23rd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– By way of preface to a question addressed to the Treasurer, let me say that as the result of the sell-out of the Bell Bay aluminium works, a government undertaking, to overseas cartels, approximately £9,000,000 will return to Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue. Is the Treasurer aware that, in effect, this sale means the withdrawal from Tasmania of a Commonwealth investment of £9,000,000? Will the Government consider re-investing this amount on some national project in Tasmania if such a project is recommended by the Tasmanian Labour Government?
– For some reason, when introducing his question, the honorable member for Wilmot talked of a sell-out in a rather disparaging sort of way. My understanding of the position is that both the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments were in general agreement on this transaction. The balance of his question, which raises issues of policy, will be studied by me. It would not be appropriate to attempt to answer it at this point.
– My question, which is addressed to the Attorney-General, relates mainly to the matter of tenders submitted to local government authorities, but it applies equally to those submitted to government departments and other bodies for construction work on roads, buildings and so on. Although these bodies receive many tenders, it is perfectly obvious that there has been collaboration between the tenderers, with the result that all tenders are submitted for substantially the same amounts and there is consequently no real competition between the tenderers. Does the Attorney-General believe that this practice would come within the scope of the proposed restrictive trade practices legislation?
– I well recognize the interest of local government bodies in this question of what is commonly called collusive tendering. From time to time over the past few months, I have had a number of complaints - if that is the right way to describe them - by local government bodies that they have had a great number of identical tenders for the supply of materials and goods to them. Of course, collusive tendering would fall within the general description of restrictive trade practices. It differs a little from other restrictive trade practices in that it is very hard to justify at all. Some restrictive practices may yet be in the public interest. The honorable member can be assured that in considering what ought to be done in the whole field of restrictive trade practices I have been considering the question of collusive tendering, and have formed some specific proposals about it.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman may remember that in August, September and October, 1952, he promised to make a considered statement on university appointments which involved security matters and that he would endeavour to evolve a proper principle which would reconcile reasonable liberty with the general responsibility which devolves upon the Government. In view of the Government’s decision last year not to allow Professor Gluckman to undertake in New Guinea studies arranged by the Australian National University, and its decision last month not to allow Mr. Brenner to take up an appointment at the University of Adelaide, will the right honorable gentleman now try to find some way to resolve the differences of view which arise from time to time between his Ministers and our universities and which affect the reputations of the appointees, the universities and the country? More specifically, will the Prime Minister at last make the specific statement which he promised nine years ago?
– I must say that I had entirely forgotten the events of 1952. We have conducted our relations with the universities for which we are responsible in a very harmonious fashion. I do not see any reason why anybody would want at this stage to provoke some points of difference.
– In asking a question of the Minister for Territories, I refer to earlier discussions concerning the need to attract people to the Northern Territory and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea for employment in the professions, trades and commerce. I ask: Is the Government’s programme for encouraging applicants for employment to go to these Territories succeeding? Are the opportunities for employment in the categories which I have mentioned still available as outlined in the earlier discussions? Finally, to whom should inquiries be directed by prospective applicants for employment with private enterprise in either of the Territories?
– I am not quite sure whether the honorable member refers only to employment in private enterprise or whether he has in mind employment with both private enterprise and government services.
– I refer to both.
– Government employment in the Northern Territory comes under the Commonwealth Public Service, and any applicant for a position in government service in the Territory should apply, either in response to a specific advertisement or generally, to the Commonwealth Public Service Board. The Territory of Papua and New Guinea has its own career Public Service, and, so far as possible, we try to make permanent appointments to that career service. At the present time, we are recruiting at the rate of about 400 to 500 new appointments every year, the limit on appointments being set not so much by the need for people as by the capacity of the territorial Administration to provide housing, accommodation and other facilities to enable new appointees to do their work. We really ought to recruit at a higher rate, but the territorial Administration has not the capacity to accept more than 400 to 500 new appointees each year. The positions to be filled are advertised publicly throughout Australia, and any person who is interested in employment in the Territories should watch the metropolitan newspapers and the Commonwealth “Gazette” for the announcement of vacancies for which he or she may apply.
There are very real opportunities and a very great need for persons for Administration employment in Papua and New Guinea, particularly in professional and technical capacities.
Recruitment for private employment is undertaken in very much the same way as in any other outlying part of Australia. Broadly speaking, a private employer would look for some continuity of employment in order to make it worth his while to pay for the passage of the appointed person and for the expenses of recruitment. Workers on wages who are interested in entering private employment in the Northern Territory may apply for employment in the Territory through the Commonwealth Employment Service, which is established there. I suggest that applicants for salaried positions in the Northern Territory, and for any class of employment in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, write to the Secretary of the Department of Territories, who will supply the names of private employers interested in recruiting staff.
– Has the Minister for Primary Industry seen a statement by an economist named Colin Clark that China will not be able to pay for its wheat on credit? Is it not a fact that China recently concluded a £21,000,000 wheat deal for cash, without strings and without concessions, and that payment was prompt and satisfactory? Also, is it not a fact that the credit wheat deal with China is fully safeguarded, that it is a similar deal to the one which was made by Canada with China, and that the Australian Wheat Board feels that there is no fear of default? Is Colin Clark’s statement about selling wheat to China at a reduced price completely wron?? Does not the Republic of China pay 13.7’’ a bushel for wheat, which is Id. a bushed dearer than the price paid by any of Australia’s other wheat customers, including Great Britain, our best customer? Can the Minister tell me where we will sell our wheat if we ignore the Asian markets? Do Colin Clark’s views parallel those expressed in Santamaria’s rural plan which would reduce the Australian primary producer to the status of “ a hut and a goat and a migrant “?
– Order! The honorable member is now getting out of order.
– Sir, I am talking about the wheat market.
– The honorable member, when asking a question, may seek information. He must not give it.
– I am seeking information, Mr. Speaker. Finally, is there such a thing as holy wheat which is good for hungry children in all Asian countries except China?
– I have not seen the statement which has been attributed to Mr. Colin Clark in relation to the sale of wheat to China, but if it is on all fours with his statements about meat it is very wrong. Apparently he is prepared to give plenty of advice without knowing his subject fully.
We would have had an immense surplus of wheat to hold had we not been able to sell it to China. I am not sure of the exact details of the sales to China but they are on all fours with the sales made to the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Australian Wheat Board was pleased to be able to dispose of that wheat because the cost of holding surplus wheat is considerable. If, as was estimated twelve months ago, we had 100,000,000 bushels of wheat surplus at the end of this wheat year - which is the end of November - it would be easy to envisage the cost, which would have to be met by the growers of Australia, for holding that wheat. In addition, we would have trouble in providing storage for the incoming crop. As the result of sales to new markets such as Italy, which I think took 600,000 tons, Egypt, which took 100,000 tons, West Germany which has bought heavily this year, Japan, which has bought pretty well, Spain and Asian countries, we will have disposed of approximately the total crop at the end of the wheat year.
The terms of our sales to China were 1,050,000 tons for cash; 750,000 tons plus the latest sale by China’s exercise of its option of 250,000 tons on credit.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether he is aware that a recent statement published in his name contains the following paragraph: -
The widows of invalid pensioners and permanently incapacitated age pensioners will receive an increase of 12s. 6d. a week, bringing the maximum rate of widows’ allowance up to £2 7s. 6d. a week. The allowance for the first child will be at the new rate of 15s. a week, an increase of Ss.
Is this statement in accordance with fact or with the Minister’s recent speech in this House relating to the Social Services Bill 1961?
– I am indebted, Mr. Speaker, to the honorable member for Wide Bay for bringing to my attention typographical errors appearing in the statement issued under my name last Friday. In paragraph 3 of that statement, where the word “ widows “ is used twice the word should be “ wives “. Paragraph 3 should read -
The wives of invalid pensioners and permanently incapacitated age pensioners will receive an increase of 12s. 6d. a week, bringing the maximum rate of wives’ allowance up to £2 7s. 6d. a week. The allowance for the first child will be at the new rate of 15s. a week, an increase of 3s. 6d.
The first part of paragraph 4 should read -
Single adults will receive increases in unemployment and sickness benefit up to 10s. a week, while married people will receive this increase, together with an increase of Ss. in additional benefit for a wife and an increase of 2s. 6d. for one child under 16 years.
