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Wednesday, 9 March 1977
Page: 40

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Kingsford) (Smith) - HerMajesty's Speech is not of great length although it is of major significance in terms of some of its content and some of its omissions. In terms of printing what is deemed to be the Government's program occupies a mere 3 columns of Hansard. I think that eloquently expresses what we deem to be the major deficiencies of the present Government. The honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean), who has just spoken, adverted to facts that we all know exist. Members of the Opposition wish to place on record that the Labor Government was elected to promote the welfare aspects of our society. One of those welfare aspects was the abolition of the means test for age pensioners. We heard much about this concept from a former Liberal-National Country Party government but very little was done. The Labor Government attempted to do something about this matter. I remind the House that supporters of the Government, including the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), on many occasions in the past agitated for the abolition ofthe means test. But the point is that we agitate for these reforms on the basis of what is best for Australia and how we can best utilise resources. We do not see the same concept or philosophy coming from the present Government.

As an example, in the speech made by Her Majesty great emphasis is given to a housing voucher pilot scheme. We would all be very impressed on the basis that obviously this scheme will help many thousands of people in need, as indeed they are in need. But I have found that the Budget provision for this proposal is $75,000. The housing supplement by way of rental subsidy in my area and in many areas of Australia today in many cases should be at least $20. If we were to apply that yardstick to this alleged magnificent scheme we would find that the scheme would help 75 families in Australia. This proposal was outlined in a speech from the throne. What a magnificent effort we are making in this area! I would think that we should be hanging our heads in shame when we consider what is the real problem of housing. Why is it that the young people in whom we are so interested cannot get proper accommodation? It is of little value for honourable members opposite to pat themselves on the back about a favourable family allowance scheme when families have nowhere to shelter. These are the sorts of problems that arise. Pensioners who pay rent are paid an extra $5 a week for housing subsistence allowance. This is costing us $4.3m. I just want to make a comparison. We provide $4.3m for elderly pensioners at a time when hundreds of thousands of young people are to be offered a housing voucher pilot rental scheme for which we give a paltry and miserly $75,000. 1 am disappointed to think that this scheme even received a mention in the speech from the throne.

Let us have a look at some of the fundamental issues that face Australia. Some reference was made to the need for change and I am pleased to say independence of spirit. Honourable members would have noticed yesterday the independent spirit that is prevailing in Australia at the present time. It is against not the monarchy but the fact that we are saddled with an outmoded Constitution. Some reference was made to the tinkering with the Constitution in which we are about to indulge. It is hoped that the Australian people will pass some referendums in May next, but they will allow only very minor adjustment to a greatly outmoded Constitution.

The Constitution is undemocratic. It favours the old establishment class of the 1890s. It has in it the concept that we are still subject to colonial domination, guidance and advice. It is contrary to democratic principles on which a country such as Australia should be able to say its Constitution rests. In the United Nations we as a nation applaud the freedoms that are there espousedhuman rights, the protection of the individual's life and property, the freedom of countries from aggression, and so on. Yet in our own country we have a Constitution over which we as a national Parliament have very little power. It is apparent to those who attend Constitutional Convention debates that those who represent State governments feel that we should not have even the power we have. They believe that the States are best able to manage this country. At present Western Australians are more interested in talking about secession, as they were in the 1900s. They believe that they have the money and that they can do the job better than the Commonwealth. It is something like the Bougainville situation. Because there is a copper mine on Bougainville the residents there believe that they ought to secede from Papua New Guinea.

Let us look at the matter from the Australian point of view. This talk of secession is caused by the dreadful confrontation that can take place within the ambit of the Constitution. The Senate is determined to run this country in future. The Senate is an undemocratic institution in the sense that it is not elected directly by the people on an electorate basis. It is elected on the basis of proportional representation and on the basis of the States. The Senate is firmly convinced that it should be running the country. Well meaning people on the Government benches think that this is proper. It is even suggested that if in future Supply is refused there should be a double dissolution to determine the issue. Let us assume that we adopt that course and there is a double dissolution following refusal by the Senate to pass the first Supply Bill. Assume that after an election the Government retains power in the House of Representatives but still faces a hostile Senate. Is the outcome of the next Supply Bill to be determined on the same basis? Are we to have double dissolutions every 6 months? That is how often Supply Bills go before senators, and they make their decision not on what they think is best for the nation but on what they think is best for the parties they represent.

