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Table Of Contents
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- Start of Business
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Home and Community Care
(Ms MACKLIN, Mrs MOYLAN)
(Mr SINCLAIR, Mr DOWNER)
Workplace Relations Legislation
(Ms ELLIS, Mrs MOYLAN)
Bank Fees and Charges
(Ms GAMBARO, Mr COSTELLO)
Workplace Relations Legislation
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mrs MOYLAN)
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(Mr BOB BALDWIN, Mr TIM FISCHER)
Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme
(Mr CREAN, Mr ANDERSON)
DAS Regional Offices
(Mr ENTSCH, Mr JULL)
Research and Development
(Mr MARTYN EVANS, Mr McGAURAN)
(Mr McARTHUR, Mr WARWICK SMITH)
(Mr FILING, Mr PROSSER)
Apprenticeships and Traineeships
(Mr NEVILLE, Dr KEMP)
Logging and Woodchipping
(Dr LAWRENCE, Mr ANDERSON)
Hospital Services for Veterans
(Dr NELSON, Mr BRUCE SCOTT)
(Mr LATHAM, Mr ANDERSON)
- Home and Community Care
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- SYDNEY 2000 GAMES INDICIA AND IMAGES PROTECTION BILL 1996
- AUSTRALIAN SPORTS DRUG AGENCY AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- EXPORT MARKET DEVELOPMENT GRANTS AMENDMENT (No. 1) BILL 1996
- AUSTRALIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION BILL 1996
- AUSTRALIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION (REPEAL, TRANSITIONAL AND MISCELLANEOUS) BILL 1996
- CUSTOMS AND EXCISE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1996
- HOUSING ASSISTANCE BILL 1996
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1996
- WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- Start of Business
- SYDNEY 2000 GAMES (INDICIA AND IMAGES) PROTECTION BILL 1996
- AUSTRALIAN SPORTS DRUG AGENCY AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- CRIMES AMENDMENT (CONTROLLED OPERATIONS) BILL 1996
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Truck Dock Pty Ltd and National Hearing Aid Systems Pty Ltd: Shareholders
(Mr Rocher, Dr Wooldridge)
(Mr McClelland, Dr Wooldridge)
PAYE and Other Taxpayers
(Mr Eoin Cameron, Mr Costello)
(Mr Rocher, Dr Wooldridge)
The Treasury Staff: Electoral Division of Wills
(Mr Kelvin Thomson, Mr Costello)
Medicare Services: Electoral Division of Wills
(Mr Kelvin Thomson, Dr Wooldridge)
Delayed Payments to Claimants
(Mr Rocher, Dr Wooldridge)
- Mr Filing, Mrs Moylan
Medicare Offices: Staff Numbers
(Mr Price, Dr Wooldridge)
(Mr Pyne , Dr Wooldridge)
Workers' Compensation Claims: Delays
(Mr Cobb, Dr Wooldridge)
- Truck Dock Pty Ltd and National Hearing Aid Systems Pty Ltd: Shareholders
Thursday, 20 June 1996
Mr HOLDING(9.31 a.m.) —I entered the Victorian parliament in 1963 and this parliament in 1977, so this, I suspect, unless some kind of revolution takes place, will be my last address-in-reply speech in this House. I begin, sir, by congratulating you and your deputies on your election to the difficult task of presiding over this House, which, from past experience, is not always as orderly as it ought to be.
I think we take many things for granted in this nation, and one of the things we take for granted is our system of parliamentary democracy and the Westminster system upon which it is based. We take it for granted that we have had a change in government, that there were no armed police on the streets, there was no military presence, there was an orderly transition of power and we have lots of new faces in the parliament. That does not happen in many parts of the world.
For my sins, I am a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Committee on Human Rights. There are over 130 parliamentarians in gaol as a result of military actions or takeovers and they are there for no other reason than the fact that they sought to carry out their democrat mandate—mandates that we take for granted. Therefore, I think it is important on an occasion like this to remem ber that we all have a duty to maintain the integrity of the Westminster system.
Although I must confess to republican sentiments, I have to say that we all owe a debt to the British system we inherited in this place. That involves the concept of a democratically elected parliament and an independent public service—and I will talk about that later—but it also involves the separation of powers and an independent judiciary. On those three tiers, basically the whole system of our parliamentary democracy and the rights of our citizens rests.
Mr Cobb —They would like that in Burma.
