31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 258 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That in order to: facilitate the development of the North of Australia provide an all-weather rapid land transport system from north to south and vice versa facilitate better defence of Northern Australia provide improved transport for primary and mining products to southern markets boost tourism
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled should:
Urge that the Federal Government give favourable consideration to proceeding forthwith with the completion of the construction of the North/South railway from Alice Springs to Darwin as a matter of priority.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-I present two petitions, similar in wording from 14 and 16 citizens of Australia, respectively, as follows:
To the Honourable President and Members of the Senate of the Australian Parliament in Canberra assembled.
The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth:
That the right to work without discrimination on any ground including, inter alia, discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status and/or sex is a fundamental human right;
That it is both the duty and responsibility of society to fully support those denied work and therefore those who are unemployed as a result of society’s inability to provide full paid employment should be guaranteed an adequate income without discrimination on any ground, including inter alia discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status and/or sex.
Your petitioners therefore humbly prayThat appropriate and adequate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in Commonwealth employment, in employment of persons by statutory bodies and quasi-governmental organisations, in employment of individuals under federal awards, and in employment of all persons in areas over which Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory equal opportunity legislation should have jurisdiction; and
That appropriate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in the provision of unemployment benefits to all persons without regard to race, ethnic origin, marital status and/or sex.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petitions received and first petition read.
The Acting Clerk- 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 National Women’s Advisory Council has not been democratically elected by the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is not representative of the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is a discriminatory and sexist imposition on Australian women as Australian men do not have a National Men’s Advisory Council imposed on them.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council be abolished to ensure that Australian women have equal opportunity with Australian men of having issues of concern to them considered, debated and voted on by their Parliamentary representative without intervention and interference by an unrepresentative ‘Advisory Council ‘.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senators Button, Evans (two petitions),
To the Honourable President and Members of the Senate of the Australian Parliament assembled.
The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth.
Their support for and endorsement of the national women ‘s advisory council.
We call on the government to
Continue to maintain the National Women’s Advisory Council and increase Federal Government support for its activities.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Peter Baume.
-Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that virtually all the Aborigines in the east Kimberley area of Western Australia who received postal vote forms for the recent State election have been interrogated by Western Australian police; that many of them were taken in paddy wagons to police stations for interrogation; that several of them were asked how they voted; and that at least one of them was interrogated in the presence of a Mrs Low, the President of the Wyndham Branch of the Liberal Party of Australia? What action has the Minister taken in pursuance of these events?
– I am aware that prosecutions are being brought relating to matters arising from the recent election in the seat of Kimberley. I was made aware of that situation initially by newspaper reports. I have since made some inquiries about the matter and have spoken to a number of people, including the AttorneyGeneral of Western Australia. The position as I understand it is that the police have made investigations of the matter. The police in Western Australia are statutorily independent.
I do not have details of the matters which have been raised by Senator Wriedt. I have seen a report that one group of Aboriginal people was taken in a paddy wagon, but I think that related to election day and I am not sure that it is relevant to the charges which have now been laid. It is a matter on which I am seeking more information. However, to date the only information which I have available to me is that questions have been raised concerning Aboriginals who voted and that charges are being laid.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs aware of a report in the television program 60 Minutes screened last Sunday night concerning the effects on the Vietnamese people of the herbicide generally known as agent orange? Can the Minister advise whether any assessment has been made as yet of the accuracy of that report; whether the Government will approach the representatives of the Vietnamese Government in Australia to ascertain whether they have any information on studies into the possible effects of agent orange; and, if so, whether those people are prepared to make that information available to the Australian Government? In particular, will the Australian Government consider approaching the Vietnamese Government for permission to send a medical and research team to Vietnam to study the problem there further?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEI did not see the program referred to by the honourable senator but my colleague, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, did see it. He discussed the matter with me in the light of any possible question on it. I advise the Senate that some days before the program in question was shown publicly on television discussions were held between the permanent head of the Department of Veterans ‘ Affairs, Sir Richard Kingsland, and the Channel 9 producer of the program, Mr Anthony McClelland. During those discussions Mr McClelland asked Sir Richard whether the Minister would be interested in any information which the station had. Sir Richard replied that the Minister and the Department were keenly interested in any and all information which might be available on an alleged relationship between the use of herbicides in Vietnam and long term disabilities in Vietnam veterans or the effect on any children born to them. Sir Richard arranged for the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in Sydney to pick up all the information available after the program had been shown. Arrangements were also made for a visit by the permanent head of the Department and the Chief Director of Medical Services in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to visit Channel 9 and to discuss the material and anything that the Channel 9 team had seen or gleaned during its visit.
I am advised by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs that he already has some material on the subject by Professor Ton That Tung. The Minister advised that he will ascertain whether the Channel 9 team has any later or more definite information than that held by his Department. Incidentally, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs offered some advice to the producer of the program, including the fact that there was sub.tantial evidence that in the general Australian population about two or three per cent of live births have major abnormalities and that this should be taken into account when looking at evidence of deformities in other countries. Other matters were offered, but apparently time precluded the inclusion of this material in the program.
I turn now to Senator Knight’s question. No assessment has yet been made as to the accuracy of the report by the television team but the material will be obtained from the station and related to the other information in the Minister’s hands. This will include a report on the visit of a member of the Repatriation Commission, Mr Medbury, whom the Minister had sent to the United States in February. The Minister will then be in a position to consider what further action he will recommend to the Government in seeking further information to assist in establishing the facts of the matter, which I can assure honourable senators is of deep concern to the Minister, so that the claim of the Australian veterans can be considered.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. It concerns the same subject matter as Senator Wriedt’s question of Senator Chaney a moment ago, that is the allegations of oppressive conduct by Western Australian police against Kimberley Aborigines in the matter of postal voting in the last State election. I ask the Attorney what action he proposes to take to ensure the application in these circumstances of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act. Among other things, section 9 provides:
It is unlawful for a person to do any act involving a distinction . . . based on race . . . which has the purpose or effect of . . . impairing the . . . enjoyment … of any human right … in the political … or any other field of public life.
In the event that the Commissioner for Community Relations may, in due course, wish to direct the State Government officials in question to attend a compulsory conference on this matter, will the Commonwealth do everything in its power to facilitate the holding of such a conference or will it, in the interests of its own political friends in Western Australia, employ the same obstructive tactics as we experienced in the Archer River affair in Queensland?
– Complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act are normally made to the Commissioner for Community Relations. That practice has frequently been followed. I have not had occasion to investigate the allegation made by the honourable senator. However, as it has been raised, I will make some inquiries about it to see whether there is any reason why I should take any action in relation to it. Senator Evans referred to the possibility of a compulsory conference. It was the advice of the Solicitor-General that the Commissioner for Community Relations had the legal power to call a conference on the matter. Of course, the Commonwealth’s involvement in such a conference would not be to advantage so-called friends, as Senator Evans suggested, but would simply be in accordance with the law.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. It concerns the fishing industry. Is it possible to obtain more than one export licence per boat? What safeguards are there to prevent a licence being obtained under an assumed name by a person currently holding a licence if such person were to rename his boat? Are the licences transferable or salable?
– I thank the honourable senator for his question. I do not have sufficient detail to answer it completely. I shall seek the correct answer and see that the honourable senator is advised of it.
-I refer the Minister representing the Prime Minister to the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister in the House of Representatives on 22 November 1979 in relation to the report of the Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest. When will members of the Parliament be provided with the opportunity to debate that report, which the Deputy Prime Minister said would be given during this sitting of Parliament? Is any legislation arising from the report contemplated?
-I will look at both questions. It is my understanding that the Government intended that the report should be debated. I am not aware of what legislation might be necessary or contemplated. I will let Senator Button know.
-Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health been drawn to the comments of Professor Peter Compes of the West German University of Wuppertal that whereas 40 per cent of Australia’s workers’ compensation claims involve back injuries, in West Germany the figure is only 2 per cent or 3 per cent? In view of the immense difference in the figures from the two countries, can the Minister advise whether there is any reason for not agreeing with the figures, and the actions or programs to be undertaken to get the Australian statistics reduced to some reasonable level in the interests of better health, financial savings and improved productivity?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEThe Minister for Health has advised me that he is aware of the comments made by Professor Compes. In the absence of national workers’ compensation statistics, it is difficult to confirm or deny categorically that 40 per cent of Australia ‘s workers’ compensation claims involve back injuries. In the absence of international figures we do not know whether the 2 per cent or 3 per cent claimed for West Germany is correct. The workers’ compensation figures published in each State contain a category which covers sprains, strains, and hernias involving injuries due to lifting, pulling, pushing and handling objects, et cetera. This category accounts for about 40 per cent of all injuries.
Essentially, the actions and programs to be undertaken to reduce this level of injuries to provide better health, financial savings and improved productivity rest primarily with employers. This is particularly so as that group is responsible for the payment of compulsory workers’ compensation premiums which, in turn, give rise to claims when an injury or accident occurs. The Commonwealth, as a major employer, has introduced a Code of General Principles on Occupational Safety and Health, which is applicable to all Commonwealth government employees. That code is supported by codes of practice which draw attention to the need for safe working practices.
The Minister for Health has informed me that the National Health and Medical Research Council proposes to publish at an early date an occupational health guide recommending measures for the prevention of back pain at work. The Commonwealth supports that organisation’s activities and, to heighten public awareness of the extent of the problem, the Commonwealth, through the Department of Productivity, is undertaking a special project to focus attention on the need for managements to have a better appreciation of the extent and cost of occupational accidents and injuries. That project is rapidly approaching a pilot stage and, if successful, will operate on a national basis.
– My question is directed to Senator Durack in his capacity as both AttorneyGeneral and Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is the Minister aware that many exservicemen are complaining that there are no facilities available to assist them in complaints about compensation for injuries or accidents resulting from their service in the defence Services? Is it a fact that the Legal Aid Commission has no funds available to assist such exservicemen, and that they have had to have recourse to private lawyers to press their compensation claims, resulting in protracted proceedings where speedy resolution was called for? Will the Minister look into those cases, one of which I can advise him about, and see to what extent claims by discharged servicemen who are dependent on the compensation might be dealt with more speedily, especially when generally claims are more speedily consummated in civilian cases?
– I am aware of some concern that has been expressed in relation to the matter which is the subject of Senator Bishop’s question. There has been a long standing policy that free legal advice and assistance be given in war service matters. Perhaps one of the problems is how far one goes when defining the ambit of war service matters. Apart from that, there is the need to satisfy the ordinary guidelines that have been laid down. Several questions have arisen lately in relation to this matter, to which I have given some attention. The question also arises of whether State legal aid commissions will assume the same responsibilities. I understand that, under agreements with the States, they are to take on responsibilities in the Federal area, as it is called. However, some questions arise in relation to the matter. I will give it early attention and see whether I should make a statement in relation to it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I notice that the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory is expected to be fully operational in June 1 984. Will the Minister inform the Senate of the main roles that are envisaged for this highly sophisticated complex? Is it expected that the Laboratory will work for other countries? How many new jobs will there be for technical, professional and general duties people?
-Progress on this most important Laboratory is moving with reasonable speed. The main roles planned for the Laboratory are: To provide a rapid diagnostic service for any exotic livestock disease that might enter Australia; to test imported animals held at the off-shore quarantine station for freedom from exotic diseases; to carry out research on major exotic and indigenous diseases; to train field and laboratory staff in the recognition of exotic diseases and to produce vaccines against diseases such as foot and mouth disease for use in an emergency. It is possible that when the Laboratory is fully operational its facilities will be available to countries beyond Australia- particularly those countries relatively close to Australiawhen the Laboratory is seen to have the capacity to deal with circumstances beyond those in Australia. So far as employment is concerned, it is envisaged that the Laboratory will employ 170 people, of whom 25 will be scientists.
– Is the Attorney-General aware of an apparent breach of section 22A ( 1 ) of the Broadcasting and Television Act by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal in the Tribunal’s published report entitled ‘Inquiries into
Renewal of Television Licences, Adelaide’? Specifically, is the Attorney aware that the views of the Tribunal member Mrs Janet Strickland, which differed from those of the majority of the members of the Tribunal, have not been set out in this report in the manner required by section 22a ( 1 ) of the Broadcasting and Television Act? Has the Attorney commenced an investigation into this apparent breach? If not, will he undertake to do so?
– The administration of the Broadcasting and Television Act comes within the area of responsibility of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I will take note of Senator Ryan ‘s question and look into the matter and provide an answer at a later date.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. A draft Bill called the Aboriginal Land and National Parks Bill which is aimed at reducing conflict over claims to areas in national parks in the Northern Territory has been prepared by the Everingham Government in the Northern Territory. The Bill will recognise Aboriginal ownership and will set up a board to protect and enforce the right of Aboriginals entitled by Aboriginal tradition to use and occupy these areas. Can the Minister indicate the Federal Government’s attitude to such legislation?
– I cannot indicate a final attitude because I have yet to put the legislation to detailed personal study. I support the general approach which is being adopted by the Northern Territory Government and the Northern Land Council in seeking arrangements which are satisfactory to the claiming traditional owners and to the interests of the Northern Territory Government and the Territory community in areas which are of significance, for reasons of nature conservation or things of that sort. I am looking forward to examining the results of the work which is done by both the Northern Territory Government and the Northern Land Council in that area. The matter is one which I think needs to be very carefully examined to make sure that the interests of the Aboriginal people are preserved. But my understanding is that the arrangements are meant to be without prejudice to any rights which the Aboriginal people have under the Act. If, in fact, the Bill is able to produce consensual arrangements which satisfy both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, I think that will be a very positive achievement. I look forward to giving the matter careful consideration over the next few days.
-I refer the AttorneyGeneral to his announcement that appeals against decisions of the Director-General of Social Services can go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from I April this year. I ask: What will be the composition of the Tribunal for the hearing of social service appeals and how will it reflect the community at large? Will such Tribunal be located in each capital city or just in Canberra? Will the Tribunal move around or will applicants have to travel to it? Will his Department fund welfare advocates to help those people who are appealing to prepare cases before the Tribunal.
– The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will not be specially set up for hearing social security appeals. It will follow the usual practice. I understand that the President of the Tribunal intends to sit on some of the early appeals, that is, those appeals which may be in the nature of test cases. The composition of the Tribunal is as determined by the President. In many cases, the Tribunal comprises a presidential member or a senior non-presidential member sitting with two other members of panels. At the moment we are considering the appointment of additional members of the panel so that people will be present who will have some special qualifications in the social services area. They will then sit on the hearings of these appeals. That matter has not yet been finalised. However, it is intended that they should be appointed before any work is before the Tribunal. Of course, the President may and mostly will allocate to one of the senior non-presidential members of the Tribunal the work of presiding over appeals rather than doing it all himself.
As to the question of the sittings of the Tribunal in various States, I point out that it is intended that as far as possible the Tribunal will sit where the appellants reside. Certainly, the Tribunal will not be sitting only in Canberra but in all the capital cities. There is provision under section 69 of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act for applications to be made to the Attorney-General for legal aid in cases of hardship.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment by saying that no doubt the Minister is aware that by far the greatest cause of road deaths is alcohol, it being associated with some half of all road deaths. I ask whether the Minister is aware that collision with telegraph and power poles is also a major cause of road deaths, accounting for some 10 per cent of those deaths. Will the Minister ask the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and some university engineering departments to investigate the placement and design of poles for telegraph and power supply authorities’ uses so that as poles are installed or replaced they can be of a sensible design and safely placed and not poles apart from common sense, as is now the case?
-Without having any specific information before me on the points raised by the honourable senator, I say that I am aware that alcohol is a factor in a very large number of road accidents, including those which cause death. I am aware also that a large number of deaths are related to collisions with poles and things of that nature, but my understanding is that a good deal of work has been done in this area and that in fact poles have been designed to crumple on impact and thereby reduce the risk to motorists who leave the road.
I would be happy to refer the question to the Minister for Transport to see what information can be put together for the honourable senator. If it appears that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation or some university should be called upon to do further work, I shall ask the Minister to give that matter consideration.
– I direct my question to you, Mr President, although it may be that the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs could provide a more informative answer. I want to know, in reply to your request that I supply you with information as to whether I would like to attend the opening of the High Court, how to reply and whom I may be associated with. Has Sir Garfield Barwick invited three members of the High Court of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the opening? Have their honours accepted the invitation? Will there be any impediment to their attending that opening? Has the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs as a superior authority to the Chief Justice of Australia the right to refuse visas?
– I concur with the honourable senator that a more satisfactory answer may be received from the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in respect to the last part of his question. In the first instance, Mr Speaker and I were requested by His Honour the Chief Justice to seek the number of members and senators who may wish to attend the opening of the new building. It is in acceding to that request that a note was sent out last week. I have no knowledge of invitations issued to the gentlemen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as referred to by the honourable senator. It is not within my province to respond to a question on the rights of immigration.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education and concerns progress in the Government’s consideration of the Sax Report on Nurse Education and Training. What stage has been reached in the consideration of this report? Is it a fact that the States have given their views, that the Tertiary Education Commission has given a view and that what remains now is the preparation and consideration of a Cabinet submission? Has there been delay in considering this important document? Is the Minister able to give any indication to the Senate of when a Government response or decision might be available?
– The Sax Committee report is an important report in that it seeks to get an overview of the standards of training necessary throughout Australia, not only to get some uniformity but also to get acceptance in a world sense. I can confirm that the reactions of the States and the Tertiary Education Commission to the Sax Report on Nurse Education and Training have been received. The process of consultation to arrive at final advice to the Government on this matter has taken some time, but I am hopeful that the Government will be in a position to announce decisions in the near future.
– I refer the Minister for Social Security to the current dispute in which the Victorian Meat Association is refusing to allow 4,000 meat workers in that State to resume work. Firstly, has it yet been determined whether, as I believe, a lock-out exists, in which case union members should be paid? Secondly, why is it necessary for all claims for special benefit lodged by the wives of meat workers receiving neither pay nor unemployment benefit to be sent to Canberra? Is the Minister aware that this is holding up by four to six weeks payments to families in real hardship and having devastating effects on the families and emergency aid organisations?
-I am not able to be precise about the first part of the question with regard to whether a lock-out exists; but I understand that this matter is before arbitration. I think it is expected that there will be some discussion of the whole problem shortly. I do not have an up to date outline of the situation. I understand that some clarity may emerge in this matter within the next few days.
I am not aware whether special benefit applications are being sent to Canberra. It should be understood that under the Social Services Act it is the responsibility of the Director-General to determine such applications, but that does not mean that in all instances they would have to be referred directly to him. I will check whether there is any undue delay and whether the Department is able to expedite the consideration and determination of applications for special benefit in this instance.
– I ask the Attorney-General whether he is aware that marihuana plants with a street value of some millions of dollars were found by police in South Australia last week. This is only one of many such finds in Australia this year, besides what has been found and confiscated in previous years. Will the Government take steps to increase greatly the penalties for growers of marihuana by confiscating all their property or the property on which the plant is grown and deporting those growers or property owners who are not naturalised Australians? At present the light fines and penalties are regarded as a joke when compared with the huge profits to be made from growing marihuana.
-The question that Senator Young raises falls within the power of the State of South Australia. Some international agreements may have relevance to the Commonwealth Government’s powers in this matter, but essentially the question is one for State legislation. However, I will have another look at the situation in the light of Senator Young’s question and give the honourable senator a considered answer.
– I have pleasure in drawing the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the gallery of a delegation of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea led by the Vice Speaker, the Honourable Heung Moon Koh. On behalf of all honourable senators I extend to our visitors a warm welcome, and I hope that their stay in Australia is very pleasant and profitable to them.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
-I do not know whether Senator Guilfoyle has an answer to my question on immigration. If not, I will direct another question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity as a New South Wales senator. By way of preface may I say that it is generally understood that Sydney suffers from a sports arena quandary because of the failure of the Army to vacate the Moore Park Engineers depot, which would enable Sydney Cricket Ground No. 2 and the Sports Ground to be turned into a modern sports stadium. I put it to the Leader of the Government, with all deference to the spokesmen for the Army and the Department of Administrative Services, that the promise that the Army would vacate the area was given in the Barnard era. I am wondering whether, as a senior New South Wales senator, he can break the deadlock so that the New South Wales Government can carry on with the sports arena when the Army has vacated the area?
– Three Ministers appear to be involved in this question- the Minister for Defence, the Minister responsible for sport and the Minister for Adminstrative Services. I will bring the matter to their attention and see whether any action is contemplated and whether the matter can be expedited.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Government concerned about the establishment of a new Russian base in a part of the Antarctic previously unclaimed by any of the Antarctic Treaty powers? Is the Government aware of the exact purpose of the Russkaya Base? Does the establishment of this base in previously unclaimed territory signify any change in Russian policy in the Antarctic? What has been the reaction of the Australian Government to this Soviet move?
-I think I read of this matter in today’s newspapers. Up to this moment I have not a detailed brief on it. I will seek out the information and let Senator Puplick and the Senate have it as soon as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. It concerns the Ansett Airlines of Australia decision to buy American Boeing 767 aircraft while Trans-Australia Airlines has ordered the European Airbus. Has the Government started an investigation into the duplication of facilities, technical expertise and spare parts provision inevitably involved in this situation with a view to assessing the extent to which these factors will contribute to increases in air fares in Australia? If the Government has not started an investigation into that situation, when will such an investigation begin?
-As I understand it the present position is that Ansett Airlines of Australia has indicated to the Government that it wishes to proceed with the purchase of these aircraft. That matter is at present before the Minister for Transport. It is obviously an extremely important decision, quite apart from the matters raised by the honourable senator, which in themselves are important. There is the fact that we are making a break by possibly having different types of aircraft available to the two airlines. This has an implication for scheduling, which has been a matter of some concern to the travelling public for some years. I will ask the Minister for Transport to let me have a reply to the question asked by the honourable senator as soon as possible.
-Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport been drawn to an exchange of views expressed in the National Times which suggest that Qantas Airways Limited could save up to $20m per annum in direct operating costs, as well as an investment of $50m in one Boeing 747 aircraft, by scheduling services to London and the United States from State capitals in approximate proportion to the State population, thus eliminating the need for every Qantas service to originate or transit from Sydney? In view of the indicated $30m loss to be recorded by Qantas this year, despite duty free fuel benefits, does the Minister agree that such a suggested saving should not be flippantly rejected, as would appear to be the reaction of the Chairman of Qantas in his letter to the editor of the National Times last week? In considering the application by Ansett Airlines of Australia for a Townsville-Darwin-Singapore service, will the Minister instigate an independent investigation of the other proposal, paying particular regard to the pooling agreements which exist between Qantas and British Airways and recognising that lower density routes such as DarwinSingapore can be efficiently serviced by a domestic operator feeding into Qantas’ European services at Singapore?
-The answer to the first question asked by the honourable senator is no, my attention has not been drawn to the article to which he refers. I have not read it and I am therefore not able to make comment upon it. In light of the fact that I have not read it I similarly cannot answer the second part of his question, except to say that, whatever interpretation has been placed on it by Senator Rae, I agree with him that any saving of $20m is not to be rejected flippantly. But I give that response without being able to comment on whether the Chairman of Qantas did in fact reject the suggestion flippantly. The matter mentioned in the third part of the honourable senator’s question has been raised before, and it is my understanding that the continuing policy of the Government is that Qantas should be the overseas operator. The honourable senator has raised a number of particular questions which I think deserve the consideration of the Minister. I will refer them to the Minister and ask him to give the honourable senator a considered reply.
-No doubt the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is aware that the Northern Territory Minister for Mines and Energy has called what has been described as a top level conference on Aboriginal involvement in uranium mining. Is it a fact that no Aborigines have been invited to attend the conference? Has he or any other Federal Minister been invited? What will be the Commonwealth’s involvement in the projects?
– I am currently going through my recent correspondence so the answer I give may be out of date in a couple of minutes. To this point I have not had any request from Mr Tuxworth to attend a meeting of the sort to which the honourable senator has referred. I am not familiar with Mr Tuxworth ‘s intentions in this matter. I will make some inquiries to see what Mr Tuxworth has in mind. I will let the honourable senator know the outcome.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Does the Minister anticipate some action when he finds out that it is a fact that no Aborigines have been invited to attend the conference?
– I make it quite clear to the Senate and to the honourable senator that the Government encourages Aboriginal participation in all matters which are of concern to Aborigines. I do not know the nature of the proposal and therefore I am not in a position to say categorically that it would be appropriate that Aborigines should be involved. The matter may be relevant to the technical operations of mining companies rather than to anything which affects any member of the public whether Aboriginal or not. I will certainly consider that aspect in giving a final reply to the honourable senator.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, relates to the communication conveyed by the Minister to the Japanese Government expressing the concern of many Australians about the wholesale slaughter of dolphins by fishermen on Iki Island in Japan, a matter which was raised by Senator Puplick in the chamber on 5 March. Has the Minister received a response from the Government of Japan to this communication? If so, will he inform the Senate of the contents of the reply? Does the Australian Government intend to take further action in respect of this matter?
– The Government has been following with some concern recent reports that Japanese fishermen have been rounding up and killing dolphins at Iki Island in Japan. In accordance with the Government’s policy of protection for all such species, the Australian Embassy in Tokyo has, on the Government’s instructions, formally expressed to the Japanese Foreign Ministry the concern of the Australian Government at the killings and urged the development of techniques to disperse such creatures which threaten substantial fishing interests. In addition, the Australian Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission has informed his Japanese counterpart of concern in Australia at reports of the latest killing of dolphins. He has sought information and indicated that the Australian Government strongly supports the development of methods to resolve, on a long term basis, the competition between dolphins and local fishermen for fish stocks. While such alternatives are being developed, we believe all possible scientific information should be obtained to ensure a better understanding and resolution of such conflicts.
No formal response has yet been received from the Japanese Government. However, Japanese officials have noted that the Japanese fishermen have been forced to take the measures to protect their livelihood. The Japanese Fisheries Agency is in the process of developing means of dispersing dolphins even though experiments with sonic devices have so far had only limited success. The Government will continue to monitor the situation and take whatever steps are appropriate to persuade the Japanese Government to act as humanely as possible towards the dolphins.
– I address my question to the Leader of the Government. Has the Government noted the remarks of the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations that TransAustralia Airlines, the large government-owned airline, is on the brink of bankruptcy? Has the Government taken steps to check the authenticity of this alarming projection? Does the Government agree that the government airline is in financial difficulties? If so, what steps are proposed to be taken by the Government to prevent such a collapse of TAA?
– The substance of the question is more properly in the bailiwick of my colleague, the Minister for Transport. I will direct the question to him to seek his response.
-Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister seen details of the proposals of the Australian Labor Party to create 1 00,000 jobs at a cost to revenue of $ 1 80m a year? What would be the effects on inflation of such a scheme? Would such a scheme in fact create more jobs? Has the Minister seen a record of the comments of the former Labor Premier of South Australia, Mr Don Dunstan, that the ALP’s basic assumption is not valid and that the level of unemployment could be expected to increase?
-I have read the details, as announced in the Press, of the Australian Labor Party’s proposed policy. It has an atmosphere of deja vu about it. It is very much similar to the policies which the Labor Party projected when in government and which failed so dismally. At a time of the greatest expansion of expenditure of public revenue there was the greatest expansion of both inflation and unemployment. The whole basis of the principle of the program was discredited.
I did read with considerable interest of comments made by a former Premier, whose views often were quoted from the other side of this chamber as being very valid views. I take it that therefore honourable senators on the other side of the chamber look with particular interest at his having challenged the basic principles underlying the Labor Party’s approach to greater employment. But fundamentally, the program as announced contains so many fallacies that one only has to refer to the past and to past failures to discredit it.
-Mr President, I seek leave to ask a question of a chairman of a Senate standing committee.
– I direct a question to the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, Senator Rae. Did he tell a recent public seminar that Trans-Australia Airlines was on the brink of bankruptcy? Did he say: ‘Just you wait and see if it is not bankrupt soon, I do not make that statement lightly’? Does Senator Rae appreciate that, as chairman of a Senate committee, those comments were highly damaging and perhaps selffulfilling? Did he make those statements based on any information which he received as Chairman of that Senate Standing Committee? Will he give to the Senate the information he has, upon which he based the statements? Is he prepared to say, if necessary, that the information is not sound and that he is prepared to withdraw before the Senate the statements he made to the public seminar?
– Pursuant to Standing Order 98a, I simply indicate that when I made those remarks I was not speaking as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations; I was speaking in my personal capacity. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to answer the question now. However, I indicate that I would be more than happy to answer on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate this evening or at some other time appropriate to the procedures of the Senate the questions raised by Senator Georges.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Will Senator Rae accept that, as Chairman of the Senate
Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, he has a responsibility to answer to the Senate for any remarks he makes about a corporation over which he has responsibility? Will he accept that Trans-Australia Airlines is a government operation; that, as Chairman of that Committee, he is responsible for the supervision of the accounts of TAA; and that, in making the statements he made, he is in breach of the privilege of the Senate?
