31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I regret to advise honourable senators that today’s issue of Hansard will not be a complete report of yesterday’s proceedings. Due to a malfunction of the pneumatic tube which connects the Hansard department in this building with the Government Printing Office, the Government Printer was unable to print yesterday’s proceedings beyond the stage that they reached at 10.45 p.m. The remainder of the report will be published in the next daily issue of Hansard.
– I present the following petition from 1 3 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 restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate ‘ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
Restore twice-yearly pension adjustments in the Autumn session.
Raise pensions and unemployed benefits above the poverty level to 30 per cent of average weekly earnings.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 1 8 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate of Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the credibility of the Westminster Parliamentary system is weakened by the resignation in protest of Ministers of the Crown without adequate explanation of the reason or reasons for the resignations being given to the electorate and that the situation is further exacerbated by the reappointment of the recently resigned Minister within a very brief period, again without any meaningful explanation to the people of Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, take note of the need for the electorate at large to be fully informed so that the confidence of the people is not diminished in the democratic process in general and the Parliamentary process in particular.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 56 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the credibility of the Westminster Parliamentary system is weakened by the resignation in protest of Ministers of the Crown without adequate explanation of the reason or reasons for the resignations being given to the electorate and that the situation is further exacerbated by the reappointment of the recently resigned Minister within a very brief period, again without any meaningful explanation to the people of Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, take note of the need for the electorate at large to be fully informed so that the confidence of the people is not diminished in the democratic process in general and the Parliamentary process in particular.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
– I present the following petition from 43 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 the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country does not have the support of the people;
That the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems;
That the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilize whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire;
That weather reporting be as it was prior to the passing of the Metric Conversion Act;
That the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways;
That the Australian Government request the State Governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country does not have the support of the people;
That the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems;
That the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray.
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilize which ever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire:
That weather reporting be as it was prior to passing of the conversion of the Metric Conversion Act;
That the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways;
That the Australian Government request the State Governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Senator McAuliffe.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate ‘ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to;
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Guilfoyle.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till Tuesday, 29 May 1979, at 10.30 a.m.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the Minister for Science and the Environment no longer has the confidence of the Senate because he deliberately misled the Senate on a number of occasions in relation to issues pertaining to the Great Barrier Reef.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Senate proceeding with the motion forthwith, and that Standing Order 1 27 do not apply.
– I move:
The Opposition moves this motion of want of confidence in the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) because of his wilful, deliberate and persistent misleading of the Senate over the actions of various Ministers in relation to the Great Barrier Reef issue. The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided answers to questions that were incorrect and which he knew to be incorrect. When challenged on a previous motion of no confidence in him about his misleading of the Senate, he provided further misleading information in his defence. Even though his integrity and the integrity of the Government has been at issue, he has refused to answer or has avoided answering questions on critical matters since that time.
This is not just a simple matter of a Minister’s misleading the Parliament. There has been such persistent misleading of the Senate by the Minister that the confidence of senators in the integrity of the Government is being eroded. As I will demonstrate, the effects of the deliberate misleading of the Senate by Senator Webster are starting to spread through the Government itself. The Opposition views this motion even more seriously than the one moved against Senator Webster just over two weeks ago. On that occasion his integrity was directly challenged by the Opposition because of answers he had given on the previous Thursday. The Opposition now charges that the defence raised by Senator Webster to those earlier charges was totally spurious and that he, on that occasion, compounded the felony by misleading the Senate in a far more substantial way. Since that time we have given him every opportunity to explain the position in this chamber, but on each occasion that opportunity has been declined.
During 1975 the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) put down his views about what constitutes misleading of the Parliament. The words he used were:
Ten per cent or even SO per cent or the truth is as good a way of misleading this Parliament and the Australian people as a downright lie. The half truth, the partial answer and the slipping over of the full facts are as misleading of this Parliament just as much as and maybe much more deliberately than the statement by the former Deputy Prime Minister.
In Senator Webster’s case, every element referred to by the Prime Minister has applied. Not only that, other Ministers, in an attempt to defend their colleagues, have resorted to tactics which are as dubious as those brought into this chamber by Senator Webster. It is this last aspect which makes Senator Webster’s breach of the trust placed in him as a Minister of the Crown so damaging to the structure of government in this country. To cover up the misleading statements, other Ministers have been forced to adopt standards of honesty which should not be permitted in any walk of life, let alone by a Minister of the Crown who, according to this Government, must uphold the highest standards.
Let me briefly reflect on the full extent of the Opposition’s charge against the Minister for Science and the Environment. On 3 May 1979, in response to questions concerning the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, he stated that it was only a constitutional issue involving off-shore waters which was delaying the proclamation of that Park. The words he used were:
So far as I am aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
The question of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is significant because the proposed Capricornia section is in the vicinity of, and could well overlap, areas of the reef region in respect of which oil exploration permits have been issued. I think we all know now that the permits are known as Q/4P and Q/5P. They are held by Australian Gulf Oil. One of the major issues at the moment concerns the possible renewal of those permits.
The correctness of Senator Webster’s answers on this issue was immediately challenged by the Opposition. The basis of the challenge was that there had been correspondence between Senator Webster and Mr Newman, the Minister for
National Development, dealing with the renewal of permits for those two areas. In the view of the Opposition, the disclosure of that correspondence established beyond doubt that Senator Webster had deliberately misled the Senate on 3 May. This was the issue before the Senate on 8 May. It was on that day that incriminating letters were fully disclosed oy the Opposition to back up its charge that Senator Webster had misled the Senate on the previous Thursday. The Minister, Senator Webster, came up with what could only be described as an amazing response to the charges of the Opposition. Most of his speech consisted of reading extracts from Hansard, but at no stage did he clearly state why the Opposition’s charges were incorrect. But if there was any substance in his defence, it came at the end of his speech and seemed to be included almost as an afterthought. Just when it appeared that he was going to offer the Senate no explanation whatsoever for his conduct on the previous day, he referred to ‘two other matters which I think assist my case ‘. That in itself is an extraordinary proposition- that he would rely on something which he thought assisted his case.
In any event, the key disclosure made by Senator Webster was that on some occasion, the former Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, Mr Groom, wrote to the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, and provided him with certain information concerning the boundaries of the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Senator Webster quoted a paragraph of the letter which indicated that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had resolved to recommend an eastern boundary of the Capricornia section of the Park which avoided the areas which were expected to be sought in any renewal applications for permits Q/4P and Q/5P.
In other words, Mr Groom told Mr Newman that the Authority had resolved to recommend a proposed area for proclamation under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act which avoided the areas that Gulf Oil would seek to have included in new permits. This, said Senator Webster, was in his mind when he said:
Absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
In other words, Senator Webster is inviting us to believe that when he gave that answer on 3 May 1979 he was drawing a very sharp distinction between the boundaries of these zones, Q/4P and Q/5P, on the one hand, and the boundaries of the area which the Marine Park Authority had resolved to recommend to the Government. On that basis, Senator Webster argued that he could convincingly assert that the question of permit renewals was no longer an issue involved in the proposed proclamation of the Capricornia section of the Park.
Let me once again stress that Senator Webster himself did not raise this as the main argument but merely put it as a matter which assisted his case. However, as it is the only matter of substance raised by Senator Webster, the Opposition was obliged to treat the matter seriously. But, when we look at the substance of Senator Webster’s defence it is clear that that defence is not sustainable. For this defence to be acceptable, Senator Webster had to establish three issues: Firstly, he had to demonstrate that the renewal of the permits could no longer affect the proclamation of the section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Secondly, he had to establish that, when he gave his answers to the Senate on 3 May, he was aware of that fact. Thirdly, the only factors inhibiting the proclamation of the Marine Park were constitutional ones involving off-shore waters.
I will now demonstrate that Senator Webster was unable to establish any of those propositions and furthermore, that those propositions could not be established. As I have indicated, Senator Webster, on 8 May 1979, quoted from a letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman. Senator Webster did not inform the Senate of the date of the letter nor the balance of the contents of the letter. Since that time, he has refused to produce a copy of the letter. All of those issues were highly significant in view of the correspondence that had passed between Mr Newman and Senator Webster. However, Senator Webster persistently refused to provide this information and the Senate was left in the dark on those issues.
I am now able to inform the Senate why that information was npt provided by the Minister. Because of his misuse of that letter, a copy of it has been provided to the Opposition and I will shortly be making its contents known during the course of the debate. That letter is highly damaging to the Government and to Senator Webster’s credibility. Let us return to the three propositions which Senator Webster had to establish. As I said, he had to establish that there was no potential overlap between the boundaries of the areas over which there were oil drilling permits and the boundaries of the Capricornia section of the Marine Park. The only basis for his assertion that the permits were not relevant to the Capricornia section was a statement in a letter from Mr
Groom that the Authority had resolved to recommend a boundary of the Park which would exclude the areas, the subject of the renewal applications for permits. It is important to note that it is merely a resolution of the Authority to make a recommendation. There is no suggestion from the Minister- Senator Webster- that the Government has accepted any such recommendation. Indeed, correspondence which passed between Senator Webster and Mr Newman which was revealed to the Senate on 8 May 1 979 clearly demonstrates that the boundaries of the areas are still a very live issue. As recently as 5 April 1979, Senator Webster sought details of the ‘boundaries and the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits’. That was in response to a letter from Mr Newman which advised Senator Webster that the Queensland Government would not object to the declaration of the Park provided that the Park did not include areas of the permits which Gulf Oil wanted to drill.
Clearly, the question of the boundaries has not yet been resolved. The Groom letter was dated 20 October 1978. Yet the Webster letter of 5 April 1979- more than five months after the Groom letter- demonstrates that the boundary question was still unresolved. When he gave the answer on 3 May, Senator Webster knew that the boundary issue was not resolved. Yet he came into this Senate on 8 May, quoted one paragraph from a letter and asserted that because trie boundary had been resolved the issue of permits was no longer relevant. This was a clear misleading of the Senate.
The second proposition that Senator Webster had to establish was that he was aware that the boundary issue had been resolved. To demonstrate his awareness, he relied on the letter from Mr Groom. Let us look carefully at the way he gave the information to the Senate. After telling us that there were two other matters which assisted his case, he said:
I do not have the letters, but I quote from earlier advice which I was given.
That statement appears on page 1658 of the Senate Hansard report of 8 May. As recorded on page 1659, he went on to say:
I quote from advice which I have been given by Mr Newman.
He then went on to refer to two letters. Firstly, he incorrectly referred to an advice that Mr Newman had given to Mr Groom, whereas he was really referring to a letter Mr Newman had written to him, Senator Webster. He went on to refer to a letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman. He noted that Mr Groom had stated various points and he particularly asked me to listen to the statement that he was about to quote. He then quoted the statement dealing with the resolution of the Authority to which I have already referred. He then went on to say when answering questions on 3 May: 1 had in mind the comment I have just quoted.
What he was saying was that he was aware of the comments in the Groom letter when answering questions on 3 May and that his answers were influenced by those comments. The Opposition charges that he misled the Senate on that issue. Why is Senator Webster quoting from advice from Mr Newman? The answer appears to be obvious. Mr Newman is providing Senator Webster with material to demonstrate that my objections to his answer were incorrect. I am suggesting that when he gave the answers on 3 May Senator Webster had no knowledge whatsoever of the letter from Mr Groom. His quoting of that letter was merely an argument dreamed up over the weekend prior to the censure motion. It is most likely that on 3 May he had not the faintest idea of any of the information contained in the Groom letter.
Why is the Opposition prepared to put this view as strongly as it has? The answer is obvious when we study the contents of the Groom letter. In many respects, the letter does not support any of the answers given by Senator Webster in May. However, that in itself is not necessarily conclusive. Because this is clearly a critical factor in Senator Webster’s defence. As the Senate will recall, I have directed to Senator Webster four questions on this point. It has been obvious to all honourable senators that the answers that I have received have been quite bizarre. When I asked him about the advice from Mr Newman, he told me to put the question on notice. When I asked him about the letter from Mr Groom, he ignored the reference to the letter but stated that Mr Newman was out of the country at the time of the debate. When I asked him a further question about the Groom letter, which I remind the Senate was the letter on which Senator Webster had relied in his defence, he asked me to define the letter about which I was speaking. Only yesterday, after he had had a day to think about it, I gave him a further opportunity. Once again, he declined and told me to put the question on notice.
Four times this Minister has had an opportunity of clearing up a simple matter: Was he aware of the contents of the Groom letter prior to answering questions on this issue on 3 May? As it was critical to his defence, there should have been no doubt about his ability to answer the question. To preserve what was left of his integrity, there should have been no doubt about his willingness to give that answer. In the words of Mr Fraser, which I quoted earlier
The half truth, the partial answer and the slipping over of the full facts are as misleading of this Parliament as a downright lie.
In view of the fact that Senator Webster has persistently refused to answer questions on this issue, the Opposition is entitled to conclude that he was unaware of the contents of that letter on 3 May. Once again, we say that he deliberately misled the Senate on 8 May. The third issue which Senator Webster had to establish in his defence on that day was that only the constitutional issue stood in the way of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is the view of the Opposition that the earlier correspondence made available to this Senate convincingly demonstrates that there were issues other than the constitutional one and that Senator Webster had indeed misled the Senate on 3 May. But the most damaging piece of evidence against Senator Webster is the letter written by Mr Groom to Mr Newman. To clear up this issue, I will now make that letter available to the Senate. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a copy of a letter dated 20 October 1978 from Mr Groom, the then Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, to Mr Newman, the Minister for National Development.
The document read as follows- 20 October 1978
My dear Minister
In your previous capacity as Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, you received a letter of 3 November 1 977 from the then Minister for National Resources in which concern was expressed over the proposed Proclamation of the area encompassing Lady Elliot Island and the Bunker and Capricorn Groups as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Mr Anthony was concerned firstly that the proposed boundary overlapped petroleum exploration permits Q/4P and Q/5P held by Australian Gulf Oil Company and secondly, that it might not have been appropriate to continue Proclamation action while the Commonwealth and States were discussing seas and submerged lands policy matters.
Although the basic preparatory work necessary for the Proclamation of this Section of the Marine Park had been completed in 1977, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority took these views to account and has refrained until now from transmitting a formal report to me for submission to the Executive Council, recommending that the GovernorGeneral Proclaim the Capricornia Section of the Marine Park. However, I am informed by the Authority that it will be seriously impeded in its work if a Proclamation is not now made as soon as is practicable.
Indeed, I consider that Proclamation at the earliest practicable time is now essential to the Government as a whole in order to maintain public and political credibility in this sensitive area and to demonstrate our bona fides to the Queensland Government. I informed the Parliament in debate on 21 September that the Capricornia Section only awaits the passage of amending legislation relating to the overall definition of the Region.
The Authority’s view, with which 1 concur, is that the main uncertainties of Commonwealth/State relations which have led to this delay have either been clarified in principle or will be resolved more expeditiously by moving to a Proclamation. For example, the mining and fisheries questions have been resolved in principle in the lune 1978 Premiers’ Conference and it appears that the revised administrative regimes would not lead to significantly different relationships with the Authority. On the other hand the marine parks question in the Reef Region will be more readily clarified with Queensland when a firm proposition is put to that Government which is consonant with the Prime Minister’s statement in his letter to the Queensland Premier of 13 October 1977 on Seas and Submerged lands matters, namely that: the proposals with respect to marine parks are not intended in any way to affect the very successful cooperative arrangements that have been settled with respect to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park ‘.
In discussion at the recent Authority Meeting in Townsville, Queensland’s nominee on the Authority, Mr Schubert, the Co-ordinator-General of Queensland, supported the view that the Proclamation should proceed forthwith and undertook to facilitate co-operative planning arrangements for the area with Queensland Government agencies.
I have written to the Prime Minister seeking his views on how he would wish the Premier to be advised of my intention to proceed with the Proclamation and whether the Premier should be invited to participate in a joint announcement.
The difficulties relating to the more direct issue of the overlapping of the mining leases with proposed Park Area appear to be reduced in a number of ways. First, from the general policy viewpoint, your letter to the Prime Minister of 27 June 1 978 and his response of 3 1 July, notes that: . . . it is essential that it be made clear to the industry that the Government makes no commitment that oil exploration permits would be issued within at least 30 miles of the Great Barrier Reef or anywhere within the area covered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. This position is based on two grounds. First, the Government has yet to consider what action it proposes in response to the Report of the Royal Commission into Petroleum Drilling in the GBR Region. Secondly, the zoning of the Region as required under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act has yet to be decided. ‘
Second, the zoning activities under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act can only proceed once an area has been proclaimed as part of the Park.
Recognising that operations for the recovery of petroleum are excluded from the Marine Park under Section 38 of the Act the Authority has resolved to recommend an eastern boundary of the Capricornia Section of the Park which avoids the areas which it is understood may be sought in any renewal applications for permits Q4/P and Q5/P. The Authority has received advice from the permit holder (Australian Gulf Oil Co.) that they are not seeking renewal of oil leases within the area of the proposed Capricornia Section of the Marine Park. Both the oil companies and the Queensland Under Secretary for Mines have no objection to our proceeding with Proclamation of this area. In addition a buffer zone of 32 kilometres will be recommended between the islands and the eastern boundary of the proposed Capricornia Section of the Marine Park, reflecting the recommendation of the Report of the Royal Commissions into Petroleum Drilling in the area of the Great Barrier Reef.
Under these circumstances bearing in mind the general Parliamentary and public expectations in relation to the Capricornia Proclamation and the Government’s explicit policy to make no commitment at this time to grant oil exploration leases within the Region, I ask that you now confirm the situation with the parties concerned. Whether in the longer term a need arises to amend either the Proclamation or the legislation could depend on a prospectivity of areas and demand on the one hand and a better understanding through research of potential impacts on the Reef on the other. These however are not immediate issues which should further inhibit the Government from taking positive and constructive steps in relation to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. 1 have copied this letter to the Prime Minister and to the Attorney-General.
Yours sincerely, (signed) RAY GROOM
The Hon. K. E. Newman, M.P., Minister for National Development, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600.
– It is understandable why Senator Webster refused to make this letter available, despite the requests to do so. In the first paragraph, we learn why the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority redrew the boundaries for the proposed Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. That paragraph indicates that on 3 November 1977 the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anthony, who was then Minister for National Resources, wrote to Mr Newman expressing concern about the proclamation of the Park. I shall quote from Mr Groom’s letter. It reads:
Mr Anthony was concerned firstly that the proposed boundary-
That is, of the Park-
Overlapped petroleum exploration permits Q/4P and Q/5P held by Australian Gulf Oil Company and secondly, that it might not have been appropriate to continue Proclamation action while the Commonwealth and States were discussing seas and submerged lands policy matters.
We know from that letter that it was pressure from Mr Anthony that the activities of Australian Gulf Oil would not be inhibited by the Marine Park Authority which caused that Authority to redraw the boundaries of the proposed Park. Mr Groom ‘s letter goes on to say that although the basic work for the Marine Park had been completed in 1977, the Authority was reluctant to proceed because of the pressure Mr Anthony had put on it. However, by 20 October 1 978, the Authority was of the view that ‘it will be seriously impeded in its work if a proclamation is not now made as soon as practicable ‘. Mr Groom then spelt out his attitude to the holding up of the proclamation of the Park. He said: . . I consider thai Proclamation at the earliest practicable time is now essential to the Government as a whole in Order to maintain public and political credibility in this sensitive area and to demonstrate our bona fides to the Queensland Government.
He went on to point out that he had informed the Parliament that the proclamation of the Capricornia section only awaited the passage of amending legislation. He then went on to say in the letter:
The Authority’s view, with which I concur, is that the main uncertainties or Commonwealth-State relations which have led to this delay have either been clarified in principle or will be resolved more expeditiously by moving to a proclamation.
In other words, he was saying that the constitutional issue was no barrier whatsoever to proclaiming the Park. In support of that proposition, he indicated that the CoordinatorGeneral of Queensland agreed with this view. He said:
Queensland ‘s nominee on the Authority, Mr Schubert, the Co-ordinator-General of Queensland, supported the view that the proclamation should proceed forthwith and undertook to facilitate co-operative planning arrangements for the area with Queensland Government agencies.
Mr Groom ‘s letter then goes on to point out some involvement by the Prime Minister in this issue which perhaps can be dealt with on a future occasion. I will not deal with it now. The letter then goes on to recite the passage quoted by Senator Webster and ends with a very strong statement by Mr Groom about the need to proceed with the proclamation of the Park. As he said:
Under these circumstances, bearing in mind the general parliamentary and public expectations in relation to the Capricornia proclamation and the Government’s explicit policy of making no commitment at this time to grant oil exploration leases within the region, I ask that you now confirm the situation with the parties concerned.
As we now know from subsequent correspondence Mr Newman violently opposed this request to have the Park proclaimed. From letters disclosed in the Senate in the last couple of weeks we know that he objected to the proclamation of the Park prior to the renewal of permits. In letters disclosed in the Press last week, we know that he objected to the carrying out of research prior to the renewal of the permits. In other words, Mr Newman responded to Mr Groom’s request by digging in his heels and insisting that the renewal of the permits went ahead before any other action was taken.
We are left with this simple proposition: If Senator Webster did not know of the existence of that letter on 3 May, he misled the Senate on 8 May by relying on that letter to establish his defence. If he did know of that letter of 3 May, he misled the Senate in the answers he gave, because the letter provides evidence that his answers were incorrect. We in the Opposition feel totally justified in seeking his removal as a Minister of the Crown.
I cannot stress how seriously we view this matter. Question Time is such an important feature of the parliamentary process. That is the time when Ministers defend their policies, provide information and are generally accountable to the Parliament for the administration of their portfolios. If the system is to work in any reasonable sense, members of parliament must have confidence that they are not being told untruths. On this occasion it was bad enough to mislead the Senate in response to certain questions. Having got caught red-handed, the Minister has persisted in those false answers and has provided more misleading information to the Senate.
The process, as we know, has gone on day after day. We have now reached the position where this Minister is apparently too frightened to answer questions put to him. He has become entangled in such a web that he can no longer have confidence that any answer he gives will not be his undoing. Under those circumstances, he has ceased to be able to carry out an important ministerial function- that is, the function of answering questions in this place. As such, we do not believe he should remain a Minister.
In the past this Government has claimed that its Ministers act on the highest standards. As I have indicated in previous debates, there is considerable evidence that the Government does not act on such a policy. However, some Ministers have suffered as a result of the policy. Senator Withers, we will remember, was dismissed for misleading the Senate. Although it was not made clear at the time, that was the reason which Mr Fraser gave to people like Mr Hamer in Victoria for the dismissal. Yet Senator Withers ‘s misleading of the Senate was a mere bagatelle compared with the collection of false information supplied to the Senate by Senator Webster. Senator Withers would be entitled to feel there is no justice if Senator Webster remains as a Minister.
A more important feature is that the Government’s failure to rid itself of Senator Webster’s services is already affecting other Ministers. I will give the Senate a couple of examples. On the day the issue first came to a head, that is, on 3 May, I accused Senator Webster, both inside the chamber and in a subsequent Press statement, of misleading the Senate. To this charge Senator Webster remained completely mute, both inside the chamber and outside. However, one of his ministerial colleagues felt obliged to rush to his defence. On the afternoon of 3 May, the Minister for National Development put out a statement which suggested that the Government would not proceed to grant any approval to drill in the Barrier Reef region. It is remarkable to think that this statement came from the very Minister who was pressing so strongly to have the drilling permits renewed.
To add to that, the Minister called down to his room three journalists from three major morning newspapers. In an attempt to convince those journalists that there was no question of drilling on the reef, the Minister showed them selected paragraphs from letters which he had written. The journalists were not allowed to read the whole of the letters because Mr Newman told them that the letters contained commercial information. Yet when those letters were subsequently published, the journalists realised that not only did the letters contain no commercial information, but also they created a very different impression from the one which Mr Newman had tried to create on that afternoon.
This was a clear and blatant attempt by the Minister for National Development to mislead working journalists about the contents of the correspondence involving the renewal of permits. No doubt Mr Newman believed that he could get away with it because he controlled the information. A subsequent disclosure of the documents demonstrates how little trust one can put in the Ministers of this Government.
The second example involves a Minister in this Senate. The issue of the Great Barrier Reef was debated on 10 May in this chamber when the Opposition moved an urgency motion dealing with Federal Government intentions with respect to the reef. On that occasion Senator Webster declined to debate the issue and Senator Durack was sent in to bat by the Government in an attempt to protect its reputation on this issue. During that debate Senator Durack expressed surprise that I had not included him on the list of Ministers whom I had criticised for their part in the Government’s involvement in this cover-up on the reef. I think now that we can include Senator Durack.
On 8 May Senator Durack put forward a most remarkable defence of Senator Webster. He said that we were not entitled to rely on correspondence between Ministers as indicating Government intentions because it was a decision of Cabinet which counted and that Cabinet had not made any decision on this issue. Coming from an
Attorney-General, I find that a most extraordinary statement. Does that mean that no longer can anyone in this country rely on what Ministers say in their correspondence? Must they have a Cabinet decision in their pockets before they can trust any responses that they get from Ministers?
We now find that the Attorney-General himself was involved directly in this issue. As I have indicated, the letter from Mr Groom clearly demonstrates that Senator Webster misled the Senate on 3 May. I now read the last sentence of that letter which states:
I have copied this letter to the Prime Minister and to the Attorney-General ‘.
In other words, when Senator Durack got up in this chamber on 8 May and talked about Government decisions, he was aware of the letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman. More than anyone else in this chamber, Senator Durack would have been aware of the extent to which Senator Webster had misled the Senate. Yet he stood up in this chamber and proffered a spurious defence knowing it to be false.
Those last two examples demonstrate that the continued attempts by Ministers to protect Senator Webster from the consequences of his actions will gradually embroil the Government as a whole unless the process is stopped. There is only one way to stop it and that is that Senator Webster must resign or be stood down. If he is not stood down, the Prime Minister must accept full responsibility for the consequences of his failure to act.
– The Opposition has moved:
That the Minister for Science and the Environment no longer has the confidence of the Senate because he deliberately misled the Senate on a number of occasions in relation to issues pertaining to the Great Barrier Reef.
I accept this motion as a most important issue that has been brought before the Senate and I stand fully prepared to answer the charges that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) has made. I believe that the charges that he has laid, which suggest that I have misled the Senate on a number of occasions, involve three points. Mr President, you would recognise that it is the usual practice that when notice of a motion of no confidence in a Minister is given the reasons for that lack of confidence are usually stated. However, that was not done in this instance and I heard these points only as I listened to the Leader of the Opposition. I noted as best 1 could the three factors which I must answer. In endorsing the way in which I see the seriousness of this position, let me say first that it is quite acceptable for an Opposition to attack Ministers as it thinks best. Ministers must stand responsible for their actions and I am prepared to do that. Indeed, a fortnight ago to the day the Leader of the Opposition moved a similar no confidence motion. To the best of my understanding, the matter raised on 8 May was very similar to that which the Opposition raises today.
Such charges have a very harmful effect on a Minister. Indeed, that is what Senator Wriedt wishes to achieve. When there is day by day a concentration of allegations against a Minister as to how he may have misled the Parliament, some of the dirt put forward by the Opposition may finally rest upon the Minister’s shoulders. I recognise that this occurs. After Senator Wriedt raised this matter on the last occasion, it was suggested untruthfully by Richard Carleton on the television program Nationwide, apparently in concert with the Opposition, that I had refused to appear on the program after he had provided me with a pair through the Opposition Whip. Mr President, I can assure you that that prompted from my State of Victoria several letters to me asking why I lied to the Senate on that occasion. That has a most harmful effect on and creates great repercussions for an honourable senator. In fact, the only person who can pair me in the Senate is the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick). Whether Richard Carleton or any other journalist has sufficient access to the Opposition to make arrangements in this Parliament is something to which I cannot respond. However, the allegations that were put forward in the program were untrue. I make the point that when these sorts of circumstances exist, the reflection on a Minister is harsh.
– Did you ask your Leader for a pair?
– I noted the calm way in which we heard the Leader of the Opposition and I note also that this vociferous man, Senator Cavanagh, is trying to interrupt and divert me to some other matter. He always wants to know something, but we know where best he can get his information. What we need from Senator Wriedt is a disclosure as to how he got the information he has presented in this place. Senator Wriedt appears to base his allegations on letters which he has tabled in the Senate. Honourable senators will recall that on 8 May he incorporated in Hansard two letters from Mr Newman, the Minister for National Development, to me. I believe that to be so. At the time I questioned how Senator Wriedt came by that stolen information. I am unsure whether Senator Wriedt went into my office and got that information or whether someone in a department actually provided it to him. But from that point during the last two weeks I have obviously been aware that Senator Wriedt is in possession of confidential information which would be in the possession of my Department. If I had brought into the Senate any letters from other Ministers to me or from one Minister to another prior to my assuming office Senator Wriedt would, I believe, have sought to have the documents from which I quoted tabled in the Senate. Regrettably, today he has had to disclose again that he has been the recipient of a further stolen document, that is, one from Mr Groom to Mr Newman that was apparently written on 20 October. That is one of the major issues upon which Senator Wriedt has questioned me in the last few days. In the last few days I have been reticent in responding, firstly because Senator Wriedt attempted to mislead in his questions, which I will quote to the Senate. On several occasions I invited him to put the question on notice if he were genuinely interested in receiving an answer. It will be recalled that I selected my words very carefully.
Opposition senators interjecting-
– I have to report-above the chantings of Senator Button and others- that at no stage did Senator Wriedt put the question on notice, so it may be said of him that he had no real interest in the answer; that he was concerned mainly with attempting at a particular point- as indeed he has today- to read from a letter and then make certain allegations about it. The Senate can remain confirmed in the view that correspondence between Ministers before I assumed office will remain confidential. That is the way that I would wish it to be.
– That is not Fraser ‘s wish.
– I suggest that that comment makes it quite clear that the Opposition wishes to tangle the situation completely, given that it is a very wide subject which flows through many ministries. A point that I think I made in my earlier address to the Senate is that various Ministers are responsible for various attitudes and actions, which they must responsibly have in relation to this particular area of Queensland: Mr Anthony, from his standpoint as Minister for Trade and Resources; Mr Newman in his position as Minister for National Development; and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his interest in constitutional matters arising out of a Premiers Conference. Again Senator Wriedt, when formerly he addressed the Senate in challenging me, disclosed private and confidential minutes that came from a Premiers Conference. 1 think that the Senate will agree that if Senator Wriedt was not himself the one who stole the papers, the individual who provided and stole them for him will be regarded by Senator Wriedt as a very low person- just as will the individual who handed them to Senator Wriedt consider Senator Wriedt- because the confidence between them brands them both as the type of person that they are. For a Leader of the Opposition to disclose confidential minutes from a Premiers Conference makes one consider that Senator Wriedt has not the character that one would wish for in a Leader of the Opposition.
– I rise to a point of order. The Minister is under censure at present and naturally is permitted to indulge -
– What is your point of order?
– My point of order is that he used terms that ought to be withdrawn when he said that certain documents were stolen. He has implied that the Leader -
– Why don ‘t you give him a go?
– Let me put it clearly that one cannot -
– Order! I ask the honourable senator to get to the point of order.
– If he wants to defend himself, let him do so in a straightforward way, but he cannot possibly make the accusations he has made that someone stole documents and that the Leader of the Opposition received those stolen documents. If he is making that sort of charge in that way- and I believe he did so- he should withdraw that charge.
-The point of order is not sustained.
-The way in which Senator Georges takes the point is well noted. He seeks to defend his leader for a most untoward action. The essential point for the Opposition and for the Senate to recognise is that I assumed the Environment portfolio early in December 1978. At that stage I was cognisant of the Government’s view in relation to this area of interest. I recall that when I assumed that office the excellent officers in the Department of Science and the Environment provided me with files of letters as I went on my Christmas vacation. My recollection is that the files of letters constituted a depth of some half a metre, for those honourable senators who may be interested in metrics. It took me a great deal of time over the recess to go through various papers that related to my new responsibilities. Matters concerned with the environment are quite expansive and they merge onto the interests of very nearly every portfolio held by Ministers in this Government. I was aware that a marine park was to be declared at some stage. When the Opposition challenged me previously, it may be recalled, I said that I, along with Senator Greenwood and one or two other honourable senators- I am not sure whether the Opposition senators who were involved are still in the Parliament- was on the Senate inquiry into the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill. That was a very deep inquiry and I believe it fitted me quite well to deal with the interests that are involved in those off-shore areas of Queensland.
I was aware that the Government would proceed towards the declaration of a marine park. I was aware that no decision had been made in relation to oil drilling. I was aware that the Government had seen the royal commission report, which was a most important document for State and Federal governments. I was aware that the Government had made no decision in relation to that report. I was particularly aware that one of the main features of that report was that it advocated that there should be an intensive short and long term research program before any drilling took place. There was dissension amongst those who reported. I was very comforted by the strong words of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) which have been repeated -
– You accused my leader of stealing and you are under suspicion of lying.
– Get back to your replies of 3 May.
– I rise on a point of order. Senator Georges, in his point of order a few moments ago, made reference to the point that this is a special kind of situation for a Minister. I ask that the normal rules of debate be adhered to and that the Minister be allowed to reply in relative silence to what is a very special motion affecting him personally.
– I would like to Speak to the point of order.
– Order! The honourable senator must not rise when I am standing. I can assure Senator Baume that I shall at all times observe the Standing Orders. I need not be reminded of them.
– I was drawing the attention of the Senate to the very strong words used by the Prime Minister in this regard.
– Tell us what you said on 3 May.
– Order! There will be no further interruptions. Honourable senators will allow the Minister to be heard.
– I raise a point of order. Surely the Minister must refer to the accusations and not go all over the place. He is on a definite charge.
– Order! There is no point of order.
– I was referring to the fact that I was comforted by the very strong words of the Prime Minister about drilling or mining on the Great Barrier Reef itself. Mr President, I make that point because, so far as the Opposition and much of the media are concerned, the statement of the Prime Minister has been completely overlooked. The Prime Minister has given an assurance that there will be no mining or drilling on the reef, nor will there be any drilling or mining which might have an effect on the reef. That statement should be taken by the public of Australia as being the thrust of the Government ‘s attitude to any exploration or exploitation which may occur in that offshore area of Queensland.
– It has more holes in it than a colander.
– Order! Fair go. Standing Orders and decency should be observed. I ask all honourable senators to remain silent to hear the Minister.
-Mr President, it is a fact that the declaration of the Capricornia Reef is held up because of constitutional matters. I am endorsed in that decision by a comment I made when I was earlier charged by the Opposition. I take this opportunity to reply to one of the three assertions by Senator Wriedt, that I misled the Senate when I said that the matter was held up pending the resolution of constitutional considerations. I refer to a letter dated 19 December 1978 addressed to me by the Prime Minister. The letter reads:
My dear Minister
I refer to Mr Groom’s letter and attachments of 20 October 1978 seeking comments on his proposal to put before Executive Council the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Report recommending proclamation of the first section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park GBRMP off Gladstone.
I attach for your information a letter I have sent to the Premier of Queensland proposing that Commonwealth and State officials hold discussions to resolve any possible difficulties which could arise in relation to the GBRMP following the Premier’s Conference agreements on extending the powers of the States into the territorial sea. I am advised that this approach was discussed with officers of your Department and the Attorney-General’s Department.
As you know it is planned that the follow-up arrangements on extending the powers of the States into the territorial sea be settled in time for ratification at the next Premiers’ Conference, and it is important to ensure that any GBRMP issues which bear on these arrangements are resolved between Ministers in consultation with myself in sufficient time to allow that timetable to be met.
In all the circumstances I suggest that action in relation to the proposed proclamation be deferred until the outcome of the proposed discussions with Queensland is known.
Yours sincerely, (Signed) Malcolm Fraser
The notation on that letter indicates that I received it on 23 December 1978. It was received in my office on 20 December 1978 and was returned to my Department on 21 December 1978. 1 think that letter illustrates correctly the situation for me, as a Minister of the Crown. I received an instruction from my Prime Minister as to what the initial holdup would be in the declaration of the Park which I wished to pursue. It was suggested that it should be delayed until constitutional matters were cleared up. I do not withdraw one tittle from my declaration made in the Senate that the matter holding up the declaration of the Park was a constitutional one.
