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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2918

Mr MCGAURAN(4.36) —This Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is the first Bill this year in what has become a regular legislative updating procedure. It amends or repeals a range of Acts. The measures are said to be uncontentious, although naturally several are significant and provide honourable members with the opportunity to speak on the Acts, issues or subjects covered by the dozens of amendments in this omnibus Bill.

I shall run through some of them quickly before I raise a matter of real concern to the National Party of Australia regarding one specific amendment. I begin with the Commonwealth Prisoners Act. I understand that the courts in New South Wales are required to set non-probation periods, not non-parole periods, when imposing sentences of three years or less. That is an interesting development in the law of New South Wales, which is not understood by those of us in other States. The amendment will ensure that the courts in New South Wales may fix non-probation periods for Federal offenders as well as State offenders.

As a matter of public policy, there is a requirement of further toughening in the sentencing procedures at both State and Federal levels. I think that I speak for most honourable members in saying that the public is heartily sick and tired of offenders being released under non-probation periods or early release schemes and being let loose on the community. It is a matter of immense frustration for most members of the public that offenders, many guilty of serious crimes, appear to be released from custodial sentences far too early.

In much the same vein, the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act is to be amended so that a new conciliation and caution procedure is introduced for the resolution of minor complaints against Federal Police members. I trust that, as the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) sought to reassure us in his second reading speech, the amendments have been developed jointly between the Australian Federal Police and the Ombudsman after consultation with the Australian Federal Police Association. I very much take the view that the Hon. George Paciullo, the New South Wales Police Minister, took in his recent battling public debate with the Ombudsman of that State about the procedure governing complaints against the New South Wales Police Force. I agree entirely with the New South Wales Minister that the hardened criminal element, and further afield than that, will take advantage of the complaints procedure to hinder, frustrate and, in some cases, even deter police investigations.

During my short career as a criminal lawyer, I came to realise that one would have to be naive in the extreme to believe that criminals would not use every available avenue to hinder the case being built against them by investigating police. On more than one occasion I declined a brief because I believed the action of the charged person was simply designed to frustrate the police investigation, and therefore to frustrate the court. I certainly would have no part in what I believed would have been a fraud against the court.

The Export Market Development Grants Act 1974 is very interesting to members of the Liberal and National parties because it seeks to correct an anomaly in the Act that prevented the Commonwealth, State or Territory governments from claiming grants under the export market development grant scheme. Some of the colleges of advanced education and universities now selling places overseas and which have links with the Commonwealth, State or Territory governments are prevented from applying for grants under this scheme. So the Government, in allowing places to be sold to overseas students, has to amend the Export Market Development Grants Act 1974. We believe that there is no earthly reason why places cannot also be sold to Australian students who are able to meet the price. Of course, it would be a matter of negotiation between the institutions of higher education and the prospective students. The National and Liberal parties have made clear many times in this chamber and in a policy release outside that we would free up higher education so as to allow more places to full fee paying Australian students. If the Government offers this opportunity to overseas students, it is a nonsense, if not outright hypocrisy, to deny the same educational opportunities to Australian students who are, fortunately, able to afford it.

There is also an amendment to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986. I need not detail that at all, because the next conservative government will abolish that body, which is an undoubted waste of government expenditure. I hardly need concern myself with technical amendments to that Commission's Act.

The First Home Owners Act 1983 is amended so as to confer on the Secretary administering the Department of Housing and Construction a wider discretion to determine, for the purposes of an application under the scheme, that the date of the applicant's contract was later than actually stated on the contract. There is some irony, if not sadness, about this amendment to the legislation, given events in the past few months leading up to the fact that a first home is simply not an option to a growing army of Australians, particularly young Australians. How any member of this Government can sit idly by while interest rates go through the ceiling, forcing a dramatic and corresponding increase in monthly repayments, escapes me. A number of members, during Question Time as well as in the debate on the matter of public importance, put to the Government stark, undeniable evidence of suffering encountered by first home buyers, as well as second and third home buyers. This problem is not restricted to young people, although young people setting out on life, perhaps after marriage, bear the brunt of the high interest rates. High interest rates affect any number of sectors of the economy as well as individuals, but the chickens really come home to roost when it comes to the purchasing of homes.

The National Crime Authority Act is amended as well to extend the scope of the secrecy provisions so that anybody engaged at certain times in operational work, although not employed by the Authority, will also be covered by the sec- recy provisions. It is worth noting the recent highly publicised successes of the National Crime Authority. I do not believe that it receives sufficient credit for the quite extraordinary successes it has been tallying, at least recently. That success has been a long time in coming but it is welcome, although overdue-mostly because of restrictions imposed by the Government, first in establishing the Authority, and secondly in staffing it.

I wish to concentrate on a very serious oversight by the Government in regard to the Dairy Produce Act 1986. The Attorney-General, who has charge of this legislation, seeks to assure us in the second reading speech that these amendments are not contentious but are strictly routine and of a mechanical nature, whereas in fact the amendments to the Dairy Produce Act are, for several reasons, of tremendous concern to the dairy industry. I want to expose to this House the totally unacceptable actions of the Government in relation to the Dairy Produce Act.

