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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 176

Senator Ryan —On 29 February 1984 (Hansard, page 138) Senator Robert Ray asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment, a question without notice concerning a grant made to the 'Age Monthly Review' by the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

The Acting Minister for Home Affairs and Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Present legislative and institutional arrangements provide for the Government to make decisions on the overall level of funding to be provided to the Australia Council, but not for its disposition on specific grants. This is a matter for the Council and its constituent boards-in this case the Literature Board.

I am advised that the Literature Board has established detailed criteria for literary magazine grants. These criteria have been endorsed by the Council. Within the criteria it is possible for non-literary magazines to receive funding for literary supplements as a means of encouraging the publication of creative writing.

At its meeting on 2-3 March 1984 the Literature Board considered a revised application from the 'Age Monthly Review' for funding of the Australian fiction and poetry supplement. The Literature Board offered the Review a grant of $6,600 towards six such supplements in 1984, comprising $4,800 towards fees for contributors, $1,200 towards the cost of an administration panel and $600 for promotion. The Board did not approve an amount for production costs. The Review accepted this offer. The major part of the grant goes to Australian writers as payments for publication of their work. This is in keeping with the funding objectives of the Board.


Senator Gareth Evans —On 3 May 1984 (Hansard, page 1556), Senator Harradine asked me, as Minister representing the Special Minister of State, the following question without notice:

My question, which has serious implications for human rights in this country, is directed to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. It relates to those Australians of Indo-Chinese origin who travelled to Canberra on 15 March 1984 for a peaceful demonstration against repressive acts of the Vietnamese authorities or government internally and in Kampuchea. Is it correct that these people were stopped by 15 to 20 carloads of police on the Hume Highway at Craigieburn on the northern perimeter of Melbourne? Is it correct that they were subjected to body searches, photographed and required to fill in forms which included questions about their level of education, prior military service and religion? Is it correct that the search extended even to children under nine years of age whose shoes and even nappies had to be removed? Were Australian Federal Police or officials in any way involved? If the police concerned were all Victorian police, were they acting on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, the Commonwealth police, or any department or agency of the Commonwealth Government?

The Acting Special Minister of State has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

I have been advised by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) that the police roadblock at Craigieburn, Victoria on 15 March 1984 to which the honourable senator refers was organised by the Victoria Police. Two AFP officers were present in case any Commonwealth offences became evident. I am advised that no such offences were detected and that the AFP officers took no active part in the questioning or searching of any vehicles stopped by the Victoria Police.

In response to the final part of your question asking whether or not the Victoria Police were acting on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, the AFP or any department or agency of the Commonwealth Government, the answer is no.


Senator Gareth Evans —On 10 May 1984 (Hansard, page 1928) Senator Watson asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Defence, without notice:

Is it a fact that most Royal Australian Air Force Mirage aircraft have exceeded the airframe safety standard in terms of flying hours as specified by their manufacturers.

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

The application of modern aircraft technology can allow an aircraft to be operated safely beyond its original design airframe fatigue life. Such technology has been applied in the case of the Mirage through an extensive refurbishment program, generally with the advice of the manufacturers and other users of the aircraft, thereby extending its operational life.

The RAAF, as the military airworthiness authority, sets its own technical limits to the operation of its aircraft. In so doing, it takes into account:

the manufacturer's design limits on operations and the life of the airframe and its components:

refurbishment programs undertaken; and

the recommendation and policies of other services operating the aircraft.

An assurance can therefore be taken that the RAAF is operating within the known capabilities of the airframe's structure.


Senator Walsh —On 5 April 1984 (Hansard, pages 1300-1) Senator Crowley asked me a question without notice concerning bushfire risks from rural power lines. In my response at that time, I undertook to provide further information on the economics of burying power lines or of continuing to pay insurance premiums against the risks of liability from fires caused by overhead lines.

As I indicated in my initial response, matters concerning the electricity supply industry are the responsibility of the various electricity authorities or the State governments which ultimately control them, and the Commonwealth Government is not involved in their policy decisions. However, I do have some further information on the matters you raised in your question. I am advised that in Victoria power lines are responsible for only about 1.5 per cent of the bushfires which occur each year, although this figure can be much higher on an acute fire danger day in a high risk fire year. At such times, one of the most prevalent causes of power lines initiating fires is the interaction of trees with the lines.

