaining for the implementation of manual and semi-manual classification according to requirements of volunteers is $1,347,000. 1 believe that reference to the Hansard record of that Committee hearing at least will bring some of that information forward. I acknowledge that the honourable senator said that not all the information was available. Perhaps that was so.
asked who was Mr Mackey and what was his designation. I am surprised that the honourable senator claims that he introduced himself at the table and was unknown as far as the written record was concerned. I place on the Hansard record that Mr G. Mackey is the First Assistant Secretary of the Meat and Meat Products Division of the Department of Primary Industry. He is the representative of the Government on the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, known as the AMLC. With respect to the question relating to consultants, I am informed that the AMLC appoints its consultants on a commercial basis. Information on contract details is commercially confidential.
– Oh, come on! Now we are starting to get into that area again.
-Senator Georges has had great experience in Applied Ecology. I am sure that if he had been asked questions such as who were the consultants, what were they doing and how much they were being paid’, there would have been some tenderness about making the facts public at the time. I can well recall occasions in this place when honourable senators on both sides of the chamber have tried to get information on matters such as that. The AMLC is a statutory body. There are statutory corporations within my responsibility in the area of science. I think that details of some commercial dealings basically are confidential. That can well be argued. Senator Martin made the point that departmental officers are required to respond to questions asked in Estimates committees. I make the point that officers might well find that commercial confidentiality is involved and they must refer back to the statutory corporation concerned. We must acknowledge that the officers have the right to say yes or no in relation to a particular question.
I believe that the information has been given. I have not studied the additional information, but I am advised that the computer consultant firm was Barry Webb and Associates, consulting electrical engineers, and that firm has been appointed since mid-August 1978.
– Yes, for how much and for what?
-Senator Georges asked for how much. I do not have the figure in front of me. I do not know whether that figure has been given.
-It is $ 100,000.
-Senator Georges asked me how much was involved. Obviously he has not studied the information that already has been given, so we are wasting time.
– What then are you saying is confidential?
-The information has been made available. It is not confidential if it has been made available. I would think that there is a delicacy about this matter. Some acknowledge that certain information is confidential and some do not see that there should be any confidentiality about anything. A question about the annual report was raised. I am advised that the AMLC interim annual report is expected to be tabled before the Parliament rises. It is expected that it will be received during the next few days. It is delayed by the unavailability of an Auditor-General’s certificate. If the Committee will bear with me, I will check with the departmental officers on the point that has been made.
– Perhaps while the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) is getting clarification on that point I might clarify for him one small point that came up earlier relating to the breakdown of figures to which we have been referring. I refer the Minister to pages 850 and 851 of the Hansard record of the hearings of Estimates Committee B, which records my question:
That again raises the curious situation that the AMLC can ask for $2m, one would have thought on the basis of some budget, and be given that amount and we can be given very little information about what the $2m is for.
Mr Mackey, in further comment on that, is recorded at page 85 1 of the Hansard record to have said:
We can produce a breakdown of this S2m but I suggest that at this stage it would be artificial. That estimate was very much a figure that was pulled out of the air, not knowing how much would be needed this year.
Just to clarify that point, while the Minister is getting information to answer the other question, at the Committee hearing we were told that a breakdown was available, although it was not made available to us at the time of the Committee hearing, when it would have been much more useful to us. We were also given an extraordinary statement that it was a figure that was plucked out of the air. That was the point I was making to the Minister. We were told that some breakdown was available. Unfortunately, it was not made available at the time of the Committee hearing, which was when it might have been a little more relevant. We were told that it was a pretty rough figure. I thought that the Minister ought to know that, in view of some of the statements he made a few minutes ago. I just give that information for clarification because he said that he did not have the Hansard record in front of him and did not know that that information had been provided. Those are the statements on which I based my comments.
– The departmental officers are attempting to find out a little more about the preliminary report that the honourable senator said was circulating.
– I said available, not circulating.
– It was available?
– It was available at the Sydney Office.
-Could Senator Martin tell us to whom it was made available?
– It was available to certain interested members of the public if they contacted us.
-Senator Martin said that the preliminary report was available to certain interested members of the public. I think we acknowledge that when a report is to be published a preliminary report must always be produced. I feel that a preliminary report would be fairly confidential because of the facts contained in it except for the statement of the chairman. That may be included for discussion by members of the Corporation to see whether it reflects an attitude which is consistent with the attitude held by members of that group. There must be consideration of all annual reports. When the permanent head of my Department produces an annual report, generally I receive a preliminary copy of it That preliminary copy certainly would not be available to members of the public generally. That is the point that the officers who are advising me have brought forward.
Senator Martin has again questioned the point about consultants. Let me attempt to give my view regarding this matter. We are dealing with a statutory corporation. Trans-Australia Airlines is a statutory corporation. If, at a hearing of a Senate Estimates committee, the details of expenditures relating to that body and the agreements which it had entered into commercially, were the subject of discussion in an open forum at a public hearing of a Senate Estimates committee, one could recognise that in certain areas there could be some delicacy about revealing commercial operations.
– Give us an example.
-Let us take work involving computers.
– Give us an example.
– I will give Senator Georges an example. I give a hypothetical example of something which could occur regularly within government departments and, of course, within statutory authorities. In seeking to get information relating to computer programs or the use of software, it may be necessary to decide who is the most competent and capable person to approach. That may mean that there is no competition for the position. The statutory corporation, in its wisdom, may decide that the tender is not available for open competition. It selects a person and the work is given to that person. That person becomes the consultant. A delicate situation may arise, of course, within the trade over the person to whom the work has been given. It may involve the selection of an architect. Obviously Senator Georges would acknowledge that that would be so.
– No, I do not.
– If Senator Georges says straight out that he does not acknowledge that fact we are at arms length in our discussion.
– Let me continue the arms length discussion. I would think that the example used by the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) would be an example I would use to show just how necessary it is for this information to be provided. If that information is not available to the
Parliament for scrutiny, how are we to be assured that such a contract was not given to a specially privileged or patronised person? It is necessary for us to know exactly who the consultant is, what services he will be giving and what price he will be charging for those services. It is very important that everyone else should know also because how can one separate that sort of a decision from a decision when one calls tenders? When one calls tenders they are confidential until the time the tendering is finalised and the contract is awarded. But once that is done all the information concerning the various tenders is available and should be available not only to the Parliament but also to the competitors as well.
I am very suspicious of any arrangement which specially selects some person for some reason which is not evident and which is then protected by what is termed ‘commercial confidentiality’. I cannot see any area which would justify withholding information from an Estimates committee. The Minister has not justified the situation one scrap. It is important for us to know the facts. We had this argument in relation to the National Gallery where large sums of money were being expended on works of art. We were told that we could not ask about the price of these works of art because of commercial confidentiality and that if we revealed the price that was paid or was to be paid the arrangement and the sale would be prejudiced. Maybe in anticipation of a purchase that might be so, but once the purchase is made all the information and the conditions applying to it should be made available.
The Minister is saying, of course, that after a decision has been made there are certain areas in which confidentiality must be maintained. I cannot see that. If a contract is given to a consultant for special reasons that is all right but that should be disclosed because subsequently someone may say that the special reasons were not valid, that the money paid for those services was far too high and that, besides that, better equipment and services were available at lower prices. Surely the Minister will . accept the proposition that there is no confidentiality at all in that sort of transaction.
– I should like to comment briefly. I would think that the Senate agrees with what Senator Georges has said. One of the reasons we ask the questions about these sorts of commercial arrangements at Estimates committee hearings is to ensure that the kickback procedure cannot be used. Public funds are being used for the employment of consultants and large sums of money end up being involved. Governments must be scrupulous about their handling of that money. I am not suggesting anything is wrong in relation to this matter. It seems to me that the Department of Primary Industry, the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation or someone else was being unduly sensitive in this case. The Minister for Science (Senator Webster) made a statement on the basis of advice from his officers but I do not think any case has been made in relation to the Department of Primary Industry. There may be cases which one could consider on their merits but they would be few and far between. I cannot imagine how that would apply in this instance.
The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation is not in competition with anyone on the development of its beef classification scheme. It is doing something for the Government. Consultants are in competition with one another to get government funds. Once a consultancy contract has been let we are entitled to know who got it, and if we want to pursue it, how much money the consultant will receive. Other consultants are interested in that information insofar as they lost out. If there were ever any suggestion of wrong doing by the people letting those consulting contracts, then other consultants would know or have some idea from that information and they would be able to give to interested people the information they needed. I think it would take a very strong case to argue that a department should not give Estimates committees information in relation to consultants. I also thought that that would be the view of the Senate. The Minister was pursuing a hypothetical argument which may be justified in some cases. I reiterate that I think that to have taken that line and to have passed on that information in relation to the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry, which came from an officer, in this case is being unduly sensitive. I do not think we can go any further with this discussion at this stage. If this Department or other departments start to take this line at hearings of Estimates committees then I think the subject probably will be the matter of a full scale Senate debate and it will be settled then.
I want to raise a couple of other points in relation to the vote of $2m for beef classification which came up at the Estimate Committee hearings and which I mentioned to the Minister at the time. He could not give any amplification on it. Perhaps he can give me some information now. I am referring to the method of funding which in this particular case is a little curious. In relation to this item, I refer to a report of Senate Estimates committees’ chairmen which was received by the Senate at the end of the autumn session and, as I understand it, adopted unanimously. It related to the form of presentation of estimates of expenditure and to recommendations and comments that were made. I refer to the appendix to that report headed ‘Estimates of Expenditure, Explanatory Notes’, point 3(d) parts (v) and (vi). It is a general comment on the main items. Part (v) says that in the general comments section in Estimates a point by point statement on particular items bearing on the item should be given. It states:
A reference to an annual report or similar publication relevant to the item;
And the AMLC report would have been relevant to that $2m beef classification expenditure in that case; and also, importantly, part (vi) states:
If all or part of the provision is associated with a project (which is also) funded from other sources, suitable crossreferencing and the total amount required for the project should be shown;
Questions were asked about that at the Committee and, again, some information appears in the supplementary submission. I attended that Estimates Committee, but not as a member. I remind the chamber that senators can attend any Estimates committee, ask questions and participate in discussions but cannot vote on the subject of the final report. As it happened, I could not have attended because I did not know when the meeting to consider the report from this Committee would be held. I could not have voted but I think note should be made of the fact that in this respect that section of the Department of Primary Industry’s estimates are unsatisfactory. That was stated at the hearings of the Estimates Committee, by one or two members of the Committee in particular, and also by myself. The attention of the Department of Primary Industry should be drawn to that report, which was tabled in the Senate.
The report and other notes were circulated to all departments by the Department of Finance, with a request relating to the format of the Estimates. Some departments were in difficulties because of the late notice that they received. However, most managed to put out some supplementary notes which, in turn, caused certain difficulties on other committees because there had been a change but, in respect of the beef classification item of the Department of Primary Industry, that particular aspect was completely ignored. The information was given subsequently.
It is not before time to point out that, with all the time that has been spent on format and on those particular items-such as that if funds are coming from another source, that information should be included with the estimate- in view of the fact that that requirement was quite ignored, although information had been requested on similar items from the same Department on previous occasions, it should be put on record that the department was dilatory and not providing the information in relation to these particular estimates.
The other matter involves the curious form of funding involved. The AMLC, which was not then under consideration, is of course funded from a different source. There is currently before the Parliament legislation which impinges on that matter, but here we find an extra $2m being given by the Government to a statutory corporation to carry out this particular work and research. The Government has decided that that corporation will do that work and that it will request Parliament for the provision of $2m. We are given information that a tentative budget was drawn up. It was, in Mr Mackey ‘s words, an artificial one. That may have been necessary in this case. The corporation has to ask, piece by piece, of the Minister for its slice of that $2m which is only there for its purpose anyway. The Minister grants it piece by piece and the money goes over.
We are in the position of being asked to approve Estimates which include of sum of $2m to be spent by a statutory corporation which has put up an artificial budget, with the money, as the Corporation asks for it, to be approved by the Minister. It is a very strange piece of financing. It does not seem to fall clearly into either departmental financing or statutory corporation financing.
I did mention in the course of questioning to the Minister the difficulty in getting at the true situation on beef classification and pointed out that with this one we were in a very strange position. I wondered whether he could clarify it. At the time he could not. I wonder whether he could do so now. Perhaps there is something else that he could raise on it.
I make one final point on this matter. It is a matter that I point to with some concern. There was not the opportunity, for reasons that I have mentioned, to do so earlier. It concerns other evidence that came up from an officer of the Department of Primary Industry. I refer now to the Senate Hansard report of Estimates Committee D of 16 October 1978 and to questioning which appears at pages 512 and 513. As will be seen, I indicated that I wanted to ask a question in relation to beef industry incentive payments, which did not appear under departmental items but did appear under special appropriations. The chairman said that we would look at that under special appropriations. Later, I indicated that I wanted to ask questions on the Plague Locust Commission and the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. Of course, the Plague Locust Commission comes under the Department of Primary Industry and the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation falls under special appropriations. I should quote from the record here, because a statement made by an officer at this stage caused me considerable concern. I said:
There are two reports in which I am particularly interested. One relates to the Australian Plague Locust Commission and the other to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. One comes under the Department of Primary Industry and the other comes under a special appropriation. Should we look at the items for those two bodies for details on their reports?
Mr Cleary, who is listed as Assistant Secretary, Management and Services Branch of the Department of Primary Industry was answering questions at the time. He said:
The printing of the report of the Australian Plague Locust Commission is met from the appropriation item for the Australian Plague Locust Commission which we will come to later on. There are no provisions in the Department’s estimates for the printing of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation’s report.
I am recorded as saying:
That does not come -
It should be ‘That does come’- there is a misprint in Hansard:
The Hansard record continues:
Mr Cleary No, it is the responsibility of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation itself.
– It will be looked at under the special appropriation for the Corporation.
Mr Cleary No, the funds for the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation are specifically its own. There is no Commonwealth or government appropriation.
– There is no appropriation in the Appropriation Bill but there are parliamentary provisions whereby it gets its money.
Mr Cleary Yes, by appropriations of levy moneys collected.
– A few minutes ago I referred to a matter of another special appropriation.
That was the beef industry incentives payments.
Mr Cleary said:
It is not in the estimates for discussion tonight.
There was some further discussion:
– No, but it is in the explanatory notes and your advice, Mr Chairman, was that I ask questions relating to that provision under the special appropriation.
CHAIRMAN- I understand that there are no particular appropriations because the money is collected from the growers, in this case.
Mr Cleary In connection with the item raised earlier, there are appropriations dealing with the beef incentive payments scheme in relation to administrative expenses. Any information that a senator would want could be provided in the administrative items for travel or this item which deals with some equipment, or it may deal with under the incidental items. They would have all appropriations relating to the beef incentive payments scheme.
– They are very minor ones compared with the total cost.
Mr Cleary That is right, but we can give you information on the total cost in connection with those items.
– The information that I thought I was getting very plainly from Mr Cleary was that because something appeared in special appropriations I was not entitled to ask questions about it; if there were a component relating to the same subject somewhere else in appropriations, I could get at the item. But if it just did not happen that there was a component appearing somewhere in departmental estimates I could not get the information. I think it should be made very clear, in case departmental officers have that idea, that there are many decisions of the Senate on the subject of the rights of the Senate to call to account statutory corporations for their use of public funds.
There were other committees that had special appropriations, which were examined. The reason I did not raise that special appropriation was simply that, having taken several hours to get to page 34 of the Estimates of the Department of Primary Industry, in the15 minutes after the luncheon adjournment the Committee managed to get through the next 160 pages. I did not expect it to come up so quickly. Therefore, I was not there to raise questions in relation to that special appropriation, but I reiterate that we do have that right. It has been spelled out in a number of resolutions of the Senate. Other special appropriations were examined without any sort of objection by other estimates committees. Those committees were not precluded from doing so just because they were not in appropriation Bills and I would not want, now that that is on the record, any officer of any department to think that Estimates committees are precluded from asking questions in relation to statutory corporations for the reason given by Mr Cleary on this occasion.
– I wish to raise a matter in relation to the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry other that that to which Senator Martin has addressed her remarks. May I first say that I noted that Senator Martin had alluded to the fact that the annual report of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation had not, at the time of presentation of the Estimates, been submitted to the Parliament. The matter I wish to raise is related to the activities of the Australian Wine Board. I note that the Australian Wine Board presented an interim annual report to the Minister, who in turn presented it to the Parliament. It was stated that the interim report included consolidated accounts subject to audit and that the final report would be published as soon as the Auditor-General had certified the accounts. I suggest to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation that it take cognisance of the course of action that the Australian Wine Board took in the presentation to Parliament of an interim report so that its affairs could be considered and debated by the Parliament.
I refer, for my purposes, to division 490.3.08- Wine Research, under which I note that an amount of $100,000 is set aside for this financial year. I do that for the purpose of making one or two comments about the activities of the Australian Wine Board. I heard my colleague, Senator Melzer make a speech here one day last week concerning her recent trip abroad. She mentioned how difficult it was in the various supermarkets, stores and shops to find Australian goods, articles or commodities. She particularly instanced and mentioned Australian primary products. Regrettably, that also was my experience during my recent trip abroad. One could see well advertised New Zealand lamb, Argentine beef or French wines, but very little advertising of Australian goods. I decided to do a little more research into the subject. I noticed that my colleague Senator Primmer, during the Estimates committee consideration of the Department of Primary Industry, asked this question:
How much is being paid by (he Wine Board to agents in various countries where Australian wine is being promoted?
He was told that the officers did not have the information at that stage. Senator Primmer then said:
Could I ask further whether it is possible to find out who is the agent in each country and how much money is being paid to each agent?
The officer of the Department said: ‘Yes’. Subsequently an answer was supplied to Senator Primmer. The answer was:
The Australian Wine Board has provided the following answers to Senator Primmer ‘s questions:
Currently the Australian Wine Board has no contractual arrangements with any overseas agents.
That is how good this country is in promoting its wine. The answer went on:
The Board has in the past contracted an agent in Canada to undertake promotional work, Emily Martin, who resigned in August 1978.
I do not know whether she resigned on 1 August 1978 or 31 August 1978, but her fee for this financial year- namely, from 1 July to whenever she resigned in August- was $7,756. If she resigned on 1 August she received a fee for one month of $7,756, which is a fee for 12 months of about $85,000 or $90,000. If she resigned on 3 1 August she received a fee at the rate of approximately $45,000 a year. The Wine Board then sets out other expenses. It says that future promotional activity for Canada has not yet been finalised. The interim report of the Wine Board states on page 14:
It is becoming fairly clear that if Canada is to remain a major market for Australian wine exports a concerted marketing effort is essential.
We have a situation in which we have no contractual arrangements anywhere in the world with any overseas agents so far as the export of wine or the promotion of wine is concerned. We did have one in Canada, who resigned some time in August, being paid a very substantial fee. We realise that exports to Canada have dropped quite alarmingly- a fall of 13 per cent in 1977-78 compared with a drop of 23 per cent in 1976-77- yet no future promotional activity for Canada has been finalised, despite the fact that the annual report of the Wine Board says:
It is becoming fairly clear that if Canada is to remain a major market for Australian wine exports a concerted marketing effort is essential.
Let us look at the amount of expenditure by the Wine Board on overseas promotions. I have already mentioned Canada. It is the largest importer of Australian wine, taking some 34 per cent of the Australian export total. In 1976 we spent $89,000 on promoting wine in Canada. In 1977 we spent, in round figures, $125,000. In 1977 throughout the world we spent $190,000. In fact, we spent $125,000 in Canada and we only spent $65,000 throughout the rest of the world on promoting Australian wine. Let me give some of the figures. In 1976 we spent on promotion in the United States $7,000, and in 1977 the amount fell to $1,600. In Japan in 1976 we spent $4,700, and in 1977 the amount fell to $1,400. In Hong Kong in 1976 we spent $5,170, and in 1977 the amount fell to $1,000. In Singapore in 1976 we spent $4,700 and in 1977 we spent $1,200. In Malaysia in 1976 we spent $4,300 and in 1 977 not one cent. In other parts of the world, wherever they might be, in 1976 we spent $37,000 and in 1977 we spent $27,000.
It appears to me that if Australian wine is to get on to the overseas markets quite considerable sums in excess of those that were spent in 1977 have to be spent by the Wine Board in promoting Australian wines. Certainly, I think that we have not only to continue our efforts to get Australian wine on to the Canadian market but also to lift very substantially the expenditure on overseas promotion in the other countries. It is a pretty disgraceful state of affairs that we have a product that is equal to any other in the world, yet we are quite niggardly in our expenditure on promotion. I am appalled to think that in 1976 we spent only $7,700 in promoting Australian wine in the United States, and a year later, in 1977 the amount dropped to $1,600. Frankly, that would not pay for a one-page advertisement in a newspaper in the United States. I think it is disgraceful. The Australian Wine Board should be castigated for its inertia.
– I endorse the remarks made by Senator McClelland. In doing so I refer to a matter I have raised in this Parliament on many occasions, namely the importation of Japanese akadama plum wine. I have endeavoured, through questions in this Parliament, to ascertain the quantity of this type of wine imported into Australia. I cannot get an answer from the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife). In one instance he said that no records of this importation are kept. I now ask the Department of Primary Industry, which is responsible for the allocation of money to the Australian Wine Board, whether it can provide this chamber with any information on the quantity of Japanese akadama plum wine that is imported into Australia.
Senator McClelland has pointed out the very small amount of money the Wine Board has allocated for promotional purposes in Japan, which I think he said is somewhere around $4,000. From the way I see Japanese akadama plum wine being advertised, I would say that there would be much more in value, of that wine imported into this country to compete with our own wine products. This has caused a lot of heart-burning for the grape growers, particularly in the River Murray area of South Australia. Last season growers in that area had to leave thousands of tonnes of red wine grapes on the vine because the wineries would not take the grapes. The growers were unable to have them processed or to find a market for them. Yet we find the Australian Government allowing importations of plum wine. This is something that concerns me. It also concerns the wine grape growers, particularly in the Riverland of South Australia but also, I have no doubt, in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area where the growers are faced with the problem of quitting their surpluses. Perhaps the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) in consultation with the departmental officers here might be able to throw some light on the quantity of this brand of wine that I have mentioned being imported into Australia.
– I shall deal with the questions that have been raised. Advice given to me is that we do not have any information relating to the volume of Japanese plum wine being imported. I recall that Senator McLaren asked that question of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) and if that is the answer he was given then, I do not know that I can help any further. It would not be for the Department of Primary Industry to gather information relating to the volume of imports but perhaps I can take it on my shoulders to again approach the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) to see whether we can attempt to ascertain the figureeven if only prospectively- from now on. I will attempt to do that for Senator McLaren. Perhaps the officers of the Department of Primary Industry will take this matter on board.
Senator McLaren supported the criticisms that were made of the Australian Wine Board. The substantial criticism of any authority by honourable senators would be taken notice of by the authority involved. However, let us recognise that the men who constitute the Wine Board have a particular purpose. They will be very pleased to hear of the criticism. Undoubtedly, if they had more funds available to them they would be able to do better than they are nowspending only $1,000 here or $1,000 in some other country on publicity. The members of the Wine Board will be very pleased to hear the criticism that much more money should be spent on this activity. Senator Douglas McClelland mentioned that about $7,000 was paid to a Canadian agent. I think he said that $89,000 had been spent in the previous year. If an agent had been contracted it would appear that this payment of about $7,000 in August 1977 represented a monthly payment because it is about one-twelfth of the amount that was paid in the previous year. That assumption can be accepted. I know that Senator McClelland considers that that amount is scarcely sufficient but there is nothing further that I am able to say other than that my personal knowledge of the business acumen of individuals on the Wine Board gives me confidence that within the limits imposed by the funds available to them, they probably have allocated funds in the direction of advertising in the way that they feel will return most benefit to the people they represent recognising, of course, that the income of the Australian Wine Board is basically by way of levy on the product. In short, the producers are providing the funds for particular projects and they have a Board which is responsible for the allocation of the funds. However, I am quite sure that the comments made in this debate will be taken in the spirit in which they were made, that is, by way of encouragement for greater publicity to get the Australian product on the world market.
I turn now to the length of time it takes to get reports presented. I was given information by departmental officers that the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation interim annual report is expected to be tabled before the end of this session. I have already given that information to Senator Martin. The comment that has been made to me is that the report has been delayed by the unavailability of the Auditor-General’s certificate. The suggestion has been made that a preliminary report of some nature should be available prior to the sittings of the Estimates Committees. I will see that the Minister for Primary Industry receives that suggestion which I will put to him on behalf of the Senate. Other queries were raised by Senator Martin. I accept the criticisms that Senator Martin has made and take the responsibility on my shoulders in respect of the questions that were asked through me by the Estimates Committee and on which we got into some argument over whether they should have been asked. In relation to confidential information, if it be considered confidential, I do not accept Senator Georges’ comments. If we as a Parliament agree to establish a statutory authority and place in the hands of that statutory authority the operation of a particular business proposition, we should have confidence that the men in charge will have noticeable business acumen. When we are of the view that funds are not being expended correctly I think it is quite appropriate, and it is certainly within the hands of honourable senators to do so, to suggest that a department be brought to heel for any looseness that is revealed.
Senator Martin made some comment about the fact that a preliminary report of the AMLC was available. The advice given to me is that the Department of Primary Industry understands that the report will be available only to members of the AMLC. Senator Martin raised a very interesting question and one that is posed to us in respect of many areas of government and other operations today- breach of confidentiality. If it is correct that a preliminary report which should have been for the secure and confidential information of those who are members of the Corporation was found floating around in public circles, I suggest that Senator Martin give the names of the individuals who had access to the report to the Chairman of her Committee and, if he thinks it appropriate, he can make that information available to the Minister.
– It was made available for scrutiny at the Sydney office of the AMLC; it was not floating around.
– I note for the record the comment that it was available at the Sydney Office of the AMLC. I take it that means that it was publicly available.
– I certainly would agree with Senator Martin that if that is the situation the person responsible deserves the greatest criticism. This means that the advice that has been given to me here is advice based on the best information available to the officers. I certainly will see that the matter is pursued. However, I am of the view that Senator Martin’s comments will be found to be incorrect.
– We will check at lunch time.
-The honourable senator says that she will check the situation during the suspension of the sitting, so we may find out the position later in the day. I wish to deal quickly with one other point that was raised. What Senator Martin was saying to the Estimates Committee and what she has said to the Committee of the Whole is that we as a Senate were anxious to obtain information about the total money that was available to the AMLC for carcass classification. That was the question.
– And what it was doing with it.
– And what it was doing with it. In the moment available before the suspension of the sitting I suggest to the Senate that the difficulty faced by an officer answering that question concisely is spelt out when we look at the report of Estimates Committee D dated November 1978. That report has been published. On pages 39 and 40 of the additional information we see that an officer is placed in the position of trying to estimate the value of additional labour that is made available from other areas, additional funds that may be made available from the States, money that was apparently contributed by the Australian Meat Research Committee, and perhaps funds that were not known at the time. I suggest that a reading of that additional information indicates that they were minor amounts of money and that the honourable senator’s inquiry was answered correctly.
Sitting suspended from 1.1 to 2.15 p.m.
-At this stage I thought I might explain a couple of points pending the possibility of the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) answering some other points in relation to the provision of the breakdown of information of funds available from other sources. The Minister indicated that such information was made available in supplementary information given to the Estimates committee. In the report of the Chairmen of the Estimates committees to the Senate which was adopted by the Senate emphasis was laid on that point. The report states:
If all or pan of the provision is associated with a project (which is also) funded from other sources suitable crossreferencing and the total amount required for the project should be shown . . .
The point I tried to make was that the information which appeared in the supplementary information should rightly have appeared without having to be requested and received later. That information should have appeared in the explanation for division 490, sub-division 3, item 14, National Carcass Classification Scheme. It would then have been of far more use to the Committee.
Before lunch there was some debate on the report of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation I indicated that I would try to get certain information at lunch time. I tried to do so, but the person whom I tried to contact was on an aeroplane. Therefore, I cannot now provide that information to the Committee of the Whole. I hope that I will have the information by the end of the day. I had some other questions to which the Minister may choose to address himself. Perhaps he will indicate whether he wants to do so. A very serious question was raised in relation to the consideration of special appropriations by an Estimates committee and also the peculiar funding system for beef classification involving departmental funds given on the basis of an estimate from the statutory corporation with special conditions relating to ministerial approval. The point was raised in the Committee that this was rather a strange situation. The Minister may like to comment on why or how it is done in that way.
– I feel that I answered before lunch the question by Senator Martin as to what funds other than the $2m allocated by the Commonwealth Government are available to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation for work on carcass classification. I think the Committee will recognise that it would be impossible for an officer to say accurately to an Estimates committee from whence the funds would come and at what level. He would not have been able to answer the question properly. The Department attempted to do that in the supplementary information. At page 40 it is stated:
Funds available to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (AMLC) from other sources:
a) Grants made available to the AMLC to 30 June 1 97 8 by the Australian Meat Research Committee have enabled expenditure on travel, operating costs, salaries and small items of equipment for experimental work on beef carcass classification amounting to $200,187. The approximate overexpenditure of $22,000 beyond the allocation of $178,103 was covered by a supplementary grant in November 1 977 of $14,000 and a further $8,000 transferred from the sheep allocation to beef classification. Actual expenditure on sheep classification amounted to $95,916. For 1978-79 an allocation of $40,000 has been made for beef carcass classification and $46,000 for sheep carcass classification.
The supplementary information also refers to the Pig Industry Research Committee which allocated funds of a certain amount for the development of pig carcass classification. I think the difficulty that would be faced by anybody attempting to answer what funds were available to the AMLC is obvious. A further note in the supplementary information states:
These funds were allocated to State Departments of Agriculture for research projects and the results of this research and the developmental work are available to the AMLC.
Page 41 of the supplementary information states:
In addition to staff specifically employed by the AMLC on carcass classification from funds made available by the Commonwealth Government, other AMLC staff work on carcass classification from time to time. The AMLC also receives assistance from Bureau of Animal Health staff in meatworks and from the State Departments of Agriculture and other State Authorities.
