31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– 1 present the following petition from 158 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members ofthe Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That wc the undersigned, believe in and support the idea that Australia should join in with the current American. Russian, and Candian efforts for SETI- Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence- using existing facilities and personnel.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 24 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That the Metric Conversion Act bc repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilise whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so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.
– I present the following petition from 28 1 citizens of Australia:
Petition to the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that Parents Without Partners (Queensland) begs to draw attention to the discrimination forced upon innocent children by virtue of their circumstances causing emotional trauma which must continue into their adulthood and we petition you to more closely examine the reasons for the breakdown of marriage in this Year ofthe Child.
Petition received and read.
-On behalf of Senator Messner 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 ofthe undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we have heard the expressed intentions of one entrepreneur to bring the Red Army Choir to Australia, and declare, that regardless of its artistic merits or demerits, the Red Army Choir is as much a unit of the Red Army as a division of tanks or artillery. It is but a propaganda unit to glorify the Soviet regime in song and music.
Your petitioners humbly pray that just as entry into Australian ports is denied to Soviet warships, so too will entry be denied to the Red Army Choir.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 92 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth that the construction of a uranium enrichment plant in North Queensland and the mining of uranium on the Herveys Range area should not be proceeded with on the following grounds.
1 ) No safe method has yet been devised for the disposal of nuclear waste.
The mining of uranium ore exposes workers to considerable danger from radon gases.
The danger of poisoning chemicals seeping into surface and underground water supplies as a result of uranium ore mining and refining of uranium ore could pose serious health hazards for persons living in the Townsville region.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate in Parliament assembled should take all possible steps to abandon or postpone indefinitely the mining of uranium in the Herveys Range area, and the construction of an enrichment plant in the Townsville region.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 1 8 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members ofthe Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of the Northern Territory of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the natural resources of Australia and in particular the uranium deposits of the Northern Territory should bc exploited by companies which have substantial Australian interests so that the benefits accrue to all Australians.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Honourable Members should:
In the event of a decision to sell the interest of the Australian Government in the Ranger Uranium Mining project, ensure that the sale of such interest be only to Australian buyers.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-I present the following petition from 36 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 Red Army Choir is a military propaganda unit glorifying the Soviet regime which is still hostile to the democratic way of life. The Red Army is the main instrument in keeping formally free people under subjugation, and its presence enables blatant violations of Human Rights to be perpetrated. The support, therefore, of such instruments of a totalitarian regime can only harm the development of free and liberal thought under it.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the Australian Government assert its support for the aspirations of subjugated people by denying entry into this country to the Red Army Choir.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 16 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.
– I present the following petition from 50 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 Red Army Choir is a military propaganda unit glorifying the Soviet regime which is still hostile to the democratic way of life. The Red Army is the main instrument in keeping formally free people under subjugation, and its presence enables blatant violations of Human Rights to be perpetrated. The support, therefore, of such instruments of a totalitarian regime can only harm the development of free and liberal thought under it.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the Australian Government assert its support for the aspirations of subjugated people by denying entry into this country to the Red Army Choir.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
– 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 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. by Senators Archer, Button, Colston, Davidson, Hamer, MacGibbon, Mason, Maunsell, Messner, Primmer, Puplick, Rae, Sheil and Young.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the Senate is of the opinion that the Federal Government has not observed its undertaking to distribute powers and functions to State governments.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
1 ) That a select committee of the Senate be appointed to inquire into and report upon all aspects of the activities in Australia of certain religious sects and cults of recent origin, including those which are of overseas origin, with particular reference to-
That provisions relating to membership, powers and proceedings of the committee be contained in a subsequent resolution.
– I refer the Leader of the Government to the many previous answers in the Senate relating, as he would put it, to indices of business confidence and revival in the economy. I also refer the Minister to the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey released on Monday which showed that business confidence and expectations in the manufacturing industry are declining steadily. The Minister will be aware that this survey was taken before this year’s Budget which on its’ own figures admits 1980 will see Australia with higher inflation and higher unemployment. Is the Government concerned about this apparent decline in business confidence in the economy? If so, is it considering any measures such as a mini-Budget in an attempt to reverse this trend?
– From time to time, the Government calls into discussions with the Cabinet the leaders of all the cross sections of commerce and industry and indeed of trade unionism in Australia. It invites them to tell the Government what the attitude of commerce and industry and the trade unions is to particular situations and to the Government itself. I am happy to say that in recent weeks a unanimous opinion was delivered to us with only one qualification, and that was with regard to South Australia. We were told that commerce and industry everywhere else in Australia were improving- that all the indices were good. The exception was corrected last Saturday. If a further series of indices were necessary the day-to-day stock exchange indices would be such as to indicate that the confidence of commerce and industry and of the people of Australia in the Government and its policies is mounting.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I now ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate, in view of his answer: Does he entirely discount the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey and does he also discount, for example, the figures on capital inflow to Australia for August?
- Mr President, of course, technically that is not a supplementary question; it is an entirely different question. I draw your attention, sir, to the tendency of honourable senators to use the device of asking supplementary questions to get a second chance to ask a question. The Australian Labor Party leaders use that device to deny their back bench senators opportunities to ask questions, so that they can have many more opportunities to do so. Having said that, what I said in my original answer stands. It is perfectly clear that the people of Australia believe that there is a growing reason for optimism in all the Australian indices.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources aware of renewed calls by the Queensland Government for Federal initiatives to investigate the reopening of the Duchess phosphate mine in north-west Queensland? Considering that Australia’s supplies of phosphate rock from Ocean Island are expected to cease this year and that the economic viability of Christmas Island is in doubt, what action will the Government take to ensure that Australian primary producers will be guaranteed supplies of indigenous phosphate?
– I am broadly aware of the proposal that the Duchess phosphate mine should be reopened. I presume that my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Resources, is also aware of those matters. I will refer the question to him and ask him to provide an early answer to the Senate.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General and refers to the petition lodged this afternoon by Senator Kilgariff which expresses the concern of citizens living in the Northern Territory about the ownership of Australia’s uranium industry. I remind the Minister that, in reply to my question concerning possible overseas involvement in the Australian uranium industry, asked on 29 August, he said:
At the same time, the Minister made it clear that the Government had not made any firm decision whether to sell its interest-
That is in Ranger- and certainly not in regard to any particular person.
I ask the Minister whether he is aware of an article in the Japan Economic Journal of 21 August, in which that publication states:
Officials of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry have promised . . . president of Kansai Electric Power Co., . . . participation in a joint JapaneseAustralian uranium development project.
The article goes on to state:
The project will be carried out at Ranger mine in Australia ‘s Northern Territory.
The article states further:
The Japanese participation will follow a partial acquisition of the Ranger venture, whose capital totals Australian $350 million.
It states further that the Japanese Department- regards the 25 per cent interest as a proper share for the Japanese industry.
Can the Minister confirm the correctness of that report?
-Senator Wriedt referred to answers which I gave to questions in this Senate regarding the Government’s decision to call for tenders, so to speak, or to call for applications from people interested in purchasing the Ranger uranium deposit. I emphasised in those answers that the Government had not made any firm decision on whether it will sell its interest or whether it will sell that interest to any particular person. Senator Wriedt has now referred to an article in a Japanese economic journal. I am not aware of that article. I am not, nor is the Government, responsible for speculation which might be made in journals of that character or of any other character.
All I can say is that the answers I have given in this Senate have been given after consultation with an authority of the Minister for Trade and Resources and are based upon the Government’s policy in regard to this matter of which I am aware. But as I said, I cannot, nor can the Government, be held responsible for speculation in which other people may be engaging. What I have said here is the Government’s policy on this matter. However, Senator Wriedt has referred to the article. I will have it checked out. I will refer it to the Minister for Trade and Resources, to see whether he has any further comment to make on it.
-I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether he recalls that in the report of Mr Justice Moffitt, the royal commissioner who inquired into allegations of organised crime in New South Wales clubs in 1974, the royal commissioner warned:
There appears to be a very real danger that organised crime from overseas will infiltrate this country in a substantial fashion.
Has the attention of the Attorney been drawn to two recent books- one entitled Narc and written by a former narcotics agent, Mr Delaney, and the other entitled The Godfather in Australia and written by Mr Bottom, a former special adviser on organised crime to the New South Wales State Government, both of which give details of the penetration of organised crime into Australia? Is the Attorney aware of statements made by the New South Wales Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mr John Dowd, detailing the involvement of certain New South Wales businessmen with people currently on trial for drug smuggling in Thailand? Has the Attorney seen reports that the Mafia and other United States criminal elements may be involved in the bird smuggling racket which has now seen a Customs officer charged with being part of this conspiracy? Can the Attorney assure the people of Australia that all reasonable steps are being taken by the Commonwealth to prevent the spread of organised crime into Australia, that the police and other resources of the Commonwealth are adequate to do this, and that the methods of co-operation and liaison between various Commonwealth authorities, between Commonwealth and State authorities, and between Commonwealth and international authorities are adequate to do this?
– I am aware in general terms of the statements by various persons referred to by Senator Puplick in the prefatory parts of his question. I am certainly aware, and the Government is aware, of the concern that is felt in Australia- and that concern certainly is shared by the Government- as to the possible growth of organised crime in this country. However, let me say this: In the first place, the responsibility for a good deal of the area generally embraced in the term ‘organised crime’ is, of course, with the States rather than with the Commonwealth Government. That is not to say, however, that we in the Commonwealth Government do not have a quite important role to play as well. I can certainly assure the Senate that we are aware of our responsibility in that regard, and we are giving the matter close consideration. Some of the questions that Senator Puplick asked me are really more specifically directed to the Minister responsible for police because he asked what co-operation and liaison take place between Commonwealth and State authorities, between Commonwealth authorities, and so on. I have to emphasise again that, as Attorney-General, I am not the Minister for police. Nevertheless, I do have a very general responsibility for and a close interest in these matters.
With regard to the details that Senator Puplick seeks, 1 will refer the question to the Minister for Administrative Services, who controls the police, for further information. In general terms I should like to say that the Commonwealth Government has taken some important initiatives in the last year or two in regard to this problem, particularly in the drug area, where it has established the national royal commission on drugs from which we hope to obtain advice in the near future. I refer also to the establishment of the Australian Federal Police, which has been an important factor in rationalising Commonwealth investigation areas. That, I think, will lead to further improvements in that area. I refer also to the general immigration controls that are stringently enforced in regard to the admission into Australia of known criminals. I refer also to the establishment of the Hope inquiry into matters relating to protective security in Australia. Its report also deals with questions of liaison between Commonwealth authorities and between Commonwealth and State authorities. I will refer Senator Puplick ‘s question to the responsible Minister so that he can supply any further detail that may be called for.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources inform the Senate what new contracts have been entered into since 1972 for the sale of Australian uranium?
- Senator Melzer’s question calls for a good deal of detail which I am sure she does not expect me to have at hand. I will refer the question to the Minister to get a detailed reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment. It refers to claims made by an organisation known as the Association for Protection of Rural Australia. Is it a fact that this Association has applied to the Minister for a grant to further its aims? Has the Minister noted the concern of the Association regarding the incorporation of productive and useful rural areas into national parks? Has the Government made any study of this call for a balanced conservation and preservation of rural culture, lifestyle and production?
-The initials APRA stand for the Association for Protection of Rural Australia Inc. That body was previously known as the Association for Regional Parks and Countryside Commissions of Australia. I noted in the Canberra Times today an article which described, as Senator Davidson has done, some of the aims of that group. I am aware that it aims at being a truly representative and national association. I doubt whether there could be any suggestion that the basic objects of that association are unacceptable. I believe that, as stated, they are particularly attractive.
The news article which I have read draws attention to the problems which are evident from the declaration of parks and the inability of interested bodies- governments, semigovernmental authorities and others- to provide sufficient funds to manage those declared areas effectively. That occurs in many instances and is something to which this group directs its attention. The honourable senator mentioned a request for funding. My recollection is that an application has been received by my Department for funds for that group. At the same time my understanding is that the membership of APRA is restricted in some way. The honourable senator may recognise that this gives cause for concern in that my Department or I may not meet requests for Federal Government funding unless the membership is entirely open.
-Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for National Development been drawn to a report that Australia ‘s shortage of avgas has forced a New South Wales air charter operator out of business and to a statement by the executive officer of the company concerned that fuel shortages and the rapid increase in fuel costs have been responsible for closing him down? Is the Minister also aware that in the Hay district in the west of New South Wales cattle need to be mustered for blood testing by the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and that property owners are complaining that it is impossible to get a complete muster because of the shortage of avgas? I ask the Minister: What action is his Government taking to overcome the shortage and what steps are being taken to ensure that New South Wales gets a fair and early allocation?
– I have answered a number of questions about avgas and I am constantly asked about shortages in specific areas. For instance, yesterday a problem in Tasmania was referred to and today Senator Douglas McClelland has asked a question in relation to New South Wales. I will refer the question to the Minister for National Development.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and concerns an advertisement which appears in today’s newspapers and was apparently inserted by the Australia-Rhodesia Association (NSW). The advertisement makes a subjective and, in my view, scurrilous attack on the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to terrorism. I ask: Does the Department chew its own ideological thistles and ignore the wishes of the Parliament and the people? Also, who is Australia supporting- Fidel Castro and terrorists or stable parliamentary governments?
– I have seen a copy of the advertisement. In fact, I have it in front of me. The Government rejects its contents and is completely satisfied that officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs are correctly fulfilling their proper duties in implementing the policy decisions of the Government. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs is responsible for administering the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations covering the exports referred to in the advertisement. Those regulations provide the mechanism by which exports of defence equipment from Australia are controlled to ensure that they are in conformity with Australia’s international obligations, such as arms embargoes against Rhodesia and South Africa and Australia ‘s foreign policy and strategic interests.
The advertisement appears to make the erroneous assumption that the Department of Foreign Affairs can act independently of the Government in disbursing funds. No Australian Government money is given directly to any terrorist organisation in any part of the world. I said on 1 1 September, in answer to another question, that a tiny proportion of the Budget provision of some United Nations agencies which receive Australian Government contributions is used to provide relief to South African refugee mothers and children who are cared for by liberation movements. As the honourable senator will be aware, the Australian Government does not believe that any distinction or discrimination should be made on the basis of race, colour or creed.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General, both in his own capacity and as the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I ask: Are petroleum products freight subsidy payments in the Australian Capital Territory made under the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Act or, as is the case in the Northern Territory, under a specific ordinance? If not, what is the legal basis for these payments?
– The question is really one for the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, to whom I will refer it.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry: What is the present position in respect of the United States Congress ratifying the International Sugar Agreement?
– I am advised that unfortunately efforts made to obtain congressional approval of legislation that would enable the United States to particiate fully in the International Sugar Agreement have been proceeding now for in excess of a year. Although there appears to be no real opposition within the United States to the international legislation, it has become tied to other legislation for the implementation of a new domestic sugar policy. It has passed the committee stages and I am advised that it is now expected to be considered by Congress in the near future. The Minister for Trade and Resources has made representations to the United States Government at the highest level, pointing out the adverse effects which this delay is having on the operation of the International Sugar Agreement. A further disturbing factor is that the European Economic Community has indicated that it has no intention of joining in the Agreement until the United States has ratified it. For its part, the Australian sugar industry will again be limiting sugar production in 1979 in accordance with the stringent provisions of the agreement. As announced recently, the 1 979 season production has been set at 2.95 million tonnes. This makes allowance for the export of just under 2 million tonnes of sugar and the accumulation of a further 162,799 tonnes of the International Sugar Agreement special stocks. In view of the great concern of the Australian sugar industry at the delay in the United States ratification, I understand that the chairman of the Queensland Sugar Board, Mr Lloyd Harris, will be visiting Washington next week to have discussions with the Australian Embassy and the United States officials and congressmen. It is the Government’s hope that the United States Congress will quickly pass the International Sugar Agreement legislation in order to enable the full provisions of the agreement to become effective.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. It is motivated by the information that we have on the incident involving the Air Canada DC9 aircraft structural deficiency experienced off the coast of the United States of America on a flight from Boston. The Minister will be aware that low winter temperatures at some airports, particularly Canberra, have a peculiar effect, in particular on nylon tyres that are fitted to the aircraft, when the aircraft is standing overnight. The portion of the tyre closest to the tarmac becomes flattened. So, on taxi-ing and run-up for take-off, what is called a square wheel’ effect is caused. In view of the heavy vibration caused by this tyre condition on a heavily laden aircraft and the possibility of structural cracks being induced in the metal section of an aircraft by such vibration, will the Minister have a full civil aviation inquiry into the effects of the ‘square wheel’ vibration with a view to recommendations being made on methods to counteract the flattening of tyres on aircraft standing on low temperature prone tarmacs?
– The honourable senator raises a matter which is no doubt of great interest to all honourable senators who fly in and out of Canberra very frequently. I was not aware that that shuddering sensation that I have experienced was because of square tyres. I am indebted to the honourable senator for that information. I thought that it was trepidation about the food that was to be served that was affecting the passengers. I will refer the matter to Mr Nixon to see whether this peculiar effect on nylon tyres has been noted by his Department, what investigation has been made and whether the sort of detailed inquiry which the honourable senator suggests is required is in the interests of air safety.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The index of material inputs into the manufacturing sector has recently shown an unprecedented upward movement which, because of the imbalanced weighting of the index, is not representative of a wide range of manufacturing activities in Australia. Since the inadequacy of the index is due mainly to unduly heavy weighting of certain items- for example, beef prices- will the Minister consider reviewing and redrafting this index so that a more accurate description of manufacturing material inputs will be available?
Government senators- Good question!
– I echo the feeling of honourable senators behind me that that was a good question. I will seek a good answer for it.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and relates to the fact that, although there have been for some years Australian Broadcasting Commission FM stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra, there are no ABC FM stations in a number of other parts of Australia, particularly in Perth. Is it part of the Government’s new federalism policy that the citizens of the national capital with a population of a quarter of a million should have the benefit of an ABC FM station, but that over 800,000 people in Perth should not have those benefits?
– The question raised by the honourable senator I am sure will be of great interest to the music lovers of Perth and, perhaps, some others. I am not aware of any reason why Perth does not have an FM radio station. I think there was some questioning about this last year. I will take up the matter with Mr Staley to see what action can be taken. I suppose that the people of Canberra have just been subjected to FM radio as an experiment. Now it has been found to be acceptable to them, the rest of Australia might benefit.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for National Development whether it is intended to forward the figures on the Australian coal reserves to the 1980 world energy conference to be held in Munich. If so, could these figures be released on a State by State breakdown in Australia now?
– I will refer that question to the Minister for National Development.
– I direct this question either to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services or to the AttorneyGeneral. I am sure the Attorney-General has read books in which it was implied that there was a plant in the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the later stages of Hoover’s reign. In view of the conflict of views between Harvey Bates and the Commonwealth and State police as to whether there was a plant in Australia’s narcotics detection agency, what has happened as a result of the investigation? Is it a similar problem to that which the FBI experienced near the end of the Hoover regime?
– I think the question should more specifically be directed to the Minister for Administrative Services, who is in charge of police matters. However, I have had some specific involvement as Attorney-General in relation to advising in regard to the inquiry to which Senator Mulvihill refers, so perhaps that is why I am replying instead of Senator Chaney. I have little opportunity these days to read any books at all, so I am not aware of the one to which the honourable senator refers. A joint inquiry by Commonwealth and State police into the allegations made by an officer of the Narcotics Bureau, led by a senior Victorian police officer, is still continuing. I have not anything further to add at this stage.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. It relates to Thai International Airlines. Is it true that landing rights into Melbourne were granted in principle to Thai International Airlines on 1 April this year? Is it true that Thai International Airlines were ready to start a service on that date? Is it also true that Thai International Airlines is the only Association of South East Asian Nations international airline not yet allowed to operate into Melbourne? Is the Minister able to say why it was not allowed to proceed with its landing rights? When will the airline be allowed to operate into Melbourne? Is the real reason for this obvious discrimination by the Department of Transport a way of forcing the acceptance of a new air fare structure in the ASEAN region? Could this be a contributing factor to Australia’s falling acceptance amongst its ASEAN neighbours?
– I will refer that series of questions to the Minister for Transport for reply.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources aware that a Japanese study group has been actively researching the Rundle shale oil field in Queensland with a view to interesting Japanese oil firms and investment houses in developing the area? Can the Minister say whether total finance for the project is coming from Japan? If this is not the case, what equity will Australia have? Can the Minister say what the Government’s policy will be in regard to the export of oil from the project?
- Senator Mcintosh has asked a detailed question in relation to financing the development of an oil-shale project in Queensland. I will refer the question to the Minister for Trade and Resources to provide the detail that the honourable senator seeks. However, I emphasise that in general terms the Australian equity participation in such a project would have to meet the Government’s guidelines and would be dealt with by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
– I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Transport to the fact that the Government has indicated that during recent negotiations it has endeavoured to interest airlines from the Association of South East Asian Nations region and elsewhere to operate services to and from Darwin and other ports of Australia. I remind him also that the Government has advised Australian domestic airlines that it is prepared to consider proposals to open services on regional international routes not presently served by Qantas Airways Ltd for which the domestic airlines have suitable equipment. Having in mind the interest that has been generated by the thought that Ansett Airlines of Australia and Trans-Australia Airlines could operate to our closer neighbours such as Indonesia, New Zealand, Fiji, New Guinea and so on, can the Minister say what the present situation in regard to these proposals is? Have the Australian airlines indicated their attitude? What has been the reaction of members of the ASEAN countries and others to the Australian Government proposals?
– I understand from the Minister for Transport that specific proposals have been made by domestic airlines to open routes between Hobart, Darwin, and Port Hedland and various regional countries. In addition, they have indicated interest in opening further routes in the longer term. The airlines have been asked to discuss their proposals with Qantas in the first instance. This is necessary because of the Government’s decision that Qantas should continue, at least until 1 98 1 , to be the sole Australian airline authorised to operate international air services in its own right. Services on any new routes opened by the domestic airlines would need to be operated for the time being under charter arrangements with Qantas. This would not prevent new services from being established by the domestic airlines. I understand that the Minister for Transport is awaiting advice on the outcome of talks between the domestic airlines and Qantas on the matter.
I should add that an additional factor to be considered would be the feasibility and cost of providing services or facilities required at airports that are not presently international gateways in order that they might accept international flight operations. With regard to the reaction of other countries, New Zealand authorities have advised that they would have no objection in principle to a new route being opened by Australia between Hobart and Christchurch. However, details and any compensating benefit required by New Zealand for its own airline cannot be pursued with that country until a comprehensive proposal has been agreed upon by the domestic airlines and Qantas. No approaches have yet been made to other countries because at present insufficient detail is available on services the domestic airlines would wish to operate to allow useful discussion with authorities in the various countries concerned.
– Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that many homes destroyed by Cyclone Ted at both Mornington Island and Burketown have not been rebuilt? Is it also a fact that more than $3m allocated to the Queensland Government for Aboriginal Affairs over the last four years was unspent and returned to the Treasury? Does this mean that many of the homes which I have referred to and which were to be provided for residents at Mornington
Island and Burketown will not now be constructed? Can the Minister inform the Parliament how the funds returned to Treasury were previously allocated? For instance, how much was allocated to housing, health, education and so on?
-I think it is true that not all of the homes destroyed by the cyclone referred to by the honourable senator have yet been rebuilt. I understand that there were discussions between the Commonwealth and the State Government at that time and it was arranged that moneys would be provided through programs of my Department to assist in the rebuilding of those cyclone devastated centres. In fact, the program has run behind the plan put down for it. As a result, there has been some underspending of Commonwealth provided funds in Queensland over the last three years. Those funds have been repaid, as is required under the arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States when funds are not expended for the purpose for which they were granted. I think that deals with the major points raised by the honourable senator in his question. However, I will examine the question in Hansard and let him have more detail if it is required.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. The Minister’s answer dealt with the matter of housing, but I also asked whether the Minister could provide a list of the allocations made by his Department before the money was passed on to the Queensland Government and how much money was unspent under the various headings of education, health and so on.
-I will obtain that information for the honourable senator.
– I invite the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to an article in the Age of 23 August 1979 relating to the Federal Government’s ethnic radio station 3EA. Is the Minister aware of this report which claims that the Government authority financing the radio station, namely, the Special Broadcasting Service, does not know whether all of about $500,000 which it had allocated to pay broadcasters, contributors and part time employees working on ethnic programs has been adequately distributed? Is he also aware of claims that some broadcasters, nearly all of them working on Italian programs, have not received payments as prescribed by the Special Broadcasting
Service? Will the Minister comment on these disturbing reports and, in doing so, assure the Senate that a thorough investigation will be made of the finances and administration of 3EA?
– My attention has been drawn to the article referred to by the honourable senator. I am advised that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications is aware of the allegations made in the article. The Special Broadcasting Service has for some time also been aware that difficulties were being experienced and has recently commenced investigating methods by which the situation should be improved. Since the inception of ethnic broadcasting, payments for volunteer program contributors, which are based on the number of hours of broadcasting, have increased to $55 an hour. These payments were made to program coordinators on the understanding that they would arrange disbursements to all contributors. Legal accountability of the Special Broadcasting Service stopped at the point where the payments were made to the co-ordinators. However, occasional queries by individual broadcasters caused the SBS to look at the internal distribution procedures.
On 20 October 1978 the Special Broadcasting Service issued a Press release about its restructuring plans. Amongst other major changes, it has been decided that payments for all contributors to all programs could be rationalised. An interim system of payment ensuring the distribution of all moneys by all co-ordinators was introduced. The details of this rationalisation are still under discussion with the Broadcasters Association, which represents ethnic broadcasters.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Under self-government in the Northern Territory, are travelling expenses and accommodation costs available to people who are required to travel interstate or intrastate for treatment? If these costs are paid, who has the responsibility to organise and meet them- the Northern Territory Government or the Federal Government? Can the Minister also indicate which government has responsibility for advertising the availability of any assistance?
– I understand that prior to self-government in the Northern Territory the then Northern Territory Division of the Commonwealth Department of Health sponsored a scheme now known as Medivac whereby patients needing to travel outside and inside the
Territory for medical treatment were provided with air travel to and from their destinations subject to a contribution of $40 per person. No accommodation allowance was payable. I am informed that this scheme has been continued by the Northern Territory Department of Health. Other travel within the Northern Territory has been and is covered by normal health service facilities such as the aerial medical service and inter-hospital transfers. The costs involved in both areas are covered by the overall funding arrangements between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory.
However, with the introduction of the Commonwealth-sponsored isolated patients travel and accommodation assistance scheme from 1 October last year, which provides for travel costs less $20 and accommodation costs up to $15 a day where a patient is referred by a medical practitioner to the nearest suitable specialist for treatment more than 200 kilometres away from the patient’s residence, many patients have taken advantage of this assistance paid by the Commonwealth for both travel outside and inside the Northern Territory. This scheme comes within the portfolio of the Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, and therefore any publicity or advertising concerning the scheme is a matter for the Minister. I am advised that brochures indicating recent changes to the scheme will be made available shortly.
-My question to the Minister for Science and the Environment has been prompted by the Australian Association for Humane Research and relates to experimentation involving animals. Is the Minister able to advise what statistics equivalent to those kept by the British Home Office are kept in this country relating to the numbers and species of animals used for experimentation? Has this experimentation been performed for medical or commercial purposes? Is any information kept on institutions which use live animals for research or teaching? Is any kind of register kept which would enable concerned organisations to obtain this information?
– I can answer only those parts of the question which relate to my portfolio. The Minister for Health may be involved with some of the answers. The main research organisation, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is not involved in keeping statistics on the numbers and species of animals used for experimentation. The Department of Health keeps some statistics but only on the numbers of animals imported into Australia for research purposes. As far as CSIRO is aware, no information or register is kept on Australian institutions which use live animals for research or teaching purposes. However, I understand that the Minister for Health requires an annual authorisation of persons who perform experiments on live animals in the Australian Capital Territory. Research workers in the States and in the Northern Territory are similarly bound by comparable State Acts. The honourable senator may care to know that CSIRO, in co-operation with the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and other research organisations, has developed a code of practice for experiments on animals as a reference for Australian research workers and to promote humane behaviour towards experimental animals.
– Has the Leader of the Government seen the statement by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, that he personally favours a four-year term for governments and that a referendum to alter the term of the New South Wales Parliament could be conducted in conjunction with the next State election? Can the Minister say whether the Government has given any consideration to this concept? Will the Government consider supporting such a move by initiating legislation for a constitutional referendum on the question?
– I have seen the statement reported from Mr Wran that he and, I think, the State Opposition favour a four-year term. I am aware that over the years a strong viewpoint has been expressed throughout Australia at State and Federal levels that threeyear terms were too short and that the constant elections were disruptive. I am not aware of any immediate consideration by the Commonwealth Government itself, lt is a policy matter. I will refer this question to the Prime Minister and seek his perusal of the idea and any comment he may wish to make.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government. Has the Minister seen the text of the Tasmanian State Labor Budget? Is it a fact that the Tasmanian Treasurer has reduced land tax and death duties in my State? Does this action equate with the Tasmanian Premier’s cry of ‘poor’ and the recent excuse for an early election held on the pretext of a shabby deal from the Federal Government?
– The honourable senator should make sure that the question is within the parameters of the Minister’s responsibility.
– I believe that the question comes within the portfolio of the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs. That concludes my question.
– I have seen something of the reported text of the Budget of the Tasmanian Labor Government. It is true, as I understand it, that that Government has been able to cut taxes and, therefore, has demonstrated that it has a surplus of disposable funds. The Government, having demonstrated that it has a surplus of disposable funds, gives the lie to any claim that it made in the past that it was short of funds. I have repeatedly said in this place year after year that, under the regime of the Fraser Government, State governments have been able to increase their facilities and to cut taxes, whereas during the term of the Whitlam Government the facilities that they produced were reduced and they were forced to impose the highest taxes of any period. So, what Senator Walters draws my attention to is true: The policies of federalism have worked and that is demonstrable.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and follows the question asked by Senator Walters. Is it not a fact that the Tasmanian Government in its Budget announced yesterday has been compelled to budget for a deficit of $ 1.8m this financial year? Is it also not a fact that the Tasmanian Government, in its Budget announced yesterday, because of financial constraints, has had to halve the number of teacher students, has had to reduce by half a million dollars its allocation for roads and has had to drop its $2m unemployment relief scheme and that its public works program will remain static this year? Is it true that the total revenue position- Senator Walters ought to listen to this if she is concerned about Tasmania- both State and Federal, will improve by only 10 per cent this year, which in real terms means that there will be no financial improvement this financial year? Is that result what the Federal Government calls, to quote the Prime Minister, ‘too generous a deal for Tasmania ‘?
