32nd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Yesterday at a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee I was authorised to inform the Senate of certain conclusions of the Committee. The matter of leave being granted to a senator to make a statement on the presentation of a petition was referred to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration. The Committee considered the matter and unanimously expressed the opinion that the spirit of the Standing Orders, and especially the provisions of Standing Orders 94 and 95 relating to petitions, should be observed and that senators should not seek to make any statement except aslaid down by the Standing Orders.
A further matter referred to the Committee related to the discussion of Estimates committees’ reports at the time of presentation. The Committee considered this reference and unanimously expressed the opinion that the clear intention of the provisions of paragraph (18) of Standing Order 36AB, relating to Estimates committees’ reports, should be observed and that no premature discussion of such reports should be attempted.
The Committee also considered the matter raised by Senator McLaren on Wednesday last relating to publication of additional Estimates committees’ information received by senators from departments after the Parliament rose on 18 September last. It was ascertained that the publication of the volume of additional information relating to Estimates committees’ meetings during the Budget sittings 1980 had not been finalised and that the additional information referred to by Senator McLaren could be included in that volume. Accordingly, I propose to table the additional information and a motion could be moved to have that information included in the appropriate 1980 Budget sittings Hansard volume.
The other matter raised by Senator McLaren relating to answers to questions asked during the consideration of the Appropriation Bills 1980-81 is still under consideration. When I have further information I will be pleased to inform the Senate. The matters I have referred to will be included in the next Standing Orders Committee report to the Senate.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate of the Australian Parliament assembled. The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth:
That currently discrimination in provision of work, in appointment to jobs and in promotion exists in Australia on particular grounds including, inter alia, grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status, pregnancy, sex and/or sexual preference; and
That currently discrimination in the provision of unemployment benefits is exercised against particular groups of individuals - in particular, against married women.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That appropriate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in Commonwealth employment, in employment of individuals under federal awards, in employment of persons by statutory bodies and quasi-governmental organisations, 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 sex and/or marital status.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Durack.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate, in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth, do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
Note that legislation establishing plant variety rights in other countries has had adverse effects, namely:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Puplick.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
We, being the undersigned, being concerned citizens of Australia and of the world, noting widespread violations of the fundamental Human Rights around the world, observing that Australia has taken a, leading role in the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, being aware that less than 40 per cent of money raised by Amnesty International is remitted outside Australia, urge the Government to support Amnesty International in a practical way by permitting donations to be deductible from income for taxation purposes.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Bonner.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. It refers to the extension of the powers of the Social Security Appeals Tribunals to deal with medical matters concerning invalid pensions. Have doctors been appointed to the Social Security Appeals Tribunals? If so, how were they selected? If they have not been appointed, when will they be appointed and how will they be selected? Will new medical evidence be permitted to be introduced in such appeals?
– Honourable senators will be aware that the decision with respect to the change in the Social Security Appeals Tribunals was announced by my predecessor some time before the election. I, in concert with the AttorneyGeneral, announced the actual passage of the regulations which put the decision into operation. In the latter part of last week I sought clarification from the Department on the very points raised by Senator Grimes. As far as I know, I have not yet received a response on those points. I will give Senator Grimes an answer as soon as I have it.
– I ask a supplementary question. Can people at present appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunals on these matters? If so, how will the Social Security Appeals Tribunals consider medical evidence in the absence of doctors?
– It is my understanding that people can now appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunals. I sought clarification on the points raised by the honourable senator, as I told him, in the latter part of last week. I have yet to receive a response. I am not, therefore, in a position to give him a proper reply to his question.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to the submission by Trans-Australia Airlines to the independent public inquiry into domestic air fares. The submission is a very lengthy and comprehensive one and I have not had time to read it all. However, what I have read indicates clearly to me that TAA believes that the cost of a long haul economy ticket is higher than it should be when related to the cost of a short haul ticket. Does the Minister agree with that assessment? If an increase in air fares is necessary before the inquiry into domestic air fares brings down its report, will the Minister undertake to take account of the TAA submission and not apply an acrosstheboard increase, which occurred when fares were last increased.
– I understand that copies of the submission by TAA to the Holcroft inquiry have recently been forwarded to the Minister and to his Department for comment. It would be inappropriate for me to comment upon the submission before the public inquiry has had an opportunity to evaluate it and to finalise its report. However, my understanding is that certain of TAA’s recommendations would, if they were adopted, tend to reducelong haul air fares; other recommendations would have the reverse effect. The position is not clear at the moment. Following representations from members of this chamber and other members of parliament, the Minister is reconsidering his decision not to change the relativities between the flag fall and the distance component when he considers the next applications for fare increases pending the report of the Holcroft inquiry.
– I refer the AttorneyGeneral to various reports in today’s newspapers of the proceedings of the hearing by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal into the appeal by Control Investments Pty. Ltd against the decision of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal in the ATV 10 inquiry. In particular, I refer him to the fact that Mr Peter Young, Q.C., appeared for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and submitted that all four public interest groups seeking leave to appear at the appeal should be excluded. Who instructed Mr Young to make this submission? Was it the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal itself, the Attorney or the Minister for Communications?
– I have not seen the reports mentioned by Senator Button. 1 understand that the Tribunal requested representation by the Deputy Crown Solicitor. The Deputy Crown Solicitor has, presumably, instructed Mr ‘ Young, Q.C. The instructions to him, as far as I am aware, would come through the client, which would be the Tribunal. I certainly have not given any instructions in relation to the matter. I will refer the question to the Minister for Communications to see whether he has been involved in these instructions in any way.
– Did the Minister representing the Treasurer see an article in last Friday’s Age newspaper which quotes from a pamphlet entitled ‘Victoria: The Father Christmas of Australia’? Does the pamphlet claim that Victorians paid the highest income tax per person of those in any State - that is $939 in 1978-79 - but received the lowest amount in return per person, actually $284? ls it true that Victoria is thus subsidising the other States by over $350m a year? Does the present tax reimbursement formula favour the less populated but resource-rich States of Queensland and Western Australia which, 1 understand, are in a state of wealthy excitement? Is it justifiable that Tasmania, which pays the second lowest amount - that is $833 per person - should receive the highest reimbursement of $580 per person; twice as much as the reimbursement for Victoria, even though it is only half the area? When will these relative allocations next be reviewed, and how can they be adjusted in a more equitable manner?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEThe Senate sounds very much like a States House. The question draws attention to the fact that over the years Victoria generally has received less in general purpose grants from the Commonwealth on a per head of population basis than the other Stales have received. The statement that Victoria is subsidising the other States by nearly $352m a year is being examined at present by the Treasurer. I know it is a claim that is frequently made. However, broadly speaking, Victoria and New South Wales are in about the same position in regard to general revenue assistance from the Commonwealth, whilst the four less populous States receive notably more general purpose revenue funds on a per capita basis. This is in accordance with the very long-standing principle that these funds should be provided in such a way as to put all States in a position to provide similar standards of services to their citizens on the basis of their making similar degrees of effort in raising their own taxes.
There has, however, been an accepted principle that the Commonwealth should assist the smaller States to offset disadvantages in respect of the relative costs of providing services and the relative disadvantages in raising revenue. Under this equalisation principle the differing per capita general purpose revenue payments to the States have been made so as to avoid the situation in which the smaller States might have to impose higher taxes on their citizens in order to provide services of the standard provided in Victoria, lt is very difficult to apply the principles of equalisation with complete precision. It may be that, particularly over a number of years, the relative positions of the various States have altered. It is for this reason that the Commonwealth Government has agreed with the States on procedures for regular reviews of the relative shares of income tax revenue among States.
asked when these matters would have consideration, and I am able to say that there is discussion at present with regard to the tax sharing arrangements that will occur in the future. I think that the matters that were raised by him, and any other relevant matters, will at that time be taken into account. However, 1 think it is fair to say that Victoria has traditionally enjoyed a relative advantage over New South Wales in terms of per capita amounts, taking into account government and semi-government loan programs under the Loan Council.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Will three Navy tracker aircraft be withdrawn from the Darwin base in three weeks’ time? Will coastal surveillance be let out to private charter? If so, will the Minister agree that Australia’s peacetime coastal surveillance is a role that rightly belongs to our defence forces and not to private individuals, particularly if they are not trained for this work?
– I will have to refer that question to the Minister for Defence and ask him for an early reply.
– I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health to an article appearing in the July 1980 edition of Food Technology in Australia relating to the nutritional value of food items available from
McDonald’s Family Restaurants. Will the Minister comment on this article and, in particular, the claim that the total amount of sugars in a supermarket bun was 5.0 grams per 100 grams compared with 8.6 grams of sugars in a McDonald’s Big Mac bun? Does the Minister agree that because young children are the main consumers of McDonald’s products, the high concentration of sugar in their foodstuffs should be more stringently controlled? What recent investigations have been conducted by the Government or government agencies into the excessive use of sugar in goods marketed by fast food agencies within Australia and the association of sugar with various illnesses and common diseases? Will action be taken by the Government to regulate the use of sugar in the manufacturing processes of fast food chains so as to ensure that correct eating habits are fostered in young people in the Australian community?
– I have some information relating to this matter. Although I have not read the issue of Food Technology in Australia to which Senator Missen has referred, nutritionists in the Department of Health are aware of the article. However, the details he gave relating to the amount of sugars in the Big Mac bun are from an as yet unpublished addendum to the original article. The McDonald’s bun does have a higher level of sugars than the conventional bun, because it is made to an American recipe. This recipe includes 5.7 grams of sugar - I think that is slightly lower than the figure the honourable senator mentioned - 3.5 grams of fructose, which is sugar found in honey, 3.7 grams of glucose and 0.5 grams of maltose. My colleague, the Minister for Health, is aware that young children - and I might add, politicans during campaigns - are major consumers of McDonald’s products. He is aware of the concern expressed by Australian nutritionists at the bad habit forming potential of the sweeter buns. One of the dietary guidelines recommended by the Commonwealth Department of Health is a decrease in the consumption of refined sugars in this country.
The honourable senator also asked what recent investigations have been carried out. The Commonwealth is at present conducting an investigation into the nutrient composition of Australian foods as part of a joint program of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Department of Health to revise the publication Tables of Composition of Australian Foods. A priority is being given to the analysis of takeaway or fast foods. Action has been taken by the Commonwealth to ensure that correct eating habits are fostered in young people in Australia. This includes the development and support of health and nutrition education programs through schools, maternal and child health clinics, community health centres and other agencies.
The honourable senator asked what action we will take to try to develop better eating habits. Any action to regulate the ingredient components in fast foods is a matter for State, not Commonwealth, legislation. However, in regard to the use of sugar in manufactured foods in general, food industry bodies in Australia have been made aware of the Department of Health’s policy recommending a reduction in sugar intake by the community.
– I ask the Minister for Finance a question on a subject which I have raised twice in the last year or so and which I am hoping the Minister will take more seriously than her predecessor obviously did. In view of the continued situation in which many thousands of blind persons in Australia are placed at a disadvantage because of difficulties in recognising by touch differing denominations of Australian bank notes, when is a redesign of Australian bank notes likely? When such a redesign takes place, will some method be investigated so that blind persons will not be placed at a disadvantage to sighted persons and will be able to recognise Australian bank notes by touch?
I will see whether any action has been taken on the previous requests by Senator Mason on this matter and will inquire whether there is any information relating to it. I have a feeling that my colleague the Treasurer will need to respond to this question but I will check to see whether any action has been taken to provide what I believe to be a very worthwhile objective.
– Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister aware that the Western Australian Industrial Commission granted an increase in wages to hospital staff and that because of that fact the number of staff is now being reduced to meet this additional expense, thus putting the health of the people of Western Australia at risk? Until Western Australians have the opportunity to replace the Sir Charles Court Government, will the Minister accept the responsibility of ensuring that the people of Western Australia will continue to enjoy health services equivalent to those operating in the more fortunate States?
– The question asked by Senator Mcintosh was directed to me as the Minister representing the Prime Minister, but it does appear to be a question more properly ‘ coming under the purview of the Minister for Health. I will bring the subject matter to the attention of my colleague in another place and seek his response.
– I refer to the statement by the Minister for Social Security last week, underlining part of the Governor-General’s Speech last Tuesday, that the Government has begun a major review of welfare and other policies in order especially to assist more adequately low income families and indeed all families. Can the Minister assure the Senate that this review will not be confined to programs within his own Department, programs such as the family allowance program, but also will include taxation proposals, such as income splitting and the detailed interface between social security programs and tax arrangements as they affect recipients of tax and family benefits?
– The Governor-General’s Speech last week made it quite clear that the Government is concerned to examine the situation of families and to ensure that their position is protected. To do that, I think, involves an examination not only of the programs of the Department of Social Security but also, as the honourable senator suggested by his question, the taxation system as it impinges on families. The change to the taxation system which was introduced early this year with respect to the spouse rebate is a good example of the sort of change in an area outside the Department of Social Security which affects families.
The answer to the honourable senator’s question is that the Government, in its examination of the position of the family in Australia, will be concerned wilh a whole range of policies which impinge on the family’s welfare.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware that suntanning clinics have grown into a multi-million dollar franchise industry over the past 12 months? Is he also aware that the Health Commission of New South Wales has ordered an urgent inquiry into the effects of exposure to the intensive ultra-violet light system used iri the tanning equipment known as sunbeds? As most of these sunbeds are imported from Europe, can the Minister inform the House whether any safety standards are imposed on this type of equipment which could cause skin cancer or irreparable damage to the eyes?
– The honourable senator asked a question which was in three parts. I am not aware of the proliferation of suntanning clinics as set out by the honourable senator, but it might be interesting to know the facts. He asked about a system of health clinics which I believe is known as sunbeds about which there appears to be some concern, and into which he says the Health Commission of New South Wales is at present investigating. I have no information on that.
The part of the question which might most directly concern the Commonwealth concerns standards in relation to exposure to treatments such as suntanning. I have no answer to the honourable senator. I will undertake to put the question to my colleague to see whether we can obtain information for him as soon as possible.
– Has the Attorney-General seen Press reports detailing Japan’s intention to send a ship to conduct a basic survey on possible oil deposits in the waters off Antarctica? Can the Minister state whether the proposed area of search comes within Australia’s claimed territorial regions and whether the Japanese have approached Australia or any of the other signatories to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty concerning their search for oil?
- Senator Young had drawn my attention to the Press report to which he has referred. The area in which the Japanese survey vessel reportedly intends to operate is outside the part of Antarctica which is claimed by Australia. Australia’s position is that it would claim the right to regulate any exploitation of the resources on the continental shelf of the Australian Antarctic Territory subject to existing international understandings concerning Antarctica. Those understandings, I think, are of some relevance and interest here. The Antarctic Treaty consultative parties have been considering the possibility of developing within the existing Treaty framework a regime relating to Antarctic mineral resources. So far discussions have been preliminary in nature and the parties have agreed that they will observe a moratorium on exploration and exploitation while solutions are being found. The question will be further discussed at meetings in Washington this December and in
Buenos Aires in July next year. In preparing for these meetings Australia is keeping firmly in mind our vital interest in the Antarctic and in maintaining the Antarctic Treaty.
As I have said, the Government is aware of the Press and radio reports concerning the Japanese survey referred to in the article. But in the Antarctic Treaty, to which Australia and Japan are parties, there is provision for freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and the parties have agreed to exchange scientific observations and results. Japan has agreed to observe the moratorium referred to by me. The Japanese have informed us that one of their vessels will be conducting scientific research including geological and geophysical surveys in the Antarctic area between December 1 980 and February 1 98 1 . They have also said that no drilling will be undertaken and that the results of the research will be made available to the Antarctic Treaty parties in accordance with the Treaty.
– I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs: Did the Parliament in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) approve an expenditure of $286,000 for social support for Aboriginals in the northern area of the Northern Territory? Has portion of this allocation been spent, by a decision of the Northern Territory Administration, on the rebuilding of airstrips for the use of the new Metroliner aircraft to be flown commercially by Northern Airlines.
– I am not aware of the details of each appropriation in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) but I have no reason to doubt the figure given by the honourable senator. I am aware of some rumours to the effect of what Senator Cavanagh has said. I am not aware of the factual basis of these matters. I think it might be better if I refer them to my colleagues in the Northern Territory to obtain a detailed answer for the honourable senator.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer request the Treasurer to consider a substantial reduction in the sales tax on bicycles as a means of improving the health of the general public by encouraging more exercise, as a means of reducing air pollution and as a means of reducing petrol consumption?
– 1 will refer to the Treasurer the matter that has been raised by Senator Archer. The Government did carefully consider this matter at the time of the Budget preparation and it took into account a number of factors at that time. It needed to weigh up the potential value of a reduction in the sales tax in encouraging the sale of bicycles and the revenue that would be forgone if a decision to reduce the tax were taken. I understand that there has been an increase in the sales of bicycles despite the fact that there was no reduction of sales tax in the last Budget. However, I will refer to the Treasurer the matters that have been raised by Senator Archer to ascertain whether there is any other response the Treasurer wishes to make.
– Has the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs examined the details of the recent Federal Court case of the Repatriation Commission v. Nancy Law and the Federal Court’s rulings in relation to that case? Can the Minister advise whether this case has been finalised or whether an appeal is being made to a higher court? If an appeal is being made to a higher court when is it likely that the appeal will be finalised?
– I advise the honourable senator that there was a hearing on appeal to the High Court of Australia on, I think, 14 November. We now are awaiting the decision of the court.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Since the provisions of the Crimes (Taxation Offences) Bill will not be retrospective does the Commissioner of Taxation intend to prosecute those bottom of the harbour type companies that have deliberately destroyed their records with the intention of avoiding their tax liability under current provisions by invoking section 231 of the Income Tax Assessment Act which deals with fraudulent avoidance of tax?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEIt is my understanding that the Commissioner of Taxation and the relevant legal authorities have not yet reached a decision on the matter raised by Senator Watson. However, I understand that section 23 1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act does not provide an appropriate remedy for this kind of activity. This section applies where the activity complained of involves attempts to avoid assessment of tax. There is grave doubt whether the provision applies to activity designed so that a company cannot pay the tax that it is liable to pay. More significantly, if an offence were committed it would be an offence committed by the company. In a situation where the company had been stripped of funds a prosecution, therefore, would be pointless. Section 231 does not expose officers and directors of companies to penalties. The matter raised by Senator Watson is important. I will see whether the Treasurer wishes to make some further comment in regard to it. It is a matter that is under active and close attention as far as the Income Tax Act is concerned.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Following his recent visit to Darwin can he assure the Senate that the Northern Territory Government will not obstruct the carrying out of the trachoma program on a national basis? Will the Minister undertake to reopen discussions on this program with the Government of Western Australia so that Western Australian Aboriginals will not be excluded from treatment under the national program?
– The national trachoma program was undertaken by’ the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists in arrangement with the Department of Health. It gave a snapshot view of trachoma throughout Australia during the period of the survey. It proposed a series of initiatives which might be taken to deal with the on-going problem of trachoma. I do not think anyone would want to argue with the observations of the College of Ophthalmologists. In fact, it was a very well run inquiry. If I read its report correctly it was actually on my suggestion that it did this. The argument that emerges is whether its proposal for implementing a program of treatment is the one that should be followed, or whether alternative proposals within the systems of health care of State governments could do the job equally well.
There have been consultations between the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists and the Government of the Northern Territory with a view to developing systems by which the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists can continue to assist that Government in delivering care. There is no national program for treating trachoma. The trachoma program was a survey. The College proposed this national model. We are encouraging consultation with State governments, which have the basic carriage of health care, as to the best way in which the recommendations of that trachoma study can be implemented. But part of this is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health. I will direct Senator Ryan’s question to him in case any other details need to be added.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services. I refer to the alleged kidnapping in Canberra on Saturday, 13 September, of Michael Treacy. As this was allegedly done by persons from the United States, as well as some from Australia, under some form of contract arranged, according to reports, by Mr Treacy’s parents, and as Mr Treacy was allegedly abducted on Federal territory and then taken across the Australian Capital Territory border into New South Wales allegedly to undergo an intensive process of what is known as de-programming conducted by the persons from the United States, can the Minister say what involvement the Australian Federal Police or other Commonwealth agencies have had or have in this matter, particularly with respect to international arrangements concerning the kidnapping of Australian citizens? What has been the subsequent role of the Federal Police and other Federal agencies in investigations and proceedings relating to these events ?
– I have a little information on this matter, but I have to advise that there are some sub judice problems which limit what I can say. I am advised that the alleged kidnapping was part of a continuing offence which occurred in New South Wales and as such it was primarily a matter for the New South Wales police. Australian Federal police have assisted the New South Wales police in their investigations wherever possible, and I understand that no other Commonwealth authority has been involved. Several people have been charged with the kidnapping under section 90a of the New South Wales Crimes Act of 1900 and they are due to appear in court in Sydney on 8, 9 and 1 1 December 1 980; that is, next week. As the matter is still to come before the court it would not be appropriate to discuss further details of the case at this time.
– I ask a supplementary question arising from the Minister’s answer. Can the Minister confirm that the offence, as alleged, did in fact occur in Federal territory; that is, in the Australian Capital Territory? Is there a Federal law relating to such offences? Will it be invoked at some stage in this case?
– I am unable to answer on those extra matters which have been raised by the honourable senator. It might be appropriate for me to refer them on for a detailed response.
– My question, which follows the question raised by Senator Hamer, is directed to the Minister for Finance, and is also directed to healing the bleeding hearts of Victorians. Senator Hamer quoted figures which were prepared by the Victorian Premier, Mr Hamer. Is the Minister aware that those figures totally ignore the $5, 000m distributed through tariffs, quotas and subsidies to manufacturing industry? Is the Minister also aware that the latest figures on that sort of distribution, prepared from an impeccable source, namely, the Honourable Kevin Cairns, who was previously the member for Lilley, show the latest official calculations for the net subsidy equivalent to industry per capita are: Queensland, $155; Tasmania $260; Western Australia $183 - I mention those three States because Senator Hamer mentioned them - and Victoria, $540? Will the Minister agree that the States mentioned by Senator Hamer in his question receive a per capita average of $199 as compared with the figure for Victoria of $540 per capita from that source? Will the Minister therefore agree that Senator Hamer’s question was simply a case of Hamer quoting Hamer?
I have taken note of the many facts and figures that have now been given by Senator Harradine with regard to the matter of distribution or equalisation of grants to various States. Perhaps it is just as well that I repeat in the Senate that a review of the distribution is currently being undertaken, and a special division of the Commonwealth Grants Commission is examining possible imbalances that may occur amongst the States. These are being examined very carefully and in considerable detail. The review is expected to be finalised before the end of the current financial year. I have no doubt that the figures quoted by Senator Harradine as having been sourced by the Honourable Kevin Cairns will be before the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I feel sure that other States would wish equally to make their submissions on the effect of the distributions that have occurred in the past. It is timely that a review be undertaken. Whilst Victoria may make the claims that Senator Hamer has mentioned, I am aware that other States would wish to point to their point of view at this time. I will refer the figures to the Treasurer. If he wishes to comment on them I will see that Senator Harradine is advised. In the meantime, I think we all can take comfort from the detailed examination and review that is being undertaken.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and follows the question I asked last Thursday. Last Thursday I pointed out that the health insurance fund Medibank Private is listed in the Newcastle telephone directory under Commonwealth departments. I have since found that this is the case in varying ways in all telephone books. I ask: If this listing by the Department of Health is justified, why is Trans-Australia Airlines not listed under the Commonwealth Department of Transport?