The explanation also lists the full time equivalents of the estimated labour inputs. About thirty individual persons are involved which may cost another couple of hundred thousand dollars. Perhaps that is not the point that Senator Martin was making.
– My point was that information should have been listed in the explanatory notes, not in the supplementary information.
– I take that point. I am advised that the interim annual report of the AMLC is not available for public scrutiny. Ten copies were produced in the Sydney office of the corporation. One has been given to the General Manager of the Corporation and the other nine to members of the Corporation. That has been verified by a telephone call today to the General Manager. Further copies have been airfreighted to the Department of Primary Industry. Apparently the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has the report and he will seek to table the report in the House of Representatives next week.
– I raise a matter now that I raised at the Estimates committee. My senior colleagues have suggested that a comment should also be made in the Committee of the Whole. I refer to the need to include the Northern Territory in future planning in the areas of State-Federal relationships in relation to the making of allowances, grants and so on. When I asked why the Northern Territory was not included I was given the answer that it was either built into the total allocation- that is, the allocation given as a straight vote to the Northern Territory or that the job is still done through Federal departments. I am not sure that this is so. If it is so, it highlights the point which I have made on a number of other occasions that perhaps the move to selfgovernment was made a little before we were ready and before we had the infrastructure to handle it. There have been occasions on which I have had to draw attention to this in the past. Certainly I am not opposed to self-government in the Northern Territory. We have worked very hard to get it. The point has been made that perhaps we moved a huie too quickly for the infrastructure to be set up. This sort of ad hockery might be another example. I simply ask for an assurance from the Minister that the Northern Territory is covered in the various areas. I do not think I have to list them. I raised them at the Estimates committee. I would like an assurance from him that discussions will be held so that State type arrangements can be made and finalised before the next Estimates.
– I am advised that that assurance can be given to the honourable senator.
– I wish to raise a matter which concerns the dairying industry. I notice that in the appropriation for the Department of Primary Industry there is an increase of $12,150,000 for price support for dairy products. That is the increase this year over expenditure last year. That is the only reference I can find to the dairying industry in the explanatory notes for the Department of Primary Industry. During consideration of the estimates for the Department of Productivity I asked a question in relation to the dairying industry. Perhaps an explanation is hidden and I cannot find it. The Minister may be able to tell me. I am concerned about the fact that a very small amount of money has been made available to the Department of Productivity to assist the dairying industry. I refer to the matter I raised. I posed a question based on the explanatory notes where mention was made of reducing unit costs in dairy farm operations in association with the dairy industry sector working circle. I asked:
Who is the money paid to? Is it to the State agricultural departments or farmers’ organisations . . .
The answer that came back by way of a letter to the Secretary of Estimates Committee E dated 1 November was:
The Department is seeking, in the 1978-79 appropriation 522-3-0 1 ‘Productivity Action’, an amount of $2,000 to assist productivity improvement in the Australian Dairy Industry. These funds will be used to obtain the services of consultants to assist in the research and development of training programs to be jointly implemented in the Dairy Industry by the Productivity Promotion Council of Australia and the Australian Dairy Corporation.
It appears to me that this amount of $2,000 will be of no benefit if it is to be used for consultants ‘ fees. If we look under the heading of Administrative Services for the Department of Primary Industry, we see that the amount provided for consultants’ fees is $19,000. I ask the Minister. What research is the Department of Primary Industry carrying out into productivity improvement in the Australian dairy industry in view of the fact that it has made an extra $12,150,000 available for price support for dairy products? It seems to me that there is a great deal of research and work to be done in the productivity improvement area. If we have to find a total amount of $17,400,000 in price support for dairy products surely we can do something to see that productivity is further improved. If that happens we may not have to find this great amount of” money for price support of dairy products. I hope that the Minister can give me some explanation.
– The honourable senator referred to a matter relating to the Department of Productivity. The officers advising me are not able to assist him very greatly as to the purpose of funds relating to another department. There is an item of expenditure for special appropriations under the Dairying Research Act of $88 1,755 for the year 1977-78, and $832,000 for the year 1978-79. The Dairying Research Act of 1972 provides for the payment to the Dairying Research Trust Account of an amount equivalent to levy collections received under the Dairying Industry Research and Promotions Levy Act 1972. This payment represents dairying research and a Commonwealth contribution to research. The Commonwealth contribution is calculated on the basis of one half of the amount payable out of the trust account for purposes of research.
I do not think the honourable senator asked what the areas of research were but he can be assured that, from within the Department of Primary Industry, there are figures which represent an allocation this year of about $832,000 for research and promotion. The other query that the honourable senator raised related to a figure of approximately $12m. I take it that this question relates to the underwriting of dairy products the expenditure for which in 1977-78 was $5,250,000 and for 1978-79 it is $17,400,000, which is an increase of 231 per cent. The objective of the underwriting arrangements is to ensure that manufacturers are able to make the earliest maximum payment possible to dairy farmers. The arrangements are also aimed at providing some stability of revenue to assist efficient dairy farmers to remain in the industry. I could give a breakdown of the figure but I will not do so unless I am called upon. The increase of $12,150,000 to which the honourable senator referred is attributable to higher levels of underwriting of around 65c and 75c per lb of butter fat in the first and second six months of the 1977-78 season compared with 60c and 65c for the first and second six months of the previous season.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of the Northern Territory
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 ,247,000.
– I have only a brief comment to make. Once again I seek an assurance from the Minister that machinery exists to ensure that Northern Territory taxpayers will not be disadvantaged in the next few years. We know that the Constitution makes provision to ensure that one group will not be disadvantaged in respect of taxpaying when compared with the rest of Australia. There is no assurance that funds will be made available next year and it is not clear that there will be sufficient funds this year to ensure that the Territory operates as it should. I do not raise a question in that regard. I just say that we have received no real assurance. I recall that in the first year of its operation, ‘gifts’ were made to the Nothern Territory Government to make sure that it could operate. I commend the Government for that action, although it hints at the comment I made previously about the ad hockery of the arrangements. I just want an assurance from the Minister that machinery does exist and has been considered to make sure that Northern Territory taxpayers will not be disadvantaged if the money provided in the estimates is not sufficient for the fulfilling of the obligations of the new Government.
– In the words used by the honourable senator, what may be attributed to the disadvantage of taxpayers is something that may go beyond my understanding. I believe that taxpayers who live in the Northern Territory could claim that they suffer a substantial disadvantage in certain areas. I am unable to give an answer as to whether they will gain sufficient funds by way of Commonwealth return of taxpayers’ money when compared with other citizens throughout the whole of the Commonwealth. The Government that has been formed in the Northern Territory may find that the demands made upon it are beyond the demands which other citizens may make. Those demands might be quite reasonable. But if the Government is demanding higher figures it might well say that it is not getting sufficient funds from a particular quarter. However, I assure the honourable senator that the Government will do all within its power to see that, on a fair and equitable basis, there is a return of funds for the administrative purposes of the Northern Territory Government in line with those which are given in the various States.
– Perhaps I could take that point one stage further. Obviously, I did not put the question clearly. I am referring simply to the fact that there was a good deal of discussion on financial arrangements between the Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government before the present arrangements were made. I am seeking an assurance that sufficient money will be made available to the Northern Territory to enable it to complete the functions that were previously carried out by the Federal Government. In other words, if it is found in this first year of operation that insufficient funds are available, then I am seeking an assurance that the Northern Territory taxpayers will not have to bear a heavy burden to meet the necessary administrative costs. Perhaps a gift or some other allowance can be made, as was done in the first year of operation, to make sure that the functions of the Northern Territory continue. Let us face it, this is a new adventure for both governments and although a lot of work was put into trying to make sure that there will be sufficient funds, this may not be so. I am seeking an assurance here that the Federal Government will not cast the Northern Territory adrift to let it sink or swim but rather, in terms of financial arrangements, will keep some sort of paternal eye on it.
– I can give Senator Robertson my full assurance that the Federal Government will do what was suggested in the honourable senator’s last sentence.
– Since the last debate on the estimates for the Department of the Northern Territory, dramatic changes have taken place. For many years appropriations for the Northern Territory came under the Department of the Northern Territory, the former Department of the Interior and other Federal Government departments. Arrangements for self-government in the Northern Territory have taken a long time to implement. As everyone knows, the Northern Territory has now taken over most of the State-type responsibilities but not quite all of them. On 1 January next year, responsibility in the field of health will be transferred to the Northern Territory and on 1 July 1979 education responsibilities will be transferred.
There has indeed been a dramatic change. In this year’s Federal Budget a very small amount of money is allocated for the Department of the Northern Territory. Of course the bulk of the money for the administration of the Northern Territory is provided elsewhere. Some weeks ago I indicated where this money was to be allocated in areas that were once the responsibility of the Federal Government. Honourable senators also realise that particularly over the last year there have been negotiations between the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government on the important financial arrangements between the Territory and the Commonwealth. A financial arrangement has been contracted between the administrations. Copies are now readily available. A special clause in the arrangement provided that where the Northern Territory experiences special hardship and unusual circumstances because of its remote and isolated location and its small population- I hope the population will increase in the next few years- the Northern Territory will be able to apply to the Federal Government for funds to overcome its disability. In the last few weeks or two months for the first rime the Northern Territory has become eligible to obtain grants from the Grants Commission. The Chairman of the Grants Commission has visited the Northern Territory to assess for the first time the requirements of the Territory which ultimately will be discussed in the negotiations next financial year between the Grants Commission and the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory will be able to apply as do the States, to the Grants Commission so that it may derive funds.
Naturally quite a few people have been concerned about the movement of the Territory to self-government. For the first time since Federation a new State is emerging. That is what the Northern Territory is; it is still a Territory but it is an emerging State. The population of the Northern Territory is just over 100,000 people now. I think most people would agree that the changeover in government has gone relatively smoothly. I have had some connection with moves in this direction over the years and have been surprised to see how smoothly control has passed from one government to the other. I think that this is indicative of the work being done in the Territory now with officers of the Commonwealth Public Service transferring to the Northern Territory Public Service. Although there were some qualms in this respect by and large now those officers who were in the Federal Public Service feel very much at home in the Northern Territory Public Service. They now feel that they have a greater sense of freedom and achievement because they are directly on the spot participating in decisions for the development of the Northern Territory. We can see from the various projects being undertaken in the Northern Territory now with the local people in the Territory having a say in their own affairs that there is a tremendous impetus, something that the Territory has not experienced before.
I have no comment in regard to any particular item in the estimates for the Department of the Northern Territory, but I think it is worth devoting these few minutes briefly to indicate the changing scene which not only will enable the people of the Northern Territory to have a say in their own affairs but also will result in development. I think it would be well worth while for people in the south and on the eastern seaboard to keep their eyes on the Northern Territory because their future is tied up with the development of the north. The development in the Northern Territory in the next few years will be vast.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Construction- proposed expenditure $ 1 55,979,000-agreed to.
Buildings and Works (Defence)- proposed expenditure $67,400,000-agreed to.
Repairs and Maintenance (Defence)proposed expenditure $52,000,000- agreed to.
Department of Home Affairs- proposed expenditure $7 1 , 426,000- agreed to.
Department of the Capital Territoryproposed expenditure $80,303,000- agreed to.
Department of Administrative Services
Proposed expenditure, $278,738,000.
– I have a couple of questions concerning the Department of Administrative Services. I raised these questions during the hearings of Estimates Committee E, although I am not a member of that Committee. I sought information on the consideration of revenue survey recoveries. I know that the Department of Administrative Services only carries out these surveys for other departments, but I am concerned that in South Australia there are two areas at Smithfield, one with buildings on it and another that is vacant land, that is to be disposed of. Yet in the explanatory notes dealing with property where surveys have been carried out by the Department of Administrative Services for the Australian Postal Commission and the Australian Telecommunications Commission we find that a property at Smithfield is being surveyed.
I am interested to know why the Government is having surveys done to dispose of two areas of land at Smithfield and a different department is having a survey carried out which would appear to indicate that that department is going to purchase land at Smithfield. Can I have some explanation of that? I see that a similar situation exists also in respect of Kadina, where the Army depot there is being surveyed, possibly for disposal. We find that a survey is being carried out at Kadina for the Postal Commission and the Telecommunications Commission also. I take it that that is for the purchase of land there. Can I have an explanation of that?
– While the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) is being briefed on the matter raised by Senator McLaren, I raise two other matters. Senator Chaney gave me the impression that he was trying to finalise protracted negotiations over land transfers to make the Sydney Harbour park system complete. Have the negotiations proceeded any further? The second matter concerns land tenure in the Homebush Bay region of metropolitan Sydney. I would like to know whether we sublet Commonwealth land there to any particular firm. Perhaps to explain this it will be necessary for me to traverse a considerable amount of ground. There have been sorts of disputes between several of the councils in that region on the rights of some ratepayers to use one tip and not another. For example, one council might have an agreement with, say, some other councils, that the ratepayers for which those three councils are responsible are permitted to use the tip in the region of the first council while ratepayers in the third adjacent municipality are excluded.
Against that background, I am certain that in that region there is some land which in years gone by the Commonwealth Government acquired perhaps on a leasehold basis and which the Government has sublet to private enterprise which, because it wants filling only, gives limited access. I am curious about the particular firm that restricted the use of the land as a tip. If that is so, and if the firm concerned has the land with fillings, what will be its future? To reach the Homebush Bay region about which I am speaking one travels beyond the State abattoirs. I am sure that the Minister’s departmental officers will be able to pinpoint the land about which I am talking.
– Basically, three questions have been asked; the one by Senator McLaren involving a number of parcels of land and two separate questions by Senator Mulvihill. The questions deal with matters of detail on which I do not have information at the moment. I will seek answers to the questions and let both honourable senators have them. With respect to the land transfers in Sydney referred to during the hearings of Estimates Committee E, within the last week I have signed a letter to the appropriate State Minister confirming that I wish to speak to him as soon as possible. Most honourable senators will appreciate that it is difficult to find time to arrange for talks and consultations during the session, particularly this latter part of the session. But it is my intention to spend some time in Sydney during December. I hope then to be able to clear up the matters to which Senator Mulvihill has referred.
In fairness to the State Minister, my recollection of his most recent letter is that he is a little puzzled as to why talks are necessary at all. My recollection of the matter is that questions of the value and so on involved in the mutual exchange of land are still to be decided in this whole program. When I looked at the matter in some more detail a little while ago my conclusion was that I did need to talk to the State Government. I can only assure Senator Mulvihill and other honourable senators that I realise that this matter is regarded as one which has dragged on for some time. I intend to give it early attention.
– I suggest to the Minister- I think that the Chairman and my New South Wales colleagues would be aware of this- that with the slight restructuring of the State Cabinet certain powers in relation to national parks have been given to the Minister for Environment, Mr Paul Landa, so there might be some problems about whether the Minister for Administrative Services should meet two State Ministers instead of one.
– I thank the honourable senator for the warning.
-I want to keep alive the question which the Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Chaney, has been asked. I am talking about the provision of a Commonwealth office building in Adelaide. The Minister will recall that recently we raised this matter again. Over the years in this chamber it has been submitted that the Commonwealth Government should keep this proposal in mind. At one time Senator Wright, when he was Minister for Works, got to the stage of considering a basic plan. As the years passed and accommodation to house the 27 or so departments was scattered around the city of Adelaide, any consideration of a Commonwealth centre was dropped. But, as I said, some years ago the matter was under consideration. I raise the matter again in view of the fact that recently the Commonwealth has been disposing of a number of sites.
I am mindful that within part of the Minister’s jurisdiction he is getting rid of the land which was held for defence service homes. We have been told that property which would be suitable for this purpose in Adelaide is still retained. I think that that land is in Pirie Street. An adjoining site in Currie Street was sold last year or the year before. So I put in a plug to ensure that no action is taken which would in any way imperil the Commonwealth’s ability to provide its own accommodation for those 27 or so departments which at present are being housed at very expensive rates. After all, that accommodation is temporary and much of it has required expensive alterations costing probably millions of dollars. Although the Minister recently said that there are no plans to build a Commonwealth centre I seek again his reaction to my repeated reminder of the position. My colleagues share with me the view that such a centre should be provided.
– I do not wish to react any more than to say that I am aware of the great interest of South Australian honourable senators in such a building. I do not think that I really can add anything to my previous statement on the matter. Certainly at this stage there is no proposal to dispose of that land. Any proposal to build on it is not as far advanced as Senator Bishop and his colleagues on both sides of the chamber would wish. But I really have no further information to give the honourable senator.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Administrative Services, Rent (Defence)- proposed expenditure, $40,500,000-agreed to.
Department of Administrative Services, Acquisition of Sites and Buildings (Defence)proposed expenditure, $7,8 12,000- agreed to.
Department of Administrative Services, Furniture and Fittings (Defence)
Proposed expenditure, $5,200,000.
– I raise a matter about which I am a little wary. The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) will remember that some concern has been expressed in some Navy circles in New South Wales about a suggestion that a considerable number of men were billeted in huts while it was claimed members of the Women’s Royal Australian Navy Service had far better quarters. I know that this is the age of equality and all that, but in this case the men concerned felt that they were being treated in an inferior fashion. Can the Minister give me any idea of any naval defence establishments within 10 miles of Sydney where the naval ratings’ billets are inferior to those of members of the WRANS?
– Better than the WRANS.
-I will not be deterred from making this statement senator, I assure you. I am curious about that matter. I have received complaints over a period of time about the Royal Australian Air Force quarters at the Fairbairn base. Can the Minister indicate whether any expenditure is allocated to upgrade certain quarters at the. Fairbairn RAAF base?
– That again is a matter on which I have no information. I will seek some information for the honourable senator.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Industry and Commerceproposed expenditure, $ 19,554,000- agreed to.
Department of Transport
Proposed expenditure $311,581 ,000.
– I move:
That the Committee is of the opinion that the Australian Government should provide special funding to enable a continuing program of construction of the Stuart Highway to be undertaken, as unanimously requested by the recent representative deputation to the Minister for Transport from South Australia and the Northern Territory.
This subject has had wide support both in questions and speeches from both sides of the chamber. Generally, honourable senators have always urged that the Federal Government should in fact make a special appropriation for this project and should not expect funds to be raised piecemeal from the budget which has been arranged over the years between the Federal Government and the State Government. My intention in moving this motion in this atmosphere is that we might collectively carry this proposition. I hope that Government senators will give their support to it in light of the support given to the proposition when a deputation met the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon).
In moving this motion, I am not contesting in any way a political issue. We are arguing that this road is in fact- as the Minister has accepted as I will mention later- a national highway and should be funded in a special way. The ability of the South Australian Government to carry out a speedy construction is impossible under the present funding arrangements. The present situation is that about 804 kilometres out of 924 kilometres have to be surfaced. It has been estimated that it would cost $70m. The construction work of this major project recommenced north of Bookaloo on 17 October 1978. Initial clearing and culvert laying is in progress, and by the end of the year some 17 items of major plant will be on the site. Route selection and advanced planning for the full length have been completed and design details have been settled. The rate of progress now depends mainly on the availability of funds.
South Australia’s allocation for national highway construction is approximately $16m a year or about 10 per cent of the total allocation of approximately $163m to all States in 1978-79. With 2,663 kilometres of national highways within its borders representing approximately 20 per cent of the length in all States the allocation is inadequate as honourable senators will realise.
For the past four years, South Australia has contributed from State funds an average of approximately $3m a year- that is about 19 per cent of the Commonwealth’s allocations to national highway construction. No other State has made any such comparable commitment. Most other States make no contribution. Because of urgent works elsewhere, this level of contribution cannot continue. The Commonwealth Government has claimed full responsibility for national highway construction but has not provided sufficient funds. I might mention here a promise which was made in connection with this road by the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). In a Press release issued by the Minister for Primary Industry on 25 November 1977 headed ‘Stuart Highway’, it was stated:
The communication needs of Alice Springs and in particular the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway are of prime importance in the Centre, Mr Sinclair said today.
The allocation of monies expressly for national highway construction forms part of the regular Commonwealth contributions to State governments.
Priorities given by the South Australian Government, however, have meant that there has been little work done on upgrading the Stuart Highway.
The Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Peter Nixon, has, however, firmly committed the Country-Liberal Party Government to commence work on the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway in 1978.
After discussing the issue with Mr Sam Calder, M.P., and Senator Bernie Kilgariff, I believe it necessary to identify a special fund allocation specifically for the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway.
This would mean, in addition to funds provided to the South Australian Government as part of the national program and for allocation at their direction, there would be a specific sum provided to upgrade the Stuart Highway over a period of years.
After that announcement- obviously because of the interest and pressure from Alice Springs in particular and from South Australia- a request was made to the Minister for Transport that he meet a deputation. In May this year a very representative deputation met the Minister. The meeting was arranged by the Corporation of the Municipality of Alice Springs under the name of Mr Smith, the Mayor. Included in the deputation from the Northern Territory were Mr Sam Calder, M.H.R., Senator Kilgariff, Senator Robertson, Mr Roger Steele, Cabinet Member for Transport in the Northern Territory, and from South Australia. Mr L. G. Wallis, the honourable Geoffrey Virgo, the State Minister for Transport, Senator Young, Senator Jessop and myself. As honourable senators will recall, that deputation, of course, unanimously put forward a request that there ought to be a continuing program and that there should be in fact a forward 12 months allocation of funds with a continuation of funds over a three-year period.
The arguments we put forward are sound arguments because it is obvious that to ask the State Government to wean money from its important highway projects simply means that over a number of years there will be insufficient funds to complete the roads. People involved with the building of the road and people involved in the Territory who are concerned about tourism and about the need for the swift interchange of goods have been urging that those parts of road that are not sealed ought to be sealed. When meeting the deputation, very reluctantly the Minister agreed- after some argument with the deputation- to put to the Government a request for a special allocation of $2.3m. Following the deputation, we all got advice- I got my advice on 21 August- from the Minister. I will read out the letter sent to me and I point out the acceptance by the Government of the fact that it is a national highway. This, of course, brought the matter to a head. The letter states:
I refer you to the Question Without Notice which you directed to Senator Carrick regarding a recent deputation to me of Members of Parliament, Mr Virgo and various business interests seeking a special fund allocation for the Stuart Highway in South Australia.
At the meeting, you will recall that I indicated to the deputation that it was not Government policy to provide funds for roads projects outside the normal road funding arrangements. Nevertheless, I undertook to approach Cabinet to seek a further $2.3m for South Australia for construction on the Stuart Highway this year.
In view of the current budgetary restraints, however, and the 7 per cent increase in total road fund allocations to South Australia for 1978-79 Cabinet has been unable to accede to my request.
The remainder of the letter is not important. The Minister goes on to refer to the fact that some work will be done on the section of the Stuart Highway between Bookaloo and Mt Gunson. The State Government is proceeding with that work. I do not think that the amount to be spent on that project has been settled. It is generally in dispute but it appears that the figure mentioned by Mr Virgo to the deputation will be in the region of $900,000 or Sim. My colleagues in the deputation- and here I refer to the Mayor of Alice Springs, Senator Jessop and Senator Young, who can make his own points about itmade it very clear that they supported the request that had been put forward. They definitely took the view that it was a project that needed national funds as it was an important national highway. Plenty has been said about the need of the road for defence purposes and as a link with Woomera. On 2 1 November last year the following report appeared in the News concerning the views of the Mayor of Alice Springs on the matter:
Shocking conditions on the Stuart Highway were costing both South Australia and ‘the Centre’ millions in lost trade and tourism according to the Mayor of Alice Springs, Mr G. Smith. Mr Smith, who travelled down the highway to Adelaide last week, described it as a ‘deadly dust bowl. ‘Last week a deputation from Alice Springs met with the Federal Transport Department seeking an urgent injection of funds to enable upgrading of the Stuart Highway.
We were not part of the deputation to which reference is made. The report continued:
Mr Smith said today: ‘We can’t expect South Australia to carry out the work as part of its general highways program.
At last estimate about $60 million is needed to upgrade the highway.
The most recent figure given me was approximately $72m. The report continued:
It’s in a shocking condition- almost too dangerous to travel.
If funding for the project of upgrading the road depends on SA alone it will take years to complete.
There is an urgent need for Federal Government funds allocated as a top priority. ‘
Mr Smith said the shocking condition of the highway was severely hampering’ tourism around Alice Springs.
Mr Smith said that people would not come from the south to Alice Springs and he went on to describe the effect of that on the general prosperity of Alice Springs. Those comments were supported by the Road Transport Federation which not only accompanied us as part of the delegation but, after receiving the Minister’s response, set out on a heavy campaign, raising money in many parts of the area to pay for the cost of advertising. This was advertising which the Federation carried out at its own expense. The arguments put in the advertisement by the Federation are much more expansive than I have been able to present in the 1 S minutes that I have available to me at this stage. However, I have summarised the whole matter for the Committee and I trust that it will support the proposition that the Government should be persuaded to consider this as an urgent national need. On 15 June the views of the Secretary of the Road Transport Federation was reported in the News as follows:
SA regional chairman Mr Ken Smith, said yesterday his federation was gathering support from throughout the community to press home the need for the highway’s surfacing.
He said a committee meeting next week would decide the format of the campaign.
Mr Smith said an appeal for funds for advertising had met with an amazing response already.
Interested people in Coober Pedy had given $ 1,300 to the Federation, while Alice Springs supporters had also rallied.
The report adds that Mr Smith, in commenting on allegations this week by a member of the
State Parliament that the State Government was at fault for not using available funds, had said that he was baffled by the argument. The report continues:
He said: ‘A large portion of the money received had to be spent on sealing the Eyre Highway and completing the local freeway works in the Adelaide Hills. And what about the Duke’s Highway to Melbourne? That’s been down 25 years and will be due for repairs very shortly also. Where’s that money going to come from? It has been impossible to divert any more than $1 million of the $15 million the Federal Government gives the State. ‘
This is a very important matter. I am not, of course, quoting what has been said by Senator Young, and by Senator Jessop who can speak for himself. Following that deputation, Senator Jessop, in a letter to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), said very much what I have just said. I hope that the Committee will give consideration to what has been said.
– I certainly support what Senator Bishop has said. As he well knows, on a number of occasions I have made representations to the Government concerning this particular highway. I believe it is very important that the Government recognise the need to provide and develop national assets at a time when the construction industry is depressed. National assets will contribute in the long term to national development and the provision of job opportunities. Stuart Highway, to which the motion refers, would fall within that category because, in order to develop the mineral potential of the northern part of South Australia one must have transport facilities of that type. Not far from the Highway is the huge Roxby Downs area, which has one of the largest deposits of copper in the world. Unhappily for South Australia it has in it some uranium. For that reason, the State Government refuses to develop it.
– That is not so.
-Of course it is. This is because of the backward attitude of the Australian Labor Party which, at the Perth conference, said Keep uranium in the ground’, while everyone else in the world is selling it and capitalising on it. Also, Lake Frome is not far away. It is the site of 22,000 tons of uranium oxide. That too could be developed if the State Government moved in a proper and responsible way for the development of South Australia. If it did that the mine could be put into production more quickly than could the Ranger mine. I suggest Senator Bishop appreciates what that could means to South Australia. The mine, in its development stages, would require the provision of $ 100m worth of plant. This could easily be prefabricated at
Whyalla and some 1,000 job opportunities could be provided. The uranium enrichment plant which would naturally follow- if we could regain lost ground- would provide far more jobs in the long term then would even the Redcliff petrochemical project. However, in order to develop all those projects we have to have a transport facility. That is why I have put a high priority on it.
If we go a little west of Coober Pedy we find Lake Phillipson, which has vast coal deposits. In the future, coal will be a substantial energy source for Australia and some years hence that vast coal deposit could probably contribute to a gasification program in South Australia. That is why I believe that the Government must give consideration to providing increased funding for the construction of the Stuart Highway.
At present this is, of course, a question of policy. Under the national highways scheme, as Senator Bishop knows only too well, the Federal Government provides the States with a lump sum for construction and the question of priorities is left to the State governments concerned. Unfortunately- I can see the reasons behind it- the State Government has not been able to give the Highway a sufficiently high priority to spend any money on its construction. I am glad to learn that Mr Virgo intends spending something like $ lm on it. This will go part of the way to constructing the SO kilometre stretch between Port Augusta and Woomera. It amounts to peanuts so far as this national highway is concerned. It is estimated to cost somewhere between $70m and $100m. If we spend Sim a year it will be 70 to 100 years before we finish it. That is why I wrote to the Minister again not long ago, reminding him of the urgency of this project and that it is a national asset which, if it were constructed quickly, would help the construction industry in South Australia, would contribute to the mutual development of the State of South Australia and the Northern Territory and would provide a tremendous stimulus to business in South Australia which I believe, is being lost now largely because the road from the Northern Territory to Queensland is constructed. It is estimated that South Australia is losing of the order of $80m a year because of that.
This does involve a policy change. Senator Bishop might like to broaden the motion to include, perhaps, the provision of a special fund for the Federal Minister to allocate for special projects in the national highways area according to his priorities. In South Australia the Government is spending its money on the south-eastern freeway, the widening of the Cavan bridge, which is desirable- we cannot expect the State
Government to stop those projects- and the widening of the highway between Port Augusta and Port Pirie. It is in my view, a reasonable suggestion that the Government ought to consider what I put to the Minister recently, namely, a reassessment of the policy with respect to national highways in order that a special, additional fund can be provided to the Federal Minister for allocation to a national highway that he believes needs special attention.
I think we have to look at this in a national sense, although I entirely support the spirit of the motion that Senator Bishop has put forward. We must remember that there are other national highways that have to be constructed as well. Whilst I certainly would give the Stuart Highway No. 1 priority, I think that we have to look at the implications of the change in policies suggested in this motion. I do support it. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to what I have said. The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney), who is at the table, might care to take the thoughts that I have just expressed, in addition to the letter I have written to the Minister, to the Government and ask it to have another look at the whole policy associated with national highways.
– I rise to support Senator Bishop in the motion which he has moved. Naturally, I agree with what he has said and I will not reiterate the points he has made. It is good to see that the first two speakers in this debate were from South Australia. I am sure that the people in the Northern Territory will be encouraged to know that their colleagues from the south are supporting them in this important venture. Let me make a brief comment on a couple of the points that Senator Jessop made- in no sense of criticism. He was concerned with development in South Australia. That is understandable. That is the role he has to play, as we all have to. But we have to be careful that we do not allow some of the arguments which were being used for the development of a link with the north to be confused in this way. After all, some of the points he was making, although they would gain from the link, relate to something a little more specific. I think we have to press firstly for the link.