The set of principles that has governed my administration of the portfolio from December 1978 onwards can be seen from that letter. I deny that I have ever said anything in the Senate which conflicts with the principles that I have outlined in that letter. Senator Wriedt is attempting and has been attempting to have me contradict my previous statement. His allegations are based upon correspondence from other Ministers or on my understanding of what was stated in various letters on different dates. Of course, that is a quite unreasonable proposition. On this second point, Senator Wriedt has suggested that I have avoided answering his questions. Honourable senators may recall that when Senator Wriedt opened his questioning on, I think, 22 May 1979 he questioned me, as he said, about some letters. My answer to those questions by Senator Wriedt has been that if he really wished to receive an answer- I have some doubt whether Senator Wriedt wishes to receive an answer- he should place the questions on the Notice Paper. Senator Wriedt may have the courtesy to acknowledge, having read the Hansard record, what a goat he made of himself in his initial question. I will read his first question to which I was supposed to give a sensible answer. Perhaps Senator Wriedt could ask his next speaker in the debate to outline whether Senator Wriedt really meant what he said in that first question. Alternatively, did he attempt by mischievous means in later questioning to try to subvert the truth coming from me? It is interesting to note that yesterday dear Senator Wriedt made allegations against several reporters who he said demonstrated professional incompetence and professional mischief-making. I brand Senator Wriedt as doing just that because his question to me on 22 May 1979 was as follows:
My question is directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment. He will recall that on 8 May the Senate debated a motion of no confidence in him, as a result of answers he gave to questions on 3 May. The Minister will recall relying, in defending himself, on letters from Mr Newman and Mr Groom. He informed the Senate that he did not have the letters, but said:
I quote from advice which I have been given by Mr Newman.
Did the Minister receive that advice before or after the answers he gave on 3 May?
Mr President, I believe that during the period that I have been a Minister- I am willing at all times to admit that I am not a scientist- I have attempted from the briefings that my Department supplies to me to give the most useful answers to questions when I have believed that they have been asked genuinely. In this instance the mischievous Leader of the Opposition asked me whether I recalled relying on letters from Mr Newman and Mr Groom. How was I to interpret the answer that he wished to receive? He raised the matter again on several occasions, but the second question he asked was of a different nature. He was seeking, in fact, to have me comment not on a letter to me from Mr Newman or Mr Groom but on a letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman. I take it that that is the letter from which this honourable senator has quoted and which he has had incorporated in Hansard today. The honourable senator looks blank, as his mind usually is. I did not answer Senator Wriedt, because he was then directing to me questions about a letter which apparently had been sent from Mr Groom to Mr Newman or from Mr Newman to Mr Groom.
– Which you had used previously.
– We can bet that Senator Cavanagh would be murmuring something. Those letters were exchanged when I was not the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. I may say that letters on this matter, which undoubtedly go back over a number of years, were not particularly for my attention. I sought not to bring them into the Senate at any time because I was aware of what the the Leader of the Opposition would be seeking, that is, to have me table letters from which I was quoting. Yesterday Senator Wriedt made the charge that somebody was professionally incompetent or a professional mischief-maker. He may well be branded as the Tasmanian senator who is just that.
– You are really hurt, aren’t you? You will have us crying.
-Senator Wriedt has difficult accepting that. He charged other people with it yesterday, but he is not anxious to be branded with it himself. Senator Wriedt did not even have the capacity to pose his question properly and to put it on notice, as he was requested to do if he really had an interest in the answer. I think that brands Senator Wriedt as exactly what he is- a professional mischief-maker. Mr President, I believe that I have answered one of the three charges that Senator Wriedt has made.
– Which one is that?
-Somebody has asked what they were. Undoubtedly, he was not listening very closely when Senator Wriedt expressed them. Senator Wriedt put forward for today’s debate three matters upon which he alleged I had misled the Senate. The third matter was the constitutional factor. I have answered that. I have put down a letter addressed to me from the Prime Minister. In that letter, which cannot be refuted, I was instructed that no further action was to be taken until the constitutional matters were cleared with the Queensland Premier.
I turn to one of the other two matters about which Senator Wriedt suggests I have misled the Senate. I believe I have completely cleared myself on the third point. On 3 May, Senator Wriedt asked me whether I was aware of a letter of 20 October from Mr Groom to Mr Newman. Apparently much hinges upon that letter. I have disclosed that during December 1978 my Department filed with me an enormous amount of paperwork. I would not for one minute attempt to suggest that I digested all of what was said to me. I do not know at this stage whether, following the Prime Minister’s letter of 19 December, my Department supplied me with copies of all letters relevant to that matter which were written prior to my assuming the ministry. I am of the opinion that when I received a letter from Mr Newman early in January my Department supplied me with information on the background to particular matters. That came forward in a condensed form as an assessment by the Department and was in the form of a minute to me. I have in my hand a document which indicates that a minute from my Department was sent to me ‘for reaction of the Minister’. It is headed Proclamation of the Capricornia Section of the
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.’ It was received by my Department and by me on 4 April. It was returned to the Department on 6 April. Contained in that information is a letter. The action officer is shown as H. J. Higgs. It is dated 20 October 1978. It commences ‘My dear Minister’ and is signed ‘R. Groom’. It is addressed to ‘The Hon. K. E. Newman M.P. ‘. I take it that it is the same letter as Senator Wriedt incorporated in Hansard today.
In reading that letter the one point that is made clear to me as to the matters that I must take in mind is a particular statement. I quoted from that letter in my previous address, but I shall quote it again in exoneration on the second point that Senator Wriedt made in relation to me. I refer to the point he raised about whether I had received a letter and whether I was aware of it. As I have said, I quoted from it when I addressed the Senate on a similar occasion. I quote from Hansard the part of the letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman that I quoted previously. It reads:
Recognising that operations for the recovery of petroleum are excluded from the Marine Park under section 38 of the Act, the Authority has resolved to recommend an eastern boundary of the Capricornia Section of the Park which avoids the areas which it is understood may be sought in any renewal applications for permits Q4/P and Q5/P. The Authority has received advice from the permit holder (Australian Gulf Oil Co.) that they are not seeking renewal of oil leases within the area of the proposed Capricornia Section of the Marine Park.
The thrust of the Opposition’s challenge is whether I believed that permits over the area were a part of consideration. Mr President, you can see from the quote I have just read that I relied upon information provided. As I indicated, I believe that I probably received it at Christmas of 1978. I believe that my Department would have supplied me with copies of letters relevant to the first letter that Mr Newman sent to me in January. I produced a document today from which I have quoted and which indicates that on 4 April my Department supplied me with a copy of such a letter. I am aware of minutes in which assessments of various letters are made and which indicate the attitude of which this Minister for Science and the Environment should be aware in discussions on this matter. On this point I am advised by the letter of a Minister who held this portfolio previously- Groom to Newmanthat I need not be concerned with any permit holders over the area of the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef which is to be declared a marine park.
I doubt that the Opposition can really say that I should have other considerations in mind. Admittedly I see much about this matter in the newspapers. I see in today’s Press that Mr Casey, a member of the Queensland Parliament, has been making great allegations against other people and their interests. I read the various comments that Senator Wriedt has made. I read the various allegations that have been made by Mr Cohen in another place. But the allegations are all political and they are not founded on truth.
I have responded very carefully to the two points that Senator Wriedt has made. Indeed, the second point that he raised with me was concerned with the letter of 3 May. I have made quite clear when that letter was in my possession- at least I had it on 4 April- and I am quite prepared to show that to the Leader of the Opposition. I would prefer that the Opposition did not ask that the document be tabled because it includes confidential letters from one Minister to another, but not necessarily to me.
The purpose of the first point made by Senator Wriedt was to demonstrate that permits in fact had no effect in the Park. I believe I have answered this point by saying that I rely on advice to me. That advice was that within that proposed area of the Park there apparently was no intention on the part of the permittee to renew licences. So that point has been dealt with. I believe it is quite unreasonable for Senator Wriedt to pursue this matter as it affects me. Indeed he has thrown his net very wide on previous occasions and during the debate today. In his remarks he has mentioned very nearly every Minister. He has alleged dishonesty in all the Ministers whom I have mentioned. Again that is a political ploy of the Opposition, weak as it happens to be.
I have studied the briefings that I have been given. There is no way that I would suggest that I could fully comprehend or understand the whole circumstances of this matter prior to my assuming the office. It would be a very simple matter for someone to present some few words which were written in a letter by one Minister to another and which may place some entirely different interpretation upon the activities of Ministers purely to suit the Opposition’s purposes. I have no doubt that Senator Wriedt has been presented with a file of letters which, over a period, will gradually trickle out. Perhaps he has been handed letters that Mr Newman wrote to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister wrote to the Premier of Queensland. I wish Senator Wriedt would disclose all of his letters. Then perhaps we would know from where he is getting his information or whether he is seeing to it that he secures it for himself. I am not going to be held to a recollection of what may or may not have been said or written prior to my assuming this office. I have told the Senate the policy which underlies the administration of the portfolio which I presently hold. I have at no time said or done anything inconsistent with that policy.
– I rise to support the motion moved by Senator Wriedt. In dealing firstly with what Senator Webster, the Minister for Science and the Environment, is now pleased to call his case, I should make clear that it is not a defence to the Opposition’s charges for a Minister in this chamber to say: ‘I am ignorant’. That is a matter about which the Opposition would never argue with Senator Webster. We know that from Question Time. The final part of his speech was most important because he said: ‘I am not going to be held to a recollection of what took place before I became Minister for Science and the Environment’. Of course, the nub of this issue relates to what he said on other occasions at Question Time when he did not think it mattered. The Opposition charges that he misled the Parliament at Question Time. Two weeks later in this chamber he says: ‘Basically I am ignorant about all these matters’. But he did not plead ignorance when the questions were asked of him. He did not say then: ‘I have no knowledge of this matter’. That is an answer which the Opposition would respect. He said that he did have an answer to this matter. He gave the answer at Question Time and by so doing he misled the Parliament. That is the charge. It is no good for the Minister in this chamber a fortnight later to say something completely different- such as that he is ignorant, that he has a lot of paper work to read or that he is well intended. Nobody disputes those matters. The matters which we dispute are whether he was telling the truth when he gave certain answers at Question Time in this place some time ago and when he spoke in this place on 8 May.
The basic question which concerns the Australian people in relation to this issue is whether they have a Government in Australia which will allow oil drilling to proceed near the Great Barrier Reef in a manner which would result in damage to the Great Barrier Reef. That issue also concerns this Parliament. When the Opposition properly tried to obtain information from the Government as to its intentions in relation to that matter, Senator Webster gave a view which is of great concern not only to the Opposition but also to many other people in this country who are concerned about that question of damage to the Great Barrier Reef. After listening to Senator Webster’s contribution to this debate the kindest thing that one can say about him is that he consistently goes in where angels fear to tread. A less kind thing that can be said about him is that he applies different standards to himself from the standards which he has consistently applied to the Labor Opposition and Labor governments. He applies different standards to himself from the sort of standards which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) applied when Senator Wethers- I am sorry, Senator Withers- was in a -
– He is a wether now.
– He is a wether now, as Senator McLaren points out. Different standards were applied when Senator Withers was faced with similar allegations in this Parliament. The question of double standards is most important. I again remind the Senate of what Senator Webster said on 15 October 1975 when a Labor Government was in office and he was a member of the howling pack on this side of the chamber. He said:
The fact is that evidence of this matter has had to bc dragged out of the Ministers day after day. They should be on their feet apologising for the abject faults and falsehoods that they have brought into this Parliament. If they are not ashamed of themselves they ought to bc … A leader with any respect for his own image would declare immediately in this Parliament that he had misled the Parliament, although perhaps unintentionally.
That is what Senator Webster laid down as the principle which is applicable to this Senate. Of course, it is quite clear from that statement, in the light of the recent debate on this issue in the Senate, that he has no respect for his own image. He said that it would be wrong for a Minister to mislead this Parliament even unintentionally. Today he said: ‘I am not going to be held to a recollection of what took place before I became the Minister for Science and the Environment’. A fortnight ago he was quite content to be held to that recollection. The most serious charge of all is that what Senator Webster has said in this place was not unintentional and that he not only misled the Senate but also incriminated his ministerial colleagues in this Parliament in his attempts to cover up for what he had said. Of course, since then he has followed a course of conduct which has been designed to cover up the first misleadings of this Parliament on 3 May.
I will refer, first of all, to the Hansard of 3 May. I invite all honourable senators to do so if they want to understand the simple nature of this allegation which is made by the Opposition. The first question on 3 May relating to this matter was asked not by an Opposition senator but by Senator Puplick. Senator Puplick drew Senator
Webster’s attention to an article in the Australian Financial Review. I will paraphrase what he said. He asked about a company which had some expectation that it would be able to drill on the Barrier Reef. Then he quoted from the article in the Australian Financial Review which read as follows:
Talks are currently under way between the Federal and Queensland Governments which could lead to certain areas within the reef region being opened up for oil exploration and drilling.
He asked Senator Webster:
Are such talks under way? Is that the purpose of such talks? If not, can an assurance be given to that effect?
Senator Webster answered that question in this way. I paraphrase again. He did not say whether such talks were under way. He did not say what the purpose of the talks was, if they were under way. He concluded his answer in this form:
At present no drilling is taking place in the area of the reef. In response to an earlier question the Leader of the Government in the Senate indicated the attitude of the Federal Government to this matter and I think the honourable senator can be assured that no action will be taken in that area in the foreseeable future.
– What is the fault in that answer?
– I ask the Minister to have some patience. That is only one question to which I wish to refer.
– What is the fault in that answer?
-I am not seeking to identify a problem in that answer. I am seeking to establish what is a quite clear course of conduct of misleading this Senate which occurred on 3 May and has gone on ever since. As it is a course of conduct, I propose to describe it and to illustrate it in that way. That is the first question that Senator Webster was asked. The second question of importance came from Senator Wriedt. Senator Webster was asked:
Will he now deny that the Government is considering the renewal of oil drilling permits in that area?
Senator Webster said:
I can assure the honourable senator that the comment I made is correct. The Capricornia Reef is not declared at the moment due to constitutional problems. So far as I am aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
Then a question was asked of Senator Carrick who, sucked into this vortex in which Senator Webster had got himself caught up, felt it necessary to go in to bat for him and say that Senator Webster was telling the truth. It is said that big lies have little lies upon their backs to bite them. A series of Ministers then sought to say that
Senator Webster was telling the truth in relation to this matter. That was dealt with in a number of questions which followed. Then, on the same day, 3 May, Senator Wriedt asked Senator Webster a further question, the essential point of which was:
To enable my Department and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to examine the environmental and park management consequences of the proposal … I suggest that your Department provide my Department and the Authority with specific details as to the boundaries of the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits.
In answer to the allegation about that letter, Senator Webster said that he did recall all of the letters that he wrote, which, in view of his subsequent conduct, there is room to doubt. At that stage, Senator Webster had given to Senator Puplick and Senator Wriedt quite unequivocal answers which suggested that the public of Australia had nothing to worry about concerning drilling for oil in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef. That was the burden of what was said on 3 May.
Then this was put to him: ‘Really, Senator, can that answer be accurate, because only a few weeks ago you were writing letters discussing the question of permits and the boundaries relating to those permits with another ministerial colleague’. Senator Webster, in answering that allegation, said: ‘Yes, I remember all the letters I write’, which, one would have thought, was an extraordinary sort of answer. Therefore, I put quite clearly to the Senate that there was in Hansard of 3 May a quite sufficient indictment of the conduct of this Minister. The charge is not that he was ignorant about matters, or anything of that kind, but rather that he came into this place, purported to be knowledgeable about things and able to tell the Senate what was the position, and in doing so misled the Senate. When he is now charged with misleading the Senate he relies on the defence: ‘Well, I am really ignorant’. It is said that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but the Minister pleads wisdom and knowledge on one occasion and ignorance on another to suit his own particular convenience. I repeat, as of 3 May it was quite clear that the Minister had indulged in a series of half truths and deceitful explanations in an attempt to mislead the public of Australia and the Parliament about the Government’s intentions on this issue. A sort of smokescreen was put up on 3 May and I will elaborate briefly upon a number of aspects of it.
Senator Webster has said on a number of occasions-even today- that the thing that is holding up the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is really a constitutional issue with the Queensland Government. That is said to be the thing that is holding it up. The Opposition has never alleged that the intention of some Ministers of this Government to allow oil drilling near the Great Barrier Reef was the sole factor holding up the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It may well be that some element of constitutional discussion with the Queensland Government has had some effect in holding up the proclamation of that Park, but Senator Webster comes here and says that the constitutional issue is the only issue that is holding up the proclamation. In doing so, he tables or reads in his defence letters which show quite clearly that it is not the only issue; that there are others and that one of these is the question of oil drilling.
What he said today was almost, with respect, a tragic explanation. In the context of saying ‘I am not going to table letters between Ministers’, he has produced one letter- from the Prime Minister dated 19 December- which he thinks suits him. He pulls that out of the bundle of letters to which he says he is not going to refer because they are confidential, and it happens to relate to the issue of discussions on the constitutional position. He pulls that out of the bundle as part of a very selective production of documents in his own defence. Of course, this Parliament knows full well now that a letter from the Prime Minister of this country will not create a monumental impression on the Australian people. When the present Prime Minister signs a letter most people reach for their wallets, but the letter of 19 December is brandished as if it were particular evidence of the position upon which Senator Webster now seeks to rely. It is, of course, but another monumental irrelevancy in the present debate.
Thus, first he tries to mislead the Parliament on the very question of the Government’s intentions and then he tries to mislead it by telling it that there are other issues which are crucial in this situation to the exclusion of everything else, including the question of oil drilling near the Great Barrier Reef. Then, over a period of several days, in answers to questions, he seriously goes on to pretend that he does not know what we are talking about when we speak of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or the Great Barrier Reef. He does not understand what is meant by the expression ‘Great Barrier Reef in the context of the present debate.
In the light of his apparent confusion about the issue, it is of interest to note his answer yesterday to a question by Senator Martin. That answer must represent one of the greats of parliamentary rhetoric, and is really worthy of reference. Senator Martin asked the Minister whether he would clarify what he, the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Government mean when they refer to the subject of drilling on the reef. Do they mean the entire reef complex and not just the outer reef? I ask honourable senators to note the answer to that quite specific question: What do you mean by the Great Barrier Reef? What do you understand by that expression? Senator Webster replied:
The honourable senator asked me whether I am aware of how the Queensland Minister for Mines interprets the reef area. My answer is that I am not aware of the state of mind of that particular Minister.
That is an extraordinary admission by Senator Webster, who is apparently aware of the state of mind of everybody else in this place. He tells us every day what is our state of mind. Today he told Senator Wriedt what is his state of mind, but he is not aware of the state of mind of the Queensland Minister for Mines- which I find an extraordinary absence of his usual facility for clairvoyance since Senator Webster had discussions with him only a week ago. The Minister continued:
The honourable senator asked me whether I will clarify the area of which I am speaking when I speak of the Barrier Reef or the Prime Minister does so.
Having repeated the question, the Minister went on to say:
A variety of areas is spoken about in relation to the Barrier Reef. I imagine that the interest of all Australians is in relation to damage that may eventually be done to the reef itself.
That is a nice identification of the issue about which we asked him on 3 May. He said:
I imagine that the interest of all Australians is in relation to damage that may eventually bc done to the reef itself.
That is a political issue in this country. He went on to say:
I imagine that that is the core ofthe question. 1 have said in this chamber previously that damage to the reef can be caused by many problems.
This was said in answer to a question about what was meant when he referred to the Great Barrier Reef. The Minister continued:
One problem is the pressure of tourism in the Barrier Reef area at the present time. I am advised by scientists who have had some experience in this area that the natural discharge of the great rivers of Queensland also has an effect on the Barrier Reef. My understanding is that there is a particular problem relating to the passage of ships through the area.
The Minister went further to give another gratuitous piece of information:
This is a Minister of this Government displaying his knowledge in answer to the question: ‘What is the Great Barrier Reef?’ We hear about Taiwanese vessels and discharge from rivers and all of these things which have nothing to do with the question. He then deals with the question in the final paragraph of his answer:
In my opinion the answer to the honourable senator’s question would depend on the area that was spoken of in the question that was posed.
When he is asked the question ‘What is the Great Barrier Reef?’ he says that that depends on the state of mind of the person asking the question. He went on to say:
My responsibilities insofar as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is concerned is that it has some responsibilities for a region of the Great Barrier Reef which extends beyond the reef itself. It is that area to which I usually refer.
I stress the words ‘usually refer’. He continued:
I am unable to speak for the Prime Minister.
There it all is. On being asked that specific question, in reaction to which Senator Webster has fudged and hedged for weeks on end, when he got to his feet he gave, while he was thinking about what the answer might be, a long response about discharge from rivers, Taiwanese fishing vessels, oil slicks and the effects of tourist pollution. He then came to the end of his answer and said: ‘The area which I am concerned about is the area of the region of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which extends beyond the Reef itself. Now that is precisely what we wanted to know about on 3 May. That is precisely what the Australian public wants to know about. But we had to go through these two tortuous weeks before we could even get that garbled answer from the Minister yesterday in answer to a question which fortuitously came from Senator Martin. Quite clearly Senator Webster was under instructions for very obvious reasons not to answer any questions from the Opposition. There must be somebody over in the corner of this building who is saying: ‘This cannot go on any longer. We are becoming more and more shonky every day. For goodness’ sake stop him’. This question was posed by Senator Martin.
That is the third defence. The first defence is: There are constitutional issues involved’. We in the Opposition have never made any allegation to the contrary. The second defence is: ‘I do not really know what the Barrier Reef is and if we fudge the boundaries enough nobody will know what we are talking about’. The third answer is to point an accusing finger at Senator Wriedt and say: ‘This man is a purloiner of documents’. According to what Senator Webster said today the information the Senate needs to have is a disclosure from Senator Wriedt as to how he got these documents. I am sorry that Senator Webster embarked upon that line of argument. I would like Senator Webster to ask Senator Durack to explain to this Senate his standards on this particular question and to state whether he repudiates the standards of the Prime Minister of this country in relation to that particular question. As I have pointed out in the Senate before, the Prime Minister made clear on 5 July 1 975 what his standards were.
I again refer to the Four Corners interview of 5 July 1975. The Prime Minister was asked by Mr Hogan a question concerning information obtained from a public servant when he was in Opposition. The Prime Minister replied as follows:
There could be circumstances. I believe, in which a Treasury official could regard his overriding duty to Australia as being greater than his duty to a government. And ultimately our duty lies to Australia first.
Mr Hogan said:
That ‘s a fairly controversial statement, isn ‘t it?
Mr Fraser replied:
Well, it might be, it might be.
He was then asked by Mr Hogan this question:
You are suggesting that there are occasions when PublicServants should not be primarily responsible to their Minister but perhaps to the Opposition?
Mr Fraser replied:
No, not to the Opposition, to Australia. Certainly not the Opposition. It would have to be a major matter of conscience.
Those are the standards of the Government. I would like to know whether or not the Minister repudiates those standards. They are probably the lowest standards in the Westminster system of Parliament. I would like to know whether or not the Minister, who sees himself as an honourable, a diligent and decent man, repudiates those standards. Until the Minister does that he cannot point an accusing finger at Senator Wriedt. There is no point in the Minister’s coming into this Parliament and attempting to do so.
As I said before, I thought that Senator Webster, or at least a person of less thick skin, would have been sufficiently indicted by his own performance of 3 May as it is recorded in Hansard. On 8 May, Senator Webster, in what he now describes as ‘the second Webster case’ put forward a number of extraordinary arguments to try to get himself off the hook in relation to what he had said on 3 May. In trying to do that he used a letter which was written by Mr Groom on 20 October. This is an interesting example of putting up a defence. What he did was to quote quite selectively from that letter a passage which suited his purposes. He refused to table the letter. I want to refer to the circumstances in which he used that letter. I quote from that section of the Hansard on 8 May where he had this to say:
There is another piece of advice for Senator Wriedt. He continued:
Mr Groom wrote to the Minister for National Development. This is particularly important for those who would at least give credit to the fact that when I was answering questions I was answering in relation to the Capricornia section of the reef.
I might just interpolate at this point that yesterday, in answer to Senator Martin, the Minister gave a totally different picture. Senator Martin appeared to have asked an innocuous question and the Minister felt safe in giving a different picture of what he meant. On 8 May he continued: . . I was answering in relation to the Capricornia section of the reef. 1 quote from that letter which Mr Groom had written to the Minister for National Development. He states:
He quoted from that letter in the following terms:
Recognising that operations for the recovery of petroleum are excluded from the Marine Park under section 33 of the Act, the Authority has resolved to recommend an eastern boundary of the Capricornia Section of the Park which avoids the areas which it is understood may be sought in any renewal application for permits Q/4P and Q/5P.
In the passage he selected from that letter Mr Groom is saying: ‘When we define the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park we will arrange its boundaries in such a way that the problem of the petroleum leases does not arise’. That is the section of the letter from which Senator Webster quoted. There are, of course, some other very important sections of that letter. It is a classic example of selective quoting in order to make a totally misleading point. It is those other sections of the letter to which I wish to refer. I want to refer to that letter in the light of Senator Webster’s crucial statement to this Parliament on 3 May, which was in these terms: . . absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
That was his statement to the Parliament on 3 May and he made that sort of statement several times on that day. The letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman reveals a very important fact, namely, the reason why the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been proclaimed. The letter reads:
Mr Anthony was concerned firstly that the proposed boundary overlapped petroleum exploration permits Q/4P and Q/5P held by Australian Gulf Oil Company and secondly, that it might not have been appropriate to continue Proclamation action while the Commonwealth and States were discussing seas and submerged lands policy matters.
Senator Webster relies on the second point only. The letter goes on to say:
Although the basic preparatory work necessary for the Proclamation of this Section of the Marine Park had been completed in 1977, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority took these views to account and has refrained until now from transmitting a formal report to me for submission to the Executive Council, recommending that the GovernorGeneral Proclaim the Capricornia Section of the Marine Park.
Similar sections in that letter make it quite clear that what was holding up the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was an important internal division within the Government about whether action on the oil leases would be permitted to go ahead or not. That question was paramount in the mind of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the hold up was not purely a constitutional issue as Senator Webster has stated.
The question of whether Parliament was misled on 3 May, if we had any doubts about it on 8 May, has been answered by the continuous course of conduct since. The refusal to answer questions, the fudging over issues and the selective reference to documents, show quite clearly that the Minister for Science and the Environment is quite aware that he misled the Parliament on 3 May. The important aspect is that there are implications for other Ministers. It is another shoddy episode in the history of this Government. Not only Senator Webster is involved in this vortex of his own making; Mr Newman, Senator Durack and Senator Carrick, in part, are involved.
The sad fact is that when the history of the Fraser Government is written it will not be entitled, as people like Senator Carrick would have us believe, to have words like this said of it: ‘ How the glorious Government of Malcolm Fraser gave every Australian a job, smashed inflation, restored business confidence and lived happily ever after’. The history of this Government will perhaps be described in much more mundane terms like: ‘Canberra Behind Closed Doors’. It will be a sad and tragic little reflection of another government in another place which got into the same area of deception, deceit and murky coverups of ministerial activity. That is what the Senate has to be concerned about in the light of the quite hypocritical standards laid down by the Prime Minister, and by people like Senator Webster, as to how Ministers should behave; standards which are said to apply to everybody except themselves. That is what this Government should be concerned about. That is what the Opposition was concerned about when it moved this censure motion, which I commend to the Senate.
– The Senate has been treated today to a re-run of what is becoming a tired and cracked old record on the subject of some of the answers given in the Senate on certain days by the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) and his remarks in certain debates that have taken place here on those answers and in respect of the Government’s policy on the Great Barrier Reef and the reef region. On the face of it, we again are debating a censure motion directed at Senator Webster, lt is more or less in the same terms as that which was debated and disposed of very convincingly by a vote of this Senate about a fortnight ago. In reality the Opposition, although it has moved a censure motion against the Minister, is endeavouring to attack the Government over its policies in this area. In fact this is the third debate that we have had on this subject in the last two sitting weeks of the Senate.
If anybody was under any illusion that the Opposition honestly believes that Senator Webster should be censured, I think that the speech which Senator Button just delivered would clearly disabuse them of that impression. I think that what Senator Button said when he started his speech clearly defines the issue in this debate. He said that the great question is whether the Government is going to allow drilling which will damage the Reef In fact, that is an accurate paraphrase of words that have been used by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in relation to this matter- words which I have quoted on a number of occasions.
I must apologise to the Senate and my colleagues for doing this again and again but I have to repeat the Government’s policy in this matter. I will repeat it for as long as the Opposition keeps bringing this matter forward. Before I move on the issue in this debate- Senator Button defined it clearly- I will say one or two things about the terms of the attack on Senator Webster. The charge is that the Senate no longer has confidence in him because he deliberately misled the Senate on a number of occasions in relation to issues pertaining to the Great Barrier Reef. As I said, we are back to a re-run of the debate we had on 8 May this year which arose out of answers which Senator Webster gave to questions on 3 May. I will refer in a little detail to some of the questions rather than the answers. The Opposition has been concentrating on the answers but I think it is very important that we look at the questions that were asked by Senator Wriedt and the theory that he was trying to propound in his accusations against the Government.
Let me again say one or two things about a motion of censure against a Minister. At least on this occasion, the Opposition has got it right in that it has to prove that the Minister deliberately misled the Senate. It has to prove that the Minister against whom the accusation is made clearly had a guilty mind, as lawyers will say in relation to criminal matters.
I apologise for introducing legal considerations but I had an awfully unhappy feeling here today, just as I had on the previous occasion in the Senate. I felt that I was back in court. It sounded like the nit picking exercises that lawyers go on with. They get hold of a word, take it out of context, go over it and say: ‘That is not absolutely perfectly accurate’. That is what this debate is like. It is an exercise in nit picking of the most depressing and sterile kind such as is practised by lawyers. If Senator Evans talks in this debate we will have even more nit picking. I hope I will be able to save the Senate from that before I sit down.
I think that the Senate understands the situation. Senator Wriedt was a Minister for three years and I am sure he understands. Although one would never believe it from the way he goes on, I am sure he is aware of the enormous volume of information that is presented hourly, day after day, to Ministers. They have to deal with letters, submissions and briefings as well as attend conferences. The information they have to cope with is both written and oral. Ministers can be expected to absorb such information in only general terms. They cannot be expected to understand and recall every word.
– Especially Senator Webster.
– I cannot, Senator Ryan. You are a shadow Minister and I am sure you get a tremendous volume of information. I am sure that even you do not absorb and retain every word. Let us try to be fair. I know that at times the Opposition finds it hard to be fair, but I am asking even the Opposition to be fair in assessing what is said by a Minister in answer to a question or in the course of a debate. The only new matter that has been raised today by the Opposition against Senator Webster is that he asked Senator
Wriedt to put the questions that he asked earlier this week on the Notice Paper.
Senator Webster has quoted some of the questions that Senator Wriedt asked him. I invite honourable senators to consider how elegant and verbally accurate those questions were, particularly the first one, and to bear in mind that Senator Webster has already had a censure motion moved against him in the Senate. I ask them to remember that he has been subjected to a great many questions and has been aware of a great volume of correspondence and information that has passed between Ministers about this matter, in many cases, well before he assumed office as Minister in this portfolio in, I think, December last year. I think that Senator Webster was wise and thoroughly entitled to give careful consideration to the questions and to understand them fully. That certainly was a problem facing him. He should have been able to look at the documents and assess the answers that he would give accurately. I cannot see how it can be said that a Minister who has asked that questions in relation to a lot of documents- in this case letters- be placed on the Notice Paper should be subjected to a censure motion. He should be able to look at documents and refresh his memory before giving answers. As I have said, Ministers are expected to answer day after day numerous questions on a great range of issues. In most cases they are given no notice of the questions they will be asked. They do their best to answer the questions as truthfully and as honestly as they can but in the nature of things the answers they give to questions without notice in this place must be in general terms. It is quite unreasonable -
– That consideration never bothered you when you were in Opposition.
– Of course, we understood the matter. Anybody with any common sense would understand it. Senator Wriedt who has been a Minister understands that the questions that are sometimes asked require detailed consideration and reading before the answers can be given. The Opposition demands total accuracy. Any deviation that is found from the nit picking analysis of words that are used is not acceptable. If honourable senators opposite want answers to questions without notice- they do seem to demand such answers- they cannot expect that high degree of accuracy. If they require this degree of accuracy, more questions will have to be placed on the Notice Paper and answered in that way. For the Opposition to have the effrontery to move a censure motion against a Minister on the ground that he asked that certain questions be put on the Notice Paper is bringing this whole exercise in which we are engaged in the Parliament, to the point of utter banality and absurdity.
I refer again to the context of the questions asked of Senator Webster on 3 May. Clearly, Senator Wriedt was endeavouring to establish in his questions that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had not been proclaimed because the Government was considering the renewal of drilling permits in this area. That is what Senator Wriedt was trying to make out and it is what the Opposition has been trying to make out in this whole debate. That is why I say that this debate is one in which the Opposition is trying to establish that the Government is doing something which clearly it is not doing. As I said, I will deal with this matter later. I have dealt with it already on a number of occasions in the Senate. On 3 May Senator Wriedt asked two questions of Senator Webster. Firstly he asked:
Is the reason that it not be proclaimed -
I emphasise that he asked, ‘Is the reason’- not one of the reasons. We have been treated to another great nit picking exercise by Senator Button about how the Opposition was not really ever saying that that was the reason, that it was only one of the reasons. We have just heard all that sort of thing. Senator Wriedt asked:
Is the reason that it has not been proclaimed that the Government is considering the renewal of drilling permits in that area.
Senator Webster gave his answer that that was not the reason. It relates to legal and constitutional questions. Then Senator Wriedt asked a supplementary question:
Will he -
That is Senator Webster- now deny . . . that it is purely a constitutional matter between the Commonwealth and the States as to why the Capricornia section . . . has not been proclaimed? Will he now deny that the Government is considering the renewal of oil drilling permits in that area?
asked twice in the one question whether the Government is considering the renewal of drilling permits. Mr Newman, the Minister for National Development, in his statement issued on that day, said that the policy of the Government is not to consider the renewal of those drilling permits until it considers the whole question and decides what attitude it will take in relation to the report of the Royal Commission into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the area of the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Wriedt came into the chamber and chided me. He has chided me for saying that there is some difference between what Ministers do and what the Government does. The question he asked in the Senate is: ‘Is the Government considering the renewal of these permits?’ The fact is that the Government- I repeat that what we mean by the Government is the Cabinet- was not then and is not now considering the renewal of these permits. The question put to Senator Webster was suggesting this. He was asked: ‘Is not that the reason why?’ It is a completely false assumption as I have just shown. But that is the suggestion being put to Senator Webster. He has knocked that on the head completely. He was quite right in doing so because that is not the reason. The Government is not considering the renewal of those permits. Senator Webster gave the reason. As the responsible Minister, he is the man in charge of putting forward the recommendations in relation to this matter and he gave the correct reason why the proclamation has not been proceeded with. It is because of these discussions in relation to the constitutional and legal questions which arise in this area as a result of the Premiers conferences held in relation to these matters. Senator Webster today has confirmed that understanding by producing a letter addressed to him from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and dated 19 December 1978, in which the Prime Minister concludes by saying:
In all the circumstances I suggest that action in relation to the proposed proclamation be deferred until the outcome of the proposed discussions with Queensland is known.
The Prime Minister did not ask Senator Webster to defer it for any other reason. Senator Webster received this letter very shortly after he became Minister for Science and the Environment. It clearly put the reason paramount in Senator Webster’s mind. The Opposition thinks that it has a trump card in producing and incorporating in Hansard today the letter from Senator Webster’s predecessor as Minister responsible for the environment, the present Minister for Housing and Construction, Mr Groom, which was addressed to the Minister for National Development and dated 20 October 1978. Senator Webster has quoted a passage from this letter. He says that it was brought to his attention after he became Minister for Science and the Environment and before 3 May. Mr Groom, his predecessor, who had been responsible for some time for the question of proclamation, indicated clearly in a paragraph of the letter that he did not see the matter of the renewal of the oil permits governing the question of whether or not there would be a proclamation of the National Park.