In general, the major risk of initiating bushfires is from low and medium voltage rural distribution lines rather than the high voltage lines of the main electricity transmission system for which easements are comparatively wide. In Victoria, for example, the total length of medium and low voltage rural transmission lines exceeds 80,000 kilometres. While undergrounding these power lines would be technically feasible, the costs of underground cable supply range up to 20 times those of overhead lines depending on the transmission voltage. The cost of undergrounding the rural supply for Victoria has been estimated at $ 8,000m. A booklet has been published by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV), 'Undergrounding the State Electricity Commission Rural Electricity Supply System'.

In the case the honourable senator raised of the proposal by the SECV to replace the existing 66 kilovolt transmission lines in the Yarra and Merri Creek valleys in the Melbourne metropolitan area by a higher capacity 220 kilovolt line. I understand that local opposition to the construction of this line is on aesthetic rather than fire prevention grounds. While loss of life, stock and property are national and personal tragedies, extensive undergrounding of rural power lines would not appear therefore to be a cost-effective means of reducing the incidence of bushfires. I am also advised that the issue of bushfire prevention is under active consideration by a special co-ordinating committee of the Electricity Supply Association of Australia, whose membership includes practically every electricity generating and distributing body in Australia.


Senator Button —On 14 September 1983 (Hansard, page 665), Senator Hill asked me, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, a question without notice concerning the impact on manufacturing industry of changes announced in the Budget which relate to the sales tax treatment of oils, greases and lubricants. Senator Hill referred to a press report which suggested that as a result of the sales tax changes the cost of producing a tonne of steel could rise by $4, with resultant flow-through costs for industry. I undertook to obtain an answer to Senator Hill 's question in consultation with the Treasurer and my own Department.

The following answer to the honourable senator's question has been prepared after receiving advice from the Commissioner of Taxation:

The correction of certain anomalies and inconsistencies in the sales tax law, including the provisions relating to oils and lubricants, was announced in the 1983-84 Budget. The effect of this was to remove lubricating oils, used for business or industrial purposes, from the list of items classified as exempt and make them subject to tax at the general rate of 20 per cent.

Prior to the 1981-82 Budget amendments, item 127 in the First Schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act exempted all oils, greases and other preparations for use as lubricants of machinery, implements or apparatus. The previous Government amended that item, with effect from 19 August 1981, to exclude from exemption oils and greases for use as lubricants of road vehicles. Exemption for oils and greases thus became conditional on their being for use for business or industrial purposes as lubricants of machinery, implements, or apparatus other than road vehicles.

Considerable difficulty was encountered by vendors and purchasers in the administration of this conditional exemption, particularly where the same type of oil was for use in both taxable and exempt circumstances and where purchasers operated both road vehicles and other machinery for business purposes; for example, in the agricultural, mining and construction industries.

As a result of that difficulty, the Government announced in the 1983-84 Budget that all oils and greases for use as lubricants would be taxed at 20 per cent. To give effect to this announcement, item 127 was omitted from the First Schedule and the definition of 'aids to manufacture' was amended to exclude lubricants. In this regard, lubricants have been defined in the sales tax law as 'oils, greases and other preparations-

(a) of a kind sold exclusively or principally as; or

(b) put up for sale as; or

(c) for use as,

lubricants of machinery (including vehicles implements or apparatus'.

These changes do not affect the conditional exemption available under the aids to manufacture provision in respect of various substances not considered to be lubricants. Products such as coating oils, slushing oils, rust preventative oils and greases (other than lubricating oils that contain rust preventative additives), quenching oils, white oils and greases (other than those of a kind sold exclusively or principally as, put up for sale as, or for use as lubricants ), rubber process oils, heat transfer oils, antifreeze/boil fluids and hydraulic fluids are considered not to be lubricants and are, therefore, eligible for exemption as aids to manufacture when used in the appropriate circumstances. The Taxation Commissioner has recently ruled that substances such as cutting fluids and coolants, metal drawing oils and drawing compounds, metal rolling oils, flushing oils, mould oils, transformer oils and grinding concentrates are similarly eligible for exemption.

As to that part of the question dealing with the effects of these changes on industry costs, it would appear that the overall impact would be minimal. Although the impact will vary from industry to industry, according to the use of pattern of taxable lubricants, there should be little or no discernible effect on steel production costs as a result of the announced changes.