– I think I did suggest mutual development.
– I take the point that Senator Jessop is making. He did later on and he did originally support the link. It is quite clear, of course, as Senator Bishop has implied, that South Australia cannot possibly do this job itself with the small amount of money it is given each year. I think the period that was mentioned when we had our deputation was of the order of 30 years if the prices stayed the same. The general feeling around the table was that by the time we got to the other end the first few kilometres would be worn out. In other words, the situation is just not practical. The money must come from the Federal Government and must be made available, as perhaps Senator Jessop has suggested, by special allocation or as part of the national program. I do not think it is important how it comes, as long as the money comes from the Federal Government for the specific project. That is the purpose of this motion.
I was a member of the delegation that met with the Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon). It is interesting to note that it was an allparty deputation and was composed of Federal, State, territory and local politicians. They were supported in the deputation by private enterprise. There is no doubt that the whole of that group agreed that there should be a road link. There is no doubt, I think, around this place that there should be some sort of link. The general agreement is that it should be a road link, not a composite link. We do not have to rehash all the arguments about the cost of freight, the high cost of living in the Northern Territory, and so on. These are important, but they have been canvassed adequately. Should we have a road, rail or sea link? I refer to the Darwin and Nothern Territory Freight Transport Study by the Bureau of Transport Economics. I will read just part of the second paragraph of the conclusions:
The study has shown that road investment offers the least cost solution of meeting the Northern Territory’s transport requirements. Road has several advantages, for the low traffic volumes occurring in the NT it is substantially cheaper in total resource cost terms than sea and rail; it also has a faster transit time than either of the competing modes. Road transport operates in small units and is much more responsive to changes than either rail or sea. Given the uncertainties involved in predicting the Northern Territory’s future, such flexibility is a great advantage. Further the internal competition between road operators is the best guarantee, not only that costs will be kept to a minimum, but that prices will reflect costs.
I could go on with some of the additional comments there. The point that has been made by the two previous speakers is that obviously this must be seen as a national problem, not one simply of a State or a Territory.
I must just mention, without going into great detail, the obvious reasons why this is so. Firstly, there is the matter of defence, where a road link is absolutely vital. There is little point in having troops stopping to be swapped over from rail transport to road transport to go through. It is not only the movement of troops, it is the servicing of troops and so on. Another point that I have mentioned in this place before is the development of Darwin. I was pleased to see that Senator Jessop dwelt a good deal on development. I refer to the development of Darwin as an entrepot; the possibility of trade links with the north of Australia. This, of course, would lead to the development of the harbour facilities which are languishing now because they are not getting enough service. We need to have more ships coming into the harbour. To have that we need some good contact between Darwin and the south. It is also important that we make Darwin viable. Darwin was established as an administrative centre and partly as a defence centre- but basically as an administrative centre. This is an unnatural and artificial situation. If we can get a good link between Darwin and the south we will see it move from being an administrative centre to being a viable city in its own right. Of course, this is related to the development that goes on around it.
There is a good potential for tourism. Many of us in this place have mentioned that. There is some doubt that the passenger train is going to run when the broad gauge link is made. I will make some comments about that in a few minutes. People prefer to drive and there is a wonderful potential for tourism in the north that one cannot gainsay. This is a national responsibility, not simply a State responsibility. I claim that the Federal Government has a distinct responsibility for the development of the north, since we are not a State and for some years will not be a State but will be a self-governing Territory. A point was hinted at by Senator Jessop. No doubt the Minister, when he replies, will say, Yes, but they want roads in Western Australia too. They want roads in the north of my State’. The Queenslanders will say: ‘Yes, we want roads in the north of our State. That ought to be seen as a responsibility’. Surely those roads must be seen in a different light- as extensions of a present system rather than as a connecting system where the Territory must be connected with the rest of Australia. Let us face it: Western Australia is connected to the national system and it goes quite a long way up the coast in that State. Queensland is connected to the national system and it goes a long way up the coast in that State. The Northern Territory is isolated. It is not connected to the rest of Australia. It is absolutely important that the connection should be achieved. Not only the few factors that I have mentioned but also other criteria must be taken into account.
I am pleased that Senator Bishop drew attention to the fact that the Government through the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) agrees that there should be a road. As honourable senators know, Mr Sinclair went so far as to say before the last election that if re-elected the Government would build the road through from Alice Springs. So, in supporting the proposition put forward by my colleague, Senator Bishop, I ask the Government to restate its recognition of the need and to guarantee the money for this project to go ahead in the very near future.
– The connection of South Australia to the Northern Territory by means of a sealed road has been a matter- and quite a controversial matter- of concern for many years. In fact, moves towards this end have been going on for many years. We in the Territory have been aware that it was most necessary that we have good sealed roads connecting us to the States of Australia. For very many years there were only dirt roads and mud tracks into Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia. There has been some development in this direction with the construction of the bitumen road into Queensland. The fact that Queensland has seen fit to extend its road construction to the Northern Territory border has been a tremendous gain to that State. It is my understanding that since this sealed road was constructed in Queensland from Mount Isa over the Barkly Tablelands to connect with the Stuart Highway an immense amount of traffic has been generated with goods transported into the Territory for the development of the North. In the Territory there were very many moves for the sealing of roads. The result is that now the sealed roads system in the Northern Territory extends to its borders with Queensland and South Australia. The sealed roads system is to be extended to the Western Australian border. However, when one comes to the Northern Territory/South Australian border one really wonders what one has struck. I do not know whether it was in a report on Always on Sunday or in a report from some other source but it was reported the other day that a person was travelling along the Stuart Highway and found some kangaroos resting in the shade of the corrugations.
Speaking seriously, I point out that the condition of this highway is dreadful. Not only is it dreadful but also it is causing tremendous damage to vehicles. Accidents occur frequently and, on occasions, there are fatalities on this highway. What concerns the people of the North is the increasing number of school coaches and tourist coaches that come to grief on it; and it is supposed to be a road that is assisting in the development of the North. I have participated in delgations to Federal Ministers and have been involved with the National Roads Association and other bodies. Over the years the need for this road to be sealed has been recognised. In fact, I think it was only last year that the Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Peter Nixon, invited some people, including me, to sit in on a meeting with a delegation of mayors and other people from Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland who were pushing the case for a road through the Centre along the eastern side of the Channel country, crossing the Channel country to Mount Isa and ultimately going through the Territory. The Minister gave a clear indication that the Federal Government’s policy was that the first road to be sealed and made a national highway would be the road from Port Augusta, through Coober Pedy to the Northern Territory border and that any other suggestions, such as for the road through the Channel country, would have to take lower priority. So, at least we have a recognition that the road must be sealed.
Over the years there has been continued agitation in the Northern Territory for development. In fact, the Mayor of Alice Springs, Mr George Smith, who is something of a live wire, has been looking at the various ways in which the sealing of the highway can be funded. One way was by means of a toll. The latest development, I understand, is that he has approached the Japanese, no doubt thinking that, if the Japanese can go into Queensland with many millions of dollars to build tourist resorts, perhaps they may be interested in coming to the Northern Territory. However, the ramifications of that thought, I do not know. Recently, following controversy concerning the sealing of the highway, I received a letter from Mr Peter Nixon dated 1 1 October 1978 in which he said:
I refer to your recent letter enquiring the current situation concerning the upgrading of the Swan Highway in South Australia.
When South Australia did not include any construction work for the Stuart Highway in last year’s National Highways program, I wrote to the State Transport Minister, Mr Virgo, expressing my deep concern and urging him to ensure that a substantial start was made on reconstruction of the highway in this year’s program.
The 1978-79 National Highways program submitted to me by Mr Virgo on 3 1 May 1978 included a project for commencement of sealing the SO km gravel section of the Stuart Highway between Bookaloo and Mt Gunson, north of Port Augusta. Mr Virgo however proposed to spend only $270,000 on this section during the year plus $60,000 on other preliminary construction works north of Woomera. I approved South Australia’s program on 13 July, but in so doing, I indicated to Mr Virgo my dissatisfaction with this low level of expenditure and urged him to increase this amount to $1 million on construction works and so ensure a substantial start on the project this year.
To provide for this additional expenditure for work on the Stuart Highway, which I regard as of top Commonwealth priority, I have suggested to Mr Virgo that I am prepared to approve a transfer of $350,000 from South Australia’s 1978-79 National Commerce Roads allocation to National Highways Construction. This is possible as I have deferred approval of a proposal from Mr Virgo for declaration as a National Commerce Road of a road of much lesser importance than the Stuart Highway and one which could easily be funded from the State’s own resources.
I believe therefore that there is no reason why an immediate start cannot be made on redevelopment of the Stuart Highway. Mr Virgo’s early submission indicated an immediate availability of $330,000 for commencement of construction works. I have suggested to him the means whereby he can obtain a further $350,000 of Commonwealth funds, and in his letter of 10 August he has agreed to spend $900,000.
That is correct because, according to an answer from Mr Virgo to a question asked in the South Australian Parliament, he has indicated that $900,000 will be spent. However, it all comes back to a question of finance.
One realises that, with its other responsibilities and in view of the work that it has taken upon itself in the way of the various highways and freeways that it has built, the South Australian Government is hard pressed to find any substantial amount of money for the sealing of the Stuart Highway. It has the responsibility for work on the south eastern highway- the highway from Adelaide to Melbourne- which is costing an immense amount of money. Of course, the other matter of concern when looking at the proposal put forward by Mr Virgo and understanding the South Australian situation is the national commerce road classification. My understanding is that the aim is to seal the road from Leigh Creek towards the Moomba oil and gas field. This road comes under the national commerce road classification. It is also my understanding that $550,000 is being approved for transfer from that project to national highways work.
We all realise that with the cost of roads these days, the amounts of money I have been talking about are peanuts compared with the ultimate cost. There are demands throughout Australia for national highways. No matter where one travels in Australia, one finds that with the development of our country, improved transport and so on, there is a demand ibr bigger and better roads. I agree that Australia has a tremendous problem ahead of it. Yet I still come back to the importance of constructing a road from the south to the north. One has to look to the development and defence of the north. We should not get into the frame of mind that people had in the 1930s when they thought that the north was a place in the outback which they did not have to trouble very much about because it was outside their sphere of living. The north is far too important to the people of the south, whether in terms of defence or the development of the gigantic mineral resources of that region. Through pure force of economics- I have no doubt that development will take place in the Northern Territory, particularly in the mining sphere- there will be a demand for better roads into the area, particularly from the south.
One hears about the development of uranium in the north. That will take place but uranium is by no means the only mineral that exists in the Northern Territory. Even now there are probably large resources of minerals which are hardly known. I believe that there are minerals in the Territory, the knowledge of which has not been made public. The development of these minerals will create more demand for roads. As I have indicated, and as Senator Robertson has also indicated, because of the defence needs of the north and the unreliability of shipping there must be a backstop- if the road from the south is to be a backdrop- as a means of transferring goods and troops, if necessary, to the north in the shortest time possible.
There is only one way by which the Stuart Highway can be constructed; that is through the provision of Federal funds. The responsibility for construction of the road then passes to the appropriate State. There has to be general agreement and understanding between the Federal Government and the South Australian Government. Both governments have to provide funds wherever they can. I support Senator Jessop ‘s remarks following the motion moved by Senator Bishop. If the motion is to be worth while it should not be directed at one road. It should have a wider scope, as suggested by Senator Jessop. We should widen the responsibility of the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) so that he has at his elbow a special fund from which he can draw for national road development.
– I rise to lend my support to the motion moved by Senator Bishop. I have taken some part in discussion of this matter over a number of years. I recognise the need for a road to the Northern Territory. I have made representations on the matter from time to time to the responsible Minister. I think that Senator Bishop moved his motion in a most conciliatory manner for the good of both the Northern Territory and South Australia. He left politics out of it entirely. He hoped that the unity that has been established in requests from senators of all parties would be maintained on this occasion. It is regrettable that Senator Jessop tried to undo the value of that unity by making an attack on the South Australian Government. It was not a legitimate or truthful attack. Nevertheless, I do not take him to task because I think it would destroy the very purpose of what Senator Bishop tried to do to maintain the unity of those who are interested in South Australia and Northern Australia and achieve results. I will not give credence to a false argument by debating it here and saying that there may be some merit in it.
Senator Bishop’s motion does nothing other than express a widening support for the building of the Stuart Highway. It does not seek to undermine the Government. It conveys to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) a wider support for the construction of the road. The Senate is mindful of the request for the construction of a road to the Northern Territory and supports that request. Anyone, unless he has a greater priority of his own, must support the motion if he has an interest in developing the north. I do not know how priorities should be changed. Will those who say that the South Australian Government is not giving a sufficiently high priority to the road to the Northern Territory say to what extent expenditure on other roads from its present allocation should be cut to provide more funding for this road, as important as it may be? No one from South Australia would say that the South Australian Government is wasting money on roads in areas where there should not be roads. Therefore, we cannot suggest altered priorities. We cannot say how the South Australian Government could spend its allocation any better than it is doing. It was suggested that the Minister should have a special fund from which to make allocations. The Federal Minister for Transport has a right at present to say where road grants should be spent. If in his opinion a State’s priorities are not satisfactory he has the right to veto them. He has the right to allocate money to other priorities within the States. But the Minister, as does the South Australian Government, knows of the pressing need for roads in South Australia. He cannot say that South Australia’s priorities are wrong or he would have done so.
– He did say that.
-He released a Press statement. He did not say that the priorities were wrong, he said that the State Minister had given a lesser priority to the Stuart Highway. The Federal Minister could change that priority but as there is not sufficient support for his belief he will not do so. He knows full well how unpopular this
Government would be with the electors in South Australia if the rights to that road were diminished. Possibly, the rights of the people in the Northern Territory could be sacrificed as they return only one member and two senators to the Federal Parliament. I think there is possibly an inducement. I think the attitude is that the Northern Territory does not matter as much as it would if it were returning to the Federal Parliament the number of members that New South Wales returns.
However, if we want to develop the north, if we want to further the interests of South Australia and if we want to create the tourist attractions that northern Australia has to offer the Australian public we should do all that is possible to get the road built. I do not know that Senator Bishop would be greatly concerned about the suggested alternative method, but this so-called strengthening of the resolution is a delaying tactic. All that we are saying now is that regardless of where the money comes from in our opinion the Minister should make available funds for an essential national highway. Therefore, in the way that Senator Kilgariff and Senator Robertson have made their appeal, I appeal to the Committee to support the need for that road. We should unite to see that the Northern Territory gets the justification which it deserves.
-I will take up the time of the Committee for a moment or two. I have certainly supported the need for upgrading this highway for a number of years. I have pointed to the need for a transport facility in order that the northern part of South Australia can be developed in the future. I suggest that honourable senators opposite might consider what I have said. We could perhaps make a bipartisan approach to the Premier of South Australia in order to get some development going in that State. We have done this in relation to Redcliff and we have done it in relation to other matters. I think that is an idea that my colleagues opposite perhaps ought to take on board. I have before me a letter that was written to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) following the deputation in May this year to which Senator Bishop referred. I will read it. It was drafted by Senator Bishop and myself and signed by the senators who attended that deputation and by Mr Wallis and Mr Calder who also attended. We wrote to the Minister for Transport:
In view of the importance of the Stuart Highway to the development of South Australia and the Northern Territory and the unanimous concern expressed by the delegation today that additional Commonwealth funds be provided to accelerate the planning and construction of this road, we respectfully request that you make a further approach to Cabinet for a special allocation for this purpose.
The South Australian Government has spent a further $ 1 8.79m over the last 4 years on the State National Highway Programme, and it is reasonable to expect that this should be reimbursed, provided it is spent on the Stuart Highway.
As the Highway is currently estimated to cost approximately $64m, it is clear that unless more funds are provided it will take 20 or 30 years to complete at the proposed rate of spending.
It is felt that an urgent capital works programme should be approved in order that this road, the only national highway remaining unsealed in the State, can be completed within 8 years.
I have a copy of the Minister’s reply, which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600 11 July 1978
Dear Senator Jessop,
I refer to your recent representations on behalf of yourself and a number of other Senators and Members concerning the development of the Stuart Highway in South Australia.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the Parliamentary deputation from South Australia and the Northern Territory in Canberra on 23 May. I would hope that as a result of the meeting those present are aware of the importance the Commonwealth places on the sealing of this National Highway route.
You requested that I make an approach to Cabinet for a special allocation to South Australia to accelerate reconstruction of the Stuart Highway. As I have previously pointed out in response to similar requests, it is not Government policy to provide special grants to a State for road projects outside normal funding arrangements. However, following representation by the deputation, I gave an undertaking that I would approach Cabinet for an allocation of $2. 3m for construction on the Stuart Highway this financial year.
I am not able, however, to agree to your proposition that the Commonwealth should consider reimbursing the South Australian Government for amounts which it claims it has spent from State resources on National Highways over the past four years. Under the States Grants (Roads) Act, the States are required to spend from their own funds a specified minimum amount on roads in order to be eligible for the Commonwealth grants. While all approved works on National Highways are eligible for complete funding by the Commonwealth, the States are free to direct their own funds to this or any other category depending on where they see their priorities.
In the circumstances I do not believe that it would be proper to pursue the course you have suggested. I am sure you will also appreciate that it would be unequitable to other States to do so.
The main thrust of South Australia’s National Highways construction activity in recent years has been directed to sealing the Eyre Highway and building the South-Eastern Freeway between Adelaide and Murray Bridge. The bulk of the $66m provided to the State by the Commonwealth over the last four years has been directed towards these works. Now that the Eyre Highway is sealed, and with the anticipated opening of the South-Eastern Freeway in mid- 1979, 1 believe the way should be clear for the State Minister of Transport, Mr Virgo, to allocate a significant and increasing proportion of South Australia’s National Highways construction funds to the reconstruction and sealing of the Stuar Highway.
I expect that this will enable a satisfactory rate of progress to be achieved on the sub-standard section between Pimba and the Northern Territory border.
In his 1978-79 National Highways Program Mr Virgo has included construction works on the Stuart Highway estimated to cost $330,000. 1 am not satisfied, however, that this represents a sufficient level of effort in view of the priority which the Government attaches to development of the Stuart Highway. I am therefore pressing Mr Virgo to spend at least Sim in National Highway funds on Stuart Highway construction this year.
Yours sincerely, P. J. NIXON
Senator D. S. Jessop, Commonwealth Parliament Offices, 1 King William Street, Adelaide, SAS000
-Among other things, the Minister pointed to his concern about the Stuart Highway. I will not delay the Committee any longer but suggest that senators read the letter for their own information. The letter that I wrote to the Minister on 29 August put the view that the whole attitude of the Government to the question of national highways should be changed. I think it would be helpful if Senator Bishop expanded the terms of his motion. It seems that we could be picking off projects here there and everywhere. The Landsborough Highway in Queensland and a couple of sections of the national highway in Western Australia also need attention. People put these fragmentary suggestions time and time again. I think it would be far more constructive and sensible- I would certainly totally support it- for Senator Bishop to widen the terms of his motion to include the broad national approach.
– I want to speak in support of the motion moved by Senator Bishop which to this point in time has been supported in the main by all honourable senators who have spoken to the estimates of this section of the Department of Transport. Senator Bishop’s motion is worded in similar terms to a statement made by Mr Sinclair in Alice Springs prior to the last election. An advertisement that appeared in the Alice Springs newspaper states as follows:
This work was promised to commence in 1 978. The assurance was given in a pre-election promise by a responsible Cabinet Minister.
The following telex was circulated to the news media in the Northern Territory on 25. 1 1 .77.
The Communication needs of Alice Springs and in particular the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway are of prime importance in the Centre, Mr Sinclair said today.
The allocation of monies expressly for National Highways construction forms part of the regular Commonwealth contributions to State Governments. Priorities given by the South Australian Government, however, have meant that there has been little work done on upgrading the Stuar Highway. The Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Peter Nixon has, however, firmly committed the Country / Liberal Party to commence work on the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway in 1978.
After discussing the issue with Mr Sam Calder, M.P., and Senator Bernie Kilgariff, I believe it necessary to identify a special fund allocation specifically for the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway.
This would mean, in addition to funds provided to the South Australian Government as pan of the National program and for allocation at their direction, there would be a specific sum provided to upgrade the Stuart Highway over a period of years.’
The advertisement continues:
In view of that unequivocal commitment we believe that, to help the employment and general economic situation, urgent action be taken, and that it be noted any monies spent on the highway will result in many times that amount.
That was a firm undertaking given by Mr Sinclair. No doubt when he gave that undertaking he was speaking on behalf of Mr Nixon; at least the people of the Northern Territory understood that to be the case. During this debate it has been pointed out that many deputations have been made to the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon. On one occasion I was privileged to be a member of one of the delegations. Many questions have been asked in the Parliament. Senator Bishop has moved this motion which is in conformity with an undertaking given by the Minister for Primary Industry. The deputations that have been made to the Minister for Transport have specifically concerned the construction of the Stuart Highway. I think that we would be weakening our resolution and determination to get some work done on this highway if we were to broaden the motion as suggested by Senator Jessop and Senator Kilgariff.
– Could particular reference not be made to this highway?
– I think Senator Jessop has made particular reference to the Stuart Highway. I did notice in the course of the debate that Senator Kilgariff said that roads in Western Australia. Queensland and the Northern Territory were being upgraded; yet this road was not. What Senator Kilgariff did not say was that those States over a period of 5 years received grants of $64m for beef roads. South Australia did not receive anything for beef roads.
– We did receive a little.
– We received money for the national highways. We have debated that. As Senator Cavanagh pointed out, the Minister has the power under the Act to direct any State Minister as to where he should spend the money. I think I put that point to the Minister at the deputation of which I was a member. I think Senator Jessop was there also. The deputation was held last year in House of Representatives Committee Room No. 1 or No. 2. The Minister has that power if he desires to use it I think that is agreed by all parties. I think we are in full agreement that work has to be done on the Stuart Highway. I can well recall when I worked in that area way back in 1948 that the roads were deplorable, and that is 30 years ago. I was out in that country for a long time earning my living as a shearer and riding on the backs of open vehicles. In those days we did not have cars to travel in. There were adverse comments about our travel facilities even then. Here we are, 30 years later, and we still do not have a decent road service in the area.
I am disturbed that Mr Everingham, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, in a Press release last month, threatened that the Northern Territory would boycott the purchase of goods from South Australia if the South Australian Minister did not spend money on the highway. As has been pointed out, it is a national highway. I think Senator Bishop told honourable senators a while ago that the Federal Minister for Transport has admitted that this highway is the responsibility of the national Parliament. I do not want to prolong the debate any further. I hope that honourable senators in their wisdom will agree unanimously to the motion that has been put foward by Senator Bishop so that we can alert the Government to the fact that it is an urgent matter and that money should be allocated to let us get on with the work of reconstructing this highway and making it an allweather road.
– I quickly respond to what Senator Jessop, and Senator Kilgariff have contributed. I would like to be as conciliatory as possible. I suggest that in my approach to the matter I am trying to extend the unanimity that has existed since this matter was first raised. It seems to me that the proposition I have raised is a continuation of the request that, as senators and members of Parliament, we have made the Government in respect of the Stuart Highway. If we clutter up the proposition with one thing or the other we mix it up and we could destroy its good effects. Honourable senators will notice that honourable senators on this side who have participated in the debate have spoken in a spirit of conciliation. I cannot see the advantage of adding any words to the motion. What we say here we have all said in other places. We have joined together to say the same things. I would like to see that continue. In addition to the remarks of Senator Jessop, Senator Kilgariff, Senator Cavanagh and Senator McLaren I illustrate the absolute inability of the State Government to undertake this sort of commitment. On 23 July 1978 the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) issued a statement which is contained in the Commonwealth Record. It reads:
A start is to be made this financial year towards upgrading the Stuart Highway in South Australia. The Minister for Transport, the honourable P. J. Nixon, said this today when announcing his approval of a $21 m program for South Australian national roads in 1978-79 of which the Commonwealth would contribute $ 19.5m. This grant represents an increase of some $1.3m over the amount provided in 1977-78. Mr Nixon said: ‘These funds will be directed towards -
I ask honourable senators to listen to these projects- construction and maintenance works on the national highways between Adelaide and the Western Australian border (National Route 1 and the Ayr Highway), Port Augusta and the Northern Territory border (the Stuart Highway) and Adelaide and the Victorian border (Princes and Dukes Highways).
Funds will also be spent on the continued construction of the Lincoln Highway between Lincoln Gap and Whyalla, and on the section of the Three Chain Road at Port Pirie between Esmond and Wandearah Roads, which have been declared as national commerce roads’.
Mr Nixon also announced that following a joint Commonwealth-State study, a new route has been selected for the Stuart Highway in South Australia between Pimba and the Northern Territory border. He said: ‘This route which is in the vicinity of the existing road, is some 200 km shorter. It is estimated at today’s prices that construction of this project will involve expenditure of about $65 to $70m. As a national highway, it will be eligible for complete Commonwealth funding’.
Mr Nixon said it was expected that planning, surveying and other pre-construction activities for the project could take about eighteen months. He said: ‘In the meantime, work will commence on sealing the 50 km gravel section of the Stuart Highway between Bookaloo and Mount Gunston north of Port Augusta. I have asked South Australia to spend $1 mon the Stuart Highway in 1978-79 . . .
Work is also continuing on the South-Eastern Freeway which is expected to be opened to traffic in mid 1979. Once this project is completed, motorists will enjoy continuous freeway conditions between Crafers (in the Adelaide Hills) and Swanport south of Murray Bridge ‘.
Other significant work to be undertaken in South Australia’s national highways program this year includes continued construction of the Cavan overpass on the northern outskirts of Adelaide, and the 9 km Port Germein deviation some 22 km north of Port Pirie. The program as approved is expected to give the State flexibility in arranging its construction activities.
All honourable senators agree that this is a most important national project. The only way to carry the matter further is to give it our support and hope that the powers that be will take notice of it. I think they will. It is good that the debate has been conducted in the way it has. I ask honourable senators to support the motion I have moved.
– With so much mutual understanding developing around the chamber I am almost loth to speak. However, I must respond to the speeches which have been made by honourable senators and indicate a view on the motion which has been moved by Senator Bishop. We all agree that there is a high degree of unanimity in the Senate at a certain point, and I pick up the very recent remarks of Senator Bishop when I say that. I certainly confirm that the Commonwealth Government sees the development of the Stuart Highway in South Australia as a high priority task and a matter of great importance. That is not a matter for argument. It is a matter of record too that honourable senators from both the Government and the Opposition have made representations on the matter individually and together over a considerable period. I think Senators Jessop, Bishop and other honourable senators have done so and have asked questions in the Senate and so on. So this matter has had considerable airing. There is a high degree of unanimity between Government senators and Opposition senators that this is an important highway and that something needs to be done about it.
In the Commonwealth Government’s view it has a role in the development of this highway and there was a reference to a Minister’s statement that work would begin in 1978. My understanding is that construction work commenced on 16 October. So work is being carried out on the Stuart Highway in accordance with the current annual program. The history of how that program was arrived at has been referred to in previous debate in this chamber. Some of that history is set out in a letter which was read in part or wholly by Senator Kilgariff a little while ago. Senator Kilgariff received a letter from Mr Nixon in about mid-October which clearly set out that it was at Commonwealth urging that provision was made within the South Australian national highway program for work to start on the Stuart Highway. In that letter Mr Nixon stated:
When South Australia did not include any construction work for the Stuart Highway in last year’s National Highways program, I wrote to the State Transport Minister, Mr Virgo, expressing my deep concern and urging him to ensure that a substantial start was made on reconstruction of the highway in this year’s program.
What follows in the letter to some extent challenges some of the remarks Senator Cavanagh made. He said that there was a reluctance on the part of anyone to suggest that priorities should be altered. I do not quote the honourable senator’s words exactly but I think that was the gist of them; that people were not able to find portions of the program which ought to be deferred or not dealt with in favour of the Stuart Highway. Mr Nixon’s action was to urge particular changes in the program to allow provision to be made for work to start and about Sim to be spent on the Stuart Highway this year. I will not refer to the letter again but it has been placed on record that Mr Nixon made specific recommendations to the South Australian Minister in that regard.
- Mr Nixon agreed to the original proposition made by South Australia before he gave the money for it.
-As I understand it Mr Nixon agreed with the original proposition made by South Australia but said that additional provision should be made. In fact provision for additional expenditure has been made, although I do not think the South Australian Government has specifically agreed to the method which Mr Nixon suggested as to how the money ought to be found.
In any event, as has already been said in the debate, some $I9.5m have been provided for national highways in South Australia this year; $66m has been provided to South Australia in the last four years, as well as nearly $7m for maintenance. So, Commonwealth moneys are being provided and the State has a large say in determining how they are spent. What is clear in the dealings between Mr Nixon and the South Australian Government is that Mr Nixon has avoided requiring the South Australian Government to comply with his directions. He has made suggestions and those have resulted in the South Australian Government agreeing to start work and to reserve $900,000 or $lm for work this year. The difficulty I have with the motion which has been moved by Senator Bishop is fairly simple. In fact, it was foreshadowed by the remarks of my colleague, Senator Kilgariff, and, before him, Senator Jessop, who in fact raised the difficulty involved, namely, that Senator Bishop is asking this chamber to express the opinion that: the Australian Government -
I would prefer to read that as ‘Commonwealth Government’, if Senator Bishop will forgive me: . . should provide special funding to enable a continuing program of construction of the Stuart Highway to be undertaken
What Senator Bishop is doing in moving that motion is seeking to single out that one road as being something which ought to be dealt with quite differently from the way in which the Commonwealth is dealing with national roads throughout Australia. I think it is fair to comment, as a number of speakers before me have commented, that that is a very difficult measure to ask the Committee to take. There are other national roads which are of national significance.
– Are they important, considering the state of the road?
– I certainly am not prepared to stand here and make a judgment whether one particular highway, because it connects South Australia and the Northern Territory, is uniquely important.