There are a few other interesting statements in this letter. I recommend that all honourable senators read the full text of the letter, as Senator
Button has invited them to do. I quote another section of this letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman, where Mr Groom said: . . I consider that Proclamation at the earliest practicable time is now essential to the Government as a whole in order to maintain public and political credibility in this sensitive area and to demonstrate our bona fides to the Queensland Government. I informed the Parliament in debate on 2 1 September -
Presumably, that was in 1978 - that the Capricornia Section only awaits the passage of amending legislation relating to the overall definition of the Region.
That letter was written by Mr Groom, the previous Minister in charge of environmental matters and the man who has been mainly responsible for the recommendation in relation to the Capricornia section. Mr Groom had stated in Parliament that passage of the amending legislation was the only reason for the delay in proclamation. He went on, in the next paragraph of his letter- this is no doubt the reason why a copy of the letter was sent to me- to express this view. . . the main uncertainties of Commonwealth State relations which have led to this delay have either been clarified in principle or will be resolved more expeditiously by moving to a Proclamation.
That is clearly the view that Mr Groom expressed in that letter in October last year. Mr President, I believe that what Senator Webster has said, the documents that have been produced and the arguments that have been given in this chamber on previous occasions clearly establish that Senator Webster, in answering those questions and giving the constitutional or legal reason as the only reason why there was delay in the proclamation of this National Park, was quite justified and certainly was entirely honest and entirely consistent with his credibility as a Minister. Nothing that the Opposition had raised can establish its case that Senator Webster in his answers deliberately attempted to mislead the Senate.
I turn again to what is clearly the issue that the Opposition is really raising in these debates. It is using the vehicle of a censure motion against Senator Webster and it has used it before. It has also raised the matter in an urgency motion and in numerous questions. As I said, Senator Button put his finger on the matter when he said that the real question is: Is the Government going to allow drilling which will damage the reef? I do not know how often I, representing Mr Newman in this Senate and speaking on behalf of the Government, have to reiterate the statements which have been made by Mr Newman and which I quoted on a previous occasion and, in particular, the statements which have been made by the Prime Minister in relation to this matter. Let me repeat the situation as it exists: A report has been handed down by a royal commission which inquired for three years into matters relating to the Great Barrier Reef. The chairman of that royal commission, Sir Gordon Wallace, took one view and made one recommendation and the two other commissioners took another view and made another recommendation in relation to this vexed question of whether drilling in the vicinity of the reef and in the region as a whole could damage the reef. Sir Gordon Wallace took the strongest view. His view was that there should be no drilling in this area until full scientific research had been undertaken in relation to it. As I said, that was one view. The other commissioners took another view.
Let me further emphasise that since 1971, when the royal commission was established, there has been a moratorium on any action on these permits relating to exploration or drilling. The Australian Petroleum Exploration Association Ltd complained at a meeting yesterday that the Government had blocked even the use of seismic vessels which might confirm the prospectivity of the reef. There has been a complete moratorium in relation to this matter since 1971. That situation will continue until decisions are made. The decision may well be that the moratorium will continue indefinitely. As I said in answer to a question yesterday, we are talking about the vast region defined in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. The Prime Minister has said that the Government’s attitude is that there will be no drilling in the area which could damage the reef. In answer to a question asked in the House of Representatives on 22 May, the day before yesterday, he said:
Accordingly, the Government has taken steps towards the consideration of what information is required concerning the Reef environment and what research ought to be undertaken. The Australian Marine Sciences and Technologies Advisory Committee- AMSTAC- has been asked to submit advice on a program of research on the Reef environment for consideration in the Budget context.
I hope all honourable gentlemen will be able to look upon the accomplishment of that research under the proposals of AMSTAC as something which will advance the cause of the preservation of the reef in all circumstances. Let me say in the most clear and categoric terms that we would not allow anything to occur that would in any way or could in any way damage the reef. If there is a doubt about whether an activity would damage the reef, that activity would not take place.
That is the clearest possible statement of the Government ‘s policy. That is our policy today.
– Why don’t you give it to Senator Wriedt and to Senator Button to read?
– lt would not do any good. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. What good would it do? Even if they read it they would not accept it. They would still come back here and repudiate it.
Opposition senators interjecting-
– Listen to the way in which honourable senators opposite are howling now. They will not accept it.
– Because we cannot trust you; that is why.
– It is not what Senator Gietzelt thinks; it is what the people think. This is the Government’s policy.
– Does Petersen accept it? That is the point. Have you read it to Petersen?
-The Federal Government has full power of control in relation to this area. The Federal Government has the ultimate constitutional power here to ensure that the policies are carried out and to ensure the exercise of its responsibilities. That clear undertaking on policy was given by the Prime Minister as recently as Tuesday, 22 May. As Senator Wriedt has returned to the chamber, let me repeat it. My colleagues have asked me to request Senator Wriedt to give earnest consideration to what the Prime Minister has said. I will repeat the Prime Minister’s answer. He said:
Let me say in the most clear and categoric terms that we would not allow anything to occur that would in any way or could in any way damage the reef. If there is a doubt about whether an activity would damage the reef, that activity would not take place.
– Will you give us the same guarantee about retaining jurisdiction?
– I have just said that the Commonwealth has the ultimate constitutional power in this area. We are discussing with the States issues about the territorial seas around Australia. As I said in a similar debate recently, the discussions with the States are on the basis of the exercise by this Parliament- not anybody else- of its constitutional power. We are not talking about giving away the ultimate constitutional power of this Parliament. Let that be clear. The Government has not as yet considered the report of the royal commission, far less made any decision in relation to it. Let me make it quite clear to Senator Wriedt that when I say the Government I mean the Cabinet. I am very conscious of the way in which words are bandied about in this place by the Opposition, as we have seen today. The Government has not considered the royal commission’s report. As I have said, the consideration of that report will be in the light of what the Prime Minister has said. Any decisions that are made will give full effect to the very firm policies which have been enunciated and undertakings which have been given by the Prime Minister. This is, I believe, the third time in two weeks that this matter has been debated by the Senate. The Parliament has many other major matters that it has to consider. Therefore I move:
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
That the motion (Senator Wriedt’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 1.4 to 2.15 p.m.
- Mr President, I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
That the Senate, noting that the International Year of the Child should be marked by programs of lasting benefit-
urges all Australian governments to take practical, constructive steps to secure a safe and social environment for the three million Australian children under twelve years of age; and
encourages every action which might be appropriate to relieve suffering and deprivation affecting many of the world’s one billion five hundred million children.
-Is leave granted?
– There being one objection, leave is not granted.
Suspension of Standing Orders
– You may move that motion, Senator Cavanagh, but we all know the practices of this place. When I put the question Is leave granted?’ if there is an objection there is no more that I can do.
– Having some knowledge of the Standing Orders, I seek leave to move a motion to suspend Standing Orders.
– No leave is required. You may move the motion.
I believe Senator Mason wishes to make only a short statement. Before the voting in the divisions before the suspension of the sittings for lunch he said that he was misrepresented. I think in all fairness–
– He did not.
– He just wanted to make a statement.
– There was no mention of misrepresentation. Senator Mason just sought leave to make a statement.
– I understand that that is what Senator Mason said before the voting. We have been lenient in giving leave.
– You have been taken in by this bunch too often.
– If honourable senators opposite are going to take that attitude that attitude will be continued from now on. God help anyone on the Government side who seeks leave to make any statement in future.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. I think that every honourable senator who seeks leave to make a statement in this place should be given leave.I think it is in the interests of the Senate that that principle be adhered to. ThereforeI second the motion.
That the motion (Senator Cavanagh’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
-I direct a question to the
Minister representing the Treasurer. Can he indicate whether 40 per cent of any additional revenue coming to the Federal Government after the forthcoming or any other Budget, if this Government survives long enough to bring in another one, will be returned to the States under the tax sharing arrangements?
-I do not think that any question couched in those terms can be answered because the 39.87 per cent formula is quite complex. I will take note of what Senator Wriedt has asked and ask the Treasurer whether he can give him information about it.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and follows on from Senator Wriedt ‘s personal explanation in the Senate yesterday. I have read Senator Wriedt ‘s speech in a document from the ministerial document service in which I hope he has not been misrepresented. Does not the statement by the honourable senator, who is no mere Leader of the Opposition in the Senate but the Australian Labor Party shadow Foreign Minister, seriously weaken the defence of Australia and the whole of the Western Alliance, because when stripped of all its humbug the statement has the sole purpose of creating an intolerable situation for the United States of America and Australia so that the United States will withdraw from its bases? Secondly, does not the confident prediction by the honourable senator that the socialist party will accept this policy at its next conference mean an end to the bipartisan approach of the major parties in this country towards these bases? Thirdly, was it not extraordinary that the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs should choose to make his speech not to the Australian Labor Party but to the Association for International Cooperation and Disarmament which is a well known spin-off of the World Peace Council, a front organisation for the Communist Party of Australia and a body proscribed by the ALP?
Honourable senators interjecting;
– Order! The Minister cannot hear the question. I require silence. I call Senator MacGibbon.
– Thank you, Mr President. This is obviously a very sensitive point because we have had a sanitising process in an attempt to pretend that the ALP was not mixed up with these sorts of people. Finally, I ask: Is it not true that Senator Wriedt was applauded most handsomely by this body for his speech because it incorporated all its stated policy objectives?
- Senator MacGibbon has asked a question with five or six parts. Until I was able yesterday to receive a copy of the speech I had simply been able to view an excerpt of film taken by one of the television stations, and I noted–
– You aren’t going to fall into it, are you?
-I would be willing to be helped on this matter by Senator Keeffe at any time. This is an important matter. To assess the nature of Senator Wriedt ‘s speech one has to understand, first of all, that he is the shadow spokesman on foreign affairs and that this is not a cast off couple of paragraphs made in some other speech. It is a speech made deliberately on this subject, the issue being chosen so that the points in it could be made clearly with a differential in mind against stated Government policy. Otherwise, why make the statement? His state of mind must have been that it was important to make the statement and that it was so vitally different that it would be a matter to go before the next ALP conference to be approved so that a change in policy could be made. I think that all of those things must be noted.
Equally, to judge the seriousness or otherwise of this matter, one has to say that in any assessment of the terms of any alliance with our one great friend, the United States of America, one must have in mind that bipartisanship is the essential strength. If another great country is to look to us, it must believe that the policies that we have would be the same if, God forgive, a change of government were to occur. Any departure from bipartisanship must be of itself essentially a serious one. Let me put the matter against another background. Senator Wriedt cannot claim lack of knowledge about this matter. He was a Minister in the Whitlam Government which had the ability at any time to discuss every aspect of the bases in complete confidence with the United States of America. So he knew and knows the significance of this matter. He knows, above everything, the significance of confidentiality in the first place, and bipartisanship, in the second place. It is of no use for his running mate Mr Bowen to say in another place, that there is no change and it is of no use to plead misrepresentation, because in plain terms his words are:
I believe it is essential that the public is told much more than it currently knows. It is likely at its next conference that the Labor Party will vary its policy on overseas bases by making it clear that it will make known to the Australian public the general purposes and functions of the bases and any changes to those purposes and functions.
If this was some generality, Senator Wriedt would not have made this speech. No amount of explanation by one end of the ship or the other can get away from the fact that it is of profound significance that what the Labor Party appears to be doing under Senator Wriedt ‘s shadow spokesmanship is to move away from bipartisanship. In a perilous world, I can only plead with the Labor Party to see the error of its ways before that happens.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate read the congressional record of the American Armed Services Committee on matters which in this country are regarded as secret by the Australian Government and which the Australian people are not permitted to know about but which are made common knowledge in the United States of America? Can he tell the Senate why this Government does not trust the Australian people with the same knowledge about these matters with which the United States Government trusts the American people?
– That would have been a good sermon in the days of the Whitlam Government when Senator Wriedt had the ability, if he had judged it wise, prudent and sensible for Australia to do so, to tell the Australian people. But when he was a Minister serving under a disastrous Prime Minister he knew that to give this information would be damaging to Australia and to our alliance with the United States of America. He did not do so when he was a Minister and he knows the reason for not doing so. Now he asks a totally irrelevant rhetorical question.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to recent reports of developments in shipping research relating to the use of wind power. Is the Minister aware of advanced research into cargo ships with sails and auxilary engines in the United States of America, Germany and Sweden? As the 35 th congress in Adelaide of an international shipping and sailing group known as the Cape Homers has focused attention on this research, can the Minister indicate the state of any research program in Australia relating to a return to wind power, especially in view of the fuel crisis situation
– It will be a great disappointment to Senator Davidson to know that whilst the meeting of Cape Homers may have focused attention generally on this issue, it has not focused my attention on it. I can say only that with the price of fuel rising as it is, I have little doubt that many ingenious minds will be turning back to sail. I will ask Mr Nixon, the Minister for Transport, to investigate whether any research is being done on this in Australia at the moment and to see whether I can get a more useful response for Senator Davidson.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services whether it is a fact that in February of this year officers of the Commonwealth Police visited and questioned a number of persons or organisations associated with the Ethnic Broadcasting Association of Queensland- a body which recently was granted by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal a licence to operate an ethnic public broadcasting station. Is it a fact that the Commonwealth Police asked questions relating to, among other things, the sources of proposed programs and whether there were any communists in the ethnic organisations concerned? What is the role of the Commonwealth Police in broadcasting matters. Was it requested to take this action? If so, by whom? In particular, was it requested to do so by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, which seeks a monopoly of ethnic broadcasting to the exclusion of public broadcasting stations?
– I will refer the honourable senator’s question to Mr McLeay for reply.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. It was recently reported that researchers of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, after 20 years of scientific study, have come up with an answer to the mysterious phenomenon relating to the changing water level of Lake George. What justification is there for the claim that the findings of the study are of great economic importance? What Federal funds were allocated to and spent on this project over the period of the study?
– I have no detailed information in relation to the honourable senator’s question. I will refer it to the Minister for National Development for an early answer.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport about co-ordinating surveillance operations in northern Australia. Is it a fact that at about 4.30 p.m. on a day in early April- I believe 9 April- a surveillance report was made that a refugee boat had landed some 130 kilometres from Darwin? Did it become apparent that there was need to send a quarantine team to investigate the report in order, particularly, to ensure the protection of our agricultural industries? Is it a fact that a lapse of some 14 hours occurred before a helicopter could be despatched from Darwin to the landing site? Is it also a fact that this helicopter had to be chartered from a private operator who left the quarantine team on the beach for some 36 hours while he went about other business? Is it a fact that the quarantine team was unable to take a radio to the beach in question, because of a lack of room in the helicopter and was thus out of communication for one and a half days? Is it not absurd and dangerous that any response to the sighting of an unauthorised landing on our shore should be dependent on such manifestly defective arrangements? Will the Government consider posting urgently to Darwin an armed forces helicopter?
– I will refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minister for Transport for reply.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs say whether Australia allows the importation of the furs, hides or skins of animals that are listed as protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species? Has the Minister seen recent reports in the New Scientist and elsewhere that the World Wildlife Fund has called for a total ban on the importation of a number of these skins, including those of the spotted cats? Does he agree that the protection of endangered species is far more important than is catering to the fashion demands of the matrons of Bellevue Hill or Toorak? Finally, will he open discussions with his various colleagues to see whether the Customs Act could be amended to prohibit entirely such imports or, better still, enact new legislation along the lines of the United Kingdom Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act?
– Without giving any commitments or making any comments on the tender subject of women’s fashions, I will refer the question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs and ask him to provide an early answer.
– I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health to the widespread belief that many surgical operations performed in Australia are unnecessary, a view strengthened recently by the Doctors Reform Society’s call for the introduction of a system of compulsory second opinions and the statement by Mr Brian Morgan, Chairman of the Manpower Committee of the Royal Australian
College of Surgeons, to the effect that surgeons can generate more work for their profession and ask whether the Government will consider the introduction of compulsory post-surgical tissue monitoring for all surgical operations, a procedure already practised in a number of countries.
– I have no knowledge of the attitude of the Minister for Health with regard to a proposal of that kind. I shall need to refer the honourable senator’s question to him for reply.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Science and the Environment. 1 preface it by noting that from time to time the proposition is canvassed in the Press that the pattern of southern Australia’s rainfall could be improved by flooding Lake Eyre. My question, which follows an earlier question by Senator Archer on a similar subject, is: Is there any evidence to suggest that such could be the case in respect of Lake Eyre? Can we draw on world experience to validate such an argument? Can the Bureau of Meteorology offer any opinion on what could be a very useful project?
-From time to time the view has been expressed that the creation of a large, permanent inland body of water in Australia would provide sufficient increases in rainfall patterns. The Bureau of Meteorology is not at present engaged in research into this specific question. Indeed, a lengthy study would be required to estimate the effect of the annual average amount of precipitation occurring at any one place as a result of the presence of water in Lake Eyre or over an area represented by a trajectory across Lake Eyre and Lake Torrens. The honourable senator will be interested to know that Professor Landsberg, an eminent United States climatologist, pointed out in an article in 1974 that in making such assessments records for 40 or 50 years would be required.
In 1965 a crude assessment was made of the possible effects of keeping the lakes full. It suggested that the increase in precipitation, averaged over all of the elevated areas of the western slopes of the New South Wales ranges which are located downwind in the direction of the main west wind would be very small and, on flat areas, negligible. This view appears to be broadly consistent with those that have been expressed by overseas experts. Professor Landsberg commented that the influence of a large reservoir does not extend more than one to three kilometres from the shore and, further, that satellite photographs indicate that Lake Nasser in Egypt does not seem to affect local collective cloudiness and Lake Volta in Ghana remains relatively cloud-free even in the rainy season because the cooler water inhibits convection. Other experts have cited the example of the Caspian Sea, which is almost encircled by desert and the Steppes. The fact is that neither the Bureau of Meteorology nor international sources have provided any information that would suggest that the proposal referred to would be effective and thus helpful in South Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment and concerns the Kakadu National Park. By way of preface, I refer to the tirade of abuse by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Mr Everingham, at the senior officers of the Minister’s Department because of their implementation of Federal legislation to protect the Alligator Rivers region from excessive pollution caused by the Ranger mining town. I ask: May we have an assurance that the Minister is standing four square with his officers in resisting any Bonapartist tendencies by Mr Everingham?
– I acknowledge the honourable senator’s question. I would really need to take that question on notice to study in full what my interpretation of Bonapartist tendencies may be. I am sure that Senator Mulvihill will acknowledge that I am uncertain about that to which he is referring. However, in the Kakadu National Park the responsible authority is the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Professor Derek Ovington.
– A very fine man.
-He is. The honourable senator will be interested to know that at the present time he is attending a conference in Townsville on the Great Barrier Reef. I do not fully understand the thrust of the argument. I have noted some comments made by Paul Everingham who has responsibilities in the Northern Territory. Undoubtedly a very large area of park is involved. My recollection is that it will eventually encompass 13,000 square kilometres of land; a very big portion of land. The Director will be responsible to see that pollution and the development of a town in Jabiru will have a minimal effect on the development of the park. I can assure the honourable senator that I will be standing foursquare behind my Director in his attempts to see that that is brought about.
– I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. As I have not been a Minister I may be a little bit dense in regard to this matter, but as I understand the situation Press statements have revealed that the Director has virtually stopped the excavations at that mining town. Is my understanding correct that that is happening and that the Minister has not been consulted as to whether or not the Director is doing the right thing? If there is an impasse, has the Director reported to the Minister? Will the Minister make a decision on whether or not he intends to stand fast?
-The honourable senator has shown a great interest in national parks and wildlife matters while he has been in the Senate. I have no doubt that that interest will continue in relation to the Kakadu National Park. A difficult situation is confronting both Mr Everingham and the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service at present. There are varied seasonal conditions which affect operations in that particular area of the Alligator Rivers region. The Northern Territory Government and this Government require that facilities be made available as soon as possible for the assistance and protection of staff who are likely to be involved in developments within the park area. That requirement, of course, applies to mining developments which will take place. The basic fact is that as the law exists at the present time it gives the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service control over the park area. My understanding of Mr Everingham ‘s comment is that he had some argument that Professor Ovington may attempt to inhibit development there. In this matter no blame can be laid on Professor Ovington. There is a basic flaw in the existing legislation, and my attention has been drawn to that over the past months. If possible I will be seeking to right this situation.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. It concerns the proposed takeover of the Bank of Adelaide by the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. I ask: Is it not a fact that the ANZ Bank is 40 per cent owned by overseas shareholders? In that event I wonder whether the Government might be prepared to allow the Bank of Adelaide to sell 40 per cent of its shares to an overseas bank instead of being taken over by a bank which is 40 per cent owned by overseas shareholders? I wonder whether the Government would consider this matter and, if it approves of the proposal, whether it would make that known to the directors and shareholders of the Bank of Adelaide which might then enable that bank to retain a degree of independence instead of just joining one of the big conglomerates.
– The honourable senator’s question raises a series of matters of policy which 1 am not competent to comment upon. I will bring these various aspects to the attention of the Treasurer and seek his viewpoint and, if possible, his comment.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment. Earlier today the Attorney-General referred to a complaint from the Australian oil explorers that they were not allowed to have seismic ships in the Great Barrier Reef area. Last week members of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and Environment were told by a member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that there was such a ship in that area at that time. Will the Minister advise whether or not there are any seismic vessels in the Barrier Reef area at this time? If there are, how many are in the area and for what oil companies are they working?
-The honourable senator asks three questions. I am not aware of any seismic ships being in the area. The answers to the other two questions are consequent upon that answer.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. In view of the projected fuel shortages that could affect motorists in certain parts of Australia in the second half of this year, I ask the Minister a series of related questions about this problem. Firstly, is it true that the oil exploration companies have deliberately held back in bringing certain proven Australian fields into production pending further price rises? Secondly what steps has the Government taken to pressure these oil companies into opening up the Bass Strait and to accelerate their plans to bring these known oil fields into production? Thirdly, since 90 per cent of Australian produced liquefied petroleum gas is exported principally to Japan because there is an insufficient demand at present in Australia, has the Government not pressured the Australian car manufacturers into producing cars which use LPG rather than forcing concerned motorists into expensive conversion processes?
– I will refer that question to the Minister for National Development.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. On 9 May this year the Minister tabled in the Parliament the first consolidated report of the activities of the Australian Bureau of Animal Health since its inception in 1974. That report stated that the first positive action in relation to the development of a high security animal laboratory complex in Australia came about in 1964. I now ask the Minister: What is the present stage of construction of the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong in Victoria which is to be administered by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation for which the Minister has responsibility? When is it expected that the laboratory will become operational?
-The accuracy of the comment that I made would need to be checked with the Minister for Primary Industry. The date on which that particular facility will finally come into operation will depend on the flow of funds. The Senate will recall that some $80m- if I recall the figure correctly- is involved in the building of the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong. Last month I inquired of the Department of Construction the stage of construction the building has reached. My recollection is that at that time the Department was very pleased with its progress. The lakes had been developed by means of a very successful method involving the obtaining of soil from one area to build up a low-lying area. My recollection is that an amount of $5m had been expended in this work during that time. As far as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is concerned, I believe that there are officers in that Organisation who have been appointed to observe the construction and to make themselves aware of the latest developments in high security laboratories overseas in order that every protection may be built into this particular facility. If my memory serves me correctly, a CSIRO officer has been to the United States, the United Kingdom or to South Africa for the purpose of studying the particular projects being undertaken. I think that the honourable senator can take my word that the project is proceeding on time and that construction of the unit will be finished on time. My recollection is that will occur some four years hence.
– I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs to a media release issued by the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs on 30 October 1978, reference No. 78/141, and, in particular, to paragraph 8 of that release which reads in part: ‘Thirdly, oil companies would be prohibited from themselves retailing petroleum through direct sales sites.’ Would the Minister please advise the Senate whether any legislation has been enacted to enforce this prohibition? If not, will he give consideration to doing so?
– If my recollection is correct, the statement to which Senator Bonner refers was made by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs on Government policy in relation to that question and others which Senator Bonner has raised. As far as I know, the Minister is proceeding to implement the matter. I will refer the question to the Minister to make sure that I get a proper and accurate reply for the honourable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer: Is it a fact that the Government is applying pressure on the Victorian Farmers and Graziers Meat Co-operative to repay in full loans guaranteed by the Government?
– I have no knowledge of the matter. 1 will seek out any information that may be available to Senator Primmer and let him have it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Is he aware of the reported call by the Opposition transport spokesman for the Government to give immediate notice of its intention to terminate the two-airline agreement, such termination to become effective in 1 984? As there is at least some bipartisan support for this proposal, albeit for different reasons, will the suggestion be adopted? If the agreement is to be ended, will the Government also give consideration to deregulating the airline industry, thus enabling competition and normal market forces to determine an air fare structure which will benefit the travelling public in Australia?
– I did notice the report on the call by the Opposition transport spokesman for the Government to give notice of intention to terminate the two-airline agreement. It came to my attention earlier because it was a call I had not really expected from the Opposition. Because of that I made some inquiries. The Minister for Transport advised me that he is also aware of the reported call by the Opposition. Indeed, he told me that recognition of the option that the two airline agreement could be terminated and the fact that the option was available after 31 December 1977 was one factor that led to him initiating the Domestic Air Transport Policy Review. The report of that Review was released last year. The general thrust of its recommendations was the retention of the principle of having two major airlines operating over the trunk route network and a number of changes to the present agreements between the Government and the airlines with the object of fostering increased competition.
The point that the Minister for Transport has made to me is that if the course advocated by the Opposition spokesman were followed the present agreements would continue for a further five years. So, one would be left with those agreements intact for that period. At the same time there would be uncertainty as to what would follow. Bearing that in mind, the Government has entered into negotiations with the two major domestic airlines regarding the recommendations of the report. The report is a quite complex document. The discussions are also quite complex and will take some time to finalise. The Minister for Transport hopes to be in a position to make an announcement in the Budget session. I point out to the Senate and to the honourable senator who asked the question that a new airlines agreement would allow changes to be made to the existing two-airline system more quickly than if a notice of termination were given by the Minister.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It follows questions earlier today about the status and future of Australian and American relations. Has he seen an article by Robert Haupt in this morning’s Australian Financial Review in which it is stated that the Dillingham compensation issue is one of the two most pressing problems for Australian diplomacy today? The other is our relations with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations. Does the Minister accept this characterisation of the importance of the Dillingham issue? If so, will he endeavour to answer the questions that Senator Durack was either unable to answer or unwilling to answer earlier this week? Is it the case that the United States Government- our one great friend, as the Minister put it- will be suing Australia for $23m or more in the International Court of Justice for Australia’s supposed unlawful expropriation of Dillingham operations on Fraser Island? If so, does this not represent a major failure in Australia-United States diplomatic relations, one that should be causing very great concern to this Parliament and the Australian people.
– I have not read the article in the Australian Financial Review, therefore I am not competent to comment on it. I would reject totally the substance of any article in which the writer suggests that there is a serious difficulty in our relations with ASEAN. If there is one thing that has been demonstrated recently, particularly at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, it is that relations between Australia and the ASEAN nations are strengthening. I would suggest that we should reject the whole article on that basis. I am not aware that a commercial problem between a company and the Australian Government regarding compensation is in any way weakening the relationship between the United States of America and Australia. My understanding is that contrary to attempts by the Labor Party to weaken those relationships and demonstrable attempts by Senator Wriedt in recent days, under this Government they have never been better.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. It concerns reports, referred to already by Senator Watson, that Australia may soon face a shortage of refined petroleum products. I understand that this pessimistic assessment was given to Government representatives at a meeting of the Oil Industry Supply Committee in Sydney last week. Will there be a shortage of petrol this year? If so, is it true that any shortage will arise solely as a result of recent events in Iran? Finally, what plans has the Government developed to deal with this problem?
– Petrol supplies in Australia are determined largely by the ability of Australian refineries to operate efficiently without having to shut down for reasons of maintenance, breakdown or industrial disputes. They are also affected, of course, by the availability of imports of both crude oil and petrol. However, due to our significant lighter crude oil production from Bass Strait we are in the position of being able to satisfy up to 90 per cent of our petrol demands. The shortages, I am advised, have been largely due to local factors. The effect of the international situation has been that companies have often been unable to purchase imports of petrol to cover disruptions to supply within Australia or to rebuild stocks.
The Government is closely monitoring the situation and has regular consultations both with the oil industry and officials of the State Governments. The Government has already taken measures which have resulted in an increased supply of crude oil from Bass Strait and the increased use of liquefied petroleum gas for motor vehicles. As the Senate will be aware, the Minister for National Development has just attended a meeting of the governing board of the International Energy Agency in Paris, which stated in a communique that, as for the short term, Ministers concluded that the international oil market has evolved rapidly into a situation of overall supply stringency which has affected different countries in different ways, and that this situation is likely to continue into 1 980.
I should stress that Australia is in a much more fortunate position in regard to petrol than most other members of the IEA. Australian motorists should be able to obtain reasonable supplies of petrol provided that refinery operations and the supply of Australian crude are maintained at normal levels. The situation overall would be improved if further imports of petrol could be made to rebuild stocks but the prospects for achieving this are not good at present.
– I have a supplementary question. Is it possible to say that in the development plans of the Government no rationing is foreseeable for Australia this year?
– 1 doubt whether that really is a supplementary question but I will refer it to the Minister.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, by reminding the Senate of the many unemployed teachers in each State and of the difficulties that many isolated children have with education. Will the Minister consider an agreement with State governments to subsidise the employment of trained unemployed teachers who are willing to work as tutors or governesses in outback areas where small groups of children are learning by correspondence? The need for adequate supervision is greatest in small rural schools where white and Aboriginal children are finding difficulties coping with secondary lessons. Further, will the Minister investigate the possibility of establishing art and craft education centres in small rural towns where there are many unemployed, especially among the Aboriginals?
– In order to appreciate the availability or otherwise of teachers, it is necessary to point out that in the last six years there has been the greatest expansion of the teacher employment work force in Australia’s history. There has been a growth in employment of some 32 per cent in the last six years. There have always been trained teachers in the community wanting jobs and not being able to get them. That has always been the situation. Under the Fraser Government, far more teachers are employed than has ever been the case. It is not possible to gainsay that. Whether or not a particular scheme is adopted in a State is entirely a matter for the State concerned. It is a matter for a State government to decide whether it wishes to set up art and craft centres or employ teachers in a governess capacity in isolated areas. We have demonstrated over a period that the States have been able to apply and have applied a much higher part of their Budgets to education than they have in the past. In the first two years that this Government was in office, the percentage of its Budget spent on education compared to the total Budgets of State governments rose by 1 per cent. This meant that many tens of millions of dollars extra was spent in Australia.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for National Development whether he is aware that the price of market crude in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries group on which the Australian import parity price is based rose by $ 1.2 1 to $14.50 in April this year? Is the Minister also aware that surcharges of up to $2.50 have been applied by some oil producing countries which could have a big influence on further OPEC price increases? As these big price rises could increase Australian import parity prices in excess of $2 a barrel and as from 1 July the volume of Australian crude to which import parity will apply will increase from 20 per cent to 35 per cent of production, will the Government give serious consideration to increasing the current $3 levy a barrel which would add greatly to general revenue and offset some of the unexpected extra profits of oil producers resulting from the greatly escalating price of overseas crude oil?
-I think that this is a question for the Treasurer as well as the Minister for National Development to answer. I will refer it to both Ministers.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security whether she received a letter from the Darwin Unemployed Workers Union drawing her attention to the shortage of both space and counter staff in the Darwin office of her Department? Did the Minister reply indicating that a part-time receptionist would be appointed? Given the large number of unemployed in Darwin and the volume of traffic at the office, often 80 people at a time, will the Minister not agree that this appointment, while appreciated, will not meet the needs of the situation? Will she take steps to have further investigations made in an attempt to overcome the situation?
– I undertake to have investigations made of the present situation in the Darwin office. If Senator Robertson says that the situation is still unsatisfactory, I will see what can be done to give the service that we wish to see given in that very busy office. I am aware of the strains that often occur in the office and I will see that attention is given to this matter in the Department. If I am able to give any further information, I will advise Senator Robertson. Above all, I undertake to have the matter reviewed.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. At a recent meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Geneva a resolution called upon countries importing licit opiates to support the traditional supply countries. There is no doubt that the intention of that motion was to exclude Australia and therefore Tasmania. I ask that the Minister for Health request a meeting with both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs to discuss that motion specifically in relation to its implication for the Tasmanian oil poppy industry. I further ask that the Minister should have regard to the crucial fact that the oil poppy industry is worth $ 11.5m annually to Tasmania and therefore negotiations with those importing countries are imperative to maintain this valuable industry.
– I undertake to refer that matter to the Ministers concerned to see what can be done by way of assistance to Tasmania and that industry. If I recall correctly, I believe that the Minister for Health answered a question on this matter yesterday. Perhaps that answer contained some of the information required by Senator Walters. I will see whether any further information can be given.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the Minister indicate when the Department of Foreign Affairs will schedule a public meeting in Queensland similar to those already organised in Albury, New South Wales, and Bunbury, Western Australia, to discuss foreign affairs issues?
– I am sure that the Minister for Foreign Affairs in another place will be happy to contemplate the question and respond to it.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to the statement made last year by the Minister outlining a policy package relating to the oil distribution and retailing industry. Will the Minister make a statement prior to the rising of the Parliament for the winter recess indicating the progress achieved in the implementation of that policy package as it appears that lack of progress is causing concern in sections of the industry?
- Senator Bonner asked me a question earlier today in relation to the same matter. I have already undertaken to take up the matter with the Minister and ask him to let the Senate know what is the latest position on the implementation of that policy. I will add to the matter the additional questions Senator Rae has asked me and invite him to consider it. I hope that at least I will have something to say on the matter before the end of the session.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer the Minister to the 1978 annual report of Bond Corporation Holdings Ltd. Is the Minister aware that this report shows that the Federal Commissioner of Taxation had withdrawn an assessment issued against Yanchep Estates Pty Ltd in respect of some $5,860,000 of income additional to that provided in the accounts? In view of the substantial impact that this decision had on the funds available to shareholders of the Bond Corporation, thereby increasing its borrowing ability and enabling the sale of remaining interests in Yanchep Sun City to Tokyu Corporation of Japan, will the Minister make a thorough investigation of the reasons for the withdrawal of this assessment? What representations were made to the Treasurer for its withdrawal and by whom? Under what provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act was it withdrawn?
– Quite clearly, I could not have that information. I ask the honourable senator to put his question on notice.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Has any arrangement yet been reached with the Vietnamese authorities for the disposal of the Canberra property of the former South Vietnamese regime? Can the Minister say what stage has been reached in these negotiations?
– My understanding is that no decisions have yet been taken concerning the disposal of the property in Canberra owned by the former South Vietnamese regime. Negotiations on the future of the property in question are in hand. As they have got to be concluded and may involve the disposition of Australianowned property in what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City, it would not be prudent to give a detailed explanation at this stage. It is hoped to reach a conclusion in the not too distant future.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing both the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister for Health. It refers to the herbicide 2,4,5-T. Whilst the Minister will, of course, be aware of Mr Hunt’s statement about research into the herbicide- I understand that she will be making a statement about it today- has she seen the reports of claims by a large number of workers, particularly those working under Australian Workers Union awards, and by ex-servicemen, who have sought the assistance of the Returned Services League in claiming benefits under the Repatriation Act? Can the Minister say whether any specialised sections of the departments concerned- the Department of Health, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs- are dealing with research or information related to the occupational hazards of working in the environment of that herbicide? Do they have sources of information from overseas, which apparently is available? If not, will the Minister recommend that such studies be made to assist in respect of those compensation claims?