– Inspired by Senator Walters’ question, I checked one of the telephone directories last night. I can confirm that what she set out is factual. I am unable to say why TAA appears under a certain listing or not under another listing, but the honourable senator has drawn to my attention extra facts with regard to the listing of Medibank as a statutory authority.I will make sure they are drawn to the attention of the Minister for Health.
– I ask the Minister for Finance and Minister representing the Treasurer: Is the money supply growing at about 1 3 per cent per annum when the Government’s stated target for M3 for this financial year is nine to 1 1 per cent? Did the Treasurer state last Thursday that interest rates must be flexible and admit that - I use his words - ‘one cannot hope to control both interest rates and the money supply at the same time’? In that statement was he not in fact forecasting a rise in interest rates and contradicting her assertion, which was made almost simultaneously, that no Treasurer should speculate about interest rates?
Senator Walsh chooses to quote half of the statement made by the Treasurer last Thursday. The statement that the Treasurer made on that day was that his constant practice has been not to speculate about the future level of interest rates. He said on that day that he did not propose to depart from that practice, which he has followed for the past three years. He stated the same sentiments today when he responded to the Leader of the Opposition and said that when he had something specific to say about the level of interest rates over which the Government has control or influence he will say so. The statements made by Senator Walsh can be referred to the Treasurer for any comment that he may wish to make upon them. I respond again by saying that I certainly would not pre-empt the Treasurer in any of his statements on the areas of policy for which he is responsible. 1 certainly would not add to speculation about interest rates.
– I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Does the Minister agree with the Treasurer’s assertion that one cannot hope to control both interest rates and the money supply at the same time? If so, can she tell us whether the Government intends to increase interest rates or whether it intends to continue to abandon constraints on money supply growth?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEI have nothing further to add to the statement that I just made that I do not intend to speculate about interest rates.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations. Has the Australian Council of Trade Unions consulted the Government about its plan to charter up to six ships to carry iron ore from Pilbara ports to Japan? Has the Government been advised that Japanese ore purchasers have declined to accept the commercial proposition from the ACTU to provide this shipping on a commercial basis? Is there any connection between this latest example of the commercial aspirations of the ACTU and a recent strike by the Seamen’s Union of Australia workers manning tugs handling Japanese shipping at Pilbara ports?
– I have some information on this matter but I am not able to answer the question definitively. I can answer part of it. With respect to whether the ACTU has consulted the Government about its plan to charter up to six ships to carry iron from Pilbara ports to Japan, I have no knowledge of any such consultation, although I am advised that the ACTU President has recently indicated that he will ask the Government for assistance in overcoming Japanese resistance to such a proposal. I understand that a spokesman for the ACTU has said that Japanese interests are opposed to a greater Australian Hag presence in the bulk trade to Japan. I am not aware that the Government has received any official advice on the attitude of the Japanese ore purchasers to the ACTU proposal, which 1 understand may be linked with CRA Ltd, for the carriage of Australian ore to Japan, but I will make inquiries of the relevant Ministers to see whether any such advice has been received.
The industrial action at Pilbara ports to which the honourable senator has referred has been taken by members of three Australian maritime unions. Bans have been placed on foreign vessels engaged in carrying iron ore to Japan. These bans are in support of the continued presence of two Australian National Line freighters in the trade. The Senate could draw the conclusion, therefore, that there is a link between the industrial action to which the honourable senator referred and the aspirations to be involved directly in the trade in ore between Australia and Japan. To put that matter into perspective, the Government, of course, supports Australian flag participation in overseas trading and the use of Australian crews but expects this to be achieved on a commercially negotiated basis without additional cost to consumers, government subsidy or threat of industrial action.
– The question that Senator Missen asked previously concerning McDonald’s raises a very important issue. Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware that McDonald’s is intimidating nutritionists who dare to speak out against the value of McDonald’s products? Is he aware that McDonald’s has issued writs against people who dare to question the nutritional value of its products? What action does the Minister for Health intend to take to protect nutritionists, scientists and other qualified people who make an assessment of McDonald’s products from the threat of legal action?
– Following Senator Missen ‘s question we had another look at the sugar figures and we found, when we added up the component sugars, that it was 7.5 grams per bun. I think Senator Missen has the figure a little higher than that. I come to the matters raised by Senator Georges. He wants to know whether 1 am aware that intimidatory statements have been made by McDonald’s.
– The honourable senator asked about statements firstly against certain nutritionists. I am not aware of them. In fact yesterday when I became aware of this matter I spoke to one of Australia’s leading nutritionists, Josephine Rogers, and we heard no evidence then that there was any intimidation. I am not aware of any intimidatory actions. 1 am not aware of any writs that have been issued.
I am not entirely certain that it is a matter for the Minister for Health to take the kind of action proposed by Senator Georges. I will take the matter up with my colleague. We may even wish to take it up with the Attorney-General.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Finance in her role as a member of the Review of Commonwealth Functions Committee chaired by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I refer to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources on quarantine, which was tabled in the Senate on 20 October 1979, and in particular to those recommendations which relate to administrative arrangements and which have not yet attracted a response from the Government. Will the Minister give me an undertaking that she will bring to the attention of the review committee those recommendations of the quarantine report which are concerned with administrative arrangements?
As a member of the committee reviewing the functions of the Commonwealth Government I certainly will take note of the question raised by Senator Thomas with regard to administrative arrangements for quarantine. I am also aware of the matters that have been raised with Senate Estimates committees with regard to this matter. I cannot make any statement other than I will bring it to the attention of the committee which is looking in some detail at functions, overlaps, duplications and gaps in each department of government. In that context I will refer to the Senate committee’s report to see in detail the recommendations which have been referred to.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It relates to an earlier Government decision relaxing the restrictions on the export of Australian fauna. I refer to the death of several kangaroos at a zoo in Rio de Janeiro. Will the documents which gave the animals a clean bill of health and stated that they were fit to travel be produced in the Senate? Under what conditions were the animals sent to the zoo? In addition, will the Minister produce the Customs authorisation? Will an officer from our embassy visit the zoo and look at the conditions there? In the interim, will the export ban again be applied?
– I have no information on this matter. I will undertake to get in touch with the Minister concerned and refer his comments to Senator Mulvihill as quickly as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Is the
Treasurer now able to say whether the Government intends to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act to overcome the shortcomings of section 260 as disclosed by the outcome of court cases since 1976 relating to this section? Has a government working party been considering this matter? If so, for how long? When will it conclude its advice to the Government? Has the Treasurer considered implementing an amendment similar to that adopted by the New Zealand Parliament in section 99 of its Income Tax Act after Privy Council interpretations circumscribed the operation of the New Zealand equivalent of our section 260? If so, what factors prevent the immediate adoption by Australia of legislation in terms similar to the New Zealand legislation?
A great deal of consideration has been given to section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. I am not in a position to relate any work done in this country to the New Zealand legislation or to state what factors prevent our adopting it. However, I will see whether the Treasurer wishes to make any response at this time to Senator Teague’s question.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Treasurer, having considered the question, give us as full an answer as possible before the Senate considers amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act, which I understand are to be introduced tomorrow?
I will refer that further question to the Treasurer for a response. Taxation legislation is due to come before the Parliament tomorrow, but I doubt whether there will be an opportunity to relate Senator Teague’s question to that legislation. However, I will seek a response.
– Will the Attorney-General confirm that a telephone tap has been applied to the phones of Mr Tom Kelly and Mr Jack Graham, the Vice-President and Secretary respectively of the New South Wales Society of Labor Lawyers, at their Sydney law office, the firm of G. D. Campbell and Co., and that such tap was in operation on the morning of Thursday, 1 3 November? If the Attorney will not confirm this, can he explain from what ultimate source officers of his Department became aware on 13 November that radio station 2SER-FM was proposing to broadcast later that day extracts from the book entitled Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975, given that I am assured that the only communications known to have been made by any persons associated with that station on this subject were telephone calls on the day in question made on a solicitor-client basis with the law office of Messrs Kelly and Graham?
– Authorisation for telephone interception can be given only under the Telecommunications (Interception) Act by warrant of the Attorney-General on application from the Director-General of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation in relation to matters of security. We do not disclose details of telephone interceptions. That question of whether there was an interception about a particular person will not be answered for the reasons that I have given on a number of occasions. As to some particular information that Senator Evans sought, I understand that he raised a question in relation to the Deputy Crown Solicitor earlier today. The information that was obtained came from the Deputy Registrar of the High Court in Sydney. As far as we understand, that information to the Deputy Registrar of the High Court in Sydney was from an anonymous phone call.
– I ask a supplementary question. Will the Attorney-General make further inquiries as to the source of what he described as the anonymous telephone call, establish, at least to his own satisfaction, whether that anonymous call did or did not emanate from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation or from some other like body, and give further consideration to advising the Senate accordingly?
– I will take note of the further question from Senator Evans.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Finance, although part of the question affects the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It was reported that Pioneer Concrete Services Ltd is proposing to issue one million shares to the Chairman, Sir Tristan Venus Antico, and that the company intends to set up a facility for the company to finance these purchases through a trust set up for that purpose. Is this arrangement being examined by the Australian Taxation Office to ensure that it does not deny revenue to the Government for, essentially, a recognition of or reward for services to the company? Further, is this arrangement not in contravention of the Companies Act which prohibits companies from financing share acquisitions in their own entities?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEI understand that the attention of the Australian Taxation Office has been drawn to the reports that have been referred to by Senator Watson.
However, as he may be aware, the secrecy provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act prevent the Commissioner of Taxation making any public comment on the matter that was raised, but I assure him that the attention of the Australian Taxation Office has been drawn to the matter that he has referred to.
– I ask a supplementary question. A part of my question was directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It concerned the arrangement being in contravention of the Companies Act, which prohibits companies from financing share acquisitions in their own entities.
– I raise a point of order as to the abuse of the privilege of supplementary questions. A question was asked of Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. She supplied what answer she could on the matter, and then a question was directed to another Minister who has responsibility for an entirely different portfolio. It could not possibly be a supplementary question.
– In watching the list in front of me, I was not aware of that change in the question. Any supplementary question must be directed to the Minister initially answering the question.
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEPerhaps I should explain for Senator Watson that I think the matter that he raised was referred to in his original question. I omitted to refer to it, but it is a matter which concerns the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It was comprehended in the earlier question.
– My question which is directed to the Minister for Finance follows the astonishing question asked by Senator Hamer. Is it a fact that Tasmanians earn many hundreds of dollars more per head than Victorians in overseas earnings for Australia - in fact, some $ 1 ,572 per head? Is it a fact that Tasmanians have a lower standard of living than would otherwise be the case by utilising these overseas earnings because of the need to shore up the manufacturing and employment opportunities in Victoria by Tasmanians having to pay higher prices for goods bearing or protected by the high tariffs? Is the Tasmanian contribution to the Federal Treasury commonly underestimated by those who fail to take account of the fact that many of the companies which successfully exploit Tasmanian resources and labour have their head offices in Victoria and pay company tax there? In short, would Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania be far better off economically if they seceded from the whinging parasites of the south-east mainland?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEHonourable senators seem to be preoccupied with their States getting a fair share of funds available. I think the equalisation provisions will need to be most closely examined. One almost imagines that Senator Wriedt is back, sitting opposite Senator Carrick, referring to these matters as he used to. I am not aware of the detail relating to overseas earnings or the other matters which would enable me to respond specifically to the question, but I state again that the review of all these financial arrangements is being undertaken in great detail. I think the compensating factors that have been mentioned by numbers of honourable senators do exist. I can only say that I suppose we have three more such questions to go.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister been asked to consider the establishment of a joint government-industry coordinating body, as suggested by the Confederation of Australian Industry, to overview the enormous tasks involved, generally accepting that Australia will witness an unprecedented resources boom during the 1980s? If not, will he consider forming such a body to examine such issues as energy availability, financial arrangements, shortages of skilled labour, areas of supply shortfalls and the overall economic effects on regions, States and the nation?
– I recall reading, I think in the Press, that it has been suggested that the Government should set up a co-ordinating body on this whole question of the resources boom. The Government will carefully consider any such suggestion if it is put to it officially. But of course it does not want to set up proliferating activities of government. Nevertheless, Senator Archer has referred to a very real and significant thing. This country faces an enormous opportunity and challenge in what has been called a resources boom. On the one hand unique opportunities will be offered to us to provide new job opportunities and new standards of living for Australians and on the other hand there will be great pressures upon our resources and in the development of our infrastructure and facilities. Taken altogether, it is an important subject. The Government is very conscious of the need to strike the optimum balance. As I have said, we will give consideration to any official approach.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, relates to an advertisement carried in most, if not all, national newspapers on Monday, 1 December, lt was headed ‘More jobs for the boys means bickies for the bosses’ and related to the Commonwealth Rebate for Apprentice Full-time Training Scheme, supposedly a scheme for the benefit of both young men and young women. I wish to express my surprise and disappointment that a government which expresses a commitment to, if I may quote from the Governor-General’s Speech, ‘overcoming unemployment in general and particularly for stimulating the employment of youth’ has clearly revealed a priority for male employment. Will the Minister therefore provide the Senate with information regarding the CRAFT Scheme, including the types of occupations in which young people are being sponsored and the numbers of both males and females intended to be employed under the Scheme? Finally, will the Minister ensure that the sexist advertising, of such poor taste, will not be repeated?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEThe latest CRAFT Scheme promotion began with an advertisement which was placed in 22 metropolitan and major provincial newspapers throughout Australia yesterday and which has still to be run in some further weekend newspapers. The aim of the advertisement is to advise employers in an imaginative way of the new $1,000 bonus and the increased CRAFT rebates that will be applied. It directs readers to brochures on the CRAFT Scheme which are available through the Commonwealth Employment Service offices. The campaign will be further developed in mid-February of next year. It will include media advertising and a direct mail promotion to all employers. I know that some allegations have been trade with regard to the fact that in some people’s v ‘ew it is a sexist advertisement. I understand that the Office of Women’s Affairs yesterday claimed to have received over 50 complaints by women regarding this advertisement. The Minister has said that the introduction to the advertisement stated:
Australia’s young men and women are vital to the future of our country. This future, your future, depends greatly on our ability to train more young people to meet the trade needs in the coming years.
It is further stated:
More jobs for our young men and women.
The aim of that advertisement and of the total campaign is to increase apprentice intakes in Australia. Any such increase would be likely to increase apprenticeships and opportunities for young women. As part of the promotion of trade training, the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs has under preparation a special poster urging young women to consider careers in the trades. The Department proposes to produce a booklet in brochure form for this purpose. The Department did accept the advice of its advertising specialists with regard to this advertisement to which some exception has been taken. It was not intended that it be discriminatory as far as women are concerned. I think that when the full campaign is developed there may be some redress of what was regarded as a problem in that earlier advertising. However, Senator Coleman also asked for the details of the CRAFT Scheme. I will need to get that more detailed information from the Minister to ensure that she is advised about it and in order that the Senate has this information readily available.
– by leave - In the course of my remarks last Thursday evening in relation to the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech, inadvertently and mistakenly I attributed remarks to the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Hicks) in the other place. I would like to set the record straight. I refer to the portion of my speech where I rebutted Senator Neal’s claims regarding the four people whom he named as being responsible for the initiative in restructuring the River Murray Waters Agreement. In his speech, Senator Neal stated that the agreement was about to be signed shortly. During my remarks I stated:
I understand that the new member for Riverina (Mr Hicks) uttered practically the same words in the other place today in his maiden speech. I was told that. I have not read the speech. 1 will do so tomorrow.
I have read the speech. I would like to apologise to Mr Hicks because he made no such remarks in the other place. Senator Neal made the remarks.
– Last Thursday, 27 November, Senator Georges asked me a question about access to the book Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975 in the Parliamentary Library. Further to the reply which I gave Senator Georges then, I now advise the Senate that Mr Justice Mason of the High Court of Australia has announced a decision which has relevance to the availability of the book in the Parliamentary Library. After further consideration, Mr Speaker and I have decided that members should not be deprived of access to the book provided it is understood that our decision should not have the effect of broadening distribution or publication of the book or the contents of the book which the court’s injunction is designed to arrest. In his judgment Mr Justice Mason drew distinction between comments on the ideas and material of the copyright as distinct from reproducing the copyright. Accordingly, Mr Speaker and I have directed the Parliamentary Librarian to put the book in charge of the Head Librarian, Mr MacLean, to be available to any senator or member, but it will not otherwise be available.
Whilst senators or members have full freedom to read the book, it is not to be copied because that would facilitate further publication which would be contrary to the spirit of the injunction. Because there is only one copy of the book, for convenience of members we have directed that it be not taken away from the reading room.
– My attention has been drawn to a report concerning the Parliamentary Library in the Canberra Times of 27 November. I wish to inform the Senate that the staff changes concerning principal officers were initiated after careful consideration and with advice from the Public Service Board. With the concurrence of Mr Speaker and me as given to the changes, the Parliamentary Librarian informed a union official of the Professional Officers Association of the proposed changes who thanked the Librarian for the courtesy. No objections were raised. The two principal officers concerned have been aware of the possible changes for a long time and the Parliamentary Librarian had lengthy discussion with them both before the final decisions were made. Both supported the proposals fully. One of them was transferred with the same salary in the Second Division. The other incumbent was reclassified to a higher position in the Third Division with a salary increase.
The assistance of external consultants in recruitment for senior positions is not unusual. The decision to engage W. D. Scott and Co. Pty Ltd was made with advice from the Public Service Board. It is not correct that the person appointed is to be the next librarian. The objective of the Library’s reorganisation is to improve the quality, the integrity and professional standards of the Parliament’s library and research services for the benefit of all honourable senators and honourable members. No political influence of any kind has been exerted on the Parliamentary Librarian in this or any other matters by any person. Mr Speaker and I have not permitted any influence whatsoever to be exercised and will not permit it.
– by leave- Mr President, I welcome the fact that some sanity has now prevailed in respect of the Parliamentary Library’s retention of a copy of the book referred to. I do, however, wish to make the point that perhaps inadvertently you, sir, rather misstated in a significant respect the effect of Mr Justice Mason’s decision. It was said in the course of your statement that the decision has the effect of not inhibiting comment on the material contained in the book provided that the material itself was not reproduced. May I put it to you, sir, with the utmost respect that the effect of the decision was not merely to enable comment of a critical or other nature on this material, but rather the effect of this decision was in fact to enable the communication of all the actual information contained in the book, including the cables, the memoranda and such like, provided the literary form in which those cables, memoranda, briefing papers and so on was not reproduced. That is a rather different matter. The situation is that it is not the information itself which is the subject of the injunction which is presently prevailing. I add that I do not in any way quarrel, Mr President, with your ruling or the Librarian’s ruling that the book itself is not to be photocopied because clearly that would be against the spirit if not the terms of the actual injunction.
– by leave - Mr President, I thank you for the prompt manner in which you have responded to my question and perhaps my request. However, it does leave some doubt in my mind as to the facility with which we can use the privilege which you now have extended. It seems to me that we can read the book; we cannot copy the book; we can comment on the book or we can enter into some debate here on the book. Having done that, we really do not need to rely on the book because, as Senator Evans has said, the material is now freely available. Surely we are now in a further absurd situation. If the book is there we can read it, we can take notes - substantial notes I take it because that is–
– Copious notes.
– Copious notes but in a handwritten form. We can take large slabs out of that book. We can come into this place and together with the material which is published in the New Statesman we can debate the matter. Incidentally, that is another document which is in the Library. So if one does not want to refer to the book one can refer to the New Statesman.
– Is that going to be banned too?
– No. It is freely available in the Library. The important material which leads to the heart of this matter is to be found in the New Statesman. We have access to that publication. We have established that there are photocopies of this book. It is possible for us to bring photocopies into this place, but not with the deliberate intention of frustrating in any way the action of the court. By using the forms of the Senate we can introduce the book either in its original form or by way of a copy and justify that action in the public interest. It has reached the stage where the important information which is revealed in the book should be fully debated in this House. The revelations in the book concern the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Indonesia. We should have a debate on this important matter as quickly as possible before the House rises this week. Mr President, despite the fact that you have endeavoured to facilitate the request there are some limitations. I put it to the Government that we should not hide from a debate on this matter. In fact, I have in front of me a copy of the book. I am not prepared to disclose how it came to be in my possession. If I have a copy of the book surely every member of the Senate should be entitled to a copy.
Let me get back to the matter of public interest. It is important that we should debate this book to determine clearly where responsibility should be accepted for some of the substantial errors that obviously were made in our foreign policy, which errors were made also by other countries. The statement I am making is becoming too long. Mr President, through you, I put it to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) that provision should be made for a debate on this matter and all information should be freely available to assist honourable senators in that debate.
– Pursuant to the undertaking I gave in a statement earlier today, I now table additional information received by Estimates committees after the rising of the Senate on 18 September this year.
President, I seek leave for the additional information to be incorporated in the Estimates committee Hansard for the 1 980-8 1 Budget session.
– Papers are tabled in accordance with the list circulated to honourable senators. I seek leave to incorporate the list in Hansard.
The list of papers tabled read as follows -
I: The Pipeline Authority - Seventh Annual Report 1979- 1980 - pursuant to Section 45 of the Pipeline Authority Act 1973
Management of Former U.K. Atomic Weapons Test Sites in Australia - Report of 1979 Work Program
Oilseeds Research Committee - Annual report 1979- 1 980 - pursuant to Section 28 of the Oilseeds Levy Collection and Research Act 1977
The Australian Forestry Council - Summary of Resolutions and Recommendations of the Eighteenth Meeting of the Australian Forestry Council 1 August 1980
Department of Employment and Youth AffairsAnnual report 1979-1980 - incorporating the Commonwealth Employment Service report 1 979- 1 980
Seventh International Trade Law Seminar - papers and summary or discussions - 28-29 June 1980
Australia Council - Annua) report 1979-1980 - pursuant to Section 38 of the Australia Council Act 1 975
National Women’s Advisory Council - Annual report 1979-1980
National Women’s Advisory Council - report entitled My Child was born disabled’
Foreign Investment Review Board - Annual Report 1979-1980
1 . Bureau of Transport Economics - Demand for sea passengers between Tasmania and the Australian Mainland
Agreement between Commonwealth and Western Australia for financial assistance to upgrade a main railway line - pursuant to Section 7 of the National Railway Network (Financial Assistance) Act 1979
Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission - Annual report 1979-1980- pursuant to Section 44 of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Act 1 96 1
Australian National University - Report of Council for period 1 January 1979 to 31 December 1979
Department of Science and the Environment - Annual Report 1979-1980
Commonwealth Fire Board - Annual report 1979-1980
Industries Assistance Commission - report on certain goods made from Carbon or Graphite
Industries Assistance Commission - report on musical instruments and parts and accessories therefor
Industries Assistance Commission - report on Electric motors, generators and rotary converters
Temporary Assistance Authority - Annual report for 1979-1980- pursuant to Section 30K. of the Industries Assistance Commission Act 1973
Aboriginal Hostels Limited- Annual report 1979-1980
Aboriginal Land Commissioner’s report on the Utopia Aboriginal Land Claim
Department of Aboriginal Affairs - Annual report 1979-1980
Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies - Annual report 1979-1980 - pursuant to Section 30 of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Act 1964
Aboriginal Land Fund Commission - Annual Report 1979-1980- pursuant to Section 29 of the Aboriginal Land Fund Act 1974
Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission - Annual report 1979-1980- pursuant to Section 33 of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission Act 1977
Examination of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976-1980 - A Report by Mr B. W. Rowland Q.C. - together with a text of a statement by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs relating to the report
– by leave - 1 move:
That the Senate take note of the papers.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
That the Senate take note of the paper. 1 seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- 1 move:
That the Senate take note of the papers.
