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Wednesday, 17 May 1972
Page: 1760

Senator TOWNLEY (Tasmania) - Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President. It is not without some feeling of a great responsibility that I have sat in this chamber for the numerically few days since being sworn in. I now take this opportunity to address this august assembly of honourable senators but, if I may, just prior to moving on to the few points that 1 wish to make during this speech, I would consider myself to be most incorrect if 1 did not make mention of the many kindnesses that have been extended to me since I first walked into this chamber. From every quarter I have received true assistance. The attendants and staff all have attended to my needs in a manner that could not have been bettered. I thank them all. The members of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare have made me welcome. Honourable senators, without exception, willingly have helped their youngest fellow settle into this place, and to Mr President I owe a special vote of thanks for the way in which he has recognised me quite early during question time and made me feel comfortable in this chamber. They are the local thanks that 1 gratefully give, and I hope some day to be able to repay them.

May I now say that I feel it is a tremendous honour to represent Tasmania and to do so as an independent senator. It is wise perhaps for an independent to make certain things clear in his maiden speech. Recently I read a passage which stated:

Ityou work for a man, in heaven's name work for him. If he pays your wages that supply your bread and butter, work for him, speak well of him, stand by him and the institutions he represents.

As a Tasmanian senator I am being paid to work for the people of Tasmania, and this I shall do. Those honourable senators who have listened to many of the questions that I have asked will realise that a great many of them involve Tasmanian problems. I make no apology for that. I feel that I am here to work for Tasmania first of all. This couples with or, should I say, results from my rather old-fashioned ideas about the Senate. I do not believe that the Senate was ever intended by the framers of the Constitution to be a Party House where decisions of the Executive merely received a rubber stamp of approval simply because of a majority of Government supporters in this chamber. I regard the Senate as a House of Review and a House where the smaller States are as important as the larger States. I think I would have adopted this same attitude had I come here as a member of a Party. I am aware that in some quarters Independents are regarded somewhat as a nuisance. I cannot speak for other Independent senators on the back bench but I would say that I shall not be a nuisance any more than I have to be. Honourable senators perhaps will find that I cannot be bothered with a lot of reiteration, such as I have noticed here from time to time, and I will try not to waste more breath than necessary in repetition.

Having said those few words I would now touch on a few matters which I believe to be important to Australia and Tasmania. Almost every day we see headlines in the Press relating to this Government's handling of the economy. I refer to statements such as 'Australia's income tax structure has become a disincentive to work', 'the economy needs a transfusion', the savage impact of inflation on the pensioner', and 'probate reform necessary'. These are the kind of things that we see. One sometimes wonders whether the Press has the knife out for this Government; or maybe the Government has been just meddling along the economic path instead of striding courageously forward. Therefore I would like to refer to a few segments of the economy.

Firstly I want to refer to pensions and what we could call the treatment of our poor. Those honourable senators who have noticed the number of questions I have asked over recent months will have noted that a great many of them concern matters relating to obtaining benefits for our poor, particularly our pensioners, the unemployed and the superannuitants. I believe that the treatment of pensioners by this Government is not all that it could be. I am not impressed by those who say that the Government has increased pensions so much over the years. It is all very well and very easy to say this, provided nothing else increases at the same time. But we all know just how much the essentials of life, things like food, clothing and so on, have increased in cost. Those honourable senators who meet and deal with pensioners in day to day life, as I do, or who have relatives who are pensioners, will know only too well that instead of being better off these days pensioners and superannuitants are falling further and further behind into the pool of poverty in this country.

What is wrong with our Government when it needs the church leaders to point out the state of poverty? What is wrong with the Government when it allows almost all its public servants to travel first class in aircraft at a cost of some several million dollars a year more than it would if they went economy class? What is wrong with a Government which gives us members of Parliament an extra $7 a day and yet will not give pensioners more than $1 a week extra? There is nothing magical in the figure of $1; there is nothing magical in a figure of $5 either but I think that that would be a bit closer to the mark of what is needed right now by our pensioners, particularly single people. I therefore call upon the Government to ease the means test immediately and to make at least a $5 a week increase in pensions. None of this waiting until Budget time. Tasmania pensioners have to get through the winter. Pension increases are not inflationary, except to a very small degree, so it seems to me that this could be a very humane way of helping to stimulate the economy at the same time. It will mean, of course, that the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) will have one less rabbit to pull out of the hat in August but it will show the people that the Government is not fat or that it could not care less. It will show them that it can make decisions that are morally right.