-We have learned from the Public Accounts Committee in New South Wales that the exposed deficits or surpluses of Labor governments are no indication of what those governments’ true finances are. It cannot escape the attention of all honourable senators that the Public Accounts Committee in New
South Wales has shown that the New South Wales Labor Government made totally false statements concerning its financial position. That Government, having cried poor mouth, in fact was exposed as having busily tried to sock away surpluses in order to produce a sob story at the time of the announcement of its Budget. So, as far as the deficit is concerned, unless one knows what volumes of moneys are held in the various trust funds, the claimed deficit is of no significance at all.
For Senator Wriedt to refer to any reduction in the employment of either teachers or teacher trainees is for him to condemn not the Federal Government but the State Government. He must know that the recurrent grants provided through the Schools Commission to the States for the employment of teachers, even though there will be a reduction in the number of teachers in the coming year, total for 1980 the same as they totalled for 1979 in real money terms, that is, after adjustment for inflation. If a State government makes decisions to do this or that, it has a right to do so. For example, if the Tasmanian Government decides to reduce certain taxes and at the same time to sack or not employ school teachers, that is demonstrably a matter for the Lowe State Labor Government and for nobody else to determine. If it does that to public works, it has a right to do so. It has elected to forgo revenue by way of tax reduction instead of increasing programs.
– And that is exactly what you want to happen, isn’t it? That is exactly what you are aiming for.
- Mr President, it is of no use Senator Wriedt trying to interject. The fact is that the decision to do the things which he has condemned is a decision made fully by and falling totally within the responsibility of the State Labor Government. It is a decision which need not have been made. That Government had the choice to use the money it had and not cut taxes, or to cut taxes and not cut programs. I am afraid that Senator Wriedt ‘s question is a question which rebounds upon the questioner.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. My original question was a question which also was not fully answered. I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether it is not a fact that, in a letter to the Premier of Tasmania of 12 July, the Prime Minister stated:
I must reiterate that the Commonwealth considers that the current guarantee formula is too generous, and make the obvious point that any proposal for continuation in its present form would not bc acceptable.
Will the Minister tell us whether it is not a fact that it is because of that attitude by Mr Fraser that not only the Tasmanian Government but also every other State government is finding itself in exactly the same financial squeeze as has been demonstrated in the Budget of the Tasmanian Government announced last night?
- Mr President, again I draw your attention to the fact that that is not a supplementary question at all; it is an entirely new question. But let me take it, because I enjoy the journey. Senator Wriedt asks whether the actions under the existing formula result from a foreshadowing by the Prime Minister of a future change in the formula. How Senator Wriedt can do that somersault, I do not know. The fact is that this Budget is brought down under an existing federalism formula. Whether or not the Prime Minister wrote to the Premier in particular terms is irrelevant to that. What the Prime Minister wrote relates to some future negotiations at a Premiers Conference as to some future formula. It can have nothing whatsoever to do with the Budget brought down last night. My attention is also drawn to the fact, in respect of the education funding situation that the Commonwealth has been able to bring about through the Schools Commission, that the Commonwealth provides in real terms the same amount of recurrent funds, even though there is a decline in teachers. Despite the circulation of false propaganda to all parents before the election the State of Tasmania is able to employ an additional 48 teachers.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: In view of the importance of Australia’s close relationship with Greece, can the Minister say what stage has been reached in the negotiation of a cultural relations agreement between Australia and Greece?
-As Senator Knight indicates, the Government attaches importance to the conclusion of a cultural agreement with Greece which would add further substance to the existing warm relations between the two countries. Over a long period of years, the Greek community in Australia has played a significant role in our national and cultural development, and the conclusion of such an agreement should enable Australians to have even greater contact with the Greek cultural heritage. It should also enable a wider appreciation in Greece of Australian cultural achievements. Negotiations on the terms of an agreement have been proceeding for some time. They are now in their final stages, and it is hoped that the agreement can be concluded very shortly.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, refers to yesterday’s reports relating to fractures in a DC9 aircraft on a flight between Boston and Nova Scotia, the fact that there was certain corrosion in the tail section of the aircraft, and the grounding of some aircraft in Canada. Is the Minister able to state what consideration is being given by the Australian Department of Transport to this incident? Has the Department, or have representatives of the Australian Government in Canada, made inquiries in respect of this incident? Is it expected that it would affect in any way Australia’s complement of DC9 aircraft? If the Minister is unable to supply the information at the present time, will he endeavour to do so later, in order to convince everybody that Australia’s scrutiny of aircraft continues to be good?
– Like Senator Justin O ‘Byrne ‘s question, this one is of great interest to honourable senators, as well as to the travelling public generally. I am advised that the Government’s preliminary information is that the aircraft model involved in the Air Canada occurrence is not fitted with a ventral stairway, that is, the rear exit in the aircraft that we have in Australia. It has an emergency exit or escape hatch in the rear pressure bulkhead. None of this particular type of DC9 is operated in Australia. There have been previous reports of cracking in DC9 rear pressure bulkheads overseas, and also in Australia. Australian inspection procedures were reviewed earlier this year in order to cater for the problem.
The honourable senator asks what action is currently being taken. I am advised that detailed information is being sought by the Department from the Canadian and United States authorities, and from the manufacturer, in respect of the present occurrence, to determine whether any new aspects are revealed as a result of it, and whether those new aspects, if revealed, might require additional action on our part. Of course, this is in addition to any recommendations or directives which might originate from the authorities or from the manufacturers as a result of their separate investigations. So the matter is receiving immediate attention.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate: Is it a fact that the Tasmanian Budget provides for an 1 1.8 per cent increase in revenue spending and a 9 per cent increase in the capital works program? If that is a fact, are those amounts higher than the inflation rate and in real terms do they constitute a growth in the funds available to the Tasmanian Government in the current year?
-Senator Rae has encapsulated the Tasmanian Budget.
– You can authenticate the newspaper report from which he quoted, can you?
-If Senator Wriedt wishes to make a speech we will give him the indulgence to do so. As usual, we delight in giving a factual reply. But I wish that he would allow others to proceed with their questions. He assails the Senate with a tirade of supplementary questions. I propose to proceed to answer Senator Rae. My understanding- it is an understanding that can be challenged at a subsequent Question Time in the Senate- is that what Senator Rae said is right- that the Budget brought down provides for an 1 1.8 per cent increase in revenue expenditure and a 9 per cent increase in capital works and that, taken together, those two figures are higher than the projected inflation rate for the coming year and, therefore, are a projection of real growth.
– Rubbish! Your own Budget Paper says that inflation will go up by 10 per cent.
– The attempts by the Labor Party- no doubt as a result of its neurosis following last Saturday- to frustrate the correct answering of questions in this place will not succeed. The fact is that these matters can be checked from the Tasmanian Budget. They are matters of fact and they give the lie to those who in the past have said that Tasmania was short of funds and was being frustrated for funds. They give the lie to those who argue that funds for Tasmania have been cut back. I remind the Senate again that no government that can cut taxes in a Budget can claim that it is short of revenue for its policies. It would be a contradiction in terms. The Tasmanian Government cut taxes and, therefore, had the ability, if it so desired, to increase funds in any of the policy areas where it may have restrained spending or cut back funds.
– I have received a letter from Senator Gietzelt proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion, namely:
The increasing cost of comsumer credit.
I call upon those senators who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
– The Australian Labor Party has brought before the Senate the discussion of this matter of the increasing cost of consumer credit because of the grave problems being created for many thousands of consumers by the huge growth of consumer credit facilities. We are concerned at the lack of action by this Government to institute any form of regulation or control in this area of vital importance to millions of Australians. We are concerned about the rapid and largely uncontrolled expansion of credit. We are concerned about the dubious and sometimes dishonest techniques used by some companies to induce consumers to buy on credit. We are concerned about the exhorbitant interest rates which consumers are forced to pay and about the monopolistic features of the finance market.
From time to time the Parliament has considered the matter of credit in Australia. The Senate, in establishing a committee in 1970, had in mind the need for some supervision. But nine long years have gone by and little progress has been registered in the Commonwealth’s accepting some area of responsibility. As we are moving into the credit era, into a cashless society, a period in which most purchases will be made by credit cards, it seems an anomaly and a matter for some criticism that the national Parliament has not given more serious consideration to its responsibilities.
The finance industry of this country is controlled by seven huge corporations and their subsidiaries. From this comfortable position, and with assets exceeding some $80,000m, these financial vacuum cleaners are sucking consumers dry. Bank overdrafts, the cheapest form of finance, at an interest rate of around 10 per cent, are now increasingly hard to get. People are forced to go in more and more for expensive personal loans or to the banks’ financial subsidiaries. These finance companies engage in huge and often misleading advertising campaigns. I refer here not so much to the major companies as to some of the smaller companies. Once he is in the finance company’s hands the customer will be faced with interest rates of up to 28 per cent and more. Quoted misleading ‘flat rates’, consumers are often pushed into arrangements by the denial of bank finance and are often unclear about finance contracts which they barely understand. Bankcard users also are often unclear about the peculiar arrangements, paying 18 per cent without knowing it and, of course, there is the impact of the 5 per cent service charge on prices. It is not surprising, then, that the average increase in profits for the year 1977-78 was a massive 39.8 per cent. People are being urged to buy, buy and buy, yet very little is done to establish the giving of any information to the consumer or to exercise restraint on the rates of interest that are charged.
I would like to draw the attention of the Senate to bank overdraft rates of 10!£ per cent, to personal bank loan rates of between 13 and 14Vi per cent, to credit loans at 12 to 1 6 per cent, to Bankcard finance at 1 8 per cent, to department store credit rates of up to 22.2 per cent, to finance company rates which average 22 to 27 per cent, and to high interest finance company loans with interest charges of 28 per cent or more. The latter are imposed by fringe operators who advertise mostly in some of our weekly newspapers. They are willing to lend to almost anybody, but it is the most expensive way to borrow.
I am also concerned about the collapse of finance companies, an occurrence which robs thousands of small savers of their life savings and results in thousands of small borrowers being forced to pay higher rates of interest. We should be concerned about this matter because we have to recognise that the people who go to consumer credit agencies, wherever and whatever they are, are in the lower income group. Often they do not enjoy ready cash, lack financial resources and are being persuaded to buy in the market place by the ever-increasing expenditure on advertising campaigns designed to entice the consumer to purchase goods that he may want but may not be able, in fact, to afford.
In Australia in recent years there has been a rapid growth in consumer credit extension and, similarly, a rapid growth in consumer indebtedness. Australia is now the world’s third largest credit user per capita. There is no doubt that recent developments in credit extension and facilities in the United States will be repeated in Australia. Some of the more unsavoury and exploitive United States developments will also soon be manifested in Australia unless some action is taken nationally and in co-operation with the States. The greater acceptance of credit and indebtedness today is largely the result of the selling of the idea of credit- a credit psychology in an age of mass marketing and mass consumption, and an age of buy now and pay later.
There has been in the last decade a marked change in public attitudes to credit. There has been not only a rapid growth in consuming indebtedness, but also a proliferation of financial institutions and financial practices directed at the market for consumer loans. We see evidence of this in most of our suburbs now with a proliferation of shop front consumer credit agencies springing up. Yet it is only this year that this Government has taken the step of establishing the Campbell inquiry.
Let us look at the trends because, unfortunately, we have the tendency in this country of following the leader. In the United States there has been a very marked development and a change in the whole marketing and purchasing processes. In the United States it is now difficult to subsist without a pocketful of plastic credit cards. By June 1 979 instalment credit, excluding mortgages, was a staggering $300 billion or almost $1,500 a head. United States credit card companies have adopted hard sell tactics to gain more customers. These include giant mail-outs running into millions of dollars and free gifts for new customers. Of course, as a result of this massive development, they are confronted with soaring credit delinquencies. More and more people in that country are being caught out by being unable to meet their commitments as a result of the easy flow of credit cards. With inflation and unemployment rising in that country, as it is in this country, these delinquencies are bound to increase. In the United States, the largest part of the average consumers pay cheque is now used to pay off interest and capital principal on loans. There was a huge increase of 22.7 per cent in the first quarter of 1 979.
This growth in consumer indebtedness has been accompanied by the emergence of financial counselling centres of credit addicts. That is the new process that is taking place. We do not just have drug addicts. We now have credit addicts who have to be looked at in the social welfare field. These trends are being paralleled in Australia. Social welfare agencies, church agencies and State consumer groups all show an increasing number of people being affected by over-commitments in the area of consumer credit. Consumer debt interest has increased over the last three years by, respectively, 23 per cent, 20 per cen t and 1 8 per cent. This is clear, if we look at the amount of consumer credit which is outstanding as at June 1979. The major banks, for example, have on personal loans $2,02 lm or $144 a head, which is an increase of 29 per cent on the previous year. Bankcard has $77 lm or $55 a head, an increase of 39 per cent on the previous year. The finance companies are lending $4,250m, which is $304 a head. Credit unions have $64 a head. These figures mean that as a result of recent trends in marketing indebtedness on consumer credit alone has now reached the staggering figure of $567 a head. The source of that information is the Reserve Bank.
Let us take one example. AVCO Financial Services, a subsidiary of a United States corporation, reported an increase in net after-tax earnings for the half year to 3 1 May of 17.5 per cent. This increase, it is said, was due to the greater emphasis on consumer loans which are now 90 per cent of its operations, where gross returns are high and cash flow is steady. The group’s gross yield was 22 per cent, despite an increase of net credit losses as a proportion of net receivables outstanding from 0.73 per cent to 0.91 per cent. Finance figures show that the net profits of the major banks and their finance companies have increased enormously. Of course, this is what ought to be discussed in the Australian community. The Bank of New South Wales and the Australian Guarantee Corporation and its subsidiaries have increased their net profit by 62.6 per cent in the six months to March of this year. The Australian and New Zealand Banking Group and Esanda increased its net profit by 5 1 per cent, the National Bank and Custom Credit by 22.3 per cent, the Commercial Bank of Australia and General Credits by 38.9 per cent, and the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and Commercial and General Acceptance by 83.6 per cent.
This brings us to the disturbing result of this great growth in consumer credit. I refer to the difficulties that consumers have in meeting their payments. Many people find themselves overcommitted with hire purchase and credit card transactions. Increasing extension of credit services to consumers in times of inflation and unemployment inevitably bring problems to many consumers. It is essential that governments protect consumers from unscrupulous financial operators, from unfair and discriminatory practices, and from themselves, through education.
While the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) is here, I say that I find the current publication by the Department of Education in conjunction with the Department of Business and
Consumer Affairs, Consumer Education Australia, a wonderful publication, but unfortunately it has not dealt specifically with the very important question of consumer education. That is only a minor point of criticism of what is an otherwise very fine publication. There is a growing tendency for issuers of credit cards and financial services to adopt hard-sell techniques to induce consumers to increase their credit commitments. There have been reports of retailers pressuring customers to obtain credit cards rather than accepting cash, and some finance companies employ door-to-door salesmen to work in the suburbs, persuading people that they can afford to buy goods on hire purchase. I refer to one report which comes from the New South Wales Department of Consumer Affairs. According to an article in the Sydney Sun of 2 1 September 1977, the Department states:
A number of finance companies are involved. They arrange with a firm specialising in door-to-door sales to carry out a canvassing operation in a particular area . . .
Usually, it is a low income area.
The consumer is offered a choice of manchester- towels, blankets, sheets, linen goods- toys and Christmas food hampers to be paid ‘on terms’.
The householder’s account is assigned to the finance company, which has representatives calling to collect payments weekly.
During this repayment period, the visiting representative, who has become a familiar face around the home, will suggest that the consumer has established a ‘credit rating’ and is eligible fora personal loan.
Even more credit can be made available and, inevitably, the situation arises where the consumer has difficulty in paying. The report goes on to say:
Housewives have complained that they have been threatened with penalty interest- around 52 per cent flat - unless the loan is ‘renewed ‘.
If they do not follow this action, they must repay the loan immediately. In the Bulletin, there is an article about Mr and Mrs Average. It deals with the sort of fellow who is easily convinced to enter the area of consumer credit. It states:
The profile of the typical debtor: he is in his early 30s, married but his wife doesn’t work. He has a take-home pay of $150 a week- the family’s only income apart from child endowment. He has two children and lives in a middletolow income area in a rented home costing about $48 a week. He is paying off a colour TV, a refrigerator and a 2-year-old car. A blue-collar worker, he could spend some time each year unemployed. He doesn’t have a cheque account.
Such is the picture painted by Peter Buckland, chairman of one of Australia’s major debt collection firms . . .
This kind of fellow is just too easily sold’ . . .
Therefore, there is a necessity for education of the community about the need to be much more involved in understanding the processes of consumer credit. Consumers must be protected by legislation from the sorts of practices to which I have referred. Fortunately, some action is being taken by the States, but there is no uniformity and there is no initiative by the national Government. In particular, New South Wales will soon introduce legislation to abolish hire purchase agreements and replace them with mortgage arrangements. Nevertheless, bad debts have almost doubled in Australia in the past two years and this had led the President of the Institute of Mercantile Agents- which is a debt collection agency- to say:
People fall easy victim to the fact that they can get a new car, washing machine or lounge suite on virtually no deposit.
When these goods are constantly pushed onto consumers through massive advertising, and consumers are made to feel inadequate unless they respond, no wonder this problem arises. This is even more understandable when one realises that the money to buy these goods is also pushed onto the consumer. I note that it has been reported that nearly all of the 30,000 calls received by Lifeline- a Sydney welfare agencylast year had some element of financial difficulty involved. When dealing with consumer credit, it is not only the way it is sold to the public, but also the price of it that is a problem. I refer here to the interest rates charged by companies in the business of selling credit.
Interest rates are high largely because of the oligopolistic market structure, despite the diversity of loan suppliers. This lack of competition is directly related to the dominance of the consumer loan market by a few powerful companies. I have already referred to the great market power of the seven major banks and their capacity to move the business of their customers to the subsidiary finance companies. These banks do not compete in terms of interest rates or services. Since they also control the large finance companies, competition is lessened even further. For example, in 1900 there were 20 Australian banks but after the merger of the Bank of Adelaide with the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd the number will be down to eight. The banks and their finance companies set their interest rates at similar levels and the remaining firms in the loan industry generally accept these rates and follow suit.
Honourable senators will recall that when elected in 1975, the Government said that one of its principal objectives was to reduce interest rates. Whilst there has been a very minor reduction in interest rates in the general market, there has been no comparable reduction in interest rates charged for consumer credit. In fact, since that time, although inflation has dropped, interest rates have continued to rise, particularly in the area of consumer finance. There is no effective competition despite what the Treasurer (Mr Howard) said on 11 July 1979. He said:
This Government favours the maximum competition possible within the Australian financial system.
Our main reason for complaint is the exorbitant interest rates which are being charged in the market place. In particular, I refer to the interest rate charged by Bankcard. All banks charge the same rate of interest. Therefore, there is no competition. This high rate has remained constant since 1974 when the scheme was first introduced and when the inflation rate was considerably higher than it is today. Other loan rates have fluctuated, but at the same time the banks, through advertising and promotion and by departing from the previous practice of providing personal credit on overdrafts, have increased lending at a very high rate. Figures issued by the Reserve Bank of Australia show the Bankcard advances outstanding increased by 1 39 per cent between June 1976 and June 1977, by 57 per cent between June 1977 and June 1978 and an estimated 35 per cent between June 1978 and June 1979. Choice magazine in its February issue estimated that banks earned $6m a month from Bankcard operations on a total initial investment of only $8m
Despite this profitable business, the banks have been reported as advising applicants for personal loans and overdrafts to take out a Bankcard and get cash credit. The interest rate on a personal loan is about 14 per cent reducible and the overdraft interest rate is about 18 per cent. Unfortunately, people are persuaded to take out a Bankcard on which they pay 18 per cent interest on the money they borrow. The interbank agreement would be illegal in the United States of America and Canada. The United States equivalent of Bankcard, Visa, is available to all banks and financial institutions which satisfy certain criteria. Interest rates for Visa differ from institution to institution and vary from 12 per cent to 18 per cent. The lower rates are offered by credit unions. The Bankcard scheme could certainly be extended to credit unions. They could offer cheaper services and provide competition for the banks, which are currently growing fat off their customers. We assert that the present Bankcard system is discriminatory.
Honourable senators will recall that the establishment of the credit union movement in the early post-years had as its intention and objective the provision of cheap credit for co-operative movements that were established at the work place and community level. Unfortunately, that movement is in the process of being squeezed out of the whole area of consumer credit. It provides one of the best rates of interest for those people who want to purchase the normal consumer goods in the market place.
– The Australian Labor Party has asked the Senate to debate as a matter of public importance the increasing cost of consumer credit. Senator Gietzelt has taken 20 minutes to describe to the Senate the phenomenon of the growing use by the Australian community of consumer credit. He has done nothing at all to relate what he said to the allegation that there has been an increase in cost of consumer credit. In fact, I propose to show that the reverse has happened. There are some eight traditional ways in which the people of Australia seek credit to carry out their various domestic and business transactions. Let me examine those ways and show what the trend in the cost of consumer credit has been over the past four years. I will compare the interest rates that were applicable in the latter part of 1975, the last year of the Whitlam Government, with the interest rates as pertaining today and show that in each case over this period there has been a declining cost in consumer credit. That, of course, is directly pertinent to the subject we are discussing today.
The test to apply today is: What is happening to the cost of consumer credit? Is it increasing, as the Labor Party alleges in the text of its matter of public importance but not in its argument, or is it declining? I refer to trading bank personal loans. Every Australian will be aware from newspapers and periodicals of the competitive attempts by various financial institutions, the trading banks, to attract people to take out personal loans with them. In late 1975 the charge for a trading bank personal loan was 8.25 per cent flat. In mid- 1979, the charge was 7.75 per cent flat. This indicates that for personal loans there has not been an increasing charge but a declining charge.
A trading bank personal loan is one of the eight orthodox methods of finance. Another method is a small overdraft loan. Most Australians, at one time or another, would have had cause to operate overdrafts. In late 1975 the effective overdraft rate was 11.5 per cent. In mid- 1979, it was 10 per cent- down 1.5 percent. So for both trading bank personal loans and small overdraft loans there has been a declining cost.
I now come to another very important area of consumer credit used by many people in Australia- savings bank new mortgage loans. It is the third of the orthodox borrowing methods. In late 1975 under the Labor Government the interest rate on these loans was 1 1.5 per cent. In mid- 1979 it was 9.5 per cent- down 2 per cent. I have mentioned three of the eight orthodox methods of borrowing and a pattern is clearly emerging. It is not one of an increasing cost for consumer credit but one of a significantly declining cost. Every Australian who is paying off a home knows the difference that a drop of one half a per cent, one per cent or 2 per cent makes in the repayments on his bank loan. It can represent a saving to a family of as much as $20 or $30 a month. These are precious savings that have been made.
Finance companies in Australia have a wide range of rates of lending. One test that can be applied is: What is their rate of borrowing? They go onto the market to get their money, which they then recycle by way of lending. During the period of the Whitlam Government the phenomenon of the huge rise in the borrowing rates of finance companies was an every day occurrence. Page after page of the periodicals was filled with advertisements showing that the borrowing rates for finance companies were up. But over the four years of the Fraser Government those borrowing rates have dropped and it has been possible therefore for finance companies to lower their lending rates. There is a multitude of examples, but if I may take the five-year borrowing rate as a simple example, in the Whitlam Government’s time it was 12 per cent to 2Yi per cent. Now, in mid-1979, it is 10!6 per cent to 1 1 per cent. We have brought it down by 1 lA per cent, and we have moved quite steadily through trading bank personal loans, the effective overdraft rate on small loans, savings bank new mortgages and finance company lending. Instead of the cost of consumer credit increasing, there has emerged a very significant decline in the cost of borrowing. I move now to retailers credit, which Senator Gietzelt mentioned. There is a clear picture that over that period the lending rates have remained stationary. Certainly they have not increased. As to permanent building societies, the world knows that their lending rates depend upon their borrowing rates, and their borrowing rates have been susceptible to the general decline in the rate of inflation in Australia. So whilst there have been variations in various States, they have at least been stationary and some have declined. There is no indication at all of any increasing cost of consumer credit.
As to the seventh of the lending media, Bankcard, a very great deal of Senator Gietzelt ‘s time and the Labor Party’s time in putting its case today was devoted to what amounted to an invective against Bankcard and what it stands for. In the opinion of Senator Gietzelt, it is a monster that seduces people into being what he calls credit addicts- a very poor and very paternalistic but not surprising socialist approach to the Australian person, as though the Australian is not a person of sufficient independence and maturity to be able to handle his own credit without socialistic, doctrinaire lectures from Senator Gietzelt and the Labor Party. One would know that it is a monster because Senator Gietzelt said so. One would therefore know that the Labor Party would find it completely abhorrent to have Bankcards or to encourage them or that interest is charged on them. But steady on! What government introduced Bankcard? What government gave it the authority, the opportunity, to be formed and to expand? It was the Whitlam Labor Government. A Treasurer named Mr Crean and the then incoming Treasurer, Mr Hayden, the present Leader of the Federal Labor Party, gave full concurrence to the rapid development of Bankcard, at the rate of interest that appertains. So we had better be very careful about this perspective.
It is very easy to get up and make a socialist outcry, describing Australian people as people who have to be protected against themselves, as people who cannot handle their own domestic housekeeping, that some paternalistic socialism of Senator Gietzelt ‘s making must come in to protect them against themselves. That is not the picture of the Australian family. The picture of the Australian family is one of sturdy independence, of people who have been able to handle hire purchase and all the various forms of credit over the years, and to handle them with solvency and with no need for lectures from doctrinaire socialists.
I move now to the eighth factor in consumer credit, the credit unions. The same phenomenon has happened with credit unions. Because they have been able to borrow at lower rates than before they have been able to keep their lending rates at stable figures. So we have a phenomenon, and I want to describe it very carefully. It is becoming a habit with the Labor Party every Wednesday to bring forward a subject which it says is of monstrously urgent importance and then to relate nothing at all of what it says to the substance of the matter it has raised. The Labor Party has said: ‘We want you, the Australian people, to regard as being of considerable importance- sufficient importance to put aside the business of the Senate for this period- this subject: The increasing cost of consumer credit.’ Senator Gietzelt spoke for 20 minutes and gave no indication at all of any examples of increases in consumer credit. I have been able to show step by step that trading bank personal loans have come down from 8.2 per cent flat to 7.75 per cent over our period in office; that overdraft rates for small loans have dropped from 1 1 .5 per cent to 10 per cent; that savings bank new mortgages have dropped from 1 1.5 percent to 9.5 percentdown 2 per cent; that finance companies fiveyear borrowing rates have dropped by Vh per cent; that retailers credit has remained stationary; that permanent building societies have not been forced to put up their rates; that Bankcard, against which Senator Gietzelt inveighs and which he sees as iniquitous, is the creation of his own Treasurer and of his own Government, with the Bankcard interest rate established by his own people; and that credit unions have been able to remain stable.
In all the borrowing systems that are available to the ordinary Australian the picture emerges not that there has been any increase in cost but that there has been a substantial decrease. Fundamentally, that gets to the core of what has happened in Australia in the past four years. When the Whitlam Government was swept out of office in 1975 inflation was surging upwards through 16 per cent, 18 per cent and onwards, with a huge upsurge in interest rates. As I frequently remind the Australian people, Australia, which had the lowest inflation rate in the free world- an average 2Vi per cent- moved with its record inflation rate to within the top quarter of all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. That robbed the Australian people not only of their credit but also of every little pensioner savings account, the millions of small accounts of the savings banks and of the permanent building societies, where the socialist Labor Government through its destructive inflation -
– Wind him up. Whitlam caused the droughts and the floods. Everything was Whitlam ‘s fault.
-Let them shout as they like. It will give those observing a clear idea that when solid arguments are put forward all that the Labor Party can do is to turn up the noise of vituperation. Let me say that the real destruction of consumer credit was the Labor Party’s inflation rate, which went into every savings bank account, every permanent building society, every credit union, every pensioner’s little purse and pocket, and robbed them and downgraded their purchasing power. We having moved the inflation rate downwards from 1 8 per cent to something less than 9 per cent, having stabilised interest rates, the Labor Party has the gall to come forward and put forward these claims. We have moved the Australian inflation rate from the top quarter of the OECD countries to the bottom quarter, and that comment is based not on my figures but on the statement of the OECD. Australia, along with Japan and West Germany, is today the pacesetter in good housekeeping and good management. Let the people of Australia understand that for them the real savings come when we protect them by lowering inflation and by stabilising interest rates. All those people on pensions and fixed incomes and all the people who had small investments in Australia were robbed of their consumer purchasing power which was destroyed by the Labor Party. I have been able to show step by step through the eight orthodox methods of financing that, contrary to what Senator Gietzelt has said, the reverse has happened. We have lowered the cost of consumer credit.
One knows that Senator Gietzelt holds such a fervour about these wicked banks and finance companies. No doubt the Whitlam Government did something about them because, as Senator Gietzelt says, these institutions are absolute monsters. The silence from the other side of the chamber is absolutely articulate. It took the Fraser Government to establish the Campbell Committee of Inquiry into the Australian Financial System. This Government has set up an inquiry into the whole of the ramifications of finance and financial institutions including the question of consumer credit. Yet it is strange that a party which did nothing except mutter doctrinaire socialist utterances all the time while destroying people’s savings should suddenly attack a government which has a remarkably good track record and which has set up the Campbell Committee.
The Opposition has referred to Bankcard. If Bankcard is as wicked as honourable members opposite say it is, why did they give it life? Why did they set the interest rate? Mr Hayden has claimed that Bankcard is operating as a monopoly. I think that Senator Gietzelt looks at it as such. The Bankcard agreement has been lodged with the Trade Practices Commission and the parties to it have sought authorisation under the Trade Practices Act. It is extraordinary that honourable members opposite see as odious something to which they gave the breath of life and on which they have fixed interest rates. All that Senator Gietzelt has said is that, in terms of paternalistic socialism, the Australian people are incapable of handling consumer credit themselves. He said that it was monstrous for these people to go out and live. The Opposition says that it is wrong for Bankcard to offer people a deal which says: ‘You can use this Bankcard over a period of a month and at the end of the month you will get an account. If you pay that account within 25 days you will not be charged any interest at all. So you can in fact have 55 days of credit of loan without any cost at all’. The Opposition says that this is wicked and monstrous. This facility is world wide. The good sense of ordinary people says that this facility of consumer credit is wanted. Only doctrinaire socialism says that it is wrong; only doctrinaire socialism could come forward and fail to put this case.