– The matter Senator Bishop raises is of interest in a topical sense and also in the very serious sense of the effect of 2,4,5-T. I am not aware of what specialised studies may be undertaken in any of the departments mentioned, but I will refer the matter to the Minister for Health, in the first instance, to see what advice he can give. I will also check with the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to see whether any special knowledge is held in the occupational areas with regard to the effects of this herbicide. I will be tabling later today the statement that was tabled by the Minister for Health in the House of Representatives yesterday, but it does not provide the sort of information that has been sought by Senator Bishop. I will need to seek that information for him.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Defence any information on the development of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam as a Russian naval base? Would such a base greatly increase the ability of the Soviet Navy to deploy in the Association of South East Asian Nations region and in the eastern Indian Ocean? What is the present strength of the Soviet Navy in the Indian Ocean and how does it compare with the strength of the United States Navy in that area?
– I sought information on this matter some time ago. I will relate it to the specific questions asked. Since late March a number of Soviet Navy ships have visited Cam Ranh Bay. One submarine has been noted in the port. Additionally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has established near the naval base a limited monitoring station which is capable of intercepting high frequency voice radio. Soviet TN-95 Bear reconnaissance aircraft have used the airfield at Da Nang. I have no information, however, indicating that Cam Ranh Bay is being developed as a Russian naval base. As to the second question, the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated on 4 April:
Permanent Soviet access to the base would alter substantially the strategic balance in the Pacific.
A Soviet Navy base in Cam Ranh Bay would facilitate the deployment of Soviet naval units to the ASEAN and eastern Indian Ocean region. As to the third question, regarding the strength of the Soviet Navy, the present strength of the Soviet Indian Ocean squadron is 28 units. This number includes the aircraft carrier Minsk, seven surface combatants and 20 other units. The United States Navy currently has deployed an aircraft carrier and seven surface combatants in the Indian Ocean. These include the permanent three-ship Middle East force and the Midway Carrier task group. The Minister for Defence will shortly be answering a question on notice in another place giving further details.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. As there has been a number of reports suggesting that local telephone calls will be metered and charged for on a time basis, can the Minister say whether it is true that time metering equipment is already being installed in Melbourne and other places so that this method of charging can be used in the compilation of telephone accounts?
– I will refer that question to Mr Staley for a reply.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. It follows the question asked earlier by Senator Rocher. Does the Government’s policy in relation to international air fares and cargo rates represent a policy of deregulation such as President Carter is at present espousing elsewhere in the world, or is it a policy of adherence to regulatory arrangements such as the Air Navigation Regulations, even under the new air fare schedules which have been announced recently?
– The new air fare schedules which have been announced over the last few months in no way relate to the question of regulation or non-regulation. Internal air fares in Australia require the approval of the Minister for Transport under the Air Navigation Regulations and international air fares require the approval of the Secretary to the Department of Transport. In each case the fares are subject to regulation. The recent announcement of lower fares relates to fares which were negotiated in accordance with the public statements of Mr Nixon.
– I raise with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs the matter of the land claim by Aboriginals living in the Wreck Bay area near Jervis Bay, which is Commonwealth territory. Is the Minister aware that the Aboriginal community at Wreck Bay has rejected an offer by the Government for a lease of 87 hectares of land? Is he also aware that the Aboriginal community at Wreck Bay wishes to make a land claim with regard lo an area of 400 hectares in the Wreck Bay area? Will he say whether the Government would be prepared to extend the provisions of its land rights legislation to cover the Australian Capital Territory as well as the Northern Territory, which it covers currently, in order to provide a mechanism whereby the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community could make a land claim?
– I am aware, in slightly more general terms than those advanced by the honourable senator, of the claims of the Aboriginals with respect to Wreck Bay. As she would know, I attended one meeting, which I think she attended also, in company with Mr Ellicott who is the responsible Minister in the sense that he is responsible for the Australian Capital Territory and who to this time has been dealing with the requests of the Wreck Bay people. My Department has been monitoring the situation, but as far as I know has not played an active part in dealing with the people concerned. The honourable senator asks whether the Government will consider extending the land rights legislation to the Australian Capital Territory. I have no information which would lead me to suggest that if the Act were extended to the Australian Capital Territory claims of the sort which are recognised by the Act would in fact be open to people. It seems to me that the sorts of claims which are being made relate more to posttraditionalsociety and needs claims of the sort which have been dealt with in the Northern Territory under the general law and which are satisfied by the grant of special leases such as those which are being issued in Darwin and Alice Springs. 1 will certainly put the matter which has been raised by the honourable senator under examination and give her a more considered response.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to the now notorious fact that the Australian National Railways Commission has not reported since 1975. In view of the current rumours that the Indian-Pacific passenger service is suffering an average loss of about $5,000 per trip, will the Minister seek to expedite the presentation of the report so that the public may know, rather than speculate, on the financial affairs of the Australian National Railways Commission?
– The answer to that question is yes.
-Yesterday Senator Kilgariff asked me a question concerning the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Bill. I indicated then that the question required a detailed answer and that I would incorporate the answer in Hansard when I had the information. I now have that information. I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
The Bill does not provide for the Government to play any part at all in the individual personnel decisions taken under the provisions of the Bill. This role is in the hands of departmental heads and the Board. The Bill therefore continues the Westminster tradition of not involving the Government or Ministers in internal personnel matters in the interests of maintaining an independent and impartial Public Service.
In the ultimate the Board will have the power to redeploy staff in departments. This general power is already given to the Board in the Public Service Act- the more detailed provisions in the new Bill are consistent with the role recommended for the Board by the RCAGA in handling excess staff cases. It also conforms with what some unions have wanted in actual excess staff situations e.g. Health Insurance Commission.
The Bill will apply to all staff of the Australian Public Service and of prescribed statutory authorities, except those on probation and fixed contract and temporary employees with less than one year’s service. Initially, the Bill will extend only to staff of the Australian Public Service, but there is provision for it to be extended by regulation, with appropriate modifications if necessary, to cover employees of Commonwealth authorities, but only where each particular authority agrees to be so covered.
The grounds for redeployment or retirement are: where an employee is one of a class of employees who are excess to the efficient operating needs of their organisation: physical or mental incapacity: any other reason prescribed in regulations under the Bill.
Regulations prescribing ‘other reasons’ can only be made after the Public Service Board has consulted with employee organisations and reported to the Governor-General on the result of those consultations. The ‘other reasons ‘ the Government presently has in mind proposing are: limited efficiency, or an incapacity to perform work at a standard consistent with the efficient working of the organisation: loss of essential licence or qualification.
There will be no arbitrary sacking. The Bill provides for the identification of staff whose services are not being used in the most efficient manner practicable. Staff can only be identified on specified grounds, in accordance with criteria and procedures to be notified in the Gazette. Before retirement can take place, alternative employment opportunities must be thoroughly explored and all staff have rights of appeal to an independent tribunal against decisions taken under the legislation.
The concept of a Public Service with security of tenure for career officials has always been subject to provisions in the Public Service Act relating to termination of employment of surplus officers, retirement on the grounds of invalidity, inefficiency or incompetence, and dismissal on disciplinary grounds. The Bill does not affect the disciplinary provisions of the Public Service Act, and modifies the other provisions mentioned which have been described in the past as being of too summary a nature, by providing a more extensive range of appeal rights available to staff affected, and by setting out more clearly the framework within which decisions are taken. Indeed, if this Bill were the present law and the existing provisions of the Public Service Act were being introduced in replacement- i.e. the reversal of the present situation- the outcry from the present critics of this Bill would bc deafening.
The Bill does not specify any minimum age for identification or compulsory retirement of employees. The Bill is intended to ensure the most efficient and economical use practicable of the service of Commonwealth employees and it would hardly seem appropriate that it should be restricted in its application to employees above a certain age. The present provisions of the Public Service Act relating to surplus officers, invalidity and inefficiency or incompetence do not include any reference to age limits.
Regulations will provide for persons between the ages of 55 and 60 who are retired under the legislation ‘for any other reason’ to receive a lump sum payment, convertible to pension at choice, equivalent to 2 months ‘ salary for each year of service foregone up to age 60. This is. of course, in addition to superannuation entitlements. The special benefit recognises the particular difficulties persons in this age group may have in finding alternative employment.
– I wish to add to a response I gave to a question from Senator McLaren relating to the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory. In general terms the answer that I gave to him was correct, except that the project is expected to take six to seven years to complete. That is on advice that I received in April of this year.
-On 2 May, Senator Davidson asked me about a report which had appeared in the Adelaide newspapers about the widow of the anthropologist, Professor Strehlow. The honourable senator asked me whether any application had been made for Federal funds to preserve the records of the late Professor Strehlow. I have made some inquiries and I have ascertained that Mrs Strehlow, the widow of the late Professor Strehlow, has corresponded with both Mr Viner and the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) about this matter. The Institute of Aboriginal Studies has attempted, without success, to negotiate arrangements to preserve the film and anthropological material in the collection. It has not been possible to negotiate any mutually satisfactory arrangement which would allow the material to be preserved and be accessible to other scholars. There has been considerable concern that it should be preserved and be available, but it has not been possible to achieve that end. It is understood that Mrs Strehlow is continuing private efforts to obtain financial assistance on terms which she considers appropriate.
-On 10 May I was asked by Senator Melzer about the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, and in particular whether the medical part of that service had had an increase in funding or whether the increase was concentrated in the dental section. I think that is a fair paraphrasing of the honourable senator’s question. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which provides details of the funding of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service from 1975-76 to 1978-79. The table is split between health and dental services and indicates a 20 per cent increase in funds for health services over that period and a 127.3 percent increase in funds for dental services.
The document reads as follows-
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the annual report of the Department of the Parliamentary Library for the calendar year 1 978. This is the first report of the library to be presented to the Parliament in recent times, and I am sure that honourable senators will welcome the opportunity to examine in some detail the. operations of a department which is providing a most important service for them.
Soon after the first Parliament met in 1901 a Library Committee was set up and ever since then the development of Parliament and the growth of the information resources available to it have steadily progressed. With the separation of the functions now performed by the National Library of Australia, a new era in the history of the Parliamentary Library commenced in the late 1960s, The formation of the Legislative Research Service marked an important advance and led to the present situation where we have an intellectual resource centre’ which is among the best of its kind in the world. The recent election of the Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Harold Weir, to the Parliamentary Libraries Section of the International Federation of Library Associations is an indication ofthe high regard in which this Parliamentary Library is held by information scientists, research specialists and librarians overseas.
The 1978 annual report records the 77th year of the Library’s service to Parliament and includes material on the background and organisation of the various services provided through the Library. Overall there has been a steady increase in the demand for the Library’s services and during 1978 it was agreed that the time had come for a complete review of its structure and organisation in relation to the changing information needs of Parliament, lt was not possible to proceed immediately with the review of the entire Department in a single operation but the Parliamentary Librarian, with the concurrence of the Presiding Officers, is progressively carrying out a study of each branch and section of the organisation. That review is relevant to a study of the information needs and resources of the Parliament as a whole, which is in the hands of the five heads ofthe parliamentary departments. On the instructions of the Presiding Officers, and with advice from the Public Service Board, an inquiry is to be made into Parliament’s needs for computer facilities.
Two important changes have become very evident in the Library’s services during 1978. On the one hand there has been a marked swing towards the demand for current information. Senators and members are most interested in news summaries, press clippings and, more recently, the teleprinter-based services which have been introduced on a trial basis in what is now known as the Dateline service. The first widescale use of this service in a parliamentary session was commenced this year but the necessary facilities were acquired and set up during the 1978 period. The second notable change has been in the supply of audio and audio-visual recordings and transcripts. The Library is now equipped with modern videotape and audiotape cassette services and fast copying capacity and this service is meeting a need which has been clearly demonstrated.
At a meeting in October last, the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library decided that the time had come for drawing up a properly authorised statement of the policy to be applied in developing the Library’s resources during the remainder of this century. For the first time, at least since the National Library of Australia achieved a separate corporate existence, there is now a written statement which defines the subject areas in which the Library’s collections will be built up. Bearing in mind the considerable resources of the National Library which are available for the needs of Parliament, it has been decided that the Parliamentary Library will concentrate on acquiring authoritative, factually accurate and responsible works related to the information requirements of senators and members in relation to their parliamentary duties. Special attention will be given to the acquisition of material needed to support the subject specialists who work in the Legislative Research Service and attempts will be made to select major current contributions in those specified areas, particularly works relating to Australian conditions. There will, of course, be a continued limited supply of material to provide for recreational and general interest reading.
An extensive reference collection will be maintained and expanded to include general and subject encyclopaedias, directories, dictionaries, indexing and abstracting journals, and bibliographical guides and literature surveys in approved subject areas. Here again, emphasis will be placed on the provision of a good coverage in the areas of Australian politics and political parties, Australian history and literature, and current biography. Particular attention will be paid to the development of special collections in fields relevant to Parliament. These include: Firstly, parliamentary procedures and precedents and parliament as an institution with particular reference to the Westminster system; secondly, the history of the Commonwealth Parliament since Federation, including biographies and photographs of all senators and members; thirdly, works by Australian Federal parliamentarians, especially first editions inscribed by authors; and fourthly, classical works in political science, especially those contributing to the present form of parliamentary democracy in Australia.
Honourable senators know only too well the amount of information to which they are subjected in the course of their parliamentary duties. Whilst this seems excessive it is only symbolic of the tremendous amount of data now available and of the tasks of official information services in selecting, storing, retrieving and delivering it as, when and where required. In recent times there has also been a great increase in the complexity of current issues and in the speed with which information must be assimilated and disseminated. These changes mean that library and information services such as those of this Parliament are faced with demands for digests, summaries, analyses and objective selection to provide relief from ‘information overload’ and give essential information in the most concise and relevant form. An example of this service which gained ready acceptability during 1978 was the issue of Bills digests. These digests are not parliamentary papers in the official sense and they do not deal with legal issues or repeat the substance of Ministers’ second reading speeches but they provide a readily accessible reference tool;
The ‘rules of access’ limit the number of clients to whom the Library’s services are available, but the 1978 records make it clear that with the greater number of personal assistants and research officers employed on parliamentary duties for senators and members there has been a considerable increase in the demands made on the Library’s resources. The provision of extra staff in the Library and research services is often regarded as the simple solution to that problem, but I would remind honourable senators that there are limitations on space here and in the parliamentary annex and additional staff inevitably means increases in support services and supplies. Mr Speaker and I are aware of this situation but it is a difficult issue which is being carefully studied.
During 1978 a number of sub-committees of the Library Committee were set up to deal with particular issues. One of the very important activities of a sub-committee concerns technical advances and their application to the Library, lt has been the policy of the Library to keep abreast of information about technology but to exercise caution in recommending its implementation. This caution has been justified by the limited number of clients for whom the Library’s services are provided, the high cost of equipment involved and the speed with which advances are being made in reducing equipment size, increasing its storage capacity and its range of operations. A close watch is also being kept on computer-based information networks and long range plans are under consideration Ibr advances in this area. Before the end of the present calendar year it is expected that visual display units will be available in this building for on-line access to at least one important data base.
I am sure that honourable senators will agree with me when I say that it is important for Parliament to have under its own control such a valuable resource facility as that offered by the Department of the Parliamentary Library- 1 am sure they would wish me also to express appreciation of the dedication and high standard of work performance of the officers employed there. This is a time of rapid change and that change is particularly reflected in information services. The report now before the Senate shows some ways in which attempts are being made to meet those changes and to plan for future improvements. 1 commend the report to the Senate.
Ordered that the paper be printed.
-by leave- I move:
Mr President, the report that you have tabled is of some significance. As you have said, the comment is made in the early pages of the report that this is the first report of its kind. Although the report records the seventy-seventh year of service by the Department of the Parliamentary Library to the Parliament, it also includes extra material on the background and organisation of the Department.
I recall for the information of the Senate that when the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library reported to the Senate as far back as 1907 it envisaged that the Library would keep as its ideal the building up, for the time when the Parliament was established in the Federal capital, of a great public library along the lines of the world famous Library of Congress in Washington. The Joint Committee report went on to state: . . such h Library, indeed, as shall be worthy of the Australian Nation; the home ofthe literature, not of a State, or of a period, but of the world, and of all time; a centre to which may gravitate as years pass, manuscripts and other documents and records oral 1 kinds . . .
As one who has been privileged to be a member of the Parliamentary Library Committee since 1965 and who in recent times has had detailed conversations with representatives of the Library of Congress, I am very glad that you, Mr President, have put down in the Senate this afternoon this significant report.
There is a tendency today when the term ‘library’ is used to think of it in traditional terms, as simply the repository for books. Such a view of the role of a modern library is not the kind of thing we are thinking about at present. We have, as you have said, sir, an intellectual resource centre which is among the best in the world. I know, sir, that you have given the matter personal consideration. You will know from my personal experience in Washington, Ottawa and London as well as in other places that I am not making an idle statement when I say that we in the Australian Parliament are privileged to have one ofthe best intellectual resource centres in the world. But that observation is not a ground for complacency. lt is indeed pleasing to see that a review of our operations is not only contemplated but is already under way. It is also pleasing to note that attention has been given to the information needs and resources of the Parliament as a whole, particularly in view of the fact that Parliament will occupy a new building within the next decade. It is extremely important that the Parliament give attention to the intellectual resource centre which it might expect to have in the new building and which will be of service to the members who occupy that building in due course.
When you were speaking, Mr President, you noted the important changes in the information demand that have taken place in recent times. This has been particularly significant in what you described, sir, as the non-print form. It is true that there is a need for the Parliament to keep abreast of all modern developments. In short we should know something about news as it happens. Not only should we know the facts of the news as it happens but also we should have some understanding of the dimension and the philosophy behind the various events of the news as it happens. There is also the need for the Parliament to have available to it the best independent information and the best independent analysis relating to the news as it happens. I suggest that this requirement will be increasingly important in connection with the legislative functions of Parliament.
It is true that there will always be people in the Parliament who support and oppose the philosophy of the government of the day. For that reason it is important that the Parliamentary Library should be able to make available to members of parliament a whole range of information services and sources of information so that people who study affairs of the day will not only have access to that information but also will be able to make a judgment upon it. The Library Commitee is playing a very active roe in the policy of the Library and the directions it is taking.
Mr President earlier made reference to the various sub-committees of the Library Committee. I believe they are a very important ingredient in the administration of the Parliamentary Library. They draw to the attention not only the Committee but also the Presiding Officers, who after all have the ultimate responsibility in relation to the Library, the trend that events are taking and the demands and desires of members who are to be serviced by the Library. Therefore the report which has been put down in the Senate this afternoon not only represents an historic occasion but also provides the opportunity for all members of this Parliament to become very actively involved in what will be one of the nation’s most valuable resources- a resource which will contain information on a whole range of contemporary and modern systems. Mr President, I am pleased to be associated with the tabling of the report. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
-by leave- The Opposition wants to be associated with the discussion- I would not call it a debate- on the Parliamentary Library and the resources that have become available, together with the problems that are associated with those resources, particularly taking into account the matters that you have raised, Sir, and the contribution by Senator Davidson. I do not want to make a lengthy comment. However, all of us recognise the tremendous assistance that is available to us through the Parliamentary Library and the need to extend its resources. But I hope that we do not have to wait until the building of the new parliament house before those resources become more readily available to members of Parliament.
We live in a period of great specialisation, when problems are becoming much more incomprehensible. It is more complex and difficult for members of parliament to appreciate the changes, the influences and the differences that occur within countries and regions of the world. So the need for an up-to-date resource centre becomes ever more important than in the past, particularly as we are moving into the electronics era and the computer age. I hope that these matters are receiving consideration by the Library so that the sort of resources that are obviously available in many other countries and to the private sector will become available to the public sector resource centre available to members of Parliament. I request the Government to agree to discuss this matter, perhaps in the first week of the Budget session when business is not particularly pressing. In the meantime we will have time to read the report and thus be more able to present a more cogent viewpoint about what ought to be the perspectives in relation to the Library and the resources available to us generally. We could then offer constructive contributions.
We do not find ourselves in much conflict with the proposals because governments come and go. Such is the political pendulum. Resources available to governments today need to be seen as resources available when in opposition. That is one of the lessons that we learnt from being in government for three years. We invite the Government to assist in some ventilation of the issues which have been raised in your report, Mr President, and in the contribution of Senator Davidson. We request the Government to provide some opportunity to discuss the matter in greater detail in the next session.
– Pursuant to section 147 of the Defence Act 1903,I present the report of the Royal Military College of Australia for the period 1 February 1978 to 31 January 1979.
– On behalf of Senator Guilfoyle, for the information of honourable senators I present the text of a statement by the Minister for Health concerning the herbicide 2,4,5-T.
– On behalf of Senator Chaney, for the information of honourable senators I present an interim report by the Bureau of Transport Economics entitled: ‘An Assessment of the Australian Road System 1979, Part 1 ‘.
– by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I move:
For the information of honourable senators, and so there will be no misunderstanding, I have had circulated a schedule setting out the proposed days and times of meetings for next week. We will meet on Monday.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) proposed:
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government Business take precedence of General Business after eight p.m. on Thursdays for the remainder of the present period of sittings.
– The Opposition will oppose this motion. I do not wish to make a lengthy speech about it. Traditionally it has been the practice for the Opposition and honourable senators generally to speak on matters of general business on Thursdays. We realise that the Government has to get legislation through. Normally when a session is coming towards its end there is a bank-up of legislation and therefore there is a justification for Government business taking precedence. But there does not appear to be enough business on the Notice Paper to warrant general business being put aside this week in favour of Government business. Therefore, we feel obliged to oppose the motion in order to protect the principle which we feel it is necessary to uphold unless there are good reasons to vary it. The Opposition will vote against the motion.
– On page 3412 of today’s Notice Paper, under the heading ‘General Business’ there is a sub-heading which reads: ‘To take precedence of Government Business after 8 p.m.’. In the last week that the Senate sat I outlined that back bench senators have certain avenues to which they may resort when they wish to raise matters. One of those avenues is the adjournment debate. Another avenue is the motion for the first reading of certain money Bills. We can also present private members’ Bills- something that I have already done in this session of Parliament. We can also list items of General Business, which is what this motion this afternoon refers to.
During this session of Parliament- I am not referring to a General Business item at the moment- I raised a matter concerning discrimination which is occurring towards certain residents of Queensland. No action has been taken as a result of the matters I raised although when I last raised them the Minister then at the table said that it was a very good argument and that the wrong should have been redressed. So that I could bring this matter to a head I placed a notion of motion on the Notice Paper. It went under the heading of General Business.
– What number is it?
-It is on page 3412. lt is one that would have been discussed first tonight. I will just quote the motion. I gave notice that I would move:
That the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should take immediate steps to remove the discrimination directed at certain Queensland residents whose property is insured under the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme.
Returned Services League branches throughout Queensland are looking forward to my moving this motion and its having, hopefully, a successful passage through the Senate. Although we are opposing the motion that has been moved today, I know that the Government has the numbers and will be able to get its motion passed. It appears that I will have to wait until the Budget session before I can move this motion. This means that I will have to notify those RSL branches which are quite concerned about this matter that I have been denied the opportunity to debate it in this session of Parliament and that it will have to wait until the Budget session.
It may be that by the time the Budget session commences the Government will have removed this discrimination that I talk about in my notice of motion. If that is so, it will be a satisfying conclusion to what has been a sorry state of affairs with regard to this discrimination which has occurred in Queensland. If no Government action is taken by the Budget session, which is when I believe I will next have an opportunity to move my motion, I will pursue the matter at that time with all the vigour that I can muster. Because I will not be able to move my motion, of which I gave notice on 28 February this year, until the Budget session I will join with my colleagues in opposing the motion that has been moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick).
That the motion (Senator Carrick’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Judiciary (Diplomatic Representation) Act 1 977.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to remove doubts that have arisen as to whether, as a matter of law, the provisions made by section 3 of the Judiciary (Diplomatic Representation) Act 1977 in relation to Mr Justice Fox’s service and salary while performing the functions of AmbassadoratLarge apply to his service under extensions of the original term of his appointment. Mr Justice Fox’s term of appointment was extended from the original period of 12 months for a period of a little more than two months in October 1978 and for a period of some further five months in January 1 979. It is now proposed, and Mr Justice Fox has agreed, that his term be further extended from 8 June, when his present extension will expire, until the end of next year. The doubts that have arisen are legal, technical matters and the Government feels that Mr Justice Fox’s rights should not be left in any doubt. The position was quite clear under the 1977 Act in relation to his original term of appointment and the amendments will merely put beyond question that those rights continue to apply, and have continued to apply, in relation to the extensions of his term that have already taken place and to any future extension that may be approved by the Governor-General.
During the debate on the 1977 legislation I stated that we did not then know for how long Mr Justice Fox would be engaged on his work as Ambassador-at-Large. I said that it was estimated that it would be at least 12 months, but it may well be longer. Experience has proved that this statement was correct and it has already been found desirable to extend Mr Justice Fox ‘s appointment beyond the initial period of 12 months. The work on which Mr Justice Fox has been engaged as Ambassador-at-Large for nuclear non-proliferation and safeguards is, in the view of the Government, work of great national importance. He has been engaged in extensive international consultations on non-proliferation issues and has, in these consultations, conveyed the Government’s concern for a stronger world non-proliferation regime. He has travelled extensively and tirelessly in Asia, Western and Eastern Europe and North America and has made an important contribution to international understanding on nuclear non-proliferation questions. Late last year Mr Justice Fox led the Australian delegation to the mid-term plenary conference of the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. The International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation is due to hold its concluding conference in 1 980. As a result of the study made by that conference, there is likely to be international consideration of important proposals for strengthening the international non-proliferation regime in a number of areas. For this reason the Government is grateful that he has agreed to delay his return to judicial duties and continue in this vital role. The Government believes that Mr Justice Fox will be able to make his own special contribution to policy in all these fields and will be an invaluable adviser to the Government on nuclear matters. As I indicated earlier in my remarks, the amendment embodies in the Bill before the Senate is of a technical nature and I would hope that the Senate will give it a speedy passage. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Button) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Chaney) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (NorthernTerritory) Act 1976.
Bill presented, and read first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to clarify the intention of some sections of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The Bill also will give effect to the Government’s decision to grant financial assistance in certain cases to people who wish to be represented at future hearings before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner. As 1 stated on 27 April of this year, the amendments presented in this Bill are of an administrative nature and in no way affect the general principles embodied in the principal Act.
Honourable senators will be aware that I announced in this place on 20 March that an agreement in principle had been reached between the Government of the Northern Territory, the Federal Government and the Aboriginal land councils which would facilitate the registration of Aboriginal land titles. The agreement involved the amendment of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in order that roads over which the public had a right of way would not need to be specifically identified in a deed of grant prior to the registration of that deed. Identification of such roads could take place subsequent to registration. It was also made clear at that time that the proposed legislative solution was subject to the consent ofthe land councils concerned.
Advice has been received from the Northern Land Council that it has yet to complete consultations with the relevant communities and as a consequence is not in a position to consent to the proposed amendments to the legislation. Moreover, it is apparent that the drafting of the proposed amendments has given rise to some differences between the Northern Territory and ourselves as to the interpretation of the agreement reached in Darwin. For these reasons, I have indicated to the parties involved that I will not proceed with the amendments at this timethey are not incorporated in the Bill- but will enter into further joint discussions with a view to obtaining a consensus on the aim of the proposed legislation and agreement as to the form such legislation should take. Discussions between the Northern Territory Government, the land councils and ourselves will take place during the winter recess and I believe that draft legislation agreed to by the parties will be ready for the Budget session.
As 1 indicated earlier, the passage of this Bill will give effect to the Government’s decision announced on 13 February 1979 to grant, in certain cases, financial assistance to individuals, groups, associations or corporate bodies wishing to be represented before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner at land claim hearings. The Government’s decision followed representations from some non-Aboriginal groups that through financial hardship they were unable to obtain adequate legal counsel to present their case at land claim hearings. The criteria upon which financial assistance will be provided is that the AttorneyGeneral be satisfied that in all the circumstances, including the possibility of hardship to the applicant, it is reasonable that the application be approved. The principal Act requires the Minister to make a decision with respect to any recommendation by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner concerning a land claim. Mr Justice Toohey, the present Commissioner, has expressed the view that the Minister has the power to accept all or part of a Land Commissioner’s recommendation. However, a legal opinion obtained by the Commonwealth has cast some doubt on whether the Minister does have this power under the Act as it now stands. This Bill will make it clear that the Minister does have the power to accept all or part of a recommendation.
Provisions are made in this Bill to allow the Minister to utilise the funds of the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account in order to meet additional administrative needs of the land councils. According to the provisions of the principal Act, administrative expenses of the land councils are to be met from 40 per cent of the royalty payments paid to the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account. The royalty payments currently flowing from mining on Aboriginal land have proven to be insufficient to meet the administrative expenses of the land councils. This amending legislation gives the Minister power to use other available funds in the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account to meet additional administrative expenses until such time as adequate royalty payments begin to flow from mining operations on Aboriginal land. By an interim arrangement pending the passage of this amendment, special payments were made from Commonwealth appropriations to land councils to enable them to meet their administrative expenses. This Bill will enable the Commonwealth to recoup these payments from the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account, lt is also proposed that the provision whereby loans were made available from the Aborigines Benefits Trust Fund should continue to apply in respect of the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account. This amendment will ensure that loans can be made available to Aboriginals living in the Northern Territory from the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account.
Finally, two other minor amendments are provided for in this Bill. The first corrects a simple error in the calculation of the size ofthe Ranger project area subsequent to the adjustment to the southern boundary in accordance with the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry’s recommendation. The area of the Ranger project area has, as a result of the Government’s acceptance of that recommendation, been reduced from 83 square kilometres to 79 square kilometres. The second deletes an incorrect reference to sub-section (5a) in section 63 (6) of the principal Act. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Gietzelt) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23 May, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Gietzelt had moved by way of amendment in respect of the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1 978:
Leave out all words after “That’, insert ‘the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to remove all reference to taxation on mineral royalties for Aboriginal organisations’.
– When the House rose last evening 1 was making the point to the Senate that 1 believe that this legislation is discriminatory insofar as it places a tax on Aborigines, and as such is at variance with the way in which taxes are levied on other groups in the Australian community. In recent years we have learnt the degree to which Aborigines regard land as their home. Their struggle for land rights and access to land is based on land being paramount to their culture and to their way of life. The Government has ignored that principle in its present proposals to impose tax on the compensation paid to Aboriginals as a result of mining activities being undertaken on Aboriginal land. In European civilisation our homes are sacrosanct. They form part of our assets. If they are sold in that capacity they do not attract tax liability. No capital gains tax or other form of taxation is imposed when a home is disposed of, except if it is done on such a basis that it is the principal form of income. 1 do not think that anyone- not even members of this Government- would suggest that Aborigines are in the business of selling their land- their home. Of course they are not. One can certainly draw the conclusion- as indeed the Opposition does- that to impose such a tax on Aborigines is blantantly discriminatory and racist. People in white civilisation suffer no penalty as a result of the sale of their homes. However, this legislation seeks to apply a form of taxation whose rates are higher in net terms then those paid on royalties by the mining companies. One is entitled to say that the Bill is not only discriminatory but also racist in its application to Aborigines. From the point of view of morality it is also unfair to impose a tax on people who, for the first time in their history and their culture, are receiving income as a result of the possession of some asset.
The rate of taxation to be applied to the compensation paid is 6.4 per cent. When we look at the way in which the Government approaches its responsibilities in regard to tax gathering in this country, one can see that in the area of public morality, this Government is recreant It is open to a great deal of criticism and suspicion because it is setting out to collect sums of money from Aborigines who are in receipt of royalties arising out of arrangements which have been entered into over the last several years. The Ranger and Nabarlek agreements were negotiated in good faith. At the time those agreements were made there was no suggestion that the royalties to be paid to Aborigines would be taxed. These negotiations have a long history. While they were being worked out many views were expressed in the community by the Aborigines. It was not until after the arrangements had been entered into on 20 July last year that the Government made public its intentions to tax the royalties paid to Aborigines. There were no details or suggestions as to the form that that taxation would take.
I remind those members of the Government who have been so outspoken from time to time about retrospectivity as it applies to the white civilisation and Australian companies, of -the great song and dance they made about the endeavours of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) to close tax loopholes which had been blatantly entered into by one of the most devious groups in our community. The accountants and the lawyers spend their lifetime in advising the wealthy people in the community on how to avoid their tax liabilities. Honourable senators will remember the great song and dance that came from government members. They criticised the Government and threatened to cross the floor if that retrospectivity provision was applied. In this case it is being applied. Yet there has not been one word of protest by those people who are constantly talking of their concern for the rights of Aborigines.
We all know that Aborigines are at the bottom end of the income scale. In order to reap in additional revenue the Government has taken the extraordinary steps of applying against our indigenous people legislation of a retrospective nature and a rate of taxation which is higher than that applied to the mining companies. The Government is properly open to condemnation and to public criticism from every point of view. The Treasurer is on record as saying that he is concerned about the fact that $3,000m a year is lost in tax revenue as as result of tax avoidance schemes. That figure was the Treasurer’s own estimation. Honourable senators will recall that from time to time this Parliament has been asked to pass legislation to close these loopholes. In this regard, the Government has had the support of the Opposition. When we look at the people who avail themselves of those opportunities we see that they suffer little in the way of penalty as they employ lawyers and accountants in order to avoid their taxation liabilities. The people who ought to be protected are the very people that this legislation seeks to affect.
We do not have to look very far to appreciate the one-sided approach that this Government has taken in respect of taxation, particularly in relation to those in the corporate and mining sectors of our economy. Let me just refer the Senate to what has happened in the mining sector in order to show the way in which this Government establishes tax penalties on those least able to pay and assisting those who can afford to pay. It is a case of taxing the poor and letting the wealthy off the hook.
Let us look at the Western Mining Corporation. Its profit in the first half of 1978-79 was $8m, including a tax credit of $ 1.7m. It paid no tax the year before. It paid only $8m tax out of a profit of $24m the year before that. In the first half of 1978-79 the Australian Government paid an investment allowance of $3. lm to that company. The company expects to get a similar or higher amount in the second half of this year. North Broken Hill had a $15m profit in the March quarter of 1978-79. Mount Isa Mines had a $59m profit. The rate of increase was 33 per cent. The Utah organisation had a profit of $!38m in 1977-78. CRA had a profit of $23m in the last half of 1977. Included in that was a depreciation allowance of $58m. Is it any wonder that the Federal Treasury advised the Government that it ought to go for a 10 per cent royalty on uranium from Nabarlek, the Queensland Mines Limited project? The Treasury argued that this was an opportunity to relate royalties to profits to impose a tax on super profits. Cabinet, however, under pressure from the mining companies on the Minister for Trade and Resources, Mr Anthony, rejected that advice from the Treasury.
I was interested to hear today a question asked by Senator Young about the windfall profits of Esso-BHP which over a three-year period, from 1978-79 to 1981, will exceed $ 1,250m. Here is a chance for the Government to take action, if it is really concerned about taxation, as you well know, Mr Deputy President-you raised the question yourself- this was a chance for the Government to pick up a very important resources tax. What has the Government done? lt has done absolutely nothing. It has given in to one of the wealthiest groups of companies in Australia in respect of not only normal rates of profit but windfall profits. We do not have to look further than the Fitzgerald report entitled Contribution of the Mineral Industry to Australian Welfare’, which was commissioned during the Labor Government, to realise who is profiting from the mineral and mining development in this country.
– That has been discredited.
– Can the honourable senator justify the Government’s action in subsidising mining during a period of great mining profitability? The Government was a loser in terms of revenue. Is the honourable senator prepared to justify that action while, at the same time, the Government is prepared to tax Aboriginal communities as suggested in this legislation? If so, he has a very bad sense of values. This Government is guilty of imposing discriminatory legislation. It is taxing the very poor and letting the very rich, most of whom profit from its policies, send their capital out of the country.
