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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1252

Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) - At the outset I would like to correct the misinterpretation and distortion of the policy of the Australian Labor Party on immigration as given by the Minister for

Immigration (Dr Forbes) a few minutes ago. The policy of the Labor Party as enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) is not that relatives of people already in Australia should automatically be admitted to this country, as was implied by the Minister, to the contrary. Our policy is that priority should be given to relatives of people already here. Surely this is a sound social and humane policy. I am very sorry that the Minister has taken it upon himself - I do not know whether it was deliberate - to misinterpret our policy.

I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition in respect of this Budget as I believe the strategy of the Budget is completely out of step with the economic trends in Australia today. Here we have a Budget which provides for a surplus of $630m and plans to dampen down economic activity and employment at a time when business and economic authorities, such as the survey by the Bank of New South Wales and the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, released only last week, have warned that the current turn-down in employment and industrial and commercial activity could be expected to continue at an increasing rate. We also have the employment figures released by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) only yesterday which show that unemployment is growing at a monthly rate of 6.6 per cent after allowing for seasonal factors.

This Budget also does not take into account the world currency crisis brought about by the announcements by the United States Government 2 days before the Budget was introduced, which could have a dramatic effect on this country's trade and capital transactions. It is extraordinary that this question was not even mentioned by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in his Budget Speech, and is indicative that the Budget was already out of date before it was introduced into this Parliament. Once again we have an example of complete lack of long-term planning such as occurs in other countries and there is no doubt that revision of Budget strategy will have to be introduced in the next few months if a rapid growth of unemployment and reduction in industrial and commercial activity is to be avoided.

One of the reforms missing from this Budget which is a vital necessity to Australia is the allocation of special grants to the States specifically earmarked to assist in development in the perimeter areas of the great cities where the growth in population is fast outstripping the capacity of the States and local government to meet the developmental needs of those areas. I instance, as an example, the far western suburbs of the metropolitan area such as Blacktown, Mount Druitt, St Mary's and surrounding areas where there is a drastic need for new schools and other educational facilities in both the primary, secondary, pre-school and university areas, including the establishment of a university in the western suburbs. These districts also need special assistance for transport to remove the chaos which exists on the rails, local government finance for the provision of roads, footpaths, kerbing as well as community centres and playing fields in an area which has probably the youngest population in the whole of Australia and where our future generation is being brought up. I submit that an immediate revision of this Budget should be instituted and that part of the $630m surplus should be used to provide special grants specifically earmarked to the perimeter areas for the projects I have just mentioned.

I now touch on that section of the Budget dealing with allocations to the Joint Defence Space Research Facility at Pine Gap. as I believe its implications are of very great importance to Australia and that members of the Australian Parliament and the public should be taken into confidence and told just what this facility means to this country. No doubt honourable members will have seen recent articles in the Press indicating that it has now been revealed by an American scientist named Phillip Klass, that the Pine Gap establishment is a top security United States base which is one of two vital links in a satellite system protecting the United States against a nuclear attack. As far as I can find out, these articles have not been denied and accordingly it would seem this base now places Australia in the forefront of a possible nuclear attack. I raise this issue as I am one of the few members of this Parliament who applied for permission to enter the research block at Pine Gap and was refused. This is difficult to understand as I have no doubt I would have been screened and the screening would have shown that, prior to entering this Parliament, I was Assistant General Secretary of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party and could hardly be called a security risk. In fact, over the years I have been a particular target of the Communist Party because of the positions I have held in the Labor Movement.

I will tell the House the story' of how this refusal came about. On 18th May this year I was in Alice Springs and I called in at the office of the Joint Defence Space Research Facility as it is called as it was common talk around Alice Springs that the facility was along the lines now revealed by Phillip Klass. I introduced myself to the American who was manning the office and told him 1 wanted to be shown over Pine Gap and briefed on its purpose. He immediately rang through to the base, which is about 18 miles from Alice Springs, and in quick succession we were transferred to three different officers. Obviously, my request had caused quite a panic. Finally, ( found myself speaking to Mr Lindsay Snooker, who was the Australian representative in charge at the facility, the American being Mr Lou Bonham. Mr Snooker told me he could not grant permission for me to enter the base and that I would have to obtain it from Canberra. T pointed out to him that I was going out to visit an Aboriginal reserve that afternoon and asked him to contact Canberra on my behalf. He undertook to do this. On calling back that afternoon, Mr Snooker told me that an officer in Canberra had said I had to apply in person to the Minister for Defence, and that his personal request to the Minister would not suffice.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Did they know you were a member of the National Parliament?