I want now to say a little about taxation and inflation because I believe that Australians have become far too heavily taxed. Over the years wages have been inflating, giving much more total income but a reduced real income due to higher tax rates on the extra income. This increased tax has made revenue raising very easy for the Federal Government but it is now becoming a burden on those people who are even on an average income and it makes us amongst the highest taxpayers in the Western world. We should have a totally new package deal in taxation. Our sister nation Canada recently introduced tax reform which involved many worthwhile benefits such as child care expenses, a general reduction in tax rates, a relocation allowance for people when they change jobs, an income averaging plan to permit taxpayers to spread unusual income, and lower tax rates for Canadian owned companies. They are just a few things that I think Australia could well copy but I will deal with this matter at greater length some other day. It is a subject that interests me a great deal and one that I feel is important to the rate of development in this country. At the moment I am afraid that we are losing out because incentive is being taxed out of existence.

Another matter related to the economy that will have to wait until another day for deep discussion is inflation. I feel that a very speedy reduction of many tariffs would help reduce the rate of price increase. Tariffs designed to help Aus-, tralian manufacturers have been a tremendous help to foreign investors. General Motors-Holden's Pty Ltd, for instance, may in fact be making a higher percentage return from its investment in this country than it does in Detroit. High rates of profit by Australian companies are due in part to high tariffs combined with a lack of effective or proven legislation concerning restrictive trade practices. The link between absence of competition and rate of price increase has been demonstrated. For industries that are dominated by a few firms, increases in price have more to do with excess tariffs than with excessive wage rises. We cannot stop inflation by just bashing the unions. Measures to reduce tariffs and increased competition and efficiency are infinitely more important.

Finally in this section of my speech relating to our economy, I would like to see an immediate pension increase, as already requested, and the means test removed over a period of years. It is time, too, for a reduction of all sales taxes, particularly that on cars. I think that the sales tax on cars should be reduced by about 5 per cent to a fairer figure straight away. I would like to see the tax on low incomes reduced and a tax on peak incomes limited to SO per cent, which has been done in New Zealand and Canada. These measures would admittedly cost the Government a considerable amount but the general stimulus to the economy would be beneficial.

I now turn to the apple and pear industry. Uppermost in the mind of any Tasmanian senator when talking on this subject must be the importance of this industry to Tasmania. Perhaps because Tasmania has been known as the 'Apple Isle' for so many years, there is sometimes a danger that we will fail to recognise that this industry and its associated canning and processing companies makes up an important part of the Tasmanian economy. The whole of Tasmania derives benefit from the sale of apples and pears, both fresh and canned, and as Tasmania is the main exporter of apples and pears from Australia this is an industry which should be supported, when necessary, for the good of the country as well as for the good of Tasmania. Those who grow the fruit are vitally concerned with the viability of the industry but so too are those who pack and cart and those who load the fruit onto ships. In fact really the whole of Tasmania, particularly southern Tasmania, has a vested interest in seeing that this industry continues to grow. Certainly it must not be allowed to decline.

What is the national picture of the apple and pear industry? Over the past 5 or 6 years there has only been a very slight increase in the number of acres of orchard in Australia. However, the Australian output has been rising a little due to better yields. Of this output about 70 per cent was absorbed locally. In the domestic market the wholesale price for apples has declined slightly, particularly when compared with other price rises, but even with this price decline the consumption has remained steady. The consumption of canned fruit has increased and in fact this is where most of the increased production has gone.