In the period in which the Fitzgerald report was compiled, from 1968-69 to 1972-73, the proportion of all income tax payable by the mining companies fell from 2.4 per cent to 2 per cent. Yet the Government is proposing in this legislation to tax Aboriginal communities 6.4 per cent. In that year, as Mr Fitzgerald pointed out, mining companies accounted for one-sixth of all the trading company pre-tax profits, but paid only one-fiftieth of currently payable income tax. There is a case for super profit taxes. There is a case for resource taxes. There is a case for windfall profits to be taxed. There is a case for closing up the loopholes used by the wealthy who employ accountants and lawyers. Every year $3,000m in tax is lost from federal revenue. The Government does precious little to gather tax in areas where it ought to be gathered, yet it has the effrontery and the gall to expect the Parliament to pass legislation such as this. The tax harvest will be small compared with the massive sums that could be had from these mining operations.
Just look at what the Aborigines will get. The Northern Land Council will get $200,000 a year during the currency of the Ranger Agreement, $300,000 a year during the construction phase and $150,000 a year during construction. In the case of Nabarlek the payments for the first four years will be $800,000, $800,000, $900,000 and $500,000 respectively. The Government defends its decision to tax that sort of money yet suggests that there ought not to be any attempt to close off all the loopholes available to the mining companies who, substantially, are foreign owned and contribute precious little to the national wealth of this country.
I say again what I said last night: The reactionary attitude of this Government has been clearly expressed- by its actions, lt has said to the Aborigines: ‘There is mineral wealth on your land and no matter what you say it is going to be developed. Of course, we recognise that you have some claim in respect to it. We will pay you compensation but we will tax that compensation in a different fashion from the way we tax compensation for European communities’. In this respect, I will quote from Stephen Zorn’s ‘Negotiators Report to the National Land Council on the Ranger and Nabarlek Mining Agreements’, lt states:
The Ranger agreement . . . is in my judgment, the best that can be achieved by negotiations at present, bearing in mind the very strong threats and pressures from the Government. Thus, having forced the Aboriginal people to take a lower than just amount in compensation-! will he interested to see whether Government members can defend what was agreed to in those negotiations- having threatened to use arbitrators and to take away what little they had, the Government now turns around and taxes that pathetic amount. If you look at the ratio of profitability for those who own the land and those who will profit from the exploitation, it is something in excess of 60 to one in favour of the vast mining corporations, most of which are overseas owned.
Having made sure that the pockets of the mining companies would be lined at the expense of the Aboriginal people, this Government has proceeded along a path certain to destroy Aboriginal culture. Nothing in this Bill- I hope it is somewhere in the mind of the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman)- protects the culture of the Aboriginal people. Whilst I am making a comparison between what is to be paid to the Aboriginals and what will be the profit of the mining companies, I think we have some responsibility not to ignore the recommendations of Shann Turnbull in his ‘Report on the Impact of Mining Royalties on Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory’. He warned against dumping this money on the owners without preparation. In a debate of this nature it is worth mentioning what will be the inevitable result, unless there is very careful planning and very careful application of sound principles, for the Aboriginal communities which will receive the amounts of money that have been agreed to. The Shann Turnbull report states that revenues would jeopardise traditional life. But long term revenues, properly applied, would assure selfsufficiency and self-determination. I am sure that we want to see those objectives and strategies fulfilled. Revenues should shield Aboriginal cultures from white society intrusions. Shann Turnbull has pointed out in his report that the Northern Territory as a whole- not just Aborigines- can benefit from the royalties and developments.
Other implications need to be considered. There is a need for an urgent education program to be undertaken to explain the likely implications and the conclusions reached in the report including a phasing out of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. That is a very sweeping statement to be made by the person commissioned to make this report, lt is also recommended that financial accountability to Federal organisations be replaced by social accountability to Aboriginal organisations. As Shann Turnbull has pointed out, so far there is no evidence that the Department is doing this. The issue of more money is by no means my concern or the Opposition ‘s concern. Our main concern is the damage being done to Aboriginal culture by the operations of mining in those areas and the fact that the Aborigines are being denied a chance to prepare for the impact of the money. This action by the Government is another in the long line of attempts to use the poor and the weak as land fill for its Budget deficit. As 1 have indicated, why back away? Why reject the advice of Treasury? Why reject the feasibility of making the sort of tax inroads into profitability which would enable governments to carry out their responsibilities, lt is interesting to note that most of the calls that are coming to this Government to cut back on public sector spending and social welfare programs and to reduce other welfare payments are coming from the very groups of people to which I am referring in the mining companies. I am referring to the Rod Carnegie’s, the Sir James Foot’s and all the gentlemen to whom this Government has given knighthoods and recognition. They are the people who are exerting the pressure on this Government. Unfortunately their comments are being echoed in some sections- only some sections- of the Australian media that there ought to be even more and greater cut backs in public sector spending- cut pensions, the unemployment benefit and take away the payment of the unemployment benefit to those people aged under 25 years of age. This has been suggested by the honourable member for Canberra, Mr Haslem. He will be the late member for Canberra when that percolates down to the consciousness of the Canberra community which has one of the highest rates of unemployment in this country. These people are suggesting that our medical and welfare commitments should be cut so that these mining companies can get even greater access to profitability in order to exploit further the resources of this country. There is no legislation that takes those things into account. There is no legislation that imposes resource taxes and wealth taxes on those who can afford such taxes. Rather, we see this miserly attempt by this Government to introduce a tax on those people who entered into agreement with this Government without the knowledge that there was going to be a form of taxation imposed upon them subsequent to the agreement being made. To that extent this Government stands condemned for all time for introducing this type of legislation in such a way as to destroy any public confidence by those who are involved in the negotiations regarding Ranger and Nabarlek. If the Government had said that it would pay the Aborigines 20 per cent of royalties and tax those royalties, the Aborigines, through their land councils, would have known about that. They were not told about that fact until after the signing of the agreement. We all know the pressures that were exerted on the Northern Land Council to get those agreements signed. We make no apology for moving the amendment that seeks to have the Bill withdrawn and redrafted in such a way as to take out of the legislation those taxation provisions that are german to it and which would impose a form of taxation upon the royalties paid to the Aborigines in territories under the control of the national Parliament.
– Today we are discussing in continuation two Bills relating to the assessment and taxation of certain moneys or payments which have been derived principally through Aboriginal land. Last evening Senator Gietzelt referred to these royalties or what we may call royalty akin payments as not being royalties at all but rather in the nature of some sort of compensation. Today we heard an extension of that argument as if this was compensation relating to a sale of a home or home type assets. I think that this idea of a compensation treatment rather than a royalty treatment as described in the Bill is rather stretching the meaning of the word beyond what was intended. A royalty or payment is made in relation to a continuing extractive type industry. Because so much confusion has arisen within the Senate as a result of talking about State royalties, State compensations- we have heard almost first reading type speeches- I think that it is important for us to look at these two definitions. The first is in relation to compensation and the second Win relation to royalties. Firstly, if we look at the meaning of compensation, the dictionary tells us that it is to make amend, to offset a deficiency, a recompense or it is money for requisitioned property. On the other hand, a royalty is defined as a payment to a land owner by the lessee of a mine. It is a return for the privilege of working a mine.
– Why don’t landholders get it when their land is mined?
– Royalties are paid and are assessable in the normal assessment procedures. A typical example is a person who operates a gravel pit. He pays royalties to his local council or State government.
– They are not paid to you if your property is mined, but they are paid to Aboriginals. Why the distinction?
– Royalties are paid, firstly, under the legislation to the Government and then the Government in turn pays them to the Aboriginal communities. In other words, it returns this money. I think that what the Government is doing is quite generous because it is setting aside payments derived from its royalty receipts and giving these back to the Aboriginal communities. I come back to my distinction between compensation payments and royalty payments. A royalty payment is a payment to the landowner by the lessee of a mine in return for the privilege of working it. It is due and payable whether or not the mine is profitable. It is in the nature of rent paid by a lessee for working it and for the disposal of minerals.
I will look next at the normal taxation treatment of royalties. If royalties are received under income tax legislation they are fully assessable at the normal rates that are applicable.
Senator Gietzelt mentioned the case of the Utah Development Co. Utah ‘s profits are assessable in accordance with the normal assessment procedure and, in addition to the royalty-type payments it might make to the Queensland Government, it must pay tax on its profits at the rate of 46 per cent. In addition, if any of that money is remitted overseas, a dividend withholding tax is paid. Depending on whether the company is a branch of an overseas company or is incorporated in Australia, this further tax is payable, if we have an international agreement with the country concerned at the rate of 1 5 per cent, or if there is no international agreement relating to the country concerned, at the rate of 30 per cent. This gives some indication of the amount of tax taken by the Federal Government from these mining companies. One could argue that there is a tax rip-off on the profitability of mining operations in Australia of 46 per cent plus this further dividend and interest withholding tax that is payable to the Australian Government. Let me make the point that royalty payments under the Income Tax Assessment Act at the moment are fully assessable.
– Why don’t you talk about what was drawn out in the Fitzgerald report, that is, that depreciation and investment allowances finally put the Government in the position where it actually paid money rather than received income from mining development?
– Let me draw the honourable senator’s attention to the consequences of the Whitlam Government’s adopting these socalled recommendations. Not only were they anathema to the mining companies but they also resulted in many cases in mining companies almost ceasing to operate because it was not worth their while to exploit these resources. As a result, employment decreased and there were tremendous consequences for our balance of payments and the whole of the economy.
I come to the other point. Certain royalties- I am again stretching the definition of ‘royalty ‘- that are paid to overseas companies in respect of special-type services attract a pretty high rate of tax. It can be as high as 46 per cent and the lowest it can be is 10 per cent. Under this Bill the gross payment of royalty is only 6.4 per cent of the gross amount. Nowhere in the income tax legislation do we see any particular group, individual or company offered such a concessional rate of tax as is offered in this legislation. We heard a long dissertation on the question of compensation payments. To the extent to which these compensation payments represent income they are assessable according to the normal income tax provisions of section 26 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. Tax is payable at the individual rate; or in the case of a company, again the rate is 46 per cent.
This legislation recognises the setting of a framework for particular types of circumstances that apply to Aboriginal communities. It also recognises that in time- commencing from 1 July 1 979- these royalty payments will become quite substantial. Maybe Senator Gietzelt and others would like to see the mining operations not go ahead, but when these projects are undertaken they will yield substantial royalty revenue. What we are doing is setting a solid framework of income tax legislation which is based on the principle of certainty and simplicity. After all, these two principles are essential keystones of any important income tax legislation. I repeat that the legislation provides a very concessional basis of treating the payments. Therefore, the tax itself is not unreasonable. Its application is somewhat similar to the other withholding tax provisions that relate to interest and dividends. However, these other provisions relate to a secondary tax. In relation to the Aboriginals, the Government has decreed that only 20 per cent of the payment effectively will be assessable, and at the rate of 32 per cent, therefore the tax on a gross amount will be applied at the rate of 6.4 per cent. It must be conceded that this tax is very reasonable. It is not a compensation payment; it is in fact a royalty.
This Bill is to apply in land rights situations, in the Northern Territory. In other words, it has particular, but not exclusive, application where royalties and other payments are attributable to mining on Aboriginal land. These royalty payments, having been collected by the Government and paid into consolidated Revenue, will then be paid out to Aboriginal groups or communities for the benefit of Aboriginal people. It is true that the determination of the 20 per cent element of assessability is arbitrary, but it recognises that substantial payments are made for the benefit of the community and that they are akin to local government type payments that grant certain benefits to certain members of the community. The legislation also recognises that, if this income is received by an individual, because of the certain low income levels of some Aboriginals it will not be assessable. Therefore, the legislation has an averaging effect which recognises that certain people have an income below the normal tax threshold. Although the payment is arbitrary, it is a most reasonable one and it recognises the special cases and needs of the Aboriginal people.
The point I want to make is that it is a final tax. If the Aborigines go out to work for a mining company and derive wages, what their particular groups receive as a result of these royalty payments forms no part of the individuals’ personal incomes. The royalties are not aggregated, as they would be in other areas. Again, the emphasis is on simplicity and economy in collection. The tax is payable within 21 days of the end of the month in which the royalty is paid. Again, there is no distinction between this and the other dividend withholding tax payments. At the end of the financial year there has to be a reconciliation. In fact, this reconciliation must be forwarded to the Commissioner of Taxation within two months of the end of the financial year. Senator Gietzelt mentioned that certain other members of the community suffer no penalty as a result of entering into tax evasion schemes. I think it is appropriate that I remind Senator Gietzelt that the penalty in such circumstances can be at least twice the amount that is evaded. He may not think that is a substantial penalty; but it would be, in my book.
Reference was made to the profits of the Western Mining Corporation being colossal. Senator Gietzelt quoted the profit of that vast, organisation at, I believe, $8m and stated that it paid very little tax. Would Senator Gietzelt deny these mining companies the right to carry forward a loss in one year to another to offset their tax situation? If that were not the case, we would not really have any development of our mineral resources. He gives no recognition to the fact that in the establishment costs of any mining organisation are particularly high and those costs need to be absorbed in the income of future years. It appears that Senator Gietzelt submits that such losses should be no longer accepted. Mention has been made of the fact that the Government pays an investment allowance to the Western Mining Corporation. Again, that is not strictly true. What actually happens is that among the legitimate deductions that a mining company can claim is an investment allowance, which is an encouragement that is provided under legislation to enable not only mining companies but also manufacturing and other organisations to become more efficient, to invest in new plant, and to become competitive on world markets. Does the Opposition not want Australia to become competitive? Does he want Australia to slip behind and not meet its commitments?
Senator Gietzelt raised the question of the imposition of a resource tax. I draw the honourable senator’s attention to the situation that existed in Canada following the imposition of a resource tax. It virtually decimated many areas of the mining industry. I hope that we will not tolerate the introduction of such a tax in this country, particularly as many of these mining companies are only just recovering from the traumas that they suffered under the Whitlam Government as a result of the adoption of many recommendations of the type contained in the Fitzgerald report. I would suggest that the honourable senator should look at what has happened overseas before he talks about applying these principles in Australia.
I commend this Bill to the Senate in its present form. It is reasonable. It is discriminatory in favour of Aboriginal communities. I would submit that there are many other communities within Australia which would like such favoured treatment. Therefore, I fail to agree with Senator Gietzelt ‘s amendment, which would have the effect of virtually scrapping this Bill.
-The amendment moved by Senator Gietzelt has nothing at all to do with scrapping the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill. What we have done is asked that the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted in such a way as to eliminate the obnoxious sections which may cause social reaction. I was very worried about Senator Watson. He almost had me in tears when he spoke about the wealthy mining companies almost going broke. He took me back to my younger days in the industrial movement when I had to appear before arbitration tribunals on behalf of union members. Year after year the employers’ representatives would come into the court or the negotiating room with a handkerchief in one hand and a glass of water and an aspirin in the other and they would tell us about the sad losses that they had sustained throughout the year. This was at a time when Sir Robert Menzies was telling us that this country was never more affluent. It was at a time when there was an increasing demand for consumer goods and nobody ought to have been going broke unless he could not manage his business. But it was significant that the principals of the companies, together with their chief executives, could cope with the purchase of very expensive motor vehicles. Most of them had seaside homes and maybe a home in the mountains as well as one in town. They showed no outward signs of possibly going bankrupt. But they were prepared, with accountants similar to the ones to whom Senator Watson has referred fighting on their behalf, to explain to us why they could not possibly pay an extra shilling or two shillings a week or whatever the case may be, even though we asked for fairly modest sums in those days of perhaps five shillings or ten shillings a week together with a number of entitlements to which workers should have had access without having to go through all the bargaining processes of the arbitration system.
I was carried away with the great honesty that Senator Watson displayed when he accused Senator Gietzelt of saying that he would not allow the carrying forward of losses. Senator Watson should be the first to know that a great fiddle can be worked in carrying forward losses and that when that is combined with depreciation a balance sheet can be made to look very sad indeed and can hide profits at the same time. I would want to know by what standards he would like to establish the carrying forward of losses. Another area of tax avoidance, of course, is for a company to buy a bankrupt company. This is a racket which has been indulged in by some in this country for many years. The writing off of massive donations which the mining companies make to one or two political parties in Australia, particularly the National Country Party of Australia and the Liberal Party of Australia, is another area where books may be falsified to show that companies have spent so much more on advertising and entertaining and in various other ways. The honourable senator should not cry to me on behalf of these big establishments that are allegedly going to lose vast amounts of money through this supposedly generous gesture by these companies to the Aborigines. This is yet another infamous piece of legislation that is designed to keep up a continuation of the program to drive Aboriginals into becoming third class citizens. It was adopted by the Fraser Government on 13 May 1975 and has continued since then under the same Prime Minister and two different Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs.
Another aspect that has to be examined is the claim that this payment will be made by the mining companies. No profits will be shown out of these developments in the Northern Territory for 5 years or more. They will be too busy writing off establishment costs, they will be too busy writing off depreciation, and they will be too busy writing off losses.
– That is not so.
– I am telling honourable senators what is going to happen. The people who ought to be getting some benefits from the mining ventures will not show them for 5 years or more. During that time their culture will be wrecked and their social life will be wrecked. So any minor rewards which come about after that period will be minimal indeed. But whatever minor rewards there are will be taxed in accordance with this legislation.
I would like to know whether a deal was made because it is significant that Mr Viner very smartly vacated the position of Minister for Aboriginal Affairs after he had successfully handed out his silver, gilt or tin pens, whatever they were, at the signing of the famous land rights deal. The whole world knows that a whole lot of unsavoury things happened at that time. This Government has tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian public in an attempt to convince them that it was an up-and-up deal and not an underhand deal, but it was an underhand deal. The sell out that brought about or contributed to the removal- perhaps transfer is a more charitable term to use- of Mr Viner from that portfolio to another was quite significant.
– It was a promotion.
– I would suggest that the Minister should not chortle so much. He has not behaved very well as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. He came to office with a number of drums rattling and a few cornets blowing from his side of the chamber. We on this side of the chamber said we would give Senator Chaney a couple of months to settle in, but he has failed to settle in. He is not really on side. Consider his statements recently about the Queensland Government being a tremendous Government because of the deal it did with the Aborigines of Mornington Island and Aurukun. It was not a fantastic deal; it was a sell out. His public statements then did not do him much credit. I would suggest that he should keep his chortling to some other day when he is transferred to another portfolio.
I was in central Australia last week and I heard Mr Paul Everingham, the Majority Leader in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, say in effect that the Federal Government was a bunch of crooks for the way in which it was handling things in relation to the uranium provinces. He claimed that the development areas should be excised from the national parks. I expected at any old tick of the clock to see this Government knuckle under and do precisely that. The reason he wants the development areas excised is that the environmental restrictions are too severe so far as the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly is concerned and too tough on the mining companies. If that is within the spirit of the Northern Territory Aboriginal land rights, the land rights legislation is what we in the Opposition said it was right from the start when it was passed through this Parliament in 1976, namely, that it is a phoney piece of legislation. Every time the Government is challenged on this legislation it knuckles under, and it is knuckling under in respect of this matter. I expected the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to make a public statement in answer to Mr Paul Everingham but he maintained a stunned and frightened silence.
This legislation is a continuation of the program to keep the Aboriginal peoples of this country in a position of being third class citizens. In 1975 when the infant mortality rate was reduced to the lowest level that it had ever been after Vh harassed years of Labor Government there was an immediate turnabout in the situation. In spite of all of those things that the sacked Attorney-General said when he was the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, in spite of all the promises he made, in spite ofthe tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money that were used to get the message of his propaganda over, the Government has not kept its word to the Aboriginal people of this country. The end result was that in 1976 the rate of infant mortality increased marginally and in 1977 it increased dramatically.
The figures for 1978 are not yet available as at today’s date- 24 May 1 979. 1 have been trying to get the figures since the beginning of the year. I understand that the figures are being cooked so that they will show a decrease in the mortality rate. If they are not being cooked they ought to have been available as soon as they were statistically compiled. I make that accusation because I think that the figures are being fiddled in the same way as the Government has fiddled the Budget figures. No doubt the Government will produce the figures some time in the next two or three weeks. The Government says continually that funds for such things as legal aid, housing and education have not been reduced. However, it knows that they are reduced in every Budget. When one compares the level of funds allocated to these areas with the funds allocated by the last Labor Government one can see that there has been a downgrading in the availability of funds to the consequent distress of the Aboriginal people.
This piece of legislation which seeks to impose an extra tax is just another smart operation. The plain fact of the matter is, of course, that this Government does not know who is running it. Today we debated a motion of no confidence in a Minister in this chamber. The debate resulted in two Ministers almost having nervous breakdowns. Although they knew they were guilty, they tried to prop up a Minister who could not defend himself. Senator Chaney is excluded from what 1 am saying because he has not yet been a Minister long enough to have a nervous breakdown. But two of his senior colleagues got very close to doing so, judging by the way in which they had to battle to try to defend someone who was already in trouble.
The transnational mining companies are deciding the Government’s policy in the Northern Territory, at Aurukun and in a number of other areas. I have no doubts at all that a deal was made in respect of the royalties that were granted to Aborigines about which the Aborigines were not told. They were certainly not told that the Government would tax their royalties. This was a dark secret that was kept by the Government. If the Government wants to maintain some sort of credibility with the Australian public, I suggest there is a serious case for the reconsideration of this one more infamous Bill that it has brought into both this chamber and the other place for the purpose of downgrading further the social, physical and cultural conditions of Aborigines in this country.
– I support the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) and the Income Tax (Mining Witholding Tax) Bill which we are debating today. I would like to refer to a lew ofthe matters raised by Senator Gietzelt and Senator Keeffe, most of which were wide ranging and lacking in accuracy as to detail. First of all, I refer to what Senator Gietzelt said about the taxation of royalties. He seemed to draw a distinction between royalties and compensation. As my colleague Senator Watson has so ably pointed out, the term ‘compensation’ in fact has a meaning different from that which is applicable to the term ‘royalty’. In fact the term ‘royalty’ as defined in the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) is quite different from the concept which Senator Gietzelt tried to put forward. In fact, we find the following definition of mining payment’ in clause 7 of the Bill: mining payment’ means a payment made 10 a distributing body or made to, or applied for the benefit of. an Aboriginal or Aboriginals, being -
Then paragraph (c) reads:
-What are you trying to prove there?
– If Senator Keeffe will just listen I will explain it to him. First of all, that item falls clearly within the definition contained in this Bill. Consequently it has the same meaning as is found in the definition under section 6 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. That section of the Act defines ‘royalty’ as follows: royalty’ or ‘royalties’ includes any payment, whether periodical or not, and however described or computed, to the extent to which it is paid as consideration for -
I will skip a few words-
– I did not quarrel with the definition or interpretation. I was talking about the morality of it.
– I am referring to what Senator Gietzelt said. The point is that clearly those payments in respect of mining property are not the sort of compensation which Senator Gietzelt was trying to lead the Senate to think that it was. In fact it falls clearly within the definition of a royalty as expressed in the Income Tax Assessment Act. If that payment were made in the ordinary course of business to a person other than an Aboriginal as described in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and in this Bill, we would expect that that royalty would be both taxable in the hands of the recipient and a deduction in the hands of the payer. Clearly, as a result of that, this item falls within that category. For Senator Gietzelt to represent it as some form of compensation is to miss the point entirely and in fact to misrepresent the case.
The compensation aspect, as Senator Watson clearly pointed out, refers to a wider concept. Let us just consider the position of compensation. Senator Gietzelt makes the point that compensation in the ordinary course is not taxable. The point he sought to make was that because of that Aboriginals were being discriminated against. It is simply not true to say that that is the position. Compensation is generally taxable.
– U n d e r some circumstances.
-Senator Cavanagh would understand that. However, Senator Gietzelt did not qualify the point. In fact it is quite clear that in most cases compensation- and Senator Cavanagh would be fully aware of the situation that applies to workers compensation- is taxable in the ordinary way.
– That is a different interpretation because the compensation given to these people is of a different character
– I am talking about the argument put by Senator Gietzelt and not that put by Senator Keeffe. Senator Gietzelt clearly argued that from his point of view those payments were not taxable and that therefore there was some discrimination against Aboriginals. I deny that this is the case. Honourable senators on this side of the chamber refuse to accept the honourable senator’s argument.
Payments such as those he spoke of would discriminate against others if in fact no tax was applicable to them. On the one hand we would have a mining company claiming a deduction for the amount paid as a royalty and on the other hand no recipitent of the royalty actually being liable for taxation. So as a matter of natural tax law one would expect that tax would be paid on amounts which are claimed as tax deductions by mining companies. That seems to me to be a basic concept.
I noted the comments of my colleague Senator Watson with respect to the Utah Development Co. Senator Gietzelt was trying to convince the Senate that mining companies such as Utah pay tax on their huge profits at the rate of only five per cent. That was the clear implication of his statement here last night. Clearly he is wrong on that ground as well. We all know that any company operating in Australia pays 46 per cent of its profits to the Commissioner of Taxation. Any dividends which are paid to shareholders are taxed at the marginal income tax rate applicable. We also know that if money is remitted in the way that Senator Watson described earlier it would suffer a further tax at the rate of 15 per cent if remitted to a country with a double tax agreement with Australia or at 30 per cent where this is not the case. The rate applicable to a branch of an overseas company is 5 per cent. That shows the sort of confusion which is in the mind of Senator Gietzelt. His remarks are clearly denied by the facts. The matter I have just mentioned is one of the fundamental suggestions which he made. It is refuted by honourable senators on this side.
Senator Gietzelt made great play of the argument concerning the Fitzgerald report. I have not been able to find my copy of the report in my files, which is not unusual. As 1 recall the situation we are now going back some four yearsthe Fitzgerald report was written against a background of mining companies in about 1971. As honourable senators will recall, that was around the time when very few of the great mining companies in Australia, as we now know them, had reached their full rate of production. For instance, the Western Mining Corporation Ltd commenced its nickel mining operations at Kambalda in only 1968. Mr Fitzgerald wheeled up his great research team, had a look at the situation and judged in 1971 that, because considerable amounts of capital expenditure that had not been recouped from profits had just been put into action by such companies, not much tax was being paid. Of course, those mining companies were not paying tax because they had considerable tax deductions available to them by virtue of their huge capital investment at that time.
– They do it for 50 years sometimes.
-But the point is that it would take considerable time for that expenditure to be absorbed as a tax deduction. Yet Fitzgerald fallaciously tried to apply the argument that that expenditure had been totally absorbed at that time, and that therefore the very low rate of tax that was paid by the mining companies was a significant indicator of what they would pay in future. That is rot. That is exactly the sort of argument that emanated from the Australian Labor Party during the Whitlam period of office. It led to the discrediting of the Labor Government’s point of view on matters such as that. That Government failed to take account of reality.
– Have you read the report?
– Yes, I read it some time ago. I think I have dealt sufficiently with several ofthe matters which Senator Gietzelt raised but I should like to mention the resource tax. He spent a great deal of time on it. I think it is wise to note that a resources rent tax, as it is conceived, is really a tax on inflation. Where the prices of the products of mining or petroleum exploration companies rise and fall on the market significant profits are earned. Generally, that is a reflection of inflation in the Australian community or the world community. It is not necessarily a reflection of the true rate of return. This raises a broader question as to what is a rate of return in inflationary times, but I leave that question to one side. Consider a situation in which companies are earning substantial profits as a result of price increases. An oil company is a good example. We have a declining supply of oil, a very important fossil fuel, and we need to explore to find more. But the cost of finding that oil and the subsequent development is astronomical. Profits, if properly measured, have to be related to the cost of future development. If we carry out such an exercise there are substantial reasons for saying that the rate of return earned on the sale of the product at somewhat inflated prices appears more normal if one considers the total capital cost of new equipment for the exploitation of new oilfields. That is the fundamental point.
A rent resources tax is in fact a tax on inflation. To take tax off a company which earns those substantial profits is to rip money away from its ability to expand and to search. Bearing in mind that such companies have considerable expertise for search and development, they need capital to carry out those activities. If it is our objective to try to achieve that- this country certainly needs to do so, as do others- we should seek to combine the expertise within our mining and petroleum industries with capital so that we can get safeguards against the future decline of our oilfields and our general resources. I have not a lot more to say except to observe that Senator Robertson will be -
– Haven ‘t you got a case?
- Senator Robertson invites me to speak longer, so I will, I thought that he was anxious to speak, in relation to what Senator Gietzelt said earlier, we spoke of taxation being applicable to recipients. We spoke of the distributing body, as it is defined in the Bill being subject to taxation. As I understand it, Mr Justice Woodward made clear in his original recommendations in respect of Aboriginal land rights that in his opinion the amounts paid ought to be taxable. He did not say that they all ought to be taxable. But he said that the distributing body, which would be the collecting agent for these royalties or payments, would use at least part of those payments- probably most of them- for the benefit of the Aboriginal community. It would be used to build halls, houses and so on in various Aboriginal areas. For that reason he recognised that not 100 per cent of those royalty payments ought to be taxable. The Government has agreed, after discussions, to 20 per cent of the royalties being made taxable. Because the standard rate of tax at presentignoring the surcharge- is 32 per cent, the effective rate, as set out in the Bill, is 6.4 per cent. That seems to me to be a reasonable situation. It is in line with Mr Justice Woodward’s recommendations and, of course, it is a reasonable thing in the light of the circumstances. As I described earlier, the amount which is payable, by all ordinary definitions, is income for the purposes of the Income Tax Assessment Act. Consequently, the sort of arrangement we have is reasonable and I fully support that concept.
I would like to mention just one other small point in respect of Senator Gietzelt. Insofar as he read directly from the Hansard record of a speech made by an honourable member in another place, I believe that unfortunately he has made the mistake which was made by ALP spokesmen in the other place. There was a declaration by the members in the other place that this tax is retrospective in some way. I think that is based on a misreading of dates in clause 7 of the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) under the definition of ‘mining payment’ which indicates that payments would be included after 1 July 1979. It seems that Opposition senators have misread that as ‘ 1 July 1978’. I put that forward with the best of humour. 1 support the Bills.
– I rise to support the amendment moved by my colleague, Senator Gietzelt. I had hoped to be able to make some comments on the case made by Senator Messner. Unfortunately he made no case which makes it very difficult for me to comment. Let me make one or two brief references to the comments he made, basically on the case put forward by Senator Gietzelt. He talked of royalty payments and took a legalistic approach to them, which we are not going to do. We are going to look at them in another way. We make the point that the payments are not made to individuals. They are seen as compensation by the Aboriginal people and by the community at large. I will discuss this fully in my brief comments.
He mentioned then the work done by Mr Fitzgerald who showed that mining companies were not making a reasonable contribution. The fact that there was such an outcry from the mining companies indicates that he had hit a very sore nerve. From Senator Messner’s approach to the Fitzgerald report, one might believe that it is not beauty which is in the eye of the beholder but justice which is in the eye of the beholder. He put forward a rather interesting argument about a resources tax which I will study at leisure. I state, with respect, it seems to be slightly biased in favour of the group which Senator Messner represents.
Let me remind honourable senators of the wording of the amendment moved by my colleague, Senator Gietzelt. It reads:
Leave om all words after ‘That’, insert ‘the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to remove all reference to taxation on mineral royalties for Aboriginal organisations’.
Hopefully that is what we will be talking about this afternoon. Certainly it is what I am going to address myself to in the brief time at my disposal. The Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) seeks to impose a tax on royalties. Its purpose is quite clear and simple. It is to balance the Budget- to attempt to find some money from somewhere to assist in the problems which the Government is facing at present. Unfortunately, as so often seems to be the case, the Aborigines are fair game here. They are the group that perhaps can be got at most easily. Up until now, there has been no tax on royalties and it is reasonable to assume- as was pointed out earlier- that the negotiations which were held between the Aboriginal communities and the various mining companies did not envisage that taxation would be paid on the royalties. One could assume that the Aboriginal communities would have perhaps put their case a little higher if they thought that this was going to be so.
What are royalties? Both Senator Watson and Senator Messner have discussed this matter. The point has been put strongly both by my colleagues here and in the other place that this is a compensation to Aboriginal people. The whole matter seems to hinge on this.
– There is no such -
-Could the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs just hear me out on this? This point has been put. There has been a legalistic representation that it is not so.
– There is nothing in the land rights Act which restricts what the Aborigines can negotiate as to compensation.
-Perhaps we could consider this thought and then come back to what the Minister said. Mining involves a change of life for the Aboriginal people. There is no doubt that it disrupts. There has been a disruption of their life style. It brings social problems with it. It offends the Aboriginals in regard to their land. I am certainly not going to carry through the argument that I have put many times in this place about the relationship of the Aboriginal people to the land. These problems have been enumerated before; I do not have to go through them. We feel, as was said earlier, that there is a moral obligation here to provide some compensation for this disruption. My learned legal colleagues have told me that compensation payments are not taxed. Senator Gietzelt’s argument on this count has been discounted by Senator Messner and no doubt the Minister will have some comment to make on that. I understand that if one loses an arm and certain compensation is paid for this, the amount of money -
– The lump sum is not taxed. The weekly payments are taxed.
-That is right. The weekly payments are taxed, but the lump sum, which is the compensation, is not taxed. I will read a comment from the Northern Territory News as to whether Aboriginal people regard the payments they are to get as compensation. The article stated in part:
The Northern Land Council chairman believes the new Federal tax on Aboriginal mining royalties sets a precedent Tor taxation on compensation payments.
Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu said he wonders why Aborigines are the first people to have their compensation payments taxed.
No doubt there will be some criticism of that in a legalistic way. Nevertheless, I put it forward only as the point of view of the Aboriginal people that this is being offered by way of compensation. Some suggestion will be made that perhaps the Aboriginal people have brought all this upon themselves- that they need not have had mining and that they could have rejected the proposition. Some people have suggested that by allowing mining on their land the Aboriginal people, as I said before, have brought the situation on themselves. Some people have suggested that they could have said, ‘No, we will not have mining’, and that there would be no problem. It was said that their rights are protected by the land rights legislation. This is the sort of argument advanced by some people in the community. Certainly, the land rights legislation did not apply in the time of the Nabalco and Gemco negotiations. One wonders whether anyone honestly believes that it has applied since.
I remind honourable senators of the pressure that was put on Galarrwuy Yunupingu by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister. We have seen in the newspapers graphic reports of the sorts of pressures that were put on this young man at the time of the signing. It was suggested that the Prime Minister suggested the withdrawal of support for the land councils. There was a suggestion that the Prime Minister threatened that there would be no further assistance to Aboriginal people. There was a suggestion that everything that had been gained would be taken away. I am not saying that this is so. I am saying that these were the sorts of suggestions that were made, simply to illustrate that people believed that pressures were put upon them.
Certainly I know from my experience that the expectations which have been raised in the Aboriginal people by exposure to European culture have put certain pressures on them. The very education of the Aboriginal people has brought about certain expectations and raised in them the desire for material things. Quite clearly from this exposure the idea has come to them that all material things- such wonderful things as transistor radios, four-wheel drive vehicles, boats and so on- can be attained and that one attains them by money. By saying this I am not being simplistic. It seems to me that that sort of expectation has come up and that the situation that has been created- I am not critical of it because it was inevitable- has put pressures on Aboriginal people to say: ‘We need money to achieve in a society which has come to us’. I make the point that the Aboriginal never really had a choice as to whether mining should proceed. Why should royalties be paid? I remind honourable senators of a motion which was put and passed in this place in February 1975. It stated:
That the Senate accepts the Tact that the indigenous people of Australia, now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were in possession of this entire nation prior to the 1788 First Fleet landing at Botany Bay, urges the Australian Government to admit prior ownership by the said indigenous people, and introduce legislation to compensate the people now known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for dispossession of their land.
This motion was passed unanimously by the Senate in 1975.
– Whose motion was that?
-The honourable senator was here at the time; I was not. He would know that it was moved by Senator Bonner. He would know that without asking. Senator Bonner will remind us also.
How are the royalties distributed? Forty per cent of the royalties go to the land councils. This money is spent on preparing claims for presentation to the Land Rights Commissioner. Those who have seen the activities of lawyers and of those who must prepare these submissions will know that it is a very expensive operation. A good deal of money is necessary to enable the Northern Land Council, the Central Land Council and now the Bathurst Island Land Council to prepare their cases for presentation to the Land Rights Commissioner. Also, of course, some of the money is spent in assisting various communities.