-The public listening to the broadcast of this debate and members of the public in the gallery would have been shocked to have heard the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) say that the Labor Party is wasting the time of the Senate in bringing to the public’s attention the well known fact that as young families seek to raise money in order to buy a home and furnish it, to clothe themselves and to buy a motor vehicle, they are faced with crippling interest rates. It is all very well for Senator Carrick to say that eight methods of finance are traditionally available within the Australian community. There might be eight, eighteen, eighty or eight hundred. The question is: How is the Australian public being moved towards one or other of a particular type of extension of credit? In being moved towards a particular type of extension of credit, is the Australian public being asked to pay an exorbitant rate of interest? There is no doubt that of the various methods of credit available in the Australian community the advertising pressure and pressures put by bank managers on applicants for loans are such that the Australian public is being inexorably moved to the use of the credit card system known as Bankcard. I will return to that aspect later.
– What is wrong with it?
-What is wrong with it, Senator, is that it charges an 1 8 per cent interest rate per annum, whereas the personal loan which one ought normally, traditionally, be able to obtain runs at something like 10 per cent. Even the unsecured personal loans run at about 1 5 or 1 6 per cent. The bank managers whom an applicant sees have an interest in taking that applicant away from the traditional methods of obtaining credit, some of which Senator Carrick outlined, towards the Bankcard method. I will come to that later.
Senator Carrick also made the statement, in his usual tirade against the former Whitlam Government, that it was that Government that, more than any other, destroyed, as he said, consumer purchasing power. That charge can well be levelled at the present Government and is being levelled by many sectors of the community as they observe the depression in real wages and the failure to honour the promise on tax indexation. Both those factors are creating a situation where the disposable income of Australian households is much less than it was two, three or four years ago. This is not just Labor Party socialist propaganda. One should read the comments of Mr David Block, a director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd; he is hardly a doctrinaire socialist. In this week’s National Time’s he says:
A few weeks ago I was sitting down with one former Ambassador to China Stephen Fitzgerald and we were talking about a nation in which the leadership had actually created a declining real wage for its people.
That’s what the Gang of Four did. That’s what the Government is doing to Australia ‘.
It is well known to everyone in the gallery and everyone listening to this broadcast that the Government has also failed to honour its promise to keep governments honest by maintaining indexation of taxation. In both these ways, by deliberate government decision, the purchasing power of Australian consumers, Australian households, has declined dramatically in the last two or three years. This has forced consumers, without the readily disposable income to buy the items they require and need, to seek loans. They need to borrow, to buy credit and to commit themselves and their families to repay principal and interest. Here, the Government’s failure to lower interest rates as it promised- it partially won an election on this issue- is well known.
On 2 December 1977, as an election promise, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said he would reduce interest rates by 2 per cent. What interest rate did we have in July of this year, compared with the 9.5 per cent rate which was in operation in December 1977? We had a rate of 10.07 per cent in the long term bond rate. In other words, it is clear that over the last year or two the long term bond rate has been edging up. That is the most significant indicator of the failure of this Government to honour its promise to lower interest rates. In fact, interest rates are increasing at that very basic level. That must work through the whole of the eight traditional methods which Senator Carrick outlined. Therefore, not only is the assertion within the matter of public importance which the Labor Party has brought to this Senate true, but also is it substantiated by that basic increasing long term bond rate.
This failure of the Government to honour its promise to lower interest rates is one of the most damaging features of its record, damaging to its credibility and damaging to the whole of the Australian economy. As one moves around the electorate- this is not perceived by Senator Carrick- one finds that there is nothing more terrifying for the average family than the failure of interest rates to decline as was promised and which seemed possible at some times. There is a massive insecurity and unease in the Australian community, a community that should be, given our wealth producing capacity, able to provide goods, services, homes, motor vehicles, clothing and furniture to all Australian families without their having to seek loans. They have to seek loans because ofthe Government’s policy to reduce disposable real wages and other support for persons and families. They have to go out and seek loans- to get an extension of credit.
I will elaborate a little on two areas in which the Government could have acted to reduce interest rates and in which it has failed to do so. I make no apology for taking, as did Senator Gietzelt, Bankcard as a symbol of the Government’s failure to act where it ought to have acted. It is well known that the cartel of banks which operates the Bankcard system was exempted- I admit, by a Labor government- from the provisions of the Trade Practices Act to enable that system of extending credit to be established. But with what result? It is now five years since that system was established. We can now look back and say that the result has been that the banking system has been able to move the average consumer of credit away from some of the traditional methods, which Senator Carrick outlined, towards that 18 per cent per annum interest rate extension of credit. Short term consumer credit according to traditional methods has been completely circumvented by that campaign, which has been massively advertised and which has been supported by bank managers.
Many of us in ordinary contact with constituents know of cases in which clients of banks have approached banks for personal loans and, thinking that they would be walking out with a personal loan at an interest rate of 10 per cent per annum, have found themselves with a Bankcard loan carrying a risk that if they cannot meet the deadline of 25 days after the end of the month they will pay interest at a rate equivalent to 1 8 per cent per annum. It is obviously in the interest ofthe banks to move clients in that way. It would be surprising indeed if bank managers did not encourage’ persons to use Bankcard rather than resort to the traditional methods outlined by Senator Carrick. But what is most disturbing is that, as I said, five years after the establishment of the Bankcard cartel, with all the privileges which that implies in its not being exposed to the normal operation of the Trade Practices Act, one finds the same interest rate applying now as obtained in 1 974.
– Who was in government then?
– I have already said that the system was established by a Labor government. At that time 1 8 per cent per annum was established as a non-competitive interest ratebecause, as we have said, the Trade Practices Act was not to apply- a rate which was thought necessary to establish that method of extending credit. It was a rate which was struck in order to enable the banks to get back their initial investment over a certain period of years. Such has been the massive advertising campaign, such has been the convenience- which it would be wrong not to admit- of that method of obtaining credit, that the banks very quickly and sooner than expected have got back their initial investment and are now making what are suspected to be tremendous and exorbitant profits.
I am not against the making of ordinary profits, but what surely is not to be permitted is that, at a time when inflation rates compared with the situation since 1 974, have been reduced the same rate of interest of 18 per cent per annum is being charged for Bankcard. The Australian Labor Party states, as it stated in 1974, that the rate of interest for Bankcard should not exceed something like 4 per cent above the current inflation rate. That would mean that, if the Labor Party were in power today and if it were extending the same privileges to the bank cartel as is now accorded it, the interest rate for Bankcard would be something like 14 per cent per annum. That would be a reasonable and, surely, an acceptable rate of interest to the banks. However, we cannot be sure that it would be acceptable because this Government refuses to require the banks, which exist in the Bankcard cartel by grace of government, to reveal the bad debts situation, for example, of the use of that method of extending credit. We can only suspect that it is certainly better than the bad debts situation of unsecured personal loans. But the actual rate of interest is far higher than that charged by banks for unsecured personal loans. That is just one of the anomalies of the present situation.
Last year Bankcard extended $1.7 billion worth of credit to Australian consumers of credit. At an 18 per cent per annum rate of interest for those people who fail to meet the 25-day date line, the banks must be making a profit which has more than returned to them their original investment and is providing more than a reasonable profit thereafter. Senator Carrick raised the matter of mortgages as a traditional way of raising finance. I am surprised that he did so because his Government recently announced the destruction of a mechanism which was established when liberalism meant liberalism, before the new conservatism took over. It was a mechanism which was to enable consumers of homes- home purchasers- to obtain their loans at a lesser interest rate than they would otherwise have to pay in an untrammelled market. No less a Liberal identity than Sir Robert Menzies said, in his Liberal Party policy speech of 1963, in commenting on the problem which young home buyers faced in purchasing a home:
That Corporation was established. It was innovative. It was helpful. It led to a situation in which the housing industry was led into a new era based on smaller deposits and longer repayment periods for loans. The Housing Loans Insurance Corporation was the first in the home loan mortgage insurance field and it led the way for others. That Corporation is to be destroyed by government edict- an ideological, philosophical move which will lead to a situation, which was commented on by the General Manager in Australia of the multinational American-owned Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation of Australia. He said that his company, in the light of the Government’s destruction of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, which had been innovative and which had helped to keep interest rates for housing loans low, was now considering an increase in its interest rates after 1 8 months of underwriting losses. He said:
Rates have been forced down by the HLIC but when it goes to private enterprise things will be different … It will be better for everyone.
Of course, it will be better for those who are extending credit to the hard-pressed home buyers of Australia. Obviously, it will not be better for those home buyers. It is yet another illustration of the Government’s failure to be fair dinkum in looking after the interests of consumers throughout Australia. That was well exemplified in this chamber earlier this year with the emasculation of the Prices Justification Tribunal, which turned it from a consumers’ watchdog into a lap dog for the Executive Government of the day. The failure of the Government to keep down interest rates when consumers without disposable household incomes are forced to get loans for their ordinary homes, motor vehicles, furniture and other household goods, is an indictment and we make no apology for raising the issue as a matter of public importance.
-On behalf of the Government I continue this debate on a matter of public importance, concerning the alleged increasing cost of consumer credit, which was raised by Opposition Senator Gietzelt. I must state initially that at first I believed that Senator Gietzelt must have misread this matter of public importance as his contribution was directed largely to indicating a recognition of the extensive use of and growth in consumer credit. I remind the participants in this debate and those people listening to the debate that it concerns an alleged increase in the cost of consumer credit. I contend that, rather than there having been an increase in the cost of consumer credit, in effect in the period with which I will deal there has been a significant decrease in the cost of consumer credit. Perhaps it was Senator Gietzelt ‘s understanding, on investigation, that interest rates and charges had actually decreased and not increased that resulted in his change of emphasis and his getting away from a recognition of the fact that interest rates have actually fallen.
I think it is necessary to define the parameters within which this debate will be conducted. One can look at a situation in the very long term, the medium term, or the short term. I think what is relevant today is a comparison of the situation in recent past with the present situation. In making that comparison I will examine a couple of periods. But, before doing so, let me say that I believe that we should recognise the importance of credit in the community. The growing importance of credit in the community is a recognition of a change in the nature of trading. For example, there has been a significant movement towards what we might term the cash discount stores. Many people listening today would undoubtedly regret the passing of the local corner grocery store, where once upon a time a family was able to run up credit or, in cases of necessity such as illness, payment could be deferred. But we have a new system emerging. People want cheaper goods. In return for these cheaper goods, they are going to the cash discount store and deserting the traditional grocery store which previously provided the credit. The reason for the change is that the goods are very much cheaper, and that is because inevitably anybody who extends credit must add a cost into the prices of those goods and services. Another regrettable trend from the point of view of people of 20 or more years ago may be the movement from what is termed the traditional overdraft system; but this has accompanied and been made necessary by the change in trading conditions, in what people really want. Nowadays a very much wider form of finance is available to the consuming public, and many of these avenues are specifically tailored or directed to the needs and requirements of particular consumers.
I think it is relevant, in discussing this matter of public importance, to look at two things: Firstly, a comparison between the situation as at 30 June this year and the situation as at 30 June last year; and, secondly, a comparison between the situation when the Labor Government was in power during 1975 and the situation in mid- 1979, when we have a Liberal-National Country Party coalition Government which has effective control and management of the Australian economy. As I mentioned earlier, the first of these sets of statistics will recognise the growing use and acceptability of consumer credit. I believe that this is something that the Opposition has failed to recognise. I believe that the second set of statistics will display that the Opposition is quite incorrect in its assertion that the cost of consumer credit is increasing.
Let me quote a few statistics, some of which were supplied earlier by my leader, Senator Carrick. One of the traditional methods of home finance has been that provided by building societies. Although rates do vary from State to State and institution to institution, I was able to obtain from the local manager of a building society in Tasmania, which I believe to be a large and representative building society with a sound reputation, some figures from which I discovered that in October 1975 that society’s lending rate was 1 1 per cent. The current rate- the comparable figure- is 10% per cent. So there has been a decrease. If we look at the personal loans rate offered by trading banks, we find a decrease in the flat rate from 8.25 per cent in late 1975 to 7.75 per cent in 1979. In the rate on savings bank new mortgages loans we find a decrease; in fact, it is down by two percentage points. In the case of finance companies- this is an area where there is an alleged rake-off- the interest rate has actually moved down by 1 lh per cent on a representative range. For retailer credit there has always been a relatively high interest charge. There has been no movement, either upward or downward, in that rate. So far as Bankcard is concerned- it has been very much maligned- the interest rate has not changed at all.
– Isn’t that effectively an increase in that inflation is lower but it has remained static?
-In fact, what is actually happening is that the Opposition is charging that there has been an increase in the cost of consumer credit. What I am stating, in effect, is that these figures all show that the Opposition is wrong in its assertion that there has been an increase in the cost of credit. During the relevant period there has been a decrease in the cost of credit.
Let us define our terms. Consumer credit is a relationship between a consumer and a credit provider, whether the credit is provided directly by the business or by an agency. It is true that there has been a substantial growth in financial institutions over the last 20 years. Firstly, let me state the Government’s attitude towards interest. After all, it is the interest rate prevailing in the community that determines the cost of credit to the consumer, and that is something many people lose sight of. The Government’s attitude towards interest is relevant. In the recent Budget we note the emphasis on its desire to lower the inflation rate and to contain public sector borrowing. Therefore, the Government’s antiinflationary policies are squarely directed towards an economic climate in which, in the longer period, interest rates will be susceptible to a fall; but what we must recognise is that interest rates must always reflect the reality of the market situation.
Whilst the Government’s anti-inflationary policies are clearly directed towards an economic climate in which in the long term, other things being equal, interest rates should fall, it must be recognised that Australia, as an international trading nation, cannot isolate itself entirely from world influences, and those world influences include a substantial upward movement in interest rates. For example, interest rates in the United States between December 1975 and July 1979 increased by four percentage points, and since then have skyrocketed. In view of what is happening in the rest of the world, it is therefore of fundamental importance that Australia and this Government keep a tight rein on the economy in order to keep interest rates down and to keep the economy moving. The Government’s policy has been endorsed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other countries which have inflation under control. This policy cannot be overemphasised.
I believe that the current rates of interest are entirely justifiable, because they- are a recognition of what is paid by the financial institutions to people who lend them money. If we try to hold interest rates down artifically, there is the problem that there could be an increase in monetary supply which could lead to an increase in inflation. The profitability of a financial institution depends on the interest rates offered on borrowings and charged on lendings. The returns on the funds employed are not excessive and are not a rip-off, as has been claimed by many members of the Opposition. Whilst the interest rates on small loans may appear to be high, we have to recognise the incurred costs of financial institutions. On some small loans the charges made do not always cover the costs of handling. I have to dispute the assertion made by Senator Tate when he referred to exorbitant profits. The reality of the situation at present is that because of these costs not all banks are yet in a profit situation as a result of Bankcard, but that a profit trend is starting to emerge.
The growing recognition of the increasing use of credit is shown by the fact that in the last year the growth in personal loans by trading banks increased by 29 per cent. The assertion that banks are pushing customers to Bankcard is not completely accurate. Personal loans have grown by 29 per cent. The amount on loan from finance companies in the last 12 months has grown by only 5.7 per cent while those from Bankcard and credit unions have each grown by 39 per cent. I think it is significant to remember that savings deposits per head not only with savings banks but also with permanent building societies and finance companies are really at a quite high level, and that these deposits more than offset the increasing indebtedness .of consumer credit. We must recognise that while there is an increasing use of credit, there have also been significant developments on the privacy aspects as a result of voluntary arrangements made between finance companies and governments to ensure that there is adequate protection of the individual. Having, I believe, substantiated my case, I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-by leave- Mr President, I wish to make a personal explanation. I claim to have been misrepresented by Senator Carrick and I would like to set the record straight. He claimed that I was misleading the Senate and the public with respect to the Bankcard interest rate. I would like the Senate to note that on page 3347 of the Australian Bankers Association submission to the Campbell inquiry on finance the following appears:
Approval for the interest service charge rate on Bankcard of 1.5 per cent was granted by the Federal Treasurer in mid- 1972.
The Federal Treasurer in mid- 1972 was Mr Snedden.
– I call on General Bus.siness Notice of Motion No. 6 standing in the name of Senator Mason and relating to a motion to take note of the first report of the Uranium Advisory Council. Is this formal or not formal?
– Formal. I am not going to call it not formal. If the honourable senator is not here I take it that the motion lapses.
– That is the situation in the absence of the honourable senator.
– by leave- Honourable senators will recall that in the proposed time-table of meetings which was circulated to honourable senators Estimates Committees D, E and F were scheduled to meet tomorrow, 20 September, at 12 midday. On looking at the record of recent meetings of Estimates Committees I find it is obvious that great difficulty has been experienced on Thursdays in adjourning the Senate in time for the committees to meet before lunch. Therefore, 1 propose that Estimates Committees do not meet tomorrow until 2.15 p.m., subject to the adjournment of the Senate. Estimates Committee D will meet in Committee Room No. 1, Estimates Committee E in Committee Room No. 6 and Estimates Committee F in the Senate chamber. I also remind honourable senators of the meetings of the committees on Friday, 2 1 September, and Monday, 24 September 1979. The committees will meet in accordance with the time-table previously circulated to honourable senators.
Motion (by Senator Young)- by leaveproposed:
That in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969 leave be granted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works to meet during the sittings ofthe Senate on 16, 17 and 1 8 October 1979.
– I must oppose this motion. I have always opposed meetings of committees during periods when the Senate was sitting. It is contrary to Standing Orders. Whenever this matter has been raised every government has noted the necessity Tor the Senate to carry on its business as a House of the Parliament. Its numbers should not be eroded because a committee is meeting behind closed doors somewhere else. On the occasions when permission has been granted for committees to meet during the sittings of the Senate there have been exceptional circumstances. On occasions it has been necessary to take evidence from a witness who was about to leave Australia or who would not be available at another time. The Senate has been prepared to accommodate those circumstances. There was a. more recent occasion when no reasons were given. When the reason was queried it was. just said that it had been arranged with honourable senators to have the meeting.
On every occasion that permission has been granted for a committee to sit during the sitting of the Senate it has been granted for one day. Now we get an application, which we are expected to approve, for a committee to meet for three sitting days, and no reason at all is given. The committee simply wants to meet. Recently the greatest offender against Standing Orders in this respect has always been the Public Works Committee. We are not told why it cannot do its business, like every other standing committee, when the Parliament is not sitting. Why is it necessary for it to seek permission to sit on three Senate sitting days and to deprive us of possibly some of the best senators by taking them away from their proper functions as representatives of the people in this Parliament to sit on the Public Works Committee? The Committee should sit when the Parliament is not sitting. .1 oppose the motion.
– In all normal circumstances I would agree entirely with Senator Cavanagh. The fact is that it is a good principle in the Senate that committees should not meet when the Senate is meeting and that the duty of an honourable senator is to the chamber. I respect that. I think that there has been one previous occasion when the Public Works Committee was given approval by this chamber to meet while the chamber was sitting.
– Twice before.
– I am corrected by Senator Young. I understand that the purpose of the sittings proposed in the motion is to consider urgent works to be undertaken in connection with the development of the Brisbane Airport. It is regarded as being a matter of urgency that the Committee complete its findings so that the work can proceed in an orderly way. The work is regarded, certainly by Queenslanders and by me, as urgent. I invite the Senate, whilst upholding the general principle that Senator Cavanagh has enunciated, to agree to Senator Young’s request.
-In common with Senator Cavanagh, I oppose the sitting of any committee while the Senate is in session. This sort of debate has occurred in this chamber several times over the last few years. It was said on, I believe, the very first occasion when I was present during a debate of this nature, that it would not happen again; that it was a matter of very great urgency; that it was to be a fairly short meeting and had to be held. Shortly afterwards we had before us another request by another committee which wanted to sit when the Senate was in session. So there has been a gradual whittling down of the principle.
As my colleague Senator Cavanagh has said, on this occasion the meeting is to be over three days well distant from today ‘s date. This is only 1 9 September so surely between now and then, regardless of how urgent the matter may be, time could be found to fit in a three-day meeting. On the days that the Public Works Committee wishes to sit, the Senate could be without a number of honourable senators who probably would want to participate in the debate then taking place in the chamber. We do not know what the legislative program will be for 16, 17, 18 October. Possibly some fairly important debates may take place. That is one of the problems. One is then torn between devotion to the work of a committee and devotion to participation in debate in this chamber on a subject in which one may be deeply interested. I do not think that we ought to take that sort of risk. The Committee would be meeting on three days towards the end of what will be a very tight session. There are rumours that the Senate will rise on 1 1 November but a very heavy program is still in front of us and at the end of the session the usual cramming will occur. If the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) feels particularly jubilant about something he may call an election. All sorts of aspects must be taken into consideration before we whittle down the opportunity of honourable senators to participate in any debate in the Senate. I suggest that we ought not to allow such a lengthy meeting to occur while the Senate is in session.
-in reply- I would like to respond to the comments of both Senator Cavanagh and Senator Keeffe. I accept that it is the first responsibility of a senator to be present in the chamber when the Senate is in session. But I remind the Senate that the Standing Committee on Public Works has the responsibility to examine any project the expenditure upon which is to exceed some $2m. Also, it is a full parliamentary committee comprising representatives of both chambers of the Parliament and all parties in the Parliament. The Committee has met on other occasions in similar circumstances. One such occasion was in 1970. Also, in more recent times, the Committee was obliged to meet because of the vast amount of evidence that had to be given, and the decision that had to be made, in regard to the Australian Defence Force Academy. On other occasions, because of a crisis, standing committees of the Senate have met in these circumstances.
Although the comment has been made today by one or two senators that evidence could and should be taken at other times with regard to the building of a new airport at Brisbane, I emphasise that it is beyond the control of the Committee to hold such a hearing any earlier than is proposed. I say that for quite a variety of reasons.
– Such as?
– We have to await clearances in respect of certain areas. Also, a great deal of preparation goes into the arrangements for the taking of evidence. There is a need to do these things properly and democratically, so that everyone who desires to speak for or against a project will have an opportunity to do so. One must not appear to be stifling discussion or the opportunity for any individual or organisation to put forward such evidence as he or it sees fit to present- evidence that one has had time to prepare fully. Also, it has been suggested that we should sit on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. May I remind Senator Cavanagh in particular, that as far as many of the witnesses are concerned, that would be impractical. Therefore, after long deliberation, and being very aware as a senator of where my primary responsibilities lie- as do my colleagues on the Committee from both sides of the chamber- it was agreed that the only time slot available, if we were to give proper consideration to the building of a new airport at Brisbane, was that which embraced the dates proposed. We do not do this lightly and I ask that the Senate give the Committee members the opportunity to perform one of their other parliamentary duties, that of examining the possibility of building a new airport in Brisbane. If we do not do that now, the time factor is such that it will not be done until next year. I doubt very much whether the people of Queensland will be happy about there being another six months’ delay.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
– A week ago today, during the course of my remarks in the Budget debate on the political situation in South Australia, I said:
In last week’s National Times we read how one Mr Harry Gordon, as editor-in-chief of the Sydney Murdoch Press, was sent to Queensland, for the purpose of conducting an attack on Bjelke-Petersen. He has made three such attacks. He has reduced the National Party’s popularity in Queensland by 12 per cent. He is a genius. He is successful. He then spent two days last week organising the campaign in Adelaide. He was sent from Brisbane to Adelaide to organise it for Rupert Murdoch. It is not a question of politics but rather one of power. Rupert Murdoch claims that Labor has not learnt that what he wants he gets. Regrettably, we find men who are not concerned about the loss of democracy.
Mr Harry Gordon first rang a Labor member in Brisbane and took exception to my remarks, stating that he was not associated with the Murdoch Press, that his purpose in spending two days in Adelaide was not in regard to the election. When that statement was conveyed to me I told my informant that if he were speaking to Mr Gordon to ask him to ring or get in touch with me and give me the facts and I would correct the record. Mr Gordon did not do that, but has sent a letter to you, Mr President, to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) and to the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wriedt). In part thereof he says:
I have never worked for the Murdoch Press, in Sydney or anywhere else. My association for more than 30 years has been with the Herald and Weekly Times, where I was editor of the Sun from 1968 to 1972, deputy editor-in-chief of the group until I97S, and executive editor from 1975 until I came to Brisbane last December. I was not sent to Queensland to conduct an attack on Mr Bjelke-Petersen. The sole purpose for my only recent visit to Adelaide was to attend a meeting of the Board of Australian Associated
Press, of which I am a member. 1 had no part in (or knowledge of) any campaign against the South Australian Labor Government by the Adelaide News, or by any other newspaper, either controlled by Mr Rupert Murdoch or not.
He complains because in his opinion the statement that I made was damaging and reflected upon his integrity. I get some satisfaction from apologising and withdrawing the statement. Obviously an editor who is held in high standing resents the claim that he would be associated with Murdoch and part of an attack in a political campaign in the State of South Australia. I, therefore, withdraw and apologise for any injury that I have caused to Mr Harry Gordon.
– by leave- Mr President, as you will know, Mr Gordon wrote to you and also sent a copy of the letter to myself and, I believe, Senator Wriedt. I think that for the matter to be put into full perspective, with your approval, it is desirable that the full text of his letter to you be incorporated in Hansard. Senator Cavanagh has read out some significant sections but, in fairness, not the whole letter. As I take it that Senator Cavanagh has made an unqualified apology- 1 acknowledge that- 1 seek leave to have the letter to you incorporated in Hansard.
The letter read as follows-
QUEENSLAND NEWSPAPERS PTY LTD
Telegrams and Cables Courier-Mail’ Brisbane G.P.O.Box 130 Brisbane 4001 Telephone: 52 6011 17 September 1979
The Hon. Sir Condor Laucke. President of the Senate, Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600
Dear Sir Condor, 1 have been distressed to learn from Hansard (12 September, page 626) of remarks made concerning myself in your chamber by Senator Jim Cavanagh.
Senator Cavanagh discussed what he called a daily attack conducted against the South Australian Labor Party by the Rupert Murdoch press in South Australia.
He then added: ‘In last week’s National Times we read how one Mr Harry Gordon, as editor-in-chief of the Sydney Murdoch press, was sent to Queensland, for the purpose of conducting an attack on Bjelke-Petersen. He has made three such attacks. He has reduced the National Party’s popularity in Queensland by 12 percent. He is a genius. He is successful.
He then spent two days last week organising the campaign in Adelaide. He was sent from Brisbane to Adelaide to organise it for Rupert Murdoch.
It is not a question of politics but rather one of power. Rupert Murdoch claims that Labor has not learnt that what he wants he gets. Regrettably, we find men who are not concerned about the loss of democracy.’
The facts are these: I have never worked for the Murdoch press, in Sydney or anywhere else. My association for more than 30 years has been with The Herald and Weekly Times, where I was editor of The Sun from 1968 to 1972, deputy editor-in-chief ofthe group until 1975, and executive editor from 1975 until I came to Brisbane last December. I was not sent to Queensland to conduct an attack on Mr BjelkePetersen. The sole purpose for my only recent visit to Adelaide was to attend a meeting of the Board of Australian Associated Press, of which I am a member. I had no part in (or knowledge of) any campaign against the South Australian Labor Government by the Adelaide News, or by any other newspaper, either controlled by Mr Rupert Murdoch or not.
The National Times did not suggest that I had been ever involved with the Murdoch Press, or that I had been sent to Queensland for the purpose of conducting an attack on Mr Bjelke-Petersen.
Senator Cavanagh ‘s statements about me, made of course under privilege, are as damaging as they are false. They reflect on my integrity, to which 1 have attached considerable importance throughout a long, and I consider honourable, career in journalism. I am writing to seek from you whatever redress is available. I believe Senator Cavanagh ‘s remarks about me constitute a serious abuse of parliamentary privilege, of a kind which can serve only to degrade the institution of Parliament. As such, I believe they should bc investigated by the Senate Privileges Committee. It is my belief that they should be corrected in the place where they were uttered, and that Senator Cavanagh should be requested to offer in the same place a full, unqualified apology.
I am sending a copy of this letter to the leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Carrick, and the leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wriedt.
I shall await your advice, Sir Condor.
A. GORDON Editor-in-chief
Debate resumed from 13 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bills bc now read a second time.
-The debate on these Bills, the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1979 and the Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979, has been long delayed. For three years, the representatives of the Commonwealth employees organisations, the Opposition and many other people in the community have been urging the Government to take action to give justice to its injured and sick employees. The Government has not done so. For three years, these people have had their income eroded by inflation and the failure of the
Government to act on their behalf. In this case, justice delayed is certainly justice denied. Finally, when action has been taken by the Government, that action is inadequate. It does not compensate the people concerned for past injustices. The payments provided for in this legislation will quickly be eroded by the inflation rate which is predicted by the Treasurer (Mr Howard ) and the Treasury in the Budget Papers.
Until the emergence of the present Government, increases to Commonwealth employees and seamen who had been injured and were receiving compensation were annual. In 1975, Senator Wheeldon, the then Minister for Social Security, had prepared legislation for the annual increase in compensation payments. As honourable senators are aware, there was a constitutional crisis. It was not until September 1976 that the Government got around to granting an increase which was, even then, less than that required to compensate for inflation. Three years have now gone by. Despite requests from the Government employee organisations and repeated questions from the Opposition nothing has been done. At last the Government has decided to increase the benefit. In that time, in those three years, the consumer price index has increased by 36 per cent or thereabouts. The Government, in this legislation, is only applying increases of 12 per cent or thereabouts to the payments to its injured and sick employees. The people who are being given this paltry increase are not wealthy individuals. They are injured; they are sick; and some of them have been living on $80 a week for the past three years. I might add that that is the lowest weekly payment of any State in this country with the exception of Victoria, which is about to increase its payments to $105 a week.
These people are the widows and the children of deceased employees who are being given more than their fair share of the burden of the Government’s tight economic policies and mean-minded social approach. Many of these people are disabled. Many suffer disfigurement and disabilities. Yet neither in the second reading speech of these Bills nor in the Budget Papers does the Government give any justification for its miserable behaviour, for the long delays and for the failure to increase these payments by the full amount.
Also in the Bills there are some technical amendments which flow on from changes to the associated superannuation legislation and to simplify applications to be made to the Commissioner. The Opposition does not object to these. Another amendment in the legislation brings into line the definition of a child in this legislation with the social services legislation. Again the Opposition does not oppose this. There seems, to the Opposition, to be another change which is not explained in the second reading speech. We hope that we will get an explanation from the Minister for Social Services (Senator Guilfoyle) either in her summing-up in the second reading debate or in the Committee stage. We believe that, if the change is as it would seem to be, and as I have been advised by officers of her Department it is, we should have had an explanation of it in the second reading speech.
