23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Acting Minister for External Affairs inform the House of the substance of the report of the Security Council sub-committee which inquired into the situation in Laos, and in any event advise the House as soon as possible of the sub-committee’s recommendations?
– I have not yet received the full text of the report. I have received a cabled extract, probably of the more significant parts of it. I propose, when I receive the full report, to lay it on the table in the Library, where honorable members will have access to it. However, I can tell the right honorable member that I gather from reading the extract, that the sub-committee confined itself very properly within the narrow limits of its mandate. It did not regard itself as an investigating body, but merely as a factfinding body in the sense that it received and collated evidence. It did not make any findings or recommendations.
It is plain from the material gathered by the sub-committee that there had been support for the insurgents in Laos by people from North Viet Nam. But the committee said that it had not received any evidence of the actual intrusion of the armed forces of North Viet Nam across the border. I think the report justified the statement I had made earlier that there had undoubtedly been interference in the affairs of Laos by North Viet Nam. As I say, the report made no recommendations, but as soon as I have the full text–
– May we see the summary of it?
– Yes; I will put the summary on the Library table.
– My question is addressed to you, Mr. Speaker, and it relates to the Nan Kivell collection of Australian pictures and other material, some of which is now in this building and elsewhere, and some of which is being unpacked in the Library annexe. As you know, it is a magnificent collection, perhaps second only to the Dixson collection, in Sydney. I ask, Sir, what arrangements can be made to see that this material is put on public exhibition. Is it possible to have some special effort made to prepare and publish a catalogue of the collection?
– The collection has arrived, after very careful and delicate negotiation. The honorable member’s suggestion is a wise one, and I will take it up with my colleague in another place to see what can be done, in conjunction with the Library.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for National Development whether it is a fact that negotiations are going on for the sale of the Bell Bay aluminium plant to a private monopoly. Is it a fact also that a question relating to this matter has been on the notice-paper since 23rd September last?
– Order! If the question is already on the notice-paper the honorable member is out of order.
– The question on the notice-paper is different from the question that I am now asking. I ask the Minister whether there is any reason why there should be such a long delay in answering such a simple question.
– If the honorable member will put his substantial question on the notice-paper, I will see that he receives a reply. So far as the last porhe receives a reply. As to the last matter, I have not seen the question on the noticepaper to which he has referred, but I doubt whether it is a simple one.
– I address my question to the Minister for Air. What is the flying range of Australian Neptune bombers which have now been fitted with jet booster engines in America? What information has the Minister on the circumstances that last Tuesday caused a Royal Australian Air
Force Neptune bomber on a flight from America to Hawaii to return to California?
– The aircraft which returned to California is attached to No. 1 1 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force and is one of those which have been in the United States being fitted with small jet engines to increase their performance. 1 understand that a fuel leak developed in the course of flight, and that the captain very properly returned to the United States until the fault had been corrected. It is not very unusual, either with civil or military aircraft, for such a defect to occur, and the captain acted correctly.
The honorable member has asked me what is the range of these aircraft. I do not carry in my mind the exact maximum range figure, but these aircraft can fly for approximately eighteen hours at their ordinary cruising speed.
– I desire to know from the Postmaster-General whether it is a fact that Japanese-manufactured radio equipment that has been issued to certain classifications of employees of the Postal Department has supplanted equipment of Australian manufacture. If so, will the Minister state the reason for the change? Will he state also whether he is aware that the directors of Electronic Industries declared, in their annual report recently, that the company had been forced to discontinue production of portable radios for some months because of the tremendous volume of imports from Japan, and had been forced to reduce the number of employees accordingly?
– I have not in my mind at the moment the detailed information that has been requested by the honorable member for East Sydney regarding the use of certain Japanese equipment, but I shall obtain it for him. However, I would point out that the implication in the honorable member’s question that the department is obtaining equipment from overseas, whether from Japan or anywhere else, to the detriment of the Australian industry is entirely incorrect because, as I have stated previously, the department has been steadily building up its use of Australian equipment of various kinds. As a result of the department’s help, several organizations in Australia have been built up and depend largely on the department’s work. More than 80 per cent, of the total equipment necessary in the department is being produced by Australian manufacturers.
– My question without notice is. directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the need to know how the quality of Australian products compares with that of competing countries on our principal market, the United Kingdom, can the Minister say whether Australian dairy produce was entered at the recent London Dairy Show and, if so, who received the awards?
– Australian dairy factories competed in the London Dairy Show, and I am very pleased to be able to inform the honorable member that the principal trophy for butter, known as the British Dairy Farmers Association Challenge Cup, was won by a Queensland factory - the Oakey District Co-operative Butter Factory. He will also be pleased to know that the Jandowae butter factory in Queensland won the reserve prize for unsalted butter. Canadian and Scottish factories won the main prizes for cheese. In the Australian section the first prize was taken out by a South Australian factory.
– My question is to the Treasurer. In answer to questions recently the Prime Minister has indicated that the Commonwealth has advanced money to the Queensland Government for the building or reconstruction of the Mount Isa to Townsville railway. The Queensland Government is to be charged interest on this money. How can the Treasurer justify the charging df interest on Commonwealth moneys lent to a State Government?
– The Australian Government has not advanced any money to the Queensland Government, as yet, for the Mount Isa to Townsville railway project. It has indicated its intentions, and the basis of the arrangement has been agreed upon by the two governments - including the interest element. Of course, it is true that Queenslanders are also Australians, just as it is equally true that Queensland taxpayers are also Australian taxpayers. The issue of State governments paying interest on moneys advanced by the Commonwealth Government - moneys which in some instances are raised by way of loan and in others are raised by taxation levied by the Commonwealth - has been canvassed on many occasions in conferences of the Premiers with the Commonwealth Government. If the honorable gentleman wants a detailed statement of the reasons for this system I will be happy to supply it to him; but the procedure followed is entirely warranted, and the policy has been supported not only by members on this side of the House but also, I think, by those honorable members on the other side of the House who have cared to study the subject in any detail.
– 1 preface a question to the Deputy Prime Minister, as Minister for Trade, by saying that over the last few years there has been a noticeable decline in the importation of electric motors. As those items are used mainly for incorporation in domestic, industrial and commercial equipment, can the Minister inform the House of the present supply position?
– I understand that there is an adequate supply of electric motors for Australian purposes. I am aware that there has been a substantial decline in imports, but this arises from the development of the Australian industry. I understand that in all the types of electric motors that are required in bulk Australia is now completely self-sufficient and, indeed, we are supplying from domestic production between 75 per cent, and 80 per cent, of Australia’s entire requirements in these. This arises from the development of the Australian industry, to which overseas manufacturers have contributed by establishing and developing this kind of manufacture in Australia. Electric motors now being imported are pretty well limited to those of a specialized character.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Can he inform the House whether it is true that the Government has provided the Australian cricket team with a sum of £500 to enable it to play two matches at Singapore on its way to India and Pakistan? If this is a fact, will the Prime Minister give sympathetic consideration to the making of a substantial donation to the Olympic Games fund to enable a truly representative amateur team of Australian athletes to be sent to Rome in 1960?
– I would be very glad to find out for the honorable member what the substance is of this report which I noticed, myself,, yesterday but about which I have had no opportunity of being reminded. I will find out and let him know.
– Has the Prime Minister yet had an opportunity to consider a suggestion which I made a short while ago that at convenient intervals the Cabinet might sit in the capital cities of the various States? In making that suggestion I enter a special plea that Tasmania should not be omitted from the schedule.
– I regret to say that I have not yet had opportunity to give full thought to the matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. With the approach of summer weather, would it be possible for fans to be provided at the Heidelberg military hospital so that the inmates may not again be distressed by the heat as they were last year?
– I will bring the matter to the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation, and ask him for a direct reply.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral assure the House that in the selection of a site for the placing of a television mast at Townsville, every effort will be made to serve not only Townsville, but also areas as far north and south as the Herbert and Burdekin areas and as far west as the important town of Charters Towers?
– The question of siting transmitters for television networks is determined by our engineers, who are particularly competent. It so happens that in regard to the sites at both Rockhampton and Townsville, I have some personal knowledge, and I have had some interesting and unofficial discussions with those who will be responsible for siting the masts. In both these areas there are alternative sites available, and careful examination will be required to ensure that coverage is given to the areas around these two sites and also that it should extend as far west and north as possible. I assure the honorable member that the matter which he envisages in his question has received attention, and I have already received some unofficial reports from those investigating it. The site which will be officially chosen will assure the result which the honorable member seeks to achieve.
– Will the Minister for Territories inform the House whether any decision has been made in respect of objections lodged by members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory over the proposed boundaries drawn up for the elections for the amended Legislative Council due to be held late this year or early next year? Is it proposed to ignore these objections and bring on the elections before the end of the year?
– As I think the honorable member knows, there is a procedure laid down by law for the fixing of boundaries. An electoral boundaries commission is set up and when it reaches its conclusions it causes a notice to be posted, with a map, at public places in the Territory, and a month is allowed for the lodging of objections. Then the objections are considered by the commission itself. After considering the objections it makes its recommendations for the fixing of the boundaries.
Speaking from memory - I think I am correct, although perhaps not in every detail - I believe that after considering the objections that were raised, the commission rejected all, or certainly most, of them.
– All of them?
– I think all, but I would not like to make an assertion on that point until I checked the papers again. It certainly rejected most of the objections, and it may have rejected all of them. The question of fixing a date for the election is one for the Administrator of the Northern Territory to consider. I have had no precise recommendation from him but, without committing him, I assume that it would be extremely difficult for him to arrange for an election before Christmas.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Territories whether his attention has been directed to a recent statement attributed to Dr. Rao, a visitor from India, to the effect that the Territory of New Guinea has been neglected in certain major respects. Can the Minister tell us whether Dr. Rao is qualified to make such a statement or has thoroughly inquired into the matter, and whether, in the Minister’s opinion, there is any justification for the statement?
– The honorable member for New England may be confusing several persons of the same name. I understand that Rao is a fairly common name in India. Recently we had in Australia, as Dyason lecturer, a noted economist named Rao. At the conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association there was a parliamentarian named Rao. So far as I know, neither of those two gentlemen made any statement regarding New Guinea, but a representative of India on the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations General Assembly, who is also named Rao, is reported to have made some criticisms. So far as I know, that particular Mr. Rao has not visited Australia, and has certainly not visited New Guinea. Without disrespect to the trusteeship functions of the United Nations, I think I should say that we have become accustomed over the years to the fact that statements are often made in the United Nations for political reasons, rather than as the result of a considered judgment. In fact, the Trusteship Council’s statements on New Guinea which are based on firsthand information are those contained in the report of the visiting mission. That report was highly favorable to the Administration of the Territory. Statements subsequently made by political representatives of countries in the United Nations have very seldom been based on first-hand observation or knowledge.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Minister for Education in the Playford Liberal Government of South Australia has stated that unless more money is supplied by the Commonwealth Government for the purpose of education, State governments will not be able to provide adequate educational facilities? In view of this statement, will the Prime Minister give an assurance that Australian children will not suffer in the matter of education because not enough money is provided by this Government?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member refers, but over a period of ten years I have heard statements in almost exactly the same words from so many other State Ministers that I am not unaccustomed to them. As the honorable member knows, in this matter we have always paid year by year the greatest consideration to the needs of the States and in point of fact the States are being progressively better furnished with funds. On the last occasion on which there was a meeting of the Loan Council, the States went away, so I am informed by my colleagues, very satisfied indeed with the arrangements that had been made for them and the funds that they were to receive from the Commonwealth. That is the position, and 100 speeches really will not make any difference.
– I ask the Minister for Supply a question. Some weeks ago the Minister advised me that the population of the new weapons testing establishment at Talgarno would not be large enough to support any retail shops or a Roman Catholic church. Is the Minister aware that a hostel is being built at Talgarno at a cost of more than £500,000? How does the Minister reconcile the building of that hostel with his previous advice to me?
– Representations were made in relation to the provision of churches in the Talgarno area and I informed the honorable member, as I have informed representatives of the churches, that it is proposed, because of the small number of people who will be in the area, to provide one building for the common use of people of all denominations. The church representatives with whom I have spoken have expressed satisfaction with that proposal.
– Is the Treasurer aware that a large lending and hire-purchase organization is offering personal no-deposit loans on condition that the borrower takes out a life assurance policy? In explanation I would like to refer to a recent case in Tasmania where Custom Credit Corporation Limited advanced to a borrower £20, repayable in four monthly instalments of £7–
– Order! I think the honorable member is giving information instead of seeking it.
– I cannot ask my question without giving some information. In addition to the 40 per cent, profit on the loan, this company–
– Order! The honorable member will ask his question.
– How can I ask a question without giving some information?
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I ask the Treasurer: Does he realize the abnormal delay that is occurring in the granting of probate in Australia? For example, this week I had a letter from a constituent whose father, a small businessman, died three and a half years ago, and who has not yet been able to–
– Order! The honorable member is giving information.
– May I ask the Treasurer whether he will take up this matter and see whether it is possible to streamline the process. In particular will he see whether anything can be done to ensure that the Commonwealth authorities will accept State valuations for probate purposes?
– I shall take up with the Commissioner of Taxation the question whether there are unnecessary delays in the assessment of probate. I shall also ask him to explore the practicability of the proposal put forward by the honorable member. I cannot say offhand what may be the pros and cons of the honorable member’s suggestion.
– I ask the Minister for Trade whether the Government bans the export of strategic raw materials to Communist China. If so, does the Government propose to take action following the revelation by the trade export statistician that £234,000 worth of a metal used for hardening exhaust components of jet aircraft was exported to Communist China last year?
– The Government does pursue a policy of restricting or preventing the export of strategic materials to mainland China. The judgment as to what represents, from time to time, strategic materials, is exercised by the Department of External Affairs which, in this regard, is, I am sure, in contact with other governments which similarly exercise restrictions. I have no doubt that any permit issued with the approval of the Department of External Affairs would not be for an item which otherwise would not have been available to mainland China.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is a fact that certain restrictions have been applied since the new postage rates were introduced. Will the size of envelopes used for letters for delivery within Australia determine whether the articles go by air mail? Will letters in excess of the prescribed limits automatically go by surface mail unless a special fee of 3d. an ounce is provided in the postage?
– What we call the “ All up air-mail service “ is limited to letter form articles not more than 10 inches by 5 inches by three-sixteenths of an inch. Those limitations are determined by the requirements of our automatic stamping machines. Any article over that size which does not carry air-mail surcharge goes by surface mail. However, if such an article carries the extra air-mail surcharge it goes by air mail. The surcharge is now 3d. an ounce instead of the previous 3d. a half ounce.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Services. As the provisions of the National Health Bill, soon to become law, prevent free life-saving drugs from being available to pensioners who are disqualified by the £2 per week income means test, and in view of the moral responsibility on this Parliament to provide every means possible of prolonging the life of these aged people without further impairing their meagre means of living, has any consideration yet beengiven to the very serious problem that will be created by the Government’s proposed legislation? Has the Government considered removing, or at least relaxing, the means test in the interests of this most deserving section of the community?
– I suggest that the honorable member for Blaxland should either put that question on the notice-paper or address it to the Minister for Health.
– I refer to the Treasurer’s reply to a question which I asked upon notice with respect to the current drought in South Australia. The right honorable gentleman stated that the circumstances which gave rise to the additional assistance granted in 1957-58 did not establish a precedent for making a similar grant to South Australia for the current financial year. Does this mean that, in the judgment of the Commonwealth Government, the effect of the current very serious drought upon the finances of South Australia is not such as to warrant additional financial assistance, or does it mean merely that financial assistance is not warranted on the same grounds as that given to New South Wales and Queensland in 1957-58?
– My recollection is that within the last 24 hours or so I have sent an amplified reply to the honorable gentleman. I do not know whether his latest question is based on that. I gather from his nod that it is. Apparently, the reply is not entirely satisfactory to him. I did point out that the circumstances of 1957-58 differed materially from those of the present period. I stressed, if I recall the details of the reply accurately, that the provision made for the States is very much greater in this financial year than it was at that time. No doubt, the Premier of South Australia will be studying the financial position of South Australia in order to see to what extent, if at all, these circumstances would warrant his treating them as abnormal circumstances for the purposes of States grants applications. I know that he will be reluctant, so soon after graduating from the applicant State class, to make an application again. Without offering an opinion offhand, I can say that no doubt he is giving some thought to that aspect.
– My question to the acting Minister for the Interior concerns the sale of a number of Commonwealth cottages in my electorate. Because of the urgency of this matter, will the Minister give early attention to the terms of sale of the cottages and see to it that they are sold on terms no less favorable than those on which State Housing Commission houses are sold to the tenants occupying them? Further, will the Minister see to it that a fair proportion of the rent paid by a tenant is regarded as a deposit on the sale of a cottage, and that the purchase price is related to cost and not to the present inflated values?
– I shall refer the matters raised by the honorable member to my colleague on his return to Canberra early next week.
– I address my question to the acting Minister for External Affairs. I preface it by stating that many new and, I trust, lasting friendships were formed at the recent conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and that, as a result, many members on both sides of this House desire to increase their first-hand knowledge of Commonwealth countries. Will the Minister consider getting the Department of External Affairs to plan organized tours of the countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations for members of this Parliament who indicate that they are willing to travel at their own expense during parliamentary recesses?
– I agree, of course, that it would be a very good thing if honorable members, at their own expense, travelled a good deal. I very much doubt whether I could turn the Department of External Affairs into a travel bureau, but I am sure that if the department could do anything to assist a member that thing would be done.
– I ask a question of the acting Minister for External Affairs. How does the honorable gentleman justify the recent vote of the Australian delegate in the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the subject of South-West Africa? Does Australia, as a country which itself holds more than one trust territory, believe, in defiance of the rulings of the World Court in 1950, that South-West Africa should not be regarded as a trust territory, or is the vote to be explained by the fact that Australia approves of South Africa’s introduction of apartheid and other policies in its trust territory?
– The precise reasons for Australia’s abstention from voting on the resolution concerning SouthWest Africa will be set out in the journals of the United Nations in due course, and I shall see that the honorable member receives a copy.
– Was it a mere abstention? I thought that the Australian delegate voted against the resolution.
– No. It was a mere abstention, and it was made perfectly plain that Australia has never discussed the substance of this motion in former years. We have always taken the stand that this was a domestic matter and not within the competence of the United
Nations, and we have not receded from that position. On this occasion, it was thought that an abstention would indicate our consistent attitude, and would do so perhaps better than joining in opposition to the resolution, as had been done in former years.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Services. I refer to the annual report of the Department of Social Services and the disclosure that £105,406 was paid last year in compassionate allowances. I wish to compliment the Government-
– Order! The honorable member will ask his question.
– I am asking it right now. In complimenting the Government
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is a fact that the three television stations in Sydney to-day start their combined hole-by-hole coverage of the commercially sponsored Ampol golf tournament. Is the Postmaster-General aware that the blanket coverage of this tournament is such that to-day viewers in Sydney have no choice of programmes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and that a similar position will obtain to-morrow and for the best part of Saturday? Does he approve of the national channel devoting itself to commercial advertising, and will he investigate complaints that the interests and tastes of the viewing public are not being adequately accommodated by this concentrated devotion to one type of sport, to the exclusion on all channels of other programmes?
– I have to confess that my time is so fully occupied on matters of considerable import that I do not get the opportunity to read right through the television programmes or, for that matter, the broadcasting programmes of stations in Sydney or elsewhere. Therefore, I am sorry, but I do not know whether the honorable member’s statement is correct. However, if the commercial stations see fit to devote the major portion of their programmes to-day or to-morrow to the televising of the Ampol golf tournament, that is their prerogative, and it is for them to choose. If they desire to do so, there is nothing to stop them. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is a statutory body which has the right to determine its own programmes, and I would do nothing whatever to alter that position. But I point out very definitely that the honorable member’s use of a term which apparently charges the Australian Broadcasting Commission with commercial advertising is completely incorrect. The Australian Broadcasting Commission does no advertising whatever.
– In the temporary absence of the Prime Minister I direct my question to the Deputy Prime Minister. In view of the attitude of the Commonwealth to the subject that I am about to raise, I ask this question knowing that every rule must have an exception to be a good rule. Is the Prime Minister aware of the heavy burdens, financial and otherwise, which rest upon the parents of retarded or sub-normal children? Will he consider giving financial assistance to schools for retarded or sub-normal children?
– I am sure that there has never been more sympathetic understanding of the problems of the community, and of individual sections of it, than that given by the present Minister for Social Services. He is, I am sure, conscious of these problems and he brings them before the Government which, within the limitations imposed on it, considers them from time to time. I assure the honorable gentleman that there will not be a failure to pay appropriate regard to the problem that he has mentioned.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and Industry whether it is a fact that the Commonwealth Public Service will not give permanent employment to physically disabled persons. Is he aware of the impressive evidence available in this and other countries that such persons, when placed in suitable jobs, show greater application to their work and less inclination to move from one place of employment to another than other employees, and have a record of less absenteeism from work than the rest of the work force? Is it a fact that in the United Kingdom both government and private employers are required to employ a percentage of disabled persons? Will the Minister recommend that a similar policy be adopted by the Australian Government?
– The answer to the honorable gentleman’s first question is, “ Certainly, no “. The policy of the Commonwealth Public Service is to employ people with a disability wherever that is practicable, and departments pursue that policy as vigorously as they can. The answer to the second question is, “ Yes “. Of course, in cases where these people have a special aptitude for a particular job, they do well, and the Department of Labour and National Service does its best to put them in positions to which they are most suited. I do not know the answer to the third question, but I certainly would not be prepared to say in answer to the fourth question that we would introduce legislation to compel people to do what we think their moral obligations will induce them to do anyhow.
I have received a letter from the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) proposing that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely -
The policy of the Government in relation to the recent increase in airline fares, the imposition of a charge for transport to and from airports, the reduction in aircraft meal standards, and other matters which adversely affect Trans-Australia Airlines and airline patrons.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
– There is no doubt that the public was shocked when the announcement was made out of the blue, to use an appropriate colloquialism, that airline fares would be increased, that the service on aeroplanes would be reduced and that a new impost would be introduced in regard to the transport of passengers between city offices and airports. Dispassionate examination of all the factors leading to this announcement prove that had the Government’s policy been directed, as it should have been, towards the maintenance of proper standards of competition between the airlines, this situation would never have arisen. When Trans-Australia Airlines was established, there was much criticism of it from members of the parties now sitting in government, and for a time it seemed as if T.A.A. would be sold to private enterprise if there were a change of government. But, despite the hobbles and shackles that have been placed on it in the ten years that this Government has unfortunately had charge of the destinies of Australia, T.A.A. has succeeded. It has never been given a fair opportunity to compete either with Australian National Airlines or with the organization that gobbled it up - Ansett-A.N.A.
The competition between A.N.A. and T.A.A. was complicated by the existence of an airline run by Mr. Reg Ansett. He skimmed the cream, to use another colloquialism, from the air traffic between Sydney and Melbourne. He helped to destroy A.N.A. and ultimately took over what was left. Then he bought out Butler. Now this Government, to help Mr. Ansett to remain in the airline business, will not provide Mr. Butler with the necessary dollars to enable him to set up an airline and to give A.N.A. and T.A.A. the competition in which the Government says it believes. It believes so little in free enterprise that it is determined to protect AnsettA.N.A. against all competition, whether from T.A.A. or from any new airline company that might be established.
In recent years the Government has passed several pieces of legislation which have had the effect of crippling T.A.A. because they have been designed to help Ansett-A.N.A. I need refer only to the Airlines Equipment Act 1958, which gave T.A.A. the right to borrow £3,000,000, where previously it had had the right to borrow only £1,000,000. The Government forced this on T.A.A. in order that Ansett- A.N.A. could be given a loan of 3,000,000 dollars in United States currency to purchase Lockheed Electras. T.A.A. wanted to operate a jet line of Caravelles but the Government forced it to adopt the Electras. Eventually when T.A.A. had to capitulate, Ansett-A.N.A., which already had two Electras on order, brought them to Australia and operated them months before T.A.A. could even buy, let alone have Electras delivered to Australia. The Electra is an obsolescent machine. It is on the way out. We are entering the jet age and we should have Caravelles on our airlines. If the Government thinks that Caravelles are not the right kind of aircraft for us, we should have Comets. In fact, if this Government is so anxious to help British industry, it should be buying Comets and should not be committing the nation to the expenditure of dollars which we certainly do not have.
– And Australia makes the motors used by Caravelles.
– Exactly, the motors can be made and fitted here. I understand that they are being made here and are being exported. The introduction of the Electras gave Ansett-A.N.A. a great advantage over T.A.A., so great in fact that during the period when the Electras were being operated by Ansett-A.N.A. alone, £400,000 profit, which T.A.A. would otherwise have earned if it had been able to compete on a fair basis, went to Ansett-A.N.A. But, according to the report which was presented to Parliament yesterday, T.A.A. still finished the financial vear with a profit of £250,000. Had it been able to earn that extra £400,000 profit, or something like it, T.A.A. would have been able to absorb the losses which we are now told make the increase in fares necessary. The increased cost to T.A.A. this year as a result of the r-cent salary increases to pilots amounts to £100,000. The basic wage increase of 15s. a week accounts for another £150,000. Other increases and wage adjustments might add another £250.000. but, even taking these amounts into consideration also. I feel that if T.A.A. had been allowed to compete with Ansett-A.N.A. fairly, it would not be operating at a loss. However, I think the position certainly will be better this year than it was last year.
I believe that the Government is so anxious to keep Ansett-A.N.A. in the air that it will force T.A.A. even to run at a loss, lt will continue to divert traffic in various ways to Ansett-A.N.A. The Government talks about free enterprise, and you would almost imagine that it did believe in free enterprise. What the Government forgets all the time is that all the airport facilities in Australia, which have cost many millions of pounds, have been provided by the Australian taxpayer. The air in which all aircraft operate is a public domain. The cost of maintaining airports and airport facilities is about £9,000,000 a year. Ansett-A.N.A. and T.A.A. pay about £250,000 each in landing charges.
– And they have the use of all the flying aids as well.
– Exactly, both airlines use all the aids that are inseparable from modern flying under safety conditions.
– Has Ansett-A.N.A. yet paid the tax that it owes?
– No. It has a longterm loan that has been very favorably arranged. I have spoken of the Airlines Equipment Act of 1958. Then there was the 1957 legislation which imposed an excise duty of 6id. a gallon on kerosene fuel. This means that T.A.A. has to pay the Commonwealth Government an extra £400,000 a year which it should not have to pay and which it did not pay previously. T.A.A. has to pay the duty to a far greater extent than has Ansett-A.N.A. Therefore, £400,000 must be added to the losses that have been incurred by T.A.A.
– From what bank did Ansett-A.N.A. obtain its loan?
– I am not certain, but all financial details are covered by the act. Yesterday Ansett-A.N.A. announced its balance-sheet. If only half of what it says is true, the company is doing well. It claims that its revenue rose from £9,600,000 in the previous year to £14,000,000 up to 27th June last. If that is so, why does Ansett-A.N.A. need an increase in fares to remain in the air? The company claims that it is paying 17 per cent, dividend on its paid-up capital, but that does not mean that it is solvent. In fact, the company is woefully under-capitalized. It has a capital of about £3,000,000 and its revenue is about £23,000,000 for all its activities. About £15,000,000 of this comes from airline operations. According to a share market letter that was issued in Sydney a few days ago, Ansett-A.N.A., in order to obtain some more capital, is issuing 2,880,000 shares of 5s. each which will be available until 23rd November - about eleven days from now. If these shares are taken up, and various other schemes succeed, the company’s capital will rise from about £3,000,000 to about £4,300,000. Its liabilities are about £23,000,000, but T.A.A. does not have this very large liability in its books. It has been very well managed over the years from the time that Mr. A. W. Coles became the first chairman of directors until the present. It is a very efficient organization which really did not want to increase its fares.
The chairman of T.A.A. recently went to America. Before he went he said that there was no case for any increase in fares. When he returned, almost the first statement that he made on the morning of his arrival was that he was opposed to any increase in fares. All the Minister said was that while the chairman had been away a lot of things had happened. Well, a lot of things did happen. It is true that T.A.A. and Ansett-A.N.A. approached the Minister jointly and asked for these increases in fares. T.A.A. had not much alternative in the light of the pressures to which it was being subjected and to which it might be further subjected.
T.A.A.’s costs of about £500,000 for meals and about £350,000 for buses are quite considerable, but more efficient and more modern management of the bus services could eliminate a good deal of the losses in that respect. The meal arrangements to-day are really deplorable. People who fly from Perth to Melbourne, which takes about 4i hours, receive no refreshment of any kind - not even a cup of water. If they board a plane at Melbourne to travel to Sydney they are supplied with a bun, a piece of butter and a fruit drink. That is an austerity meal. I know that fares in this country are not high. In fact, I think that our airlines fares are among.the lowest in the world, and that our facilities are better than those in any other country in the world, but by no line of reasoning can it be argued that the position of T.A.A., at any rate, was so parlous that airline fares had to be increased and other facilities reduced. T.A.A. wants to run an economy tourist class of plane. It has paid off all its DC4’s - I think they number four. They are written off and the airline could run a tourist service with that type of plane between Sydney and Melbourne, the only two cities between which it would be profitable, at £5 per passenger. But Ansett-A.N.A., which talks about running the same sort of service, would have to use DC6’s, and in order to use them profitably would have to charge at least £6 10s. per passenger.
If we ever have that economy service operating in Australia, 1 guarantee right now that T.A.A. will be forced to charge £6 10s. per passenger, the same rate as Ansett-A.N.A. will charge. Ansett-A.N.A. cannot sell its DC6 planes at a profit. It cannot even sell them at a reasonable price. Ansett-A.N.A. is being propped up all the time by the Government. Well, that is not fair competition. I do not mind the existence of two airlines. Let us have that if it can be done economically and efficiently; but let us have some new arrangement in regard to services - some proper rationalization of services. We have not got that now. Aircraft of both airlines leave Sydney and Melbourne, and every other capital, within five or six minutes of each other. The public is being neglected all the time, yet this fierce competition proceeds in regard to the best traffic times.
– And the competition leads to a deterioration, and not an improvement, of the service given.
– Exactly! That is quite germane to the argument. What is happening is that this competition is forcing down conditions for the travelling public. I am not making a plea for parliamentarians, who travel on warrants; I am making a plea on behalf of the people who have to pay their own fares.
Ultimately T.A.A. will probably be the sole survivor, because T.A.A. has very little interest to pay whereas Ansett-A.N.A. is under-capitalized and has a tremendous interest burden. If it is to survive ultimately as an airline competing with T.A.A., it will have to be at the public expense. Ansett-A.N.A. wants to buy a third Electra. If the Government permits it to do so T.A.A. will be further disadvantaged.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– It is a great pity that my time is so limited, as was that of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. (Calwell), because I should like to have answered more fully than I shall be able to do some of the extraordinary arguments he used. I should like to take him up on his statement about the obsolescence of the Electra, which is really, of course, the greatest money-spinning aircraft that has ever operated in this country. I should also like to know how he reconciles his references to £9,000,000 for airports and navigation aids with his plea for the introduction of pure jets, which would increase the cost of all those things, and other things, enormously. However, I shall confine myself to four elements of the subject now before us. I shall take the last one first, because there is an implication here that somehow under this Government T.A.A. has not had a fair go, that there has been hostility to it on the part of the Government. This was the theme running through the whole of the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He used extraordinary terms like “ hobbles “, “ shackles “ and “ no fair opportunity to compete “. This sort of implication, Mr. Speaker, has been made in this House over the last ten years, and I think it is about time that the record was put straight.
Yesterday, I laid on the table the fourteenth annual report of T.A.A. That airline was run by the Labour Government for four of those fourteen years, and has been run by this Government over the last ten years. I will show, in a moment, how the progress and the achievement, the consolidation and the advances made by T.A.A. have been under this Government and not under the previous Labour Government. I do not want to bewilder the
House with figures, but I point out that when the Labour Government went out of office in 1949, the T.A.A. fleet totalled 35. To-day, it totals 54. In that fleet of 54 aircraft, there are no fewer than 23 turbo-props and 25 pressurized aircraft.
– Such aircraft did not exist when we were in government.
– Indeed, they did exist! The Convair 240, for example, existed, and the hostility of the socialist government to A.N.A. was such that when that airline wanted to buy Convairs the socialist government would not make available to it the necessary dollars. There was no fair competition about that. Under the Labour Government the annual turnover of T.A.A. was £3,800,000; to-day, it is £12,200,000. In 1949, under Labour, the wages and salaries bill of T.A.A. was £1,550,000; to-day, it is £4,608,000. The number of passengers carried annually by T.A.A. in the days of Labour was 455,000; to-day, it is 870,000.
Now let us have a look at the wages paid to the staff of T.A.A., taking aircrew alone. Under Labour, a hostess received £7 a week; to-day, she gets £17 a week and has immeasurably better conditions than she had under the Labour Government. To go into the top brackets, a first officer was paid £19 a week under Labour; to-day, he gets £40 a week, and again his conditions are infinitely better than they were under Labour. In addition, he enjoys the benefits of a superannuation scheme which is infinitely better than anything the Labour Government ever thought of.
Under Labour, a senior captain in 1949 received £1,500 a year; to-day, he receives £3,000-odd a year, and is covered by an insurance superannuation scheme that can give him as much as £15,000 when he retires.
– Yes, their conditions are apparently so good that they went on strike over them.
– Nothing of the sort! The superannuation scheme was in existence long before the pilots went on strike. Their conditions are infinitely better than ever before. The end result of Labour’s administration of T.A.A. was that that airline accumulated a loss of very nearly £1,000,000; but we are told that this Government is putting hobbles and shackles on it, and is giving it no opportunity to compete. Yet the airline’s capital structure is better, its assets have been built up to £15,500,000, and in every way T.A.A. has benefited under this Government. If this Government has shown a lack of interest in T.A.A. and has hindered it in any way, that is not borne out by these figures.
Let me read to the House an extract from the latest advertisement published for this airline which, we are now told, this Government has hindered and hampered, hobbled and shackled, and ground into the dirt. And, speaking of advertisements, the customer is always right. This advertisement reads -
Jet flight is the fastest, smoothest way to fly. And only with T.A.A. can you be sure of jet flight whenever you fly interstate. Only T.A.A. operates over 100 jet flights - more than twice the number provided by any other airline.
This is an advertisement published by an airline that we are told is being ground into the dust. Of course, there is no substance of any sort in that allegation!
This Government’s stated policy is that there shall be two major airlines. When it came into office the other airline, Australian National Airways Limited, was reeling from the shock of the blows it had received from the Labour Government. The Labour Government of those days was a socialist government and, in accordance with its policy, it decided to put A.N.A. out of business. I disagree with that policy, but I do not say that that Government was doing anything politically wrong by carrying out the policy which it advocated. But when this Government came into office it found A.N.A. reeling from those blows.
The years have gone by. There was a time when A.N.A. was almost moribund, but that airline to-day has been built up until it has 42 aircraft, whereas in 1949 it had 39. It has been suggested that A.N.A. was getting an advantage over T.A.A., but I point out that to-day Ansett-A.N.A. has only eight turbo-prop aircraft as against 23 run by T.A.A. But that same airline has come up from a turnover of £5,340,000 in 1949 to a turnover this year of £12,047,000. Its salaries have risen from £2,003,000 to £4,191,000. Honorable members do not want any more evidence of the success of this Government’s policy of having two major airlines running in active and healthy competition.
I turn now to the other aspect of this matter which refers to the policy of the Government in relation to recent increases in airline fares. Here again, let us get the record straight. The Government never advocated a rise in fares at all. The two airlines got together and by mutual consent said that the airlines fares would have to be increased. At that stage they came to the Government for approval. The basis of their claim for an increase in fares was a pretty simple one. The recent basic wage rise would cost the two airlines £300,000 a year and, in addition, wages for aircrew would be another £150,000 a year. The new awards for clerical and other staff would total another £200,000 a year. There is no reference there to the cost of new aircraft which both airlines are introducing. The wages and salaries increases alone totalled at least £300,000 a year each. As the report showed, the profit made by T.A.A. last year was roughly £254,000 yet that airline had to face an increase of £300,000 in wages and salaries cost for this operating year. The same conditions applied to Ansett-A.N.A. So, in company with Ansett-A.N.A., T.A.A. applied to the Government for the right to increase air fares, and this was granted.
Even so, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has quite rightly pointed out, Australian airline fares are still the cheapest in the world. I do not know whether honorable members are aware of just how much cheaper fares are in this country compared with those on the other side of the world. Let us take a simple case that we know of. If one travels from Melbourne to Sydney the fare, first class, is £10 16s. That is a flight of 450 miles. If one travelled in Europe from London to Paris the distance is 230 miles, not much more than half the distance from Sydney to Melbourne for which we pay a fare of £10 16s. But for that 230 miles’ flight from London to Paris the fare is £13 15s. The Australian fare for a flight twice that distance is £10 16s. and the tourist fare is £8 5s. The profit which T.A.A. made last year represents only 2.1 per cent, of its revenue, which is by no means high.
The third aspect of this matter is the imposition of a charge for transport to and from airports. There is no time to go into that in detail now. All I can say is that we are now coming into line with every other country. There is no country that I have visited or of which I have knowledge where the cost of transport to and from the airport is included in the cost of the airline ticket.
– Does that justify the charge?