The Senate should take note of this report of Mr B. W. Rowland together with a statement made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Peter Baume) relating to that report. We expected a statement to be made, but I do not think the statement indicated that a report was to be tabled. I do not know what is contained in the report and I am not able to discuss it at this stage. However, this report should be discussed and time should be made available for such discussion. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is possibly the most sacred piece of legislation that has been introduced in this House for many years. The Act needs protecting. Whilst we have always commented that it is not as beneficial as the original Bill proposed by the Australian Labor Party, nevertheless it is a significant piece of legislation. Much to my concern - a concern which I have expressed previously on this matter - it was weakened by the breach of the intention of the Act to preserve the culture of the Aboriginal people, in so far as the land was to become the entitlement of the tribesmen of the area who would have had the right to determine its operation and its use.
The Act was amended to permit the Government to reach agreement with mining companies - agreement had been reached with the land councils- despite the fact that it might have been done without the opinion of the traditional owners being sought. I think it was one of the biggest sacrifices made in the Act. All that Senator Chaney, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at the time, could say was that there would apparently be a disagreement between himself and myself as to the meaning of the relevant section of the Act. Nevertheless, the meaning is implicit. I hope it is never operated on the basis that I think it could operate. I anticipate that the Minister will tell us that it needs to be discussed, amongst others, with the Northern Territory Administration which has a bad record in relation to Aboriginal affairs. I notice that Mr Justice Toohey’s report on the last allocation of land to Aboriginal people made the comment - the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at that time also commented on this - that there was no opposition to the proposal by the Northern Territory Administration. If the Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is to be operated and applied only in accordance with the wishes of the Northern Territory Administration, then it is a very sad day for the people in the Northern Territory.
The question I asked today - I do not know whether Commonwealth funds were involved - arose out of the suggestion by the Northern Territory advancement league that the money allocated, at least in the Northern Territory Budget, for Aboriginal welfare was diverted to raising the standard of the airport so that a new airline could begin operation. It has been reported in one of the newspapers that Mr Everingham, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Administration, has advised that Aboriginals be told very little. He suggested that if they are kept in the dark, there will be fewer complaints. Although we have a policy of self-determination and freedom of information, this is the attitude of the Northern Territory Administration. As I do not really know what Mr Rowland was inquiring into - I have not seen his report - I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the report further at an appropriate time. I make an appeal that time be made available to discuss the report after we have seen it. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - In relation to the subject to which Senator Cavanagh just referred, that is, Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory, I think that too often in this House and in other places criticism which I do not think is completely fair is made. Senator Cavanagh asked questions and made certain criticisms today. 1 understand that his criticisms were along the lines that the Northern Territory receives funds for Aboriginal welfare and those funds are misspent. The suggestion is that, as these moneys are made available for Aboriginal welfare purposes, they should be spent in a way other than the way in which they are spent. I think that if the honourable senator cared to look at the situation he would see that the Northern Territory Government has the responsibility, with Federal Government funding, of bringing various services to the Aboriginal settlements of the Northern Territory. If this is part of
Aboriginal welfare, so be it. But in this instance, as I have indicated, the Northern Territory Government brings services to the Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. I am not speaking of the towns but of the isolated Aboriginal communities. These services relate to power, water, sewage, roads, aerodromes and so on. I suggest to the honourable senator and to anyone else who wishes to make these criticisms that they might look at the basic situation before they make such criticisms which are so wrong.
Let us consider the money that has been spent on airstrips. Those airstrips are claimed to benefit a certain airline, that is, Northern Airlines. It is a fact that upgrading those airstrips allows Northern Airlines to use a more sophisticated type of aircraft. But, at the same time, it brings to the Aboriginal people in those areas all-weather strips which enable those people to have aircraft available in all weather conditions at all times of the year. For instance, previously in very poor weather conditions it was impossible to make medical calls to outlying settlements because of the poor state of airstrips at places such as Yuendumu and Elcho Island. I give full marks to the Northern Territory Government for providing all-weather strips for the isolated Aboriginal settlements which now will give access to better health facilities. We now can claim very justly that upgrading airstrips on Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory has provided the Aboriginals with access to much better air services, regular airline services and better types of aircraft. We in the Territory know that in the event of illness or other emergencies aircraft can go to those people at any time of the day throughout the year.
I also make some comments in regard to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. I understand that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Peter Baume) will make a statement regarding the role of the Act and an examination of Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. I, as a person who lives in the Northern Territory, have always thought there is a need for - indeed, I have asked for and pushed for - a review of Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. As the honourable senator said, the Act is a massive piece of legislation, lt certainly is one of the most important pieces of legislation we have. I subscribe to it. I see no reason why over the years there should not be a continuing review of such an immense and new piece of legislation. I believe the select committee that was formed following the passing of the legislation should continue to take up various aspects of its review. Whilst the legislation has worked to a degree in that it has given what everyone wanted- that is, the right of Aboriginal people to possess land - I believe aspects of it now certainly need review. Land claims are continuing. When one considers the amount of land that has been granted, first of all as reserves and now as the result of successful land claims, one finds that about 46 per cent or 47 per cent of the land surface of the Northern Territory is now Aboriginal land.
– It was all theirs at one time. They owned the lot of it until the whites took it from them.
– I remind the honourable senator that that remark is quite accurate and that it applies to Australia as a whole. It applies to South Australia, to Queensland and to every other place. Let us have no emotional outbursts about that. The Northern Territory has a land area of 520,000 or 540,000 square miles and as a result of land claims around 46 per cent to 47 per cent is now owned by Aborigines. The people of the Territory are quite unsettled because there is no finality to it. Where will the situation end? The legislation has some peculiar aspects. I would say that Woodward in his wisdom did not foresee some of the situations that have come about. First of all, there was no recognition of the fact that the Northern Territory would be given responsible self-government. In addition, a network of stock routes - also called stock reserves - is under claim as unalienated land. What a peculiar situation it is when large tracts of pastoral land on which stock routes or reserves are required are under claim. That is most unusual and is an aspect which must be looked at.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is perhaps aware of the peculiar case of the Beetaloo pastoral lease which is owned by Aboriginal people; if he is not, I draw his attention to it. The family which owns Beetaloo decided that in its financial situation - if I remember correctly, the father died and the lease was in trust- it wanted to sell the lease. Aboriginal people wanted to sell their land which they were running as a pastoral lease. A few minutes before the auction was to take place an injunction was taken out by a land council to prevent the sale. My understanding - if I am wrong I will be corrected - is that there is likely to be a land claim over this station for some reason or other which I fail to understand because the lease is held in trust. Some interpretations of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act are rather peculiar at times, but it now appears that the owners of this land have been offered about $300,000 for it so that other Aboriginal people may own it.
In this brief debate I am only indicating that aspects of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act need reviewing. I am not querying the principle; no one in the Northern Territory queries the principle. The people in the Territory realise that Aboriginal people have to have land but that there are aspects of the legislation that must be reconsidered. In the Northern Territory I saw much of Mr Rowland, Q.C., who has brought down a report of his examination of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. The only thing I can say is that I am disappointed. Whilst he has indicated many of the problems that he saw through his survey in the Northern Territory, 1 regret that he has not made firm recommendations to the Government on what should come about. Having looked at the whole situation and having gone through the pages of the report, I believe the real question is: What is to be done to rectify the problems that he recognises? I would like to have seen firm recommendations. For that reason 1 believe there should be an oversight, a reviewing, of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act by this Parliament. As it is responsible for the legislation, it should see how it is working.
The select committee, which I would like to see re-formed, could ensure that it works as well as possible. By that I mean it could ensure that it is not an instrument which divides the people of the Northern Territory, as it is now doing. It is of no use shilly-shallying about the situation and putting one’s head in the sand or behind a bush as some people do. At the moment this piece of legislation is divisive and there is no future for the Northern Territory or for its people until they have the ability to live alongside each other. Until these problems are overcome that will not happen. Because I live in the Northern Territory and represent the Northern Territory in the Senate, all 1 ask is that this intricate and massive piece of legislation be looked at in a fashion which will ensure that while Aboriginal land is safeguarded for Aboriginal people, as it is now, this legislation does not continue to divide and to fragment. I have nothing more to say on the matter at the moment, but I am very deeply concerned for I see the situation continuing to erode away. By ‘erode away’ I refer to the division between the people of the Northern Territory, which is quite unnecessary.
– by leave - There was no objection to Senator Kilgariff’s statement, but there should have been an objection. The situation is that a paper was brought into the Senate; it was tabled by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Peter
Baume); it was taken by the Opposition; the Opposition spoke to it; and the Minister then adjourned the debate. That should have been the end of it for the time being. The sooner we get to that situation the better. Who was to refuse leave to Senator Kilgariff when he rose to speak? If the Government is not prepared to discipline its own members in that sort of situation, we in the Opposition will be put in the position of having to refuse leave. Surely we ought not to reach that situation. If a statement is taken and the debate adjourned, surely a statement on the same matter cannot proceed, even by leave. At least it should not. It has been said that once leave is given anything can be done in this place, but I am not certain that that is quite the intention. I would like to speak on this matter. I would like to make certain comments concerning this important statement. 1 would like to say that the last chances that the Aboriginal people have for land rights exist in the Northern Territory, in the northern part of Western Australia and in some parts of Queensland. Those are their last opportunities for justice. Senator KilgarifFs constant request for review seeks to disable completely the legislation as it stands. I strongly oppose that. I would like to speak at great length on the subject and be more prepared than I am at present. I was prepared to be deprived of the opportunity to speak on the matter but I expected everyone else, other than the person who moved that the Senate take note of the statement, to be deprived also.
– by leave - I move:
I acknowledge that this is not the occasion to debate at any length the vast range of matters discussed in, adverted to or raised by this report, but I wish to take a couple of minutes to bring at least to the attention of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) some of those matters in order that he might devote some attention to them over the recess and enable us to have a proper and fullscale debate on the crucial question of legal aid when the Parliament resumes next year. Perhaps the most basic of those matters is the level of the Commonwealth dollar funding to legal aid which is provided for in the current and recent financial years and which, more importantly, will be guaranteed by the Commonwealth to the States in the future. There are very real grounds for concern about the adequacy and equity of the present and proposed future funding arrangements and that the Commonwealth’s obsession with its socalled new federalism will, in fact, result in a very significant downgrading in the real level of funds available for this crucial social purpose.
The second matter in this report which arises for attention is the basis on which funding will continue to be given in the future at all levels in the system and, in particular, the application of funds to salaried legal practitioners on the one hand or practitioners in private practice on the other. All the evidence that we have so far shows that it is infinitely more expensive to deliver legal aid through the private legal profession on a referral basis. I simply express the urgent hope that the initial work that has been done with consultants’ reports, including the setting up of pilot studies and analyses of the comparative dollar costs of legal aid delivered by one or other of these means, will proceed and be completed with great dispatch so that we will be in a better position in future to debate these matters on the basis of actual information and not simply intuition.
A third matter of great significance raised by this report is the amount to be made available for legal aid for what are described as special Federal matters.I refer to conciliation and arbitration proceedings, proceedings of an environmental test case nature, the funding of parties which are obliged to seek representation before royal commissions and the funding of parties in appeals, for example those before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. There are a number of such heads in respect of which some provision is made in the present appropriations for legal aid to be granted more or less on an ex gratia basis at the discretion of the Attorney-General. Opposition members, including me, have been trying for some years now to get the Attorney-General to articulate the guidelines upon which this kind of legal aid will be dispensed. Regrettably, we seem to be no closer to that. This is another matter raised by the report to which I hope the Attorney will give attention and enable proper debate on it in the new year.
A further matter raised in passing by the report which is of great concern is the amount of legal aid funding available for Aboriginal legal aid which is administered of course through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Noting the presence of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Peter Baume, in the chamber, I draw his attention to some recent problems which have arisen very conspicuously in the provision of Aboriginal legal aid for the purpose of appeals to the High Court of Australia on crucial points of law. I refer in particular to the appeal which is proposed to come before the Court next February in the Huckitta case which raises crucial questions of law which must be resolved if the unhappy decision at the Federal Court level is not to prevail and to be the basis for the conduct of police interrogations and so on in the future. I note with some despair that the previous Minister has refused to make legal aid funds available for the further appeal in the Huckitta matter. Clearly, not only this matter but also the whole question of how legal aid is to be administered between departments, other than the Attorney-General’s Department, as well as through that Department and the Legal Aid Commission require very careful attention.
The final matter raised by this report to which I advert very briefly is the provision of aid for voluntary and community legal services. The position of such services is desperate. There has been a reduction in real terms in the funds made available to them this year even though it has been almost universally acknowledged and conceded that the kind of advice and service which is administered through bodies like the Fitzroy Legal Service and others that have become so well known is inordinately and extremely helpful to the community. I mention in particular the present plight of the Springvale Legal Service Co-op. Ltd which, I am advised, has at the moment funds sufficient only for the continuation of its operations until late in February 1981, even though it is a body which has proved its worth over a number of years with a projected total of some 8,000 interviews being conducted in the 1980 calendar year alone.
I have given a very brief indication of some of the centrally important matters raised by this report which have had all too little attention in this chamber in the past. I hope that the opportunity will be made for full-scale debate on these matters, perhaps in the context of this report, in the new year. Accordingly, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted, debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
That the Senate take note of the paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I lay on the table the report of the Eleventh Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks of the parliaments of Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, New
Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu and Western Samoa, held in Hobart from 15 to 17 April 1980.
– by leave - I want to make it clear that this report was tabled in response to an undertaking I gave in the Senatelast week. The appointment of Mr Rowland to examine representations concerning the practical operation of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act was announced by my colleague the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney, on 24 October 1 979. Mr Rowland’s examination was to be without detriment to the basic principles of the Act. No decisions have yet been taken on the matters discussed in the report. The Northern Territory Land Council and the Northern Territory Government have a vital interest in the practical operation of the land rights Act and decisions will not be taken until they and others have had an opportunity to make known their views.
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to costs in Federal courts and costs in certain Territories.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to provide, in respect of Federal and certain territorial courts, reimbursement to litigants of a similar kind to that provided in the States under State Suitors Fund legislation and similar laws. In each of the States there is now legislation providing for reimbursement to a litigant who, through no fault of his own, has to bear the costs of an appeal from a decision involving an error of law or an incorrect assessment of the quantum of damages, or the cost of a new trial. The State legislation is, however, restricted to proceedings in State courts and to appeals to the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council from State courts. No such provision is made in respect of proceedings in Federal or Territory courts, or appeals from these courts. This Bill provides for the case where a decision of a Federal or
Territory court, other than a Northern Territory or Norfolk Island court, is reversed on a question of law, or on the assessment of damages, or a new trial is ordered in such a court. In the family law area, it also extends to appeals to the Family Court of Australia from State courts and the courts of the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act.
Under the terms of the Bill certain persons will, in specified circumstances, be eligible for reimbursement of all or part of their costs. First, an unsuccessful respondent to an appeal which is successful on a question of law or as to the amount of damages awarded may be reimbursed with respect to the costs of the appeal. Secondly, a party to an action from which an appeal is successful on a question of law and in which a new trial is ordered may be reimbursed with respect to the costs of the new trial. Thirdly, an accused person whose appeal against conviction upon indictment is successful on a question of law and who is ordered to stand for a new trial may be reimbursed with respect to the costs of the new trial. Fourthly, a party to civil or criminal proceedings which are aborted because a judge or magistrate involved dies or becomes, for whatever reason, unable to continue with, or give judgment in, the proceedings may be reimbursed with respect to the costs of those proceedings. Likewise, where proceedings are discontinued and new proceedings ordered through no fault of a party to those proceedings, that party may be reimbursed with respect to the cost of those proceedings. Fifthly, a successful appellant may in certain circumstances be reimbursed in respect of his costs. This may occur where costs are awarded against a respondent who is unable to pay or who cannot be found, or in the family law jurisdiction where the courts are not empowered to award costs.
If a person comes within one of these categories, he may apply to the court which heard the appeal or the court in which the proceedings were aborted or discontinued for a costs certificate. A costs certificate is a certificate stating that, in the opinion of the court, it would be appropriate for the Attorney-General to authorise the payment of part or all of the taxed costs of that person. Whether or not such a certificate is to be granted is left, subject to one exception which I shall mention shortly, entirely to the discretion of the courts, and it is proper that it should be. Over the years, in considering similar applications under the legislation of the various States, the courts have developed guidelines which they apply. No appeal lies from the refusal of a court to grant a certificate. The one exception is contained in clause 14. Consistently with the practice under the State schemes, a court may not grant a costs certificate to the Commonwealth, a State or the Northern Territory or to a large company.
A person who has been granted a costs certificate may apply to the Attorney-General for reimbursement of his costs in accordance with the legislation. The Attorney-General may not authorise the payment of any amount unless the costs in respect of which the certificate was given have either been specifically fixed by the court, determined by taxation or otherwise in accordance with the rules of the court or regulations under the Bill or determined by agreement between the person and the Attorney-General. Nor may the Attorney-General authorise, in respect of a costs certificate granted by a court, payment of an amount greater than the maximum amount specified in respect of that court. Clause 1 8 of the Bill provides that the maximum amount in respect of a court is such amount as is specified in the Schedule to the Bill or such larger amount as is specified in regulations under the Bill, in respect of that court. It should be noted that, in the case of a costs certificate granted to a person by a court at the end of a succession of appeals in the same matter, the maximum amount payable applies in respect of all the relevant costs incurred by that person in the series of appeals to which the Bill applies. The maximum amounts fixed by the Bill are in line with those fixed by the various State schemes. Further, the Attorney-General may not authorise a payment pursuant to a costs certificate if that costs certificate has been or is likely to be vacated. A certificate will be vacated if the person to whom the certificate is granted subsequently appeals successfully in the same action.
Payments under the Bill are to be made out of moneys appropriated by the Parliament for the purpose. This follows the Victorian precedent, rather than that of the other States where the Suitors Fund or like fund is financed by a levy on court fees. It is not expected that very large amounts of money will be involved, so that it is administratively simpler and less costly for the scheme to be financed directly out of Consolidated Revenue.
This is a small but important measure of reform which reflects the growing significance of the Federal and Territory courts. Hitherto, ex gratia payments have been made in cases where, under State law, payments would have been made in respect of proceedings in State courts. With the growing volume and importance of litigation in Federal and Territory courts, it is proper that these payments should have a statutory basis. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Evans) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 27 November, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Amendment Bill 1980 is a simple and modest Bill. It raises the personal care subsidy payable to organisations caring for the frail aged in hostel accommodation from $15 a week to $20 a week. In the opinion of the Opposition it is in fact far too modest. There has been no increase in this subsidy since it was last put up by the Labor Government in December 1974. That Government, incidentally, raised this subsidy twice in three years. This Government has taken six years to give one increase, and that increase, in our opinion, is abyssmally low. It is for this reason that I shall move the amendment which is being circulated in my name.
In the Opposition’s view, if subsidies are to be given they should be increased to compensate for increased costs caused by inflation. If this is not done, ongoing planning is impossible for charitable and other organisations which in fact are removing from the Government a burden in this area of caring for the frail aged. The personal care subsidy was introduced in 1969 to enable nonprofit organisations and local government bodies who had built or who were building hostels for the aged to guarantee a certain standard of personal care comprising personal hygiene, laundry, room service, medication, night attention, and minor nursing. This was extended later by most hostels to include dietary supervision, clothing care, access to social, cultural, educational and religious activities, and some rehabilitation programs. As will be obvious, such services would demand higher staff numbers to provide the care, and the personal care subsidy was initially calculated on predicted staff additions which such services would require.
According to the report of the Joint Working Party on Hostel Accommodation of February 1980, about which I will have something to say shortly, that staffing ratio has deteriorated severely in the six years since the subsidy was last raised by the Labor Government, and particularly in the last five years. In 1974 the personal care subsidy brought 7.4 hours of staff time for an operating hostel; in June 1979 it bought only 3.9 hours; and now in December 1980 it will not buy much more than three hours of staff time. That is, the staff hours related to personal care subsidy have been allowed to drain to half the standard deemed to be necessary to provide essential personal services six years ago. I intend to refer to and to quote from the report of the Joint Working Party on Hostel Accommodation, which incidentally, I received only today. I feel that I should make some references to its history. The history of this report is important to the fate of the personal care subsidy itself. The joint working party comprised a dozen people divided equally between the Department of Social Security and the Australian Affiliation of Voluntary Care Organisations. It began its work at the end of 1977, completed it at the end of 1979 and reported to the then Minister for Social Security, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, in February 1980.
On inquiry I find that this very valuable 60 page report was in fact never presented to Parliament. Yesterday my office was told that the report was in the Parliamentary Library but at this stage the Parliamentary Library has not been able to locate it. The report not only is valuable for discussing the amendment before the Senate but also covers services and the financial position of hostels and contains many suggested recommendations about both the operation of hostels and the payment of the personal care subsidy which, of course, is the cause of this amendment. I believe that because of its wide ramifications for future planning for the care of the aged in this country it should be in the hands of every member of parliament who is asked whether he or she will support submissions relating to hostel development or to any other part of aged persons care. It should certainly be available to every organisation contemplating new or extended hostel accommodation.
For this reason I ask the Minister for Social Security (Senator Chaney) whether he will ascertain how this report, presented to the previous Minister in February 1980, failed to come to the notice of the Parliament. I ask whether he will ensure that the report can be tabled and issued as a parliamentary paper. It contains all the information necessary for an informed parliamentary debate, yet there is no indication to me that the debate which took place last week in another place was based on any knowledge of its background or the recommendations contained in it. I think we must seek the reasons for our being kept in the dark about this report. It is a measured, thoughtful report. It is in no way a direct attack on the present Government. It demonstrates how seriously hostels have been affected by the rundown of the personal care subsidy and makes recommendations which I suggest the Government has largely ignored.
The report in general raises very important questions on the approach we as a parliament and organisations in this country should take to the care of the aged in general, particularly in the light of demographic changes occurring in our society and changes occurring in the nature of some sections of our community, particularly some sections of the migrant community. This report, supplemented by other reports, particularly one recently released on one small group, the Croation elderly in Geelong, should make us all think how in the future we are to go about planning for the care of the aged and should be in the hands of all people who are associated with planning in this important area. I wish to quote initially from just two sections of the report to bring to the attention of the Senate some of the problems which will arise. On page 1 of the Summary and Recommendations the task force reports on the demographic changes which are likely to face us in the future. The section on demography states:
Demographic trends indicate a significant increase in the ratio of aged persons in Australia within the next 20 years. Currently 20.8 per cent of the aged population are 75 years of age and over and the Australian Bureau of Statistics projections of the population indicate that this proportion is expected to increase by 68 per cent by the year 2001 . . .
Changing trends in age patterns, community expectations and social changes in family size and relationships need thorough analysis to ensure that facilities will be located in appropriate size and quantity . . .
Attention is drawn to the increasing demands for more support programs for elderly migrants and the need for priority attention to be given for planning for these.
At present 23.6 per cent of the total aged population are migrants, more than half of whom originated from non-English speaking countries. By 2001, this proportion is expected to increase to 31.5 per cent and changing patterns of family care within ethnic groups suggest a developing problem in this urea.