We are advised that the change in the wording in Schedule 1 of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) legislation has, in fact, the effect of enabling future increases to be made by regulation rather than introducing legislation into this Parliament for that purpose. We believe that in compensation payments the Commonwealth Government should join with all the States and introduce indexation for compensated employees. We believe that, if pensioners and others get indexation, certainly recipients of compensation payments should get indexation. Such indexation would bring some measure of justice. We certainly believe that, if the Government introduces a change, taking from the Parliament the legislative power to change rates and makes it into a regulation, it deserves at least a mention in the second reading speech. We require some explanation, if that is the situation, why it was done in this way. The Opposition moves an amendment to the second reading stage of this legislation to try to impress upon the Government the need to bring in some changes, to bring some justice to the poeple whom it should be concerned about, its own employees. I move:
The Australian Labor Party has always been interested in compensation. It has always been of great concern to us that workers in this community, be they in public life or private industry, should be compensated properly. It is for this reason that we are in favour of a national compensation scheme. We are not necessarily in favour, as the Minister would like to imply when she speaks, of the scheme produced by Mr Justice Woodhouse. What we are in favour of is a scheme which removes the fault principle from compensation, the delay and the uncertainty and reduces the cost of the present inefficient scheme. Not only the Australian Labor Party is interested in the introduction of such a scheme. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, hardly a radical body, is also in favour of such a scheme. ACROD, the Australian Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, is also in favour of such a scheme, as are the various councils of social service.
The delays in the present scheme inhibit effective rehabilitation of people who have been injured at work. The uncertainty of the present scheme deprives the injured of justice, the cost adds to the burden of both the employer and the employee in the community and the litigation involved adds to the burden so much that in the fields of workers compensation and road accident compensation, private firms are more and more getting out and State governments are having to take over because of the present unsatisfactory situation. The Senate Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, of which I was a member, looked at the clauses of the Woodhouse proposal. It did not come down in favour of those proposals but, at the same time, it supported radical reform of the present compensation system in this country. In paragraph 1.21 of the Committee’s report on the clauses of the National Compensation Bill, the Committee made the following comment on Australia’s present scheme:
It is clear that the compensation systems -
The ones we have now- arc random in their coverage, often provide inadequate compensation and can give rise to inequities. The Committee is concerned that existing social service benefits for sickness are inadequate and that compensation for injuries is effectively limited to work-caused injuries suffered by employees, to some victims of criminal acts and to those victims of highway accidents who can establish fault in other persons and are not disqualified by want of care on their part. The Committee believes that recent examples- for example, in Victoria and Tasmania- to reform the existing system remain too limited in their scope.
That remains my view, as I am sure it remains the view of all members of that Committee who spent so long looking at Australia’s inadequate scheme. A nationalist-conservative government in New Zealand introduced such a scheme. There is nothing new about the concept of a national compensation scheme, but I believe the Government is hung up over constitutional difficulties and, at the beck and call of its mentors in the insurance industry, it has failed to take action. On repeated occasions since 1 976 Senator Guilfoyle has assured Senator Wheeldon and me that a national compensation proposal was being looked at by the Government, but we have heard nothing despite repeated requests. Meanwhile, the escalating costs of workers compensation premiums actually prevent small businesses and others from employing workers.
The compensation scheme in this country remains a mess, as it was in 1974 and 1975, and something has to be done about it. What can we expect when we look at the way this legislation treats employees of the Government. After an initial 26 weeks of sick pay, a worker goes on to compensation. If he had been injured three years ago, he would have stayed on the same $80 per week whilst his colleagues would have had at first quarterly indexation and then half-yearly indexation of their wages. Surely it is time that the sick and the maimed received the same protection from indexation as do the hale and healthy. The legislation is late, and that should not be allowed to occur again. But, it is also mean in that the increases are inadequate, and that should not happen again. For that reason, the amendment says that the legislation should be withdrawn, that the basic payments should be upgraded to compensate for inflation since 1 976 and should then be indexed to ensure that they are increased, taking away the matter from governments which would refuse to increase the payments.
It is said by the Government that this legislation will cost a million dollars. If the amendment costs $3m, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the extravagances of, say, the expenditure of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on his Boeing 707 aircraft. This is a very small amount of money in the overall Budget and it is certainly an amount which should not be removed from injured employees. As I have said, increases have been only in the order of 12 per cent, compared to a 35 per cent or 36 per cent increase in the consumer price index since 1975. The weekly payment of $90 provided for in this legislation is 72 per cent of the current minimum wage, compared to the 84 per cent that it was in 1974 and 83 per cent in 1978. It is lower than all the States except Queensland, and if the Government continues with its present practice of upgrading it only every three years, it will fall further behind the States. The lump sum benefit in this legislation becomes only $28,000 a year. That is equal to the lowest of the States, and as those States index their payments, they will rapidly get ahead.
The problem is that the actions of the Government in fact have discriminated against its long term disabled employees, and their widows and children. They will continue to be at the risk of government action like this unless we first of all look at the overall situation to try to improve the compensation scheme and unless we do something about protecting these people, as we have protected the pensioners and beneficiaries in this country by introducing automatic indexation. Three years ago, it was thought that people had been badly treated because they had missed out on one year’s increase. Three years later, we find that they have missed out on three years’ increase, and the increase provided for this time is inadequate. There are difficulties with some of the clauses of the legislation, and we will look at them in the Committee stage. The Opposition believes that the only sensible thing to do is what is set out in its amendment: Withdraw this legislation, look at it again through the eyes of the people who are affected and with a sense of justice for the people who have been affected, and quickly- it would not take long- bring it back again, providing proper payments for those involved.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– 1 second the amendment. I support my colleague, Senator Grimes, who moved the amendment to the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1979. As my colleague has pointed out, the Opposition opposes the Bill in its present form because of the many inadequacies that it contains. The Senate now has before it action with regard to improving compensation payments by the Commonwealth to its injured employees, but it is action which is long overdue. Now that the Government has finally decided to act in respect of this long neglected matter, the provisions in the Bill are quite inadequate. The scope of the Bill, in terms of the people who could potentially benefit from it or be affected by it, is very wide. It concerns the compensation made by the Commonwealth Government to any person or the dependants of any person injured during his or her work for the Commonwealth Government.
Honourable senators will be aware that the Bill is of great interest to me, representing as I do the Australian Capital Territory where approximately two-thirds of the work force are employed in one way or another by the Commonwealth Government. As Senator Grimes has pointed out, they have been treated very badly by comparison either to private employees in the Australian Capital Territory or employees in the States. This is a situation which has given rise to many instances of hardship in the Australian Capital Territory with which I am acquainted. The Bill does not affect only the many thousands of my constituents, it covers people in all States and Territories of Australia who work for the Commonwealth or its agencies. Who are these people? They include not only the white collar workers of the Commonwealth who, of course, are the favourite targets for abuse and attacks by the conservative coalition government and its supporters, but also the many thousandsperhaps hundreds of thousands- of blue collar workers who help to keep this country running in very practical and absolutely crucial ways. For example, there are the employees of Telecom Australia; workers who have to go out in all sorts of weather, climbing telegraph poles and engaging in all sorts of work to keep the communications system of this country going. They include people working for the Department of Housing and Construction, who are often engaged in very hard, demanding and hazardous work. They include Defence Force employeesagain, people whose work is often hazardous and often performed in an environment in which a serious injury could occur. They include women who work in the Ammunition Factory in Victoria.
These are the people for whom the Opposition is particularly concerned because of the nature of the work that they do for the Commonwealth and for the Australian public. We recognise that in the course of their work they often endanger their ability to work and sometimes their lives. It is from amongst those blue collar workers that claims for compensation arising from work related injuries most often occur. These are the people who, in the course of their service to the Commonwealth, work in hard and hazardous jobs and often pay the price of serious personal injury, followed by temporary or permanent incapacity to work.
How does the Fraser Government look after these people? The answer to that question is that the Government looks after them very shabbily indeed. Payments by the Government to employees who are invalided out of their work because of injury or illness are made under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act. Since the Fraser Government was first elected, it has refused to index these payments although all other government benefits have been indexed. The Opposition has raised this matter on numerous occasions. It has brought before the Parliament on several occasions examples of the poverty and hardship being experienced by former government employees because of the Government’s refusal to index these payments. The Commonwealth compensation benefit has diminished in value each time the Government has failed to index it. My colleague, Senator Grimes, has described in detail the extent of the diminution in the value of the compensation benefit.
Until the introduction of this Bill the situation of Commonwealth employees in the Australian Capital Territory who were forced to claim compensation was particularly disadvantageous. As was pointed out in the Senate on 20 March 1979, Commonwealth employees in the Australian Capital Territory are receiving considerably less compensation than private employees in the Australian Capital Territory. Private employees in the Australian Capital Territory receive a compensation benefit of $87.89 a week whilst Commonwealth employees who are the recipients of compensation benefits receive only $80 a week. The reason for this discrepancy is that, whilst the compensation payments to persons in private employment have been indexed, the Commonwealth has refused to index compensation payments to its employees.
I feel that this contrast between the treatment by private employers of their injured employees and the Commonwealth’s treatment of its employees is most scandalous. Let us consider the circumstances of a compensation beneficiary trying to live on $80 a week in the current situation. Of course, that amount is taxed. There is no pension fringe benefit entitlement attached to that payment. Yet by definition a person on compensation is in continual need of a doctor’s services and medication. These people often experience long delays in receiving their payments and have complained on many occasions that they experience long delays with respect to rehabilitation or that in some cases they have not been offered rehabilitation at all. Their circumstances are poor.
The Government has a very poor record in the treatment it has awarded its employees who have been invalided out of the Service. The problem the Opposition now raises is that the Bill before us does not rectify that poor record. On several occasions the Opposition has sought to rectify the situation but has never been able to gain support from Government senators. For the benefit of my constituents, I point out that although the situation of Australian Capital Territory compensation beneficiaries is so disadvantaged their case has never been supported by the Liberal senator for the Australian Capital Territory, Senator John Knight. On not one single occasion has he voted for improvements which the Opposition has sought to make for Commonwealth compensation beneficiaries. I believe that it is also the case that the honourable member for
Canberra in the other place, Mr John Haslem, has never supported any attempt by the Opposition to improve the circumstances of Commonwealth compensation recipients in the Australian Capital Territory. It will be of great interest not only to me and my colleagues but also to the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory to see what action the Government senator for the Australian Capital Territory is prepared to take with respect to the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Grimes. We have moved the amendment in the form outlined by Senator Grimes because of the total inadequacy of the provisions in the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill. To remind the Senate of those inadequacies, I will quote in summary form from a submission made by the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations in response to the Bill before us. It points out:
Firstly, the Bill falls far short ofthe level of benefits which injured Australian Government employees and defence personnel are entitled to expect. Although the CP1 has increased by 36.S per cent and the minimum wage by 29 per cent since the last Cabinet approval of increases in May 1976, the increases in this Bill only raise the long term weekly rate for an employee by 12.5 per cent, for his spouse by 1 1 per cent and his children by 12.5 per cent Death benefit only rises by 12 percent from $25,000 to $28,000.
This is an increase which the Opposition believes is niggardly and no way for the Government to treat dependants of its employees and members of Defence Force. After the Victorian workers compensation legislation is changed this year, the Commonwealth legislation will be the only Act which does not provide for any indexation of compensation benefit. We regard that situation as most unjust, particularly in view of the time lags which occur in introducing legislation to update benefits.
The Opposition endorses the CAGEO criticism of this legislation. On the basis of those criticisms and our general dissatisfaction with the Bills we have moved an amendment accordingly. I urge the Government at this stage to revise its decision with regard to this particularly disadvantaged group of its employees- the people living in hardship and poverty because of workinduced illness or injury- and give them what is I think in the view of any fair-minded person their just entitlement, that is, indexation of their benefit, which would entitle them at least to maintain parity with other government beneficiaries. I take great pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Grimes.
Senator GRIMES (Tasmania)- by leave- In looking at the circulated copy of the amendment to the motion that the Bills be read a second time, I notice that between the words ‘twiceyearly’ and ‘payments’ two words ‘indexation of have been left out. I should like to have those words placed in the circulated copies of the Opposition ‘s amendment.
– I have noted the comments made by Opposition senators and the amendment which has been proposed by the Opposition. Two matters have come forward in the points that have been raised by honourable senators opposite. One relates to the fact that the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act does not provide for indexation of compensation payments. For the first 26 weeks of incapacity, compensation is payable at the employee’s normal pay rate. In that period, compensation payments are made to him subject to wage indexation changes. In the case of long term incapacity, compensation benefits may be supplemented by accrued sick leave, superannuation or social security pension entitlements. In some cases, payments in addition to compensation payments are received by Commonwealth employees. The rate of compensation payable to these employees entitles them in some cases to partial social security pension benefits. The benefits under social security pension entitlements are subject to indexation, as would be sick leave and superannuation payments. The Government reviews compensation rates regularly, having regard to increases in the general wage scale and comparable benefits paid under State legislation, including those States which have provided for automatic adjustment.
The Government in its Budget considerations this year provided for the increases that are now before us, and I have noted the comparisons made by the Opposition as to percentages- the 36 per cent movement in the comsumer price index since the last rise, and the movements in the adult minimum wage, which I think Senator Ryan said was 29 per cent. I have here a figure of 22.5 per cent. I do not argue about it, but that is the figure that has been given to me. The rates of compensation under successive governments have been considered having in mind changes in the adult minimum wage and not movements in the consumer price index. I simply draw that to the attention of the Senate in case it is suggested that in the past increases have been made on the basis of movements in the consumer price index.
The other matter raised was the relativity of these payments to the adult minimum wage. Again, I wish to state some facts, firstly in relation to the period of 26 weeks that I mentioned.
It is only after that period that the flat rate benefit is applied. The rates that have been quoted today are the rates that apply to a single person and take no account of dependants, for which additional weekly payments are made. In the case of an injured employee with a dependent spouse and one child, the weekly compensation payment exceeds the adult minimum wage.
– So it should.
– I certainly agree that this is a satisfactory situation, but the inference that might have been drawn from the comments made earlier was that some families might be existing on $80 a week. That is just not the case. As I said earlier, sick leave is used by Commonwealth Government employees. It is able to be accrued and is often used after the 26-week period, when those employees receive full payment. I said also that an eligible employee retired as a result of a health condition may also receive an invalidity superannuation pension. It was not made clear in the comments of Senator Ryan that where people have suffered injury they are able to be tested for a superannuation pension and this payment may be received. In addition, there may still be some eligibility for a partial social security pension. I think those things ought to be stated as matters of fact.
It was said that, in comparison with State benefits, the Commonwealth rates are the lowest rates paid. Perhaps a comparative summary of Commonwealth and State benefits could be incorporated to show the differences. I mention only that in some States there is a maximum rate which may be paid and under the Commonwealth scheme there is no maximum rate. Where there are more children in the family, increased Commonwealth payments are made, in contrast with some States where a maximum rate is payable. I shall refer to only one other thing mentioned by Senator Grimes. He commented with regard to the amendment that future increases be made by regulation. He took exception to the fact that this was not mentioned in the second reading speech, but of course it will come forward in the Committee stage of the Bill. It was a decision of the Government to bring forward Bills that had amounts stated in them but this is not the only way in which we are able to deal with matters of this kind. It will be noted that the Schedule to the amending Bill includes the term or such higher amount as is prescribed’ after each of the amounts specified. This will allow future increases to be implemented by statutory rules, which are subject to the scrutiny of the Senate and to disallowance by the Senate.
– No; to disallowance by the Senate.
– I said disallowance by the Senate.
– But you cannot take an increase from a crippled fellow.
– If we disallowed an increase, I think it would be a rather strange decision for the Senate to take. The rules are subject to the scrutiny of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee and, of course, they are subject to disallowance by the Senate. I have noted Senator Grimes’s comments with regard to his party’s proposal for a national compensation scheme. I can say only that we await with great interest the components of that scheme, bearing in mind the differences between the schemes which the various States have introduced and the efforts that have been made by State governments to develop their own schemes since they saw the former Government’s national compensation scheme. Many inquiries have been made at State level and many changes have been made in State compensation schemes. We need to consider the enormous expenditure by State governments and employers, and even by the Commonwealth Government on its own pension schemes for invalids and so on. As I said, I will be interested to see a proposal from the Opposition in which there is no fault, no delay, a reduction of costs, and all of the other benefits that have been mentioned in the speeches made today. I indicate on behalf of the Government that the amendment that has been moved is not acceptable to the Government.
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Grimes’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time.
Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1979
Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together.
We realise that this is only a small gesture, but we move the amendment all the same. We do not believe that we can reasonably in this chamber or elsewhere move for retrospective government expenditure before the present financial year. As we did in 1976, we move that the payments be made from 1 July 1979 to take in the whole of the financial year. The arguments for this amendment were given during the second reading debate.
– The amendment is not acceptable to the Government. The Bill states that the increased rates will take effect from 1 September 1979, and that is the Government’s position on the matter.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 6- by leave- taken together.
– I would like to know the meaning of a number of clauses. I have difficulty. The Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 contains four previous amended Acts. One has to do one’s own consolidation. It could well be that I have missed out some changes somewhere. As a person ages he may get thicker in the head and some things may not seem so plain. I am not suggesting any amendments or offering any opposition to any of these clauses.
The first that I am concerned about is clause 4 which reads:
Section 7 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (6) ‘(except in sub-section (3) of section 52)’ after ‘Act (second occurring).
I see that the circulated explanatory notes on clause 4 state:
This ensures that Commonwealth payments of invalid and service pensions in respect of a compensable injury will be offset against compensation payable to employees of prescribed authorities (e.g. TAA, Telecom, etc.).
Clause 4 seeks to amend sub-section (6) of section 7 of the Act which states:
For the purposes of the application of this Act in relation to a person employed by a prescribed authority of the Commonwealth, references in this Act–
By inserting the words ‘except in sub-section (3) of section 52’. I thought that sub-section (3) of section 52 permitted the Commonwealth, when making compensation payment, to take into consideration other payments such as pensions. If that is a correct interpretation of sub-section (3) of section 52, this amendment will exempt employees of statutory authorities. I would like the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to explain that to me if she can. It is obvious from the notes that it is not intended that it should operate the other way around. I think that that provision applies also to clause 5.
If I am correct, sub-section (3 ) of section 52 of the principal Act is the section which provides the Government with the power to take other payments into consideration. Under this Bill the exemption is to apply to both section 7 and section 7a of the principal Act. Section 7a is an earlier amendment to section 7. If I am wrong and as a result of this amendment other payments will be taken into consideration whereas they cannot be taken into consideration now, that represents a further encroachment on the entitlements of employees. If that provision will permit the taking into consideration of other payments, that is not a power which presently exists. Therefore, by this amendment, we will limit further the payment of workers’ compensation to some people.
Section 7a of the principal Act, which apparently is an amendment made to the Act in 1978, states:
This section applies to a person who, on or after 1 July 1 978, is employed by the Northern Territory . . .
What does that mean? Does it mean the employees of the Northern Territory Government? Does it mean the employees of the Commonwealth Government in the Northern Territory? We see that sub-section (3) of section 7a provides a number of exemptions, including ‘a prescribed authority of the Commonwealth, a Commonwealth Police Officer, a Territory forming part of the Commonwealth’. What is meant by ‘is employed by the Northern Territory’? Does it mean employed in the Northern Territory, or is there such an organisation as the Northern Territory which can employ people? I will leave my remarks at that until we proceed further with the Bill, Mr Temporary Chairman. I would be grateful if the Minister could assist in explaining those two points.
– I think that Senator Cavanagh, as he acknowledged, has not understood the application of clause 4. It is brought forward at this time to ensure that Commonwealth payments of invalid and service pensions in respect of compensable injury will be offset against compensation payable to employees of prescribed authorities, that is, authorities such as Trans-Australia Airlines, the Telecommunications Commission of Australia and so on. Senator Cavanagh referred to the use of the word ‘Commonwealth’ in section 52 of the principle Act. Section 52 (3) refers to payments by the Commonwealth other than wages, for example, invalid pensions and payments of that sort. If this amendment were not brought in, that provision would make no sense as Telecom, the Northern Territory, or any other Commonwealth authority does not pay pensions. It is an amendment which was found to be required when we were dealing with the Northern Territory Administration a little earlier. It is being introduced to clarify the fact that Commonwealth payments of invalid and service pensions will be offset against compensation payable by those other authorities. It certainly is not designed to change any benefits which any employees receive.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 7 (Compensation payable in respect of medical expenses, et cetera).
– I seek some explanation of clause 7, which refers to section 37, sub-section (3) of the principal Act. That section applies to payments which can be made to an injured employee for the alteration of a building or a vehicle, for aids, appliances et cetera which might reasonably be required as a result of that injury and for medical expenses. The clause seeks to add to the section the words: except where the Commissioner is satisfied that the circumstances of the case justify the excess.
I seek an explanation of just what that means. Does it mean that the Commissioner will be able, without limit, to add to the $780 provided in the Schedule? Why use the term ‘the excess’? To what does ‘the excess’, which is a specific term, refer? If we are to allow the Commissioner to have what seems to me to be an unlimited power to add to the amount available for that sort of payment, one wonders why we need to insert any limit in the Schedule or to impose any limit on section 37(3) payments under the Act.
– May I explain the operation of section 37. There is an upper limit, which has been mentioned, and which by this amendment will be increased to $780. At the same time, the Commissioner has a discretion. In addition to the more obvious medical expenses which may be incurred, the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971, by virtue of sub-section (3) of section 37, meets the reasonable and necessary costs of such aids for daily living as the alteration of doorways, or the supply of ramps to facilitate the use of wheelchairs, the supply of weight-bearing handrails or grips or other special aids or appliances to the value of an upper limit which, as I said, is now to be increased to $780. That provision is almost unique in compensation legislation in Australia. Only the Northern Territory (Workmens’ Compensation) Act contains an equivalent benefit. Similar provisions in the Social Services Act and the repatriation legislation provide rehabilitation assistance, home aids and aids to daily living and self-help aids.
The provision was first included in the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 at the suggestion of the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations, which is now the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations. An upper limit of $150 was inserted in the Act at that time as it was felt that the provision could be abused. It followed the conduct of a survey of cases under the open-ended Social Services Act provisions, which showed that no cases at that time had exceeded that figure. Of the 32 cases to 30 June 1978, the majority did not reach the upper limit applying at the time. Examples of such cases are repairs to wheelchairs and showers, $81; hydraulic seat in another motor vehicle, $626; construction of concrete driveway and footpath, $499.
However, it was considered that a special case could arise where the severity of the compensable condition could necessitate extensive modifications to buildings or motor vehicles or the necessary maintenance or repair of equipment could involve expenses beyond that statutory limit. That was why the discretion was necessary. For example, there was a case of a person who had become a paraplegic due to a back condition and he was confined to a wheelchair. His expenses ran to some $3,500. The discretion given to the Commissioner for employees’ compensation in the Bill will allow the Commissioner to extend to such a special case the same considerations as would be available from the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service under the Social Services Act or under rehabilitation provisions.
It is understood that the Commissioner, in exercising his discretion on the merits of a particular case, will be guided by the criteria used in administering the Social Services Act provisions by the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. In answer to Senator Grimes, I say briefly that I think the figure is there as a guide. Experience has shown that within that limit most of the cases that require assistance are able to be dealt with. If a case does not come within that limit, the discretion of the Commissioner is such that he is able to give approval for whatever is required for that person’s comfort and rehabilitation. I might add that the Social Services Act, with its Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, is open to any Commonwealth Government employee who is able to use that Service, and under that Act any medical expenses or other expenses of this nature would be able to be approved. Any determination by the Commissioner can be appealed against by either party- that is, the Commonwealth or the claimant. It would seem that the figure that was included in the original drafting of the early Act met requirements. At the same time, we now have a discretion which enables cases outside of that limit to be dealt with and the payments to be made.
– I have no objection at all to the stated motives of the Minister and what she is trying to do; but, as one who has some difficulty at times- including difficulty with this legislation and the social services legislation- in wading through amendments and to a layman, the strange wording of Acts, I find it impossible to understand why it is necessary to give the Commissioner the discretion to expend an unlimited amount of money in helping the rehabilitation and treatment of a compensated employee, and at the same time to write into the Act the figure of $780 which is absolutely meaningless. What we are saying to the Commissioner is: ‘You have an upper limit of $780 that you can use for this purpose; but, if you decide that the compensation should be more, you can use what you like’. The mind boggles at why we have to do it that way. I have had no explanation of why we have to do it that way. Surely there is a simpler way of doing things in legislation than that sort of method.
- Senator Grimes says that the figure is meaningless and that it is stupid to clutter up the legislation with meaningless words; but the fact is that it is put there by the Government. So, one is entitled to be suspicious and to ask whether it is meaningless or whether it has some purpose. I refer to the first point that Senator Grimes made, in relation to the words ‘the excess’. The Bill says that the Commissioner can pay, not anything in excess, but the excess. Of course one has to look through the Bill to find what is ‘the excess’, and one finds that it is not defined anywhere. We have the Minister’s assurance that it means anything in excess. Why that is not said, I do not know. But there is a difference. The upper limit must have some purpose for it to be retained. It is a limit on the Commissioner. Section 37(3) of the principal Act states:
Where an injury is caused to an employee, the Commonwealth is liable to pay compensation of such an amount as is reasonable in respect of the cost . . .
A reasonable amount has a limit. The new clause says:
Of course, it need not be reasonable. If a paraplegic needs to have a ramp and a sliding door, then I think that is reasonable. Then there is a limit on what the Commissioner can offer. But the circumstances of the case must be considered. It would appear that there are two definitions in the legislation. The circumstances of the case may be entirely different from what is reasonable for the particular complaint. They may include the impoverishment of the family, or there may not be anything other than justification for the injury. The Minister raises the point that there is an appeal against this. The appeal can be proved up to the limit by saying: ‘It is reasonable, because that is what it cost me. I had to have it, and that is what it cost me ‘.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-A lot has happened since I was last on my feet in this place. It would help a lot if the Senate could adjourn until I got my Hansard pinks because I really do not know where I am. I want to say that one becomes suspicious of unnecessary wording in an Act. I think the Minister agrees that it is unnecessary. She reinforced my opinion when she said that there is a right of appeal. An appeal against the awarding of an amount less than that stipulated in section 37 (3) may be lodged on the grounds of whether the amount was reasonable, but if a payment is in excess of the amount stipulated an appeal may be lodged against the decision of the Commissioner that he was satisfied the amount was reasonable. I have been raising this point for a long time. It is unfair to have in legislation containing a right of appeal a provision under which an appellant has to establish that the Commissioner was satisfied. I should think that an astute draftsman had some meaning in mind when he used different wording. Up to the cut-off point of $780 the appeal is on the grounds of whether the amount was reasonable. The appellant can establish that it was reasonable by saying, for example: ‘I had a ramp put up because I am confined to a wheelchair’. But if a payment is above the cut-off point it does not help the appellant in his appeal to say that the additional expenditure was reasonable. The question is whether the Commissioner is satisfied. Therefore, the Commissioner must be limited when he knows that there is a ceiling to which he can go under the Act. He can go higher in certain circumstances but those circumstances may not concern whether the expenditure is necessary. There is some significance in the word ‘circumstances’. What it means I do not know. If the Minister could give us an explanation of that it may assist in this direction.
– As Senator Cavanagh said, we were discussing this clause before the suspension of the sitting for dinner. I just state again that the effect of the amendment is to allow the Commissioner to approve costs in excess of the limit where the circumstances of a particular case justify such payments. The Act, as it presently stands, allows reasonable expenses to the limit of $700, which under this Bill will be increased to $780, to be met by the Commonwealth in respect of aids to daily living. Medical treatment costs are covered under separate provisions of the Act. So we are talking about other aids to daily living.
The clause in the Bill that we are considering tonight does not reduce any existing benefits in any way. It simply adds that where the Commissioner is satisfied that the circumstances of a particular case warrant it, the limit may be exceeded. I gave some figures earlier and advised the Senate that in the eight years from 1971 to 1978 the provision was used only rarely- about 32 times- and was found to be inadequate in a handful of cases. In future when such cases arise they may be examined on their merits by the Commissioner. In the main they are cases which fall outside the very comprehensive services of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service under the Acts of the Department of Social Security.
The amendment states that the Commissioner has power to approve costs in excess of the limit where he is satisfied that they are justified. That is a matter against which there can be an appeal. The appeal is against the determination of the Commissioner. The tribunal to which an appellant takes his case has all the powers of the Commissioner and the appeal is heard on its merits.
We were discussing earlier the reason that there is a limit in the Bill and why there is some discretion in addition to that. 1 suppose it could be said that the figure is there as some sort of guide to those people who may be expressing an interest in having some modification made to their home. But where the circumstances are analysed by the Commissioner and he decides that it is reasonable to have amounts in excess of $780 he has the power to award such amounts. Any person who is not satisfied with this decision has the power of appeal against it. It seems to me that this is an unusual way to do it. A person has a figure as a guideline, and where the circumstances warrant it he has the opportunity to seek further assistance from the Commissioner and, if not satisfied, he has the right of appeal against the decision.
I mentioned earlier the number of cases which have been dealt with under this provision and the satisfaction that can be given. Recourse may be had to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service and all the provisions of the Act under which it operates should this provision be found unsatisfactory or unsuitable for the claims that are being put before the Commissioner. I can give no further information on this. I think the way the amendment has been drafted gives a guideline of a limit, but that limit may be exceeded if in the opinion of the Commissioner it is justified in particular circumstances.
– I do not believe that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and, through her, her advisers have given us an explanation. I reiterate that we have written into an Act an upper limit for payment for other aids to daily living apart from medical expenses, et cetera. We have in the Bill an amendment which says that where the Commissioner is satisfied he may exceed that limit by apparently any amount he likes. We are told now by the Minister that the figure of $780, the upper limit written into the Schedule and to be written into section 37 (3), is meant as a guide to the people who may be seeking these other aids to daily living. The Minister’s words were to this effect: ‘I suppose it may be said that that is what it is all about’. I suggest to the Minister that legislation should be more specific than that and that we should not have a lot of irrelevant words in legislation.
If we have a limit and then an expression which says that the Commissioner may go over that limit to any amount, if he likes, I suggest that the words are irrelevant. When those words are so couched that they say ‘is satisified that the circumstances of the case justify the excess’ and we have no definition of ‘the excess’- not ‘an excess’, not ‘some excess’, but ‘the excess’- I suggest that Senator Cavanagh is justified in being suspicious about why these words have been added. I just cannot accept the proposition that the addition of the words is justified somehow by the fact that there is a right of appeal against the Commissioner’s decision. As Senator Cavanagh has said, it is all right to appeal against the Commissioner’s decision up to $780 because then he has to make his decision on reasonable grounds, but after $780 all he has to say is that he is satisfied. Anyhow, who would want to appeal in those circumstances?
– Or that he was not satisfied.
– If a person appeals against the decision he has to demonstrate that the Commissioner was unjustified in not being satisfied. I suggest that that is always an impossible situation. I will accept the Minister’s assertion that her motives are pure, that her Government’s motives are pure and that perhaps even her Department’s motives are pure. But one wonders why legislation which is already complicated has to be cluttered by what seems to us on this side to be a nonsensical addition of words, for which we really have had no explanation, except, I suppose, that it may be said that it serves as a guide to the person involved. If the reason is that it is necessary to do it in this way I make an appeal, for the sanity of all of us who must deal with this legislation in the future, that it be simplified. I am sure that it can be.