An amended statement is being prepared, Mr. Speaker, and will go out this day. These typographical errors were due to the fact that the statement was dictated over the telephone last Friday as soon as the amending Social Services Bill received the royal assent, and it was during the transcription of the dictated notes that the error occurred.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. I ask the Minister: Has he factual information establishing the truth or otherwise of the claim by the New South Wales Hospitals Association that the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales has £12,000,000 lying idle in reserves? Is the claim that the cost of administering hospitals in New South Wales increased by £2,000,000 to a total of £35,000,000 for the last financial year in accordance with fact? If such is the case, has the Government given any thought either to increasing the Commonwealth’s hospital subsidy or, alternatively, of requiring the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales to adopt a more satisfactory disbursement of its reserves?
– The statement, which I have seen in the press but have had from no official source, that the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales has £12,000.000 in reserves is. 1 understand, grossly wrong. As far as the cost of administering hospitals goes - and that is what I understand the honorable gentleman to be asking about - I point out that that is not a matter which is within the competence of my department, but is a matter for the State Department of Health.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: In view of the difficulty being experienced by many electors, particularly by some of our new citizens, in completing the electoral enrolment card, and the fact that quite a number of these people are frightened off by the complex nature of this form, will the Minister investigate the possibility of producing a new card which will be more readily understandable and easier of completion?
– I admit that the electoral claim card does look a little formidable even to an experienced form-filler-in. The contents of the card have been examined from time to time and cut down to a bare minimum the information that is required. However, there is always room for improvement in most government forms, and I undertake to try to improve the claim card.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In view of the growing extent of unemployment among wharf labourers in Queensland ports from Bundaberg to Cairns because of the bulk handling of sugar and copper concentrates and the other results of increasing mechanization, as well as the continued reduction of the periods of seasonal work in the meat and sugar industries because of the effects of mechanization in those industries also, when does this Government propose to help to establish substantial secondary industries in all Queensland coastal towns so as to enable all seasonal workers to secure full-time employment in Queensland?
– Much has been done by the Queensland Government to attract secondary industries, particularly refineries and other important industries to such places as Townsville. I think the honorable gentleman should know that the Commonwealth Government has in recent months given decisive support to the Queensland Government to permit it to maintain the fullest possible level of employment. I mention the increase in the amount that will be made available for local government works and the undertaking given by the Treasurer that Commonwealth funds will be made available at an accelerated rate. I think I should also mention the recent statement of the Prime Minister that £5,000,000 will be made available over a period of years for the building of beef roads. This will be of further help. In other words, this matter is under constant attention and my department has been consulting with the Department of Labour in Queensland in order to ascertain ways and means of modifying the effects of seasonal employment in Queensland. I assure the honorable gentleman that much thought is given to this problem and that we are not without hope that over a period of years the severity of the seasonal problem in Queensland will be substantially reduced.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Can he say when a new post office will be built in the Bayswater area of my electorate to meet the growing postal needs of that district? Pending the construction of a new post office, have any provisions been made for extension of the present post office building in Bayswater?
– The provision of a new post office at Bayswater has been under consideration for a considerable period, as the honorable member for Stirling knows because of his representations. The overall financial situation has not permitted the inclusion of a new post office in the plans for this area, but I can assure the honorable member that certain improvements and alterations to the present post office are planned. The plans are being prepared at present and this work will be included in tenders to be called at the beginning of the next financial year. Provision will be made for alterations to the front of the building, the entrance porch, and the general office. Public space will be increased. Much greater opportunity will be allowed for the conduct of business by the public generally and the plans will include improved conditions for the staff in the rear portion of the building.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer and is supplementary to that asked by my colleague, the honorable member for Wilmot. Will the Commonwealth make available for other developmental projects in Tasmania the money it received from the sale of its interest in the Australian Aluminium Production Commission’s assets in the same way as it is devoting the proceeds from the sale of the Australian Whaling Commission’s assets to the development of fisheries?
– I am not familiar, offhand, with the arrangements that obtain for the development of whaling and fisheries.
Opposition members. - Oh!
– I have a great many matters to attend to other than internal party dissension, which seems to occupy so much of the time of honorable gentlemen opposite.
It has not been a practice followed by this or any other government to appropriate funds secured from the sale of Commonwealth assets to some other particular purpose. Normally, those proceeds go into the general revenue of the Commonwealth and other developments depend upon their own merits and upon the financial provision it is decided to make for them. Whatever proposals come to this Government from the Tasmanian Government will be examined sympathetically and carefully as they always have been. This
Government has no reason to be other than proud of its record in relation to the development of Tasmania.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. The Minister will be aware that, as a result of the recent increases in social service ‘benefits, some of the information sheets issued by the Department of Social Services are now out of date. What steps have been taken to revise these documents? What steps have been taken to bring up to date the very excellent booklet on social services recently produced by the department which has been of very great value to the Parliament and the people?
Mr. ROBERTON__ Subsequent to the passing of the social services legislation by the Parliament last week and the granting of the royal assent, the increases in age and invalid pensions will be paid as from 5th October and the increase in widows’ pensions from 10th October. These are the first pension pay-days after the bill has received the royal assent. Because of that, the information sheets relative to these social service benefits will now be redundant. They are being recalled and new information sheets are being issued.
With regard to the publication of the alterations to the social service booklet, honorable members will remember that the format was altered when the new edition was issued earlier this year. Provision has been made for an insert to be available for inclusion in the booklet if and when social service rates are changed at any time. That insert is being printed now and will be available within the next fortnight for insertion in the booklet in the normal way.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform the House how many telephones applied for twelve months ago are still to be supplied by the Postal Department? What is the average waiting time and how long will the unsatisfied applicants have to wait for telephone services? Wil’ the substantial losses of equipment suffered in the fire at Canberra cause any further delay in the supply of private telephone services or exchange equipment, particularly to country areas where such services are needed urgently?
– The recent regrettable fire in Canberra will not have any appreciable effect on the provision of telephone services in other areas throughout Australia. It is true that to meet the sudden emergency, certain portable automatic telephone exchanges were brought to Canberra from various places on the east coast of Australia, but these are held for occasions such as this and their use will not affect normal installations. I assure the honorable member that that is the case. In a matter like this, generally the extra amount required for the restoration of services can be met, if necessary, by a supplementary vote and need not be taken out of the vote already provided and earmarked for certain services.
I think that the honorable member also asked me how many telephone services tha” had been outstanding have been connected. I did not quite get the import of the question, but I will study the question and give him the exact figures that he has requested.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade. In view of the intense interest of the apple and pear export industry in the question of Great Britain’s entry into the European Common Market, is the Minister able to venture an estimate as to the earliest possible date that any effect could be felt on this industry if Great Britain joined the Common Market? Would it be correct to say that, in the event of Britain obtaining entry to the Common Market, it would not be possible for any effect to be felt in the coming export season and probably that it would not be felt in the following season?
– I think the honorable member raises a very important question for his constituents. One has to speculate to some extent, but it seems to me that there is-not the slightest likelihood of the terms of entry of apples and pears from Australia to the United Kingdom being altered by agreement in the Common Market area before the next Australian crop. As the common agricultural tariff of the present six member countries has not yet been clarified, I would be quite surprised if in an enlarged Common Market area, it were clarified and applied within any reasonably short span of years. I feel that the apple and pear growers of Tasmania and the other States can be confident that their next crop is quite unlikely to be affected.
– My question to the Minister for Health is in two parts. First, does the Commonwealth have any power to control or decontrol the quantities of table margarine manufactured in Australia? Secondly, to assist sufferers from heart disease can the Commonwealth prescribe the proportion of saturated’ fat permissible in table vegetable margarine?
– The answer to both parts of the honorable member’s question is, “ No “.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. I ask him: Does he know whether sufficient labour can be found for the next section of the Shoalhaven paper mill where an additional 300 people will be required in due course? By way of explanation, I point out that the firm that is establishing the mill is a subsidiary of a British firm which is the world’s finest maker of paper. Further, the methods of training are such that one employee who is now regarded as the best paper-maker in the world’ was unskilled only five years ago.