– I am taking a simple case. Transport charge to and from the airport has always been excluded from the air fare in other countries, and we are coming into line with them. I will say no more about that now. I wish to say one or two words about the meal standards, and in doing so I will go some of the way with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I think the airlines have gone from one extreme to the other in this matter, particularly with regard to breakfasts. We were faced one morning with cornflakes or something of that sort. This was quite a big change from the pretty hearty breakfasts that had been supplied and which people had been led to expect when they boarded the aircraft. It was too revolutionary a change. But let us remember that that position has been reviewed and the standard raised again. In my view the other meals served on the airlines are adequate, but there are lots of things I could say about them.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about one of the services where passengers did not get even a drink of water. I remind him that when I first flew across Bass Strait passengers did not even get a drink of water and they were out for seven hours. Now, on the flight by Viscount from Launceston to Melbourne, which takes roughly 70 minutes’ flying time, there is first of all a bar service. The hostesses have to go up and down askins the passengers if they want anything from the bar. When that mess is cleared away they then serve hot meals. Surely that is a contrast with the service provided when it took seven hours to come across the Strait in the small aircraft then operating and when passengers did not get even a drink of water. I would rather have the fares kept as low as possible and some of these unnecessary features of the catering service on airlines cut down. I would not advocate an increase in them if it meant raising the fares further.
I should like to draw some attention to the duties which the air hostesses perform. Taking a flight from Sydney to Melbourne as a example, they have to work terribly hard; and the bigger the aircraft, the more passengers on board and the faster the flight, the harder do the hostesses have to work. When they have to turn from the bar service to the serving of meals, it is bad enough when the weather is good; but if they strike a flight when there is a certain amount of turbulence, their job becomes a mild form of slavery, in my view.
Replying to the Opposition generally, the suggestion that T.A.A. has suffered under this Government cannot be substantiated. On the contrary, it can be shown that most of its increases, and certainly its consolidation and its re-equipment, have taken place during the life of this Government. Side by side with that, the former (A.N.A.) organization has come up from being hit almost out of existence by the Labour Government to its present healthy condition.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) has given no adequate explanation or justification of the deterioration that has taken place in the airline services. The Opposition has every justification for bringing to the notice of the House this morning this all-important matter because two of the important aspects of public service to the Australian community are surely those of communication and transportation. We have the right to challenge the actions of those responsible for a lack of consideration to the travelling public and a general lowering of the standards of service which are being given to airline travellers. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) is to be warmly commended for bringing to the notice of the House this particular question because there is an upsurge of feeling in the public mind against those who are responsible for providing this service in return for the fares paid.
It has been said that we are governed by a system of rationalization. If this new policy accomplishes anything, it will be an effective retardation of the progress of the government airline, Trans-Australia Airlines. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) suggested that Ansett-A.N.A. had been given no advantage over T.A.A. Let me tell the Minister that the manner in which government approval was given to airlines to order new aircraft was in itself prejudicial to T.A.A., preventing it from giving the service it desired to give with the most efficient machines that could be secured. In addition, the Government imposed a tax upon kerosene fuel, which at that time was being used only by T.A.A. This meant that T.A.A. had to pay 61/2d. extra on every gallon of fuel that it used, while the excise duty on the particular kind of aviation spirit being used by AnsettA.N.A. was reduced. Can the Government say that this did not help AnsettA.N.A. in its competition with T.A.A.?
Trans-Australia Airlines is placed at a further disadvantage by the legislation at present in operation dealing with the conduct of airlines, because it is precluded from operating any intra-state services, except in Queensland. In all the other States it is denied the right to do what its competitors do. Notwithstanding these facts, honorable members opposite seek to suggest that there is fair competition. I say that the principle of free enterprise and competition in the airlines business is completely dead, and it is about time that some earnest protest was made, such as we are making in this House this morning, against the treatment that has been meted out to the government airline, as compared with the private organization.
It seems to me that since this Mr. Ansett came into the business there has been a continuous attempt to whittle down the standards of service, of comfort and of facilities for those who use the airlines. We have had a good standard in the past and it is most desirable that we should do nothing to lower that standard. It has been suggested that our standard is higher than that which is accepted in other parts of the world. I say that whatever we have set as a standard we should retain and increase, rather than whittle away and eventually destroy.
I was at the head-quarters in Phillipstreet, Sydney, of one of our major airlines yesterday, and I saw something of the wrath of a member of the travelling public at the new imposition of a charge for bus fare to the airport. Quite rightly, the lady concerned said, “ Here is my ticket, and I am justified in expecting you to take me from here to the airport, as well as from the airport to the destination specified on the ticket”. However, if she had not finally paid the extra 5s., she would have been left standing upon the footpath. I believe that if a person is required to pay for his transportation to the airport, then that is where the ticket should be issued. If it is issued at an office in a city area, the person concerned has a right to expect to be transported from that office to the airport.
In these circumstances I believe that people are justified in complaining at the way that they are being treated. It seems to me that the public are the last to be considered in connexion with these activities. I suggest that the Government should take heed to the fact that the people of Australia are not at all appreciative of the deterioration in standards, particularly when they are aware of the profits being made by the airlines. In the case of T.A.A. an amount of £243,500 was paid from last year’s profits into the Treasury. I am sure Mr. Ansett would not give such a liberal share of his profits to the Treasury of this country. Besides that contribution, about £400,000 was added to the Government’s revenues as a result of the fuel tax. Having these things in mind, I suggest that I am justified in joining in the protest voiced this morning by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Our airlines are capable of giving the best service possible, and their financial position certainly does not warrant any whittling down of the facilities and conveniences provided.
I am also afraid that as a consequence of this policy of paring down our standards, ultimately it will be found that maintenance and servicing will also be reduced to a minimum.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. McMAHON (Lowe - Minister for
I have followed correctly the arguments of the Opposition, particularly of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), they can be summarized in this way: The Opposition says that Trans-Australia Airlines has not been given a fair go in competition with Ansett-A.N.A., and that there “was no need to increase air fares and freights and that T.A.A., or the Australian National Airlines Commission, did not seek the fare increase. I think that is a perfect crystallization of what has been stated by the Opposition. Now let us look at the facts. First, let us consider the question whether T.A.A. has been given a fair go, and whether, in terms of fleets, it is at a disadvantage as compared with its great competitor, Ansett-A.N.A. The policy of the Menzies Government has been cleaT ever since it came to office in 1949. That policy is of fair competition as between the two major airlines - one Commonwealthowned and the other owned by private enterprise. I think the evidence is sufficient to indicate that that policy has been consistently and successfully followed since we have been the Government. But has there been a competitive advantage granted in recent months to Ansett-A.N.A.? I do not think we need to go one step further than look at the advertisements published by T.A.A. on its own behalf. My colleague, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley), has already spoken on this subject and I can add nothing to what he said other than to highlight some of the points that he made.
The first point I make is that on its own claim T.A.A. now states that without doubt jet flight is the best and that only with T.A.A. can you be sure of flying in jetpowered aircraft to all State capitals. That is a vital part of T.AA.’s advertising. T.A.A. says that jet flight is the fastest and smoothest way to fly and that only with T.A.A. can you be sure of jet flight whenever you fly interstate. Only T.A.A. operates 100 jet flights daily - more than twice the number provided by any other airline. On its own statement, T.A.A. probably has a competitive advantage with regard to pure jet flight. That being so, how can the opposition hope to sustain an argument that in recent months a competitive advantage has been given to Ansett- A.N.A.? It is true that for a very short time the number of passengers carried by Ansett-A.N.A. increased, but there was a very good reason for that. Ansett-A.N.A. was able to obtain two Electras at an early stage. Electras being a little novel, passengers flowed to that airline and for a time it did have some advantage. The advantage was only with respect to two aircraft of its total fleet and it was only a temporary advantage. With a continued improvement of the aircraft in T.A.A.’s fleet, it can be expected that the traditional percentage of passengers carried by T.A.A. will be restored, and in fact one finds that its competitive position is now extremely healthy.
So I do not think that honorable members opposite ever really thought AnsettA.N.A. had a competitive advantage; and the argument of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition turns out to be completely false. The Government has honoured its election pledge to see that there is fair competition as far as is practicable between these two major airlines.
The second part of the Opposition’s argument is that there was no need for an increase in air fares and freights and that T.A.A. did not want it. I have had cause in recent months to complain quite bitterly about the fact that the Opposition does not care about the facts of life. The facts of life are quite simple to state. Under the 1957 civil aviation agreement a formula is set out for determining the procedure that must be followed before air fares and freights are increased. On this occasion that formula was followed. There was joint consultation between T.A.A. and AnsettA.N.A. The two companies produced figures from their balance-sheets and independently made recommendations to the Minister for Civil Aviation as to what increases should be made. In other words, there were joint consultations and several recommendations as to what the increases in air fares should be.
If we take T.A.A.’s estimates we find that its costs have increased by £674,000. The increase in fares will recoup it only £630,000. There you have the facts of life. The formula as set out in the act was followed. Costs have risen and, of course, unless both companies were to become bankrupt or to receive increased subsidies from the Government, there was only one possibility and that was to increase freights and fares. T.A.A. took the sensible course. The increase will ensure that T.A.A. has sufficient money available to permit it to progress. It will also ensure that its profit and loss accounts are more than balanced. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made the extraordinary statement that if T.A.A. had been permitted to purchase an Electra it would have turned a loss into a profit. Again I point out to the honorable gentleman that he should get his facts straight first, because on the recent balance sheet of T.A.A. its profit is shown for 1958-59 at £243,000. There is no loss at all. T.A.A. made a profit, and we hope that it will make a greater profit in the current year. If there was a profit last year, and remembering that the profit for the year 1957-58 was only £308,000, how could the Deputy Leader of the Opposition claim that if it had had one extra Electra, T.A.A.’s profits would have increased by £400,000 in the year. In fifteen years of operation such a gross profit has not been made. Consequently, the argument turns out to be complete nonsense and is contrary not only to historical fact but also to the possibilities based on profit and loss accounts.
I believe I have answered the arguments put forward by the Opposition. I want to state positively that it is the Government’s policy to sustain fair competition in the air; and that is being done. Secondly, no real advantage was given to Ansett-A.N.A. There is one other comment I should make. If you look at the profit and loss accounts of those two companies you will find that the ratio of profits to turnover is something of the order of 2 per cent, to 3 per cent. That is not big and for any one to make the statement that the profits of those companies look big is ridiculous and quite inconsistent with normal commercial returns.
I wish to make only one other comment. We on this side of the House have a great liking for the honorable gentleman from Melbourne, but we must ask him this question: What does he hope to gain by consistently and continually attacking AnsettA.N.A.? The company is doing well. So, too, is T.A.A. We respect both companies, but the Opposition should realize - and I hope that the speaker to follow me will have the courage to say this - that it is not right-
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I regret that you had to end the speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) at that stage because he seemed about to make a point. One almost hoped that it would be a happy landing.
This debate does not concern the Government’s policy of competition in the air, as the Government calls it, or its policy of competition between two selected and subsidized operators, as it in fact is. It does not concern questions of private enterprise but of governmental responsibility. It concerns the concerted rise in fares and the concerted reduction in standards this month by the two permitted and subsidized operators. I think we must all be disappointed at the fact that the two Ministers who have spoken in this debate have not dealt with that issue. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) is acknowledged as a person who for many years has had a keen personal interest in the technical side of aviation. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) is well known - to put it favorably - as a spokesman for business in this House. Neither of them attempted to point out that it was necessary, or even desirable, in the interests of the Australian taxpayer to raise these fares or diminish these standards, nor that it was necessary or desirable to do so in the interests of the air travelling public.
The Commonwealth - that is, the Australian taxpayer - has a very large stake in civil aviation. Civil aviation is subsidized and supported by the Commonwealth Government more than any other form of transport is subsidized by any government or by all governments combined. In order to give the picture in proportion, I shall quote from a publication of the Department of Shipping and Transport, “ Transport Costs in Australia “, which was published last March. At page 101, the department proves that in the financial year 1956-57, government authorities paid 14.6 per cent, of rail transport costs in Australia, 7.2 per cent, of road transport costs, 6.1 per cent, of shipping costs, and 17.7 per cent, of civil aviation costs.
As a result of legislation passed by this Parliament in 1958, and again this year, there is no question that the amount which governments pay for civil aviation, proportionately, has once again risen above that paid for every other form of transport. We constantly hear about the losses incurred by State railways and by metropolitan transport services, but the Commonwealth subsidizes civil aviation more than any other form of transport in Australia is subsidized, and twice as much in some cases. The Commonwealth provides for its chosen air operators a staff of 4,900 men and women, 168 aerodromes, 50 aeradio stations, 28 air traffic control stations, 52 airport lighting systems, 33 radio ranges, 108 non-directional beacons and 70 distance measuring stations. The Commonwealth has expended £60,000,000 of capital in providing services for the airlines of Australia.
– There is nothing wrong with that.
– Of course, there is not. But we should consider whether the Commonwealth is getting a proper return from air travellers for that capital expenditure of £60,000,000 and for the annual maintenance and operating expenditure of £10,000,000. I hope that the honorable gentleman, who I believe is on the list to speak on this subject, will say why the Commonwealth should continue to subsidize civil aviation much more than all Australian governments subsidize other forms of transport in Australia. Was it necessary to raise fares to do it? I would think that an argument could be made for raising air fares in order to make airlines pay increased air navigation charges. It is reasonable, I would think, to say that people who use civil aviation should pay just as much towards the cost of operating it, proportionately, as people who travel by rail or who send freight by sea are required to pay for those services.
The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) gave his only argument for the increase in air fares on the 28th of last month in answer to a question by the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler). Referring to new aircraft, he said -
But the rise in fares has nothing to do with their introduction. Ignoring the total cost of those aircraft, we find that last year T.A.A. made a profit of about £250,000, but increases in salaries and other expenses, quite apart from the purchase of new aircraft, this year will total £300,000. There is, therefore, a difference of £50,000, and something has to be done about it.
If those were the whole facts, we could all agree that fares had to be increased and that ancillary services had to be reduced. But yesterday the Minister tabled the report of T.A.A. for the last financial year, from which it is quite obvious that T.A.A.’s profit was only £250,000 last year for two reasons. The first is that for the last four months in the year Ansett-A.N.A. had, and T.A.A. was prevented from having, two new Electra aircraft. The statements about the Electra have been correct on both sides of the House. It is the most popular aircraft in Australia. It is still not the most modern aircraft which Australia could have bought.
If the Government had permitted competition between the Caravelles which T.A.A. sought and the Electras which A.N.A. sought there is no doubt that Caravelles would have proved more popular than Electras. For four months after the Electras were introduced Ansett-A.N.A. had an advantage over T.A.A. By the end of the year T.A.A. had overtaken the advantage by using its remaining prop jet fleet.
The other reason why T.A.A.’s profit was only £250,000 is that it is debarred from operating within any State except Queensland because the Commonwealth cannot operate aircraft within a State without the permission of that State. Earlier this year, the Opposition tried to amend the last bill on this subject to permit T.A.A. to operate in any State whose government asked it to do so. It is well known that New South Wales wanted T.A.A. to operate in that State when Butler was absorbed by A.N.A. I believe that one Country Party member will speak in this debate. It is significant that he does not live in an area in which there are many aerodromes or in which there are aerodromes which were served by Butler.
Country Party members who represent electorates that Butler did serve know quite well that the standard of service there has not been improved by the absorption of Butler by Ansett-A.N.A. It would be improved if T.A.A. were permitted to operate within New South Wales, if the Commonwealth Government permitted intrastate as well as interstate competition between its chosen operators.
It is true that, if T.A.A.’s profit could not have been more than £250,000 last year, it would have been necessary to increase fares. But T.A.A.’s report which was tabled yesterday makes it quite clear that if T.A.A. had been permitted to compete on equal terms - if it had got one of the Electras and Ansett-A.N.A. the other at the same time - T.A.A.’s profit would have been very much greater. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has certain sources of information. He is frank in disclosing the information, although he does not disclose its sources. He said that the extra profit that T.A.A. would have made last year would have been about another £400,000. If it had been able to operate in the States and thus secure on-carriage traffic beyond the originating State, the profit would have been greater still. If T.A.A. had been able to compete on equal terms with Ansett-A.N.A.’s routes and aircraft last year, T.A.A.’s profit would have been, not just £250,000, but £650,000 or more. Therefore the increase in fares cannot be justified on the ground of T.A.A.’s operating record last year, which was exceptional and will not be repeated this year.
Can the increase in fares be justified on the ground of A.N.A.’s operating record last year? The Minister for Labour and National Service mentioned what we would find if we looked at the profit and loss accounts of the two airline operators. But one thing that Parliament is never given and never has been given is the profit and loss account of Ansett-A.N.A.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- My friendship with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) prevents me from saying other than that his attack in this urgency debate started off and ended halfbaked. That is the kindest way that I can put it. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) took up the point that the £400,000 profit had been lost by T.A.A. because Ansett-A.N.A. had Lockheed Electra aircraft in service first. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition depended for his case mainly upon promptings from his own side. However, I am afraid that those promptings did very little to aid his speech. He said that this Government was putting shackles on TransAustralia Airlines. His very word was “shackles”. Shortly after that, he said that the public was not being protected because of the fierce competition over the departure times of aircraft. You cannot shackle one competitor and, at the same time, create fierce competition. It does not make sense.
In much the same way, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) tried to drag a red herring across the trail by talking about Butler Air Transport Limited. That company does not come into the terms of the proposal at present before the House, which relates to the raising of fares and the lowering of standards of service. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) took each point in turn and gave a devastating answer to the Opposition’s case.
We now have the honorable member for Werriwa asking why air services are subsidized by the Commonwealth Government and saying that no other government subsidizes any other form of transport. We know of the big losses on the railways owned by the State governments. We know that, each year, the New South Wales railways lose about £6,000,000. The loss has to be made up out of government revenue. Is not that a subsidy? The tram and bus services in New South Wales lose about £2,000,000 a year, and that loss has to be made up. Is not that a subsidy? It just does not make sense to say that no government other than the Commonwealth subsidizes any form of transport.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition talked about Ansett-A.N.A. declaring a 17 per cent, dividend although the company was under-capitalized. That would not represent 17 per cent, on shareholders’ funds. In the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition we have seen a typical misuse of commercial terms by socialists in an effort to mislead the public. Does the Opposition want our air services to be run at a loss? That is the point. Opposition speakers have said that nobody on the Government side of the House had put any argument to substantiate the increasing of fares. We know that costs have risen enormously. The recent basic wage increase alone will cost T.A.A. £155,000 a year. Increased salaries for pilots will cost £87,000 a year, and increased salaries for clerks and other employees, £117,000 a year. Increased post and telegraph charges will cost this airline another £40,000 a year. Increased interest charges will cost it an additional £175,000 a year, and increased insurance charges will cost it another £100,000 a year. So that, for T.A.A. alone, costs have increased by nearly £700,000 a year. Yet Opposition members say that the airline is not entitled to increase its fares. To me, it seems that the Australian Labour Party has adopted a subtle plan to try to make us run T.A.A. at a loss so that Opposition members can then criticize us as being poor custodians of government property.
I turn now to the proposal to impose a charge for transport by road between city terminals and airports. A similar charge is imposed in every other country. This proposal will increase the revenue of TransAustralia Airlines by £100,000 a year, and the reduction of meal services will save it £80,000 a year. To me, it is extraordinary that the egalitarian party - and Opposition members boast that the Australian Labour Party is the egalitarian party - wants luxury travel only on one form of transport. Why do Opposition members not ask for tea services on the buses and trams in Sydney? One of the reasons for cutting down meal services is the increased speed of modern air transport. What the travelling public all over the world want, on both international and internal air services, is cheaper air travel. It is unfortunate that increased costs over which the airline companies have no control have caused fares to rise. However, the cutting down of luxury travel will enable the airlines to reduce fares instead of increasing them.
The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), in a contribution which I think may have been most misleading, and which, certainly, was moderately misleading, accused the Government of imposing a tax on kerosene fuel because a number of the aircraft operated by Trans-Australia Airlines used that kind of fuel. The private company was paying over £600,000 a year more than its competitor in petrol tax. Yet the honorable member seems to think it was unfair to impose a tax on kerosene fuel, because the private company’s competitor used a good deal of kerosene fuel. I remind the honorable member that, in this very House, he voted in support of the introduction of a tax on diesel fuel which made it harder for road transport to compete with the railways. How does the honorable member reconcile his attitude on that occasion with his present attitude? He considered that it was unfair of road transport to compete with the railways and he supported the introduction of a tax which made it more difficult for road transport to compete with the railways. But now he says that what was good for private road transport operators is not good for the government airline operator.
I feel, Mr. Speaker, that the Opposition’s attack is directed against private enterprise entirely - against Ansett-A.N.A. Let us look more closely at this company. It has 6,000 employees - good Australians who provide excellent service, as do the employees of Trans-Australia Airlines. However, Opposition members, who are supposed to represent the workers, are anxious to destroy Ansett-A.N.A. The jobs of 6,000 workers apparently mean nothing to them, because they want all workers to be under government control. Ansett-A.N.A. has 13,500 shareholders. Many of them are ordinary thrifty people who have put their savings into this company for the benefit of Australia.
– The widow’s mite.
– The honorable member considers that these shareholders are not worthy of protection. At least 2,500 of the shareholders are employees of the company. It means nothing to Opposition members that 2,500 of the company’s employees have put their money into the company in order to support a fine endeavour. The Opposition does not want them to be protected.
My own view, Mr. Speaker, is that the proposal of this matter for discussion represents a half-baked attack on a very well run airline - one of the finest in the world. Such an attack carries no weight whatever. In airline operation in Australia, we have a wonderful record of safety. All our airline operators have a wonderful record of service. This Government is encouraging reasonable competition, and I feel that the Government’s case is a very strong one. I am sure that anybody who judges the issue on the discussion that has taken place today will see that the Opposition’s case has been badly founded and that the Opposition has been entirely motivated by its desire to criticize and destroy a fine privately owned airline.
.- I strongly support the remarks made by my deputy leader, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), in submitting for discussion as a matter of urgent public importance the Government’s policy which has led to recent increases in airline fares, the imposition of a charge for transport between city terminals and airports, a reduction of aircraft meal standards, and other matters adversely affecting TransAustralia Airlines. The Government’s policy on airlines is clear and definite, Mr. Speaker. Ever since it took office, it has been gradually confining T.A.A. more and more closely in leg irons, as it were. Every measure dealing with airlines introduced in this Parliament in the last ten years has had detrimental effects on T.A.A. Not one has been advantageous to its operations. In bill after bill which has come before the Parliament, we have seen restriction after restriction on this airline. We have seen this allpowerful Government continually niggling at T.A.A. by legislation.
We know that Trans-Australia Airlines has no intra-state services except in Queensland. A recent newspaper report referred to foreign airlines competing with T.A.A. for internal air traffic, and stated -
T.A.A. is worried about internal air traffic carried by international airlines, the Australian National Airlines Commission reported to Parliament to-day.
The report says that T.A.A. cannot operate intra-state services except in Queensland.
The Australian Labour Party is definitely opposed to the carriage of internal traffic by international airlines, which has occurred since increasing numbers of foreign airlines have begun services to various Australian capital cities.
The next thing which I wish to mention is the ironical story about the competition that has been revealed in this discussion. The traditional argument has been, Mr. Speaker, that competition improves service and efficiency. That slogan is the bible of capitalism. What has happened as a result of Ansett’s interference in airline operations? The competition between the two great airlines has resulted in a lowering of standards. It is ironic to find that the traditional argument for competition has been destroyed. Standards in the airlines have been lowered because, first, they have abolished lollies; secondly, they have reduced the size of sick bags; and, thirdly, they are reducing the size of meals. This cheeseparing of standards, which were the best in the world, is wrong. Under pressure from Ansett-A.N.A., which seems to want the competition all its way, T.A.A. has been forced to lower its high standards of service, and that to my mind is a wicked retrogression. We are proud of our high standards, and it is ironic that competition is lowering them.
Our airlines are now being Americanized. First, we had the introduction of tourist fares, and that is class discrimination of the worst kind. I have seen it in America and in other countries, and I am completely opposed to the partitioning of a plane so as to divide the passengers into two groups, one paying first-class and the other paying tourist class fares. The poorer meals are a part of the American airways system. I have seen that myself. Then, the charge of 5s. for transport to and from the airport is purely an American idea. It is unfair, and is causing inconvenience to airline operators as well as to passengers. My colleague, the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), gave a potent illustration of it when he spoke this morning. These are the ways in which the American attitude to airlines has crept into Australian operations, and this results from Mr. Ansett’s influence on the Government and on the airlines in general.
My State, Tasmania, is most affected by the increase in fares. Tourist class fares have increased by 10 per cent, and firstclass fares by 3* per cent. What real justification is there for the increase? Did T.A.A. have any justification for increasing its fares? It did not, if the amount of its profit is a guide. In 1957-58, its profit was £282,702, and last year it was £253,911. Its report, at page 11, shows that revenue from freight increased last year over the previous year by £12,000, and revenue from its mail contract by £5,000. The total revenue of T.A.A. last year was 5.8 per cent, above the previous year. However, to be fair, I must say that expenditure was 5.9 per cent, above the previous year. T.A.A., therefore, had only an increase in expenditure over revenue of .1 per cent, in the last twelve months, and that does not in any way justify the increase in fares that has been forced on it under this arrangement.
Now let us look at Ansett-A.N.A. According to the press, revenue last year increased by 47 per cent, over revenue for the previous year - from £9,663,161 to £14,217,777, an increase of £4,554,000 in one year, from airline operations alone. Consolidated profit rose to a record of £498,286 and the ordinary dividend on capital remained at 10 per cent. That does not look like an airline going broke. The increased fares, therefore, are an imposition on the people using the airlines.
T.A.A. has a magnificent safety record; I think it is the best in the world. It has one of the few all-jet fleets in the world. A total of 2,000,000 passengers have flown in Viscounts since they came into service, which shows their tremendous popularity, and 55 per cent, of all air line passengers to-day go by T.A.A. These are illustrations of the tremendous popularity of T.A.A., and the way that its high standards have been recognized.
If the cost of keeping Ansett-A.N.A. in competition with T.A.A. is to be high and rising fares, then a searching review of the airlines agreement should be made. It seems quite fantastic that, to keep one airline in the air, making quite an exorbitant profit, we must lower our standards and increase the costs to the public. Opposition members will strongly oppose the lowering of standards and the increase in fares, because neither is justified.
.- This debate has provided the socialists opposite with the opportunity they sought to launch another attack on Ansett-A.N.A.
– We are not attacking Ansett-A.N.A.; we are attacking the Government.
– No; that is the technique. Whenever airlines are mentioned, the Opposition always paints Ansett-A.N.A. as the black partner. It suggests that there is something snide about this, that some favoritism is being shown to Ansett-A.N.A., and that this company is really not worth supporting. I cannot understand why the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) twisted his contribution to the debate to make an attack not upon the Government, but upon privately operated airlines. If we cast our minds back to 1949, we will realize that in those days, under the socialist Labour Government, the life of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, as it was then known, was strictly limited. If the Labour Party had won the 1949 election, A.N.A. would undoubtedly have been put out of existence, and we would have had one completely dominated, nationalized airline. The objective of the Labour Party still is to smash private enterprise in the air and to have one nationalized airline.
– Why do you always travel T.A.A.?
– I speak then without bias, and that cannot be said of the honorable gentleman opposite, who objects. I travel consistently on T.A.A., but I pay tribute to the contribution that Ansett-A.N.A. has made to aviation in Australia and to the passengers who use its services. I deplore the objective of the socialists opposite, who wish to destroy this organization which is contributing so much to the service provided by our airlines. We continually hear the argument that we must dampen Ansett-A.N.A. and destroy the public’s confidence in it.
In considering the puerile argument of the Opposition that T.A.A. is being destroyed by this Government, we need look, as the Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) looked, only to the days of 1949, and compare them with the days of 1959. We will then realize how far T.A.A. has advanced in the ten years that this Government has been in office. It has made remarkable advancement and has now reached the stage at which it is recognized as the safest airline in the world. The working conditions of its staff are without peer anywhere. We have a high margin of contentment amongst the staff. It is true to say that in 1949 there was a great wave of discontent amongst members of the staff of T.A.A. at the way in which they were being treated by their socialist masters in this House at that time. T.A.A. and Ansett-A.N.A. have progressed to such a stage that to-day Australians can enjoy not only the safest air travel in the world but also luxury travel at cut rates because very few countries in the world have cheaper air fares than we have in Australia. Our fares are amongst the lowest in the world, and our standards are amongst the highest. That applies not only to safety but also to the luxury appointments of our aircraft and the comfortable conditions under which we travel.
Rather than knock this Australian enterprise and Australian air travel, the socialists opposite would do much more credit to themselves if they were to utter a word of praise for the men and women of the two organizations who have lifted Australian aviation to a standard which has won the admiration of the world.
– We have always said that.
– The honorable member claims that he has always said that, but his utterances to-day comprised, on the one hand, an attack on our air services, and, on the other hand, a claim that T.A.A. is going downhill and that its standards are slipping. Those statements are typical of the knocking tactics of people who think only in a destructive way upon a constructive issue.
The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) said that airlines are being subsidized. Does he object to that subsidy? Why not pay a tribute to the Government which, through the Department of Civil Aviation, has made a great contribution, not only to our civil aviation, but also to our defence? Are not the aerodromes that have been built around the Australian continent one of our greatest defence measures and, therefore, one of our greatest needs to-day? Can expenditure on those aerodromes and facilities be charged as a subsidy?
– We built them all.
– The honorable member states that Labour built them all. Labour left a skeleton of airstrips around the country which we have built up to such a standard that they can now accommodate the world’s most modern aircraft. If the argument of the honorable member for Werriwa is correct that users, and not taxpayers, should pay, how do the socialists opposite reconcile that argument with the arguments that they advanced in relation to the postal charges. When legislation relating to that matter was before the House, they stood and screamed because the users had to meet the deficit on postal charges. Let us have a little consistency as we go along. If we are to argue about the large amount of money that is being well spent in providing safety and service in Australia, let us measure it against the charges that are made in other countries. The United Kingdom has spent nearly £30,000,000 on its international airport at London. It has to provide only one international airport. Other countries also have spent huge sums of money on aviation facilities. Not only have we got good value for our money in the form of security, defence and safer flying, but also we have built up a great national asset in our airline services through the Department of Civil Aviation. I deplore the fact that the Opposition continues to knock these two great services in the way that it has done to-day.
Motion (by Mr. Downer) agreed to -
That the business of the day be called on.
Sitting suspended from 12.44 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from 11th November (vide page 2607), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Last night, when I was speaking on this bill, I pointed out the gratifying response of the public to the voluntary insurance scheme for medical and hospital benefits which this Government introduced in 1953. The principle of self-help combined with government assistance is the one that suits Australia best. I was delighted to hear the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) support the bill, and also suggest to the Minister that the procedure that we have adopted in relation to hospital and medical benefits should also be adopted for pharmaceutical benefits. The right honorable member said -
I believe that the method we adopted of providing hospital benefits and medical benefits by voluntary insurance should be adopted in regard to medicine also.
It is well known that some of the benefit organizations have for some time been working on this very idea. Surely it would be more equitable, more desirable and certainly more acceptable to the large numbers of professional men who provide the pharmaceutical service in question. I believe a great mistake has been made in not adapting to pharmaceutical benefits the method used in respect of hospital and medical benefits. I think that ultimately this system must be adapted. If the scheme is to continue in its present form I do not see how it can avoid breaking down under two burdens - first, the huge cost to the Treasury and, secondly, its cumbrous method of accounting and policing, and its complete lack of consideration for the people who are required to operate it. I remind honorable members that we are going to be asked to vote on this provision without anybody in the House knowing exactly how much it is going to cost.
I am entirely in accord with the principle that people should provide something towards the cost of medicines. The free medicine scheme was imposed on the community by a socialistically minded department, and has never appealed to me. If some small section of the public was unable to pay for some of the expensive drugs like penicillin and antibiotics there are surely ways and means by which we can make them available through hospitals, or by some other method. The vast majority of people could pay, and would gladly have accepted some scheme of insurance in conjunction with their other contributions to benefit organizations. In any event, they have the benefit of a rebate in their income tax for payments made for such purposes.
The effect of the free medicine scheme has been that instead of having life-saving drugs applied to serious diseases and illnesses, any one going to the doctor now with a pimple is given £4 worth of some antibiotic. It has also been found that doctors have been prescribing life-saving therapeutic substances for quite minor illnesses. The fact that a substance cures the ailment quickly does not really excuse doctors for prescribing in this way, because the cost to the Treasury is unnecessarily high.
The amending legislation now before us will not do anything to prevent overprescribing. Certainly, the patient is going to be asked to pay 5s. per prescription; but what is 5s. in the way of a deterrent, with the present level of money? The Minister indicated that people may not go to the doctor now because they do not know what they will be up for, and that it will be a great comfort to them to know that henceforth they will be up for only 5s. per prescription. But he overlooks the fact that this means that they will go to the doctor more readily, and so more frequently, and so get more and more prescriptions at great cost to the Government and at very little cost to themselves.
I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the better procedure would be to cover these items by insurance. Then the doctor would have to consider whether his patient could afford his share of cortisone at £8 a time or aspirins at 8s., and prescribe accordingly. I hope that the Government will not proclaim this part of the act until full and earnest consideration has been given to accepting the advice of the right honorable member for Cowper, the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall), the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), myself and several other honorable members who have spoken in this debate. In effect, of course, the procedure proposed in the bill is actually the procedure that is in operation to-day in respect of those persons who pay subscriptions to friendly societies for dispensary services. Yet clauses are included deliberately designed to exempt friendly societies from the need to collect 5s. per prescription from their members in cash at the time of the lodging of prescriptions. Friendly societies are faced with the proposition that they will need to fill a prescription for a drug on the present free list for 5s. less than they are at present receiving. I presume that payments to friendly societies will be on the same basis as those to chemists - that is, the present list price, less 5s. So, either friendly societies can afford to lose 5s. per prescription - which seems unlikely - or capitation fees must be quickly increased.
Prior to the introduction of the national health service, friendly society members paid into their funds so that they could get a common range of drugs free, or at small cost. With the introduction of the health service friendly societies have not had to charge anything in the way of capitation fees for the whole of the range of drugs supplied under Commonwealth benefit, but have, indeed, been paid by the Government a price which includes a small profit and also a dispensing fee. Thus, at the present time, the friendly society member makes a contribution to obtain certain medicines that are outside the national health scheme.
At first glance, it seems that friendly society members should pay the 5s. prescription fee like everybody else, and then capitation fees would be used to provide further benefits outside the range of drugs provided under the scheme. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that it is important that this bill should operate fairly as between all the parties to the scheme. It is for that reason that I circulated an amendment which 1 intended to move at the committee stage. The amendment provides that the clause which exempts friendly societies from the need to collect the 5s. prescription fee be deleted from the bill. I did this on the assumption that the friendly societies can reimburse their members for this amount if they wish.
I repeat that it is important that the same conditions should apply to all persons or societies holding an approval to dispense national health service benefits. It is important that if one approved permit holder cannot offer an inducement in order to attract business no other approved permit holder should be allowed to offer such an inducement. In view of certain information that has been supplied to me by friendly society representatives who have been kind enough to bring some of my information more up to date, I do not now intend to press the amendment that I had intended to submit, but I ask the Minister to take particular notice of the arguments which I still propose to advance, when he is drawing up the regulations to cover those clauses and the necessary policing of them.
I want to make it very clear that the idea of proposing this amendment was not with any wish at all to discomfort the friendly societies or their members in any way. Indeed, they have my wannest approval, because they conduct their businesses in the way I am suggesting the Government should conduct the whole scheme - by voluntary insurance and selfhelp. In fact, the progressive Latrobe Valley Health Services and the Yallourn Medical Service give the lead to the rest of Australia in these matters, their benefits being well beyond the limits of other schemes. It may interest the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) and other honorable members of the Opposition to know that butazoladine is included in the benefits of the Yallourn scheme without any restriction by way of quantity. The same condition applies to A.C.T.H. and cortisone. This, I believe, is the true function of a friendly society - to provide these things that the government scheme does not provide.
As this bill is now drafted, I foresee vast changes being made in dispensary rules, because the opportunity presents itself to any wide-awake management - and we have some very wide-awake managements in some of these places - to introduce a lowrate membership fee as an inducement to get customers into their shops and make up for the loss of the 5s. per script on the large profit of some of the high-priced drugs and also by sales of other articles, generally called “ front of the shop “ lines. Anybody with any real knowledge of pharmacy these days knows that in almost all shops the real profit is made in the front of the shops, not in the dispensary. This is particularly so since the advent of free medicine with its “ under-cost “ allowance for handling and reduced rate of profit and the definite “ loss rate “ at which pensioner dispensing is now conducted.
Friendly society dispensaries to-day are operated, to all intents and purposes, as ordinary chemist shops. If they are to continue to flourish, they must attract customers into their shops just as must any other seller of goods. But I maintain that it is not right to allow them some special privilege that is not afforded other persons engaged in the same form of business. I believe that it is essential that a national health prescription must receive exactly the same treatment whenever it is taken, as is the case at present.
I mentioned societies in my own electorate and I should like to say a little more about the Yallourn Medical and Hospital Society. This is an excellent scheme, giving a magnificent service to the community and providing a health service that is not even approached by any other society anywhere in Australia. It is the envy of a lot of people. Starting as a medical and hospital benefits group which it has run for years most successfully, last year it commenced its own friendly society and, as a natural result, its own dispensary. The members of this society pay 5s. a week to cover hospital, ambulance, medical, health centre and pharmaceutical benefits. To the lastnamed they allot 6d. a week for which they get a coverage of certain prescribed items according to a list that corresponds very closely to that of the pensioner medical service. The point I want to make is that I entirely approve the Yallourn scheme, and do not wish to curtail it in any way, but the 6d. a week paid by its members is purely and simply to insure against the cost of medicines supplied outside the Commonwealth scheme.