– No, because of its condition- its present condition.
– I would think that there would certainly be people- I give this merely as an example- in my State of Western Australia who would regard some of the very bad roads there, which there still are in the national highway system, as being just as important to national development and just as important in terms of potential for encouraging exports, mineral development and all the rest. Those aspects ought to be looked at in balance with the Stuart Highway. I put it no higher than that. I suspect that people in Western Australia would urge me to say that the situation there is even more important.
I make the point that at this stage- I think that the Minister for Transport has made this clearspecial ad hoc grants are not made outside normal funding arrangements. So, we have a general pattern of national highway funding in Australia which relies on grants being made to the States. In a process of consultation and so on between the Commonwealth and the States, national highway programs are actually laid down. Senator Jessop has indicated that he is in the process of urging upon the Minister for Transport- he has urged upon the Minister already- that there ought to be some adjunct, some additional collateral program.
– No, he has written in the terms of the motion I moved.
-What Senator Young said in this chamber is that he has urged on the Minister a new approach which would involve having a separate fund. That is a major policy matter. I trunk that it raises issues which are not the subject of this motion and, quite frankly, that it raises them in a way which is much more rational. I do not believe that in this sort of debate we can pick out a single road project and say that, in the Committee’s opinion, that project ought to be treated quite separately in all these national accounts.
I have no doubt that Senator Bishop has moved his motion in this form because to move for an additional appropriation would be beyond the powers of this chamber. Therefore, he is seeking to do what he can do in this regard. But if he moved a motion- he is indicating by nodding his head that he would do so if it were not for the constitutional restrictions- requesting additional funds for this road, it would become quite clear that what we were asking for, if the motion were accepted, was an additional allocation in the Budget; in other words, either for a greater Budget deficit or for the imposition of more taxation. They are the only alternatives that we have. I really think that it is in that broad context that the motion can be seen to be inappropriate. Whilst I am quite certain that, as all honourable senators who have spoken have indicated, there is a wide sharing of the Government’s view that the Stuart Highway in South Australia is an important national project which needs support, I do not believe that it is right to suggest that it should be dealt with uniquely in this special funding way without consideration of the general problem how we are going to treat national roads.
I want it to be very clear on the record that it is for that reason alone, and not because there is any doubt in the Commonwealth’s mind about the fact that the Stuart Highway project is important and has high priority, that I oppose the motion. I suggest to honourable senators that the record is clear. Representations have been made. The further matters which have been raised in this chamber can be referred to the Minister for Transport for further consideration. I think that the matter really cannot be taken further this afternoon.
– I think that the matter could be taken further this afternoon because I do not think that the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) is correct in some of his assumptions. He very cleverly said that, although he has sympathy with this proposal he will defeat the motion and that therefore an expression of opinion will not come from this Committee. We will ask the Minister to read Hansard tomorrow, when he will see that what he has said in fact is that every honourable senator concerned about this matter already on many occasions has expressed his opinion to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon). The Minister for Administrative Services wants us to accept his statement that the same honourable senators have said the same things in this chamber as they have said to the Minister for Transport but that they did not get the backing of this Committee in requesting special funding and that, therefore, there is no support in this chamber for such a request. That is what he is saying despite the very nice way that he has put it. Virtually, he has said: ‘Do not let it get around that I am opposed to the motion, but I will defeat it just the same ‘. I admit that, when saying that the Federal Minister had the right to determine priorities, to say that he did not exercise that right or that he did not think that any alteration could be made to the priorities in the allocation of funds to South Australia -
– The priorities were altered.
– Yes, that is what I am saying. The Minister corrected me and indicated that they were altered. I admit that on the Minister’s persuasion the priorities were altered. But, again, he found it possible to alter them only to the extent of $lm. With the cost of the project being what it will be, it will take 70 years to build the road if this type of allocation is maintained. If the Minister is satisfied that we will spend this amount each year on the project and that the Federal Government will insist on this priority being given to that project, in 70 years’ time we will have a perfect road to the Northern Territory, if the first part of it which is put down now is not worn out in 70 years’ time. So, the ability of the Minister for Transport to find an opportunity to alter the priorities for South Australia was very limited and insufficient. Therefore, something else has to be done. The Minister for Administrative Services said very forcibly that we cannot treat this project as being separate from the national roads policy. But the motion does not ask us to do so. It does not ask us to deny any other State a right to put a claim for priority to be given to a road in that State or the right to have such a proposal considered. The motion reads:
That the Committee is of the opinion that the Australian Government should provide special funding to enable a continuing program of construction of the Stuart Highway to be undertaken . . .
We recognise the importance of this project and of the necessity to provide special funding for it. We do not say that special funding should not be provided for any other road. Perhaps the motion does suggest that we think that special funding should be provided for all priority roads, but we place essential priority on the Stuart Highway.
The Minister for Administrative Services said that at present in Australia no highway linking capital city is more important than the Stuart Highway, considering the present condition of that road for many times during the year it is impassable.
The other matter raised was whether it would be better to ask for additional funds. Whilst Senator Bishop under our constitutional restrictions could not have moved a motion requesting an alteration to the appropriation, he could have moved a request that an additional appropriation for the purpose of building the Stuart Highway. If carried, the motion would be forwarded to the House of Representatives as a request from this House. Until such time as the request was considered and agreement was reached between both Houses, an additional appropriation would not be made. Senator Bishop does not seek- I think it is against Labor Party policy- to alter the annual Budget of the Government. The Labor Government suffered as a result of the doubtful action of the Senate on a previous occasion and such action would not be taken by the Labor Party. Senator Bishop’s motion does not say that the Government should make special funds available by taking those funds from elsewhere. He has just pointed out to the Minister the importance of this matter. The Minister should consider the importance of this motion. There is a mass of feeling behind the need for this highway. Whilst the Minister has manipulated and succeeded in getting a start made on the work this year, we stress that the importance of this highway justifies the Minister ensuring that a proper allocation is made next year so that worthwhile progress will be maintained on the road. This motion is an expression of opinion by the Senate. If passed, it would support what all members of Parliament from South Australia and the Northern Territory have endeavoured to achieve. They have presented a case to the Minister for the construction of this very important national highway.
– I totally agree with what the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) has said. I would support Senator Bishop if he were to broaden his motion so that it read along the lines: ‘The Committee is of the opinion that the Australian Government should establish a special fund to enable the Federal Minister to direct additional finance to special national highway projects’. If he wanted to highlight the Stuart Highway in particular, I would be happy to support him. As the motion is worded now it really weakens the argument that I am putting to the Minister on a national basis. I will continue to help Senator Cavanagh in his efforts to get this highway built. I have helped Mr Wallis who I know has been doing his very best.
I certainly will give my total support to anything that they care to do, provided it will influence the Government on a national basis to change its policy. We cannot just pick off roads here and there, will-nilly. We have tried. We have supported the idea of special funding for (hat road but we have been rejected by the Government on that basis. I suggest that if Senator Bishop broadens his motion it will get more support from the other States representation in this chamber. I think that is a sensible approach. If Senator Bishop cares to rephrase his motion I will support it.
– I will not take a lot of time. It is clear that at one point both Senator Jessop and Senator Kilgariff supported this proposition. They were part of the deputation that saw the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon). They continued to support that proposition until now. I remind Senator Jessop of what he said after the deputation had met the Minister. A report in the Adelaide Advertiser of 26 May this year stated:
In a letter to Mr Nixon last night, Senator Jessop urged the Cabinet to reimburse the South Australian Government $ 18.79m, which had been spent above the Commonwealth’s national highway allocation over the past four years.
It was reasonable to expect this amount to be reimbursed provided it was spent on the Stuart Highway.
It is felt that an urgent capital works program should be approved in order that this road, the only national highway remaining unsealed in the State, can be completed within eight years ‘, Senator Jessop said.
Although we had led the fight Senator Jessop said that he hoped all of us would sign that letter. I conclude by saying that at that meeting with the deputation the Minister for Transport, perhaps reluctantly, agreed to go to Cabinet and ask for a special allocation of $2. 3m as honourable senators will remember. The Minister appreciated the special claim about which we had been talking. The Minister replied in a letter which I have read to the Senate in which he said that the request had been refused basically because of the general policy of cost restraint. Obviously, the Government recognised the need for funds to be allocated to this project. It indicated that in the present economic climate it could not allocate funds. I hope that Senator Jessop and Senator Kilgariff will support the proposition which seems to me to be completely in line with the proposition we put to the Minister about which we should be talking in the future.
– It is unfortunate that both Senator Jessop and Senator Kilgariff are now endeavouring to widen the motion moved by Senator Bishop. At no time during any of the meetings between the deputations and the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) on the Stuart Highway has there been any mention of funds for a national highway program. Our talks have always centred on the allocation of extra money for the Stuart Highway. Senator Bishop has just quoted a Press release put out by Senator Jessop in May. I want to quote what Senator Jessop was reported as saying only three weeks ago. In the Adelaide Advertiser of 19 October under the heading ‘ More highway cash sought ‘ it is stated:
Canberra- The extra $lm allocated by the Federal Government for the Stuart Highway would be enough to build only about 35 kilometres of the Port AugustaWoomera section. Senator Jessop, (SA) said yesterday.
I am not aware that an extra $lm was allocated but Senator Jessop said that there was. The article continued:
The extra allocation was announced in Parliament last week by the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon.
There is some conjecture as to whether Mr Nixon did announce the allocation of an extra $ 1 m.
- Senator Chaney said it was an alteration of priorities.
– Yes. That article in the Adelaide Advertiser continued:
Senator Jessop, chairman of the Government subcommittee on transport, said some Government Members believed a more substantial sum would be needed ‘in subsequent years’ to accelerate sealing of the highway.
He had arranged a deputation of himself, Senator Kilgariff (NCP, NT), Senator Young (Lib., SA) and Mr Calder ( NCP, NT) to ask Mr Nixon for more funds.
The deputation had argued that extra money should be in addition to the set sums the States received for national highways under the present funding system.
Mr Nixon had been sympathetic to the deputation’s case and had said he would draw the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser.
On no occasion has mention been made of funds for national highways in the broad sense. On every occasion Senator Jessop and the people he mentioned in his Press release have been involved- Mr Calder, Senator Kilgariff and members of the Opposition- the whole case has been argued on acquiring funds for the Stuart Highway. Senator Bishop has moved a motion in this Senate to get the backing of the Senate in order to strengthen the arguments which we have all put to the Minister to get funds to construct the Stuart Highway. We now find that both Senator Jessop and Senator Kilgariff are endeavouring to widen the argument. If they are prepared to do that today, why did they not use this argument in all the years that we have been making representations to the Minister. It seems to me that when the chips are down what Senator Jessop is doing is seeking to find an easy way out of supporting in the Parliament, an argument which he has been expressing to the Minister. He has been putting out Press releases indicating his concern about the Stuart Highway on almost a weekly basis. However, that is something with which Senator Jessop has to live, if he refuses to support the motion now put forward by Senator Bishop.
The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) said that Mr Nixon has directed Mr Virgo to make other money available for the Stuart Highway. The Minister may not know that the reason this money can be allocated is that the south-eastern freeway is now nearing completion. I know this because I live near the end of the section that is being completed. The south-eastern freeway is complete to Callington and most of the formation work has been done between Callington and Murray Bridge. All that remains to be done are the finishing touches to enable the road to be sealed. We would expect that that road would be operating within 12 months to coincide with the opening of the Swanport Bridge, the new bridge over the River Murray. One of the main reasons that the South Australian Minister is able to divert funds for the Stuart Highway is that the work on the south-eastern freeway is coming to an end. I know from personal contact that some of the people who are already working on the road have already been asked to go and work on a section of the Stuart Highway. That is conclusive proof that work is to commence there and is the main reason, I think, why the money has now been allocated. I would hope, having said those few words, that both Senator Jessop and Senator Kilgariff can convince their colleagues that they should support the motion moved by Senator Bishop.
That the motion (Senator Bishop’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator Douglas Barr Scott)
Question so resolved in the negative.
-I wish to comment on the proposed expenditure on railways. In South Australia quite a number of lines have been closed or are proposed for closing. In the main, this is simply because of the need to balance the deficit to the extent of some 20 per cent. Mr Dyason, the General Manager of the Australian National Railways Commission admitted publicly that a direction had come from the Federal Government that the Commission must consider ways and means by which the target set by the Federal Government could be achieved.
Already, passenger services between Adelaide and Tailem Bend, Naracoorte, Kingston, Peterborough and Broken Hill have been cancelled. Freight services between Tailem Bend, Pinnaroo, Barmera and Waikerie have been reduced. Services beyond Clare and Nuriootpa on the Truro line have also been cancelled. It may be said that some of these lines are uneconomical, but I do not believe that for the long term it is good policy simply to close lines because of that fact. The long term view should be that possibly, in 10 or IS years time, fuel will be costly and scarce. If rail services in Australia are continually reduced or cancelled, certainly people who live in the rural sector will face great difficulties. It is doubtful whether they will get their crops and produce to market. I say that simply because I believe that if the only means of transporting goods from the country to the seaboard were to be by road, that form of transport would most certainly prove to be too expensive. I believe that we will have to go back to rail. As I have said, there is a possibility at the present time that some of these lines are uneconomic. It is possible that some of them are geographically situated in bad positions. I do not believe that it is good simply or out of hand to cancel or reduce the services on many of these lines. I believe that what Australia should do is have an overall look at its future transport needs. If it is found that lines are situated in bad positions, they should be relocated. Lines that are not up to standard should be brought up to standard. I believe that when the fuel energy crisis hits this country, unless we have done something about our transport system it will be too late. If Australia is to be a large exporting nation, especially of rural products, we should have a serious look at the whole of our transportation system.
There have been representations by me and many other senators from South Australia to the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, asking him to hold his hand on the predicted closure of some of the lines especially the Peterborough to Quorn and Gladstone to Wilmington railway lines. We asked Mr Nixon whether he would notify all the people concerned. When I say ‘all the people’ I mean that there should be full consultation with the unions and the people in the areas and the towns, including the business people. The closure of these lines will have grave social consquences for country areas. I believe that unless there is full consultation many people will be hurt and many people with businesses will not be able to continue to function.
I believe that there have to be guarantees to the farming communities. If there is any doubt about the future cost of transporting rural products to the seaboard, there has to be a full investigation of the costing not just at the present moment but also in future years. It is hopeless for any rural sector to develop land and industries in those areas unless there is some indication of what the costs are going to be, especially in transportation. It is a tragedy just to close the lines haphazardly, without a great deal of planning. I do not believe at this stage that sufficient numbers of people in the community have been brought in to look at the whole question. I think that is necessary. I ask the Government to reexamine its postion in regard to closing some of these lines. As I said, many people depend on those industries. In some of those rural sectors, in the provincial towns, there are a lot of people employed in repairing, manufacturing and maintaining rail lines and rolling stock.
A few months ago the Australian National Railways decided that it would not employ apprentices this year. When representations were made it changed its mind on that. Now it is looking to employing a reduced number of apprentices. Just closing the lines and leaving transportation to private enterprise is not in the best interests of the community. Many of the roads in rural areas have not been designed to carry large trucks heavily laden with wheat and wool and all the other produce of the country. We should be looking at the dangers. There are dangers, and they should be taken into account. If the lines are closed in many of these areas and heavy vehicles have to travel to and fro, bringing the goods to the seaboard, many of these roads will have to be rebuilt. I think it would be better at this stage to have a complete look at the whole of our transportation system.
I ask the Government to reconsider some of these points. I impress this on the Government and the Minister: Before any lines are closed they should have full and frank discussions with everyone involved- the trade union movement, the local councils, the business people and other sections of the community. It is essential that the people be satisfied and helped to know where they will be going in the future. If that is not done, there will be too much uncertainty and many industries in the areas concerned will have no faith to improve businesses and properties.
– I enter the debate in order to say a few words about the Australian National Railways as it relates to the Alice Springs situation. Just recently I had discussions with the railway employees in Alice Springs and later, at a meeting of union representatives, I listened to Mr Commissioner Smith and the Assistant General Manager, Dr Williams, as they talked with the employees and answered some of their questions. At this meeting a number of concerns were expressed. These concerns related to the situation that will pertain when the broad gauge line to Alice Springs is completed.
The first concern expressed by the railway employees related to staff movements. It appears that there will be a number of redundant positions and members of the staff will be required to move away from Alice Springs to other centres. That was basically because, with the completion of the broad gauge line, less maintenance work would be required at the Alice
Springs depot. So a number of those maintenance staff will have to be relocated. When this problem was put to the Commissioner he said that he saw no problem at all. He thought that the whole matter would sort itself out. He did not take it as a possibility that all 120 people working at Alice Springs might want to stay in Alice Springs. He did not take it as a possibility that all 120 people might want to move away. He said that he saw no problem in the situation. He said that with the ‘temporary’ closing of the line in Darwin- the North Australia Railway- some time before there had been no problem. He thought the same situation would prevail in Alice Springs.
As a visitor I did not speak publicly at the meeting, but here I challenge the statement that there was no problem in Darwin when the line was closed temporarily. There were many very worried, unhappy, unsettled people.
The point of these remarks, without labouring it too much, is to seek the assurance of the Minister that the rights of all staff will be looked at very carefully before any decisions are made. Mr Commissioner Smith guaranteed that there would be discussions with the unions and discussions by some of his senior staff with the employees at Alice Springs. I have to add a word of caution here and say that the same sorts of assurances were given in Darwin but there was not as much consultation as the group in Darwin would have liked. I seek in this first area an assurance that there will be full discussion with the employees and wherever possible they will be located in areas of their choice. As for those who will be leaving the service of the Commission, I hope that every assistance will be given to them to find positions either in other government departments or with private enterprise.
The second area of concern expressed at the meeting was that of fares out of Alice Springs. The present situation of the railway employees is that they get a ‘free’ pass- although it is not exactly a free pass- once each year. I say it is not a free pass because although the employee gets a pass for himself, his wife and children he then must pay $100 for each member of his family plus the costs of the sleeping berths on the train and the costs of meals. It has been drawn to my attention that these costs have escalated quite severely in the last 12 months. However, I make the point that all government employees in the Northern Territory get air fares or the equivalent once every two years and that is the proposition that I am putting forward now. The Australian National Railways Commission employees are, in effect, government employees and the same conditions should apply to them as apply to other government employees.
I do not think that we can tolerate the argument that because people happen to work on a railway they automatically should travel by rail when they move away. I do not think that honourable senators would accept that proposition. When the proposition was put to him the Commissioner gave no assurance that air fares would be given. He simply suggested that the unions get together and put a case to the Commission. In fact, the implication of what he said was that he had some extreme doubts about air fares being granted. I ask for an assurance from the Government that it will look into the possibility of giving Commission employees the same conditions as other government employees have, and that is air fares or the equivalent every two years. I make the point here that it ought to be the equivalent of air fares. Commission employees should not be forced into a situation different from the rest of the government employees in the Northern Territory. If they wish to drive to some other centre then the air fare equivalent should be given each two years.
– Do we know what the costing would be?
– I have no figures on that. All I can say is that this cost is built in for the other government employees. I do not think that we can use a cost argument in this situation, although I do know that it would not cost a great deal more. There was a suggestion that the Commission loses $140 on every seat on the Ghan and that if the employees put in their $100 and the Commission saved the $140 the air fare would be covered. But I cannot give Senator Baume the exact cost. I am glad that he accepts the point that the cost factor is not the important factor. It is the matter of equality for all employees which is the important thing.
The third area of concern expressed at the meeting was the location of the rail head when the broad gauge line is completed. There are at least three sites that have been suggested. All I ask is that a full investigation be made before a decision is arrived at on the site of the rail head. When the investigation is carried out I ask that all views be taken into account, including the views of the Corporation of the Municipality of Alice Springs which obviously are important to the town plan, the views of the people themselves, including the views of railway employees as well as the general citizens of Alice Springs, and the views of the business houses which, I understand, stand to suffer quite a deal if the rail head is moved to one of the suggested locations. I have quite clear views on where I think the rail head ought to be but it is not appropriate for me to canvass them here. I simply ask that a full investigation be held into this most important matter.
The fourth area of concern did not occasion a great deal of discussion at the meeting but it is an important matter to me. It concerns the possibility that there might be no passenger train when the broad gauge line goes through. Honourable senators probably will know of the historic Ghan and I hope that the Commission will look very carefully at the possibility of some sort of passenger service, and preferably one modelled on the Ghan. In other words, we want to see something which retains the spirit of the Ghan. The Commissioner in his reply suggested that there might be no passenger train. He said that some people might prefer to go by car and that the Commission might not be able to fill the Ghan. I point out to the Committee the success of the Indian-Pacific railway and the fact that one has to book months ahead in order to get a seat. I will assume that there will be a passenger service- I go so far as to say that- and if there is let us make sure that we get out and sell it. I strongly put it to the Government that it should try to create something with the spirit or flavour of the old Ghan in the new passenger service.
The next matter with which I want to deal arising out of the meeting, and it is the final one, is the situation of railway housing or railway cottages as they are known. The comment was made at the meeting that there has recently been an increase in the rent on these homes without any renovations being carried out. One is reminded a little of the situation of some of the Service homes at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Darwin about which I was moved to comment early last year when increases in rents were made on those homes. I should explain to the Senate that these houses will be demolished in two years’ time when the replanning goes ahead and it is obvious and understandable that very little maintenance will be done, let alone renovations of the houses. Maintenance will be kept to an absolute minimum. So I ask the Government to reconsider the increase in rents on these cottages. Obviously the claim is made that an economic rental is being looked for, but I put it to the Government that this attitude is not completely appropriate to this situation when such a small number of houses is involved. We all remember that one of the conditions of service when people went into the Australian National Railways in the early days was that this sort of accommodation would be made available. However, I will not press that point because those conditions have gone and there is no recognition of the original conditions of service. But, in view of the small amount of money that is involved here, I ask that the Government reconsider increasing the rents. I support other honourable senators who were very pleased to see what is virtually the completion- it is close enough to completion to warrant the present plan- of the broad gauge line. Let us have the changes that need to be made but let us make sure that they are done with the absolute minimum of heartbreak so that we avoid the situation which resulted from the ‘temporary’ closure of the line in the north of the Northern Territory.
– I did not have the opportunity when Estimates Committee E was dealing with the Department of Transport to join in the discussion. It is obvious that I, like many others, was involved in other Estimates committees and so did not have the opportunity. I wish to speak briefly about division 957 subdivision 2 relating to capital works and services for the Australian National Railways. Senator Robertson has made some remarks on this matter. Perhaps before I make my comments I should go back to the previous motion that was dealt with by the Committee of the Whole to say that regardless of whether the motion was passed in a broad or narrrow form, I expect that the Government will continue finance for the sealing of the south road. It is my understanding that there will be a build-up of funds in the ensuing two years; so, regardless of that motion it is my understanding that there will be increased funding. I certainly expect that of the Government.
Now that the standard guage line is being built from Tarcoola to Alice Springs, Australia can be well proud of the construction work that has taken place. This is probably one of the biggest railway line constructions that has taken place in Australia for many a year, and perhaps the biggest since the construction of the east-west line back in the early 1 920s. This line, which has been financed to the extent of some $ 147m, will have a continuity of funding this year of some $24m which will see construction of the line continued in accordance with the program that will see it completed in 1981. Despite this, the Australian National Railways construction team is forging ahead so well, and contractors are preparing bridges and so on, that it could well be that this line will be finished before time.
However, there have been problems and in the last few weeks I have had discussions with the employees of the Australian National Railways, with the local council in Alice Springs and with various other people. I have had correspondence with the Chairman of the Australian National Railways Commission, Mr Keith Smith, over the last few weeks. He accepted my invitation to visit Alice Springs last weekend. He was able to have discussions with the Mayor of Alice Springs, local council members and industry representatives. He also met Mr Steele, the Minister for Transport in the new Northern Territory Government, thus developing a liaison between that Government and the Federal Government. He met a large group of businessmen who had various qualms and concerns about decisions that had not yet been made by the Government or the Australian National Railways Commission. He was invited to attend a discussion with railway employees who, as Senator Robertson said, also have some worries about their future.
The site of the terminal is a controversial matter. Various reports have come out over the last three years suggesting different sites. The interdepartmental committee has almost finished its inquiries. It is expected to report to the Minister for Transport, Mr Peter Nixon, in the next few weeks. One would hope that the report will be available in February to the people and to the Government of the Northern Territory. The Federal Minister and the Australian Government have promised that, before any final decisions are made, the people will be consulted.
There is the possibility that because of heavy losses by the Australian National Railways Commission the famous old Ghan will cease service in the new year. It is the wish of the Commission to cease running the passenger service. This would mean that there would be no passenger rail service to the Northern Territory for possibly 18 months or two years until the new line is completed. This is not acceptable to the people. It is their wish that the Ghan continue to run at least until an interim railhead is contructed at Kulgera which is just inside the Northern Territory border and where, as I have said in a previous debate, a bitumen road has been constructed. Passengers would be able to transfer to coaches to Alice Springs. People who had put their cars on the train to avoid the rough road from the south would be able to put them onto the bitumen and travel to Alice Springs on the highway from the South Australian border. There is an economic reason for doing this. If there were an outlay of $3m to expedite the construction of the railway line, it would be completed a few months earlier. This would bring about a reduction in the losses which the Australian National Railways Commission is experiencing.
As I have said, further discussions have taken place on the railhead. A decision has not yet been made but it appears that a site in Alice Springs will receive general agreement. This will allow the Australian National Railways Commission to return land to Alice Springs. As Senator Robertson said, it would eventually mean houses being removed and employees of the Commission being housed by a Northern Territory authority. It would also allow the line to continue through Alice Springs. It is the wish of many people in the Northern Territory that, for the development of the Northern Territory and to service our northern coast, the Government should consider the construction of the line not only to Alice Springs but also to Darwin. This would meet the promise made so many years ago that the Federal Government would be responsible for a line traversing Australia from north to south. I call upon the Government to investigate the feasibility and viability of such a line. The time has come when a survey of the rail should be commenced to see how long construction would take and what finance would be required and to ascertain the viability of the rail. Viability of course, must be balanced with the development of the north. We need more people and more development.
I suggest that a survey of the line take place from Alice Springs to Birdum which is the southernmost point of the old narrow gauge line which no longer is used. There should be a further survey to the city of Darwin. This is where I would expect heavier expenditure to be necessary because a new line would surely not follow the track of the old narrow gauge line that wound around the country. Parts of the line that were constructed years ago would now take the standard gauge line. I am referring to bridges et cetera in the Birdum-Katherine area. Surely this would be a most economic way of constructing the line. The Australian National Railways Commission has the expertise, the construction gangs and the equipment for quick Une laying. This should be used to continue the line to Darwin. This matter should be looked at, perhaps not with the idea of an ultimate committal to the construction of the line but at least a committal to survey the feasibility and requirements of the line. The line along which the old Ghan runs is famous. It has been suggested by various people in Alice Springs, members of the Legislative Assembly and others, that a portion of the line should be retained as an historic link with some of the rolling stock. The Chairman of the Australian National Railways Commission is enthusiastic in this regard.
Last, but not least, I refer to the people whose lives, to some degree, will be disrupted by the discontinuation of use of the old narrow gauge line and the construction of the standard gauge line, that is, the employees of the Australian National Railways Commission. From discussions with the Chairman, it appears that there will be a requirement for most of them. Many now have their own houses in Alice Springs. It is likely that a few will return to Port Augusta.
– What would be the work force of Commonwealth railway employees in Alice Springs?
– That is being assessed at the moment. Because there will be a busy terminal in Alice Springs, naturally there will be a demand for railway employees. Perhaps some of those employed in the maintenance section will go back to Port Augusta. I also support the remarks made by Senator Robertson when he said that the employees are treated differently from other public servants in that they receive only a rail fare to travel south whereas every other public servant receives an air fare. Another matter relates to that issue. The employees receive a rail fare only without sleeper or food. They have to go to the diner and of course the costs of that come out of their own pockets. This I think is completely unfair. Their conditions are such that they should be reviewed. I believe that the construction of this line is a momentous step. It is one for which the Government should be congratulated. Despite the difficulties these days in funding various projects throughout Australia, the funding of some $24m for this line this financial year will ensure that its construction will continue as planned and perhaps will arrive in Alice Springs a little earlier than planned.
– Before commencing my remarks on the Australian National Railways division of the Department of Transport I welcome Senator Kilgariff back to the chamber. Together with his colleague, Senator Jessop, he was very conspicuous by his absence when the vote was taken with respect to the Stuart Highway. There have been no two people more vocal about the need for funds for the Stuart Highway than Senator Kilgariff and Senator Jessop. Yet when they get the opportunity to vote and to get the weight of the Senate behind them they walk out of the chamber and refuse to vote. I think the people of Alice Springs will be very interested to hear about that. No doubt the Editor of the Transcontinental newspaper in Port Augusta will have some very nice remarks to make about Senator Jessop in next week’s issue of his newspaper. I am sure that is the last the electorate of Grey will hear of Senator Jessop trying to upstage the local member Mr Wallis, who has continually endeavoured to get funds for the Stuart Highway. Just about every week we find either Press releases in the newspaper or news items on the radio and the television about what Senator Jessop is doing to get funds for the Stuart Highway. Of course, the people in the electorate of Grey now know full well how sincere he has been in his efforts.
– I have not finished with him yet- said that the people in the Northern Territory will not be satisfied unless they get a continuation of the line from Alice Springs to Darwin. I remind Senator Kilgariff that it was the Government of which he is a supporter which a few months after it was elected in 1975 brought about the demise of the railway in the Northern Territory. It closed it down. He was a supporter of that Government. Now he is talking about -
– On the Labor Minister’s instructions.
– It had nothing to do with the Labor Minister. It was the Country Party Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, who took the decision. Senator Kilgariff was a supporter of that Government. He spoke about the Northern Territory Acceptance Act of 1912 in which the Commonwealth was committed. Senator Kilgariff would know about that, because he gave evidence before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform for the Northern Territory, of which I was a member. If he has a look at the transcript of that evidence he will see that I continually referred to that legislation and mentioned the abdication of the Commonwealth Government- that it did not construct that north-south line. From that transcript of evidence he can also refresh his memory as to the fact that I repeatedly asked about a survey being conducted in the Northern Territory in relation to the upgrading of the railway line. So he is saying nothing new when he comes into this chamber and talks about those things. If he looks at the record he will see that during the term of the Whitlam Government I continually raised the matter together with Mr Bert James who was Chairman of the Committee and with Mr Wallis who also expressed his concern about the railways in the Northern Territory. We are on record as doing that. Yet today when Senator Kilgariff has an opportunity to support these things about which he talks, he abdicates his responsibility by walking out of the chamber.