– I believe that Senator Grimes has covered the matter, but I would like to add a few words concerning it. I do not doubt the honesty and sincerity of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in trying to explain the clause. She has done her best. What I am concerned about is that the amendment is to a workmens’ compensation Act and if an applicant believes that he has been deprived of a benefit available under the Act the matter could end up in a court of law. Such a court of law must interpret the intention of the legislature from the Act itself. What would it consider the words ‘the excess’- not ‘in excess’- to mean? What would it consider that the appellant had to show?
The Minister has just said that an appeal can lie against the Commissioner’s decision. That suggests that there may not be an appeal against the limit to which the Commissioner may make a grant under section 37(3). I do not know whether that is so or not. If there were an appeal it would be only where it was considered reasonable that the money should be paid. However, the Minister has said that under the amendment there is a right of appeal. I do not know to which body one would appeal. However, the appeal against a decision made under section 37(3) would have to be on the ground that the Commissioner had not complied with the Act or that the Commissioner should have been satisfied. That is the important point. The appeal must proceed on the matter of whether the Commissioner should have been satisfied, not on whether the decision was reasonable. When the draftsman puts into the same clause one right of appeal based upon reasonableness and another based upon the Commissioner’s being satisfied, the difference in the two terms leaves the matter up in the air.
The Minister has told us what the Act, as she sees it, means. I think that we agree with her. However, she also said that possibly the provision was unusual. That unusual nature brings with it the inability to provide a clear definition and that, in turn, presents a bonanza to the legal profession. Why can we not rectify it and make clear what we mean? Do we mean that we put the limit on the payment as a guideline and then, whatever ‘the excess’ means, the Commissioner can allow a certain amount extra based not on reasonableness but upon whether the circumstances of the case justify it. The circumstances must relate to the individual case, not to what Parliament has decided in regard to the persons to whom the compensation shall be extended. It is a matter of the Commissioner being satisfied as to the circumstances of the particular case. But what is the definition of ‘circumstances’? Can it be said that because it was essential to have a specific wheelchair in view of the incapacity of the individual the sum should be paid, or is it to be based on the individual ‘s commitments or his family ties? No one knows the answer. We will argue that for many generations to come, until finally the matter ends up in court. Why can it not be cleared up now? If the Minister does not know and her advisers cannot tell her, why cannot the whole matter be reconsidered in order to ensure that the Act will contain words that we can understand. I do not think that in this regard I am being unreasonable. I support the proposed extension but I want to know what an injured workman is entitled to under this clause. We have had from the Minister nothing that would make that clear to us.
– I do not think that either . Senator Grimes or Senator Cavanagh is being unreasonable in regard to this clause. I think that they have made an honest attempt to understand it. However, I draw attention to section 20 of the Act, under which the Commissioner, in determining any matter or question under this Act, shall be guided by equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case without regard to technicalities. He is not required to hold a formal or oral hearing and is not bound by the rules of evidence, but shall give to any person who will be directly affected by the determination a fair opportunity of presenting his case.
It has been said that everybody wants to know what the rules are. The powers of the Commissioner under the Act are very wide indeed. They permit him to treat each case on its merits and to make determinations as he sees fit. A great deal has been said about the fact that the words ‘the excess’ are used in the amendment. They simply refer to the excess in any claims beyond the amount of $780. There is nothing unusual in that expression. It refers to claims in excess of the amount that is stated in the Bill.
A question has been raised as to how the Commissioner would determine any claim. Senator
Cavanagh mentioned personal and family circumstances, or whatever may be required. The Commissioner would, in regard to any claim, expect the need for certain facilities that may be helpful to be supported by medical or technical evidence. The comment was made that I had said that it was unusual to have a clause of this kind. I also said that the Northern Territory legislation was the only other Act that had a comparable clause. I would draw attention to the fact that State Acts do not give this discretion. Use is made by the States of our Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. This gives Commonwealth Government employees an additional facility, one which is not extended under any other legislation. That is what I meant by saying that it was unusual.
I repeat that the effect of the amendment is to allow the Commissioner to approve the payment of costs in excess of the limit of $780 where the circumstances of a particular case justify this being done. I have drawn attention to the very small number of cases that have been dealt with, and for anyone to give the impression that this provision will attract excessive litigation overlooks the powers that I have described as to the way in which the Commissioner makes his determination. I have also described the right of appeal. The Commonwealth Government may appeal and the person concerned may appeal.
– To whom is such an appeal made?
– The appeal would be in the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Tribunal, which under the Act has powers to deal with these matters. I fail to see what complications can still remain in the minds of honourable senators. Having described the application of the clause, I commend it to the Senate.
-I rise once more not to extend the proceedings but just to clarify my view, and I think the Opposition ‘s view, following the remarks of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). My colleagues and I, I am sure, are not opposed to the extension of the Commissioner’s power in this area. We welcome the proposal that more than $780 can be expended on other aids to daily living to compensate workers who have suffered injury at work. The Opposition has no objection to that provision at all. I have an objection to and question putting into an Act proposed section 37 sub-section 3, as it will be from now, which says on the one hand that an upper limit of $780 applies to the Commissioner, but that on the other hand he can go over that limit to the extent that he likes if he is satisfied. I have an objection- the same objection that Senator Cavanagh has- that up to $780 a person can appeal on the ground that the Commissioner was or was not reasonable in his decision, but over $780 a person has to prove that the Commissioner was or was not satisfied, which I think is an impossible situation.
– Satisfied of the circumstances.
-Satisfied of the circumstances of the case, which I think is an impossible situation to appeal on. I cannot see why the limit of $780 was not removed in view of the fact that there are only 22 cases. My final plea- I repeat it- is in respect of people who have to deal with this sort of legislation and the social services legislation which gets cluttered up with unnecessary amendments of this type which add verbiage to it and make it difficult to interpret.I rest my case there and I do not even ask for a reply.
– Mr Temporary Chairman- Senator Mcintosh - Mr Temporary Chairman-
– I call Senator Cavanagh. I saw Senator Cavanagh rise first.
Senator Cavanagh (South Australia) (8.22)- Mr Temporary Chairman, I am concerned about the right of my colleague, Senator Mcintosh, to take part in this debate because, at this stage, possibly he can add more to it than I can. I would not have risen but for the concluding remarks of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) who said that she fails to see what the Opposition is concerned about with respect to this matter. Her statement is brought about by her complete lack of knowledge of what goes on in legal tribunals when these matters are under consideration. She stated that section 20 of the Act provides protection with respect to the problem that we raise and that the tribunal will be guided by equity and good conscience. In every piece of legislation which deals with courts or tribunals which have jurisdiction in matters of this kind, and which hear appeals from laymen on such subjects, such a formula is used. The proceedings of these tribunals are not concerned specifically with evidence on oath or evidence in chief and cross-examination. The hearings are not concerned with the strict application of legal proceedings but with a search for the truth. That is the test which we must apply in considering this matter.
Notwithstanding what I have said, an appellant before such an appeals tribunal is not relieved of the responsibility to show that he or she suffered an injury in terms of the non-legal application of the provisions of the Act. Under the present provisions, an appellant has a right of appeal on whether a certain level of expenditure was reasonable. The success of an appeal in respect of additional expenditure which the appellant thinks is justified rests on the Commissioner being satisfied on that point. The point that I make in respect of this matter is that the Commission has to be satisfied not whether, for example, the cost of the installation of handrails or a chain by which a person can raise himself or herself from a toilet is reasonable but whether the circumstances with respect to the matter satisfy him. What does ‘circumstances’ mean? The concern is not with the injury but with some other element. Clause 7 states:
The legislation deals with reasonable expenditure and in the same provision refers to ‘an excess over the limit’. But in relation to that provision, the Commissioner must be satisfied that the circumstances of the case justify the excess. Circumstances’ in this respect must mean something different from ‘reasonable’. What does the use of that word mean? When eminent Queens Counsel discuss this legislation before the Bench, God knows what this provision may be interpreted to mean. It may be interpreted as being something entirely different from what the Minister or her Department intended. It may mean something entirely different from what the Minister is telling us tonight.
I ask: Why is not the ambiguity that exists with respect to this matter cleared up now? If it is not, legal men will rake off a fortune as the judicial authorities try to decide what we meant when we agreed to this legislation this evening. Why do such conflicts continue to appear in Acts of Parliament? Is this done to create a further haven from which members of the legal profession will argue before the courts what the legislation means? I believe that the Minister has demonstrated that she is unable to explain the meaning. If the Minister wants this provision to remain in the legislation and takes the view that its meaning can be argued in the future, the Government has the numbers to ensure that the legislation is passed and its provisions come into operation. I will say no more than that no justification exists for this provision. The points that we make have been explained. We claim that the limit is unnecessary. The Minister cannot explain why the limit is proposed. There must be a reason for it being included. Rather than this matter being cleared up now in the Parliament, the Government appears to have taken the decision that it will be cleared up at some time in the future before the courts of law.
– I have listened to the arguments put up by Senator Don Grimes and Senator Cavanagh. I have been very impressed with those arguments. The reply of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) perturbs me a little. She did explain to Senator Cavanagh and Senator Grimes that the $780 was only a guideline and that the Commissioner can approve costs in excess of this limit when he sees that it is necessary, or when he feels that it is justifiable. If this is the case, if the $780 upper limit is really only a guide, why bother putting the extra $80 on to the $700 in the first place? The $700 would just be a guide too. I feel that the increase of $80 is probably more than justified. Suspicions are raised in my mind- as Senator Cavanagh has said, possibly in everybody else’s mind- why there is an increase of $80. If the $780 is only a guide, why was not the $700 only a guide? After all, the Commissioner can go in excess of the amount that is stated. Why bother about the $80, unless there is some reason for it? I wonder whether the Minister can explain to me why the extra $80 is only a guide.
– I only wish to add to what has already been said that all the figures in the Act have been increased by the same rate. The limit in this section has also had the same increase applied to it. It is for the reason of consistent increases throughout the figures that are in the Act that this particular one was mentioned. I have nothing further to add. I think that each honourable senator who has spoken has answered his own questions as he has described what the section means. As far as I am concerned, the fact that we now have included in the section the capacity for the Commissioner to approve costs in excess of the limit where the circumstances justify, I think, is an advance on the approach that can be taken to claims that are presented to the Commissioner. From all points of view, I think that it ought to be accepted that the figure that is quoted in the Act can be increased by the Commissioner where he is satisfied that the circumstances justify this increase.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 8 to 15- by leave- taken together and agreed to.
Clause 16 (Amendments relating to amounts of compensation).
– I suggest that it would be sensible- the Committee has adopted a similar course in the past- to include in consideration of clause 16 a consideration of the Schedule. Clause 16 refers to the Schedule.
– Is it the wish of the Committee that clause 16 and the Schedule be taken together? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
– As I have said, clause 16 refers to the Schedule which lists the amounts of compensation payable. The Opposition has several points to make on this situation and an amendment to move. It has been circulated. The gist of the Opposition ‘s objection to the Bill and the cause for the amendment moved at the second reading stage is that, in fact, the increases in these payments are three years late. In that time, the consumer price index has increased by some 36 per cent. According to this side of the chamber, the minimum wage has increased by 29 per cent and according to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) it has increased by 22.9 per cent. But the payments under the Schedule have been increased only by 12 per cent or thereabouts. The Opposition sees no justification for such a low increase after three years of delay in increasing payments under the compensation legislation which, prior to 1975, were increased annually.
The result of this increase has been that no matter how one compares the payments, they have dropped and people have not been compensated for the fixed payment they have received for the last three years, despite inflation. The payment for a single individual is now some 72 percent of the minimum wage. In 1974 it was 84 per cent, and for years before that it was 84 per cent of the minimum wage. The Commonwealth payments are now the lowest or the second lowest, depending on which State one looks at, in the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia. We think that it is pure, basic justice that people who have waited for three years for an increase should at least be compensated for the full cost of living increase since 1976. lt is quite wrong that it has been delayed for so long, but we believe that if there is to be an increase it should compensate for that cost of living rise. Another factor is that even in 1976, when the rates were increased, they did not then compensate for the inflation rate beween 1 975 and 1 976.
The second point- one which I must take issue with the Minister- is that the effect of the new Schedule, by adding the words ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed’ after each amount, is that in the future the Government will be able to increase the amount by statutory regulation instead of legislation. The Opposition would prefer that compensated employees be treated the same as pensioners, beneficiaries and Commonwealth employees, and have their payments indexed- in this case, indexed twice yearly. In reply to Senator Cavanagh, the Minister, I believe quite unfairly, said: ‘But Senator, you would not vote against a statutory regulation which increased an amount of payment to a compensated employee ‘.
– I think I said that.
– Yes, that is right. I think Senator Cavanagh anticipated the Minister in saying that. Of course we would not, but we also cannot amend or increase such a regulation. That is very important. We are also reliant on the Government to introduce such regulations before such payments are increased. The present Government has not increased such payments for three years, despite a 35 per cent increase in the consumer price index. In view of the fact that the Opposition’s second reading amendment failed, the amendment which I am about to move does no more than increase the basic payment amounts by 35 per cent instead of the 12 per cent by which the Covernment would increase it. Nowhere in the Budget Papers, in the statement by the Minister announcing the increases, in the second reading speech or in the summing up speech of the second reading debate tonight has there been an attempt by the Government to justify increasing these payments by only 12 per cent in view of the fact that there has been such a huge increase in the consumer price index since 1975. That is why the Opposition presses at least the amendment I am about to move. The Opposition complains that it is not an insignificant change to the legislation, to change that legislation so that in future increases can be made by regulation.
If it was good enough for the Minister to mention in her second reading speech that clauses 12, 13, 14 and 15 are technical amendments in view of the Superannuation Act, it would have been good enough for the Minister to tell us that she was changing this legislation so that in future changes could be made by statutory regulation.
In fact, this was discovered only because I wondered why those words were added in the Schedule and I made inquiries of departmental officers. The reason why such a significant change does not merit a mention in the second reading speech or in the summary of the legislation raises one’s suspicions. The more I become associated with Senator Cavanagh, the more suspicious I get. Why should not such a thing be mentioned in the legislation? Is it that the Minister hoped that it would slip through; Is it that the Minister did not know and the officers hoped that it would slip through; or, is it that the Minister did not like to point out to this Parliament, and to this chamber of this Parliament, that in fact what she is doing is taking away from the Parliament the legislative power to debate these increases when they come through? For that reason, I move:
– The Australian Democrats would like the opportunity to second this amendment- if it were necessary to do so- because we certainly support it, very much for the valid reasons that have already been stated at some length by Senator Grimes. I think the matter goes a little further than that. Certainly, the Australian Democrats believe that in a society which permits inflation- I believe I use that word ‘permits’ advisedly- the principle which maintains a parity of financial reward or compensation to all sections of the society is necessary as well as being equitable. Such is the principle of indexation which the Government now appears to be abandoning in a particularly confused way and, I might say, a very mysterious way. Perhaps this is what worries me more than anything else about the figures in the amendments to the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill. The second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) states:
The main purpose of this Bill is to provide for increases in benefits payable under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act, which provides workers ‘ compensation for employees of the Commonwealth Government and its statutory authorities.
The speech goes on to mention that the legislation was last amended in 1976. It then states:
Since then there have been significant increases in the cost of living . . . It is therefore necessary that the benefits under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act should be increased.
The point of the matter is that the cost of living increase has been 36.5 per cent. Senator Grimes has made that point. But the increases in the benefits proposed in the Bill are only 12 per cent. My puzzle is this. Where did this figure of 12 per cent come from? There is not a hint of it anywhere in the second reading speech or in the notes for the Committee stage. There is no indication of why this should have happened. It is a point of principle. The Government has suddenly decided- there have been some indications of it recently- to alter this kind of payment apparently on purely arbitrary criteria, which it does not at any time explain. We have the situation where some people do not get any indexation at all. In this category are the single unemployed and, strangely enough, postgraduate scholars, who get no indexation or increase whatsoever. In spite of a number of questions I have asked in this place, I have had no indication as to why this making fish of one and fowl of the other should occur. I would have preferred the amendment moved by Senator Grimes to go further- I think he might have preferred it too- to state that the words ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed’ should be removed from every line of the Schedule.
How can honourable senators trust a government which appears to believe that it can make increases of this type, by apparently plucking a figure out of the air and saying that this is what the increase will be? It is bad enough when the Government does that. At least we can speak on the matter in this place. But how much worse would it be if the Government decided that it wanted a situation in which never again would it be compelled to bring these matters to the attention of Parliament but would be able to make changes by regulation? As Senator Cavanagh and Senator Grimes have remarked, it is very difficult for any honourable senator on this side to move a motion for the disallowance of a regulation. The Government would then have the situation completely under its control. It could pick out another figure, which may be onetenth, one-fifth or one-third of the increase justified by the cost of living. I suggest that if the voting power of those who were affected were sufficiently low- in those cases I have mentioned, such as post-graduate scholars, there is some reason to believe that that is at least a basis of motivation- there would be no increase at all. We oppose those principles in the Bill and support the amendment.
– I speak on this matter tonight because it has been a long tradition for me to uphold the right of the Parliament in respect of regulations. I apologise to Senator Grimes if, over a period, I have corrupted him by association. My suspicion arises not so much from a suspicious mind as from a complete confidence in the competency of departmental officers and legislative draftsmen. I do not accept that they use words uselessly. When I see words in legislation which I cannot understand and which cannot be explained, I become suspicious that there is some ulterior motive in the use of the words. I retain that suspicion until such time as clarity is given. We have not received it tonight. Rather than the draftsmen not knowing what they were doing, I am of the opinion that they did know what they were doing. But we do not. We are only the legislators. We do not have much say. We simply follow behind the draftsmen and have to enact what they say.
We are debating clause 1 6 and the Schedule to the Bill. I support the amendment moved by Senator Grimes, which proposes that the compensation payments be increased to what they should be after indexation for cost of living increases since the amounts of compensation were last adjusted. It is based on the premise that if society agreed on a previous occasion to pay injured workmen on a certain basis it should agree to do the same again and increase the compensation payments in line with the increased cost of living. But I question whether the words or such higher amount as is prescribed’ mean that in the future increases may be made by regulation without reference to Parliament.
– We will amend that when we come to power.
-The honourable senator is trying to amend the legislation but he knows that he will not succeed. Whilst members of the Government parties preach democracy, they do not believe in it. We find that they are absent when votes are taken on these matters. The tendency of this Government is to take more and more power away from the representatives of the people and hand it over to the Executive.
In many of these fights I have supported the use of regulations rather than the use of ministerial discretion, in respect of which the Parliament has no say. But as the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) told us today, the Parliament is given a say about regulations. But how much of a say is it given? It has the right to reject a regulation. Therefore, when a regulation imposes a penalty on someone and the Parliament disagrees with this action, it can reject the regulation. But when a regulation bestows on someone a benefit which we believe is less than the amount justified in the circumstances, the only course open to both the Parliament and the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee is to disallow the regulation. Because the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has power only to recommend the disallowance of a regulation, the Parliament can only disallow the regulation.
For example, as the cost of living increases and the workers compensation payments in the States increase, we may find that a payment of $200 is justified for an injured workman who is covered by the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act. However, a regulation may come before us proposing that the compensation payment be lifted to only $100. Those honourable senators who oppose not giving justice to injured men can only oppose a regulation that gives some increase or accept a regulation that gives some increase, although not a just increase. If we disallow the regulation no increase is given. Therefore, no honorable senator who believed injustice would give notice of a motion to disallow a regulation that gave some increase, even though he believed that a higher increase was justified
We will be told by Government supporters that this is perfect legislation because, although the Parliament had the right to query it, it was unanimously adopted. Honourable senators can see the privation of justice to sections of the community by this action. If there is a way to make automatic increases in payments which does not necessitate periodic debates in this House, it should be adopted. But legislation by regulation is not the way. Regulations give Parliament only the right to say that people will get the increase proposed or nothing at all. But they give the right to the Government to say that the Parliament approved an increase because it did not move to disallow the regulation granting it. This is giving the Parliament a very low legislative power.
If a Bill is introduced to amend the rate of workers compensation, it allows any honourable senator to do what Senator Grimes has done tonight. At least a section of the Parliament is able to express an opinion by way of amendment that the amount proposed to be given is not sufficient and to state what the compensation rate should be. The Government then has to show that the rate should be not the rate proposed by way of amendment but the rate the Government stipulates. However if increases are made by regulation the Opposition may not move an amendment stating what it thinks the rate should be. It may only accept the rate proposed by the Government, even though it disagrees with it, or there will be no increase at all.
The Regulations and Ordinances Committee is in the same position. I suppose that the criteria under which the Committee operates could be widened so that it may express an opinion that it does not think that an increase made by regulation is justified in the circumstances. But at the moment it can do nothing other than to move that the regulation be disallowed. In that case all the cripples, the paraplegics, the injured and the people suffering from industrial diseases would not get the meagre increase that the Government is forced to offer them and no one would be able to fight their cause in this Parliament. There would be no alternative under the Act. Surely no one could jusitfy that situation.
I have fought as hard as anyone could, with the possible exception of Reg Wright when he was in this Parliament, for the right to maintain power within Parliament and not to pass it on to subordinate committees or other bodies. We cannot have every change made by way of an Act of Parliament. Some powers must be delegated. But if Parliament is to function effectively we must be selective. If, in the years to come, the compensation allowance paid by the Commonwealth is insufficient by comparison with what the States are paying, by comparison with cost of living increases, and by comparison with the sacrifices made by people, we are the ones who must take the responsibility for that. But that responsibility is being taken out of our hands and passed over to someone else, and we cannot do anything about it.
The thing that hurts me, and the Minister mentioned this today, is that the Government has decided to proceed by regulation where fixed amounts are involved, which means that there will be many more of these provisions. If ever a cause needed supporting in this chamber by the elected representatives of the people, surely it must be the cause of the injured worker who sacrifices his physical fitness, and perhaps the welfare of his family, through an accident at work, serving industry for the benefit of the nation. In that case we say that we will give him some niggardly compensation, and the representatives of the people cannot argue whether or not it is adequate. We can decide whether he will be given the $ 10 a week that the Government offers or whether it will be taken away from him. That is the only decision we have. We cannot choose to advance the cause of those crippled members of society who have made a sacrifice by serving industry. The only choice we have is whether or not to deprive them of something that has been offered, perhaps not justifiably. I wait anxiously to hear the Minister justify how this can be permitted, how we can take away from the representatives of the people the power to decide what is just compensation and instead put that decision in the hands of the Commissioner. The only power of the representatives of the people is to take away the meagre sum that the Government may be prepared to offer.
– I do not wish to launch into a second reading speech, Mr Temporary Chairman, nor would you allow me to do so.
– He did with me.
– You can get away with it. We are dealing with clause 16 ofthe Bill and the associated Schedule which amends the amounts of compensation now payable. I agree with what has been said. The amounts that are proposed are inadequate in that they do not reflect even the increases in the consumer price index since the last occasion on which the amounts were fixed. In other words, they do not restore for the injured person the value of the amount which was determined at the time as being fair and reasonable to compensate that person for injury arising out of or in the course of the employment. That is the first point, and that is why I agree with the amendment.
Whilst I am on that point, I draw the attention of the Senate to the possibility of a fire occurring on Commonwealth property- for example, at an airport- and I assume that Federal fire fighters are covered by the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act. Those fire fighters, who would be involved in rescuing people from the conflagration at the airportpeople who perhaps are employed by hire car firms and are under State awards- may sustain injuries while rescuing an already injured person covered by a State Act, such as the workers compensation Act in my State. Under this proposal, they would be paid substantially less than the persons whom they are rescuing, and in the State compensation legislation there is an escalation clause to ensure that the value of the amount is not eroded by increases in costs. That is a ludicrous situation and one which I believe the Government ought to look at. The present proposal is worse, as I see it, than the schemes in all but one of the States and, as I understand it, that State is in the process of increasing its rates to compensate for the erosion caused by increases in the consumer price index.
– They are all indexed.
– They are all indexed, as Senator Grimes says, and that is the other point. I would not mind if the Minister were to stand up now and say that the words ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed ‘ in the Schedule mean that regulations will be made by the Government every quarter to adjust the rate for movements in the consumer price index or some other figure acceptable to this Parliament. I would not mind if the Minister were to get up and say that, but in the absence of some explanation of the meaning of the term ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed’, the Minister is asking us to buy a pig-in-a-poke. The Senate itself has suggested that that is an unworthy exercise and one which is likely to rebound. Might I draw the Senate’s attention to the 65th report of our own Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, which was tabled in Parliament last session. The Committee drew attention to the danger of this type of clause and to the fact that the Executive government ought not to be allowed a free hand to modify an Act by regulation, thus depriving the elected members of Parliament of their rights. As I said, I would be quite happy to forgo my right if the Minister were to £,:ve me a satisfactory statement as to the meaning of the term ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed ‘. Failing any such explanation, I propose to vote for the amendment moved by Senator Grimes.
– I rise again just to make it clear, in view of the remarks of Senator Mason, what my amendment does. My amendment seeks to insert a new schedule. It was drafted on advice from the Clerk. It has the effect of leaving out the words ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed ‘. It is quite clear to me and I think to Senator Harradine that the effect of these words is to allow the Government, as I said before, to make further increases by regulation. I am afraid that I am not as trusting as Senator Harradine. In view of the assurances of the Government in the past to pensioners on indexation, I cannot accept the assurance from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle)- I am sure she will not give it- that the amounts will be increased quarterly, half yearly or yearly in the future.
The Opposition believes that the injured employees, the compensated employees, should be compensated at least as adequately as they were in 1976, which is the basis for changing the amounts, and that they should be compensated the same as workers and pensioners are compensated by having their payments indexed by law of this Parliament every six months. That is why I have moved the amendment which has the effect of taking out the words ‘or such higher amount as is prescribed ‘. As Senator Cavanagh has said, we do not want to be in the situation where the power of deciding how much these people will get resides in the Executive and the only power that a member of this Parliament will have will be to disallow that amount and not to amend it upwards. That is an unsatisfactory situation.
We will resist and continue to resist the proposal that the Minister put in her second reading speech that in future the Government intends, wherever fixed amounts are involved, to change legislation so that those amounts can be changed by statutory regulation. We believe it is the right of members of this Parliament to peruse such amounts and to suggest increases if necessary. If we have the numbers in either chamber or both chambers we can seek to increase the amounts. But we should not be left almost in a blackmail situation where the only thing we can do is refuse the increases which is something that none of us would ever do no matter how small or paltry the increases were.
– In responding to the many matters that have been raised I question
Senator Grimes on his last statement that my comment in the second reading speech seems to contradict what he said earlier, that I omitted altogether any reference-
– Do not be so pedantic. I am sorry; it was in your summing up.
– The honourable senator in his earlier comments stated that there was complaint.
– I admit my mistake. It was in your summing up that you said it.
– We accept the honourable senator’s admission. Some comment was made earlier that there had been a deliberate omission from the second reading speech. As far as I am concerned, it was not a deliberate omission. The second reading speech was one which covered the aspects of the Bill. As we go through the clauses of the Bill, we have an opportunity to discuss the matter about which the honourable senator feels so strongly. Senator Grimes asked whether a draftsman or some officer of the Department somehow devised the wording to which he takes exception. The draftsman acted on the decision of the Cabinet, and the Bill was drafted in accordance with the decision made by the Government.
The matters that have been raised with regard to rates perhaps take us back to where we were at the second reading stage. I want to put on record the weekly compensation payments in all the States in Australia. I think some wrong impressions can be given about some of those rates and about the approach of the States to the weekly compensation payments. In New South Wales a single employee receives $92.60 a week, a spouse $21.20 a week and a child $10.60 a week. In Victoria, the rates being presently paid weekly are $73, $20 and $7. I understand that new proposals provide for $105 a week for an employee, $30 a week for a spouse and $10 a week for each child, but are subject to a maximum of $155 a week. That maximum would be reached and passed by the Commonwealth payments if three children and a dependent spouse were involved. In Queensland there is a weekly rate of $83.10 for the employee, $20.80 for the spouse and $8.30 for the child. In South Australia provision is made for full pay, but it is subject to a limit of $25,000 of employer liability. In other words, when payments have been received by an employee to the limit of $25,000 he becomes an invalid pensioner of my Department: there is no compensation.
Western Australia has an award rate subject to a limit of employer liability of $48,027. After receipt of that amount, the employee becomes an invalid pensioner of my Department. There is no compensation beyond that limit of employer liability. In Tasmania, there is full pay, subject to an employer liability of $33,995. Again, no further responsibility falls on the employer. After that amount has been paid the employee is subject to social security payments. In the Australian Capital Territory, the weekly rate for an employee is $94.33 for a spouse $24.82 and for a child $1 1.58. In the Northern Territory, weekly rates of $80, $21 and $10 apply. The proposed Commonwealth weekly rates are $90, $23.60 and $ 1 1.25. 1 think it is important that we clarify the fact that there is employer liability on the rates of three States and a maximum weekly payment in the State of Victoria in contrast to the Commonwealth payment of full pay for 26 weeks followed by these revised rates which are introduced in this Bill. It is desirable to have that record clarified because of the statements that have been made.
I turn to the matter raised by Senator Mason. He talked about a government which permits inflation. He would be aware that one of the costs that is of great concern to those who employ people, whether in government or in the private sector, is the cost of workers compensation. Anyone who talks of permitting inflation would have an indexation mentality. Indexation is not required unless there is inflation. If we are to talk in those terms we could have an economic argument whether the Commonwealth Government ought to be a pacesetter in workers compensation rates. The rates proposed by Senator Grimes and supported by Senator Mason and Senator Harradine are distinctly pacesetting in comparison with every other State in Australia.
– The honourable senator may say it is nonsense, but if Senator Grimes looks at the figures that I have read and contrasts them with the proposals in his amendment he will find that they are pacesetting.
Let me turn to the matters that were raised by Senator Grimes, Senator Cavanagh and others with regard to these future increases being proposed by regulation. As I said, that was a decision of the Cabinet. It has been put into the legislation so that in future any increases that are proposed by the Government will be done by the force of regulation. There are those in the Senate who argue- I do not entirely disagree with them- that this does not give the opportunity for parliamentary debate. On the other hand, we have those who say that we bring into the Parliament Bills which deal with matters of that type which can satisfactorily be dealt with by legislation and which, in hundreds and hundreds of Bills, are dealt with by regulation. I understand and do not dispute the view of the Senate that it is desirable to debate matters about which honourable senators wish to express opinions. To suggest that this is the only Bill in which matters of this sort are introduced by legislation overlooks the sheer necessity of regulation for amendments of this kind.