The present proposal is to extend the Commonwealth scheme, and, in conjunction with that, to impose a deterrent to its abuse by making all doctors’ patients pay the first 5s. of the cost of dispensing the scripts of any doctor for any National Health Service benefit. We do not know what the range is going to be. Psychologically it is important that every prescription should be treated on identical terms and that the patient presenting a script to a chemist or a friendly society should do so on equal terms.
If the friendly society should find, in practice, that it can rebate some of this cost then it can do so. This is the point which I have found rather difficult to line up in my own mind. What are their rights by way of rebate? It is because of this doubt that I have refrained from moving the amendment I had proposed to move. But the friendly society dispensary is quite at liberty to make its own arrangements for that. It is quite unrealistic for the Minister to say that the present capitation fee has anything to do with paying for national service benefits. The 6d. a week is to provide benefits outside the present free list and under the new schedule could be applied to allow the society to provide a free list on a wider scale than is proposed under this legislation. There is a long list of various ethical lines which come into it.
Tn conclusion, I again urge that further thought be given to recasting this whole scheme, otherwise chemists may well have to reconcile themselves to hoisting the Commonwealth coat of arms over their doors with a Department of Health number to mark them as a cog in a thoroughly socialistic scheme imposed by what is supposed to be a free-enterprise government.
Mr. LUCHETTI (Macquarie) [2.321.- This bill is another bungling effort by this Government, through the present incumbent in office as Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), to deal with the allimportant subject of the public health of the people of Australia. It needs no word from me to stress the fact that the Government is uncertain in regard to the measure before the House. Members of the Government parties are undecided; they have their doubts and reservations, and the Minister is not able to tell the House just what negotiation is taking place with the chemists throughout Australia. One would have thought that before a measure of this kind was brought to the House the matter of negotiation with the chemists would have been determined, that a definite agreement would have been reached and that honorable members could have been informed of the type of understanding which, in the future, would exist between the Government and the chemists and the public and the chemists. But these opportunities will not be presented to honorable members, and the public will be left in the dark, as hitherto, in regard to the ramifications of the health legislation of this country.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), in a well-reasoned speech to the Parliament, set out in clear detail the attitude of the Opposition and sought assurances from the Minister with respect to a number of subjects. He asked for information in regard to repeat prescriptions, but again the Minister was vague and uncertain. There was no definite information from the Minister. This is a matter of vital concern to people and if the Minister cannot give a definite undertaking to Parliament with respect to repeat prescriptions now, how can this matter be determined afterwards? Is the Minister to retreat, as he invariably does in matters such as this, behind a committee, saying, “ It is not for me to decide; an important committee has been established to determine these matters”? Surely there must come a time and place when the responsible Minister must speak to the elected representatives of the people and give them unequivocal answers to questions on matters such as this.
Another matter that should be put beyond doubt is the question of future relations between the department and the private hospital. Again the Minister is uncertain. He has indicated that there will be an easing of the position and that the private hospitals will receive better treatment than hitherto. He has said that people suffering from complaints which would justify admission to public institutions will receive certain benefits if they undergo treatment in private institutions. I should like further clarification on that aspect of the matter. I hope that when the Minister is winding up the debate he will answer the questions I have put to him, because they are of the utmost importance to every person in the country.
It seems to me that although we have travelled a certain distance along the road of allegedly free medicine, although we have liberalized the provisions regarding assistance to hospitals, and although this bill may bestow other benefits upon the sick, the legislation still falls far short of providing adequate protection for the people of Australia in the field of health.
Looking back over the years, I remind honorable members that before the Commonwealth Government entered this field and produced a National Health Act, at least the people in those distant days knew that the public wards of our hospitals were open to every sick person. Persons requiring medical attention received it in those days, not because they had a certain amount of money or because they had made payments into a special fund, but simply because they needed attention. To-day we find that “ the rank is but the guinea’s stamp “. The important question is how many units a person has in a medical fund, or how much he has contributed to a hospital organization. The well-being of the patient is a secondary consideration. There are grades of persons to-day, and according to his bank balance a man goes either to a private ward, an intermediate ward or a public ward. This is a most undesirable state of affairs. There should be no reservations regarding treatment for those who need it.
As to the contention that we have a free medical scheme, of course we are all adult enough to know that “ free “ is a complete misnomer, because in the first place the people must pay their taxes to provide the Commonwealth contribution, and they must subscribe to a fund to get the additional benefit. In addition, we find that there is a grading of patients according to their financial situations. Accordingly, I believe that there is no free scheme at all. It is clear that people must pay for what they receive. This is particularly true with regard to pharmaceutical benefits, because a 5s. charge is to be made for all prescriptions. The chemist becomes a tax collector. He has to make these collections on behalf of the Government. All these facts tend to show that there is no free scheme of any kind, and that the Government has abdicated its position and has failed to provide any semblance of a free medical and pharmaceutical service.
The reason why the Government has done this is easy to see. The Minister himself has directed attention to the fact that because of the rapidly increasing costs that have to be met by the Commonwealth Government for medical services there is to be a tightening ut> of the system, and a closer watch kept on the amount of money spent on pharmaceutical preparations. I think the Minister would do a much better job if he came out into the open and told us what the abuses are, and what positive steps he proposes to take to deal with them.
The matter of medical treatment is, of course, an all-important one, and our minds should not be clouded in any way on this subject. The guiding and determining factor should be the necessity to provide the best possible treatment for our sick people. The Minister has been vague and the Government uncertain. The honorable member who preceded me in this debate even foreshadowed an amendment to the legislation, but he has now indicated he will not proceed with it. A substantial number of Government supporters have themselves criticized the legislation. All these things indicate the uncertainty that exists in Government circles with regard to our pharmaceutical benefits scheme and medical arrangements generally. The Minister should come out in the open and let us know exactly what happens with regard to these benefits. Take the case of persons reaching the age of 65 who go into medical institutions and find that although they have been paying subscriptions into a fund for a considerable period of time, they can receive no benefit from that fund. No one would accept the proposition that profits should be made out of sickness. It should be sufficient that people are covered for the treatment they require. It seems entirely wrong that aged persons should be forced to continue making payments into funds from which they cannot hope to receive any benefit.
I have examined the operations of some of these funds. I have found, for instance, that the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales last year received £357,565 more in contributions than was given out in benefits. Surely, this indicates that the provisions should be liberalized, and that pensioners should not be called upon to make payments to funds from which they can receive no benefits.
I am particularly concerned with the position of the private hospitals. On a number of occasions I have made representations to the Minister with regard to private hospitals. These institutions are rendering outstanding public service with thoroughly trained matrons and nurses and with the assistance of fully qualified medical practitioners. Despite my representations I have received little assistance from the Minister. I express the hope that as a result of this legislation a much more realistic policy will be followed. I have before me a copy of a letter which was addressed to the Minister from Greystanes Private Hospital, Megalong-street, Leura, giving a list of patients and their complaints and the names of the doctors who attended them. These patients were unable to receive any additional benefit from the fund. That is a most disturbing state of affairs. I have received support in this matter from doctors in the Katoomba-Blue Mountains area and from hospital matrons and hospital secretaries. Despite this documented evidence, patients suffering from various complaints, such as cardiac trouble, diabetes, pneumonia and fibrositis, were not receiving the benefits. I am not referring now to people suffering from chronic illnesses or people living in eventide homes. The Greystanes hospital, which is similar to many other institutions, was registered in New South Wales and has been registered as a private hospital under the National Health Act 1953-55 since its inception in 1957. A number of institutions in my electorate are in a similar position to the Greystanes hospital. If the bill, with all its uncertainties, can correct the state of affairs that now exists, it will have served some useful purpose. The practice of pensioners paying into funds without any hope of ever receiving benefits must cease. We must go forward with an understanding of the health requirements of the people of Australia, building up a benefits organization that will meet all the needs of the sick, including the mentally sick and those requiring dental treatment, because surely that is another aspect of health that should receive the attention of any government worthy of the name.
This bill sets out to deal with the problem in four ways. The Australian Labour Party has no objection to the first three proposals in the bill, one of which will increase benefits payable to institutions for certain classes of operations performed on patients in those institutions. I should like to point out that the additional money that is provided will be paid to the surgeon. It will not be paid to the subscriber to the fund or to the person requiring hospital treatment. Beyond any shadow of doubt the individual will be called upon to make increased payments to hospital and medical benefits schemes. If the bill will create a better standard of health, lead to better health services and ensure that surgeons are paid a sum befitting their skill, no objection will be raised from this side of the House. We welcome that state of affairs. We welcome the attention that has been given to private hospitals and we look for increased benefits to flow not only to the institutions but the people who require treatment in them.
The extension of the approved list of drugs is long overdue. The Minister for Health and his predecessor have repeatedly made excuses in this House why certain life-saving drugs are not available to pensioners and others, such as liver extracts and other drugs which doctors in my electorate assure me are vital to the well-being and health of their patients. If the introduction of a 5s. charge for prescriptions will correct that anomaly, something useful will have emerged from the bill.
I do not want to detain the House very long but I make my comments believing that my criticism is thoroughly justified. The Minister has a responsibility to be clear in his reply to the Opposition’s case - clearer than he was when he outlined the bill. He must tell the House to what extent a charge will be made for repeat prescriptions. He must be clear with regard to the benefits available to patients requiring treatment in a private hospital. Our private hospitals are rendering an outstanding service to our sick people. I know that in many districts where the public institutions have been fully occupied, the private institutions - registered and approved by doctors - are giving their patients all the benefits they could receive anywhere else. If the Minister will clearly answer the questions that have been raised it will be a very great satisfaction to all concerned.
The Opposition looks to the Minister to clarify the position and to answer the questions that have been asked not only from this side of the House but by members of the Government parties. He must assure the Parliament that the case of the chemists will not be forgotten and that the position of the friendly societies will not be injured.
All of us have a great affection for the friendly society movement. We know the great work the friendly societies have done in the past and we trust that at no stage will any action be taken at the behest of any pressure group to injure those societies, which are facing problems just as grave as those faced by any other section of the community. We need answers regarding the position of chemists, private hospitals, and repeat prescriptions. I should like to hear the Minister reply to those questions.
– in reply - I do not want to detain the House very long in winding up this debate, so I shall refer to only a few matters. Many of the points raised by honorable gentlemen have been, I think, covered already fairly adequately in my second-reading speech and many others can be dealt with at the committee stage. However, I should like to deal with one or two points.
First, I want to refer to what may be a comparatively minor matter that was raised by the last speaker and other speakers. That was the point that I may have carried my negotiations with the chemists to a conclusion before introducing the bill. It may interest honorable members to know that the bill was introduced before negotiations had been completed with the complete approval and agreement of the chemists and the friendly societies. They agreed that this was an appropriate procedure. As I have pointed out before, the passage of the bill will not in any way impede the negotiations that are going on with those bodies and which I think I can say have been in many respects now largely brought to a successful issue. The subject of repeat prescriptions was, I think, made clear by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) when he first announced these proposed charges. He said that people requiring constant supplies of drugs in order to maintain their health will be safeguarded in the quantities made available to them without having to obtain frequent fresh prescriptions and pay repeatedly for those prescriptions to be dispensed. Of course, the quantity prescribed will vary from one drug to another, but adequate arrangements will be made to safeguard those people.
Let me briefly refer to patients in hospitals who are transferred to special account because they reach the age of 65. A contributor who is referred to special account and who goes to the hospital will get - and has for twelve months been able to get - whatever rate of benefit he insured for, until he exhausts his maximum fund benefit period.
– It is usually thirteen weeks.
– It is about 80 or 90 days. After he exhausts that period, because he is in the special account he then drops down to the standard rate of fund benefit which is 16s. a day and which continue indefinitely. Prior to the introduction of the special account procedure he dropped down to no fund benefit at all so there is a very desirable advantage in this measure. If the contributor is hospitalized for a pre-existing ailment and is in the special account he is paid from the special account fund, benefit at the rate of 16s. per day indefinitely. Previous to the introduction of the special account procedure he was paid no fund benefit at all. So, surely it must be perfectly plain that the special account procedure has been of immense benefit to a lot of people.
– Is that additional to the government payment?
– It is in addition to the Commonwealth benefit which is paid and always was paid, making 36s. a day. In these circumstances it is a little strange to talk about the special account procedure preventing elderly people who are transferred to the special account from receiving any benefit. In fact, they receive a much greater benefit than they did before the special accounts were introduced.
The honorable gentleman asked about the payment of hospital benefit to patients in private hospitals. The hospital benefit is paid for hospital treatment. There are a number of quite worthy institutions which are registered by State governments as hospitals, for their own purposes - mainly for purposes of control. They are not all recognized by the Commonwealth Government for the payment of special account benefit and they were never, in the main, recognized by the funds for the payment of hospital benefit. But by the special accounts procedure, as it is now being amended, individuals in these hospitals, if they fulfil the conditions set out in the bill, will, on approval by the DirectorGeneral, be able to receive fund benefit from the special account. The conditions set out in the bill are, broadly, that patients are suffering from a condition which would normally require treatment in a public hospital and that they are, in fact, receiving treatment substantially equivalent to that which they would receive in a public hospital.
These are great gains and it is extraordinary to talk of them as though people were being deprived of hospital benefit. It is not appropriate to pay hospital benefit in respect of institutions which are, in fact, benevolent homes. They may be very worthy institutions but they are not hospitals and these are hospital benefits. This Government has made a great contribution to homes for old people. It has extended the social services available in these circumstances very widely.
I want to touch on one other matter which was brought up by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro when he first spoke in this debate. He referred to a document which he alleged had been sent to State governments making certain demands. So that there will be no mistake about this, I shall read to the House his exact words. He said -
Nevertheless, the fact is that the Commonwealth is now demanding that every hospital patient must pay the new tax in future, whatever his means and whatever ward he may be in. It is no use the Minister denying this because I understand that the Commonwealth has already, in writing, informed various State governments of its determination in this respect. This means that unless State governments bear the cost themselves, a new charge will now have to be imposed, probably for the first time in hospital history, on patients in public wards, for drugs which have never previously been charged as extras in public wards
At that stage the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) interjected, “ Outrageous “, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro went on -
It is outrageous, as the honorable member for Lalor says. Similarly, a new and additional charge will have to be imposed upon outpatients in public hospitals. For them, in the past, drugs have generally been provided at cost, or less than cost, and in many instances no charge at all has been made. But now the Commonwealth Health Department has served notice on the State governments that, in future, this practice must cease. The poor must be made to pay to the last penny.
I then interjected, “ That is a pure flight of fancy “. The honorable member went on -
I declare this to be based on an official statement by the Department of Health in writing.
A little later in the same debate, after an interchange with my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) the honorable member for EdenMonaro said -
I challenge the Minister to go back to his department and to produce for the benefit of this House the actual document, signed by the Commonwealth Health Department, that has been sent to the various State governments.
Those are the words of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. I want to say, categorically and specifically, that there is no such document. Not only is there no such document, but no such demand has been made to State governments. With one trivial exception which I shall explain to the House, there has been no correspondence betwen the Commonwealth and the States on this matter. The trivial exception is that on 31st August, the secretary of the Hospitals and Charities Commission of Victoria wrote to the Commonwealth Director-General of Health pointing out that the new arrangements would raise some problems for hospitals and saying -
We shall be glad if you will kindly consider these matters when preparing the amended pharmaceutical benefits scheme and ensure that the special position of the public hospitals in the scheme is safeguarded.
To that, one of my assistant directors quite properly replied - and this is his whole letter -
I refer to my letter of 31st August, 1959, in which you raised certain questions regarding the application of the new pharmaceutical benefits proposals to public hospital patients. We have given this matter some thought and we would like to discuss it with you at some mutually convenient time within the next few weeks. We will telephone you within the next day or so and make an appointment if this is convenient.
That is the entire letter. There was no threat, no suggestion, and no direction - nothing of that kind at all. It was in a perfectly proper and precise form. I want to repeat that that correspondence is the entire correspondence which has passed between the Commonwealth and the States on this matter.
Last night, when my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service spoke in this debate he again pointed out that the document to which the honorable gentleman from Eden-Monaro had referred did not, in fact, exist. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, by interjection, said that it did exist and that he had checked it.
– I checked the facts and I got them absolutely right and you know it.
– I shall quote the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service accurately. He said that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro had said to me -
It is an official statement by your department. The Commonwealth Department of Health has informed the various State governments that it requires the payment of 5s. on each prescription dispensed in hospitals.
As I have just indicated by my quotation from another part of “ Hansard “, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro not only declared that the demand had been made but also that it had been made in writing. The honorable member for EdenMonaro replied to my colleague -
I checked on that to-day with the New South Wales Minister for Health, and it is correct.
This morning, I myself rang up the New South Wales Minister for Health and I put it to him that there was no such document from my department. The Minister said to me that he had a document, prepared for him by his own officers, which he had used as the basis of replies that he had given in the Parliament of New South Wales. He was not in his office when he spoke on the telephone and he did not have the document with him. I therefore asked him had I his permission to speak to his officers direct, and he willingly gave it to me. I thereupon, with his permission, spoke to the chairman of the Hospitals Commission of New South Wales. That officer informed me, Sir, that he had not received in writing any proposal at all from the Commonwealth. Furthermore, he said that he had had no written communication from the Commonwealth on this matter. I then asked him had he received any request from, or been subjected to any pressure by, the Commonwealth to impose this charge of 5s., to which he replied, “ No “.
When the honorable member for EdenMonaro spoke on Tuesday night, he said that if he was wrong he would willingly apologize. I suggest that he might now do so.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I claim to have been misrepresented by the Minister for Health.
I accept immediately and entirely the Minister’s statement that there is no written document sent by the Commonwealth. That is the only statement by him which I accept. I also have spoken this morning to the New South Wales Minister for Health subsequent to the conversation which he had with the Commonwealth Minister. The New South Wales Minister informs me that the statements of the Commonwealth were put in writing by officers of his department, but he re-affirms that the official statement made on behalf of the Commonwealth Department of Health to the New South Wales Health Department was that every hospital patient must pay the new tax in future, whatever his means and whatever ward he was in, unless the State itself chose to make the payment. The only defence which the Commonwealth Minister has is that the Commonwealth’s demand upon the State was not made by the Commonwealth in writing. It was put in writing by the officers of the State Health Department immediately after they received the communication from the Commonwealth Department of Health, and that demand was then submitted in detail to the New South Wales Minister.
Furthermore, an exactly similar communication to the Victorian Hospitals Commission was made by the Commonwealth Department of Health. That, also, is on record, in the files of the Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission.
I therefore do not withdraw one word of the statement which I made in this House. It is entirely correct, with the exception of the point concerned in the technical defence which the Minister is making; that is, that the terms of the Commonwealth’s demand were put in writing, not by the Commonwealth officers, but by the State officers who received the demand from the Commonwealth.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 - by leave - taken together.
.- I refer to clause 3, which reads -
In relation to medical expenses incurred after the commencement of this section and before the first day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-one, or such later date as is, before that day, fixed by Proclamation as the date on which this section shall cease to have effect, the reference in paragraph (b) of the definition of “ contributor “ in sub-section (1.) of section thirteen of the National Health Act 1953-1959 to “the First Schedule to this Act “ shall be read as a reference to the First Schedule to the National Health Act 1953-1958.
This clause may not be fully understood, and I merely want to explain it briefly. As honorable gentlemen know, Mr. Chairman, there are two schedules of benefits under the National Health Act. The minimum subscription which a contributor can make to a fund entitles him to Commonwealth benefit under both schedules, but to fund benefit at matching rates only for the first schedule, and to no fund benefit for the second schedule. The act of contributing entitles a contributor to Commonwealth benefit. What he is doing, in effect, every time he increases his contribution, is to contribute for more fund benefit.
This bill will improve the Commonwealth benefits for certain items in respect of the lowest table of contributions, from 1st January, 1960. It is, of course, fair and logical that contributions should rise so that the lowest rate of insurance will match the new rate, not only of fund benefit, but also of Commonwealth benefit. Because there may be some mechanical or other difficulties involved in every one changing over quickly to the new contribution rates and increasing their contributions, this clause allows contributors who do not increase their contributions to obtain the new rates of Commonwealth benefit in the schedule as amended for a period of twelve months from 1st January next. After that, if they are to obtain either Commonwealth or fund benefits at the new rates, they must increase their contributions to the new rates.
I make this explanation so that nobody will be under the misapprehension that contributors are being misled about the contribution rates.
– Mr. Chairman, I should like a little clarification on a point. I have listened carefully to the remarks made by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) in reply at the second-reading stage, and to his remarks in relation to clause 3 just now. I have had brought under my notice, first, the case of a person who contributed at a higher rate, and who was compulsorily transferred to the special account on reaching the specified age, although he was quite prepared to go on contributing at the higher rate in order to obtain the higher benefit. I have had brought to my notice, secondly, the case of a tradesman who had been contributing at the higher rate for himself and his wife. I ask the Minister to note this point carefully, Mr. Chairman, because I think it is important to have it clarified.
Order! I must ask the honorable member to specify the clause to which he is addressing himself.
– With due respect, Sir, I point out that the Minister raised a point regarding the basis of contributions, and has indicated how the new proposal will work. I merely point out that the wife of a person who had been paying at the higher rate for his wife and himself was deprived of benefits at the higher rate, although she was below the age specified for transfer to the special account, immediately the husband reached the specified age and was transferred compulsorily to the special account, at a time when the wife was in hospital. I should like to have that matter clarified, because I think that the Minister’s remarks have left it very much up in the air.
Dr. DONALD CAMERON (OxleyMinister for Health [3.15]. - I shall abide by your ruling, Mr. Chairman, because this matter has nothing to do with the clauses now before the committee.
– That is my opinion.
– I suggest that the honorable member for New
England (Mr. Drummond) should let me have particulars of a specific case if he wants it explained, and I shall reply to his representations.
– I would rather have an explanation made in this chamber.
– We shall wait until we come to the appropriate clause.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 4 (Commonwealth benefit payable in respect of services specified in Schedules).
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the committee to the practice adopted by some doctors of refusing to abide by the rules of the national health scheme under which payment of patients’ accounts may be made direct from the fund, and the concurrent practice of these doctors of refusing to submit an itemized account until the account has been paid. By doing this, they make it impossible for the fund to pay benefit for the patient, because the fund cannot authorize payment until it has seen a detailed, itemized account. This matter has been brought officially to the notice of the Minister by the Latrobe Valley Hospitals and Health Services Association. The first extract that I would like to read to the committee comes from the national health booklet issued in 1953. The question asked is -
How will the benefits be paid?
The answer is -
Approved organizations will be free to decide for themselves whether the benefits, including the Commonwealth subsidy, will be paid directly to the member when he produces the receipted account from the doctor or directly to the doctor on the authority of the member who presents an unpaid account.
That procedure is authorized by the national health scheme. But these doctors are making their own rules and are defying the rules of the national health scheme. In doing so, they claim to have the support of the British Medical Association. Since the matter has been brought officially to the notice of the Minister in writing by the Latrobe Valley Hospitals and Health Services Association, I ask him what action is he taking to ensure that these doctors abide by the rules of the national health scheme. I have here a copy of an account for £10 17s. 6d. rendered to a patient in Traralgon by a group of doctors. No details are given, but at the bottom of the account is stated -
An itemized account will be issued on request on settlement of this account.
In other words, the patient must pay the account before he is allowed to know what he is paying for, and that is done solely, I gather, to ensure that the fund is not able to make the payment but that the patient must somehow find the money, pay the account and then obtain a refund from the society. This matter was taken up by the Latrobe Valley Hospitals and Health Services Association with the doctors concerned, and this very illuminating answer was received -
The British Medical Association has instructed all Doctors in the Latrobe Valley to refrain from itemising accounts, and to issue itemised accounts only upon request when the account has been paid.
By what authority does the British Medical Association make rules which are in direct conflict with the rules of the national health scheme? How does it come about that the Minister to whom this matter has been referred has failed to take any action to uphold his own scheme? I hope he has taken action, but if he has, I am unaware of it. The doctors go on -
I trust you will understand that there is nothing personal in this request, as we are acting purely under the directive of the B.M.A.
That is one case which bears on the point that I bring to the attention of the Minister. Here is another letter written on behalf of a firm of doctors, dealing with exactly this point of the refusal of doctors to render itemized accounts until after payment has been made, and their refusal to abide by the rule of the national health scheme which allows the fund to make payment to the doctors on behalf of the patient. The firm writing on behalf of the group of doctors says -
The provisions of this act in relation to members’ rights, particularly in regard to payment to a doctor where the account is unpaid, are now being investigated by the B.M.A. with a view to having the legislation amended, so as to prohibit : such payments unless a “ Hardship “ form is completed.
I would like the Minister to inform the House whether he proposed to amend the act at the behest of the B.M.A., and if so, why. I ask the Minister to state also, if the act is not to be amended, why he is not ensuring that members of the B.M.A. abide by the rules of his own scheme. The letter goes on -
We are prepared to help members–
That is, members of funds - in any way possible, within reason, but we must also abide by any decision of the B.M.A. in regard to these matters.
The second matter to which I direct the attention of the Minister is the increasing concern being expressed in various parts of Australia at the prospect of rates of contribution for hospital and medical benefits being increased, the injury that this will inflict upon family budgets, and the necessity for some clearer statement than the Minister has so far given us. Concern is also felt at the prospect that increased medical benefits will be followed immediately by increased medical fees, since apparently no assurance has been given by the B.M.A. that fees will not be increased, and, apparently, the Government is not willing to take action to protect the rights of patients and contributors in these matters.
I direct the attention of the Minister particularly to a resolution of the Australian Society of Engineers - a very important and highly respected trade union - expressing its great concern at the indication that contributions to medical benefit funds and societies will have to be increased to meet increased costs, and also its concern at the likelihood that increased fees will now be charged for medical services. The society points out that under the present scheme a rebate of 12s. 6d. is available for an ordinary visit to a doctor’s surgery, for which the fee is 17s. 6d., and that it appears likely that the rebate will be increased to 1 3s. 6d. This is an increase of one shilling, but the cost of a visit to a doctor is likely to be increased to £1 or 22s. 6d. This would leave the member of the society very much worse off than he is now.
What information the union has of the intentions of the medical profession, I do not know, but I direct the attention of the Minister to this matter because statements on the likelihood of medical fees being increased in the new year are now being very widely made. During the secondreading debate, I quoted a statement appearing on a doctor’s account that from 1st
January the fees for visits and consultations would be increased. I bring these matters to the attention of the Minister, and hope that he will be able to give me assurances on them now.
– The honorable gentleman has referred to various letters. I do not know to whom they are addressed and, of course, I am not in a position to make detailed replies to correspondence with which I am unfamiliar.
– Addressed to the Commonwealth Director of Health on 2nd November.
– I am not familiar with it at this stage. All I can say is that if there are complaints that people are evading the law, and if the complaints can be substantiated, of course we will take appropriate action. But until the honorable gentleman read the letters to me here, I had no knowledge of them.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 7 (Interpretation).
– I should like some explanation from the Minister of the alteration that is proposed in section 66 of the principal act which defines a pre-existing ailment of a contributor. The clause now defines “ preexisting ailment “ as an illness or disability of the contributor which was in evidence before, or within a specified period after, he became a contributor to the organization. The amendment omits the words, “he became a contributor to the organization “ and replaces them with the rather strange words, “ a particular time “. The meaning of those words is unknown to me, and I should be glad if the Minister would clarify them.
– This is really a machinery clause. Without it, a patient who moved into a higher table would be subject to a waiting period before becoming eligible for the increased benefit. That is the reason for the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 (Contributions of contributors to hospital benefits funds who have attained 65 years to be credited to special account).
– I realize now that when I spoke previously I addressed myself to the wrong clause. The Minister has offered to make an explanation. If an explanation is to be made, it should not be made privately to a member but it should be made publicly in debate so that the nation may know exactly what is meant by the arrangements which have been entered into. I have raised this matter because, in my own experience, this section of the act has not been applied to persons of 65 years of age in accordance with principle and equity. Let me cite the indisputable facts of the case of a man who, to my own knowledge, contributed for many years at the higher rate. Upon reaching 65 years of age he was transferred to the special account and when his wife, who was much younger than he, became ill she was automatically debarred from receiving the maximum benefit for which her husband had contributed. I may have misunderstood the Minister’s remarks. I understood him to say that people of 65 years of age who have been contributors for some time, can, if they wish to pay the higher rate, still qualify for the higher benefit. I should like some clarification from the Minister of this point because the case to whichI have referred is not an isolated one.
– Speaking to the same point, Mr. Chairman, let me say that members constantly receive letters from constituents who are in the over 65 years age group, complaining that although they have contributed for benefits at the higher rate they find, when submitting their claim to the fund, that having been transferred to the special account they are entitled only to benefit at the public ward rate. In many cases they may have contributed at a rate which would entitle them either to treatment in an intermediate or private ward, or which would be sufficient to give them a cash surplus over the cost of their treatment in a public ward, but they have been told that as they are in the special account they are not entitled to receive a benefit in excess of the amount that is necessary to meet the cost of treatment in a public ward.
When the Minister closed the debate on the second reading of this bill, he gave an assurance that every one who wished to continue to contribute at a higher rate would continue to receive benefits at the appropriate higher rate for the thirteen weeks, or whatever the period is, before the special account provisions operate. But as there are so many complaints from contributors and patients that they have not been treated in accordance with the Minister’s assurance, I should be glad if the Minister would have a further look at the matter to make sure that the law is operating in accordance with the substantial assurances that he gave me about twelve months ago when other amending legislation was before the House.
In addition, I should like the Minister to make a clear statement as to whether there is any advantage to be gained by an age or invalid pensioner continuing his membership of a hospital or medical benefit fund. Numbers of these people complain that although they have contributed to funds they have been deprived of any return because they have received free treatment in public wards of public hospitals. Is it appropriate, therefore, to advise pensioners that it is not in their interests to continue their membership of these funds?
.- The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) referred to medical benefits.
– And to hospital benefits also.
– I understood the honorable member to speak about medical benefits. This clause does not deal with hospital benefits but, with your indulgence, Mr. Chairman, I shall refer to them because both the honorable member for New England and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) have done so. Until the present amendment of the act, it was a requirement that where a fund had established a special account for medical benefits it had to transfer to that special account those contributors who reached the age of 65 years. That require ment is being repealed by the measure now before the committee, so that the problem to which the honorable member for New England has referred will not arise in the future.
In relation to hospital benefits, if a contributor has been transferred to the special account - it is compulsory now and will remain compulsory because in fact the organizations agreed that it should be done - and if he is admitted to hospital, he is entitled to receive from the fund the amount for which he has been contributing until he exhausts his maximum benefit period. The amount of the fund benefit then drops to the standard rate of 16s. a day and remains at that figure indefinitely. Prior to the establishment of the special accounts the contributor received nothing. I endeavoured to make this position clear during the second-reading debate, but apparently I did not do so. If he went into hospital for a pre-existing ailment he would have received, before the introduction of the special account procedure, no fund benefit for his period in hospital. He now receives such a benefit because he is in special account, the benefit being the standard rate of 16s. a day indefinitely.
Perhaps I omitted to explain, in winding up the second-reading debate - and if so I am sorry - that contributors to special accounts may not receive payments above the rate charged by the hospital.
– In respect of the first twelve weeks?
– Yes. They can receive the full rate they are insured for provided it does not exceed the hospital charge. The reason for that is that any deficit in a hospital fund special account has to be made up from public money. It was not considered proper, as I explained in the House before it passed that provision, that people should, as it were, be able to make a profit out of the taxpayer through being in hospital.
– My understanding is that a person over the age of 65, on special account, receives the full payment from, the fund for the first 91 days in hospital plus the Commonwealth benefit. At the end of that period he goes on to the standard amount of £1 16s. When a new subscription year starts,, he can again have 91 days in hospital at the full rate before he goes on to the standard rate. So for three months such a man gets the full benefit, and for the other nine months he can obtain only the standard rate of 16s. a day, plus £1 if he is insured accordingly. I should like the Minister to put me quite clear on this matter. If a man had paid in for a benefit of £2 2s., which would entitle him to a Commonwealth benefit of 12s. when he went on to special account he would be entitled to the 12s. only, plus 16s. from the fund, instead of £1, plus 16s. from the fund.
I shall mention now an actual case on which I was advising. A couple had a son who had been ill from birth, and until last year, or the beginning of this year, he was not able to obtain any benefit because of this pre-existing complaint. When the special account system was introduced the parents were able to get benefit for his hospital treatment as if the complaint had not been pre-existing. Will the Minister tell me what the position would be if one of the parents, or another member of the family, also had to go to hospital during a period in which the entitlement had been consumed by the treatment of the son in hospital? Would benefit payable to that other member of the family be limited to the special account rate, or would it be on the standard rate?
– On the Minister’s statement it appears that a man or women aged 65 or over may be worse off under the special account provision than would have been the case if the special account procedure had not operated. If that is so, I think that that conflicts with an assurance given by the Minister when the previous amending bill was before the Parliament. At that time I moved an amendment on behalf of the Labour Party designed to protect the rights of people over the age of 65 who wished to continue to receive the higher rates of benefit for which they had been subscribing. I withdrew that amendment on receipt of an assurance from the Minister that the formula he proposed would be a better one, and would meet exactly the position we had in mind. However, on the Minister’s statement now, it appears that if the special account had not existed a man over 65 years of age subscribing for benefit at a. high rate, treated in a public ward of a hospital for eight or ten weeks, would have received a cash benefit - the difference between the amount for which he had subscribed and the actual amount of the hospital bill. If the special account did not exist he would be in the same position as the man under 60, in that he would receive the total amount of benefit for which he subscribed. If he were treated in a public ward and had subscribed for the higher rate of benefit he would receive the difference in cash. As the Minister now explains it, in order to protect the public purse a man, although he might wish to preserve all his rights under the higher rate of benefit, would be compulsorily transferred to special account when he reached the age of 65. It might not be possible for him to get accommodation in a private or intermediate ward, so he would have to go into a public ward. Yet, although he had paid for benefit at a higher rate he would not receive the cash difference between the cost of his accommodation in a public ward and the full benefit for which he is insured. If so, that man is worse off than if the special account had not existed.
– There are some instances where that might happen, but many funds in any case would not pay the difference, so that really the point does not arise.
– Did not the Commonwealth stop that about two years ago?
– The funds themselves stopped it. A lot of the funds stopped this practice of what has been called, in the vernacular, making a profit out of being in hospital. They would not allow it to occur.
The other point which the honorable gentleman raised was the question of the pensioner. He asked whether it was an advantage for a pensioner to belong, first, to a medical benefits fund, and, secondly, to a hospital benefits fund. Normally, a pensioner would belong to neither. He would come under the pensioner medical service, and would receive what virtually amounts to general practitioner service free of cost. If he goes into a hospital it will depend on the State government whether or not he is charged. Most of the State governments do not charge; some do. If he wishes to enter a private hospital, as many pensioners do, or an intermediate ward, it would, of course, be of advantage to him to be a member of a fund. If he wished to consult a specialist or a surgeon or either needs or wishes to have special surgical procedures, or private medical treatment, it would also be to his advantage to be in a fund. So, it is largely a matter of voluntary insurance, and the pensioner can place himself in the same position as the rest of the population, with advantage to himself. Perhaps it could be better put the other way - that there are far fewer disadvantages for a pensioner in not belonging to a fund than there are for other people in not belonging to a fund.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) is correct. There are two rates of Commonwealth additional benefit - 4s. a day and 12s. a day. A person who does not subscribe for the 12s. rate does not get it. The majority of people subscribe for this rate, and receive it.
– Could the Minister be asked, Mr. Chairman, to speak a little louder. We cannot hear him in the back benches.
– I shall prevail upon him to do so.
.- I seek the Minister’s clarification about persons in the special fund because of pre-existing illnesses. I understand that such persons are now entitled to £12 12s. as a maximum benefit in respect of pre-existing illnesses. Is that correct? Further, am I correct in thinking that even though they may be limited to a benefit of £12 12s. in regard to a pre-existing illness, they will now be entitled to the full table benefits in respect of any illness other than pre-existing illness?
.- The honorable member is correct. He is speaking about both medical and hospital benefits. The table refers to medical benefits; hospital benefits are different. If a contributor has a pre-existing ailment and has transferred to the special account, when he goes into hospital he can be paid, provided he is insured for it, the standard rate of up to 36s. a day. That means to say he can get this benefit amounting to 16s., which is fund benefit, from the special account. Before the introduction of the special account, he would have got no fund benefit at all in respect of his pre-existing ailment.
– What about the preexisting illness?
– The honorable member is now talking about medical benefits. The nature of the illness does not affect his hospital benefits. When the honorable member refers to the table of benefits he is talking about medical benefits. But what he has said is correct.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 agreed to.
Clause 10 (Rules of organization establishing special account to contain certain provisions).
.- The Minister will remember that certain representations were made to him, during one of his visits to Adelaide, concerning the operation of the medical benefits fund as it related to people who have received treatment in the Royal Adelaide Hospital and subsequently, in order to meet hospital accommodation needs, were transferred to a joint institution, the Northfield Hospital. But because of that transfer they were denied the hospital benefits they would have received had they remained in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
As an illustration, if a man had a broken leg which needed to be set in plaster, he would have to remain in the hospital until it was sufficiently healed for him to leave. In all likelihood he would be transferred to the Northfield Hospital for some of the time, but because of that he would be denied the benefits of the medical fund which he received while in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. This is a distinct anomaly and I think the Minister intends to correct it. Will it be covered by the provisions of this clause?