Mr HOLDING —I am glad the honourable gentleman mentioned Burma. It is a perfect example of a takeover by the military, a situation where parliamentarians, democratically elected, have been imprisoned and an arrogant military dictatorship simply refuses to answer the questions that are posed to it by international tribunals as to the fate of those parliamentarians who are languishing in gaol, subject to torture and abuse and separation from their families. These are issues which I think should concern all of us.
I now want to turn to some questions which, in the cut and thrust of debate, we do not often ask ourselves. There are clearly differences between the philosophy of the incoming government and that of the former government. I am bound to say that I have never been in a parliament when any government has not made mistakes. I say particularly to the newer and younger members of this institution that the role of the parliamentarian, the backbencher, is to try to ensure that, as far as possible, the government he or she supports does not make mistakes.
That is an awe-inspiring task and, given the nature of our government process, I think it is true to say, regarding the endeavours that are made from time to time by people who might disagree with government policy, that party discipline in our system is such that it is not always easy to speak out and disapprove of some aspects of policy.
Mr Filing —It is too restrictive.
Mr HOLDING —That is right. Therefore, I think it is time we asked ourselves some pretty important questions. I am concerned about what I believe is the erosion of the Westminster system in state parliaments and in this parliament. The thrust towards privatisation is, I believe, out of kilter and out of balance. I don't believe that there is any overwhelming evidence that privatising an area of government or handing it over to private consultants ultimately does anything more for the government than that which has traditionally been performed by a public service.
It is not an accident in Australia that, despite the crossfire of politics, we have never had a serious allegation of corruption—some have resigned because of wrong judgments—against any Commonwealth minister in carrying out the responsibilities of his portfolio. There have been errors of judgment, yes, but never an allegation of corruption.
That is not an accident. That comes about because, basically, the pressures on ministers and the range of information and material that they have to deal with comes from a public service which, over years of tradition, has produced a process whereby, by the time the material comes onto the minister's desk, he or she has had an opportunity to make decisions on the best available material. The decision is his or hers. The minister will be argued with by public servants but there are only two kinds of ministers: those who run their public servants and those who are run by them.
Independence is important. By the time a government contract reaches the minister's desk, it is not possible for him to say, `You'd better take it away because there happens to be a factory in my electorate which I think could do a bit better than this,' or `I have some friends you ought to go and talk to.' It is just not on. Therefore, I am concerned at the thrust of what is taking place in my home state. One of the roles of the Public Service is not just simply to advise the government but to brief the opposition, which they used to do with great skill and discretion. Some matters are properly formulated in government policy which they would not want to discuss. But if either the Leader of the Opposition or a parliamentarian needs advice on some aspect of government policy, he is entitled to seek that from a senior public servant. In my introduction to the parliamentary scene in Victoria, that was very much part of the process. There was no difficulty about getting the head of Treasury to speak to opposition members or to a shadow minister—none at all. It was simply a question of ringing the Premier or the Treasurer and asking and there was never an occasion when that permission was not given.
In Victoria that system has now changed because the public servant's position is no longer guaranteed. He is now under contract for three years—not even to his minister but to the Premier. And his salary, of course, has gone up enormously, with very big retirement allowances—you are looking at millions of dollars. The problem is not necessarily the emolument, which I think is excessive. The problem is that the public servant, as head, can be sacked with three to four weeks notice. That makes the concept of an independent public service a highly questionable exercise indeed. I do not know that those systems which are appropriate to a private company ought necessarily be the systems that apply to government administration. I think the role is clearly different.
We also need to look at the social problems that are occurring in many parts of Australia—not merely unemployment but the rift that is developing between rural Australia and the metropolitan areas. There was a time when no political party, state or federal, could go to the polls without real policies on decentralisation and the moving of resources from the centres out to the bush. In fact, the Whitlam government had a very constructive policy but the only thing, I think, that remains of that now is the Albury-Wodonga complex.
We are seeing a cutback in services at many levels to regional towns and cities, and that is a matter of concern. As a parliament, we have to ask ourselves whether banks have a social responsibility or whether they are simply private agencies that set their own policy standards and can say, `It's bad luck for a country town of 800 or 1,000 people but we're going to have to close the bank and the small shopkeeper may have to drive an hour and a half to do his normal financial business.'
Is that an acceptable standard? Does this parliament simply say, `We'll just simply let it run. Banking is not really a question for this House'? The kinds of social infrastructures of regional centres and country towns are being destroyed. That has to be a question that does not affect merely members representing rural constituencies; it affects all of us. Therefore, I believe it is important that more emphasis be given to these issues.