The matter to which I want mainly to refer is the possibility of the closure of country railway lines in South Australia. The people in my area were so concerned that a public meeting was called. I want to quote a letter dated 14 August which I received from the Tailem Bend Community Co-ordination and Co-operation Conference. It reads:
You are respectfully requested to attend a Public Meeting that will be held in the Tailem Bend Institute on 28 August 1978 at 7.30 p.m.
The purpose of the meeting is to ascertain from Governments, the ANR, Unions, and other interested bodies, the future of railways in Tailem Bend and throughout the Murray Mallee area.
At the head of the list of people who were invited to that meeting was Mr P. Nixon, MHR, the Minister for Transport. Of course he did not attend. Mr Virgo, the State Minister for Transport, was invited and he attended. Mr Vein Dyason, the General Manager of the Australian National Railways, was invited and attended. I was invited and I attended. Mr Jim Porter, the Liberal Member for Barker, was invited and he attended. Mr Bill Nankivell, M.P., the State member for Mallee, was invited and he attended. Mr Nick Alexandrides, the State Secretary of the Australian Railways Union was invited and attended. Mr R. Matthews, the State Secretary of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, and Mr B. Busch, the State Secretary of the Australian Transport Officers Federation, were also invited and attended. Mr Grant Andrews, State Secretary of United Farmers and Graziers of South Australia Incorporated was invited and attended. Mr R. Talmac, Research Officer of the ARU, was invited and he attended. Ralph Taylor, Federal Secretary of the ARU was invited- he is a Commissioner of the ANR- but was unable to attend. So there we have it. All of those people attended the meeting. We were all given the opportunity to address the meeting. We were practically unanimous in saying to the meeting that there should be no closure of country railway lines in South Australia. I want to quote what the Murray Valley Standard, which reported the meeting, had to say about some of the matters which were brought forward at the meeting. In addressing the meeting, Mr Dyason, the General Manager of the ANR, said:
The ANR was given the South Australian Railways to operate- not to destroy, and it gives us no pleasure to close lines or reduce services, and we will not undertake any such action before careful consideration and except under pressure.
But present losses on the railway system are unacceptable to the Federal Government and it is the responsibility of the ANR to carry out the policies of that government.
So if lines anywhere in South Australia are going to close, as Mr Dyason said such action will not be the responsibility of the ANR; it will be as a result of policies of the Government. As to what Mr Virgo said, the report stated:
The ANR was bound to operate the SA Railways and not to dismantle the system, SA Transport Minister Mr Virgo said. ‘This is provided for in the agreement through which the system was handed over.
The agreement provided for changes to the service, after consultations, in the interest of demand and the needs of the community.
We must remember that the effective transfer date was 1 July, 1975 not 1 March, 1978.
Where closures are proposed, the SA Government has the right to object. In the case of proposals for closures at Gladstone and Quorn, we have objected, and the matter is going to arbitration’.
Mr Virgo said he had recommended to the ANR that downgrading of services to Barmera, Waikerie and Pinnaroo be deferred pending an investigation into community needs.
The investigation was agreed to but, unfortunately, the downgrading went ahead ‘ . . .
Of course, that was at the instruction of the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon. Let us look at what the State Secretary of the United Farmers and Graziers had to say. I concur with his remarks. I do not always concur with his remarks but I do on this occasion. The report stated:
UF & G spokesman Mr Grant Andrews said the rural sector had a vested interest in maintenance of the railways system. Political interests in the debate should be forgotten.
Rail has been shown to be five times more efficient than road haulage over distance, and with increasing fuel costs, railways will again be ‘number 1 ‘.
It is worth remembering that cuts in rail services, and talks of cuts, always follow years of drought, and periods of low turnover for the railways.
The railway services must be maintained. A deficit of from 70 to 80 million dollars is “peanuts” in terms of the national interest and the overall national budget . . . ‘
– Was that said by a Labor member?
– No, Mr Grant Andrews has never been on record as supporting the Labor Party.
– Who is he?
– He is the secretary of the United Farmers and Graziers of South Australia. As I said, I fully support him in those remarks because they were wise ones. I said that instead of curtailing services the Government should be spending more on upgrading them. If rail lines in the country areas close, rural producers will be at the mercy of private hauliers.
Certainly it is not good that the railways cannot operate at a profit but the railways are a public service for which the Federal Government now has responsibility in my State.
It would be far better if all railways throughout Australia were a federal responsibility rather than South Australia and Tasmania suffering from this piecemeal situation. We all know that had the Whitlam Government remained in office, with the change of government in New South Wales, the Commonwealth would be responsible for New South Wales railways. Victoria would have no option but to hand its railways over to the Commonwealth. This was first suggested by Mr Bolte some years ago. He was the first Premier in this country to advocate the Commonwealth taking over responsibility for State railways. Yet when the Labor Party was in office and it made such an offer to him he backed off; so did the New South Wales Government. Mr Askin at that time was supporting Mr Bolte. There should be a national system.
I return to what Mr Andrews said in relation to the necessity of the railways. His predictions are borne out by the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made last Sunday night which I have previously quoted. He said that farmers right across Australia are facing one of the best seasons they have ever had in many years. Who is going to cart the produce if the railways are to be closed? As I said in my remarks at Tailem Bend, the options will be left solely to private enterprise. The farmers will be at their mercy. Who will cart the superphosphate and the record grain harvest? Superphosphate will be required for next year’s seeding after the record grain harvests which have given farmers extra money to be able to plough back into their properties.
There is no foresight in the closure of the lines that the Government has projected. I think the fact that the Government is not concerned about rail services is borne out by figures at page 125 of the Appropriation Bill. Expenditure last year for the Australian National Railways amounted to $63,640,000, whereas only $60m will be appropriated this year. So there will be a cut of $3,640,000 this year for the Australian National Railways. Where will the cut take place? It must mean a cut in services and a reduction in personnel. The meeting at Tailem Bend decided that the Parliament ought to be petitioned. I want to read out the petition. I have not had the opportunity to do much about it because honourable senators cannot speak on the presentation of a petition. Petitions have been presented to both
Houses of Parliament in accordance with the decision taken at that meeting. They read as follows:
The decision of the Tailem Bend meeting was that copies of that petition be forwarded to every country council in South Australia and to all country chambers of commerce to obtain signatures to them. Many of those petitions have now been presented in this Parliament. I hope that the Government will take some notice of them. Usually after petitions are presented in the Parliament they are put down in the basement and nobody hears any more about them. This is a most important petition. It is also backed up by correspondence that members of parliament, particularly those from South Australia, have received.
The District Council of Orroroo wrote to all Federal members of Parliament from South Australia calling on them to take action to see that there is no closure of country railway lines. The ones in which the Council is particularly interested are the Peterborough-Quorn and the Gladstone-Wilmington railway services. The Council put up a submission to the committee which investigated the proposed closure of the Peterborough-Quorn railway line. The Council is most concerned. Of course Government members would have received that request that they do everything to prevent the closure of those lines. Correspondence from the GladstoneWilmington railway action committee points out the same problem that will exist in the country areas if this Government goes ahead and closes country lines.
In view of the vote that was taken in this chamber some moments ago on the Stuart Highway I predict that all the proposals that are put forward to South Australian Government members from concerned country people fall on deaf ears because they are not concerned. They have shown by their voting that they are not concerned with the problems of country people. It is all very well for honourable senators opposite to go out into the electorate at large and to say: ‘We are men of free will. We can make up our minds and we can vote on issues as we see them’. We did not see that happening here today in relation to the Stuart Highway. That vote was conclusive proof that Government senators were not game to vote against the proposition put up by their Minister. As Senator Cavanagh said, the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) put it up in a very nice way, as he always does. I have commended him on the way that he handles his portfolio. He is able to take the heat out of many issues. He was certainly able to persuade some of the honourable senators who sit behind him and who we thought in all honesty would have supported Senator Bishop’s motion to help the people not only of South Australia but also of the Northern Territory. My time is nearly up but I will be allowed another IS minutes to pursue the matter on which I have asked some questions in the Parliament and which have been recorded in Hansard. Answers have been provided to me by Mr Nixon. I will sit down now before my time expires and speak again after another honourable member speaks.
– I will make a sacrifice and yield to Senator McLaren.
– I thank Senator Mulvihill for allowing me to continue my remarks now. On 12 October I put a question to Senator Chaney, who represents the Minister for Transport. I asked:
Is it a fact that the Australian National Railways Commission has compiled a list of employees over the age of S3 years for the purpose of retrenchment? If this is a fact, will the Minister give full details of the methods to be applied in carrying out the retrenchments and the amount of compensation, if any, that will be paid to the employees because of early retrenchments?
Senator Chaney said that he would refer the question to the Minister for Transport. On 31 October- that was a pretty swift reply- I received this reply signed by Peter Nixon, the Minister for Transport. It states:
Dear Senator McLaren,
You will recall your Question Without Notice to Senator Chaney on 12 October 1978, asking whether the Australian National Railways Commission had compiled a list of employees over the age of 55 years for the purpose of retrenchment.
I am advised that no such list exists. The Government is most concerned however at the size of the losses incurred by the Australian National Railways and realises that long term strategies are needed to achieve substantial improvements. Accordingly, the Commission was asked to prepare a plan setting out a range of possible actions which might be taken to reduce its losses. The options put forward in this plan have been examined in depth by Commonwealth officials and will shortly be considered by the Government. The decisions to be taken in this context will of course have implications for the future staffing levels within ANR.
It seems clear however, that fewer staff will be required to operate the ANR system as new methods and procedures, designed to increase efficiency and reduce losses, are introduced. However, I would expect that, as in the past, reductions in staff will be achieved through natural wastage, and not by retrenchments.
The words in that last paragraph are very ominous for ANR employees. I repeat that the Minister stated:
It seems clear however, that fewer staff will be required to operate the . . . system.
In the Appropriation Bill millions of dollars less is appropriated for ANR this year than last year. So it is obvious that there will be rail closures which will result in retrenchment of staff. On 17 October I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport another question on this subject. I said that I did so with great expectation in view of the Minister’s intimate knowledge of the Department of the Minister whom he represents in the Senate. I said that because Senator Chaney had given a lengthy answer to a Government senator on a railway matter. Yet he could not provide me with the answers I sought. I thought that perhaps I should ask a Dorothy Dixer so that the Minister would be able to answer it for me. I asked: -‘
Has the Government made a decision to reduce the Port Augusta-Alice Springs railway service known as the Ghan Service? If the answer is in the affirmative, can the Minister say whether the Australian Workers Union, which has many of its members working on this service, was consulted prior to the decision being made? If a decision has not yet been taken, will the Minister undertake to have discussions with the AWU in South Australia at the earliest opportunity in the interests of industrial harmony?
Senator Chaney replied that he hated to disappoint me but he did not have an answer and would refer the matter to the Minister for Transport, whom he represents in this chamber. A colleague of mine, the honourable member for Grey, Mr Wallis, posed a similar question in the other House. Some days later, on 26 October, Senator Bishop posed a simiar question about the Ghan service. On 8 November 1978 I received a reply from the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon. When we receive answers such as this to questions without notice they do not appear in the Hansard record. If we want the answer placed on the Hansard record we have to read it into the record, as I will do in this case. The Minister wrote:
Dear Senator McLaren,
You will recall your Question Without Notice on 17 October 1978 to Senator Chaney concerning the ‘Ghan’ passenger service.
As you may know the Government is most concerned at the size of the losses incurred by the Australian National Railways and realises that long term strategies are needed to achieve substantial improvements. Accordingly, the Commission was asked to prepare a plan setting out a range of possible actions which might be taken to reduce its losses. The options put forward in this plan have been examined in depth by Commonwealth officials and will shortly be considered by the Government.
The identification of further options for the Government’s consideration is a continuing process, and against this background the Commission has recently submitted a proposal to restrict operations on the Central Australia Railway to freight haulage only.
Withdrawal of the ‘Ghan’ passenger service is of course, a matter for decision by the Government. No such decision has been made.
You also asked about discussions with the unions concerned. I would regard the question of such discussions as a matter within the normal responsibility of the Commission.
Senator Kilgariff had quite a few words to say about the cessation of the Ghan passenger service. He said that people in the Northern Territory would be most upset if the service were withdrawn. Mr Nixon said in the letter to me that the service will be withdrawn and that the people will have only a freight service. As I said in my opening remarks, the people in the Northern Territory, particularly in Alice Springs, will have to look somewhere else to find people to put a strong case to the Minister and to back it up with their vote in this chamber if they expect any improvement in the services which are being curtailed by the present Government. I hope that the Minister for Transport, when he reads what has been said in this debate in this chamber, will give due consideration to not closing country railway lines in South Australia. When we analyse the whole ambit of the railway system we see that it provides a necessary service to people, whether it runs at a loss or a profit. This year the railway system in South Australia will be able to show a marked increase in revenue because we have a record crop.
As I said earlier, private enterprise carriers cannot carry the crop. If we are going to close down railway systems and leave the cartage business to private road hauliers in a year or two we will find ourselves in a situation in which the farming organisations, led by people such as Mr Grant Andrews, will have to come to the Government and ask for a subsidy for private hauliers. The hauliers will use the argument that it is not profitable to cart superphosphate into country areas and to cart grain from the farms to the railhead and down to Port Adelaide, from where it is shipped. Then the Government will be faced with having to provide a subsidy or leaving those people in the country areas without a service at all. In my view it is far better to keep the rail services we have and wherever possible to upgrade them to give the farming community the services they require.
Quite apart from that, if we could only go ahead at a faster rate with upgrading our whole Australian National Railways system, over which we have control, it would create employment and would soak up some of the people who now do not have a job. I have often said that what governments ought to be doing is constructing a dual railway line right across the nation. As I have often said before the present passenger and freight service between Adelaide and Melbourne is no faster now than it was when it was opened because of the waiting time in sidings where trains have to cross. If the Government only had some foresight and expended money on constructing a dual line service we would have a better railway system and freight would be cheaper. I am sure that such a system would work because last year when I visited the Soviet Union I had a look at the dual system that operates there. I could look out the window of the train I was in and every eight minutes I could count a train going past. They were going both ways, night and day, 24-hours a day, carting the produce of the nation and passengers.
Yet what do we have in this country? We have the great juggernauts of motor transport tearing the roads to pieces. The Government has to find the money to build the roads between the capital cities. If the Government could only put that money into constructing railways it would find that it would get a better return for its capital outlay. I hope that the Government, in the interests of Australia at large and in the interests of the people who do not have a job, will change its policy and will see that more money is made available for country railways.
-I did not intend to speak on this subject, but after hearing the sympathetic attitude that Senator Elstob took regarding the position of railways, I thought I should point out that in Tasmania we seem to have fared rather badly with the takeover of our railways by the Australian National Railways Commission. I think it is probably relevant to point out some of the things that have been lost to the State. The first to go was the small parcel service. Then, despite an inquiry being held by Professor Bland, the Tasman Rail Passenger Service was eliminated. I found that move particularly obnoxious because, after giving a very detailed submission to the inquiry I was not even allowed to see the report. Then we lost the services of the transport of livestock which was a great loss to primary producers. Despite representations to upgrade the lines, we are now told that the position is one of rehabilitating an old track which essentially is of an 1870 standard. This means that bad curves will not be eliminated and the right weight ratio of rail track to carry particularly heavy loads will not be available.
Today I was informed that no new construction work would be undertaken in the Launceston Railway Workshops; that instead some of the older equipment from South Australia would be brought across to Tasmania. Unfortunately, we will find that there will therefore be loss of job opportunities. All that we have managed to salvage as a result of repeated representations to the Minister have been about six jobs for women stewardesses who supposedly were to have been retrenched when the Tasman Passenger Service was taken off the run. I assure honourable senators that it took something like a fortnight of hard work before new positions could be found for these people. I only hope that in this reconstruction we will have a system that is efficient and provides a reasonable service to the people of Tasmania because the way things are going it appears that the railways within that State have a very bleak and limited future.
-I would like to support the remarks of my colleagues, Senator McLaren and Senator Elstob, who introduced the general question of the insecurity of railway employees in the face of the examination which presently is being discussed by the Australian National Railways Commission and the Commonwealth Government. I think that Senator McLaren in particular has drawn to the attention of the Committee the position which arose very soon after the LiberalNational Country Party Government came to power. Honourable senators will recall that in the first statement on this matter the Government indicated that it had decided to review the Adelaide to Crystal Brook railway proposal and the Tarcoola to Alice Springs railway project. After the inquiry into the matter to see to what extent, I presume, the projects should be stopped or modified, it was many months before the goahead was given to the projects. That created a feeling of insecurity amongst railway staff. That feeling of insecurity, to a large extent, has grown because of further statements and plans. Perhaps the basic discontent has increased following the release of the report of the committee of inquiry into the proposed closure of the Gladstone to Wilmington and Peterborough to Quorn railway lines. Of course, railway staff do not see this as the last line closure. An honourable senator from Tasmania reminded me that a wider question is involved because workshop staff, in particular, are concerned. I should like to refer to a statement issued by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) when he made public the report of the committee of inquiry. His statement, in the Commonwealth Record, of 2 1 August, states: the Hon. P. J. Nixon, today released the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the proposed closure of the Gladstone to Wilmington and Peterborough to Quorn railway lines. Mr Nixon said: ‘I am releasing this report to put ANF’s decision to close the lines into proper perspective’.
The report was commissioned by agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australian Transport Ministers to investigate the proposal by the Australian National Railways Commission to close these two branch lines. The report was completed in October last year by a Committee comprising a chairman nominated by the Commonwealth Department of Transport, a representative of the Bureau of Transport Economics and a representative of the South Australian Minister of Transport-
Under the agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australia in relation to the rail transfer, the prior agreement of the State Minister to any proposal for a closure is required.
He then said:
The report recommends and demonstrates conclusively that these branch lines should be closed, and that satisfactory alternative transport means could be provided. I indicated to Mr Virgo months ago that this report substantiated the case for closing these two lines and he has had since October last to respond to the report. Some ten days ago he wrote to say that he could not agree . . .
Mr Nixon then referred to the arbitration procedures in relation to the closures. It is unfortunate that, as with other matters, the burden has been put back on to the State governments.
In addition to the matters that are frightening the railway employees, perhaps I should also mention what has also been stated by one of the railway organisations in a letter to all honourable senators and members dated 14 August. In part, it states:
Already passenger services between Adelaide and Tailem Bend, Naracoorte and Kingston, Peterborough and Broken Hill have been cancelled. Freight services between Tailem Bend and Pinaroo, Tailem Bend and Barmera and Tailem Bend and Waikerie have been reduced and freight services beyond Clare and Nuriootpa on the Truro line have been concelled.
It says that there is some evidence for this statement:
The closure of all branch lines except the Angaston and the dismissal of 1,000 employees is currently under consideration by the Commission and it will not be long before the final decision is made. I am sure you will agree with me that such a decision if allowed to be made, will have devastating effects on the State, particularly in the country.
Towns such as Tailem Bend, Peterborough and Pt Pirie will be most adversely affected.
One of the country representatives, not a railwayman sent me a map which indicates, on the information they have, that the lines other than those marked in green will come under scrutiny.
Naturally, country people are very concerned about it. It may be argued that cost savings warrant the adjustment. The important point, of course, about this is not only the reaction from the railway organisation and the men employed in the railways but also the response, which has been indicated by Senator McLaren, at the meeting at Tailem Bend from a number of district councils. In the communications sent to us and from our information, we know that the District Council of Angaston, the District Council of Barmera, the Corporation of the town of Gawler, the District Council of Kadina, the District Council of Lameroo, the Corporation of the City of Mount Gambier, the District Council of Munno Para, the District Council of Murray Bridge, the Corporation of the City of Whyalla and the Corporation of the Town of Wallaroo and many others have responded to the requests from those railways organisations and citizen groups who have supported the protests and petitions.
It is true that we have approached the Minister about these general matters. In particular, we have approached him about the matters which affect the workshop staff including, of course, the statements some months ago that apprentices were not to be recruited and that many of the staff in the workshop would be sacked. Recently I attended a meeting at the request of the Islington Railway Workshops which, as some honourable senators might know, used to be the finest workshop in the southern hemisphere. It could produce and assemble a complete railway coach in two hours. It could complete a 40-ton gondola or a sheep van within a few hours. It produced the early famous American-type steam locos. Presently, that workshop is running down with orders which do not comprise very much railway work. It has been told- I do not know how true it is- that no new works will be given to Islington Railway Workshops. The same comment may well apply in a smaller measure to the Port Augusta workshops. It is a sad situation, of course, for a famous workshop with highly skilled staff. Who can supplement the sort of railway organisations we have? We know from studying general transport matters- defence experts have given some support to this argument- that what is needed in Australia is a rebirth of the railway system. I would like to refer honourable senators to an article by Brigadier Greville. He talked about problems which arise with different States controlling railways and developing railways in their own style, according to their engineering specialities. This, of course, was of great interest to the Labor
Government. We sought to have a new and coordinated policy. We developed a very firm federal policy.
Looking at what ought to be done and at what the railways should do, I refer honourable senators to the August issue of the Railways of Australia bulletin Network in which the assistant general manager points out what is happening to the coal cargoes. It stated:
ANR was now hauling over two million tonnes of coal a year to Port Augusta. By 1988 the coal needs of the Port Augusta stations would be more than four million tonnes.
Standard ANR coal trains running the 165 km coal route from Leigh Creek to Stirling North, just outside Port Augusta, are currently of 80 wagons, each wagon carrying 50 tonnes of coal.
To meet the increased demand, Dr Williams said that ANR would operate trains of 120 coal wagons in the immediate future. These trains will be up to two kilometres long and carry 6,000 tonnes of coal at a time.
Trains of 160 cars grossing about 13,000 tonnes could eventually be used, with a possible development into 200 car unit trains.
We all know when we see the huge freight trains today that the railways organisation certainly is becoming very efficient and no other system can supply the same service. So having regard for the general obligations and the need for coordination, the railway unions and many citizens have protested against what has been envisaged. We hope that the reports or surveys which are presently being carried out at the request of the Commonwealth Government will not be applied hastily. We have certainly had meetings with the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon. The latest reaction to the representations of Mr Wallis and my Labor colleagues in respect to these matters was received in a letter dated 9 October. I will seek permission later to incorporate the whole of the letter in Hansard. In the letter to Mr Wallis, the Minister for Transport, stated:
With regard to the future of the Peterborough to Quorn and Gladstone to Wilmington branch lines, I can assure you that there will be no closures while the railway is needed to transport the forthcoming harvest. Furthermore, there will be no closures without an adequate period of notice being given to the railway customers and unions affected.
That is something that we asked him to do. The letter continues:
The future of these and other South Australian branch lines beyond that time represent some of the many options put forward by ANR for achieving long-term improvements in the commercial position of the railways.
We have asked the Minister to consider something more than that: Rather than just give advice to the unions, the customers and regional people where lines may be cut out, such proposals as are advanced should be circulated publicly so that there can be an adequate reaction from citizens and staff organisations in respect of them. That is not always done, but I am told by officers of the railways union that the management of ANR is quite easy to talk to and has certainly developed communications with them.
A number of propositions have been floated about certain South Australian lines that are now in the hands of ANR, but they have not been discussed with the unions or the citizens. I ask the Minister at the table, the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) to convey to the Minister what seems to me to be a very reasonable request: That there be an obligation, whenever plans or recommendations which come from the Austraiian National Railways Commission are endorsed by the Government, plenty of opportunity be given for those concerned to discuss them.
– There have been a number of speeches concerned with the railways expenditure. If I might generalise, it seems to me that one can, in the broad sense, deal with them in the following ways: First, there were a number of second reading-type speeches on transport generally. I do not think that I should endeavour to respond to some of the broad propositions that Senator Elstob and others have put forward on the whole subject of transport policy. They are matters of record and can be submitted to examination.
There were also, however, a number of quite specific points which honourable senators asked me to refer back to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon). A number were brought forward by Senator Robertson, some by Senator Kilgariff and some, in the final stages of his remarks, by Senator Bishop. I acknowledge all of the points made and will refer them to the Minister for Transport. I comment on one or two points of detail that were raised by honourable senators. Senator Elstob appealed to the Government and to the Australian National Railways Commission not take a narrow view. I assure him that a goodly number of the factors which he brought forward as complicating the question of closures are matters which are given careful consideration. In other words, one does not consider a given railway line in complete isolation. It may be of some consolation to him to know that the whole series of matters that he brought forward are, of my own knowledge, taken into account when questions of closures are considered.
Senator Robertson raised as one of his initial points the problems which he said had been experienced in Alice Springs by people who were to be transferred, and sought assurance that there would be discussions with the people affected by the changes that would occur when the new railway line was completed and the new terminal was installed. I am advised that the ANR has a consistent policy of working in close collaboration with the unions and all who work for it. I understand that that will be a continuing policy and that the sort of assurance which Senator Robertson sought is therefore available to him.
Senator McLaren, in the course of a number of contributions, expressed great concern about the fact that the Government and the ANR wanted to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The one disappointing feature of the debate- a point that might be borne in mind for the similar debate next year- is that not a single suggestion was put forward by any honourable senator as to how some of the $60 m to $70m deficit might be dealt with. I assure honourable senators that that is not an invitation to re-open the debate; next year will be quite soon enough for those contributions to be made. I suggest that honourable senators apply themselves earnestly to that aspect of the problem in the meantime.
The other matter that occurred to me during the course of the debate was that, with a large number of South Australian senators participating in both this and the previous portion of the Committee’s consideration, I am left very pleased that I represent the State of Western Australia rather than South Australia. We are in the fortunate position of having a State government of extraordinary vigour and efficiency. I point out, for example, that in the national roads program there was a very long period during which the black road stopped at the South Australian border. I commend for the study of honourable senators the approach that has been taken by the Western Australian Government in these matters. Also, in respect of railways, I would say that Western Australia, where railways are run by the State, has gone through the trauma of rail closures in country areas. The speeches that have been made this afternoon have been extremely reminiscent of speeches that were made in Western Australia a few years ago. I simply say to honourable senators that very often there is a quite adequate alternative, even in rural areas, and that such matters do call for careful study. The concern that is expressed at the time is often not particularly long lived. A large number of items have been raised in the debate. I am sorry that I cannot deal with them in great detail. However, a number of senators said expressly that they wished their remarks to be referred to the Minister and I will certainly see that that is done.
– I do not want to re-open the debate but am prompted to rise by Senator Chaney ‘s remark about the closure of railways in Western Australia. I agree that some of them should have been closed. I recall during the war years the Midlands Junction walkaway square-wheeled train which was run by private enterprise. It was not closed soon enough!
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Productivity- proposed expenditure, $ 125,506,000-agreed to.
Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development
Proposed expenditure, $41,724,000.
– I have a brief request. During all of the proceedings of the Estimates committees, concerning this Department we have been given the impression from letters which I have produced, signed first by the Minister, Mr Newman, and then by his successor, Mr Groom, that the Fox concept of Kakadu National Park, with the exclusion of five potential mining sites, was to be as outlined. At this stage I would simply draw the attention of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) to an article which appeared today on the back page of the Australian Financial Review, and in a moment will ask for its incorporation in Hansard. We were told that the concept was, with five exclusions, to embrace Kakadu Park. According to this article the mining concern Noranda has restructured its project and, in effect, will need to encroach upon the Kakadu Park boundaries as announced, to operate as a mine. To me, that represents a breach of faith. I do not expect the Minister to have the answers now, but in view of what I call the Groom declaration, the Newman declaration and the promises that were made to the Australian Conservation Foundation, I would like to know whether any poaching or fudging is going on. I leave that with the Minister to probe for me. I seek leave to have the extract from the back page of today’s Australian Financial Review, which expands on those factors, incorporated in Hansard.
Noranda ‘s strong entry in the race
TORONTO.- Noranda has revamped it Koongarra uranium mining plans and intends to made a strong entry into the race to get projects off the ground.
In the calculations as to who are the likely winners in the uranium field Noranda has always been considered to be a severely handicapped starter.
This may well still prove to be so but here in Toronto the 94 per cent owned Canadian company does not see the event being run that way.
Yet there is no doubt that the company faces considerable difficulties.
But after the Fox report Noranda decided that its existing mining plans had no nope of approval and so it completely redesigned the project so as to meet the new environmental standards as it saw them.
Among the changes are a different tailings dam site, a more compact mining operation with a different plant site and a facility to neutralise the acidity of the tailings.
Directors plan to submit an environmental impact statement before the end of year and they believe that because they have revamped their proposals in the light of the Fox report they have some advantages over some of the other projects.
We don’t see any reason why we should not be up there with them,’ says the vice-president of Mine Projects, Jim Hall.
Noranda ‘s biggest problem will be that unlike the other major Northern Territory uranium projects its Koongarra is in a national park.
In addition while the tailings dam site has been transferred from the Bluff Plateau area to a site better able to contain the material, the new area is outside the mining lease.
Noranda places great store on the assurances it has received from Doug Anthony which are in line with his statement in the House to the effect that Noranda ‘s interest would be accommodated in the park proposal.
Accordingly Noranda believes that it will be allowed to develop the project, perhaps using the concept of a window in the national park.
So far there have been very limited discussions with the Northern Land Council because of the NLC’s heavy involvement in the Ranger talks.
The nearest Aboriginal settlement to the mine is about 30 km away.
Noranda has 30 million tonnes of high grade ore of 6.5 lb to the tonne and plans an operation which would treat 1,000 tonnes a day (one-third of the 3,000 tonnes a day stage one of the proposed Ranger plant).
The mine would have a 12-year life with three years for rehabilitation.
Noranda would need to have a 75 per cent Australian equity in the project.
Noranda treasurer Ken Cork believes that the price of uranium is ‘unnaturally high’ as a result of the short sale positions and Government impediments to production.