.- Paragraph (b) of this clause provides for the adding of a new sub-section to section 82e of the principal act as follows: - (2.) For the purposes of paragraph (h) of the last preceding sub-section -
where a special account contributor has, during a period, received treatment in an institution that was not recognized under the last preceding paragraph, the Director-General shall approve payment of hospital fund benefit in respect of that period if he is satisfied that-
I hope that the Director-General will give a rather liberal interpretation to this provision. I am a little worried about the word “ public “, because undoubtedly, although the standard of treatment provided by some non-recognized hospitals would be substantially equivalent to that provided by some public hospitals, it could suffer by comparison with that provided by some of the larger metropolitan hospitals. I should like the Minister to assure us that the Director-General will interpret the expression “ substantially equivalent to the standard of the treatment … at a public hospital” rather liberally.
– I wish to congratulate the Minister upon this proposed amendment to section 82e and to express appreciation of the fact that it is being made so that those public hospitals which take chiefly permanent patients will now be entitled to be recognized for special account purposes. I think the Minister will recall that recently a deputation waited upon him representing ten public hospitals in New South Wales, all of which were affected by the former wording of section 82. These hospitals included the Homes of Peace and the Hospice for the Dying. I was wondering whether the Minister can now tell me whether all these ten hospitals will now be recognized for the purposes of the special account.
– The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) referred to patients who were transferred from the Royal Adelaide Hospital to the Northfield Hospital and as a consequence were denied medical benefits. I think on a previous occasion the Minister informed me that patients so transferred would receive the medical benefits except those in the Magill Ward. The point I wish to raise is that if a pensioner goes into the Royal Adelaide Hospital and has his medical card he does not get any account unless he is in a hospital fund. If he is in a hospital fund he has to pay 28s. a day, which is the 36s. daily rate less the 8s. government contribution. The hospital authorities tell him that any sum above that amount will be remitted. If he was insured for £2 2s. a day and had to pay only 28s., he would receive the difference. Will this provision interfere in any way with that payment to such a person when he is in a public hospital and the hospital authorities treat his account in the way I have mentioned?
– Taking the last question, raised by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) as to the payment of pensioners in public hospitals, this appears to be a local arrangement between the State government and the hospital authorities.
– Will it be interfered with?
– Not according to the information I have, which more or less amounts to what the honorable member has said. The questions raised by the honorable members for Bonython (Mr. Makin), Henty (Mr. Fox), and Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) are all very similar. The short answer is that there will still be a list of hospitals recognized for special account purposes. There will also be hospitals not recognized because, as I explained before, State governments approve institutions for their purposes, that is, for purposes of control. The Commonwealth approves or recognizes institutions as hospitals for a totally different purpose, that is, for the purpose of paying a benefit. So we must still have a list of hospitals because Commonwealth benefit is hospital benefit and is not payable to a person in an institution which is not really a hospital. Every one, I am sure, will agree with this.
I cannot tell any honorable member offhand whether specific hospitals will change their status and move from one list to the other. They will be subject to review from time to time, so that if a hospital improves it may be transferred to the approved list, and if it degenerates it may be removed from that list. However, I can say that the purpose of this bill is to ensure that benefits are paid not primarily because of the hospital, but primarily because of the patient and his condition. A patient may receive a benefit from the special account, that is, a fund benefit guaranteed by the Government, on occasions when he is hospitalized in an institution which is itself not recognized for the payment of special account benefit. Individuals in that institution may be recognized for payment if they can establish, first, that they have a condition which would normally require treatment in a public hospital, and, secondly, that they are being given treatment in that institution substantially equivalent to what they would get in a public hospital.
With regard to the word “ public “, we must have some way of describing hospitals, and I think this word is fairly satisfactory.
– You used the word “ true “ in your second-reading speech.
– Yes, but that is a word that is subject to pretty wide interpretation. We think that the word “ public “ defines this type of institution much better. It is obvious that we must have some definition. After all, there are large sums of public money involved, and unless we exercise reasonable and efficient control, the scheme is likely to get out of hand.
Another point raised by the honorable member for Henty (Mr, Fox) concerned the Director-General’s interpretation of the act. All I want to say in that regard is that the present Director-General is a great public servant, and I am sure that we can rely on him for an entirely correct interpretation of any act that he administers.
.- If the determining factor in deciding whether a patient is to be paid is the condition of the patient, then I would be very interested to know whether senility, a fairly common complaint or condition of aged persons, is likely to be accepted. I would suggest to the Minister - although I am sure he already knows it - that there is a heavy burden on many young people who are trying to set up their own families while maintaining in hospitals for long periods parents or relatives who are afflicted with this kind of condition. I ask whether senility will be accepted for treatment under the provisions of the legislation.
I refer also to persons covered by the pensioner medical service who have to enter private hospitals because they cannot gain admission to public hospitals. These persons would be entitled to free public ward treatment in the public hospitals, and I suggest that they should be given, as a kind of subsidy, an amount equivalent to the cost of the public ward treatment they would have received if they had been able to gain admission to a public hospital. I shall be glad if the Minister will give attention to these matters.
– I do not want to prolong the debate indefinitely. Let me say that the question regarding senility is not one to which I can answer, “ Yes “ or “ No “, offhand. All sorts of considerations are involved. Is the senile patient sick? Is he hospitalized in what is known as an old persons’ home? Each case would have to be judged on its merits.
– You spoke of the person being hospitalized, not of the kind of hospital.
– If he is in an institution approved by the State as a hospital but not recognized for the payment of special account benefit, then the conditions I have just outlined to the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) will apply.
– And what about a subsidy for those covered by the pensioner medical service who have to go into a private ward because they cannot get into a public ward? Should they not be entitled to a subsidy to cover the cost of private ward treatment?
– The point is that in quite a number of cases the State government makes an arrangement under which there is no charge levied on pensioners who overflow into private wards.
– I am talking about private hospitals.
– The Commonwealth does not legislate for private hospitals.
.- This amendment has been acclaimed throughout Australia as one which will cure a defect in the existing act which has caused quite a lot of hardship. I believe that the Minister has evolved a formula which will prevent the kinds of injustices that have occurred in the past. Aged and chronically ill persons will now be able to receive benefits whether they are able to gain admission to recognized hospitals or not, provided, of course, that they are receiving similar treatment to that which they would receive in a recognized hospital.
The Minister has already enlightened me on one matter which was put to me, and for the benefit of the public generally I would like him to answer the question again. I refer to the case of a person who is in a non-recognized hospital, receiving treatment equivalent to the treatment he would receive in a public hospital. I take it that the benefit will not be refused simply because the non-recognized hospital does not provide all the facilities of a public hospital. There are many private hospitals, for example, which do not accept surgical cases, but deal solely with medical cases. A person admitted to that kind of institution would not be refused the benefit, I take it, merely because such a hospital did not provide surgical treatment, which the person concerned did not require in any case. I would be grateful if the Minister will clarify the position.
– It makes no difference whether the illness requires medical or surgical treatment. What the bill says, in clause 10 (b), is that the DirectorGeneral shall approve payment of fund benefit if he is satisfied that -
Of course, the treatment of a patient in a hospital may be very much the same, whatever sort of illness he is suffering from. What the bill means is that the treatment must be of a standard substantially equivalent to the standard of public hospital treatment.I refer to such aspects of treatment as nursing attention, the provision of proper appliances and proper arrangements for taking temperatures and so on. A patient, for instance, may have pneumonia, in which case arrangements would have to be made to provide him with oxygen. All those things are taken into account to ensure that the treatment is in fact real hospital treatment.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 11 and 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 -
Sections eighty-five, eighty-six and eighty-seven of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections inserted in their stead: -
– I move -
Omit proposed section eighty-seven.
Proposed section 87 provides for a charge to be made for prescriptions issued under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The reasons for my amendment were fully stated by me in my speech during the second-reading debate. I would merely therefore say that nothing that has been said in reply on behalf of the Government has altered the view of the Opposition in this respect. The charge of 5s. for each prescription will certainly not achieve the professed purpose stated by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) of curbing unnecessary wasteful and uninhibited prescribing by doctors. On the other hand, it will impose quite serious hardship on people in poor circumstances, particularly those suffering a condition of health that requires them continually to take drugs or medicines.
I would remind the committee that the proposed fee of 5s. in respect of each prescription will apply to many pensioners in the community. Indeed, it will apply to an increasing proportion of pensioners because since November, 1955, every new entrant to the pensioner ranks who has other income of £2 a week or more is refused a pensioner’s medical card and entitlement under the pensioner medical and pharmaceutical scheme. Therefore, every one with an income of a bare £6 15s. a week or more will be required to pay this new tax or levy of 5s., in many cases for drugs and medicine that for the past eight years have been provided to that person entirely free of charge. This is a retrograde step. It imposes a new burden on the poorer section of the community. The charge obviously will mean nothing to the man in the very high income bracket because about half of what he will pay for the prescription will be returned to him as tax rebate. It is a sectional tax applying with particular viciousness to the poorest section of the community. It will raise money for the Treasury, but that was not the justification given for it by the Minister. He stated, as an incidental fact, that this charge will raise more than £5,000,000 a year for the Treasury. That sum will be raised at the expense of the poor, the aged, and the sick. The charge will impose on chemists throughout the country an obligation to become tax collectors on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Above all those matters, the imposition of the charge flies in the face of the experience of other countries. As I have shown from the report of the expert Hinchliffe committee, this matter was investigated in the United Kingdom. The eminent medical men and health experts on that committee set their faces against a dispensing or prescription charge as a means of curbing excessive, wasteful and uninhibited prescribing. The plain fact is that the 5s. charge will press heavily on the patient who has no say in what prescriptions shall be written for him. It will press heavily on the chemists, who have the unenviable task of collecting it from people some of whom will not be able to afford to pay and who have been accustomed to receiving those drugs free for the past eight years. It will not deter the doctor who wishes to attract patients to himself at the expense of his medical colleagues by unnecessary over-prescribing.
For all those reasons we believe this charge is a crude and ineffective method of achieving the Government’s professed purpose of curbing unnecessary dispensing. Instead the Government should pay attention to the many recommendations made on this subject by such bodies as the Hinchliffe committee.
.- The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr.
Allan Fraser) used incorrect words when dealing with his proposed amendment. He said that the charge of 5s. for prescriptions would raise £5,000,000 for the Government, but it will not raise any money at all for the Government.
– It will save the Government money.
– The words used by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro were incorrect and the honorable member for Port Adelaide has substantiated my statement. The charge will not raise any money for the Government. All it will mean, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide pointed out, is that the Government will pay chemists 5s. less for each prescription dispensed under the scheme.
– That will save the Government £5,000,000.
– It will not raise that sum for the Government. That is the point. The saving to the Government will be offset by the increased cost resulting from the extension of the list of drugs available. That is how the thing works out. To some extent the charge of 5s. has been necessitated by the Government desiring that people should realize that they receive something valuable when they take a prescription to a chemist. We all know that something for nothing is not generally valued. Members of the Opposition have gone so far as to say that medical practitioners, feeling that they can write prescriptions at will, have ceased to pay regard to the cost of the drugs that they are prescribing.
The important matter about this proposal is that the 5s. charge must be collected by the chemists. That may be very difficult. In the first place people have been accustomed to getting some of these drugs free of charge and they may be somewhat tardy in paying. In certain circumstances a prescription may be dispensed by a chemist and forwarded by mail or train, in which case it may be very difficult for the chemist to collect his fee of 5s. At every stage at which I have spoken on this subject, I have said that the main thing is for the Government to ensure that the chemists are adequately compensated for the work that they are doing for the Government. A man said to me that if there was no free medicine scheme the chemists would have to collect the full amount of the cost of the medicine. But if there was no free scheme, the chemists, like any other businessmen, would make provision for bad debts and other eventualities. The scope of the chemists’ normal business has been getting smaller because of the extension to the general public of drugs which hitherto were available only to pensioners. Therefore, he is not able adequately to make provision for bad debts, &c. The Government must allow the chemists enough compensation for the work that they are doing so that they can provide for bad debts and other eventualities.
The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has assured me on two occasions that he is perfectly satisfied that he can come to mutually satisfactory arrangements with the Pharmaceutical Guild. I should like the Minister to tell me now, or after others have spoken, what stage these negotiations have reached and whether he is still confident that the arrangement with the chemists will provide adequate compensation for the difficulty in connexion with bad debts, &c. I have every faith in the Minister because he has treated me most openly on these subjects, both inside the chamber and outside. If the Minister will confirm that satisfactory arrangements will be made with the chemists it will have much to do with how I vote on the proposed amendment.
– Are you thinking of voting with us?
– I have voted against the Government before to-day and I suppose that I shall vote against it in the future; but not in a haphazard way. Realizing the good intent and goodwill of the Government, I will not vote against it if there will probably be a satisfactory outcome to negotiations. I will not vote against it if the Minister confirms that negotiations are going on smoothly. I believe that these negotiations will be satisfactorily concluded.
The Labour Party is against any charge being made for prescriptions. It believes that the people of Australia should be protected from the cradle to the grave.
That was stated categorically by Opposition members only last night.
– Do you not believe that?
– No, I do not. I do not think that you can help people by doing things for them that they should do for themselves. You make people strong by encouraging them to help themselves. In cases in which people are unable to help themselves, the country has to help them. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is at last taking some interest in this debate. He has now come into the House instead of waiting, as he usually does, until the adjournment is moved.
– I do not know why I should punish myself by listening to your speech.
– I know that it is punishing to you because my politics are different to yours. I stand for Australia. I have gone very carefully into these clauses and listened very patiently to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro whom I think is a man of good will. I invite the Minister to explain to me again, just in passing, the proposition relating to the payment to the chemists. I should like him to say whether the payments will be adequate and what stage negotiations have reached. If he gives me a satisfactory explanation I certainly will not vote for the proposed amendment.
.- This is where the Opposition has a fundamental disagreement with the Government on this National Health Bill. We will vote against the 5s. levy.
– Irrespective of cost?
– Yes, irrespective of cost, because we feel that it is a completely unnecessary imposition on the sick people of Australia. The Opposition is concerned for the sick people. These are the people who will have to pay. This is a clumsy and desperate method of trying to reduce the high cost of prescriptions. I am sure that the Government could have devised a much fairer means than this. Obviously, not very much thought was given to it. It is a stab in the dark. It is an outrageous imposition on the sick folk of the Commonwealth. It is against the people. Possibly about 20 per cent. of part pensioners in Australia will have to pay the 5s. levy.
My colleague the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has just said that all pensioners receiving their full pension plus £2 a week will be liable to the 5s. imposition. The people mainly affected are mostly over 60 and many of them are over 65 years of age. Illnesses are almost constantly with them. Day by day and month by month some of them are just keeping out of hospital by a miracle. Any one who receives the miserable amount of £6 15s. or more a week will have to pay the 5s. levy. This is a decisive body blow at the sick most of whom will be in the higher age group. Obviously, this is no longer a free health scheme to pensioners or part pensioners. This cuts right across the first principle of the act.
On this side of the chamber we commend the Government on having provided pharmaceutical benefits for the people of Australia. But we oppose the way in which the Government has forced the people into a medical benefits scheme. We will always oppose that. We hope that if we become a government that scheme will be excised from the act. Here we have an additional burden of 5s. The cost of living in sickness is becoming higher and higher and the cost of dying is becoming higher and higher.
We have two principal costs if we are not pensioners. Those of us who are in hospital and medical benefits funds are paying from £8 to £10 a year in premiums. On top of that imposition, there will be 5s. for every prescription. That could amount to 15s., because there could be three units on the one prescription, and a 5s. charge for each would make a total of 15s.
– One will not be charged for.
– Only two will be charged for. I am indebted to the honorable member for correcting me on that point. This imposition means that those who cannot afford to pay will be required to pay just as much as is paid by those who can afford to pay. As a number of my colleagues pointed out at the second-reading stage, Mr. Chairman, this charge becomes like an ungraded tax, and is a very heavy imposi tion on those who cannot afford to pay. It discriminates against those who can least afford to pay.
I have here a letter written by a chemist to my colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
– The honorable member should not read other people’s mail.
– The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has passed it on to me so that I may quote it, although he has asked me not to mention the name of the chemist.
Referring to the 5s. levy, this chemist writes -
We are completely opposed to this in principle as well as fact, for the following reasons: -
The sum mentioned depends in actual fact on the whim of the Minister concerned and may be varied up or down at will.
That is an important point. In this connexion, I should like to read part of proposed new sub -section (1.) of section 99 of the principal act, which provides -
The Minister may, after consultation with the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia, determine -
the rates by reference to which . . . and
the conditions subject to which payments will be made … in respect of the supply of pharmaceutical benefits .. .
In other words, the Minister has the right to fix the rates and to vary them. Therefore, we are at the caprice of a Minister in this. No wonder the chemists are against that.
The letter written by this chemist continues -
The chemist points out there that, if he cannot get his 5s. from the patient there and then, in the shop, he has to send out an account, and that means additional cost to him. For the two reasons which I have given, this chemist, along with the majority of chemists, is opposed to the collection of this 5s. levy.
The Government has made the chemists compulsory collectors. This is a very easy way out for the Government. This levy will bring in about £5,000,000 a year, and the Government is forcing the chemists to become collectors. It is almost like the situation in relation to the pay-roll tax. Those who collect that tax perform the functions of a government instrumentality without being paid for the services they render.
– The chemists will not be collecting for the Government at all.
– They will be collecting for themselves.
– If they do not do the collecting, they will not get the 5s.
– Tt is the same as selling anything else.
– It is not. I do not think that the honorable member would make a very good chemist.
For the reasons which I have given, Mr. Chairman, I add my protests to those made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and others of my colleagues. The Government’s proposals represent a clumsy and desperate attempt to pass on to the public the high cost of medicines. This proposal for a levy of 5s. on each prescription will not achieve the purpose that the Government has in mind. Over the next twelve months, we shall assess it. The proposal will go through now, because the Government has the numbers. But we shall probably find, at the time of the next Budget, that this levy has not achieved the purpose for which it is being imposed.
.- Mr. Chairman, I do not think that, since I have been a member of this Parliament, honorable members have listened to such a lot of sanctimonious humbug as we have just heard from the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), and as we heard from the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who led for the Opposition in the debate on this bill, in respect of this 5s. that the chemists are to be paid for prescriptions in future.
– On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. When the word “ humbug “ was used in this chamber on a previous occasion, the honorable member who used it was asked to withdraw it. I think that you, Sir, were in the chair then. As the honorable member for Lilley has used the word now, I ask you to give a similar ruling on this occasion.
– No point of order is involved, because the word has not been applied to an individual.
- Mr. Chairman, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who has just taken a point of order, is notorious for trying to waste the time of honorable members on this side of the chamber whenever they attack anything said by Opposition members. I see that the honorable member wants to continue interjecting. I suggest that he leaves the chamber and obtains a copy of Don Whitington’s book in which he can read a description of his experience in the Australian Labour Party which indicates well and truly his complete lack of knowledge of the trade union movement and other fields in which the Labour Party is usuallyactive.
We are now dealing with the national health scheme, however, and, in particular, with clause 13, which is now before the committee. We know for a fact that this story that the 5s. fee is a sectional tax on the chemists, and that the chemists are to act as tax collectors, has been widely peddled by the Australian Labour Party. I believe that, unfortunately, Mr. Scott, the federal president of the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia, has allowed himself to be used as a tool by the Labour Party and has not completely informed the pharmacists of Australia of the terms of the negotiations between himself, as president of the guild, the executive of the guild, and the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron). I have had very close contact with about twenty chemists in my electorate, and have discussed this scheme with them. I have found that they had not been properly informed on it. I do not blame Mr. Nicholl, the president of the guild in Queensland, for this. I blame the federal president of the guild for a lack of public relations with chemists and for not having given them a fair and proper description of what is intended.
This 5s. charge is not a tax at all. The situation is that the Government is now increasing the range of drugs to be made available under the national health scheme. The range of drugs will be almost doubled. In fact, everything in the British Pharmacopoeia and its Codex is to be made available, not only to pensioners, but to all sections of the community, at a charge of only Ss. The chemists will make that charge. In other words, this Government is now subsidizing all the drugs that are listed in the British Pharmacopoeia and its Codex to the full extent of the cost, less Ss.
If that amounts to the imposition of a sectional tax, then the subsidies on tea and butter that were paid by the Labour Government must have been sectional taxes. Does anybody believe that, at any time, anybody in the Australian Labour Party had such a fertile mind as to suggest that, when tea was subsidized, the grocers were acting as tax collectors for the Government because they collected from the purchasers of tea the balance of the cost which was not paid by the Government? The situation here is exactly the same. The Government is now subsidizing all the drugs in the British Pharmacopoeia and its Codex. So this 5s. charge is not a tax at all. The honorable member for Wilmot and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro have tried, by describing it as a tax, knowing that their words were being broadcast, to persuade those who were listening that the pensioners are to be penalized.
I heard one Opposition member - I think it was the honorable member for EdenMonaro - mention the drug butazolidine Up to now, that drug has not been on the free list, but, following the passage of this bill, it will be included in the free list. Pensioners who need treatment with that drug at present have to pay the full cost, but from now on they will have to pay only 5s. for it. Only last week, I saw a prescription that cost somebody £18. It contained three individual items. Somebody had to pay out £18 in order to buy drugs for the relief of his suffering. When this bill is passed, the cost of a similar prescription to the patient will be, not £18, but 15s. - 5s. for each individual item. The balance- £17 5s. - will be paid by this Government by way of subsidy. So this bill will assist people in respect of the whole range of drugs.
– Will the honorable member pay the balance of £17 5s. if he is wrong in respect of such a prescription?
– Of course I will pay the balance if I am wrong. But I know exactly where I am right in this.
The suggestion that the chemists will be required to act as tax collectors is quite wrong. They will collect only 5s. for prescriptions for which, to-day, they are charging 10s., £1 or £2. So things will be made much easier for their customers. One chemist said to me recently, “We are in the position that we cannot possibly refuse to give medicine to sick people even if they cannot afford to pay for it”. To-day, many chemists are carrying the cost of supplying drugs to people who cannot afford to pay for them. What the Government’s present proposals mean is that, instead of the chemist being heavily out of pocket because he has to carry such people, he will lose only 5s. if he does not charge. However, if a chemist makes a practice of failing to collect the 5s. charge in order to take business from other chemists, he will be dealt with under the terms of the act. In other words, this is a bill of mercy. This clause gives great assistance to the chemists and to the chemists’ customers. It means that the chemists’ customers will be able to buy expensive drugs for 5s. instead of having to pay big sums for them.
It should be made quite clear that pensioners are divided into two sections. Those who have pensioner medical cards are not required to pay anything for the drugs that they obtain, but will continue to have an absolutely free service; drugs prescribed for them by a doctor will continue to be paid for by this Government. The only pensioners who will be required to pay anything are those who have an additional income, and who have not the benefit of the medical card which entitles them to the free pensioner service. But instead of having to pay big sums for expensive drugs, they will be able to obtain them for 5s. I have letters from pharmaceutical chemists in my electorate, and from pensioners to whom the scheme has been explained. They thank the Minister for the action that he has taken. This clause has the wholehearted support of pharmaceutical chemists, pensioners and the general public.
.- I listened to the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) and, as I raised the question of butazolidine, I want to put the honorable member right in respect of some of his arguments. He said that butazolidine was not on the list at present. My statement last night was that butazolidine was one of the drugs listed in the pensioner medical scheme, that it had been removed from the list and that two other drugs had been put in its place. Those drugs do not give to the rheumatic and arthritic sufferer the advantages given by butazolidine. I want to make clear to the committee that butazolidine was available to pensioners until a short time ago.
The honorable member for Lilley seems to misunderstand entirely the attitude of the Australian Labour Party to free medicine. We believe that every person in the community has the right to receive all that is necessary to enable him to be healthy. We say that health is just as essential as education. In the early days, very strong opposition was raised in many quarters to education being free, but eventually free education became part of our way of life. Any one who suggested to-day that primary and secondary education should be subject to charges would meet with opposition from the whole of the community. We say that health is just ai important as education, and all that is required for health, particularly drugs and medicine, should be made available to the people free of charge.
I regret the tendency that has been shown in this discussion to regard the charge of 5s. as one charge only. The payment that must be made by the person receiving medical treatment is 5s. for each prescription. It does not matter now what is prescribed for people who are very sick; they must pay 5s. for each prescription. The charge for many prescriptions is light, and 5s. would cover practically the whole of it. In other instances, where it is less than 5s., the whole cost of the prescription must be paid by the patient. This is more than a question of the Government’s simply recouping itself. Behind this matter is the question of the health of the community as a whole, and any health legislation should be so framed as to give the maximum possible advantage to the people. Every means should be adopted to maintain the health of the community.
I deprecate the statements that were made by the honorable member for Lilley. They give a false impression of the attitude of the Labour Party which attitude, I believe, is in the best interests of the health of the community.
.- I am sorry that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has left the chamber. It is not unusual for him to leave at voting time, as we have seen when votes are taken on matters on which he has expressed strong views in the Parliament. I listened to his comments a few moments ago, and also to the speech of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). It is apparent that the honorable member for Lilley suffered by not having taken the trouble to listen to the debate on this measure. The views he expressed show his colossal ignorance not only of the provisions of the bill, but also of the administration and general working of the scheme which is affected by the clause now under discussion. If he had taken the trouble to come into the chamber, he would have heard the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) and the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who were very outspoken in their criticism of this provision which has, in effect, destroyed the scheme of free medicine as we knew it.
– Order! The statements to which the honorable member refers were made during the secondreading debate, and they may not be used now.
– I just made passing reference to them as I thought, in passing, that it was worth mentioning that some members on the Government side are in complete disagreement with the policy of the Government on this matter. I know from my reading on this subject that the imposition of similar charges, although on a lower scale, in Great Britain had no effect whatever on the method of prescribing, although that is what the Government hopes to do by making this charge.
When Labour was in office, we introduced the free medicine scheme. You, Mr. Chairman, and others in this Parliament constantly criticized the scheme because it did not provide for unlimited prescribing, without any restriction. Yet to-day, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and Government supporters have said that there must be a restricted formulary, that too many prescriptions are being written and that a charge of 5s. must be made. Generally, the measure we are now discussing is breaking down everything that was said by Government supporters when they were in Opposition. Now that you, Mr. Chairman, have ruled that the word may be used, I say that on this issue Government supporters are a collection of humbugs. They refuse to realize what is needed, and that is an unlimited formulary, entirely free of charges.
It is of no use the honorable member for Lilley saying that pensioners will not be charged. In a splendid speech to the Parliament, the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) pointed out that pensioners would be charged 5s. under this scheme. Those without medical cards are, by the most vicious means test, denied free medicine because they have an income of a paltry £2 in addition to their pension. To-day the honorable member for Lilley said that if they have not a medical card, they will get their medicines entirely free. If that is so, on what ground does the Minister justify not giving a medical card to every pensioner so that he can obtain, free of charge, all the medicines that are available? I do not see written into the act anywhere the assertion of the honorable member for Lilley that pensioners who do not have a medical card will be able to get medicines free of the charge of 5s. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro referred to this matter in the course of his criticism of the bill. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to say these things, but they are not written into the legislation, and their statements are not a good enough guide for me.
I was also interested in the honorable member’s criticism of chemists. If I remember the legislation introduced by the Chifley Government, the chemists cooperated with the Labour Government in the implementing of the free medicine scheme. The criticism of and concerted opposition to the scheme, which to-day is accepted in practically every country in the world, came, not from members of the Pharmaceutical Guild who on this occasion, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has said, have been treated with scant respect by the Government, but from the British Medical Association and a number of doctors in that organization who prefer to play politics instead of safeguarding and implementing the scheme. Therefore, it ill becomes members of the Government to criticize the chemists for their failure to co-operate. I understand that they have not been consulted on this measure to any great extent, and that they have not been given the consideration to which they are justly entitled.
The Government, in imposing a charge of 5s. for prescriptions, is imposing a double form of taxation. Every taxpayer in the community contributes to the cost of social service benefits and a national health scheme which includes free medicine. But where is the free medicine when the people have to pay the first 5s. of the cost of each prescription? A man in my electorate came to see me a couple of days ago and said, “ I suffer from a complaint for which I must have four or five prescriptions each week which, if they were not free, would cost me in the vicinity of 5s. 6d. or 6s. each. Now I will have to pay for them because the Government has imposed this charge.” Whereas previously he was obtaining medicine to the value of £1 or £1 5s. free of charge, he now will have to pay all but 5s. of that amount. The Government, in destroying completely the free medicine scheme in an endeavour to save £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, is guilty of downright hypocrisy. If the Government can afford to spend £80,000,000 on rockets at Woomera, it can well afford to give to the people free medicine on an unrestricted formulary.
I join with my colleagues of the Opposition in their criticism of this measure. The miserly reduction in taxes that the Government has allowed will in some instances be absorbed completely by the cost of one prescription. Take the family man whose children need certain medicines each week. He will have to pay the first 5s. of the cost of each prescription, and so any reduction in tax is immediately taken from him. The honorable member for Chisholm and other honorable members have stated again and again during the course of debate on this measure that they, and the people, do not agree that a charge of 5s. should be imposed. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Minister for Health insists on imposing the charge in the face of such general criticism and opposition. When all is said and done, there is plenty of scope for greater benefits in the social services sphere in this country. This free medicine scheme, in the face of vigorous opposition by many members of the present Cabinet when they were on this side of the chamber, was implemented by a Labour government which believed that it was necessary as a first step towards giving effect to a health policy which would be beneficial to the community generally. Throughout the years this Government has sought to destroy the scheme in some way or, at least, to restrict the benefits to which the populace is entitled. For the Government, with a Budget of £1,782,000,000, to take 5s. for each prescription that is written for a pensioner or for the family man in an endeavour to save a few miserable millions of pounds, is scandalous in the extreme.
I say to the chemists and others that costs naturally are fairly high. You cannot blame the chemists for that because, when all is said and done, inflation has become part and parcel of this Government’s policy, and any increase that has occurred in the price of the ingredients of prescriptions is due, in the main, to the failure of the Government to give effect to a financial policy which would keep prices within a reasonable limit. I am pleased that the honorable member for Lilley has returned to the chamber. He is a little late to hear the reply to the misinformation that he gave to the Parliament, but it is nice to know that occasionally he will revisit the scene of his misdeeds to learn at first hand what he should have known before he spoke on this measure.
With other members on this side of the chamber I condemn again the imposition of 5s. for each prescription. I condemn the criticism that has been levelled at the chemists by the honorable member for Lilley and other honorable members. I condemn this Government for stooping so low as to take from pensioners and others a miserable 5s. for a prescription which should be completely free, and I condemn this Government for its failure to give free medical benefits to every pensioner in the community. The Government has imposed a most vicious means test in the face of a pledge to the contrary that was contained in its policy prior to the election. Until the formulary is unlimited and medicine is completely free of charge, and until it is available as and when required, this Government can take no credit for any scheme that we consider to be worthwhile.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has already answered the arguments that have been advanced by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). This matter is really very simple. A charge of 5s. will be imposed on a lot of prescriptions on which previously the customer had to pay an amount greatly in excess of 5s. To that extent, this proposal will be highly beneficial to the poor people about whom the honorable member for Grayndler has been speaking. However, there is now to be a small charge of 5s. for medicines that formerly were free. So it is true that the proposal is an imposition, on the one hand, and an advantage, on the other, but it is quite clear on the overall figures that there will be a net advantage to all the people in this country, including, those in the poorest circumstances. The matter is as simple as that, and I do not propose to waste any more time on it. Confusion has been injected into this matter quite deliberately by the Opposition in the hope of misleading the people and attracting some votes to itself. This, of course, will not happen because the people will soon find out that they are better off under the new scheme. The attempt to confuse them will not succeed.
However, I did not rise to talk about that matter but about another aspect of this clause which provides for the charge of 5s. for each prescription. Will the Commonwealth Government impose this charge upon patients in hospitals? What, in She past, has been the basis of charging for drugs in hospitals in New South Wales and, T presume, in the rest of Australia? Patients in public wards have not been charged at all although patients in intermediate and private wards, and out-patients, have been charged. No doubt the hospitals received free of charge the drugs that were on the free list, and no doubt the hospitals did not charge the patients for them. But in the case of other drugs - and vast quantities must be consumed in a hospital - the hospitals have had to pay the full price to the wholesale chemists and then, to reimburse themselves, have had to charge the patients who used them, except, of course, those patients who were in public wards. In those cases, the hospitals bore the cost themselves. Therefore, you can add to the cost of running a public hospital the cost of drugs that were supplied free of charge to patients in public wards. In addition, the prices that were charged for the drugs used by private and intermediate patients may not have met the cost. No doubt negotiations are going on. I do not know, but it may well be that the Commonwealth has said to the hospitals in New South Wales and elsewhere, “ In future we shall make a small charge for the drugs that we previously supplied free but, in future, we will charge you only 5s. for those drugs for which you previously paid the full price”. On the balance, therefore, the hospitals may be better off under this new system than they were previously. What the hospitals choose to do about their charges to patients, whether they be in public, intermediate or private wards, is a matter for themselves.
I know the Labour politicians in my State of New South Wales and I have a hunch as to why this matter appeared to be in dispute. I know them so well. These people are adept at buck-passing. They are always astute enough to make the worse appear the better reason. They are experienced in deceit. These people are skilled practitioners in bamboozling the public. These people are politicians in the most offensive sense of the word.I wish I could think of terms to describe them adequately, but I cannot. What are they trying to do? The honorable member for Eden-Monaro understands very well, because he is a very able man, that what they are trying to do is to persuade the people that the charges the hospitals will continue to make, as they have made charges in the past - and rightly so - are charges imposed, not of their own free will, as in the past, but are charges forced upon them by the
Commonwealth Government. This buckpassing is a familiar part of the political scene in New South Wales. I know it so well. I have witnessed it from the Opposition side of the New South Wales Parliament for years. It is a deliberate attempt to pass the buck to the Commonwealth Parliament as the New South Wales Labour politicians have done time and again. I hope that this particular manoeuvre, this gambit, to which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has lent himself, will be defeated in due course when the Minister reveals the result of the negotiations and the cost, in fact, to the hospitals of the drugs that they have to buy now as compared with the cost of the drugs they had to buy in the past. It is perfectly clear that the charges the hospitals either do or do not impose are purely a matter for themselves.
– I desire to make a personal explanation, Mr. Chairman.
– Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I claim to have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Bradfield, and I do not propose to allow myself to be misrepresented on this matter by any member of this Parliament. So, for the third time, I rise to quote to honorable members this particular document. The only mistake I made was that the document was prepared in the office of the State Department of Health, and not by the Commonwealth Department of Health. Here is the official statement -
The officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health have already held discussions with representatives of the Health Department and the Commission, and it has been intimated that the changes will be -
The schedule of drugs covered by the general scheme would be widened to include therein most of the benefits at present available only to pensioners.
A flat charge of5s. would in future have to be paid by the patient for each pharmaceutical benefit prescription.
– That is the decision of the State Minister of Health, not of the Commonwealth Parliament.
– This is the announcement, the communication, from the Commonwealth Department of Health to the State Department of Health. Sir, I will not be misrepresented on this matter. I will continue with the document. It goes on -
In regard to public hospitals the Commonwealth has intimated that, irrespective of the attitude of the State towards collecting the 5s. from patients, the Commonwealth will not in future meet the full cost of pharmaceutical benefits applied to patients, but will expect recognition of the principle that the person receiving the benefit is expected to contribute Ss. towards its cost.
That is from the official record of the conference between the Commonwealth officials and the State officials on this matter.
Dr. DONALD CAMERON (OxleyMinister for Health) L’4.59].- Since the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has brought up the question of a conference between my officers and those of the New South Wales Department of Health, let me put the record straight. He says that my officers intimated that in future the charge must be paid by the patient. They did not put any pressure on the State, nor intimate that the charge must be paid by the patient in a public ward. I repeat what I said to-day, that, with the consent of the New South Wales Minister for Health, I spoke on the telephone to the chairman of the Hospitals Commission of New South Wales, who assured me that no such demand had been made, and no pressure had been put on any officer in the New South Wales Department of Health.
Now, Sir, in the course of the discussions with the officers of the New South Wales Department of Health, my officers may have used the expression that the patient would in future pay 5s. But that, of course, does not mean that the patient in a public ward has to pay. It means that as a general principle - and, of course, this is what the clause provides - 5s. will be paid by the patient for each pharmaceutical benefit. Everybody knows that. Now, what my officers did put to the officers of the New South Wales Department of Health was - 1, that the wider range of drugs would cover a large area which the State was now supplying to out-patients and public ward patients; 2, that the new charge of 5s. per prescription, applied overall, might reduce the net amount payable to the States.
My officers then emphasized that the Commonwealth did not wish to reduce the level of payments to the States under the present scheme, but had no definite information at that stage as to the new basis. The State officers were invited to suggest a reasonable formula.
At a second meeting the State officers said that they would have to make a survey of hospital practice in the prescribing of drugs before they could ascertain the cost of drugs in this new area - that is perfectly normal and sensible - or what should be the average cost of prescriptions. What the State officers said to my officers was that they would probably - although this is a matter for the State Government and not for the officers to decide - put the charge of 5s. on to private and intermediate patients and institute some system giving out-patients and public ward patients their medicine free. My officers told them that what they did about charges was entirely the affair of the New South Wales Government.
I now repeat what I have said before. This morning, I was assured by the chairman of the New South Wales Hospitals Commission that in no way, either verbally or in writing, was any attempt made by the Commonwealth to put pressure on New South Wales to charge patients in public wards. Do not let the honorable member for Eden-Monaro try to get out of the fact that he said there was a Commonwealth document in specific terms. Earlier, I quoted the “ Hansard “ record of his remarks. The document to which he refers was not written and signed by the Commonwealth Department of Health. He said that this was a document signed by the Commonwealth Department of Health. There was no such document, and he knows it. He knows that there was no attempt by my officers to put pressure on New South Wales.