Senator Harradine sought from me some assurance that there would be quarterly indexation on the basis of consumer price index movements. I am not able to give him that assurance. I am able to say that Commonwealth Government employees compensation will be subjected to review by the Government. On that review such higher amounts will be approved by the Government and will be placed into force by regulation. That is the only commitment I am able to give with regard to future movements of compensation payments.
I remind the Committee again that, for the first 26 weeks of incapacity, payments for Commonwealth Government employees are made at the employee’s normal rate of pay. In that period his wages are subject to indexation, as are Commonwealth Government wages. In the case of longterm incapacity beyond 26 weeks, his compensation payments may be supplemented by accrued sick leave, to which he is entitled, by superannuation entitlements and by social security pension entitlements. Access to all those payments is available in addition to the compensation which we are discussing tonight. There are people who have superannuation entitlements from Commonwealth Government schemes. There are people who may be entitled, on the basis of their incomes and their family responsibilities, to partial social security pension entitlements. The social security pension entitlements are subject to indexation. The other matters which were referred to concerning this clause, relating to rates and to the exception taken to the regulation of future increases, makes it impossible for the Government to accept the amendment moved by Senator Grimes. I commend clause 16 and the Schedule to the Committee.
– I will speak briefly in pursuing the Opposition’s amendment. Nothing which the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has said convinces us that we so should withdraw our amendment. I merely make the point that we believe that what this Government decided- I stress the fact that this Government made the decisionwas good enough for the injured employees of the Commonwealth Government receiving compensation in 1976 is good enough for them now. The only way to compensate those people for what has happened economically in this country since then is to increase their payments by the amount of the consumer price index increases to retain the value of those payments, even though the recipients will not regain the losses they have accrued over those years by a failure to increase those payments at least annually since then.
We are talking about legislation which the Government claims will cost $ 1 m. If the Opposition ‘s amendment were accepted, it would cost probably $2m or $3m. We are not talking about something which will break this country or blow out the deficit; we are talking about something which will pay injured workers compensation.
Senator G u i 1 f oy le - Pa ce - se 1 1 i n g compensation.
– It is absolute nonsense to call it pace-setting compensation when after the legislation is enacted, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, when its amending legislation is enacted, will still be ahead of the Commonwealth in this area.
– With limitations.
-I said ‘in this area’. Those States will remain ahead of the Commonwealth in this area, as they always have been. The Minister drew our attention to the fact that some exemployees will be entitled to receive superannuation benefits and some to partial social security benefits. Of course they will. Some will have savings and some will be better off than others. We are concerned about the workers who have other assistance but not as concerned as we are about those workers- they do exist- who rely on compensation payments. If they are single they will rely on $90 a week. If they have a couple of kids they will rely on $ 120-odd a week. They are people who already have disabilities. They are people who, therefore, have to meet all the costs associated with those disabilities. They are the people we are worried about.
The total additional Budget expenditure involved if this amending legislation is passed will be $lm or $2m. When we have governments which purchase Boeing 707 aircraft for $40m to fly Prime Ministers around the world and all the other expenditure which is indulged in in this country, we should not be quibbling about whether we will give victims who are recipients of compensation payments a 30 per cent increase in their payments, which represents the increase in the cost of living since 1976, or a 12 per cent increase in their payments, which is a figure which has been drawn out of the air and which, we suspect is designed to keep the Commonwealth payments at the middle or the lower end of the States’ scales. I think that we are being mean and unkind if we treat people in that way and if people such as Senator Cavanagh, Senator Harradine, Senator Mason and I do not defend the rights of the people who receive those payments to receive justice.
– The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in her reply, stated her opposition to the amendment moved by Senator Grimes and to the rates of payment included in that amendment, which were supported by Senator Mason, Senator Harradine and another senator. I feel left out. I do not know whether I recorded my support, but I do support the increased rates of payment outlined in Senator Grimes amendment. Despite that discouragement from the Minister, I have great admiration for her. I know the difficult task she has. She has shown one weakness. It is stupid that, when she is unable to reply to the criticism of the legislation, she simply reports what the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act provides. Any honourable senator can read the Act. It does not help for her to state that the rates will be increased from $80 to $90. We all read that and commented on it. It is not helpful for the Minister to provide that information.
But I think the honesty and sincerity of the Minister are worthy of some praise. She disclosed to us in her reply that this measure results from a Cabinet decision- a Government decision- that when rates are specified that should be done by way of regulation rather than it being a matter which comes before the Parliament. Regrettably, in debates on most of the Bills over which the Minister has had control in this chamber, particularly the health Bills, I have claimed that this Government is attempting to take all power away from the Parliament. This Government hates Parliament sitting. It believes, therefore, that politicians do not count and it should try to find another way of introducing such measures. That is the whole basis of the Government’s approach. That is the threat to our democracy. I am always making that claim.
– Are you saying that about this Minister?
-No. This Minister is in revolt. She told us that this was a Government decision. I am talking about the Malcolm Frasers, the squires of Australia. This Minister said: ‘I do not necessarily disagree with the Opposition’. She expressed her revolt. She does not have the standing or the courage to come out in direct opposition to the Government or to resign. Nevertheless, I realise her position in deciding whether she as a Minister should resign. But we do have a Minister who is worthy of support because she is opposed to power being taken away from the Parliament, which the Government is pledged to do. Whilst I can see justification for a Minister not resigning, I hope that the three other members of the Liberal Party of Australia who are in this chamber at present at least will convey to some of their mates who rarely come into this chamber the responsiblity they have concerning what is being doneot them by their Government. Do they believe in the representation of the people or not? That is the whole question. Parliament must not have to watch things being done by the back door.
I come to this vital issue: Parliament cannot disagree with regulations. Parliament has the power to disallow a regulation which it does not like. The alternative is hidden. The only power that Parliament will have in the case of this legislation will be to disallow a regulation which gives an increased payment to injured workmen with family responsiblities. We know that an increase other than a full increase would not really give injured individuals the justice they deserve. In that event, the Parliament has to decide either to disallow the regulation which would mean the injured people getting half a loaf or to throw the regulation out and not allow any increase at all. That is the direction this Government is following at present. If we are to save the Parliament and to save democracy in Australia, I appeal to Government back benchers to get behind Ministers such as Senator Guilfoyle to ensure that there is a revolt against this Government’s attempt to disallow the Parliament the right to discuss prominent issues. (Quorum formed).
That the Schedule proposed to be left out (Senator Grimes’s amendment) be left out.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman-Senator D. B. Scott)
Clause 16 and Schedule agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979
-The Opposition has the same objections to the Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill as it had to the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill. We do not wish to delay the proceedings of the House or to go through the ritual, in view of the intransigence of Government senators in the face of the arguments which have been put to them. I merely wish to back the words of Senator Cavanagh in regretting that Government senators would not support the sentiments, if not the actions, of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). I wish to point out also that throughout the debate, from before 5 o’clock this afternoon, only one Government senator was willing to speak on this legislation, and that was the Minister herself. No one would give her any support. As she could give no justification for the Government’s decision, I assume that that was the reason that no one on the Government side was willing to attempt to support her. I register the Opposition’s regret that the Government has done in the Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2) what it did in the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill. In registering our objections I leave the debate at that.
– I do not want to enter into a debate on this Bill, but I do not know whether this is the right time to ask a question or whether it should be done at the third reading stage. The earliest question that I asked on the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill was: What is the status of a person who is employed by the Northern Territory? I have received no reply to that question. If anyone can tell me, I would like to know. To put this matter in order I hope that there is a seaman who is employed by the Northern Territory.
– I am advised that a seaman employed in the Northern Territory is not covered by this Bill.
Bill agreed to.
Bills reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a third time.
– During the Committee stage of both Bills I did not get a reply to a question. Can someone, preferably the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), tell me the status of a person employed by the Northern Territory and who his employer is?
– in reply- A person employed in the Northern Territory is covered for compensation under the Northern Territory Administration’s own legislation. He is not covered by either of these Bills.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria-Minister for Social Security)- by leave- My adviser points out in response to the question that was raised that section 7A of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act applies to a person who on or after 1 July 1978 is employed by the Northern Territory whether he is so employed under a law of the Northern Territory or under a contract of service or apprenticeship.
Bills read a third time.
Debate resumed from 13 September, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Senate take note of the papers.
– Some 10 days ago when addressing myself to the Budget Papers I was talking of the significance of the wide ranging effects of the 1979 Budget on the Australian people as individuals and groups, on Australia and, beyond that, on nations outside our country. I was doing so because prosperity and depression are cumulative circumstances and are certainly related to the programs that are drawn up by countries around the world, in their various economic Budgets. This one is no exception. I was saying how important it is that a Budget should be made to work by confidence and by the effort of the people. A Budget, no matter who brings it down, can be a document, a mechanism and a plan, but whether it reaches its real potential is in the last resort up to the people themselves. They need to have confidence, and I believe that the path proposed by this Budget is a proven and correct path. Throughout history it has often been the case that the prophets of doom are the perpetrators of doom. It certainly is not the intention ofthe Australian people at this stage, as they are rising out of many social and economic problems, to return to a situation of doom.
It is patently pathetic to think that a government- certainly this coalition Government- would have any interest by way of the socio-economic measures that are contained in this Budget in destroying the freedom, productivity and development of this great land. We could not possibly follow that course unless it was our determination to destroy the system. The system is the Australian way. It is a system which is the evolution of tradition and circumstance over many decades, indeed now over two centuries. It is a tradition, an evolution, of which most Australians- I would like to think all Australians- are basically proud. If that is the case they will have the determination and the confidence to make this Budget work in the way that it should work and has the capacity to work.
I believe it is important from time to time to cast a thought on the issue of nationalism. It is generally accepted historically that nationalism belonged to the 19th century, at least in terms of the Western world. But today in the late 20th century we are surrounded by an emerging nationalism. If we are to play our proper part in the development of the world and of internationalism it is imperative that we should become aware once again of our national responsibilities and our national image. The only way that nationalism can be a disadvantage to the development of internationalism is if it involves itself in exploitation. Internationalism by exploitation, of course, is something to be avoided. But given that fact, the existence of nationalism in this country and around the world is important to the final development of internationalism.
I said earlier that to be successful a Budget must have a real measure of confidence behind it. In a free society confidence can be gained by the determination and capacity of people to amass facts and to analyse them. I believe that beyond the obvious aims of education, which are to provide a facility, a capacity, among young people- (Quorum formed). I was saying that it is imperative for a free society if it is to survive, to develop at the end of the tunnel of education young citizens who are determined and able to analyse the circumstances that they find around them. This alone can counter the damage that can be done by confusion, distortion and half truths, whether they be relevant to the fact of the matter or to the objectives that guide a government. It is absolutely essential that we recognise the problems that arise from distortions, whether they come from political critics or from the media across the whole general range of issues. Distortion is the one thing that leads to confusion and inefficiency in a socio-economic system. I propose, because of this distortion and confusion, which in many areas, has become the legacy of recent times, to restate, without repetitious detail, just a few of the major emphases of this 1979-80 Budget.
A Budget cannot be looked upon in isolation. It is part of a continuing circumstance and has to be referable to what has gone before. It must look forward with a view to achieving the policies and objectives of the government that introduces it. Thus, it is important that we recognise that a budget cannot and must not be looked at in isolation. It is something that operates in changing circumstances, both inside and outside of the country in which it is presented. No government, and ours is no exception to the rule, can be, or would expect to be, totally satisfied with the socio-economic circumstances that from time to time are to be found in its economy. Because it is not totally and absolutely satisfied, it must from time to time see the necessity to mould and change its approach as circumstances themselves change- often totally and absolutely unpredictably.
That brings me to comment on what I recognise as a broken-promise phobia that has been running around this country for some time but, which, I believe, is starting to run very slowly indeed, if it has not already stopped. A broken promise has to be looked at in the circumstances of the country in which it is alleged to have been broken. In the course of the development of a socio-economic system, from time to time changes, both internal and external, occur. These must of course, be met by a responsible government. They are a challenge to government and, as it seeks to develop certain policy objectives it must be prepared, if it is responsible to adjust to circumstances which will change whether we like it or not. 1 recall, as I look around, that many of the socalled problems that confront this country today, such as an over-supply of cash in the community, are in fact, when analysed, seen to be the problems of recovery and should present a measure of challenge to the Australian people. That attitude should be basic to the sort of confidence that can get Australia out of the problems that have confronted it for some years now. Our job, and this Budget is one of the tools in performing that job, is not to scrap the system, not to scrap the evolutionary product of 200 years of effort, but to amend it, to adjust it and to mould it. That is what a Budget is all about and that should be the responsible direction in which a government should move.
I wish to refer briefly to one or two of the major moves made in this Budget, if only to remind the Senate of what it has done and what it proposes to do. In the first place, it continues its emphasis on running down inflation, which has become rampant in this country. It seeks to do that in a great number of ways. I shall not concentrate on them all, but I remind the Senate that the Budget seeks to reduce the deficit by $1.3 billion and the domestic deficit by $ 1.4 billion, to the lowest point in more than six years. This is a real and proper contribution to the control of inflation, for no matter how or in what manner one may argue it, there can be no doubt that the funding of a deficit is inflationary. A deficit can be funded by borrowing money, by printing money or by way of taxation. All three, in varying measure, are inflationary. I refer now to the tax reduction which begins to operate on 1 December. This is an area about which there perhaps has been more confusion, distortion, half truths and smart reflections made than has been the case in respect of any other section of the Budget. The fact, and I do not want to embellish it, is that on 1 December the amount of tax paid in each dollar earned will be less than it was before that date.
– It will be more than the year before.
– And the average rate over the 1979-80 period will be less than the average rate of the previous financial year.
– That’s a lie.
– Order! Senator Walsh, when you say, ‘That’s a lie’ you imply that the honourable senator is a liar. I direct you to withdraw that remark.
- Mr President, Senator Scott said that the average rate of tax paid in this financial year will be less than it was in the previous year. That is not true. If Senator Scott does not know any better he is ill-informed.
– Order! The words you used, Senator Walsh, were unparliamentary. They imply that the speaker is a liar. You must withdraw them.
- Mr President, the senator was stating what is a lie, what is an untruth, whether he was aware of it or not. At best he is ill-informed and ignorant.
– The honourable senator will withdraw the inference to which I have referred.
- Mr President, I will withdraw the imputation that Senator Scott was deliberately telling a lie. However, the fact remains that he is making a statement that is untrue.
– In this place it is imperative that an honourable senator make no inference or imputation concerning the character of a person. The honourable senator has at his disposal, in the use of the English language, every means of indicating a differing point of view but that must be done in verbiage which is not offensive to honourable senators.
– I was discussing the matter of taxation under the Budget and the fact that, from 1 December this year, the rate will be significantly lower. I also make the point that this Government was the first Government to introduce full indexation of personal income tax. Unfortunately, because of the rate of recovery, that full indexation had to be abandoned in the short term. Undoubtedly, when the economy is of such a nature as would enable it to be reintroduced, so it will be reintroduced. I draw the attention of the. Senate and many others to the fact that there has been a significant measure of indexation introduced by this Government from the very beginning of its term of office. In fact, when the coalition Government introduced the three-tier system of personal income tax, it moved a long way towards total tax indexation. The three-tier system meant and still means, because it is operative and will remain operative, that the one rate of tax applies to a taxable income from $3,890-1 think that is the lower end- to an amount in excess of $ 16,000 on the upper end. Another rate applies to the whole area of taxable income between $16,608 to $33,000 plus, and one rate from there on. That is a very significant contribution to tax indexation.
The Government has returned to the twiceyearly pension adjustment to the full extent of the consumer price index. Of course, it was always adjusted to the full extent of the CPI. Regrettably, it had to move away from its original plan for an annual adjustment because the rate of reduction of inflation was proving to be slower than we had hoped. I would think that all Australians would have hoped that the rate would have been faster than in fact it was and is. Pensions have been improved in the repatriation area and, of course, for foreign ex-servicemen in this country.
The retention allowance for private companies has been raised to 70 per cent. This has a significant advantage to small business which has a considerable difficulty in managing to get together the amount of working capital that it badly needs. In this Budget there is a great measure of encouragement to the tourist industry in this country, an encouragement which brought smiles of great glee to the face of Senator Rae, I notice, when he was addressing himself to the Budget. The tourist industry is a significant industry. It is a significant export earner, an invisible export earner, and it provides and will provide quite a substantial amount of employment over a very great diversity of occupation. This country has a great deal to offer in the tourist area. It is rich in history and it is rich in a wide ranging area of scenery. Tax measures in this Budget are worth considering because they are constructive, sensible and the sorts of measures that should build a real confidence in the community. The tax measures are such that they will encourage the conversion of industry and commerce from oil producing energy sources to other sources of energy such as coal, gas, solar power and so on. This is something that has to be done in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, like most other countries around the world today.
We have encouraged through taxation concessions for the exploration for oil and minerals on shore and off shore. Of course this is significant. The Government has introduced a 20 per cent depreciation on storage facilities for grain, hay and fodder. This, on top of an investment allowance, is of real importance to the economy of this country because a capacity to store and reserve grain, fodder and hay is relevant to the carrying capacity of this country. It is relevant to out ability to meet what today fortunately are expanding markets. It is relevant to our capacity to meet the challenge of climate and the challenge of rapidly changing markets which are challenges that confront Australian primary industry and indeed the mineral industry from time to time throughout their histories.
Other matters which continue through this Budget and which are relevant to rural Australia are of great significance. Perhaps it is forgotten that this Federal Government abolished estate and gift duty. Perhaps it is forgotten that it introduced the right to opt into or out of the averaging system of income tax. It introduced, and in this Budget has increased, the capacity of people to use income investment equalisation deposits. It reintroduced the investment allowance, the superphosphate bounty, the Primary Industry Bank and the Asutralian Meat and Livestock Corporation. It has increased the first payment on wheat and introduced a generous new stabilisation scheme. It has substantially followed the upward trend in wool prices and has created an ever rising reserve price in that area. It has supported the beef and dairy industries. More importantly, the Government in the rural field seeks to support the industries as they need support. This Government is fully aware of the vagaries of climate and the vagaries of the market place. As industries need a measure of support, it is certainly the determination of this Government that responsible reaction will be found.
In spite of the prophets of doom- there are prophets of doom around, even in our country today as it climbs out of the crevice into which it had fallen- even in this circumstance- it is worth remembering that Australia today, in the eyes of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, rates only marginally behind the economies of West Germany and Japan. It is practically 3 per cent behind the average rate of inflation in the OECD countries. The overseas investment in this country has risen in the last year to $1.2 billion which is the highest amount in some seven years. Retail spending, as I recall in July of this year, was some 1 2 per cent higher than it was in July 1978. So there is ample evidence that this economy across a whole range of operation is climbing successfully along the line which is indicated by this Budget.
As I close my remarks, I refer just very briefly to the expenditure in the area of defence because that is an area of which Australians have, in some measure, become knockers. It is high time they ceased being knockers. The area of defence is a very favourite area for the knockers to operate in. I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that in the defence area in this Budget it has been possible to raise expenditure by some $28 1 m or 2.6 per cent in real terms. This is a significant contribution at a time when the object of the Government is to lower taxation, lessen the size of the government, the size of the state, it has been fit and able to increase its effort in the defence area. It is worth noting that Australia’s defence forces are, outside those of the super powers, certainly the equivalent of defence forces in any area of this area of the world. Today, more and more money and a greater part of the defence vote are being spent- and so it should be- on sophisticated equipment.
In regard to defence, Australia is establishing a capacity both from the point of view of trained manpower and from the point of view of defence equipment which registers it as a responsible country in this part of the world. There are units of all three Services in Australia that are certainly the equivalent of units in any service in any part of the world. What we need in that area- as we do in the area of this Budget and the socioeconomic circumstances in which we live- is a determination to make it work; a determination that the defence forces and defence capacity that we have are something on which we can certainly improve but something of which we can be responsibly proud. As time goes by, that determination and confidence are the sorts of thing that will make Australia and Australians reach the fascinating and exciting potential that they have.
– While listening to Senator Scott, I though I was hearing some of those things I enjoyed as a child- the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. Nevertheless, I suppose that people on the other side of the House have to be in a situation where they can try to justify the Budget.
– It is justified.
– It is not justifiable and it is not likely to be justifiable. When the Government comes around to election date, it will find the people of Australia do not believe that it is justifiable either. On 2 1 August 1979, in the conclusion to the brief Budget statement made by the Treasurer (Mr Howard), he stated:
This Budget has been framed to meet the needs of the Australian economy in 1979.
Its object is to reduce inflation and to make a sound and broadly based growth. lt provides incentive for both individuals and businesses with a responsible overall framework conducive to our longer term economic goals. lt significantly reduces the call of Government upon the nation’s financial markets.
It equips Australia to success in a world environment of rising inflation and intensifying competition.
My colleague, Senator Walsh, was passing some rather sharp remarks here a while ago. I think that, in slightly less fiery language, that was what he was referring to. I wish to quote from the first few words of the reply to the Budget by Mr Hayden, the Leader of the Labor Party and the next Prime Minister, in another place. He stated:
Almost four years ago, the man who is now Prime Minister of this country . . . made 9 1 specific promises in 30 minutes. He did that in an election policy speech.
That is 316 promises per minute. That was fast work. Mr Hayden continued:
Above all, he promised the Australian people full economic prosperity in three years . . . There was no equivocation, no qualification- just a blunt, straightforward promise, lt would be done, he said, and he and his Government would do it. He not only made promises- rash, foolish and irresponsible promises- but also promised to keep his promises. A journalist asked him at the National Press Club lunch, four days before the 1 975 elections, whether he would sacrifice his promises if, when in government, he was advised that they would bc impossible to carry out. He replied. I quote him exactly:
What we said we will do is practical, and will bc done. That was five Budgets, two Treasurers and almost four years ago.
The three year deadline in which to honour that promise of full economic prosperity is now almost a year behind us. Now, four years later, we come to the reality of just what this Prime Minister and this Government have cost the country since they came to office.
Last week the Australian people were presented with the sixth Budget from this Government and the third Budget from this Treasurer (Mr Howard), lt is, in every essential, a graveyard for those promises made almost four years ago.
In the Daily Mirror of 22 August- the day after the Budget- Brian White stated:
The happiest man in the country after last night’s Budget should not be too hard to lind.
He will be very old, deaf, cither a Japanese or an Italian: he will own a player piano, have a passion for imported antiques and will have sold his Mercedes yesterday.
His sons, however, will not share his joy.
Now all this obviously requires an explanation. This lies in a number of parts of an otherwise uneventful Budget.
First is Treasurer John Howard’s announcement that the military pension is to bc extended -
That was referred to by Senator Scott a few moments ago- to those who served as members of Allied armies in any wars in which Australia took part.
So very old Japanese and Italians- who were on our side in World War One- will qualify, but their sons- who were on the other side in World War Two- will not.
That is the shambles in which the pension case was put.
– Do you not approve of that program to extend the Service pension?
– I will approve of anything that extends the Service pension.
– You welcome it?
– I welcome anything that extends Service pensions. Senator Baume, if you are trying to draw crabs on that, you will fail. This was told to me by a member of the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is described as the cutlery set- he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he speaks with a forked tongue and he carries a knife to put into the back of anybody he does not like. Of course, the Prime Minister wanted to call the first of his Boeing aircraft Air Force 1 but the boys from the Royal Australian Air Force had nicknamed it Mal 1, which is Air Force parlance for a plane with a malfunction.
I was in Cairns the other day after the Prime Minister had been there for the Far North Queensland Turf Club race meeting. I think it is well known that he would rather bet on motor bikes, even if he has to pay $40 extra for a trade-in, than he would on racehorses. I happened to be in the breakfast room with a lot of National Country Party members who were having their early morning meal, and the Cairns Post was brought in with a photograph of the Prime Minister, pondering. With him was the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). They were both pondering- the Prime Minister on what was going to happen to him during the rest of the life of this Parliament, and the Minister for Defence on why he had not got the top job in New York. The roar of laughter that went up from these people- they were not members of my party, although 1 suspect that they might be about to join- was significant when one National Country Party grazier said: ‘Ponder; that is a good word. He has been doing it for four years and 1 guess he will do it for the rest of his time’. The Budget was aptly summed up in the lllawarra Mercury. I know I am not allowed to use the words it used because you, Mr President, have ruled them out of order. But, the words say precisely what they mean. 1 have not articulated the words, but they have been proven a thousand times over since the mini-Budget.
– What is the date of that newspaper?
-That was produced the day after the mini-Budget, on Friday- not black Friday, but it was for the people of Australia- 25 May 1979.
– What happened in the opinion polls?
– I have told the honourable senator before to stick with her apple strudel and the types of things that she knows about. She is totally out of her depth in this chamber, so I suggest she keeps to the things she knows about. We have been told- Senator Scott said this a few minutes ago- that our tax rates will be reduced. A table published in one of the trade union magazines, Communication Worker, indicated that for 1978-79 a person on $7,500 per annum will have a tax increase per week of about $4. Per annum, the increase will be $207.71; in other words, it will be an increase in tax of 34 per cent. But, if one is in a higher category- nearly double that amount, at $14,000- one will pay an extra $373.22 for the year, which is a tax increase per week of $7. 1 7. In terms of percentage increase, it is only 13 per cent. Thirteen per cent on the higher income compared to 34 per cent on the lower income is a tax hoax by this Government. It took Mr Eric Risstrom to point out the position. I will quote a couple of paragraphs from a circular which he distributed to all members of the House of Representatives and to all honourable senators. He prefaced his remarks by saying:
This association has no party-political leanings -
He goes on to say:
Clearly something has come unstuck.
The choice of the rate of the income tax surcharge justifies our criticism. There is no excuse for using a PAYE factor as the basis of fixing the tax-assessment rate. Last year the decision was made to collect a whole year’s surcharge over 7 months; that’s how the 2.57 per cent rate came to be struck.
In spite of what was said at the time of the imposition of the so-called tax surcharge, which in fact is a straight out personal income tax charge, the whole thing was a colossal hoax. Mr Risstrom went on to say:
But the surcharge was1½ cents in $, and it is surreptitious to try to have it regarded as much higher just because PAYE instalments were continued at too-high a rate beyond July. Was the present attempt pre-arranged? 5/ 12th of1½ per cent is 0.625 percent.
That quote sums up the hypocrisy of this Government. In the 1977 election campaign the Labor Party said in its policy speech that it would give certain tax concessions but would not reduce income tax because it was realistic about the matter. Mr Fraser was able to say: ‘As from February we will reduce personal income tax’. But he did not say: ‘Wait until the Budget is introduced and I will increase it again’. When the surcharge was reimposed we were told that it would cease on 30 June 1979. In May we were told that it would not cease on 30 June. We are now told that as from 1 December 1979, the surcharge will be lifted. The Government might fool some of the Australian people some of the time but they are not so gullible as to believe that when a surcharge that has been imposed is lifted they are getting a greater amount of money in their pay packets. In effect, that amount has been missing from their pay packets for one year and five months.
I want to quote some more figures. Since 1975- that is, the last year of the Labor Government- the share of national income going to wages and salaries has declined by 7 per cent. The living standards of the average wage earner have fallen by approximately $34 a week or by 17 per cent. The Budget has been a business Budget especially for the large mining corporations. The coal export levy, reduced from $3.50 per tonne to $1 per tonne, will result in massive profit increases for companies such as the Utah Development Co. and the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. This has been shown every day in the financial pages of various newspapers. Massive increases in export incentives of $157m together with the increase in the retention allowance from 60 per cent to 70 per cent mean further boosts to corporate profits.
It must be remembered, as I said a moment ago, that still there has been no reduction in the overall level of taxation. The main tax burden still falls on the low and middle income earner. That bears out precisely what I said in relation to the person who gets $7,500 a year and a person whose income is $14,000 a year. The tax surcharge was introduced in 1978 despite the Prime Minister’s earlier promise to reduce taxation. The removal of the surcharge should be regarded as the lifting of an additional tax burden rather than the granting of a concession. It does not matter how much honourable senators want to cover their actions with chocolate coatings; it does not work out.
The unemployed will continue to suffer additional disadvantages. The long term and short term unemployed do not have savings and 96.9 per cent of them have no income apart from the unemployment benefit. The unreasonably low level of permissible earnings, which has not been raised in the lifetime of this Parliament, is a disincentive to any unemployed people trying to help themselves. It is not a matter of what principles members of the Government parties want to state. A total of 1 1 8,300 persons receiving the unemployment benefit have been out of work for over six months. I venture to say that Government members who, in 90 per cent of cases have double incomes and sometimes triple double incomes -
– what rubbish
– It is not rubbish at all. I am not referring to Senator Puplick. He is a young bloke who is just starting off. He has not had time yet to build up his shareholdings and get a couple of directorships. But most other honourable senators opposite have double incomes.
– What a fraud! You could not prove that. What a fraud!
– Of course we cannot prove it. Honourable senators opposite will not disclose their incomes. They will not declare where they get their income in spite of the fact that the Australian Labor Party in government and in opposition has tried to make honourable senators opposite declare their assets and incomes. The honourable senator should not give the impression of being a badly beaten type because he refuses under any circumstances to say where he gets his income from. If honourable senators opposite do not disclose the source of their incomes, it gives them an opportunity to put their money into Swiss bank accounts or anywhere else they like as long as they can hide it.
– What a fraud!
- Mr President, I cannot really ignore that interjection. I think that the word ‘fraud’ is more applicable to honourable senators on the other side of the chamber who act like frauds while they are hiding their second incomes. I hope that Senator Puplick does not find himself in a situation in which he is doing that.
– Order! I must indicate that the word ‘ fraud ‘ is not parliamentary.
– I withdraw the word fraud’. I suggest that the actions of honourable senators opposite are deceitful. I point out that 118,000 persons receiving the unemployment benefit have been out of work for over six months. I would like that fact to sink into the rather heavy brains of some honourable senators opposite who cannot understand figures. More than 26,000 of those unemployed persons are over the age of 45 years; 9,400 are under the age of 1 8 years. In terms of personal living, this is an absolute trauma. But there seems to be no sympathy from any member of the Government. In the past three years the Government has underestimated the amount to be spent on unemployment benefits. In other words, the Government is not even able to work out its bookkeeping. Look at some of the headlines today about the Auditor-General’s comments about this Government. If members of the Government were indulging in bank robbing, they would all get 10 years in gaol; but luckily they happen to be members of the Government and they have some privileges. They are not likely to get 10 years, individually or collectively.
In the first year, the appropriation for unemployment benefits was underestimated by $44 lm. In 1976-77, it was underestimated by $16lm and in 1977-78 it was underestimated by $154m. In 1978-79 it was underestimated by $126m. The unemployment rate has risen by 60 per cent and spending on unemployment benefits has almost doubled under the Fraser Government. The Prime Minister said in 1975 that there would be work for all who wanted it. I would like to tell honourable senators that half a million people in this country- that is the registered figure- need a job; but Fraser has failed to supply the jobs. The Government has further aggravated the situation by imposing a 44 per cent cut in real terms on the National Employment and Training scheme. This is the only scheme assisting disadvantaged sections of the work force to upgrade their work skills and employment opportunities.