– I have been informed by the company that it intends to spend, in the ultimate, £7,000,000 in erecting additional factory space for the manufacture of fine paper in Australia. The company has also informed me that it will bring out technical personnel to train others. As the honorable gentleman said, something like 300 people will be needed altogether. When the factory is completed and in production there will be a saving of £6,000,000 a year to Australia in foreign exchange. As yet the company has not put in requisitions for the number of people that it needs, but it may be that it will not be able to find the required number in Nowra and the adjacent areas. Nonetheless, I am examining the requirements of the company and, when I get full information, I will let the honorable gentleman know.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. In view of the refusal of the Minister for the Interior and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia to furnish reasons for the rejection of the two lowest tenders for the construction of the new Reserve Bank head-quarters in Sydney, will he arrange for a statement to be prepared furnishing the information sought by the Master Builders Association and the unsuccessful tenderers? If he is not prepared to do this, will he furnish at least one reason for any need to cloak this whole matter in secrecy?
– This opens up a matter upon which I am not well informed. I will take the opportunity of looking into it.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware that within the last 24 hours the honorable member for East Sydney has complained that wheat has been sold by Australia to Communist China at concessional rates, while the honorable member for Parkes has said that the sale of wheat to Communist China has been on the basis of full world parity rates? As these conflicting statements have a most confusing effect, will the Minister act as referee in an endeavour to avert a further split in the Labour Party?
– I would not undertake to act as a referee. I may say, however, that a certain phenomenon has been apparent throughout the world in recent years, which has been characterized by great difficulty experienced by friends of the Communist Party in keeping up with that party’s policy.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition reminded us earlier of a statement that the Prime Minister had promised to make nine years ago, and which he has not yet got around to. In 1956 the Government promised, in a statement contained in the Governor-General’s Speech, to do something about the relationships between the Houses of Parliament, particularly with a view to averting deadlocks. Presumably the Government had in mind conducting a referendum. Why has the Prime Minister not taken the opportunity to resolve the question by conducting the referendum concurrently with the forthcoming federal election? Why does he continually procrastinate on such important national issues?
– I am very conscious of my many defects.
– So are we!
– Quite so; if I were in your place I would be, too. In fact, I am surprised how many of them you fail to perceive. In any event, one thing I have learned after many years is never to confuse a general election with a constitutional referendum.
– Or with matters of politics.
– With a constitutional referendum, I said; that happens to be what the question was about. I adhere to that view. When the honorable member some day, grey and venerable, sits over here, he will have attained the same degree of wisdom
Mr. HOWSON. I direct a question to the Minister for Trade. I refer to reports that representatives of the timber industry have been making requests for the restriction of imports of timber into Australia. Can the Minister give an assurance that if any action is contemplated to assist the local timber industry, importers of timber will have full opportunity to put their views before the responsible authorities, particularly as the Tariff Board’s report showed that the troubles of the industry were not caused by imports?
– I recently met a deputation of representatives of the timber industry, with which honorable members on both sides of the House were associated. The members of the deputation put certain points of view before me. They said that the industry was experiencing trouble because of diminished local demand and because of competition from imports.
Amongst a number of proposals, they suggested that consideration be given to the application of tariff quotas. This is a device which is used by a number of countries. It involves, as I understand it, not a restriction of imports, but a variation of the rate of tariff after a certain quantity of the goods involved has come into the country. I told the deputation that I would study the implications of the suggestion. I made it clear, however, that this was not to be construed as meaning that I would in any sense set myself above or in place of the Tariff Board. I can now tell the honorable member that representations have also been made to the Department of Trade and to me by timber importers. I think they were made before I met this deputation. I assure the honorable member that consideration will be given to representations made by importing interests in the same way as it will be given to the other representations to which I have referred.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. In view of the statement made yesterday by the Postmaster-General regarding charges laid against a top-ranking public servant arising out of the misuse of Commonwealth cars, will the right honorable gentleman arrange for a full-scale inquiry by the Public Service Board to ascertain whether the alleged occurrence was an isolated instance, or whether such practices are common amongst top public servants?
– I know of no reason why an investigation, not proceeding from any charge, should be made of any topranking civil servant whose conduct and standards, in my experience, are as high as those of any of us. If any charges are made, of course they ought to be investigated. The whole point about the charge in this case was that it was investigated. Charges were laid; they were admitted; and now we await, I hope without comment, the deliberations of the Public Service Board, which has the heavy responsibility of making recommendations on the matter. I am sure my honorable friend would agree that to start an inquiry at large, which would in effect put the higher branches of the civil service under charge of some malpractice, is not for me, thank you. I have very great respect for them.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether he has any information as to when the four-in-one vaccine will be available in Western Australia for distribution to the authorities who administer it to children.
– Some considerable time ago, when Salk vaccine was in plentiful supply, the manufacture of quadruple antigen, the vaccine about which the honorable member inquires, was commenced, and a large amount of it was made. It then came into use. Since then, as the honorable member knows, we have had considerable difficulty in the production of Salk vaccine, which is one of the constituents of quadruple antigen. When supplies of quadruple antigen for, not only Western Australia but all States, were exhausted, advice was taken by my department from the National Health and Medical Research Council - I think I am right in saying that the health departments of all the States were also consulted - and a decision was made not to continue producing quadruple antigen until Salk vaccine was again in satisfactory supply. As the honorable member will know, we have recently released about 300,000 doses of Salk vaccine - not quadruple antigen, but Salk vaccine - to the States. We hope to have another large amount for issue about the end of the year and, depending upon the maintenance of supplies of Salk vaccine, we will then get back to the supply of quadruple antigen. I regret that I cannot give any date when that will be done.
– In view of the high cost of postage stamps, I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he will consider devising some means of granting an issue of postage stamps, or an allowance for the purchase of postage stamps, to age pensioners in Australia before Christmas, so that they may enjoy the privilege of sending Christmas cards to their near and dear ones, a privilege now enjoyed by many other Australian citizens.
– The honorable member for Hunter is donning the cloak of another honorable member of this House in his advocacy of concessions to pensioners at Christmas time. The honorable member referred first to the high cost of postage stamps. A comparison of Australian postal rates with those of many other countries such as New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States of America does not bear out the charge that our costs are in any way excessively high. As a matter of fact, for many items, they compare very favorably with the rates of other countries. For instance, the honorable member may not be aware of the fact that when we made the recent alterations to postal rates we actually reduced the air mail rate from 7d. per i oz. to 5d. per oz. We also made many other similar reductions.
The honorable member asked particularly about a free issue of stamps or an allowance to age pensioners for the purchase of stamps. I inform the honorable member first of all that in determining the various concessions which are given to age pensioners, all matters such as this are taken into account. The Government believes that it is the proper practice to deal with matters such as this as one of the requirements of pensioners when determining the rate of pension that should be granted. As the honorable member knows, each year while we have been in office we have not only increased the rate of pensions to a considerable degree but also liberalized the various provisions which govern eligibility for the receipt of pension payments.
Finally, I remind the honorable member that, as I stated some little time ago, although these concessions may apply to services of the Postal Department, they are matters which must be determined by the relevant departments, the Department of Social Services or the Repatriation Department, whose officers are properly qualified to determine whether there is any merit in the suggestions made.
– I lay on the table of the House, for the information of honorable members, the following paper: -
Chronology of nuclear tests carried out by the Soviet Union and the United States of America since 1st September, 1961.
This brings up to date the chronology which I tabled following my statement on nuclear tests on 13th September last.
– I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee: -
Fifty-fifth Report - Form of the Estimates: Part I. - Schedule of Salaries and Allowances; Part II. - Deduction and Transfer Items - and move -
That the paper be printed.
In the course of the committee’s reviews of the financial documents reference had been made to a number of matters which, whilst of importance, were not directly relevant to the main topics then under investigation. These matters were noted and two in particular were selected for attention as they appeared to warrant individual investigation as part of our general inquiry into the form of the Estimates.