– As Senator Douglas McClelland attempted to interject, the matter has not been before the Committee. When I made those statements I was not speaking in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee. I simply repeat my previous answer.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and draw attention to the confusion which exists in South Australia with regard to a response the Minister made on behalf of the Government to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare last week. I ask the Minister whether her attention has been drawn to an editorial comment in today’s Australian which states:
The Minister for Social Security, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, last week announced several Government proposals, including raising the excise on tobacco and alcohol as a deterrent to over-consumption . . .
Did the Minister make that statement?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEIt will be recalled that last week the Government responded to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare on the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. In the response to many of the recommendations some very constructive statements were made. The Government responded in detail to the recommendations. It said that some of them would have to be referred to State governments. The statement accompanying the Government’s response reads: a major aspect of the drug problem is that any regulatory restraints which Commonwealth or State governments impose on the production or use of alcohol, tobacco and other legally used drugs will have significant effects on primary industry, on manufacturers, on distributors, on retailers and on consumers. These important aspects have to be weighed against the undoubted disadvantage and harm caused to the community by the irresponsible use of drugs.
It may be recalled by the Senate that in response to recommendations 4 to 7, relating to Government imposts on alcoholic beverages, the Government said:
Tax rates on alcohol are matters to be determined in a budgetary context: the Government will take health considerations into account in setting those rates.
Some of the things that have been attributed to the Government in the article referred to by Senator Jessop and in other Press reports following the Government’s response to the report of the Standing Committee perhaps have not put into context the balance of the Government’s detailed response to specific recommendations. I say that because the Government’s response to those recommendations is worthy of study. The Government made a positive response but took into account the other aspects which I have mentioned.
– I seek leave to direct a question to Senator Rae as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations.
-Was the statement that Senator Rae made concerning the alleged financial position of Trans- Australia Airlines based on information which he had received as a member of that Committee?
– For the same reasons as I mentioned previously, I did not speak as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations. However, I seek leave to add something to the answer.
– Under the Standing Orders I am now entitled to give the answer. In no way was I speaking as Chairman of the Committee. I was pursuing an interest which I have held personally. On a number of occasions in the second half of last year and, most recently, on 6 March this year, I have spoken in this chamber about Trans-Australia Airlines, its financial position, its accounting procedures and a number of other aspects. I was speaking as a result of personal inquiry and investigation concerning matters which arise but which in no way are associated with the operation of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations. I was not speaking as Chairman of the Committee; nor was I purporting in any way to do so.
– Is the Minister for Social Security aware that information is not available from her Department as to the number of disabled people receiving government benefits in Western Australia under the various classifications of disability? Will the Minister consider requiring her Department to record this statistical information, if for no other purpose than to provide the Government with information it needs when it makes policy decisions affecting disabled people?
-I will need to seek from the Department of Social Security what classifications are kept in a statistical form for those people who receive from the Department invalid pensions, handicapped child allowances or benefits of that sort. Certainly it would be of use to the Department to know the number of people who receive pensions, benefits or payments on account of these disabilities. It would be also of great assistance to the Government in the wider context to have statistics of the incidence of many disabilities in the Australian community. I have expressed recently hopes that, working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we may be able to enhance the knowledge that we have of these matters, particularly as we approach the International Year of the Disabled Person. I will seek for Senator Thomas what classifications in statistical form are available, and will see that he is advised.
– I seek leave to ask a question of Senator Rae in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Finance and Government Operations.
– I ask Senator Rae whether the invitation he received to attend the seminar that he addressed, which is causing this controversy, was extended to him as Senator Peter Rae or as Chairman of the Committee of Finance and Government Operations. In what capacity did he reply to the invitation?
– I presume the situation is that I may answer the question, although I have explained that I do not see my position as coming within Standing Order 98A. I seek leave to answer the question.
– In answer to the first part of the question, I do not recall the exact wording of the letter. In answer to the second part, the way in which the program was shown did not refer in any way to the position of Chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations.
– Quite correct.
- Senator Baume, who was also a speaker, confirms by way of interjection that it made no reference to the position to which reference has been made. I reiterate that, insofar as I spoke, I was speaking personally.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Has the Minister seen the article in today’s Courier-Mail that Ansett Airlines of Australia and Singapore Airlines Ltd are planning charter flights between Townsville and Singapore on 1 8 April as a forerunner to regular services? In view of the great necessity to develop this route for the benefit of Australia, and the justification for an airline other than Qantas Airways Ltd operating this route being based solely on the airline concerned having the appropriate aircraft to operate into Townsville airport, will the Minister assure the Senate that TransAustralia Airlines will be given equal opportunity to apply for and operate these routes?
– I am not aware of any report that appeared in the Courier-Mail this morning; I have not seen that newspaper. On the other hand, I am aware of some reports that suggest that Ansett Airlines of Australia has applied to the Department of Transport to operate a charter flight between Townsville and Singapore. Since Senator Rae asked a question on the same subject a little while ago, I have had further advice to the effect that the Department of Transport has not received any application of this nature at this stage. So, it is not a matter which is formally before the Government. If an application is made, it will be considered by the Department in accordance with the longstanding policy on the operation of charter flights. I am further advised that, in relation to the reported suggestion that an Ansett application would be part of a drive to operate regular international flights, the Government’s policy is quite clear: Qantas is to remain the sole designated Australian scheduled carrier, at least until 1 98 1 when the situation will be reviewed. In light of that, it seems that the concern that the honourable senator has expressed for TAA need not bother him for another year or two.
– I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs whether he said last week that Noonkanbah station had been purchased for the Noonkanbah community for its social and economic advantage and advancement. Has the Minister now abandoned this objective? If not, can he tell the Senate how it is possible for this objective to be met if the Noonkanbah people have no effective control over what activities take place at Noonkanbah? What action will the Minister take to prevent the State Government from totally subverting the objectives of the Commonwealth in providing funds for the original purchase?
– I do not remember the precise words that I used last week, but I would have used words very much to the effect of those mentioned. The words stated are certainly consistent with the reasons for the purchase of Noonkanbah. I accept that the words are taken from Hansard. I assure the Senate, and Senator Mcintosh, that the Commonwealth has not abandoned those objectives, although in making this purchase it did not maintain any direct control over the property which became vested in the Aboriginal Land Trust of Western Australia- I think either as a shareholder or directly- which is a body constituted under State statute. The purchase of this and other pastoral leases in Western Australia has not been made on the basis that the purchase of the lease will leave the Aboriginal people in possession of the station without interference from any outside body. A pastoral lease in Western Australia does not involve, by definition, the fee simple transfer of the land and of course it does not involve any right to prevent mining on the land.
The incidence of tenure of a pastoral lease is such that a mining company, or a prospector, may obtain tenements or mining rights on the property. These may be exercised notwithstanding the existence of the pastoral lease. That has always been the situation and it remains the situation today. The question at Noonkanbah, which is of some complexity and difficulty, is the protection, which is afforded not only on Aboriginal owned stations but on stations generally, to sites which are of sacred significance to Aboriginal people. The dispute, which has revolved around the Noonkanbah drilling, has been on that ground. On occasions the argument has been extended by the community to one in which it is suggested that it would seek to keep all other activity off the property. That is not a position which is tenable given the law of Western Australia relating to pastoral leases.
As far as the protection of sacred sites is concerned, there have been repeated affirmations by the State Government that properly identified sites will be protected. The area of difficulty lies in the distinction which is drawn between the protection of specific sites as against broad acre areas. The honourable senator will be aware that the most recent report from the Western Australian museum dated the middle of last year identifies an area of, I think, 1 5 by 6 kilometres which has been designated, by the investigating officer as an area of significance. That is not accepted by the State Government as being the identification of a site. The State legislation relates to specific sites which are identified on a map as being particular sites under section 5 of the State Act. The matter of Noonkanbah raises the difficulty of how sites, which are to receive protection under Western Australian legislation, are to be identified and the nature of those sites. The clear statement of the Western Australian Government is that it will give protection to specific sites rather than to broad acres, although the term broad acres is my term and not the Western Australian Government ‘s.
-Senator Puplick asked me a question regarding a Soviet base in the unclaimed sector of Antarctica. I have a brief on the matter which relates to the opening on 10 March this year of a scientific station named Russkaya on the Hobbs Coast of Marie Byrdland in the unclaimed section of Antarctica. I am advised that the Antarctic Treaty of 1 959, which includes both Australia and the Soviet Union among its original signatories, envisages the establishment of such bases for the purpose of international scientific research on Antarctica. It requires, moreover, that all information derived from such research is to be shared among the 1 3 Antarctic Treaty consultative parties. The opening of this new Soviet base is therefore consistent with the provisions and purpose of the Antarctic Treaty.
Suggestions in the Press that the opening of the station could provide a basis for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to assert a claim in the unclaimed sector of Antarctica do not accord with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty. That Treaty provides that no acts or activities, such as establishing a new base, carried out while the Treaty is in force can provide a basis for asserting a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. As an original signatory to the Treaty, the USSR will be aware that the Treaty provides legal protection to the position of those states which assert sovereignty in Antarctica and equally to those which do not recognise such assertions of sovereignty. The effect of the Treaty is to maintain the positions of both groups of states and to ensure that, as between the parties, those positions will be neither enhanced nor adversely affected by anything in the Treaty or by any activity which takes place while the Treaty is in force.
- Senator Watson asked me a question last week and I sought leave to incorporate in Hansard a reply which was provided for me by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I provided the reply to Hansard along with a Press release which was attached and the Press release has been incorporated. So that the record is set straight, I seek leave again to incorporate in Hansard the reply provided by the Minister to the question asked by Senator Watson on 19 March 1980.
The document read as follows-
The Minister for Industry and Commerce has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I am aware of the Press statement issued by Mr Eckersley on 16 March and other statements along similar lines raised in recent months by the National Farmers Federation. Mr Eckersley’s reference that 500,000 employment opportunities would be foregone if there were no change to current assistance levels in the textiles, clothing and footwear industry appears to draw on projections published by the Industries Assistance Commission in their 1978-79 annual report. The IAC projections showed that by 1990 some 380,000 additional jobs might result on the basis of Australia ‘s share of imports by developing Asian countries being 3 per cent in 1990 compared with VA per cent in 1976. It seems that the National Farmers Federation went within the IAC projections and assumed that Australia’s share of imports by developing Asian countries could rise by 5 per cent and thus create about 500,000 additional jobs in 1990. The IAC itself pointed out that its projections could not be thought of as predictions and need to be looked at with caution because they did not take into account a range of significant factors such as changes in industry structures both in Australia and Asia and movements in exchange rates.
At the same time the textiles clothing and footwear industries have argued that widespread social and economic disruption would occur if the recommendations in the draft IAC report were implemented. The Government expects shortly to receive the final reports by the IAC on long term assistance arrangements for the three industries. When reaching decisions on these arrangements the Government will take fully into account the views of all interested parties together with the advice received from the IAC. In regard to the significance of the textiles clothing and footwear industries for non-metropolitan areas the council for regional industries, which represents a large number of municipal and shire councils, gave evidence on this matter at the draft report hearings of the Commission. I will arrange for a copy of that evidence to be provided to the honourable senator.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Amendment Bill 1980.
Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1980.
Commonwealth Grants Commission Amendment Bill 1980.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the second annual report of the Parliamentary Library for 1979. The report describes the activities of the Library and the Legislative Research Service in 1979 and points towards changes in Parliament’s information services that could come in the not too distant future. Those changes are relevant to a management review by external consultants of the Parliamentary Library, Joint House Department and the Department of Parliamentary Reporting Staff. They are also relevant to fairly rapid changes in information, science and technology and the inevitable effect that these will have on reader, research services and departmental organisation. The steady growth in research and reference requests which was noted in the 1978 report has continued. The increased activities of parliamentary committees have been reflected in the greater number of both general and subject references requests received in 1979.
The need of senators and members for current information, including quick access to audio and audio-visual material has continued to grow. The overall growth in requests could be partly attributable to the information overload to which modern parliamentarians are exposed as well as the complexity of many issues before them. The number of research assistants now working for senators and members has also increased demands on the Library and research services. There has been an increase in demands for current news, specific reference material, digests, background papers and information analysis. There has been a decline in the number of book loans from 17,458 in 1978 to 14,271 in 1979. I believe that honourable senators would wish me to record our appreciation of the work of the staff of our Library. I commend the report to the House.
I inform honourable senators that the Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Harold Weir, has been elected to the position of fellow of the Institute of Information Scientists in England. This honour was bestowed on Mr Weir for his influence on the development of the information services to this Parliament. The Institute is the first professional body with world-wide graduate membership in the field of information science and it promotes and maintains high professional standards and qualifications. On behalf of the chamber, I congratulate Mr Weir on his election.
Ordered that the paper be printed.
-by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 12 of the Nongovernment Schools (Loans Guarantee) Act 1 977, 1 present the annual report by the Schools Commission on the Non-government Schools (Loans Guarantee) Scheme 1979.
– Pursuant to section 30 of the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Act 1977. I present the annual report of the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee 1979.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on dental materials.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) On behalf of Senator Chaney, for the information of honourable senators, I present a report entitled ‘Antarctic Research Policy Advisory Committee’, together with a text of a statement by the Minister for Science and the Environment (Mr Thomson) relating to the report.
-by leave- I move:
The Opposition is pleased that the Government has brought down a report dated, as it is, November 1979, and the response to that report on the subject of Antarctic research. The report, of course, contains the recommendations of a policy advisory committee. There are a number of recommendations in the report which are summarised at the commencement of the document. I do not think that it is necessary to go into those recommendations in any detail, one by one, but the first recommendation is an important one which, in a sense, covers most of” the others. That recommendation is that Australia have a high quality research program in Antarctica directed towards, first of all, the living and mineral resources of the Antarctic and the environmental effects of their exploitation; secondly, the effects of the Antarctic climate, weather and ocean circulations in the Southern Ocean area, particularly as these relate to Australia; and, thirdly, taking advantage of the special opportunities afforded by the uniqueness of the Antarctic.
The report is welcome because practical advance in relation to these matters has, in the immediate past, been very slow. Australia claims territory in the Antarctic, which territory is roughly equivalent to 47 per cent of the continent. I do not know whether it is correct or otherwise, but it is often said that the strength and validity of our claim to that very large piece of territory will be very much dependent upon the use we make of it in terms of research. It is in the context of that general view that I make a few remarks on behalf of the Opposition. First, let it be said that within that area of 47 per cent of the continent there are, on the basis of some very initial and tentative research work which has been done, potentially large areas of mineral deposits. It is also in that context that the particular matters which the research program, which this report refers to, have to be considered. If the Antarctic, in the next 10 or 20 years, is to become like Africa was in the 19th century in terms of competition for economic wealth, whether it be in terms of fisheries or mineral resources or, in the case of Africa, agricultural products and so on, and if that Territory is to be subject to that sort of intense competition, it is very important that Australia define its role there and, in particular, define its role in terms of research.
I said that, having regard to the assumptions that we have made and the obligations that we have assumed in relation to the Antarctic, the advances we have made so far to carry out those assumptions of control have been very slow. I note that the 1977-78 Budget made money available for design studies for a ship to be purchased, as opposed to vessels which are now leased, in respect of Australia ‘s Antarctic involvement. In that Budget provision was made for the design study of a ship to be completed, but in the 1 979-80 Budget more money is again allocated for the same design study. It is all taking a fairly long time. In considering Australia’s effort in the Antarctic I think it is important also to note the report of the Auditor-General, in which he was very critical of the Antarctic Division in respect of several matters. On page 101 of the AuditorGeneral ‘s report attention is drawn to:
That is for the Antarctic. The report continues:
Audit calculations indicated the possibility of cost savings from purchase.
In March 1979 the Division acknowledged the charter costs indicated it would be less expensive, over a period of time, for the Commonwealth to purchase rather than hire aircraft but had elected to continue chartering . . .
This is contained in the Auditor-General ‘s report for the year ended 30 June 1979. The AuditorGeneral goes on: . . to construct new headquarters for the Division in Tasmania and to examine the practicability of purchasing a ship for sea transport needs, suggest the Commonwealth’s long term involvement in the Antarctic may not be as uncertain as indicated in their reply . . .
That was in relation to the purchase of an aircraft. That sort of debate is carried on further in the context of the Auditor-General’s report. But the point that he is making essentially is that when the Antarctic Division is asked about whether it will purchase an aircraft as distinct from chartering, it says its involvement in the Antarctic is a bit uncertain, and perhaps it should not be embarking upon the purchase of an aircraft. But at the same time the Division is building an Antarctic headquarters in Hobart at considerable cost. One wonders whether perhaps that is being built under political influence for some reason other than the development of the activities of the Antarctic Divisions.
– But we are much closer.
– Yes, I understand that. I just wonder what Hobart is closer to. I refer to those matters from the Auditor-General ‘s report because they do indicate some confusion about long term policy. I suppose, for Senator Puplick ‘s benefit, the point I am trying to make is that one should not pork barrel the building in the electorate of Denison if, at the same time -
– You are embarrassing your leader.
-Not at all. As I said, one should not pork barrel the building in the electorate of Denison if, at the same time, the same department which is getting that building is very uncertain about whether it should purchase an aircraft because it might have a very uncertain future. That is a conceptual difficulty. As there is a lot of pre-school giggling coming from the other side of the chamber may I say that I totally share the view that the Antarctic Division should be established in Hobart, as I think some other marine science institutions of one kind or another ought to be established in Hobart, for very obvious reasons. But the fact of the matter is that if one has the confidence to say that and believe in it, one should also have the confidence to say: ‘I think we can buy an aircraft as well, rather than take one on charter, which is far more expensive’.
We on this side of the House hope that the matters raised by the Auditor-General, which represent not only irregularities but also inconsistencies, are straightened out and that the Kingston transfer will now indicate a long term commitment to Australia’s Antarctic research. We also think that it should be part of a wide scope of work in the Southern Ocean area allied with work, for example, on the 200-mile fishing zone. The Antarctic Division’s budgetary allocation has increased by a considerable amount, from $8m in 1976-77 to $2 1.5m in 1979-80. We say that that trend, which basically represents the establishment of a division at Kingston, is to be encouraged. We hope that there will continue to be an increase in expenditure in respect of this Division and that this report, which the Minister has brought down, will be the basis for that increase.
Let me once again relate it to a number of important questions concerning the research headquarters in Tasmania and to the importance of relating Antarctic research to marine research in the southern oceans generally and more importantly to fishing research in relation to the 200-mile fishing zone. These are resources which, I believe, we have the capacity to develop. They should be developed by Australian initiative and Australian industry and the development should be on the basis of Australian research and skill. These things will provide jobs for Australians, especially in a place like Tasmania where they are most needed, as well as new industries.
We very much welcome the report brought down by the Minister. We hope that there will be some relatively speedy action on it because in the next 10 years or so Australia will be very much in competition with other countries in relation to its claims in the Antarctic. The question asked today by Senator Puplick perhaps indicates in a sense his different concern but it is a concern which goes very much to the same subject of research in the Antarctic and the desirability in the long term of making the results of that research available to a number of nations which are concerned in the area. We may have to consider very seriously policies of endeavouring to internationalise the use of the resources and the results of any research into those resources in the Antarctic. We can perhaps debate this matter on another occasion, if we ever get another occasion when it might be convenient to do so. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Forty-third General Report
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969 1 present the forty-third general report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. I seek leave to make a short statement in relation to the report.
– This general report summarises the Public Works Committee’s activity during 1979. It highlights the fact that the Government’s rejection of the Committee’s report on the Defence Force Academy, as announced by the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) on 7 December 1979, was not accompanied by the Government’s reason for its decision. The Government’s action appears to disregard the Parliament and appears to attack the basis of the parliamentary committee system.
In its report the Committee also draws the attention of the Government to the matter of giving immediate consideration to amending the Public Works Committee Act along the lines recommended by the inter-departmental committee of 1 974. The Committee is concerned that no action has been taken on this long outstanding matter. Under the provisions of the current Act the Committee is prevented from inquiring into much of the capital expenditure of the Commonwealth Government, especially that expended by the National Capital Development Commission and by various non-commercial statutory authorities. The interdepartmental committee particularly recommended the extension of the powers of” the Committee into such areas and such extension would enable more satisfactory parliamentary scrutiny of capital expenditure by the Commonwealth.
Report of the Committee for Reasons
-I bring up the report of the Committee for Reasons in relation to the Senate’s disagreement to the amendments made by the House of Representatives in the Human Rights Commission Bill 1979.I seek leave to incorporate the report in Hansard.
The report read as follows-
Reasons for the Senate not agreeing to the Amendments proposed by the House of Representatives:
That the amendments are irrelevant to the major tasks of the Commission and, by their obscurity and uncertainty, will not advance the major purposes of the Bill.
That such proposals relating to the unborn should, if desired by the community, be achieved by substantive legislation and not by tacking such proposals to a Human Rights Commission Bill.
3 ) The amendments extending the definition of human rights’ to the unborn and extending the Covenant are not required for the proper operation of the Covenant in Australia and may cast doubts on the validity of the Bill insofar as it may depend on the External Affairs power of the Commonwealth.
The imposition on the proposed Human Rights Commission of an obligation to recognize and necessarily to define human rights of the unborn is unnecessary to its proper purposes and is likely to lead to a distortion of its activities.
5 ) That the amendments, if adopted, are likely to cause’ the Commission to be inundated with complaints and enmeshed in controversy over abortion issues. The Commission’s reports to the Attorney-General and to the Parliament will in no way change the law, but will still heighten controversy and animosity in each House of the Parliament.
R.G. WITHERS On behalf of the Committee 24 March 1980
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That consideration of the report of the Committee for Reasons be made an order of the day for a later hour of the day.
Messages received from the House of Representatives intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate to the Bills.
Motion (by Senator Wriedt)- by leaveagreed to:
That Senator Coleman be granted leave of absence for one month on account of ill health.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the Bills being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Motion (by Senator Durack) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a first time.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
Leave not granted.
– This Bill will raise the level of the general exemption from payroll tax applicable to the Australian Capital Territory. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) announced the proposed increase on 27 November 1979. The exemption is to be raised from $66,000 per annum to $72,000 per annum. The higher level will apply from 1 January 1980, this providing an exemption for 1979-80 of $69,000 on a full-year basis. The last increase applied from 1 January 1979 when the exemption was brought up to $66,000 in line with that allowed in New South Wales. New South Wales has since increased its exemption level to $72,000 per annum with effect from 1 January 1 980.
The maximum exemption allowable in monthly returns will increase from $5,500 to $6,000 and, in conformity with the existing rules for the phasing out of the maximum annual exemption, will be reduced at the rate of $2 for every $3 by which the wages for the month exceed $6,000. There will be no exemption once the monthly payroll reaches $ 1 5,000.
As a general rule, the new exemption will first apply to returns for the month in which this Bill receives the royal assent. End-of-year adjustments will ensure that the benefits are in all cases back-dated to 1 January 1980. For returns lodged on an annual basis, the new exemption will apply from 1 January 1980.
From the day on which the provisions of the Bill come into operation, an employer paying wages of $1,350 or less a week will not be required to register for Australian Capital Territory payroll tax purposes. Explanations of technical aspects of the Bill are contained in an explanatory memorandum being made available to honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Carrick) read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise a contribution by Australia of $A203.53m towards the sixth replenishment of the resources of the International Development Association or IDA as it is commonly called. The IDA, established in 1 960, is an affiliate of the World Bank, and assists its poorest member countries by providing long term interest-free credits for sound development projects, utilising grant funds provided by its developed member countries. The Association has, therefore, made available to the poorest countries a financial facility from which they can prudently borrow in pursuing their developmental goals.
The IDA continues to be the largest and most effective concessional lending institution in the world today. Membership has increased from 68 countries originally to 122 at the present time, while the number of contributors also has grown from 17 to 33 countries which have agreed to contribute to the sixth replenishment.
Honourable senators might note that the IDA is an efficient institution capable of undertaking large scale projects in a technically proficient way and that, although the Association offers long term interest-free credits, the projects which it finances are subject to the same rigorous standards of appraisal that the World Bank applies to its own lending operations. IDA systematically monitors and evaluates its projects and uses the lessons of experience to improve further the quality of assistance it provides.
Taking into account the initial subscriptions made in 1960 and thereafter, together with five subsequent replenishments of its resources as at 30 June 1979, IDA has been provided with a total from all sources of some $US20.9 billion for lending to the poorest developing countries. At the same date it had funded 900 development credits totalling more than $US16.7 billion in 73 countries for all the major sectors of the economy.
The types of projects financed by IDA have covered a wide range of activities, including developing agriculture, improving education, increasing electric power output, expanding industry, creating better urban facilities, promoting family planning, extending telecommunications networks, modernising transportation systems, improving water supply and sewerage systems, and establishing medical care. Because IDA funds are allocated to the poorest countries where the majority of the people live in rural areas, IDA lending has increasingly been devoted to agricultural and rural development. In the last 2 years over 40 per cent of IDA ‘s funds were committed to projects in this sector. These projects take many forms. Some provide basic infrastructure. Others are designed to expand production of a single subsistence commodity. Others, comprehensive multisectoral projects, are designed to bring a range of non-agricultural benefits including improved education, health services, housing, drinkable water, rural electricity, roads, and family planning services- to name a few- to a target group of poor farmers.
IDA has similarly extended its povertyoriented assistance to the cities through the funding of integrated urban development projects. Though an increasing amount of the resources is being channelled into these comprehensive new-style’ projects, IDA has continued its traditional style of lending in sectors such as power, industry and transportation. In developing these projects, IDA has made a deliberate effort over the years to assure that the benefits reach the lowest income groups within the poorest countries where life is at the margin of subsistence.
The resources of the Association are replenished every three years. The fifth replenishment totalled SSUS7.7 billion to cover commitments over the three-year period ending 30 June 1980. Since IDA resources will be fully committed by that date, additional resources are required to cover lending commitments for the following three years. Following intensive negotiations on a sixth replenishment which commenced in mid- 1978 and were concluded last December, donor member countries decided, having regard to the needs of the poorest countries, that they should continue to provide for a real increase in IDA ‘s lending resources.
The traditional donors of the IDA agreed, subject to parliamentary approval in the various countries concerned, to provide an amount for the sixth replenishment equivalent to SUS12 billion. In addition, a number of countries intend to contribute resources to IDA for the first time. These countries are Argentina, Brazil, Greece, Mexico, Portugal, Romania and Venezuela. It is pleasing that some of these countries who still borrow funds from the World Bank have decided to assist the poorest developing countries by contributing to the Association in this way.
Australia’s share of $US229.2m is equivalent to $A203.53m. This represents a share of 1.91 per cent of the SUS12 billion target for donors and is equivalent to Australia’s percentage share in the fifth replenishment. In absolute terms, our contribution of $A203.53m represents a very substantial increase of over 50 per cent on the amount of $A133.76m which Australia provided under the fifth replenishment. The amount is fixed at the exchange rate applying on 5 October 1979. Thus our obligation is not subject to adjustment due to fluctuations in exchange rates.
Australia again has the option of paying its contribution either in cash or by lodging nonnegotiable non-interest bearing promissory notes encashable on demand as and when funds are actually required by IDA for loan disbursements. In accordance with past practice and in line with the practices of most other members of IDA we propose to lodge promissory notes. This will spread the impact on the budget over about 10 years. Small encashments are expected to be made in 1981-82 with the bulk of the encashments taking place in each of the following five to six years.
During the discussions on the level of the sixth replenishment it was agreed that essentially the same voting power arrangements which were made under the fifth replenishment should continue to apply. Accordingly, although contributions to replenishments as opposed to the original subscriptions to the IDA do not carry voting rights, a small proportion of donors’ contributions is counted as a subscription. This is designed to ensure that the relative voting power of” each of the developed member countries of IDA can continue broadly to correspond to its relative share of total resources contributed by these countries. Complex calculations undertaken by the staff of IDA indicate that, included in the total figure which Australia will make available under the sixth replenishment, an amount of $A307,758.60 will take the form of an additional subscription with voting rights. The balance will represent an additional contribution. This distinction is provided for in clause 4 of the Bill. 1 should also mention that the agreement covering the sixth replenishment will not become effective until the instruments of commitment representing approximately 80 per cent of the total replenishment are deposited by donors. IDA is hopeful that this requirement will be met by 30 June 1 980, thereby assuring the continuity of its operations.