The changing patterns not only in the aged groups of the migrant communities but also in the expectations and the concepts that those groups had of their future relationships with their families were factors which were brought to the attention of the people who conducted the survey of the group in Geelong. Further on in chapter 1 of the report, the joint working party presents a philosophy on the future care of the aged in this country which I believe also should be drawn to the attention of members of the Senate. It says: . . Traditionally, the care of the aged has been the responsibility of the family. In more recent times, however, with more people living longer, the growth in industrialisation and urbanisation and the development of the mobile nuclear family, the emphasis has changed. The care and support of aged persons has been seen increasingly as the responsibility of the community and the State.
The working party then goes on in its philosophy to talk about the need for encouraging people to plan for later years and to recognise that in retirement they may still have a positive contribution to make to society. It mentions again the need to recognise the differing needs of some minority groups in the community. Whilst in this rather narrow piece of legislation we are concerned about care of the aged and about hostel accommodation we should consider overall the difficult philosophical problems which face us and the need for more flexible legislation and probably, 1 suggest, more local input into planning in the future. I instance now the recommendation most relevant to this Bill. Recommendation 5.31.9 states:
In order to maintain services to residents at the 1974 level, in terms of the purchasing power of the subsidy, an increase from the current $ 1 5 to $28.50 per week would be required.
It is further recommended that the increase in the personal care subsidy take place from 1 July 1 980, using the current criteria and procedures. There was certainty among members of that working party that the Government would take some notice of this, their most simple recommendation.
At the very least, they expected some action in the last Budget. Indeed, they were very bitter when that action did not eventuate. I received telegrams in protest at the failure of the fifth Fraser Budget in a row to do anything about the personal care subsidy. This has caused me and others considerable concern. I raised this matter with the then Minister for Social Security at the Estimates committee hearings. I did not receive very straight answers. I quote from the reply which I received:
I know of no statement that was made that would have led them to that expectation . . . I did not make any statement on receipt of that committee’s report that would lead the organisations to expect that there would be an increase in that subsidy.
I make the point that after two years of working together with departmental officials, representatives of the various voluntary bodies do not have expectations unless these officials believe the Government is authorising action and say so. At that time I also asked Senator Guilfoyle what information she had about cuts in hostel services as a result of the rundown in the personal care subsidy, not knowing at that time what evidence this Working Party had given her six months earlier. She replied:
I am not aware, in detail, of any cuts being made . . the pension has increased for those who are pensioner patients.
There is a difference here between pensioner patients in nursing homes which are administered by the Department of Health who pay 97i per cent of their pension, plus supplementary assistance, and those in hostels under the Department of Social Security who received only 95 per cent of the pension, plus supplementary assistance. This is one of the many anomalies that have been pointed out and that should be looked at. At the time of the Budget which gave nothing to the personal care subsidy, I received a letter from Reverend Vernon Harrison of the Helping Hand Centre Inc. in North Adelaide who found it ‘quite bewildering’ that no action had been taken or was contemplated on these matters. At that time he claimed he was no longer hopeful- that the plight of organisations had been disregarded and had not been recognised as running valid programs which would continue to provide the support necessary without encouraging premature dependency.
The Opposition and I agitated at that time, as at other times, that the subsidy be increased because of this growing concern. We pointed out that whilst we did not necessarily believe in this form of subsidy as being the most satisfactory means of caring for the aged, if such subsidies were to be introduced such subidies should be tied to some cost of living increase to encourage these organisations to work. When the extremely modest rise of $5 a week in the personal care subsidy, which this Bill will implement, was announced in the election speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), it was pointed out that it was about one-third of the demonstrated amount needed to get it back to the 1974 level. It is clear to us that the Government had either dropped it out of the Budget at the last minute in order to put it in the election speech or dropped it out hoping there would be no community uproar and that it could leave it until the following Budget considerations. It seems to us that the Government has looked at the financial aspects and the economies which can be achieved in the Budget each year and not at the people and the needs of those people.
There are only 20,000 frail aged residents in hostels in this country. By giving them personal attention, care to their clothing, with their hairdressing, chiropody and other activities, they can lead far more independent and satisfying lives than is possible in alternative institutions such as nursing homes and boarding houses. A study conducted by the Victorian Council on the Ageing found that 83 per cent of the aged preferred living in their own homes to living in institutional care. This is a finding which can be borne out by anyone who has had to deal with people in this unfortunate situation. Most of these people could remain at home if some community services were available. But for those who do not stay at home hostel accommodation was the most desired form of accommodation for frail elderly people, particularly single elderly frail people. It is clear from the reading of the working party report that much of the great demand for hostel accommodation comes from either a lack of community services for people who are getting old or from a lack of knowledge about those services and a very real fear for their future.
One of the problems with the present low rate of personal care subsidy, which will hardly be solved by this rise of $5 a week, is that it acts, according to the working party, as a disincentive to those in need. The present criteria cause an admittance bias to the fit over 80s who are transferred to nursing homes or other facilities as soon as they show any personal deterioration. This is bad for the people themselves. It is a matter of regret to the hostels. Unless they can get a personal care subsidy under the present system which will pay proper attention to staffing needs, I am afraid this will continue to happen. The Government will pay out more on nursing home benefits than it ever paid out on the personal care subsidy. The Government does not think ahead. If we continue the way we are we will continue to condemn people to nursing home beds, which destroys their alertness and capability of attending to their own affairs. The report states:
The present policy encourages organisations to look at economic advantage rather than give priority to human need … it does not encourage new organisations nor provide the incentive to operators to extend their services.
The report pointed out: lt is obvious that hostels in most States cannot continue to operate Tor much longer al the loss which is currently being sustained.
In the past four years the amount spent by this Government on the personal care subsidy has gone up by only $5m. The amount spent on nursing home benefits has gone up by $100m. There is no consistency or sense in the way money is being spent on aged services despite the many reports which have been commissioned by the Government in the past five years and reports which came out before then. The Joint Working Party report put several proposals to the Government apart from the urgent matter of raising the personal care subsidy. The proposals included the use of volunteers and a possible two-tiered subsidy with one rate for all residents and an additional subsidy for those requiring a greater degree of care. The report asked for an answer from the Government on these matters no later than 31 October 1980. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether his Department has studied these recommendations and whether the Government has any response to them.
At present hostels are calling on the relatives of hostel residents for donations and selling any assets which are able to be sold such as excess land. Some are incurring six figure overdrafts. I think that not only the Working Party but also the Parliament should be given some idea of their response to demonstrated shortcomings in a Commonwealth Government program. These are nonprofit organisations. They have their residents’ welfare as their prime consideration. They are part of a public program and, as such, their program should be accompanied by as much public information as is needed by the community to make an assessment of that program and to make an assessment of the success or failure of the various programs which we use for the aged.
It is important to realise that 83 per cent of the aged residents of Victoria wish to remain in their own homes as long as possible. It is important to consider their needs and desires. It is notable that while we are paying more in nursing home benefits, at great expense, we have actually reduced the subsidy on home care services and welfare officers for the aged in the community.
The Labor Government had raised their numbers on a two for one cost sharing basis with the States. Two years ago the Fraser Government reduced that subsidy to one for one, halving the amount of responsibility it was prepared to take. Home care subsidies paid by this Government have gone up by only $5m in the past four years in spite of the fact that every report says the money is far better spent on a community care service than on an institutional service.
Hostel care service is certainly an expensive second best to services provided at home. But it is important, and, for some frail aged persons, the only care that is available. Our home service facilities in this country are poor in comparison with those of many other countries. Staffing arrangements for the service in Australia do not compare well with those in many other countries. Sweden, for instance, has 10 times the number of staff per head of population and the United Kingdom has four times the number. Our old people- those who are aged over 75 years- represent 3 per cent of the population. All of them should have the appropriate services; that is, those services which are outlined in the philosophies put out by this Joint Working Party. If these people want to be in their own home, there should be welfare officers and assessing officers to keep an eye on them. They should have, for instance, a proper delivered meals subsidy.
Last August when the Delivered Meals Subsidy Amendment Bill was being debated in this place I pointed out that the Government’s belated increase in the subsidy still represented an erosion of 26c a meal in view of the inflation rate since the previous adjustment. The organisations which were suffering most at that time were those in the poorer areas where the need is greatest and the local government bodies are the least wealthy. The Government persists in making cuts in programs for the elderly without substituting what may be desirable alternatives. It has increased the personal care subsidy, as I have said, to only one-third of the demonstrated need. It has increased the Meals on Wheels subsidy to only half the amount that has been eroded by inflation. It has cut the first three-year $225m aged persons’ accommodation program by half. In three years it spent only $ 147.2m. The next three-year program involving $225m is again to be eroded by inflation. To keep pace with inflation the expenditure should be about S340m.
It has been said in various reports and by authorities that about 30 per cent of the patients in nursing homes should not be there; they could be better looked after, at less expense to the community and with more satisfaction for the patients by hostel care or sometimes at home. If we are to have hostels and if we are to fund them in the way we are doing, unless the personal care subsidy is available and unless it is of a reasonable standard even the people in these hostels will not receive satisfactory care. Age is not an illness: lt is a phase of life which requires continual adjustment. We express a good deal of concern about young people and adolescents, and so we should. We should be doing the same for our aged people. Hostels give an opportunity for the frail aged to be looked after when they need looking after and to hold on to their independence even when they do not need looking after to the extent that they are cared for in nursing homes. The rise, as recommended by the Joint Working Party, is a small price to pay for our community obligations, I suggest. We must look, as I and other people on both sides of the House have said before, at the priorities we have set in establishing accommodation and care for the aged people in our community.
We all talk about getting away from institutional care. We all talk about providing more home care services. We all talk about providing for the maintenance of the independence of the aged. Too often in the past our actions have not matched the words that we have uttered in this place. One thing that we must not do is to allow the subsidies that we apply as a means of assisting those voluntary and charitable organisations in the community who care for the aged to be eroded continuously by inflation. We must not allow the subsidy increases to be so far apart that the programs of the organisation which are trying to plan ongoing programs, which are trying to develop programs in line with modern ideas and modern developments, will fall behind. It is for this reason that the Opposition will move an amendment. We believe that the subsidy is a small amount. We believe that any economic recovery in this country should not mean that the frail aged or any other disadvantaged group will be made to carry more than their fair share of the burden in achieving our so-called economic recovery. I remind honourable senators opposite that words similar to those words were used in the Speech from the throne only last week. Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition, I move:
-In speaking in support of this Bill which proposes to amend the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act, I take the opportunity to make some suggestions about the nature of caring for the aged and in particular caring for the aged in hostels. First of all, I would like to say that I would identify myself with much of what Senator Grimes, the Opposition spokesman on social security matters, has said. It is quite refreshing to hear such a constructive approach to a number of the points that he has made. In the last Parliament I was critical of some of the statements made by Senator Grimes as being pessimistic, mealy mouthed and rather sour and dismal. Perhaps the honourable senator has been refreshed by a reading of this report that he landed on yesterday and which has been in the hands of the responsible Minister since February last year. Senator Grimes quoted very large extracts from the report. Although I have not seen it myself I think that I also would commend the report. Senator Grimes has been very much revived. I think this is his first speech in the new Parliament in his position of spokesman on matters of social security. I want to place on record how refreshing it is to listen to a very constructive speech from the Opposition side.
However, the continuing irresponsibility of the Opposition is also evident in respect of spending in welfare areas. The amendment that has been moved by Senator Grimes has been moved in a cavalier fashion without any costing and without any exactness. It is further evidence of the inadequacies of the Australian Labor Party supporters during the last election campaign that the then Minister for Finance pointed out that six of Labor’s main promises alone would cost the taxpayers $2.5 billion. There were great screams from the Opposition supporters that such expensive proposals could be brought to the clear light of day. But the then Minister for Finance noted that another 100 or perhaps 200 indications of aim by the Opposition, including perhaps an amendment to the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act which is now being brought forward by the Opposition in this debate, would cost more money but we do not know exactly how much more. During an election campaign when the heat is on and the members of the public want to see evidence of the credibility of any promises which are made by politicians, the Opposition supporters want to hide the details of any of these costly programs. Yet - and I believe it is a matter of hypocrisy - the Opposition is now prepared to bring an amendment such as this one before this House.
Twenty-six years ago the Menzies Government introduced the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act. The Menzies Government and succeeding governments provided substantial sums of money to subsidise community organisations in the establishment of hostels for the aged. Fifteen years later, in 1969, the personal care subsidy was introduced to give additional benefits for the aged in hostels. The purpose of that subsidy, as Senator Grimes and the Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) have outlined, was to make available staff to provide meals, to clean rooms and to give more personal direct care to the frail aged in hostels.
The Government’s policy speech promise, which this amending Bill brings into legislative form, provides for a 33 per cent increase in the personal care subsidy, which is a substantial increase. Whilst the Bill increases by an extra $6m in a full year the full cost of the personal care subsidy from about $18m, nevertheless a further increase is still a matter that needs the Government’s consideration. Along the lines of Senator Grimes’ argument - an argument which has been heard often in debates among the Government parties and which has been referred to by the former Minister for Social Security, the present Minister for Social Security (Senator Chaney) and the Minister for Health (Mr MacKellar) - the aim of this Government, the most appropriate goal for the Australian community, is to see less institutional care for the aged, disabled or other persons in heed of help from the community. Nursing homes are extraordinarily more expensive in providing care for any individuals as opposed to hostel care or, on a reduced scale, homes for the aged. Clearly, a subsidy to help people to remain in their own homes is the best strategy for Australia. This Government should encourage those less costly and less institutional arrangements so that there is a better quality of life for people receiving such care. These arrangements would be more efficient and less costly to the taxpayer.
Although the 33 per cent increase is substantial I believe it ought to be looked at again in the coming Budget. The merits of a further increase in the personal care subsidy and how much it would relieve the pressure on the number of persons being admitted to nursing homes should be considered. I acknowledge that in the three-year program of capital grants to hostels for the aged, which commenced from July 1980, there is a commitment of $225m and that 650 projects have been approved for that three-year period. This indicates a very real commitment by the present Government to continue subsidising the building of such hostels.
I was wanting to make two suggestions in this regard. Firstly, since the introduction of this Act 26 years ago and, increasingly, as a result of subsidies given in the 1960s and 1970s, a large network of hostels and hospitals is providing care.
Without massive government subsidy - perhaps without any government subsidy - these hostels can be encouraged to make investments of money of their own raising to extend those hostel facilities to care for more people. I am aware that in South Australia a hostel has been fully paid for and is giving excellent service to those people in its care. That hostel could be extended to give care to even more people if the accumulating money were invested in an extension to the premises. Sufficient incentives may be found by a guarantee that the personal care subsidy would be quite substantial. Organisations contemplating the extension of hostel facilities would know that in recurrent terms they would be able to care for the increased numbers of aged who would come to their community centres.
Secondly, in any new hostels that are to be approved by the Government the dining facilities which should be provided should be units for no more than 18 persons in any meal area. Most hostels built in recent times have facilities for small meals or snacks to be prepared within each individual’s room. In addition, kitchens within the hostels provide the bulk of the meals. In my experience, those hostels which are working in the best fashion are those which have small groupings of persons attached to the dining facility rather than all the persons in a large hostel having to dine in the very institutional atmosphere of a huge dining room.
I conclude by opposing the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. Its immediate effect, of course, would be to deny this increase and to delay it to the Never Never. I do not believe the people of Australia would want the Senate to deny this 33 per cent increase in the personal care subsidy. I oppose the amendment more substantially as I said earlier because it confirms the duplicity and the hypocrisy of the Opposition. It wants to cover up the costs of grand promises during the election campaign. Within weeks after the election the Opposition comes into this Senate and brings in an open-ended amendment to fulfil those things it was trying to cover up during the election campaign. I believe the present Government has a responsible financial approach. I commend to the Government that it give further consideration to increasing this personal care subsidy in future Budgets so that there will be encouragement for persons in need to go to less institutional care in the community.
– I am confused. Senator Teague began his speech by telling Senator Grimes what a nice fellow he was, that he really cared about the aged and that he had very practical propositions to put to the
Government. He finished his speech by calling Senator Grimes a hypocrite and a humbug, saying that he was financially irresponsible. He called Senator Grimes irresponsible because he asked for more money. In his next sentence he demanded that the Government put more money anyway into this area of care. It is a strange speech, but then it comes from a strange Government. We always get back to the question: Where will the money come from? I would like to know where the care comes from. What sort of cost does the Government put on human dignity? What sort of cost does it put on human beings living as human beings? What sort of cost does it put on life itself?
The Government keeps telling us what a big rich country Australia is and what a great future it has, yet the Government is willing to leave a portion of the citizens of this country living in squalor, which is how so many of them live. If we cannot afford to let our aged people live with decency and dignity, at least on a minimum standard of living, we should consider putting those people down the way one puts down an old dog. In many instances it would be kinder. After all, old people once were citizens of this country. They paid their taxes and contributed to the future. They deserve to die with some sort of dignity, with their stomachs full. They do not deserve to die hungry, cold, miserable and lonely. I am astonished that the Government does not understand the problems associated with the increasing age of the community. It will have to be made more aware of the problems confronting the aged. I thought we would have had a more sophisticated, overall view from the Government as to the sorts of problems confronting the aged in our community, rather than the piecemeal bandaiding approach obviously resulting from a votebuying expedition during the last election. The Government must have decided that the people in that age group must make some difference in some of the seats it was desperate to hold and decided to say something to show that it cared for people in these circumstances.
In December 1974 the Whitlam Government increased this subsidy by $5. Six years later we find another $5 increase. Why $5? From where did the Government get the figure? How did it calculate the $5? Does that amount deal properly with the very real rise in costs that obviously have occurred since 1974; costs that have been brought about by the extraordinary increase in inflation from which we have suffered since Malcolm Fraser has been in charge of Australia? Why $5? Why not $4 or $10 or $6? Why not tell us what the $5 is supposed to cover? The Australian Council on the Ageing tells us that these sorts of institutions are desperate for increases in the subsidy. It wants the subsidy backdated to at least I July. As it says, if the Government were properly concerned, the matter would have been included in the Budget Speech and the increase might very well have applied from 1 July.
Organisations such as the Voluntary Care Association maintain that increases should bring the subsidy up to at least $28.50 if we are to show in any way that we will keep pace with inflation and rising costs. Organisations concerned with the hostels that care for aged people will tell us that there are hostels all over Australia that have losses in the area of $9,000 a year, and that they are closing down because of financial problems. We are talking about hostels that are run by charitable organisations. I do not understand Senator Teague’s reference to investing funds that they might have so as to provide themselves with some sort of income which will enable them to provide better care and better facilities.
The organisations with which I have had contact and the hostels that I have visited are in a hand to mouth situation. They are desperate to keep going, to keep their losses at a minimum. They do not have any funds to invest. Any excess funds that they might have had have long since been used up in trying to keep up with rising costs. I find that homes and hostels in country areas are in severe trouble and are on the verge of closing down because they cannot see any future. They maintain that this sort of increase is just a drop in the ocean. They want a subsidy to be indexed at least to the cost of living, to keep up at least the level of the subsidy when it began. But the Government does not seem to be at all sympathetic to that point of view.
The cost of food in this country has risen tremendously. The cost of transport has risen. The cost of health care has risen. The cost of accommodation has risen. Those costs are too high for these hostels to cover. They are too high for the pensions that we pay to elderly citizens to cover. In paying this subsidy, has the Government studied these hostels in detail? Does it really know the sort of care that is provided? Does it really know the cost of providing that care? Has it really looked to see whether in all the hostels now in existence people are kept in decent surroundings? Has it checked to see that they are fed properly? Are there any real programs for recreation, for physiotherapy? Can the income received by these hostels with this sort of subsidy in any way cover the care that people in these conditions need? What is really worrying is that we might really have a series of hostels that are just places where people go to die. I do not think any of us want that to happen, and I do not think that that was the idea when the hostels first came into existence. If these hostels find that they cannot carry on under their present financial conditions, if the hostels across the country find that it is all too much, that the losses are too great and that they cannot raise the extra income needed to keep the hostels open, and they close, where will the people who now live in the hostels go? Will they be forced into private accommodation? Are they in fact being forced into these private hostels now because, under the current financial circumstances, the hostels which are run by non-profit-making organisations are not increasing because sufficient money is no longer available to the non-profit organisations to look after the hostels they have, let alone increase them? An increasing number of people need this hostel care or have been forced into this sort of hostel care. If they leave the nonprofit hostel area and they are forced into private accommodation, what sort of lives will they live there? Over the last couple of years we have had instances, in Victoria at least, and perhaps to a lesser degree or with less publicity in other States, showing that in private accommodation a scandalous situation exists. There have been instances of ill-treatment, starvation and filthy surroundings. People have been found tied to commodes in the middle of an unscreened ward. Unshaven men in urine soaked clothes have had to eat their meals without teeth. Rows of bored, blank faces may be seen on people sitting around walls still in their night clothes in the middle of the day. Curtains are drawn in unlit sunrooms, while a sunny court remains unused except by the owner’s Mercedes Benz. We find rooms with no heating on a winter’s day and washed laundry lying in pools of water on a dirty laundry floor.
– Where did that happen, and when?
– In Victoria, in the last two or three years.
– In which hospital?
– Several hospitals, hostels, accommodation houses. The Herald on 31 March 1980, in part of its editorial, said this:
With every fresh disclosure of greed and cruel indifference in the more unsatisfactory homes, it is clearer that the lot of the suffering aged is not merely another blemish in our system that can be repaired only with more money and more staff. It is a breakdown in both efficiency and humanity within the system, ruthlessly exploited by certain owners and operators putting profits before every other consideration. We need to examine closely those seeking to run homes; to ensure that homes are managed by only trained people and are kept at a high standard; to have adequate inspection; and to have salutory punishments for breaches swiftly applied.
I know that the Bill that we are discussing does not deal with special accommodation houses, but what concerns me and what I am afraid of, after talking to people who work in the field of hostels run by non-profit organisations, is that those hostels will go out of existence unless they can be given proper funding, unless they can be provided with a subsidy that properly keeps up with the rise in the cost of living and the ever increasing rises in costs that beset our community.
We know, for instance, that the cost of food has gone up. The cost of transport has trebled since 1974 when this subsidy was first increased. Public transport is getting less and what there is is costing more. Aged pensioners are dependent on public transport. If they have to pay from their pensions an increasing amount of rent to the hostels in which they live, then there will be less of their money to be paid out on expensive transport systems, and so they will become more and more closed in in the hostels and the areas in which they live. The cost of petrol has put private transport right out of their reach. The cost of petrol has put things such as taxis right out of their reach, so they are more and more confined to the hostel or the area in which they live.
We know that aged disabled pensioners are entitled to use public hospitals. We also know that public hospitals are not distributed throughout the community, so that they are not available to all aged pensioners. We know that public hospitals are now so crowded. People who are not able to pay for private care are going more and more to public hospitals and so we find aged pensioners spending more of their pension on private health insurance. They are terrified that when they need hospital care they will not be admitted to the hospital. More and more pensioners are spending less of their money on food and on other care that they need because they must have that piece of paper saying that they are entitled to be admitted to hospital. If they use their pension to pay exorbitant private health insurance fees, there is less money to be paid into the hostel or there is less money left over when they have paid what must be an increasing amount to the hostel.
We know that the cost of food has gone up. We know that during the election campaign, as I said here last week, this Government told the people that if they elected a Labor government they would be paying more for food. Last week I showed honourable senators an advertisement that stated that lamb chops would cost about 80c if a Labor government were put in and the inflation rate grew. I showed that lamb chops cost more than 80c now under a Liberal government. During the election campaign we were shown advertisements that stated that the price of milk would rise to 85c a litre. This Monday we saw the price of milk rise to 53c a litre. So we are getting closer to that promised milk cost. We had a rise of 4c a litre within one week of this Government coming to office. So we are not far off the 85c a litre cost under a Liberal government. But the Government terrified the population into believing that it was under a Labor government that prices would go up. This week the price of flour went up by 16c, so the price of bread will go up. All the basic foodstuffs that pensioners need to keep them healthy are becoming more and more expensive.