The first matter, the schedule of salaries and allowances, is covered in Part I. of this report. The evidence received by the committee indicated that there was no legal requirement for this schedule and that, as a sub-schedule in the Appropriation Act it is defective legally. The committee recommends that the schedule be omitted as a section of the Estimates as it is not practicable to overcome the legal defects attaching to its use in the appropriation acts. Further, as the Parliament, under the provisions of the Public Service Act 1922-1960, transferred the control of salary levels to outside authorities, the schedule does not serve to control the remuneration of officers of the Commonwealth, other than the few in the First Division. However, as the information is of considerable interest and value to the Parliament, a similar schedule should continue to be presented annually for information with the other financial papers.
The committee further recommends that a schedule for temporary and casual employees should be presented also. At present little useful information on these employees is available during Estimates debates although, as a category, they represent some 40 per cent. of the total of the Commonwealth Public Service. In fact, many temporary officers are virtually permanently employed.
The second matter referring to deduction and transfer items is included in Part II. of this report. Again, the committee was advised that the use of these items resulted in legally doubtful appropriations. However, this is somewhat a legal technicality and departments had no difficulty in working under the procedure. The committee understands that the legal position may be clarified in the near future by a re-wording of the appropriation bills. The specific examples investigated indicated that the use of these items may be the only available method to improve the information contained in the Estimates. Although theEstimates do not furnish information as to the total costs of particular departments,and have never purported to do so, they do provide in many instances, useful information relating to the costs of particular functions of departments. The committee concluded also that the use of transfer items to enable one department to charge another department for its services may not be always necessary or desirable and recommended that the practice be reviewed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr. Davidson, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill which I have just introduced seeks the repeal of section 16 of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1960. In its present form, section 16 does not permit the Commonwealth to enter into contracts for the carriage of mails unless the contract provides that only white labour will be employed on such work. The section has its origin in an amendment agreed to by the Parliament during the debate on the Post and Telegraph Bill 1901. That amendment apparently sought to ensure that contracts for the carriage of mails by sea would specify that only white labour should be employed on the ships carrying the mails. With the development of inland mail services, the same conditions have been applied in the contractual arrangements for the carriage of mails overland. However, with the benefit of legal opinion, section 16 has been interpreted to allow for the employment of people in whom coloured blood is not preponderant. Half-caste people, for example, have been permitted to perform mail contract duties.
Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the broad interpretation to which I have referred, section 16 is considered to be too restrictive in its present form, since it involves discrimination against coloured people, including aborigines, in our Australian community. In a society such as ours, there is no room for such discrimination. Every citizen should be eligible to apply for employment on duties associated with mail contracts. Then, too, it devolves upon us all to have proper regard for the contribution that coloured people are able to make to community life, of which communication by mail is such an integral part. For example, the Post Office, subject only to the normal employment provisions of the Public Service Act 1922-1960, employs aborigines, in various capacities, at post offices and telephone exchanges, or with line parties. It is inconsistent, therefore, that these people are not permitted to perform work associated with the carriage of mail under contract to the Post Office.
The existing legislation appears even more anomalous when one appreciates that some 5,900 Post Office mail contracts involve a payment of as little as £1 annually and/or actual working time of less than one hour a week. Many of these contracts represent a very minor part of a contractor’s business activities, which may be principally concerned with road transportation or some other community service. Under the terms of the existing section 16, Mr. Speaker, such a mail contractor is unable to engage a coloured person for employment on duties which include the carriage of mail, even if the mail work represents only an extremely small proportion of the total work to be performed. The bill seeks, therefore, to remove these unwanted restrictions which, in effect, debar aborigines and other coloured people from employment on mail contract work and other employment performed in association with mail contracts.
I commend the bill for consideration by the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Allan Fraser) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick) read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill has as its purpose the encouragement of the search for petroleum in Australia and also Papua and New Guinea. It will widen the scope and extend the period of operation of the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act 1959. That act itself extended the scope of the subsidy scheme initiated by an earlier act. In particular, it extended subsidy to geophysical work. It has brought about an important increase in geophysical surveys by the oil exploration companies, In 1959, there were only four seismic crews operating; there are now sixteen. Each such crew costs about £200,000 a year. This development has resulted in a better understanding of the structure, and therefore of the oil prospects, of large areas, particularly in eastern Australia. This understanding enables bores to be located with the best possible chance of finding oil.
The Commonwealth Government encourages the search for oil in various ways. The Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, by its basic geological mapping and geophysical surveys, dennes the broad features of the sedimentary basins. The Division of National Mapping undertakes topographic mapping on the basis of aerial photographs; this helps the work of government and company geologists and geophysicists. Oil exploration companies are encouraged by tax concessions afforded to their investors in respect of all moneys paid for shares. A good part of the exploration activities of the companies is subsidized. In 1960-61 the direct assistance cost the Commonwealth £900,000, taxation concessions were of the order of £1 ,000,000 and subsidy was £1,400,000.
Since August, 1959, when the Parliament passed the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act 1959, subsidy has been granted for 68 geophysical operations and 24 drilling operations, and £3,494,899 has been paid or committed for this purpose. We have seen discoveries of gas and oil at Port Campbell, of gas at Iehi and of oil and gas at Cabawin. These discoveries have not proved commercial, but they do show that oil is present in Australia. A tremendous amount of basic exploration remains to be done. There are 24 sedimentary basins totalling 1,362,000 square miles known on the mainland and two major basins of 100,000 square miles in New Guinea. Most of the basic exploration of these basins has yet to be done. However, more and more local and overseas exploration companies are active in Australia, and the Government’s aim is to maintain and increase the effort behind the search.
Before bringing forward this bill, the Government sought the views of the active exploration companies, and also of the State mines departments about the ways in which it may best assist the search. These views have been taken into account in the Government’s proposals. We have adopted the two most important suggestions made, namely, that we make subsidy available on a basis of footage drilled, and that we extend subsidy to drilling having the immediate purpose of testing for the presence or absence of oil in a known structure. These proposals also had the support of the Government Members Mining Committee. This bill will amend the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act 1959 to adopt these suggestions. It will also make subsidy available for drilling aimed at the detailed exploration of geological structures - a stage of exploration intermediate between the test drilling that I have just mentioned and the stratigraphic drilling already covered. The bill also will extend the period of operation of the scheme to 30th June, 1964.
Drilling in relation to petroleum falls broadly within one or other of the following categories: -
The existing act allows for subsidy to the first of these categories only. This bill will extend it also to the second and third categories.
In the case of detailed structure drilling, in some cases it will be appropriate to recognize as one subsidizable operation the drilling of a set of holes designed systematically to explore a single geological structure.
The principles under which subsidies will be granted under the amended act will therefore be as follows: -
All applications for subsidy for operations started before the commencement of the amending act will need to be covered by the principal act of 1959.
Under the amended act, as under the principal act, the terms and conditions under which a subsidy will be paid will be set out in an agreement between the Commonwealth and the company whose operation is to be subsidized.
In relation to subsidized detailed structure drilling or test drilling, the bill contains special provisions as to the repayment of the subsidy to the Commonwealth in the event of the discovery of oil in commercial quantities.
The information obtained by the subsidized operations will be made available in full to the Bureau of Mineral Resources on behalf of the Commonwealth. To date, this information has been made available for the public, in the terms of the subsidy agreements, twelve months after the finish of the field operation. It is proposed in all future agreements to make this information available six months after the end of the field work. Detailed summaries of the information are being published by the Bureau of Mineral Resources.
All applicants will be required to furnish information on the location of the proposed operation, the applicant’s financial capability to carry out the operation, a detailed programme of the operation and the reason for undertaking the operation. All applicants except those who apply for a footagerate basis for subsidy for a drilling operation will be required also to furnish a detailed cost estimate of the operation. From the information supplied by the applicant and otherwise known, the department will assess the value of the proposal in relation to the search for oil and recommend to the Minister whether it should be approved or refused.
Where the application is for subsidy on the basis of a percentage of cost, as in the present act, costs allowable for calculation of subsidy will be those reasonably incurred in carrying out the type of operation for which approval has been requested. In a drilling operation these will include direct drilling costs, coring, running and cementing casing, electric logging and other borehole surveys, testing, cost of preparation of site and construction of access roads or air strip, camp accommodation, delivery of plant, materials and personnel, erection, installation, dismantling and removal of plant. &c, and the preparation of reports. In a geophysical survey or bore-hole survey the costs will include the cost of moving into and out of the area, carrying out the programme of field work and preparing reports. The details of costs to be included will be set out in the relevant agreement.