– Whom are you quoting now?
– The honourable senator has an expertise in making apple strudel, but I suggest that she needs a NEAT course in politics.
– Why won’t you answer my question?
-The honourable senator’s question is unintelligent and unintelligible; so I do not have to answer it. I will make sure that she gets a NEAT course. If I approach the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations trying to get a person into a NEAT course, all sorts of excuses are given why this cannot be done. I am told that this industry or that industry is overloaded but that I should tell my constituents to remain registered and the Department will see what it can do. A year later it is still trying to see what it can do. There has been a 13 per cent cut in the Community Youth Support scheme. This means that many projects will be forced to close and staff will be dismissed. This is happening under a government which is supposed to be helping people who are in trouble.
For all practical purposes, Medibank has been dismantled. There has been a further imposition of 25c on prescriptions issued under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I quote from a news release issued by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia: It states:
The President of the Guild, Mr Alan Russell, said the Government had not only increased the monetary burden on all sick people, but had failed to take account of the needs of the disadvantaged groups in the community.
He said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was now only a Government price fixing mechanism of manufacturers’ products and did not provide any substantial financial relief to the sick in the community.
That is contained in a news release that was made available to all members of both Houses of this Parliament. I am fairly reliably informed that all Government members threw it in the waste paper basket.
– By whom?
-The Government members did, of course.
– ‘Reliably informed’! You just make it up as you go along.
– I will make an exception in the case of Senator Puplick. Obviously he is doing his early reading because he is a new member of the Senate. He probably read his copy before he threw it in the waste paper basket. I have here a letter signed by the Minister for Social Security, Senator Guilfoyle, relating to a very tragic situation. The letter states:
On 26 October 1978 you asked me a Question Without Notice relating to the possibility of a national conference being held during the International Year of the Child to examine theories put forward about the cot-death syndrome. This matter was the subject of a subsequent letter to you from the Minister for Health.
I now write to advise you that I have recently approved a grant of $2,000 to the Sudden Infant Death Research Foundation as a contribution to the cost of its October 1979 Conference. A major aim of the Conference is an attempt to coordinate the activities of the various groups involved in the Sudden infant Death Syndrome, and in particular to provide an opportunity for medical researchers to discuss and exchange ideas.
Yours sincerely, MARGARET GUILFOYLE
In this country over 500 children die every year from the infant cot death syndrome, and there is no explanation for it. When I asked the question
I hoped that this Government would have enough humility and humanity to put aside a substantial sum of money so that ideas could be exchanged. If any honourable senator has known a family in which a child has died in unexplained circumstances in the first 12 or 18 months of its life he will know the trauma imposed on that family. Ft is not only the older brothers and /or sisters and the parents who suffer; it also has a psychological effect on grandparents and other relatives. But this Government, with its magnificent ability to provide large sums of money, found only $2,000- $4 for every baby who dies- for research purposes. There is a slightly better example of that and I think it is appropriate that I should read a clipping from the National Times of 4 August, which states:
The latest in the ‘what a beaut little country we’ve got’ promotions is about to get off the ground next Wednesday.
Called ‘ Project Australia ‘ it is being funded by the Federal Government to the tune of $3.75m.
The basic thrust ofthe exercise is to spend a vast lump sum of this money on advertisements which will endeavour to kindle some spark of national pride.
In the next three months alone Sim of the taxpayers’ money will pour into the pockets of advertising agents–
That is $ 1 m to help the wealthy-
PR merchants, TV stations and other hangers-on all for the purpose of puffing the country.
One of the people involved describes the project thus:
It’s a follow-up to the Have A Go Promotion, only this time wc arc being more specific and saying have a go at this or that’.
Listen to this:
The chairman of Project Australia, Mr J. B. Leslie, is the chiefexecutive of that line example of indigenous enterprise, Mobil Oil Australia Ltd.
That is the company that now cannot find avgas to keep the little planes of this country going. Let us look at the magnificent brochure that has been put out. I do not know how many of these have been distributed. It is a fairly loose sort of document, anyway. Included with the brochure were supposed to be a couple of ball-point pens that had been made in Australia but in fact they were marked ‘Made in the USA’. They were probably taken out of the brochures of those who might criticise the fact that they were made in the United States. Let us look at the brochure- it is fantastic- and I will read some of the excellent verses, couched in the following first class, high quality Australian language:
So come on, come on Aussie, Beauty Norm ‘ and ‘ Have a go ‘. Let’s have a bash, have a shot, Be on the ball and on the dot.
We would not teach that sort of thing to our first or second grade student children. It continues:
Let’s pull together with all our weight, If we’re going to make Australia great. Cause if we don ‘t, it ‘II be too late. . . Let’s advance Australia. And give it all we ‘ve got.
– Poetry reading is not your forte.
– I am not the greatest reciter of poetry, my boy,’ but let me say that at the moment we have a Prime Minister who is sticking right to that last verse:
He is kicking it in the guts day after day and night after night. In the few minutes remaining to me I want to speak about what we have done to our indigenous Australians, the people who owned this country for years before we came here. Looking through a magnificent document put out by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, we find item after item indicating, for example, where one house has been built, where a socalled award wage for someone in one of the societies has been paid, although it is something like $500 below the real award wage. Perhaps I could quote some figures from a table I have. In 1975-76, the year of the last Hayden Budget, housing expenditure was $43,351,000. After all the years since then we have now reached the magnificent sum of $45,846,000. The same thing has happened in relation to health and education. We tried to build up a decent sort of fund for Aboriginal enterprises so that the Aborigines would be able to look after their own affairs. In the last Hayden Budget in 1975-76 the allocation for that purpose was $13,896,000, but for the current financial year, guess what it is? Only $5,483,000! So they too have been deprived.
Mr President, unfortunately time is going to beat me, but I have some documents which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard. They have been shown to you, with the exception of the front page ofthe publication Messagestick I have not shown it to the Minister but the only offensive thing in it is this statement by Mr Porter, the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs, at a meeting at Yarrabah:
The Commonwealth Government is the enemy of the Queensland Government.
There is no good relying on the Commonwealth Government because they won’t bc in power after the next election and they know it.
He was not going to negotiate with them. If there are no objections, I seek leave to have those documents incorporated in Hansard, otherwise I can read them into the record during the adjournment debate.
– I have not seen the newspaper.
– I will read it in during the adjournment debate.
– I raise a point of order.
– No point of order is required. I have seen the documents and so has the Minister. We have not seen the newspaper to which Senator Keeffe referred.
– These are the documents that I have shown to you, Mr President.
– Do not let him read them all.
-No, I will list them quickly. I am sorry if the lady from Tasmania is in trouble again. I will list them quickly so that she may understand what they are all about. One is a letter from Senator Chaney to me explaining the delay in the implementation of award wages on Aboriginal settlements in Queensland. That is on my file and Senator Walters can look at it after we adjourn tonight, if she wishes. The second document is a table setting out housing and social problems at the Yarrabah settlement. The next is a very short table setting out housing problems at New Mapoon, Cowal Creek and Umagico. For the benefit of the lady from Tasmania, they are small settlements, very similar to the town from which she comes. The next document concerns Little Johnny, who is a little old man living at Kowanyama for whom the State Health Department provided a wheelchair, which was taken away from him by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement. Next is a sensational document signed by 14 doctors- Senator Walters knows what a doctor is- who have decided that they do not want anything to do with the Queensland Department of Health arrangements, they want all Aboriginal health matters to come under the Commonwealth. I take it that the incorporation of the front page of Messagestick has now been approved. Of course, the illustrations cannot be reproduced. The article tells us why Mr Porter does not like the Government. I seek leave to incorporate those documents in Hansard.
The documents read as follows-
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Canberra, ACT 2600 7September 1979
Dear Senator Keeffe,
In my letter to you of 4 August 1979 concerning the payment of award wages to Aboriginals employed on Queensland reserves by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement, I undertook to inform you of further developments as they occur.
The Queensland Industrial Commission on 6 August 1979 directed the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement to conduct a survey of Aboriginals employed on all Queensland reserves to ascertain current wage rates and employment conditions of Aboriginals, the work conducted by Aboriginals which is covered by awards, and the estimated cost of payment of award wages. The Commission directed the Queensland Department to report on this survey by 1 November 1979. It seems unlikely that the State would complete arrangements for the payment of award wages to all employees before this time.
The Australian Workers ‘ Union supports the survey and has agreed with a Commission direction to refrain from enrolling any more Aboriginals presently employed by the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement, pending the outcome of the survey. The survey will provide important information currently not available.
The Queensland Government has given no undertaking in respect of payment of award wages, either retrospective or prospective, but has sought a contribution from the Commonwealth of over $7 million to cover the increase in wages brought about by the decision. The survey will reveal whether this is an accurate estimate.
It should be understood however, that the decision to require payment of award wages to Aboriginals on reserves was made by a Queensland court; it was based on Queensland laws; and it affects only employees of the Queensland Government.
The request for the Commonwealth to make up the difference in the wages is one without precedent. Nevertheless careful consideration will be given to it because of the possible adverse employment consequences for Aboriginals and Islanders employed on reserves. At the very least, Commonwealth Government training and employment programs would be utilised wherever possible if the State could no longer employ all people currently employed. An announcement in response to the State’s request will be made at the appropriate time, but not before the conclusion of the survey.
Yours sincerely (F. M. CHANEY)
Senator J. B. Keeffe, Parliament House, CANBERRA ACT 2600
AUSTRALIAN SENATE CANBERRA, A. C.T.
12 September 1979
My dear Minister,
Many months ago I wrote to your predecessor, the then Minister Tor Health Dr Edwards, and requested assistance in obtaining a wheelchair Tor an Aborigine ( Little Johnny) who lives at Kowanyama and who has only one leg.
After several months’ negotiation the wheelchair was supplied to Little Johnny some time ago but so far he has only used it on one occasion.
It appears that the Minister in charge of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement, or someone acting on his behalf, has decided that Little Johnny is not to have the chair and that it is to be kept at Kowanyama hospital.
Little Johnny is an old man and should have the wheelchair with him constantly so that he is mobile. He can not use crutches and has to drag himself around to get meals or to use toilet facilities, by sliding along the floor or ground.
If the chair is left with him his sister (with whom he lives) or some other person could assist him in and out of the chair, but while it remains a long distance from his home there is no possibility that the use for which the chair was issued will ever be obtained by Little Johnny.
I am disgusted that the chair has been taken away from this almost totally disabled man and I sincerely hope that your Department will take strong action to see that the chair is made available to him for his use and his use alone.
Hon. SirW. E. Knox,
Administration Building, cnr George and Elizabeth Streets,
BRISBANE. QLD. 4000
A RECOMMENDATION TO THE DIRECTOR GENERAL OF HEALTH, BRISBANE
We, the undersigned doctors, involved in aboriginal health in North Queensland consider that aboriginal health in this region has reached a crisis, and that there is an urgent need to improve this situation by the following measures.
Dr J. McEwan. Medical Superintendent, Cooktown.
Dr R. Streatfield. Regional Medical Officer A.H.P. Cairns.
Dr H. W. Stevens. Senior Medical Officer, R.F.D.S. Cairns.
Dr A. Sungaila. Medical Officer, R.F.D.S. Cairns.
Dr F. Sanderson. Medical Superintendent, Weipa.
Dr H. Lesh. General Practitioner, Weipa.
Dr P. Holt. Medical Superintendent, Thursday Island.
Dr D. Rower. Resident Medical Officer, Thursday Island.
DrT. Taylor. Medical Officer, Bamaga.
Dr V. Tuicolo. Obstetrics & Gynaeocology Reg. C.D.H.
Dr N. Yeoman. Psychiatrist, Cairns.
DrC. Allardyce. R.F.D.S. Mt Isa.
Dr N. Horsley. Thursday Island.
Dr I. Audley. C.B.H. O.P.D. Supervisor.
WHO’S WHOSE ENEMY
On the 24th August Porter finally made a visit to Yarrabah Aboriginal Community Council. This is the first time Porter has ever talked to an Aboriginal representative body.
No one on Yarrabah knew he was coming not even his departmental manager at Yarrabah, until a phone call one hour before he arrived at Yarrabah, Porter forgot to ask the Aboriginal Community Council for permission to come to the reserve which contravenes the Queensland Aboriginal Act and is also common courtesy.
Porter tried to hold the meeting in the departmental office but the council refused and the meeting was held in the council office.
Porter started offthe meeting by strongly saying’the Commonwealth Government is the enemy of the Queensland Government’. Then he went on to say ‘there is no good relying on the Commonwealth Government because they won’t bc in power after the next election and they know it, there is no negotiations going on between the Queensland State Government and the Commonwealth Government about Yarrabah’. He went on to say ‘if the Federal Government wants to fund any project I won’t let it function on Yarrabah’.
Yarrabah Councillor Charlie Fourmile asked, ‘Well why don’t you fund the Yarrabah Council for these projects’. Porter answered, ‘Cabinet would never allow it’.
Porter strongly condemned the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and said, ‘If Yarrabah gets what you’re asking for award wages, self government and land rights then all the other reserves will want the same’.
He said, ‘If the Commonwealth Government wants to take over Aboriginal affairs they should do it the right way and go through court but they won’t do this as they know they could never win the case ‘.
One of his strongest statement of the day was, ‘Yarrabah is the only reserve that is against the State Government and I know the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs is stirring up this trouble. We have the times and dates of every Federal Officer who has visited Yarrabah ‘.
Published by the North Queensland Land Council.
Editor: Shorty O’Neill
– I do not think that the recent debate by the Australian Council of Trade Unions on the mining and export of uranium should pass unnoticed by this Parliament. The subject is important and the ACTU itself is influential and, one hopes, responsible. The report of the debate is fascinating. All the old misconceptions, distortions and misrepresentations v/ere duly trotted out. Bob Hawke, alone of the major participants, emerged with his integrity intact. One cannot help but admire his honesty and forthrightness. Of course, he is often wrong; but he was not on this issue. At least he says what he thinks. It is not surprising that he would not be welcomed by some members opposite. He might make them face up honestly to a few key issues.
In view of the prejudices and plain ignorance that dominated the ACTU debate, it is not surprising that the proposal to lift the bans on uranium were defeated. Some 38 per cent of the delegates voted for lifting the bans which is far less than the national attitude as shown by the latest poll. Almost twice as many people are in favour of exporting uranium as are opposed to it. Actually the figure was 54 per cent to 32 per cent in a poll taken straight after the Three Mile Island accident. The South Australian voters last Saturday hammered home the point. In the poll, the failure of the State Labor Government to develop the Roxby Downs uranium deposits was a major issue, and the result was a decisive rejection of the Labor Party’s attitudes.
The ACTU decision itself is not all that important. The unions directly involved have too much sense and too much at stake to take any notice of it, but it does create the dangers of inter-union strife which is always very damaging to the community. Besides, it is always embarrassing to see an important body like the ACTU make a damn fool of itself. I should make it clear that the present issue is not the building of nuclear power stations in Australia. Our cheap coal resources make it most unlikely that nuclear power will be economically competitive here within the foreseeable future. Of course, coal power generation has its disadvantages. Coal, like all fossil fuel but unlike nuclear power, gives off carbon dioxide. No one knows the consequences of the steady rise in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere except that the consequences are not likely to be good. This is a world wide problem and Australian power generation is only a small contributor. It is a problem that the world will soon have to face up to.
Our immediate issue is whether we should mine, mill and export our very rich deposits of uranium. The advantages are not seriously in dispute. There will be jobs, probably 5,000 for miners and perhaps 50,000 more supporting them. There will be export income, probably about $ 1,000m a year by the mid-1980s. This export earning will then be a very valuable offset to the heavy oil import bill we will inevitably have by that time. Without it we would be in serious economic difficulties on our balance of payments. To leave our uranium in the ground, as some would have us do, would deprive our children of their birthright. The Labor Party should study the parable of the Talents.
If the advantages are so obvious, how can any rational person be opposed? So far as the dangers to the people of” Australia are concerned, there has been a feeble and absolutely false attempt to paint uranium mining as dangerous. In fact, it is one of the safest of mining operations. It is far safer, for instance, than the underground mining alternative power source, coalabout 100 times safer. The recent accident in the Appin colliery when 14 miners were killed was a tragedy of a type unfortunately not uncommon in the coal mining industry. But imagine the outcry there would have been from the lunatic fringe if such casualties had occurred in a uranium mine. There have been some attempts which I cannot believe are made honestly to take figures of injuries suffered in the past in underground uranium mining and suggest that these can be applied to our present and proposed uranium mines, all of which are open cut. This is dishonest nonsense. Apart from the special risks of any underground mining, in an underground uranium mine there is the additional risk of radon gas. This is not a risk in an open cut mine. The risks of uranium open cut mining are well established, and they are the lowest of any of the available sources of energy.
Some people may say: ‘What about the delay? Surely cancers may appear in 30 years’ time.’ The answer is that the linkage between the radiation received and subsequent cancers is one of the most intensively studied of all medical phenomena, and uranium miners receive a very low dose, far below the threshhold level of danger. Uranium is not in fact a very radioactive substance. It can be transported perfectly safely in 44 gallon drums. It has a very long radioactive life- thousands of years in the popular, scare talk of the lunatic fringe- but this merely means that its rate of radioactive emission is very low.
Uranium miners receive a radiation dose far below the level where there are any detectable health consequences. Fortunately there has been a recent study of people who have received comparable very low rates of doses. Nuclear power stations have been in use in Britain for a quarter of a century. Recently an intensive study was made of the health of long term nuclear power plant workers who receive radiation doses comparable to open cut miners. The health of the nuclear power plant workers in every respect, including incidence of all types of cancer, was found to be marginally better than that of their peer group in the community. This is not surprising, but imagine the song and dance there would have been if their health had been marginally worse than their peer group.
As a matter of fact, to be fair the opponents of uranium mining do not concentrate very much on the obviously phoney dangers inside Australia. If they can stir up some alarms, doubts or fears, so much the better. They concentrate their campaign on the external effectsAustralia’s responsibility to the world community. Here they raise three issues: The risk of nulcear weapon proliferation, the dangers of nu.cear power generation, and the possibility of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons. Let us deal with each of these in turn.
Let me say at the outset that, if I thought that Australia, by refusing to mine uranium, could in the slightest degree reduce the risk of nuclear war or the spread of nuclear weapons, I should be the most ardent advocate of leaving uranium in the ground. We have no such choice. As an exporter we would have some chance of influencing the improvement of nuclear safeguards. If we wash our hands of the whole affair, Pontius Pilate-like, we will have no such influence. There are many sources of uranium in the world; we have no monopoly. In the non-communist world, Canada, the Unites States, Niger and South Africa have substantial deposits. Of course, Russia is richly endowed.
The trouble is that the nuclear nonproliferation treaty is seriously defective, particularly because three nuclear powers- France, China and India- are not members. Since the treaty has been in existence nuclear weapons have proliferated. India has exploded a nuclear device using indigenous uranium. There are rumours of similar developments in South Africa, Pakistan and Israel. There is no future in attempting to control the spread of nuclear weapons by controlling the supply of uranium. There is too much of it about from too many sources.
What we should be doing is not wasting our time on the hopeless task of trying to control the availability of uranium, but instead should concentrate on the preventionof its enrichment into weapons grade material. This is feasible and we can have an influence provided we are involved in the uranium cycle. If we are not involved our chance to influence events is lost.
I must digress for a moment into minor technicalities. Yellowcake, which we are exporting, is uranium oxide- U308. It is only very mildly radioactive, about as radioactive as a television set. Stories about yellowcake being hijacked by terrorists and bombs being constructed in backyard sheds are so ridiculous that it is impossible to take them seriously. The great bulk of the uranium in yellow cake is U238. Only 0.7 per cent of the uranium is U235, the raw material of the uranium bomb. For use in nuclear reactors, the proportion of U235 has to be increased through the enrichment process so that the percentage of U235 is 3 per cent. But there is no way in which that material could explode, lt is useless to terrorists. To become potentially explosive the U235 percentage would have to be increased to 90 per cent- the so-called weapons grade material. Each of those enrichment processes, either to 3 per cent or to 90 per cent, is of enormous technological complexity involving a major national effort, his no backyard job.
I must admit, there is one other possible source of nuclear weapons grade material. Although light water reactors use a non-explosive fuel, low enriched uranium of 3 per cent, at the other end of the reaction, the spent fuel removed from the reactor does contain explosive materialplutonium. However, as long as the plutonium is embedded in the intensively radioactive spent fuel it is inaccessible for bomb-making purposes.
But if the plutonium and unburned uranium are removed from the spent fuel, recycled as it is called, there is a potentially dangerous situation because the plutonium could be used by national governments for nuclear weapons or perhaps could be hijacked by terrorist groups for the same purpose. That recycling is technologically an extremely difficult and expensive process, but it can be done.
I am sure that senators can see that if we want to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, as I am sure we all do, the sensible approach is not to try to control the supply of uranium- that is a hopeless prospect- but to control the key points, the uranium enrichment and the recycling process. The International Atomic Energy Agency should now be given monitoring responsibilities over the enrichment of uranium to make certain that highly enriched uranium- the 90 per cent level, the bomb material- is not being produced. The IAEA should also continuously monitor spent fuel to make sure that plutonium is not being extracted. As a major uranium exporter, we have a unique chance to influence these matters. Our safeguards policy on the use of uranium is a good start, but we must now go further and make the IAEA an effective monitoring body. If we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to export our uranium we will be throwing away that unique opportunity. The main short term beneficiary, by the way, will be South Africa, a result which I am surprised the Australian Labor Party accepts with such enthusiasm. In the long term, of course, if we do not help to achieve those essential controls, the world community will be the loser and we will have betrayed our future generations. Export or perish is a particularly appropriate slogan if applied to our export of uranium.
So much for nuclear weapons proliferation. But what about the alleged dangers of power generation?
– Why would we perish? What do you mean by that?
– If, as a result of inadequate controls, a nuclear war breaks out, to all intents and purposes it would mean the end of our civilisation. The main aim of our policy must be to achieve control of nuclear weapons. I wish to turn to another matter, that is, the alleged danger of power generation. Certainly there are dangers. There are dangers in every system of power generation. But the first question we should ask ourselves is this: What concern is that of ours? What right have we to attempt to dictate to other countries which system of power generation they should use?
– Am I my brother’s keeper?
– That is correct. I believe that for us to do that would be both ignorant and presumptious. What are the risks anyway? As I said earlier, every system of power generation has risks. We must compare like with like and, to make sensible comparison, one has to go into risk accountancy. If we wish to give risk numbers to energy machines, such as a power station, we must add up all the risks associated with the production of a particular amount of energy from the beginning. The results of risk accounting may be surprising to some. Surely the risk of being hit by the blade of a windmill is negligible, I suppose one might say. Possibly that is so. But in saying that have we remembered the risk involved in getting and fabricating the materials from which the windmill produces that energy, apart from making and erecting the stand-by plant for when the wind happens to stop blowing? I am indebted to Lord Rothschild, the former head of the British Labor Government’s think tank, for a table showing the estimated deaths for a specified energy output from various power sources. Put simply, the table shows that the estimated number of deaths for the production of 10 gigowatt years of energy would be: Coal, 800 deaths; oil, 700 deaths; wind, 450 deaths; solar or space heating, 95 deaths; uranium 8h deaths; natural gas 2Vi deaths. Coal is 100 times as dangerous as uranium; wind is 60 times as dangerous; and solar power is 12 times as dangerous. Do senators find those figures surprising? They are surprising to the statistically ignorant who have been listening to the strident anti-nuclear campaign.
A few weeks ago, Senator Coleman tabled a list of incidents in nuclear power plants of varying authenticity. Of course, accidents do occur in nuclear plants, but even in the celebrated Three Mile Island incident, the maximum dose of radiation received by any one of the two million people living in the area was 80 millirem. The average dose was 0.9 millirem. By the way, 80 millirem is an additional risk equivalent to that of smoking one cigarette a month. It would be easy to construct a list which is one hundred times as horrendous as Senator Coleman’s list for the production of an equivalent amount of power from coal. Every method of power generation has its risks. Look at the situation with hydro-electric power. In recent years, two large dams used in the production of hydro-electricity have collapsed. One, at Frei US in France, caused 421 deaths; and another, at Viaiout in Italy, caused over 2,000 deaths. Imagine the outcry there would have been if casualties such as those had been caused by a nuclear plant. 1 think it is clear that nuclear power generation is probably the safest method of power generation. In any case, is that decision not up to the country concerned, weighing the risks and economic advantages for itself? What business is it of ours? What rights have we to impose our views on them? I submit we have none. I suppose that some people might say that, although a power station might have acceptable local dangers, it could be offensive to the rest of the world because of the way in which it damages the worldwide environment. I have pointed out already that burning fossil fuels- coal, oil or natural gas- is raising the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere worldwide and that is potentially the most serious environmental problem facing the world. Nuclear power stations do not emit carbon dioxide, but do they emit radiation which would affect other countries?
Dose rates of radiation are normally measured in millirem. We live in a radioactive environment. We receive radiation in the form of cosmic rays from space and from minerals in the ground. Granite, for instance, is quite radioactive. In New York, the Grand Central Railway Station is made of granite. It is possible that a geiger counter could prove that the level of radioactivity in the Grand Central Railway Station is higher than that emitted from a nuclear power plant. Of course, no one suggests that this is dangerous, but it does show how widespread radioactivity is. The average person receives in radiation in the course of a year 100 millirem from background radiation, 70 to 80 millirem from medical and dental X-rays, four millirem from all past nuclear explosions and 0.2 of a millirem from all the nuclear power stations in the world.
Incidentally, solar radiation increases with altitude. In Canberra one receives three millirem more a year than one receives at sea leavel. The same applies to flying. In a flight from Sydney to Melbourne one receives an extra dose of 0.3 of a millirem. This is, of course, no risk at all. But it is worth noting that one receives more additional radiation in a single one-hour flight and nine times more radiation by living in Canberra rather than Melbourne or Sydney than one receives from all the nuclear power stations in the world in a year. To suggest that we should attempt to stop nuclear power generation in other countries because of possible damage to the world environment is farcically absurd.
So far I have been talking about boiling water reactors without the recycling of fuel. It is worth noting that nothing in this cycle provides any opportunity for terrorists. They can do nothing with yellowcake or with the fuel rods for nuclear power plants, and the plutonium in the reactor waste is in a highly radioactive environment and is not accessible without enormous technological effort. But there would be dangers if the recycling of reactor waste to extract the plutonium and the unburned uranium became common, as there would be dangers if the fast breeder reactor which uses plutonium as a fuel were widely introduced.
If they are dangerous, why is there any chance of their being introduced? During the late 1 940s, the proven reserves of uranium in the United States were only 2,000 tons- about enough to run one large reactor for 10 years. In the belief that the world had very little recoverable uranium, it was felt that nuclear power would not be available on any large scale unless the plutonium were recovered from the spent fuel and reused. Further, it was widely held that it was important to build reactors designed to breed plutonium, in order to use the available uranium more efficiently- in fact, 50 times more efficiently. The massive discoveries of uranium around the world have changed this picture enormously, but the consumption of uranium has risen, too. In the United States, nuclear reactors produce about 15 per cent of all electricity generated. France is aiming to produce half of its electricity by nuclear power by 1985. Countries such as Korea are aiming to be fully nuclear by the turn of the century. But there are still uncertainties about the availability of uranium. The political stability of South Africa, which is a major producer of uranium must be in doubt, and overseas authorities must look at Australiapotentially a much larger producer than South Africa- with many doubts.
Let there be no mistake: If there are doubts about the supply of uranium, countries will not give up nuclear power. They cannot afford to. What they will do is to move into the plutonium economy, recycling the wastes from power plants to extract the plutonium and building fast breeder plutonium reactors. It will force them into the plutonium economy so as to make better use of the limited supplies of uranium. President Carter is strongly against the plutonium economy. Surely we should be, too. We can make a major contribution to stopping it happening by making our uranium readily available to countries which are prepared to accept proper and enforceable safeguards in its use. Not to grasp this opportunity is to fail in a moral duty to the rest of the world.
I think I should say something about the disposal of nuclear wastes. There are no technological difficulties in converting the high level wastes into solid form, such as vitrification or sythetic rock, and burying them thousands of feet down in geologically stable areas- areas that have been stable for hundreds of thousands of years. Already a commercial vitrification plant is operating in France. The delays are caused by disputes about the fuel cycle, whether the wastes should be solidified as they are, or whether the plutonium and unburned uranium should be extracted first, as is done in the French plant. For reasons I have given, I am strongly in favour of not extracting the plutonium. But it will not be extracted only if the world is assured of the ready supply of uranium. We have the chance to have a major influence on this decision, possessing, as we do, something like 20 per cent of the noncommunist world ‘s resources of uranium.
If the facts are as decisively in favour of uranium power generation as I have suggested, where does the Opposition get its arguments from? I suggest that they come from three directions. A recent poll in America revealed that twothirds of Americans thought that under certain circumstances nuclear power stations could explode like atom bombs. We here all know that that is absolutely impossible. But, if irrational fears such as these exist, it is no wonder that activists are able to stir up alarm and despondency. Then there is the invisible nature of radioactivity. Much the same fears were evident in the early days of electrification, when people felt that something invisible could kill them or start fires. We have learned that we have to be careful with electricity; but, properly used, it is an enormous benefit. So it will be with nuclear power. But a massive education program is needed, and in the meantime many people will be at the mercy of irrational fears and prejudices.
However, there is a darker and more sinister strand beneath all this. The non-communist world is heavily hooked on Middle East oil and nuclear power is the only feasible relief in sight. Massive increases in coal power generation would be too environmentally damaging. Solar power, if all goes well, might provide a small proportion- 5 to 10 per cent- of the world’s power by the turn of the century. From the Russian point of view, if the non-communist world can be kept hooked on Middle East oil by denying or delaying its use of nuclear power, then the non-communist world is weakened both economically and militarily. The Russians, of course, are completely cynical about all this. They themselves are major users of nuclear power. It is also a dangerous strategy, because the seeds of a third world war lie in the Middle East. But, dangerous or not, it is their policy, and left wing groups in the Western countries, including Australia, are obediently leading the fight against nuclear power. It is no coincidence that here in Australia the Movement Against Uranium Mining has been taken over by the Moscow line communists.