Accommodation in any area of the community is being priced out of the reach of pensioners. The cost of buying homes has pushed up the cost of rented accommodation. Because of lack of funding by the Fraser Government little or no public housing was built, so little is available. Government members have said in praise of the Government that Australia has the highest number of persons per thousand in nursing home beds. But it may very well be that those people are in nursing home beds because there is no alternative for them. We find families that are really struggling to pay the bills to keep loved relatives in nursing home accommodation because they do not have any alternative. We find aged people living in small rooms or in bungalows at the backs of houses for which uncontrolled rents are charged, rents which they cannot pay and rents which rise each time the pension is increased.
If those people are really ill, if they are really unable to look after themselves, they hope to go into a nursing home. But they can go into a nursing home only if their families can afford it. If they are frail and do not need a nursing home they go into hostels - again, if their relatives can afford it. But what of those who have no families to help? What of those ordinary families - we have all met people like this - which have two or more parents in desperate need of care? Ordinary families cannot provide that sort of care in the small homes they have. They cannot provide that sort of care on the small incomes they earn. So those people either are left without proper care or look to hostel accommodation as an alternative - it might be the only alternative - to very expensive nursing home accommodation. With rising costs and lower subsidies from the Government those hostels too will vanish. What of the frail aged who want independence? They do not want to be treated like naughty children in a boarding school; they want to live out their lives with the independence with which they have lived their lives thus far. At the moment the Government is not offering any alternative because the Government is not offering a real package for the care of the aged.
What of those families who, as I said, have more than one parent in this situation, love their parents, want them close and want to look after them but do not have the money or space to look after them? We need more than this miserable piecemeal approach. As well as looking at the subsidy for aged people who are in hostel care the Government should look to the subsidy paid to people who are willing to care for their aged relatives in their own homes. A the moment the subsidy paid for that care barely covers the cost of a district nurse calling to give essential care, lt seems to me to be bad economics for governments not to look at that.
To care for the elderly we need to provide substantial financial incentives to families to care for their aged relatives. The amount of those incentives needs to be similar to the cost of care in aged people’s homes, nursing homes or hostels. To do that we have to see that real money is made available for real services - not a service here, a service there and a piecemeal approach across Australia, but a real commitment to enabling aged people to live with dignity in the community. We need real money to be made available for home maintenance, for housekeeping assistance, so that people can stay in their own homes. We need real money to be made available so that people can put granny flats at the backs of their houses. We need real money to be made available for the Government to provide telephone rental subsidies so that aged frail people can stay in their own homes, backed up by the sort of service that means that care is only a phone call away.
We want real money to be made available for Meals on Wheels so that we can be assured that aged people living in their own homes both are fed properly and have somebody calling each day to ensure that they are safe. Half the shires and municipalities in Victoria find that they have a very real problem in providing meals on wheels for their aged residents. Half the shires and municipalities in Victoria find that the rising price of food is endangering the system because it is pushing the price of those meals so high that pensioners will not be able to afford them. A large number of these shires and municipalities have found that the rising price of petrol means that they have lost volunteers to drive the meals to the residents of their areas. One service in Victoria lost 21 volunteer drivers in 18 months because those volunteers no longer could afford the cost of petrol to drive the meals from person to person.
This Government makes much of individuality, makes much of individuals making their own decisions, running their own lives, but it does little to bring that about or to encourage it. Why not give the aged an income that allows them to make their own decisions about how and where they live and what sort of services they then can use? A minimum income given to the aged would give them a real choice especially if community services were provided as a backup. 1 do not believe we can go on in this piecemeal fashion increasing a subsidy here, knocking off a subsidy there, changing something somewhere else. We need real ongoing services based on real care. If the Government decided, for instance, not to increase or maintain this subsidy in the next Budget, if it decided that Australia no longer could afford it or could not afford to increase it, what would happen to the hostels and to the people in them? What we need is a real commitment to real ongoing services so that real planning can be done for the future.
– We have got that.
– We have got it! Here we are increasing a subsidy, the first increase since 1974. One can hardly say that it is real ongoing planning for the future. We as a community are getting older. We should selfishly look after ourselves and set up a real ongoing program so that in our future we will have some sort of care, so that we can be assured that we will be looked after. Governments should beware because grey power is growing. I hope that the aged people in Australia realise that they have political clout and that they can use it. 1 hope that they will use it against governments that refuse to take these matters seriously. There is something very unsavoury about a country and a government that sees elderly people as so many bodies to be kept warm and kept alive. They may be old but they are people. I believe governments must adopt a proper, co-ordinated approach to the problem. This Government can start taking a proper, responsible, co-ordinated approach by increasing this subsidy to bring it in line with actual costs and by giving a commitment to continue to keep pace with the costs. I support the amendment.
– 1 thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate on the Bill. 1 thank Senator Teague for his support of the Bill. Of course, the Government will not be accepting the amendment moved by the Opposition. Indeed, it scarcely could, bearing in mind that the Bill is in fact the direct and immediate implementation of an election undertaking to increase this subsidy, which is paid for personal care to organisations operating hostels through the aged or disabled persons accommodation program, from the present level of $ 1 5 a week to $20 a week. The increase will date from 1 October which is the first available date from the time that the undertaking to make the increase was given.
All honourable senators who have spoken on the Bill have referred to their concern for the aged in Australia, and Senator Melzer in particular made a plea that the dignity of the aged be recognised. Of course, that is a plea which the Government would acknowledge and to which it believes it is responding and has responded. I suppose that this Bill is but the first of a series which I will have to take through this place and with regard to which, as we would expect, members of the Opposition will say: ‘Whilst we support an increase, there should be a still larger increase’. I am relieved that the Opposition has the discipline of both a Budget response and election undertakings which require it to define for the people of Australia what it believes it can do for them in this field of social security. It has already been commented on in the debate that in this area the Opposition gave no undertakings either at the time of the Budget or at the election that this subsidy would be increased.
– Not so.
– I think that is so, and I welcome Senator Grimes’s pointing out where any undertaking was given, either in response to the Budget or at the time of the election campaign. The fact is that all governments in Australia face the same economic constraints. I would like to refer to a couple of passages from reports prepared by the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat which underline the constraints which would saddle any government operating in Australia in this field. Whilst it is relatively easy for phrases to roll off the tongue which call for further increases in various areas of welfare, the fact is that the requirements of the Budget and of the economy cannot be ignored.
I turn to the question of the support of the aged and the plea which Senator Melzer made that the fundamental support given should be a reasonable amount for people to live on so that they can make their own decisions.
That is a view which in the broad I would accept. If we look at the paper put out by the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat in May 1980 on
Commonwealth spending on income support between 1968-69 and 1978-79 we find that it states:
Commonwealth spending on pensions and benefits per employed member of the labour force increased from $2.94 a week in 1968-69 to $20.58 a week in 1978-79 or from 4.3 per cent of average weekly earnings in 1968-69 to 9.1 per cent in 1978-79. Another measure of the extent of the redistribution between the rest of the community and pensioners and beneficiaries was provided by income support expenditure expressed as a percentage of GDP. This percentage has increased from 2.8 per cent in 1968-69 to 6.4 per cent in 1978-79.
Those figures are, I think, extremely significant, and their significance is reflected in the rather more careful approach which the Opposition took to commitments in this field prior to the last election. I make one further reference to the documents produced by the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat on the subject ‘Social Welfare Policy for a Sustainable Society’. In paragraph 81 the Secretariat reported as follows:
It would seem to us that a good deal of the government’s share of any future growth in real income per capita will be required to help fund existing social welfare commitments. If this interpretation is correct, flexible responses to future social welfare problems will be difficult and decreases in real living standards of the work force may have to be sought by discretionary tax measures if there is insufficient growth in real income per capita.
I read those passages to the Senate simply to underline the context within which any government, whether it is a Liberal government or a Labor government, would have to operate in this field. It is in that context also that I would place some significance on the comments made by Senator Grimes when he referred to the need to ensure that there is an appropriate mix of nursing home, hostel and home care programs. I agree with him that it is important that there be careful consideration of the appropriation provisions in each of those areas, because they are obviously interdependent, and it is desirable that, as much as possible, people should have the ability to stay in their own homes, if that is what they wish, and that they should be able to live in hostels rather than in institutions which provide more intensive care, if that is their wish also.
I believe the document to which there has been some reference in this debate, the report of the Joint Working Party on Hostel Accommodation, will be an invaluable contribution in the examination of policy in this area. Like Senator Grimes, I have come rather recently to the document. It was put in my hands a little before yesterday, I think, but it is not a document I had seen prior to my assuming my present portfolio. It is not a document which I have yet had the opportunity of studying closely, but on examination it appears to raise a number of issues which need further consideration by government. I simply indicate to the
Senate that I propose to give the report further consideration.
The secrecy that it was suggested surrounded the document is a little puzzling, because my advice from the Department is that 750 copies were printed and distributed to organisations through Social Security offices earlier this year. So it is a little strange and, I am sure, quite unusual that the document did not come to Senator Grimes’s attention. I understand that further copies have been printed and that the document has been available on request for some time. It was my predecessor’s decision that it should be a public document. It is not regarded as a confidential report and it is readily available to honourable senators and members who want access to it.
The only other point I want to mention is that the person mentioned by Senator Grimes, Rev. Harrison, has been particularly concerned in this area and is in regular touch with my Department. I understand that he is seeing officers again tomorrow and I anticipate that the discussion will include a discussion of how the recommendations which are put forward in this report might be further considered for implementation in the future. It is an area in which I think the assistance of the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat might be sought because of the co-ordination questions which were raised by Senator Grimes and which I think are important in this area. It is an area in which I think there will need to be further policy development.
To conclude, I would like to respond very briefly to the suggestion from Senator Melzer that the Government does not have any sort of overall approach to the problems of the aged. I point to the securing of the income of pensioners and beneficiaries which has occurred under this Government with the automatic twice-yearly indexation of pensions. I refer to the three-year programs which have been carried on in the field of aged and disabled persons’ accommodation with my predecessor’s announcing about a year ago a series of projects which would be implemented during that triennium. At the moment there are over 650 projects to provide about 13,400 additional beds approved for funding in the next three years. That program sits with other programs such as financial assistance towards the establishment and extension of senior citizens’ centres for which, again, a three-year program was announced about a year ago and projects identified and the new three-year program for handicapped persons which was approved by my predecessor, again, about a year ago.
There is a series of programs which mesh and which pick up the needs of many of the aged in Australia. The Government does not claim that it has yet achieved a situation in which all needs are met and there is a perfect mix of programs or facilities available. It is committed to the consideration of serious suggestions which have been put forward by Opposition members and others in this field in the hope that it can meet, to an even greater extent, the needs of the aged in our community.
Question put - :
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Grimes’s amendment) be left out
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I note briefly two matters arising from Senator Melzer’s speech in the second reading debate. The first matter, which she regarded as incidental to the Bill and her speech, concerned suffering aged persons in Victoria who, she claimed, in recent years have been ill-treated by the proprietors or owners–
– I raise a point of order. We are in Committee to discuss the various clauses of the Bill. Now someone is speaking in reply to what Senator Melzer said in the second reading debate. Of course Senator Melzer will want to reply. It has always been the practice for the Committee to establish to which clause of the Bill an honourable senator is referring. We cannot rehash the second reading debate. We might all want to join in. Where would it end?
– The Bill is being taken as a whole. Senator Teague can speak to the whole Bill.
– I am speaking about the money that is involved in the clauses of the Bill. It is in that regard that I speak about the needs of suffering aged persons in Victoria. In the event of there being evidence available about the lack of full care for frail aged persons in Victoria, any senator would be doing those people and indeed the whole community a favour, by bringing the exact evidence to the attention of the public in any way, not least through the Senate. If vague and general statements are made they can be best regarded as plausible or perhaps doubtful, unless there is real evidence to support them. I am sure that all senators are closely interested and have every sympathy in this matter and wish to make sure that those having the care of frail aged persons care for them properly and appropriately.
The second matter I raise relates to my reference to investment in hostels and homes for the aged by extensions of the system. A specific proposal that I have in mind relates to a contributory scheme for entry into homes for the aged by which a scheme requires those who enter into it to pay $6,000 or $7,000 and thereafter to pay maintenance for their time within such a home. Given the age of persons in institutions for the aged, there is a turnover - in crude terms - of persons dwelling in the homes. A second $6,000 contribution is received by that organisation, and after some years a third contribution and a fourth contribution. These contributions are quite in addition to the maintenance costs of those homes, most of the homes having already been paid for, partly by funds received by that community group and partly by government subsidy.
It is in respect of those second, third and subsequent contributions that some organisations in the community which have already received government subsidy are accumulating some funds. I do not refer to hostels which have losses in recurrent terms and which are only barely able to survive year by year, as shown by their annual budget, because of the level of recurrent subsidies they may receive. I am speaking about established homes for the aged organisations, hostels and hospitals that have already paid for their assets and yet may receive subsequent contributions of $6,000 or more. I believe that money ought, in the community interest, be further invested in extensions to the hostel system in Australia. My suggestion is that this could be done even without government subsidy if there were such a guarantee of personal care subsidy in recurrent terms so that they could be sure that they would meet their recurrent costs. That is the nature of the suggestion which I made.
– I wish to speak on a couple of matters in the Committee stage. Firstly, if Senator Teague wishes to point the finger at Senator Melzer for not giving examples of what she was talking about - he then proceeded along the same path and talked about organisations which receive public funds from subsequent contributions when, perhaps, they should not - perhaps he should give some examples. I certainly have no arguments with the sentiments he expressed. Secondly, I make the point that the reason the Opposition moved its second reading amendment and persists in its view that in fact subsidies for recurrent expenditure should keep in line with increases in inflation - as Senator Teague, I believe, has just said, although he did not say that in his contribution to the second reading debate - was to make sure that organisations would not go down the drain. The reason that Senator Teague gave us for not agreeing to our amendment was that somehow it would delay payments of the subsidies and that these poor organisations would not get their money. That is a cheap and old political trick in this place. On behalf of the Opposition I say that if the Government is willing to increase the expenditure in line with inflation, we would be perfectly happy to have those Bills passed both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate this week and, if necessary, to come back next week to do so.
I wish to comment on the continued referral by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Chaney) to advice from the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat. 1 have read the valuable papers put out by the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat, but I, certainly from this side of the chamber, would not accept them as the ultimate authorities on the social reform required in this country. From that organisation have come some social welfare reforms which in fact have redistributed money not to the needy but to the middle aged, middle income and, sometimes, the higher income people in this country. The recommendations on family allowances and on abolition of the means test, which I know it has given to the Government, would do just that.
It is interesting that the Minister, on two occasions in his first speech as the Minister for Social Security, chose to quote from reports of this organisation. I accept the good work that this organisation does, but I certainly will not now or in the future accept that organisation as the be-all and the end-all of social welfare policy development in this country. The percentage of gross domestic product spent on welfare in this country has increased since the 1950s and the 1960s. The relative cost to each taxpayer of social welfare in this country has increased in that time. My answer to that is: So it should. If we went back to the old days and to the inadequate services which we had in the 1950s and 1960s we would be going backwards. If we compared ourselves with the large Western democracies we would see that, expressed in terms of percentage of gross domestic product, we are mean in our welfare expenditure. Yet many of those countries which have very high welfare expenditures do much better than us as far as inflation, unemployment and general economic development are concerned. I merely repeat the offer of the Opposition that if the only objection to passing our amendment is that it will delay the implementation of this legislation - I am sure the organisations would not mind if it were only delayed a couple of days - I am perfectly happy, and I am sure my colleagues are perfectly happy, for the Minister to take it back to the House of Representatives to pass it this week or even next week to give these people a just rise.
– Most of what was said by honourable senators related to a cross-chamber fire rather than to any address to the Government. I do not address my time to that. I wish to make it quite clear that the two passages that I quoted from the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat report were passages in which it had collected some factual information which I thought was relevant to the general framework of the debate. I think the Government would say that no single body is the ultimate authority for these matters, and certainly the ultimate responsibility for these matters lies with the Government. It can draw on the various sources open to it, including that very valuable Secretariat in getting the appropriate facts together which will enable sensible decisions to be made. As far as the other point raised by Senator Grimes is concerned, I made it quite clear that the Government is meeting the commitment that it made in the election policy, and that is the basis on which the Government is proceeding with the Bill at this stage.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Chaney) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 27 November, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Twice in the last session of Parliament the Opposition raised a number of objections to the Government’s policy in respect of housing - once, when the Senate was dealing with the War Service Homes Agreement Amendment Bill and once during the debate on a matter of urgency that 1 raised in this place. I remind the Senate that 1 began my contribution to the urgency debate by saying that after unemployment the lack of housing was becoming the most serious social problem facing the people of Australia. The Opposition believes that the legislation which the Senate is asked to consider still fails to take into account what it believes to be valid criticism about the grave social problem of housing that exists in our country. To that extent I move as an amendment:
Leave out all words after ‘That’, insert ‘the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for -
assistance according to an income means test instead of the price of the house as at present;
maximum assistance on the basis of need;
equitable distribution of assistance in the context of wide regional variation in housing prices;
a more effective scheme of assistance to first home buyers which will act to reduce the widening deposit gap and so limit the requirement or home buyers to obtain high-interest rate second mortgage finance and case the current repayment burdens which impose hardship on a growing number of people paying off home loans, and
the urgent elimination of the present 9-month waiting period for home savings grant applicants’.
The legislation is designed to implement an election promise. I suppose that for that reason we ought to be grateful that at least we are getting some election promises put on the statute book. The election commitment was given by the Prime
Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on behalf of the coalition forces during the last election campaign. We regard the proposition that is contained in the legislation to be nothing more than a very illadvised political gimmick. The Australian Labor Party said this at the time of the election and it says it again now. I wish to examine the politics behind the home savings grant proposal. On 5 December 1979 the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom), who was at that stage the Minister for Housing - incidentally, he was the Minister who was so harshly treated by the Prime Minister - said:
The aim of the value limit is to ensure those people in greatest need are those who will be assisted. The introduction of the value limit is the fairest practical way of directing assistance to help people achieve the goal of home ownership.
The Government introduced a means test on the home savings grant. Under its proposal people who had saved $6,000 over three years were eligible for a grant of $2,000 on a home which was valued at $35,000. 1 remind those members of the Senate who wish to do their homework and research of what the Opposition said at that time in respect of the amount that was available and what it said subsequently in the two other housing debates in the Senate this year. That grant was phased out at $40,000. That arrangement was maintained until the last Budget, when the amount attracting the full grant was increased to $45,000 and the amount at which the grant was phased out was increased to $55,000. As we pointed out at the time of the debate and during the debate on the Budget, that sum was inadequate and would not meet the needs of housing in the various States, particularly in light of the grave housing problems that existed in New South Wales. Of course, it was shown in the Senate during the debate on the home savings grant legislation that the proposal put forward in the Budget was not worth the paper it was written on because people could not purchase a home within the stipulated boundary. That boundary was 20 kilometres from the Sydney General Post Office. The Government, of course, ignored that fact.
It was not until the election campaign, which took place, after all, only a few short weeks after the Budget had been agreed to by the Parliament, that the Prime Minister brought in a new arrangement. The Government proposed that the amount that would attract the full grant would be lifted to $60,000, and the amount at which the grant would be phased out would be $70,000. That was precisely what the Opposition said should be the case. It is rather ironic that the Senate, which claims to be a House of review, at this appropriate stage in its life takes on the stature of just a rubber stamp for the Executive Government and in fact, does not exercise its powers to consider what the Opposition has said in respect of this and many other matters.
I want the Senate to examine the economics of this proposal. We have not yet reached 5 December 1980 but we have a new proposition. On 5 December 1979 the Government states that the purchasers of a house of the value of $35,000 would receive the full grant. The Government is admitting that a substantial increase is necessary in the space of one year. However, an election intervened and the Government was on the defensive, so it raised the figure to $60,000 within one year. I should like the Senate to remember that increase from $35,000 to $60,000. The Opposition says that it was an act of political gimmickry of the worst type and that, as a resourse allocation, it was an unwise expenditure of money. It is this somersault by the Executive Government that causes many people to doubt the integrity and the veracity of the Parliament and the whole way in which it operates. If there was justice in what the Government sought to do, why did it not recognise that at the time these matters were being considered for the formulation of the Budget? The Opposition says that the $350m-odd that has been spent on the Home Savings Grant Scheme since its inception has been a very poor resource allocation. I shall try to show that.
I wish to make it quite clear that the Australian Labor Party is firmly committed to the principle of supporting home ownership. Its members believe that assistance to people to get their foot on the first rung of home ownership is an important goal to achieve. It is a very laudable objective. If people can achieve that objective within their financial means, given some encouragement by the public sector, that is a very important achievement. The onus then rests on governments to provide the financial means by which another section of the Australian people can be housed.
What has really happened in the postwar years - I am sure that Senator Archer, because of his experience before he became a member of the Senate, would agree with me - is that the real lifetime savings of many people, the workers in this country, are to be found in the homes in which they reside. That is particularly so in the capital cities. Their home is the major asset of their lifetime. Because of that important issue, the Labor Party is prepared to assist and co-operate wherever it possibly can to help people to own their own homes. Our policies are designed to meet that end. For the overwhelming majority of the Australian people, particularly wage and salary earners, the major savings, the real wealth of a family, is in the value of the home they live in. The rampant inflation that we see in the home-owning sector of our society has got completely out of control under Fraserism. To that extent in the capital cities - I refer particularly to Sydney - in the last two years there has been an increase of some 40 per cent in the price of an average home. The price of my own home has doubled in the last four years. The Real Estate Institute of Australia and the Australian Labor Party have pointed out the grave problems that are developing because of the gap which exists for those who want to own their own homes and move into the home ownership area between the price of a house and their capacity as a result of a change in economic conditions to meet that price. That means that conservative policies are being pursued.
Let us not go back to the hackneyed endeavours every time we try to have a reasonable debate of saying that everything that has gone wrong with the economy happened between 1972 and 1975. That is an absurd generalisation which does not lend itself to any adequate explanation about the sorts of problems that are besetting a great number of Australian people. What is happening - I think this flows from incorrect policies that have been pursued since the end of World War II - is that to a growing number of people on low and middle incomes home ownership in Australia is fast becoming an impossible dream. The costs associated with buying a home are rising so high and so fast in some areas that home ownership is being placed beyond the reach of many people. Over the last five years of the Fraser Government’s being in office, my recollection is that inflation has totalled somewhere around 46 per cent. That figure - give or take a percentage point or two - was provided by the Bureau of Statistics. The rate of home ownership in the city of Sydney in the State of New South Wales has more than doubled in that same period.
Government assistance to help those in need to purchase their own homes is becoming increasingly necessary. It is becoming increasingly obvious that home ownership assistance is not receiving a sufficient response by government in fulfilling its responsibilities to ensure that security and dignity of accommodation for all Australians. This grave problem has to be faced, not on a partisan basis but on a non-partisan basis. We should look at the current position having regard to the professed aim of all of the major political parties to provide home ownership for all Australian citizens. Historically a significant proportion of the Australian population has relied on access to rental accommodation. In fact, prior to World
War II rental accommodation was the principal source of accommodation. That position has changed. In the last 30 or 40 years there has been a dramatic change in the ratio: Now the greatest proportion of our population lives in homes that they own or that have a mortgage upon them.