In the case of drilling operations to be subsidized on a footage-rate basis the agreement will specify minimum requirements in the programme of operations particularly as to casing, electric and other logging, coring, and testing. Payment will be according to the applicable scale and on the basis of total depth drilled and checked as to depth by independent measurement. Such check measurements will be supervised wherever possible by a Commonwealth or State officer. In cases of doubt, payment will be made only for the depth adequately covered by electric logs, the depth measurements of which are continuously subject to check.
The bill contemplates that agreements may be made and operations commenced during the three years 1961-62, 1962-63 and 1963-64, but it is recognized that some operations, in respect of which agreements will have been entered into before 30th June, 1964, may not be completed before that date. The bill accordingly provides for such an operation to be completed, and thus to qualify for payment of subsidy, prior to 30th June, 1965.
Subsidy is payable out of moneys appropriated by Parliament for the purposes of this act. The amount appropriated for 1961-62 is £2,700,000. As a result of the information gained in the discussions with the industry that I have already mentioned, it is believed that this appropriation will be sufficient to cover the payments of subsidy that would need to be made in this financial year for all the proposed operations that are likely to be brought forward and to merit approval under the amended act.
The bill also contains a number ot amending provisions not concerned with changing the principles on which subsidy is available, but intended to facilitate the administration of the legislation. The need for these provisions has been shown by the department’s experience in the administration of the present act. I shall not discuss them in detail at this stage; I shall mer say that the provisions in this category are those in clauses 4 (b), 4 (c) (2b), 4 (d), 5, 8 and 9 (2.) of the bill.
There is no need for me to enlarge upon the importance to Australia of discovering oil in adequate quantities in this country. The dependence on oil of our economy - its weight as an item in our balance of payments, its importance as a strategic material - are considerations of which all honorable members are well, conscious.
The discoveries to which I have already referred have shown that oil and gas exist in Australia. Professional opinion gives us good encouragement for confidence that commercial deposits will be found. The Government’s petroleum search subsidy legislation has resulted in the introduction of substantial overseas capital into the search for oil in Australia. It has also brought about the introduction of the technical experience of companies that have found oil under many different conditions. It has thus enabled Australian companies to carry out additional work with the funds available to them.
With this bill, Mr. Speaker, we are proposing to continue, and in important ways to extend, our support and encouragement of the search for oil. In particular we will be carrying that support forward into the field of detailed exploration. We believe that the stage has been reached where such exploration can in some areas be pursued with good hope of success. We hope that, without any slackening in the more basic and general exploration activity, this measure will stimulate increased activity in detailed exploration, thus leading to the commercial discoveries that are so vital to this country. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Allan Fraser) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 28th September (vide page 1456), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– As no objection has been raised to the Minister’s suggestion that procedure will be followed.
– The Opposition does not oppose the passage of these three measures, which are designed to overcome a difficulty that has arisen in the operation of the cattle and beef research legislation which was passed through the Parliament last year. We agree with the necessity for research into the problems of the beef industry. We also agree with the basic idea which was contained in last year’s legislation - the collection of a levy of up to 2s. a head on stock of a dressed weight over 200 lb. While the legislation states that the levy is to be paid by the owner of the cattle at the time of slaughter the Minister has explained that the intention was that the actual payment should be borne by the vendor - the cattle-producer - and that it was expected that this would be accomplished in the ordinary course of trade by a reduction in the amount which the operator was prepared to pay at auction for the stock.
I am rather astonished that it was ever expected that the matter would work in that way, and I think that any one with expert knowledge would not be at all astonished by the procedure that actually developed. What happened was that the meat operators deducted the 2s. levy from the invoices of the selling agents, therefore deducting the amount from the price paid at auction. The selling agents had no legal means of, in their turn, recovering the payments from the original sellers - the producers. From that situation arose the position that in many cases the selling agents had to bear the levy themselves, which was against the expressed intention of the Government. Naturally, they were unhappy about that, although it appears that no difficulty arose where the operators were buying direct from the cattle-producers themselves. However, as is known, the selling agents, after some abortive conferences, took the matter into their own hands by issuing a writ in the High Court, the purpose of which was to recover from the meat operators the payments made through the deduction of the levy. At that stage the Minister intervened and suspended the operation of the levy as from 14th October last year, and I understand that after further conferences the whole of the industry is now agreeable to the amendments contained in this legislation.
– It was really after the operators issued the writ to test the validity of the act.
– After the selling agents issued a writ?
– No. That would have been illegal. The operators issued a writ challenging the validity of the act.
– I see. I thank the Minister for that explanation. Anyhow, I understand that the position now is that all sections of the industry are in agreement that the levy will be borne by the real vendors of the stock, and that a provision in the law will enable the levy to be deducted as a separate charge from the account sales of the vendor. The complementary legislation which the Minister has brought forward helps to give effect to that proposal, and also contains an additional provision to ensure that the legislation is constitutionally valid - namely, a provision describing the research as being research that would be of benefit to the export of beef and the raising of cattle in the internal Territories of the Commonwealth. As I say, we have no objection to the legislation, and wish it speedy passage.
– I am glad that the Opposition is supporting the legislation, and I am very glad also that the Minister has, after long delay which I recognize was not his fault, brought forward legislation which will regulate the collection of the levy on cattle sales more efficiently, thereby enabling beef research, which is most important, to be undertaken. The fact that this legislation is now before the House underlines the poor way in which the beef industry, as so many other primary industries, is organized. This legislation should have been brought forward in 1958 or 1959. It was in 1958 that the Graziers Federal Council, which has since changed its name, asked the Government for a levy on beef slaughtered, the intention being to enable the establishment of a research fund to finance the important work in the field of research that it was necessary to undertake. The Australian Agricultural Council very quickly agreed’ in principle to this proposal by the graziers, but for a period of two or perhaps three years there were arguments between the Graziers Federal Council and the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation about who should be on the committee. This was an argument between two different grower bodies, and it took a great deal of patient negotiation to overcome this stumbling block in the way of the establishment of the research fund. After this stumbling block was overcome by the growers themselves the Minister lost no time in bringing forward the original legislation, which was passed last year.
As has been pointed out in this debate, under the original legislation the butchers, or the meat operators as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Alan Fraser) has said, were to pay the levy although it was not the intention that they should bear the cost. It was thought that they would shade their bids accordingly and bid slightly less for the bullocks that they would be slaughtering. I understand that the butchers objected to the proposal. They said that it was impossible to pass the 2s. a head levy back on to the people from whom they were purchasing the bullocks. Quite frankly I should like to doubt this, because although in some States the minimum bid is 10s. in other States the minimum bid is as small as 2s. 6d. In any event, the butchers objected. When this was pointed out to them they shifted their ground to some extent and said that the growers had asked for the levy and were prepared to pay it, and that therefore the levy should be firmly identifiable as a deduction from the amount paid to the growers. These objections were strongly held by the butchers.
Their first objection does not seem to me to tie in very well with the arrangements that have been made over the deficiency payments that come from the United Kingdom, not only in relation to beef but also in relation to lamb. I know quite well that the deficiency payments for beef have had, at times, an effect on the price that the producers obtain in this country. But if the butchers’ claim that they cannot shade their bids accurately down to the last few shillings is correct, it is quite clear that a good deal of the money that has been paid by the United Kingdom Government to the butchers in this country has remained in the hands of the butchers and has not been passed back to the growers.
If there is one thing in regard to deficiency payments of which we can be certain it is that the butchers would be operating very cautiously. They would not be paying more than the deficiency payments to the growers and therefore, if they could not shade their bids accurately, they would be paying less. It is probably correct to say that they would be paying less than they should have paid on every sale, because butchers are pretty skilled in these matters. Their job is buying and they are buying all the time. They know the weights of the animals they buy. The growers are at a disadvantage. Many of them sell only once a year and it is often impossible, or at least very difficult, to ascertain the weights from the butcher who has bought the cattle. The grower is on every hand at a very grave disadvantage as compared with the butcher. But I do believe that, since the butchers have said they cannot shade their bids with sufficient accuracy, there should be some examination of the way in which the deficiency payments have been disposed of. If an examination could be made accurately, which I doubt, it would probably be shown that quite a proportion of the funds had been held by the butchers and not passed back to the growers. However, I appreciate that the deficiency payments have raised the price obtained by the Australian producers at various times.