The suspicions of the National Party were heightened when it became clear that the industry had no knowledge whatever of the provisions in this Bill. On further investigation, our worst fears were being confirmed. The amendments will prevent members of the Executive Council of the Australian Dairy Industry Conference, the industry's peak body, from sitting on the board of the Australian Dairy Corporation. Far worse has been the handling of this matter by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin). I wish to place on the Hansard record the industry's version of its treatment at the hands of the Minister for Primary Industry, a Minister who time and time again has been criticised in and outside this House for his apathy-and there is no other way to put it-towards the people he supposedly represents and his consistent failure to advise them of Government actions affecting their industry. The Minister for Primary Industry is becoming more distinguished for his failure to consult all types of rural industries and interest groups than he is for any legislation that he brings into this House or any initiative that he supposedly undertakes to try to inject new life into rural industries.

Not just the dairy industry but virtually every primary industry has a string of complaints about being kept in the dark under the administration of this Minister for Primary Industry. Time and again the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), has been the first to convey news to the various dairy industry leaders of what this Government is doing in the Parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Blanchard) —Order! I remind the honourable member that he should keep to the Bill.

Mr McGAURAN —Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill has been no exception to the track record of the Minister for Primary Industry. Why has he failed to advise the industry of these amendments? We need to look back to early last year when industry leaders, including the President of the ADIC, Mr Pat Rowley, and several others, met personally with the Minister to discuss dual membership-which this amendment seeks to destroy-of both the ADIC and the ADC. They left that meeting with a clear impression from the Minister that only two ADIC members would be excluded from the ADC Board-the ADIC Chairman and his Deputy Chairman. Some time later it was noted by producers that the Minister was qualifying his stand and saying that the management committee of the ADIC-a total of four including the two leaders-would be excluded from the Board.

Challenged on these points, the Minister asked whether there was any evidence of his comments in writing. That is what he said to the members of the dairy industry who had consulted him and entered what they thought was a binding agreement. The Minister for Primary Industry asked them whether they had any evidence of his comments in writing, to which the industry leaders, of course, replied there was none. I remind members that I have consulted widely with dairy industry leaders, should any member of the Government wish to challenge these fairly serious allegations against the Minister for Primary Industry. The Minister admitted: `I have only a vague recollection of our earlier meeting and what had been agreed'. What a disgraceful cop-out! Did the Minister not have any notes or make any notes following the meeting? Does he claim that he never gave those assurances or is it all just a memory lapse?

But worse was yet to come. This amendment ensures that all 18 members of the ADIC Executive Council will be excluded from the Board, including some prominent industry spokesmen for whom the National Party, and I am sure the industry as a whole, have the highest regard. They include the President of the United Dairy farmers of Victoria, Mr Jim Saunders, an industry leader who has led his State industry through some of the most difficult times on record and who was instrumental in negotiating the revised dairy marketing agreement with the Minister. Mr Jim Saunders is now excluded. The Government forgets his experience, forgets his successes and forgets the fact that he represents and is the duly elected head of the UDV; he cannot sit on the ADC.

The most insidious aspect of all this is that the industry had no inkling that this new and far wider exclusion clause was being introduced to the Parliament. Why should it have had any inkling? It was relying on the word given to it personally by the Minister, on his undertaking. Why did he not advise the industry of such a controversial and adverse decision of his Government? Why does he continue to regard farm industries in such a high-handed, sloppy, apathetic and dismissive manner? Simply, why will he not come clean with the dairy industry? Why did he try to sneak this provision through an omnibus Bill of some 69 pages? Why was it left to the National Party to uncover this savage new widening of the original agreement between the industry and the Minister?

One of our senior staff, Mr Russ Neal, well known to National Party members as a diligent and thorough person, first spoke, at my request, with dairy industry leaders when I, as spokesman shadowing the Attorney-General, first sighted this statute law Bill and realised that I must check it. Mr Neal was astounded to find that the industry had no idea that this Bill was coming forward and, moreover, had no idea that the change in the makeup of the ADIC and ADC boards was very different from what the Minister had led it to understand would occur.

There is tremendous concern among dairy producers about these changes, although on balance-and only on balance-the ADIC, having been alerted by the National Party, has had the chance to discuss this issue and has now resolved that it will not seek specific amendments. Nevertheless, the Minister's actions are totally inexcusable. One wonders whether he is trying to spike the Corporation board with his own lackeys. His action has been exposed as underhand and unacceptable. It will be to his long discredit that he has acted against the Australian dairy industry in this way. On behalf of the dairy industry, the National Party registers its disgust at the Minister's actions. We express disappointment in the Attorney-General in his seeking to collaborate with the Minister for Primary Industry in getting this apparently innocuous amendment, buried under a weight of amendments, through the Parliament. If ever a lesson abounded for members of the Opposition to scrutinise properly the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (No. 1), this certainly is it.