He believes that if all projects were given the go-ahead the price would not be as high as it is today unless there was a sharp rise in demand.
On the other hand, talking to Canadian governmental officials, they were optimistic that the price might hold at near current levels but there is little doubt that if the discovery rate in the Athabasca Basin in Saskatchewan continues and Australia goes full steam ahead, the market will be put under pressure.
A key factor will be the role of both Governments plus the province of Saskatchewan.
LIKE SO many world metal groups, Noranda increased its gearing during the years following 1974 and at December 31, 1977, it had borrowings of some $900m and shareholders’ funds of $766m.
Over the past year Noranda’s profit has increased substantially partly because of improved metal prices and higher returns from its timber, pulp and paper operations where it sells mainly into the US.
But apart from higher prices in US dollars, Noranda has had a huge lift from Canadian devaluation.
Every lc fall in the Canadian dollar over the US dollar means an extra $5m in yearly profit for Noranda.
The Canadian dollar has fallen from being valued above the US dollar to around 86c to 87c.
In the first nine months of 1978 Noranda’s profit rose from $C37. 1 m to $C80.5m.
Noranda, which does not have any very large capital project on its books, is using much of the cash generated to reduce borrowing.
One of the world’s largest copper producers, Noranda believes that the metal will be in short supply unless the prices rise to a level to induce new production.
It believes a price of between US90c and $ 1 is necessary to make major new copper projects economic.
This week in New York copper fell to around 65c.
The risk to the copper market is that US banks will finance uneconomic ventures in developing countries in the expectation of a copper price rise.
The Noranda camp is hopeful this will not happen because the US banks are now taking a much closer look at the economics of individual projects rather than relying mainly on Government guarantees.
Much of the higher demand for copper is coming from eastern and developing countries. The future growth areas in the metals industry may include increased use of alloy steel for high strength.
This will involve increased demand for cobalt, vanadium,
Columbian and molybdenum and the market could be under pressure in the mid-1980s.
Basically the Noranda theme is optimistic because it does not see a severe recession in the US and believes that the flow-on effects of any downturn will not be anything like 1974 because most other countries are already moving in a more depressed business phase than the US.
CHANTICLEER always enjoys a good tax story and this morning’s yarn from Noranda is an unusual twist from the norm.
Many moons ago Noranda and CF Industries developed Central Potash Co Ltd, which mines potash in Saskatchewan.
Because of the difficulty in sinking shafts through quicksand, the mine was given a tax holiday until 198 1, but after a change in provincial government the tax holiday was changed.
At the same time Noranda and the provincial Government did not see eye to eye over the development of potash.
To cut a long story short, Central Potash earned a beforetax profit of $37. 3m in the year ended 30 June 1978.
The Saskatchewan Province levied a reverse tax, a mineral royalty, a producing tract tax, a pro-rationing fee and an Income tax.
The grand total tax take from the province was $ 1 8.56m.
The Federal Government has apparently not taken too kindly to the sharp rise in provincial taxes on mining ventures and does not allow most of the provincial taxes as a deduction for Federal company tax.
– I will place the matter before the Minister for Enironment, Housing and Community Development, as Senator Mulvihill has requested, and seek a response from him.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Housing for Servicemen- Advance to the States (Defence)- proposed expenditure, $ 1 1 , 600,000-agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
Proposed expenditure $2, 144,673,000.
– I take this opportunity on the defence estimates to draw to the attention of honourable senators a matter which I have raised on two or three occasions over the past week or so. It concerns the construction in the United States of three patrol frigates for the Royal Australian Navy. I say, firstly, that in fact there is every suggestion and evidence, at this stage that the Australian Government has got itself into another F1 1 1 fiasco. I want to just trace the events which have brought us to the present stage in this matter.
These vessels are of a type known as FFGs. I am not familiar with the technical meaning of that, but it is a particular type of vessel which is about 3,500 tonnes. It is something like a destroyer, or a bit smaller than that. Originally the Labor Government, in April 1974, decided to order two of these vessels in the United States. In that month the then Minister for Defence, Mr Barnard, announced that the Government intended to acquire the two vessels at an estimated cost of $ 187m- for the two of them. In August of that year the then Government entered into a memorandum of arrangements with the United States Government. The Navy claimed at the time that this arrangement was a significant development in purchasing defence equipment in that it safeguarded Australia’s interests by recognising the possibility of unforeseen financial and technical risks with procedures to cope with them. In particular, clause 8 of that memorandum obliges the United States to provide certain information. The relevant section of the clause reads:
The offers referred to in clause 3 -
That is for the two vessels referred to- shall include an agreed breakdown of costs. In respect of the RAN ships fully outfitted, the reporting of costs and expenditures shall be as agreed between the USN PF Project Office and the Australian Project Office. Information on a continuing basis will be provided to permit verification by Australia of USN billings.
At the time it was claimed by the Defence Department, and in particular the Navy, that this arrangement avoided the kind of financial difficulties into which we got on previous occasions, especially with the FI 1 1. The contract was concluded by the present Government in February 1 976 by a letter of offer. Subsequently the Defence Department recommended the purchase of a third FFG, which was announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) just before the last election.
As to the question of cost escalation, the position was set out in the statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) on 24 October. As I indicated, the original cost of these two vessels was estimated to be $187m. In answer to a question which I asked Senator Carrick last week, we were advised that the cost had jumped in two stages- by February 1976, from the $187m to $330m; and then, by February 1977, to $4 14m. That means that the costs had more than doubled in just over three years. I might say that that is a higher rate of escalation than we experienced in relation to the Fill. We do not know what the current price would be, but we assume on the basis of this rate of escalation that the two vessels are now going to cost us somewhere in the area of $500m. I draw to the attention of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) that the information given in the reply by Senator Carrick happens to be out by about $2,000m. It is probably a typographical error on the part of the Department. It says that Todd Pacific, the shipbuilders, has orders worth over $845m for FFG ships, including 14 of the 26 ships on order for the United States Navy. That figure, if the Minister would care to check it, should read $2, 845m. I draw that to his attention for the sake of the record.
Anyone could realise that again, apparently, we have been caught up in an enormously expanding expenditure commitment which was never envisaged in the first place. The Minister for Defence has said that part of the reason is due to currency changes, of course. But at the same time we find that the escalation of the cost of construction of these vessels for the United States Navy in the United States has been approximately the same. They are currently estimated to be costing the United States Government $200m also. That argument- that the escalation is due mainly to currency changes- of course, just does not stand up. He also has relied on the fact that the major components, which comprise all the hardware and gadgetry that these vessels have- that is, helicopters, missiles and so on- have also gone up in price. Of course, the fact is that no decision has been made by the Australian Government as to the type of equipment that these ships will have. No decision has been made, I understand, on the type of helicopters; no decision has been made on the type of missiles. Presumably the American harpoon missile and the standard missile will be used on the American ships. Whether they will be used on the Australian ships or are suitable for the Australian ships is still not known.
The factors affecting the price were repeated by the Minister in answers to questions. Unfortunately, the jargon that is used is such that one cannot really get any idea of what the contract price really is, or what is involved in the arrangements. For example, in the Minister’s statement we hear terms such as ‘the fixed price incentive type contract’. We need to know what that means. We want to know what the actual basis for the escalation in costs is and to what extent the costs are related to the average of the total American order which is in the vicinity of 70 vessels. Already some design modifications have been made. We do not know to what extent these will be incorporated in the Australian vessels and whether the cost of the Australian vessels will be affected.
As I have indicated, the Government has not made a decision on the type of helicopters that will be employed on these vessels. The Americans apparently have decided to use some new close-in weapons system called a Vulcan Phalanx. I do not know what that does, but apparently again there is no indication as to whether the Australian Government is going to equip our vessels with this type of equipment and what the cost would be. The same will apply with the sonar system installed on the ships. Originally, I understand, the Australian Government decided to abandon the Australian sonar system for a different type of American system. In the United States this new system of detection has been under very severe criticism. Apparently the
United States Government has decided that it is necessary to augment it with an additional type of submarine detection equipment. So what we are looking at is the possibility that these three vessels will cost the Australian taxpayer, by the time they are delivered, somewhere in the area of $ 1,000m. Considering that we began with a figure less than one-third of that amount, about 28 per cent of the contract price, this must give us the gravest cause for concern about the arrangements we have entered into and the manner in which these costs have been allowed to run away at a rate which, I am sure, was not envisaged in the first place. Despite the efforts that were made to write into the contract originally clauses which would prevent these rapid escalations in cost, this has taken place again.
Because of the limited time available to me I want to read an extract from the transcript of the United States Congressional hearings. It is a letter written by Melvin Price, the Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services of the United States House of Representatives and in the letter he had some comments to make about this program. He said in his letter to, I think, the Secretary of Defense:
The Committee has received information that the proposals received for the FY 1975 FFG ships indicate an increase in the basic contract of $50.4m. Of this amount, only $22. 9m is attributed directly to inflation in labour rates and material costs. The remaining $27.5m can be attributed directly or indirectly to a lack of competition in this program as follows:
It is important to remember that two of the three contractors for these vessels in the United States in fact are the same company. The point that Mr Price made in his letter was this lack of competition. Unfortunately I cannot quote all of the letter, but I will quote the last part which I believe is important. He said:
The Committee has serious doubts that these ships can perform their missions in a hostile environment against the current Soviet Navy. In addition, there will be little if any room for growth or modernisation of the FFG-7 ‘s weapons.
In summary the FFG-7 Class appears to be a very poor bargain from both the cost and military effectiveness points of view.
I round off my remarks by saying that none of us will forget the problems associated with the purchase of the F1 1 1 aircraft for which the original price was $125m. We were all horrified to learn that eventually we paid something like $260m to $270m for them. We are again facing an almost identical position. In all probability it will be worse in terms of the escalation of costs and I believe that the Government is obliged to ascertain from the United States Government the exact position in respect of these vessels and to advise the Parliament accordingly.
– I have spoken to the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) about the matter I wish to raise. It concerns Mr George Caruana who served with the Royal Australian Air Force at Fairbairn. Before that he was employed in the New South Wales railways and is now an employee at the Garden Island Dockyard. This is a very simple case. Mr Caruana sought an early discharge for domestic reasons and the real basis of his complaint is that when he sought to transfer his entitlement under the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Fund to the appropriate superannuation scheme because he is an employee of a Commonwealth establishment, the Garden Island Dockyard, he was told in a letter that he had failed to meet a particular deadline. In an earlier letter that he had received from the Authority, the same authority which said he had missed the deadline, the Authority apologised profusely for its slowness in responding to his initial correspondence in which he sought to clarify his rights. I am simply asking that the two pieces of correspondence from the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Authority be incorporated in Hansard and then the Minister can refer it to either the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) or to the Treasurer (Mr Howard). I understand from Senator Bishop that there is some doubt about which Minister would have to make the decision, so I ask that the two letters be incorporated in Hansard for assessment by the appropriate Minister.
The letters read as follows-
Please Quote Reference No. R228438
Contact Officer: MrCarnall 1 4 Sep 1978
Mr G. J. Caruana 26CuthbertSt Bondi Junction NSW 2022
I refer to your election to preserve your superannuation rights received in this Office on 20 Jul 1978. The delay in replying is sincerely regretted.
Yours sincerely Carnall forR.C.Davey Chairman DFRDB Authority
Encl. Brochure and DB85
Postal Address: P.O. Box 22 Belconnen A.C.T. 2616 Business Address: Unit1 Cameron Offices Belconnen A.C.T
Telex: AA62052 Please Quote Reference No.R228438
Telegrams: ‘DFRDB’ Contact Officer. Mr Carnall
Telephone: 52 7911
Telephone: 52 6485 19 Oct 1978
Mr G.J. Caruana 26 Cuthbert St Bondi Junction NSW 2022
Dear Mr Caruana
I refer to your election to preserve your superannuation rights on leaving the Defence Force.
It is a requirment of the legislation that you advise the Authority, in writing, within 21 days after the day which is the 90th day following retirement:
Your election received on 25 Sep 1978 was out of time. Accordingly, would you please complete the enclosed Form DB85- Preservation of Rights- Notice, and return it to this Office within 2 1 days after 1 2 Oct 1 978.
Yours sincerely for R.C. Davey Chairman DFRDB Authority
End: Form DB85
-My appraisal of the defence estimates is not an echo of the recurrent and perhaps often valid criticism of the lack of preparedness on the part of our defence forces to meet an emergency. Rather, I direct my attention to the civil management processes of ensuring that the Government, and this means the taxpayer, obtains value for the dollars expended. My short experience in this Parliament sitting on various back bench committees, on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Estimates Committee F makes me very unimpressed with the attitude of the Public Service to the spending of public money. I find that there is almost a complete lack of internal departmental controls over public expenditure and the Auditor-General’s recent reports on the Department of Defence show that this Department is a very guilty offender.
In Estimates committees I think that at times we may pay undue attention to variations in the figures for this year compared with the figures of the previous year. Important though this must be, I believe that the Estimates committees should examine also the total composition of each item and look at the need to justify each item in the first instance. On the other hand, I must express a degree of gratitude to the officials of the Department of Defence for their frank answers and their written answers to our requests. The limited resources- less than 9 per cent of Budget allocations- must mean that we should derive full value for the dollars expended on defence, particularly the money directed to the uniformed sections, rather than favour an administrative elite of armchair civilians. To support this contention I cite two years- the year to June 1969 and the year to June 1978. Honourable senators will recall that the year to June 1969 was the year of heavy involvement in Vietnam where, for example, 33,220 full time operative civilians supported 125,562 uniformed personnel, including regular and national servicemen, civilian reserves and other reserves without training obligations. This situation compares with 31,431 or 1,789 fewer civilians supporting 94,341 uniformed personnel in 1978. This situation is perhaps exaggerated when one notes the greater proportion of the top echelon, particularly Second Division officers. This high degree of centralisation of Second Division people is realised when one examines the figures which show that 83 of the 1 17 Second Division officers are located in Canberra. There also have been quite large increases in the number of Third and Fourth Division officers.
To the uninitiated in Public Service routines this disproportionate decrease must inevitably mean that red tape is rampant or that Parkinson’s law has run riot. In such a climate morale amongst the uniformed section will not be particularly high. Therefore, we will have a less effective fighting force. However, I recognise that since 1973 the number of civilians per 1,000 servicemen has progressively been reduced but it is still nowhere near the 1969 figure. In correspondence with the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), as a result of certain statements made in the defence estimates, he reminded me that the Australian ratio of civilians to servicemen is half that of the United Kingdom and 20 per cent below that of the United States of America. I believe that the comparisons should be treated with a high degree of caution. Britain has a large army on the Rhine. The United States has commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as well as global commitments. Furthermore, the Australian civilian figure includes 5,300 people in dockyards. However, as we were reminded in the Melbourne Age newspaper not so long ago, Cockatoo Island dock workers have not built a ship for 10 years. Approximately 70 per cent of the workers have never built a warship.
The Department of Defence is one of the 12 departments and organisations which is labouring on with the Mandata computer exercise of the Public Service Board. It will be committing 38 people at a total cost of $423,000 for 1978-79 for an as yet incomplete personnel and leave records system, a program that commenced approximately six years ago. The figures reveal a certain tardiness in the management of the stockholding of military vehicles or defence vehicles. For example, designation GS B, cross country vehicle section is 1 3 per cent or 1 ,098 vehicles above approved entitlements. On the other hand, 50 per cent or 3,542 vehicles in the category of passenger cars, buses, ambulances and trucks of a commercial design are recognised as over-aged and are scheduled for replacement. I stress the great fixed cost of maintaining certain establishments. I draw attention to building costs and the costs of maintenance and repairs of the two establishments at Russell and Campbell Park. The appropriation for this year on repairs and maintenance for those two establishments is $1,053,300.
In support of my argument for greater control over expenditure I draw attention to certain criticisms raised in the Auditor-General’s report. I am concerned that very little appears to be done about Auditor-General’s reports over the years. I cite the following examples: A continuing failure to manage appropriately all aspects of computer services and the great costs incurred thereby. There are deficiencies in the control of departmental holdings of furniture and other assets. The position regarding the establishment of a central asset register is unsatisfactory. There is a need for a system to improve recovery and control over the level of sundry debtors. There is an unsatisfactory procurement procedure for certain assets. Unusual practices are adopted, for example, in servicing certain aircraft. There are budget difficulties in such relatively simple items as office supplies which require special advances from the Minister. I therefore urge the need for greater accountability. I look forward to an early examination of the Department of Defence by the Auditor-General’s Office in conducting an efficiency audit. I believe that the Defence Department has a lot to learn in regard to the management of its resources and its accountability.
– I ask the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) what are the Government’s intentions and what plans does it have for further development of the Naval base on Garden Island in Cockburn Sound in Western Australia? What does it intend to do with the huge area that has been bulldozed and left?
– I acknowledge the comments that have been made by honourable senators. The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Wriedt, made some very constructive remarks about the cost of destroyers. The defence advisers have indicated to me that they are unable to equate some of the figures that he gave. Perhaps these matters could have been taken up on the Estimates committees when the advisers were on hand. I do not know whether Senator Wriedt did that. I regret that I have no advice with me to clarify further the very extensive figures which he cited to indicate the great escalation that is taking place in this equipment. On the figures he gave, this is certainly of great concern.
– They were supplied by the Minister to the Senate. They are recorded in Hansard.
– While Senator Wriedt was speaking my advisers attempted to get in touch with the Naval Office. The advice is that the Naval Office is unable to equate the figures off-hand with anything it knows of. There is a conflict of interest which I cannot determine at the moment. However, I am advised that Senator Wriedt has a series of questions on the Notice Paper relating to this matter. The Naval Office is looking into those questions and is compiling comprehensive answers for him. I realise that Senator Wriedt questioned the basis for the cost escalation. He further queried what extra equipment might be going into the ships. This is not known at the moment.
Senator Mulvihill raised a question which I am advised is more a matter for the Department of Finance than for the Department of Defence. We will look at the matter for him. Senator Watson made some criticisms of the public accountability of the expenditure of funds. His remarks will be taken in hand. He is speaking from experience as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts and having had the benefit of serving on the Estimates committee. Members and senators are able to gain scrutiny from their various stations. Senator Watson’s experience is in the business field. Their experience brings to light criticism of the Public Service which may or may not be warranted. I will see that the Minister’s attention is directed to the honourable senator’s remarks. Senator Mcintosh asked about the future plans for Cockburn Sound. I am advised that plans are being developed. I am unable to be advised as to the pace of what is happening on the Island. I am very interested myself because I was part of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Public Works which originally recommended that the work on Garden Island go ahead. I am unable to give much comment at the moment from the advice I have. If I may take the question on notice I will attempt to obtain a written response for the honourable senator.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Business and Consumer Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $ 103,942,000.
– The amount of money that is suggested should be voted to this part of the Estimates relates to a very important investigative and protective role, part of a new responsibility that has been given to the Federal Government in recent times. Whilst it is true that a proportion of that responsibility has always been borne by a Commonwealth body- I refer to the Industries Assistance Commission, formerly the Tariff Boardthe Price Justification Tribunal and the Trade Practices Commission are two important new areas of responsibility which arise out of the legislation that was introduced within the last six or seven years. I want to comment particularly on some of the references that have been made in the Trade Practices Commission report and to survey whether the tasks that the Parliament gave to these two important organisations are able effectively to be carried out from the legislative responsibilities as determined by this Parliament. I make very little reference to the Industries Assistance Commission but refer particularly to the Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal.
I think it has to be said that there is a measure of conflict of interests here, in that we have a Minister who concerns himself with matters of business as well as matters of consumer affairs. As indicated in the report of the Trade Practices Commission in particular and in other reports with respect to the PJT, there is no question that there is a conflict of interest in these areas of the Department which the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is obliged to administer. The report indicates very clearly that the Government’s policy of restricting staff- I refer to the staff ceilings which have been imposed in the last two or three years as a result of the Government’s policies- have had a disastrous effect upon the ability of the Commission to carry out its responsibilities. I submit to the Senate and to the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) who is the Minister with this representative responsibility in the chamber that in a period when the State governments are taking more energetic steps in the area of consumer affairs so much of the work they do is nullified unless a degree of responsibility and involvement is accepted by the Federal Government, particularly through what could be the effective work of the Trade Practices Commission.
Whilst all States in one way or another are involved in carrying out some responsibilities in protecting the interests of consumers, I think it has to be said that in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia there is a degree of involvement by the State governments which is rather pleasing from the point of view of consumers. As the Minister will concede from the number of questions and matters that I have raised in the Parliament in recent times, there is a degree of uniformity and conformity of action lacking at the national level. It is not very encouraging from the point of view of consumers to read in this report that the Trade Practices Commission has been subject to severe restaints on expenditure and staffing. I draw attention to the fact that the staff has fallen from 205 in 1976-77 to 196 in 1977-78 and that the Commission has been notified by the Government that this figure is to be further reduced during the current financial year to a ceiling of 1 90. The report states:
The Commission has moved resources more towards investigation enforcement, but this involves a heavy strain upon the limited resources of the Crown Solicitor’s (Trade Practices) Sub-Office.
So we would have an effective reduction not only in the capacity of the Commission to carry out its investigative role but also in the capacity of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs to take legal action arising out of its investigation. The cut in funds to the Department is such that it makes it very difficult for the Department to follow through the legal side of its responsibilities.
I think there is a case to be made out to the Government and to the Minister particularly that when they persist in their policy of staff ceilings at the expense of such organisations as the Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal they are in fact weakening the ability of those organisations to carry out even a minor part of their legislative responsibilities. When one examines this report one finds, even from the point of view of those who espouse so often in this chamber the principles of competition and free enterprise- they are of course phrases which flow very easily from the Ups of Ministers- that the Commission itself has in the last year or so had to take action in respect of four of the major petrol companies in this country. I refer to the Total Oil Company of Australia, BP Australia Limited, Caltex Oil (Australia) Pty Ltd and Amoco Australia Pty Ltd. The Commission has sought to impose some restrictive measures and restraints upon the sale of discount petrol. Legal action has had to be taken to put into effect the principles of competition. Of course, the report shows that there are many cases in which the Commission has had success and is required to continue its operations in the protection of consumer interests.
It seems to me that if we are going to persist in the view that staff ceilings should be reduced- I realise that the Government is wedded to that point of view- there ought to be some selective approach to this principle and that it ought not be applied across the board in every department as if the reduction of staff in a particular department does not have a disastrous effect upon the ability of that department to carry out its responsibilities. That of course is exactly what is happening in the case of the Trade Practices Commission. So much of the resources have been restricted and reduced as to render ineffective the sort of work that the Commission is obliged to do. Of course there is a number of references in the report to advertising and to what is happening in the market place with respect to specials in the food lines and in supermarkets. The Department and the Commission find it difficult to carry out the action that is required to protect the interests of the consumer, yet we heard a statement by the Minister only about 10 days ago that because the resources of the Trade Practices Commission have been so reduced he has found it necessary to ask the Prices Justification Tribunal to conduct an examination of the prices of processed food. That seems to me to show the incongruity of the Government’s approach to the matter.
Now, instead of the Trade Practices Commission having the resources to carry out properly its monitoring work and its investigative and protective roles of consumer interests, it is not able to do so because of the cutback in funds and the lack of financial resources. Yet because the Government becomes aware that in the area of food prices- processed foods in particularsomething wrong is happening, the Prices Justification Tribunal is asked to examine it and to report to the Government. The worst feature of this situation is the amendments to the legislation concerning the Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal. From my recollection since this Government has come to office four or five amendments have been made to the legislation affecting these organisations. The Minister concedes the effect of the amendments in his Press statement of 3 November concerning the inquiry that is to be held into the food industry. He said:
This would not be a public inquiry as this is not possible under the Prices Justification Act in its present form.
If the Government had not amended the Act we would have been able to have a public inquiry into what is happening with processed foods. So when we deal with consumer affairs it seems that we do so with one hand behind our back because only part of the body politic is operating effectively in this area. That is to be regretted. The activities of these organisations have shown the need for such bodies to operate. Consumer interests need to be protected from the misleading advertising that is taking place in regard to the price of food- which the Minister has said is to be investigated- and the use of specials in the market place. If a housewife wants to shop properly and effectively to save a couple of dollars she has to go to six different supermarkets in the local town in order to buy the specials at the best price. I question the amount of money that is being spent on advertising. Surely the Government must be concerned about this. Indeed, the Trade Practices Commission mentions this in its report.
The amount of advertising of so-called food specials every Wednesday in the newspapers throughout Australia must involve many millions of dollars. Companies, manufacturers and retailers, are seeking to entice people into shops. But in order for a housewife to profit from the specials she has to spend countless hours shopping around. Surely this matter is within the province of the Trade Practices Commission. Yet in this area the Government’s cutbacks have had a disastrous effect. It is somewhat farcical that we should be concerning ourselves with the PJT inquiry into processed foods when the Trade Practices Commission lacks the teeth to carry out an effective price monitoring service on behalf of consumers in Australia.
I refer now to the Federal Government’s proposed consumer protection magazine. The Government spent $21,000 producing proofs for the publication of this journal which was designed to bring about an awareness in the minds of consumers of what is happening in the market place where they are pretty powerless against the forces of the proprietors who own the markets, the advertising emphasis and the whole spiel that is used today to try to entice people to buy. The Federal Government sought to bring out a regular publication for the purpose of overcoming some of the imbalance that exists and giving some assistance to the consumer. Yet the Government has decided to scrap the journal after it has spent $21,000. But at the same time the Government has decided to allocate $50,000 for flags, national anthem recordings and portraits of the Royal family. Where is our sense of proportion and our sense of responsibility? I do not suppose it is of much use for me to try to move a motion, knowing the way the Senate generally operates, but I think it ought to be brought home to the Government that if the Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal are to be effective- even with the limitations of the amendments that have been brought into effect in recent times- they must have the human and financial resources to carry out properly the job of consumer protection.
– I refer to division 827.01 National Companies and Securities Commission- Office of Provisional Executive Director where a provision of $150,000 has been made for the first time. I welcome that appropriation. It is almost 10 years since the Senate inquired into the stock exchanges throughout Australia. That inquiry revealed- perhaps this is an understatement- a substantial fraud.
-I think the honourable senator is on the wrong Bill. Is division 827 Appropriation Bill (No. 2)?
– I am looking at the explanatory notes of receipts and expenditure of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs.
– We are dealing with divisions 195 to 202.
-Perhaps I should not have referred to the line and should have done what other honourable senators have done and spoken generally. My comments could be made in a general fashion without referring to a specific item. Since the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) is in the chamber he will be able to respond quite well to the proposition that I am putting. Mr Chairman, is it in order for me to proceed?
– Yes. It will ease the burden later on.
– I welcome this appropriation. The Minister was a member of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange. I can still recall the astonishment that he exhibited in those early meetings when he first came onto the Committee and the astonishment that seemed to prevail for the rest of the hearings because we were all astonished at the distortions that were revealed in the securities industry.
– I think I might have been astonished with my colleagues at times.
-No. I can remember the Minister sitting on my side of the table. The Chairman of the Committee was Senator Rae.
We had some excellent staff enabling the investigation to be carried out in considerable depth. The committee lost some momentum when there arose some confusion as to whether action should be taken directly through national legislation or whether it should be done by cooperative mechanism with the States. With the changes of government and the appropriation of this money we now have the establishment of the National Companies and Securities Commission. It is not before time. The errors that were revealed during that Committee’s investigation are beginning to appear again. I am starting to receive complaints from shareholders concerning the emergence of certain abuses which became very familiar to us. I have received correspondence from a Mrs H. Loeven of 44 The Corso, Isle of Capri, Surfers Paradise, who complained about some shareholdings she had in Longreach Oil Limited. If she had presented the case in a less dramatic way I could have incorporated the document in Hansard. But she has dramatised it in such a way as to make it impossible for me to incorporate it. In her letter she states that there is evidence that shareholders are now being deprived of their rights by arrangements between directors of associated companies- arrangements designed to milk off the assets of one company to the benefit of another company, and in the end for the benefit of the directors concerned. The establishment of this national Commission might give some redress to the person whom I have mentioned.
My view is that there ought not to be any hesitation in providing necessary funds to establish this Commission. Perhaps the Attorney-General could give us some indication of whether we will have an effective office of this Commission operating within, say, the next six months. Will it be possible for a shareholder, such as the person I mentioned, who finds herself unable to obtain assistance from the local stock exchange to lodge complaints with the new Commission? Will the Commission soon be able to provide the service which is required? This person has sent copies of the document to which I referred to various newspapers and to various members of parliament. Finally she rang me in complete frustration, believing that she was getting nowhere except reaching the very firm realisation that she had lost substantial money in what appears, from a surface reading of the document, to be a fraudulent practice. Therefore, I ask the Attorney-General to give me, if not the whole Committee, some comfort by assuring me that the $150,000 which is provided in the estimates to establish such an office will quickly bring it to a position where it can assist people such as the person who has complained to me.
– I do not know that I can give Senator Georges and his correspondent the sort of comfort that perhaps he is seeking from me. It is the Government’s policy- this is now a matter of agreement with the States- to set up the National Companies and Securities Commission. Certainly the fact that we have reached agreement, not only on the establishment of that Commission but also on the form of the legislation in the board under which it will be set up under which it will operate, is a very notable advance. I am glad that Senator Georges has acknowledged that. I can understand that, with his knowledge of this industry, he would appreciate that advance.
Setting up this Commission is a very large task indeed. It involves a good deal of administration and very elaborate legislation. There again, I think that Senator Georges would have some knowledge of the complexities of the problems in the path of the legislator and the draftsmen of legislation in this area. I want to emphasise the fact that all this is proceeding. Not only has agreement been reached, but also all the manifold steps, administrative and legislative, to give full effect to the establishment of this Commission are certainly under way. When Senator Georges asks whether the Commission will be in place and whether the legislation will be in place within this financial year in such a way that the correspondent to whom he referred will be able to take her complaint to it, I am afraid that that is another matter. I could not give any guarantees as to when the Commission will actually open its doors for business.