As honourable senators will know, Australia has always been a strong supporter of the IDA which is a highly effective channel for the disbursement of multilateral aid to the poorest countries throughout the world. In this context, the IDA has a most important role to play in continuing to foster economic and social development in the Asian and Pacific region which is of immediate interest to Australia. Since the inception of IDA about two-thirds of all IDA credits have gone to these countries. It is government policy to give high priority to the Asian and Pacific region in its foreign policies and to cooperate fully with multilateral agencies which are involved in the region. Continued Australian support for IDA is therefore in Australia’s national interest. This Bill provides an opportunity for honourable senators once again to demonstrate their bi-partisan support for the IDA as an efficient and effective development finance institution and our willingness to provide the poorest developing countries with highly concessional assistance through this organisation. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Scott) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The Diesel Fuel Taxation (Administration) Act 1957, which contains the administrative machinery for the collection of a tax imposed on diesel fuel when used in propelling a road vehicle on a public road, currently stipulates that if a person who has purchased diesel fuel free of tax for use otherwise than in propelling a road vehicle on a public road subsequently uses that fuel for propelling a road vehicle on a public road he shall, within 2 1 days after such use, notify a collector of customs in writing that the fuel has been so used.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Diesel Fuel Taxation (Administration) Act 1957 to enable that notification period to be extended beyond 2 1 days so as to accommodate persons who have experienced difficulty in complying with this requirement because of present day accounting practices.
Clause 4 of the Bill continues the Government’s policy of expanding, wherever possible, the jurisdiction of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in relation to administrative decisions which affect the rights or entitlements of persons under Commonwealth legislation. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Report of the Committee for Reasons
– I move:
In moving that motion I do two things: Firstly, I thank my grammarian adviser and, secondly, on behalf of the Committee for Reasons, I thank Senator Missen, who prepared the first draft. It ought to be noted by honourable senators that these reasons are not the reasons of the Committee. They are what we believe to be the reasons of the Senate. For some reason best known to others I was asked to be a member of the Committee because in the past I have had some experience in preparing reasons. But on those occasions it was relatively easy to do so. They were situations of Opposition versus Government where the Opposition line was quite clear. Even in Opposition one hopes- in Government one prays- that a common theme will run through the argument of those honourable senators taking one side or the other. In the good old days, or perhaps they were the bad old days, when the late Senator Ivor Greenwood and I used to prepare reasons for opposing amendments at least we knew what the theme of the debate was. The difficulty faced by the Committee in this case was that no clear theme ran through the debate. Thirty-eight honourable senators eventually voted against the amendments.
As much as I was personally attracted to the idea of Senator Georges sending the Hansard debate to the House of Representatives, I thought that that would be too difficult for the gentlemen on the other side of Kings Hall to swallow. We could have adopted the discourteous method adopted by the House of Representatives when occasionally it disagrees with amendments made by this place. There are precedents when the Government has sent back amendments simply with the reason that it did not accept them. I suppose that that is a good and sufficient reason. The Senate seems to swallow it. But I think it is an abuse of the parliamentary procedure. It does not show much civility between the two Houses of the Parliament. Whilst some honourable senators may believe that the procedure of drafting reasons is somewhat archaic, time consuming and perhaps a piece of clerkly nonsense, it is provided for in the Standing Orders, nobody seems to object to it and, therefore, we have to suffer what our predecessors have put into the Standing Orders.
The members of the Committee do not claim that we have sufficient wit or wisdom to work out from the number of speeches against the amendments why 38 honourable senators voted against them. But we believe that we have extracted the reasons as far as it is humanly possible from listening to the debate. Most of the work was done last weekend when the Hansard record of last Thursday’s debate was not available interstate. I believe that the Committee has done a fair and reasonable job of putting together the various reasons of the 38 honourable senators who voted against the amendments. I would be the first to admit- I think my colleagues on the Committee would agree- that some honourable senators may not agree with the five reasons. They may agree with only four out of five, three out of five or one out of five. I hope that we will not get to the ludicrous situation of the Senate being divided and, because 38 honourable senators do not agree with each and every one of the reasons, no reasons being left. I put it to honourable senators that in considering the reasons that we have put down they should take into account that at some time in the debate an honourable senator who voted against the amendments used one of those reasons. It may not be acceptable to somebody who also voted No, but I do not think that is the point. The task imposed upon members of the Committee, as we saw it, was to draw out from the debate the factors which motivated people to vote No when the amendments were before this place. It is for that reason that the Committee has drawn up the reasons it has put down.
I do not believe that the Committee has bent its mind to whether the first reason is more important than the fifth reason or vice versa. We have put five reasons to the Senate as being reasonable and valid. There could be a debate as to whether they are the proper reasons. I am not trying to pre-empt anybody who wishes to speak but whilst I doubt that anybody who voted for the amendments would be able to criticise the reasons of those who voted against them, I have no doubt that the attempt will be made. An illogical absurdity has never stopped any honourable senator in this place from speaking. Generally, it is an encouragement. Therefore, with those words of sadness and certainly not wisdom, I commend the report to the Senate.
-I can understand the difficulties of the Chairman of the Committee of Reasons. I feel that the reasons that have been put forward to us are full of inconsistencies, but that is not necessarily inconsistent with the speeches that were made in opposition to the message from the House of
Representatives. I see no real reason why we should go over the whole of the debate. Indeed, I do not think that we are permitted under Standing Orders to do so. I do not think that anybody would stand for it. I think the fourth reason was dealt with completely and utterly in the debate. However, I will leave it for other honourable senators to decide in their reading of the debate. I oppose the proposition. I rise simply to indicate for the record that I do so.
– I am sorry that I was not in the chamber when the debate started. It concerns me that some of the reasons going to the House of Representatives may give this chamber a bad name. I agree that in not passing the amendments the Senate may already have been given a bad name. Some of the reasons are even more obnoxious than others. I can see the point of view of people who are opposed to my view for all the reasons that have been drawn up. But the fifth reason indicates that the Senate has opposed the amendments of the House of Representatives because if it does not it will be inundated with complaints about abortion. It is ridiculous for this chamber to say that we do not want this controversy to arise and that we are not prepared to debate it. We are saying that the prospect of controversy frightens us so much that we have knocked back the amendments of the House of Representatives. I think the words ‘The Commission’s reports to the Attorney-General and to the Parliament will in no way change the law’ are controversial. That is a matter of opinion but I believe that the more obnoxious part of the reason is the words ‘but will still heighten controversy and animosity in each House of the Parliament’. Is one of the reasons that the Senate is giving for opposing the amendments that they may create some controversy? That is a ridiculous thing to say.
– It is a good reason.
- Senator Missen says that it is a good reason. He may not like having to put his views forward repeatedly. He may not feel strongly enough about them to be prepared to debate them to the full in this place. I do not blame him one bit. I would not like to debate them either if I voted the way he did. But those of us who feel strongly about the way we voted do not wish to tell the House of Representatives that we did not pass the amendments because to do so would create controversy. It has been stated in this place many times that we do not like the lobbying that takes place on the subject of abortion. Both Senator Gietzelt and Senator Chipp said that they felt threatened and that it was blackmail, and all the rest of it. For heaven’s sake, I ask honourable senators not to let this chamber appear to the House of Representatives to be too frightened of controversy or of animosity to debate something that is of legitimate concern to people outside.
-I rise to support the report of the Committee for Reasons, as I am a member of that Committee. I remind Senator Walters and others that the Committee was asked to produce a set of reasons for the Senate’s reaching the decision it did- a decision made by an overwhelming majority. It seems that the only objection Senator Walters has is to the fifth reason.
– I did not say that.
– I am sorry; it was the main objection. It was the only reason to which she spoke. Therefore I will confine my remarks to the reasons which led the Committee to put in reason No. 5. First of all, I think No. 5 was a reason given in almost every speech by those who opposed the amendment in the House of Representatives. I ask Senator Walters and others to read what the Committee stated. The Committee said:
There is no doubt that that was one of the main reasons for putting up the Martyr amendment in the first place and supporting the Simon amendment in the second place. I do not think that anyone who was in the Parliament before and during the debate could be under any illusions that one of the reasons that people outside and inside this place were supporting the Simon amendment was to create a platform in the Human Rights Commission whereby people could debate abortion. Those of us- I was one of themwho spoke against the amendment pointed out that an inevitable result would be that the Human Rights Commission would be flooded with complaints about abortion, that this would distort its function and that it would become enmeshed in controversy over these reports. The result of that would be that the reports from the Human Rights Commission coming back to this Parliament would be dominated by abortion, and debates would be dominated by abortion.
I say to Senator Walters, certainly on my behalf and I believe on behalf of most people who voted against this amendment, that we have no objection to debating abortion at any time in this place, under proper circumstances. We have no objection to debating the issue of abortion outside this place at any time, again under proper circumstances. I repeat what I said in the debate: If people are opposed to the present laws on abortion, they should oppose those laws. They should oppose those laws in this Parliament and in the State parliaments and not try to tack on to other Bills amendments which are inappropriate and which will distort those Bills. That is what reason No. 5 is about. We are not afraid of controversy and we are not afraid of debate. We want debate in the appropriate place on the appropriate legislation.
As Senator Withers said, this is no hierarchy of reasons. There is no particular purpose in the order in which they are put but we believe that they cover fairly the arguments put in debate. There may be some that have been left out and there may be some people who think that more reasons should have been given. I think that they are a fair cover of the debate, having read the record of the debate again and having listened to it when it took place. I urge the Senate to support what I consider to be a very reasonable statement of that debate.
-Senator Grimes acknowledged, in a way that Senator Withers in his maiden speech did not, that the list of reasons before the Senate was not necessarily exhaustive and that there may have been matters left out.
– He said the same.
– I did not hear him saying the same, but it would have been nice to have heard him say it. I was waiting and listening for him to say it, but he did not do so. It is appropriate to put on record, not by way of moving an amendment because I do not wish to complicate proceedings unnecessarily, that there were several points made during the debate which I believe had some influence on the way certain honourable senators voted- certainly myselfwhich ought to be acknowledged. One such point, which certainly had a great deal of currency in the House of Representatives, involved the relevance of the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of the Child of 1959. It was a matter that occasioned some considerable comment in the other place as to the way in which there was in an international charter apparently some acknowledgment of the rights of the child before as well as after birth.
– That was just an irrelevancy in the debate, though, was it not?
-That may be so, but to the extent that it was a reason for rejecting the House of Representatives amendment- some honourable senators at least thought that such language in that Convention was irrelevant- I think it ought to be acknowledged and perhaps recorded, at least in Hansard if not in the text of the resolution, that that view was not shared by anyone who addressed himself or herself to this point among the ‘no ‘ voters in this place.
The other point is perhaps more important because it goes to the hean and soul of the abortion issue. It appeared to me to be a theme which occurred through a great number of speeches in this debate but which has received no overt recognition in the list from the Committee for Reasons. A reason for the House of Representatives amendment being rejected was, amongst other things, that it was too absolutist in terms and that it did not sufficiently acknowledge the prevailing social attitudes to abortion which recognise the appropriateness of different considerations applying at different stages during the development of the foetus. I do not want to repeat the arguments because the matter has been the subject of a great deal of debate. I think the point was taken by a number of honourable senators- certainly it was made very strongly by me- that the House of Representatives amendment distinguished only between the pre-birth and after-birth situation, and did not distinguish in any way between the different stages of evolution of the foetus in the period up to its birth from the moment of conception. Many honourable senators took the point that, whilst they were prepared certainly to tolerate the notion of abortion in the first trimester, or in the second trimester in appropriate circumstances, the third trimester, post-viability, might cause difficulty.
To the extent that that point was made quite often by honourable senators and to the extent that it was a very strong ground for rejecting the particular language with which we were confronted by the House of Representatives, I regard it as a little unfortunate that that kind of reason is not articulated in the list before the Senate. I do not seek to move an amendment because I think that, by and large, the reasons before honourable senators probably reflect the major points that were made in the debate. Certainly they serve to communicate effectively the main substance of the objections of the ‘no’ voters.
– I was not joking when I interjected in relation to Standing Order 226 when this matter was raised. I suggested that the Senate ought to notify the House of Representatives of the vote, that the House of Representatives should then debate whether or not it agreed with the Senate ‘s action, and that those who were particularly interested in the case could refer to Hansard. I suggest to the Senate that, because difficulties have emerged, on future occasions it will be very difficult to put down reasons in any detail. It should be sufficient to say that the Senate, by 38 votes to 15, did not agree with the amendment, and that is the reason. Otherwise, the Senate could enter into a tortuous situation of reenacting in detail the debate which has already taken place. That could have occurred today, if honourable senators were of that mind. Fortunately, they were not.
I can see fairly clearly that on future occasions that could be the case, especially if there are those who are so minded to take up the matter again. I suggest to the Senate that if Standing Order 226 is to remain- I know how difficult it is to remove anything from the Standing Orders, let alone to change them- in future we go through the formalities of appointing a committee, and strongly recommend to it that it merely indicate the result of the debate in the Senate and limit its reasons to that and that alone.
– I wish to reply very briefly to what has been said. I think that nobody feels that the reasons which the Committee for Reasons presented are in any way comprehensive. The matters which Senator Evans and other honourable senators have raised are important and no doubt will be taken into account. They are now in Hansard. One expects that members of the House of Representatives will not stop at reading the reasons which are approved in this chamber, but will march forward resolutely and read Hansard. I do not agree with Senator Georges that we can expect the Hansard to be read thoroughly by all those who are interested. We hope that others in the House of Representatives, who perhaps have a lesser interest in the matter, also will read it. If, after reading it, they find some reasons which reasonably summarise the debate- including the debate today- they should have some concept of what the Senate has done.
I do not agree with Senator Georges that voting no indicates a reason. That is not a reason in itself. It is a very significant factor and the figures are most significant, I think, and no doubt will be noted by members of the House of Representatives. As a matter of courtesy we should give some proper reasons and try to summarise them, as we have endeavoured to do. We urge members of the House of Representatives to read the whole of the debate and to see the extent to which debate in this chamber covered a thoughtful range of views on both sides of the question before the Senate came to its conclusions. I hope that the Senate will adopt the reasons as shown.
– I rise for two reasons. Firstly, I congratulate the Committee for Reasons on the job it has done. As one would expect its report is certainly not lacking anything in forthrightness. I compliment the Committee on that. Secondly, to give strength to Senator Evans’ point, I would have liked to have seen reference to the objections certain senators on both sides of the chamber took regarding the absolutism of the definition contained in the House of Representatives amendment. I reiterate that I support the reasons and congratulate the Committee for the job it did.
-I do not oppose the statement which has been given to us. I support Senator Georges in respect to this matter. I agree that Standing Order 226 ought to be observed in the case of a complex Bill which is considered section by section. The reasons have to be specified. I am simply putting a point of view without trying to be contentious or to impede what has been proposed. Standing Order 226 deals with specific proposals to amend a Bill which must then go back to the House of Representatives. A report must be made.
In respect to general discussion which we had on this question, as has been put up by Senator Evans, we can argue that some other matters have been left out. I would have thought that because clauses 1 to 5 were not specifically considered it is not necessary in this debate to specify the reasons, but I have no objection to that being done. Senator Georges has a relevant point in respect to this discussion but it would not stand up in respect to complicated Bills which have to be considered bit by bit, clause by clause and on which advice from the Senate is given to the House of Representatives. I make those observations but do not object in any way to what has been done. Because of the numbers involved and the fact that the matter has been determined so overwhelmingly a brief statement might have been satisfactory.
– I support the proposition made by the Committee for Reasons because I have seen as the debate has unfolded today that if the Committee had been a little more precise we would have got ourselves into even more difficulty. We would have introduced a degree of controversy in the general summation of the reasons expressed. I think that the Committee has taken a consensus viewpoint. It has had a difficult brief. It has tried to summarise, in one short statement, what could be considered to be the overwhelming view of the Senate. There are all sorts of reasons why senators from the four sides of the chamber took particular views. It would be impossible to put, in any simplistic way, those points of view in the general way in which this document has been prepared.
Having regard to the emotions that have been aroused over this whole question of abortion and its relationship to human rights, those who have a particular view on the matter clearly will read Hansard and assail, one way or the other, what was said by particular senators in the debate. I think that it is much better to have a fairly simple statement sent to the House of Representatives. Then those who want to continue the controversy in the House of Representatives- heaven forbid- will have to read Senate Hansard with a view to establishing the totality of the position that was taken by the Senate. Members of the Australian community, either supporters or opposers of the amendments, have that task ahead of them. They must comprehend the various views that have been expressed.
I do not disagree with what Senator Evans and Senator Georges have said. If we were to embrace the viewpoint of a particular senator or a particular section of the Senate we would not be able to present a statement such as we have before us, which to any degree represents the overall view of the Senate. To that degree I commend the Committee. I think it has had a fairly unenviable task in trying to put into 40 or 50 lines something that represents the view of the Senate as a whole. I think that we do not often experience this situation. It is an experience which some of us have had for the first time. To that degree the report represents the total view in an imprecise way, but nevertheless in a way that conveys the view of the Senate to those in the House of Representatives who want to look at things in a simple way.
-I cannot disagree with the report by the Committee for Reasons, as such, because it is a report which was brought down by honourable senators who oppose the Simon motion. I do oppose it in so much as I disagree with each of the points mentioned, as I did during the course of the debate. I do not see one single argument which has been put up in the report that would stand up. If I had the opportunity- which I do not- to debate each of those points with the
Chairman of that Committee- or anyone else in this chamber- I reckon I could knock him for a loop. I want it to be known that I disagree with each one of those points that have been put forward as reasons for rejecting the Simon motion. I do not believe that the reasons stand up. I am bound by majority rule; I live in a democracy. I agree that the majority has rejected the Simon motion. Now the matter will go to the other place, but I want it to be clearly understood that I do not agree with any of the points that have been brought forward by this Committee. I had hoped that it would have had more sense and would not have brought the matter here at all.
Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania)-by leave- Senator Grimes ascribed to supporters of the Simon amendment and, in particular, to the mover of the Martyr amendment the motive of attempting to establish machinery by which the Human Rights Commission would be inundated with complaints.
– I did not.
-Senator Grimes said that he did not. Hansard will record that he did. As the mover of the Martyr amendment in this place, and as a supporter, finally, of the Simon amendment, I was motivated by a desire to ensure that, in dealing with the House of Representatives message relating to the Human Rights Commission Bill, the Senate should specifically include the right of those least able to stand up for their own rights, namely, the physically and mentally handicapped and the unborn.
Senator GRIMES (Tasmania)-by leaveContrary to what Senator Harradine said, I am sure that, when the Hansard record is read, it will show that I said that the aim of those who were supporting the motion was, in fact, to provide a platform to argue against abortion and, as a result of that, the Human Rights Commission would be inundated with complaints about abortion. I did not suggest that the honourable senators ‘s motive or anybody else’s motive was, in fact, to flood the Commission with complaints.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Maunsell)- I call the Acting Clerk.
The Acting Clerk- Government Business, Order of the Day No. 1- Bankruptcy Amendment Bill 1980, second reading, adjourned debate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I call Senator Gietzelt.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) This statement relates to the subject of talks held in Wellington between the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr Muldoon, on 20 and 2 1 March. The Prime Minister was accompanied on his visit to Wellington by the Minister for Special Trade Representations, Senator Scott, and a number of Australian officials. On the New Zealand side, in addition to Mr Muldoon, Mr Talboys, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Templeton, Minister for Customs, and a group of New Zealand officials participated in the talks. The meeting arose out of earlier discussions with Mr Muldoon at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka last August. In those earlier discussions, it was agreed that the respective officials would make a preliminary but wide-ranging study of prospects for establishing a closer economic relationship between Australia and New Zealand and that there should be a further prime ministerial meeting in the early part of this year to review the outcome of that study.
The discussions in Wellington last week ranged widely over the trans-Tasman economic relationship, but the principal matter considered was whether there was a basis for a new, closer trading relationship between the two countries. The existing New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement, commonly known as NAFTA, has promoted considerable growth in trans-Tasman trade over the last decade and a half, but it has become apparent over the last few years that further progress in stimulating trans-Tasman trade within the NAFTA arrangements is becoming increasingly difficult to attain. The alternatives, then, were to leave NAFTA as it is, which would have some unsatisfactory features for both sides, or to try to find a new approach. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka in 1979, we agreed on the latter course and officials began work aimed at identifying what kind of new approach might be to the mutual benefit of both countries.
Both Australia and New Zealand have been facing a difficult world economic environment and both governments accept that to establish a sound basis for economic growth in the years ahead their economies will have to be strengthened and their industries made more competitive on world markets. If the two countries can co-operate more closely in their trading relationship, with each concentrating more on what it can do best, it will help both countries to grow stronger and compete in wider markets. It was agreed in Wellington that any closer economic relationship must be outward-looking, helping to strengthen our trading relationships with third countries, particularly in the South East Asian and Pacific regions.
The preliminary work done since the Lusaka meeting indicated that, if appropriately structured, a new, closer trading relationship could assist those broad objectives. It emerged that a move towards a full customs union with Australia, with its broader industrial base, would be too great a step for New Zealand at this stage. On the other hand, a modified NAFTA agreement was not enough to ensure benefits for Australia. Australia is seeking arrangements involving a commitment to move towards duty free and import licensing free entry to the New
Zealand market. What emerged, therefore, was the outline of an approach for moving to a closer trading relationship structured to meet the concerns of both countries. In the talks last week in Wellington, it was agreed that any move towards liberalisation of trade across the Tasman must necessarily be gradual and progressive, to allow industries on both sides time to adjust and become more competitive. The objective would be the reduction and desirably the elimination of all barriers to trans-Tasman trade on all goods produced in either country, over a reasonable period.
Mr Muldoon and the Prime Minister agreed on broad principles for the further development and diversification of the economic relationship and on guidelines within which officials will now set to work to study the techniques, methods and detailed arrangements by which the two governments might proceed to implement progressive moves to a closer trading relationship. The study will have to address a number of complex matters, including the treatment of cases in which industry inputs are protected in one country but not in the other, the impact of agricultural support or stabilisation measures on trans-Tasman trading opportunities and the implications of the two countries’ export incentive arrangements.
The principles which were agreed in Wellington are set out in a communique issued by the Prime Minister and Mr Muldoon on 2 1 March and which I now table for the information of honourable senators. The guidelines for further study by officials are set out in an annex to that communique. I must emphasise that no commitment to any specific proposal has been entered into at this stage, nor will any decisions be taken until the studies have been completed and until there has been full consultation with interested parties in both countries, including in our case the State governments. The Prime Minister will shortly be writing to the Premiers and to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory to initiate consultations. Departments will also be contacting industry bodies and others in the private sector.
The details of any proposed new arrangements emerging from the studies and consultations will be made public before substantive decisions are taken. Because we are committed to full consultations, and because of the complexity of the details that remain to be worked out, it is not possible at this stage to set down a firm timetable leading up to further decisions by governments. Therefore no such timetable has been agreed with New Zealand at this stage. Meanwhile, the NAFTA agreement will continue in place and the existing Australian-New Zealand agreement on tariffs and tariff preferences, which was due for review in November of this year, will continue in effect for a further period of at least one year.
The next annual NAFTA ministerial meeting is expected to take place in mid-July of this year and will be held in Canberra. In addition to the regular annual review of NAFTA matters, this ministerial meeting will provide an opportunity to review progress in the studies and consultations set in train by the discussions in Wellington last week. At that stage it should be possible to make a better assessment of what remains to be done and what the time-scale of further steps might be. I shall keep honourable senators informed of further developments. I move:
That the Senate take note or the statement.
– The statement that has just been made by Senator Durack on behalf of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is indeed a curious one. It does not say very much. Yet the Prime Minister left Australia on a parliamentary sitting day, last Thursday and returned the following day, Friday. One would have expected that something far more substantial would have come from a meeting of two Prime Ministers. We in the Opposition hold that both the regional and international scene, in both political and trade terms, and the co-operation between Australia and New Zealand, are of the utmost importance. The backgrounds of the two countries, especially in economic terms, are very similar. Both countries had traditionally strong trading links with the United Kingdom, and Australia has, of course, been quite substantially affected, and New Zealand more so, by the United Kingdom’s entry into the European Economic Community.
There have been times when we have needed to compete actively with New Zealand, especially in the marketing of agricultural products, and there is nothing particularly unhealthy about that. But the Opposition would seek to minimise the degree of competition that has operated on so many occasions between Australia and New Zealand to the benefit, of course, of other agricultural exporting nations. There has been, and still is, a very free flow of people between the two countries, and the Opposition believes that that should continue. It is in the area of trade that the Prime Minister’s document becomes nebulous almost to the point of being meaningless. Firstly, it would have been expected that, if the two Prime Ministers had agreed to hold this meeting following discussions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government
Meeting at Lusaka, some seven months ago, our own Prime Minister would have treated the issue sufficiently seriously to arrange a series of meetings with representatives from those industries, both in the primary and secondary industries in this country, in order to have some idea of the ambit of the conversations that he could enter into with the New Zealand Prime Minister.
Both the Prime Minister’s staff and the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Senator Scott) must have been aware that there have been criticisms of the operation of the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement, although Australian industry remains committed to the Agreement in principle. Presumably, the Prime Minister would also have been aware that those associated with certain agricultural industries, especially dairying, vegetables and fruit, have been concerned about the level of New Zealand imports during the period of NAFTA, and presumably he would also be aware of the criticisms that exist in New Zealand itself in respect of the Agreement. There were no meetings entered into with these major industry groups prior to his departure for New Zealand.
The document refers to closer trade links, but it rules out moves towards a full customs union. Perhaps that is understandable because of New Zealand’s reluctance to do that. The document then goes on to state:
Australia is seeking arrangements involving a commitment to move towards duty free and import licensing free entry to the New Zealand market.
What it does not state is what the specific arrangements are and what specific reciprocal measures New Zealand is seeking. There is nothing new about these problems, of course, because the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade which reported on NAFTA in 1 973 referred to the problems, which are restated in this statement by the Prime Minister. This is what I find so difficult to understand. There appears to be virtually nothing new in what is in the statement. When two Prime Ministers meet to discuss matters concerning their respective governments, one would assume that there would be not only substantive discussions but also, by the time one gets to Prime Ministerial level, that something of a much more detailed nature would be forthcoming. I find a certain air of mysticism as to why this report is such a lame duck statement.
In the report of the Standing Committee in 1973 certain recommendations were made. That was seven years ago. For example, it said that New Zealand import licensing should be removed from the goods added to Schedule A, that the two governments introduce new initiatives in order to develop the potential of NAFTA and that the rules of origin should be equitable and conducive to the development of industries in Australia and New Zealand. These things were all known seven years ago. The annex attached to the statement sets out what appear to be guidelines as to the manner in which these new arrangements can be entered into by the two governments. It states:
In respect of tariffs applying to trans-Tasman trade, an initial examination would be based on a grouping of all products into three categories:
those which would move immediately to duty free treatment, for example, those with tariffs which were at 10 per cent (or equivalent) or less;
those for which duties would phase out over five years in equal annual steps after a one year grace period;
those on which a decision would be deferred because of special reasons. These could include but would not necessarily be limited to cases where an official industry inquiry was planned or in progress.
If honourable senators go back to that committee report of seven years ago they will find that it draws attention to very similar suggestions which applied under the agreement then. For example, at page 22 of the report it states:
When the Agreement came into force the great bulk of items included initially in Schedule A were already free of duty. The duties on other items in the Schedule are being phased out in accordance with a formula which required the immediate removal of duties in cases where they were 5 per cent ad valorem or less; elimination of duties in two years where duties were between 5 per cent and 10 per cent; and phased reduction of duties to free in two-year stages over a period of eight years where the duties exceeded 10 per cent. By consent, the duty phase-out may be reduced or eliminated over a shorter or longer period.
It seems an astonishing thing that, after a meeting of Prime Ministers, these new initiatives, which we in the Opposition would support because we feel they would create a greater and a freer flow of trade between our two countries, would appear to be no substantive movement forward from what was applying in the Agreement seven years ago. The differences appear only to be a matter of a few per cent, depending on what the particular tariff on a product is, and then an alteration, perhaps, in the period over which these changes can be made. They are not changes of substance; they are changes only of a peripheral nature.
I remain at a loss as to why there should be this non-event after a great deal of publicity about the visit by the Prime Minister to New Zealand. One would have thought that it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. I cannot say what the New Zealand Prime Minister would have done, but certainly in our own case the Prime Minister must have gone to New Zealand unaware of to what extent he could discuss these matters and the extent to which he could suggest changes in the Agreement with the New Zealand Government. I think that is the basic reason why we do not have in front of us a statement which really says anything. There is nothing much that the Minister could say. He was not in a position to say anything. I would imagine that the proper course, if there were some original and worthwhile suggestions coming forward for amendments to the Agreement, would have been for the Minister directly involved in this area, the Minister for Special Trade Representations, to go to New Zealand initially and sound out what the thoughts of the New Zealanders were. Perhaps at a later stage the Prime Ministers of the two countries could have met and come up with something substantive. I remain somewhat at a loss as to why this statement has come down in the form that it has. There was obviously not much more that could have been said, bearing in mind the manner in which the meeting took place.