After these objections had been taken by the butchers, the growers, I believe in desperation, agreed to make the 2s. charge identifiable, to get this legislation before the Parliament so that the research could be undertaken. It should be noted, also, that the brokers throughout these negotiations did not help very much. When the first deductions were made under this legislation, the butchers deducted 2s. a head from the payments they made to the brokers. Instead of the brokers, perhaps illegally, deducting the same 2s. from what they paid to the growers and saying, “ All right, boys, go to it; the argument is between the butcher and the grower “ as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro said, the brokers sued the butchers for the 2s. that had been deducted. The butchers then took the whole legislation, as I understand it, to the High Court. That meant that nothing would be done, unless the case were heard or unless some other arrangement could be reached by negotiation. The growers, recognizing the importance of the situation and recognizing that the butchers and the brokers between them held the thick end of the stick, followed the only course open to them. They did not have the power to do anything else. They agreed to make the 2s. identifiable and to allow it to be deducted from sales made to the butchers.
Even though we have new legislation before the Parliament now, the new legislation is not perfect. Quite frankly, I would not be at all surprised if within the next year or two a further amendment were made in an effort to clarify some of the existing provisions. This is to some extent complicated, but I shall try to make what I have in mind clear to the House. If a grower sells to a butcher registered under the terms of the legislation and if the butcher slaughters all the cattle he has bought, there is no difficulty. The 2s. will be deducted by the butcher from what he pays to the grower and the matter will be quite simple and in accordance with the legislation. If the butcher does not slaughter all the cattle he buys but holds some for a certain time, he may either sell them to another butcher or sell them to a fattener, who will at a later stage sell them to another butcher. Both of these situations are worth considering.
If the butcher who originally purchases the cattle from a producer sells them to another butcher who then slaughters them and if the second butcher is also registered, the second butcher will also deduct 2s. from the first butcher, who will therefore come out evenly. But as I understand the legislation the person who is meant to pay the 2s. is just the last vendor. In these circumstances, the original producer of the beef should not have been deducted the 2s. The unfortunate part about it is that the original producer of the beef would probably not know that his cattle were not slaughtered and had been sold to another butcher and he would therefore not know that he should not have been deducted the 2s.
The other situation in which there is an anomaly arises if a butcher sells to a fat.tener a proportion of a herd he has bought because the cattle are not of a sufficient quality to kill. If he sells them to a fattener the fattener for the purposes of the legislation is not registered, and therefore cannot deduct the 2s. from the first butcher, although the first butcher has deducted 2s. from the original grower. The fattener after the cattle have been fattened, sells them to a second butcher and therefore a second 2s. is deducted on this lot of cattle by the second registered butcher. In these circumstances, the original grower is still at a disadvantage because the 2s. should not have been deducted from him. The first butcher deducted and held 2s., because he sold the cattle to a fattener, and thus had a clear margin of 2s. This may not be very great, but a principle is involved in this matter.
These are anomalies that could cause some inconvenience and some disharmony in the future. As I have said, it is likely that individual growers who are selling cattle will not know whether their individual beasts are slaughtered and therefore individual complaints of this kind may not come forth. I understand, also, that this kind of happening would not occur very often in southern States where nearly all the cattle bought by butchers are slaughtered by the same butchers. But in the northern areas, where large numbers are involved and where butchers at times purchase very large numbers, it is not uncommon to have some bullocks passed on to another butcher or to a fattener. In these circumstances, there is an anomaly which I think it may be necessary to correct at some time in the future.
As I said, I am glad that the whole House supports this legislation. But, quite frankly,
I believe that, in the negotiations, the butchers or the meat operators and the brokers played the game in a pretty tough way. The growers, because they have been arguing from a position of weakness throughout these negotiations, have suffered as a consequence. The circumstances of the legislation and the negotiations leading up to it reveal, I believe, a need for two things. First, there is a need for much greater cohesion throughout the whole industry. This is typical of many primary industries, but it has been evidenced in an important way in the beef industry in these negotiations. Secondly, I believe an examination of what happens to deficiency payments should be made to ensure that all deficiency payments get back to the producers and to ensure that a considerable part of the payments is not held by the butchers.
.- I am aware of the complications that have been mentioned by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser). The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) will know that I discussed these problems with him. I think they would be difficult to overcome, but, nevertheless, I hope the scheme will work well. My main object in rising is to ask the Minister whether he can clarify a certain position in the amendment, when it is compared with the provision in the act. I have not a copy of the act that is being amended and I may be quite wrong in my supposition, but what I should like to know is this: What is the definition of a calf in the terms of the bill? Some definitions are given in the bill including the definition of a secretary. The bill states - the Secretary ‘ means the Secretary to the Department of Primary Industry.
Clause 4 of the bill then states -
Where, on or after the fourteenth day of October, One thousand nine hundred and sixtyone, a contract is made, whether at auction or otherwise, by which a person sells or agrees to sell cattle (other than cattle that were offered for sale, or are described in the contract, as calves ‘) . . .
I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) to note that the bill refers to animals offered for sale as calves or described in the contract as calves. According to the Minister’s second-reading speech, the exemption from the levy relates to cattle under 200 lb. dressed weight. There should be a clear definition of what is a calf. If you go to the Newmarket sale yards and inspect the calf pens you will see all sorts of cattle in them. Are we to regard all the cattle offered in the calf pens as calves?
– I hope not.
– I agree, because 1 have seen beasts five or six years old sold in the calf pens. An inspector goes round the calf pens and sometimes directs that a beast be removed because it is not considered to be a calf; but it is not always possible for him to go round all the pens each sale day and some of the cattle that get through weigh 400 and 500 lb. and I have seen them at 600 lb. They are described as calves. Is it proposed under the bill that the exemptions should apply to cattle under 200 lb. weight, which would be calves, or are we to take literally the provision in the bill? It states -
Other than cattle that were offered for sale, or are described in the contract, as ‘ calves ‘.
This is important and I hope that the Minister will clarify it.
– in reply - The definition of a calf, if I may put in it plain Australian, is a beast of 200 lb. or less. The levy will be paid on any beast over that weight.
– That provision will be adhered to?
– Yes. It is really a definition of weight. We came to the conclusion that it would be best to make the definition on that basis - a beast weighing 200 lb. or less. That, in effect, is how a calf is described in the original act. The matter that has been raised by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) and has ‘ been referred to by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) might occur occasionally; but if I were selling store cattle, even if I sold them to a slaughterman or a registered operator, I would question the buyer’s right to deduct 2s. if I thought he was going to take the cattle for fattening or that he would sell them to somebody else. I would have the right to question him.
– Would you have any chance of stopping him from deducting the levy?
– Through the State Departments of Agriculture, every operator and butcher is known and their places are registered. That is how we compile a list of registered operators. That is the basis on which it is determined whether a levy is deductible and can be passed back to the last vendor. We know, of course, that Borthwicks, Vesteys, Swifts and others breed their own cattle. That is why we have maintained the levy as a slaughter tax so that breeders of cattle would pay the levy when necessary. It is not desirable that they should escape the levy while those who sell to the operator pay the tax. We will have to try this legislation out and see how it operates.
We did not want to impose an additional levy on all sales of cattle. I think I have mentioned in the House before that in Queensland - and the position there is known to me - there are two other taxes. I believe that in one State a deduction is made through the dairy cheque. In Queensland, we deduct a tuberculosis levy and a buffalo fly tax. The levies are paid on sales of cattle for slaughter. So the dairymen, in particular, who paid tuberculosis levy and buffalo fly tax would pay an additional levy of 2s. even on an ordinary sale. We do not object to paying the slaughter tax if the beast is to be slaughtered, but I think we can over-tax the owners of cattle and it was not desirable to have the levy that is to be imposed under this bill covering all sales of cattle. So the provisions have been confined to beasts that are to be slaughtered provided they pass inspection and are not diseased.