We notice from a document which was presented today, and from the speech that has been made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, that the money that is going to the land councils at present is not sufficient. Thirty per cent of the royalties go to the traditional owners. Again, I make the point that it goes not to individuals but to incorporated bodies and is spent on community activities, on a wide range of enterprises, on activities to assist people set themselves up in business and other entrepreneurial enterprises, the construction of buildings, houses and so on. Thirty per cent of the royalties go to the Aboriginal Benefit Fund- the old Aboriginal Benefit Trust Fund- to be spent on projects throughout the Territory. A decision on how the money is to be spent is, of course, made by the Aboriginal people.
I move from the question of the percentages of royalties paid to that of where the money is to be spent. This is a particularly important point. The bulk will be spent in the Northern Territory. Aboriginal people tend not to save, for the simple reason that normally they do not have all the things that they require. Therefore, they tend to spend money as soon as they get it. It goes to the commercial and other business houses in the Northern Territory. I do not have to explain to the learned gentlemen on the other side of the chamber the multiplier effect when that money is spent in the community. That is why I am surprised that the Northern Territory Government went ahead and blackmailed the Federal Government into allowing royalty payments to be made to it as well. The Northern Territory Government got the cut to which it thought it was entitled, but I should have thought that it would be far more important to have the money flowing into the community and achieving the stimulation of the economy that is so important.
What is the amount of the royalties? In percentage terms, compared to what is paid in other places, it is pitiful. It is Vh per cent to 4 1/2 per cent, which is not a great amount. No doubt, comment will be made about the additional that Zorn included for protection of the environment, which brings the 4Vi per cent to a higher level; but, compared with the 1 5 per cent royalty that is paid to Indians in the United States and the royalty that is paid by the Bougainville copper mine in Papua New Guinea, it is certainly a pitiful amount. I repeat that when the royalties were negotiated there was no thought of taxation.
Last night we heard from a supporter of the Government a speech on the ability of the Aboriginal people to handle their own affairs. It was suggested that we should be rather careful about giving money to people who, in the words of the speaker, cannot handle it. I reject that proposition completely. I do not think that anyone who has watched the Aboriginal councils preparing their budgets, planning their programs and discussing what they will do with their money for the year would make that sort of comment. Certainly, the Aborigines need help but I cannot think of any shire council, roads board or corporation that does not require help in the planning of its budgets and the allocation of its money. We always see an accountant, or someone of the sort, brought in to assist. We certainly accept the proposition that the white people can help. In this place many times I have made the point that Aboriginal people would be well advised to make use of the sort of support that is available from those Europeans who wish to make a contribution- in the right sense, obviously.
Aboriginal people have to be particularly careful about whom they select to do their work for them. Those of us who can look back over 20 years of Aboriginal affairs activity throughout Australia know that the greatest problem faced by Ministers in governments of either persuasion has been that of finding the right sort of people to put not only in departments but more importantly- and I stress the point- in face to face situations in the settlements as they were known, or the communities as they are known at present. I am concerned that the view to which I have just referred might also be that of the Government. I do not think that it is and I hope that I will be assured by the Minister that it is not; that the Government will not use that sort of attitude as an excuse for cutting back on any sort of allocation that is made to Aboriginal communities and organisations.
On Tuesday, in answer to a question that I asked, the Minister conceded that the State Ministers had agreed that the Commonwealth Government should provide more money for Aboriginal advancement in the individual States. I rather thought that the Minister had said he also agreed that the Commonwealth Government should give more, but, upon reading Hansard, the comment that I thought was on the end of his speech was not recorded, so obviously he did not make it and I must have imagined him saying it. Nevertheless, I think that he does appreciate the situation because he has said that he has listened with interest to the views that have been put forward by State Ministers and will be taking them to Cabinet. I emphasise that assistance does not mean only the provision of money. The Aboriginal people need a great deal of support. I will not bore the Senate by elaborating the point.
It has been suggested that the amount paid in royalties should be deducted from the funds made available by the Federal Government to Aboriginal people. This was advanced in the other place as one of the suggestions that had been made by Turnbull; that eventually the royalties would be sufficient to ensure that no money from the taxpayers need be spent on Aboriginal communities for education, health, welfare and so on. I would simply ask: Is this done in European society? No doubt my colleague, Senator Cavanagh, will dwell upon that. It is not an area that 1 know a lot about, but I would have thought when compensation was paid for the loss of an arm or a leg we would not normally stop the salary of the recipient.
One must concede- as certainly we on this side do- that Aborigines have suffered as a result of the intrusion of the white people. The Aborigines did own the land before the white people came and they accept the proposition that there is need for compensation. I remind the Senate of the proposition that was put forward by Senator Bonner and adopted in this place in February 1975. We on this side of the chamber make the point that the Aborigines are entitled to compensation for the problems that have been caused by mining and for the social problems they have suffered, upon which I need not elaborate. Moreover, we propose that such compensation should not be taxed.
The Government has problems. Obviously it needs to find money with which to balance its Budget. Perhaps it could look elsewhere in that regard, and I make a plea that it do so. There has been no shortage of suggestions. They have come from all groups. One from the Australian Teachers Federation arrived here only this week. In part, it reads:
In this connection we do no more than draw attention to the sum of $955m which constitutes revenue foregone by the Government in tax concessions and bounties to businesses in 1977-78. Since business profitability is at record high levels and taxation paid by business has declined significantly in recent years the Government should look to this area of revenue in keeping its budget deficit in check. The tax con cessions and bounties referred to are:
What a pity Senator McLaren is not here. The submission continues:
We are talking here about real money, not just the small amounts that could be gained by taking back this admittedly small sum from the Aboriginal people. The credibility of the Government will suffer far more as a result of this action. The acceptance of the Government by the Aboriginal people, which over the last three or four years has fluctuated, will again be in danger. I urge all honourable senators who have any sympathy with the Aboriginal cause, who suggest that they are liberals with a small ‘1’ to give support to the amendment that has been proposed by my colleague, Senator Gietzelt.
– It was not my intention to speak on this legislation but I would like now to say a few words concerning it. I am somewhat concerned about the attempt to justify taxation of the gains by Aboriginal communities by describing them in a certain way. The terms ‘royalty’ and ‘compensation’ have been used. I do not think it matters whether it is a royalty or whether it is a compensation payment. We have had honourable senators reading dictionary interpretations of the words ‘royalty’ and ‘compensation’ in order to prove that within the meaning of the dictionary the payment is a ‘royalty’. Another honourable senator read the definition of the word ‘royalty’ as set out in the Income Tax (Mining Withholding Tax) Act and the Income Tax Assessment Act in order to prove that within the meaning of those two Acts it is a royalty. One could possibly say the same about the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.
If we look at the basis of payment and the contract that this Government has with the Aborigines we find that the payment defined in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act has a different meaning from that which might be found in the dictionary, or any artificial meaning to be found in some other Act. For many years it has been recognised that Aboriginals have had a poor deal in Australia. The Commonwealth was embarrassed because of this situation and took action by amending the Act in 1967 to ensure that Aboriginal Affairs would be brought under federal jurisdiction. That first admission of a liability to the Aboriginals has been followed through by various governments with payments being made for Aboriginal welfare. It has been followed through with a recognition of the Senator Bonner’s resolution which was spelt out by Senator Robertson today. That resolution of the Senate recognised that Australia has belonged to the Aboriginals for many thousands of years and that they are entitled to compensation for the use we are making of their land. That compensation included a promise of land rights to Aboriginals in relation to their tribal lands. This promise did not refer to giving Aboriginals just any area of land. This was decided upon after a full inquiry as to whether traditional ownership could be established. A High Court
Judge investigated and reported to the Government on whether, after considering the needs of everyone in the area, the applicants established that they had tribal ownership and whether it was traditional land. Only in relation to that land which is established as being traditional in these inquiries have they any hope of succeeding.
Today we are debating another Bill which seeks to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to permit the Government to accept some of the recommendations of the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission. At present the Government obviously has the power to accept or to reject those recommendations. There is some doubt as to whether it has the power to accept only some of the recommendations and not the others. The proposal put forward today is designed to give the Government the power to accept some of those recommendations. Despite the Aboriginals having the rights of ownership and justification for having control of the land, the Government is now amending the Act and it is saying that those areas of land which are not required by it can be given to the Aboriginals. The liabilities which the Government has accepted in relation to Aboriginals have meant the expenditure of large amounts of money for welfare purposes and for the establishments on the settlements. The Government has also accepted financial responsibility for establishing land councils, commissions and town councils. The Government funded land councils long before the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act was passed. They were financed from annual grants appropriated by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for the maintenance of Aboriginal communities. Any benefits received from royalties went to the Aboriginal benefit trust fund.
Today the Government is wiping its hands of that commitment to finance Aboriginal institutions because the land councils are not receiving sufficient moneys to maintain themselves. They should be able to borrow or to use the money that has been paid into a trust account for deserving Aboriginals since the time that the Federal Parliament recognised its obligations to Aboriginals. The charity fund of this benefit trust account is now to be used under the amending legislation to pay back the Federal Government for meeting its obligation to finance a land council. At the present time the royalties available are not sufficient to make that payment. In future the royalties may be of such a nature that there will be profits for Aboriginals in those areas large enough to take over the Commonwealth Government’s obligation to fund land councils.
This is the attitude of the Government. This payment will relieve the Commonwealth Government of meeting its obligations won at the referendum which gave it these powers. The burden is now being thrown on to the mining companies by the payment of royalties or some other such payments.
In Senator Robertson’s concluding remarks he referred to budget restraints and the sources from which the Government will obtain extra moneys. He stated that the Government now finds it necessary to take back an assurance it gave Aboriginals in relation to land rights legislation in order to reduce its deficit. The Aboriginal land rights legislation deals with mining on land which is acknowledged by the Government to be Aboriginal land. The conditions which apply to the mining of those lands is that there can be no mining if the Aboriginals object, unless it is in the national interest. This choice was not given to Aboriginals in relation to Ranger or other areas which were mentioned in the Fox Report on the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. In those areas where mining is allowed, it can go ahead only after agreement has been reached between the mining company and the Aboriginal people.
Many Aborigines have experienced heartache in giving up their land to the mining companies. It is questionable whether the mining of the Ranger uranium deposits was ever agreed to by those people on the Aboriginal Land Council who had the right to do so- those people being the tribal elders or the owners of the land- or whether the agreement was rushed through the Aboriginal Land Council without meeting the requirement of obtaining the consent of the traditional owners of the land. Whenever a mining company goes on to Aboriginal land it causes heartache. This is something the Aboriginals are prepared to permit for the benefit of Australia and industry, and for suitable compensation. It cannot be said that they have permitted mining for any other reason. It cannot be said that this Parliament has never granted in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act the power for Aboriginals to reach agreement for any reason other than the payment of compensation for disturbing their land. There is no other explanation. Although it may not meet with the definition to be found in the dictionary or in any particular Act, the whole method of payment is one of compensation for disturbing their land. If uranium is found on my block of land and it is mined, I will not receive royalties. But the Government has given these royalties to Aboriginals. Why is there a distinction? It is because we have taken the traditional and sacred tribal land of the Aboriginals and are using it for our benefit? The land is to be used for commercial purposes, for mining, and compensation is to be paid. Such compensation is not paid to the average Australian. The distinction is compensation. Whatever words you use, the royalties represent compensation.
The Aboriginal communities agreed to permit the mining companies to operate in return for a certain payment- a payment of 4Vi per cent of the proceeds. The Aboriginals reached agreement over payment for the disturbance of their land and now the Government intends to tax that payment. This upsets the whole basis of the power we gave Aboriginal communities under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act to reach a satisfactory agreement. The agreement reached in respect of Ranger when taxation was not applicable may not now be satisfactory since part of the compensation is to be paid to the Commonwealth. We in this Parliament are faced with the position that we have deprived Aboriginals of the rights they were given under the Aboriginal land rights legislation. This Government is proposing to subtract a certain amount from the minimum amount they would accept as compensation for their land being mined. 1 am more concerned with how the proposed Act can ever be implemented. I do not know how it can be. I forewarn the Minister that I will ask for an interpretation of clause 7 during the Committee stage. But at this point I am concerned about the stage when payment is made to the Land Council. The tax is to be applied to the amount that the individual person on the settlement will recieve It is not to be a tax on the amount paid to a distributing organisation. A distributing organisation is the organisation that receives the money for distribution. The tax is not payable before the money is distributed; it is payable when the money gets down to the lower echelons. Tax is not payable on the money used by a distributing organisation for salaries or administration. As I understand it, the money is to be paid to the Land Council and it does nothing else but distribute it or, possibly, uses it to lodge other land claims. The Land Council is the agent under the Act.
Part of the money goes to the Aboriginal Benefit Trust Account from which it is paid to individuals. That part of the money to be used for administrative purposes is not put into that account. Bodies registered under Part 4 of the Aboriginal Council’s and Associations Act are described in the Bill as distributing organisations. They are the ones who hold the money on the settlement for distribution for the welfare of the community or for some other purpose. Only moneys given out for other than administrative purposes is taxable. Such payments may be for some settlement construction, a welfare hall or for housing. How the mining company which will have to submit the return will know what part of the payment is taxable is beyond my comprehension.
Debate, (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I seek leave to make a statement on behalf of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and to move a motion to take note of this statement.
– When the first person personal pronoun is used it refers to the Treasurer.
The purpose of this statement is to announce a number of decisions the Government has made on its expenditure for 1979-80 on personal taxation and certain other revenue matters, lt is being made now because it is necessary that measures should be in place by 1 July 1979 to achieve the maximum possible expenditure reduction. On the revenue side, the need for certain decisions has been dictated by the expiration of legislation on 30 June.
No more difficult task faces a Government that that of exercising continued restraint over its own spending. No Australian Government in the post-war period has pursued expenditure restraint with such determination and success as has this Government. We have maintained this course as a fundamental article of faith and will continue to do so. This Government inherited a situation in which its predecessor had increased Commonwealth spending by a staggering and irresponsible figure of 1 1 5 per cent over the 3 years it held office.
During our term of office, we have achieved a remarkable degree of expenditure restraint and discipline. This has been achieved despite many unavoidable expenditure demands. A combination of factors, including substantial demographic movements and changing community attitudes, has progressively increased the proportion of social security pensioners and beneficiaries in the population. Comparatively high unemployment has added to the Government’s social welfare bill. Our concern to increase defence preparedness has also meant a higher rate of spending in this area.
Nonetheless, this year the Government is keeping the growth in expenditure to approximately 8.5 per cent- the lowest increase in a decade. As a result of our control of Government expenditure, the size of the deficit as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product has been reduced from 5 per cent in 1975-76 to about Vh per cent this year. This is the first Australian Government since Federation to bring about a sustained reduction in the number of its own employees.
When, however, the initial forward estimates on the basis of existing policy for the forthcoming financial year were presented to the Government some time ago, it was apparent that the Government faced a major budgetary problem in 1979-80. At that time the deficit in prospect on the basis of existing policy was in the order of $4,600m.
An Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet was established and this committee undertook an intensive examination of expenditure proposals submitted by Ministers. As a result of this process, a number of major expenditurecutting decisions were recommended to Cabinet and subsequently endorsed. The details of some of these decisions will underline the stringency of the restraint the Government has imposed on its own expenditures.
The national health bill currently accounts for approximately 10 per cent of total Budget spending. The Government has decided upon a number of measures in this area to contain overall costs of health care and to reduce Government expenditure, These measures are in keeping with our general philosophy of concentrating government assistance on the needy and ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently. They will be outlined in detail by my colleague the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), but in brief the main items are as follows:
At present the Commonwealth meets 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs of public hospitals, but does not carry responsibility for the management of these hospitals. For some time we have been concerned about rapidly escalating costs in the hospitals area. Expenditure on hospitals accounts for 60 per cent of total Commonwealth expenditure on health services. This concern has been highlighted by the recent South Australian Public Accounts Committee Report, which found evidence of gross inefficiency in the operation of public hospitals in that State. The average cost per public hospital bed in Australia is now around $ 1 50 a day. Factors behind this high cost are the excessive number of hospital beds in Australia- in many hospitals only about 70 per cent of the available beds are being used- and inefficiencies within the system.
Clearly, if the community’s outlays on health care are to be contained the operation of hospitals must be critically examined. Accordingly, we have decided to establish an urgent inquiry into hospital efficiency and administration. Given the responsibilities of State Governments in the operation and management of public hospitals and bearing in mind the continued escalation of costs despite Commonwealth-State initiatives to contain costs, this inquiry is essential. We look forward to the co-operation of State Governments in carrying out this inquiry. The prospective increase in Commonwealth and State outlays on hospital net operating costs in 1 979-80 was over $200m or 10 per cent. This escalation makes the proposed inquiry all the more essential. Against the background of documented inefficiency within the public hospital system and as an interim step in containing hospital expenditures the Commonwealth will be seeking to hold its own payments for hospital operating costs to 1978-79 levels pending the report of the proposed inquiry.
Hospital charges and payments
Public hospital charges for patients with hospital insurance were last increased in October 1976. Even at that time the charges covered only a small percentage of the total costs of hospital treatment and, since then, those costs have increased sharply. We have decided to seek the agreement of the states to an increase in public hospital in-patient charges from 1 September 1979. In the case of a shared room the increase sought will be from $40 to $50 a day and, in the case of a private room, it will be up from $60 to $75 a day. These increases will reduce Commonwealth outlays on hospitals by $3 1 m in 1 979-80. There will be a similar saving by the states. I should emphasise that it is not within the Commonwealth’s power to increase public hospital charges to more realistic levels. We are seeking increases in charges to $50 and $75 a dayamounts which are substantially below costsbecause this is the level which State Governments have indicated they will support. On the information available to us some States are unwilling to increase charges beyond this level.
At present the Commonwealth subsidises the medical expenses of the general public to the extent of 40 per cent of schedule fees, subject to a maximum patient contribution of $20. In addition, the Commonwealth makes generous provision against medical outlays for pensioners with pensioner health benefit cards and for people identified by doctors as socially disadvantaged. Arrangements for pensioners and socially disadvantaged will not be changed. While accepting the need to continue to protect pensioners and the socially disadvantaged the Government has decided that subsidies to others for everyday medical expenditures should be reduced.
From 1 September the Commonwealth arrangements for the general population will be changed so that for each professional service the Commonwealth will meet the full amount by which the schedule fee for that service exceeds $20. Items where the schedule fee is below $20 will not attract any Commonwealth benefit. The reduction in Commonwealth outlays from this measure will be about $150m in 1979-80 and $2 10m in a full year.
I wish to emphasise that the Government has maintained universal health protection in that pensioners and the socially disadvantaged continue to be fully protected; the general population is protected against large and potentially crippling outlays on medical services by the Government commitment to meet the full amount by which the schedule fee for any service exceeds $20; and uninsured patients will continue to be entitled to standard ward treatment in public hospitals, when treated by doctors engaged by the hospitals, at no cost to them.
Education is another large block of expenditure which has come under close attention. With enrolments in universities and colleges of advanced education stabilising and total enrolments in schools beginning to decline it is possible now to moderate the flow of resources- and especially additional capital resources- into these areas. There has been the most careful assessment of education programs.
The Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) will shortly issue detailed guidelines for the programs of the education commissions in 1980. These will show that programs have been more rigorously pruned than on any previous occasion. They will also show that the Government has continued to give high priority to Technical and Further Education Institutions.
Favourable rural conditions afford an opportunity to scale down some programs of Commonwealth assistance to primary producers in 1979-80. We have decided to provide $5m under the Commonwealth extension services grant program in 1 979-80 compared with an estimated $10m in 1978-79; and a significant reduction in funds under the rural adjustment scheme to $ 18.7m in 1979-80, from $41 m in 1978-79.
Steps will also be taken to recover a greater proportion of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in providing cattle disease eradication and export inspection services. To this end, the disease eradication component of the livestock slaughter levy will be increased from $ 1 per head to $3 per head from 1 July; and arrangements, effective from 1 July, will be made to recover, in respect of meat, wool, and grains, approximately 50 per cent in total of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in providing export inspection services for those commodities. These measures are estimated to yield additional revenue of over $30min 1979-80.
Based on consideration of an Industries Assistance Commission report the Government announced in 1976 that the nitrogenous fertilisers subsidy would be phased out. The Government had decided to continue the subsidy in 1980 but at the reduced rate of $20 per tonne. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will be announcing further details, where appropriate, after consultations with the States.
The Government has decided to limit grants under the urban public transport program to $40m- the same money level as in 1978-79- and to defer the $15m ‘needs’ component for a further year. Road grants in 1 979-80 will be held to the same real level as in the current year.
I also mention here two other decisions which we have taken to help contain Government spending; the Ministers responsible will provide further details in separate statements. These decisions are: Firstly, to introduce a value limit on homes, including land, which qualify for a home savings grant. The limit will be set at $35,000 for a full grant, reducing to zero at $40,000 and will apply to persons who contract to buy or build a home after today. This will reduce expenditure by about $5m in 1979-80. Secondly, to exclude certain goods- including most meats, tallow, wood chips and certain hides and skins- from the coverage of the export expansion grants scheme with effect from 1 July 1979. The rapid increase in exports of these products largely reflects marketing arrangements, and, expecially in the case of meat, world demand. It is not appropriate or necessary to pay increased grants in these circumstances, and the saving involved is estimated at $4Om in 1980-81.
Against the severity of these cuts there will be attempts to frighten people receiving Commonwealth social security pensions and benefits and repatriation payments. These payments will be maintained by the Government. The fearmongers should be ignored. It should be clear, however, that the Government is determined that unemployment benefits will not be paid to those who are not genuinely seeking work.
The Government’s attitude to expenditure restraint will be firmly in evidence in its approach at the forthcoming Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting. The Government, on taking office, acted quickly to introduce the present revenue sharing arrangements. These allow for a considerable increase in the funds available to the States which they can spend at their own discretion and without centralist interference. In fact, in 1979-80 the States’ tax sharing entitlements are presently projected to increase by as much as 14 per cent. In these circumstances it must be expected that much of the burden of overall restraint will necessarily fall on other specific purpose payments to the states. Some such decisions have been announced tonight and this approach will be maintained. The decisions I have announced tonight best indicate the difficult decisions we have had to make in our determination to restrain expenditure. As I noted earlier, the Government will be continuing its stringent examination of expenditures between now and the Budget.
Whilst very considerable progress was made in improving the prospective budgetary position for 1979-80, it did not alter the fact that if the Government were to obtain a responsible budgetary outcome in that year, it would be necessary to raise substantial additional amounts of revenue. This inevitably meant a critical examination of tax indexation and rates of personal income tax. If this were not done the Government faced the prospect of an unacceptably high budget deficit, a deficit which would not bear down on inflation. This would jeopardise the economic recovery which is now under way. It would lead inevitably to renewed inflationary pressures with a consequent impact on business confidence and abandonment of investment. It would create further unemployment. For these reasons the Government has found it necessary to take certain revenue decisions.
Honourable members will be aware that under existing taxation legislation, the increase of 1.5c in the standard rate of taxation imposed in last year’s Budget will expire on 30 June 1 979. Under the same legislation, full indexation of personal taxation will be restored with effect from 1 July 1979. 1 do not for one moment disguise the fact that the 1.5c increase imposed in the last Budget was expressed to be temporary. That was the intention at the time it was imposed. That was the expectation properly entertained by the Government at the time. Nor do I disguise the fact that this Government has both promised and legislated for the restoration of full personal tax indexation with effect from 1 July 1979.
However, economic responsibility now dictates that the Government cannot allow this legislation to take its course. If the present terms of legislation regarding the surcharge and tax indexation were to take effect on 1 July 1979, personal tax collections in 1979-80 would be reduced by more than $1 100m. It is not possible for the Government to sustain the full amount of reductions of this order in its revenue in 1 979-80 and retain budgetary responsibility. The Government has thus decided to present to Parliament legislation which will have the effect of extending until 30 November 1979, or such earlier date as may be proclaimed, the existing pay as you earn tax instalment deductions. This means that on 1 July there now will be no alteration in the take home pay of wage and salary earners either on account of tax indexation or changes in the rates of personal income tax.
The effect of the decision I have just announced will be to maintain the present rate of deductions under the PAYE system. As the surcharge was imposed at the higher rate of 34.57c so as to collect the full amount of $560m between 1 November 1978 and 30 June 1979, the yield if that rate of deduction were maintained for a full year would be approximately $980m. Consequently, during the period of up to five months in the first part of 1979-80 additional tax at the rate of approximately $11Om per month will be collected from PAYE deductions. This monthly amount of course also takes account of the saving to revenue of full tax indexation not applying in that period. During this period there will be no increase in the PAYE deductions now applying. Nor will (here be any decrease.
The rates of personal income tax to apply for the income year 1979-80 as a whole together with the Government’s decision regarding tax indexation arrangements for that same year will be announced in the Budget to be presented on 21 August 1979. 1 inform the House thai in the event that full indexation is found to be practicable when the Budget decision is taken the indexation factor to be used in adjusting both the ranges of income to which particular rates of tax would apply and the concessional rebates would be 6.5 per cent. That factor has been derived as follows: In accordance with the terms ofthe relevant legislation, the Government proposes that the increase in the consumer price index of 7.9 per cent for the year ended March 1979 will be reduced by 0.2 percentage points on account of the effects of devaluation in the December quarter 1976, and 1.0 percentage points for the net increases in indirect taxes announced in the last two Budgets. The rises in excise and customs duties and the crude oil levy in the 1977-78 and 1978-79 Budgets will be offset by an upward adjustment in respect of the reduction in sales tax on motor vehicles in the 1978-79 Budget.
The Government has also decided that the indexation factor should be adjusted to take account of the two steps which were taken on 1 7 April 1977 and I July 1978 to phase in the adoption of import parity pricing for local production of ‘old’ oil. These steps represented a policy aimed at improving the allocation of resources in relation to crude oil exploration, production and consumption, and it would therefore be quite inappropriate to lake action, through the tax indexation mechanism, to offset (heir effects on consumption. The legislation to be introduced will provide authority for this adjustment, which will reduce the factor by a further 0.2 percentage points, making a total reduction of 1.4 percentage points. The net result is the factor of 6.5 per cent to which I earlier referred.
I must, however, emphasise that there is no prospect ofthe Government’s being able to announce in the Budget both the removal in full of the surcharge and implementation of full indexation for the 1979-80 income year. We could have taken a final decision now about indexation and the surcharge, but we would have done so with incomplete knowledge about the total budgetary situation. A sensible decision, one which would achieve the right budgetary result, could be taken only on the basis of firmer figures. The final revenue estimates for next year’s Budget cannot be made until closer to presentation of that Budget and in the light of the final revenue outcome for the current financial year. Significant areas of uncertainty will remain for some time. A major alteration of the revenue estimates, for example, between now and the Budget could fundamentally alter the basis on which our decisions had been taken.
Against this background, it would not have been responsible for the Government to have taken a final decision as to the levels of personal tax and tax indexation in the absence of the most accurate and up-to-date advice on likely revenue for 1979-80. lt would have been foolish of the Government to have closed off any of the options available to it in advance of the Budget. Notwithstanding these decisions the benefits of three years of tax reductions and reform under this Government are still available. In 1978-79 personal taxpayers will pay $3.000m less tax than they would have done under the Hayden scales. Even with the current tax surcharge an individual on average weekly earnings is about $10 a week better off, and has been better off each year since the Government’s first reforms.
Some 90 per cent of taxpayers now pay tax at no more than the standard rate. Under the Labor tax scales a worker earning just above $10,000 would have been subject to a marginal rate of 45c in the dollar. Even with the surcharge in operation in 1978-79 such a worker has paid tax at a marginal rate which is over 10c in the dollar less and would continue to do so even after earning an additional $6,000. lt is expected that revenue from personal tax collections will actually fall in real terms during the current financial year. This will be the first time that such a fall has occurred in the past 10 years. Since 1975-76 because we have raised the minimum tax threshold from $2.5 19 to $3,893 up to 500.000 individuals on lower incomes no longer have to pay personal income tax. At all levels of income the total income tax payable in 1978-79 will be less than that paid in 1977-78 despite the existence of the tax surcharge.
The need to raise additional revenue in 1 979-80 extends beyond the personal tax area. I therefore announce the following additional revenue measures:
I recently made a statement to the House about the deductions claimed in 1 977-78 income year returns for alleged ‘losses’ arising out of participation in tax avoidance schemes against which the Government has, since the beginning of 1978, acted vigorously. I noted then that some $452 m in tax was involved in claims to carry forward these losses for deduction against income of later years. The Government has concluded that it cannot allow claims for carry forward of these quite fictitious paper ‘losses’ to succeed either to avoid or to defer payment of tax otherwise payable.
In the view of the Government, it would be quite intolerable to compel the community generally to shoulder a heavier tax burden so that relatively small numbers claiming under these losses should benefit. No one with any sense of fairness could possibly countenance such a situation persisting. We shall not allow this to occur and we propose to legislate accordingly. Further details will be given in a separate statem’ent I am releasing tonight.
The Government has decided that as from 1 July 1979 it will increase the existing $3 per barrel levy on so-called ‘import parity’ oil by an amount equal to the increase that will by then have occurred in the import parity price since 3 1 December 1978. Essentially this measure will provide a self-adjusting mechanism for setting the levy on ‘import parity’ oil so that the publicrevenue rather than producers- secures the gains which result from price increases induced by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The price of petrol to consumers will not be affected by these levy arrangements. On the basis of already announced price increases by OPEC the increased revenue in 1979-80 is estimated to be some $ 166m. Any further OPEC price increases will generate additional revenues.
Under these arrangements, producers of ‘import parity’ oil will receive returns in the range $9.59-$ 10.52 per barrel, that is, returns in line with those received immediately prior to 1 January 1979. Overall returns to producers from the larger fields will increase as the proportion of import parity’ oil increases under the phasing arrangements. The implications of these new levy arrangements on small producers and marginal fields will be kept under review. The levy arrangements 1 am now announcing will not apply to ‘new oil* for which producers will receive full import parity prices free of levy. The incentive to oil search will therefore be maintained.
I also have to say that, because of the difficulty of the budgetary situation, and the essential requirement to bring down the deficit, the Government is unable to proceed with the planned lifting of the coal export levy on 30 June 1979. The retention of this levy will add approximately $100m to otherwise estimated revenue in 1979-80. 1 am unable to give any commitment as to the future abolition of this levy.
The Government has decided to terminate the trading stock valuation adjustment concession. It was introduced at an exceptional time of very high inflation when businesses, faced severe liquidity problems. Since then business liquidity has improved.
There is evidence that many businesses, taking the view that the stock valuation adjustment was an outright tax concession, have applied benefits from it to increasing reported profits. At the same time this concession was not available to a significant section of the business community and it involves a considerable cost to the Budget. Against this background, the Government has concluded that the stock valuation adjustment should be withdrawn. This will have effect from the commencement of the 1979-80 income year. The first major revenue gains from withdrawal will be experienced in 1980-81 and are expected to be about $300m.
Finally, I mention some further matters- the Ministers concerned will issue further details. They are:
It is proposed to increase licence fees levied on radio communication equipment- other than that used for essential purposes- under the Wireless Telegraphy Act with effect from 1 July so as to yield an additional $6m revenue in 1979-80;
Passport fees are to be increased by $5 to $25- this increase is estimated to yield an additional $2.25 m in 1979-80; and
It is intended to impose from 1 July 1 979 an ad valorem revenue customs duty of 2 per cent on most goods currently imported free of duty where international trade commitments and understandings permit- this measure is estimated to yield about $80m revenue in 1979-80.
I remind the Senate of what I said earlier- that the decisions I am announcing today do not in any sense represent the totality of the 1979-80 Budget. In particular, all areas of expenditure in respect of which decisions have not been announced in this statement will be the subject of further close scrutiny in the final run-up to the Budget. In the course of that scrutiny, the Government will be seeking to make further significant savings. The more successful we can be in that regard, the less will be the need to seek increased revenue in the Budget proper.
In all of this, the Government will, of course, be taking into account the need to maintain the climate of recovery in economic activity which has been evident throughout the present financial year. Central to achieving that is the need to confront and beat back the recent resurgence in inflation and in inflationary expectations. The decisions which I have now put before the Senate are a further clear demonstration of the Government’s recognition of that need.
There are already clear signs that the policies that the Government has been following over the last three years are working. Notwithstanding the renewed build-up of inflationary pressures, the rate of inflation has been reduced from 16.7 per cent in 1975 to 8.2 per cent in the year to March 1979. Economic activity overall is gathering strength and growth in real domestic product in 1978-79 should easily exceed our expectation last August of ‘something over 4 per cent’. There have been improvements in the labour market. Civilian employment statistics show that employment has risen by over 56,200 in the nine months to March, the majority of the increase being in the private sector. On the external front, the trade and current accounts have been gathering strength. So, very recently, has private capital inflow.
Business investment has also been growing strongly and several recent surveys of business conditions have foreshadowed greater activity and improved prospects for the remainder of the year. There are many recent company announcements which show that investment projects are coming to fruition and that the corporate sector is having a welcome return to confidence in Australia’s long term economic potential. These very tangible gains have taken time to make. It is important that they are not lost through inappropriate policies.
Our own commitment to containing the size of the Budget deficit remains undiminished. This message contained in this statement needs to be clearly understood in all sectors of the community. Let me in addition, express the hope that both employers and trade unions in their approach to wages and related issues and industrial arbitral authorities in their determinations will accept the call for restraint which it embodies.
The widespread push towards higher wages is a development of particular concern. For that reason a heavy responsibility rests upon the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in approaching its decision in the current national wage case. It is imperative that the Commission should not jeopardise continued recovery by awarding another increase in award wages at this time.
For the Government’s part, it is our hope that these decisions announced tonight will provide a firm basis on which to construct the 1979-80 Budget and on which to further the gains from our economic policies.
That the Senate take note or the statement.
– Since it became known in the last day or so that this document would be presented to the Parliament tonight there has been a great deal of speculation as to what the document would contain. But I do not believe anyone imagined we would see such a miserable document as we have had put before us tonight. There is a uniqueness about the document in that never in the history of this country would any government have created the atmosphere of uncertainty as this Government has done tonight. Can honourable senators imagine this situation: The whole of the Australian community will have to wait until the Budget- until the end of this year- for this Government to make up its mind what it will do over the next 12 or 18 months. One would have assumed that a government that is in trouble would have at least thought its way through some sensible planned strategy to put before this Parliament tonight.
– But what–
– Yet if ever there was an example of ad hockery, on which Senator Walters would be an authority, in the history of this Parliament it is this Government.
It is unbelievable that a government would create additional uncertainty to that which is already apparent in the economy. The statement really leaves one almost speechless. Just listen to this utter garbage in the last paragraph of the statement:
For the Government’s part, it is our hope that these decisions announced tonight will provide a firm basis on which to construct the 1979-80 Budget and on which to further the gains from our economic policies.
How many times have we heard that in the last three years? The same thing is said in every Budget Speech. Every Budget Speech says that the economy is coming back; jobs are being created; and the business community is more confident. Yet this is the best that this Government can do.
Contained in the speech is the whole long sad story of all the promises we were given three years ago. Listen to some of them: We were going to halve the deficit; we were going to bring in full tax indexation; there were going to be jobs for all; we were not going to touch Medibank; we were going to maintain twice-yearly indexation of pensions; we were going to bring in trading stock allowances and keep them. The Government had a great urban program that it was going to keep but all that has been thrown out the window. According to the 1976 Budget speech we were to have a growth rate of between 6 per cent and 7 per cent. But what have we had in the last Vh years? We have had a growth rate of between 2 per cent and 3 per cent. The Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) told us tonight that the Government is basing its calculations on a growth rate of 4 per cent. We would like to see the evidence for this calculation. The Government was going to lower interest rates and retain wage indexation. The Government was going to do many things but it has done none of them. We have a whole catalogue of broken promises. Malcolm Fraser is the greatest expert that this country has ever seen when it comes to breaking promises.