Is it not about time we realised that even our forefathers did not have such lack of foresight? As I have mentioned before, they clearly provided in section 87 of the Constitution that threequarters of the revenue collected by the Commonwealth Government should go back to the States and that out of the remaining quarter of the revenue, which was very limited in those days because it came only from customs and excise duties, the Commonwealth was to provide also section 96 grants. The States were not very worried about the refusal of Supply. They had their money apportioned under section 87. So, why make a legal provision that the Senate is so powerful that it can refuse Supply, thus depriving the Government of any money? Of course, as was known in the past, the High Court wisely said that this Parliament ought to control the economy. The provisions of section 87 need not have prevailed, certainly after 1920. After 20 years of that sort of nonsense we got out of that position. We then had the advantage of being able to run the economy as a nation. In 1974 an attempt to defeat the then Government by threatening to refuse Supply failed. In 1975 a second attempt was successful. The reason was that people were put into the Senate not by the electors but by Premiers of State governments hostile to Labor. The crunch of the situation is that in future, no matter what government thinks it has the will of the people, the government will not be able to govern unless it has the will of the Senate. No mention was made of this reform.

Tinkering with the Constitution is likely to lead to further delay in drafting a new Constitution. It is about time we had a new Constitution. This is what the blue flag with the white insignia which we saw in front of Parliament House yesterday represented. Australia should be standing up as a nation. A new Constitution has to be drawn up. It is very significant that the majority of those under the age of 30 years favour a new Constitution. I am not talking about a Constitution that says that we have to get rid of the monarchy. The monarchy can remain. A new Constitution should clearly state that the powers of the people are vested in the House of Representatives, that this House is responsible to the people and that all legislation passed by both Houses can be accepted as being passed in an intelligent way. It should clearly state that there is only one House of finance, as there is in most other worthwhile countries. That would be the House of the people, the taxing House. Then we would not have this confrontation, this nonsense, this charade as to the power of the Senate and how it will dictate what is in the best interests of the economy.

If we look at it from the point of view of what is in the best interests of the economy, we as members of the Australian Labor Party must bear in mind that we were removed from office by the senators ostensibly on the basis that there was high inflation, high unemployment and a lack of economic management. If that was the yardstick, why is the present Government still in office? Today we have even higher inflation, even higher unemployment and a malaise, as evidenced by the Jackson report, permeating the whole of our industrial base. So let us talk about what should be done to help this nation in a crisis, which is what we now have. Let us not have a very limited speech from the Monarch telling us that we will make great economic progress and that we are developing our characteristics in a proper fashion. We are failing the Australian people because we are not giving them the opportunity of stable government or government of a democratic institutional nature. We are saddling them with the old idea that the establishment always knows best. The Government is very much wedded to the establishment of this country- the limited few who feel that they should be able to wield power and dictate what should be a reasonable profit for themselves.

We hear from the Government an indictment ofthe trade union movement and what is wrong with the wages policy the Labor Party is espousing. When we said in December 1973 that we wanted the power to fix prices and incomes, the then Opposition opposed the idea, as did the trade union movement, for wrong reasons. The opposition was on the basis that the States could do the job, that they had the power and that there was not need for this sort of exercise. What nonsense that was. How it has been proved by subsequent events that this is about the only national Parliament without the ability to control its national economy. Is it any wonder that there was a wage explosion in 1974? When the Labor Government was trying to hold the front line on wages, who was negotiating agreements across the board? It was the banks, the insurance companies, the local government clerks -

Mr Bryant - And Reg Ansett.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN - And Reg Ansett. They were negotiating the lot. The Mayne Nickless Ltd $24 a week for transport workers wrecked the metal trades award arrangement under which there was a $ 1 5 ceiling. Honourable members opposite solemnly come into the chamber now and say that it was the Labor Party's fault. In the referendum in 1973 they denied us the opportunity to control prices and incomes. They must accept the blame for the wage explosion in 1974. We fought hard for wage indexation in 1975 and they opposed it. Full indexation was the best thing going for this country because it guaranteed an effective margin of control in the wages area. Honourable members opposite are taking credit for reducing inflation in the last 12 months. The reduction has been due solely to indexation, which we brought in. The Government has only one argument to put. Before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission it argues that there should not be any increase in workers' wages, despite the fact that the cost of living increases. How can it justify that? Of course its justification is that wage increases affect profits. But the worker gets no benefit from the profits. He makes the profits for others and he is taxed on what he earns. Many companies are able to use all sorts of interesting devices to avoid tax. The investment allowance is a bonanza for some of them- not those that are struggling, but those that have plenty of wealth.