Mr ARMITAGE - Yes, they were fully aware of it. In other words, every possible barrier was being put in my way.

Fortunately, I had my FMA card with me, so I asked if the Minister was at his office, 1 was told he was and accordingly I immediately rang through to the office of the then Minister for Defence in Canberra. He was not there, but I spoke to a member of his staff who told me that she would make contact with the Minister and ring me back later that night at my hotel.

Mr Barnard - Of course, there would have been no difficulty for an American Congressman.

Mr ARMITAGE - No, there would not have been. It would have been much different, but I will touch on that in a few moments. Within 10 minutes a call came through from Mr Snooker saying that the Minister had now given approval for me to visit the base but on the restricted basis that I could not enter the research block. I asked him what this meant and what could I see and he said: "Well, we have the messing facilities, the accommodation blocks and the offices etc' I do not recall whether he mentioned the toilets and showers. I asked whether this meant 1 could not find out the purpose of the facility and see how it operated. He agreed that this was the case and asked me whether I still wanted to go. I told him that I did, as I was not going to be placed in a position where it could be said that I had refused to visit the facility.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is what they would have said.

Mr ARMITAGE - Yes, that is correct. That is what they wanted. 1 was picked up the next morning by Mr Snooker and taken out to Pine Gap. Both he and Mr Bonham treated me very well but in answer to continual questions as to the purpose of the facility and what type of research or activity was going on, I was told their orders were that they could not tell me. The only thing they would say was that it was 'electronic research into outer space.' I was also told that the facility had no relationship whatsoever to nuclear research or defence and, of course, that is contrary to what has now been revealed by Phillip (Class. I saw the messing facilities, the office, the showers, the accommodation and so on but I was not allowed inside that so-called research block which had a very high wire fence around it.

I believe that the time has come for the Australian Government to cease being so secretive and to be completely honest as to the purpose of this installation and other installations around Australia which involve joint activity with another power. I believe that Australian Parliamentarians and the Australian public have a right to be told its purpose and the dangers, if any, to Australia of an atomic attack. I also believe it is a ridiculous situation that we have to learn of the purpose of this facility from scientific writers in the United States and not from our own Government in Australia, and it also should be remembered that United States Congressmen are given the right to visit any defence or research establishment associated with their country's defence, including bases in another country. In other words, they can do it, but apparently members of the Australian Parliament cannot do it. This project was entered into by this Government during the period of Harold Holt's betrothal of LBJ when, as we all know, he went all the way with LBJ. It is indeed serious for Australia that a foreign base should be placed in our country which could bring about an atomic attack on this country, and I call upon the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) immediately to give a statement to the House outlining the purpose of this facility and the impact it can have on Australia's future.

Another issue which must be tackled by this Government is the provision of tax deductions in respect of education expenses for students in employment. At present, an employed student cannot obtain any taxation relief in respect of all the fees and books he or she has to provide to further his or her education. This places an undue economic strain upon a person who, because of that person's economic circumstances, has to improve his or her educational standard on a part-time basis. The refusal to grant such individuals taxation concessions discourages them from undertaking tertiary education, whereas we should be giving them every possible encouragement as they are educating themselves under very difficult circumstances. This is another item which surely could be assisted by the extraordinary $630m Budget surplus, which obviously must be revised in the near future.