Tasmania is vitally concerned with the export of apples and pears and unfortunately over the last couple of seasons this has remained fairly stagnant. Some 60 per cent of the canned fruit and 30 per cent of the fresh fruit that Australia exports finds its way to the United Kingdom market. The cost of getting the fruit there has increased a lot over past years and all along the line producers have been faced with significant cost increases, particularly in this export sector. With Britain's entry into the European Economic Community it is to be expected that our exports will suffer. Production of apples in places that compete with Australian sales in the United Kingdom, such as South Africa and France, is presently rising. We can no longer expect the long existing favourable access to the British market that we have experienced in the past and we can expect countries such as South Africa, whose fruit arrives in England earlier than ours, gradually to take a larger share of the market. We will then have an 8 per cent EEC customs duty to add to the price of our apples. This cost will result in some loss of sales due to an increased selling price, and new methods of storage may also allow EEC fruit to come onto the market during the time of traditional Australian supply.

Australian apple exports have levelled off over the last 2 years. These exports came predominantly from Tasmania, and to Tasmania continued export income from apples is vital. As I said earlier, it is not only the orchardists but also the many thousands of people in my State who could be affected. Prospects in the industry do not appear too bright for our export markets in apples due to the increasing competition, increased local and shipping costs and the likely effect of British entry into the European Economic Community. These problems are not insurmountable. We must concentrate on the production of those varieties and sizes which are most favoured in the export market. We must find new markets. Without these the industry will regress. These new markets should be preferably closer to us than England. Let us send a trade mission to the South East Asian area and see whether markets cannot be developed in the countries there. The industry in Tasmania is at the crossroads.

Earlier I said that the growth section of the industry was in the canning section. I have asked that assistance be given to this section of the industry in Tasmania comparable with that being given to canning co-operatives in Victoria and New South Wales. This industry needs some form of government assistance now if the orchard acreage is not be be allowed to decline even further in Tasmania. At the moment, the industry, particularly in Tasmania, faces a somewhat bleak future. But I am heartened by the fact that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has advised me via his representative in the Senate, the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) that the Government is concerned about the serious marketing difficulties being faced. I have been advised that the Department of Primary Industry is to investigate the position fully. I, along with those associated with the industry in Tasmania, can hope only that a full report is made shortly and not in a few months time. It cannot wait that long.

From the problems of the south, I should now like to say a little about our near northern neighbours. It is of tremendous importance that Australians should know as much as possible about their near northern neighbours. Of course, Indonesia has a common border with us in New Guinea. Much of Indonesia is closer to Darwin than Darwin is to any capital city in Australia. Singapore and Malaysia are not much further away than that. We are part of South East Asia. But Australians in the main do not always understand the implications of this proximity to our nearest neighbours, nor do we realise that in this region things are prone to happen very quickly. Indonesia, with its 120 million people, has had traumatic experiences in the last 10 years which have impoverished a naturally rich country but which have seemingly now produced a stable government which is unlikely to be overthrown in the foreseeable future.

Australia recently welcomed the first Indonesian President to visit our country. In his welcoming speech our Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) referred to the 130 million Indonesians. President Suharto a few minutes later referred to his country's US million people. Probably neither gentleman really knows how many people there are in the multitude of islands that make up Indonesia. Whoever is right, there are very many Indonesians ready to trade, ready to learn and ready for friendship and help from our technically richer country. The new Cabinet in Indonesia gives reason to hope that the rich resources of that country are about to be better utilised than ever before. In a 24-man Cabinet, not fewer than 12 members are graduates, most of them in science and economics. We will be wise, then, to maintain ties with this potentially rich and powerful country and to do all that we can to foster friendship.

Although numerically less important for strategic, commercial and other reasons it is wise for us to promote friendship with Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines. Thailand and other countries in this region in which we are placed. Other countries are certainly going out of their way to woo South East Asian countries. Japan is actively penetrating all of them with its goahead marketing practices. Red China is not at all slow in finding markets in these places for all kinds of consumer goods. Recently, Russia and her satellite countries have manifested a new interest in all the nations of this region. We are doing reasonably well in promoting trade. But we can do more, especially if we get to know more of the culture, customs and trading methods of these countries. Because of our favourable geographical position we should have an edge on any of the other countries that are competing for trade and friendship. But this will not happen while our ideas continue to be Europe-orientated or dominated. It is very important that we get to know the people who live just over the fence.