The appropriation of $ 1 50,000 is to permit the executive director of the Commission to establish a secretariat in order to develop the administrative arrangements for the establishment of the Commission. Of course, the appropriate legislation has to come forward. Hopefully it will come forward in the next session of the Parliament. So I am afraid that all I can say to Senator Georges is that I know that over the past two or three years he has asked me a lot of questions about this exercise and I have emphasised the Government’s commitment to the establishment of a national commission and the enactment of laws which will apply uniformally throughout Australia. I believe that we now have made great progress in that we have agreement. Now it is a matter of proceeding to establish the Commission and to get the legislation on the statute book. Those steps take time. All I can say is that clearly we now have a solution in sight and at this time next year I might be able to give a more encouraging picture and more comfort to people such as Senator Georges’ correspondent than I can give at the moment.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Finance- proposed expenditure, $25,379,000-agreed to.
Advance to the Minister for Financeproposed expenditure, $125,000,000- agreed to.
Postal and Telecommunications Department
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 78, 1 80,000.
– I am prompted to speak on division 482, subdivision 1 of the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department, relating to the payment to the Australian Broadcasting Commission of $136,176,000, because the duty devolves to my colleagues and me who represent Queensland and the Northern Territory. In the case of Queensland, I refer particularly to the outback areas, the remote areas which are wholly dependent upon the ABC for television coverage. Regrettably, because of the Government’s restraint on finance available to the ABC and the staff ceilings that the Government has imposed, the ABC no longer is a serious competitor for commercial stations when tendering for sporting programs. Due to the Government’s restricted economic policies, commercial stations have captured the televising rights for major sporting events. I refer to Channel 7, which has the football coverage, and Channel 9, which has the tennis and cricket coverage. They now have a monopoly. The technical skills, the photography and the presentation of programs in the ABC coverage were of high quality and a credit to the administration of the ABC. The programs brought first-class entertainment to viewers and, I must say, were tremendously popular. What is the position now? This is what interests me. Channel 7 and Channel 9 have a monopoly of the market and the ABC has missed out. Who are the main losers? That is the point on which I shall speak this evening. Of course, there are the country people living in the outback areas and in the Northern Territory. They are living in what I describe as a sporting desert because there is no reception for Channels 7 and 9. This matter was freely canvassed earlier by my colleagues in the Senate, Senator Ted Robertson from the Northern Territory, and Senator Colston. I am thankful to Senator Martin and to Senator MacGibbon on the opposite side of the chamber because they have raised the matter also. For that reason, honourable senators will realise that our approach is on a non-party political line. Last March I had the opportunity to tour southwestern and western Queensland covering areas like Charleville, Cunnamulla, Augathella, Mungallala, Mitchell, Longreach and other areas out there. I met community leaders.
In the Charleville area, the feelings were strong. While I was on tour I received a telegram asking me whether I could possibly go to Charleville to meet a representative gathering of people in the area to discuss the lack of ABC coverage, particularly of sporting events in those areas which I described earlier as a sporting desert. The deputation was led by one of the community leaders from Charleville, Mr Errol Hodda. Two other gentlemen who were interested in community affairs were Mr Mike Gordon and Mr Bill Ludwig and they were there. As I said earlier, it was a truly representative gathering of all sections of the community. As a result of this meeting- I was wearing my other hat as President of the Queensland Rugby League- I told them that the Queensland Rugby League would approach the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I am speaking now on behalf of the Queensland Rugby League. I indicated that we would offer a program to the ABC, free of cost. We would allow it to telecast at 6 p.m. a replay of the Sydney match of the day to the country areas of Queensland. It accepted our offer, of course. It was a very generous offer. It was one of the most important decisions that the Queensland Rugby League had made. Naturally, the ABC would accept that offer because it would cost nothing. As I said, it was one of the most extremely popular replays in New South Wales and in the city areas of Queensland. But it could not get out into the country areas. I mention that as a genuine indication that the sporting body I represent is prepared to help the ABC overcome its difficulties. But this has led us to the situation where the ABC, because of the financial restraint and staff ceilings imposed on it by this Government, said that it was not in a position to compete with the commercial stations in Australia in tendering for major sporting programs, whether they be football, tennis or cricket. In my capacity as the President of the Queensland Rugby League and as a member of the Australian Rugby League we considered tenders from the commercial stations for exclusive commercial rights to televise rugby league in this nation. When we accepted a tender from one of the commercial stations- financially, it was much superior to anything offered by the ABC- I had written into the agreement that I would only agree to it provided that the ABC had the right to pick up that telecast and show it to areas that could not be covered by commercial television stations. I wanted an assurance from the commercial stations that that right would be given at a reasonable fee. The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) in this chamber earlier this week said that money was the trouble. I can assure him that money is not the trouble. I pursued this matter. When I made telephone calls to various State centres I was told: ‘We did not know how to block out the advertising’. How the hell is it that they did not know how to block out the advertising?
I thought television replays stopped to show the advertising. When I spoke to the top people in the ABC they said that policy had been laid down by the members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission- whoever they are. They are the people in charge of the staff and everybody else. They said: ‘We will not be second rate. We will not cop this pittance, nor will we be mendicants. If we cannot have the whole show we will not accept anything’. That is right. I see honourable senators shaking their heads. It is an edict of the Commission. I stand here this evening and I will defy any challenge to my statement that the Commission has laid it down steadfastly that it will not accept a pick-up of a commercial station. If any honourable senator wants to challenge me I will produce a letter showing quite conclusively that this is the case. It has been said that that policy is in keeping with what happens with the British Broadcasting Commission. One sporting organisation was prepared to make this offer and I am sure that other sporting organisations would be prepared to do the same thing. If the ABC does not have sufficient funds, due to the Government’s stringent financial policy, to broadcast a sporting event and if a sporting organisation says: ‘We will allow you to televise a replay at a reasonable price’, then it should be left to the common sense of the administrators of that sporting organisation to decide what is a good and reasonable price. I thought that the offer made by the Queensland Rugby League was a genuine offer. We believe that the Commission has a policy that when it misses out on the rights to televise it will not become mendicants of second rate stations by picking up the tab for country people. I thought the ABC represented the people of Australia. I thought it was the people’s station. I know that there are more viewers in the capital cities than elsewhere but we still owe something to the people in the country areas and the remote areas. For that reason I am very disappointed with the ABC. My criticism is probably more correctly directed at the Commission. If I am not using the correct nomenclature, it is because I do not understand the intricacies of the establishment. I am not attacking the staff, the employees. My criticism is directed at those who are denning policy. It is the policy of the Commission that it will not pick up a second rate telecast and show it anywhere else. The Minister said it was a matter of finance.
– And programming.
– He said that earlier. I will remind the Minister of the current situation. I know he is genuine in his remarks. Many honourable senators have spoken on this subject. The Minister said it was a matter of programming. I have been told this too. But is it not a strange thing that the direct telecast from Sydney of the match of the day on Saturdays can be blacked out in metropolitan areas but shown in country areas? What is the difference between having a blackout here, if the commercial stations can show the program, and having a delayed television broadcast by the ABC somewhere else? I am not setting myself up as a technical man but I do not think that the approach of the ABC to this matter is genuine. I have a lot more to say about this subject but I note that time is slipping by. To summarise the position, I think that the Commission- if I am using the right term to describe those who are directing policy- has made a hasty and intemperate decision. It has said: ‘Because we cannot get the lot we will not play second fiddle’.
The second point is this: A hard look should be taken at the way in which the finances of the ABC are allocated for sporting functions. I know that the capital cities of Sydney and Melbournethe capital cities of the standard States- have the best arguing point but there are four other States that comprise this Commonwealth. When money is provided to secure the rights for national replay of events that occur in Sydney and Melbourne, some regard should be had for the people in whose areas these replays will be telecast.
No matter how much money is provided to channels in Sydney to screen rugby league, if we in Queensland say that we will not take the telecast on relay it cannot be shown. Substantial sums of money may be paid to people in Sydney to secure national television rights, but if we say: No, you cannot show it unless some recognition of needs in our area is accorded us’, and the response is: ‘We have already paid’, a difficulty arises. It is about time that the ABC thought further than Sydney and Melbourne and had a look at the position overall. My final word to the Minister is that I have a lot of respect for his genuineness in trying to correct these problems. But money and programming are not as important in the decision that has been made as is the obstinate attitude of the Commission which says: If we cannot have the lot, we do not want any part of anything else. ‘
– I draw the attention to the Senate to a number of points that emerged during the consideration by Estimates Committee F of these estimates. First, there was the matter that was raised and commented upon by the Minister for Administrative Services himself, Senator Chaney, with respect to the lack of clarity afforded the Senate in examining the expenditure of statutory bodies which did not receive an appropriation. This came up specifically with regard to Telecom. Senator Chaney himself mentioned that there was a problem here. He said that he did not raise the matter to question whether the Senate should or should not be examining such bodies, adding- 1 believe that it should be- but I query whether the Estimates committees or, say, the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations is appropriate in those cases where one is really outside the Appropriation Bills. I flag that and suggest that the Committee might consider it with a view to making some comment in the Senate and the same matter might be raised with other committees.
I am wondering whether the Minister has a comment to make to the Committee this evening on that matter. On another occasion I have gone into some detail on the Opposition’s point of view on this but as yet we are waiting for further comment from the Minister on the most appropriate manner in which this chamber might examine the expenditure of those bodies which are publicly funded -
– Would you repeat your comment?
– I am quoting your own words in Estimates Committee F. I have since, on another occasion in this place, raised in some detail the problems that are associated with expenditure by statutory bodies which do not receive appropriations. I also mentioned those which did, but which had not a very clearly established method of accountability. Therefore, I had hoped that the Minister might have something to say about them, more or less in response to the comments that he made himself during the discussion in Committee F.
I also draw attention again to what seemed to me to be the inadequate provision for the printing of a very important report. I refer to the report of the task force which is inquiring into the question of a national communications satellite. Again, the discussion in Estimates Committee F revealed that less than a thousand copies of the report had been printed. I consider this to be a quite inadequate number given that the contents of that report are of great significance to the whole of the communications industry in Australia. I realise that subsequently the Minister modified the information that was given. Nonetheless, it was fairly clear that very inadequate provision had been made for the printing of this report. Thus when the situation arose in which the Government invited public comment on the report, many members of the public, indeed trade unions and other official bodies, were unable to get a copy even within the first few weeks of the three month period that was allowed for discussion. I understand that now the Minister has extended the discussion period for another three months.
– That is a reasonably satisfactory response, but I do feel that better provision should be made.
Passing now to the appropriation for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, I simply repeat something that I and other members of the Opposition have said many times: In view of the numerous statutory obligations that the national broadcasting service has, the appropriations for the ABC are inadequate. The appropriation for this financial year creates yet another 7 per cent cut in real terms, compared with the allocation for the previous year; the staff level is down yet again; Australian content is down yet again- and so on and so forth.
I point out that, although the Government has set forth as its objective in this particular Budget the introduction of efficiency in all areas of public expenditure, the saving of public moneys and so forth, the effect of the various kinds of cuts that have been inflicted on the ABC has been the reverse of what the Government has said it is seeking. This action has resulted in enormous inefficiency in the expenditure of public moneys. The information that was given by officers of the Commission during the Estimates debate confirmed the view that there are many areas of inefficiency in program making, on the technical side, in the deployment of staff and the use of contract labour. I will not go into them in detail again but it would seem that now we have a situation in which public money allocated to the ABC is actually being wasted because of the imbalances and inefficiencies that have come about.
There have been specific cutbacks that have been of great concern to various sectors of the community. One that emerged from the discussions in Estimates Committee F was the cutback in the amount previously available for the printing of transcripts of materials of an educational nature, in particular in respect of the Science Show. That is a very important program and one that that would have a great deal of usefulness for various educational operations, but because of the cutback in funds such transcripts are just not available.
Similarly, it was very disappointing to learn that there were no immediate plans for the extension of the FM service, in particular to Western Australia, where there does seem to be a sizable demand for such a service. There has been a reduction in the overseas offices of the Commission which inevitably must result in a reduction in the quality of information coming to the Australian people from the overseas service. The cutbacks in staff have reduced programming in all sorts of areas. Australian content has been mentioned. Rural programming is another area which has suffered severely from the cutbacks.
Finally, in making general comment on the Estimates, it must be pointed out that the current industrial dispute within the ABC has had a grave effect on the Australian public. Perhaps one of the most serious effects has been that the public has been deprived of the opportunity of listening to parliamentary broadcasts. The dispute, it seems to me, has been caused basically by the inadequate appropriation. My voice is failing me and I will not continue. I believe that the Minister has caught the gist of my remarks.
– I have.
– I wish to speak briefly about a matter that recently I have raised several times by way of question in the Senate. I refer to the way in which Telecom operates its accounts in this country. I apologise to the people from the Department who appeared before the Estimates Committee. I was not able to get to the hearings but I am following the matter in a couple of other areas. I intend to keep following up this particular matter because I think it is very serious for the people of Australia.
Just by way of background let me say that, as well as being a pharmacist, I am an electronics engineer and have worked for Telecom for a certain period. I am not saying this for any reason other than to point out that I can understand what is going on with a telephone system. Certainly, that is more than other people in the country can do. I think it is quite fair to say that no Telecom account that is issued in this country can be guaranteed by the Commission to be accurate. The Commission just cannot guarantee that, particularly if any STD calls have been made. Many reasons were stated during the evidence given before the Estimates Committee, as recorded from page 777 onwards. It was stated that the Commission received complaints in respect of, I think, 0.8 per cent of accounts. Some of those would involve mechanical or typing errors. For instance, I have one here. It is my record so far. It was sent to me. It was not $90 or $900 in error; it was $9,000 in error.
– Is that all?
-That is the record. I anticipate that at some stage I will get a better one than that. The point is not whether it is $9,000 or $9 in error; the point is that errors are being made and there is a high percentage of errors. If chemists made the same number of errors as Telecom makes in its accounts we would have a lot of dead people lying around the country and there would be a hell of a scream.
A person can question an account and ask for a meter to put near his phone, in the same way as he has an electricity meter. With an electricity meter he can go out and look at it. He also can go out and look at a water meter. People cannot get meters for telephones. Telecom says that they are available. The chap in charge of the Postal Commission in Tasmania said on television that people could get meters. The next day someone rang up and said that he wanted six meters for his business. He was told that he could not have them because they were not accurate. Telecom just will not give meters to people.
One man who got one wished he had not done so- and so did Telecom. He got a telemeter, I think it is called, at a rental of $12 per annum, because he received a bill for $850. I do not know what his regular bill was; so I cannot comment on that. He was in a six-digit area. When he was dialling with the telemeter installed, he dialled two digits and saw it click over. He hung up and did that again, and the meter clicked over again. He had also asked Telecom to put one of those tracing things that are attached at the exchange on to his telephone. He dialled four times. He rang Telecom up and said: ‘Have you just recorded four calls for me?’ He was told:
Yes, we have’. He said: ‘I would like to let you know that the total number of digits I dialled to get those four calls was eight’. Not once was the phone answered. That was a major electrical fault which that gentleman had discovered because he had a telemeter near his phone and which many people might have noted if they had been given one; but Telecom will not give people meters- at least not in Tasmania. It may say that there is a delay in getting a meter, but that is not the point in Tasmania. Meters are available in Tasmania, but Telecom will not give them to people because it does not trust their accuracy. I do not want to go on, because I intend to continue on with this matter in some other areas at another stage.
Complaining is very difficult for some people if they have to go to a great big organisation which they are not used to dealing with and which is full of bureaucrats who admittedly, as was said in the evidence, do their best to help. If a person has a meter that has gone mad and he gets Telecom to check it, or if there is some mechanical failure and he asks Telecom to check the meter, and it is checked, and it is all right, in most cases Telecom will say that he is responsible for that account. I know that in the end it comes down to a very small number of people who have their accounts adjusted; but to a large extent, I believe, that is because a lot of people are not sure that their accounts are too high. They are not prepared to go to the trouble that they have to go to in order to get an adjustment. I took up one small account because somebody asked me to do so. I was ridiculed a little on television for doing that, because it involved only $9. People did not know that I also had a $9,000 account into which I was looking.
I believe that the accounts that Telecom gives to people should provide details, as any other business has to do. If we fly with Trans-Australia Airlines it gives us an invoice for the ticket that we buy and these days it usually has on it the date we flew, the flight we took, and so on. TAA keeps records that we can get if we have to. Telecom should show on the telephone account what the American companies show. It should give the details of the number that is called. I am talking now about STD calls. I do not mean every local call. I am not particularly worried about the local call situation at this stage. A person should be able to know the number he has called, the time the call was made, the duration of the call and the charge for the call. That should be supplied to him automatically with his account, as is the practice in most other businesses. I believe that a few years ago a major decision error was made not to include this kind of system. I know that it is going to cost a lot of money now to put it in. Let me go on and give a couple of other reasons why I think it will become essential. A Hydro meter is at the house and the lines go into the house. Nobody can tag into them.
– Are you talking about electricity meters? I presume that is what you mean.
– I will leave that to the honourable senator’s judgment. With electricity meters the lines go into the house and the meters are at the house. It would be very difficult for someone to climb up an electricity pole and connect his refrigerator, his fan or something like that and steal one’s electricity. He would have to do it after the meter. I have no proof of this happening, but what would there be to stop somebody picking up one of those big round telephone line things, dialling a house, finding out that nobody was home, doing that for a few days, and then saying: ‘I am on my lunch hour now. I will ring my mother in Western Australia and have a talk to her’? On to whose account would the cost of that call go? What would happen if that person was connected to international subscriber dialling and had a friend in London? He could speak to London for an hour. What does a one-hour call to London cost? In round figures, it costs $240.
Do we have any accounts with those kinds of errors? I have one here. The usual account is $80 or possibly $85, but this one is $1,450. I have another one; that of a pensioner who was in India helping as a church missionary for three months. The telephone account during that time for metered calls was two-thirds more than in the previous six months. People who are away from their home are at particular risk.
– They write with a fork- five times instead of once.
– That is right. As well as people who are away from home, I believe that people who have just moved into an area are very much at risk. A person who moves into an area comes in without any previous record. He does not know what his phone bill is going to be. What is there to stop an unscrupulous linesman ringing his mother in Western Australia?
– Or in Tasmania.
– What would there be to stop somebody ringing his mother in Western Australia if he lived in Tasmania?
– There are a lot of mothers in Tasmania.
-Do not bring mothers into it. We have had enough of them. The point is what would there be to stop somebody getting into a new account and saying: ‘I will go for my life for a few weeks because they will not know what the account is going to be and they have no record to compare it with’? I have had a few such cases. I think there is a bit of skulduggery such as that going on around the country. A lot of people get the idea that telephone equipment is just for use and that nothing will ever happen to them over its use. For example, they believe that they could not be thrown into gaol over its use. I do not know whether they could be but they certainly can be taken to court. I have a letter which was sent to an invalid pensioner by the Deputy Crown Solictor. It reads:
I have instructions to issue a summons against you for the above amount. If I do so -
This is a threat, I believe - considerable additional costs will be added to the debt.
Unless within the next seven ( 7 ) days -
This letter was sent to an invalid pensioner and the amount that Telecom is claiming is more than $250-
I receive your remittance for the above amount or an acceptable proposition -
It is not in Sydney either- the summons will be issued against you.
I do not want to read any more because I think I have covered all the points I wished to raise. There are mechanical and electrical faults in the system. At the moment if somebody goes away on a holiday and gets his grandmother to come in to feed the cat, and subsequently he complains about a big telephone account, Telecom is likely to ask: ‘Was anybody else in the house?’, and rightly so just in case he had a boarder there. If he replies: ‘Yes, my mother was feeding the cat’, Telecom probably will say: ‘It was she. She got on the phone to her uncle in Western Australia and old people cannot remember how long they take’. I have had this suggested to me. Pensioners who have complained about their accounts have told me that this is what has been said to them. A lot of pensioners have more time than we have to sit down and record the number of telephone calls they make. One pensioner who reckoned that he had been overcharged 300 unit calls, which is not very much to us but it represents a lot in cost to a pensioner, could not get anywhere with his complaint so he gave up and had to pay the bill.
– Two phone calls a day.
-Yes. I know that we will not be able to get a completely watertight system until we have a flat rental that includes a local call component and a detailed bill for subscriber trunk dialling and international trunk dialling calls. One of these days everbody in this country will be automatically connected to ISD. I believe that there is a system to be implemented to bill ISD calls. I think it is high time that this were done for local calls. The few details I have given tonight are by no means all that I have. I have a lot more questions up my sleeve but for a certain reason I have not asked any of them this week. I have put only one question on notice. I believe that Telecom looked at this system before deciding not to have it. I make one other point. If one happens to run a business, a hotel or a government-
– I am running a government.
– I know; that is why I mentioned it. I am not going to mention how much is the telephone account of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) but the Government’s telephone account is over $82m and I believe that between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of those calls are personal STD calls in respect of which there is no check available.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
-I am gratified with Senator Townley for raising the subject this evening. It is one that I have pursued by way of questions in the Senate and in Estimates committees for some time. The campaign that Senator Townley has been pursuing on this subject is very timely indeed. The subject of telephone subscribers’ accounts, the effect that STD telephone calls have on them and the response of Telecom Australia to complaints made in respect of them is, of course, a fairly long-running saga but I believe that we have to persist with it. Telecom is in a very special position in Australian society. It has a monopoly of telephone communications and it therefore has a great responsibility to try to meet what goes with that monopoly. I do not believe that Telecom is trying to do that on this issue. Questions have been raised in this House and there have been numerous newspaper articles on the aspect that Senator Townley raised and I do not believe that we have ever received an adequate response to them.
I remind the Senate of some of the questions that I have raised here and the answers that I have received at Question Time in the Senate and in Estimates Committees going back over some time. I want to quote some of these questions and answers and give an indication to the
Senate of the basis on which some of these questions have arisen and what I think is the very poor basis on which Telecom has answered the questions. Undoubtedly there were those who were relieved that I was not a member of the Estimates Committee which examined the Department of Post and Telecommunications this year because this is a subject that I have raised consistently. I choose this opportunity to try to bring together some of the information that has been sought over a period of 2Vi years and to bring the Senate’s attention to the words used by Telecom when attempting to explain its way out of how these ludicrous telephone bill situations can arise and why Telecom over the years has managed to achieve nothing in the way so subscriber satisfaction when a real injustice appears to have been done. In May 1976 an article headed ‘PMG Men Accused of Swindle’ appeared in the Daily Mirror and on 19 May 1976 I asked a question in the Senate about this matter. I quote that question because it gives the main points of the article. I asked:
Has the Minister seen an article in yesterday’s Daily Mirror headed ‘PMG Men Accused of Swindle ‘ which contains allegations by a former Telecommunications Commission linesman that telephone subscribers are footing the bill for Australia-wide calls recorded on subscribers’ meters but made by Commission technicians with tapping devices, achieved by the technician either by clipping a portable automatic dialling device onto overhead lines and then attaching markers to cables to remind him when a householder is away, thereby allowing others to misuse the line as well, or by attaching a dialling device to a subscriber’s severed cable in a metal street terminal box?
Senator Townley referred to this possibility in the latter part of his speech. It is an allegation that certain Telecom technicians were using devices to improperly use subscribers’ telephone lines and also attaching markers to lines to indicate to them and others when a line was likely to be available for improper use because the householder who was paying for that line was absent from home. Senator Townley gave examples of the type of person who is prone to that sort of thing. I will refer subsequently to a number of newspaper articles on the subject which invited complaints from telephone subscribers and which indicate that a very large number of people who have nobody in their home all day- in the case of a married couple both are out working all day and in the case of a single person there is just nobody at home all day with access to the telephone- are particularly prone to this type of overcharging. My question continued:
Is it a fact that regulations require that an such use of a subscriber’s telephone be reported to enable a credit to be made for that service? If so, is it possible for the Minister to inform the Senate what records are kept of such calls reported to and credited by the Commission? If records are kept, are details of the numbers of calls made available to any subscriber whose service has been used in this way? Is it true that a linesman who did not report that he had made a call on a subscriber’s line could be dismissed? If so, what attempts are made to detect this dishonesty and how many Commission employees have been dismissed for this reason?
The Minister who answered the question on 19 May was the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Obviously he could not give me a prompt or immediate reply to such a detailed question. Nevertheless, I thought that it was a little tardy that it took from 19 May to 26 August to receive an answer to my question, and it was 26 August before the following answer was received from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications:
Telecom Australia advises that technical staff employed on telephone installation and maintenance work are required, in the normal course of their duties, to contact the local exchange from field locations using portable telephones linked to a subscriber’s line. Such calls are made to special non-metering numbers and do not register on the meter associated with the subscriber’s service concerned. On rare occasions calls may have to be made to normal metering numbers, e.g. an engineering store or depot, for information or material. Officers are required to keep a record of any such calls made and to forward these to the accounting area to arrange for the appropriate number of rebates on the service concerned.
That was the answer in response to my question about what sort of record was kept and what arrangements were made for crediting calls made on subscribers’ lines in the course of official duties by Telecom technicians. The answer continued:
Details of meter registrations rebated are not shown on telephone bills but the number of rebates allowed on each service is contained in the individual accounting records for each service and may be ascertained by subscribers on enquiry.
That is, of course, if subscribers know that they ought to be inquiring about the account relating to that period. The answer continued:
The number of rebates allowed is deducted from the total meter registrations during the accounting period before computing the metered call charge to be billed.
To my questions in relation to whether if reports are not made by linesmen they are accordingly dismissed, what attempts are made to detect dishonesty and how many people have been dismissed for this form of dishonesty, the answer I received stated:
In appropriate circumstances, action could be taken under the provisions of section 58 of the Telecommunications Act 1975 to dismiss an officer found guilty of improperly using a subscriber’s line in the manner described by the honourable senator. However, there is no evidence of any offences of this nature having been committed.
I reiterate that the basis of my original question was a newspaper article which quoted a justice of the peace who had previously been a Telecommunications Commission linesman. One would have thought that his allegations were reasonably well founded and that, being a justice of the peace, he was somebody whom one could reasonably expect to give fair information on the subject. Having received that answer to my question more than three months after it was asked, I asked a further question in the Senate on 15 September 1976 in which I referred again to the newspaper article. My question stated in part:
In view of the conflict between the information provided in the Minister’s answer last week and the allegations made in the article by, I remind the Minister, a justice of the peace last May, I ask: What checks are or can be made on the improper use of private subscribers’ telephone lines and how can these subscribers be protected against a betrayal of a position of trust by such people? Has any attempt been made by the Commission to investigate the claims in that article and/or interview the individual who made them? If not, why not?
The question referred to the justice of the peace who made the original allegation. On 11 November 1976, two months after that question, I received this learned and well researched answer
In my earlier reply I outlined the procedures laid down by Telecom Australia for its technical staff to follow when the need arises to contact the local exchange from field locations, the safeguards employed to protect subscribers and the legal situation if improper practices occur.
Telecom Australia follows up closely any specific complaint made to it relating to telecommunications services. The statements in the newspaper article were of a general nature and by a former employee who had left the service some years ago. Therefore, it was not considered that any further useful information would have been available from direct contact with him.
I want to present only one other piece of information which was related to an Estimates committee before I say a couple of words about that answer of 1 1 November. On 6 September 1977 at Estimates Committee C I asked a number of questions relating to what sorts of investigations are carried out on this issue and how many investigators are employed by the Department. An answer to my series of questions was contained in supplementary information provided by Telecom. It stated:
There is currently a staff of 49 Investigation Officers in Telecom Australia.
The answer then listed the numbers in each State. It continued:
These Officers are concerned with investigating offences against the Telecommunications Act and Regulations, pursuing the prosecution of offenders (typically for acts of vandalism against Commission property), investigating circumstances surrounding Motor Vehicle Accidents involving Commission Staff, and liaising with the Deputy Crown Solicitor and Law Agencies.
In that answer the only category which seemed to cover the area of complaint to which I referred was the investigating of offences against the Telecommunications Act and Regulations. Forty-nine investigating officers have produced not one prosecution. An allegation in relation to a very serious breach- a specific allegation in relation to particular uses of equipment by telecommunications technicians- produced the response that since it was not a specific allegation, presumably in relation to a specific individual on a specific date, Telecom did not consider, according to its answer on 11 November that any further useful information would have been available from direct contact with the informant who was, I reiterate, a justice of the peace and a former Telecommunications Commission linesman. An article appeared in the Press. Questions were asked in the Senate. Telecom did not even contact the newspaper to try to find out who the informant was and whether he could give specific allegations. It just hoped that if enough delay endured between asking questions and receiving answers the problem would go away.
I put it as forcefully as I can to the Minister that there is a good case to believe that there is misuse of subscribers’ telephones. There is certainly a case to believe that the Telecom metering equipment is not adequate to the demands placed on it. It is clear that other equipment is available which would obviate this sort of mistake in subscribers’ accounts, but Telecom will not install it. Senator Townley referred to a certain percentage of complaints. On 6, 7 and 8 September 1977 the Sun newspaper printed a series of articles in relation to this matter. An article on 6 September stated that in Sydney alone close to 2,000 people query their accounts every month. That figure is tiny compared with the number of subscribers which is around 1,500,000, but it is enough to keep Telecom and the newspaper letter columns busy. That figure is 1.6 per cent of Telecom subscribers in Sydney alone. If one assumes that that percentage is constant throughout the areas where subscriber trunk dialling is available- that appears to be the main problem- many people are involved in this problem Australia-wide. These articles are worth referring to. They give example after example of the sort of situation Senator Townley raised in September 1977 which have never been answered by Telecom.
Telecom has available to it, if it wishes to install it, the equipment which would overcome this sort of dispute. It will not do so on the basis of cost. That is despite the fantastic profits that Telecom is making from its monopoly position in telecommunications in Australia. The alternative a person is offered when he makes a serious complaint and the situation reaches the point where it is insoluble is ‘pay up or else’. That is a fair quote of the sort of response a consumer gets. He pays up because there is no other recourse to him. No other firm oners any sort of telecommunications service. Telecom has a monopoly. A person pays up or else. As he pays up, no matter how unhappily, Telecom officers smilingly offer him an alternative. They offer him a meter he can attach to his telephone on which he pays rental. Having been overcharged, in his belief, possibly grossly overcharged, for his telephone calls, Telecom says that he can overcome this problem by renting a meter which it can attach to his telephone. As he staggers back in dismay and disbelief at the solution Telecom offers him and that he pays it more money because he has complained that he is paying them too much already, he finds out that if there is any dispute between bis meter and theirs it is bad luck for him. Telecom’s meter wins again, regardless of the fact that he has been paying rental on its faulty equipment attached to his telephone which was supposed to overcome the problem of Telecom ‘s faulty equipment.