I conclude my brief remarks by restating that the Opposition would support strongly any moves which would help us to cement the quite excellent trade relationship that has existed between the two countries over the years.
-I wish to make one or two comments concerning the statement by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). I do not doubt that in due course the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Senator Scott), who is the Minister in the Senate, will report to the Senate in detail, or perhaps initiate a full debate on the matter before us. But I think it is necessary to make one or two comments. One that comes particularly to mind is that perhaps the trip by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to New Zealand is one which is far more acceptable than other recent trips he has made overseas.
– It did not cost so much.
– It was a trip which related to domestic problems and domestic advantage. In the state in which this country finds itself at the moment, I think it is necessary for the Prime Minister to be concerned with matters close to home, and not to be carrying out lengthy and expensive trips lobbying across the world on behalf of the President of the United States, Mr Carter. One can make that comment with fairness. This trip is in such sharp contrast with the Prime Minister’s previous activities that it is worthy of the comments I make.
Senator Wriedt was puzzled about the decisions that have been reached as a result of a visit which all of us support. There is a need for those running the economies of these two countries to work fairly closely together. The statement is a very general statement. It seems to accept that Australia is the stronger negotiating partner. That may be so, if we compare the overall position of the economy, productivity, population, area, size and wealth in Australia with New Zealand. But the New Zealanders are capable of some aggressive policies which affect our rural industries. There needs to be the closest co-operation between the two nations so that our industries are not damaged in any way by large scale penetrations, and even the large scale dumping, of rural products. We should have the closest cultural and social exchange between the two countries. It is necessary that our economies be interrelated. Nevertheless I would say that there ought to be a mutual distrust, and that that distrust should be accepted by both sides, particularly in those areas which I have mentioned.
The generalisations are very much emphasised in the annexure to the statement. It states:
A study would be made of agricultural support/stabilisation measures to identify whether there were aspects of these measures which might have undue impact on trading opportunities between the two countries. An assessment would then be made to determine the extent of any significant impact and to examine the scope and need for neutralising the impact on trans-Tasman trade in these cases.
I think we ought to seek the opinions of the Tasmanians and other rural producers in the southern parts of Australia on that. The generalisations cover the sharp problems which exist and those problems which must be met so that no disadvantage burdens either side. (Quorum formed). It is very seldom that I call a quorum on myself. I found it necessary on this occasion because, as Senator Townley says, we are all paid the same and we all ought to pay the same attention to the House. It has finally got through to me that there is some justice in those comments.
The statement which we have before us at present, and it certainly must be one of interest to National Country Party members, is the Prime Ministerial statement to the Senate relating to the meeting between the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers. The statement concerns itself largely with rural matters, because trade between Australia and New Zealand is mainly in primary produce. I think only one member of the Country Party, Senator Collard from Queensland, was present in the chamber when the quorum was called. It is important that the Senate pay attention to a statement by the Prime Minister. I do not want to chide members on the Government side, but it is important that a statement of this sort should receive the attention of the Senate, especially now that the responsibility for the Special Trade Representations portfolio rests in the Senate. As I said previously, I do not doubt that Senator Scott will initiate a debate on this very important statement and I do not doubt that on that occasion members of the Government will pay much more attention to it than they have on this occasion. To facilitate that debate I seek leave to continue my remarks on this statement at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) by leave- I wish to have incorporated in Hansard a statement by the Minister for Defence, Mr Killen, relating to defence and to table a memorandum of understanding on logistic support signed between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America. I seek leave to have the statement incorporated in Hansard.
The statement read as follows-
The Government recently announced decisions relating to the level of the nation’s defence preparations. I wish today to talk more about the program, and our defence effort generally. Before doing so, however, I want to say a few words about the rationale for our policy and the measures we are undertaking.
The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan is a conspicuous and brutal attempt to destroy the independence of a nation. The Soviet’s action represents a matter of grave concern for the entire world. The issue is one which is far more serious than many people in this country are prepared to acknowledge. This attitude may be contrasted with the attitude held by many governments and commentators in a wide range of significant countries. The Government has sought to put the issue in proper perspective. It will continue so to do. Remote as we are, there are many who cannot see a connection between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Australia’s interests. They tend to regard the Government’s reaction as exaggerated, even unseemly.
The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan represents a crisis in international affairs. But it is more than this. It is also a challenge to those of us who live in this country to lift our eyes beyond our immediate region. The facts are that the Soviet Union has nearly 90,000 troops in Afghanistan at present. They are shooting and killing large numbers of Afghans- civilians as well as the armed guerillas fighting against them. Apart from the unhappy history of Eastern Europe, this is the first time since World War II that the Soviet Union has deployed formed military units beyond its national frontiers. For it to subjugate an independent country is an event of great significance for the international community. With the move into Afghanistan, the Soviet Union is placed to bring pressure against Iran and Pakistan and to work for access to the Indian Ocean. The move also significantly enhances the Soviet Union’s scope to develop pressure against the Gulf countries. These are areas from and through which flow the oil supplies vital to Western Europe and Japan, and of great importance to the United States and ourselves.
With the conquest of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union will command a strategic salient that will secure its opportunities in all these respects for decades ahead. It is not good enough to say that Australia is a long way away; that the Soviet Union’s military operations there pose no direct military contingency for Australia itself; that the Soviet Union might not at this time push beyond Afghanistan with its military forces. Let me remind the House that much closer to home, in Indo-China, the Soviet Union is active not only in support of the Vietnamese military operations inside the sovereign state of Kampuchea. The Soviet Union has also secured access to air and naval facilities in Vietnam, although we do not know as yet on what terms. It would be folly to believe that the events which have culminated in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan leave our longer term strategic prospects unaltered, and our responsibilities as a member of the community of free and independent nations, unchanged.
Events in Afghanistan cannot help but change the strategic perceptions of dozens of other nations. The kaleidoscopes which comprise each nation’s view of the world have been jolted: The pieces are now in new patterns in each eyepiece. We should be deluding ourselves if we believed that Pakistan should feel just as comfortable in March 1980 as it did in March 1978; that Japan should not feel heightened uneasiness about the security of its sources of energy; that China should not feel affected by Soviet actions in a bordering country; that the Iranian polity now emerging should feel secure with the Soviet Union killing Afghans across the border; that the spectacle of the Soviet Union seeking to extinguish by direct military force the remnants of Afghan independence should pass unremarked in so volatile a belt of nations as the Islamic world represents today. I mention but a few affected countries. They are not blind; they will not pretend that the world ‘s most powerful land army has not rolled forward into a territory abutting regions of crucial importance to the international community at large. Every major capital in the world feels itself affected. Every government in Asia feels itself affected.
The Prime Minister has already conveyed to the House the sombre mood in which the North Atlantic Nations are taking stock. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) found a similar situation on his recent tour of Asian capitals. My own overwhelming impression is the same, following my visit overseas earlier this month. Changed perceptions inevitably will reflect themselves in shifts in the international security policies of nations. We cannot predict the directions of change and the new fabric that will be woven, but we can be pretty sure of at least two things that will colour the pattern. Firstly, there will be recognition that super power relations are now characterised not only by tension but by mistrust. There is scope now for crises deeper and more frequent than we have hitherto experienced. Secondly, there will be few now who can confidently assert that, wherever favourable opportunities may occur for manipulation, subversion and interference, including the Asian and Pacific regions, the Soviet Union will not exploit them. Uncertainty and instability everywhere are stimulated by this.
We cannot have the same confidence in our long term strategic prospects that we had two years ago. I speak also of our responsibilities. Above all, Afghanistan has demonstrated the need for a new manifestation of political resolve on the part of independent nations everywhere, in every continent. All of us, together or separately, must give evidence tha* those who perceive a threat to their interests are prepared to back their resolve with military strength. The Prime Minister has already stressed the primacy of political cohesion and clear political purpose as an essential basis for confidence that the Soviet Union will not again achieve military victories by default of action on the part of independent nations.
When I spoke to the House a year ago about the broad perspectives of our defence policy I spoke of the need for us to recognise that it was only on, in and over the sea that hostile military power could be projected towards our country.
Our interest, therefore, is to do what we can to ensure that our maritime surrounds and approaches are not dominated by unfriendly, or potentially unfriendly, countries. We have a basic strategic interest that military relationships in our surrounding oceans are favourable to our interests. As a trading nation, we have a basic interest in the stability and security of international lines of communication across these oceans.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan raises serious implications for Australian interests. Australia cannot secure these objectives by itself. We must rely on our principal ally, the United States of America, to carry the main responsibility in this field. But we can, through our policies, and by practical measures in support of the United States, show our concern at Soviet aggression and our resolve to defend our interests and independence, and to raise the cost to the Soviet Union of interference with them. Among other things this means more activity in the Indian Ocean by Australian air and naval units. As the Prime Minister said, this activity will be essentially an independent, national effort but. we shall co-ordinate our operations with those of the United States. We have offered the United States the use of facilities in Australia that might support their own operations. Detailed arrangements with the United States regarding facilities have yet to be discussed, after the United States authorities have clarified their requirements.
In offering the use of facilities to the United States, the Government has sought to ensure that the United States is not lacking in the support of its Australian ally in the heavy burden which it bears in deterring war and nuclear attack, in the interests of the allies and the international community generally. I might add that in the event of hostilities, risks of nuclear attack arise for Australia as an ally of the United States, whether or not it may be hosting particular United States facilities. Recognising this, successive Australian governments have taken the view that our primary concern should be to support the effectiveness of the United States deterrent to war itself. In this, we honour as well our responsibilities as an ally. Along with maritime operations in support of our United States ally, Australia must do more for itself. We must raise the level of our national defence preparedness. We should look to improve our capacity to support our political policies with military capability. Our strategic prospects and our responsibilities so demand. I do not say that military capability is all that is required. However, the range of policies that the Government must employ will lack substance and conviction unless backed by serious intent and capacity in the area of defence.
A most important dimension in our national defence effort is co-operation with the friendly countries of our neighbouring regions. Our objective is to enlarge this co-operation. This activity, already long established, is separate from our co-operation with our United States ally. We believe that the resilience of independent regional countries is an important element in reducing Soviet opportunities for expansion of its” influence. As a regional country, we stand ready to support our friends as best we may by our defence policies. We believe that we can best contribute in our neighbouring regions. This is where we belong. We are well known there and have, as I have mentioned, long-standing ties and co-operative arrangements. Moreover, it is our neighbouring regions that constitute the area of primary defence concern to us.
To support the policies I have described, the Government has announced a program for defence which it estimates will involve spending some $ 17,600m over the next five years, in August 1 979 prices. To those obsessed with planning guidance provided some four years ago, may I say simply that $ 1 7,600m represents significantly more in real terms than the earlier guidance. It will allow defence expenditure to grow by an average of about 7 per cent a year in real terms, and is expected to take total defence expenditure in 1984-85 to about 3 per cent of gross domestic product. My Department has already been instructed to work on the assumption that defence expenditure in 1 980-8 1 will be . $3,063m in August 1979 prices; that is, a real increase of 5.5 per cent above the 1 979-80 level. The 1980-81 expenditure will be further increased, if necessary, to cover requirements for the purchase of the fourth FFG.
Before I turn to the main elements of the program, I want to comment briefly on some recent statements that the program contains ‘little that is new ‘. The inference which such responses invite us to draw is that any program for an increase in defence preparedness must necessarily contain something ‘new’; some surprises, perhaps. The most charitable thing that can be said about such shallow comment is that it reflects a continuing failure to comprehend how the defence program is always adjusting to changing circumstances of one sort or another- financial, technical, strategic, commercial. It glosses over the many changes which are reflected in the recently announced program, on which I will elaborate shortly. Furthermore, it overlooks the fact that defence programs are generally unlikely to contain important elements which have not previously been publicly anticipated. This, I am pleased to say, is because of the very considerable amount of information which is provided by my Department to this Parliament and to the public about defence activity and planning in Australia, and because of the extensive public discussion which quite properly occurs about our defences.
We do not judge it necessary at this time to make sweeping changes to the force structure planned for later in the decade. On the whole, there is not yet a case for the large additional emphasis upon equipment numbers that would commend measures such as off-the-shelf purchases, or other short cuts with attendant cost and other penalties in terms of suitability for the Australian environment. Thus the major, highcost capital items to be brought into service are well known, and have been for some time: Patrol frigates commencing next year; new tactical fighters, the final selection and ordering of which will occur within months; patrol boats which start to come into service this year; the amphibious heavy lift ship HMAS Tobruk, launched a few weeks ago.
We are aiming for decisions this year on the kinds of capabilities to be acquired for the period after HMAS Melbourne retires. Honourable members will be aware that designs for a new aircraft carrier are currently being evaluated. Closely associated with this matter is our consideration of the type of ship we should acquire to replace the present destroyer escorts from the end of this decade on. These equipments will, of course, account for a large part of the increase in capital items, which are planned to rise from 1 5 per cent of total defence expenditure in 1979-80 to over 25 per cent in 1984-85. Payments on some of them will extend to the end of the decade. These items will now be added to. Limitations on the numbers of some items that we had previously been prepared to accept will no longer be accepted.
I turn first to our destroyers. While in the United States for the ANZUS conference, I opened discussion with the United States Government on Australia’s wish to purchase a fourth guided missile frigate of the FFG-7 class, and to bring it into service as soon as possible. The Americans have given us every assistance in examining ways and means of achieving an early delivery. Senior officers of the Department have already held detailed discussions with the Americans on the purchase arrangements. They are not yet concluded, but I am pleased to report that they are proceeding most satisfactorily. I expect to be in a position before long to inform honourable members of the outcome.
I turn next to our tactical fighter force. The new decision is that the number of new fighters to which commitment will be made at the end of this year will be 75- not fewer. Furthermore, we will not be making a series of separate decisions, as was earlier envisaged. A team of senior defence personnel, led by a deputy secretary of my Department, has just returned from negotiations in the United States on an understanding with the United States Government. This will cover arrangements under which the further evaluation will proceed, how the fighter to be selected will be acquired, and how our requirements for industrial co-operation will be met.
Overseas visits by other defence and Royal Australian Air Force teams will follow in the near future, to acquire and analyse the further data needed to enable the Government to reach a final choice of the aircraft that will be the mainstay of Australia ‘s air defences beyond the year 2000. This work is proceeding to schedule. Much needed to be done; much more is still to be done. But it is being done to the timetable planned. There has been no delay, no procrastination, at any time during the process of evaluating and selecting the new tactical fighters, nor will there be any.
I mention our fleet of patrol craft. There will be 10 additional patrol boats ordered, to meet increased surveillance and patrol requirements. These boats would also assist our defence cooperation programs with other countries. In September 1979, I told Parliament that the Royal Australian Navy was withholding its acceptance of the lead vessel, HMAS Fremantle, pending negotiations with the shipbuilder over the problem of the vessel being heavier than specified. I now inform honourable members that HMAS Fremantle was provisionally accepted by the RAN on 5 March 1980 and was commissioned into naval service on 17 March 1980. Final acceptance will be subject to trials with propellers of a new design, more appropriate to the vessel ‘s larger weight. These should be completed within about six weeks.
HMAS Fremantle and the follow-on craft will be heavier than the design displacement, but the effect on operational capability will be almost negligible. To be specific: Fremantle’s maximum sprint’ speed has been lowered by about one knot. My naval advisers have assured me that the new craft meets the Navy’s requirements and will have a good range of speed- up to about 30 knots- and endurance, more than 3500 nautical miles at patrol speeds. The trials have demonstrated that the effects of the additional weight have been largely offset by the efficiency of the hull form. The range of Fremantle at maximum continuous speed has been reduced by about 100 nautical miles.
An extensive weight-reduction program was carried out by the builders, Brooke Marine Ltd. Although the first patrol craft will still be about 20 tonnes heavier than specified in the contract this is less than the weight excess earlier in prospect. As a result of an agreement recently concluded with Brooke Marine, the amount to be paid to the company for the lead craft will be reduced because of this departure from the design objectives. The first four of the fourteen follow-on craft being built by North Queensland Engineers and Agents Pty Ltd, of Cairns, will be slightly lighter than HMAS Fremantle. However, further design changes which could not be incorporated in these vessels are expected to save a further 10 tonnes in the weight of each of the remaining 10 patrol craft. The Commonwealth’s indemnity has been extended to cover the consequential effects of additional weight on the Australian built vessels.
Although HMAS Fremantle and the four follow-on craft will be heavier than the design displacement, they will be entirely suitable for the tasks envisaged for them. Furthermore, the craft will have the 10 tonne margin for future development of their capability that the RAN had specified when the contract was placed. This margin would allow the future fitting of new weapons should this be necessary.
HMAS Fremantle is expected to arrive in Australian waters in mid-August 1 980.
The acquisition of the 15 new patrol craft broke new contracting ground for Australia, with separate contracts for construction of the leadcraft overseas, followed by an Australian building program. We have learned a number of lessons from this project, as a result of which my Department will be examining closely the contracting and phasing of any future building programs for such projects. For the time being, these craft will be equipped with the Bofors gun. This gun is used by most North Atlantic Treaty Organisation navies, and it is satisfactory in our judgment for present Australian requirements. A new weapon for the fifteen patrol craft could cost in excess of $30m. At such a cost, the House will understand that we must look very closely at the priority of requirements.
I have so far mentioned developments in respect of our destroyers, tactical fighter aircraft and patrol vessels. There will be a second underway-replenishment vessel similar to the one recently ordered from Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd. The two will allow us for the first time to have afloat support for the RAN operating simultaneously in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. An aerial refuelling capability for our tactical fighter aircraft, which was one of the capabilities we judged last year could be left until later, now enters the program for decision in the five-year period. The same applies to additional capabilities for our air defence systems. We will seek, in particular, to improve the capability for early warning with radar systems tailored to our environment. Much hinges here on the results of the work on over-the-horizon radar, Project Jindalee, which is continuing with all possible speed.
Some items already in the program are now to be considered for decision earlier than was previously envisaged. One example is an additional hydrographic ship, brought forward now specifically with a view to adding to our capacity to give assistance to South- West Pacific countries. A research vessel, for experimental trials of equipment at sea, has been restored to the program, and brought forward for decision. The decision on medium trucks to be taken this year will now be made in respect of recommended larger numbers; among other things, to put more equipment, and more modern equipment, at the disposal of the enlarged army reserve.
The Government has also examined what else might be done ahead of the 1980-81 defence Budget. It has agreed that there are particular advantages in proceeding with the acquisition of two additional Sea King helicopters to replace recent losses, and the buying of further Mark 48 submarine-launched torpedoes. A close-in weapon system will now be fitted to the third patrol frigate, for training in defence against seaskimming missiles. I have spoken about some of the larger prime equipments, and some of the more significant additions to our capabilities. Those members of the House who have made a study of the first phase of expansion of the coreforce for that is what we are discussing- and who took evidence last year from my Department will recognise practical applications of ideas put before them. They will therefore recall that some other early measures were envisaged.
More specifically, they may recall it being put to them that provided the Government made decisions in response to the external indicators, the force existing when actual warning time began for a major threat would already be in the process of being shaped. It would, in the first place, be operating at a higher level of activity, making full operational use of some equipments which are now only relatively sparingly used in training and operation. The first expansions of force capability would be with intensified use of existing equipment and manpower. Decisions have been made in response to indicators. As I shall be describing later, first expansions of force capability, making much more use of equipments for training and operations, will be occurring.
A further basic proposition about early expansion was put forward last year to the relevant committee of this Parliament. In essence, it was this: A very significant distinction had to be drawn between the inventory of defence equipment that would be in service under the financial and strategic guidance then authorised, and the inventory that could be available if, in some new situation, it were considered to be a cost-effective use of defence resources to retain major equipments in service longer, or in reserve. Funds will now be applied to meet the necessary maintenance and manpower costs in selected areas of the existing inventory, where there is useful life longer than we felt justified in providing for this time last year. There is consequently a number of highly significant items in the inventory that must now re-enter calculations of just what Australia could put on the scales in any given year in the 1 980s.
The Prime Minister has already announced that HMAS Vampire will not now be paid off. It will be retained beyond 1 982 as a training ship and restored quickly to operational status should the situation warrant. A full modernisation of the DDGs is planned, instead of the more modest life-extension refit previously envisaged. An extensive modernisation of the older Orions, the P3Bs, is planned, instead of the more limited update previously provided for. The Fill weapons system will be updated for precision guided missiles.
I want to add something about vessels falling under the general heading ‘destroyers’. I have referred already to the discussions taking place about acquiring a fourth FFG from the United States and the retention in service of HMAS Vampire. A major consideration in our minds is that, at the end of this decade, the River class vessels will be approaching the end of their costeffective life within a core-force. Part of the thinking behind the proposed acquisition of the fourth FFG is that it will give us more insurance against temporary reductions in core-force destroyer numbers, over the period when the River class vessels are being phased out, and the follow-on vessels are coming into service.
As we have already made clear, these follow-on vessels are to be built in Australia. To that end, investment in the Williamstown Dockyard will now further increase. Work is already well advanced on the massive task of selecting a destroyer design, for decision this year if possible. Some 50 different types have been under consideration. The vessels will be central to our maritime strength well into the next century. Their construction will comprise one of the largest warship-building enterprises on which the nation has ever embarked. We want to plan it thoroughly and get it right, and do it in a way which provides opportunity for maximising the Australian content of the vessels.
In attempting to strike a balance between counsels of urgency and the objectives I have just mentioned, I have so far been inclined towards the latter. Given the intention in respect of the fourth FFG, I believe this to be the right emphasis for the time being. But I am confident that the Government would not shrink from measures requiring additional funds, or the setting aside of some of the more exacting objectives, should the nation’s defence necessitate the acquisition of follow-on destroyers more quickly. I have spoken so far about additional new equipments in our defence inventory; about equipments to be retained in the inventory and modernised; about the more extensive use of equipment; and about increases in the operational activity of selected equipments, in response to the immediate and the long-term strategic situation in our maritime environment.
These things cannot be isolated from the other elements of our defence. Of fundamental importance to our military operations and defence preparedness is an improved availability of resources for such things as spare parts, maintenance and equipment repair, flying hours, steaming time, ammunition holdings and other stores, and higher states of training of skilled manpower. In these respects also we aim to broaden the expansion base and reduce the leadtime for movement to a higher state of operational readiness, should that prove necessary. I cannot trace in detail all that is proposed as regards the stores that will now flow into the Force, to sustain the operations and training that will proceed, and to raise the level of defence preparedness in selected areas. I will confine myself to some examples.
Action is already well advanced to build up Navy stocks of furnace fuel oil and dieso in western and northern Australia. These stocks will support all classes of ship, including the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, that may be involved in increased activity in the Indian Ocean area. As well, selective enhancement of strategic fuel stocks in other locations is being arranged. Accelerated ordering of Army ammunition from Government factories is in hand. As well, early orders will be placed to enlarge the stocks of some basic metals, which will be used in the increased production of both weapons and ammunition. Inventory levels of selected stores, spares and repair pans of operational equipments are being increased to improve preparedness, and to raise the levels of operational effectiveness. An example is Sonobuoys which are used for underwater surveillance.
To support both the increased manpower and the higher levels of training, there will be a higher level of ordering for replacement vehicles, clothing, machinery and plant for workshops, and a range of other defence stores. Additional funds will be spent on the repair and overhaul of equipment. This expenditure will be used to improve turn-around in the repair of equipment. Australian industry will attract the major portion of this expenditure and thus will be contributing to an increase in the preparedness of the Defence Force. There will be upgrading of our industry capabilities in support of defence, including research and development. Direct investment on upgrading plant and machinery and facilities in the aircraft industry and munitions factories is being increased. Similar expenditure is provided for facilities required in industry to support defence activities. Workload in industry will be increased by orders resulting from a higher level of service activity and a general increase in orders of capital equipment.
The decision to order 75 aircraft for the tactical fighter force will enhance considerably our ability to create opportunities for Australian industry in this project. The introduction of new technologies to permit long term support of the aircraft is an essential part of our procurement strategy. I personally impressed this on potential suppliers during my recent overseas visit, and they have been very active in developing industry programs to meet our needs.
The development and production of the new basic trainer aircraft will also enhance the skills of the aircraft industry. Local construction of the additional underway-replenishment ship will help the Australian shipbuilding industry, which depends significantly on defence contracts. Notwithstanding all our endeavours, it would be foolish to pretend that total self-sufficiency is a practicable option. Reality obliges us to bear in mind the size of the Australian industrial base, and the ‘state-of-the-art’ defence technology which a relatively small Australian Defence Force must seek to maintain. The reality is that the Australian Defence Force is dependent on overseas sources for the supply of major weapon systems, and for a substantial part of the ongoing supply of many associated support items. The country that supplies by far the major portion of the defence equipment and support items which we necessarily have to procure from overseas is the United States.
At meetings of the ANZUS council in June 1978 and in June 1979, it was agreed that there should be more definitive understandings about the continued availability of the supply and support of defence equipment which we procure from the United States. I am delighted now to be able to inform the House that, as a consequence of the ensuing negotiations, a memorandum of understanding on logistic support has been signed between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America. This memorandum recognizes the special relationship between our two countries. Guaranteed supply of all that we might ever want is, of course, not a realistic object of policy, and not what we have been seeking. The memorandum does, however, provide an important body of principle for logistic support to the Australian Defence Force during peacetime, during periods of international tension or in circumstances of armed conflict.
Vital aspects are specifically addressed in the memorandum- such as the provision of additional weapons systems and equipments which may be required by the Australian Defence Force to meet expansion or to replace combat losses. There are also provisions for the locating of increased stocks in Australia and for expanding the defence production base. In addition, the memorandum contains reciprocal clauses regarding the provision of logistic support by Australia to the United States in given circumstances. Not all of the arrangements the memorandum embraces are new. Some of them flow from logistics agreements reached between the two countries in 1965. However, the memorandum does repesent a substantial development in defining practical logistic relationships and responsibilities between Australia and the United States. I take pleasure now in tabling this important document.
I should make mention of some major developments in respect of defence facilities, and especially those fronting the Indian Ocean. There will be development of HMAS Stirling at Cockburn Sound. In the later half of this year, ships will be base-ported at Stirling for periods of several months, and before the end of the program period, ships will be home-ported there. The United States Government is currently considering whether it will seek base or home porting facilities at Stirling for ships of the United States Navy. The Government has authorised the construction of a new armament depot at Stirling and the construction of additional housing at nearby Rockingham, to support the increased activities at Stirling. A new fuel installation is also planned for the short term. In the longer term, further facilities are planned to increase the support capabilities of Stirling.
Ground facilities are to be developed at Learmonth, to support increased deployments to and from this RAAF base. The new airfield planned for Derby is to take the full range of RAAF operational aircraft. It is to have taxiways, hardstanding fuel facilities, weapons replenishment areas, and accommodation for deployed personnel. The cost is estimated at $47m. Site investigations are proceeding now. The scope for a new amphibious training area in the west is being examined.
In eastern Australia, the New South Wales Government has agreed to Defence acquisition of the unused Maritime Services Board berths adjacent to Garden Island. This will provide extra berths for RAN ships and will permit the efficient modernisation of Garden Island in a manner which will also enhance the aesthetics of the area. The Government intends to acquire Australian National Line’s interest in the Mort Bay container terminal in Sydney, and to use the site as a base for the deployment and logistic resupply of elements of the Defence Force. As well as contributing significantly to our Defence Force deployment capability, the relocation of Army terminal regiment elements to Mort Bay will allow the Commonwealth to meet a commitment to New South Wales to transfer a further 6.5 hectares of Commonwealth land at Middle Head to the control of the State. The Mort Bay acquisition will also give the Commonwealth guaranteed shore access to the facilities at Cockatoo Island dockyard, where a major employment-generating project is in progress. I refer, of course, to the new underwayreplenishment ship for the Navy.
I should point out here that the Commonwealth recently transferred back to the people of New South Wales 305 hectares of prime Sydney Harbour foreshore land. Any suggestion, therefore, that the Commonwealth is now engaged in a land grab is a mathematical falsehood. These acquisitions are unquestionably in the national interest.
I would like now to say a few words about manpower. If you add to your new equipment inventory, retain existing equipments in service longer than planned, and step up your rate of use of equipment, obviously you need more manpower. You also step up your use of manpower already trained. Consequently you diminish the availability of skilled manpower to train fresh manpower, unless you take remedial measuresfor example, to improve retention rates. With the financial constraints prevailing, we have in the recent past accepted the existence of some chokepoints in these respects. We are now taking action to alleviate the problems, especially in respect of skills that take some time to train.
The Department has been given a target of 1,000 additional persons in each year of the program period for the permanent forces of the Navy, Army and Air Force. They will be additional to the 600 or so men required to bring the Townsville battalions to full strength. In recognition of its potentially vital role in the expansion which a major emergency could require, the Army Reserve is to be increased from 22,000 to 30,000. This will require a wide range of further stores and equipments, for which provision has been made. The intention is to ensure that if, in some future situation, we need to expand further, we could start from a substantially broader base.