.- We have heard a most extraordinary explanation from the Minister, an explanation which obviously will satisfy no reasonable person. The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) gave the absolute facts. Of what use is it for the Minister to say that it is left to the discretion of the States as to what they do?
What the Minister says in effect is that the Commonwealth Government wants its pound of flesh, and does not care whether the State Government bears the expense from its ordinary revenues or takes it out of the pockets of the patients. Anybody with experience of the administration of hospitals not only in New South Wales, but anywhere in Australia to-day, knows of their difficult financial circumstances. This Government and the Minister are fully aware that what they actually did at this conference between the officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health and the New South Wales Department of Health is to hold a gun at the heads of the State officers and the State Government.
What we want the Minister to tell us, whether or not this document came from the source which was indicated originally, is whether the patients in the hospitals are to be charged the fee. Are they to meet this additional impost? It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that the patients are going to be provided with a wider variety of drugs than is available under the scheme at present. Let us examine what is the purpose of imposing this pre- scription fee. According to speeches from the other side of the chamber the Minister and the Government have acted in this matter as a result of an opinion that there is a great deal of waste in the administration of the health scheme. Where does the waste occur, and how does the Government propose to prevent it? If the patient has to find the 5s. as he will be obliged to do under this new scheme, who will be excluded from getting the benefits of the scheme itself - the medicines and drugs required? No person who can get a prescription written by a doctor and can pay the 5s. will be excluded. The person who will miss the benefits of this legislation is the person who cannot afford the 5s. Consequently, the Government is penalizing the poor. It is imposing further suffering upon these unfortunate people.
The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) said that this would be a great benefit to pensioners. Why does he not explain how he arrives at the conclusion that a person receiving £6 15s. a week, if he is receiving the full rate of pension, plus additional income of £2 a week, can afford to pay for his prescription? As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro pointed out, many pensioners will have to pay 10s. a week or more because they will probably require at least two prescriptions. The Government recently increased the pensions of these poor unfortunate people by 7s. 6d. a week, but now it is grabbing back 10s. a week by imposing this additional charge upon them. How, possibly, can the Government or its supporters say that the provision of this legislation will not adversely affect the pensioners?
Let us examine the circumstances of the ordinary member of the community who, on many occasions, should be receiving hospital treatment as an in-patient but cannot afford to enter hospital. He has to attend the out-patients’ department of a public hospital as a consequence. Under this scheme the Government says that even in the case of a person attending an out-patients’ department attached to a public hospital, either the State government or that patient who is seeking medicines or drugs has to bear this additional fee of 5s. I think that is an outrageous proposal.
Let us return to this famous document. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro said -
The Commonwealth is now demanding that every hospital patient must pay the new tax in future, whatever his means and whatever ward he may be in. . . . This means that unless State governments bear the cost themselves, a new charge will now have to be imposed, probably for the first time in hospital history, on patients in public wards, for drugs which have never previously been charged as extras in public wards.
That is a statement in the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro which was not adequately answered by the Minister. There is one rather significant feature about this proposal. If the cost of this scheme, in the opinion of the Government, has now become excessive, it has become excessive because certain members of the medical profession have written prescriptions for people who were not in need of them, therefore boosting the cost of the scheme. Why has not action been taken against members of the British Medical Association who offend rather than impose this penalty upon the unfortunate pensioner? But that is what is happening now.
I understand that the chemists are to be conscripted into this scheme. It is interesting to recall that in 1946 when the people of this country decided to vote additional powers to the Commonwealth Parliament for social services, the provision was included that there was to be no form of civil conscription. But the chemists are to be dragooned into this scheme whether they like it or not. They are to be given the responsibility of collecting this fee from the patient. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) said that if a chemist, out of compassion, decided that one of the people applying for this assistance could not afford this 5s., he need not charge anything at all. But if he does it too frequently, according to the honorable member for Lilley he then faces disqualification from the whole scheme. He cannot give medicine away even out of compassion for an unfortunate person who cannot pay.
We are told that this scheme is too costly. When we deal with increases of this type we have to recognize that a proportion of the cost of the scheme is due not to the fact that more prescriptions are being written so much as to the fact that the cost of drugs and medicine has risen enormously. The chemists’ prices are regularized, but not those of the manufacturer, the wholesaler or the importer of drugs. The Government will probably say that it has no power to control importers of these important drugs; but what the Commonwealth Government should do is to extend the activities of its own Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and aim at the day when they will be able to produce and provide all the drugs required in this country. It would be interesting if the Minister were able to give figures as to the increased costs from the manufacturers’ and the wholesalers’ point of view of the medicines provided under this scheme. I say that the Government is not tackling this question as it should be tackled.
The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) said that it was the policy of the Labour Party to care for the citizen from the cradle to the grave. What is wrong with such a policy? I take it, from his criticism, that he does not believe in such a policy and therefore he does not believe in seeing that the Australian community is provided with the best health services that science can provide. I say quite frankly, as a member of the Labour Party, that I hope to see the day in this country when we will have a completely free health scheme, including the cost of hospital treatment and the provision of necessary medicines. Both these services ought to be completely free. If a person has the misfortune to fall ill why should he be penalized on that account? But that is what is happening to-day.
Many unfortunate people have been made absolutely bankrupt as a result of serious illness befalling themselves or some member of their families. That position should be reversed and whatever science can provide by way of curative treatment for these unfortunate people should be made available to them without cost. No reasonable person in this community would hesitate to pay whatever tax was required to make this possible but would feel that in so doing he was making a contribution of a worthwhile nature, and indeed be thankful if he never found it necessary personally to receive any direct benefit from such a scheme.
This clause is the most objectionable feature of this legislation. Many members on the Government side have offered criticism of this particular provision. The honorable member for Mallee even said he was considering voting against the Government. I know that on one previous occasion he did vote against it and was subsequently reprimanded by the Great White Father. I am afraid that he will never repeat the offence again.
– That is not true.
– The honorable member will have the opportunity very shortly to show whether he still has the courage to vote against the Government when he believes that it is wrong.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) 15.131. - We have heard a lot of strong talk concerning payments for hospital treatment and so on, but the main matter before the committee at present is the amendment of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). Its purpose is to strike out proposed section 87 which makes provision for the payment of a fee for each prescription. I cannot quite follow the language of the bill on this matter. The proposed new sections lay down that the fee of Ss. must be paid but when I read sub-section (2.) of proposed section 87 I find this statement - . . an approved pharmaceutical chemist or an approved medical practitioner may, in respect of each supply by him of a pharmaceutical benefit (including each repeated supply) charge the person to whom the pharmaceutical benefit is supplied an amount not exceeding Five shillings.
According to that, there is nothing to show that the person has to pay 5s. The chemist may charge an amount “ not exceeding 5s.”. But clause 16, sub-section (1) (b) of proposed section 92a, provides that - the approved pharmaceutical chemist or approved medical practitioner will not follow a practice of supplying all or any pharmaceutical benefits to all or any persons without charge or for a charge that is less than the maximum charge that he may make without contravening section eighty-seven of this Act
One part of the legislation says that the chemist may make a charge not exceeding 5s., while another part provides that if he does not charge 5s. he can have his approval cancelled in respect of that particular charge. I do not know why these provisions have been inserted in this way.
Then we come to another point that is rather interesting. Sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 87 contains the provision that the chemist may charge an amount not exceeding 5s. Then sub-section (3.) provides -
Where an approved pharmaceutical chemist or an approved medical practitioner supplies a pharmaceutical benefit in accordance with a direction included in a prescription in pursuance of subsection (5.) of the next succeeding section, the maximum amount chargeable in accordance with the last preceding sub-section is, in lieu of Five shillings, an amount ascertained by multiplying Five shillings by a number equal to the minimum number of occasions of supply that would have had to be directed if the medical practitioner had prescribed the same total quantity or number of units of the pharmaceutical benefit by way of repeated supplies.
This simply covers the particular case in which a doctor, instead of prescribing, say, 100 tablets on six different occasions, decides to prescribe 600 at the one time. In that case the 5s. is multiplied by six and the patient must pay 30s. It is obvious that there is a good deal in this legislation that can be misunderstood.
Then I turn to sub-section (5.), which says -
Sub-section (1.) of this section does not prevent an approved hospital authority from charging, in respect of the supply of pharmaceutical benefits to a patient, not being a pensioner, receiving treatment in or at a hospital, amounts not exceeding the sum of the charges that the patient could have been required to pay in accordance with subsection (2.) of this section if he had obtained the pharmaceutical benefits from an approved pharmaceutical chemist upon a prescription or prescriptions directing the supply of the maximum quantity or number of units applicable under a determination of the Minister under section eighty-five of this Act
Sub-sections (1.) and (2.) provide that the chemist may charge up to 5s. for each prescription - although, I repeat, it is provided elsewhere in the act that the charge of 5s. is mandatory. Then sub-section (5.) deals with hospitals prescribing drugs, not necessarily at the direction of a doctor or a chemist. There is nothing to prevent the hospital from charging patients 5s. for each of such prescriptions. I am not going to argue about what has been put forward by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). From what the honorable member said it appears that the opinion of the New South Wales Department of Health is that the charge of 5s. is mandatory in such cases. The sub-section I have read out, however, merely provides that there is nothing to prevent a hospital from making such a charge.
I do not want to confine my argument, however, only to these particular points. I do not want to argue the question whether the proposed charge is a form of tax, or whether the chemists will become tax collectors. I do not altogether agree with the attitude of the chemists in this respect. If a prescription costs £3 and the patient pays the chemist only 5s., the chemist knows that he will get the remaining £2 15s. from the Government, whereas in the present circumstances a patient may not be in a position to pay. I want to suggest, however, that many people will be called upon to pay the, 5s. charge, or multiples of 5s. if there is more than one prescription, at a time when they are least able to afford to pay.
This proposal to make a flat rate charge for all prescriptions is nothing new. I remember many years ago, when I was interested in friendly society dispensary work, that some members of the society felt they should impose a charge for all prescriptions, so that people would not waste the medicine. Members of the society were paying regular contributions, and they received their prescriptions without further charge. A small charge was made for each prescription to prevent any such wastage. I argue to-day along the same lines as I argued at that time. I believe that when a person is sick he is least able to pay for these things, and that is not the time to impose extra charges on him.
We on this side of the House are not opposing this proposal simply because it emanates from the Government side. All honorable members know that in 1947 or 1948 the Labour Government brought in a scheme providing for absolutely free medicine. We know what happened to it. On instructions from the British Medical Association the doctors sent back the books that had been provided and would not write out prescriptions in the required manner. We fought at that time to provide medicine absolutely free, and the object of the amendment of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to-day is to make medicine absolutely free.
– The only free medicine under the Labour Government’s scheme was that contained in a limited list.
– This Government does not propose to make all drugs free, either. The Minister has made it clear that he is not going to include every drug on the approved list. When this bill is passed - and the Government has sufficient numbers to pass it - we may find situations such as this: A person will consult a doctor who has read, perhaps, of a certain drug evolved in America which has just been sent out to Australia. It may cost £3 or £4 to obtain a supply of it for the patient, and of course it will not be on the list. It cannot be placed on the list except on instructions from the expert committee that has been set up.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I do not intend to detain the committee very long on this clause, but there are one or two things I think I should say about it. First of all, reference has been made to the legitimate interests of the chemists and to the fact that they should obtain a fair price for their services. Of course the chemists have legitimate interests, and of course the Government is concerned to see that those interests are preserved. It is not a policy of the Government to destroy the legitimate trade or interests of any section of the community. I have been engaged in lengthy discussion with the executive of the Pharmaceutical Guild, and I think I can claim that we stand on terms of mutual respect for each other. I have been asked whether these negotiations are proceeding on a basis which will, in plain terms, give the chemists a fair deal. The reply is, “ Yes “. They are proceeding by direct negotiation between the guild and myself, or my officers, as requested by the guild. I could say many things about the points that have been raised, but the real subject for discussion under this clause is the imposition of a charge for pharmaceutical benefits. I forbear to go into a long explanation of the points raised by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), but perhaps I could say briefly that in the first instance the guild says that the chemists may make a charge. If it does not say that, the other provision that they could not make a charge would stand, and the old provision is to limit the charge to 5s. It is fairly plain, but like all legal expressions it takes a lot of words to say it.
The only other thing I want to say is that it is not in the interests of the public or of any member of the public that a social welfare scheme - and this is one - should expand with no stability and no control. That is the crux of the matter. That is the reason why the Government has introduced this scheme and it is the reason why the Government cannot accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the section proposed to be omitted (Mr. Allan Frasers amendment) stand part of the clause.
The committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Majority . . . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 14 (Prescribing of benefits by doctors).
– Mr. Chairman, this seems to be an appropriate clause on which to ask the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) to amplify the statements that he previously made to the House about the provision of drugs and medicines for those people whose condition of health requires a constant repeat supply of some particular therapeutic substance. Under this clause the prescribing of benefits by doctors is limited except in accordance with a determination to be made by the Minister. The clause sets out that unless otherwise determined by the Minister, the doctor may not direct that the supply of the pharmaceutical benefit be repeated on one or more occasions. The doctor has no power to direct a repeat except in accordance with a special determination by the Minister.
The Minister has assured us that he will act reasonably in this matter, but I suggest that the committee is entitled to more precise information from him. After all, this is a matter of the utmost seriousness to people such as those suffering from diabetes and from many other forms of illness where the maintenance of health depends on a regular supply of some drug or medicine. Surely the Minister is in a position to give the committee some general statement at least of the methods and principles under which he will apply himself in this matter and some specific assurance that poor people - pensioners and others - who do not receive medical entitlement cards will be enabled to obtain supplies covering a period of many months at least for the one payment of 5s. If the Minister is unable to give that assurance to the committee, or if in fact the act is to apply so as to compel people in those circumstances to pay 5s. every time or even every second time that they require a prescription to be dispensed, a very serious hardship indeed will be imposed. I ask the Minister to inform the House in more particular terms what safeguards will be provided to ensure that people who are suffering from a condition of health which requires a regular supply of drugs will be able to obtain at least several months’ supply for the one fee of 5s. or else will be able to have repeat prescriptions without any further 5s. payment.
– The intention is that the quantities allowed will carry the patient on for at least a month.
– One month?
– Yes. This is a matter which can be altered by ministerial determination at any time and if it is found that the period is not sufficient it can be increased.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 15 to 20 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 21 (Pharmaceutical chemists to furnish statement of stocks).
– Under this clause chemists can be required to furnish statements of stock as and whenever the Director-General so requires. There is no protection whatever for the chemists in this clause. It could be that the committee is being asked to give power which would enable a very severe penalty to be imposed upon a chemist. He could be required to make statements of his stock at weekly, fortnightly or monthly intervals. An almost intolerable burden could be placed on him. I ask the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) whether, having heard the earlier protests in this respect, he is prepared, perhaps at a later stage, to have some amendment made to this clause or to give some assurance as to the way in which this very severe power will be exercised.
– The purpose of this clause is to enable investigations to be made in particular cases, especially in relation to certain costly drugs. I am willing to give an undertaking that the power will not be arbitrarily or capriciously used. It will be used only when special investigations are being undertaken and even then it will be synchronized with the ordinary annual stocktaking.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Dr. Donald Cameron) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- I wish to raise a matter which is important and which was brought to my notice during the course of the debate. This is a good chance to mention it. It concerns the 5s. charge and the people in the Common- wealth who are largely dependent on drugs to be kept alive.
– I have just spoken on that matter in reply to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
– I am thinking of epileptics and diabetics. Many of these people are living on drugs of various kinds. I am wondering whether the Government could give special consideration, perhaps before this bill goes to another place, to these people who are living on drugs and paying for them week after week in great quantities, just to keep alive. Perhaps they could even have exemption from the provisions of the bill if a doctor’s certificate is presented to a chemist. These are chronic cases, in a sense. Perhaps the Government could help them to meet the great cost imposed upon them by granting them an exemption from the 5s. charge. The unemployed have a good case, too. They could probably be exempted also on production of a certificate that they are out of work and in receipt of unemployment benefit.
I want to thank the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) for the way in which he has attended to his duty in this debate. He has given a great example to some other Ministers. I take this opportunity of bringing these two points to the Minister’s notice and I hope that they will be considered before the bill goes to another place.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 22nd October (vide page 2237), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Therapeutic Substances Act 1953 provided that amendments to the British Pharmacopoeia should come into operation in Australia on the same date as they come into operation in England. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) pointed out that since all drugs in the Pharmacopoeia and the Pharmaceutical Codex will now be provided as pharmaceutical benefits under the National Health Act, there will be certain administrative and printing tasks to be performed before these amendments can come into operation in Australia. Accordingly, this amending bill provides that amendments to the British Pharmacopoeia will come into operation in Australia on a date to be gazetted. Although we have, in debating the companion piece of legislation, referred to the long and unexplained delays in gazetting amendments to pharmaceutical benefits under the old National Health Act, yet it should not be assumed that there will be a similar delay in gazetting amendments to the British Pharmacopoeia under this legislation. Accordingly, we do not oppose this bill.
There are, however, certain features of the 1953 act, and of the legislative pattern of which it was intended to form a part, to which attention should be drawn. The act was passed as the result of a resolution of the National Health and Medical Research Council at its meeting on the 19th November, 1952. The council had before it a report of a conference of Commonwealth and State officers. The chairman read the report of the conference which was in these terms -
The Conference recommends the State Governments to develop legislation of a uniform pattern to provide for the licensing of the manufacture of drugs and medicines in each State. The Commonwealth should undertake to submit draft model legislation for this purpose for the consideration of the States.
The Conference recommends that there should be an Expert Committee set up to advise the Commonwealth and the States on suitable standards for drugs not yet in the British or other recognized Pharmacopoeia and on such related matters which are incidental thereto.
The Conference recommends that the Commonwealth Government should enact legislation to the limit of its constitutional powers relating to the standard of purity of drugs used as therapeutic substances.
The Conference recommends that the Commonwealth and States should jointly, within the limits of the respective constitutional powers, take the necessary legislative and administrative action with respect to the marketing and labelling of therapeutic substances. . . .
The Conference recommends . . . that the States introduce a definition of therapeutic substance which shall be denned by the Governor in Council, the manufacture of which shall be licensed in accordance with our previous resolution, and that such list will include the list proclaimed by the Commonwealth under its Therapeutic Substances Act.
The council thereupon resolved -
This Council, having heard the resolutions brought forward by the Chairman from the Therapeutic Substances Conference registers its firm approval of the principles laid down and recommends that any necessary action be taken as a matter of urgency.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) introduced the Therapeutic Substances Bill 1953 on 12th November, 1953. I propose to quote his statements on the two matters of Commonwealth action and State action, and to trace the subsequent history of the Commonwealth’s and the States’ failure to take action. In his second-reading speech on the Therapeutic Substances Bill 1953, the right honorable member for Cowper stated -
The governmental experts at their conference recommended that an expert committee be set up to advise the Commonwealth and the States on suitable standards for drugs not yet included in either the British or other recognized pharmacopoeia and on the related matters which are incidental to such standards. The Commonwealth has accepted this advice and it is proposed that such an expert committee will be set up.
In January, 1956, regulations were gazetted under the act setting up a Therapeutic Substances Advisory Committee, a Biological Products Standards Committee and a Therapeutic Substances Standards Committee. The Therapeutic Substances Advisory Committee was appointed on 12th April, 1956. It has met on one occasion - 13th July, 1956. When, in September, 1958, I asked the Minister what it had decided, he said -
The committee made certain recommendations in accordance with the functions of the committee as denned in . . . the Therapeutic Substances Regulations. These recommendations are of a confidential nature.
On 7th May, 1958, the Biological Products Standards Committee was appointed. It appeared, from an answer which the Minister gave me on 14th May last, that the committee had not met by that date. On 27th August, 1958, the Minister told me that the remaining committee - the Therapeutic Substances Standards Committee - would be appointed - when it is decided to extend control of therapeutic substances to those substances the standards for which are not set out in monographs in the British Pharmacopoeia or the British Pharmaceutical Codex.
From the answer which he gave me on 14th May last, to which I have already referred, it appeared that this committee also had not been appointed by that date.
So the first matter to which I think the attention of the House should be directed,
Sir, is that, although the right honorable member for Cowper, when Minister for Health, said that the Commonwealth had accepted the advice of the National Health and Medical Research Council in November, 1952, that an expert committee should be set up, and although the regulations providing for three committees were gazetted in January, 1956, up to date only two committees have been appointed, and only one of those two has met. On the face of it, Sir, it would appear that the Commonwealth has not been active in pursuing the pattern of the legislation introduced as a result of the decision of the council.
I pass now to the question of State action pursuant to the resolution of the council in 1952. On that subject, the right honorable member for Cowper, who was then Minister for Health, stated, on 12th November, 1953, in his second-reading speech on the Therapeutic Substances Bill 1953-
It must be remembered that laws relating to the manufacture of therapeutic substances in Australia lie within the constitutional responsibility of the States. It is considered necessary that in order to round off the overall scheme for the proper regulation and control of drugs in this country, the several States will need to enact the necessary complementary legislation with respect to the manufacture of drugs and their purely intra-state distribution and use. . . It is proposed, therefore, that following the passing of this bill such draft model legislation should be prepared.
The National Health and Medical Research Council, at its thirty-seventh session, in May, 1954, noted -
All States will require amendment of their respective Acts to provide powers for the licensing of manufacture of therapeutic substances as advocated by the Commonwealth. All members stated that their respective governments had agreed in principle to giving effect to the recommendations of the Commonwealth.
On 27th August, 1958, the present Minister answered a question which I had asked him, and said -
To supplement Commonwealth powers under the Therapeutic Substances Act, amendment of the Pood and Drug Acts in some States may be necessary to provide certain powers for the licensing of manufacture of therapeutic substances. The Commonwealth has been informed that the governments of the States concerned agree in principle to providing these amendments where necessary.
You will notice, Sir, that that is virtually the same statement as the council had made more than four years before.
In March of this year, I again asked the Minister what had happened about the model act and the State legislation, and the Minister replied -
The National Health and Medical Research Council has not recommended model acts or regulations relating to therapeutic substances
You will notice, Sir, the words -
The . . Council has not recommended model acts . . .
The council had recommended that the Commonwealth prepare a model act; it had not in fact received a model act, and it had therefore not been able to recommend an act. I should say that the Minister’s answer was accurate, as far as it went, but it was not a completely frank answer. It was the truth, but not the whole truth.
We find that no State has yet passed the acts or introduced the regulations which the National Health and Medical Research Council, on more than one occasion, the right honorable member for Cowper, in November, 1953, and the present Minister, in August, 1958, said should be passed or introduced. I think that this, again, indicates that while the Commonwealth has been dilatory in carrying out its part of this scheme the States similarly have been dilatory in carrying out their part.
The Commonwealth can pass legislation - and has done so in terms of the 1953 act - concerning trade and commerce in therapeutic substances between the States, concerning the import and export of therapeutic substances, and concerning the supervision of therapeutic substances pursuant to the national health scheme, which the Commonwealth finances. But only the States, it is believed, can pass acts concerning the manufacture of therapeutic substances - and they have not done so.
I conclude, Sir, by saying that this appears to be a very clear instance, first, of the Commonwealth’s inability to legislate with respect to vital matters of public health, and, secondly, of this Government’s dilatoriness in legislating or administering within the limits of its powers. I strongly believe that the Commonwealth Parliament should seek power by referendum to amend the Constitution, to permit it to pass laws with respect to public health. The right honorable member for Cowper made a similar suggestion this week. We know of two other instances. For six years, the National Health and Medical Research Council has attempted to secure uniform poisons legislation in the States, and only Queensland has passed the legislation; the other five States have not yet done so. For a similar period, the council has been seeking uniform legislation with respect to radio-active substances and irradiating apparatus. The Commonwealth, on behalf of the council, sent model acts to each of the States in 1954. The acts were to come into operation only when regulations were made under them. Model regulations were sent to all the States in 1957. As at the present date, not all the States have passed the act, and not one State has issued the regulations.
I suggest that a clearer instance could not be found of the need for increased Commonwealth powers in this field than the efforts of the National Health and Medical Research Council, which has five Commonwealth representatives, and fourteen other representatives of the States and the top branches of the medical profession, to secure uniform legislative and administrative action in regard to poisons, radio-active substances and therapeutic substances. If the Commonwealth had the power under the Constitution to legislate with respect to such matters of public health, we would not find such examples of dilatoriness on the part of the Commonwealth and the States, and the buck-passing that was referred to earlier this afternoon could not take place. The blame could be laid, or the credit attributed, where it belonged. If there is to be coordination and modern legislation in these matters, the Commonwealth alone could provide them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 18th August (vide page 296), on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Luchetti had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be referred to a Select Committee of this House”.
.- The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has submitted, for the consideration of this Parliament, a bill relating to divorce and matrimonial causes. Since the adjournment of the debate on this measure on 1 8th August last, not less than 35 proposed amendments including new clauses have been circulated to honorable members. This, to my mind, indicates that the proposal advanced by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) that this matter be considered by a select committee of this House is worthy of further consideration.
When I spoke to this measure originally, I stated that obviously the AttorneyGeneral had devoted a great deal of time, thought and consideration to it, and that he deserved to be commended. However, we should not overlook the fact that we are now dealing with home and family life, with all its responsibilities, and for that reason this measure should receive earnest consideration by the Parliament before we decide that it shall become law. As I have said, I acknowledge at once that the bill has been prepared most carefully and that it has been ably presented by the Attorney-General. I believe that his primary consideration also is the welfare of the family institution. The Attorney-General quite properly has pointed out that marriage guidance, which is dealt with in Part II., and reconciliation, which is dealt with in Part III., have been given the attention that they deserve, but that is not sufficient. Marriage guidance and reconciliation are not the sole matters that warrant consideration. The grounds upon which a marriage may be dissolved also must be given the deepest thought.
At present, under State acts, there are approximately 30 grounds upon which a marriage may be dissolved. If this bill becomes law, the number of such grounds will be reduced to fourteen as opposed to eight as stipulated by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) in the legislation which he presented to the Parliament last year. While, in some States, the number of grounds for dissolution will be increased, in others the number will be decreased. It is, of course, a matter for the Parliament to decide whether this bill, which reduces the number of grounds from approximately 30, under State legislation, to approximately fourteen, should be accepted and ultimately become law.
Let me return for a moment to the matter of marriage guidance because I believe that to be one aspect of the question which the Attorney-General has considered carefully. I regret that he has decided to submit an amendment in relation to this matter. Marriage guidance councils should be encouraged by this Parliament and, as I understand it, this is the first legislation that has been introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament that gives consideration to organizations of this kind. The AttorneyGeneral now proposes to restrict the basis upon which marriage guidance councils will be assisted. Under the original bill, any organization which devoted a “ substantial “ part of its time to marriage guidance would be eligible for assistance. In the proposed amendment which we have received, the word “ substantial “ has been altered to “ major “. As I understand it, this means that if an organization devoted to marriage guidance only one-quarter of the number of people engaged in social activities, the organization would not be eligible for assistance from the Commonwealth Government. I believe that any marriage guidance council, or any social organization which is prepared to assist in the sphere of marriage guidance, is entitled to assistance from the Commonwealth Government. I am certain that the Department of Social Services would acknowledge at once the great debt that it owes to marriage guidance councils generally because, if they are able even to reduce the number of divorces in one year from broken marriages by only one-half of 1 per cent., they have earned the gratitude of this Government. Any organization which devotes only part of its time to marriage guidance is entitled to the same consideration from this Government as any organization which devotes all of its time to this matter.
I wish to deal now with the grounds for divorce. As I have already indicated, the number of grounds in some States will be increased, and the existing grounds in all States will be extended. For example, six existing grounds in Victoria and South Australia, and five in New South Wales and Tasmania will be extended, four will be extended in Western Australia and in Queensland, two. New grounds for divorce will be available in all States. There will be nine in Queensland, five in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, and two in Western Australia and South Australia. Let me now discuss clause 27 (m), that controversial clause which, in my opinion, will require the most earnest consideration of this Parliament. I am not prepared to accept the situation in which a man or a woman may divorce the spouse simply because they have been separated by mutual agreement for a period of five years. I recognize at once that this important matter has been carefully considered by the Attorney-General.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I think that nearly every honorable member in this House will agree that the bill now before us contains many good features. I agree with the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) that we welcome a measure which will provide uniform marriage laws to cover the Commonwealth. We must also congratulate the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) for the steps that he has taken to help the work of marriage guidance councils. I also agree entirely with the honorable member for Bass about the definitions of “ marriage guidance council “ and of “ a major proportion of the time “, I hope it will be possible to bring such great organizations as the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence and the Australian Red Cross within the definition of marriage guidance organizations. However, I expect we shall hear from the Attorney-General, in the course this debate, his views on points that I know are worrying a number of members at present.
There is one other minor suggestion that is worrying people, particularly in Victoria. That concerns the amendment that the Attorney-General is bringing in to provide that a petitioner should include in a petition as far as possible all the matrimonial proceedings desired to be taken. A court will usually determine the whole of a case, including ancillary relief, at one hearing. There is in operation in Victorian courts a system under which cases regarding ancillary relief are usually heard in chambers and not in the court, and this has certainly helped in Victoria to speed up the various procedures, and has improved the working of the divorce courts very much. I know that there are people in Victoria who would like to see a similar provision incorporated in this bill.
But these are minor issues. The major issues that confront us in this bill are the grounds for divorce, which are dealt with in clause 27. To my mind, all the other things in the bill are really mere frills. At this stage I must say that I regret that for the first time since I have been a member of this House I find myself in profound disagreement with the AttorneyGeneral. I think that he has looked at what might be called the trees and neglected the forest. He has spent his time looking at individual cases that come before divorce courts, and has omitted to see what damage this bill will do to the whole fabric of society.
Let me compare, for a moment, the two bills we have had before us - the one we had two years ago brought down by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), and the present bill. There is a distinct difference between the two bills. The first bill provided what might be called the highest common factor between the various grounds for divorce, which might be considered as representing the general viewpoint of all the States. This bill, however, might be considered to provide the lowest common multiple. The point is not only what are the actual facts and the grounds on which one can get a divorce; there is also what is the main impression that has been created in the community as a whole as a result of this bill. I think that the general impression among people who do not know much about the legal framework is that divorce is going to be made easier by this bill. That, I think, is the damage that is now being done, even if it may not be a fact that the bill will make divorce easier. The Attorney-General has told us that we are not substantially increasing the grounds for divorce, but the general impression in the community is that the grounds are to be extended. As a result, I believe, there will be a general lightening of the whole fabric of society and of the general attitude towards this, very important question of divorce.
If we were able in the previous bill,, brought down by the honorable member for Balaclava, to find the highest common multiple in a measure that was generally acceptable to the majority of the members of this House, why have we suddenly got to extend the grounds? There has been, an extension particularly under two subclauses of clause 27 - 27 (k) and 27 (m).
I think that there are various reasons - although I do not entirely agree with them. - under which the ground for dissolution of marriage provided for in sub-clause- 27 (k), as the Attorney-General proposes to amend it, could be accepted. But that, cannot be said for sub-clause 27 (m). Subclause 27 (m) gives the following grounds for basing a petition for dissolution of a marriage - that the parries to the marriage have separated and thereafter have lived separately and apart for a continuous period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of the petition, and there is no reasonable likelihood of cohabitation being resumed.
One interprets that provision to mean that a spouse can have an argument with his wife, leave home, live apart from her for five years and, at the end of that time if there is no proved offence against him, and if he has made proper provision for his wife and children, he may obtain a divorce unless the judge finds that a divorce would be harsh and oppressive to the wife and children. But the onus is on the innocent party to prove that a divorce would be harsh and oppressive.
Here is a completely new concept. So far in divorce laws in Australia the principle has been that the law is there to right a wrong that has been done. Why, now, have we to introduce a contentious new principle? Why have we to experiment with a new ground for divorce which has operated in only one State? If we are going to introduce a completely new concept there should be wide and compelling reasons, and overwhelming public support for it. They do not exist at present.
This particular provision, or one similar to it, was examined by a royal commission in the United Kingdom from 1951 to 1955 and while, according to the Attorney-General, the distribution of the votes for and against it among the commission’s members can be interpreted one way or the other, I believe that at least half of the members of that commission found compelling reasons to reject this ground.
In examining clause 27 (m) I should like to tell honorable members of my own experience, and how I have reached my views on the matter. Divorce is a specialized field for lawyers. We had in this House an instance of the lawyers having a Roman holiday of mutual backslapping, congratulating one another on the points of view that they expressed. It was only when I saw the other side of the picture not put to us by the lawyers in this House that I began to realize some of the dangers, and I hope that other honorable members will also begin to see some of the dangers in this bill.
Let us look at some of the main objections that were raised before the royal commission in the United Kingdom. Basically, the Attorney-General has had his mind on individual cases of hardship. The main objection is that he fails to look at the well-being of the community. The new principle contained in sub-clause 27 (m) is a recognition of what some people call divorce by consent. Even more important is the fact that it will be divorce against the will of a spouse who will be virtually unprotected, even if he or she wishes to protect himself or herself and the status of the children of the marriage. The second point is that it provides an easy way out of a marriage. It undermines the whole concept of lifelong marriage. Let us consider what might happen. A married couple may have a series of general arguments, and finally one walks out of the home. Let us assume that it is the husband who walks out. One of two things can happen. Either he may say to himself, “Well, I have taken on this marriage for good or ill for the whole of my life and I have to go back to try to make it work “, which, generally speaking, is what he would have to do under the existing law; or he can say to himself, “Why bother to try?
All I have to do is walk out, live apart for five years, and then get a divorce “, which is what could happen under this bill.
I think it is the undermining of this concept of lifelong marriage that is important. After all, the whole of our social order, the whole of the fabric of the Australian community, is based on the family concept of lifelong marriage. That is important for the State itself, because this is not a matter that affects the individual alone.
There is one other point I would like to mention. It has been said by some of the lawyers here that it is better for children to be brought up in the house of one of the divorced parents than it is to live with both parents at loggerheads; but all the evidence that was available to the British royal commission showed that children are better brought up in a home in which there is friction than in a home that is completely broken. I know that the honorable member for Balaclava is completely expert on this subject because, as a lawyer, he has specialized in it in the courts for years and years. But it is written in the United Kingdom royal commission report. The honorable member will have his chance later and will probably disagree with me.
The argument was also put up by the Attorney-General that this provides a dignified and honorable means of release. This is a really insidious argument. The function of the law, to my mind, is to give relief when a wrong has been done, but to go beyond this actively assists a socially calamitous act. People would enter into marriage knowing that they could always get free and no married person would ever be sure that he would not be divorced. It removes the sense of security which I think is so important in marriage. Let us see how the United Kingdom royal commission summed up this section. The report reads -
We believe that it is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of marriage as a union for life for the parties to be free to put an end to it by agreement. It seems to us self-evident that a marriage cannot be the concern only of the partners to it. If there are children, their interests must be considered. But whether there are children or not, the State must be concerned in the maintenance of a marriage and in its dissolution, because the State has an overriding responsibility to ensure, in the interests of the community that the institution of marriage is upheld. For marriage is not merely a civil contract between the parties to it. It is a status arising out of that contract and as a status it concerns the community as well as the parties.
If husband and wife were free to terminate their marriage at pleasure, then marriage would become a purely contractual relationship and the interests of the community would receive no recognition.
As we have pointed out, to give people a right to divorce themselves would be to foster a change in the attitude to marriage which would be disastrous for the nation. People would tend to enter marriage more lightly, and with the reservation that, if it were not a success, they could always agree to put an end to it. And when great difficulties arose in married life (as happens in most marriages), there would be much less incentive to overcome them. Husband and wife would be tempted to say to each other, “ Let us have a divorce and start again “. Thus, divorce would increasingly be sought in circumstances where, if a little effort were made, husband and wife could adjust their differences. Such an attitude would be fatal to stability and security in marriage which in the end would come to be regarded as a temporary relationship, with divorce as a normal incident in life.
There were other points also raised by this royal commission. One was the financial angle. I know that this bill provides that it has to be made certain that the judge sees that fair and reasonable provision is made for the wife and children. In these days can any man really afford to have two wives and families?
– Can we be certain that it is possible to make fair provision? I know how difficult it is myself to afford just one wife and family. I am reminded, in this connexion, of a popular song of 30 years ago, sung by Eddie Cantor -
He doesn’t get much money,
Five thousand dollars per;
Some judge who thinks he’s funny
Says, “ You’ll give six to her.
You’d better keep her,
You will find it cheaper
Than making whoopee! “
How are we going to ensure, under this measure, that the wife who is divorced and her children who are left behind without any chance of really doing anything about it, can be really properly provided for. It has been said, also, that this particular clause gives encouragement to the seducer. In fact, when a similar provision was being mooted in England it was known as “ the seducer’s charter.” It has been said, too, that this new concept will act as a deterrent to illicit unions. To my mind it works in exactly the opposite direction. There is no certainty, at present, that if a man goes off with a woman he will be able to legitimize his children. But under this provision incentive will be given to a man to go off, knowing that after a period of five years there is a chance of his getting rid of his original wife and family and acquiring a new legitimate wife and children.
Summing up, the greatest point about this new clause is that it should be proposed only if there was a widespread desire for such a change. These laws are made in response to public opinion, but for just a few deserving cases, according to the Attorney-General, we are going to widen the grounds of divorce. What will happen then? At the same time that we have a few deserving cases, a number of undeserving cases will slip through the net and people will come to adopt a lighter attitude toward divorce. Then, once again, this whole process will be repeated.