Senator Carrick made some comment today about how unfortunate it was for me that I had to work under a disastrous Prime Minister. If ever there was a Leader of the Government in the Senate working under a disastrous Prime Minister it is Senator Carrick right now. We are told on page 17 the justification for the document presented tonight. The Minister stated:
We could have taken a final decision now about indexation and the surcharge, but we would have done so with incomplete knowledge about the total budgetary situation.
Imagine a government that has been in office for Vh years saying such a stupid thing as that! The Government has had control of the Treasury for Vh years, yet it cannot even tell us the State of the economy or the state of the public accounts. It is admitting that it does not know the position here and now in May of 1979. What a total absurdity. On page one it is said that the statement is being made now because it is necessary that measures should be in place by 1 July 1979 to achieve the maximum possible expenditure reduction’. Of course, therein lies the key to the statement.
I will not go through all this catalogue of woes. I will concentrate on two or three critical areas. My colleague, Senator Ryan, will deal later with matters pertaining to medical benefits, hospitals and so on. I will not trespass on that area. Some salutary warnings are given in the statement. For example, in respect of education -
Honourable senators interjecting-
– Order! The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be heard in reasonable silence from both sides of the chamber.
-Thank you, Mr President. I can understand honourable senators on the Government side interjecting. They did not expect that this document would be handed down tonight. They thought the decision about increasing taxation had been made on the weekend. In fact it was, but the Government did not have the gumption to go through with it. That is why we have this rubbish before us tonight. I turn to the area of education, for which the Minister who read the speech is responsible. The statement reads:
The Minister for Education will shortly issue detailed guidelines for the programs of the Education Commissions in 1980. These will show that programs have been more rigorously pruned than on any previous occasion.
– That is not what he has been telling us.
- Senator Gietzelt is so right. I sympathise with the Minister for Education. The poor man. He has been talking about what he is going to do for education ever since he got the job. Every year he has been screwed down by his colleague, Mr Fraser. Some of the most rigorous cuts in education have taken place in the last 3 years. Tonight we were told that the cuts coming up will be worse than the cuts on any previous occasion. I feel sympathy for education in this country, in particular because of the effects the cuts will have on school kids. A statement which appears on page 1 1 I regard almost as an insult. It reads:
Against the severity of these cuts there will be attempts to frighten people -
Just imagine. Who would not be frightened? receiving Commonwealth social security pensions and benefits and repatriation payments. These payments will be maintained by the Government. The fearmongers should be ignored.
Can anybody reasonably expect pensioners and other people in disadvantaged sections of the community not to be frightened when they know what this Government is doing? These payments will be maintained by the Government! No government has ever broken as many promises about what it would do as has this Government. How can one believe such a statement? The Government has broken promises about everything it said it would do. There has been a catalogue of woes ever since the Government has been in office. Yet the Government has the effrontery and gall to have the Minister put down a statement such as this in this chamber tonight. On page 12 the statement reads:
The Government’s attitude to expenditure restraint will be firmly in evidence in its approach at the forthcoming Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting.
There will not be one State Premier or Treasurer tonight who will sleep. Therein lies the very point we were debating in this place the other day. Therein lies the heart of what has gone wrong with this Government’s policy.
– Yes, exactly. The statement goes on to deal with the present revenue sharing arrangements with the States. It mentions the better deal the States have received. It says that they have had an increase of 14 per cent. This is an example of the cunning way in which these things are expressed in this statement:
In fact, in 1979-80 the States’ tax sharing entitlements are presently projected to increase by as much as 1 4 per cent.
But the statement does not say that those entitlements represent less than half of the total amount the States get. The other 55 per cent of funding will get a real chop in August. It will get the chop in the Premiers Conference in June. Senator Carrick is no longer the Minister responsible for Commonwealth-State relations but he was the architect who dreamed up the system of federalism. I make the prediction that at the Premiers Conference next month the states will get the greatest slashing of funds they have ever had from the Federal Government.
– The big screw.
– Exactly. It will make previous Premiers Conferences look like afternoon tea parties. Those cuts will be a cardinal factor in the inability of the economy to recover. I turn now to the income tax surcharge. I almost accuse this statement of being dishonest because on page 14, in an attempt to justify the retention of the 1.5 cents in the dollar surcharge, the Treasurer stated:
I do not for one moment disguise the fact -
As if anyone thought that he could- that the I.S cents increase imposed in the last Budget was expressed to be temporary. That was the intention at the time it was imposed. That was the expectation properly entertained by the Government at the time.
I say that that is an untruth. I cannot say it is a lie. The Minister representing the Treasurer in this chamber, and the Treasurer, have been asked on more than one occasion since that surcharge was imposed to give an undertaking that it would be taken off. We never got that undertaking because they never intended to take it off.
– That is not true.
– They never intended to do it. Senator Walters should go back to her apples. The Government imposed that 1.5 cent surcharge and it will stay. It is laughable to read on and recite some parts of the statement in the light of what we have been told in the past. Further on the Treasurer said:
Economic responsibility now dictates that the Government cannot allow this legislation to take its course.
The statement ought to read ‘economic irresponsibility’ because that is the tenor of this whole document. So we are left with the increase in taxation. Obviously it will be with us as long as this Government survives, just as the pensioners will receive once a year indexation of pensions. On page 1 5 the statement deals with the collections from increased personal income tax. I would have hoped that the Minister would have explained whether the $980m is the figure after the 40 per cent is deducted to go to the States. Under the present tax sharing arrangements the States are supposed to get 40 per cent of all personal income tax. Only today I asked the Minister for Education whether he would give a guarantee that under any taxation increase proposals the States would get their 40 per cent. He could not give that guarantee to me. That is something else the Premiers can try to sleep on tonight.
On the bottom of page 1 5 is a reference to the Government’s decision regarding tax indexation arrangements. After having followed the speech as it was delivered I cannot help but ask how many of these things one can believe. The whole of this speech illustrates the total uncertainty and the lack of direction that has now descended on this Government.
– And the callousness.
– That is an interesting and pertinent observation because wherever this Government cuts, it cuts where it hurts the most.
The people who are least able to look after themselves are the ones who suffer. We must give the Government some credit for the $3 a barrel levy on oil, but it was only in the 1976 Budget that it described any levies on oil as a retrograde step that was completely unjustified. The same applied to the coal levy. The stock valuation adjustment has gone and the business community will love that.
I have covered the points which I wish to deal with during the course of my remarks. It is quite obvious that this is a statement put down by a government which has run its course. It is a bankrupt government in every shape and form. It is clutching at straws now to try to keep the ship afloat. It takes me back to the policy speech by a man called Malcolm Fraser on 27 November 1975. At the end he said: ‘Turn on the lights’. Of course, the whole power system has failed. It is interesting that the Policy Speech said in part:
We have heard about a fair go for Labor. A fair go for the most hopeless Government in our history? . . A fair go for the party whose leaders- one after the other- deceived the Parliament?
I suggest that if ever those words were applicable to any government they are applicable to this one.
Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.
Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria-Minister for
Social Security)- I seek leave to make a statement concerning measures which the Government has decided to take in the health sphere, and to move a motion that the Senate take note of the statement.
– When the first person personal pronoun is used in the course of the statement it refers to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt).
The Treasurer (Mr Howard) has briefly outlined certain measures which the Government has decided to take in the health sphere. I will now amplify those measures and the reasons for their implementation.
With health costs accounting for nearly 8 per cent of gross domestic product- compared with less than 6 per cent six years ago- it has not been possible for the Government to ignore the significance of those costs in budgetary strategy. Although in the past three and a half years the
Government has made real and tangible progress in reducing markedly the rate of acceleration of increase in the nation’s health expenditure, costs are still far too high. Indeed the latest estimates of total health expenditure show that the rate of increase last financial year over 1976-77 was down to about 10.7 per cent. This compares with an increase of 14.1 per cent in 1967-77 over the previous year, and a massive 35 per cent growth the year before that. But I emphasise again that, acceptable and encouraging as the latest figures are, they are still not good enough. No Government of a country the size of ours relishes a national health bill of around $8 billion- for that is what the nation as a whole is facing in the current financial year.
Such a cost is particularly unacceptable at a time when the Government is faced with a continuing situation of economic difficulties, when- as the Treasurer has pointed out- the over-riding, all-important task is to come to grips with that situation. So I ask honourable senators to view these changes in the light of the Government’s overall budgetary strategy. They are a vital component of that strategy. Put in another way, the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to continue subsidising health costs at the present rate if the Budget deficit is to be kept at an acceptable level. But- and I emphasise this strongly- the Government is certainly not abdicating its essential responsibility. It will continue to give emphasis to the importance of less costly non-institutional care.
In addition, while reducing its level of direct subsidy towards the costs of medical careexcept for pensioners and the disadvantaged- it is making a real attempt to control expenditure in the most costly of health spheres- hospital care. Subject to the co-operation of the States in the achievement of these objectives, the Government will continue its support for less costly noninstitutional health care alternatives and preventive health programs, including the community health and school dental programs; and it is launching a boldly innovative program aimed at improving the general level of the nation’s health. Thus, while we are reducing the level of Government subsidy to individuals who are able to pay for medical costs, we are encouraging and sponsoring measures which will not only contain future cost escalation but should also lead to better health standards for the people.
Perhaps the single most important measure announced tonight, at least in terms of potential cost saving in the not-too-distant future, has been the Government’s plan to establish an inquiry to examine the efficiency and administration of hospitals throughout Australia. It is a well known and disturbing fact that some 60 per cent of Commonwealth expenditure on health services is absorbed by hospital services. Everyone involved in health care- and that includes the State governments- agrees that hospitals are disproportionately costly, that something ought to be done about it. This Government is doing something about it. The proposal to establish an inquiry is a positive first step towards establishing financial sanity in the hospital sphere.
Although the rate of growth in hospital costs has been slowed under the hospital cost-sharing agreements which the Fraser Government renegotiated with the States, actual costs have continued to rise. For example, in 1976-77- the first full year of operation of the agreements- the Commonwealth’s contribution was $873m. For the current financial year, it is estimated that the Commonwealth’s contribution will be $l,067m, an increase of some 22 per cent in the two year period.
The purpose of an inquiry would be to identify the factors behind existing rates of growth in public hospital expenditures, and ways in which those growth rates might be reduced. Evidence points to an oversupply of hospital beds in Australia, compared with other countries. In addition, there is a mal-distribution of beds. The over SUpply situation is reflected in the average bed occupancy rate in our hospitals. In Australia there is an average bed occupancy rate of only 68 percent. An inquiry would look at these issues.
The recent report ofthe South Australian Public Accounts Committee into the financial management of the hospital system in that State produced some disturbing information, particularly on the financial affairs of some South Australian hospitals. It is a matter of general concern for the community that it must get the best value possible in terms of health care for each dollar spent. Therefore, there is a real necessity for this complete review ofthe hospital system.
The Government will be discussing the inquiry with the States. We will commence the inquiry as soon as possible. An early report to the Government would be desirable in view of the expiry of most of the hospital cost-sharing agreements in mid- 1980. No doubt the inquiry will find much useful information in the booklet ‘Report on Rationalisation of Hospital Facilities and Services, and on Proposed New Charges- A Discussion Paper’. It has been prepared by a team of Commonwealth officials following a series of meetings with the States to examine measures to improve hospital productivity, efficiency and cost containment. For the information of honourable senators, I table the document. I circulated the discussion paper to the State and Northern Territory health Ministers on 2 March this year as a basis for further discussion. 1 emphasise that it has not been endorsed by the Commonwealth Government except as a discussion paper.
During the inquiry, the Government would wish that its contribution to operating costs of public hospitals for the 1979-80 financial year be held at the 1978-79 levels. I recognise that this constraint may have widespread effects on some States’ hospital systems. Early discussions between the Commonwealth and the States will look at this aspect. The Commonwealth will be seeking the participation and co-operation of the States to ensure that an inquiry will be fully successful in making recommendations to improve the efficiency of the hospital system.
Hospital In-patient Charges
In association with this matter, the Government has decided that the existing in-patient charges in recognised hospitals of $40 and $60 a day, for shared and private rooms respectively, should be increased to $50 and $75 a day from 1 September 1979. The State health Ministers in February 1978 agreed in principle that charges should be increased to these levels, and we are now seeking early formal confirmation from the States of their agreement to the new charges from 1 September this year, lt should be pointed out that the average cost of a hospital bed in Australia today is around $150 a day. Six years ago the cost was only about $4 1 a day, while in 1976, when the present bed charges of $40 and $60 were introduced, the average cost was about $120 a day. As at present, all Australian residents will continue to be eligible for standard ward hospital accommodation, with treatment by doctors engaged by the hospital, at no cost to themselves. And, of course, all residents will continue to be able to insure themselves for shared or private room accommodation in public hospitals, or for private hospital accommodation, and to be treated by a doctor of their choice. Detailed discussions on all the matters outlined, including the proposed hospital charges, will be held at a special conference to which I will invite all State Health Ministers in about two weeks time.
I turn now to the changes in respect of medical benefits, and the introduction on 1 September this year of a universal medical guarantee in relation to doctors fees over $20 for each schedule service. The basic features of the new measure can be summarised as follows:
A guarantee against higher-cost items of medical service will be available to all. Whilst the patient will be responsible for medical costs up to $20 for each schedule service, the Commonwealth will meet all except $20 of Medical Benefits Schedule fees above $20.
Pensioners with health benefits cards will continue to be eligible to receive a benefit of 85 per cent of the schedule fee for each medical service, with a maximum payment by the patient of $5 for any one service where the schedule fee is charged.
People classified by their doctors as disadvantaged will continue to be eligible to have their medical accounts bulk-billed at 75 per cent of the schedule fee so that they will not be asked to make any direct payment.
The changes, of course, apply also in respect of optometrical services which are encompassed in the health insurance scheme. Thus, whilst achieving a substantial saving in budgetary terms, the Government nevertheless is still guaranteeing universal protection against higher-cost items of medical service. In the light of the tight budgetary situation and the fact that health costs have to be met by one means or another, and in view of the wish of the majority of Australians to exercise freedom of choice in health care, the Government believes the proposals to be realistic and inescapable.
Effect on Health Insurance Contribution Rates
From I September this year, the Government will require health insurance funds to maintain the current level of benefit in the basic medical table- that is, 75 per cent of the schedule fee. with a maximum payment by the patient of $10 for each service where the schedule fee is charged. Quite obviously, contribution rates for this basic table will rise. Such increases will vary between States and individual funds, but departmental estimates- and I emphasise that they are only estimates- indicated that rises could be of the order of between $1.50 a week and $2.50 a week, depending on the States. Those sums would relate to family contributions to the basicmedical table. If funds maintain the current level of benefit for supplementary tables- that is, up to 100 per cent benefits- contribution rates for those tables will, of course, also increase.
In respect of the proposed new hospital inpatient charges, hospital insurance contribution rates would also need to rise for both basic and supplementary tables. Again, the extent of the increases would vary between States and funds. However, the basic weekly family table contribution rates for hospital cover are estimated and again 1 emphasise estimated- to rise by amounts ranging from between 65c to about 90c, and for supplementary tables by from 90c to about $1.20 a week. The medical benefits changes mean that those who elect to remain uninsured will pay the full cost out of their own pockets where the schedule fee is $20 or less.
The best advice I can give such people is that they should weigh up their personal circumstances carefully and decide whether it is in their best financial interest to remain uninsured or to take out medical insurance with a private fund. No doubt, the funds will be quickly assessing the new position and making early announcement of their revised rates, so that individuals will be able to decide their best course of action. Arrangements will be made so thai the two-month waiting period for benefits normally applied to basic medical tables operated by health insurance funds will be waived between I September and 31 October this year, to enable people who enrol in that period to receive benefits immediately.
It is inevitable that the measures 1 have outlined will attract criticism. Certainly, many people will be affected by them, although 1 would emphasise that pensioners and those classified by doctors as disadvantaged will not be affected. I would remind the critics again of the budgetary reasons behind our decisions, and remind them too that the Commonwealth Government will provide a universal guarantee against medical items with a schedule lee of more than $20. Our approach in all these matters is consistent with the philosophy 1 have so frequently expressed- that health costs must be met by the community by one means or another, either by the payment of taxes, levies or premiums, through direct payments, or by a combination of these means. The community cannot escape the bill.
During the 1977-78 financial year, the Commonwealth spent an estimated $2. 682m on health- an expenditure of about $189 for every man. woman and child. This was in addition to the $124 a person spent by State and local government while $191 a person was provided by private and individual sources This is a massive total of $504 for every person in Australia. But as I said earlier, whilst the Commonwealth is now moving to reduce its expenditure, it is not abdicating its essential responsibility. I would remind critics, too, of the real financial contribution that the Government is making and will continue to make, towards health costs in so many other spheres- for instance the community health program and school dental scheme. I would mention, too, our real contribution to medical research and to research in many spheres of health care delivery through my Department’s research and development grants; our continuing assistance to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, and the home nursing subsidy scheme; our substantial annual grants Ibr family planning and drug education.
Another major contribution is being made through the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme which is proving of real value to outback dwellers in need of specialist medical treatment. In this regard, I am pleased to be able to announce that it is proposed to rectify a number of anomalies identified in a recent review. In brief, the present requirement to obtain prior approval before the patient travels is to be removed and escorts will be automatically approved for children under 17 years travelling for treatment, instead of under 14 years as at present; and it is also proposed that certain off-shore islands be exempted from the rule which prohibits assistance to people living less than 200 kilometres from a specialist and that the definition of non-isolated areas be changed.
Tonight I wish to announce an exciting new Commonwealth initiative which will commence in the new financial year- the national health promotion program for which the Government will be allocating an initial $500,000. 1 think honourable senators generally will be aware that in spite of Australia’s huge national expenditure on the provision and delivery of health care services, the overall health of Australians is not improving. A significant contributing factor to this situation has, I believe, been the widespread acceptance by the community of unhealthy lifestyles and the diseases they cause. I am pleased to say. however, that there is an emerging recognition of the association of these behavioural patterns wilh ill health, and of the fact thai to a large extent such ill health can bc prevented by personal effort. There are some hopeful signs thai the community is now ready to accept Mich a change, and it is against this background that the Government has agreed to place increasing emphasis on health promotion, as opposed to the more traditional ‘curative ‘ emphasis.
The $500,000 will be used to develop a broadbused health promotion program which will portray health as a valuable asset to be preserved by each individual. It will emphasise both selfreliance and co-operation with others in improving health status; it will illustrate how health status can be improved, and disease and injury avoided; and it will demonstrate that health promotion relates to lifestyle behavioural patterns. It will seek to motivate health practitioners, managements, unions, education authorities, community organisations and community leaders to participate in the program and promulgate its objectives. This initiative, I believe, represents the most challenging, and potentially the most important, contribution to health care in the history of Australia. It signposts the new direction in which this Government believes we should be heading, with the focus changing from cure to prevention. It is my sincere hope that honourable senators on both sides of the House will give their support to the program. As I stated earlier, such a measure must lead not only to better health for every Australian but also, as a consequence, to the eventual containment- and even perhaps a reduction in real terms- of rising health costs. And that, surely, must be a common objective for every Australian. The Government, in making these changes to health insurance and in tackling the mounting costs of hospital administration, is also giving a new emphasis to cheaper non-institutional health care alternatives and preventive health. 1 commend the changes to the Senate and move:
Thai the Senate take note ofthe statement.
– On behalf of the Opposition, I rise to make a response to the statement just put down by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) on behalf of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). Indeed, my duty is a most onerous one. The statement we have just heard is a disaster for the health standards of Australian citizens, lt completes the destruction ofthe universal health insurance system to which the Labor Government was committed and lo which on many occasions we had been led to believe that the Fraser Government was also committed. What is contained in the statement before us is a scandal. First of all, the subsidy for primary health care has gone. There will now be a requirement on all patients to pay the first $20 themselves.
– Not all patients. Tell the truth, for heaven’s sake.
– The subsidy for preventive health care is gone.
– What about the pensioners? Tell the truth.
– I understand the anxiety of Government senators to try to disguise and to confuse the effect of the statement. The fact is that the subsidy for primary health care has gone. The fact is that people will be forced into private health funds, whether or not they can afford to join them.
– No, they won’t; they will be buried.
– As Senator Cavanagh says, they might be buried.
– Or Medibank.
– There is no Medibank left, Senator Teague. There are only private health funds, and the scale of rates for insuring with them will increase on an average by $3.50 a week.
– What about pensioners? You are just ignoring them.
– 1 will endeavour to ignore Senator Walters. The statement before us has failed to attack the fundamental cause of rising health costs throughout Australia, which is the fee for service payments of doctors at hospitals. The effect of the statement is thoroughly inequitable in that it in no way is related to the ability of people to pay. The statement is put forward with an economic rationale, but let us look at the economic argument that has been put forward. The total saving represented by the measures introduced tonight will be $38 lm in the financial year. Does a saving of $381 m justify the disruption that will occur to health services throughout Australia and the extreme inequality in the way the new burdens will fall upon the community? How can it be justified in economic terms- in terms of the Government’s own strategy of reducing inflation- when the cost of private insurance will go up by $3.50 a week?
– Two dollars.
– It will be $3.50 a week. Health insurance and medical insurance will increase, according to the Government’s own statement- which may well be inaccurate- by $3.50 a week. This increase will be made up of $1 plus $1.50 for the other charge. That represents an increase of 1.3 per cent in the consumer price index. How are we to interpret the statements of a government which, on the one hand, insists regularly and at tedious length that it wishes to reduce inflation and, on the other hand, imposes this burden on the community which will result in a 1.3 per cent increase in inflation.
I claimed at the outset that the subsidy for primary health care has gone. That claim caused great shrieks of disagreement or surprise or consternation from Government senators, and in particular Senator Walters. I will explain what I mean. Under the new arrangements the patient will be required to pay the first $20 of any schedule fee. What does that mean? It means that the cost of every visit to the general practitioner will be borne by the patient. There will be no subsidy paid because the fee is less than $20. Every visit to a specialist falls into the same category because at this stage that fee is still less than $20. So primary health care, which is the first stop at the general practitioner, is no longer subsidised.
– Which means that people won’t take it.
- Senator Tate has pointed out exactly what the effect will be. The effect will be that people will put off that first visit to the general practitioner. People will put off the second or third visit to the general practitioner after an initial visit because they will have to bear the costs entirely themselves.
– Or they will take out health insurance.
– We will get to that alternative. Where is the sense in destroying the subsidy to primary health care? I quote from the National Health and Medical Research Council Discussion Paper 1978. It reads:
I submit that that is exactly what will happen as a result of the $20 payment requirement. The discussion paper goes on to say: . . it is seldom too early to report a serious illness.
People will not report a serious illness early enough to get proper care if they cannot afford to pay ibr the doctor’s fee. The discussion paper continues:
Primary care accounts for only IU percent of total health expenditure and. if reduced access to primary care caused even a marginal rise in the incidents of advanced disease, the savings would be illusory.
I submit that the saving of $381 m from these new measures will be illusory because people will put off going for their primary care. They will put off going to the doctor until they are seriously ill. As a result the community will bear the cost. That does not take into account the social costs that the family will have to bear. I remind the Senate that it is not only the pensioners or the disadvantaged- although I will deal with those later- who cannot afford to pay. I remind honourable senators who seem to find this a surprising idea that a family on an average income, with three or four children, going through a period of illness, will find having to pay for every visit to the general practitioner or every referral to a specialist, an intolerable burden.
The Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, claims in his statement that, despite these new impositions and new costs, the Government will offer continued support for less costly, non-institutional care, including community health and school dental programs. That was a claim made in the statement delivered tonight, but how seriously can we accept this promise when we look at what happened in the last Budget? There were cuts in those very services which the Minister for Health pretends that he is going to maintain. These cuts were announced at the Premiers Conference of 22 June last year. There was a cut in the allocation for welfare housing of $70m; a cut in hospital funding of $42. 6m; a cut in the allocation for the school dental scheme of $5.1 m; a cut in community health funding of $7m; and a cut in funding for children’s services of $7m. All of those items impinge on community care.
It is quite clear that the Government is not maintaining the level of its assistance to the noninstitutional care. Funding in that area has been cut along with everything else. The end result will be poorer health for the community. People will delay going to the doctor and they will become seriously ill; and there will not be community facilities to support them. I will give one example concerning the school health system. Community nurses have reported to Opposition senators that when a medical complaint for a school child is diagnosed the parents are notified so that the first stage of primary care can be entered into. But the parents do not follow the advice of the school nurse because they cannot afford the next step. There is a case where the community services are being reduced to the point where the whole purpose of their existence is lost.
Mr Hunt claims that there will be a continuation of the special subsidy for pensioners and disadvantaged persons. Senator Walters has made much of that in her interjections. The Minister’s implication, and the implication of other Government senators who have spoken, is that the provision of the benefit, the disadvantaged category, covers all the people who cannot afford to pay. I say quite clearly and simply that it does not. There are many people who, because of temporary or particular circumstances, cannot afford to pay the full price but who do not fit into the category which many doctors are prepared fo classify as disadvantaged. Any member of parliament who claims that that is not the case must be out of touch with the Australian electorate.
A recently reported survey of doctors in the Bathurst region to see how they were responding to this new category of disadvantage showed that only two doctors were classifying patients as disadvantaged. That is just one example of how this disadvantaged category is not offering security to all people who cannot afford to pay.
– Doctors are not trained social welfare assessors.
– Indeed. In my electorate of the Australian Capital Territory, which is regarded by many people as being an above average electorate in terms of the ability of people to pay, I have had many complaints from constituents who have not been able to get the disadvantaged category. I have taken this up with the Capital Territory Health Commission. I have asked it what the guidelines are. I have asked it to give me information so that I can advise my constituents as to which doctors are prepared to make a realistic application for the disadvantaged category. I have had no satisfactory response. I have simply had from the Health Commission the bland statement that the guidelines are being considered and that doctors have to make the decision. That statement is totally unsatisfactory.
– Are you saying that doctors in the Australian Capital Territory are just not doing it?
– Some are and some are not, Senator Walters. But what do you do if you have got very sick children? You cannot run around from doctor to doctor. It is a totally unsatisfactory situation and no member who is in touch with his or her electorate could claim that the disadvantaged category is catching all those people who cannot afford to pay full medical costs.
Clearly, because of the measures outlined tonight, people will be forced into joining private health funds. I remind the Senate just how wasteful and inefficient is the operation of private health funds. Again I quote from a report of the Health Insurance Commission of 1976-77. It found that the expenses of administering Medibank Standard constituted 4.2 per cent of the cost of benefits paid. The administration expenses of administering private health insurance constituted 1 5.7 per cent of benefits paid.
– That is wrong.
– That comes from a report of the Health Insurance Commission, Senator Teague. It demonstrates that the administrative costs of private health insurance funds are very much higher than Medibank. It is quite clear, at least to Opposition senators, that the cost of administering private health funds is much higher than was the cost of administering Medibank standard, which no longer exists. Therefore people will be forced into expensive, inefficient and wasteful private health funds. We hear from the Government tonight that there is to be an inquiry into hospitals. The Government is concerned about the inefficiency and wastefulness of hospitals. Indeed, the Opposition shares the Government’s concern.
It is my contention that the real escalation of costs in hospital care arises from the system of fee for service payments for private doctors operating in hospitals. No suggestion is made in the statement that there will be any attempt to contain those costs. Instead, the Government will be looking at bed occupancy. That is well and good. The Government says in its statement that there is only 65 per cent occupancy of hospital beds. Maybe that is too low. I would suggest that if the Government thinks that simply by reducing the number of beds in public hospitals it is doing anything to improve the health standards of the community it is quite wrong. In fact, if it becomes an objective of the Government to reduce the number of beds available in hospitals, I suggest that that will increase the health problems of the community because the community is now denied primary care. If people are seriously sick they will go to the hospital and find that there is no bed available for them.
I would like honourable senators to consider why it is- in some cases, at least- that there is a low occupancy rate of beds in public hospitals. In my electorate there is a serious problem which is identified as an oversupply of hospital beds. When you go to the hospital and speak to the administrators and the people working there they say that the real problem is staff ceilings. The beds are unoccupied because the staff is not available to service those beds. In the Australian Capital Territory, for example, there is a very serious problem- a lack of available geriatric beds for geriatric nursing. But the hospitals cannot use their empty beds for geriatric nursing because there is no staff to service those beds. I just caution that any inquiry into hospital beds should take account of staff ceiling policy and not simply count the beds and adopt the same policy towards hospital beds as the Government has adopted towards the staff of the public service.
The statement brought down this evening on behalf of the Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, is only the last of a series of disasters by Mr Hunt which the Australian public has been forced to put up with. For example, in 1976 Mr Hunt said that health maintenance organisations would move in and start to take over a lot of health costs. Here we are in 1 979 and what do we have? We have no health maintenance organisations. In 1976 Mr Hunt announced that the Australian Medical Association was to do its own peer review of prices charged by doctors in order to reduce costs. Here we are in 1 979 and we have no peer review with.regard to costs and no decline in doctors fees. Every move by the Government, with Mr Hunt as Minister for Health, has been a move against the patient.
I remind the Senate of other things that Mr Hunt has said in his inglorious career as Minister for Health in this country. In 1978, when he announced the last lot of changes to Medibank preceding this lot, he said that the 40 per cent refund that was to be general and permanent was ‘practical and desirable’. If the 40 percent refund was practical and desirable in 1978, why is it no longer practical and desirable? Mr Hunt also said:
Medibank introduced the concept of medical benefits regardless of means. This principle is being retained.
That situation certainly no longer applies. Mr Hunt said in 1978:
No one will bc obliged to privately insure.
As those Government senators who have been interjecting so vigorously have pointed out, people will have to privately insure. All we have heard all night from Government senators is: Let them privately insure’; even though Mr Hunt promised that no one would be obliged to privately insure. In 1978 Mr Hunt said:
My Government recognises that an important key to the containment of health costs rests in the hospital area. It is therefore vigorously pursuing the rationalisation initiatives . . .
The only rationalisation in the statement before us tonight is abdication of responsibility. The Government will make the States pay more. Mr Hunt also said in 1 978:
In summary, the revised Medibank arrangements will provide a better and simpler system of universal health insurance for all Australians.
What has happened? The universal health insurance system has been abolished and everything has been handed over to the private funds. I will conclude now, although there are many other criticisms the Opposition could make. I know that all members of the Opposition and, I believe, the Australian public generally will continue the health insurance debate. I believe that the measures brought down tonight- the destruction of the universal health insurance scheme, the removal of subsidy for primary health care and preventive care- will be totally unacceptable to the Australian public. They will be as unacceptable to the Australian public as they are to the Opposition.
I recognise that the debate this evening is only the beginning. The Opposition will continue to agitate for a restoration of universal health insurance and it will have the support of the community in doing so. At the earliest possible opportunity the Opposition will overturn the inequitable, irrational and, economically, totally unjustified measures which will do nothing other than to add to the burden of health costs and create a situation in which the health of the Australian community must necessarily suffer.
Motion ( by Senator Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the debate be now adjourned and that the resumption or the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
– I rise on a point of order. This is the same motion as that moved earlier by Senator Carrick. I understand that an adjournment motion is not debatable but that a motion that the adjourned debate be made an order of the day for some other time is debatable. What is the position when a Minister combines both motions for the purpose of putting a complete gag on debate about when we should next discuss this matter? I do not know how to proceed and I am seeking a ruling on this matter. The motion before the Chair is that the debate be now adjourned and the adjourned debate made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. Can 1 speak to that motion? Is it a debatable motion?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There are in effect two motions. The question referable to the adjournment should be put first.
Motion ( by Senator Guilfoyle) agreed to:
That the debate be now adjourned.
Motion ( by Senator Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
– I rise on the question of whether the debate should be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting or whether the debate should be adjourned to a later hour this night. We have still an hour to go this evening before the normal sessional order applies and the question is put that the House do now adjourn. However, as it is not necessary to carry the adjournment motion at that time, there is still time available to debate this statement. I realise that after the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) presented the statement our spokesman, or spokesperson, replied, and that for some reason or other the Government may want to bring on more business. The Opposition should not interfere with this process. However we have not had any indication of what this other business might be. If it is possible to debate the document tonight and if the Senate wishes to do it, we should have before us a motion that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
The Senate must realise that there are a lot of Government senators as well as most senators on this side who represent the less fortunate people in our community- the impoverished, the sick and the ill. The statement we have just heard was a repetition of the one which was made before it. Surely we are not going to sit by passively without voicing a protest at the Government trying to finance its incompetence through the sick in our nation. I acknowledge the point Senator Walters was trying to make. There are some who under this legislation will not be further disadvantaged. Such people include pensioners who have a medical benefit card and those who can get a doctor to describe them as disadvantaged and so get free medicine. What the Government seems to be suggesting is that we should stop saving money and stop all benefits so that a married couple can retire as pensioners on less than $33 a week. In other words, we will not let the impoverished die without a doctor there to hold their hand but in respect of those married couples who are not absolutely impoverished, who do not earn less than $33 a week, who cannot afford a doctor and who are costing the Government, it is preferable to pay undertakers’ costs. This is a matter that the Senate should debate tonight.
I am sure that everyone on this side of the House represents constituents who may do all right under this system just announced until such time as illness occurs in the family. There is no person on a low or medium income who can, without receiving medical benefits, stand up to the financial pressure when sickness occurs in the family circle. He is told that his alternative is to join a medical benefits fund but to the low wage earner the weekly medical benefits subscription is prohibitive. The Labor Government brought in Medibank because 90,000 people were not covered by health insurance. They could not afford it. People on low or middle incomes cannot afford weekly payments to Medibank at the present time. They live in hope that they will not get sick but unfortunately some do. So sickness which would be of short duration if proper medical care were available becomes a long illness. They cannot afford a doctor and have to ignore the medical advice that is available. They have to suffer it out in the hope that it will cure itself. We will create a population of sick and invalided through this new scheme.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! Senator Cavanagh, I must ask you whether you intend moving an amendment. The motion before the Senate is that the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
– I have been trying to relate my remarks to my opposition to this motion. I will move an amendment.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I cannot allow you to debate the statement. I must either put the question or you must move an amendment.
– By way of amendment, I move:
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Do you want to speak to your amendment, Senator Cavanagh?
– Yes. I am endeavouring to point out the importance of this matter to honourable senators, and I do not restrict that remark to honourable senators on this side. We have a population which is anxious to know what its position will be.
– I rise on a point of order. I am interested in the honourable senator’s amendment. Would it assist him if he had an indication that the Government is prepared to accept his amendment? Is there any need to continue the debate?
– With the trust one can place in this Government one could not accept the assurance of any Government senator. I do not have any faith in Senator Baume ‘s guarantee of the acceptance of the amendment by his colleagues. I am hoping that honourable senators in the chamber and those who are listening to the debate in their offices will have enough sympathy for the sick in our society to vote for the amendment that the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. I know that the Minister for Social Security is very concerned about and embarrassed by. the statement she had read tonight. I think that she put up a fight on behalf of the people that her Department services. I also recognise the necessity for the Government to exercise certain restraints to cover up its incompetence, the inflationary trend and the deficit which this Government’s Budget has created.
My contention is that we must dispose of the question and reject the proposal contained in the statement made tonight, which would make the sick and injured pay for the Government’s incompetence. That is my whole concern. I did not voice it in relation to the previous statement, because it was a taxation matter- although I do not agree with it. But making the sick and injured pay is something that I do not think we can tolerate. I am of the opinion that the greatest protest should be made. An attempt is being made tonight to take away from me my right to go through the statement, as I desire to do, by means of the motion that the debate be adjourned, which was carried. The issue is of such importance that I feel that we must show why a further injustice is added in that we are not to be permitted to debate this matter tonight.
I want to say one more thing. The Government has used the disclosure by the State PublicAccounts Committee of waste in public hospital administration in South Australia. The South Australian Government has since done everything possible to tighten up its operations so that there will be no recurrence of that waste. Following the Committee’s finding, I think we must admit that the waste occurred. Every State and every invalid in the Commonwealth is to be penalised because some waste occurred in South Australia. Is this on any basis of justice?
– It is a stunt.