Earlier this year, I announced that the Government had decided not to accept a recommendation by a previous inquiry that it should legislate to provide for the compulsory call-up of the Reserve in peace-time. Nevertheless, the Government makes it clear that in times of national emergency, elements of the Army Reserve most certainly would be deployed. In reaching its decision the Government took account of the current provisions of the Defence Act, which provide for call-up of the active Army Reserve in time of war or defence emergency. It took into account also that members of the Reserve can, if accepted, serve full time on a voluntary basis. Of particular importance is that the present legislation allows a stable relationship between the Reserve soldier and the employer. The Government believes that the Reserve will attract a satisfactory level of support without resort to compulsion. We want it widely known that the opportunity exists for every suitable young Australian to serve the country and contribute to its defence preparedness by Reserve service.
I have previously made an announcement about the Army re-organisation that has now been set in train following a thorough review. Time militates against my recapitulating that ground here, except to say that the process will be given more momentum by the decisions we have now taken. There is, however, one particular aspect to which I would like to allude brieflythe decision in respect of the battalions at Townsville. One particular objective is to increase the availability and readiness of Army elements for limited operational tasks that can arise at short notice. In order to achieve this capability, we have constituted the Third Task Force in Townsville as an operational deployment force. It will be an air-transportable Task Force, with logistic elements. Depending on the task and its location, it will be capable of quick deployment, building up by stages to a balanced battalion group, which would include from the outset both combat and logistic support as well as the First Infantry Battalion. The remainder of the Task Force would be capable of follow-up deployment as and when required.
Another point to note with respect to manpower is that there will be a requirement now for some easing of the numerical constraints on certain categories of civilian employees, and for increases in some areas. This would be mainly in government factories and dockyards, in key equipment projects and technical and specialist areas in the Department, and in direct support of the Defence Force in workshops, supply, training and base support units.
A word about service pay and conditions. In recent weeks some publicity has attended the issue, which has two aspects: First, the delays which have occurred in the past in passing on to members of the Services increases in pay and allowances which had been awarded themparticularly those increases arising from recommendations of the Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay. Second, the adequacy of existing rates of pay and allowances for attracting and retaining the right type of person in the armed forces. As regards to the first point, the passage of amendments to the Defence Act in November 1979 will substantially overcome the delays which have beset the administration of the Services pay and allowance system in the past. The Act now empowers the Minister for Defence to make determinations to provide the legal cover for approved changes, without relying on what have proved in the past to be timeconsuming processes associated with the amendment of regulations. Work has proceeded apace under the new arrangements, and by the end of March all but a small proportion of increased entitlements already awarded will have been paid. The new arrangements required some time to be put fully into operation; but they will ensure that changes will in future be put into effect much more quickly than was the case before November 1979.
As regards the second point, it is acknowledged that in each of the three Services the number of suitably qualified persons available to man certain musterings and categories is below our needs. This situation will be exacerbated by the enhanced defence effort to which I have already referred; and retention of highly trained manpower will assume greater importance. Priority is being given to an examination within the Department and the three Services of the specific areas of retention difficulty, as well as to the more general question of overall levels of remuneration. As necessary, the Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay will be asked to investigate promptly and make recommendations in these areas.
I turn now to the subject of defence cooperation with our neighbours, about which the Prime Minister spoke in his major statement last month. My Department has been instructed to provide in the program for funds to facilitate an expansion of such activities. I would expect these mostly to take the form of an increase in the already significant amount of project aid and training that Australia provides, and further combined exercises where these can be arranged.
As I reminded the House last year, the professional reputation of the Australian Services stands high in our region. The number of bids for places at our training institutions, and for the services of our instructors and technical experts, always exceeds our capacity to respond. We intend to increase that capacity. Action is already under way to determine what more we can do. A training team returned last week from consultations with the defence authorities of several South East Asian countries, about their priorities in respect of an increased Australian training effort. The Secretary to my Department will be visiting South East Asia in the near future, for consultations about a range of matters affecting defence interests that we have in common with our neighbours. As the House will be aware, the senior Service and civilian officers in the defence administration of Papua New Guinea recently visited Canberra. This was part of the program of regular consultations between our two countries. The Government attaches considerable importance to consultations of this kind, and will continue to foster them.
I want this House to be under no illusion that the efforts we are now setting in train will make heavy demands upon the time and skills and experience of our defence administration. This Government holds itself to have been well served by that administration in recent years, under difficult circumstances where, on Government direction, compromises had to be made with previous plans so as to serve the overall economic interests of the nation in the war on inflation. Fine judgments had constantly to be exercised, hard and often unpalatable advice offered on what could be done, and on the practical consequences of this or that course of action.
The Government offers the defence administration no relief: Indeed, its burdens will increase. I hold it to be important, however, that the defence administration not be required to divert even more of its energies and its best manpower than has been the case in the recent past to support sombody’s review of this, or investigation into that, or inquiry into something else. These activities are important. But they must be kept in proper proportion to the prime task, which is administering our defence effort. The Defence administration in Australia was subjected in the 1970s to the most profound reorganisation in its history. I want it to be entirely clear that on the whole the Government is satisfied with the results. It is seen by senior Service officers to be an improvement on what we have had in the past, although of course some further evolution is bound to be necessary. The new organisation needs full opportunity to settle- and to channel all the energies of its best people, all the time, into the large and exacting tasks ahead of it.
I do not mean to suggest by this either that there are not a number of areas of continuing concern, or that complacency should be allowed to develop. The quality of complacency is the last quality to be found in senior Service officers and their civilian colleagues. As to areas of concern, and their continuous review, I might remind the House of, for example: The Army reorganisation, about which I have already spoken; the two-tiered review, external and internal, which is currently being conducted in respect of the defence science and technology organisation; the continuing examination of procurement procedures; the review of the RAAF last year; the command and control review of the RAN, completed in 1978, which is now being followed by a supply and support review, due for completion later this year. I mention only these major matters in the continuing process of appraisal and re-appraisal that is taking place in the Department and the Services. This process of close scrutiny and change is a major continuing feature of our defence administration.
Finally, I should report to the House briefly on my recent visit abroad. My visit to the United States provided me with an opportunity to observe at first hand the change in mood thereand that country’s determination to meet its global responsibilities. Although the primary purpose of my visit to Washington was to attend a meeting of the ANZUS council in company with the Foreign Minister, I also had the benefit of discussions with senior authorities in the Pentagon. I have already referred to some of the matters discussed in Washington- the fourth FFG, the TFF and the memorandum of understanding on logistic support.
As the House is aware, the timing of the ANZUS meeting was advanced and the venue changed from Wellington to Washington, in view of the new international situation stemming from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I would emphasise the particular importance for Australia’s security that attaches to a meeting of the ANZUS partners in present circumstances. The Foreign Minister will be reporting on the close agreement of the Council members on the implications, not just in the short term but also over the longer haul, of the Soviet Union’s recent flagrant violation of the integrity of an independent sovereign state. It was particularly valuable at this stage for there to be an opportunity for exchanges of views at ministerial and high military levels. These exchanges will enable officials to go forward in the development of planning, and for governments to take decisions on the various options which military planners can provide.
I have described in more detail the principal elements of the expanded defence program announced by the Prime Minister on 1 9 February. But I have by no means encompassed all the detail of the changes and adjustments contained in that program. In essence, the program provides for the acquisition of some major items of equipment earlier than previously planned; for more comprehensive modernisation of improvement in the capabilities of some equipment already in our defence inventory; for development of our defence infrastructure; for an increase in our defence manpower; and for a higher level of operational activity.
These adjustments result from one simple fact: Future events are less predictable than was the case even six months ago. The balance of power has been fundamentally disturbed, by an aggressive and grasping nation, in an area which for centuries has been a pivot for relationships between the major powers. The strategic reverberations of this disturbance are world wide. Our defence effort must respond to the new uncertainties.
It has been and will remain the Government’s firm endeavour to secure peace throughout the world. We will use all of our resources towards that end. We will contribute to that end in whatever way we can. The Government is deeply convinced that human aspiration can best be fulfilled when peace exists. The Government holds strongly to the view that the great problems which face humanity in so many parts of the world can best be settled when men and women live in peace with one another. The goal of peace is a great one and to attain that goal must command the respect of all people of goodwill. Yet power remains a sanction in dealing with potential conflict. Where power exists and commands respect it will seldom if ever be used. That is a reality from which none of us can shrink. And, it is a reality from which this Government will not shrink.
– I present the following paper:
Defence-Ministerial Statement, 25 March 1980 and move:
That the Senate take note of the statement.
– The speech which has just been incorporated by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) on behalf of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) represents what may be termed a mass of contradictions and substantiates the view that this Government has failed seriously in its efforts to maintain the levels of defence expenditure projected in its White Paper. It also illustrates amply that defence expenditure has declined in real terms since the Fraser Government came to power. Probably what is more saddening for the Minister is that the commitments which he and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) gave have been broken. The vacillation of the Prime Minister has done nothing to ensure the logical but difficult growth of the capital and manpower requirements of an increasingly sophisticated Defence Force. We on this side of the House are disappointed that the Minister has been so long-winded about what are essentially extensions of existing programs. Only in a very few cases has he announced new measures which can honestly be said to arise from the Government’s perceived change in the strategic position.
Let us deal, firstly, with that strategic position. The Government- more especially the Prime Minister- has gone to extraordinary lengths to convince the electorate that the Russian intervention in Afghanistan is the greatest threat to world peace since the Second World War. He has attempted to convince the electorate that the independence of a small and, until recently, relatively uncared for country has been threatened and thus with it the rest of the Western world, or indeed the whole of world peace. We do not approve in any way of the Russian intervention in Afghanistan. We have said on many occasions that we oppose it. We stand by that as a consistent principle; we will always oppose the interference in the internal affairs of one nation by another. But we find that the Government’s attitude to Afghanistan’s independence is hypocritical.
The Government had received advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of National Assessments to the effect that substantial numbers of Soviet personnel had been in that country for some time, that there was a flow of refugees into Pakistan and into other neighbouring countries many months before Soviet forces moved into Afghanistan and that there had been serious abrogation of human rights under the previous Amin regime. But the Government did nothing to protest about the alignment of that Government with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, nor in earlier years did it take action to convince other Western nations to stop reducing aid to what was a very poor country which desperately needed that aid and which eventually became closer and closer to the USSR. The Minister recognises this fact when he talks about victories due to default by independent nations. I suspect that both the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) have private views which vary considerably from those of the Prime Minister. In this statement we get a very firm indication of that fact from the Minister for Defence when he says:
The goal of peace is a great one and to attain that goal one must command the respect of all people of goodwill.
Yet power remains a sanction in dealing with potential conflict. The Minister talks not about current but potential conflict, whereas the Prime Minister gives the very distinct impression that conflict is present, not potential; so it is the other way around. But the realities appear in other parts of the Minister’s long statement. He comes close to admitting what we all realised, namely, that in making offers to the United States of America- an ally which I presume members of the Parliament respect- there are very real military risks. This has been said on many occasions. The Minister also is now saying it. In a very significant paragraph of his statement he says:
I might add that in the event of hostilities, risks of nuclear attack arise for Australia as an ally of the United States, whether or not it may be hosting particular facilities.
I think that would be the first time that a Minister of a Liberal Government has conceded on record the risk of nuclear attack on Australia as a result of its alliance with the United States. The proposition is probably correct. But what the Minister glosses over is that the homeporting of vessels, especially Polaris nuclear equipped submarines, will greatly increase the risk of nuclear attack because such submarine bases would be prime targets and not peripheral ones. There is a vast degree of difference in those two concepts.
There also seems to be a great deal of vagueness about the question of United States access to Australian defence facilities. During his visit to the United States earlier this year the Prime Minister clearly gave the impression that the Australian Government was prepared to give the United States armed forces substantial access to Australian defence facilities. The terms of such access obviously had to be whittled down and they were in fact heavily qualified by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and also by the Minister for Defence. It is also clear that the Prime Minister has a perception of the extent of any ANZUS commitment different from that of the two Ministers. That matter has been dealt with at some length in this chamber; it was raised again last week. I am quite sure that the Government has not heard the end of that particular matter. Again the Prime Minister implied that there is little doubt that the ANZUS commitment would hold for actions carried out outside Australian territorial waters well into the Indian Ocean. That is something which does not appear in any shape or form orin any possible interpretation of the ANZUS agreement.
It appears that one of the purposes of the statement of the Minister for Defence is to bring the entire reaction to this Afghanistan issue back into some sort of sensible military perception to overcome the ill-advised statements that the Prime Minister has made over the past two months. The fact that the Office of National Assessments, an organisation established by this Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs, has been cautious about the Russion intentions and the strategic impact means that to establish any sort of credibility the Prime Minister should now be providing a great deal more accurate information about how the strategic situation has actually changed, not how he perceives it to have changed. In other words, we on this side of the chamber are seeking a responsible government view based on the advice of its advisers and not the highly coloured personal view of the Prime Minister.
The fact that many of the measures which are dealt with in this statement are upgradings of existing programs or slightly earlier reviews, possible expenditure decisions, and more intensive and expanded manpower recruitment activities which could not have substantial effects for at least three or four years shows that there is a vast discrepancy between the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the more reasoned reactions of two Government departments and two of his Ministers. It is not necessary to go into great detail about the equipment and manpower projections which have been referred to in the statement, but we should refer back to the White Paper of 1976. As most commentators have pointed out, time and again the Government failed to fulfil those commitments and capital reequipment programs as well as attracting more men into both the Service and civilian sections of the Defence Department lagged seriously behind. They have resulted in the Department’s facing serious problems which rather ironically surfaced when the Prime Minister visited the Australian submarine Orama in Hawaii.
It is ridiculous to talk about immediate reequipment of the forces when the pay scales are inadequate to attract sufficient men who will remain in the forces. The Minister openly admits what the Opposition has been saying for some time: Retention rates are poor and, in some areas, are lower then they were during the Labor Government’s period of office. As equipment becomes more and more sophisticated, one of the most dangerous elements in maintaining efficient defence preparedness is a high turnover of skilled technicians and officers. Without them, military equipment will lie idle and preparedness will become a myth. The Minister, in his statement, said:
I would like now to say a few words about manpower.
Manpower should have been one of the major parts of the speech because, with the exception of the upgrading of Cockburn Sound and a closer step to replacing the carrier Melbourne, most of the equipment programs are already in train and involve known technologies. The Minister admits that administrative foul-ups have given rise to much dissatisfaction amongst servicemen.
There should be strong admonition of the sections of the administration which have failed to ensure that ju.«y awarded pay increas not more swiftly implemented. The Minister also said:
It is acknowledged that in each of the three Services the number of suitably qualified persons available to man certain musterings and categories is below our needs. This situation will be exacerbated by the enhanced defence effort to which I have already referred; and the retention of highly trained manpower will assume greater importance.
All the Minister can say is that the Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay will be asked to investigate promptly and to make recommendations in those areas. We should ask two questions. Firstly, how many servicemen will be induced to stay in what the Prime Minister now described as a period of threat greater than any since World War II? Secondly, how many young men now in technical colleges and universities will be prepared to make the sacrifice to join the Services? Without a specific commitment to better pay and conditions in the armed Services, I suggest that very few will be prepared to do so. It is then that the Minister’s proposition about the level of the forces being sustained ‘without resort to compulsion’ comes into doubt.
The Government does not have a good record about avoiding compulsory call-ups. During the Vietnam war, it compelled young men to be balloted into service in a tragic, useless and counterproductive conflict. If the Prime Minister sees the Russian intervention in Afghanistan as such a serious event, questions must be raised about how the Government will match manpower with equipment expenditure if it does not substantially increase Defence Force pay levels. I suspect, on the basis of his past performance, that Mr Fraser would be quick to propose conscription. If he does not, it is his obligation or the obligation of the Minister for Defence to explain to the Parliament and the public how allegedly massive increases in defence expenditure can be justified if the manpower is unavailable to match it.
Having dealt with some of those manpower issues, I turn briefly to the equipment that is referred to in the statement. As the Minister admits, there is nothing really very new. The patrol frigates were an initiative taken by the Labor Government. It now seems that the costs will be very much higher than originally anticipated. There is no real prospect of an early decision about the helicopters which are to be used on those vessels. The Minister has yet to provide specific details about the likely terms and conditions of buying an in-service or an ontheslipway FFG- as it is termed- and the costs which would be associated with its conversion to suit Australian defence conditions. The decision about the carrier Mei. /4;he ^ ..nl) marginally closer and certainly would not be available if a serious regional conflict broke out to which Australia felt committed. The notion that another supply vessel will enable us to increase our naval commitments in the Pacific and Indian Oceans substantially suggests naivety on the part of the Government. Whilst it would be a useful supplement, it is the understanding of anyone who takes an interest in these matters that it would require regular refits and, until a new dockyard is available somewhere in the West to take large ships, it would be required to refit in the eastern States. To create the flexibility of action about which the Minister talks, two and possibly three such vessels would be required.
The problem of construction of and arming the Fremantle class patrol boats deserve greater investigation. While the Navy and the makers, Brooke Marine Ltd, are claiming substantial performance attributes in spite of the admitted 20 tonnes additional weight over the original contract weight, the question must be asked about what was happening to supervision during construction. The vessels are, of course, equipped with Bofors guns about which there has been a great deal of controversy. I certainly am in no position to comment on the technicality of that form of equipment.
The Minister mentioned the tactical fighter force replacement and said that a minimum of 75 aircraft will be purchased. This is certainly not a new statement. We have heard before several reliable reports that it is the Government’s intention to purchase 75 aircraft. Many other items would fall into the same category. They all serve to illustrate that the bunching of expenditure and manpower retraining commitments will not enable the forces to suddenly adjust to an allegedly changed strategic position. It will create some very serious logistic problems and the Government would be misleading the United States and other governments if it indicated that Australia would be capable of a sudden, very much enlarged, commitment of Australian forces.
The Minister for Defence is to be criticised for such an unnecessarily long statement on what is a very important subject. He is to be praised for bringing us closer to the reality in the defence requirements for the defence forces. We are not satisfied with the Government’s performance, of course, but we are at least pleased that it has at long last admitted that it has allowed the defence program to lag well behind the stated commitments. The Opposition is clearly committed to a strong Australian Defence Force supported by properly based secondary industries. It will be watching very closely to see whether on this occasion the Government matches its actions with its words. The precedent is that is will not do so.
– I rise to speak on this very lengthy statement which has been made in the Senate by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) on behalf of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). Basically I raised this matter in the Senate a couple of weeks ago when I addressed a question to the Leader of the Government (Senator Carrick) concerning the fact that in the earlier statement that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had made on Afghanistan the several closely typed pages of the printed copy dealing with defence did not mention one word about the problem of or consideration given to civil defence in Australia. I move now to raise the matter again. I have looked admittedly in a cursory way at the 35 pages of the printed statement which has been incorporated. I see, yet again, no mention in any substantial way of civil defence. I do not even think that the words ‘civil defence’ appear anywhere. I mention the very point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt), namely, the following remarkable comment which appears at page 7 of the statement presented by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), which I feel should not go unheeded:
That statement, coming from the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), is highly significant and, I think, novel. It is not something which has not been recognised in the past, but I think it is something which the Government has failed to understand fully. The statement goes on:
Recognising this, successive Australian governments have taken the view that our primary concern should be to support the effectiveness of the United States deterrent to war itself.
I feel that the matter has been taken even further. That statement in itself is a worthy objective. We in the Australian Democrats certainly have no wish to see any kind of war, particularly nuclear war, on this planet involving Australia or any other nation. Nevertheless, I suggest that, because of the omission of a program on civil defence for the civilian population as a response by the Government to the remarkable statement that ‘risks of nuclear attack arise for Australia as an ally of the United States’, this statement is indeed one of desperation. It asserts, by inference and by the very fact that we have no real civil defence initiative worth speaking about in this country, that from the moment Australia comes under nuclear threat the Government will drop its bundle. The Government washes its hands of any responsibility whatsoever to assist Australians. It washes its hands of any attempt to find a way in which, in the event of an attack of that kind, the lives of perhaps millions of people in this country might be saved. It is a fact that the lives of millions of people in this country could be saved if indeed an intelligent and reasonable approach were taken to this matter.
I and the Australian Democrats generally deplore the fact that the Government should take the view that it has such a horror of nuclear war that it will ignore the prospect that it may ever happen; that it will say that deterrence is the only answer, beyond that there is nothing. I believe that in that regard the Government is departing from its responsibilities in an almost criminal respect. I say that advisedly. Why do I say that? I say it because we Australians are singularly open to nuclear attack, as I think anybody who considers our strategy at all carefully must agree. We have a large coastline without any real defensive capacity. Certainly we have nothing which would prevent missiles reaching the country. I do not think that we could stop any missile, much less all of them from reaching our country. We could not stop even the missiles from a single nuclear submarine. It is a fact- it is on record- that now the missiles from a single submarine, with independently targetable warheads, could destroy every major city in this country. An attack could be launched without any possibility of our preventing it. Those warheads would reach all our major cities from the weapons of a single submarine.
We are remote from other parts of the world. We could be attacked by a country which wanted merely to teach our country or another a lesson. Unlike Europe, Africa and Asia, in that event we would not be in a situation in which any fall-out could arrive in any other part of the world. I think that we should think about that when we consider the risks to which we are subject. I am not debating the right or wrong, merely the implications, of our adopting a fairly aggressive policy of support for one of the world’s major zones. In regard to that, I only say that, it is notorious that in the playground when little boys play with big boys it is always the little boys who get hurt. That also is something we ought to think about.
– I hope you are putting Mr Fraser in the little boy category.
– I am putting Australia in the little boy category. Let us not be naive. We are not a country which is capable of playing in that defence league and in my opinion, we ought not to be doing so. The Australian Democrats have no anti-Americanism; far from it. We would like to see many models in that country emulated more in this country. But we believe that if Australians take this aggressive line of pushing ourselves forward into circumstances in which we cannot defend ourselves adequately we will prove an embarrassment to our American ally, nothing more. I think that it is on record in statements made by responsible people in various parts of the United States of America that that is the case. We should be very careful how far we go in that respect.
I do not really sympathise with the Government on the problem of civil defence. We have a much smaller civil defence problem than most countries. We have a very dispersed countryside. We know before a war starts that if we were to be attacked cities and communities in large areas of our country would remain intact. Thank God for that. As I said, we have major cities near the coast. But we do not have anything like the European situation in which a major nuclear attack probably would not leave any life existing anywhere. Then again, if a large, poor nation such as China can provide underground bomb shelters for its cities- indeed, China has provided that at least for Peking and Shanghai- surely we should be able to do something along those lines. I see no evidence of anything being done about that or even of anything being contemplated.
It is not good enough to shudder in horror at the thought of a nuclear war and to let it go at that. That is not what the Government is here for; that is not what the Senate is here for. It is a fact that injuries from and risk of nuclear attack are by no means even over a large city area. If a nuclear weapon of SS20 size were exploded over Melbourne or Sydney millions of people in peripheral areas, depending on wind direction and speed at the time, probably would have a very good chance of survival, but only if some kind of adequate civil defence organisation were operating. The other side of that coin is that, on known facts and expertise, very few of those people would survive if a good civil defence mechanism were not operating. So it is a statistical certainty that the number of people who would live or die as a result of an attack of that kind on us- God help us if there is such an attack; let us hope it never happens- would be varied immensely by what this Government and what this Senate is doing now.
I suggest that we are failing in our responsibility to the people of this country by hot going further into this matter. It would not be too difficult to establish outside the major cities facilities such as a transport controlling facility in which emergency transport arrangements, such as the co-ordination and use of trains and buses in outer areas, could be laid down. That would not even be very expensive to organise. But it would need to be at the ready at all times. Decontamination booths providing simple soap and water washing is really all that is required, according to the best known technology, to save the lives of many people, with the provision also of clean clothing for those people and the destruction of the contaminated clothing they are wearing at the time. Evacuation centres could be provided, containing reasonable quantities of food and water, stored where they would not be contaminated. That is all that would be required. That would spell the difference between life and death for people living in many regions of this country. I refer to the outer regions of Sydney, Melbourne and, indeed, any of the major cities.
I appeal to the Government at least to look at this matter again and not to come to us again with in-depth defence statements which omit to mention a single word about how the people of this country will be defended against the one threat which would be the most destructive of all to them, namely, a nuclear attack. I believe that the Government will be irresponsible if it does not do that. It is a fact that a nuclear attack on this country, which probably would come as part of a larger war, might well be an occurrence of fairly short duration. It might come in a single day. It might involve the launching of a limited number of weapons and after that nothing. So we in this country do have a chance of reviving our civilisation, of keeping our society together.
In that case, as well as in any other, a real attempt to preserve alive as many of our people as possible and to allow them to escape death by radiation sickness is worth while. I think it is worth dwelling on that point, unpleasant though it is, for a few minutes. It is the people on the margins of cities who receive minimum contamination who die the nastiest and most unpleasant deaths if they are not helped. I am speaking of men, women, old people and young children. In our present lack of a civil defence policy, we are condemning those people not only to death but also to one of the most unpleasant, drawn-out deaths that we could possibly wish on our worst enemies. I think that that is not good enough.
Let us do something. It would not necessarily involve large expenditure. Possibly the Government might feel that this is a matter worth considering in a parliamentary committee. Indeed, in the not too distant future, I may move a motion which urges the Government to do that if there is no evidence that the Government intends to take this matter seriously but intends merely to wring its hands and say: ‘If there is a nuclear attack on Australia we can do nothing’. I suggest also that the Government look at its performance in that regard in comparison with that of other countries. It will find that very few other countries have taken the risk of not providing at least some reasonable civil defence and atomic bomb shelter facilities for their people.
The Australian Democrats are pleased to see reference to a weight margin for HMAS Fremantle and the patrol boat class generally. The statement reads:
This margin would allow the future fitting of new weapons should this be necessary.
We are delighted to see this. As honourable senators would know we have said many times that the Fremantle class patrol boats should be fighting ships and that the world situation has changed since the time when it was felt that it was okay for them to be rather large luxurious yachts for use in patrolling against Vietnamese fishermen. These boats should now be converted to missiles such as the Exocet or Sea Sparrow. The Sea Sparrow is cheaper and it would be perfectly satisfactory for this type of vessel. In this regard a significant example has been given to us by the navies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In the navies of France, Italy, Norway, West Germany and Sweden no fewer than 103 missile equipped patrol boats are either on order, under construction or completed. West Germany has 34 of those patrol boats. The rationale, especially for middle powers such as Australia, for these relatively cheap easily manned boats in large numbers carrying missiles is a very good one. Most other countries in the world have accepted it.
It astounds me that in Australia we have decided that a major part of our naval building will not be equipped in any way to be fighting ships. What do we have a navy for? If we are to have a coastguard let us have it as a separate organisation. Let us equip it as a coastguard. I suggest that patrol boats and large attack vessels which are much cheaper than Fremantles are available could properly be used for that function. For the coastguard to take ships such as the Fremantles, which are costing us $ 10m or more each, is improper. It is worth mentioning again that this type of Brooke Marine craft is the ship which a number of countries I have mentioned in NATO have used for their missile patrol boats. There is no question of their weight, speed, capability or anything else making them unsuitable.
The Australian Democrats are delighted to see the Government has decided not to accept a recommendation by a previous inquiry that it should legislate to provide for the compulsory call-up of the Army Reserve in peacetime. We feel that any call-up, even of the Reserve, in peacetime is not necessary. If a threat comes it will probably be evidenced fairly far ahead. Alternatively, there will be no warning of war whatsoever. Those are the terrible dilemmas that now face the world. War would either come as the result of a slowly deteriorating situation which could be assessed in advance and on which some consultation could be made with the community on what was to be done, or it would come suddenly. In the second case civil defence is the only possible answer that this country has. It is worth stating- I do not think it has been stated before- that the Australian Democrats as a matter of policy are opposed to compulsory military training. In recent months the question of conscription has been canvassed. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has made statements that the world is facing the greatest threat of war since World War II. When that sort of statement is made and when people talk about khaki elections, war, biting the bullet and make other emotional statements it makes my blood run cold. I feel that is the harbinger to the imposition on society of something which it does not want and on which it is not consulted. Even in situations of grave national emergency, provided there were enough time, I think the Government would find it well worth while to consult the community on matters such as conscription. The Australian Democrats would certainly do this if we were in government. It is not just a matter of democracy. If a nation itself decides in total that it will take a certain serious measure, such as imposing conscription on a certain number of its people, it is much more likely to be a good fighting nation than it would be if such a measure were wished on it from above by a government.