I think the bill is as acceptable as we can make it, and I appreciate the support that has been accorded to it on both sides of the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Bill reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 28th September (vide page 1456), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Bill reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 28th September (vide page 1457), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Bill reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 3rd October (vide page 1601).
Part 4. - Payments to or for the States.
.- My remarks, Mr. Chairman, will be directed mainly to the estimates of the Department of Health. In particular I want to have something to say about the submissions to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) by the Australian Optometrical Association. However, before making any particular comment about that, I want to express the opinion, as we are dealing with the estimates for the Department of Social Services as well as those for the Department of Health, each involving the expenditure of a large sum of money, that it would not be a bad thing if at this stage of our development a thorough-going investigation or review of our social services and our health services were made. Surely when we are spending something like £358,000,000 a year on social services the community is entitled to ask whether the expending of these amounts is being done in a scientific manner. lt seems to me that our social services are something which have grown up over the years, mainly on the basis of a number of ad hoc decisions. There has never been any thorough-going examination of the whole objective of social services or any follow-up study made to see that the payments are being made to the best possible advantage. There are other spheres of activity to-day in which we demand a full investigation of the spending of public money. One of these, for instance, is our universities. Surely, therefore, when we arc spending more than £358,000,000 on social services alone, it is time that a scientific approach was made to our entire social services scheme. The same applies to our health services. As the result of my experience as a member of this Parliament, I think a number of anomalies have crept in but, unfortunately, in the short time allowed me, I am not able to deal with any number of them.
At the moment I am moved to speak on behalf of the optometrists’ profession. 1 feel that optometrists have reason to feel very annoyed at the treatment they have received from this Government. The Government is prepared to go to all lengths to protect a private enterprise such as AnsettA.N.A. from what it regards as unfair competition from our own government enterprise, Trans-Australia Airlines, but when it comes to another private group in the cor munity, the optometrists, there does nf seem to be the same jealous regard for the need for protection from unfair competition. Not only is the present position unfair to the optometrists, but it is unfair to the thousands of people in the Australian community who choose to make use of the services of an optometrist rather than those of other professional people in the same field.
My particular concern is that when an optometrist refers a patient to an ophthalmologist - a medical man specializing in the field of ocular disabilities - no Commonwealth benefit is payable to the patient in respect of the ophthalmologist’s fees. If, however, the patient chooses to go not to an optometrist but to a general practitioner - a person not having the specialist training that the optometrist has had - and he refers the patient to an ophthalmologist, the full Commonwealth benefit is payable. If the patient goes directly to an ophthalmologist he gets only a reduced benefit. This is the number one complaint of the optometrists - that although they are trained to a university level, they have not been accorded, under our national health scheme, the professional status that they think they are entitled to. I am well acquainted with the position in New South Wales because I was at an institution that was right alongside the optometrists’ training centre in Sydney. There they have to do a Bachelor of Science course as a pre-requisite to their training as optometrists. I think an equal standard of training is required in the other States, also, yet these people are denied adequate recognition.
As I said before, this is a discrimination not only against these professional people but also against the thousands of patients in the community who choose to make use of the services of optometrists rather than to take the silly course of going to general practitioners, many of whom know very little about this particular field but merely say to the patient, “ You should see an eye specialist”. I say this without disrespect to general practitioners.
When the general practitioner refers a person to an eye specialist the treatment commands the full Commonwealth benefit and also the full benefit from the fund organization. But when referred by an optometrist, the patient gets only the same benefits as if he went to the ophthalmologist direct. In many cases the optometrist is perfectly frank and says, “ You should see an eye specialist, but unfortunately if you see an ophthalmologist directly you will not get full benefit. If you want to get the full benefit you will have to go to a general practitioner, who will refer you to the ophthalmologist.” Often the position is even more ludicrous than that. The optometrist thinks he is being discriminated against and naturally will not go out of his way to send people to a general practitioner whom he knows is not qualified in this field, so he sends them to the eye specialist. But sometimes the ophthalmologist, instead of advising the patient to seek a reference from his general practitioner, will merely ascertain from the patient the name of the family practitioner and write on his prescription “ Referred by Dr. so and so “. Then the patient is enabled to collect the full benefits.
This leads me to the second point: Under our national health scheme, for a reason that is difficult to fathom, where the eye specialist prescribes glasses as the result of his examination, no Commonwealth benefit is payable in respect of his fee.
Some of the funds provide benefits, but under the law the prescription of glasses attracts no Commonwealth benefit. What happens in many cases, however, according to the Australian Optometrical Association, is that the ophthalmologist carries out a refraction test, a test of vision, and prescribes glasses, at the same time making a sort of general ocular check-up. On the receipt given to the patient there is no indication that glasses have been prescribed, and the patient, without knowing that he is probably breaking the law, goes along to the fund organization, giving no indication that glasses were in fact prescribed, and receives fund benefits and also Commonwealth benefits.
It must be obvious that this represents a means of side-tracking people, diverting them from the optometrists and into the hands of the members of the British Medical Association, the medical specialists, the ophthalmologists. The optometrist is given no professional status and he is not at any time covered by the national health scheme. He is, however, a professional man, having had extensive professional training. Yet the Minister and the Government continue to deny him adequate recognition.
The optometrists have complained bitterly about the practice that I have outlined. It is an illegal practice whereby patients can get Commonwealth and fund benefits even though the law denies them such benefits. They get these benefits simply because the accounts and the receipts do not state that glasses have been prescribed. The Minister and some of his departmental officials deny that this is happening, but the fact is that after a good deal of badgering by the Australian Optometrical Association, one Director of Health in a particular State wrote an informative letter in April of this year to an approved medical benefits fund organization. The letter was in these terms -
Medical Claim Forms
Section 4 (3b) of the National Health Act, 1953-1959, precludes the payment of Commonwealth medical benefits for a professional attendance at which spectacles are prescribed.
The Department has not insisted up till now that an appropriately worded question as to whether spectacles were prescribed be incorporated in claim forms.
The matter has been left wide open. That is quite obvious. No statement regarding the prescription of spectacles has been required, although the legislation provides that benefits may not be paid if glasses are prescribed. The letter continues -
However, it is now considered that the inclusion of such a question has become desirable.
Despite the Minister’s statements to us in this chamber, we find that at least one Director of Health now considers that this question should be answered on every occasion. There is practically an admission that the law has been, to put it mildly, circumvented, to the prejudice of the optometrists. The letter continues -
In this regard, a question referring to refraction tests is not considered to be satisfactorily worded, as a refraction test is not necessarily excluded from Commonwealth medical benefit. Accordingly, it is requested, that, before ordering any additional stocks of your medical benefits claim form, you submit a copy of your form - incorporating the above-mentioned question - to this office for approval.
The letter is signed by the Commonwealth Director of Health in the particular State. The department has been forced to admit that there has been, as suggested by the
Australian Optometrical Association, considerable incidence of this by-passing of the legislation that was amended in 19S3 or 1954 to provide for the non-payment of benefit if spectacles are prescribed. Why should benefit not be paid when a patient has to obtain spectacles? Why should dental services be excluded from the provisions of the national health legislation? Why should physiotherapy services be excluded from the so-called comprehensive national health scheme? These services are all covered by the national health scheme in the United Kingdom, but they are not covered here. One wonders why they are not, and when they will be covered. There is a serious dearth of dentists in our community at present. Dentists are leaving the country, and too few dental graduates are coming into the community from the universities. This is one result of the fact that so many of these ancillary services are not being properly covered under the national health scheme.
It may be that the cost of including optometrists under the national health scheme would not make a very great difference to the Commonwealth’s finances, because at the present time patients have to go through this silly process of going to an optometrist, then to an ophthalmologist, then back to a general practitioner to be referred to the same ophthalmologist. This is just a lot of silly nonsense. It costs the patient money, it increases the cost to the fund organization, and in some cases it increases the amount of Commonwealth benefit. This extra cost is incurred simply as part of the attempt to keep optometrists out of the national health scheme.