The Government's problem is that it is unable to identify needs. It is unable to legislate effectively to bring about proper tax reform. At least the Labor Government started to do something in this area. We legislated to make tax deductions uniform instead of giving a higher deduction to a man with a higher income. We are very fearful that we will see, particularly in the education field, a return to the old philosophy that the man who spends more money on the education of his child, which he can do only if he earns more, should get a larger tax deduction. The Karmel report clearly shows the obvious discrimination that there has been in education in Australia for many years. The poor have received the worst end of the deal.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN -In continuation of my speech which I commenced before the suspension of the sitting I now wish to address my concluding remarks to the laws which the Government intends to put before this Parliament and to law reform generally. Firstly, I would like to mention the Australian Labor Party's proposition to introduce a national compensation scheme. This has been prevented from coming to fruition because of the Government's opposition to our legislation. The most practical demonstration of the worthwhile characteristics of that legislation is, as I indicated at question time today, that about 30 people who were permanently injured or who suffered bereavement in the Darwin cyclone tragedy are being paid benefits in accordance with the principles of that legislation. The tragedy of the present Government's mean and miserly attitude is its decision to discontinue to pay compensatory benefits to those people from 31 March. There are paraplegics, families who have lost the bread winner and people who have suffered permanent injury. All that will be given to these people is a paltry, insignificant invalid pension- some social benefit which will go nowhere towards meeting their needs. If honourable members look at the budgetary provisions relating to the Darwin cyclone disaster they will see that some $600,000m has been expended in restoration in full for property damage and other worthwhile compensatory factors, but certainly nothing is more worthwhile than life and limb and the ability of a person to survive and enjoy a reasonable standard of living. While the Government is anxious to give itself plaudits for a somewhat doubtful housing voucher scheme costing $75,000 a year I am now prepared to say that it will extract more than that amount of money from the benefits that it should continue to pay to the victims of the Darwin cyclone disaster. It is important that this Parliament should understand the need for national compensation legislation of the type that has been put forward. I hope that on the next occasion this legislation is introduced this Parliament will recognise the worthwhile nature of its contents and approve it.

Another matter to which reference has been made is the human rights legislation. Honourable members will recall that the Labor Government introduced the Human Rights Bill in 1973. That Bill clearly espoused the rights. It was in accordance with the covenant adopted by the United Nations. It meant that we as a Parliament would legislate to guarantee that people had rights. Personally my own view is that those rights ought to be spelled out in the Constitution itself, but it is important for them to be incor- porated in legislation and to be enforceable in legislation. All that the Government is saying is that it will establish a human rights commission. That commission will not have the same force and strength as the proposal put forward by the Labor Party. The Human Rights Bill of 1 973 was defeated by the present Government with its numbers in the Senate. That Bill had the ability to enforce rights. This Government's proposal is merely to establish a commission which will investigate complaints. The commission will not have the same strength or effect as our proposal. We were relying on the external affairs powers in respect of our legislation so that this Parliament would be able to say right throughout Australia that rights could be guaranteed. The proposed commission will be relying merely on federal law or federal power which is somewhat weaker than our proposal. It will not be as strong and it will not encompass all rights. So again we can see that there is no effective effort to bring about law reform in this area.

Finally, time and again we have attempted to introduce national securities legislation into this

Parliament but it has been defeated again and again by the Government with its numbers. On what basis can the Government justify the continuation of the graft, corruption and blatant stealing of money that is being perpetrated under the existing company legislation in the States? This Parliament has the power to legislate in this field. The Rae Committee, as it is known, clearly established that people were being defrauded. A recent report on Patrick Partners tabled in the New South Wales Parliament discloses deceit, fraud and corruption of the greatest magnitude but nothing is able to be done about it. Auditors have been deceiving people; trustees have not been acting in accordance with their responsibilities; creditors are coming to members of parliament saying: ' Can 't I get some justice? ' It is quite clear that there is an urgent need for law reform in this area.

This Parliament has some say in respect of bankruptcy but it is a bit late to take action against a bankrupt when the cause of the bankruptcy could have been dealt with. It is important that we quickly establish that this Parliament can give people assistance in this area. The Patrick Partners case is a prime example of how negligent the Parliament has been in legislating in the field of corporate securities. We can save people money. We can name the crooks and we can prevent them from continually being re-elected to companies. Again we make this plea: At the moment there is no more urgent legislation than the corporations and securities exchange commission legislation. If that legislation were in force we could have saved many people. We could have saved their entitlements. We could have proved that this Parliament is at least interested in these problems.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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