This is a serious problem. It is faced by 1 .6 per cent of telephone subscribers, certainly in the STD area. That is a lot of Australians. One cannot strike an average for the amount of money involved. As Senator Townley pointed out, it could be anything from $9 for an account to $9,000. The average seems to be somewhere between $100 and $1,000. That seems to be the standard sort of complaint one receives. There is absolutely no right of appeal. There is no guarantee that the instruments being used are sound. There is no guarantee that the people who have access to one’s instruments are honest. Telecom does not want to know about the problem. When honourable senators ask questions they receive weak answers. That is the very kindest thing one could say about them. I appreciate the lateness of the night and that the Minister probably wants the estimates to be passed. Perhaps he will take cognisance of the depth of feeling that is expressed by senators and press for a better deal for the Australian consumer of the services of Telecom.
– I rise merely to support the remarks made earlier this evening by my colleague Senator McAuliffe concerning the inability of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, whatever the reason, to adequately televise or broadcast on a national basis the great sporting events that take place in this country and overseas from time to time and in which events Australians are participants. Senator McAuliffe related his remarks to the outback and to outlying parts of Queensland. So far as I am concerned his remarks are pertinent also to the outlying areas of New South Wales where there is considerable criticism of the ABC for the drop in standards of its programming arrangements, especially sporting arrangements. I very strongly suspect that the drop in standards is caused by the lack of funds that are provided by the Government to the Australian Broadcasting Commission to provide an effective service to the people of Australia. I wish to place on record a statement which appears in the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the year ended 30 June 1978 which has been tendered to this Parliament.
On page 14, under the heading of ‘Sporting Rights’ the report states:
The rising cost of rights to provide coverage of major sporting events on television continues to concern the Commission. Competition from commercial television stations is now much stronger than before.
The ABC is endeavouring to hold costs in this matter as in all other areas of its activities. For this reason, the ABC’s ability to secure the rights to televise major national and international sporting events to an Australia-wide audience is at growing risk.
The effect of this progress is that the ABC is subject in, for instance, the case of the 1978 Wimbledon tennis championships, to criticism for not televising events in some States and many country areas not covered by the commercial television networks when they purchase exclusive Australian rights.
The Commission’s position on this matter was stated in our last report to Parliament. We hope that, as a result of submissions made at ministerial level, early action will be taken to preserve the ABC’s ability to televise the major sporting events on an Australia-wide basis, as an important part of the national service.
I think that spells out clearly that submissions have been made at ministerial level for action to be taken to preserve the ABC’s ability to televise major sporting events on an Australia-wide basis. Frankly, nothing has been forthcoming as a result of those ministerial submissions. I assume that the phrase: ‘To preserve the ABC’s ability to televise the major sporting events on an Australia-wide basis’ means that because of the restricted budget that has been made available by this Government to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, it is unable to compete with commercial television stations in submitting tenders for exclusive Australian rights to televise these national sporting events. This is a great tragedy for the Commission which has built up a tremendous expertise in this regard. It is a great tragedy for the people in the outlying areas of
Australia whose recreation on a Saturday afternoon or evening is to sit down and watch these national sporting events. I think it is a great tragedy indeed. Certainly, when the Australian Labor Party was in government we gave the ABC every encouragement to televise these events. We made available all the money that was required. I think it is fair to say that during our period of office the ABC’s sporting program was second to none throughout the world. I rose only to make those remarks in support of my colleague, Senator McAuliffe.
Now let met say something about radio broadcasting station 2JJ, which was added to the ABC’s spectrum when I was Minister for the Media. At that time- I think it was in 1974- in order to get the station on the air we decided that we would have to make use of the standby transmitter near Liverpool which is south-west of Sydney. I read again from the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the year ended 30 June 1978. On page 9 the report states: 2 JJ Sydney was on the air for 24 hours a day and also provided programs on relay from midnight to dawn to 2NC Newcastle and 2CN Canberra. 2JJ offers mainly rock music for young adults aged 18 to 24, with a strong emphasis on Australian content. The station’s interviews, talk-back programs and information content are designed to establish a strong bond with listeners and promote community service. 2JJ, which operates from a standby transmitter near Liverpool, south-west of Sydney, continues to broadcast under the least favourable transmission arrangements of any of the main Sydney radio stations. The 2JJ signal is out of reach of a large part of the station’s target audience, particularly those living in the northern and eastern suburbs, and the Commission expresses its continuing concern at this situation.
I too make a plea with the Commission to the Government to see that action is taken to give station 2JJ an effective transmitter to enable it to do the job that the Australian Broadcasting Commission intends it should carry out. I have raised those two matters tonight because I believe they are important in the interest of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and to the viewing and listening public of Australia.
– The matters raised tonight by Senators Townley and Martin concern me. The Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) will recall that this matter was canvassed very considerably in the Estimates Committee. I think we could probably say that we interrogated the officers of the Department of Post and Telecommunications until we were satisfied that in respect of this matter Telecom Australia was doing all within its power to overcome the problems and to act compassionately in respect of the complaints that have been made from time to time. It seems to me, based on evidence which has been brought forward this evening, that the matter ought to be put before the officer concerned who spoke quite firmly- perhaps I could even use the word glibly- to dismiss the view that was being expressed by honourable senators when we were dealing with that particular aspect. I do not wish to say anything more about that matter but it does seem to me that there is an area of conflict between the evidence that was given before the Committee and the statements that have been made by the Government senators this evening.
I wish to refer to a matter which I think ought to be considered by the Senate. That is the continuing disputes and problems associated with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I have been concerned to recall the criticism that was expressed about the ABC in its totality by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the period when he was aspiring to become Prime Minister and in the early days of his current position as Prime Minister. I have been concerned also about the course of action that has been taken by this Government to reduce the effectiveness of the ABC. I have already spoken about the effect that the cutbacks in public funding and the imposition of staff ceilings is having in the area of business and consumer affairs. This situation is even more disastrous when it is applied to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I think we have to express our disappointment with the way in which the Commission has handled its relationship with the Government concerning funds and staff ceilings. There are areas of responsibility in this matter. We have the Commissioners, we have senior management and we have the employees. It has been left to the employees on the lower end of the scale- if I can speak in categories I put it in the third category- to bring to the Government’s attention, the public’s attention and the Parliament’s attention the winding-down that has taken place in the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s general areas of responsibility. Had it not been for the action of the staff we would not have the review which the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) has said he is prepared to refer to the Cabinet with a view to overcoming the difficulties that have developed as a result of the three Budgets brought in by the LiberalNational Country Party Government. From this Government’s first Budget, and also in its second and third Budgets, funding cuts and staff ceilings have been imposed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission which have placed it in such a position that it is not able to carry out its responsibilities. It is not able to provide the technical back-up, the programming and the range of facilities that is expected by the Australian community.
It seems to me that we have to apportion some blame for this. In my view the Commissioners have been derelict in their responsibility to bring before the Government what those staff and funding cuts would mean to the ability of the Broadcasting Commission to carry out its allotted tasks. The Chairman of the Senate Estimates Committee F will recall that we put ABC senior management under test in the Committee. They rather grudgingly finally conceded that there were problems that would make it difficult for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in this coming year to carry out its programs and responsibilities. We were assured that the cuts that had been made in the technical area of the Australian Broadcasting Commission were such that adjustments could be made in such a way to enable broadcasting and television services to be maintained.
We are indebted to Graham Williams’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald. If there is any substance- I believe there is- in the objective analysis that has been carried out by that newspaper of what is happening to the ABC, it seems to me that in this respect the evidence that was given before the Committee needs to be reexamined because obviously there is a point of conflict here. The Government is now being forced to re-examine whether cutting back some of the technical services has had a disastrous effect upon the effective functioning of the television and radio services of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
I consider the Commission to be most responsible for the disastrous state that we are in at the moment. Senior management has not provided the community, the Parliament or the Government with information on the effects of these cuts. It has been left to the staff- both at the senior officer level and at the ABC Staff Association level; that is at the lower echelons of the ABC- to bring home forcibly to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, Mr Staley, that there cannot be a continuance of cutbacks if the ABC is to carry out its obligations to the Australian community. There is no doubt, whatever the ratings may show with respect to the ABC’s radio or television services, that the ABC in its responsibility to the Parliament has won a place in the minds of Australian people. It is an acceptable medium. Its objectivity is accepted by those who listen to radio and watch television. There is no evidence whatsoever that there is support for any principle that would allow a deterioration in that service.
Honourable senators ought to be placing on record their appreciation to the staff who have shouldered the main part of the burden, not by taking action in respect of their own jobs or conditions but to defend the institution that is the ABC. They have brought the point home so forcibly that the Minister has had to concede that there is a need for further examination of what has happened in the three Budgets brought in by this Government. I am disappointed that the senior ABC officers whom we had before the Committee did not bring out that sort of evidence when questions were put to them. Of course, that was in accordance with their judgment and I accept it as such. I am sorry to read what Mr White has had to say; he now finds himself having to stand down staff and to take action against colleagues with whom he has worked for a considerable number of years. But senior management has areas of responsibility as indeed has the Commission. The responsibility has fallen upon the staff to take action, not in defence of their rights but in defence of the institution and to seek to continue to provide the Australian people with an adequate television and radio network. I regret that this sort of evidence did not come out when honourable senators questioned the officers before the Senate Estimates Committee.
The only opportunity we have to place our concern on record is to do so here in this chamber. We express the hope that the Government, in its desire to impose staff ceilings, will not apply them in an across the board way as it has done. This action makes it impossible for the technical area of the ABC to measure up to its responsibility and to maintain the sort of service that is expected of the ABC in providing its wide variety of facilities to the Australian people. I would like some assurance from the Minister that there will be a proper examination of the whole problem of what has happened to the ABC and an undertaking by this Government that it will re-examine the steps that have been taken to ensure that adequate funds and staff will be made available. I seek an undertaking that even if there has to be a measure of curtailment it will not affect the high quality and range of radio and television services which Australia has come to expect from the ABC.
– As Chairman of Senate Estimates Committee F- this was the first occasion on which I have been Chairman of an Estimates
Committee- I think it timely towards the end of this debate on the matters considered by the Committee that I make some general comments about the carrying out of the Committee ‘s duties. I stress that on this occasion the departmental figures for these appropriations came out very early. That made it much easier for members of the Estimates Committee to prepare questions and give prior notice to the various departments. This really assisted our inquiries. Generally speaking, it can be said that the members of my Committee believe that the figures and the explanations supplied to it were complete. In that regard I am grateful to the four departments, the estimates of which we were asked to consider. By way of general observation, if any department is concerned about the completeness of the figures that it supplies to a Committee the more detail that is supplied to a Committee the less questioning is required of that department. The more complete the details are the fewer questions result.
I turn now to speak particularly of the cooperation we received from the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It has been an ongoing battle on the part of the Estimates committees which have dealt with the Postal and Telecommunications Department to get complete figures from the ABC. I am very proud and pleased to report that the ABC co-operated completely and fully in the consideration of the Estimates this year. From the Hansard records I see that this battle has been going on since 1971. I know that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) was instrumental last year in drawing to the attention of the relevant Committee that the Senate Estimates Committees would very much like to have more detail supplied from the ABC. I am pleased to say that this year not only did the ABC supply complete details and explanations of its figures but also was it good enough to provide the following executives: Mr G. White, Assistant General Manager, Television, Mr K. Mackriell, Assistant General Manager, Radio, Mr W. Funnell Controller of Finance, and many other ABC top executives. I hope that this cooperation on the part of the ABC will continue.
– A number of speeches have been made tonight on this final part of the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1978-79. It would be fair to say that the matters raised in this debate are matters which, perhaps more than most matters which are debated in this chamber, touch on the lives of the great majority of Australians. From that point of view, it has been a most useful and relevant debate. It has centred on the institution of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and on the matter of sporting programs in particular, although the last speaker spoke more generally of the ABC. But that is an area which is of interest, I think, to the great majority of Australians. The other area which has been tackled is that of the Australian Telecommunications Commission which, again, affects most Australians. The points that have been raised generally are matters of substance which are worthy of consideration. They will be referred to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) and to the Postal and Telecommunications Department for proper consideration.
I look firstly at the matter which first was raised by Senator McAuliffe and subsequently was raised by Senator Douglas McClelland- in fact, it is a matter which has been raised at Question Time recently- namely, the broadcasting of sporting programs. Senator Douglas McClelland saved me a little time by drawing the Committee’s attention to what I think is still an uptodate statement of the ABC’s publicly stated position on the broadcasting of sporting programs. He referred to the forty-fifth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for 1976-77 and in particular to page 1 1 of that report. I do not wish to go over that again, but that is a statement from the Commission itself to which those honourable senators who are interested in this subject might like to apply themselves. Reference is made there to the economies which have had to be effected and also to the organisational problems and the problems which can be involved in maintaining two networks engaged in partial broadcasting by the ABC.
In that regard I found the comments of Senator McAuliffe, who effectively challenged part of what is contained in that report- he was supported in that by Senator Douglas McClelland- of particular interest. I will ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to have them examined. Senator McAuliffe really did raise doubts about the inability of the ABC to conduct two broadcasts. In fact, he cited examples of the blacking out of metropolitan areas and the broadcasting of different programs in country areas, which I think were pertinent. I will be very interested to see the explanation of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the light of the general stance taken here by Senator McAuliffe and Senator Douglas McClelland. I can say- I think I already have said at Question
Time- that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications regards this as a serious matter and is keeping it under examination.
The other major matter dealt with was a matter which has been raised frequently at Question Time, namely, telephone metering. I think it is quite clear that honourable senators are raising a matter which is of concern to at least some subscribers of the telephone system. Although Senator Martin suggested that in the Sydney area 1.6 per cent of subscribers queried their accounts every month I think that the evidence given before the Estimates Committee indicated that the figure was 0.8 per cent. In any event, even on the lower figure, it represents quite a large number of accounts. It represents about 80,000 bills a year.
I think that Senator Gietzelt was a little harsh with respect to the Telecom officer who appeared before us in the Estimates Committee hearings. I thought that he gave extremely good evidence. It would be true to say that Mr Banks defended the Telecom system. I suppose that that was his duty. He was there to tell us how the system worked. But I thought he gave us a great deal of information on the system which was of assistance to those honourable senators who are interested in this subject. I do not think that Senator Gietzelt meant the word ‘glib’ in any offensive sense to the officer. I thought that he added valuable information to that which was available to us.
I can tell the Committee that, as I have indicated in response to questions, a system of accounting is available in a technical sense. It has been referred to by Senator Townley on other occasions and, I think, by Senator Wriedt in conversation if not in public statement in this chamber. I am advised that the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry recommended for the Australian Post Office that an automatic meter system should be introduced in association with the introduction of international subscriber direct dialling, then extended to cover subscriber trunk dialling calls. That is a fairly heavy authority on which those honourable senators who are seeking this change might like to draw. The Vernon Committee report, as I recall it, was the report which in fact led to the establishment of both the Australian Telecommunications Commission and the Australian Postal Commission, so at least a good number of its recommendations must have been pretty effective. I refer honourable senators to that report. I have not seen the relevant passages, but they might be of assistance in putting forward this case.
In fact, nearly 18 months ago, in March 1977, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications asked Telecom to give him a report on the issues involved in introducing automated message accounting. A number of interim reports have been prepared, as well as a more substantial report on the costs, practicability and the pluses and the minuses of such a system which came forward in August 1978. That response is still being examined by the Department. It is proposed that the Minister should seek further clarification from Telecom on a number of issues which have been raised. To those honourable senators who are properly concerned about this matter I would say that for a fairly considerable period, since March 1977, there has been some movement by the Government. Reports are now before it and we might be able to report some greater progress in the not too distant future.
I will not go into detailed reply. Senator Ryan raised a number of points. I realise that she was suffering, as I am beginning to suffer too, from a damaged throat. I think that a large number of the points she raised were in common with the points she raised in the matter of public importance which she brought before this chamber some weeks ago and which will be remembered by most honourable senators. I doubt that honourable senators will recall my response, but I refer them back to the Hansard record. At least a number of points that were raised by Senator Ryan tonight were raised by her then and I did give some response on behalf of the Government to her at that time. I can confirm for her that the reports on the proposal for satellites, which she was concerned about not being available, have now been made available. I am advised that they are in the bookshops. Some time ago I told her that more copies were being printed. So that problem is over. Senator Ryan acknowledged that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications had extended the time allowed for comment, which was another matter about which she and, I think, Senator Gietzelt expressed some concern at that earlier time.
I do not think there are any other matters to which I wish to refer now, except to affirm the Government’s interest in the Australian Broadcasting Commission and its recognition of the fact that that Commission is an extremely important element in Australian society and is performing a function which no other organisation across the nation performs. I would not like it to be thought, as I think Senator Gietzelt was suggesting, that action by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications has been prompted only by industrial action. Long before industrial action was taken Mr Staley had indicated that he was pursuing the matter of staff ceilings, that he was talking to the Commission and that he intended to take the matter up with the Government. I would simply like the fact that he was moving before strike action was taken to be placed on the record in the course of this debate. I thank honourable senators for their contributions to this debate and assure them that their contributions will be carefully examined.
– Very briefly, without prolonging the Committee debate and without desiring to instigate any further debate on the matter, I want to support the remarks which were made earlier, by Senator Martin in particular and also by Senator Gietzelt in respect of the Australian Telecommunications Commission problem. It is obvious that even at this stage the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Chaney) is unable to give satisfactory explanations and answers to these questions, presumably because his advisers in Telecom also are unable satisfactorily to answer the matters that have been raised, not just tonight but over the past 18 months or more. I am pleased that the Minister has at least indicated that apparently there are some reports in the hands of his colleague in the other place and that these reports will be considered.
I must say that I think it is time that consideration was given by the Senate to this matter. Unless satisfaction is obtained in relation to these matters I think we will have no option other than to consider sending a reference to one of the standing committees of the Senate for a most thorough examination of Telecom. That is not something which I think we would do lightly, because it would be a massive undertaking. That seems to be the only effective way we will resolve this problem. I hope that early in the new year the Minister will be able to come forward with some satisfactory explanations to the matters that have been raised in this place recently.
– Following the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) I feel I must say that some consideration has already been given by some of us to doing just what he said about referring this matter to one of the standing committees. Of course, I would like to see it referred to a standing committee of which I am a member.
– I would like to say that I think Telecom Australia itself set out as good a justification as it could before the Estimates Committee. I have made no attempt tonight to repeat the evidence of Mr Banks which, I think, is available to the Committee of the Whole. That is why I have not gone into the matter in greater detail. I note the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) and I would hope that Telecom would note them also.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Remainder of Bill-by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without requests, but with a resolution expressing certain opinions; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Chaney) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 7 November.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Discharge of Order of the Day
Motion (by Senator Chaney)- by leaveagreed to:
That Government Business, Order of the Day No. 22, Budget Papers 1 978-79- adjourned debate, be discharged.
– I inform the Senate that I have received a letter from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Carrick, nominating Senator Rae to be a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Delegation to the Constitutional Convention.
Motion ( by Senator Chaney) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-Last night during the Committee stage of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) when we were dealing with the estimates for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, I raised the case of a young Greek girl. While she was staying with her brother-in-law and sister at Yass she was arrested by Commonwealth Police, taken to the Canberra lock-up and from there taken to Villawood detention centre to await determination by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) as to whether she should be deported. Yesterday afternoon I received a letter from the Minister stating that he has considered all the circumstances of the case and that, despite my representations, he had decided that deportation should proceed. However, since raising this case in the debate last night, I was contacted late this afternoon by a member of the Minister’s staff who rang me to say that the Minister had reviewed the case and had now decided, in all the circumstances, to release the young girl from custody and to allow her a week in which to leave Australia voluntarily.
I merely state that to place the full circumstances on record. I am sorry that the Minister cannot see his way clear to allow the girl to remain in Australia because according to all the reports coming to me about her from many people I am convinced that she would have made an excellent Australian citizen. Apparently the Department of Immigration and the Minister, obviously acting on the advice of his Department, either cannot agree with that or refuse to acknowledge it. At least the Minister has now relented and has agreed to release the young girl from custody so that she can leave the country with dignity. Minimal as that action is, nonetheless I certainly appreciate it and I hope that one day in the future when she has returned to Greece, she will make successful application to return to Australia as a migrant.
– I find myself, in regard to an action that has been taken in the last couple of hours, on a parallel course with that of Senator Douglas McClelland. Honourable senators will be aware that in respect of the Chilean national, Mr Arroyo, I made a case not on his status as a tourist but on whether a certain travel agent had misled the boy’s aunt and convinced her that he could come here as a tourist and be converted into a permanent resident. A short while ago the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) in his wisdom informed me that for the time being he has released the boy on the basis of reporting each week so that we can ascertain whether the travel agent did mislead the auntie. It is a respite and results from a course similar to that which Senator Douglas McClelland adopted. By ventilating these grievances we often get a further review made of the situation. Like Senator Douglas McClelland, I am not sure that I will win completely, but if I am able to convince travel agents to have a higher degree of ethics and not batten on certain migrant groups, then we will have achieved something.
– I do not think those speeches require a response except that I would say that the most difficult job in the Commonwealth must be that of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar). I acknowledge the temperate remarks that have been made about a Minister who has, I think, a most unenviable task of decision making.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.31 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
1 ) How many telephone calls were made by subscribers in:
What proportion of these calls was made within the following groups:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Percentage of total calls (4,336m) in distance categories originated in-
Percentage of total trunk calls (412m) in distance categories originated in-
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 13 September 1978:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 13 September 1978:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 14 September 1978:
– The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 27 September 1978:
What were the reasons for the decision to remove the Institute of Cultural Affairs at Oombulgurri on the North West Coast of Western Australia, from a management role in the local community development project, and the subsequent reinstatement of the Institute in its former role there.
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following reply to the honourable senator’s question:
Institute of Cultural Affairs personnel were dismissed by a decision of the community council on 29 May but were subsequently invited to return subject to certain conditions.
Institute of Cultural Affairs members again left the community on 1 September.
In a joint statement with Mr R. Young, Western Australian Minister for Community Welfare, on 28 September, I indicated that there was insufficient evidence of progress by the community after five years during which the Commonwealth Government had provided over $1 million. Commonwealth and State authorities would not support the return of ICA personnel but would collaborate to restore and improve essential services at Oombulgurri.
Mr Young and I met with a delegation of Aboriginals from the Oombulgurri community in Perth on Friday 6 October. The meeting agreed that a co-ordinator should be appointed to the community for a trial period of 9 months. The co-ordinator will live at Oombulgurri and will be responsible for ensuring that essential services are provided to the community and that Commonwealth and State Government activities are co-ordinated. The arrangements will be reviewed during 1979.
Aboriginal Settlements in the Northern Territory (Question No. 874)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 1 1 October 1978:
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following reply to the honourable senator’s question:
Marine Science Program in Antarctica (Question No. 921)
asked the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 19 October 1978:
– The answers to the honourable senator’s questions are as follows:
Major items purchased by the Antarctic Division specifically in pursuance of an Antarctic marine science program are:
Additional minor items such as water sampling bottles, plankton nets have also been acquired.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 25 October 1978:
Did a Minister of the Crown go to Washington earlier this month in an attempt to prevent the Congressional rejection of the ratification of the International Sugar Agreement. If not, why not.
– The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
A Minister of the Crown did go to Washington earlier this month and although the main purpose of his visit was in relation to beef, he took the opportunity to discuss with members of the US Administration the failure of Congress to pass sugar legislation.
The United States at no stage has rejected ratification of the International Sugar Agreement. The House of Representatives rejected domestic sugar legislation to which was appended machinery provisions to enable the United States to fulfil it obligations under the Agreement. However, separate Senate acceptance of the International Sugar Agreement would have been and still is required before the United States could ratify the Agreement. The Administration has expressed its unqualified support for the International Sugar Agreement and in fact the United States is a provisional member of the Agreement. No opposition has been voiced in the Congress to the Agreement.
The United States Administration remains committed to ratification of the International Sugar Agreement and I am confident it will achieve that objective early in 1979 when the new Congress is convened. Indeed, President Carter has said sugar legislation will be given priority treatment when Congress returns.
asked the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 25 October 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The organizations which regularly use the CSIRO computing system (CSIRONET) can be categorized under the following headings:
There are no overseas organizations using CSIRONET.
LIST OF NON-CSIRO USERS OF CSIRONET
Department of Health, National Acoustics Laboratories, NSW
Bureau of Agricultural Economics, ACT
Bureau of Animal Health, Department of Primary Industry, ACT
Australian Government Analytical Laboratories, ACT
Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation, Vic.
Anglo-Australian Observatory, NSW
Australian Radiation Laboratory, Vic.
Australian Road Research Board, ACT
Aeronautical Research Laboratories, Vic.
Central Studies Establishment, Department of Defence, ACT
Australian Wool Corporation, Vic.
Bread Research Institute, NSW
Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, NSW
Natural Disasters Organization, Department of Defence, ACT
Australian Bureau of Statistics, ACT
Department of the Capital Territory
Australian Development Assistance Bureau, ACT
Australian Dairy Corporation, Vic.
Manpower & Requirements Branch, Department of Defence, ACT
Department of Construction, ACT
Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development, ACT
Department of Education, ACT
Commonwealth Grants Commission, ACT
Australian Wine Research Institute, SA
Industries Assistance Commission, ACT
Australian Institute of Criminology, ACT
Australian Kidney Foundation, Department of Health, ACT
Australian Plague Locust Commission, Department of Primary Industry, ACT
Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, ACT
The Law Reform Commission, NSW
Australian Institute of Marine Science, Qld
Royal Military College, Duntroon, ACT
Department of National Development, ACT
Department of Industry and Commerce, ACT
Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, NSW
Bureau of Mineral Resources, ACT
Directorate of Survey- Army, Department of Defence, ACT
Bureau of Meteorology, Vic.
National Biological Standards Laboratory, NSW
Division of National Mapping, NSW
National Parks and Wildlife Service, ACT
Department of National Resources, ACT
RAN Research Laboratories, Department of Defence, NSW
Directorate of Aircraft Engineering, Department of Defence, NSW
Department of Productivity, ACT
Department of Science, ACT
Public Service Board, ACT
Reserve Bank of Australia, NSW
River Murray Commission, ACT
ACT Schools Authority
Schools Commission, ACT
Australian Survey Office, ACT
Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, NSW
Central Studies Establishment, Department of Defence, ACT
Department of Transport, ACT
Telecom Australia Research Laboratories, Vic.
Bureau of Transport Economics, ACT
Department of Trade and Resources, ACT
Joint Training Scheme- Department of Defence, ACT
Department of Veterans ‘ Affairs, ACT
Department of Agriculture, Tas.
Department of Agriculture, NSW, Remote Sensing Section
Department of Agriculture, WA
Department of Agriculture, NSW
Department of Agriculture, NSW, Agricultural Research Station, Leeton
The Australian Museum
Department of Agriculture, NSW, Agricultural Research Station, Grafton
Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works
NSW Crown Lands Office
Department of Lands, Qld, Sir Alan Fletcher Research Station, Sherwood
Public Works Department, WA
State Electricity Commission of Victoria
Environment Protection Authority, Vic.
Victorian Ministry for Conservation
Forests Commission of Victoria
Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, WA
Health Commission of NSW
Department of Health Services, Tas.
Department of Housing and Construction, Tas.
Irrigation and Water Supply, Qld
Department of Mines, Tas.
NSW State Fisheries
Premier’s Department, Tas.
Premier’s Department, Vic.
Department of Public Health, SA
Department of Primary Industries, Qld
Department of Main Roads, Tas.
Pollution Control Commission, NSW
Department of Public Works, NSW
Queensland Forestry Dept
Department of Health, Qld
Department of Agriculture, SA
Soil Conservation Authority, Vic.
Soil Conservation Service, NSW
Social Welfare Department, Vic.
Tasmanian Transport Commission
Tasmanian Lands Department
Public Transport Commission of NSW
Department of Agriculture, Vic.
Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission, NSW
Department of Welfare Services, Qld
Avondale College of Advanced Education
Canberra College of Advanced Education
Australian National University
Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education
NSW Institute of Technology
James Cook University
Kuring-Gai College of Advanced Education
University of Melbourne
Mt Gravatt Teachers College
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
University of New England
University of New South Wales
University of Queensland
University of Tasmania
University of Sydney
ACI Library Service, NSW
Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd, Tas.
Control Data Australia Pty Ltd, Vic.
Computer Accounting Services Pty Ltd, NSW
Mount Isa Mines Ltd, Qld
M.B.T. Research Centre, NSW
Technical and Field Survey Pty Ltd, NSW
Amalgamated Wireless Australia Ltd, NSW
Environmental Studies Pty Ltd, SA
Australia Mineral Foundation, SA
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd, Vic.
National Heart Foundation, National Blood Pressure Study, NSW
Royal Australian Ornithologists Union, Vic.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 8 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Australian Broadcasting Commission
-On 27 September 1978 Senator Mason asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications the following question without notice:
In view of the fact that the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission mentioned in a staff memorandum on 5 September the possibility of staff retrenchment and the reduction in scale or cancellation of programs as a result of reduced staff ceilings imposed once more on the ABC by the Government, can the Minister give an assurance that a review of ABC staff ceilings planned for the end of this month will be sufficient to avert these possibilities and permit maintenance of ABC programs at least at their present level?
The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Government is aware of difficulties which proposed staff ceilings could create for the ABC and is taking these into account in the current review.
-On 25 October 1978 Senator Cavanagh asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs the following question without notice:
I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. In March of this year, did a boatload of Vietnamese refugees which arrived at Darwin include 30 people who had previously been rejected for entry to Australia by Australian immigration officers in
Thailand? If so, what has happened to those refugees? Have they been permitted to stay in Australia or have they been repatriated?
The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 November 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19781116_senate_31_s79/>.