In order to provide sufficient and secure rental accommodation which low income earners can afford without hardship, without fear of eviction, without threat of invasion of their privacy and without exploitation, governments have been forced to intervene in the housing market to provide a renewable stock of public housing for rental. I put it to those honourable senators who do think about the problems which face our country in respect of the changes that are taking place in the manufacturing sector and in resource development - dramatic changes are supposedly in the pipeline due to the demographic nature of our country - that we really need a large amount of public housing stock to provide for the mobility of our work force. The regrettable fact is that the sorts of funds that are needed in this area have been dramatically decreased by the Fraser Government since it came into office. More and more people are becoming increasingly reliant on access to public housing. This includes not only those who need assistance in the public housing area but also the increasing tens of thousands of others who cannot get into the home ownership area because of their lack of means.
If honourable senators look at the figures which are available they will see that between 1971 and 1976 the proportion of tenants living in government-owned dwellings fell from 5.6 per cent of all housing in Australia to 4.9 per cent. A 0.7 per cent decrease does not sound much, but in percentage terms it represents approximately a fall of one-twelvth in the amount of public housing available at a., time when inflation is having a disastrous effect upon the ability of people to enter the home ownership area. Of course, that is based on the 1976 census figures, which are the latest available, one is entitled to say that there would be an even more dramatic decrease than that al a time, as I stress, when we need more public housing because of the changes taking place in our work force. There is a need for our work force to be mobile and to be able to move from centre to centre without the dislocation that so often occurs.
I turn now to the resource development that is taking place in the city of Gladstone. No one would suggest that due to the development of a major resource industry in that city, with its limited population, limited growth and limited resources, it can provide immediately accommodation for the type of worker who is required to provide labour in that development. We need sufficient public funds to provide for public housing in that region. If we say that we need a fitter and turner who worked at Austral Bronze Crane Copper Ltd in Sydney and who took home a salary of $190 a week, no one in his right mind would suggest that that person can go to that part of Queensland and buy a house when, in fact, there is a tremendous shortage of housing in that region. Again some Government senators opposite who have some knowledge of the real estate industry know that market forces play their part and that consequently it is a rising market which makes it beyond the capacity of ordinary people to go into that area. The need for a public housing stock in cities such as Gladstone only need to be referred to to see the logic in what the Australian Labor Party has been saying during the late 1960s and the whole of the 1970s about having adequate urban and regional development policies.
We know that from the moment the Fraser Government came into office it has year by year, Budget by Budget, reduced the amount of funds available for the public housing sector and has forced the States more and more to rely upon their own resources. In many cases they have been forced to sell off their States to overseas investors in order to meet some part of their responsibility of providing funds in these areas. Of course, if we were to have a national home ownership assistance scheme it would have to be equitable and effective and based on the price of a home because of the wide regional variations that exist across Australia. I suggest that honourable senators should look at the price variations that exist between States and between regions within the States and see how impossible it is to have just a one-line type of policy. If we rely entirely upon price we will never solve the problem because there is such a discrepancy in that regard. I will refer to that aspect later. We need to accept government intervention, to have some idea of policies which will moderate housing prices and to take steps to see that these sorts of policies are applied. The amount of assistance provided in a lump sum in the form that it takes - I am sure we can say this without argument - does not help people in need to bridge the widening deposit gap. The Senate and the Parliament have to understand that the widening deposit gap and rising interest rates will make even more impossible the problem which I have referred to.
Everybody knows that the moment the Parliament rises for the summer recess this week or next week interest rates will rise. With rising interest rates we will have a widening of the deposit gap which will affect monthly repayments. Repayments are generally geared to some sort of formula. Usually they represent 25 per cent of a person’s weekly income. These are real problems. We need to recognise them so that home owners are not forced into a second mortgage repayment burden which is now almost an inevitable feature of the problems of home ownership in our country. Account also has to be taken of the fact that this increase is nine months too late bearing in mind what I said earlier about what the Government was prepared to offer in December last year and what was to be made available in September this year - a period of nine months. Any advantage has not only been lost but also it has galloped out of the universe. It is completely out of all proportion having regard to the problems of the inflationary pressure that obviously exists in the home ownership area.
It is glibness and an attempt on the part of Government supporters in trying to fool the Australian people to say that the inflation rate is only about 10 per cent. The biggest single item that people buy is a home. In Sydney the cost of a house has doubled in the last two years. I can provide details of my own personal experiences in respect of my own street in a Sydney suburb. So not to take into account the rising costs of accommodation in Australia in relation to inflation is to gild the lily and to turn one’s back upon what is the major problem next to unemployment facing the Australian people. This Bill does not do much in solving the problem to which I have referred.
Lel me make some criticisms. Firstly, initially the Government imposed within the Home Savings Grants Scheme a limit of $35,000 on the price of a house. In the Budget the limit was raised to $45,000. It is now to be raised to $60,000. That was an election campaign promise. I give credit to the Government for implementing that election promise. But was it designed to help people become home owners or was it designed to win marginal seats in the city of Sydney? I venture to say that the motivation was a political one. It was designed not to help the needy but to win marginal seats. Of course, the strategy has paid off. This has been a very effective gimmick or bait but it does not solve the problem because there is still the major gap between income, the capacity to pay, and what is required. It is not a rationally determined basis for the operation of a national system of home ownership assistance. It is not a sound basis for the future operations of the Home Savings Grants Scheme.
I concede that it is still possible to find in Sydney, particularly in the outer suburbs, some houses at the bottom end of the market for about $60,000. But in many parts of Sydney it is impossible to find a house priced at anywhere near the limit as proposed by the Government in this piece of legislation, and this is the reason that the Opposition has moved its amendment. The Government has moved too late. The decision is as late as the announcement made in the last Budget. Mr Groom referred last year to the $35,000 limit on the value of a house. If the current rate of increase in the cost of a house continues the scheme will be just as useless in less than a year as it has been in the past. I do not purport to be prophet and I am not a pessimist. I am talking about the real possibility of what may happen in the future. If the proposed changes were designed to win seats, okay, the move has paid off. But in no way will this legislation solve the housing problems.
I have talked at some length about the situation in Sydney because I represent New South Wales in this place, but I do have some regard to my national responsibilities. The medium price of a house in Brisbane is about $35,000 and a quality home in that city costs between $60,000 and $70,000. In South Australia- I notice that Senator Teague is taking some interest in what I am saying - the figures are comparable. In that State a quality house would cost $60,000.
– Oh, an excellent house.
– That is true. Some credit has to be given in the first instance to the Playford Government but more particularly to the Labor Government in South Australia and the Whitlam Government which brought stability to land prices in South Australia. There was a high level of co-operation in the period 1972 to 1975 between the South Australian Government and the national Government and we were able to get land commission programs under way. As a result, land prices and houses in South Australia are much cheaper than they are in other States. Therefore home ownership for the average income earner in that State is within the reach. The variation in the cost of housing in different regions is a very serious problem.
I say to the Government that it is bad to determine a persons eligibility for a housing grant according to the price of a dwelling. We in the Labor Party think that is the wrong way to determine eligibility. Because of the great variations that exist throughout Australia surely it has to be based on need, not on the price of a home. It would be better to have an income test as the Labor Party has proposed. If the prices.of housing are to continue to spiral as they have done in the Sydney area, or for that matter in Melbourne - I understand that there is a projection that the cost of housing in Melbourne will increase; I understand that it is already happening in Perth - what does the Government intend to do in 12 month’s time when prices will be higher than the proposed limit of $60,000? Will the Government index prices? We should look at the politicalcumeconomic thinking in this country. I am reminded of an article on the situation in the United States which reported that everything in that country is now indexed to the rate of inflation. The article was written by some of the more progressive economists in that country and was published in an American journal recently. It pointed out that inflation is now inbuilt into the system. Prices, accommodation, goods, taxes, government charges and so on are now indexed to the rate of inflation; that is, the increases are permanently inbuilt. I recall reading in one of the more enlightened newspapers, the Australian Financial Review or the National Times, an article which stated that by the year 2000 we would all be earning about $100,000 a year and we would all need to earn $ 1 m a year to meet our commitments. Indexation may be seen to be a way out of the problem but in view of the inflationary pressures one wonders just where it is all going to end.
What does the Government propose to do in areas such as Gladstone, Darwin and those other regional areas where there are difficult problems with housing costs? Will the Government raise the price limit on houses again in 12 months time, as has been its practice in the past, or will we have to wait for another three years before the Government pulls out another political gimmick on the eve of an election to mislead the people? Does the Government intend to pursue some of the mechanisms as outlined in this legislation? I give credit to the Government for introducing in this legislation provision for an extra $500 for the first child and an extra $500 for the second child and subsequent children.
– -It is a recognition of need.
– It is some recognition of the problems associated with the price of a dwelling. The Opposition’s major challenge to the Government’s strategy relates to the price of the dwelling being the criterion. Our second criticism relates to the widening deposit gap between the declining saving capacity of ordinary wage earners and the increasing price of houses. A person on an income of about $245 a week who obtains a medium loan of $27,000 from a building society is required to repay it over 25 years at an interest rate of 10.5 per cent. A first home seeker wanting to buy a $40,000 home has to find a deposit of $1 3,000. Who can do that? It would take a wage earner on average weekly earnings eight years to raise that deposit if he saved one quarter of his income each year.” By that time the price of the house would have risen further beyond his reach. I do not think Government senators challenge that the inflationary impacts on housing to which I have referred are factual. It is more than likely that interest rates will have gone up. Of course, it will have a disastrous effect upon the home owning sector of our community whether it is a one per cent or 2 per cent increase and obviously living standards will be depressed even more in the immediate future than has occurred over the last year or two.
What is the position for someone buying a house worth $40,000? It is a very unsatisfactory position. We are talking about someone buying a house for $60,000 who needs a $33,000 deposit. How will a person get that $33,000? Is the Government encouraging every potential first home buyer to go out and rob a bank, a service station, or some other place, to get the extra $33,000 needed to build or to purchase a $60,000 home? The Government should say how it believes the average Australian can come within that ambit. I do not want hot air. I want the Minister to tell me the Government’s attitude in this respect. I want to know how people on average weekly earnings can bridge the deposit gap to purchase a house for $60,000 and then meet the monthly repayments. This is the challenge that the Australian Labor Party is putting to the Government. I am asking also the public servants in the corner to give us some information. The Government does not seem to know or to understand the extent of the housing problem. Housing has to be taken out of the political gimmickry area. It has to be taken out of the partisan area and put into the area of understanding as a major social and economic problem.
This year home loan interest rates have already risen by 1 per cent and are set to rise again by 1 per cent or 2 per cent because of the drain of finance away from the traditional sources of housing finance. This has resulted from a rush on domestic capital for resource processing development and the associated physical infrastructure. Today I read an article in the real estate journal which Senator Archer might have seen. Nobody could fairly accuse real estate people of being influenced in any way by the Labor Party. In fact, they would be the most vocal group in the Australian community in support of this Government, lt is interesting to see how they are drawing the correct conclusions about what is happening. They are saying that the Fraser Government is geared to an overall policy of resource development. In pursuing that policy, particularly in regard to the aluminium industry, the Government has allowed State governments to raise their funds through the electricity authorities at an interest rate of 12.3 per cent.
Because of the infrastructure costs associated with resource development and the fact that all the electricity authorities in Australia are offering 12.3 per cent for money invested therein, is it not obvious that money will go to the highest point and will go to those authorities? I am not saying that it will go to the savings banks which are some of the prime lenders of housing loans in this country. The pressure is on as a result of this Government’s direct economic policies to have money flow out of the housing sector into the resource boom sector which the Fraser Government believes is the answer to all the problems facing this country. When we look at how the States have been starved for funds for public housing we can understand the squeeze that is on. My colleague Mr Uren, in a debate in the House of Representatives, drew attention to the fact that because of capital and interest repayments the sums of money available to the States for public housing have been reduced dramatically.
I will go back to the amount of loan money or public funds available for housing through the banking institutions. At this stage the maximum rate that banks can pay is 9 per cent and the maximum rate that building societies can pay is 10 per cent. If investors have to make a decision where they will invest their capital, whether to invest it in the private sector for housing at 9 per cent or 10 per cent depending on their preference, or to support the foreign corporations to build electricity power stations to support the resource development - in particular the aluminium industry - at 12.3 per cent, then of course Australian people will invest their money in the electricity authorities. It is this Government’s overall monetary policy to drain money away from the people and to direct it towards this new corporate sector.
The third criticism I have with which the amendment seeks to deal is that the grant, small as it is, comes 9 months too late to be useful in the contractual purchase of a house. It is made available after the event and is useful for assisting not in the purchase of a home but rather in the payment of legal costs or in purchasing furnishings. The meagre amount available is not adequate to meet this growing gap between the means of the individual, the capacity of the finance market in Australia to provide funds, and the policies of the Federal Government to overcome the backlog of housing that exists in this country. It is about time that the Government started to get its priorities right. It is time that the Government started to commit itself to the people and to realise that the housing problem is a growing one. More and more people are living in impossible positions in social poverty. It is time that the Government accepted its responsibility. We all know of the crisis occurring in the public sector and we know of the situation in the private sector. We cannot rely upon the private sector to take up this problem. Therefore, the Australian Labor Party asks the Government to re-assess its position.
The Government should not be in a panic now that the election campaign is over. It should be able to re-think its attitude over the next six months and to do something constructive for the housing needs of the Australian people. The Government should look at the policy which the Labor Party put forward in the last election campaign. The Labor Party tried to look at the broader aspect of the housing program. I know that honourable senators will get to their feet and say: ‘But you lost the election’. We all know why we lost the election. We all know of the unfair electoral system and the misleading advertising campaign obviously financed by very large sums of money which were available to the Government. The difference between the total vote of the Government and the total vote of the Opposition concerns only a very small percentage of votes. On a two party preferred basis, particularly on an analysis of democratic preferences, the Australian people were divided right down the middle in respect of the campaign and its subsequent results.
If the Government is to solve the housing problem for the people we should be looking at the problem of housing in a broader context. If it is not rhetoric to draw attention to what the Government has said - the Governor-General in his Speech said that the Government wants to govern for all the people - it has to attack that problem on a broad front. There is much criticism of this Government in the construction industry, the real estate industry and in the areas of the media and the economists of this country about the direction that this country has taken. This Government really must examine where it is going. If it wants to survive it has to attack this problem in such a way that it will make housing a high priority. Of course, we know that this Government’s basic political position is to regard the people’s problems as having a very low priority. We know that this Government is substantially concerned with the corporate sector and that a great percentage of that corporate sector is foreign investment in this country.
All I can say to the Government is that all the brains do not reside in the Government’s ranks. They do not reside in the bureacracy or in the media and I concede that they do not reside either in the Labor Party. If we are concerned about the issue we must listen and learn from some of the valid criticisms and constructive points that are made. The whole way in which parliamentary democracy is supposed to operate is meaningless if nothing is learnt from the crossfire of debate within the Parliament. I submit that the Australian Labor Party is closer to the Australian people. It is aware of its responsibilities to the low and middle income groups. It is making a plaintive plea on behalf of those people who no longer regard themselves as being in the race for home ownership in this country. For these and many other reasons which have been canvassed in the Senate and in the other place from time to time the Opposition has moved the amendment which it believes ought to receive the consideration of the Senate.
– I second the amendment.
– I speak to the Homes Savings Grant Amendment Bill 1980, which Bill of course was an election issue. I think the results of the elections showed that it was one of the items that the people of Australia considered at the election. It came through clearly that they preferred the Liberal Party policy on housing to the alternatives. The amending Bill seeks to do three main things - firstly, to induce a bonus provision for families; secondly, increase the value of housing to that in the range of $60,000 to $70,000; and, thirdly, to widen the forms of acceptable savings. Having said that, I can now range deeper into some of the areas.
I do not really understand why Senator Gietzelt is of the opinion that housing is now or has become an impossible dream. When I study the figures of home ownership that are available, I cannot see that this is substantiated or that there has been any radically noticeable drop in the proportion of home ownership over the years, as he implies. The other thing that I do not understand is that on every occasion that Senator Gietzelt speaks on home ownership, government housing and so on, he refers to the necessity and desirability of having substantial stocks of government rental housing. The vast majority of government rental housing is occupied by the same tenants for many years. As far as I am concerned, it makes no difference whether that house is owned by the Government and let on a permanent basis, or whether it is owned by the occupant and occupied on a permanent basis. The talk of retaining a massive supply of turnover housing is in fact unsubstantiated when it comes to the actual practice of the market. 1 believe that people who become permanent occupants of a house as tenants would usually be far better to buy it if they possibly could.
– Some people don’t want to do that.
– That is right. If they do not, I certainly believe that they should not have to. I believe that to say that we need to retain a large stock of rental housing does not mean anything if all the houses are let on a permanent basis, and a great number of houses are let on this basis. In the government housing areas that I know well, over half the houses would have been occupied by the same people for 1 0 to 20 years.
The Government does encourage home ownership. It is part of the philosophy of both the Liberal Party and the Government. I believe that one has only to look back through the history of the housing policies to see that not only do we talk about home ownership but also we perform as well as any country. Australia has reached the top of the home ownership stakes by using the policies that are available, and I think we can all be very proud of that fact. We have more tenements per capita than probably any other country, or at the most all but one or two, and there are fewer people per tenement in Australia, which further extends home ownership and home occupancy.
Most people have the simple choice of whether they prefer to be in the private sector or in the government sector. As far as we in the Senate are concerned, a major decision that has to be taken is whether the Federal Government should in fact dabble in state housing at all. I think this is one of the questions to which we will all have to give more thought in the time ahead. Each State has different reasons for the way it looks at housing. I have no objection to any State taking its own stance on its housing problems. I cannot see anything wrong with the States developing their own priorities in any way, Let them make their own decisions, and let them accept the consequences,
In this regard, I come back to one of the points that Senator Gietzelt was making. Much of the problem in New South Wales emanates from the problems of the land bank era when all the development land around Sydney was tied up and not developed. Scarcity of land made prices go to where they currently are. Until it is possible to get the private sector opening up land ahead of requirements, prices will stay at an unrealistically high level. I refer to New South Wales. I suppose we must concede that the ghost of J. J. Dedman still haunts the corridors occasionally when it comes to whether people should own their own houses. He probably still makes the statement in the closets: ‘You never allow a person to become independent if you can make him a tenant of the State’.
This Government has always encouraged, and I believe will always encourage, every scheme which will remove people’s dependency. The home savings grant is a very good scheme. It is not perfect. It has been amended at times, and while it lasts 1 guess it will be amended again. However, until such time as there is a better scheme, I think we can be proud of the fact that it is one of the best schemes in the world. It may be that ultimately we will produce an additional scheme, or we will come up with other inducements of one sort or another. Whatever we do, it will be done with a view to people achieving home ownership and independence wherever possible. Everytime one more family becomes independent of the Government, this provides the wherewithal for another needy family to take their place.
I believe we should be looking now at producing real inducements for tenants of Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement houses to buy the houses that they occupy, as a means of getting the money circulating and housing many more people. In the State which I represent the reverse has been the case for some time.
At page 1 64 of the first main report of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, Professor Henderson referred to the position. He said:
Taking annual income before housing costs, we can see that of the total of 1 83,000 housing authority tenants the total poor numbered only 51,000: 132,000 housing commission rented dwellings (72 per cent) were occupied by people with incomes more than 120 percent of the poverty line.
I believe we have a far greater obligation to people in need than we have to people with greed. 1 believe we need to point out to all those people who are occupying houses from the Government on a favourable basis that they, too, have an obligation to see that people less fortunate than themselves are able to benefit from this system. Professor Henderson said at page 166 of his report:
We wish to see a competitive situation in the supply of rental housing with housing authorities gradually raising all rents to market levels as improved income maintenance enables tenants to pay. When this is achieved there can be a relaxation of means tests on entry and we believe the feelings of inferiority and stigma among tenants will be greatly reduced. The charging of market rents by public housing authorities will also mean that subsidies in kind are not paid to those well above the poverty line.
While we pay subsidies to people in rented government housing there is obviously no reason why they would want to move out, would want to move into a market oriented private rented house, would want to buy a government house or would want to buy an ordinary private house. While they are able to get both a benefit and a bonus there is certainly no reason they would wish to change the situation. I do not know why this line of thinking has been resisted by the various State authorities. It is absolutely clear that as a result of their rer.fusal to go along with this line of thinking they are only retaining and worsening the problems. Yet they claim that they want to remove the housing difficulties of the underprivileged. The matter is entirely in their hands. In some cases they simply refuse to do anything about it. Senator Gietzelt drew attention to the Real Estate Institute of Australia publication and I will do the same. The November issue states:
The 1976 Census showed that just over 200,000 Australians were tenants of housing authorities.
Professor Henderson’s figures were for 1972. The report continues:
But it is hard to justify the use of public housing for households with incomes of more than $12,000 a year. And almost 26,000 households in housing authority dwellings had incomes higher than $15,000! That was in 1976 . . .
The last line of that article simply sums up the situation. It states:
The solution is simple: subsidise the householder, nol iiic house.
That is really what it comes back to. If we are to provide a benefit it has to be tied to the position of the occupant, not to the house, and the benefit has to be sufficiently free to reflect the situation. At such time as the people who get into a housing commission house are able to pay the same as anybody else pays they certainly should be given the opportunity to do just that or to take the alternatives that I mentioned before.
I wonder really whether because of Federal funding and the extent of it we are not in fact causing the misallocation of resources in this area as so often happens wherever government money is involved. I remember well that when the Tasmanian Premier, Doug Lowe, was Minister for Housing a few years ago he regularly commented on the fact that all through the housing commission areas of Hobart on the way to the airport it was difficult to get along the streets because of all the boats and caravans. I agree with Premier Lowe that that is not the reason for providing people with subsidised accommodation. The point of the story is, of course, that all those boats and caravans are still there and the same tenants are still enjoying advantageous rents so that they can continue to get bigger and better boats. While that is happening, fairly naturally the waiting list for government housing in Tasmania continues to grow. If those sorts of benefits are available, who would not want to go on the list?
Sometimes I wonder why in Tasmania the authorities go to so much trouble to prevent people from owning their own houses. As a matter of interest, in Tasmania, which had a population of 417,000 as at 31 December, 2.9 per cent of the population got 5.7 per cent of the 1979-80 allocation, or $11 a head. I will not go into the Hamer-type discussion on whether that is enough, too much or about right, or why it happens. The point is that 2.9 per cent of the population got 5.7 per cent of the 1979-80 allocation, or $11 a head, whilst Victoria - I am not trying to give the Victorians any extra money - received $5.70 a head. Tasmania needs the money; I think we would all agree with that. That is not the point. The point is that we got twice as much funding as Victoria did. 1 think that in Tasmania we should be able to expect this to be reflected in our housing position. I regret that that is not the case. We probably have the worst record in public housing in Australia. Our waiting list is getting longer, not shorter while the lists in other States are getting shorter. We have now reached the quite ludicrous position of the Tasmanian Government being unable to lend the money that it has in the Home Builders Account. It just does not have any applicants for it. As I said previously in a debate, on 31 December 1 975 the number of names on the Australian waiting list for government housing was 102,906. By 31 December 1979 it had dropped to 73,310. That is a difference of about 30,000. In the same period Western Australia, for instance, experienced a drop in the waiting list figure from 13,721 to 5,845, whereas in Tasmania the figure was 3,927 on 31 December 1975 and was still 3,569 on 31 December 1979. Why? The reason must be purely and simply that the policies of the Tasmanian Government prevent people from getting into home ownership and getting their names off the waiting lists for supportive housing.