Senator CAVANAGH Of course it is a stunt. The Government will grasp at any excuse. Because some admitted waste occurred in the small State of South Australia, the State which has the most efficient service and which does not have waste is to have its funds reduced further. This is the Government’s method of hiding its incompetence. Surely we, as people representing constituents, are not going to submit to this. We know that we cannot bring the Government down, but surely this is a situation that political representatives other than Mr Haslem would never tolerate. Therefore we should oppose it. I oppose the motion that the resumption of this debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting
– I have noted the amendment moved by Senator Cavanagh. I indicate-
– I raise a point of order. The Minister has already spoken.
-I have not spoken to the amendment. I am now speaking to the amendment. I just wished to indicate that we accepted it.
– I am taking a point of order. There ought to be some sort of responsible attitude to debate in this Parliament. I am seeking your ruling, Mr Deputy President. If the Minister speaks now, will the debate on this amendment be closed?
The DEPUTY PRES1DENT-I ask Senator Keeffe to resume his seat. The Minister is speaking. I call the Minister.
- Mr Deputy President, as 1 said, 1 have noted the amendment moved by Senator Cavanagh. I am speaking to the amendment that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day, and I indicate that the Government accepts it. As has been mentioned, the Government has business with which it wishes the Senate to deal. Taxation Bills are in the course of discussion and, I think, ready to go into the Committee stage. If debate on those Bills is completed, the Government, in accordance with the amendment which has been moved and which it is prepared to accept, will resume the debate on the statement which I have made on behalf of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). I wish simply to indicate that at this stage. I do not resist the amendment. In fact, the Government accepts it.
– 1 seconded the amendment moved by Senator Cavanagh and reserved my right to speak, which I desire to do now. The Senate is debating the motion proposed by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) that the resumption of the debate on the statement she put down be made an order of the day for- the next day of sitting, to which Senator Cavanagh has moved an amendment that the resumption ofthe debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. The Minister has said that she accepts the amendment. That means that I am now entitled to speak to it. As Senator Cavanagh has pointed out, it would be remiss of us Opposition senators if we did not continue the debate on this statement tonight, in view ofthe fact that, on behalf of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), the Minister for Social Security made a statement in this chamber tonight to the effect that Medibank is to be completely destroyed, despite the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) gave a categorical assurance in the 1975 election campaign- it was one of the main points of his platform- that Medibank would not be interfered with.
– I raise a point of order. The Senate is debating a proposed amendment to the motion that the adjourned debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. The proposed amendment is that the adjourned debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. The honourable senator is now debating the substance of the matter on which debate has been adjourned. In my submission, he should be asked to restrict himself to the subject matter of the amendment which is before the Senate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- 1 uphold Senator Chaney ‘s point of order. If Senator McLaren has anything to add I ask him to confine his remarks strictly to the words of the amendment- an amendment which, it has already been indicated is acceptable to the Government.
-I have something to add, Mr Deputy President. I find it very hard to confine my remarks in accordance with the very narrow strictures which Senator Chaney wishes to put upon me. I am trying to point out to the State tonight the reason why the amendment moved by Senator Cavanagh ought to be carried and why the debate ought to be made a priority for a later hour this day. To do that I have to make some reference to the reasons why the Opposition has moved the amendment. It is important that this statement be debated later this evening because our constituents expect us to object to the Government’s repudiation of its election promises. How can I speak to the amendment if I am not allowed to do that? The very purpose behind Senator Cavanagh ‘s moving the amendment is to prove to the electors at large that we are concerned that tonight the Government has put down a statement which repudiates completely promises made by the Prime Minister.
– I rise on another point of order. Again, the honourable senator is debating the statement. In my submission, he has put a view as to why he wants the matter debated tonight rather than at a later time. It” he goes on to discuss the ments of the statement, in my submission he is out of order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I uphold Senator Chaney’s point of order as he first expressed it. If Senator McLaren has anything to add which relates to the adjournment of the debate to a later hour this day, he may do so; otherwise I propose to put the amendment.
- Mr Deputy President. I feel that Senator Chaney is endeavouring to restrict me in my explanation of why this statement should be debated. Senator Guilfoyle, the Minister who is responsible for the statement in this chamber, has already said that she agrees to the amendment. If she has given the assurance that we can debate the statement later tonight. 1 accept it and I will have nothing further to say at this stage.
- Mr Deputy President -
– I raise a point of order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- 1 call Senator Chaney.
– If there is a point of order, 1 will defer.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I call Senator Cavanagh.
– On a point of order: I think Senator McLaren was under a misapprehension when he decided that he had nothing further to say. He was trying to point out the essential reasons for discussing this statement tonight. Senator Guilfoyle has given us an assurance that the debate will be resumed tonight after some. taxation Bills- other disasters- have been presented to us. Everyone knows that there will be no time. That is why 1 would not accept the word of Senator Baume. Senator Guilfoyle ‘s promise is as valuable as Mr Malcolm Fraser’s promises. Everyone knows that it will have no application.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order!
– Therefore, Senator McLaren, who represents and lives in an area where there are many sick and impoverished people, wants to put the point of view of those people, that we should be debating the statement tonight. He put that point of view and he sat down pursuant to a promise which has no effect and which can never be brought into operation.
– On the point of order, Mr Deputy President: No point of order has been raised. The honourable senator sat down pursuant to your ruling that he had to be relevant to the motion before the Chair 1 submit that there is no point of order, and 1 then wish to speak to the amendment.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT There is no point of order. (Quorum formed.)
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Senator Keeffe.
- Mr Deputy President, I think I have the call
– Who has the call- he or I?
– I wish to speak to the amendment.
Senator Keeffe Do I have the call or does Senator Chaney have it0
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT Senator Chaney has it.
– With respect to the amendment before the Senate, all that I wish to say is that the statement made by Senator Guilfoyle was somewhat changed in the version which was put before the Senate by Senator McLaren. That has since been corrected by Senator Cavanagh, who correctly stated what had been said by Senator Guilfoyle, which was that the Government proposed to proceed, on the carriage of this motion, with the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill ( No 2 ), and the Income Tax (Mining Withholding Tax) Bill which were before the Senate before the suspension of the sitting’ II” those Bills were disposed of the Government would be prepared to come back to the debate on the statement
Senator Bishop That is not the motion. That has nothing to do with the argument.
-1 am just explaining what was put before the Senate at an earlier time. If we complete those Bills before 10 30, debate on those statements can be resumed I now move:
That Hie question bc now put
- -Mr President. 1 had the call before the Minister and the -Minister was able to ge, the call in from of me
– On a point of order.
Senator Keeffe I think it is quite unfair for the Minister then to get up and move a gag. Democracy has just Mown out the window if the Minister got the call in order 10 move a gag.
-My apologies, ‘ Senator Keeffe, but I have just relumed to the chamber. The Minister has moved “That the question be now put’. That question has to be put immediately.
– Even though I had the call first?
– The call was given to the Minister.
– I rise to a point of order. A point of order was taken by Senator Chaney. My colleague, Senator Keeffe, sought to speak on the point of order.
– No. You have it all wrong.
– Let me be heard. Senator Chaney was speaking to a point of order.
– And at the end of his argument he moved the gag.
– He cannot do that.
– If I might be heard. Mr President, Senator Chaney was speaking to a point of order and before you had been given the opportunity to rule on that point of order Senator Chaney moved ‘That the question be now put’. If I might say so, with respect, how can the question be put when you have not determined whether there is substance to the point of order?
– Let me clarify the situation. At what point did you come into the debate, Mr Minister?
– A point of order was taken earlier, which was dealt with by the Deputy President. I then commenced to speak, having obtained the call, to the amendment itself. I made it quite clear that I was speaking to the amendment. I indicated that I wished to say no more on the amendment before the Senate than was needed to clarify what had been said by Senator Guilfoyle, which was misrepresented by Senator McLaren, perhaps unintentionally. Senator McLaren was subsequently corrected by Senator Cavanagh. In fact, we were beyond any point of order. I spoke to the amendment and then moved ‘That the question be now put’.
- Mr President–
– Please be seated, Senator Keeffe.
- Mr President, are you going to rule me out of order totally? I have tried to do two things tonight.
– When I rise you must be seated. As I ascertain the situation it is that the Minister was speaking, not to a point of order, but to the motion. He got the call on that. He then moved ‘That the question be now put’. Therefore, I can do nothing else but put the question.
Mr President, it is unfortunate that you came in at this point and took the chair from the Deputy President. I must explain the situation. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) was in a state of total confusion. He did not know whether he was speaking to the point of order, to the amendment, or to the original question. Let us be quite frank about it. When my colleague. Senator McLaren, seconded the amendment he reserved his right to speak. He exercised that right at a later hour. Because of the seriousness of this matter he wanted to have it debated tonight, as did Senator Cavanagh. The Minister is probably inexperienced- I am going to be quite’ charitable about it- but he was totally confused and did not know whether he was speaking to the amendment, a point of order or to the original question. I wanted to get the call on two occasions and both times I was overlooked. 1 a innot blaming you for it, Sir, because you came in during the middle ofthe debate and you did not know the order of speakers when you took the chair. In the circumstances I feel that, in order to uphold a long-standing practice of this chamber. I must move dissent from your ruling.
If the matter were not so important, I would not be doing such a drastic thing. But tonight u paper has been put down in this place by Senator Guilfoyle which will result in the premature deaths of probably hundreds of people in this country because medical attention will bc reduced in an attempt to reduce the deficit, which has got out of control. It is not my fault, it is not the fault of the Opposition, it is not the fault of the people outside who are ill and it is not the fault of the new-born babies on the Aboriginal settlements that this paper has been brought down by this Government.
– I rise to a point of order. J draw your attention to Standing Order 429.
– I am well aware of it. No point of order is required to be raised. I have endeavoured quickly to ascertain that which has transpired during my absence from the chamber. Please be seated while I am speaking Senator Keeffe. I am assured that the Minister was given the call. Under the Standing Orders, once a person has been given the call to speak to a motion, not to raise a point of order, there is nothing that 1 can do but put the question if he moves ‘That the question be now put’. Dissent from my ruling is not directly involved in this situation because I am interpreting the Standing Orders as they exist. The fact that the Minister was called and not you, Senator Keeffe, has led to a situation in which I can only interpret the Standing Orders as they exist.
– But Senator McLaren was sat down when speaking to a point of order. He had not finished speaking to it.
-The Tacts before me are that the Minister had the call. He spoke not to the point oT order but to the motion.
-But the call was with Senator McLaren.
– I rise to a point of order.
- Senator Keeffe is speaking. I would like to hear what he has to say.
– I regret very much having to move dissent. 1 have not done it before in all the years that 1 have been in this House. I regret that I have to pursue my motion of dissent from your ruling. I have to take this action because of a number of things that have happened.
- Mr President. I rise to order. Under Standing Order 429 -
– I will not sit down. You can have me thrown out if you want to. 1 would appreciate it if you would.
– Standing Order 429 requires that if an objection is taken to the ruling such objection must be taken at once and in writing.
-The motion has to be in writing and seconded.
Senator Keeffe having submitted his motion in writing–
– The objection is in writing. I have complied with the Standing Orders. 1 know that this has been an emotional night because of the disastrous things that have happened in this Parliament tonight.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order Standing Order 429 requires that if that motion is seconded, as I understand it has been -
– I have seconded the motion. I intend to move the subsequent motion to enable this matter to be discussed tonight.
– Standing Order 429 requires that debate shall be forthwith adjourned to the next sitting day unless the Senate decides on motion without debate that the question requires immediate determination. Mr President. 1 draw your attention to Standing Order 429. 1 believe that the Senate should act on that Standing Order.
Motion ( by Senator Cavanagh) proposed:
That the question requires immediate determination.
– This matter is becoming most involved. Before any major motion is dealt with I would like to point out that when I came into the chamber a query was before the Chair as to whether the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was speaking to a point of order or to a motion whether he had received the call to speak to a motion or on a point 01 order. I am told that he received the call to speak to a motion.
– No. You were misinformed.
-As all honourable senators know, I try to be fair in this place. I received an assurance that Senator Chaney was speaking to a motion and, under those circumstances, I could do nothing else but rule in the way I did. Senator Chaney moved: ‘That the question be put’. 1 am clearly required to follow the correct practice of this place and to lake the action I have taken. A motion of dissent from my ruling has been moved. However, the only matter to be determined is whether Senator Chaney was speaking to a point of order or whether he was speaking to a motion. Therefore 1 think that we might calm down and deal with this matter in a common sense way. This place has to work. During my period as President 1 have tried to ensure that this place works amicably I have sought to give everyone a fair go. 1 think that this matter could be approached in this atmosphere.
- Mr President, I rise to order. How does one approach this matter? Obviously Senator Keeffe should not be the victim of your ruling, as well intended as it was, when it was based on information supplied to you; you were not in possession of all the facts. The information supplied to you is disputed by a number of honourable senators on this side of the chamber. I am submitting that Senator Keeffe received the call from Senator Scott. Senator Chaney rose to speak on a point of order and therefore had precedence over Senator Keeffe. The Minister then went on to discuss the Bill and at the end of his remarks he moved that the question be put. If your ruling is that Senator Chaney was acting within his rights when he moved that the question be put 1 think you must accept a motion of dissent from your ruling which has been moved in accordance with Standing Orders.
- Mr President, I rise on the same point of order. While you were absent from the chamber, I was speaking to Senator Cavanagh ‘s amendment which I had seconded. I had sought an assurance from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), after Senator Chaney had twice interrupted my speech, that she would allow the debate to continue at a later hour this day. Out of courtesy to the Minister I resumed my seat. Immediately I did so Senator Chaney rose- Senator Keeffe rose at the same time- to speak to a point of order. Senator Chaney was given the floor and before he sat down he moved that the question be put. Therefore, I fail to see how he could have been given the right to speak when I was still waiting for an assurance from the Minister that I would be able to resume my remarks.
- Mr President, 1 think you will remember that Senator Cavanagh said a couple of minutes ago that Senator Keeffe sought and obtained the call. He did not suggest that Senator Keeffe was at that time raising a point of order. In my view it is clear, even from what has been said by Senator McLaren, that when Senator McLaren sat down to allow a response, two senators sought the call. I obtained the call. I spoke for some minutes and explained the misinterpretation that had been made of what Senator Guilfoyle had said which was in accord with the explanation that had also been given by Senator Cavanagh. Having made it clear that I was speaking to the motion, I then moved that the question be put. I do not know what point of order is before you now. But, whilst there has been some confusion, the fact is that the motion was properly moved in accordance with Standing Orders. That is as you have ruled, Mr President.
- Mr President, I do not want to prolong the argument. I suppose I know the Standing Orders as well as or better than Senator Chaney. Even though I apologise for moving dissent from your ruling I believe that this chamber has to be brought into some state of order. I believed at the time that I moved dissent from your ruling- I do not deviate from it; I do not withdraw it, as much as I regret doing so- that moving that motion was the only logical way in which to clean up the whole debate. As I said, I do not propose to withdraw my motion. I want to pursue it. The motion has been seconded by my colleague, Senator Cavanagh. With very great respect to you, Sir, I suggest that the motion ought to be put. However, I will not move the gag as my friend, the Minister, did. He unfortunately happens to be the person in this chamber tonight who has confused the whole situation in relation to the Standing Orders and brought about the shambles in which we find ourselves now.
– I could argue the case on behalf of my colleagues, but I suggest that in the circumstances it might well be a suitable course to follow if the parties to the argument conferred with you for a few minutes and settled the matter by arrangement rather than testing your own good position. Obviously the issues were not clear to you when you entered the chamber. It seems to me that the case being argued by my colleague is the correct position because I understood Senator Chaney first argued about the matter and then moved that the question be put. I am sure that my colleagues do not want to press this matter to a vote. Perhaps the debate could be adjourned temporarily and you, Mr President, could confer with Senator Chaney and my colleagues. I think that this matter could be settled in this way.
- Mr President, I suggest with very great respect that the Senate adjourn without prejudice so that discussion can take place. We could continue the debate on the next day of sitting if that were necessary.
- Senator Cavanagh has a motion before the Senate that this matter be determined immediately. That being the case I do not think we have any alternative but to determine that motion.
– If my motion is an impediment to the amicable settlement of this matter I would seek to withdraw it. However, an immediate adjournment would still be required so that this matter could be discussed by honourable senators in a reasoned manner.
– I can detect around the chamber that there is a feeling that we ought to resolve the matter. Mr President, we are in your hands. You have a motion before you which really ought to be settled at this time. I would like to hear your response now to the withdrawal of Senator Cavanagh ‘s motion. We now have at least two motions before us. Senator Chaney’s motion ‘that the question be now put’ in regard to the adjournment of this debate to a later hour this day is still before us. Because of the evident compromise that has arisen from Senator Bishop’s remarks and the evident misunderstanding on both sides ofthe chamber, 1 am prepared to leave it to you to deal with the motions which are now before us and to assist the Senate in determining this matter.
– Why don’t you move the adjournment and be done with it?
– When Senator Cavanagh showed that he was disposed to continue to debate the statement that I made on behalf of the Minister for Health, I said that we had government bills which had to be dealt with and that when they had been dealt with we could resume the debate. I accepted his amendment that the debate be adjourned until a later hour of the day. I think it is unfortunate that we have debated for about half an hour something which may have been resolved if we had proceeded immediately in the way that I had arranged with Senator Cavanagh. It seems to me that the more that we discuss the matter the more confused it becomes. I feel that at this stage you are in charge of what needs to be determined because of the motions before us. I welcome the way in which Senator Bishop has approached the matter. I feel sure that the goodwill around the Senate will enable the matter to be resolved by your wisdom.
– I appreciate very much indeed the endeavours to overcome the situation which has arisen because of the way in which this Senate operates. This matter must be determined now. I appreciate Senator Cavanagh ‘s endeavours in this matter but in the first instance his motion would have to be withdrawn by leave. Then we should determine this matter. I can see no purpose in extending this issue unnecessarily. This place can then work as we all desire. As I said, I appreciate Senator Cavanagh ‘s attitude but he must seek the leave of the Senate to withdraw his motion.
– I thought the Standing Orders were being applied rigidly in order to get over an impasse. If that procedure is necessary I will seek leave. I hope that there is enough conciliation on the other side to resolve this matter. If honourable senators opposite let Senator Keeffe say his few words the matter will be over.
Motion (Senator Cavanagh’s)- by leave -withdrawn.
– In the circumstances, in order to maintain the dignity of this chamber of the Parliament, I am prepared to accept the suggestion of Senator Bishop and, with your agreement, Mr President, will endeavour to resolve this situation by mutual negotiation. I hope that you will adjourn the Senate so that this will take place. I am prepared to withdraw my motion of dissent.
– That is not my understanding of the position at this stage. I think that there is a misunderstanding in the mind of Senator Keeffe. With the withdrawal of Senator Cavanagh’s motion it is now in the hands of the President to determine this matter.
– No, it is not, Mr President. I submit that my withdrawal of the motion that the question be dealt with straight away takes the matter completely out of your hands. Under the Standing Orders it would have to be considered on the next day of sitting. My application for leave to withdraw and subsequent withdrawal of the motion was made on the understanding that the matter would be resolved immediately. That action takes the matter completely out of your hands, Mr President. Under the Standing Orders the matter has to be dealt with on the next day of sitting. I sought leave and withdrew the motion on an understanding that I thought I could honour- that there would be some conference to resolve the matter without going on with the question. If honourable senators opposite want the matter to be dealt with on the next day of sitting I will leave it go but I say that this is another occasion on which they have got their way by misunderstanding and by making false promises.
– I do not want to add any further words to what was said earlier. I understand that under Standing Order 429 it is required that a motion be put before you for immediate determination. I move:
– I understand that we are still debating procedures and Standing Orders. During the debate I suggested to you, Mr President, that you might consider the matters related to the procedures in the debate. I am not reflecting on you, Mr President; I am putting the argument that there is a good reason for you to examine, together with the parties involved, what the procedure is. In that case there would be agreement within the Senate. I cannot see any reason why the Senate cannot go on to some other business while you, Senator Chaney and my colleague consider the procedure. Otherwise we have to consider dissent from the President’s ruling which nobody wants to argue at this stage. I do not see any reason why we cannot go on with the reading of Bills for some minutes while the matters causing discontent and argument are resolved. My opinion is that there is a misunderstanding that should be resolved. We should not have Standing Orders that strangle us. That is silly. If these matters can be resolved by agreement between you and the parties in the meantime, there is no reason why the Senate cannot proceed with the reading of Bills. It is true that, under the Standing Orders, once you have a challenge it has to be argued. But, by arrangement- and everybody agrees with thisthere is no reason why the Leader of the Government or the Minister cannot introduce a Bill while you consult with the people who do not agree with the procedures. I am sure you will have agreement about the procedure which ought to be adopted. I ask you to consider a temporary adjournment of this argument. In the meantime we can deal with other business.
- Mr President, the points of order and the discussion should be disposed of. Senator Guilfoyle has indicated that she has moved, under Standing Order 429, a motion which should be put without debate. It is that the question requires immediate determination so that it can be dealt with and disposed of now. That seems to me to be in accordance with the wish that you expressed, Mr President. In my opinion no further points of order should be heard and the motion of Senator Guilfoyle should be put.
– Yes. That is so. Senator Guilfoyle has moved for immediate determination of this matter. Therefore, I put the question:
That Senator Guilfoyle’s motion be agreed to.
Those of that opinion say ayeSenator Keeffe- What is Senator Guilfoyle ‘s motion?
-For immediate determination.
– Under Standing Order 429.
– Yes. I shall read it.
– In fact, that is my motion of dissent.
– No. That has been withdrawn. The Standing Order states in part: . . unless the Senate decides . . . without Debate, that the Question requires immediate determination.
I will test that in the Senate. Does the question require immediate determination? A motion has been moved and I shall put it immediately.
– I raise a point of order If I am not mistaken, Senator Cavanagh moved -
– He withdrew his motion. I shall put to the Senate now Senator Guilfoyle ‘s motion for immediate determination. I put the question:
That the motion (Senator Guilfoyle’s) be agreed to.
– What is the motion moved by Senator Guilfoyle? Is it the same as that moved by Senator Cavanagh?
-Standing Order 429 states in part: . . unless the Senate decides on motion, without Debate, that the Question requires immediate determination.
– I understood that Senator Cavanagh withdrew his objection to your ruling.
– No. I think the matter can be clarified without further discussion by putting Senator Guilfoyle’s motion that this matter be determined immediately.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Motion (by Senator Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the motion of dissent be put.
-The question now is that Senator Keeffe ‘s motion of dissent from my ruling be agreed to.
Question put. The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– The question now is that the motion of Senator Chaney- that the question be now put- be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The question now is that the adjourned debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I have the right to speak on the adjournment and I do so somewhat regretting what has happened tonight, but when there is not tolerance between the parties in a debate things do get out of hand. In relation to what occurred earlier in the night, I say that unfortunate announcements should be made in such a way as to give honourable senators proper time in which to debate them. I believe that the motion for adjournment is to be defeated for the purpose of requiring us to carry on in order that we may have a few papers presented in justification of the taxation that is to be imposed, without any time being given us for consideration of them. If I would say one thing on the adjournment, it is that I appeal to the government to let us have the weekend to consider these matters, details of which will be published in the newspapers in the morning. Let us have the weekend to consider them and, in view of the emotion and the confusion that we have experienced tonight, cool down, and meet next week as rational people.
– I should just like to say a few words in response to Senator Cavanagh ‘s remarks. The Government had no intention of negativing the adjournment motion this evening. I believe that what he said was in accord with the spirit felt by all of us: That we have had a difficult evening; that there has been misunderstanding and, amongst us all perhaps even some confusion with regard to events. However, the Government does not intend to continue discussion either on the Bills we had hoped to have before the Senate or on the matter about which we have had so much discussion this evening. I wish to make that clear, in response to Senator Cavanagh.
– I rise briefly in the adjournment debate to state more fully a position attributed to me in an article by Mr Simon Nasht in today’s Age under the heading ‘Judges may lose chauffeurs’. I am not actually making a personal explanation because I do not claim to have been misrepresented, but wish to state more fully a position attributed to me. The article concerns the possibility of costcutting moves by this Government involving the use by the Federal judiciary and concilation and arbitration commissioners of chauffeur-driven government vehicles. It states:
A member of the committee -
That is Estimates Committee B-
Senator Tate (Lab., Tas.), last night described the practice as an ‘extravagance which had outgrown its purpose’.
I believe that that is the case. I believe that every Commonwealth office-holder ought to be prepared to bear the cost of travel between his place of residence and his place of work, where both places are within the same city or town, in the same way as every other employee and wage earner throughout the community has to bear the cost of getting to work and home again. I made a note of the conversation I had with Mr Simon Nasht at about 9.30 last night when he telephoned me. I should point out that the number of people involved is not small. There are about 42 Family Court judges throughout Australia, 30 Federal Court judges, and the President and commissioners of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I made the point to
Mr Nasht that whilst the use of chauffeur-driven government vehicles by the Commonwealth judiciary between home and place of work in their home city is an extravagance which should be curtailed, such curtailment should not be used by this Government as an excuse to cut down the number of Commonwealth car drivers in the Government’s employ. I observed to Mr Nash that I believed that in Sydney the Commonwealth car drivers pool had decreased by some 50 or more persons over the last three years and that this was causing grave problems and grave concern amongst car drivers in that pool and in similar pools throughout Australia. 1 made the point very explicitly that whilst extravagances, as they are properly termed, in relation to the chauffeuring of judges and conciliation and arbitration commissioners between place of residence and place of work ought to be curtailed, the Government when carrying through such a necessary cost-cutting exercise ought not to cut back the number of Commonwealth car drivers in its pools in capital cities throughout Australia. Such drivers should be left free to perform duties which, as I said to Mr Nasht, the community would be more likely to support. 1 refer to duties such as the transportation of repatriation patients and Commonwealth office-holders outside their own city of residence. I am not reflecting on the journalist. I believe that he took a full note of our conversation. No doubt the problem occurred when the article was being cut in Melbourne. However, I wish to place on record that that is the more complete statement of my position.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.39 p.m.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 14 September 1978:
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Duc to the unavailability of statistics as well as to the fact th:N available records are not kept in the form sought I am unable lo provide all the detailed information that the honourable senator seeks. However, the following statistics arc provided:
I ) (a ) Injuries requiring hospitalisation! I )
4 ) Six months period ending 3 1 December 1 978
In the period in question the following ure the only statistics available:
Army 150 injuries and fatalities involving departmental motor vehicles and 2.914 injuries and fatalities involving private motor vehicles.
RAN 1. 173 injuries and 32 fatalities.
RAAF 213 fatalities involving either departmental or private motor vehicles.
RAN- No statistics available RAAF-No statistics available.
No statistics available.
asked the Minister representing the Minister Ibr Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 27 February 1979:
– The Minister for Industry and Commerce has provided the following answer:
I refer the honourable senator to the answer as provided by the Prime Minister to Question No. 1335 at page 1608 of Hansard for 2 May 1979.
Defence Department Personnel in United States (Question No. 1392)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 6 March 1 979:
November 1978. page 2655): (a) Defence Department personnel: or (b) Navy. Army or Air Force civilian or commissioned personnel.
-The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
As at I May 1979 the number of positions in Washington had declined to 99. a reduction of5 temporary positions.
Summary of Duties
As at 1 May 1979 the number of temporary positions in locations other than Washington had declined to 36.
There arc no other permanent or temporary Defence positions established in USA. although Defence personnel are posted to USA from lime to time for loan and exchange or training duties.
The rank/classification of the temporary positions established in Washington as at I September 1978 together with a summary of duties undertaken, arc as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 5 April 1979:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Services which were cither not eligible for benefits or for which no benefits were claimed arc excluded from these statistics. Hence services to patients who received standard ward treatment by hospital staff doctors are not included.
Other services which arc not included in these statistics, with the exception of the period 1 July 1975-30 September 1 976, are those where the medical expenses were covered by way of compensation or damages under a State or Commonwealth or Territorial law. Other statistics available are those derived from hospital inpatient statistical collections compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in a number of States. For several years information derived from these collections, concerning operations performed in all public and private hospitals in Western Australia and Queensland has been published in those States. Similar information relating to Tasmanian public hospitals has also been published. It is expected that other States will soon be able to provide data on hospital inpatients, including operations performed, and. in association with the National Standing Committee on Health and Vital Statistics, it is hoped that eventually all States will bc able to provide this information.
The Department is currently funding, through Health Services Research and Development Grants, three projects concerned with surgery in hospitals. Brief details of these projects appear below:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 March 1979:
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Heads of Missions are paid a representation allowance to assist in developing key local contacts in governmental, business, media and other appropriate circles of the country to which they are accredited. They report quarterly to the Department the manner in which the allowance has been expended. If a Head of Mission extends the hospitality of a meal to Australian officials such as the Chairman of Qantas, and those officials are the sole guests, the Head of Mission is not permitted to charge the cost against this representation allowance. On various occasions the Chairman has been included in functions held by Heads of Mission but these form a normal part of their cultivation of friendly contacts with prominent persons and organisations in the country of accreditation.
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 5 April 1979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
I ) and (2) No Commonwealth authority collects statistics of the number of staff members appointed to colleges of advanced education who are not residents of Australia at the time of appointment.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1 979:
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: 1 (a) and I (b)-
2(b) and 3-
Lead Content of Petrol
– On 5 April 1979, Senator Missen asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice (Hansard, pages 1359 and 1360) concerning the lead content of petrol and the effect of lead on the brain and central nervous system of young children.
The Minister for Health has provided the following information:
I am aware of the report of the National Energy Advisory Council in which it was proposed that an increase in the lead content of petrol would be the most economical way of conserving oil supplies. The proposal was basically to increase the lead in the petrol itself and to subsequently filter it out from the exhaust gases of motor vehicles by the incorporation in the exhaust systems of various lead catchment devices.
In this context I think it is important to appreciate that whilst lead in petrol itself constitutes primarily an occupational health hazard, it is lead in the exhaust emissions that has created potential problems in relation to the population as a whole. It is with the effect of lead in ambient air that I believe the main concern was expressed.
Views on lead in petrol and methods to reduce pollution have been the subjects of comments by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH & MRC) on several occasions. Firm proposals advocating a reduction of lead in petrol to 0.5 g/ 1 were made as early as 1973.
Recent pronouncements made at the 85th Session of NH & MRC in June 1978 were as follows:
Lead content of petrol
Council noted available information, including the report Motor Spirit- Octane Ratings and Lead Additives’ prepared by the National Energy Advisory Committee, February 1 978 and a paper issued recently by the Federal
Chamber of Automotive Industries, related to lead in petrol. Council saw no reason to modify its previous recommendations on the lead content of petrol.
Lead Catchment devices
Council reviewed overseas and Australian reports on the lead catchment device as a means of reducing lead emissions from motor vehicles, including the report Motor Spirit- Octane Ratings and Lead Additives’ prepared by the National Energy Advisory Committee. February 1978.
It considered that no new technological developments had occurred to modify the major conclusion of its Motor Vehicle Working Party in relation to the lead filter. Among its conclusions the Working Party had advised that:
Not only do the cost benefit calculations indicate that the best path to go nationally is to reduce lead in petrol to the proposed level of 0.45 g/1 but it clearly indicates that the previous collection efficiencies quoted for the lead filter have been far from realised. These conclusions are based upon the definitive data contained in the Transport and Road Research Laboratory report 662.’
Council agreed that the final report of that Working Party bc brought to the attention of the Australian Environment Council for consideration by that Council’s Vehicular Emission and Noise Standards Advisory Committee.
Furthermore Council considered that, should the strategies for controlling the total mass emission of lead include the use of lead catchment devices, the health hazards arising from the handling and ultimate disposal of spent devices should be given due weight by authorities considering the possible introduction of such devices. Highly toxic particulate lead in the spent devices will bc hazardous to the health of persons handling them, consequently safe handling methods, include medical surveillance of workers and close supervision of the ultimate disposal methods will be required.
Council recommended that its views be widely circulated to the appropriate authorities, including the Australian Minerals and Energy Council and Australian Transport Advisory Council, to health and environment authorities, to industry and other interested authorities and organisations. ‘
There have been many reports in recent years that have indicated that human lead levels previously thought to be of no sign i Ilea ncc may indeed be producing adverse health effects. The claims made by Professor Bryce-Smith to which the honourable senator referred have been examined and these are seen to indicate that he has reached similar conclusions. At the same time lt should be noted thai the validity of many of these claims have been challenged by other authorities. More work therefore needs to be done to establish at what particular air and blood lead levels serious health effects arc produced.
Investigations in Australia supported by research funds of the NH & MRC include work undertaken by Professor Bloom in Tasmania, by Professor Symthe and Dr Freeman in Sydney, and by Dr Clark and Dr McMichael in South Australia. Departmental officers keep abreast of developments in this field by a close and continuing study of Australian and overseas reports. There is no doubt that continued reduction in the human intake of lead from all sources whether from air. water, food or from lead in paints used on buildings or on toys is needed to protect the population as a whole and particularly the developing child.
Methods of reducing the lead emissions from motor vehicles arc topics of continuing concern not only from the health aspect but also economically. The major concern is to protect the health ofthe population at large from untoward citcas of lead in air. The method by which this will be achieved is at present under active consideration by my Department and me NH & MRC and by those concerned with our economy. I am confident that an acceptable solution will bc forthcoming that will in no way compromise the health of the people.
-On 5 April 1979. Senator Coleman asked me. as Minister representing the Minister Ibr Health, a question without notice (Hansard, pages 1363 and 1364) concerning the health risks of dental X-rays.
The Minister Ibr Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Slow speed dental x-ray film with a sensitivity lower than speed group D is rarely used in Australia. However, in some circumstances it nitty be used for particular diagnostic purposes, lt is not used in the School Dental Scheme.
I am aware ofthe restricted use of this type of film in other countries, including the United States, and ofthe advisability of using high speed film wherever possible.
In view of the above. I do not consider it appropriate to pursue the matter of a report.
Electric Heater: Asbestos Dust
-On 2 May 1979 (Hansard. page 1546), Senator Gietzelt asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the possible health hazard ofthe Potterton Heat Bank electric heater.
The Minister for Health has provided the following information:
I understand that these healers have already been investigated by the Victorian authorities. I am informed that this investigation did not reveal any hazard id human health.
I also understand that these findings were communicated to the Press in Victoria.
Doctors’ Registration Fees
-On 2 May 1979 (Hansard. page 1545), Senator Young asked me. as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the payment of registration fees by doctors in South Australia.
The Minister for Health has provided the following information:
On 19 April 1979. the Medical Board of South Australia removed from the State Register of Medical Practitioners the names of a number of doctors who had not paid the prescribed annual practising fee of $10. Subsequently, several of the doctors paid the fee and their registrations were restored. In releasing the names of the doctors remaining unregistered on 15 May 1979. the Acting Minister for Health said that one effect of non-registration would bc to preclude patients of the doctors from Commonwealth medical benefits. Commonwealth pharmaceutical benefits, and nursing home and domiciliary nursing care benefits.
The Deputy Crown Solicitor in Adelaide had given a legal advising that the relevant Commonwealth legislation precluded the payment ofthe benefits to the patients of the doctors who are not registered in either South Australia or another State or Territory, lt is relevant to emphasise that the withdrawal of entitlement to Commonwealth benefits is a legal process that is consequent on the South Australian legislation and on the action of the South Australian Medical Board, lt was nol a discretionary administrative action on the part of my Department.
I would also point out that the Commonwealth has no jurisdiction in the matter of State registration of medical practitioners and accordingly it cannot intervene in the dispute between the doctors involved and the South Australian authorities.
Since the issue ofthe Acting Minister’s Press statement on 15 May 1979. the names ol’a number ofthe doctors have been restored to the State register upon payment ofthe practising fee. Consequently, from the date of re-registration, benefits are payable for medical services rendered by the doctors, the doctors are entitled to write prescriptions for pharmaceutical benefits, and arc entitled to certify applications for nursing care benefits and domiciliary nursing care benefits.
The doctors involved, the appropriate authorities and the public, are being kept informed ofthe restoration of doctors to the South Australian register, and of the consequent entitlement of patients of these doctors to Commonwealth benefits.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 May 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1979/19790524_senate_31_s81/>.