It is not good enough for banks simply to say, `Our main concern is profit and the bottom line. Running a small bank which services a country town of 800 people or 1,000 people means that the turnover is not great enough. We'll take our banking services out. Within five years they'll all be doing it electronically anyway.'
We have to ask ourselves some serious questions. I do not really care whether the Treasurer (Mr Costello) was bested by the state premiers or he believes he bested them. I think that is irrelevant and, apart from that, the ego of the Treasurer is such that he will never concede the argument anyway.
It is important, however, that one look at the cutback in services in every state. In my own electorate, one has only to go to the Alfred Hospital to see the cutback in services there and the problems that are facing our health system. Our public transport system is such that if you are getting on a train you need a pretty tight bladder these days because the toilets are closed. Not many families will now allow their daughters to travel on public transport, particularly train services, late at night. Frankly, that is a position which should not be accepted by anybody in a parliamentary institution who realises that there are people who need those services.
Equally, at a time when our universities ought to be gearing and planning for a fresh intake of young Australians, what has happened? There is not one university in Victoria and, I suspect, every other state, where there are not meetings every day of academic staff to talk not about teaching or intakes but about survival.
We cannot continue with a situation where the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Senator Vanstone) can contemplate a level of cuts and we are then told that universities need not plan. If what is being proposed—and one can only speculate at this stage—by the minister for education takes root, then you are taking our tertiary system, and the capacity of younger people from poorer families to enter tertiary institutions, back to pre-1948. There are many people in this House, there are many people now holding leading positions in Australian society, for no other reason than the fact that the Chifley government in 1948 brought in a scholarship system which opened up our tertiary institutions. There are people in this parliament who are beneficiaries of that. We simply cannot turn our backs on that situation and say that we hope the minister for education will get it right.
It is the same with unemployment. We still have a high rate of unemployment. I believe there is a genuine concern and commitment on the part of all members on both sides of the House that it must be brought down. But you do not bring it down by cutting existing services which are working, and working well. In my electorate—and, I suspect, in many other electorates—there are structures which are training younger people and getting them jobs or training them to run small businesses. But the people running those services with very high success rates are now putting everything on hold because they do not know what their funding is going to be. We have to ask ourselves: is this an effective level of management?
I am deeply concerned about a view that seems to be emanating from members of the opposition whereby they see an attack on the trade union movement as solving all of Australia's problems. We have seen that development in Great Britain under the Thatcher government, where they confronted an entirely hostile trade union movement. I have heard the argument, and I accept it, that many trade unionists would have voted against the re-election of the Keating government. Many unions and many unionists were unhappy about the responsible leadership which tied the trade union movement into an accord. We had a period of industrial peace. Union members found that their entitlements were restricted while they saw company profits going through the roof.
The trade union movement has been the subject of unreasoned attack in this House. Nobody will argue that the trade union movement or business corporations are perfect; they are not. We know, for example, that in my electorate, and in every metropolitan electorate in Melbourne that has any industrial base, the Clothing Trade Union, due to lack of resources, has never been able to deal effectively with the problems of backyard and illegal outwork. There are migrant women being grossly exploited and underpaid by private contractors who then take the garment and compete with legitimate small businessmen running properly based manufacturing industry. They are having to compete with these backyarders. That is not just a problem for the trade union movement; that is a problem for government. Do we believe that there is social progress involved in that gross exploitation of women and children?
Equally, I find it extraordinary that while there is this emphasis on privatisation, in my own state we are talking about privatising levels of public administration while the mates of the Premier are given a private monopoly to run a casino. I do not have any problem with casinos per se. Personally, I would like to see two or three smaller, boutique style casinos like you see in Europe. I would have no problem with them also being in Mildura, Bendigo or Ballarat. But I find it extraordinary that, without any kind of research into its social impact, we have this ever increasing structure which has a private monopoly. So it is monopolies for mates on the one hand but privatisation of public assets on the other.
I find that very difficult to understand from a state administration which says, `We believe in competition and we believe in private enterprise.' I think it is time that we talked about this because Australia is part of a capitalist system. I do not think that is going to change. So is America and so is Japan. Each of those systems is constrained in many ways by their culture and religious tradition. (Time expired)
Mr SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Petrie, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech and I ask the House to extend to her the usual courtesies.