Senator Walsh —On 3 May 1984 (Hansard, page 1557) Senator Boswell asked me a question without notice in my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry in the Senate. His question concerned Australian beef exports and the Commonwealth export inspection charge on meat.

The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied me with the following additional information:

The export inspection charges for meat were introduced by the previous Government in 1979, with the objective of recovering from industry 50 per cent of the cost of providing export inspection services. Due to inflation, changes in the service provided, and fluctuations in throughput, the 1979 charges soon began to fall well short of achieving the 50% recovery objective.

The Government carefully reviewed the previous Government's policy of charging for export inspection and concluded that the cost recovery principles should continue to apply for commercial type activities.

However, in February this year the Minister requested that an examination of the financial and economic aspects of the current recovery of inspection costs in the meat industry be undertaken as a high priority by the Interim Inspection Policy Council which was established by the Minister in September 1983. The Council completed its inquiry into the effects of export inspection charges on meat industry viability and international competitiveness and presented a report on 1 May 1984.

The Minister gave this report urgent consideration and, on 20 June 1984, announced revised charges for export or domestic meat inspection undertaken by the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry. These charges represent a reduction in the cost of export inspection of some 20% and will lead to an overall reduction in the industry's contribution to the cost of meat inspection.

The inspection charge has been restructured into two components. All inspection carried out by the Commonwealth in domestic and export works will attract a charge. For product going to export a levy will be charged at the point of export. This will serve the best interests of the Australian meat industry through the opportunity for increased throughput in export-registered establishments which will ensure a balance is maintained in the amount of meat processed by domestic only and export-registered establishments.

Senator Boswell referred to recent developments in the Korean, Japanese and Singapore markets. Further to the advice provided at the time to Senator Boswell on the Korean market for beef, he should be aware that Korea has since announced the results of a further tender for 3,500 tonnes of beef, of which Australia will supply 80 per cent or 2,800 tonnes.

With respect to the Singapore market, in 1982-83 Singapore imported Australian beef valued at $18 million. Increased competition has come about primarily because of the decision of the Singapore Government to further diversify the countries from which meat can be imported to include imports of meat from certain South American countries. Although it can be expected that Singapore importers will assess the acceptability of this cheaper priced product, the Minister is confident that higher quality Australian beef of a known and consistent quality will continue to command a premium place in this market.

With regard to Japan, negotiations on the question of Australia's future access to the Japanese beef market are continuing. The most recent discussions the Minister had with Japanese Ministers in May reviewed the progress made by the officials' negotiations to that time. The Minister suggested to the Japanese that they give serious consideration as to how Japan might improve, in qualitative terms, access for Australian beef to the Japanese market. He indicated that the area of particular interest to Australia is chilled and aged frozen beef. At a meeting of officials held on 14-15 June Japanese officials responded to the issues the Minister raised in his discussions with Japanese Ministers. At that meeting the Japanese adopted a positive attitude towards addressing these issues and the government will be consulting with the industry before responding to the Japanese proposals.

Importantly, the Minister has stressed that the figures put forward in negotiations by the Japanese in respect of the level of access under the global beef import quota indicate that the Japanese have no intention of reducing Australia's beef access in quantitative terms.


Senator Button —On 7 May 1984 (Hansard, page 1623) Senator Elstob asked Senator Walsh the following question without notice concerning the community youth support scheme:

Can the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations advise the Senate whether the Koorie community youth support scheme research project into the needs of young unemployed Aboriginals has been completed? If so, what were the major recommendations? As part of the Government 's response to the study will the Minister initiate methods to counteract the lack of liaison and co-ordination between Aboriginal CYSS projects?

In his reply, Senator Walsh undertook to obtain the information sought. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following information:

A committee representative of a wide range of Aboriginal organisations, known as the Koorie Research Committee, was set up in February 1983 to co-ordinate a study to examine ways in which community youth support scheme projects might more effectively meet the special needs of young unemployed Aboriginals.

The study was to focus on New South Wales but would include extensive national consultation in all areas with significant Aboriginal populations.

Unfortunately, despite a deal of effort on the part of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, the Koorie Committee has now conceded that it is unable to complete the research and prepare an associated report.