– I do not rise to make any informed comment on the statement. (Quorum formed). The reason I am unable fully so to do is that I have been in possession of the document which the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) describes as most important for only a little over half an hour. I have read the document as far as page 23. I note on page 22 that the memorandum of understanding on logistic support has been signed between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America. I notice on page 23 that the Minister takes pleasure in tabling this important document. The document is very important to any informed debate on this matter. I have not had the opportunity of looking at the document which presumably the Minister has tabled. I understand that the Opposition had notice of this statement. I believe that it has had the document for two hours. I understand that Senator Mason has also had the document for two hours. It is unreasonable for the Government to expect a debate to ensue on a statement of this nature when it has not been in the hands of honourable senators for a sufficient time or when the Minister has not been required to read it to the Senate.
– You could have made sure that he did that. You could have refused him leave to incorporate it.
– I am not a nark like you, Senator McLaren. I would prefer to see the smooth operation of the Senate. I am raising the matter in a kindly fashion for the Minister to take on board. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m. (Quorum formed).
Debate resumed from 1 8 March, on motion by Senator Chaney:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Bankruptcy Amendment Bill 1980 aims to amend the Bankruptcy Act 1966. The amendments to the Act in relation to which the Government seeks the assent of the Senate are well overdue. The Opposition welcomes many of the changes that are proposed in the amending legislation, particularly those in respect of the rights of debtors and creditors. These changes go a long way towards bringing legal requirements into conformity with contemporary business practices. Bankruptcy is a very distasteful and unpleasant experience for most people, and those who have to suffer the difficulties and unpleasantness that surround a bankruptcy are entitled to every consideration in legislative form and in the processes that govern the operation of the Bankruptcy Act.
The Opposition has expressed its views on this matter fairly substantially in the House of Representatives but there are some comments that I would like to make in relation to the economic climate in which the Parliament is asked to support the changes that are proposed. In general, there is no question that in periods of economic downturn bankruptcy figures rise considerably. We have had an economic decline in recent times and it is in the context of that situation that honourable senators should view the amendments being discussed. The figures contained in the twelfth annual report on the operation of the Bankruptcy Act show a number of alarming trends. The number of business and nonbusiness bankruptcies for the year 1 978-79 was 3,857. That was the third consecutive year in which the number of bankruptcies had risen to record proportions. Between 1975-76 and 1978-79 the incidence of bankruptcy rose by 103 per cent. In other words, the number of bankruptcies in 1978-79 was actually 700 up on the previous year. So, in the last three financial years there has been a total of 9, 1 85 bankruptcies. This reflects the severity of the economic difficulties imposed on small businessmen and women and individuals.
– Would you mind quoting those statistics again, Senator?
-In 1978-79 there were 3,857 bankruptcies. That was the third consecutive year in which the number had risen. Between 1975-76 and 1978-79 the incidence of bankruptcy rose by 103 per cent. In 1 978-79 there was an increase of 700 over the previous year. When one recalls the debate that was taking place last week about the problems besetting the small business sector of our society, it is significant to note that no mention was made by Government senators about that problem of the growing incidence of bankruptcy which is affecting the small business sector. In recent years profound changes have taken place in the business practices in the private sector. I refer to the extension of credit facilities and the boom period that we went through in the 1950s and 1960s.
What have we seen? I suggest that there have been a number of very significant changes. In the postwar years the growth of consumer credit completely revolutionised the whole area of consumer sales. Credit has been readily and easily available, and that has been a vast change from previously existing practices. There has been a tremendous development of finance companies and the way in which they seek to make available credit facilities to businesssmen and to consumers as well. There has been a vast increase in business activity, and now many companies operate by using debt as a means of functioning rather than equity capital. In a previous debate when I spoke about small businesses I drew the Senate’s attention to the report of the Prices Justification Tribunal and the report on small businesses generally. It was shown that, for example, supermarkets, which actually engage in cash transactions, operate on the basis of a debt relationship with the wholesaler or manufacturer. We are living in a period when whole communities live and die by indebtedness. Everybody accepts debt as an inevitable part of their daily lives.
So, we have an entirely new set of circumstances. In these circumstances we find from time to time the problem of small businesses being able to handle properly the easy availability of credit, and we find ordinary citizens of our society unable to handle properly freely available credits. Why is it then that with the free availability of credit we have so many bankruptcy problems in the market place. The risks that go with the readily and easily available credit obviously pose difficulties for an ever-growing number of people. That comes about because of changes that are taking place in the market place. Market concentration- the takeovers which strengthen the power of the corporate or the big business sector- has the effect of inevitably squeezing out some of the smaller groups, perhaps the less viable groups, that in other circumstances might have been able to survive.
I was interested to receive today a copy of Consumer’s Voice, a publication of the Consumer’s Association of South Australia. That Association comprises a group of citizens which has a special relationship with the South Australian Government. I attended one of its functions last year, at which both the Government of the day in South Australia and the present Government were adequately represented. In this document the Association points out the problems which are facing the small business sector. It shows that in South Australia, according to figures from the Corporate Affairs Commission of that State, in the years 1976 to 1979, 6,341 small business closed their doors.
That figure could be repeated in all other States, although I concede that in South Australia and Tasmania the economies are probably more vulnerable than those in some other
States because of the particular way in which industries have developed and particularly because there are, for example in the State of Tasmania, problems relating to export trade and so on. I think that we can translate those figures to mean that around 30,000 small businesses close their doors per annum. Some of them are able to make arrangements for their voluntary liquidation. Others just close their doors and cut their losses. Others take the inexorable step, the unpleasant step, of going into bankruptcy and of using the laws that are provided by the States and the Commonwealth to relinquish control of their concerns.
We have to recognise that the Government has been remiss in not bringing forward this legislation earlier. The last time that the Bankruptcy Act was amended was, as I recall, in 1 968. Tremendous changes in the way that the economy operates have taken place since then. The survey shows that 26.5 per cent of business bankruptcies were caused by economic conditions affecting industry. I think that much of the problem that besets the small business sector, can be traced to the economic policies of the Fraser Government because present economic policies are weighted heavily in favour of the big business sector at the expense of the small business sector. In relation to the tone of the debate that took place last week, it was rather ludicrous to suggest that Mr Laidely- I have no reason to doubt his particular problem and the Government’s approach in respect to him- should be categorised as part of the small business sector. As I recall it, he indicated that he had assets in excess of $2m. If he has assets of that amount we would have to describe Mr Laidely as being more in the middle business sector than in the small business sector. The debate that took place last week really ignored the basic plight that faces so many of the small businesses in our country today.
One of the most serious concerns that we have is that despite the reports that are presented to this Government from time to time and despite the submissions that are made by small businessmen ‘s associations in the various States to appropriate government agencies, no action flows from them. No steps are taken to protect small businesses from the takeover concepts, the growth of the big business sector and the concentration that inevitably flows from that process. This Government does very little to try to bring into legislative form the sort of processes that would enable a viable small business to survive.
One of the most serious concerns that I have, as the Opposition spokesman on consumer affairs, is the rapidly growing problem of excessive credit. The report which I referred to earlier presents the startling fact that 54.4 per centmore than half- of all non-business bankruptcies in 1978-79 were related to the excessive use of credit facilities. So the growing pervasiveness of credit facilities, the way in which credit organisations operate, the hard sell tactics used to induce people to borrow more than they can afford, the high interest rates that are chargedparticularly by some finance companies- are all contributing to record levels of insolvency and subsequent personal hardship. If there is any genuine concern for the plight that these people find themselves in urgent action needs to be taken by both the Federal and State governments to place controls on credit creation. I want to make a specific criticism about the Bill which is before us. Before I get on to that point, perhaps I should move the amendment which the Opposition desires the Senate to consider. I move:
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– Part X of the Act, which is a very technical part, is patchwork at its worst. It contains only a cosmetic approach to the various problems that express themselves from time to time. With the growing incidence of bankruptcy cases, in which the rights of creditors have to be protected, the purpose of this Bill should be to have the bankrupt’s financial relationships examined in circumstances which allow the public to be informed and the creditors to understand all that is taking place. Yet there are times when creditors are kept unaware of all the circumstances that have resulted in a petition for bankruptcy. It is true that the Government has taken on board one of the important recommendations from our Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. The Commissioner of Taxation is no longer in the priority area that he has been in hitherto. The Government has largely accepted a change in this area which gives creditors- in many cases creditors from the manufacturing sector of small business- an opportunity to receive their fair share of the distribution that takes place as a result of bankruptcy. The law should do much more to encourage voluntary schemes for those who find themselves petitioning for bankruptcy because of the changing power in the market place. The evidence is that an increasing number of people should be encouraged to take voluntary steps towards solving their financial difficulties.
What are the technical improvements that we believe ought to be in the forefront of this legislation? As a Commonwealth government we ought to be following some of the examples set by the New South Wales Government regarding small business sector activity. We should provide better advice and better guidance to small business proprietors, to those who want to step out into business activity. We should point out to them the difficulties that they face in a contracting market situation. There is no measure in this legislation to provide persons with that sort of advice. Surely the Commonwealth Government has a role to play here. If this legislation has any relevance at all it should be in the area of providing better education. We should be acting on the submissions that the small business sector has made to the Prices Justification Tribunal and to a consultative committee of the Trade Practices Commission. We should seek to control the ready use of credit which often lands a proprietor in a position which mitigates against the success of his enterprise. We should be taking stepsmore than this Government is prepared to take- to influence the investment decisions of some of the business sectors. Of course, the Bill remains deficient in these matters. The Bill is deficient in introducing measures to enable and to encourage regular payment of debts as an alternative to bankruptcy. Government regulation ought to have as its principal aim the assistance of those people who find that their enthusiasm, initiative and innovation have to be tempered by the cold hard facts of how the market is operating.
It is desirable the the law be designed to encourage the use of such arrangements that would, in fact, prevent the company, the person, or the group going into bankruptcy. We should remember that bankruptcy is always the solution of last resort. It is a remedial measure when all else has failed. Therefore, Government legislation should be designed to avoid that final act which is so often detrimental to the small business person as well as to the creditor and to the area of competition in the market place. The best policy to adopt is prevention rather than cure. The Opposition believes that the Federal
Government can take steps to minimise considerably the incidence of bankruptcy. Some of those steps which I have enumerated, such as business education, would enable small businessmen to find their way through the intricacies of the financial world. The Government, in conjunction with the States, could also protect consumers and businessmen from credit companies which are over-eager to make credit so easily available. But, come the day when difficulties are faced, the sympathy that was present originally very quickly evaporates.
A less restrictive monetary policy should be pursued by the Federal Government as well as a lowering of interest rates. Surely it must be conceded by honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber that higher interest rates- that is the portent of today; that is the trend- obviously will create a great deal of extra difficulty for the small businessman or businesswoman. Of course, this Government is following a restrictive monetary policy. The Government should take measures to assist small businesses, remembering that small businesses provide the bulk of employment in Australia. In fact, the small business sector, even though it has a shrinking base, nevertheless represents a very important and vital part of the operation of the private sector.
The legislation seeks to set up a new statutory authority. I wonder whether Senator Rae, in view of his often repeated comments, is aware of that fact. The Opposition has no objection to that statutory authority but its setting up is just another indication of the need for regulation. I think the Treasurer (Mr Howard) was reported in the last day or two when addressing a seminar as saying that the Government has set its face against big government. It is amazing how the Government never says anything about the development of the big business sector. It is always against big government but not against big business. Yet big business in its operation and process inevitably must, unless there is Government regulation, cause difficulties and bankruptcies for the small businessman. The propaganda that is waged against big government is never waged by this Government against big business. Yet we have only to read the financial columns of the newspapers day by day to appreciate the trend that is taking place. In the food industry every week another major take-over or proposed takeover proceeds. In the retail section, we have seen the take-over of more than half of the major retail outlets that used to exist in Sydney at the end of World War II, In the last six months, we have seen Grace Brothers Pty Ltd take over J. B.
Youngs Ltd, one of the big retail outlets in Canberra and in the the country areas of New South Wales.
So, the trend is there. Of course, as the big business sector seeks to increase its market share it can do so only at the expense of the small businessman. Contrary to the propagandists of the Liberal Party and the conservative parties in this country, the Labor Party and the Labor movement are the real protectors of the small business sector. It is this Government that, in fact, is the force that fails to take action to protect the interests of the small business sector. In fact, by its refusal to act on the processes that are taking place in the Australian economy, it inevitably causes the demise of more and more of the small businesses in our community. Unfortunately, that trend is reflected in the statistics and in the problems that face the small business groupings in our country. It is no wonder that in that process we see the shrinking number of persons in the retail area and in small businesses and the ever increasing number of bankruptcies taking place.
The Opposition welcomes the legislation in its limited sense. It is one step in a long march to get some order in an ever growing area of chaos, confusion and concentration of corporate power which is synonymous with the way in which our economy is developing and has developed in recent years. To the extent that this legislation takes some steps forward, the Opposition does not oppose it, even though it expresses in the amendment which I have moved concern at the rapid increase of bankruptcies, concern that the reforms do not go far enough, particularly as they affect the rights of people, and concern that the matter of insolvency and bankruptcy law should be referred in the form of a brief to the Australian Law Reform Commission. We urge the Senate to give serious consideration to our amendment.
– I wish to speak in the debate on the Bankruptcy Amendment Bill firstly to address the Senate in relation to a few of the points raised by Senator Gietzelt in his turgid- I will not say enlightened- remarks in regard to the Bill. In fact, it seems amazing that the Australian Labor Party, which claims apparently now to be interested in the small businessman so contributed to his downfall in the period in which it was in government. In fact, the very point of which he made so much in relation to the problem of so much of small business being financed from debt these days, as distinct from equity, is a direct result of that Government’s activities when it squeezed profits between the jaws of the Prices Justification Tribunal and the trade union movement so hard with wage pressures that it forced business almost out of existence.
– This is not a Liberal rally, Senator.
– I just wanted to correct the record, Senator Tate, in respect of these many inaccuracies which emanated from Senator Gietzelt. It is interesting that in an election year apparently Senator Gietzelt, as Opposition spokesman for consumer affairs, has suddenly found a new interest in small business. It is a pity he did not take such an interest in earlier times, especially when his Party was in government.
– There are more bankruptcies now, Senator.
-Let us come to that point. Indeed, it is very interesting that Senator Gietzelt asserts that there are more bankruptcies in the small business area now than there have been in the past. He has not given a reference point but I presume he is talking about previous years when his party was in government.
– Be honest. He did give you reference points.
– I think I correctly got his drift. I am not misrepresenting him, Senator.
– You are not portraying that.
– I think that is what he said. Let us just observe those comments to see whether he is accurate. It is clear that there are not a number of areas in which we can identify the small business interest particularly, but it is pretty clear that the greatest movement in bankruptcies is not so much in the area of small businesses but in the private area. It is in those areas where credit has been so readily available. If one traces the figures and the increases year by year and the decreases in some years, it is pretty clear that whenever there has been a very high level of liquidity in the economy, so there has been a fall in the number of bankruptcies. In times of liquidity shortage, so there have been increases.
Who is to say that in 1974-75 there was not a very significant increase in bankruptcies which derived from the small business area and which was directly related to credit policies of that time, which we know were conducted by the Whitlam Government. Since then it is a question of there being increasing availability of facilities such as Bankcard, increased usage of credit facilities, higher interest rates, which Senator Gietzelt rightly referred to, which have had an effect upon the ability of people to meet their responsibilities under contracts. In particular, many of the bankruptcies which have occurred in the period since 1975 have resulted directly from the fact that the previous Government was not able to control inflation capably. That fact and a liquidity shortage arising from the fact that assets are no longer realisable at the values for which they were purchased have produced severe problems in areas of speculative activity. I am referring particularly to the real estate area. That, I think, is identifiable with a particular boom and bust situation that cannot be read as being a direct result of any particular set of economic circumstances.
I believe that we need to do quite a deal of analysis in relation to the sort of argument that Senator Gietzelt was putting before we can assume the points he is making now. I make the point that debt is certainly an increasing part of small business finance activity, and that is well recognised. It stems directly from the policies of the Whitlam Labor Government when in power, when it so squeezed profits as to restrict the ability of small business to accumulate assets and capital, thereby reducing the equity of businesses owned by proprietors. That, I believe, directly results from those policies which remain the policies of the Australian Labor Party. In fact, we hear time and time again words emanating from members on the other side that they do not like profits. The word ‘profits’ is dirty as far as they are concerned. They rightly make the point that, in terms of their own philosophy, business is increasingly making more and more profit at the expense of the people. Profits are the source of equity capital, savings and investment, which generate more and more business activity.
If the Opposition were serious about wanting to increase the ability of small business to cope with liquidity situations, liquidity shortages and prices of that type, it would be arguing in favour of higher profits for small business. But there is no mention of that, and we are not likely to hear anything from the Opposition on that point because it simply does not believe in it.
– You had better explain that again for Senator Gietzelt. He does not understand it.
-Senator Gietzelt, I think we can now assume, h lost because the argument simply will not get through to him. Let me again make one other point concerning Senator
Gietzelt ‘s argument. Firstly, he sought to highlight the problems of the small business sector in regard to bankruptcy. He stated clearly that 26% per cent, I think, of total bankruptcies related to economic conditions. Of course, he neglected to mention that roughly the same percentage of bankruptcies related to the inability of businesses to control their own affairs- their inefficiencywhich was described as a reason for their failure. I am quoting figures from the report of 1978-79.
– That is why we advocate that there ought to be some education and guidance.
– I think that Senator Gietzelt is pointing out that the Government should take greater interest in this area. It is interesting to note that the Fraser Government has taken greater interest in instructing small business than any other government before it. This Government set up, through the States and with the co-operation of the States, a great number of facilities for instructing, assisting and providing literature, booklets and information for small business. That is far more than was ever considered by previous governments.
The other area of concern- this relates directly to ALP policies when in government- is that approximately 24 bankruptcies in 1978-79 were because of the lack of sufficient working capital. Again, that relates specifically to the point I was making earlier, that people can accumulate capital in business only by virtue of making profit. If the Labor Party assumes that it can be done otherwise, that in fact debt can be serviced otherwise than by making profits, it is no wonder that it was tossed out of government in the way in which it was in 1975. The other issue is in the area of non-business bankrupts. Those are identified in terms of the report which Senator Gietzelt referred to, which indicates that 54’/i per cent of bankruptcies in that sector were directly related to the use or overuse of credit facilities that were far too easily available. That is, by the way, roughly 40 per cent of the total number of bankruptcies that were incurred in that financial year, as I understand it. I will address myself to one or two other matters within the Bill. I will discuss the philosophy behind the present Bill. It does seem to me that it is directing itself to a fundamental change of the law as we have understood it to apply in the past. Previously, the concept of bankruptcy was one in which people were alleviated from their responsibilities in regard to debts over and above their assets, by virtue of having their estates sequestrated and transferred into the hands of a trustee by which the estate can be realised and the proceeds distributed to creditors in an equitable proportion. Under today’s arrangements in this Bill, certainly that principle maintains but there are differences that are starting to emerge. I believe that these are good directions in terms of philosophical change in this area. There is the thrust now towards the release of debtors from a lengthy term of stigma, being known as an undischarged bankrupt for a period of five years to a reduced period now of three years.
That, I believe, is a step forward. I am rather pleased that the Government adopted an amendment changing that from two years to three years, as I think that there is a substantial argument that can be made out in regard to the fact that two years is too short a period in particular circumstances. I will return to that again shortly. We should bear in mind the days of the debtors prison of 100 years ago when people were actually transported to this country to commence colonisation, and much to the chagrin of your people, Mr Acting Deputy President, in the first place, as a result of their having been gaoled in debtors prison. The fact is that as things have developed, we now accept bankruptcy as a period during which people who have become bankrupt for reasons beyond their personal control should have the opportunity of being released from their commitments if they can demonstrate that they have a proper will to do the best by society in seeking to meet their commitments.
– Where would the Charles Dickenses come from in this era?
– I believe I have just covered that ground very briefly and I do not intend to go any further. However, I should like to emphasise one particular aspect. I believe there is a considerable worry in some small businesses which provide credit to their customers for the purchase of their goods and services that the reduction of the bankruptcy discharge period from 5 years to three years will lead to greater promiscuity, if that is the right word, on the part of debtors in obtaining credit beyond their capabilities for meeting their commitments. I believe that this is really a matter of judgment. It is not something that one can define clearly. It is something that perhaps we have to feel our way with.
I am particularly pleased that the Government has seen fit to make the period of permanent bankruptcy three years rather than keep to its original idea of two years. That seems to me to be nearer the original idea of five years, and has a direct relationship with the earlier comments of the Australian Law Reform Commission in regard to its rather vague suggestion of law reform in this area so as to provide for a three year period of debt repayment rather than a period of bankruptcy and sequestration. It seems to me that this Bill is a very important step in meeting that directional change and in fact is, I think, a major step forward in the philosophic argument. It is really a question of judgment, as to whether one, two, three or four years or any other period will provide a proper balance between discouraging debtors who would seek to take advantage of the system and rehabilitating those who find themselves in a bankrupt or insolvent situation through no particular cause or fault of their own.
I would briefly like to touch on the general thrust of the Bill with regard to administration. I strongly support the proposals in the Bill which clearly aim at a more efficient management of the Bankruptcy Act. As we already know, some cases- they are a minority- tend to fall into the hopeless class and come within the administration of the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy. A number of bankruptcies, of course, are managed by professionals outside that particular area. However, considerable cost to the taxpayer is involved in the administration by the Official Receiver. In fact the procedures that have been outlined in this Bill, particularly in relation to the establishment of the Common Investment Fund, which I understand the Opposition supports, and the provision that interest on investments of the Common Fund will be devoted to administrative costs indicate that there will be considerable savings in this area.
Having said that, I need to mention one further point. Clearly that is a move which potentially takes away from creditors a portion of their likely dividend from a bankrupt estate. In the normal course of events, the amount of interest that would be earned upon those investments of the Official Receiver would be devoted to individual estates and find its way into the hands of creditors. In that sense the creditors will be subsidising the administration of the bankruptcy officials. That is something with which some people might find complaint. I have had a number of representations on that aspect of the Bill from people who are directly involved in the credit protection industry. However, it seems to me bearing in mind the dividends that will be received by creditors in virtually hopeless bankruptcies, that on the whole, this is perhaps a better compromise in the situation in which the Government finds itself involved. Consequently, I am very happy to support that aspect of the Bill.
There are a number of other matters in the Bill which are of some moment but which I will not go into now. I would just like again to draw the attention of the Senate to what I believe to be a very significant philosophical change in the Bill. It will now be a question of judgment whether a debtor will adopt a more responsible approach and not commit himself to the extent he has previously. Easing of the automatic discharge period from bankruptcy may lead to the exploitation of the system by some individuals. For example, in recent times Dr Peter Clyne has seen the advantages of having the Commissioner of Taxation sue him for no assets, declaring himself bankrupt and getting away with huge tax avoidance credits in the name of associated entities, thereby defeating not only the taxation law but also the bankruptcy law. This is a problem which I think we will need to watch in the future in this change of direction in our philosophy.
On the whole I commend the Government for the changes that it seeks to make, especially in relation to those cases in which I believe there is no particular fault to be cast upon debtors. Consequently I support the Bill.
-I commend those who are responsible for the framing of this legislation, which is complex and comprehensive, though not as comprehensive as the Opposition may have desired. Nevertheless it represents a mammoth task performed, I would say, very well and very expertly within the political parameters set by the Government. I particularly wish to commend the Inspector-General in Bankruptcy, Mr Sweeney, for his 1 978-79 report. I found it most interesting in its description of the nature and scope of bankruptcy in Australia and in particular its elucidation of the causes of bankruptcy, which elucidation helps to destroy many of the myths which are associated with this social phenomenon in Australia. It is a very well written and most interesting report. As was commented on by both Senator Gietzelt and Senator Messner, the major causes of business bankruptcy in the years 1978-79- some 25 per cent, as is shown in Schedule 1 0- were as follows:
Economic conditions affecting industry including competition and price cutting, credit restrictions, fall in prices, increases in charges and other overhead expenses, high cost of repairs and maintenance of equipment and changes in the character of business location ( by-pass roads).
The second major causes of business bankruptcy were given as follows:
Lack of business ability, acumen, training or experience resulting in such matters as under-quoting, mistakes in estimating, lack of supervision and failure to assess potential of business or to detect misrepresentations.
The third major cause was:
Lack of sufficient initial working capital.
So it goes on. It is revealed that well over 50 per cent of non-business bankruptcies were due to excessive use of credit facilities, including pressure selling, losses on repossessions and high interest payments. I do not intend to go over the ground already covered so ably by Senator Gietzelt in his further commentary on the nature, scope and causes of bankruptcy within the Australian social system. But I commend those who have been responsible for drawing up the tables which bring this matter so well to the Parliament’s attention.
Having said that, I should like to confine my remarks to only two or three matters which arise in the Bill. The first matter I wish to deal with is the Common Investment Fund. This Fund is being established so that all trust moneys can be held by the Official Trustee on account of bankrupt estates in the Common Investment Fund. The relevant clause of the Bill, which is clause 16, 1 believe, makes it clear that any capital appreciation in the value of investments made from moneys in the Common Investment Fund and any interest derived from the investment of moneys will not increase the moneys available to creditors. But in fact, as I read the Bill, the moneys will not go directly to offset the cost of administration of bankruptcy, as Senator Missen seemed to think, but will go straight into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. In that sense they are not at all earmarked, set aside or to be set off against the costs of the Commonwealth’s administration of the bankruptcy jurisdiction through the Official Receivers’ office. When one reads the second reading speech delivered by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) concerning the Common Investment Fund one sees that it states:
I do not believe that that is the case, given the current factual situation relating to the distribution of moneys available to the Official Trustee. As I have pointed out on several occasions in the Senate, and particularly on 26 September, staffing problems are so acute in the various offices and provinces of the office of the Official Trustee that creditors are not able to obtain moneys for a much longer period than one would consider reasonable. On that particular night of 26 September I quoted from letters from the Official Receiver’s office in Hobart to a Mr and Mrs Clements. Those letters indicated that it would be a matter of a year, 18 months or perhaps two years before a distribution of moneys which were available and which were being held by the Official Trustee could be made to those creditors. In that case the Official Receiver indicated that he had 50c in the dollar to pay these people but just did not have the staff to carry out the distribution.
It is a cause of concern and somewhat upsetting to me as a senator that, having raised this matter on 26 September concerning these particular creditors, not only has nothing been done in regard to that particular case, but also they have received no communication whatsoever from the Hobart office of the Official Receiver. I find it surprising that when one goes to the trouble of making these remarks concerning particular cases, in the national Parliament, as one is entitled to do in the adjournment debate, one finds a complete lack of response from the Government in regard to their plight.
The point I am making at this stage is that the Common Investment Fund, whose establishment the Opposition does not oppose in principle, will, given current factual situations, operate very much to the detriment of creditors because moneys will be held by the Government. A substantial amount of money will be generated for the Government- I think I recall reading of an amount of the order of over $600,000 a yearrather than for creditors. I believe that if it were a short term matter one could accept this but, in harmony with the one exception which is elucidated in the Bill, given the current factual situation, the Government should, in relation to creditors who are not paid within a reasonable time moneys which are available, make those creditors beneficiaries of the interest and capital accrual that might arise in the Common Investment Fund. In the second reading speech one reads what I think is a very misleading sentence; it is quite open. It states:
In addition, moneys in the fund will, in certain circumstances, be deemed to have earned interest for the benefit of the person or persons entitled to share in the distribution of those moneys.
But in that situation the question arises: In what circumstances? When I looked at the Bill this afternoon I expected to find quite a list of circumstances which would alleviate the situation of certain people. I found that the only exception made in the actual Bill is that if the Official Trustee is the trustee of the estate of a bankrupt or of a deceased debtor, and distribution has been held up for at least a year longer than would usually be the case due to some legal proceedings or for some other reasons prescribed by regulation, the interest earned could be attributed to the particular estate concerned and go to the creditors. This provision is in proposed new section 20J.
It seems to me that insofar as the Bill does enumerate the one exception in which creditors will receive interest payments, it is a very narrow exception. On the other hand we are left with a very vague ‘as prescribed’. What does the Government have in mind as likely to be prescribed as factual situations which will allow creditors to share in the moneys generated in this Common Investment Fund? Will the Government prescribe something analogous to the express provision in proposed new section 20j so that, where creditors do not receive their moneys for an inordinate length of time due to matters well within Government control, namely, staff ceilings, that circumstance be prescribed as one which allows creditors to share in moneys generated by the Common Investment Fund. I would like to hear an answer to that matter.
It seems to me that over the next few years the Common Investment Fund will generate quite a bit of money and I think that creditors should have the benefit, given the situation I have outlined. One has to remember that while creditors are waiting for a distribution of those assets held by the Official Trustee, they themselves are paying substantial interest on overdrafts they have had to obtain, and so on. They are in financial straits while awaiting distribution of the meagre assets of the bankrupt.