We must not allow our policies to be decided by fears, ignorance or political manipulation. There can be no dispute that uranium mining and export will create many jobs and will effect a substantial improvement in our balance of payments at a time when we will desperately need something to balance our oil import bill. But, beyond this, we have responsibilities to the rest of the world. We have three moral questions which we must ask ourselves. The first question we must ask is: Have we the right to decide for other countries whether they should use nuclear power generation, or is that a decision for the governments of the countries concerned? The second question is: Have we the right to neglect to use our power to improve nuclear safeguards and to prevent the world from moving into the plutonium age, with all its attendant dangers? The third moral question which we must answer is whether this country, with 0.4 per cent of the world ‘s population, has the right to deny the rest of the world access to 25 per cent of its most important energy source. I submit that the answer to each question is an unequivocal no. A responsible government must make the decision to make our uranium available for the world. I strongly recommend that we should mine and export our uranium, and I hope the Labor Party and the trade union movement will re-examine their policy rationally and honestly.
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally propose the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-Tonight I bring to the attention of the Senate an area which I think is of great importance to us and to people in this country who believe in freedom. I refer to the forthcoming trials of Czechoslovakian dissidents who were members of Charter 77 and who are shortly to suffer a show trial. Some three years ago after I returned from Moscow, where I had visited the Amnesty organisation, I spoke in the Senate of the attempts by the Russian dissidents, under great pressure and a great deal of victimisation, to publicise the Helsinki Agreement and the responsibilities of the Soviet Union under that Agreement. May I quote from a speech I made on 1 8 August 1 976. It contains a statement which I think is very relevant to this issue because what I am speaking of tonight is really a sequel to that event. I said: lt is regarded, and I say this with authority, as being most important that we highlight and bring to public notice the persecution of these individuals. That is the sort of thing which makes punishment less likely, lt makes the operations of such people more valuable and gives them a sense that they arc not alone in the world, and tells them that there are many other people who believe in the same values that they have.
I must say that in addition to the people who suffered then people in the Soviet Union went to gaol because it was alleged that they were creating propaganda or defaming the Soviet Union, but in reality they were publicising the failures of their country to comply with the Helsinki Agreement of 1975. One of the other signatories to that Agreement was Czechoslovakia which likewise has demonstrated since that time not only that it has not complied with its obligations under the Agreement but also that it was prepared to victimise persons who, acting legally and in such a way as to try to improve their country, were merely trying to highlight the responsibilities of their country. Of course, at the moment there are forthcoming trials.
This matter is urgent. The reason I raise it and hope that our Government, members of the Parliament and individuals in this country will highlight it is that trials of particularly the 10 people who were arrested on 29 May of this year are very imminent. They are all members of an organisation known as VONS. The purpose of VONS is really merely to highlight the responsibilities of Czechoslovakia. Consequently, they were all arrested and now await trial. The position, as I say, is that a spotlight needs to be turned on the actions of the Chechoslovakian Government. It is worth recalling the people who were arrested. Of course, they are not the only ones who have been victimised. The Charter 77 document was signed by something like 100 people. It was designed merely to explain the rights of the people under the Czechoslovakian constitution and is the subject of some fury from the Government in Czechoslovakia. The arrest of these 10 people was brought to the notice of the
Amnesty organisation, which has made statements. As chairman of the parliamentary Amnesty group and at the group’s request, I bring this matter to the notice of the Senate.
Amnesty announced in June that it would ask the Government of Czechoslovakia for permission to observe the forthcoming trials. I think it will be important if that is allowed so that it can be seen how these trials are conducted. The defendants who were arrested on 29 May are all members of the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted, which is known in Czechoslovakia as VONS. The Committee was formed in April 1978 by signatories to Charter 77 and, until the time its members were arrested, had issued 1 13 statements on human rights violations in Czechoslovakia. One of the 10 people, Petr Uhl, is reported to have been charged under Article 98(2b) of the Czechoslovakian Penal Code with conducting subversion on a large scale. He faces a sentence of between three and 10 years imprisonment. The other nine face possible prison terms of up to five years on charges of conducting ‘activities inimical to the interest of the Czechoslavak State’. Amnesty has adopted the prisoners as prisoners of conscience. It is of the opinion that their detention infringes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Czechoslovakia ratified in 1975. Therefore, it is responsible for its duties under that Covenant.
The defendants are Otta Bednarova, Jarmila Belikova, Dr Vaclav Benda, Jiri Dienstbier Vaclav Havel, Dr Ladsilav Lis, Vaclav Maly, Dana Nemcova, Dr Jiri Nemec and Petr Uhl. Some of them are well known in the country. One is a playwright and one is well known for his television work. Others are lesser known. Other prisoners are held for similar reasons. Just because we are concerned with 10 of them does not mean that we are not concerned with others who are lesser known but who have suffered the same fate for merely trying to protect their country and ensure its observance of its obligations. It is interesting to note the activities of Vaclav Benda who is a Catholic and a former professor of philosophy. He was appointed a spokesman for Charter 77 earlier this year. He indicates a growing support by the Catholic community in Czechoslovakia for the cause which they brave. On 12 March this year Benda and his wife were charged with subversion of the republic. The police carried out a four-hour search in their flat. Benda ‘s wife was interrogated for four hours. Police confiscated books, private letters and Charter 77 documents. On 14 March the police raided their flat again after which a group of men with cameras rearranged the furniture, planted various objects and documents around the fiat and then made a film while the family looked on helplessly. I suppose that this is one of the typical examples of the way in which the power of the state is operating in Czechoslovakia.
It is interesting to realise that there have been other trials before this. In 1972 there were trials of just over 100 people who had been arrested. Their offence had been to distribute leaflets reminding people of their constitutional rights not to vote or to vote by secret ballot. Of these 100 people, 46 were sentenced. That is the type of crime which is hard to imagine in this country but it happens in Czechoslovakia. The monitoring and publicising of the fate of those people prosecuted and imprisoned for their political views has also been carried out by VONS. In the last 18 months VONS has produced many statements documenting judicial proceedings against members of the Human Rights Movement. The important point is that VONS has sought to publicise only the facts which are in official court proceedings. But in Czechoslovakia such action is both extremely difficult and politically controversial. Under the Constitution court proceedings are public but in practice attendance is by invitation only.
In an article which appeared in the New Statesman on 3 August 1979 various comments were made about the situation in regard to these dissidents. It was pointed out that since 1968 the Prague authorities have argued always that ‘time is on our side’. Apparently that has been borne out. Inevitably, far more governments and journalists are prepared to accept the regime today than were prepared to accept it in 1968 even though it has grown harsher, not more lenient. At the same time, Western journalists often display a pack mentality. One year ago hundreds of articles appeared describing the plight of Czechoslovakia only because it was the tenth anniversary ofthe invasion. This August, it is safe to predict far fewer columns will be filled because 1 1 years is not a magic number.
This is one of the real problems. It is very easy for people to say: ‘Oh yes, we agree, but it is a long way away. We do not know very much about the situation.’ They do not do anything about it. Yet the Western world can do something about it. It can write about it. The few countries in the world that are democracies must surely be the ones to speak with a very loud voice. If I may say so, from this article there appear to be other aspects of the situation which are very significant and indicate breaches of rights under both the International Covenant and the Helsinki Agreement rights which under the latter agreement, the Czechoslovakian State acknowledged, as it was obliged to do. Therein it guaranteed human rights and the right of its citizens to move around and to express themselves clearly. Honourable senators will be familiar with the terms of that agreement, but let me mention a few of the provisions of the Helsinki agreement and the International Convenant that have been breached. The arrests of these people were all for what must be recognised, by any common standard of civil liberty adopted in the world, as lawful acts. These people were merely expressing their views and exposing facts, as has been said in official court documents and proceedings.
Secondly, the defendants have been arrested but they and their lawyers have not been given any idea of the details of the indictments. The New Statesman article to which I refer says:
Since then the prosecution has drawn up a 6,000 page document outlining the ‘offences’ of the accused. The official indictments are now being drawn from this study. Unlike previous occasions, however, the defendants and their lawyers will be told of the precise indictments only at the very last moment.
The reasons given are perhaps evident. It continues:
The authorities do not want details of the charges to reach the West before the trial begins.
Not only is that understandable as a reason but it is also a matter of gross injustice. It is contrary to all concepts of justice that the defendants should not be given the opportunity to meet the charges made against them.
Secondly, one notes the activities that have been engaged in to frustrate the defence. For example, Mr Havel’s lawyer, Dr Josef Danisz had to abandon the case on 1 July when he was expelled from the Prague Association of Lawyers. He was expelled because of his courageous defence of another spokesman. So they have that situation to face- they can lose their lawyers. The article also states:
The authorities have drawn up lists of those lawyers who obstruct judicial proceedings’ and those who arc under suspicion of doing so. The defendants have so far asked four French lawyers to represent them but do not expect the authorities’ approval.
So constant difficulties are imposed upon lawyers to ensure that cases are not properly prepared or presented.
In addition, and I shall quote only some examples, we have the situation of the accused being held in a pre-trial situation in gaol. Charter 77 has released statements describing the conditions of detention, as follows:
Whereas Czechoslovak law guarantees presumption of innocence, conditions in detention are more harsh than in labour camps and prisons. Detainees are kept in locked cells and are allowed only a 30 minute walk four times a week in a small yard. One letter may be written every 14 days but this is censured and Frequently confiscated. There is no automatic right to receive visitors- permission has to be granted. Warders frequently assault prisoners with truncheons and by spurting tear gas into their eyes. More disturbing in the Chartists’ view is the long-term sensory deprivation which, combined with inadequate nutrition, bad hygiene and lack of exercise leads in many cases to mental illness, eye and skin diseases, tuberculosis, spinal curvature and high blood pressure.
I am not suggesting that all ten are in that situation, but they are suffering and, of course, have not yet been found guilty of anything; they are awaiting trial. For all of these reasons we ought to raise our voices in protest against the attempt to deprive people of their rights. Even the people who are out of gaol there at present are suffering. One of those persons is a Mrs Tominova. She is one of many people who signed letters of protest to the President of Czechoslovakia complaining about the arrests. She has been a spokeswoman in this way. Her particular fate has been to have been attacked in the streets. She was beaten up outside her home in early June. Since then the police have protected her by mounting a 24-hour surveillance outside her flat. Armed guards stand at her door to stop anybody entering. In this way one gets some idea of the suffering in Czechoslovakia when people are prepared to put their names to a document in the interest of human liberty. I think the situation was summarised when VONS said:
Wc know of no humane state in which the publicity declared intention to abide by its constitution is a priori held as an intention to overthrow the system. We know of no civilised country in which the intention to defend people who are unjustly persecuted … is presented as a misdemeanour, an admission of guilt.
That is the situation and the situation of these people who are awaiting trial now. It is incumbent upon us to raise our voices about this matter. I think it is also incumbent on our Government to make some representations because of the concern for liberty to which our country and our Government are dedicated. I think we ought to do it at this time, not waiting for the trial to be over, not waiting for this farce to be brought to an end, but now.
I hope that people who are concerned with this matter and hear of it will also write to the Czechoslovakian authorities in this country. The Czechoslovakian Consulate-General is situated in Caledonian Street, Rose Bay, New South Wales. I hope that the ordinary citizens of this country will write to the authorities at that address to let them know that we are aware of this situation and that we are concerned to see it stopped. In those matters I am supported by other members, and certainly I have the support of the Amnesty group in this Parliament. I believe it is something to which we ought to give close attention.
– This matter has been amply dealt with by the chairman of the parliamentary group of Amnesty International, Senator Missen, who has just spoken. I simply wish to identify myself with the appeal made by him to the Government for it to take up with the Czechoslovakian authorities the express wishes of members of the Senate, and hopefully of the Government, that the appeals that are now coming from all parts of the world are heeded by the Czechoslovakian authorities to ensure that these people who are under arrest and detention prior to trial are released and that their rights are preserved and safeguarded. These detainees have attracted broad support from a broad spectrum of political opinion. The New Statesman, a paper not regarded for its rabid conservatism, has already been adverted to by Senator Missen. In its edition of 3 August 1 979 it makes this point:
One difference between the present situation and the show trials of the fifties is that the present government- more sensitive than in the Stalinist period to international opinionseeks to conceal many of the trials it mounts. This has been especially true of scores of small trials involving workers and young people in provincial towns throughout the country. The bulk of the work in which VONS-
That is the organisation of which these detainees are members: has been engaged has been documenting not the plight of internationally known figures such as Havel, but revealing the names and oppression of people of whom the outside world would never otherwise have heard. It is this which has been most offensive to the authorities. For every Havel for whose trial they were resigned to international criticism they hoped also to try several hundred people whose names meant nothing outside their home towns and whose predicament would attract no attention. VONS helped frustrate that aim.
We are talking here about prisoners of conscience. We are talking about prisoners who have been adopted by Amnesty International. I might say, in furtherance of the comment that I made about these prisoners attracting a support from a broad political spectrum, that late in July the National Executive Committee of the British Labour Party did, in fact, back the Charter 77 Defence Fund. It is being sought from that fund to provide support for these people to ensure their basic human rights. I support Senator Missen. I congratulate him on bringing this matter forward to the notice of the Senate and hope that the Government will take the matter up with the Czechoslovakian authorities.
– Very briefly, before Senator Puplick rises to speak on another matter, I add my name to the comments that have been made by my two colleagues, Senators Missen and Harradine. I became aware of this matter because of material which was forwarded to by by the Australian Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe which has among its honorary members a number of members of this Federal Parliament including Senator Tate and myself from the Senate and Mr Hodgman, Mr Ruddock and Mr Simon from another place. The Australian Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is worried, as we are worried, by the dissidents trial in Czechoslovakia, and has sought to provide information which it hopes will go to the Australian people and will bring this matter to full public attention.
I think that the day is past where the denial of human rights can go very long undetected. One of the things that Amnesty International, and groups like Amnesty, can do, is to make sure that we can spread out as far as and as wide as we can the systematic torture and deprivation of human rights that is going on around the world. It is not only the Amnesty people in safe places like Australia who are making protests. I do not know whether my colleagues mentioned this in the chamber, but inside Czechoslovakia itself 23 1 citizens in July of this year signed a letter of protest to President Husak. That act itself must have required a very great amount of courage. Thousands of letters have gone to the Czechoslovak Government from all over the world. In fact, the trial was delayed because the Government of Czechoslovakia is sensitive to the very bad publicity which is attracting to it for what is quite remarkable repression and denial of rights. It is not only that country, but there are many countries in the world. I recall that I was a member of an Amnesty mission to Indonesia a few years ago. When Amnesty International wanted some more information on Indonesia a delegation from Australia went there. We then were investigating in another part of the world under another kind of political system the same kind of systematic imprisonment, denial of freedom and denial of due process. 1 think that Senator Missen and Senator Harradine tonight have raised a matter which is important, which is concerning many of us and which we would like to make known to our colleagues in Australia. I think that we should make known to the representatives of the Government of Czechoslovakia that members of this Parliament are watching very closely what transpires in that country and will be watching very closely for reports of trials and for what happens to this little group of people whose only crime was that they stood up for the rights which they should enjoy and for the rights which all their fellow citizens should enjoy.
– I wish to raise a different matter in the adjournment debate this evening. At the same time I express my complete support for the views which have been put forward by Senator Missen, Senator Harradine and Senator Peter Baume this evening concerning the Charter 77 victims in Czechoslavakia. The matter I raise concerns a domestic political arrangement. In 1977, at the general election, Mr Paul Baker was the Australian Democrats candidate for the seat of Paterson in New South Wales. At that election he polled 6.6 per cent of the vote in Patersonsome 4250 votes- compared with 1.45 per cent for Mr William Ignatius O’Donnell, an independent candidate, 57.61 per cent for Mr Frank Lionel O ‘Keefe, the National Country Party candidate, and 34.28 per cent for Kerry Donald Scott, the Australian Labor Party candidate.
Mr Baker incurred certain debts in the course of his campaign. He had certain literature printed for him, including a free newspaper which was headed: ‘Introducing Paul Baker, Australian Democrats Candidate for Paterson. Your Family’s Future Depends on You’. In that four page newspaper Mr Baker introduced himself and the policies of the Australian Democrats, made some comments about the defeat of communism- there is an article in the newspaper entitled: ‘This is how close we are to Communism ‘-and exposed the appalling record of the Australian Labor Party when it was in government. Provided on the back of the newspaper was an elaborate how-to-vote chart which promoted Mr Baker as the candidate for the seat of Paterson and promoted the Australian Democrats candidates for the Senate election. That how-to-vote chart was headed on one side: How to vote Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats and make your second preference Labor’. On the other side it was headed: ‘How to vote Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats and make your second preference LiberalNCP.’ The newspaper was authorised by Paul Baker, RMB 55 Pacific Highway, Ourimbah 2258, and was published by Regency Press.
Regency Press is a small printing operation located in Barney Street, North Parramatta, New South Wales. In good faith, Regency Press undertook the printing of this and other material on behalf of Mr Baker. However, Mr Baker declined to pay for the material which was published with his authorisation and on his behalf as a candidate and which promoted both him and the Australian Democrats. Regency Press, which as I said is a small family operation, has been pursuing a debt of $1,375.95 which it requires Mr Baker to pay. It has been through all of the normal procedures of writing to Mr Baker at the address which he gave and at which he appears no longer to be resident. Thereafter, the company engaged the services of Transearch Commercial Investigators Pty Ltd to find out where Mr Baker might be. Transearch in turn advised Regency Press that it was unable to locate the individual concerned. As a result, this company, to whom a debt of $1,300 is a substantial debt, a potentially crippling debt, on 4 June 1 979 wrote to Senator D. L. Chipp, the Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Democrats, at Parliament House. It drew Senator Chipp ‘s attention to the fact that the company had printed two newspapers for the Australian Democrats candidate in Paterson, Mr Paul Baker, and that the amount which he owed the company was $1,375.95. It appealed to Senator Chipp, as Leader of the Australian Democrats, as to whether that party was prepared to honour the obligations entered into by a candidate who stood under the banner of that party. Senator Chipp did not reply directly to Regency Press, but a letter of 1 August 1979 addressed to Mr E. R. Bickford, General Manager, Regency Press Pty Ltd, 14 Barney Street, North Parramatta, New South Wales, 2 1 5 1 , stated: 1 refer to your letter of 26 July addressed to Senator Chipp concerning an account between your Company and Mr Paul Baker.
Although Mr Baker stood as an Australian Democrat candidate in 1977, the Australian Democrats are not liable for debts incurred by him.
Wc regret wc cannot bc of more assistance to you in this matter.
The letter was signed by Peter Dalton, Assistant Private Secretary to Senator D. L. Chipp. I raise this matter because, as one who has some claim to a fair amount of experience in the operations of political parties during election campaigns and as one who has served in various capacities in the Liberal Party in New South Wales- as a campaign manager, as a member of the State Executive of the Party and of various other committees concerned with the operations of the Party- I am aware that the general practice of the Liberal Party is that debts incurred by candidates on behalf of the Liberal Party are honoured by the Liberal Party when the candidate or his electorate committee is unable to honour them. We have had a number of occasions in which candidates or electorate committees have authorised expenditure. Although we have sought to recover the money involved from those people or committees, where that has not been possible the Liberal Party has faithfully honoured the debts incurred to people in the commercial world and people who have printed or prepared material on the understanding that a bona fide Liberal candidate had sought to have that material produced.
The letter of Senator Chipp ‘s Assistant Private Secretary clearly indicates that Mr Baker was recognised as an Australian Democrat candidate. I believe there is a moral obligation on the Australian Democrats, as a political organisation and as a political party, to honour a debt incurred in terms of material prepared not only for the promotion of Mr Baker as a candidate but for the promotion of Senator Mason, who gathered together the 6.6 per cent of the votes that he received in the electorate of Paterson, in amassing the total of votes which brought him, as an Australian Democrat, into this Senate. My constituents, who run the Regency Press as a small private concern, accepted the account of Mr Baker; they printed the material in good faith, in the belief that the Australian Democrat candidate would honour this account. Frankly, they cannot afford to carry a debt of $ 1 ,300, which it appears that the Australian Democrats are not prepared to honour. It seems to me that, for a party which makes some play on and some statement about its high moral principles and its sense of moral responsibility, in terms of my constituents at the Regency Press there is no reason that they should be required to carry this $ 1 ,300 debt.
Given the fact that the Australian Democrats as a party have not seen fit to honour a commitment or to assist my constituents to maintain a reasonable position in terms of electoral expenses incurred on their behalf, I use this occasion to make a public appeal to the Australian Democrats to understand that this debt was incurred in terms of the election of people to this place and to see that this account is promptly and properly settled with people who are entitled to receive payments for services rendered.
– I refer briefly to the speeches made during the adjournment debate by Senators Missen, Harradine and Baume, all of which related to events in
Czechoslovakia. As a member of Amnesty International, I do not feel free to add to their comments because it is a matter for the Government. They have all addressed their speeches to the Government, requesting certain action. I simply say that I will take the contents of those speeches to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) and seek a response for them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 1 1.35 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 24 November 1978 :
What powers within the Treasurer’s jurisdiction have been transferred to the States since December 1975.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I refer the honourable senator to the answer to Question No. 1074 provided by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs on pages 48-5 1 of the Senate Hansard of 2 1 August 1979.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 4 April 1 979:
Was a licence granted pursuant to sections 34c and 77 (2 ) of the Overseas Telecommunications Act 1906, and under section 61 1 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1905, to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission to authorise transmissions of a television signal by the Commission between Moree, New South Wales, and Canberra on 2 1 and 22 February 1979.
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It is correct that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission transmitted a television signal between Moree and Canberra through an Intelsat satellite on 2 1 and 22 February 1979. These transmissions were experimental trials, conducted for demonstration purposes during the Domsat 1979 Seminar convened by the Australian National University.
No objection was raised to the holding of the trials in view of the obvious benefits that would be obtained from the reactions of the many eminent people who were attending the seminar.
Under those circumstances, and. in view of the short duration and nature of the trials, it was considered inappropriate for licences to be issued for the occasion.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 3 May 1 979:
Will the Minister support proposals that a quite considerable loading be placed on all exports of Australia’s rapidlydiminishing energy resources and that all revenue accruing from the loading be used exclusively for research and experimentation into new energy sources such as the liquefaction of coal, the production of hydrogen or the development of intermittent energy sources, such as solar, wind or tidal, in view of the impending energy crisis: if not. is the Minister then prepared to allow the status quo to prevail whereby the Utah Development Company not only exports great quantities of coking coal but also exports all the profits earned, thereby depriving the people of Australia of any benefits, from a product which is the property of the people of Australia.
– The Minister for National Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Regarding the proposal for loading of energy exports to provide funds for research purposes. I wish to point out that since 1977 funds accruing to a Coal Research Trust Account through a levy on coal production under the Coal Research Assistance Act have been applied by the Government to coal research and development. These funds of approximately $5m per annum are allocated on the advice of the National Energy Research Development and Demonstration Council and provide support for a wide range of coal research and development projects including studies of liquefaction of Australian coals. Existing legislation does not permit support of non-coal energy research and development from the Coal Research Trust Account.
Concerning the activities of the Utah Development Company, the honourable senator should be aware that the company docs not export all the profits earned in Australia from the sale of coking coal. The Company’s statement of accounts covering the calendar year 1978 indicate that nearly 75 percent of total revenue was retained in Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 9 May 1979:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: (1)I have taken no action nor has my Department to implement Resolution 10 of the Eighth meeting of the Australian Fisheries Council held on 10 November 1978, calling for a restriction in the number of live aquarium fish species proposed for continued importation to a limited number of species and genera. Action is not contemplated at this stage to implement this Resolution under the provisions of the Quarantine Act. The Australian Fisheries Council Resolution is under consideration by the Minister for Science and the Environment. My Department is participating in interDepartmental discussions on the matter.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 21 August 1979:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 30 August 1979:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The question makes some inappropriate comparisons of percentages. The figures quoted are based on the assumption that incomes rise in 1979-80 by 9 percent and, on that basis, both of the taxpayers earning $6,000 in 1 978-79 would have an increase in tax of $169.52. In the case of a taxpayer without dependants, the tax would go from $705.84 in 1978-79 to $875.36 in 1979-80, but in the case of a taxpayer with a dependant spouse, who benefits from a $597 rebate, it would go from $108.84 in 1978-79 to $278.36 in 1979-80. The total tax is much lower in the case of the taxpayer with dependants, and so also is the average rate of tax, to which the percentage increases quoted in the question relate.
When comparisons are made between percentage changes calculated on different bases, i.e., when as in this case the base of one is much smaller than the base of the other, the comparisons can lack any real significance.
Research and Development
-On 3 April 1979 ( Hansard, pages 1205-6), Senator Puplick asked me, as
Minister representing the Prime Minister, the following question without notice:
Does the Minister agree that one of the key elements in future economic progress is the extent to which business in Australia undertakes realistic programs of research and development? Is he aware that the ASTEC paper presented last week on direct funding of basic research indicates that between 1974 and 1976-77 business investment in research and development fell by SO per cent in real terms and that in areas called, curiosity motivated and strategic mission oriented research, it fell by more than 80 per cent? ls he aware that ASTEC regards this as a dramatic collapse? What incentives is the Government prepared to consider to encourage greater business investment in research and development, either by the contracting out of work where possible or by the provision of taxation incentives?
The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The honourable senator will be aware that the Prime Minister’s Ministerial Statement in the House of Representatives on 29 March 1979 concerning the Australian Science and Technology Council ( Hansard. House of Representatives, 29 March 1 979, pages 1 3 1 8- 1 32 1 ) made specific reference to Government initiatives to encourage industrial research and development. The Prime Minister also indicated that ASTEC had written to him prior to the 1978-79 Budget, recommending an increase in Government incentives for industrial research and development.
With regard to the overall level of Government support for industrial research and development, the Government took action in the 1978-79 Budget to increase the level of direct assistance for industrial research and development, to $24m, an increase of 75 per cent over 1977-78. In the 1979-80 Budget, a further increase of 33 per cent to $32m has been provided.
During 1978, the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Act 1976 was amended to provide for increased assistance for research and development activities by industry. Grant rates for commencement grants and the maximum grant rates for specific projects grants were increased from 25 per cent to 50 per cent. The maximum annual grant payable to an individual company was increased to $25,000 for commencement grants and $500,000 for project grants. Funds have been provided for the support of major industrial research projects which arc considered to be in the public interest and for pilot programs.
The Government has requested ASTEC to undertake a detailed examination of the proposal to place research and development contracts with industry to ascertain the capacity of industry to undertake government research and development and the cost-effectiveness of doing so. ASTEC is also to examine further the funding of experimental development by industry.
In this context, and as a result ofthe Report of the Study Group on Structural Adjustment (the Crawford Report), the Government is studying the relevance of the functions and operating experience of research development corporations such as the (UK.) National Research Development Corporation.
Television Advertising: Influence on Children
-On 10 May 1979 Senator Puplick asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, without notice:
Has his attention been drawn to the report of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal entitled ‘Television and Children’ which indicated that a large percentage of children had asked their parents to purchase items which they had seen advertised on television, that in the overwhelming majority of cases parents had bought the items advertised, and that the most popular advertising among children related to food and confectionery items?
Further, has the Minister seen the report that the United States Federal Trade Commission has recommended that all television advertising aimed at children under the age of eight be banned, and that all television advertising of presweetened and artificially sweetened products aimed at children under the age of 12 be banned? In light of these findings and the reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on advertising in children’s programs, will he ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to give urgent consideration to enforcing stricter guidelines for advertising during children’s television programs?
The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Government is presently considering the reports referred to, and the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, which has responsibilities in the area of television advertising content, has advised that the advertising to children of sugared food products is being examined by a working party ofthe National Health and Medical Research Council. In deciding upon an appropriate course of action, the Tribunal will take into account the findings of the Council relating to the health aspects of the matter as well as advice from its own Children’s Program Committee and the views of the commercial station operators.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
– On 5 June 1979, (Hansard, page 2606) Senator Primmer asked me, as Minister representing the Prime Minister, a question without notice concerning UNCTAD. The Prime Minister has supplied the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I draw the honourable senator’s attention to my statement to Parliament of 22 May (House of Representatives Hansard, pages 2 1 85-9 1 ) which reported on my visit to the Philippines and Indonesia, including UNCTAD V. In that statement, I mentioned that UNCTAD V was of enormous importance and that it came at a period of some real progress on some elements of the North-South dialogue, particularly on the Common Fund.
UNCTAD V had before it a formidable task. Its wideranging agenda covered virtually all aspects of the economic relationships between developed and developing countries. lt was hoped that UNCTAD would make a significant contribution to the continuing process of consideration of the trade and development aspirations of developing countries and problems ofthe world economy.
Whilst progress on certain major issues fell short of the initial expectations of many participants, progress was made in other areas of significance, which did not attract the same degree of publicity. Amongst these were resolutions covering Shipping, Technology, Least Developed Countries, Economic Co-operation among Developing Countries and Commodities.
Australia’s concern was to focus attention on areas of interest to participants where practical results could bc achieved. With this in mind, we tabled at UNCTAD V a resolution which called for global recognition and adoption of appropriate policy measures, particularly by major industrialised countries, to control inflation, to eliminate progressively protectionist measures and to take positive measures to facilitate structural adjustment, for the achievement of sustained economic growth at faster rates for the benefit of all countries, especially developing countries.
This initiative was well received by many countries but discussions on this part of the agenda were not completed in the time available, lt is, therefore, the Government’s intention to pursue the approach of the Australian resolution at the October meeting of the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board which is to consider a number of matters which have been remitted from the UNCTAD V Conference.
Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education
– On 11 September 1979 (Hansard, page 516) Senator Colston asked the Minister for Education a question without notice concerning the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education. The following information is provided in response to the honourable senator’s question:
The question related to newspaper reports of difficulties between the Council of the Institute and the State Minister and the Queensland Board of Advanced Education. I am advised that the principal matters which have been the subject of newspaper comment concern the extent to which the Council of the Institute is subject to direction by the Queensland Minister and the Board on matters relating to the introduction of new courses and the level of enrolments at the Institute. The level of enrolments in courses taught by external study has been a particular concern.
The Queensland Minister, together with the Premier and some of their colleagues have had discussions with the representatives of the Institute and I understand that the role of the State authority in the co-ordination of advanced education in Queensland has been confirmed.
asked whether I am satisfied that Commonwealth funds are being used responsibly at the Institute. As is the case with most colleges of advanced education in the States, the Institute is established under an Act of the State Parliament. It has a council composed of community representatives, elected staff and student representatives, and State Government nominees. It is responsible to the State Government for its activities: it is subject to audit by the State Auditor-General. Under the provisions of the relevant States Grants legislation, the State is required to certify that the grants made by the Commonwealth to the State for advanced education arc expended in accordance with the conditions set out in that legislation. Certificates provided by the State in accordance with the legislation for 1 977 were not qualified in any way. 1 understand that the Queensland Minister has stated that a qualification has been made in relation to recurrent expenditure at the Institute for 1978. This certificate has not, as yet, been received by the Tertiary Education Commission.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 September 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1979/19790919_senate_31_s82/>.