The Government is of the view that a flexible, local community-based program such as CYSS has the potential to provide valuable assistance to young Aboriginals, particularly those who are geographically isolated or who, for other reasons, are unable to participate in other labour force programs.

Accordingly, I will be giving consideration to the initiation of a new study once I have had the opportunity to review the problems experienced by the Koorie Committee.


Senator Button —On 8 May 1984 (Hansard, page 1748) Senator Lajovic asked Senator Walsh the following question without notice concerning a number of industrial disputes then current:

Has the Minister noted the Dateline News Digest of Monday, 7 May, afternoon edition, today's morning edition and tonight's edition, reporting the following strikes or bans which are plaguing Australian industry:

First, Port Pirie, closure of lead smelter because of the continued closure of mines at Broken Hill for more than a month. Secondly, the 20-day old waterside dispute which has brought Australian ports to a grinding halt. Thirdly, the power engineers' refusal to accept a recommendation to lift their bans on returning generators to service. Fourthly, the Builders Labourers Federation pickets who have delayed work on six new light towers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Lastly, complete closure of the New Parliament House site if the site workers decide to stay out.

What action does the Minister intend to take to settle all of the aforementioned disputes?

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

The dispute at Broken Hill which led to a phasing down of operations at Port Pirie has been resolved. Work resumed on 19 May based on the recommendations of Justice Cahill of the New South Wales Industrial Commission. The resumption of work has enabled Broken Hill Associated Smelters at Port Pirie to avoid any stand-downs as a result of the mines closure.

The waterside dispute was settled on 8 May with agreement between the parties that the matters then in dispute be arbitrated in the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Normal work was resumed on the waterfront on 9 May.

In relation to the professional engineers power industry dispute in N.S.W., the bans were lifted on 8 May, reimposed on 10 May and lifted again on 14 May to allow the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to hear the dispute .

In relation to the dispute involving the Builders Labourers' Federation which is affecting work on light towers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), it should be noted that the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF), the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) and the Federated Ironworkers' Association (FIA) have been involved in a number of demarcation disputes. On occasion, these matters have been appealed by one or other of the unions to the High Court.

In the case of the MCG light towers, Commissioner Merriman of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission found that the BLF's eligibility rule did not entitle it to undertake the work. Accordingly, he allocated it to the AWU and FIA. The Government believes that the BLF should refrain from industrial action and accept the Commission's decision. If the BLF is not so inclined, the Government supports the Victorian Government in taking action to allow the work to proceed.

Concerning the New Parliament House dispute, it should be noted that on 15 May workers employed at the site returned to work pending a decision on the site allowance for the project. This return to work followed talks, involving the Australian Council of Trade Unions and initiated by the Government, in mid March .

The site allowance decision granting $1.50 per hour was handed down on 16 May by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Workers met on 23 May and voted to accept the site allowance decision and to pursue further matters through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.


Senator Ryan —On 9 May (Hansard, page 1825) Senator Elstob asked me, as the Minister representing the Minister for Science and Technology, the following question without notice:

Has the Minister seen the recent British report that, according to industry leaders, British companies are wasting millions of pounds by buying the wrong micro-computers for their needs? Can the Minister say whether there is evidence to show that similar problems are occurring in Australian Businesses? Does the Minister consider that there are sufficient advisory services operating to prevent such wastage from happening in Australian businesses?

The Minister for Science and Technology has provided the following response to the honourable senator's question:

I am unaware of the British report referred to by the honourable senator, but I am well aware of the problems faced by businesses in selecting computer equipment suitable to their needs. To deal with this problem, my Department has formulated a number of programs to assist business awareness of the opportunities and pitfalls associated with information technology.

My Department has developed a project entitled 'Smarter Office-Stronger Firm, An Introduction to Information Technology for Small Business'. The project is designed to introduce businessmen of all professions to the range of available information technologies; to detail the processes by which a businessman can assess his own requirements and to obtain further impartial advice on the appropriate technologies. The project is now managed on a commercial basis by the Productivity Promotion Council of Australia.

My Department is also facilitating the establishment of Microcomputer Demonstration Centres. These centres will provide the business community with the opportunity to obtain 'hands on' experience and training on a range of computer hardware and software systems in an impartial, non-sales environment with trained consultant assistance at hand.

The first of these centres is being established in Adelaide in co-operation with the South Australian Government through its Small Business Corporation.