The other aspect that is of interest is that the only other State that showed a considerably less than average reduction was New South Wales, which reduced its lists from 35,000 to only 30,000 in the same time. I leave it to honourable senators to speculate as to whether there could be similarity between Tasmania and New South Wales which would cause the same thing to happen in each State. Victoria and Western Australia, on the other hand, have engaged very successfully in local interest subsidy schemes that have utilised local funds and have been most satisfactory. I am waiting to get a copy of the full paper that was presented in Victoria in the past week. I may ask the appropriate officers or some of my friends to see whether I can obtain a copy of the Green Paper. A report in the Melbourne Age of 26 November states:
Already in a pilot scheme, using building society reserve funds, the commission has resettled 1 ,000 low-income families in houses of their choice by subsidising interest rales at cost to the State of $1.2 million. If the commission had built the houses itself as in the past, the cost would have been $35 million at current prices.
That is a sensible utilisation of Federal funding assistance. I think if we were able to get some of the other States to do as Victoria and Western Australia have done in this case we would find that we would house many more people. Mind you, certain elements in the community like to have people in unfortunate circumstances because it gives them points to make. I regret that too often the politics of hardship are used for publicity purposes. A little more effort might do more towards alleviating some of the problems. For instance, in this case if we look at the lists in New South Wales and Tasmania we will see that we may be able to get some reduction if we did what Victoria and Western Australia have done. If it suits us to keep people in these situations for political reasons, so be it.
I do not really believe Tasmania can be considered to be starved for funds, as Senator Gietzelt mentioned. I believe that, with the use of the home savings grant and of an interest subsidy scheme, thousands of Tasmanians who are currently tenants could be encouraged to buy their houses and so to release funds for providing housing for the needy. Those in the welfare group could then be given some real chance of obtaining a place of their own. I agree very much with Senator Gietzelt’s wind-up comments about politicking, and I believe that there” have to be ways in which we can make sure that policy is available to ensure that we get the best utilisation of the housing dollar. The impression that Senator Gietzelt has given, that housing money has completely disappeared and disintegrated, is totally incorrect. For instance, the number of houses built last year was considerably in advance of the number built in the previous couple of years and the amount of money going into housing was the highest on record, naturally with an inflation factor. Nevertheless, the amount of money from all sources was very high indeed, and housing funds reflect supply and demand. We have to get the best use of money and we have to make sure that public funding is not used whenever private money can do the job. The scarcity of public money will always be with us. It can be used for only one purpose and we have to decide the best purpose. Wherever private funding is available, we are certainly unable to justify the use of public funds instead.
We have to change some of the systems. I think we all recognise that in the 1980s things will be different as far as the availability and use of money are concerned. I certainly am waiting - I will not say daily - until the introduction of a properly organised secondary finance scheme such as a mortgage bank system; and the faster we get that into operation the better. These amendments to the principal Act can start all that, but they have to be followed up. The States and the lending authorities have to get behind the general concept of what we are talking about, as does the public at large. 1 support the Bill and oppose the amendment.
– I support the amendment moved by the Opposition. Firstly, I would like to cite what I presume is the same table that was cited by the previous speaker. It is a table that was introduced during the hearings of Estimates Committee E. It sets out the applications for rental accommodation outstanding, as produced by the various State housing authorities, if we look at the final figure, which was that for 31 December 1979, just 11 months ago, we find that there were 30,656 applications for rental accommodation in New South Wales, 11,956 in Victoria, 4,787 in Queensland, 16,497 in South Australia, 5,845 in Western Australia and 3,569 in Tasmania, making a grand total of 73,310. If we look at the note below the table we find that it states:
Figures from and including 30 June 1978 are for rental accommodation only. Earlier statistics for some States include applications for the purchase of a housing authority dwelling.
If we go right back to 31 December 1973 we see that the grand total for the six States at that time was 85,537. So in the period 31 December 1973 to 3 1 December 1 979 there has been a downturn of 12,200-odd in the number of applications. Of course, if we realise that the earlier statistics included applications for purchase also, we start to wonder where the housing industry in this country is going. Without knowing the actual number of applications for purchase of dwellings over that period, it could well be that rental accommodation right across this nation is in a stalemate position. I suggest that in a country as wealthy as this, that is not a very good suggestion for anyone to make.
Let us see what is happening in Victoria. I suggest, firstly, that any home savings grant is in reality a sop, and that is all it is. It is of very little use to thousands of people. I do not know how many people apply for and receive a home savings grant every year because the ones who get it do not frequent politicians’ offices, but many young people whom I see every year miss out because of some regulation under the Act - they have applied too early or too late, Uncle Tom died or Auntie Mary did not die, the cat had kittens and all sorts of things. It seems to me that there are a multiplicity of reasons that young people miss out on home savings grants, lt is not a good scheme. I believe it is in fact a sop to the building industry, and that is about all. On page 8 of the Melbourne Age of 20 May of this year there apeared the headline: ‘Housing slump goes on, on, on’. I quote from that article as follows:
Victoria’s home building slump, already the worst since the credit squeeze in the early 1 960s, is continuing.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show a drop of more than II per cent from last year in the number of new house starts in the March quarter.
The number of new house building starts in the year ending 3 1 March has fallen 6.6 per cent.
The building of houses and flats this financial year seems certain to fall below the 1 964 ‘horror’ total of 27.069.
Last year the State’s total was 27,959 and the latest Bureau of Statistics figures indicate this year will be worse.
The number of dwellings under construction in Victoria in the December quarter was the lowest since 1950, when quarterly statistics were first collected.
That suggests to me that all is not well with the housing industry in Victoria. Then we note an article in the Melbourne Age of 25 June headed: PM ignores the poor, says Dixon’. I quote from that article as follows:
A Victorian Liberal Minister has criticised the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, for ignoring the plight of Australia’s poor.
The Housing Minister, Mr Dixon, yesterday urged Mr Fraser to double the Commonwealth contribution to State housing authorities to $520m at tomorrow’s Premiers’ conference.
As a result of the first article from which I quoted and which appeared in he Melbourne Age on 20 May, I asked a question of Senator Carrick in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Construction in this place. On 21 May I asked Senator Carrick:
Has the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Construction seen the latest Bureau of Statistics figures for home building in Victoria? Do these figures show that the number of dwellings under construction in that State in the December quarter was the lowest for 30 years? ls the Government prepared to release more funds at lower interest rates for home building in the interests of the housing industry in Victoria?
Senator Carrick said in reply: 1 have not seen the statistics for Victoria. Recently I looked at the general statistics for Australia and my impression was that home building in Australia is proceeding at a respectable and healthy rate.
It is fairly obvious that the Minister did not look very closely at those figures as I will prove later. He continued:
Before I could interpret what is happening in Victoria I would need to know what the stock of new homes is and whether there is an excess supply–
Big deal! The answer continued:
Some years ago Victoria had built faster in terms of new home building than elsewhere. I will widen the question and find out the facts on this matter.
As a result of that question, on 12 August I received a letter passed on to me by Senator Carrick from the then Minister for Housing and Construction, Mr Groom. After the introductory words ‘My Dear Minister’ the first paragraph gave the reasons why the Minister sent the answer to Senator Carrick suggesting that he pass it on to me. The second paragraph read:
The Government recognises that new private dwelling construction activity in Victoria is currently at a relatively low level. Taken as presented, the official figures show the number of dwellings under construction at the end of the December quarter 1979 was the lowest since the September quarter 1947.
Shame and disgrace on the Liberal Government in Canberra and the Liberal Government in Victoria! I repeat that sentence:
Taken as presented, the official figures show the number of dwellings under construction at the end of the December quarter 1979 was the lowest since the September quarter 1947.
The letter continued:
On a seasonally adjusted basis the December quarter was the lowest since the June quarter 1962.
That letter expresses pretty well the state of play in the housing industry in Victoria at present. The Master Builders Federation of Australia in a Press release of 20 August this year entitled ‘1980 Budget and the Building Industry’ in part states:
Both net advances to States and total grants for rental housing are projected to increase by about 4 per cent in 1980/81. However, this represents a decline in real terms of 6 per cent. Unless the States are prepared, or able, to make up this difference from their own funds, there will be a negative effect on the housing sector.
It was not the Labor Party which said that; it was the people involved in the industry itself. I suggest that they should know what is going on. An article in the Melbourne Age of 20 September 1980, under the heading ‘Builders seek State rescue’, stated:
Despite a sizeable demand for homes, Victoria’s building industry is in its worst slump for years, and there is little chance of an early recovery.
The slump has forced down the price of land, soaked up available rental accommodation, and put many small builders out of business.
According to the State President of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Mr David Langworthy, Government intervention is needed to save the industry.
The industry is down on its knees,’ he said, ‘lt has been down for the compulsory count of eight and we just hope the Government rings the bell before it is too late.’
Mr Langworthy said the ‘most disastrous slump since the war’ was occurring at a time when thousands of people wanted houses.
He said the Housing Commission had 22,000 families on ils waiting list, with 1000 extra applications coming in each month.
In addition, co-operative building societies had about 1 2,000 applications from people wanting housing loans.
An article in the Melbourne Age of Wednesday 26 November, under the heading ‘The housing Green Paper’ - I think this was mentioned by Senator Archer - stated:
The State Government should spend about $870m over five years to build up Victoria’s depleted public rental housing stocks, the Government’s Green Paper on housing policy recommends.
About $600m should be spent in Metropolitan Melbourne to provide 1 2,300 dwellings and about $270m in country areas for 7000 dwellings, the paper, released yesterday, says.
The Government should spend the $870m on a 50-50 ratio buying existing dwellings and building new ones throughout the State. The paper effectively argues that the State’s building and buying programme be boosted from about 1000 homes a year to about 3900 a year.
Later the same article again referred to the Green Paper and listed five inadequacies in the public rental stock outside metropolitan Melbourne. These were:
The Latrobe Valley, which faced a ‘great shortage’ of rental housing resulting from rapid and unco-ordinated growth:
Sunraysia, in north Victoria, suffered from extreme differences in housing standards, and from a general neglect in its planning for housing development;
Coastal towns experienced booms in the rental sector during the summer holiday season when ‘permanent tenants’ were unable to pay the high rents and so must move out of the areas, or into temporary and often grossly inadequate housing;
Many towns had significant growth rates but housing development was failing to keep pace;
In many cases too much public rental stock was near the outskirts of the towns where access to services is extremely difficult.
I could give instances of that happening in many country towns in Victoria. We all know the problem faced in the La Trobe Valley because of the lack of rental housing. The same thing is now happening in the town of Portland because of the expected move into that town by Alcoa of Australia Ltd. We Victorians who have taken any interest whatsoever in rural housing know the problems suffered in the Sunraysia area of northern Victoria. Coastal towns experience booms in the rental sector during the summer holiday season. 1 live in one of these coastal towns. We are nearing the holiday season when local people put up the rental on their homes to $150 and $200 a week. The rental on fiats rises to $100 and $120 a week because some person on a good screw in Melbourne can afford to pay those prices. The single mothers, the divorcees and the widows are forced out of their accommodation and must live in any sort of accommodation they can pick up, such as caravans, tents, dilapidated shearers1 huts and old farm dwellings which may be falling down. Many towns have had significant growth rates but housing has not failed to keep pace. I again refer to the fifth inadequacy listed in the article, which stated:
In many cases too much public rental stock was near the outskirts of the towns where access to services is extremely difficult.
That is a problem in every country town and city in Victoria. The sorts of people who live in these houses because they cannot afford higher rents are the unemployed, the single mothers, the divorcees and the widows. All too often they do not have a motor vehicle. There is no public transport in most of those country towns and, therefore, another problem is created.
I refer again to the problem arising in southwestern Victoria. I have a report produced by the Portland and District Community Services Task Force, which was set up earlier this year under the sponsorship of the Victorian Department of Social Welfare to assess the impact that the proposed Alcoa smelter would have on the town of Portland. The article on housing is very much worth reading. It substantiates what has already happened in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and, from what I can understand, what has happened and what is still happening in Gladstone in Queensland. 1 suggest that the same thing is happening in all other towns and cities in Australia where this type of mineral processing is active or will become active. At page 16, under the heading Housing’, the report relating to the community services for the Portland district states:
The housing situation in Portland is currently characterised by a lack of private rental stock and a long waiting list for Housing Commission accommodation.
Let me repeat something that I have said before in this place in relation to Housing Commission accommodation in Victoria. When the Whitlam Labor Government came to office in 1972 the waiting time for a Housing Commission home in rural Victoria was three years. By the time the Whitlam Labor Government went out of office in November 1975, the waiting time for a Housing Commission home in rural Victoria was down to eight months. That showed that a government with some intent, a government which was prepared to put money into this type of accommodation, could very severely dent the waiting period for people who wanted to go into that accommodation. Within two years of the LiberalCountry Party Government’s coming back into office the waiting time in rural Victoria for a Housing Commission home was and still remains three years. This report goes on to state:
As it is beyond many people’s means to purchase their own homes, many families either pay inflated prices to rent homes or caravans or are forced to live in isolated farmhouses in remote areas. With the projected increase in population in the area, there will be a dramatic increase in the demand for all forms of housing in the community. Even today, the Portland district is undergoing a housing crisis. For example, at a recent meeting of landlords and estate agents it was agreed to increase all rentals by 10% on July 1, 1980.
What hungry - I will not say the wordmongrels! Twelve months before Alcoa looks in any way like shifting any reasonable number of workers into the town, the hungry landlords and estate agents have got their heads together and have jacked up the prices by 10 per cent. The report continues:
This will bring the average rental of a one bedroom Hat to $42 per week, a 2 bedroom flat to $48 per week and a 3 bedroom house to an average of $60 per week. If prices continue to escalate, the only alternative accommodation available to low income people in the district will be caravans.
Rental stock in Portland is now scarce and prices for available accommodation are inflated.
Thanks, I suggest, are due to the landlords and the estate agents. The report goes on to state:
In addition to high rentals, bond payments, electricity and gas connection fees may cost an additional $200-$300. These costs may be prohibitive for existing low income families who depend on rental accommodation.
I suggest that the last paragraph should read: These costs will be prohibitive for existing low income families who depend on rental accommodation. The report continues:
Evidence from other Australian and overseas developments which have caused a rapid increase in population growth indicates that an influx of population escalates market prices so that low income families are less able to compete with more affluent workers. Richards, for example, in his study of rapid growth development in the United States of America found . . a prime factor generating negative impacts in a community appeared to be the lack of satisfactory and sufficient housing stock.’
He found that: lack of rental stock caused rents to increase, sometimes threefold; highly paid construction workers were most able to afford high rents, to the exclusion of locals: elderly people who could not afford to pay high rents were forced to leave the community; local people were forced to move to caravan parks because of high rents and lack of alternative accommodation.
If honourable senators refer to page 19 of this report they will see that the task force has drawn a comparison between the rental accommodation available in the Portland district and one other district in Victoria. It had this to say:
In comparison to the 153 HCV houses available for rental in the Portland district, Horsham, which has a population of 1 2,000, has 546 HCV dwellings available for rental.
So one can see that there are discrepancies or differences from one town to another. The task force then went on to make some suggestions as to what should happen in relation to housing in the town of Portland at any time from now on. It states:
Such steps should include: an immediate increase in rental stock, by ‘spot purchasing’ by the HCV of houses currently available for sale; a moratorium on selling Housing Commission dwellings until the present and future demand is met.
I refer to that factor because over recent years the Victorian Liberal Government has had a deliberate policy of selling off, it seems to me, as quickly as possible, Housing Commission dwellings. It has been much easier in rural Victoria for a person to purchase a Housing Commission home rather than to get one to rent. I understand that as a result of some rethinking within the Housing Commission of Victoria the reverse may well apply from now on. The Victorian Government is now having a look at the question of making available many more homes for rental. The report goes on to suggest: the giving of priority to low income families; flexibility in planning so that flats and 2 and 3 bedroom dwellings are built to accommodate the changing population of Portland; the immediate construction of additional elderly persons units; the appointment by the Ministry of Housing of a housing officer to co-ordinate these services.
I do not have much more to say, Mr President. I think what I have quoted this evening suggests that all is far from well in relation to the housing industry in the State of Victoria. As I said earlier, it is not the Australian Labor Party which is saying these things. Nothing I have quoted from tonight is the policy of the Australian Labor Party. There is nothing that I have quoted which does not come from private enterprise, from people engaged in the industry or from people concerned about the lack of housing accommodation right across the State of Victoria. I believe the home savings grant is a sop to the building industry which, of course, jacked up the price by the amount of the grant and is of very little, if any, benefit to young married couples. It is patently time, in my view, that this Governmetn considered the facts, got down to taws and allocated much more money in the Federal Budget each year particularly for welfare housing. If I remember correctly, the allocation this year was either $265m or $275m. Of that the States must pay back old loans to the amount of $200m, leaving a net gain this year to the six States of some $65m or $75m for welfare housing. In a country as wealthy as Australia is alleged to be, it is patently not good enough. (Quorum formed).
– I support the Bill and reject the Opposition’s amendment. Let us place the debate in some perspective. The previous speaker, Senator Primmer, spoke almost entirely about welfare and public housing - about that present 5 per cent of households that receive Commonwealth subsidies under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreements to gain access to the very proper area of welfare housing. This Bill is about home ownership. It is about enabling first home buyers to gain direct access to owning their own home. To give some perspective to the Bill, at present a higher proportion of home owners than ever before in Australian history, I believe, is owning their own homes. We are talking about the great percentage of over 73 per cent of home ownership in Australia.
– That is all waffle, Senator, and you know it. That is absolute waffle.
– It is 73 per cent. I shall give the figures for recent years, for Senator Button’s benefit. The census statistics taken in 1961 show 70.3 per cent home owners as a percentage of households; the 1966 census showed 71.4 per cent; 1971, 68.8 per cent; 1976, 68.4 per cent; and a recently conducted, sound survey in 1978 following the last census showed 73.4 per cent of home owners as a percentage of households. What we are speaking about in this Bill is the great bulk of home owners, the major group in the Australian community, and the encouragement given by way of a home savings grant to young people, newly married couples, to own their first home and to become a part of that 73 per cent, the great majority of the Australian community. The Australian Government is concerned about welfare housing. With all due respect to Senator Primmer and to Senator Gietzelt - as a large part of his remarks were about public housing and welfare housing - this Bill is about home ownership and a home savings grant. I strongly support the home savings grant. (Quorum formed).
There are three very attractive and advantageous aspects to this Bill. It very much widens the eligibility for a home savings grant by removing various anomalies. It lifts to $60,000 the limit on the value of a home for which purchase makes the owner eligible for a full grant, which limit, with a means test, tapers off to zero at $70,000. The most important advantage, and the one which will go down as the real description of this amending Bill, is that it is the family bonus amendment Bill. It is characteristic of the present thrust of the Australian Government that the increase in the home savings grant is in respect of families. There is a 25 per cent increase for a couple with one child and a 50 per cent increase for a couple with two or more children, provided such couples are eligible for the grant. Those increases could have been given to all couples, to all new home owners eligible for the grant in other respects, but I estimate that if that had been the case the increase would have been somewhat less. Instead the Government has followed its thrust to support families by giving greater increases directly and only in respect of families with children. I welcome this emphasis in the Bill. Even Opposition speakers here and in another place have grudgingly welcomed that degree of preference being given to families. I say that this Bill will go into the annals of Australian history as the family bonus Bill in that it so directly gives positive discrimination and benefit to new home owners who have children. It provides for a very substantial increase in the grant - a 50 per cent increase in respect of couples with two or more children.
The upper limit of the cost of a house has been increased from the $45,000 set down in the last Budget to $60,000. Senator Gietzelt asked why, if this was so important, it was not announced in the Budget. By that logic we could have gone back to the previous Budget or the Budget before that. There is a time for decisions to be made and when it is appropriate for the Government to afford that kind of increase and to give the greatest publicity and benefit to families, that announcement will be made. This Bill is a direct fulfilment of an election promise. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his election policy speech directly promised this substantial benefit to families, this family bonus, this removal of anomalies, this direct increased benefit to first home owners. So the legislation, in its right time, comes to fulfil that policy promise.
I support the home savings grant because it encourages Australian families to have the independence of owning their own homes, of having a sense of ownership, and of developing carefully and with pride the home in which they live. The Liberal philosophy has always encouraged direct home ownership. It is most gratifying that as I noted earlier, 73 per cent of households in Australia have direct home ownership. The Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) in his second reading speech stated:
Each year thousands of young Australians enter into home ownership and it is of vital concern to the Government that these people be given the encouragement to save. The Home Savings Grant Scheme has provided this. The success of the Scheme can be seen from the fact that over half a million families have been helped with a grant since 1964. The Government is proud of this achievement. The former Labor Government thought so little of this encouragement that it legislated to abolish the scheme.
Shame on the Australian Labor Party. I am proud, as was the Minister in the second reading speech, to note that the Liberal Party supports such direct encouragement to home ownership in Australia. Senator Gietzelt, the Opposition’s shadow spokesman for housing in this chamber asked: ‘How is it possible for an average wage earner to afford the kind of deposit that would be required to make him a beneficiary of this scheme?’ The question was put in a bona fide way. He genuinely posed the question and went through his own example of the situation. He said that a person on an average weekly wage of $245 a week could afford a $27,000 loan, and that to buy a $40,000 home he would, therefore, have to find a deposit of $13,000.
All I can say, firstly, is that there has been no drop in the proportion of home ownership in Australia but rather over the last decade there has been a very substantial increase. Secondly, increasingly in the last 10 years at the point of first marriage- if not for many years beyond it- two incomes have been earned by families. Therefore, the economics of home ownership have very much revolved, in all our experience, around a husband and wife, prior to marriage and subsequent to marriage, for some years in most cases continuing to have two incomes and so being able to accumulate a reasonable deposit, Without that factor being involved, how can home ownership in Australia be as high as 73 per cent? The Opposition spokesman has conveniently overlooked this very substantial factor of two incomes in a family.
The other factor that ought not to be overlooked is that some married couples, on first entering into home ownership, are substantially helped by their families. I am not saying that this is the norm. I am saying that there is perhaps a minority of families that do gain, whether from their grandparents’ estates or from some other area, some bonus. I am talking about persons on average and lower incomes who receive substantial assistance in endowment they may receive from within their own families. It is convenient to neglect mentioning the kinds of gains in addition to average weekly earnings or even less than average weekly earnings which, in my experience, have enabled young married couples in some instances, even a minority of instances in the case of endowment, to gain the deposit which is essential for them to go on to home ownership. But whatever the case the Home Savings Grant Scheme is a very real plus, particularly with the family bonus added in to help meet the deposit gap. I have taken Senator Gietzelt’s question in good faith. I would suggest that members of the Opposition give very close consideration to how people in their electorates and States can gain this kind of deposit.
With regard to the question of public housing, which was given the major emphasis in Senator Gietzelt’s and Senator Primmer’s speeches, I note that public or welfare housing accounts for about 5 per cent of households in Australia. Like Senator Archer, I would like this welfare housing to be accessible to more and more people in need and a greater turnover of occupants of welfare housing. It has become a scandal in every State that there are in housing trust houses and other welfare houses persons who are earning very substantial incomes and who continue to hold on to the privilege, the benefit, for which they were eligible on first entering the welfare housing scheme but for which they now do not have a great need because of their much increased income. That scandal, I believe, reflects a degree of misappropriation of the availability of welfare housing in Australia. I believe that the State governments and the State Ministers for Housing ought to give greater consideration to bringing to bear an appropriate means test on the continuing ownership by those on higher incomes.