In days past European nations could come to these areas of South East Asia, exploit them and, if they made mistakes, they could go home again. But we cannot do this. We live here, so we have to take care that we do not make mistakes. The big test of our political adroitness will come if, or when, the United States of America pulls out of South East Asia. Something of a political vacuum will be created which surely will be filled by someone. Red China, Japan and Russia will be contenders in this sphere of influence. The US may maintain a presence but it is unlikely to be of the recent scale.

So far the most efficient of the interested nations has been Japan. We already have a large trade with Japan and it is likely that we may have competition with Japan for markets in the countries of South East Asia. One thing that I feel our Government should certainly be doing is studying how best we and the Japanese can get along in the region. It is of paramount importance that we learn more about Japanese methods of exploiting markets and seeing how best we can use the changing situation which is sure to follow the American withdrawal. It is not my intention to dogmatise as to how we should act in regard to each of the countries to our north. My one contention is that we must get to know them and, as far as possible, to understand them. We should do all that we can to foster trade with them because it has been well said that frontiers that are crossed by trade are less likely to be crossed by guns. May that be true in our case.

In closing I would like to draw the attention of honourable senators to the special needs of Tasmania for more favourable treatment than has been meted out to our forgotten island in the past. Being cut off from the mainland by Bass Strait costs us a lot. Sea freights continue to rise. As a result, most commodities brought to or sent from Tasmania suffer additional costs. I think that the cost of living in Tasmania is the highest in the Commonwealth. Yet in many respects the services available to Tasmanians are inferior to those available in this northern part, of Australia. I instance wireless and television licence fees. We have just 3 television stations, 2 in Hobart and an additional one in Launceston, yet we pay the same for television and radio licences as do those mainlanders who live in Melbourne or Sydney, or who have a dozen or half a dozen channels from which to choose. It would be reasonable to grade television and radio licence charges according to the number of channels available to viewers and listeners. Colour television is on the way. In Tasmania I suppose we will have 2 or 3 stations showing colour television. A new colour television set will cost $600 or $700. Very few people will be able to afford this. Certainly with the licence fee being as high as it is, it is just one other unfair impost for a State with only a few television channels.

Another aspect of this cost of living question concerns pensioners in Tasmania. For about 9 months of the year elderly persons in Tasmania need artificial heating for their dwellings if they are to remain comfortable. In old age or in sickness, keeping warm is very important. Pensioners in Tasmania should be given an addition to their pensions to pay for whatever form of heating may be desirable. Perhaps our cold climate is bracing for the young but for the aged it is a real problem. Besides warmth in their living environment, old people require additional nutrition to supply the body with extra fuel foods for warmth. Many foods are more expensive in Tasmania than in the rest of Australia. So Tasmanian pensioners need to spend more of their money on food. These matters are not nearly as important in the warmer climates. I contend that an additional amount should be paid to Tasmanian pensioners. I suggest that the same amount be paid to superannuitants. Extra money paid to pensioners is not inflationary to any extent. It is mostly spent on essentials, not on luxuries.

I deal briefly with transport. Tasmanian railways suffer from several handicaps. The first is the short distances travelled. Everyone knows that railways are economical only for transporting heavy loads on long hauls or where a large population makes rail travel relatively cheap for its passengers. Tasmania has little passenger traffic on the railways. If the north-south line were shortened by eliminating many of the sharp curves between Hobart and Rhyndaston people might use the trains because the time taken to travel between Hobart and the north would be reduced and because travelling would be more comfortable. When one realises just how much Commonwealth money was spent on the east-west railway on the mainland and on eliminating the break of gauge, it would seem reasonable to grant Tasmania as much money as would be necessary to modernise some of its rail transport.

The other transport matter on which I will touch relates to the crossing of Bass Strait. That is a real barrier when one wishes to visit the mainland. It is not always possible to get a berth on one of the ferries, so most people fly. Australians fly more miles per capita that any other people and Tasmanians, I think, fly more than other Australians, because they have to. It is time that the Government had a look at the cost of air travel, especially between Tasmania and the mainland. When one sees how overseas fares have been cut by some companies it would appear that our interstate fares may be too high. I suggest that a close examination be made of the cost of interstate air travel to see whether economies can be made and reductions brought about. I offer my thanks to those honourable senators who have been kind enough to listen to me. I very much appreciate their courtesy tonight.

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