In a related project, my Department is supporting a program to display Australian-made computer equipment at the Australian Microcomputer Industry Clearinghouse established in Melbourne on 2 April 1984 by Technisearch Ltd.

I anticipate that similar centres will be set up in other State capitals in the near future. I believe they will go a long way towards overcoming the problems to which the honourable senator refers.


Senator Button —On 10 May 1984 (Hansard, pages 1926-7) Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle asked Senator Grimes, as the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, the following question without notice:

Do the articles in today's newspaper headed 'Canberra set to back building workers' rise' and 'Willis will back building unions' super scheme push' accurately reflect the Government's reported intervention in a full Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission hearing tomorrow? Does the Government support the payment of the 4.1 per cent national wage rise in addition to the superannuation scheme? Does the superannuation claim of the building unions breach the wage fixing guidelines of 'no extra claims commitment' given by the building unions to the Government earlier? Could the Senate be advised on these matters?

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following information:

The current discussions on superannuation stem from award negotiations which concluded in late 1983. The negotiations gave rise to an agreement between the parties which incorporated an industrial relations package. This package held out the prospect of industrial stability in the industry for the two year life of the agreement. It is a matter of record that the Commission found that some aspects of the agreement were not in keeping with the wage fixation principles and that as a result, the agreement was not ratified by the Commission. It should be noted however that the Commission adverted to the positive industrial relations aspects of the agreement.

The Government considered it important that all avenues which might maintain the positive industrial relations objectives and benefits of the agreement be further explored.

Consideration of the feasibility of introducing a superannuation scheme was an aspect of both the original log and the 1983 agreement.

Government support for a superannuation scheme for the industry is contingent upon a number of requirements being met: that any scheme be consistent with Government economic and industrial policies; that it should not be a device for a deferred wage rise; that it be a genuine retirement scheme; and that any scheme be accompanied by positive industrial relations undertakings. While the Government is opposed to a rapid spread of superannuation, it encourages orderly development of these benefits, as has occurred in the past.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has reaffirmed its commitment that the building industry negotiations will not form a basis of flow on to other areas and that further development of superannuation will proceed in an orderly and gradual manner.

It should be noted that superannuation has developed over time as an issue independent of the wage system. It has been widely regarded as one aspect of the wider working environment and may be seen in the same light as developments in workers' compensation and occupational health and safety arrangements. While the Government acknowledges that there exists a cost component to such developments, it nevertheless regards this as a socially worthwhile cost which should be seen as the price paid for improvement over time of the broader relations between employers and employees. In the past industry has been prepared to meet such costs.

The Full Bench of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, on the 4th, 18th and 22nd of May 1984, heard an application by a number of employer groups for the recent national wage case increase to be denied to the building unions. The Government intervened in those proceedings and supported the flow on of the increase.

The Government argued that the Commission ought to be particularly concerned about any developments in the spread of superannuation which are really devices to circumvent the principles and which are not genuine schemes. The Government further submitted that it would be open to the Commission to take into consideration any increase in overall labour costs caused by any rapid spread of superannuation schemes when determining any increase that may be awarded by the Commission in a national productivity case or in future national wage cases. The Full Bench in its decision of 13 June 1984 granting the flow on of the national wage case 4.1 per cent, concurred with this submission.


Senator Button —On 1 June 1984 (Hansard, page 2374) Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, the following question without notice concerning the furnishing trades allowance campaign:

I ask the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations to inform the Senate of the up to date position regarding the claim of the Federated Furnishing Trade Society of Australasia for an $11.90 allowance. What action is being taken to avoid a flow-on to Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia members? Are reports that the Minister plans partial deregistration of the Federated Furnishing Trades Society accurate? If so, when will the submission be made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission?

The following information is provided in response to the honourable senator's question:

The Government was deeply concerned about the FFTSA claim for an $11.90 per week on-site disability allowance for indoor workers in the glazing and building supplies sectors. The claim was in conflict with the centralised wages system and the prices and incomes accord. The Cabinet considered the dispute and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations was involved in negotiations with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, employer representatives and the union, aimed at achieving a solution acceptable in terms of the Government's wages policy.

The efforts of the principal parties have succeeded in resolving the issue. The FFTSA claim has now been withdrawn, all industrial action has ceased and residual matters associated with the campaign have been resolved between the parties.