I wish now to deal with the increase in prescription costs under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme from 50c to $1 as this is another strike at the family - the very section of our community whom we should be helping and not hindering. Some pharmacists have brought to my attention the fact that this increase in respect of many prescriptions will mean free medicines to the Government and not to the patient. I will give some examples of this. The price to the Government of paediatric suspension, a penicillin preparation, is $1.71 and therefore the Government will now pay only 71c of that cost. Forty tablets of 300 mg sulphadiazine cost SI. 09, or a cost of 9c to the Government, whereas 100 amytal tablets of 15, 50 and 50 mgs cost 80c 95c and and $1.07 respectively, the first two involving a profit to the Government, Die Government will also make a profit out of 40 tablets of 500 mg sulphadiazine at a cost of 96c as well as out of 100, 15 mg and 30 mg phenobarbitone tablets at a cost of 59c and 68c.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Have you checked these figures with a pharmacist?

Mr ARMITAGE - I have checked these with pharmacists and I have rechecked them through the research service of this Parliament. The same applies, incidentally, to other types of phenobarbitone tablets. In other words, it is free medicine for the Government and not for the patient.

Dr Klugman - It applies to 800 different items.

Mr ARMITAGE - The honourable member for Prospect has just said that it applies to 800 different items. As I said, this is another assault upon the family which will particularly affect my electorate which, as I mentioned earlier, probably has the youngest average population in Australia and has more couples bringing up the future generation of this country than most other areas, and I submit that a part of this Budget surplus should be used to reduce the cost of prescriptions to the patient. The point made by the honourable member for Prospect, that it covers 800 different prescriptions is a point made by a doctor.

With regard to the currency crisis it seems to me that the Australian Government is confused as to what action it should take in regard to Australian exchange rates. Australia's bailee of payments at this point are very high and despite assurances to the contrary, one cannot but suspect that there is a considerable amount of hot money within those balances and that there is likely to be a lot more hot money entering this country in the months to come in anticipation of an appreciation of Australian currency. Therefore, the anticipation of appreciation must bring about considerable speculation in respect of our currency and, at the same time, such an appreciation would place our exports, particularly our primary exports, at a decided disadvantage on world markets.

In fact - the Country Party should be interested in this - as we now have surpluses in wheat and wool, there is a strong argument for depreciation of the Australian dollar so that these commodities which are generally invoiced in Sterling or United States dollars, would be able to sell more cheaply overseas when invoiced in a foreign currency. In other words, devaluation would mean that our exports would be placed in a better bargaining position on world markets vis a vis the exports of other countries. It would therefore seem that we are in an invidious position in that, if we allow our exchange rate to appreciate we will be encouraging speculation in our currency and on the other hand we will find our surpluses in wheat and wool more and more difficult to sell overseas unless we depreciate. We therefore cannot help but have a look at the exchange system being operated by Belgium, that is, a 2-tier rate. I believe this issue has to be given greater study by the Australian authorities and the Australian Government - the proposal being that we depreciate in respect of our trading transactions and hold our rate in respect of our capital transactions. This would mean dearer imports, but this could be overcome by tariff adjustments. It should also be remembered that, whilst it is difficult for France to maintain a 2-tier rate because of the nature of her settling arrangements, it would be very much easier for Australia where we have a sophisticated exchange control.

Finally, I wish to make a particular appeal for the invalid and widow pensioner with a family. I think most people will appreciate that any person who is bringing up a family in circumstances where, for example, in the case of a widow pensioner the husband has died possibly at an early age because of a heart attack or something of that nature, the widow is placed in a most invidious and difficult position. Her responsibilities are not doubled; they are more likely trebled. Yet under the social service framework instituted by this Government the woman is almost invariably forced to go out to work to keep her family at a time when her responsibilities within the home and her need to be in the home are greater than they ever were before. I think the time has come when, in the interests of humanity and in the interests of those young children who have to be brought up with the attendant requirements of education and the rest, the pension for a civilian widow with a family should be immediately reviewed by the Government. This is equally applicable to the invalid pensioner who has a family to bring up. It applies also to the age pensioner and the widow who does not have a family but it applies particularly to the civilian widow with a family and the invalid pensioner with a family. I appeal to the Government to have a good look at the humanity of the case for those 2 sections of our community when this review of the $630m surplus in the Budget - which must come - is made.

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