This is not a quick process. We are not legislating just for this year or next year; we are legislating for something that will develop over a long period of years. Therefore we cannot estimate merely by a series of statistics such as has been given to us on what has happened in Western Australia during the last ten years. This is something which is rather like the process of evolution. Over a number of years small changes make for major alterations when we continue them as an historical process.
I believe that we cannot really go ahead of public opinion. As members of a Commonwealth Parliament I feel that in this matter we must follow well behind public opinion and not be well out in front, if we are to put the high value on family life and responsibility that I believe is so important to us. To my mind, the Minister is trying to lead public opinion and is not being led by it. In effect, he says to those people who are concerned with public opinion, and particularly with regard to the leaders of the three major churches in this country, “ You do not know as much about public opinion as I do. I know what Australia needs in this matter, and that is the law which Australia is going to have.”
If this clause is so good why has there not been some evidence of support for it outside of Western Australia? It is only since it has been included in this bill that any notice has been taken of it.No one in the eastern States campaigned for it and no effective body outside Western Australia really campaigned for it at any time when
Parliament was considering the bill brought down by the honorable member for Balaclava.
I believe that the general public reaction to this bill is that it will make divorce easier. If there is any doubt at all about it, why persevere with this obnoxious clause? This bill is exceptionally good without this clause. It does everything that was originally anticipated at the time the bill of the honorable member for Balaclava was discussed. I think that each member of this House must look at its whole effect on society and not at its effect on a few individuals. The State must be concerned about the maintenance of marriage and must ensure that the institution of marriage is upheld. Marriage is not only a civil contract; it also provides a status in the community. It is the whole fabric on which our society stands. Therefore I say that this bill concerns the whole of the community, and we must ensure, above all things, that the interests of the community are recognized.
We will have to bear the responsibility if the attitude of this nation towards divorce becomes less rigid. It is a tremendous responsibility that we have to shoulder. I believe that sub-section (m) of proposed section 27 will, in a small way at first, but increasing as the yeaTS go by, endanger our whole attitude to this vexed question of divorce. Therefore, as I think the interests of the State and the community override the interests of a few possibly unfortunate individuals, each member of this House should look very carefully at the case against this proposed sub-section, .as well as the case that has been put for it by the Attorney-General. I think that when honorable members have done so a large number of them will follow the lead that has been so ably given by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), and will do all they can to remove this iniquitous provision from the bill.
.- I think we all realize that this bill is of the greatest importance, because it affects the life of the whole Australian community. It seeks to effect some far-reaching reforms. It affects not only the rights of persons to marry but also the social welfare of the people as a whole. I think that my party adopted the proper course when it decided to treat this matter on a ‘non-party basis, because marriage is a very individual matter. It is fitting, therefore, that each of us should be allowed to think the question out for himself and make an individual decision upon it.
I commend the bill, because it contains provisions for a uniform code of matrimonial laws throughout the Commonwealth. We will have one national law on this subject, and I think that this is the most important feature of the bill. We are one nation, one people “with one destiny, and it is time we introduced some uniformity into our laws. It would be a great step forward if we could have more of our laws made uniform. We have laws which may be described as hackneyed, as a result of the fact that there are too many law-making bodies in Australia. The result is that we have bad laws.
There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth, and the present state of our laws bears out the truth of this adage. Al the present time there are eight bodies in Australia with power to make divorce laws. There is one in each of the six States, one in the Northern Territory and one in the Australian Capital Territory. For good measure, we also have five Upper Houses of Parliament in Australia, each of which has power to make laws. In these circumstances how can we have good laws? I believe it would be a miracle if we had good laws, because with so many lawmaking bodies we must inevitably encounter prejudice and jealousy, and all we have in the final .analysis is a great deal of confusion.
We have bad laws throughout Australia because of this divided power. If we consider our criminal laws we can see the result of this divided power. We can see it also in laws with respect to education and other aspects of our community life. We find a provision in force on one side of a State boundary which does not apply on the other side. Consider the rate of road accidents in Australia. I suggest that a major contributory cause of these accidents is confusion about traffic laws. If you are travelling from New South Wales to Victoria you have to stop at the Murray River and study the Jaws that apply across the border. .Similar remarks apply in respect of laws governing trade, commerce, industry, health and native welfare. The natives of Australia are practically nobody’s business, because the Commonwealth has power to look after them only in Commonwealth Territories. I could give many more examples of the way in which confusion and bad laws arise because of divided power.
Let me say at this stage that I have no quarrel with the churches with respect to this divorce bill that we have before us, andI refer to churches of every denomination. They preach the law of God, which I believe in and which I believe is the best Jaw of all. I believe in the Ten Commandments, and I believe that if they were properly observed there would be no need for a divorce law or any other law. If everybody observed those rules there would be no need for the bill that we have before the House. However, one must acknowledge human frailties and human weaknesses, which will wreck the best and -strongest rules. Hence there is a need to make our divorce laws somewhat elastic.
I do not think any of the churches have a total prohibition on separation. In certain circumstances separation is possible, notwithstanding the golden rule, “Those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder”. Contingencies arise which relax even that rigid and wise rule - and let me say that I favour such a strict rule. I do not believe in making divorce easier.
Let me return to my contention that we should have uniformity of law. I believe it is a basic necessity to have a common law for all the people of Australia. Nearly every opinion that I have heard expressed, not only in this Parliament but also in other places, has been in favour of uniform laws for divorce. I believe this is common sense. I wish to cite some criticisms and comments made by some of the people referred to by the honorable member who recently spoke in this debate. After I have done so it will be obvious to everybody that there are many people in favour of the measure before the House. The first criticism I shall refer to is that offered by the National Catholic Welfare Committee. The committee’s comments on the bill were reported in the “ Catholic Weekly “ of 13th August, 1959, in the following terms: -
The Committee carefully distinguishes between two broad aspects of the Bill and examines them from a sociological point of view.
It warmly approves:
The expressed Parliamentary endeavour of the Bill “to maintain marriage and protect the family “.
The emphasis placed on marriage guidance and reconciliation.
The restriction, with certain exceptions, on the granting of divorce within the first three years of marriage.
The provisions made to ensure that the welfare of the children of divorced parents is adequately protected.
The preservation of the right to sue for judicial separation.
The procedure for enforcing maintenance orders by means of an “ attachment of earnings order “.
The restriction of press publicity. The committee sternly criticizes:
The overall extension of divorce grounds. (There is not one ground for divorce in any State that has been wholly discarded in the proposed legislation.)
The provision for a divorce after five years’ separation. (Under this section, an innocent wife may be sued by an erring husband.)
Reduction of the period of desertion as a ground for divorce to two years.
Extension to all States of the New South Wales ground for divorce - “failure to comply with a restitution order”. (The time allowed for compliance is extended from 21 days to one year.)
The Committee based its assessments on the merits or otherwise of the various parts of the bill, according to whether it considered they would assist or retard the achievement of “the paramount endeavour of the Bill … to maintain marriage and to protect the family.”
The Committee declares that the emphasis thus placed at the very beginning of the Bill on marriage guidance and reconciliation represents a notable advance in thinking and approach upon all existing State legislation, and merits public approval.
I pass from that genuine criticism to a letter that was sent to me by His Grace the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. He said -
The Bishops of Australia who met at Brisbane recently have issued the following statement concerning the proposed Matrimonial Causes Bill which is to be brought before the Federal Parliament at its next session.
Whereas the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Australia have not yet had sufficient time to consider The Matrimonial Causes Bill in toto they are prepared to make the following considered comments.
The passage of the proposed Bill would in no way alter the Church’s attitude to divorce, and re-marriage after divorce, or to the marriage of divorced persons in Anglican churches.
The Bishops recognize that the Government has a duty in the present situation to legislate in matrimonial affairs. It is in this light that the Bishops view the Bill.
The Bishops commend the provision which will give a uniform code of matrimonial laws throughout the Commonwealth.
They are in complete agreement with me on that aspect -
They are strongly in favour of them -
They refer, of course, to clause 27 (k) of the bill. Clause 27 seems to be the bone of contention. I have had representations from other sections of the community, and I propose to place them before the Parliament. I have a letter from the secretary of the Mothers Union Branch of the Holy Trinity Church, Peakhurst, which reads -
The twenty members of the Mothers Union of Holy Trinity Peakhurst Branch wish me to signify their objection to sections (b) and (m) of clause 27 of die Matrimonial Causes Bill, now before Federal Parliament.
Section (b), by cutting the time of apparent desertion from (3) to (2) years, lessens considerably the hope of reconciliation.
Section (m) is a definite threat to the homes and families of the nation, making easier the breaking up of homes and depriving the children of their security, which in turn could lead to delinquency.
We believe the deletion of these sections would remove the cause of the objections by many people to this bill.
I have received a letter in similar strain from the Mothers Union of St. John’s Church of England, Hurstville. That union raises objection to clause 27 of the bill, but it approves the rest of the bill.
On 27th October last I received the folowing telegram -
League of Women Voters N.S.W. earnestly request your fullest possible support for uniform divorce bill as presented by Attorney-General.
That was signed by Ruby Rich, President. Apparently those people are 100 per cent, in favour of the bill. I have also received a criticism of the bill from four family welfare services in Melbourne. They state that they hope that the marriage guidance provisions of the bill, instead of being left in their present weak state, can be greatly strengthened by Parliament. That criticism is jointly signed by the Director of Social Services, Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Fitzroy, Victoria; Reverend Father E. G. Perkins, Director, Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, East Melbourne, Victoria; Leonard J. Tierney, Director of Social Work and Research, Citizens’ Welfare Service, East
Melbourne; and the Director, Red Cross Welfare Service, Melbourne. Those bodies are jointly concerned with marriage guidance councils and family welfare bureaux.
I hope that the Attorney-General will take notice of the representations that have been made to me in regard to this bill because we know that reconciliation is the essence of the bill. Church guidance bureaux are the mainstay for bringing about reconciliation. Prevention is better than cure as far as divorce is concerned. It is better to try to eradicate the cause of divorce rather than to cure a broken marriage by divorcing the parties. There should be no ignorance about the importance of the marriage state. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. It is supremely important to our way of life. Its prime and most sacred purpose is the propagation of the human race. Maladjustment is one of the primary causes of divorce. The activities of marriage guidance councils should be extended. Nobody should enter into marriage without some proper knowledge of his or her responsibilities. The church has a great responsibility in this regard. The Attorney-General should do everything in his power to strengthen the position of marriage guidance councils and family welfare bureaux.
I want to refer now to one or two other matters. I have made a careful study of the various criticisms of the bill. I have read some of those criticisms to the House. The objections to the bill centre mainly around clause 27 (m), which provides for divorce after five years separation. Under that clause an innocent wife may be sued for divorce by an erring husband, and vice versa. A divorce is not obtained automatically under this clause. An application must be made to a court, and I do not think any court would grant a divorce on a phony application, nor would it tolerate cases that were not genuine. Perhaps certain people have become overalarmed about clause 27 (m). Even if this bill is defeated in this House we will still have divorce laws. It is not a question of being in favour of divorce or not. I could vote against the bill and the bill could be defeated, but that would not do away with divorce. We would still have divorce laws. For instance, wealthy people could establish domicile in Western Australia and obtain the benefits of clause 27 (m) there. So, to vote against the bill will not get rid of clause 27 (m). Even if the bill is defeated here that clause will still be applicable in Western Australia.
Looking at the bill from another angle, I think it will be economical to have a uniform divorce law. We will not need to appoint extra judges. We do not need to build extra divorce courts. The bill, if passed, will be administered through the same State divorce jurisdictions that exist now but it will mean that we have a common Australian law, and that will be a good thing. I repeat that I respect the views of Church dignitaries and lay churchmen who have criticised this bill. I agree with them that marriage is a sacrament and should not be considered lightly. I consider that the road to the end they have in mind of outlawing divorce is first to get a uniform law. Once that has been attained in this Parliament we can gradually perfect the law in the way that the churches want to perfect it. But I do not think there will be any hope of perfecting it unless first we get it into the laws of this Parliament. I believe that whilst the power to make laws in respect of this sacred and important matter is retained by and divided among six State houses of assembly, as well as five upper houses, the Commonwealth in respect of the Australian Capita] Territory, and the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, the law will always remain as bad as it is. I intend, when the vote on the second reading is taken, to vote for the bill.
.- I do not intend to. take up the time of the House at any length, but I will attempt to put my views on very broad principles. I support this bill most wholeheatedly. I think it is a good thing to go back a bit over history. I read the other day in “ Hansard “ of the House of Commons, which is available in the Library, the debates on the introduction of the first divorce law in England. It was a very simple divorce law. I was interested to find the same array of forces mustered against each other on that bill as are mustered against each other to-day - the Church on one side and the legislators on the other.
We have to make up our minds whether we are to be guided by humanity or by theology. One problem that emerges from what the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) said concerns the significance of the law of God. It would appear that, in many cases, the law of God, as we know it, is man’s interpretation of it. If we go back to early in the history of the church, we find that, according to theologists, St. Augustine, a most eminent father of the church, was not very clear in his ideas and pronouncements on divorce. If we left it to the church to find a better life, we would remain at the status quo. After all, most of our troubles have come from man’s interpretation of the law of God - an interpretation which, I suppose, has been influenced by his very humanness and the existing state of knowledge of his day. I think that an instance of that is the number of religions in our Western world which claim to follow the Christian faith. They all have a different version.
It is not so many years since the church believed in the right to burn witches, to torture heretics, and to employ slaves. It did not protest at the employment of child labour which existed in England right up to comparatively recent times. In none of those instances did the church take the lead to remove these evils. We have an opportunity, to-day, in this divorce bill, to do something for the betterment of the people of Australia.
It would appear that the great objection to this bill is to the adoption of the provision already existing in Western Australia which gives the right of divorce on the ground of five years’ separation. I understand that a similar ground exists in New Zealand but that over there the period is seven years. This provision has been in force in New Zealand for 30 years. I ask this House, “ Are the people of Western Australia or New Zealand any less moral than the people of the rest of Australia? Is the incidence of divorce any greater in those places than it is in other parts of Australia? “ On the relevant figures. I think I would say, “ No! “
I believe that the great virtue of this bill is the priority it gives to the welfare of the children. Is it better for children to be brought up in a home in which there is continuing active hostility or in a home from which one of the parents has been removed because of inability to achieve marital equilibrium?
I would like to state most emphatically that I am not criticizing the church, because it has the greatest influence in upholding our moral and ethical standards. But we cannot legislate for morality. 1 conclude by saying that I support this bill most wholeheartedly and I congratulate the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) on his splendid effort to benefit the people ot the whole of Australia.
– This Matrimonial Causes Bill is commonly referred to as a divorce bill, yet it seems to me that we should try to clear our minds of the term “ divorce “ in our consideration of the measure. The instinct that is in all of us, irrespective of religion, to be guided by our church, might well cloud our thinking on this issue. In a measure of this character one has to consider matters quite apart from any obligation to church or religion. The great difficulty in analysing a measure that will have an impact upon family life, is to discern the dividing line between the normal responsibility of the church, and that of the legislators.
First of all, let me say that I support the measure with, perhaps, some reservations, and that I intend to vote against the move by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) to refer the measure to a select committee. The decision to present and determine this bill on a non-party basis is, in the first instance, most wise. It enables me, at any rate, as an individual member of this Parliament to oppose the amendment designed to have the bill referred to a select committee, notwithstanding the very high regard that 1 have for the two honorable members who moved and seconded the amendment respectively, and my appreciation of their honesty of motive in proposing it.
It is my view that, if it is really desirable for this bill to be considered by a select committee, it would be impossible to select any committee that would provide the same breadth of capacity, understanding and knowledge of the real requirements of the people of Australia as is already to be found among the members of this Parliament. For this reason, I hold firmly to the view that the bill should pass the secondreading stage and that, in committee, enough time should be allowed to enable the committee of the whole House itself to perform the functions that would be performed by the select committee proposed in the amendment, and to deal with every clause of the bill as the most competent select committee that it is possible to find in Australia.
Having said that, Mr. Speaker, let me turn now to my reasons for supporting the measure. I support it perhaps with some reservations, because, after all, no draft of any intended legislation can be regarded as perfect, even by the responsible Minister. The volume of amendments to be submitted to us in our consideration of this bill makes it perfectly clear that this measure, as drafted, is not considered to be perfect, even by the Attorney-General, Sir Garfield Barwick, who is responsible for it. On that score, one would be foolish to believe that, even with all the care that this Parliament can exercise in considering this bill, the act that finally emerges will prove to be a perfect answer to all the matrimonial difficulties that must and surely will descend upon a young, virile and developing country like ours. Be that as it may, Mr. Speaker, I feel sure that we ourselves, or the legislators who will follow us, will be quite capable, as the occasion arises, of moulding into the form demanded by the people of Australia any subsequent measure for the amendment of this one.
The great thing about this bill is that it will provide uniformity in Australia not only in the laws relating to marriage and divorce - I emphasize that - but also in the laws relating to matrimonial causes, parental rights and the guardianship of infants. It is a great step forward in Australia to have uniform legislation dealing with parental rights and the guardianship of infants. A uniform common law in relation to these very important aspects of family life will prove a boon to Australia, because it will, in many instances, solve what otherwise is a human problem made quite incapable of solution merely because of the existence of State boundaries. For this reason alone, one would surely support the bill.
Briefly, the next improvement in the law that I want to deal with is that contained
F.9421/59.- 7?.- f!03’. in Part II., which provides for marriage guidance. This Part provides that, on application, any voluntary organization - I think this should be clearly understood by all members of the House - may be approved by the Minister once he is satisfied that the organization is willing and able to engage in marriage guidance, and that marriage guidance constitutes, or will constitute, the whole or a substantial part of its activities. To my mind, Mr. Speaker, the bill here provides a challenge - I do not think I am wrong in this - to those members of our Christian faith who object to the clauses of the bill that relate to divorce. I hope, first of all, that the Minister will never be restricted, on the score of expense, in relation to the number of organizations that he will approve.
Marriage and happy family life are a corner-stone of great magnitude in a nation’s capacity to survive, and, in this part of the bill, provision is made for the churches to build, first of all within the framework of their own Christian faith, organizations that may and should be able to minimize divorce proceedings in this country. The married life of almost any and every couple has as its commencement a ceremony under church guidance that should begin a new era of happiness and understanding for the couple. The church, in its turn, has a record of the marriage, and if, in the early stages of their married life, couples, particularly those who marry in their ‘teens or thereabouts, receive at the hands of church organizations - I refer now to the organizations that must and should be established under the terms of this bill for the purpose of marriage guidance - marriage guidance in the way contemplated in Part II. of this bill, grounds for divorce may and will be averted.
Having dealt with that part of the measure, Mr. Speaker, I now want to deal with Part III., which relates to reconciliation. Here, a clear responsibility is imposed upon the court to adopt, once judicial proceedings have been instituted, a framework of activity that, in many instances, will be new to many parts of Australia, as an attempt - a very real attempt, as has been said in this House already this evening - to institute a measure that will make divorce easier and will tend to increase the number of divorces in Australia. This bill must be looked at in the whole of its framework of matrimonial peace, if we are to approach properly our task, of voting on this measure as a non-party issue. On the basis of what it provides, before we come to clause 27 (m), let us first of all review clearly the background of the steps that must be taken right from the time of marriage before we condemn clause 27 (m), which, 1 shall put to the House before I conclude, is a most worthy essential in a framework of legislation that leads up to a point at which a couple finds it impossible to come together. lt is not good enough merely to attack any one provision in this bill such as we have seen a great number of organizations throughout this country doing. We had an example of a large number of people sending petitions, notices and what have you to an honorable member on this side of the House, one person saying one thing, and some one else saying another thing. I suggest quite firmly that most of the people who are making decisions on this measure in that way have not yet considered the framework of what is intended after marriage in Australia, as envisaged in this bill. So let us have a look at what Part III. provides in respect of reconciliation. Clause 14(1.) provides -
It is the duty of the court in which a matrimonial cause has been instituted to give consideration, from time to time, to the possibility of a reconciliation of the parties to the marriage . . . and if at any time it appears to the Judge constituting the court, either from the nature of the case, the evidence in the proceedings or the attitude of those parties, or either of them-
We must keep that in mind when we consider clause 27 (m) - or of counsel, that there is a reasonable possibility of such a reconciliation, the Judge may do all or any of the following: -
Imagine that as a framework of our divorce laws throughout Australia operating as it should operate in conjunction with the marriage guidance provisions of this bill. I say quite frankly that, for the first time in the history of Australia, a real approach to the happy continuance of married -life -has been made, -and that this is not primarily a divorce measure at all.
I -want to say something next, Sir, about the welfare .of the children. A Government speaker this evening mentioned an inquiry into divorce conducted in Great Britain. He knew when he spoke that some of the recommendations made as -a result of that inquiry have been written into this bill. As I mentioned earlier, the British royal commission was required by the .terms of its appointment to bear in mind the need to safeguard the interests and well-being -of -children. It reached the conclusion .that, where divorce takes place, it is essential that everything which is possible in the circumstances should be done to mitigate the effects on the child of ‘the disruption of family life. If, in point of fact, divorce is a final step after the reconciliation provisions of this measure have been given effect; ‘if, in point of fact, some organization has been set up under the terms of ‘this bill for marriage guidance and ‘has <not ‘been able -to effect reconciliation “between two people who have drifted apart; if, in .point of fact, the judge ‘is satis:Bed .that there is :no hope of reconciliation, then, finally, this bill provides what is a most important step .’forward in this country - =a law that will require the guilty parties to protect the children involved.
The bill has adopted the same view as that expressed by the royal commission in England, and provides that where there -are children <of the marriage, except m special circumstances, the decree nisi for divorce shall ‘.not become absolute .unless the court by order has delared that .’it ‘is satisfied ‘that proper arrangements have been made for the welfare of the children. Provisions such as this take it for .’granted that when all other efforts .have ‘failed to maintain the marriage, every .effort should be .made to provide .as well as possible in the circumstances for the welfare of the unfortunate children of the broken family. Few would question the need or the desirability of such consideration ‘being given by the court to the children of divorced parents. That is ‘a view that would be expressed by even ‘the most rabid opponents of divorce. ‘So, “we have “not merely Clause “27 (m) but every effort being made to ‘preserve family life, and if that ‘is found to be impossible, we have a law which imposes on the court the responsibility of protecting the children who would normally fall by the wayside .as a result of .the .inevitable divorce that takes place.
A Government supporter earlier to-night spoke with some force of the need to justify the inclusion in a measure of this kind of the provision that is being adopted from Western Australia. I do not agree with him. I have merely skirted .around the factors that must be considered in preparing such a measure :as this. One .important factor is the encouragement of marriage guidance. The churches will be afforded an opportunity to build up marriage guidance organizations, and the next step provides for conciliation.
– What .about looking after the orphans?
– I would not trust anybody more than I would trust a court to take care of children; they would not then be left stranded.
Let us look at the law as a whole. We have the encouragement .of reconciliation, marriage guidance councils, and provision made for children; and then we must consider the situation created by inevitable divorce. I am not .being personal; I am not concerned with what .divorce .might mean to many people, .because it is <not likely to affect me or .mine. But I am looking at .the reality of .the .Lord’s own teaching .about these matters. .It seems to me that , many things are not clearly understood in relation to the real needs of family life. I am not sure of the reason the Attorney-General has included clause 27 (m) in the measure. ‘However, having made the provisions that he did, the Western Australian provision is the natural finish to the legislation. In my view, it would not be complete without this provision for reasons that I will explain.
Let us look at what is done in Western Australia. That State has had fourteen years experience of this ground, and in that time the political colour of its Government has changed four times. >Bit I do not know of one occasion on which this provision has become a political football there. It is accepted by the people of Western Australia with the result that no political party has dared to make ‘it a political stalking-horse. If it was “not wanted, one of the political parties would have brought it out to use it for its own purposes. Western Australia has had fourteen years experience of this ground which is similar to but more liberal than clause 27 (m) in the bill. Clause 27 (m) will be amended by proposed new section 32a. It is more restrictive than the Western Australian provision. That State’s experience in relation to divorce ran parallel to that of the eastern States and was not deflected by the introduction of the provision in 1945. Its divorce rate dropped after 1947, as did that of the other States, but significantly it dropped faster than did the divorce rate in the rest of Australia. The proportion of divorces under the Western Australian separation ground in relation to the total number of divorces in Western Australia has fallen considerably over the last half dozen years. That is the test of whether a clause is good or bad in a measure such as this. If the divorce rate had risen sharply in Western Australia as a result of this provision, and had continued to do so year by year, the provision could have been condemned; but when the effect of it is to reduce the number of divorces, then *t must be a good provision.
I want to turn now to the clause itself, because it seems to be a contentious clause. I want to explain the reasons why I believe that there is a need for it. Every other ground for divorce in the bill has been accepted almost without exception. We have many other grounds, apart from this, on which divorce can be obtained, but there appears to be very little opposition to them. When we consider the grounds for divorce that are not being attacked, we arrive at one conclusion only and that is that Australia as a whole - the people, the authorities and the churches - is ready for an Australia-wide divorce bill. When we come then to clause 27 (m), we must ask why there is so much opposition to it. No one is making any fuss about the provision that a marriage is voidable if one of the parties becomes of unsound mind. No one is opposing the provision that a marriage becomes voidable if one party becomes mentally defective.
– That is not right. It is a matter of opinion.
– I am speaking at this stage of public opposition, and I am speaking as the member for Blaxland of the opposition that has been conveyed to me. I do not propose to produce it as did the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), because as far as I am concerned the only opposition that I have received is in respect of clause 27 (m). We must look at the clause in its true perspective, and take the position of somebody who applies to the court for a divorce under this provision. I do not want to go into the details of what the amendment means and how it makes the provision more restricted than is the provision in Western Australia.
Take a situation in which two people have been separated for five years and an application is made to the court in relation to them. Part III. of the bill imposes upon the court the responsibility to investigate an application on this ground just as it would investigate an application on any other ground. When an application is made to the court under clause 27 (m), the court is required to interview the parties in chambers or to refer their case to a marriage guidance authority within their district; and I hope that marriage guidance centres will be established throughout Australia. The court is required also to see them in chambers or to appoint a special person, even at the end of five years, to endeavour to effect a reconciliation. It is only then, when the court is satisfied that reconciliation is not possible that, to use the words of the bill, “ the parties to the marriage have been separated . . . for a continuous period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of the petition and there is no reasonable likelihood of cohabitation being resumed “, that the marriage is dissolved.
Think in terms of a couple who have been separated for five years; think in terms of the requirement to refer the matter to a marriage guidance council; think in terms of the parties being met by a judge in chambers; think in terms of somebody outside the parties being appointed in an effort to reconcile them. If, after all that has been done, the attempt at reconciliation has failed, will any honorable member in this House say that the marriage should not be made void? Will any honorable member in this House say that two people should be kept tied together after all those efforts have failed and after the court itself has found that there is no possibility of reconciliation? I do not think that any fairminded man or woman in the country would tolerate that for an instant.
A lot of play is being made on the suggestion that this clause will enable the wicked man or the wicked woman to walk out on the spouse and leave the children more or less destitute and, after the expiration of five years, to seek a divorce. This kind of legislation will have a corrective effect long before the five years has expired, because a man or a woman who has been badly treated can take advantage of other provisions of the measure to seek redress. If one or both of the parties has not taken steps to correct the position within the five years, at that point there can be no allocation of guilt to either party. They are equally guilty for whatever may have happened. If five years have elapsed and legislation of this kind has not been availed of by one of the parties, there can be no separation of their guilt. At that point, it is right and proper that within the framework of the law something should be done to correct the situation that has been allowed to exist. If for five years two people have had an opportunity to do something about a reconciliation, and about the security of their children, and neither takes any action, then the matter becomes one that should be determined by a court because either they have ceased to have any human feelings or, without being found out, they are living some other form of life. When that point is reached, it is time that the law stepped in and did something about it.
I agree with the honorable member for Banks, who said quite frankly that if everybody observed the Ten Commandments there would be no occasion for this law. Let us remember the Lord’s teaching, as recorded by Saint Luke -
Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: Condemn not and ye shall not be condemned: forgive and ye shall be forgiven.
It is not for me or any other honorable member in this House to say who is right and who is wrong when a man and a woman have been separated for five years. That is a matter for some one other than a member of this House to determine. I remind honorable members of the Lord’s words about the woman who had committed adultery and who had been brought before the Scribes and Pharisees. The law of Moses required that a woman found in adultery should be stoned to death, and when the Lord said to the assembled crowd that he among them who was without sin should cast the first stone they quietly one by one withdrew. The Lord then said to the woman -
Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?
We should never forget the final words of the Lord, as recorded by Saint John -
Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.
As I understand it, that is the true Christian attitude. I believe that when this measure has an Australia-wide trial, it will have wonderful results. I forecast that in Western Australia, which does not even have a marriage guidance council at present, this legislation will bring about a falling off in the number of divorces. In reality, this measure will do more than has ever been done in the history of Australia to reduce the number of divorces. Let us not take away from it that last provision. It is a safety valve which, I believe, will do more to restore happy family life in Australia than has ever been done in the history of this Parliament.
.- It is not my intention to discuss the provisions of this bill in detail. I feel that this may be left more appropriately to those who pride themselves on being knowledgeable in the law. I have entered this discussion only because I believe that recent public discussion has taken a turn which, if it does not concern the Government, certainly concerns me as a member of this Parliament. There is no doubt that the legislation provides some welcome social reforms, but it has other aspects which do not meet with general approval. The controversial clause 27 relating to separation is a case in point. My attitude to divorce is that as it affects the individual, it is a close personal matter. It evokes in me a feeling of sorrow and regret that a marriage has not worked out and that the unfortunate couple have not found happiness. Fortunately, the number of people who are involved is not high and, as a consequence, the bill before the House, in its widest application, will have a limited field of operation.
The personal effect of the bill will fall on a relatively small number of people. There has been no public demand for it to. meet an urgent situation. There is no! great public feeling about it as there is, say, about the extension of the means test, an increase in social service benefits and other social reforms of this nature. There has been no great outcry against the proposals as a whole comparable to the feelings that were generated when the recent increases in postal and telephone charges were announced. Those were matters of general concern, but divorce is isolated in effect. Because the people are not vehement in their views, it does not follow, however, that the electorate is indifferent to the measure. On the contrary, there is a concern amongst the people who hope that the Parliament is acting wisely and is doing the right thing. It must not be thought that the electorate is unaware of what is going on. Although divorce is an action that is related to civil proceedings it has, to the average individual including myself, a religious content, and the electorate generally is reluctant to moralize on this subject. Accordingly, they are content to leave expressions of opinion to their religious leaders. It is here that I believe the Government has fallen into error in the manner in which it recently treated the expressed views of two of the largest religious bodies in Australia-the Anglican Church and the Catholic. Church. The views of the leaders of those were spoken on behalf of their followers, and as such they were entitled to more respect. The attitude of the Government may easily generate resentment.
In. my electorate the people say they welcome the improvements submitted in the bill, but their general observation is, “ I do. not want to see divorce made easier “. That I believe, expresses the. opinion of most people, and implies a deep, belief in the sanctity qf marriage. That is precisely theclaims that they thought their church leaders were making.
The bill,. Mr. Speaker, was. introduced in the House, on 14th. May last. Often this House is something of a legal cockpit, the principal contenders being the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the. Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt).. They are always poised and readied, and do not hesitate to join in the battle royal. But on 14th May last the atmosphere changed, and both sides warmed to the bill. It was a great day for the lawyers. A unison of hosannas from the legal profession proclaimed that the perfect bill had been introduced. Each extolled the virtue of the bill, subtly flattering his own knowledge of the subject, until one wondered to whom the Prime Minister, like Zeus of old, would award the golden apple. I pass lightly over the fact that since then 56 amendments have been made to the bill.
I digress here to ask: What was the origin of the bill? The answer is well known - that the bill grew from the earnest desire of my friend and colleague the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) to improve conditions in a sphere of law in which he had specialized. The honorable member for Balaclava is to be commended for his efforts. As a private member he suggested welcome reforms. A private member is quite within his rights in espousing a cause, but I believe that such a cause should be capable of standing on its own feet and being judged on its own merits. Therefore, it seems either a brave or a hazardous action for the Government to take over a private member’s bill and give it Government patronage and support, when the bill deals with a subject which in some of its applications is likely to tread heavily on the susceptibilities of a large section of the community. Because of this, members on both sides of the House welcome theannouncement by the Government that the vote on the bill will be on a non-party basis, in that members will be entitled to vote according to, their consciences. I hope that the Government has not changed its mind in that matter, because recent press reports could be interpreted, as indicating that the Government is treating this as a party measure and is prepared to stake its reputation, on it. Accordingly, it might be wise for the Government to re-affirm the non-party character of the bill and to say whether it is to be the subject of a true free vote or of a pressurized “ free “ vote.
I mentioned earlier that I entered this debate only because public discussion of the bill has taken a turn which,I fear, does not improve the atmosphere. I. am, indeed, concerned that because leaders of the Anglican and Catholic faiths have voiced their doubts about certain sections of the bill it has been said that those religious leaders have not given proper consideration to the matter, and that their capacity to understand human nature is in doubt. As a final dictum it was stated that the bill was in the best interests of the public. In other words, the Commonwealth Parliament is to set itself up as the supreme authority, the complete moralist, in this matter. I wish to make it quite clear that I do not subscribe to those views? Willingly or unwillingly the Parliament has to accept responsibility in this matter. So too, have the Anglican and Catholic faiths and, indeed, church people generally. In my view they are quite capable of assessing and understanding not only the bill, but also have a true knowledge of humanity and human values.
All members of this Parliament from time to time deal with problems of their constituents which are beyond the scope of representations to departments. Where help may rest on spiritual understanding and an appreciation of human relations I have never hesitated, with the constituent’s approval, to consult his minister of religion. Within my electorate I have a happy understanding with the clergy - I do not preach and they do not make political speeches. That establishes a mutual respect between me and the clergy for our separate fields of endeavour which, nevertheless, meet on matters of this kind that have a spiritual as well as a political implication.
I do not regard the opinions offered by the church leaders on this bill as political interference. I accept what they have said as prompted by a deep sense or responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their people. This matter is one of far-reaching social reform, and the churches are not only entitled but, in my opinion, obliged, to put forward their views, either in support or in criticism of the bill. There are representatives of this Parliament who are rather jealous of their legal reputations. If the position were reversed, and the church leaders told them, first, that they did not know what they were talking about and,, secondly, that they did not know their law, I imagine that the wigs would be quickly on the green.
A Sydney newspaper recently contested claims that clause 27 would encourage illicit unions. It stated that only experience would demonstrate if this would be so. In other words, the newspaper suggests that the bill should be tried out and, if found wanting, could be altered. That, I suggest, hardly faces up to political reality.
It is significant that this is the first time in 59 years that a Commonwealth Government has interested itself in divorce legislation. The Commonwealth has always regarded such legislation as more properly the domestic responsibility of the States. It is, therefore, a safe prophecy that once this body is buried it is highly improbable that a future government will dig it up. If this measure is approved it will remain untouched for many years to come. That is one of the risks involved, and I expect is the inspiration of the amendment to refer the bill to a select committee. As I have said previously, when the bill was introduced it was hailed as the perfect bill. Since then 56 amendments to it have been made. Does this represent the ultimate in amendment of the bill? I doubt it. But who will be rash enough, once the bill is passed, to suggest further amendments to it in the future? If the bill has imperfections remaining in it when it is passed, it is hardly likely that they will be remedied in our time.
Paragraph (m) of clause 27 of the bill provides for the granting of a divorce by mutual consent after five years. This has been freely discussed and I do not propose to go into further details. Whether honorable members agree or disagree with my colleague the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), I think the House as a whole was impressed with the sincerity of his approach to his matter as shown by his address earlier this evening. It is argued that clause 27 (m) is the corner-stone of the bill and that if it is altered the bill will fail in its main purpose. I do not agree with that argument. Briefly, I say, corner-stone or no corner-stone, I do not propose to vote for that clause.
I am surprised that there has not been greater opposition to that portion of the bill which restricts publication of proceedings in divorce courts. In my opinion, one of the greatest bars to divorce is fear of the publicity involved. Public opinion is still the greatest guardian of public behaviour, and if the divorce courts are to work behind a curtain of secrecy, inevitably the effect will be to make divorce more attractive and a more popular solution to marital problems. It will tend also to increase the number of collusive divorces. While the facts may be publicized, collusion brings the fear that some one who reads any false statement may reveal the truth. However, as publicity is reduced so is the fear of discovery, and to many people the risk becomes worth taking. Of course, there is an argument for the suppression of evidence. Many people are disturbed by the way in which unsavoury details are presented for public consumption. However, while there is a public appetite for salacity, some one will find means of satisfying it. If it is not divorce evidence, it will be something else. Unless we are prepared to place a rigid censorship on all published matter - and I hope that this community will never agree to that proposal - the moral tone of the community benefits nothing by closing one particular source of material.
Experience in other fields shows that suppression of information about court proceedings always has undesirable consequences. In all States, children’s court cases, for example, are held in camera. There are unanswerable arguments for this policy, yet it is a fact that it is amongst juveniles that crime is increasing - so much so, that child delinquency is among the greatest problems ever of our time. There is little doubt that the absence of publicity for the individuals concerned has been one contributing factor to it. In divorce cases, I feel that the arguments for suppression of the evidence, strong though they be, are outweighed by the arguments against it.