The value limit of a home that will attract a homes savings grant, has been very substanially increased in the last 12 months from $35,000 to $60,000. I would justify the increase on the ground that it is equitable to encourage persons buying their first home to gain the same home savings grant. Is it right to deny young couples, even if they have by hard work accumulated sufficient funds to go directly into a home of substantial value, perhaps, $55,000, perhaps in Senator Gietzelt’s own city, Sydney, the home savings grant just on the ground that they have worked hard to accumulate the deposit that can gain them the home which they will then be able to stay in perhaps for the rest of their lives? I believe that we should not discriminate against such couples. I believe the Australian public has supported the equity in the arrangements which were announced by the Prime Minister in his policy speech, which this Bill seeks to enact. The Australian Labor Party has proposed in its amendment a strict income means test for such assistance. I believe that would be inequitable, given the effective means test which is applied to incomes through the taxation system.
– That is what you want the States to do.
- Senator Gietzelt notes that I would like to see the States applying a means test based on income to those who apply for welfare housing. I acknowledge that. I believe that a means test should apply to those who are in receipt of very high incomes in much the same way as this Home Savings Grant Scheme, in fact, denies a grant for those who are buying a first home which is valued at more than $70,000. There is to be a upper limit. That is the kind of parallel that I would seek to draw.
Whilst I have strongly supported this Bill in all substantial respects and especially in respect of the major emphasis upon a family bonus that is so substantial, I conclude with a plea that, as soon as budgetary considerations allow, the nine-month waiting period for a home savings grant be lessened. I believe the Government has to face responsibility within all its budgetary considerations for the costs of any new benefit. Certainly to reduce the waiting period for a home savings grant would mean an additional expenditure. I believe that substantial and well reasoned arguments are being put within the community for the present nine-month waiting period to be reduced. With that plea, I otherwise fully support the Bill and reject the amendment.
– The debate, to say the least, has been interesting. Certainly we have had from the Opposition a spread of views from most of the States. Most of them happened to be totally irrelevant to this Bill. Nevertheless, I will address myself to one or two points which were raised. It was remarkable that both Senator Primmer and Senator Gietzelt emphasised the situation of those people who are without home ownership in Australia. Clearly they failed to recognise that on the whole since 1961 there has been a growth in the number of people who own their own homes. In 1961, 70.3 per cent of homes were owned; in 1 97 1 - 1 0 years later - ownership had dropped slightly to 68.8 per cent; but in 1978, under the Fraser Government - they are the latest statistics available to me - home ownership had risen to 73.4 per cent. In other words, the percentage level is about 3i per cent above what it was 20 years ago. I believe that is a point which needs to be acknowledged by the Opposition. It is a point which did not emerge at any stage during the debate.
– lt is a very glib statistic, is it not?
– A very glib statistic, says Senator Button, but it states the clear situation in the Australian community in relation to home ownership. If I may improve Senator Button’s understanding of the matter, Senator Gietzelt found it a virtue to claim that 5.6 per cent of rental houses were owned by the Government, but that figure somehow dropped away in recent times to 4.9 per cent, I think he suggested. He claims that is somehow a disadvantage. I would have thought that reflected in the statistics which Senator Button has criticised is the fact that more people now own their own homes.
– No, you have more people waiting for public housing.
– The point obviously is that the system is working in terms of shifting people from one housing category into another. In terms of current resources clearly that is something which we all need to pay attention to and to which I believe this Bill addresses itself. There is a problem for single income families in this community. This Bill demonstrates the Government’s policy of giving support to those who need it most - that is, families with children - and, according to the number of children in a family, the level of financial support is increased by virtue of this Bill. This Government is concerned to ensure that the maximum number of people have the opportunity to own their own homes. I believe the Bill deserves the support of the Opposition and of all Government senators who have stated their position in this debate.
I think it is fair to say that the proposal in this legislation is the first election promise which the Fraser Government has met following the 1980 election.
– The first it has met, full stop, isn’t it, in the last five years?
– I said that it is the first election promise made in the 1 980 election campaign that has been fulfilled. It is one that was designed to assist the maximum number in the community. Quite clearly it is one of great interest to the community. I believe the Opposition is not recognising that fact.
A number of points have been made in respect of the activities of various State instrumentalities. Because I represent South Australia I noted the reference to the South Australian Land Commission and its attempts to keep land prices down in the period after 1976. It was particularly noteworthy that nobody referred to the events preceding that period when the South Australian Land Commission was instrumental in driving prices up on the market in Adelaide. The South Australian Government has taken action in recent times to reduce the activities of the Land Commission.
– And drive the prices up further. That is what you are going to do. You are going to give it over to private development.
- Senator McLaren is always inclined to remark on things about which he knows nothing and I guess that will continue in the future so we will have to get used to it. Senator Archer made some very interesting comments about home ownership, much the same sorts of points that I was making earlier. He pointed out that the level of ownership is rising and that in fact the system appears to be working very well in favour of those groups of people who can look after themselves. But again I stress the point that this Bill supports those who are unable to look after themselves, and that is the thrust of this Government’s policies - to ensure that welfare assistance reaches those who are most in need. That is the main point of this legislation.
I will mention quickly one or two other factors in relation to Senator Primmer’s remarks. I notice that he is not in the chamber at present. He referred to the development activities in Portland by Alcoa Ltd. He pointed out that there is a lack of housing in that area. I would have to say to Senator Primmer that one of the most important aspects of that matter would be a clear statement that this project is to proceed. In that case we would find that there would be a flow of capital into that area and a provision of adequate housing. That is one of the elements of this problem which apparently Senator Primmer has not been able to explain or to look into in any depth so as to provide us with any answers.
Senator Teague outlined the philosophy contained in this Bill by stating that it was aimed at providing benefits for family in particular. He mentioned the large numbers of single income families who would benefit from the scheme. The provision of an extra bonus over and above the normal home savings grant will help significantly this group of home seekers. It is interesting to note that the second reading speech states that in fact one in three of first home buyers have children at the time they purchase their homes; one-third of those people fall into that bonus category. Of these, almost three-quarters are single-income families. I believe that is the thrust of this kind of legislation which is so important to the people of Australia and was so much in the minds of the people who went to the election in 1980 and cast their ballots in favour of this kind of policy as distinct from the policies of the Opposition, particularly its policy on housing.
The Opposition’s amendment has five points, all of which the Government rejects. First of all, the assistance has been described as being necessary according to an income means test instead of the price of a house as at present. That seems to me to be linked with the third point which relates to the equitable distribution of assistance in the context of a wide variation in regional housing prices. That argument appears to be a very weak one in terms of trying to differentiate how one might best provide assistance in these situations. We have seen a rapid increase in housing prices in the city of Sydney. We have seen in the rapidly developing outback areas of Australia similar increases related more to building costs rather than to any kind of speculative activity. Yet we need housing to be developed in those places. 1 make the point that Senator Primmer made quite a deal of play about the need for more housing in a remote area such as Portland where Alcoa is about to commence development. It is the kind of thinking which the Labor Party has laid down in its amendment and which I believe will not be conducive to the kind of development which Australians would like to see go ahead in an area such as Portland. Consequently, one has to assume that housing prices are relative and that overall the best policy in terms of delivering assistance in this area is one that ensures maximum effective assistance is delivered in terms of housing values rather than income. It should be borne in mind that people in remote areas might very well receive high levels of income but might also have very high levels of housing.
The most significant of the other points referred to the elimination of the nine-month waiting period. I noted Senator Teague’s remarks on this matter, lt is perhaps relevant to note that the total allocation in this year’s Budget for this form of assistance is $52m. 1 am advised that in order to eliminate totally that nine-month waiting period we would need almost to double that figure in Budget allocations in future years. That represents an allocation which perhaps is somewhat greater than the Government is able to stand in these times of restraint. I urge Senator Teague to consider that aspect in relation to the total Budget and the other requirements which the Government is obliged to meet.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I seek clarification on clause 2 of the Homes Savings Grant Amendment Bill 1980 dealing with its commencement. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh), in his second reading speech, said that this Bill would provide a new home savings grant family bonus from 1 October 1980. Clause 2 of the Bill reads:
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
That will be some time next week after it goes through this House some two months after the Minister said that the increase which is being considered here tonight, will apply. I seek clarification of that matter. I cite a case in which young people have been excluded from receiving grants. A young couple in my home town are very disturbed about the fact that when they signed the original contract to build a home last year the contract - which included the price of painting - exceeded the allowable limit by a small margin. They were not able to qualify for a grant under the Act. When they decided to do the painting themselves they came well within the limit. When I made representations on their behalf to have them qualify for the grant I was told that they could not qualify. Honourable senators can imagine the feelings of people like the young couple I have mentioned when the Budget increased the allowable limit for a home savings grant. This Bill further increases that limit. This young couple will be left lamenting because by a quirk of fate and a very unusual circumstance they bought a home which, in the final wash-up of the costs, came within the allowable limit because they did some of the work themselves.
We have people such as Senator Teague standing up saying that he is concerned about helping young couples to obtain a home, but in a case such as the one I have mentioned those people are excluded from obtaining this grant. They will have a millstone around their necks for the rest of their lives. On every occasion that interest rates go up a half of one per cent the people with loans will find that the total cost of their house will increase by some $3,000 by the time they pay it off some time in the distant future. The people now qualifying to buy a house at a cost of $70,000 will never be able to pay off the loan as interest rates go up. I would like the Minister, firstly, to qualify the anomaly which exists in his second reading speech and in clause 2 of the Bill. Secondly, I would like to know whether consideration will be given to the case of these young people if I bring it to his attention. No doubt other young couples have not received a grant because the cost of painting of the house was included in the contract price.
– I am pleased to see that the Government has recognised the principle of having regard to children when introducing the Homes Savings Grant Amendment Bill. I hope it is the harbinger of better things to come. I ask the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Messner), who represents the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh), whether any consideration has been given to including deposits in schools provident funds for the purposes of acceptable savings. A great number of people consider that putting money aside to support institutions which will build schools and provide salaries for the education of their children is a very worthy investment. I would have thought that money so provided was saving the taxpayer millions of dollars per annum. I know that it is a very sore point among quite a number of people who have savings in schools provident funds. I know of a case in which the person concerned believed that would be an acceptable saving. Ordinary people feel that provided they have deposits somewhere and they are saving money it is acceptable for the purposes of the legislation. Of course it is not. Ordinary people do not understand that. I know of a case in which a person put moneys into a schools provident fund and, unfortunately, had not asked the fund whether those would be acceptable savings under the Home Savings Grants Scheme. When the time came for making application for the home savings grant it was found that the deposit was not eligible under the provisions of the Act. Will the Minister comment in that regard?
– In order to clarify the point made by Senator McLaren, the date of commencement of the amended Act is 1 October 1980. The grant will apply from that point, which is the cut-off date in terms of eligible savings and qualifications. The point that he made with regard to date of assent is not relevant to this issue. Consequently in his speech he did not make the point as to the timing of the case that he had in mind. On the assumption that it applied before 1
October, it seems that it would be ineligible to qualify for a grant in these circumstances.
With regard to Senator Harradine’s remarks, with regard to the school provident funds, I take it that these are moneys which are set aside specifically for purposes of education. I am not exactly clear as to the form of those funds, in which case one would find them set aside for purposes which are not deemed to be for housing for children. I am not at all clear as to the circumstances of those deposits. However, it might be well worthwhile if we could hear more detail as to these matters from Senator Harradine, in the form of writing. In general terms, the Government looks at the question of eligible funds for these purposes, moneys that are set aside definitely for housing and in the form of deposits which can be readily identified with that purpose.
– I wish to clarify the point in the Minister’s mind. I was not referring to this particular Bill but to the Bill introduced prior to the increase given in the last Budget. I was pointing out the anomalies that exist for young people. There is a trap there, and I asked whether the Minister would give consideration to that case now that I have brought it to his notice. I have brought it to the notice of the Director of the Department in Adelaide, but he is unable to give me any joy. I should like to bring it to the attention of the Minister because I feel that the young couple I am talking about have certainly had a raw deal.
Because of the two subsequent liftings of the upper limits, they have been put in an invidious position and they are not very happy about it. All I am asking is whether, if I write to the Minister and point out the facts of the case, he will give it due consideration.
– I would be prepared to accept any representations in that regard.
– As I recall, I did have a discussion with the office of the previous Minister for Housing and Construction and with him in respect of this matter. As I understand it, representations have been made by the organisations concerned. These are diocesan organisations which establish a provident fund which is used for the building of schools for the teaching of children. I notice that clause 4 will be extended to include as acceptable savings moneys paid by a sole applicant for the purchase of Australian savings bonds held as inscribed stock or in safe custody with a bank. There is nothing in that clause to say that money is earmarked for housing. As to its being for custody in a bank, there is nothing at all. As far as the school provident funds are concerned, at least they are related to this whole concept of the family which the Government is attempting to support. I wonder whether the Minister could refer the matters that I have raised to his colleague.
– I would be prepared to do that.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Messner) read a third time.
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 Messner) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows -
This Bill will introduce into the law provisions under which the courts may impose appropriately severe penalties on persons who engage in evasion of income tax or sales tax through the use of straw’ companies and ‘straw’ trusts. The use of straw’ companies and trusts is inimical to our whole tax structure and there is, at present, no appropriate remedy either through the tax law or through the general laws on companies and trusts.
The measures in this Bill will make it a criminal offence to be a party to, or to aid and abet, arrangements to make a company or trustee incapable of paying its tax debts. While, in the formal sense, these are new offences, they embody concepts that are familiar enough in company law and related criminal law. Although the words used may be Afferent - and the measures more elaborately ana comprehensively drawn - the Bill does not in principle break ground that company and criminal laws have not already touched. Let us all be quite clear that this is a measure directed against calculated and fraudulent evasion of tax, and not one seeking to counter the ingenious manipulation of the tax laws which we have dealt with by other means from time to time in recent years.
Over the last three years or so the Treasurer (Mr Howard) has introduced on behalf of the Government a succession of measures against tax avoidance practices of the latter kind. Faced with this determined response on the part of the Government, promoters of avoidance schemes can no longer predict with confidence that their tax avoidance packages will prove effective - or effective for long - notwithstanding the efforts some of them make to keep details secret from the Commissioner of Taxation.
As the task of artificial avoidance has become more difficult, the less scrupulous have added a new and, I think most would agree, unacceptable dimension to endeavours to ensure that payment of tax is escaped. What this small group is doing makes the problem a very serious one indeed. Our efforts to ensure that income bears its fair share of tax, and is not made tax-free by artificial avoidance arrangements, are to a significant degree being rendered of no avail by the practices at which this Bill is directed. It is no good to be active in stopping avoidance if at the end of the day companies and trusts could, with impunity, be stripped of the funds required to meet their tax liability. It would also render pointless bringing to finality our separate work in revising the general anti-avoidance provisions of section 260.
The seriousness of the position cannot be overstated. For example, one promoter is known to have stripped some 2,086 companies during a recent period. In 733 of these cases the result has been that the Commissioner of Taxation will be unable to collect tax on taxable incomes aggregating over $128m. Straw company schemes do not require highly complex arrangements. It is relatively easy to remove the assets of a trading company” For example, they can be paid out as a loan that, because of the nature of the arrangement, has no prospect of being repaid. Or the funds can be stripped by having the company pay a grossly excessive amount for what turn out to be worthless shares in another company. To reduce any risk of prosecution for breaches of existing law, and to frustrate recovery attempts, it is not uncommon for shares in companies concerned to be formally transferred to the ownership of people or entities who themselves have no financial substance, but who do possess maximum capacity to frustrate enquiries. Some promoters, however, have now become so confident that no effective action can be taken against them under existing law that they are taking few pains to disguise their part in such schemes.
In typical cases of tax evasion of this kind, the assets of a profitable company are cashed up before payment of tax is due, usually even before the income year has ended. The shares in the company are then sold to a company established for the purpose at a price that represents perhaps 95 per cent of the cash value of the company, if no account is taken of the actual or contingent tax liability on the company’s previous profits. The vendor-shareholders, well satisfied to make a substantial profit on disposal of their shares, leave the matter of paying company tax to the new owners. However, after the sale, the assets of the company are removed by the new owners, using a technique such as irrecoverable loans. It is not difficult, either, to arrange for a $2 trustee company that is liable to pay tax on trust income to have no funds to pay the tax. In other instances, properietors of employer companies have evaded payment to the Commissioner of PA YE deductions made from the wages of their employees. They have done this by having the company stripped of its assets and its business activities then transferred to another company.
Yet again, sales tax is evaded by schemes which ensure that liability for the tax falls on a company that has no funds. Honourable senators will recall recent anti-avoidance legislation enacted to counter arrangements in which ‘big-ticket’ items such as cars had been sold in a wholesale transaction attracting sales tax, but at a fraction of their true value. The legislation now enables the Commissioner to assess the tax on the basis of a fair and reasonable wholesale value but schemes currently being marketed by particular promoters are so structured that the company is a straw company and the sales tax is, and was designed to be, irrecoverable. To return to an earlier point, we thus have legislation against avoidance being frustrated by evasion activity. Obviously, if these various tax evasion practices were to remain unchecked, resort to them would become even more widespread and damaging. Their serious nature clearly demands an appropriately serious response.
As I have said, existing legislation has not been found adequate to deal with the evasion practices I have outlined. For example, while company law makes it an offence for an officer of a company, with intent to defraud creditors, to be a party to a reduction in the property of the company, the offence arises only where the stripping technique involves a gift or transfer of, or a charge over, the company’s property. The irrecoverable loan technique, for example, is not covered, nor do the company law provisions extend to arrangements to defraud the revenue of tax owed by trustees. Accordingly, after much anxious consideration, the Government has decided that the appropriate response to tax evasion through straw company and straw trusts is to introduce appropriate penal sanctions.
The Bill will make it an offence for a person to enter into an arrangement or transaction for a purpose of reducing the capacity of a company or trustee to pay income tax or sales tax that is or becomes payable, or to secure incapacity to pay such tax. Entry into an arrangement or transaction, knowing or believing that it will result in a company or trustee being unable to pay its tax debts, will be covered. Aiding and abetting provisions of a kind familiar under Commonwealth and State criminal law are also included.
As a safeguard, provisions in the Bill will ensure that a person cannot be convicted of an offence unless it is finally determined that the relevant company or trustee is liable to pay tax on which a charge is founded. People who are convicted by a court will be exposed to heavy penalties. The Bill proposes that the penalty on conviction should be either a term of up to five years gaol, or a fine of up to $50,000, or both, as the court sees fit in the particular circumstances. The court will also be empowered to order a convicted person to pay to the Commonwealth an amount not exceeding the amount of income tax or sales tax evaded.
I stress again to the Senate that the measures are directed at flagrant evasion tactics. For anyone to be convicted, the court would have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the person charged was guilty of the relevant offence as defined in the Bill. Also I want to make it very clear that the provisions of the Bill in no way expose to penalty persons involved in the management of companies or trusts that are unable to pay tax because of commercial misjudgment or inadvertence. Because of the criminal penalty consequences that they carry, the amendments proposed by the Bill will naturally apply only in relation to arrangements or transactions entered into after the Bill receives the royal assent.
Mr President, I have already indicated in this speech that the Government has given this matter much thought. The Government is firmly of the view that measures of the kind contained in the Bill are a necessary and proper response to the type of conduct involved. An explanatory memorandum giving details of the provisions of the Bill is being circulated to honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Messner) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn. (Quorum formed).
– I simply place a matter before the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Messner) who represents the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt). It is a matter which was brought to my attention by the Tasmanian division of the Australasian Transport Officers Federation. It concerns a Mr Fletcher, an investigating officer of the Australian National Railways Commission. Mr Fletcher was informed by the ANRC that he would be retired because of medical unfitness. This information was based on a certificate made out by a Commonwealth medical officer. The ANRC, in all its action, is relying on that opinion of the Commonwealth medical officer. Mr Fletcher has independently obtained certificates from a general practitioner and a specialist, Dr Dick, and Dr Knight, who are well known to some honourable senators. They are men of integrity, naturally. They have put forward the view that there was nothing in Mr Fletcher’s condition which would warrant a conclusion that he should be retired on the grounds of medical unfitness for his employment. Nevertheless the ANRC is persisting in its demand that Mr Fletcher, having taken compulsory sick leave, be invalided out of the service.
The General Manager of the Australian National Railways Commission, in replying to the request by the National Secretary of the Australasian Transport Officers Federation for reconsideration of the matter, has pointed out that the Commission has the power to retire on medical grounds a person in Mr Fletcher’s situation under the provisions of Railway Service Rule No.307 against which rule the General Manager says there is no right of appeal. I ask the Minister to undertake to give consideration to the case of Mr Fletcher and, in particular, in looking at Mr Fletcher’s problem, to have regard to the fact that the ANRC is apparently in a position where, on the basis of the medical evidence presented by the Commonwealth Medical Officer, it can make a non-appealable decision concerning a man’s livelihood. This would seem to be a case in which the Government could well review the operation of the railway service rules in so far as they provide for this situation in which the employment of a man of Mr Fletcher’s service and standing as an investigations officer in Hobart can be terminated without appeal. I ask the Minister to undertake to look at the general provisions with a view perhaps to modifying them. Given the fact that that is the present situation, will the Minister at least require the ANRC to have regard to the medical evidence provided by the union and Mr Fletcher from two independent medical sources in Hobart which, as I said, are to the effect that Mr Fletcher is quite able to discharge in the fullest manner the duties required of his position?
– Mr Deputy President, I do not have my name down to speak on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. I will be very brief. Today, by way of a personal explanation, I had to correct a statement that I made last Thursday. Further information has now come to my notice. It deals with the speech by Senator Neal. I just want to put Senator Neal’s mind at rest. 1 will nol pursue the matter any further by reason of the fact that I have been informed that some of the information that Senator Neal used in his speech was not quite correct. I do not want him to think that I will go outside the chamber now and take the matter any further. I appreciate the fact that his source of information made an honest mistake in giving that information to him. 1 hope thai the person who assisted Senator Neal is listening and will take my word given now in public - I have given it to him in private - that I will not use that matter outside the chamber to score political points. I accept that person’s explanation, which he gave to me in all good faith and sincerity. I hope that the matter rests there. 1 hope that Senator Neal can go home tonight, have a good night’s sleep and know that I will not pursue the matter any further outside the chamber.
– in reply - Firstly, I take on board the comments of Senator Tate in relation to Mr Fletcher. Certainly I will obtain some information on that point. I take it that the honourable senator has made representations, or at least Mr Fletcher has, on this matter. Consequently, we will be able to investigate it and obtain information. In relation to the more general point that the honourable senator raised in regard to the provisions of the Australian National Railways Commission legislation and regulations, I will need to take further advice from the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt) on that matter. I undertake to respond to Senator Tate on that. In regard to Senator McLaren’s remark, I believe he made a very sporting gesture. On Senator Neal’s behalf that I thank the honourable senator very much.
The following papers were presented, pursuant to statute:
Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act - Regulation - Statutory Rules 1980 No. 335
Homes Savings Grant Act- Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980 No. 336
Seat of Government (Administration) Act Ordinances 1980-
No. 41 -Church of England in Australia.
No. 42- Anglican Church of Australia.
Senate adjourned at 10.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 December 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1980/19801202_senate_32_s87/>.