This brings me to a related matter. I refer to the cause of the delay in the distribution of moneys, namely, staffing within the Official Trustee’s offices. It is not easy to find out exactly how dire the problem is. Page 7 of the 12th annual report on the operation of the Bankruptcy Act sets out a description of the history of the problem of staffing within the general administration of the Bankruptcy Act. It reads:
In November 1977 the Public Service Board announced that inoperative personnel were to bc excluded from ceilings with a corresponding downward adjustment being made to the departmental ceiling. This resulted in the Branch’s ceiling being set at 250.
This was in November 1977. The report continued:
This ceiling has remained static despite an increase of 75.6 per cent in the incidence of bankruptcies since 30 June 1 977. Operative staff (staff actually on duty) at 30 June 1979 was 254, and there were eight inoperative positions because of absences.
There has been an increase of 75.6 per cent in the incidence of bankruptcies but the staff ceiling has remained absolutely static at about 250. The Inspector-General in Bankruptcy in his report of the previous year, made it clear that it was not possible to reduce the number of estates under administration under existing staffing conditions in the Official Receiver’s Office. This year, Mr Sweeney has adopted what I would call a prudently worded plea for more staff. In the final paragraph, he says:
While the amendments proposed to the Bankruptcy Act and the introduction of mini-computers and word processing machines into the offices of the Official Receivers during 1979-80 will facilitate bankruptcy administration throughout Australia, these measures, of themselves, will not effectively counter the task currently confronting the Branch.
I think it is very clear from the few preceding paragraphs and the Inspector-General’s reference to his 1 1th annual report that the fact which prevents the proposed official trustees from effectively doing their work is the staff ceiling situation. One looks at the second reading speech to see whether any hope is held out. Under the heading ‘Facilitation of Administration’ the speech states:
A review of staffing levels and the introduction of Automatic Data Processing systems should, to some extent, alleviate the administrative problems brought about by this increase in bankruptcy throughout Australia.
Whilst the introduction of ADP systems may well help, one can ask: How can a review of staffing levels help? Obviously an increase in staffing levels is needed. The word ‘review’ in that sentence is completely ambiguous. It does not indicate whether the review is to be carried out or has been carried out. In any case, as I say, a review is irrelevant. One needs an act of political decision-making by this Government to enable the official trustees to carry out their duties on behalf of all creditors of bankrupts- I include employees, of course- for whom they have moneys and are willing to distribute them but are unable to do so simply because of a lack of staff. In the absence of any clear indication by the Government of its willingness to tackle the question of staffing, one can only assume that there is a total lack of concern on the Government’s part. The Government will not listen to the plea of the Inspector-General however muted, prudently and quietly it is put within his report. The second reading speech continues:
The proposed amendments, combined with adequate staffing support, should result in a substantial reduction in the time taken to finalise estates.
What is the exact nature of that adequate staffing support which the Government seems to be hinting that it may be willing to offer? I certainly require an answer to be convinced that this is not just a piece of legislation dealing with philosophical principles to please Senator Messner but that the organisation is in fact to be infleshed with enough personnel to enable it to work as it ought.
I am extremely disappointed at the way the 1978-79 annual report on bankruptcy by the then Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Fife, dealt with the question of staffing. The only reference to staffing problems was some anecdotal stories about how two officers from the official receivers section in Perth had to drive to a remote farming district about 500 kilometres from Perth to interview a bankrupt. We are told how the bankrupt was out ploughing, how the car in which the officers were travelling broke down and how they arrived back in Perth two days later. Such are the hardships of working from the office in Perth. The nice little anecdote is all very interesting, but it diverts attention from the real staffing problems that the Official Trustee is facing. It seems to me that it is insulting for a report to the Parliament to contain that sort of tale. It does not get down to the nitty gritty of the staffing problem facing the Official Trustee. It is most disappointing to see such a bland statement on the question of staffing put to the Parliament.
The other matter I wish to deal with is the priority of the Crown in relation to the administration of bankrupt estates. This piece of legislation repudiates the bipartisan recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs concerning the priority of Crown debts in this area. I find it difficult to understand how, in the face of that report, the Government can continue to push the line of the Department of Finance and the Commissioner of Taxation that the community has some sort of priority over employees and other creditors of the bankrupt. The report of the Senate Committee in which the matter was very well substantiated stated that the idea of Crown priority was really a feudalistic notion- at least it wears a feudal garb- and is not appropriate to the problems facing a complex society such as ours when only meagre assets are to be distributed to the community through the Taxation Office, to employees who have accumulated demands for wages, salaries, annual leave, workers compensation and so on, to creditors, to other small traders and even to secured lenders to the particular enterprise.
Many organisations, including the official representatives of the trade union movement and of chambers of commerce, have pleaded with the Government to take certain action particularly where an employer has taken money from his employees in order, as he explains it to them, to pass on the moneys to the Taxation Commissioner in payment of their taxation. I am referring to group tax, pay-as-you-earn tax and so on. The Senate Committee was in harmony with chambers of commerce, trade union organisations and so on in advocating very strongly that the Crown should rank equally with all other creditors in the distribution of assets and that the community had no particular claim to priority in those matters. They are not abstract matters.
I have the permission of Mr Ray Devlin, Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council of north-west Tasmania, based in Burnie, to bring to the Senate’s attention the type of case which I have in mind. In the case of the liquidation of Reid’s Transport Pty Ltd, the position was estimated as follows by Mr Tomlinson, who had been appointed to that liquidation: The net proceeds of liquidation were estimated to be not more than $20,000. Employees’ claims came to some $45,472. Outstanding group tax was of the order of $79,432. It is quite clear that if the Government goes ahead with its claim to take priority the very meagre assets of $20,000 clearly will be completely swallowed up in the claim of the Commissioner of Taxation, leaving the employees looking for wages and annual and long service leave and finding nothing because the cupboard will be bare. This is an instance of a firm which will just collapse without the employees being able to recover any of the wages and annual and long service leave entitlements from the $20,000 that is available, which they ought to be able to share even if only partially.
– Has taxation a higher priority?
– Yes, group tax has a higher priority.
– As Senator Kilgariff from the Northern Territory said, that is totally unfair. In another case, that of L. G. Holloway Transport Pty Ltd and West Coast Freighters and Holloways Pty Ltd, when Mr Tomlinson was appointed receiver and manager of the book debts only, the position was estimated as follows: The net proceeds of the receivership were approximately $200,000; employees’ claims, including wages, workers compensation and annual and long service leave came to some $80,000; outstanding group tax came to $154,000; secured creditors under a floating charge were owed $100,000. Despite repeated requests, the Commissioner of Taxation is continuing with his claim to priority. That means that, with the net proceeds of receivership approximating $200,000, outstanding group tax of $154,000 will be paid in full. The community’s claim to taxation will be satisfied totally, but clearly no money will be left for the secured creditors and only a partial payment will be able to be made to the employees for their wages, workers compensation and annual and long service leave claims. As Mr Tomlinson points out, not only is that inequitable in terms of the distribution of assets, but also that situation has been reached in a sense because of the dominant position in a situation like this of the Commissioner of Taxation
Quite often it is forebearance of the Commissioner of Taxation which creates an impression amongst other traders that the company or business concerned is doing better than it is. The Commisioner of Taxation is in a position to know that taxation has not been paid to him. But he may hope that perhaps the business will trade out of its difficulties and thereby the situation might be improved. But what happens in this situation is that the forebearance of the Commissioner of Taxation allows the company to continue trading with other traders and employees have no knowledge of this difficulty, which is within the knowledge of the Commissioner of Taxation who is faced with a very invidious decision as to whether he should protect the interests of the Commonwealth as a creditor or the interests of the employer and the employees. However, he very rarely will be the one to suffer if, in the end, the firm does collapse.
Invariably the unsecured creditors, the employees, are likely to suffer if the business does not revive and if the debt is increased by reason of the lenient treatment of the employer by the Commissioner of Taxation allowing him to go on getting further and further into debt. The Senate Committee believed that, on balance, the forebearance of the Commissioner of Taxation in most instances was likely to be of more harm than benefit to all creditors other than the Crown. I can only endorse those remarks. I find them totally explanatory of the comment by Mr Tomlinson in the letter to which I have referred that neither the employees nor the secured creditors are in a position to check or monitor the amount building up in unpaid group tax. It is that forbearance, which is exercisable by the Commissioner of Taxation, given his dominant position because he has priority, which can create further havoc and further distress when the business finally collapses.
My general point in this area is to express disappointment that the Commonwealth Government has not seen fit to accept the recommendations of the Committee. It seems to have bowed to the pressure of the Department of Finance and the Commissioner of Taxation. No other government department submitted to the Senate Committee a submission favouring retaining that priority; only those two departments insisted. Obviously, their obstinacy has carried the day in, I believe, a mistaken belief that they are protecting the revenue of the Commonwealth. In any case, I believe the amount involved is miniscule. Some $3m or $4m may be involved. But I think that the Government is misguided. I believe that if employees were able to share in the distribution of meagre assets equally with the Commonwealth through taxation, the hardships of the employees would be alleviated. They would be in receipt of moneys on which they would pay tax. The same can be said, of course, of those who have traded with the bankrupt. If they can receive some portion of the debts owed to them it is better for their prosperity. It does have a domino effect whereby they fall into debt themselves from which they might not be able to recover because the Crown has taken, under this feudalistic garb, a priority over the claims of those who have in good faith or who, as employees, have dealt with the bankrupt.
These are some disappointments that I have in the Bill. As I said, I am particularly concerned about and want an answer from the Minister on what he means in his second reading speech by the promise of adequate staffing support. The Bankruptcy Amendment Bill has its good points. When it does things it does them well. My criticism has been mainly about omissions. I can only conclude, in the absence of really adequate staffing support enumerated here tonight, that the Government does not intend to provide the flesh, the necessary workers, not at high levels necessarily or even commonly but just at adequate staff and clerical levels, to make this piece of legislation work as it ought.
– I rise to support the Bankruptcy Amendment Bill. I congratulate the Government on its handling of this legislation. The legislation, as honourable senators will know, contains about 174 amending clauses as well as very substantial formal and other minor amendments detailed in the Schedule. Clearly, many people are to be congratulated on producing this legislation. The former Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, the present Minister for Business and Consumer
Affairs (Mr Garland) and his senior officers are to be congratulated ibr the tremendous amount of work involved in the preparation of the legislation. The Government back benchers associated with the legislation are to be congratulated too.
The Government is also to be congratulated on its handling of the legislation by introducing it in the Budget session last year and allowing it to lie on the table so that those who were interested could make their representations after they had considered it. The Government then reintroduced the legislation during this session with certain revisions. It is interesting to note that, notwithstanding the 174 amending clauses in the legislation, the Minister in the other place acknowledged that a number of other submissions which he had received would warrant further detailed consideration by him and his senior officers. He said:
There are a number of aspects on which much more work will need to be done if amendments are to be carried out in the future.
He talked about bankruptcy law needing revision from time to time to take account of changing social attitudes and commercial conditions. He also listed some of the suggestions. They are somewhat interesting for those who are interested in this subject.
I now turn to some aspects of the legislation in detail for which, again, the Government is to be congratulated. I certainly congratulate it on the establishment of the Common Investment Fund, the variation of the trustee functions presently exercised by official receivers and the social changes referred in the second reading speech of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). It is of value that we are turning to the problem of rehabilitating the honest but insolvent debtor, as the Minister points out, while at the same time ensuring that dishonest bankrupts are punished. It is also of importance that the Government has decided to introduce a provision which will allow all arrears of maintenance prior to the date of bankruptcy to become provable in bankruptcy. On the other hand, I also think it is necessary to ensure that the public interest is adequately protected to avoid abuse of the new provisions by retaining a provision that it will still be possible for objections to be lodged against a statutory discharge of a bankrupt.
Frequently articles in the media and the speeches of politicians express sympathy for bankrupts as though all bankrupts were poor unfortunates who were not to be blamed for their present condition. That may be the situation for some but in my experience that did not apply in most cases. My experience was that people became bankrupt frequently because of foolishness, irresponsibility, carelessness, negligence and a complete disregard of their responsibilities. It was also my experience that many people in the final stages of their course to bankruptcy entered into a quasi-criminal state. I call it that because clearly in most cases no criminal charge was provable but people often became so desperate that they were very close to crime. I refer those who are interested in observing a confession along these lines to the book by Neville Shute called Slide Rule, which is the autobiography of an engineer. From page 202 onwards Mr Norway, which is Neville Shute ‘s correct name, confesses how near he came to crime in issuing a prospectus for his company because of his concern to protect the 400 employees and their families. In 1934 he felt that they would have been put out of business if he had expressed views in the prospectus as to what was the actual value of the stock on hand at the time, namely, the aircraft which the company had produced. I find that a very interesting confession. It gives a layman’s approach to the problems of a potential bankrupt.
I turn to the figures on bankruptcy which were given by Mr Jacobi in the other House. I also refer to the causes of bankruptcy. Clearly, this is a matter which honourable senators on the other side of the chamber are anxious to bring to our knowledge. Unfortunately, I have not been able to hear all the debate in this chamber tonight so I am not too sure how far they have gone. No doubt they will take it upon themselves to refer to Mr Jacobi ‘s figures. I believe that a proper analysis of those figures will clearly show that under the Labor Governments in 1 972 and 1 973, when bankruptcy petitions reduced very substantially, a large number of people were being sucked into business ventures as a result of the inflation in the economy. These ventures were probably beyond their abilities financially, economically and philosophically. As soon as the Labor Party tried to pull the economy into line in 1974 to 1975 there was an immediate and massive increase in the number of bankruptcies which came to light. As my Government has continued to bring the economy into line and to reduce inflation, inevitably the result has been an increase in bankruptcies.
It is interesting to analyse the 10th schedule of the 12th annual report on the Bankruptcy Act, which gives the causes of bankruptcies which were being reported on during the year ended 30 June 1979. Bankruptcies are divided into two sections. The so-called business bankruptcies involve employers and persons engaged in a trade, business or profession. The other category comprises non-business bankruptcies. It is interesting to observe that lack of sufficient initial working capital was considered to be the major cause of business bankruptcy in 20.4 per cent of the cases for that year. In the previous year it was the major cause of 23.9 per cent of bankruptcies. Lack of business ability was considered to be the major cause in 25.8 per cent of bankruptcies. In the previous year it was the cause of 26.5 per cent of bankruptcies. Economic conditions were considered to be the major cause in only 26.5 per cent of bankruptcies. That is a very interesting observation in light of the criticisms which my colleagues opposite make of the Government and its economic policies.
It is also interesting to look at the causes of non-business bankruptcies, being bankruptcies of wage and salary earners, and to see that in 54.4 per cent of those bankruptcies excessive use of credit facilities was considered to be the major cause in only 1 5 per cent of those bankruptcies. I have considerable sympathy for all those who went bankrupt in those times but I suggest that clearly causes detailed in the Schedule indicate that it is not a matter of economic conditions; it is much more a matter of business acumen, financial backing and matters of that nature that bring about bankruptcies so far as business people are concerned. The unfortunate excessive use of credit facilities by people who are not involved in business is the major cause of their bankruptcy.
– Who are you quoting from, Senator?
– Unfortunately, Senator Grimes comes to the chamber at this late hour of the night and makes interjections. Clearly he does not know what he is talking about. If he wants to know, I am quoting from Parliamentary Paper No. 375 of 1979, the twelfth annual report on the operation of the Bankruptcy Act lodged in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. One of the matters to which I really wish to turn my mind is the question of the reform of the law. I felt that Senator Tate almost got there when he was saying that a greater number of staff was needed. I thought he was really about to get to the kernel of the problem in relation to the administration of the bankruptcy law. But, like all lawyers and undoubtedly like one of the lawyers opposite who will follow me later this evening, he found quite irresistible the urge to talk about reforming the law.
I wish to quote Mr Justice Dixon, when he spoke in 1959 about reforming the law. Undoubtedly Senator Evans will be able to persuade his colleague Senator Grimes, who as I say comes into the chamber late at night and makes these observations, that His Honour Mr Justice Dixon was perhaps one of the most perceptive judges ever to sit on the bench of the High Court of Australia. In 1959, at an Australian legal convention on the Matrimonial Causes Bill- that was a debate in relation to moves at that stage to reform Australia’s matrimonial law- His Honour said:
It interested me, as I listened, to find that nearly all the things that require reform were the product of reform.
It is a very interesting observation that in 1 966 the Bankruptcy Act was reformed as a result of reports from Mr Justice Clyne and here we are, 14 years later, introducing 174 clauses to amend the reform of 1 966, and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) is talking about further reforms which will be necessary to change the law which the Senate is seeking to reform this evening. If one considers what His Honour Mr Justice Dixon had to say, one will see why there is perhaps concern about reforming the law. In particular, I would like to quote what His Honour Sir John Young, the present Chief Justice of Victoria, said in a speech on 3 May 1978 in relation to the reform of law. He said:
My experience of the practice of the law leads me to the conclusion that the better the lawyer, the less likely he is to propose or promote extensive or substantial reforms. This is not because he is not interested in law reform, nor even because he is too busy in his daily practice to direct his attention to such matters, but principally because he knows that to draft an Act of Parliament altering the law on any particular topic is fraught with difficulties and dangers and that the law as reformed is quite likely to be worse than the law before the reform took place.
I hope that my colleague, Senator Evans, heard and heeds those statements because I know he is one who would have this Parliament reform every law in the statute book. In particular, I draw his attention to the last statement, which says that it is quite likely that the reform may be worse than the law before the reform took place. It is very interesting that all of these people come into this chamber and talk about the urgent reform of the law. No one wants to take the steps quietly and gradually just to make sure that we take the right steps and allow the judiciary to express its views on it. They want to make these massive changes to the law at every opportunity. His Honour Sir Owen Dixon, again in that speech to which I referred earlier, said:
Lawyers appear to be animated by a desire to reform, the only difficulty being that they do not know what to reform.
In his speech, His Honour Sir John Young, stated:
Yet one seldom if ever hears it suggested that in preference to ‘tougher’ legislation the fraud squad should be increased or the police vote should be increased to enable the better detection of crime. Of course, it is easy enough to see why. There is a public clamour for something to be done and the unfortunate politician has to say something. The easiest thing to say is that there will be a new Act of Parliament tightening up the control ‘ or something of that sort. The attraction of this solution also is that it costs virtually nothing.
As I said earlier, I felt that my colleague Senator Tate almost got there when he said that in relation to the administration of the bankruptcy law a larger number of government employees involved in dealing with this were needed so that there would be a much more rapid transit of the problems through the courts, and with the quicker dealing with the bankrupts’ and creditors’ positions a greater system of justice would be seen to be applied by those who are involved with the problems.
-Leader of the Australian Democrats) (9.39)- The Australian Democrats commend the Government for introducing the Bankruptcy Amendment Bill 1 980. 1 thank the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Garland) and the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) for arranging for two senior officers of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Kennedy and Mr Sweeney, to discuss with me the amendments to the Bill and the amendments which I propose to move in the Committee stage. I am deeply grateful to those two officers, who are in the chamber tonight, and I thank them for their courtesy and the very able and patient way in which they went through the Act with me.
– They needed to be.
– Yes, they needed to be. Senator Evans is right again. The purpose of this Bill was aptly stated by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) when delivering the second reading speech. He stated:
The Bill is the result of a comprehensive review of the Act in the light of judicial decisions on the existing legislation, submissions from, and discussions with, various outside bodies before and after the introduction of the Bill in the other place on 20 November 1979 . . .
The proposed changes were referred to the States for comment. The manner in which the amending Bill was brought down is almost a perfect model. Consultation was made, allowed and indeed encouraged. Unlike the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Democrats cannot support Senator Gietzelt ‘s amendment to the motion for the second reading. Paragraph (b) of the amendments reads: notes that the proposed amending legislation does not provide for a full reform of the bankruptcy law, particularly in the area of assignments, arrangements and compositions under Part X of the Act;
Rather than voting for that amendment and censuring the Government, I commend the Government. I have studied Part X of the Bankruptcy Act. It is probably one of the most complex pieces of legislation that I have had to go through. Not only that, it is like a can of worms. If we amend one part of the Act we find that that has consequential effects on another part or parts which we could not foresee. It is like pushing a cork under water. We think that we are rid of it and it bobs up somewhere else. I commend the Government. I understand that it is committed to reform Part X of the Act, but only after much more consultation and after receiving submissions from interested parties. I make a plea to the Minister to advertise extensively the Government’s intentions of calling for more submissions on Part X and to encourage the maximum number of people to make submissions. I cannot agree with paragraph (a) of the Opposition’s amendment. With the greatest respect to the Chair, I wonder whether it is in order. It suggests that at the end of the motion be added: express its concern at the rapid increase in the number of petitions for bankruptcy which has occurred in Australia in recent years;
I agree that there has been a massive increase in the number of bankruptcies but if this amendment were passed it would be virtually blaming the Bankruptcy Act for that situation, which is an absurd proposition. The Bankruptcy Act only looks after those unfortunate people who have become insolvent. It is by no means a cause of their insolvency. That is caused by economic conditions which to a larger or lesser extent are brought on by governments. I am disappointed that that political note was introduced into the amendment. I am equally disappointed and amused by Senator Messner’s retort to it. He alleged that it was not the Liberal Government’s fault that there are a number of bankruptcies, but that it was the Labor Party’s fault and that the real reason for the great increase in bankruptcies was that the Government had been successful in stopping inflation. He said that was the basic cause. In other words, because the Government had been so successful in its economic policies, the number of bankruptcies had soared. I mention that point without developing it. I hope that the mere mention of it will illustrate its absurdity.
The whole point is that an increased number of bankruptcies are caused by government policies, or lack of government policies. I mentioned one example last week when discussing the matter of public importance. I referred extensively to service station owners who are being sent bankrupt by the policies of oil companies. That is an area where government action could well be taken, but I suggest that it is not a question that comes within the jurisdiction of the Bankruptcy Act which we are now debating. Paragraph (c) of the Labor Party’s amendment reads: expresses the view that a broad reference on the question of insolvency and bankruptcy law should be mad ; to the Australian Law Reform Commission;
We concur with that. When the Minister replies I would like him to say whether the Government is contemplating that action. I know that Mr Justice Kirby has expressed a wish that certain aspects of the bankruptcy law be referred to him. I am wondering whether the Government contemplates doing that. If not, why not? As I have said, we commend the Bill. In particular, we commend the establishment of the common investment fund which will bring our Act into line with the practice in the United Kingdom which has worked successfully over a number of years. We welcome the administrative streamlining procedures, after noting, as the Minister said, that 70 per cent of the States are now taking at least two years to realise assets and distribute proceeds to creditors. That period is growing. Like other speakers on both sides of the House, I commend the Government for streamlining those procedures. It is a Catch-22 situation. If creditors have to wait over 2 years for settlement that in turn creates an even greater number of bankruptcies.
I commend the amendments which assist in the rehabilitation of honest but insolvent debtors while at the same time ensuring that dishonest bankrupts are punished; namely, the qualifying period for automatic discharge has been reduced from five years to three years, thus allowing the social stigma to be removed from an honest but insolvent debtor. I also commend the Government for that action. I thank the staff of this Parliament for preparing five or six amendments that I had proposed to move at the Committee stage. After discussion with competent officers I have been informed that it is not the view of the Government to accept those proposed amendments so I shall not move them in Committee. However, I briefly refer to them at this stage. I press that the Government contemplate changing the legislation. I do not believe in exercises in futility, especially on a Bill as complex as this. To move amendments in the Committee stage knowing very well that the weight of numbers of
Government senators would defeat them would be an exercise in futility.
I refer to proposed new section 69(13). It makes no provision for a registered trustee in bankruptcy- a private trustee- who is a trustee of a bankrupt estate to recommend dispensation with public examination of the bankrupt. Although it is not a common occurrence, private trustees are sometimes appointed to a bankrupt estate. In fact the workload presently placed on staff at the various Official Receiver’s offices has resulted in this becoming an increasingly frequent practice by creditors who consider it desirable to clear up an estate quickly. Therefore I believe it is desirable that the power to recommend such dispensation should be in the hands of any trustee of a bankrupt’s estate. I had proposed to move an amendment. I am informed that there is already a section in the Act- section 69(14)- which obliges the Official Receiver to take in the views of the trustee. The ‘trustee’ includes a private trustee. I accept that proposition from the Government but I still believe that the amendment which I had proposed to move would have made it explicit rather than inferred.
I feel fairly strongly about proposed new sections 134 and 135. I believe the proposed amendment to sections 134 and 135 which proposes the figure of $20,000 does not go far enough. The present Act was assented to on 1 June 1966. It was presumably drafted in 1965, specifying the figure of $10,000 as being the maximum value of the debtor’s property in any one piece or type dealt with without permission of the creditor’s committee or inspection of the court. Research has led me to believe that the average value of domestic property in 1965 was in the order of $7,000 to $8,000. Current prices seem to average $40,000 for the same property. I have used domestic property as a benchmark because in most instances the home is the largest single asset in an estate. Therefore, I would have thought that a more realistic figure would have been not $20,000 but $40,000 and that the figure should be amended accordingly. I cannot quite accept the Government’s logic in this matter.
I know that governments and civil servants are sometimes conservative and I understand they believe that to double the figure in 14 years is a reasonable adjustment. Perhaps the decision was influenced by the Government’s political motivations and it thought that if the figure more than doubled in 14 years that would have been a tacit admission that inflation has really got out of hand in that time. But my fears are allayed to some extent by the understanding that the amending Bill will allow that amount to be increased by regulation brought before the Senate and, therefore, if the limit needs to be pushed up there will be no need for the Bill to be amended; simply, the amount can be increased by regulation. I suppose that is some answer to my objection. But I would have thought that to start at a realistic benchmark of $40,000 would have been a better way of tackling the matter.
I have similar objections to clause 85. On a similar concept I press this matter more than the previous one I mentioned. I believe that the figure of $300 is a totally inadequate value for exemption from taxation. In fact, I believe it is an absurd figure in the light of today’s experience. The present delays at various bankruptcy registries are as long as three months. In other words, the suppliers of the services- the lawyer, the estate agent and the valuer- cannot be paid until the account has been presented for taxing which may be three or four months after the work has been done. This is caused by the workload on registry staff and would not be significantly reduced by the introduction of a $300 figure against the present $100 figure. The smallest account I have seen submitted for taxing recently was $400-odd but most of the accounts are over $1,000. It seems to me that a figure of $1,000 would be reasonable for exemption. But the legal costs, estate agents’ charges and so on have risen in conjunction not only with the increased value of real estate but also with rises in the rates of the fee or commission. Very few debt recoveries which are litigated would cost less than $300 these days. I am informed that the average figure is $900 and that cases are delayed up to three months. To introduce a figure of $300 is almost, I think, bringing the Bill to the point of absurdity. Again I am told that that figure can be varied by regulation and that an amendment of the Act will not be necessary.
I come now to the provisions of Part X, section 162(1). I make this comment after having already said that I realise that this Part is a can of worms. There are many anomalies in this Part. The only part of Senator Lewis’s speech with which I agreed is the point that, if we rush in to amend complex law such as this too quickly, we might create greater problems than we are attempting to solve. I am referring to the provision for the method of fixing a remuneration of the trustee of a bankrupt estate and it is applicable to the various arrangements contemplated by Part X of the Act by sections 231, 237 and 243. A problem which arises from time to time is where the trustee or creditors wish to vary the remuneration that is fixed. This can be done by application to the Registrar under section 162 (5) but this application simply adds to the workload placed on the Registrar. There would be little need to refer to the Registrar if the power could be given to the creditors to vary the remuneration by resolution. This would be simply achieved by the insertion of the words ‘or varied ‘ after the word ‘ fixed ‘ in section 1 62 ( 1 ). Again I am informed that that amendment, although it would speed up matters, could give creditors the power unilaterally to vary downwards the fee paid to a trustee retrospectively. I am informed that the power to do this already exists in the Act on the application of the creditors but only with the approval of the court.
The final proposition I put relates to section 188(1) where authority to a registered trustee has created problems in the past when a quorum has not been present at the meeting authorised or when none of the resolutions under section 204 ( 1 ) has been passed. Under these circumstances, the controlling trustee remains the controlling trustee, with all the responsibilities that entails. The only way out is an expensive application to the court for a release. The trustee does not have the authority to convene a second meeting under the original authority. Even in a case where a resolution is passed under section 204 ( 1) (d), requiring the debtor to petition for his own bankruptcy, the controlling trustee is not released from his responsibilities until and if the debtor is made bankrupt. I am informed again that the Government has looked at this matter and that any variation to this provision would have implications for a great number of people. The Government is concerned about the automatic release. I see that, although the proposition I am putting would ease matters in a number of cases, it could open up more problems than it solves. I accept the Government’s statement that consideration of Part X will be reopened and submissions invited. For those reasons, I will not be moving amendments in the Committee stage but I put those objections in the record at this stage.