Finally, as one who is concerned with the practical application of politics and government, I still ask myself what compulsion made the Government feel it had to take up this matter of divorce? If we are not striving for uniformity, for uniformity’s sake, I wonder if the time and energy devoted to these divorce matters by the House might not have been more fruitfully expended on such social problems as the means test, health, the whole question of thrift and the thriftless and the general welfare of the people, leaving divorce to take its place in the priority of need. Surely consideration of these other important matters would improve the lot of a vastly greater number of people with greater benefit to the Australian community as a whole.
.- This is the first divorce bill introduced into this Parliament with the blessing of a government, in the whole 57 years of federation. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), when Attorney-General, did give consideration to the question of the introduction of a uniform divorce law and appointed a committee which consisted of Mr. Justice Toose of New South Wales, the honorable member for Balaclava, Mr. Joske, K.C. - as he then was, and Q.C. as he now is - and Mr. H. G. Alderman, Q.C, of South Australia. That committee made certain recommendations, but nothing was done about its report until the honorable member for Balaclava himself brought down a bill which, I understand, was based largely upon the recommendation of the committee.
That particular bill was read to this House and passed its second reading, but was not proceeded with. When it was under consideration, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) moved the following amendment to the motion for the second reading: -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the Bill be referred to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament because of its great importance, its far-reaching implications to all sections of the community, and the necessity for the widest possible prior consultation with child welfare and marriage guidance councils, churches, and social institutions vitally interested in the matters covered by the Bill “.
If my recollection is correct, that proposal was voted upon and although the bill was supposed to be a non-party measure, the only people who voted for the reference of it to a select committee were members of the Australian Labour Party. All members on the Government side, voting at that time, voted against that proposition. When the amendment was defeated, the second reading of the bill passed on the voices. There the matter ended until the present AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) happened into the Parliament and became AttorneyGeneral following the transfer of his predecessor to the high post of Australian Ambassador to Washington. I think there are many people in the churches throughout Australia to-day who now wish that the Honorable Howard Beale did not seek or accept that appointment. I think they would have been much better satisfied if the bill produced by the honorable member for Balaclava had been proceeded with.
As the Attorney-General has claimed, the bill we are now considering has received a great deal of attention at his hands. It has received so much consideration that, as the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) just remarked, the AttorneyGeneral has circulated no fewer than 56 amendments to it. That must be a record for a bill which is simple enough in many ways, particularly for a bill of this sort. Of course, there have been other pieces of legislation before the Parliament which have been amended in many ways by various governments, but this particular measure has received much treatment at the hands of its author.
We live in a pluralistic society, and I think it is true to say that 75 per cent. of the Australian people approve of a uniform divorce law. All leading churchmen and very many church people are opposed to divorce. By “ church people “ I do not mean just nominal Christians or nominal Jewish religious people. I think that the generality of the people, even many church attendants, do approve of divorce. They have shown their opinion in that regard in various gallup polls. One was taken in July of this year which showed that 83 per cent. of the people would rather have a Federal divorce law than State laws.
It must not be assumed from this that people really relish divorce. I suppose no couple goes to the altar to be married, or to a registry office for that matter, with the thought in their minds that their marriage will fail. They do not want it to fail; they hope it will not fail. The great majority of them want to be faithful to their marriage vows. But, human nature being what it is, many marriages break up, and that is the tragedy we and every generation has to face.
Over many years the various States of Australia - and, before federation, as colonies - have passed various divorce laws. When the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) sought to secure a uniform divorce law, and I think I am doing him justice in saying that he did not take the most liberal views - if I may use the term “ liberal “ in this connexion - that were held in some States. He rather felt that divorce should be made more difficult. But the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) is under fire to-day from church people throughout Australia who believe that the bill will make divorce easier. The Minister has been attacked on that ground by quite a number of very reputable church people. The church people do not say that the bill is wholly bad. Most of them say that it is good in parts. If I may use a well-known expression, they consider that in that respect it is like the curate’s egg. They also think that, while being good in parts, it is also bad in parts, but I am sure that if the Attorney-General would delete sub-section (m) from proposed section 27 he would have no difficulty in passing the legislation through both Houses of Parliament. It is at this proposed sub-section that most of the criticism is being levelled to-day.
The new Primate of Australia, the Most Reverend Hugh Gough, forwarded a letter to me the other day. I presume that he has forwarded a similar letter to all members of this Parliament. I agree with what he has written, and I have communicated with him to that effect. He includes in his letter a statement of policy of the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia, made in June of this year, before he had reached Australia. This is what the bishops of the Anglican Church, who met in Brisbane, said about the proposed Matrimonial Causes Bill which was then before the Parliament -
Whereas the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Australia have not yet had sufficient time to consider The Matrimonial Causes Bill in toto they are prepared to make the following considered comments: -
The passage of the proposed bill would in no way alter the Church’s attitude to divorce, and re-marriage after divorce, or to the marriage of divorced persons in Anglican churches.
The Bishops recognize that the government has a duty in the present situation to legislate in matrimonial affairs. It is in this light that the Bishops view the bill.
The Bishops commend the provision which will give a uniform code of matrimonial laws throughout the Commonwealth.
The Bishops commend all provisions for attempts at conciliation, and in particular the support given to Marriage Guidance Councils.
The Bishops deplore every provision which would make divorce easier than it is at present, and they draw attention to the danger of the following clauses: -
Clause 27 (k) of the bill which would allow divorce on the ground of refusal to comply with an order for the restitution of conjugal rights, which might invite collusion and so undermine the safeguards contained in other clauses.
Clause 27 (b) allowing divorce after desertion after a period of only two years.
These, and other provisions, in the proposed bill are to receive careful study both by the Bishops and by church lawyers. On such technical points the Bishops expect to submit detailed suggestions to Her Majesty’s Government in the near future.
That statement continued in force until the bishops met in Sydney late in October last to elect their new Primate and further consider this matter. The result of that consideration is contained in a statement issued by the Primate and forwarded, I presume, to all members of the Parliament, but certainly to me. This is what it says -
The Bishops of the Church of England in Australia reaffirm the declaration on the Matrimonial Causes Bill issued by them in June, 1959.
We write now to expand our statement on what is called the “Western Australian Clause” (27 (m)) and especially to draw your attention to the views on this matter expressed in the Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, 1951-1955.
We wish to emphasize our objections to the proposal that a divorce shall be granted to a petitioner on the grounds of separation by mutual consent for a period: -
A principle would thereby be introduced new to all divorce legislation in the United Kingdom and Australia (except Western Australia), namely that the law can give release to the marriage contract without proof of any matrimonial offence.
This is the gravamen of the charge against this provision.
This “would introduce into the law a principle which would have even more damaging consequences for the institution of marriage than divorce by consent, since it would mean that either spouse would be free to terminate the marriage at pleasure.
Again I interpolate that this is what the Attorney-General has to answer, and what he has not answered as yet.
In other words, people would enter marriage knowing that no matter what they did or how their partners felt, they could always get free.”
All the quoted passages in the statement are from various sections of the report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce which is referred to in the statement. The Primate concludes with the following comment: -
For these reasons we hope that Members of Parliament will delete this clause even if this would endanger the bill as a whole. We believe that a unified divorce code of legislation is much needed in Australia, and that there are other commendable aspects of the bill: but we cannot support the bill as a whole if, as we fear, its total effect would be to undermine yet further the institution of marriage.
How did the Attorney-General react to the criticism of the bishops? He said, according to a press statement -
The community had much more decency and a much higher sense of responsibility than the Anglican bishops seemed to concede.
With due respect to him as a legal luminary, I think a body of church leaders, concerned as they are - and properly so - with the preservation of faith and morals, is in a much better position to gauge the sense of decency, high or low, of the community than is my honorable friend. The honorable gentleman tried to lock horns with the bishops, but he failed. He failed for the simple reason that he was the only one doing the work of the Prince of Darkness, in the opinion of the bishops. He has continued on his wilful way despite the criticism of the Anglican church, and despite some very firm opposition expressed on behalf of the Presbyterian church by the Reverend Gordon Powell. Thisis what the Reverend Gordon Powell said from his pulpit in St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney -
Australian society is based on the sanctity and strength of marriage on monogamy, not on “ chronological polygamy “.
Easy divorce is not a sign of progress, it is a return to the jungle.
Never had divorce been so easy as it is to-day in the United States.
The United States has never had so much delinquency and mental disease.
If divorce is made easy people treat marriage lightly and rush into it.
If divorce is hard they take longer to decide and have more chance of finding out their mistake before it is too late.
Sir Garfield Barwick has yet to prove that the price he is asking us to pay for uniform divorce laws is worth it.
The Methodist Church had an opinion also, and I understand that the Attorney-General is a very distinguished member of that Church. The Methodist Church, according to a Sydney report, said -
The “ Divorce by consent “ clause appeared to be a weak point in the new Divorce Bill.
The president of the church, the Rev. A. Robens said: “ Although the five-year separation clause- has not been discussed by my assembly, I will say it appears to be a weak point in an otherwise commendable bill. “ The Church could not support, anything which would weaken the sanctity of marriage and make divorce easier.”
The Reverend Gordon Powell made a further observation in the same vein, as did the Reverend Alan Walker. I quote the opinions of Church leaders because the Attorney-General and his supporters are determined to disregard entirely everything that every Church leader has said in criticism of. clause 27. I refuse to help to raise the palsied arm of this Government as it seeks to bestow a benediction on promiscuity. I refuse to join the Attorney-General in giving some sort of smelly, secular san.tification to barnyard, morality; and that is what clause 27 (m) does..
– The honorable gentleman is the only one who thinks so.
– And the honorable member, being. Chairman of” Committtees, has no right to interject. I shall vote for the amendment, of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr.. Beazley) on, this, particular issue.
– Of course you will.
– Because I believe in standing on the side of the angels sometimes. Speaking facetiously, I want to say that it is not often that I am able to do that in recent years, but at least on this particular issue, as it vitally affects the fundamental life of the community, I will not cast a vote to make divorce easier. The easier we make divorce the more this country will pay in juvenile delinquency, broken homes, unhappiness and in other ways in the coming years. Divorce in Reno in the United States of America can be secured almost on application, but I am sure that the United States is none the better for that.
Having, said that much, I want to deaf with what I regard as some of the good features of the bill. I think the establishment of marriage guidance councils is a very good thing. If that provision was not in the bill I doubt whether the bill would have very many supporters. Of course, the Attorney-General, in one of his amend’ ments., proposes to avoid certain obligations” that he was ready to accept at an earlier stage..
– That is not right The honorable gentleman has not read the bill.
– I have read the bill and the amendments, and I have read the criticism levelled at the bill by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence in Melbourne, the Catholic Welfare Society in Melbourne, the Red Cross organization and one other body. Those organizations have considered this matter, and they say that in one of his amendments the Attorney-General now seeks to weaken the original provision.
– That is just not right.
– The Attorney-General says that is not right. He has given judgment already. We shall be glad to listen to his explanation. I’ hope that we will have some adjournment- of the debate so that we may ascertain whether these people who are trying; to save wrecked’ marriages are being disadvantaged, as they claim, as compared with what was originally proposed. Financial assistance should be given to the volunteer organizations as well as to the governmental1 agencies which the brit in its’ present form seeks to* help.
The good clauses of the bill have been summarized in a statement by another group called the National Catholic Welfare Committee. That committee was presided over by the Bishop of Wollongong, New South Wales, Bishop McCabe, and associated with him were a number of distinguished clerics who have had a great deal of experience in divorce legislation. These are what they say are the good provisions in the bill -
The expressed endeavour “ to maintain marriage and protect the family”.
The emphasis on marriage guidance and reconciliation.
Preservation of the right to sue for judicial separation.
Procedure for enforcing maintenance orders by means of “ attachment of earnings orders “. Restriction of press publicity.
I do not agree with the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) that restriction of press publicity is a bad thing. I think it is a good thing. It has been in operation in Victoria for a number of years and I think it has had beneficial results. I think it is dreadful when newspapers can increase their sales by printing salacious news or exposing to the morbid curiosity of sections of the public the unfortunate marital experiences of citizens.
The National Catholic Welfare Committee considered the aspects of the bill that were undesirable, and they were fivefold. In particular the committee found undesirable the extension throughout the Commonwealth of the -
Western Australian provision for divorce after five years’ separation.
Tasmanian ground enabling divorce proceedings to be initiated after two years’ desertion.
N.S.W. provisions covering failure to comply with a decree of restitution of conjugal rights, even though the Federal bill lengthened the period from 21 days to one year.
The Attorney-General has gathered together all those provisions that are peculiar to various States and proposes to make them uniform throughout the Commonwealth. Well, I agree with the National Catholic Welfare Committee on this particular issue.
I disagree with the Attorney-General on a matter that has not been raised, as far as I can recollect, in the debate to-day. I do not like the idea of empowering State judges to deal with this legislation. If we are to have a uniform Commonwealth, law let us have Commonwealth courts in which decisions will be uniform, or nearly so. Let us have one Commonwealth judicial system that will deal with this particular matter. I think the time has long since passed. when we should be relying on State supreme court judges to interpret federal laws. We have a Judge in Bankruptcy, and we have other federal judges. We have a judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and we have judges in the Northern Territory and in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I think there have been other federal judges who have dealt with various matters from time to time. Last session I think we passed some amending legislation to permit certain federal judges to act in the Australian Capital Territory during the unfortunate illness of the present judge of the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Simpson.
I think we should have a federal judicial system and as much of the work that is going to the State Supreme Courts to-day as can be brought under the federal authority should be transferred to that jurisdiction. We should have a federal court that would deal, not only with divorce, but with taxation matters and with offences against immigration laws. We should follow the American pattern.
I did hope to see federal judges appointed in the various States of the Commonwealth with the High Court sitting in its own particular jurisdiction, original and appellant, in Canberra. The Attorney-General, for some extraordinary reason, will not entertain that idea. I am sure that most Supreme Court judges would be glad to be relieved of a lot of the work that they are doing to-day. A rumour is current in some quarters that the Attorney-General proposes to pay a special allowance to State Supreme Court judges for the work that they will do in this regard. I believe that some of them may have hoped that that would be so. I trust that the AttorneyGeneral will not mind my repeating that he has told me privately that he has no such intention. I do not think that the State position in these things should be strengthened.
– That is not the reason for the rush of candidates to the court.
– Is there any rush? I do not know. State courts have been complaining for a long time about the amount of work they have to do.
I am sorry that I have not with me the protest that was sent to me by people who are in a position to know about the treatment which marriage guidance councils fear the bill will mete out to them. Mr. D. Selby, who is president of the Marriage Guidance Council in New South Wales, has complained that clause 27 of the bill is not acceptable to him or to his council. They fear that it will have ill effects. I could quote other distinguished people whose opinions the Government either does not want to hear or about which it is not concerned. The very able coadjutor Bishop in Melbourne, Bishop John McKie, who has been appointed to an assistant bishopric in England, has also complained about this bill. He said -
I should have thought that if a certain ground for divorce applied in only one State it showed it had not much validity.
He said further -
All citizens should be deeply concerned to see that divorce grounds are not extended too far. As citizens we must all strive to uphold the sanctity of marriage as the first consideration, A clearer conception of the objects and principles of marriage would take much more emphasis off divorce legislation.
I commend that sentiment to the House and I hope that even now the Attorney-General will reconsider his obstinacy. I hope that he will not retain certain clauses and will not continue to be as obdurate as he has been to date.
It is possible that a move will be made to give the bishops and other church leaders an opportunity of stating a case before a select committee of the Senate. I cannot foretell what the other House will do. This is” a non-party bill and we are all expressing our own points of view. I am not applying duress nor attempting to influence any body, but I think that if this bill gets to another place a select committee might be appointed to give the matter the further consideration that it deserves. I shall vote against clause 27 (m) of the bill and I shall consider, at a later stage, whether or not I should vote against the third reading of the bill if that clause is not removed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Snedden) adjourned.
– by leave - As honorable members know, our present Governor-General, Field Marshal Sir William Slim, will be returning to England towards the end of January next after what we all feel to be a very distinguished term of office in our country. Before he leaves we will have an opportunity of saying to him some of those things that are in our hearts and minds and I will therefore not anticipate them to-night.
The immediate purpose of my intervention is to say that after communications with Her Majesty the Queen, orally when I was in London and subsequently in writing, Her Majesty has been graciously pleased on my advice as Australian Prime Minister to name as the new Governor-General of Australia, the Right Honorable William Shepherd Morrison, the retiring Speaker of the House of Commons.
Mr. Morrison has served as Speaker for nine years with capacity and dignity and, as is well known, to the great satisfaction of all political parties. He therefore has had a rich experience in a great office which has called for marked ability and impartiality.
He was born and educated in Scotland. He served in the First World War in the Royal Field Artillery. In the course of his service, he was awarded the Military Cross; he was wounded and he was three times mentioned in despatches: He practised at the English bar from 1923. He became one of His Majesty’s Counsel in 1934. He entered the House of Commons where, between 1935 and 1945 he had considerable ministerial experience. He visited Australia some years back as a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which met in New Zealand and subsequently had meetings in Canberra.
All who know him will agree with me that he is a man of remarkable character and talent, of singular devotion to public duty, and of a personality which will be widely appreciated in Australia. I am, therefore, privileged to be able to inform the House that Her Majesty has this evening - fifteen minutes ago - announced his appointment. I should add without, I hope, impertinence, that Her Majesty is herself most happy about the appointment, which has given her great personal satisfaction.
I should add, further, that Her Majesty has >been pleased to raise Mr. Morrison to the peerage under the name and style, since he was born in the Hebrides, of Viscount Dunrossil.
– by leave - -First of all, lt want to support the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) concerning the present Governor-General. He has had a very distinguished term of office and all honorable members will be pleased that a suitable opportunity will be taken by the Parliament to express its feelings to him.
With regard to the distinguished gentleman who is to succeed him I want to say only two things: First of all, it is well known to the House and to the country that the policy of the Australian Labour movement is to appoint Australians to this great post. I do not wish to debate the matter, but I do not think the House would have me speak about it without saying that.
Secondly - and subject to that comment - I agree with the Prime Minister’s reference to the new appointee who has had a very distinguished career indeed as Speaker’ of the House of Commons and who is a man of great distinction.
Debate resumed (vide page 2699).
.- Mr. Speaker, marriage and divorce is a matter that the Commonwealth Parliament can determine, and it is a matter of great social consequence. Of these things, nobody can have any doubt. This bill is an important piece of legislation because it deals with a matter which is important to every individual. It is important to the individual because it affects his personal status.
This measure, Mr. Speaker, is designed to meet the needs of to-day, and of the future. It is not designed for the needs of 50 years ago, which were associated with the social attitude of 50 years ago. Divorce is needed by the community today. Of this there can be no doubt, because of the number of divorces which occur in the community. No speaker in this debate has raised any doubt about the need for divorce legislation of federal scope or about the provisions of this bill relating to procedure and allied matters.
Some speakers have referred to various aspects of the bill which have attracted my attention and which, I feel, ought to be commented upon most favorably. First and foremost, of course, is the protection afforded to women. A most important aspect of this bill is the power given to the courts to garnishee the wages of a husband against whom an order has been made, so as to ensure, as nearly as possible, that the award will, in fact, be paid. Another important provision affording protection to women in marriage is the provision relating to property settlement. However, I want to deal with that at a later stage when I deal with clause 27 (m).
Another feature of this bill which will appeal to women, particularly in Victoria, is the removal of the burden which women in Victoria have borne in relation to divorce on the ground of adultery. The Victorian law provided for divorce on the ground of adultery only where repeated adultery had occurred. This meant that a wife could petition successfully on this ground only if the husband had committed adultery on at least two occasions.
Another great improvement in this bill is the provision that a judge who has granted a decree nisi may rescind that decree upon application by one party if it is shown that the decree was obtained by fraud, perjury or some other allied act. This eliminates the most costly procedure of appeal. The bill provides also for other matters and eliminates anomalies that are current in divorce legislation throughout the Australian States - anomalies in relation to the recognition of decrees granted overseas. It provides also for that other matter which, I think, goes right to the very heart of the need for federal legislation in this field - the problem of conflicting domiciles. This bill eliminates conflicting domiciles. With the passage of this measure, any person in Australia will be able to petition in his place of residence for divorce, without worrying about the proof of an artificial domicile. There is such facility of movement of people throughout Australia to-day, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that domicile can he regarded at best as only an artificial concept.
The bill makes provision also with respect to marriage guidance councils. The Government’s encouragement of these organizations is very welcome. It is a matter not only of encouragement but also of material help in the form of financial aid where marriage guidance councils are engaged predominantly in marriage guidance. Let there be no mistake about it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In my opinion, marriage guidance councils perform a most valuable service in the community by reuniting people who might otherwise drift into divorce. This measure provides, also, that a petition for divorce may not be brought within three years of marriage. This is yet another provision designed to sanctify marriage and to encourage as much as possible the continuity of each marriage.
Most of the criticism that has been directed at the bill - indeed, one could truthfully say all the criticism - relates to clause 27 (m), which, for convenience, may be described as the Western Australian separation ground of divorce. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) suggested that this clause is worse than a consent to divorce because it enables either spouse to end the marriage at will. That statement is so far from containing any element of fact that it is scarcely worth commenting upon. The entire suggestion is completely untrue.
In considering this matter, we can look at the Western Australian statistics and ascertain the number of divorces granted on the ground of five years’ desertion. Currently, something like 19 per cent, of divorces in Western Australia are granted on this ground. But we must recognize that these figures do not indicate the true situation, for the very good reason that a great many people prefer to bring a petition on this ground because it avoids the unnecessary unpleasantness of proving desertion, adultery or other matrimonial offences. So let us not believe that the Western Australian statistics indicate the number of divorces really attributable to separation for five years. Parties elect to proceed on this ground because they regard it as less embarrassing than other grounds.
The important point about clause 27 (m) is that it applies equally to both parties to a marriage. There is a tendency, when discussing this matter - especially on the part of the critics of mis provision- to talk about protection for a wife. It is a very noteworthy fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, on many occasions, a husband needs adequate protection no less than does a wife. 1 suggest to the House that five years’ separation as a ground of divorce is a ground of middle age. I suppose that “ middle age “ is a term which is relative, because it all depends on how old ohe is as to where one thinks middle age begins. But I think I can say, without offending anybody, that, generally speaking, this ground is not usually adopted by people under the age of 40. If parties to a marriage separate at an earlier age than that, the separation is usually for a cause which, in itself, constitutes a matrimonial offence and provides one spouse with an opportunity to proceed for divorce on the ground of desertion, adultery or whatever it may be.
The occasion for a divorce on the ground of five-years’ separation arises, usually, when the parties to a marriage have stayed together through a long and unhappy union in order to preserve the facade of marriage. There are other cases in which the parties have remained together in the hope of better providing for the upbringing of their children, and, when they have reared their children, the parties are likely to turn to divorce on the ground of five-years’ separation.
It is suggested that a wife is likely to be handicapped by the fact that a divorce may be obtained on this ground, but I suggest to the House that a wife will be greatly helped. A long-suffering wife who is denied the opportunity to proceed for divorce on the ground of desertion, or on some other ground, will be greatly helped by clause 27 (m). Let us consider the situation of a couple who have been living together for a number of years in constant turmoil and strife. The husband may have been guilty continually of a degree of cruelty to his wife, or of failing properly to maintain her or the children, and the wife may ultimately have found herself forced to leave the matrimonial home. In these circumstances, her only hope of a divorce at present is to proceed on the ground of constructive desertion. But in the field on divorce, the burden of proof on the petitioner is very heavy. On many occasions, the wife is unable to prove constructive desertion and she is perforce required to continue the legal form of marriage for the rest of her life. Under this ground, the wife in that unfortunate position will be able to sue for divorce.
Then, of course, this question arises: If a wife does sue for divorce, is she not then prejudicing herself because, while she is the wife, she has a property right on the death of the husband under testator family maintenance provisions, but she will lose that right if she divorces him? That may be true, and it is true to-day. That is why many wives who otherwise would seek divorce do not do so; they preserve their future rights as to property on the death of their husband. It may be that the man and the wife have for a number of years contributed together to the gathering of a family home, chattels and other goods, and the wife does not want to abandon her right to the property. But this legislation takes care of that situation. It provides that a judge can make property settlements after looking into the matter and deciding what is fair. The wife, if she finds herself in that unfortunate position, will be able to sue for divorce and actually receive her share of the property, instead of having to wait until the death of her husband. I
Dut it to honorable members that there are many occasions when both spouses will find this ground of divorce desirable, and, indeed, they should not be deprived of it.
The provision for divorce after five years separation does not mean that the parties will merely go to a judge and say. “ We have lived apart for five years; we want a divorce.” That is not the nature of it at all. First, the parties must be separated for five years. For the ground to succeed, there must have been no cohabitation between the parties for five years and, further, it is necessary to show that cohabitation is unlikely to be resumed. Then, if these matters are established, the hurdles are still not jumped at that stage. Next comes a consideration of the behaviour of the petitioning spouse, both before and since the separation. This is a distinct difference from the Western Australian ground, where the behaviour of the petitioning spouse only after the separation is relevant. In this legislation, the behaviour of the petitioner both before and after separation must be considered.
If it transpires that the petitioning spouse has separated from his wife in order to form a de facto association with some other woman, or alternatively if a wife has left her husband to form a de facto association with another man, then that behaviour will have to go before the judge, and the judge will decide whether, on the exercise of his judicial discretion - not a discretion in the normal sense of “ I might do this or that “, but a judicial discretion within the narrow meaning of the term “ judicial discretion “ - a divorce should be granted. So, in the vast majority of cases where there has been some matrimonial offence by the petitioning spouse, the other spouse could have sought a remedy at a much earlier point of time.
The provision for the protection of children is most important. It is that no decree absolute can be granted until satisfactory provision has been made for the children. It is a great departure from the law as it now stands and, therefore, it is highly desirable. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested to-night that the bill would make divorce easier. I think it is most important to have clearly in our minds when thinking of these matters that the bill does not make divorce easier. If there is any criticism to be made of it, it can only be that it is providing divorce for those people who are parties to a marriage which is irretrievably broken but who at present cannot get a divorce. It is not a matter of making divorce easier; it is making provision for divorce for people who are otherwise unable to get it but who are parties to a marriage that is irretrievably broken.
– And can live with some one else only illegally.
– The honorable member for Port Adelaide says, “ And immediately live with somebody else “.
– I said, live with somebody else illegally.
– He is on your side.
– He is on my side? Good! I thought he was like the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) or the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), with whom I propose to deal shortly. The honorable member for Fawkner has the incredibly mistaken belief that clause 27 (m) is an encouragement to a man to go off with a woman, believing that he can legitimate his children. I do not know where the honorable member for Fawkner got such information as he used in the speech that he made in the House to-night, but I do wish that he had got some accurate information on the law on legitimation. 1 think it could be simply stated as this: A child cannot be legitimated if at the time of its birth there was an impediment to the marriage of the parents.
The honorable member for Fawkner says that this is an encouragement to go off, form a de facto association, beget children, subsequently get a divorce on five years’ separation and marry the mother; and then the children are legitimated. That is completely wrong. There is no basis whatever for making the statement, and it departs from fact. Of course, if a man does go off with a woman, he will then find himself caught up in the provision that he cannot be granted a divorce if his behaviour is such that it would be contrary to public policy to grant the divorce. The woman is in precisely the same position as the man. That is one of the great purposes of this legislation, that a woman is in precisely the same position as a man in regard to enforcing grounds for divorce.
I merely add, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when viewing this matter of encouragement to go off and have illegitimate children, a most important consideration is the potential illegitimate children - the children who are not yet born but who are likely to be born illegitimately. They have a right in this matter and they have a personal status to consider. I think that this should be that they will go through life with the status of legitimacy. The only way that will be achieved is by enabling the cessation of irretrievably broken marriages. I cannot allow the remarkable statement of the honorable member for Fawkner to ti unchallenged, that in his belief children are better off in a situation of friction than in a situation created when a marriage is broken and the parties are separated. This may be a matter which relates to the individual child and to the experiences of that child in the atmosphere in which it lives. It may be a matter which relates to the particular parents, but for anybody to generalize in the way in which the honorable member has generalized reveals, I think, merely an approach to the veneer of the problem. This is a matter of individual humanity, and nobody can generalize about it.
I cannot but feel that the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), a man for whom I have the greatest respect and liking, has sought to cover up completely the true issues in this matter and has refused to face them. Apparently feeling that he ought to say something, he put together a number of colorful phrases, attractive and amusing; but he has not approached the true issue that is involved - the personal status of the individual, which I believe this bill will protect adequately. I support the bill in its entirety.
.- I enter this debate with some trepidation. I expect that the speech which I am about to make will most likely be one of the shortest that I have ever made in this Parliament, that is, of course, if I am not provoked by interjections. This proposal has been before us now for some considerable time, and I have to admit frankly that there was a time when I believed that there would be very little opposition to the proposal that was brought forward by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), which appeared to me to be a reasonable advance on the existing situation in this country. I think that very few people would not agree that it is wrong in principle to have six - or eight, counting the two Territories - differing laws in divorce. I agree entirely with my colleague, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), that we are not now determining whether we shall have divorce laws in Australia because we already have them, but we are determining whether we shall have uniformity in our divorce laws. However, I do not agree that even for the sake of uniformity we should grab and endorse any bill that is presented to us. We should examine it very closely. There is no need for great urgency in a measure of this description. I think that it is the first measure of its kind that we have had to discuss in the Federal Parliament. We have been able to get along in some way for quite a period, I agree with the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) that there are many other matters to which we could have been directing our attention in preference to this measure.
Let us examine the existing situation. This is a. most unusual experience for every member of this Parliament, because never in my recollection have I known both sides of the House to declare a bill to be a nonparty measure thus; permitting every member to make his own decision as to the way in which he will vote. I should imagine that, many honorable members who are not particularly interested in many of the matters that come before us are satisfied to vote as a majority of their party decides, on. the advice of party members who have made a close study of the. subjects and know something about them. On this occasion we cannot” do that because, in my. opinion, every honorable member is. obliged now to express his viewpoint and to indicate the reason why he will vote in a certain way.
I believe that even now, after the period that has elapsed since the bill of the honorable member for Balaclava was introduced: there is still need for further investigation. I say that not merely because it may change my view or the views of other members of the Parliament - if they have considered the bill they probably have fixed opinions on it - but because we do not know whether any one will produce an argument on a particular aspect which has not occurred to any member of Parliament, and which is worthy of consideration.
I have heard some honorable members say that this is a lawyer’s bill. Largely it is, but as it affects also human relationships, I think that it is much more than a lawyer’s bill. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has indicated that he has considered representations that have been made to him by a number of persons and organizations, but that does not appear to me to be sufficient to dispose of any arguments that have been advanced. I should imagine that if any responsible organization in this country has a viewpoint to place before this Parliament, it is far better to hear that viewpoint and to consider it before we finally determine the matter in the form of legislation. There is no reason why this important bill cannot be referred to a select committee or to a royal commission as was done in England, if somebody prefers that method, so that all aspects of it can be considered and the viewpoints of those who are interested in if placed before the Parliament.
I say without hesitation,, and. I- am sure every member of the Parliament will agree, that this legislation contains a. number of good provisions. Undoubtedly the provisions dealing, with reconciliation, which have been commended by the various speakers in the debate, are worthy of support.
However, as a member of the Australian Labour Party, I believe that the Government is disposed more to deal with the result of the situation rather than with the cause of it. Every honorable member has referred to the tragedy of so many broken marriages in this country, and we should face up to the fact that many such marriages result from inadequate housing, the low wages of the husband, which obliges the wife to go into industry, and the general poverty in the community. Honorable members, particularly those on the Government side, have continually referred to the growth of child delinquency. I believe that economic factors lead to the conditions which result in broken marriages. It is all very well to have legislation relating to divorce itself, but the Government has not been sufficiently active in removing the economic evils that bring about a state of affairs which leads to separation and divorce.
Let me: turn for a few moments to some of the provisions of the bill to which strong exception has been taken. I believe that if we had before us the bill that was proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava, we might not have had a division on it. All the arguments appear to have arisen as a result of the Government’s action in including what most members - and I find myself in this classification - find objectionable, namely clause 27 (m). which introduces quite a change in divorce law in this country. I think it was the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) who, in commenting on the provision of this clause, said it can operate both ways and that the husband or the wife can initiate the action for divorce. That is perfectly true, but I, and I am sure other honorable members, would like to know where in Australia, with the exception of Western Australia where a provision along these lines now exists, there is provision fnr the guilty party to take the initiative. In every other legislation it is the innocent party who must move the law.I believe that sympathetic consideration should be given to a woman’s application for release from a worthless man who has deserted her without making proper provision for his family and who has remained away for five years, but the situation in this case is different: In Western Australia, the action for divorce can be taken by the guilty party.
– May I interrupt you?’ I think that a self-petition by a bankrupt is a case in point where the status of a person is involved. He can go to the court himself and say, “ I have not enough money to meet my debts “’.
Mc WARD. - That is a different kind of law from the one that we are now considering. I do not intend to argue law with th« honorable gentleman or with any other legal man. in this chamber. I understand the human problem that is involved in this divorce legislation, and I say that under the Western Australian provision which has been adopted by the Government, with some variation to which I shall refer in a moment, the woman or the man may be completely innocent. That person could be the innocent party, and a separation occurs.
– It could be both.
– I am dealing with the situation where either is completely innocent of any offence. It could be the wife or the husband. Let us assume that it is the husband for the sake of the argument. After five years, not the aggrieved party, but the guilty party, initiates an action to secure a divorce. The husband is able to say thereafter, at any time the subject is raised, “ I divorced my wife “. Immediately he says that, he puts a stigma on his former wife, because the general impression would be that she was the- offending party, although, in fact, she was completely innocent of any offence.
I believe that those are considerations that ought to be taken into account. In Western Australia when a person is able to prove that during the period of separation, or before, some matrimonial offence was committed, then, if the guilty party initiated the action, the court is obliged to reject the petition. But not so in the provision before us. Under this Commonwealth provision offences- can be proved before the court but if, in the opinion of the- court; there- is> some- public interest which surmounts the other considerations, it completely disregards the factors brought forward by the innocent party. It seems to me to be completely wrong to say that this is a good provision.
I have; heard honorable members say - and I would agree - that it appears that the bill’ contains better provision for the protection of a wife who may be deserted, and for the protection: of the children of the marriage. But it does, not go far enough because, in my opinion, merely to provide that the court can grant, a maintenance order,, and order the garnisheeing of the wages- of the husband for not complying with the order, is insufficient. In order to give proper protection, the. obligation to see that the: order is observed should, not lie on. the person who has obtained the order, but should lie upon the court.
Take the: situation in New South Wales to-day. Some, of the poor devils who have been deserted would be better off if they had. never obtained a maintenance order. There, are. many- cases in which the maintenance, order has, not been observed and, under the social services legislation, a period of six months must elapse before the Department of Social Services will give the party who has obtained an order which has not. been observed any relief at all. The department argues that even if the maintenance order is not being observed, the amount provided for in the order is income. It is. easy to see the unfortunate situation that exists.
So it is not sufficient to say that a court can make a maintenance order. Responsibility has to be accepted by the court, having made the order, to’ see that it is observed. In my opinion, it ought not be left to the unfortunate person concerned to initiate action to see that the order is observed.
Now let us have a look at some of the statements made in regard to clause 27 (m). Even the Attorney-General himself is in extreme doubt about whether this provision will work out successfully. He said in his speech that he had some doubt about how it was going to operate. He said -
This ground, (m) is the result of that course, not requiring a matrimonial, offence to have- been committed, nor regarding the- commission of such an. offence, as necessarily preventing relief to the. wrong-doing party.
He continued -
Nor is the existing capacity of an innocent party to withhold dissolution indefinitely seen as necessarily just or conformable to the public interest.
After having said that the public interest had to come first, he said -
Cases might arise, too, where gross and outrageous conduct on the part of a petitioner may so offend our sense of decency that we could not in the public interest, or without grievous injustice to the innocent party, allow such a petitioner to profit by his or her conduct.
This is in complete conflict with the view earlier expressed, because if it means that public interest does not count where the petitioner is going to profit by his or her conduct, it should be necessary only to prove that the petitioner has offended. At what point does public interest supersede those other considerations to which the Attorney-General has referred?
Referring to the Western Australia measure and the provision contained in clause 27 (m) in the present bill he said -
But neither measure seems to me altogether satisfactory.
If the Attorney-General is in doubt, why should clause 27 (m) be contained in this legislation? There are other people who have doubts about it. We have heard some of their statements quoted here during this debate.
So I come back to my earlier point, and I believe I am not alone in my attitude. That is, that at this stage I want to know more about those provisions. I want to listen to, and hear more of, the arguments of honorable members and of interested people outside this Parliament before I am called upon to record a vote on this important legislation. But if the Government is determined to proceed without giving me this opportunity, I indicate now what I propose to do. I propose to support the proposal of the honorable member for Macquarie that the bill be referred to a select committee. If this proposal is defeated then I propose, when the bill is at the committee stage, to vote against clause 27 (m). If 27 (m) is retained in the legislation thereafter, I propose, finally, to vote against the third reading.
.- With some reservations I consider the bill to be a praiseworthy effort to achieve uniformity in a field where lack of uniformity can easily create selective hardship.
The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) is to be complimented on his recognition of the great need for the provision - which has been made in the bill - to support marriage guidance and to encourage the salvaging of marriages that are not irretrievably broken. Beyond that, however, the way is not so clear.
I think that the community can be divided, in general terms, into two groups in relation to this matter. There will be those firmly grounded in the Christian belief that marriage is ordained of God for the spiritual welfare of humanity; that marriage admits of no dissolution; that the words of the marriage vows must be taken literally; that marriages will endure for better or worse, through sickness or health, until death shall intervene. The provisions of the bill, even should they become law, will not change the beliefs of those people. As they do now, they will continue to accept divorce as a means of regularizing a separation; but they will not accept divorce as clearing the road to remarriage. Of course, the people in this group will maintain that when marriage breaks up the injured parties must find their consolation in their spiritual faith.
