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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 66

Senator Button —On 31 May 1984 (Hansard, page 2229) Senator Crowley asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, a question without notice concerning occupational health and safety. In my reply I undertook to seek information from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations concerning the response of employers to the Federal Government's proposed occupational health and safety commission.

The Minister has provided the following response:

The publication of the report of the Interim National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (INOHSC) has added momentum to the discussion already underway throughout industry and the wider community about health and safety in the workplace.

The Interim Commission was a tripartite body, with representation from the highest levels of the Confederation of Australian Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Consultations with a wide range of interested bodies were held in every capital city and a total of 150 different groups and agencies were able to present their views. In addition, 143 organisations and individuals with an interest in the area took the time to prepare written submissions for consideration. Of these, 20 written submissions and 41 oral submissions came from individual employers or employer organisations. The submissions were made in addition to views expressed in the internal consultations carried out by the CAI and represented in the submission of that body.

The Government's initiatives in the area of occupational health and safety have received widespread support; indeed, in his response to the tabling of the INOHSC report on 29 May 1984 the Shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, the Hon. Ian Macphee, congratulated the Interim Commission on its work and reiterated the strong support of the Opposition for the role of the Commonwealth in co-ordinating a national occupational health and safety strategy .


Senator Messner asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications , without notice, on 10 May 1984:

Did the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in its Nationwide program, seen in Adelaide on Monday, 28 November 1983, present a report of a meeting in Melbourne of an auction of signs stolen from the Commonwealth defence facility at Pine Gap ? Will the Minister provide either a transcript or a video copy of the report to members of parliament and the Australian Federal Police to ascertain whether breaches of Commonwealth law were involved?

Senator Button —The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

On 28 November 1983, Nationwide in Melbourne produced a report which was broadcast in Adelaide about the Australian Labor Party Victorian Branch Conference dealing in particular with the anti-uranium debate.

The film report included a 12-second sequence of several signs being waved about. The commentary over this sequence reads:

On display like trophies from a medieval battle were the relics of the female fracas at Pine Gap.

Commonwealth property it may have been, but here it was being raffled in aid of the anti-uranium cause.

If the Australian Federal Police consider that the program material raised matters for further investigation, I am sure that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation would co-operate fully. It does not seem to me to be a matter in which it would be appropriate for the Minister to take direct action of the nature referred to in the second part of the question.


Senator Walsh —On 4 June 1984 (Hansard, pages 2406-7) Senator Jessop asked me a question without notice concerning reprocessing of Australian uranium. I undertook to provide additional information.

The supplementary answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

There is no substance whatever to the assertion that Australian uranium eventually winds up in Soviet and American nuclear arms. Very stringent safeguards requirements apply to Australian uranium exports to ensure that this does not happen. As far as the United Soviet Socialist Republic is concerned, Australian uranium is not supplied to that country, but Australian uranium supplied to Finland is enriched in the USSR on an 'all-in all-out' basis, meaning that both enriched uranium and depleted tails equal to the total amount of Australian uranium shipped into the USSR must be returned from the USSR. Australian uranium is not reprocessed in the USSR under any circumstances.

No Australian uranium exported under contracts signed since 1972 has been reprocessed in any country. Australia has not consented to reprocessing by Finland, nor has Finland sought such consent.


Senator Grimes —On 30 May 1984 (Hansard, page 2136) Senator Jones asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the alleged illegal removal of eyes at New South Wales hospitals.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

Yes. My attention has been drawn to a segment that was screened on 60 Minutes on May 27 alleging illegal removal of eyes.

I requested officers of my Department to investigate the implications of these allegations for the Commonwealth.

There does not appear to have been any infringement of Commonwealth laws administered by my Department in respect of these allegations.

All aspects of tissue transplants are a matter for State legislation. There is no legislation administered by my Department which could be used to remedy the alleged offences in connection with the removal of eyes.

The alleged offences regarding removal of eyes without permission took place in New South Wales public hospitals. The administration of the New South Wales public hospital system is the responsibility of the New South Wales State Government. I understand the New South Wales Department of Health has instituted an investigation into specific complaints arising from the 60 Minutes program.