I conclude briefly by mentioning a matter of a general nature that disturbs me. That is the conduct of some undischarged bankrupts. I am concerned at the actions of two creatures- and I call them nothing less- in Melbourne and there must be many others of them. I understand that both of these people are undischarged bankrupts and that they publish a newspaper which is devoured by the ladies of Toorak because it is the most scurrilous, filthy and obscene publication put out in Victoria. Therefore, it is a best seller. I am given to understand that nothing can be done to touch these two people because they are undischarged bankrupts. I do not have an answer to this problem. I have written to the AttorneyGeneral in Victoria about it.
– You are referring to the Toorak Times’!
– Indeed I am and if Senator Evans wants to put the names of the two creatures on the record in Hansard I will pause for him to interject and let him do so with pleasure. I am just wondering whether there is any section of the Bankruptcy Act by which that son of thing can be prevented. I am not being critical but it seems to me to be the height of incongruity that these people, who I understand are making large amounts of money, can have that son of power as they are undischarged bankrupts. As I understand it, the various State companies Acts preclude an undischarged bankrupt from being a director or even from controlling a company. But apparently an undischarged bankrupt can be an editor of a newspaper and have the title of feature writer or whatever. There is no law at all to protect the people who are victims of their slime. I understand that the present companies Acts in the States do not have application to an undischarged English bankrupt. A notorious person, again in Victoria, has operated a packaging company for some time. He is an undischarged bankrupt of the United Kingdom and has debts amounting to £750,000 but because he is English no law in Australia precludes him from operating. I believe he is still operating and handling massive sums of money. I understand that the problem could be solved by the national companies legislation when it hits the light of day which I am informed might be within the next few months.
Finally, on a philosophical point, I mention that the Commonwealth has legislative power constitutionally to make laws on insolvent persons and insolvent corporate entities. It has rather detailed laws concerning insolvent persons as we can witness in the Bankruptcy Act. But the Commonwealth leaves the area of jurisdiction of insolvent corporate entities to the various State companies Acts. I remember that in 1961 the great promise, the great new white hope, for company law was the 1961 Victorian Companies Act which was modelled on the 1948 English Act which was supposed to be the panacea of company law in Australia. Since then, as we have seen to our distress, the precious State rights syndrome has swept the various State Attorneys-General and State parliaments, and now we have an absolute hotchpotch of differing or conflicting Acts between the States. Some
States even rely on the Bankruptcy Act and say that where the State Act is silent the Federal Bankruptcy Act shall apply to corporate entities which are insolvent. I hope that one day we have a Federal government which has the courage to be insensitive to the outrageous sensitivities of some State governments in the company law field and which will legislate for a national Act that will override the provisions of State Acts, and to hell with the sensitivities of State rightists. With that comment, I commend the Bill and the Government for its reform.
-This is the kind of legislation that tends to provoke something of a cry of pain from back benchers as well as those who have to listen to a debate of this kind, simply because of the complexity, bulk and technicality of the legislation which is before us. The Bill consists of some 1 76 clauses spread over 1 36 pages and is accompanied by an explanatory memorandum- a very good explanatory memorandum, if I may say so- of some 1 88 pages. I do not complain about the opportunity that has been made available by the Government for us to consider this legislation, because indeed the legislation has been tabled for some time. But the reality of the matter is that, unless one has particular expertise in this area- I certainly do not claim to have it, any more than other senators who have spoken- the kinds of resources that are available to back benchers, and indeed Oppositions as a whole, are just not such that one can, short of spending months at a time, deal with this kind of legislation in the way in which it ought to be dealt with.
If there is a degree of superficiality about my own contribution, or anyone else’s for that matter, it is, I fear, part of the nature of the beast and that will remain the case for so long as we are obliged to rest content with the present derisory resources available to us. That much having been said, what does the Bill do? As has been said by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) and others, the kinds of amendments it contains fall into three broad groups. Most of the matters are indeed uncontroversial. The first such group of amendments concerns the creation of a common investment fund, with provisions for the interest derived from such fund to be paid into Consolidated Revenue, in effect, to defray the costs of administering bankruptcies. This may result, of course, in some minor loss of potential return to creditors from the proceeds of such investment, but they do retain the option of appointing a private trustee of their own and bearing the costs of same. The reality of the matter is that creditors are quite likely to be only too grateful for the subsidy which they will continue to receive in this respect from the Treasury. Provisions of this kind, as a result, have been broadly accepted across this chamber as being sensible and timely.
The second group of provisions concerns the facilitation of the administration of the bankruptcy legislation. Changes are made in particular with respect to the status of the trusteeship of bankruptcies, with the individual official receivers being, as it were, consolidated into a single corporate body to be known as the Official Trustee in Bankruptcy. Accompanying that change are to be a number of provisions streamlining bankruptcy administration involving in particular the removal of provisions requiring the mandatory examination of debtors, with a provision to waive that where circumstances make it appropriate. Again, provisions of this kind, and indeed a number of other matters in relation to Part X matters, about which I will make passing mention again later on, are welcome and uncontroversial.
The third and final broad category of amendments has been described as those made necessary by legal and social changes in our general community environment and are in fact said, I think accurately, to reflect such changes. A number of provisions of this type are again quite uncontroversial- for example, the provisions with respect to the treatment of maintenance debts, loans to farmers and rural reconstruction legislation or life insurance and endowment policies. There are some other matters, however, in this general category which are rather less uncontroversial. They are matters on which I, along with other senators who to some extent have referred to these matters, would appreciate some ministerial response. The first such matter is the question of the priority of Crown debts, on which Senator Tate in particular has had something to say. The report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on this subject has been largely adopted by the Government, but, as has been said by other speakers, there is still to be a priority ranking for that category of Crown debts which is constituted by tax instalment deductions and withholding tax deductions.
It is a matter of concern to me that the reasoned conclusions of that Senate Committee report have not been adopted. If Senate committees are to produce, on a bipartisan basis, and as a result of a very thorough inquiry, recommendations which are rejected without any very clear reasoning behind such rejection so far as the Government is concerned, it does introduce a degree of futility into the deliberations of these committees. One would appreciate some better defence of the retention of this category of Crown priority than has been mounted so far by any of the ministerial spokesmen in either chamber when introducing this Bill or when replying to points made in the debate.
The second point I raise under this head of matters supposedly reflected changes in the social and legal environment, but which are still questionable in terms of the reform accomplished, is the matter of the treatment of wage debts. The Bill does increase the amount of wage claims that enjoy priority from $800, which has been manifestly overtaken by inflation, to $ 1,500. That is a matter to be welcomed, but one still queries the sufficiency of that amount of $1,500. The Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, in the explanatory memorandum accompanying this Bill, explained that a limit of this kind was imposed because:
It is considered unlikely that any employee dealing genuinely at arms length with his employer would let his salary or wages accrue overdue to a figure in excess of $ 1 ,500.
There is an element of suspicion which seems to lay behind the setting of a priority ceiling of $ 1 ,500 in this matter. It is slightly puzzling, given the absence of any such ceiling in respect of claims in relation to long service leave, annual leave or sick leave which do enjoy a lower priority ranking but which are nonetheless expressed to be unlimited as to their extent. Such suspicion is a little implausible also, one would have thought, when it is remembered that all creditors must supply a proof of debt to the trustee of the bankrupt One assumes that either the official trustee or the private trustee who is appointed would be eminently qualified to determine the validity or otherwise of such a claim. I am further moved to make these comments by a news item which appeared in the Canberra Times on 1 9 March, just a few days ago, in which it is reported that a unionist, working on the High Court building site, is alleged to be owed in fact not $ 1 ,500 but something over $4,000. The news report was in the following terms:
The ACT division of the Association of Architects Engineers, Surveyors and Draftsmen of Australia has claimed that a member employed on the High Court site has been underpaid for nearly three years and is owed over $4,000 in back pay. The association says the employer involved has apparently ignored union demands that the back pay be paid and is still paying the member at below-award rates.
I think that is a useful indication of one kind of circumstance, namely, the failure of an employer allegedly to come to the party on the payment of back-dated award increases, one kind of circumstance in which an employer debt of substantially in excess of 51,500 can very easily be run up. In those circumstances, and in the light of other comments that other honourable senators and I have made about this provision, I would appreciate in the Minister’s reply some attention being paid to a defence of the ceiling that has been set.
– They needed the extra money to buy caviare for visiting Russian judges.
– Maybe. In relation to wages, there is a further matter which needs ministerial attention, I would suggest. That is the matter of the possible priority claim for nonwage earners who are in receipt of income which is nonetheless of a wages character, although there is not technically a master-servant relationship in existence. I am thinking in particular of the position of a commission sales agent who is not an employee, not in receipt of wages, but who for all practical purposes may enjoy such a status. Ought not his claims arguably involve the same kind of priority as wage claims? Why is there not a provision of this kind in the Bill? It has been raised in the other place and there was a ministerial reply on that point. I for one would appreciate a reply here.
The remaining matter in this category to which I draw attention is the question of the basic period of bankruptcy before a discharge is available. The existing legislation provides for a bankruptcy period of five years, which means that at the conclusion of such period the bankrupt is automatically discharged subject, however, to objection by the Registrar in Bankruptcy, by the trustee in question or by any creditor, on receipt of which objection the matter then has to be resolved by the court. The present Bill proposes that the period be reduced from five years to three years. That is a variation from the proposal contained in the Bill which was introduced last year, which was for two years. It is also different from the proposal which was recommended by the Law Reform Commission, at least in respect of non-business bankruptcies, which was that the period in question be reduced to six months. What I ask the Minister is what principle, if any, has in fact guided the determination and settling upon the period of three years. Is it just the time honoured principle that any longer than that would be too long, and any shorter than that would be too short? In other words, does it have an intuitive quality about it, or is there something more rational? I see that the Minister is offering something in the way of a nod. Perhaps that is the best he can do, and perhaps he will put a reasoned nod into Hansard when it comes to his reply. I would particularly seek his response on the point made by the Law Reform Commission in the particular context at least of non-business bankruptcies. It seems to me that although the six-month period may well have attracted a reaction from the creditor community in business bankruptcies, the points made by the Law Reform Commission in relation to consumer debtors and so on in this respect are quite well made. In this respect, I quote from paragraph 137 of the Australian Law Reform Commission report No. 6 tabled in 1977, and entitled ‘Insolvency: The Regular Payment of Debts ‘. This passage follows the laying out of a good deal of empirical data in tabular form:
It is apparent that most bankrupts are in no position to contribute significantly to the payment of their debts, and that their income is fully committed in providing an extremely modest life for themselves and their dependants. Many of those who go bankrupt are at an age when the financial pressures involved in supporting themselves and their dependants are high, and when insolvency is most likely to occur. For a considerable minority, there is no steady income at all, welfare payments apart. Only a tiny minority own unencumbered assets of any value. Given the profile of non-business bankruptcy which these Tables present-
The reference there is to the series of some 24 tables which precede this conclusion. The report continues: . . creditors can expect little, if any, return from such a bankruptcy. They and the community would lose little or nothing were the rules to be altered to facilitate earlier discharge for the majority of non-business bankrupts from whom, and for whom, so little is to be hoped. Even for those few who could make substantial contributions, experience in other jurisdictions suggests that, for a variety of reasons, earlier discharge might be preferable.
It seems to me that a cogent and forceful case is there being made out for a much shorter period of automatic discharge subject, of course, to objection. That is the nature of the legal provision we are here talking about where it is always competent for a court to extend the period if circumstances so demand.
– The six-month period is intuitive also, is it not?
-That may be so. But it is an intuition which is based on quite a mass of data which I am only too happy to pass over for the honourable senator to read. This data indicates that the nature of the assets available for distribution and the complexity and size of those assets and the capacity for the earning of income by the persons in question are such as to make it likely that the distribution can be accomplished, as far as it is conceivably ever likely to be accomplished, within that period. It may well be that there are administrative considerations which make six months an unrealistically short period within which the already hard pressed administrators of bankruptcy could cope. It may be that 18 months or two years is a realistic time frame from that purely administrative point of view. But whatever the considerations may be, I for one would like to hear them articulated.
– Would you say that there was any reason that there is likely to be an increase in the number of bankruptcies as a result of adopting such a short period?
– Given that it would always be competent for the official trustee or registrar or any offended creditor to apply for an extension of such a period, I cannot imagine that one would have the degree of potential abuse of a short term discharge of that kind such as might be an encouragement to additional bankruptcies in the way that the honourable senator is suggesting. It is not after all an automatic discharge in the complete sense of that term. There is only a prima facie case for discharge in the event that nobody wants to pursue the distribution for a further period. Under those circumstances it seems to me that there is a strong case and that there has been an unfortunately emotional kind of reaction to the suggestions for a shorter bankruptcy period. In any event, they are matters on which further explanation would be much appreciated.
The Opposition amendments very much speak for themselves. The first element which the Opposition would seek to add to the second reading motion is an expression of concern at the rapid increase in the number of petitions for bankruptcy which have occurred in Australia in recent years. Since there does seem to have been some resistance among certain Government senators to this assertion of fact, or at least to the significance to be derived from the increased number of bankruptcies, and so that the chamber may be better informed on the subject matter, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which was prepared and incorporated in the Hansard in the other place by Mr Jacobi in the course of an admirable speech. This table sets out the annual number of bankruptcies in Australia for each financial year from 1969-70 to 1978-79.
The table demonstrates, as a number of honourable senators have said, that in the three years since 1975-76, there has been an enormous increase, in fact a 103 per cent increase, in the number of bankruptcies. The number has more than doubled from 1,900 in 1975-76 to 3,857 in 1978-79. That is a trend line; it is not simply odd results taken at random. It reflects that there was a very substantial dip in the number of bankruptcies during the period of the Labor Government and that the number of bankruptcies has escalated phenomenally over the last five years.
Senator Lewis can be awarded at best one gong for the kind of patronising economic revisionism that he offered this Parliament as an explanation for that course of events when he said- I think Senator Chipp adequately dealt with him in this respect- that it was really not the fault of the present Government but rather the previous Labor Government insofar as the economic conditions which prevailed at the time were such as to encourage a number of businessmen to enter into ventures for which they were illquipped in terms of capacity to handle, and that it was only when the chill winds of economic responsibility were once again blowing as a result of the Fraser administration that harsh reality prevailed and the bankruptcy rate skyrocketed.
– You have a good imagination.
– It was a splendid example of creative, innovative thinking on this subject but it is not one that commands much enthusiasm as bearing a realistic relationship to a plausible explanation of events. The truth of the matter is that the rate of bankruptcy is very closely correlated to economic conditions prevailing at the time. It may be, as Senator Lewis has it- I regret that as usual, having made his contribution, he is not in the chamber to defend it thereafterand as the twelfth report on the operation of the Bankruptcy Act had it, that the number of bankruptcies that are squarely attributable to economic conditions so-called are of the order of only 26 per cent. But what must also be noted is that among the other explanations for the causes of bankruptcy which are spelt out by the report of the former Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs are the following:
Excessive interest and payments on hire purchase and loan moneys . . .
One would have thought that those matters bore a clear relationship to the general economic climate. The excessive interest burden is attributed as being the cause of another 5 per cent or 6 per cent, on my rough arithmetical estimates, of the bankruptcies which took place in the year ended June 30 1979. Then we have the explanation which Senator Lewis referred to, namely, ‘lack of sufficient initial working capital’. That is not something which is a product of the inadequacy of the particular entrepreneur or small businessman in question. That is very much in turn linked to the prevailing economic climate. The reality is that, under the present stagnating conditions in which we find ourselves as a result of conscious and deliberate Government policy of salvation through stagflation, capital is just not available in the scale and dimensions required by small businessmen. That is a matter which again is directly related, although not so described in this list of causes, to the prevailing economic climate. The explanation of lack of sufficient initial working capital accounts for something like- again this is a rough percentage estimate- another 20 per cent or so of the bankruptcies in question. Even on the figures which Senator Lewis triumphantly quoted, the case is just not made out. The terms of the Opposition amendment are ones which I very strongly adhere to in conjunction with my colleagues. The second aspect of the Opposition amendment notes:
Part X of the Act has been the subject of a good deal of attention by other speakers, particularly in the House of Representatives. I do not propose to go over the ground again at this late hour other than to say that this is an area of the Bankruptcy Act which has traditionally proved very complex, technical and expensive to operate and which is a procedural nightmare for those who have been inclined to become involved with it. It is an area, as was classically demonstrated in the Patrick Partners affair, where small creditors’ interests are arguably not sufficiently protected by the present terms of that Pan and will still not be properly protected notwithstanding the minor procedural amendments which are, I acknowledge, embodied in this legislation.
It is an area of the law which, despite the bated breaths of many people in the business and legal community, Mr Justice Riley’s decision in the Patrick Partners case did very little to clarify or resolve. It is an area of the law which does need- I understand the Department acknowledges this- something of a complete rethinking insofar as its basic philosophy is concerned. It is an area of the law which does not need just the kind of tinkering to which it has been subject in this particular Bill. It requires some fundamental reconstruction. That leads to the final aspect of the Opposition amendment, which is an expression of our view which we hope will be the Senate ‘s view and which reads:
It was this particular paragraph in the Opposition’s amendment which attracted the most intense indignation from Senator Lewis who objected to all sorts of other things about the Opposition’s amendment which we can bear with our usual degree of fortitude. But he really excelled himself- it does demand some response- in what he said about the processes of law reform. His views on the whole subject of law reform seem to be of the kind which say that if there had ever been a need for law reform in a particular area it would have happened already. It is a view which bears a close affinity to that view of legal innovation which was recently stated by another judge, not Chief Justice Young who was Senator Lewis’s favourite authority, but His Honour Mr Justice Murphy of the High Court- a higher judicial tribunal- who had something to say on the doctrine of precedent, an associated concept. In a volume called Law, Politics and the Labor Movement–
– Who was the author?
– Modesty forbids me to identify the editor of that recently published volume available at $6.95 from all creditable bookstores. In the course of this volume, Mr Justice Murphy said in relation to the doctrine of precedent: . . whenever you are faced with a decision, you always follow what the last person who was faced with the same decision did. lt is a doctrine eminently suitable for a nation overwhelmingly populated by sheep. As the distinguished chemist, Cornford, said: ‘The doctrine is based on the theory that nothing should ever be done for the first time. ‘
It seems to me that Senator Lewis’s view of the process of law reform has a very close affinity to that well known judicial view of the doctrine of precedent which His Honour Mr Justice Murphy so effectively punctures. The reality of the matter is that much remains to be done in the area of bankruptcy and insolvency law reform. In the 1977 report of the Law Reform Commission, to which I have already made reference, a number of recommendations were made with respect to small non-business debtors, particularly so far as the development of a statutory system of the regular payments of their debts and the ultimate discharge of such debts by means other than bankruptcy was concerned.
One matter on which I would appreciate a ministerial reply is the fate of the recommendation in that Law Reform Commission report so far as the enactment by the Commonwealth is concerned, along with other jurisdictions in Australia, of a debt repayments Act. It was a further recommendation of” that report, however, that there be not just further work done on the subject of non-business bankruptcies but that the whole subject of bankruptcy, both business and non-business, be the subject of extensive review and further reference to the Law Reform Commission. That was a request made by Mr Justice Kirby, the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, in introducing that report. The reasons for it are set out in paragraphs 166 and 167 of that Law Reform Commission report which I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard.
The document read as follows- 166. In the course of discharging its functions under the present Reference, the Commission has become aware of a need for further investigation of three matters. First, the Commission’s recommendations for reform of the Bankruptcy Act have implications extending far beyond the subject of the present Reference. Some of the considerations which led us to conclude that we should recommend alteration to discharge and contribution rules as they affect nonbusiness debtors are equally applicable to business bankrupts. The argument in favour of change with respect to business bankruptcy finds further support in the analogy of company liquidations, now governed by State and Territorial laws. The time has come for a full revision of the Bankruptcy Act in light of the social, commercial and economic changes which have taken place in the last half century. Not only the general philosophy of the Act, but many of its specific provisions are directly traceable to English legislation of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Since that time, Australian credit and business practices have developed and changed quite radically, as have community attitudes towards credit and debts. Both the United States Congress and the Parliament of Canada have recently received comprehensive reports on bankruptcy from expert bodies appointed by them. Legislation is now before Congress and is shortly to be reintroduced to the Canadian Parliament. The United Kingdom Parliament itself has recently appointed a Committee to review and recommend alterations to the Bankruptcy Act 1914’. A further Reference to this Commission in suitably wide terms would ensure a review of the law necessary to render it relevant to present conditions. It is important that our legislation not be allowed to fall further behind its United States and Canadian equivalents. 167. Any such reference should extend to non-business bankruptcy as well as business bankruptcy. While the present Reference has required consideration of some aspects of non-business bankruptcy procedures, the Commission has felt constrained from going into matters falling outside its Terms of Reference. Nonetheless, in the course of examining aspects of bankruptcy falling within those terms, we have formed the opinion that there are additional matters affecting non-business bankruptcy as well as business bankruptcy which deserve close attention. For example, the exemptions allowed in bankruptcy, particularly in relation to a bankrupt’s interest in his matrimonial home, merit reconsideration.2 Again, there is much to be said for simplifying the administration of deceased insolvents’ estates and providing the survivors with means of arranging payment of debts in a manner analogous to that proposed for the Regular Payment of Debts Program.3 On a more general level, there is something to be said for excluding non-business debtors from bankruptcy altogether and providing for discharge from their debts in other ways, as, for example, by means of a declaration of insolvency. The marriage of bankruptcy and insolvency laws in the latter part of the nineteenth century has never been entirely happy. Divorce may prove to be the only satisfactory solution.
Insolvency Law Review Committee, appointment announced to the United Kingdom Parliament, 25 October 1976. 2 cf. para. 30 above, ‘ Homestead ‘ exemptions, as they are known, arc common in the United States and Canada: Kelly, 77, 78. 5 The need for reform is identified in the Western Australian Law Reform Commission’s Working Paper Administration of Deceased Insolvent Estates (April 1977), paras. 97 ff.
– The paragraphs are selfexplanatory. The point is that the bankruptcy law seems to have been one of those areas of the law where progress has been appallingly slow. Although the Government is to be commended for the steps it has taken so far and for the changes it has embodied in this Bill, it is very necessary that further review of the legislation be made by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
– Order! It being 10.30 p.m. under the Sessional Order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented, pursuant to statute:
Defence Amendment Act- Interim DeterminationsStatutory Rules 1980 Nos 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60.
Export Market Development Grants Act- RegulationsStatutory Rules 1980 No. 53.
Life Insurance Act- Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980 No. 54.
Naval Defence Act-Regulation- Statutory Rules 1980 No. 49.
Public Service Act- Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980 No. 52.
Public Service Arbitration Act- Determinations by the Arbitrator, accompanied by statements regarding possible inconsistency with the law- 1 980-
Nos 35 to 39- Australian Public Service Association (Fourth Division Officers).
No. 40- Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia.
No. 4 1 -Professional Officers Association, Australian Public Service.
Nos 42 and 43- Australian Public Service Association (Fourth Division Officers).
No. 44- Association of Professional Engineers, Australia.
No. 45- Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia.
No. 46- Association of Professional Engineers, Australia.*
No. 47- Amalgamated Metal Workers’ and Shipwrights Union and others.
No. 48- Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia.
No. 49- Association of Professional Engineers, Australia and another.
No. 50- Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia.
No. 5 1- Professional Officers’ Association, Australian Public Service.
No. 52- Association of Officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and another.
No. 53- Amalgamated Metal Workers’ and Shipwrights Union and others.
No. 54- Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia.
No. 55- Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association.
No. 56- Professional Musicians Union of Australia.
No. 57- Australian Broadcasting Commission Senior Officers’ Association and another.
Nos 58 to 60- Australian Journalists Association.
No. 6 1 -Royal Australian Nursing Federation. *
No. 62- Association of Professional Engineers, Australia and others.
No. 63- Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia.
Nos 64 and 65- Hospital Employees Federation of Australia.
No. 66- Administrative and Clerical Officers Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 67- Actor’s and Announcers ‘ Equity Association of Australia.
No. 68- Administrative and Clerical Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service and others.
No. 69- Professional Officers Association, Australian Public Service.
No. 70- Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners of Australia and others.* ( * Not accompanied by statement. )
Quarantine Act- Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980 No. 51.
Seat of Government (Administration) Act- Ordinances 1980-
No. 4- Court of Petty Sessions (Amendment ).
No. 5- Coroners (Amendment).
No. 6- Companies (Amendment).
No. 7- Betting (Totalizator Agency) (Amendment).
States Grants (Petroleum Products) Act- Amendments to the Schedules to the subsidy schemes in relation to the States of New South Wales and Victoria, dated 13 March 1980.
Student Assistance Act- Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980 No. 50.
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 19 November 1979:
How many aircraft are owned or leased by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, of what type are they and for what purposes are they used.
– The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Commonwealth Scientfic and Industrial Research Organisation owns the following aircraft:
One aircraft is being fitted out for aerial photography work and will be used principally in research programs investigating soil factors in the cereal land of the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.
The second aircraft is to be used as a source of spares for the operational aircraft.
The following aircraft are leased by the Organisation:
The same aircraft is used, when available, by the Division of Process Technology for urban haze studies in the Sydney area and for atmospheric pollution studies at Mt Isa in Queensland.
Catch Limit on Fin Whales (Question No. 2361)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 20 February 1 980:
Has the Spanish Government replied to a protest by the Australian Government concerning Spain’s intention to disregard a catch limit on fin whales set by the International Whaling Commission; if so, what are the details.
– The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Spanish Government replied on 4 March 1980 to the Australian Government’s protest against the Spanish Government’s objection to a catch limit of fin whales set by the International Whaling Commission.
The Spanish Government noted the concern of the Australian Government and explained its reasons for lodging the objection. The Spanish Government considered that the catch limit in question was determined by an irregular procedure in the international Whaling Commission and was not based on a scientific analysis of the status of the stock.
The International Whaling Commission received catch statistics from Spain too late for consideration by the full Scientific Committee and the catch limits were considered by a specially convened group of scientists. The catch statistics were provided late because Spain only joined the International Whaling Commission shortly before it met.
The Australian Government is still concerned that catch levels higher than those agreed to by the International Whaling Commission may have serious adverse effects on the fin whale stock in question.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 20 February 1 980:
– The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 26 February 1980:
– The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 26 February 1 980:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The number of repeat programs used in daytime schedules during summer holidays varies from year to year, depending on the availability of live sporting telecasts which take place on week days. In previous years of course, ABC cricket coverage was presented during lengthy daytime periods in the summer months.
There is considerable evidence that many viewers either want to see a program again or, having missed the first showing, often because they are shift-workers, welcome the opportunity to see it for the first time. The ABC is asked to repeat many of its high quality programs.
During the last week in January to co-ordinate with Australia Day celebrations the ABC repeated a large number of its highly successful locally produced programs. The repeats were in response to numerous requests. Only part of this week’s programming was included in the period ending 27 January 1980.
Queensland Government Settlement at Normanton: Mr Barry Khan (Question No. 2534)
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 1 8 March 1 980:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Western Australian Consultative Committee on Social Welfare: Annual Report (Question No. 2564)
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 18 March 1980:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
-On 21 February 1980 Senator Gietzelt asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, a question without notice concerning the draft determination of the Trade Practices Commission in relation to the operation of Bankcard.
The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the question raised by Senator Gietzelt both because the determination is only a draft determination, and because the Trade Practices Commission is an independent statutory body exercising functions conferred on it by the Trade Practices Act. I would point out, however, that the Government believes that ensuring the operation of market forces is an important means of protecting the consumer. The Government recognises that the Trade Practices Act has an important role in achieving this end.
High Court Building
– On 27 February 1980, Senator Evans addressed to me the following question without notice:
Is it the case that Cabinet has recently approved a further cost increase for the High Court building, so far unannounced, of more than $7m, so that the total cost of the building is now $49. 1 m as against the $ 1 8.5m of the original estimate and the $42m that was last year’s announced figure? If so, what are the reasons for this latest increase? How does the Government justify it? Why has it been hiding it?
The Minister for the Capital Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It is not the practice of the Government for Ministers to discuss matters considered by Cabinet.
In relation to the estimates for the High Court of Australia building I am informed by the National Capital Development Commission as follows:
The original contract for the construction of the High Court was let in April 1975 for $18,540,870. Since that date, estimates have been revised to take account of costs resulting from rise and fall provisions in the contract and adjustments to provisional sums.
The estimate of the cost of the building as at 30 June 1979 was $42.4m and the estimate for the final cost of the High Court building as at the end of February 1980 is $49. lm.’
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 March 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1980/19800325_senate_31_s84/>.