On the other hand, there is increasing acceptance throughout the community of the idea of divorce. There is, unhappily, a decreasing consciousness of the spiritual nature of marriage. The church wedding has become something of the “ done “ thing. The marriage contract becomes increasingly merely a civil contract. That expresses the outlook of those in the second group. Of course, between those two groups there are infinite shades of opinion. As far as members of the House are concerned, divorce exists. It is in being, and we find ourselves obliged to legislate on divorce mainly as a civil matter, but one with inescapable spiritual overtures. The emphasis placed on the bill’s provisions in regard to marriage guidance and reconciliation in the speeches made by the Attorney-General and other honorable members, and indeed in general public discussion of the bill, shows a public appreciation of the fact, so well stated by the Attorney-General, that the prevalence of broken marriages does threaten our strength and imperil our future. It also underlines, I believe, our obligation to strengthen the permanence of the marriage tie. We have a very great responsibility in dealing with this angle, particularly when there is a proposal to widen the grounds for divorce and so make it easier. Uniformity within the context of this bill is a very good thing but I do not believe it should necessarily be achieved by widening the grounds for divorce. But these comments are best delayed until the committee stage.
Some general comment has been made that the churches - I use the term in its broadest meaning as applying to the section of Christian thought which believes in the indissolubility of marriage - reject divorce for the purpose of re-marriage and therefore they could not express any valid views on the grounds for divorce or on this bill generally. But I think that we have to recognize that the church retains a great responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the great multitude of people, many of whom may be on the outskirts of religious practice. Therefore the church is obliged - indeed it must put forward an effort - to see that widening divorce possibilities do not become stumbling blocks before the adherents to their particular faith.
As the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) has pointed out, this is the first venture of the Commonwealth Government into the field of divorce, and when the matter has been dealt with it is unlikely that there will be any review of the provisions of this legislation. Therefore, there is no room for an experimental approach to this measure. We want to be certain, before we enshrine in perhaps unchangeable legislation any provision which may make divorce easy.
I conclude by expressing the hope that the secular aspects of this matter will not obscure the higher values of marriage, deeprooted in the spiritual conscience of the people. I hope also that the voice of the Church, maintaining divine law, will not be drowned out by the noise of lawyers extolling the virtues of their own legal creation.
.- In this bill an attempt is being made to provide a uniform divorce law throughout Australia. It was brought down by the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) after the path had been laid by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) in a bill which he brought down not so long ago. That bill had much more to commend it than this measure. I feel that the honorable member for Balaclava made a sincere and courageous attempt to bring about uniformity of divorce in Australia without pandering to the interests of any section of the community. Uppermost in his mind was the welfare of the family in Australia.
The bill before the House commends itself because of its attempt to establish uniform divorce law in Australia. It contains certain aspects which have brought praise from most sections of the community. I refer particularly to the part dealing with conciliation and that which covers the care and welfare of children. Another part provides encouragement for marriage guidance bureaux and family welfare organizations. There is also the provision restricting divorce within the first three years of marriage. But I feel that outside those few points this bill has much in it which should be condemned.
Although I have no intention of speaking about the religious aspects of marriage and divorce, I feel that at this stage I should say I believe the Churches have every right to express an opinion on this subject. Not only does divorce involve civil law but to most of the Churches it involves divine law also. Constantly in this House and in other places and in the press we find that whenever the Churches voice an opinion, whether it is on communism, divorce, education or any other matter which may be of interest to the community, certain individuals criticize them and say that they have no right at all to intervene. Above all, this is a matter on which they have every right to express an opinion. They have stated their views most conservatively and in particularly mild language. Whatever resolutions have been passed, whether by the Church of England, or by the Catholic Church in Australia, they have all been couched in the most conservative terms and have been a sincere attempt to point out to the people of Australia the pitfalls that might lie in the way of making divorce in Australia easier than it is at the present time.
Therefore, any honorable member who says that the Churches’ duty is to teach the Ten Commandments and stay out of this matter because it is of purely political concern is going too far. The Churches have every right to voice an opinion on this subject or on any matter which concerns the welfare of Australia. People who say that the duty of the Churches is ‘only to teach the Ten Commandments would possibly do well to endeavour to live up to the Ten Commandments themselves. If each one of us tried to do that, we would find that many of the laws of this country and of other countries would not be necessary.
I say this to indicate that this matter involves not only a moral and sociological issue but also a civil issue. As the guardians of our welfare, the Churches, irrespective of denomination, have a right to voice an opinion based on their particular principles. Divorce is a moral issue and the provisions of this bill should be discussed fully and openly in this Parliament and be listened to by all sections of the community without bias. As the AttorneyGeneral pointed out in his second-reading speech, the paramount aim of the bill is to preserve the family. To do that, we have to see that we do not make it easier for people who enter into marriage to obtain a divorce without due and proper consideration. Unfortunately, I believe that the Attorney-General has erred in including in this bill many of its provisions.
I say that because in the summary which he issued on the bill, as well as in his second-reading speech, I find that not one cause for divorce in any of the States has been deleted. Perhaps the only condition that has been restricted is that of the restitution of conjugal rights which applies in New South Wales. It is interesting to note that in New South Wales five new causes for divorce have been included and five of the existing causes extended. In Victoria five new causes have been added and six existing causes extended. In Queensland nine new causes have been added and two extended. In South Australia one new cause has been added and six extended. In Western Australia two new causes have been added and four extended; and in Tasmania five new causes have been added and five extended.
In the Attorney-General’s explanatory memorandum on the bill, the grounds for divorce in the United Kingdom are shown. It appears that there are seven grounds for divorce in Australia which do not exist in the United Kingdom. For the AttorneyGeneral to say that the paramount aim of this bill is to .preserve the sanctity of marriage and the welfare of the family and then to extend the grounds for divorce in every State is like giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
I do not criticize the Attorney-General for insincerity or for not having made a definite attempt to bring a bill before this House which would meet with the approval of the Australian people, but I cannot help feeling that he made up his mind without due and proper consideration of what lay before him. I do not say this disparagingly, but I feel that most of the information on which the Attorney-General acted was a result of the efforts of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) and of people in the Minister’s department. In the United Kingdom, before the Parliament amended the marriage and divorce laws, it appointed a royal commission, which inquired into the matter from 1951 to 1955. A perusal of the report of that commission shows that it took evidence from multitudes of organizations and individuals.
I cannot help feeling - and again I do not say this disparagingly - that this bill has been made by lawyers, for lawyers and on the advice of lawyers. At the stage when the bill is being debated in this House, after having been discussed in the community for a number of months, we find a great divergence of opinion on two or three of the clauses contained in it. There is much difference of opinion on whether this should be allowed or that should be allowed. The matters now being put before the House should all have been considered before the bill was brought down. I think it is worth while reminding the House - although it has been reminded on earlier occasions - that within a very short time of the introduction of the bill the Attorney-General had to announce 56 proposed amendments. Some of them, as he says, are merely machinery amendments designed to make the legislation work a little better, but others are quite substantial. If it was found necessary, after representations had been made to him by certain organizations, to make so many amendments to the bill, surely there must be a number of other errors in it which will come to light when the legislation is put into operation.
As a layman I cannot, unfortunately, understand the bill as well as the AttorneyGeneral undoubtedly does, and there are one or two features of it which seem to me to need a certain amount of explanation. Let me first congratulate the AttorneyGeneral on the provisions for conciliation and for assistance to marriage guidance councils throughout the Commonwealth. The Minister said, in his second-reading speech -
I do not hold with the view that this work can be done satisfactorily by people who make it no more than a means of livelihood. The work will best be done by those who, as well as being trained, have a sense of vocation and who, to a large extent, volunteer their good offices in this very skilful and sympathetic task.
At a later stage the Attorney-General spoke about the duty of a judge in a divorce case. The relevant clause of the bill is clause 14. - (1.), which says: -
It is the duty of the court in which a matrimonial cause has been instituted to give consideration, from time to time, to the possibility of a reconciliation of the parties to the marriage.
This also is a provision deserving of praise. Later in his second-reading speech the Attorney-General said that the judge had certain rights to conciliate personally or to appoint a conciliator, or to do various other things. The Minister said: -
I am conscious that a judge, who unwisely intervenes and fails of his purpose, may thus cause the parties delay and expense while another judge is found and the case recommencd. But I would expect judges not to undertake to conciliate unless there are sound prospects of success, and the parties will no doubt realize before giving their consent to conciliation by the judge himself that they may thereby involve themselves in some additional costs.
They will have to pay additional costs in the form of extra legal fees. If, in the view of the Attorney-General, people who are to act as marriage guidance councillors should do that work, to a large extent, voluntarily and out of a sense of vocation, then I think it is only reasonable to expect that if a judge intervenes in order to conciliate in a divorce matter, the legal men acting in the case should also volunteer their services out of a similar sense of vocation, in order to preserve the welfare of the family. Without being in any way disparaging, let me remind the House that lawyers are able to act in divorce matters only because of the unhappiness of the unfortunate married couples, and if they are prepared to take on such cases, then surely they should also be prepared, if a judge attempts to conciliate, to refrain from charging extra fees.
I wish to refer also to the matter of damages. If I read the bill correctly, damages can be claimed only when adultery is involved. Surely a man who walks out on his wife and children and leaves them to provide shelter, food and clothing for themselves, or at the mercy of charity, is as much to blame as an adulterer. The man who walks out on his responsibilities deserves no more consideration than the man who is unfaithful to his wife. In many cases the main reason for a man walking out on his wife is that he is going to seek some other woman. Why is there not a provision in the legislation to allow any person who is not a guilty party to sue the guilty party for damages?
Provisions such as this would tend to make divorce harder and to safeguard the sanctity of marriage and the welfare of the family. But no such provisions have been included in the bill, and the only ways in which the Minister has attempted to achieve these desirable ends is by encouraging and assisting marriage guidance councils and having judges conciliate in certain cases. The Minister has made it less difficult for a person to get a divorce than it would have been in the past. As a matter of fact it will be much easier, under the provisions of this bill, in every State of the Commonwealth to obtain a divorce than it is at present. It was strange indeed that the Attorney-General should have spent a third of his speech talking about the welfare of the family, and about the family being the foundation of our way of life, and then devoted the rest of his time to a recital of clause after clause providing reason after reason why a man may leave his wife or a wife may leave her husband.
I believe that in most instances the reason for divorce is that the parties to the marriage are not prepared to face up to their responsibilities. Show me a divorced couple and I will show you one person, and in some cases two people who are intolerant, selfish, mean, immoral or unfaithful - people who are not prepared to make concessions to each other is order to keep their home going; people who are not in the true sense good citizens of Australia. Most of the weaknesses that cause divorce are weaknesses that can quite easily be overcome, if a determined effort is made by both parties to cure their faults. Sometimes divorce or separation is absolutely essential, for instance when there is a completely cruel husband, or one who is an incurable drunkard. But in many ways, and particularly by means of sub-section (m) of proposed section 27, which has come in for so much criticism, the Minister is making it possible for people who, for no other reason than that the wife cannot stand the husband or the husband cannot stand her, to break up their marriage, to separate, and, after five years, to obtain a divorce and be in a position to remarry.
The royal commission that inquired into this matter in the United Kingdom consisted of eighteen members, all of them of high repute in that country. Nine of them decided against the provision of a clause similar to our clause 27 (m) and nine of them were in favour of it. Those people heard evidence from a multitude of organizations and people, and the Attorney-General in his wisdom has now decided to make a casting vote and incorporate in our legislation the provision that was the bone of contention before the United Kingdom royal commission.
– The United Kingdom clause provided for a waiting period of seven years.
– That is so. The period of desertion in most States has been reduced from three years to two years, and the Attorney-General went to some pains to explain that that was because of the delay between the filing of the petition and the hearing of the case. But I ask him what will happen if the divorce courts catch up with the back-log of cases. Will he come into this House and say that because there is not now a twelve months delay in hearing cases, the period of desertion should be extended to three years?
Many things could be said about this bill which 1 think may be best left until the committee stage. The Attorney-General has erred in bringing down a bill that extends in all States the causes for divorce. I commend him on the conciliation aspects of the bill, on the attention that he has paid to the welfare of children and on the clause that does not allow divorce, except under certain circumstances, in the first three years of marriage. But the good work that was done by the Attorney-General, the foundation of which was laid by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), is undone when we consider that in all States the grounds for divorce have been extended and that in all States except Western Australia we have an absolutely new ground which will mean that people will be able to get a divorce virtually by consent. To say that that clause will not enable divorce by consent, because of the five-year waiting period will not hold water. I can envisage a married man living with a woman who is not his wife, or a married woman living with a man who is not her husband, waiting for the five-year period to pass. They may then apply for a divorce from their respective spouses, and as long as their actions in the five-year period are not revealed to the judge, he will have no reason to refuse to grant a divorce.
This Parliament could be dealing with a host of far more important matters than uniform divorce legislation in the time that is being devoted to this bill. I have no objection to uniformity of divorce law in Australia, but I object to the fact that this bill extends the grounds for divorce in the various States and makes very little attempt to achieve its paramount aim, which was to preserve the sanctity of marriage and the welfare of the family.
With respect to maintenance, new provisions have been inserted in the bill which will allow a wife to garnishee the wages of her husband in order to support herself and her children. I ask the AttorneyGeneral: What will happen if a maintenance order is issued against a husband and he then changes his name, goes to another State and disappears? How does the wife get on then? All those things should be taken into consideration before this bill becomes law. In a case such as I have just mentioned, what rights will the woman have? Those things should have been considered before this bill was introduced. At the committee stage, I sincerely trust that I will have an opportunity to discuss fully some aspects of the bill. It is not too late even now for the AttorneyGeneral to admit that whilst he thought his bill would be the acme of perfection and whilst he may have been misled initially by the praise lavished upon him by the law councils and the legal men in this House, he now finds that the people interested in the preservation of marriage - the church leaders and even some honorable members who sit on the back benches of this Parliament - know more about the day-to-day problems of ordinary people than the best legal brains.
The Attorney-General should consider withdrawing this bill and setting up a royal commission to investigate this problem thoroughly. That would allow all sections of the community - the churches, lawyers and everybody else - to come forward with information. The United Kingdom may have had a royal commission inquire into this matter which may have made recommendations; but Australia is a nation in its own right and what applies in the United Kingdom does not necessarily apply in Australia. The Attorney-General should admit that in this bill he has gone further than is right and just. He should admit that some of the clauses of the bill will not preserve the family, which was the paramount intention of the bill.
It is interesting to look at some divorce statistics. In Australia last year only 6,983 divorces were granted. That is an infinitesimal figure when we consider that only a few months ago 60,000 people were unemployed in Australia. It is ridiculous to say that a uniform divorce law is absolutely essential when so many people are without houses and so many are unemployed. The figures for 1958 show that 42 per cent. of wives who were divorced were in the 25 to 34 years age group, and 42 per cent. of husbands who were divorced were in the 30 to 39 years age group. The majority of marriages dissolved were of less than fifteen years duration and about 40 per cent. of such marriages were of less than ten years duration. One-third of all marriages dissolved in 1958 were childless. So, many people have made no real attempt to safeguard the sanctity of marriage. They have made no real attempt to see that the children they have brought into the world are given the love, care and attention of parents. The fact that divorced people are in the main up to 39 years of age and one-third of them are childless indicates that many people who are divorced failed to face up to the responsibilities of married life. I ask the Attorney-General to withdraw this bill and appoint a royal commission in order that all aspects of marriage and divorce may be considered by a truly comprehensive cross-section of Australian citizens.
.- Mr. Speaker, I paid full attention to the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) but I found it difficult to get any concrete facts from him. I feel that I should examine his remarks and those of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). They both appear to be critical of the large number of amendments to the bill that have been foreshadowed. But it appears to me that those amendments should be commended as proof of the desire and willingness of the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) to make this bill as worthy and as permanent as possible.
I shall confine my speech to what I consider to be the three highlights of the Matrimonial Causes Bill. I support the main social purpose of the bill which, I take it for granted, will have the universal approval of every thinking person, at least in principle. The three main points to which I shall direct attention concern marriage guidance and reconciliation, the five years separation provision of clause 27, and the enforcement of decrees for maintenance provided for in clause 93.
Concerning marriage guidance and reconciliation it is sufficient to say that prevention is better than cure and that cure is much better than separation and divorce. I think that even the most biased critic will agree that this bill has gone to extreme lengths to provide unlimited scope for prevention and cure. The importance of these provisions cannot be overlooked or ignored. Perhaps the greatest compliment to these provisions has been paid by the most vocal critics of other aspects of the bill. They say that these provisions are so good and have such great appeal that they are being used as a cloak for less desirable features, including easy divorce. I do not think that this is true. It is not in accord with the facts.
Divorce is not being made easier in any clause of this bill. I conscientiously believe that practical application will reveal that the reverse is the case. Separation and divorce will be harder and the incidence of broken marriages will be reduced. At the same time, the bill will be humane and realistic in its application. It will help to reduce the human suffering which exists to-day. I therefore suggest in all humility that the role of our churches and social organizations is the role of teaching, and supporting practical morality and practical Christianity in the prevention and cure of social ills. Marriage guidance and reconciliation must be our major job.
This brings me to clause 27 (m) - the five years’ separation provision, or, for the sake of easy reference, the five-year plan. This much maligned provision has operated in Western Australia over many years with great success and, I say emphatically; with great satisfaction to all sections of the people except those who do not approve of divorce on any grounds. Therefore, as divorce is regarded by the large majority of people all over the world as a necessary social law, clause 27” (m) must be accepted as a modern, humane provision the value of which has been proved beyond doubt, over 14 years’ of operation, in Western Australia. It does not make divorce easier.
Perhaps the main point overlooked by those who do not understand this is that practically every person who obtains a divorce under this provision could have and would have - mark you, would have - obtained a divorce on other grounds. These would have been much more undesirable grounds such as desertion, cruelty and adultery. Surely we must realize that it is rare for normal people to separate without real cause - a cause which itself is grounds for divorce. People would prefer to avoid some of the moral stigma associated with the real grounds, because of the serious detriment to their family’s future.
It will, therefore, be clearly realized that, with rare exceptions, this provision does not make divorce easier. It just makes it cleaner. I know there are people who will say, “ Why allow it to be cleaner? Let them take the consequences of their folly.” That those who live by the sword should perish by the sword is their belief. If the parties to a divorce were the only ones involved there might be grounds for this line of thought. But of the greatest importance is the family and the undesirable effects on the children who suffer enough by divided parents. Surely it is extremely bad psychology to let them know unnecessarily - and to let them know that the public knows - that one or other of their parents is an adulterer or worse? You do not have to be a psychologist to realize the effects that such treatment could have on future divorces. Many otherwise responsible parents1 will make sacrifices in order to wait and apply under the five-year’s clause, purely for this purpose, and the provision should be there for them.
Perhaps the most significant proof of the success of the five-year plan in Western Australia is that divorce has decreased in that State more than in most other States. When I hear an honorable gentleman talking about this clause as if it were some horror, it positively amazes me. Divorce has not been found easy in Western Australia. Any one who has studied the graph which shows a. comparison of the number of divorces in the various. States will be fully convinced on this point because, it would convince the most incredulous critic. For example, in 1947,. there were 814 divorces in Western Australia - one for every 625 of the population. In 1958 there were 536 divorces - one for every 1,316 of the. population. And these are the figures for a State in which divorce is said to be easy! It is really laughable. Since 1950 - after the effects of the war period had subsided: - the drop in divorces in Western Australia had been 8 per cent, greater than in any other State of the Commonwealth. Further to confuse the. critics, the. total number of defended, cases on the grounds of the five years’ separation in the last two years has been twelve - an average of six per year, or less than 5 per cent. This proves that this provision is seldom used by one party to force an unwanted divorce on the other.
In the 14 years of practical experience in Western Australia, there has been no indication that it is inadvisable to have the separation provision. Surely those who are interested in a national aspect of divorce must take a practical and logical view of this provision. There is nothing in clause 27 (m) that will increase divorce. On the contrary, there is. much concrete evidence that it will save human suffering: I believe that to reject clause 27 (m) would be contrary to humane conduct and would only assist in breaking down the meaning of the law. I believe that its inclusion will preserve, in a practical manner; the moral standards and conduct of our society. It will’ reduce illicit associations and perpetual immorality. This must be the firm desire of every church and social organization and I believe it is the desire of honorable members of this Parliament. Therefore, the fears of the critics are without real foundation. At worst, the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages that may exist m a minor form.
Mr. Speaker, I now come to the third point which I wish to make. It concerns clause 93, which provides for the enforcement of orders for maintenance. So far, I seem to be the only member of the House who has taken this matter seriously. I believe that this clause is most important and significant, and that it is the most farreaching clause in the bill. It provides complete financial protection for a wife and family - protection of a kind which has never before been available, particularly on an interstate basis. The provision for attachment of both earnings and property, in my opinion, is the greatest deterrent to divorce that has ever been devised. A man who is morally unsound will invite financial disaster if he gives rein to his loose moral attitudes. At the very best, from his point of view, he will face a very much lower standard of living. This will deter the most errant and wanton husband from pursuing a dangerous and unhappy existence.
In my short experience in Parliament, I have had a number of appeals for assistance from deserted wives and families who have been holding useless maintenance orders which were not worth the paper they were written on, because the legal costs of enforcement were greater than the amount that could be collected, particularly where former husbands had moved to another State, whether or not it had reciprocal legislation. I can assure honorable members that wives in Western Australia suffer from that sort of thing more than is the case in other States. Extreme hardship has been caused in thousands of cases, and there has been a long-felt want for a better system of maintenance payments. This clause will receive the approbation and blessing of every woman who holds a maintenance order. It will receive, also, the grateful blessing of all parents of daughters, and will be strongly supported by them. I am sure that the value of the security it affords families and the strong deterrent that exists in its provisions are not yet .fully realized. Clause 93 is to be very highly commended.
I believe, Mr. Speaker, that this bill will be hard on the casual delinquent but that it represents a realistic approach to the circumstances of marriage partners who are irrevocably separated. This measure will contribute greatly to the moral welfare and the social advancement of our country. Perhaps I may be permitted to bring to the attention of honorable members the words of a prayer that is repeated daily in the United States Senate. Its words are very appropriate to this bill. The prayer is in these terms -
Give us the strength to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed.
In this case, human nature -
Give us the courage to change the things that can and should be changed.
Our divorce laws -
Give us wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
I think that the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has done this with great skill. I trust that this bill will receive the support of all honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Duthie) adjourned.
Hire Purchase - Public Service - Repatriation - Questions on Notice - Adjournment Debate.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you are now in the chair, because it was you who, as lt were, shot me down in flames this morning when I attempted to raise at question time the matter which I wish to raise now. No doubt, you were perfectly within your rights.
This matter concerns a large banking and hire-purchase company m Tasmania, which is offering loans on hire-purchase transactions without deposit, on condition that the borrower takes out a life assurance policy. I have with me the files on the case that I wish to raise, and these files completely authenticate what is happening. Custom Credit Corporation Limited, which is a subsidiary of the National Bank of Australasia Limited, not long ago advanced a borrower £20, to be repaid in four monthly instalments of £7 each for the purchase of a watch. Whatever we may think about some one going to a company for a loan of £20 in order to buy a watch, the fact is that this actually happened. Custom Credit Corporation Limited, in addition to making a profit of 40 per cent., Mr. Speaker, insisted that the borrower of the money take out a life assurance policy for £450 with Custom Life Assurance Limited, another subsidiary of the National Bank of Australasia Limited, at an annual premium of £6, and without the normal personal statement and medical examination usually required in all similar assurance transactions. I want to ask the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt): Does he agree that this sort of business is little short of sheer extortion, and will he order an investigation in order to see whether the Commonwealth or the States have power to stop transactions of this kind?
That, in a nutshell, Mr. Speaker, is the story, which I wanted to relate this morning. This matter is very important, because it affects the whole principle of life assurance.
– It has nothing to do with the Commonwealth Treasurer. It is a matter for the Tasmanian Treasurer.
– It is all right for the honorable member to say that. The Commonwealth Treasurer can get in touch with the Tasmanian Treasurer, if he likes, and ascertain whether the State Government could do something to stop this sort of practice. That is all I am asking for. I know that the Commonwealth cannot always work miracles, but we believe that the hire-purchase companies to-day are already getting enough out of the people without putting this sort of thing over an innocent person who merely wanted £20 for the purchase of a watch. She found that, as part of the transaction, she had to take out a life assurance policy for £450. That is a form of bribery and extortion of which T, for one, do not approve. I condemn it as being unworthy of the company concerned, or of any other company that may try to perpetrate such a transaction in Australia.
I leave the matter at that, Mr. Speaker. I trust that the Treasurer will make inquiries to see whether the State could enact legislation to stop this kind of extortion.
– Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise again a matter that
I have previously brought to the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Government in the appropriate way in this House. I refer to the attitude of the Commonwealth Public Service Board towards the employment of ex-servicemen - particularly men who are suffering from war disabilities and are in receipt of war pensions.
I shall quickly state again the case in question. It is that of an ex-serviceman who was accepted by the Public Service Board, on his capacity intellectually and otherwise, for employment in a clerical position in the Commonwealth Public Service. Subsequently, his employment was terminated on the presentation of a report by the Repatriation Commission which, according to the Public Service Board, showed that he was not capable of satisfying the medical standards laid down by the board. This ex-serviceman was receiving a 50 per cent, war pension, and he subsequently applied to the Repatriation Commission for an increase. His application was rejected on the ground that he was reasonably fit. Following that, he again applied for employment in the Commonwealth Investigation Branch. He was a member of the Police Force before his enlistment and I understand that his qualifications were such that these officials wanted to employ him. But again he was rejected by the Commonwealth Public Service Board on medical grounds. However, at the same time, he is unable to obtain any increase in his repatriation pension.
Cases of this nature have been raised by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) and Reid (Mr. Uren) and other honorable members. It is unmistakably clear that the Public Service Board is discriminating against men who are suffering from various conditions because of service rendered to this country. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) informs me that he has also raised with the Government cases of physically handicapped persons. The point I make is that the Public Service Board has refused employment to men who are suffering from disabilities, but on the other side of the picture, when these men apply to the Repatriation Commission for an increase of pension, they are denied it. Many others of whom we do not hear anything may also be affected. In the case I have raised, the man is entitled to be employed by the Public Service Board or to be given a 100 per cent, pension by the Repatriation Commission. The Government cannot have it both ways.
Personally, I think the tribunal ought to be investigated. But I say here to-night that a royal commission should inquire into the administration of the Public Service Board and its treatment of ex-servicemen suffering from war disabilities. The treatment of the man I have mentioned is scandalous. I brought this case to the attention of the Prime Minister and Sir William Dunk, but the man has been wiped off. Naturally, he is very upset. When he enlisted he was fit and well. He served with distinction overseas, was seriously injured and on his return was given a 50 per cent, disability war pension. But here the Public Service Board refuses to give him a clerical position because of a report from the Repatriation Commission. One would think that he would get some compensation for the loss of that position, but, on the other side of the picture, we find that the Repatriation Commission refuses to increase his pension.
I repeat that the treatment of exservicemen by the Board is scandalous. The widespread discontent thus created is shown by the many complaints that we have received. Possibly many others may have been rejected on similar grounds, but we do not know of them because they have not contacted their members. I would be pleased to submit particulars of the case I have raised to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), who is at the table, for presentation to the Prime Minister. I believe this case requires special investigation, as do the other cases that have been mentioned in the Parliament. They show alarming discrimination by the Public Service Board, apparently with the full endorsement of the Government because no action is taken to correct the position. I register my protest at the treatment of these exservicemen. This treatment is so scandalous that it justifies a royal commission being held into the general administration of the board, particularly as it affects the employment of ex-servicemen.
.- I compliment the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) on raising this matter.
Too frequently in this Parliament we hear complaints about the treatment of exservicemen. The present complaint could not have come at a more appropriate time, because only yesterday we celebrated Remembrance Day. Members of the Parliament trooped across to the various functions that were held as part of the ceremonies and here, on the very next night, we have an instance of discrimination against ex-servicemen by a public authority. Members of the ex-servicemen’s committee on the Government side of the House have either gone to sleep or are afraid to raise their voices in protest against some of the actions of the Government.
I take this opportunity to raise a matter regarding ex-servicemen. I raised it on a previous occasion, but I think it is appropriate to bring it under the notice of the Government again. It refers to exservicemen who have reached the state of permanent invalidity as a result of war service but whose disability is not accepted by the Repatriation authorities as war-caused or aggravated by war service. They are now incapable of caring for themselves and have neither kith nor kin in a position to provide the care and attention necessary in the last days of their lives. These men are not cared for in repatriation hospitals because the act does not make any provision for them. The War Veterans’ Home will not accept them because they are bed-ridden, and private institutions are too costly for men with limited income.
An obligation rests on the Government to care for these men. I am speaking about bed-ridden ex-servicemen who have never been able to satisfy the Repatriation Commission that their disabilities resulted from war service or have been aggravated by war service. They have neither kith nor kin to care for them and the repatriation hospitals are unable to cater for them because of the decision of the Government and of the Repatriation Commission to limit the treatment in repatriation hospitals to disabilities that have been accepted as warcaused. A number of organizations have been pressing the Government to do something for these men. One such organization is the 53rd Battalion A.I.F. Association. I received its letter on this subject some time ago and raised it at that time. I again bring it to the notice of the Government now.
The other matter that I wanted to refer to concerns the attitude of Ministers when answering questions on notice. The idea behind putting a question on the noticepaper is that Ministers could not be expected to give the information sought in some questions without recourse to their departmental records. However, when a member puts a question on the noticepaper, he expects to get the information that he is seeking and not the type of reply that I have received in recent times in reply to several questions that I placed on the notice-paper. One question was directed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I shall read the question and then the answer, and ask honorable members on both sides of the House whether they regard the answer as a reasonable reply to my request. I asked -
Here is the answer - 1 to 3. It has been the established and wellknown policy of the Government to dispose of the Commonwealth interest in industrial or commercial undertakings whenever it believed that the activity was more appropriate for private enterprise or whenever the purpose for which the undertaking was established or acquired no longer existed. Action taken from time to time in accordance with this policy is a matter of public knowledge.
I imagine that the reason that the Government has not given a reply is because it is ashamed of its record and because the details would make such a list of betrayals of public interests by this Government that, for political reasons, it is afraid to release the information. But I have my rights as a member of this Parliament and when I seek information from a Minister which can be readily provided, I expect to have it supplied to me. I asked a question, also. of the acting Treasurer. It was in these term si -
What is the present value of the Australian pound in terms of the C series index as compared with the year 1948-49?
Here is the answer -
Any comparison in terms of the C series index would apply only to the “purchasing power” of the pound over the component items of that index combined in their specified proportions. Dispersion of prices and charges renders it impossible to compil a general measure that will represent, in all. circummstances and in all classes of transactions, changes in the value of money from onedate to another.
Who would accept that as a proper answer to a question? It is not difficult to supply the information. Everybody knows that C series index figures are compiled on a certain list of comodities, and it is the simplest thing in the world to make a comparison between the cost of those commodities in 1948-49 and their cost now, and to assess the value of the £1 in relation to the C series index. It is not a difficult matter at all. I do not want to know, as the acting Treasurer has indicated in his reply, about the items of the index “ combined in their specific proportions “, and about the “ dispersion of prices and charges which renders it impossible to compile a general measure “. The question to which I required a reply was simple and. straightforward.
We know that the Government has become very arrogant of recent times. We very rarely see the Prime Minister in the chamber during the debate on the motion to adjourn, which is one of the few occasions on which the back-benchers, as we are termed - the ordinary members of the Parliament - have the opportunity to question Ministers. If that is to be the attitude of the Government, we will know how to act. I remember that in the days of our Government the ministerial bench would be filled with Ministers during the adjournment debate waiting to hear of any matters that might affect their departments. But this Government leaves one tired Minister at the table, half-asleep and completely disinterested in the proceedings. He has that longing look in his eyes, hoping that I will either conclude very shortly or that my time will have expired. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) who now sits on the front bench has just arrived in the chamber. So, we have two Ministers and twelve members on the Government side when these important matters are being raised. It is remarkable if we ever receive any reply at all to the matters that we raise.
Even if the Ministers are absent and for some reason cannot attend in the chamber, they should make some arrangement to have any matters affecting their departments referred to them, as we did when we were in office, and a reply, furnished to the member who had raised: a particular matter. Honorable., members can- go through the records since this Government took- office’ and they wilt find; that very rarely has any member obtained: a. reply to. any question, that he. has raised during the adjournment debate; It is, about time that the’ Government sat up and took some- notice because the Opposition has rights in this Parliament. It has. the. right to. question Ministers and the Government, and. the Government is: obliged, to. give us. a reply.
Some Ministers become a little restless when, the time reaches a. couple of minutes after, midnight. I give: them this undertaking, that if they adopt this attitude they willbe kept here night after night to listen- to members of the Opposition raising important matters unless they are prepared, as they were for a period, to gag. the debate night after night. But there is a limit to what they can do in that direction because the people of this country do not want a gagged and. muzzled Opposition. They want us to raise these matters.
I ask the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), who is at the table, at least to refer my remarks to the respective Ministers and ask that I be afforded a reasonable reply to the questions that I have raised.
Mk DOWNER (Angas- Minister for Immigration) [12.3 a.m.]. - I shall not. detain the House for very long. Since the honorable, member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) wants an assurance that he will receive a. reply to the matters that he has raised’; I say at once that I shall refer them to the Minister concerned hut,, at. the. same time, considering, the aggressive, unmannerly and unjustifiable way in: which- he has brought forward his complaints to-night, he really is deserving of no reply at all. As the House very well realizes, my friend, from, East Sydney puts more questions on the notice-paper than any other member of the House. I think you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that subject to your benediction he gets the call at question time just as much as; if not more than, any other honorable member. Moreover, no member of the Opposition has any cause for complaint, at the way in. which, adjournment debates have’ been conducted during this or the last: session.. In the ten years in which I have been in. this. Parliament I have never seen the members of Her Majesty’s Opposition: receive such, what I can only describe asgenerous treatment during the debate on the motion to adjourn.
– I have heard a great deal1 about that. If the honorable member for East Sydney, instead of reviling the Government, were only on occasions minded to be generous, he. would thank Ministers for being so patient when the hands of the clock pass beyond the midnight hour, in listening to him bringing upthese complaints, night after night, some of which have some substance but others, such as the matters that he has raised to-night, can only be described as trumpery.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.5 sm: (Friday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Research, performed outstanding, work, in regard to educational research, since, its establishment in 1930?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Research has performed valuable: educational research work since its establishment in 1930.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 to 3. It has been the established and wellknown policy of the Government to dispose of the Commonwealth interest in industrial or commercial undertakings whenever it believed that the activity was more appropriate for private enterprise or whenever the purpose for which the undertaking was established or acquired no longer existed. Action taken from time to time in accordance with this policy is a matter of public knowledge.
m asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
What has been the (a) capital; and (b) published profit of each of the shipping companies in the Australian - United Kingdom-Continent Shipping Conference in each of the last ten years?
– The answer to the honorable member’s queston is as follows: -
The published accounts of these shipping companies over a period of years are not readily available in Australia. Recently I furnished the Leader of the Opposition with an interim reply on this matter, in which I undertook to obtain fuller information from our overseas posts. When this information is received I will make it available to the House.
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
What steps have been taken or are being taken to secure State legislation to extend the principles of the Civil Aviation (Damage by Aircraft) Act 1958 and the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959 to domestic and intra-state carriage, respectively?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has replied as follows: -
A very substantial part of the Civil Aviation (Damage by Aircraft) Act 1958 relates to the recognition of foreign judgments and international insurance practices which would obviously not be suitable for extension to domestic aviation. The New South Wales Damage by Aircraft Act 1952 and the Victorian Wrongs (Damage by Aircraft) Act 1953 already apply a similar principle of liability to damage caused by aircraft within these States. This legislation followed correspondence between the Prime Minister and State Premiers. To date other States have not taken similar action, but consultation will continue. The Minister for Civil Aviation has contacted State authorities with the object of obtaining State co-operation in extending the principles of the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959 to intra-state carriage by air. The Minister’s proposals are currently being examined by State authorities.
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. An additional assistance grant of £5,000,000 was provided by the Commonwealth in the latter part of 1957-58 to support the general financial position of the State governments (which had budgeted for deficits exceeding £9,000,000) and to assist them to take action to provide additional employment opportunities in areas where, because of drought and other adverse conditions, some localized unemployment had developed. Of this grant, £4,000,000 was distributed according to the tax reimbursement formula and £1,000,000 was divided equally between New South Wales and Queensland, these being the States where, mainly as a result of drought, the increase in unemployment was mainly concentrated. In 1957-58 the increase in general revenue grants to the States, which the additional assistance grant supplemented, was approximately £17,000,000. The increase in the Loan Council borrowing programmes for State works and housing purposes was £8,000,000. This financial year, an increase of more than £26,000,000 is proposed in the general revenue grants to the States and the increase in the Loan Council borrowing programme is £10,000,000. Furthermore, unlike the situation in the latter part of 1957-58, unemployment is decreasing rather than increasing and the number of unfilled vacancies is rising. As the employment position and the financial circumstances of South Australia and other States are very different today, the circumstances which gave rise to the additional assistance grant in 1957-58 do not establish a precedent for making a similar grant to South Australia in the current financial year.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 November 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19591112_reps_23_hor25/>.