The investigation of alleged conspiracy to obtain eyes from illegal sources is a matter for State authorities. Should such an offence be proven I will pursue the implications with regard to Medicare in each individual case.

No. I have no evidence concerning similar practices in other hospitals in Australia.


Senator Grimes —On 30 March 1984 (Hansard, pages 995-6) Senator Messner asked me , as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the program of aids for disabled people (PADP). I undertook to follow up with the Minister for Health the matter of his negotiations concerning funding under the program.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

I am pleased to inform Senator Messner that on 26 May I announced an additional $3.8m had been approved for the program of aids for disabled people for 1983-84, bringing the total funding for the program for this year to $10.9m-a 95 per cent increase over the funding for 1982-83 ($5.6m). The State and Northern Territory Ministers for Health were advised of their respective additional allocations on 30 May 1984.

Western Australia is to receive an additional $350,000, bringing the State's total allocations under the Program for 1983-84 to $1.06m.

I have also advised the States that the program is under review and that there will be no 'topping up' in any future year: Thus it will be essential for each State and Territory to regulate the funds provided in a way that ensures priority needs can be met throughout the year.


Senator Grimes —On 7 May 1984 (Hansard, pages 1627-8) Senator Robertson asked me , as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning a survey of drug usage by New South Wales school children.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

Although details of the survey have been kept confidential until recently by the New South Wales Drug and Alcohol Authority, certain 'highlights' of the survey were made available on a confidential basis to my Department in late February 1984. There has been no correspondence concerning the survey apart from my Department requesting details of the outcome of the survey.

The New South Wales authority recently released an expanded version of these ' highlights' and I have asked that a copy of the New South Wales survey ' highlights' be lodged in the Parliamentary Library. The New South Wales authorities advise that full survey results will not be available until later in the year.

The Acting Minister also answered a question without notice on 9 May 1984 from the honourable member for Macquarie on this matter in the House of Representatives (Hansard, page 2107). In his reply the Acting Minister stated that 'The Commonwealth is very concerned at the results of the survey which covered 4,165 students in New South Wales between Year 7 and Year 11. A number of other disturbing things came out of the report, indicating that more girls and boys are now smoking regularly, that over half the girls and boys using alcohol are using it on a regular basis and that analgesic usage is high and increasing. As a result of these concerns, the Drug Education Sub-committee and the Health Committee on Drugs of Dependence established a working group to develop a range of educational materials for students, teachers, parents, health educators and community groups to address the solvent abuse problem'.

The Acting Minister also mentioned that at the recent Health Ministers' Conference, Ministers decided that additional funds should be made available at Commonwealth and State level for drug education programs for International Youth Year. Reports have also been sought from New South Wales as to action being taken in New South Wales schools to address the problem.

The Acting Minister stated that 'at the national level, the assessment team of the Drug Education Sub-committee has produced its final report on the national drug education program (NDEP) and has made a number of recommendations and findings which will have national implications for drug abuse prevention strategy. These recommendations are currently being considered by State health authorities before referral to all State and Territorial health Ministers'.

The Acting Minister stressed that 'The Commonwealth will continue to give an emphasis through the NDEP to projects directed towards youth in its funding of State and Territory drug education programs in 1984-85'.


Senator Gareth Evans —On 7 June 1984 (Hansard, page 2759) Senator Missen asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, without notice:

Is the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware that at present a protest hunger strike is taking place outside the Polish Embassy in Canberra and that the strike is organised in moral support of the political prisoners who are currently held in concentration camps and gaols in Jaruzelski' s Poland, as well as being a gesture of solidarity with Dr Andrei Sakharov and his wife Yelena Bonner of Gorky in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? Has the Minister been informed that the Australian residents participating in the hunger strike all suffered severely at the hands of the Polish communist state? Will the Australian government take up their demands for an immediate and unconditional release of the growing number of political prisoners in Poland and deplore the failure of Poland to recognise their status as political prisoners? Will the Australian Government immediately make representations to the Polish Government and further condemn the increasing record of deaths, torture and ill- treatment of prisoners in Poland?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

I am aware of the hunger strike which was mounted in front of the Polish Embassy by members of Polish 'Solidarity' who have recently arrived in Australia . I understand the hunger strike ended on 10 June. The Government noted their demands, which were concerned with the plight of their colleagues in detention in Poland.

I instructed the Australian Ambassador to raise our concerns with Polish authorities. The Ambassador has now reported that he was able to make representations at a high level of the Polish Government on 26 June. He expressed the hope that all those in detention on political grounds would be released and that detainees would be treated in accord with accepted international standards. The Ambassador added that it was not the intention of the Australian Government in making these representations to express antagonism, nor to interfere in Poland's internal affairs. Our representations were an expression of concerns and values strongly held in Australia and similar concerns had been expressed to a range of other governments.

Although the Polish Government rejected this approach as interference in Poland 's internal affairs, they were nevertheless concerned to demonstrate that serious abuses of recognised standards were not taking place and that the laws of Poland were being observed.

I believe we have a duty to raise such vital issues with other governments and assure you we will continue to monitor the Polish Government's policy towards political detainees. Our Embassy will also report fully on the forthcoming trial of leading members KOR, scheduled to commence on 13 July.


Senator Ryan —On 14 June 1984 (Hansard, page 3026) Senator Reynolds asked a question without notice concerning reports of lack of meteorological back-up for international flights landing at Cairns Airport. I undertook to seek a reply from the Minister for Science and Technology.

The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

Observations and briefing services for aviation are provided by Bureau of Meteorology staff located at Cairns. Weather observers are normally on duty between 2 a.m. and 11 p.m. local time and technical officers (meteorology), who provide the briefing services, between 4 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. Aviation forecasting services for Cairns are provided from Townsville. Public weather forecasting services, including the tropical cyclone warning service, are provided from Brisbane.

Recent staff shortages in the Bureau made a temporary reduction of one observer at Cairns unavoidable, with a result that the coverage was reduced to 2.30 a.m. to 9.15 p.m. Saturday to Thursday and 7 a.m. to 9.15 p.m. on Friday from 29 March 1984. However technical officers were always on duty at the scheduled times of landing of international flights.

The full observer roster will be back in operation on 8 August 1984.


Senator Button —On 14 June 1984 (Hansard, page 3027) Senator Cook asked me as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations the following question without notice:

What is the view of the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations of yesterday's decision by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission granting a 4.1 per cent national wage rise to Australia's 130,000 building workers? Is it a fact that the Bench commended the role of the Australian Council of Trade Unions in 'sponsoring the gradual and orderly development of occupational superannuation'? Is it a fact that the Bench described the building industry negotiations as seeking to achieve a genuine superannuation scheme? Do these comments and the outcome of the case reflect commendably on Minister Willis's handling of the serious problem in this industry and represent a case study in how the accord works to lower tensions in the previously strife-torn industry?

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following information in response to the honourable senator's question:

The Government welcomed the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission' s decision on 13 June 1984 to extend the 4.1 per cent national wage increase to building workers.

In handing down its decision, the Commission stated inter alia, that the ACTU ' played a responsible part in coordinating the negotiations and in endeavouring to eliminate industrial action associated with the superannuation claim. It has primarily committed itself to a gradual and orderly development of occupational superannuation, and has given an unequivocal commitment that the building unions ' superannuation scheme will not form the basis for flow-on of such schemes to other areas.'

The Commission was not asked to approve the proposed superannuation scheme. However, on the basis of the information supplied by the ACTU and the Commonwealth, the Commission found that it appeared that the proposal was for a genuine superannuation scheme. It did not accept opposing claims that the scheme sought to avoid Principle 3 of the National Wage Principles, or to compensate employees for prior rejection of aspects of the 1983 Building Industry Agreement .

The Commission's decision supports the Government's position on this matter.

The Government has been concerned to promote stability in this industry from the outset. The establishment of the National Building and Construction Industry Conference in May 1983, the support for the parties' negotiation of superannuation arrangements for the industry and the Commonwealth's intervention in respect of the flow-on to building industry unions of the 4.1 per cent national wage case decision, have all been to that end. The Government expects that the introduction of superannuation arrangements, together with commitments by the parties to the associated industrial relations package, will contribute substantially to the stability which this industry needs if it is to contribute fully to economic recovery.