I have put the proposition quite plainly, and I now invite the Minister to say why optometrists should not be regarded as professional men. Why can they not be accorded the same status in this specialized field as general medical practitioners, who have not had the intensive training that must be undergone by an optometrist? Why can they not be regarded as suitable persons to refer patients to ophthalmologists? Every one accepts that they are qualified to do their jobs. Of the people who seek treatment for their eyes, 70 per cent, go to optometrists rather than to general practitioners.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In the group of estimates before the committee there is a proposed vote of £3,576,000 for the Department of Health. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) has spent all his time dealing with a specific matter. I hope the committee will take a broader view of the national health scheme than the honorable member for Barton has done in concentrating on one aspect of the scheme.
If honorable members will turn to page xxi. of the Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 1962, they will find various amounts under the heading “ National Health Services “. There are estimates of expenditure for medical and hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, nutrition of children and miscellaneous health services, which include the immunization programmes, domiciliary assistance and tuberculosis benefits. The total amount involved for 1961-62 will be £84,243,000. I think this constitutes a record expenditure in this country on health services. It exceeds the amount paid out for national health services when this Government came to power by no less than £72,568,000. It represents 4.3 per cent, of the total net income of the Commonwealth. This is a very interesting proportion.
Annual expenditure on health in the United Kingdom amounts to nearly 3i per cent, of the total national income, or it did in 1960, which is the latest year for which figures are available. There will always be controversy on the question whether the services available in the United Kingdom are better than those in Australia, but those who are recognized as experts in the field of national health declare that the services available in Australia compare very favorably with those available anywhere else in the world. Those who are actively engaged in administering health schemes, both here and in other countries, will support that claim.
The rates of mortality of both infants and adults in this country are lower than those in the United Kingdom, but whether this can be said to be due to the health service alone is problematical. What cannot be denied is the dip in our mortality graph since this Government introduced its health programme in 1950. Hospital finances have considerably improved. This has been due in significant measure to the operations of the hospital benefit funds. Whereas ten years ago hospitals were unable to budget with any degree of certainty as to their income, they now have assured incomes. The fact that, according to the chairman of the Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission, Dr. Lindell, we need only half as many beds in our hospitals to-day as we did five years ago reflects great credit on this Government which piloted the present difficult pharmaceutical benefits scheme through the Parliament and put it into operation. I am sure that, without this measure, the benefits of medical research would have been denied to a large section of the community. The present system ensures that, irrespective of cost, lifesaving drugs are made available to every citizen of the community for the nominal charge of 5s. As everybody knows, they are made available to both age and repatriation pensioners free of charge. To-day many diseases which were once looked up*as scourges are now entirely eradicated, although it was disconcerting to read in the interim report of the Director-General of Health for 1960-61, that patients suffering from certain diseases, such as infectious hepatitis, were growing in numbers.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect in the field of curative medicine is the community’s attitude towards physically and mentally handicapped people. I know that the care of the mentally and physically handicapped is a responsibility of the State health departments. It is the duty of the Commonwealth to make money available for the treatment of the mentally handicapped. The Commonwealth has done this but, unfortunately, some State governments are not making use of the funds which the Commonwealth is prepared to make available. I am glad to say that Victoria is using these moneys. If the inmates of mental institutions are able to take their places in the community after modern treatment and care in hospitals, they should be given every opportunity to obtain such treatment. Our economy has benefited greatly already by the saving of man-hours which has been effected since the present health scheme was put into operation. If any government should be castigated by public opinion they are those State governments which have failed to carry out their responsibilities to that section of the community which requires all the assistance that the community can possibly give.
The national health service has now been in operation for ten years, and I think it is useful to recall the basic principles upon which it was established and the part played by the Government in its establishment. It is also interesting to recall the approach of the Opposition of the day towards the proposal to establish such a service and the threat of the nationalization of medicine which was so narrowly averted at that time. I wish time would permit me to go more extensively into that matter. Unfortunately, it will not. The whole concept of the Government’s policy has been to regard those actively engaged in the medical scheme - the doctors and the chemists - as. partners and not servants of the Government. In my opinion, this is the fundamental reason for the success of the scheme. This scheme is in sharp contrast to what was envisaged by the Labour Government in 1949. It is also in sharp contrast to health services established by other governments, by the Government of the United Kingdom in particular.
I come now to another aspect - the cost of the national health scheme - to which 1 have already referred. The cost of our national health service is rising dramatically. I put to the committee two pertinent questions. First, what provision has been made for periodic comprehensive reviews of the cost of the national health service? After all, we cannot be indifferent to the fact that the cost of the national health service is rising at a faster rate than are the revenues available to the Government. I have taken out some rather interesting figures on this point. They show that in the five years up to 1960 the health expenditure of this country increased by 86.8 per cent., whereas its revenue increased by only 50.6 per cent. They show also that in 1960-61 our health expenditure increased by 10.2 per cent, and our revenue by only 3.8 per cent. The figures proposed in the Budget before us indicate that in the next twelve months the cost of health services will increase by 16.3 per cent, and our revenue by only 3.6 per cent. At some point of time, some boundaries must be considered, and it is far from clear at present that any machinery exists to do this on a sound and proper basis.
The second question I ask - and this is on the other side of the penny - is whether we are assured that the Government is, in fact, using to the full all the ancillary services that have proved themselves so valuable in modern medical science. These two questions - the rapidly rising cost of the health services and the proper use of extra ancillary services - go together, for it does not necessarily follow that an extension of the national health service to take in ancillary services in an organized way will make a directly proportional increase in costs as long as they are properly integrated. Many of the ancillary services not included in the present national service were unorganized bodies when the present service was established. Some are already appearing as cost items under headings other than their own, so that there are already areas of anomaly that have, quite properly, been queried publicly. It may well be, therefore, that some extensions could be made, with very little cost to the taxpayer. On the other hand, other extensions could lead to areas in which expenses would be high and real benefits low. In other words, I think that we must be sure that costs are in proportion to the coverage given.
As I have stated, the present national health service has been operating for over ten years now, and I put it to the Government that a comprehensive review of the whole system is needed. I think that such a review would focus public attention on what the community may expect to have to be undertaken in the future. It would at least let us know what costs might be expected. The Minister has already indicated in recent speeches that the expense of providing an adequate, modern medical service is very considerable. He also said that a health scheme cannot be static. I agree with him, and I think that this inquiry which I have in mind should be made to seek avenues for expansion, where these can be justified, and also to check the existing administration. It may very well reveal avenues of real savings to the taxpayers. Time will not permit me to elaborate that matter, but it may well be possible to eliminate some heavy administrative costs now incurred in checking charges. Such an inquiry might even expose abuses of the system, for I do not think it is in the nature of things that some abuses would not have crept into it, as they have in other fields of public administration. These matters which 1 have mentioned are the chief terms of reference with which such an inquiry should be concerned, but we in this Parliament must never lose sight of the principle involved.
There are certain basic principles to be observed if any national health scheme is to succeed, and perhaps 1 may refer to some of them at this stage. First, the cost of the scheme must be within the financial compass of both the individual citizen and the nation as a whole. Secondly, the scheme must contain automatic checks and controls on costs and the many abuses of the doctors’ and chemists’ time, as well as on the efficient and economic use of hospitals and their institutions. Thirdly, the scheme must be flexible because modern health services are developing dynamically to-day and administrative obsolescence is all too likely unless great wisdom is exercised. Fourthly, the scheme must be such as to guarantee the co-operation of doctors, chemists, hospital managements, insurance and friendly societies and all other bodies and groups that participate in any health service. As these are all matters of the broadest scope, I say that the inquiry I have suggested should be on the widest possible base. This is a matter for the setting up of a completely independent body with a capacity for judgment and the power to command whatever technical advice is necessary.
I hope that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) will consider seriously the points that I have mentioned, and I am sure that he will. We can continue to be proud of our national health scheme, as we are proud of it to-day, if we have all those matters examined by an independent authority. I support the proposed vote for the Department of Health.
.- Mr. Chairman, I wish to address my remarks to the estimates for the Department of Social Services, but I propose, first, to deal briefly with another matter. I support the protest made by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) about the treatment meted out to the optometrical profession. He has shown very clearly that the present situation cries out for correction. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), however, stubbornly refuses to do anything except make excuses for not attending to this matter which so urgently needs attention.
– We shall do something about it when we take office.
– As my friend has remarked, a Labour government will certainly attend to this matter with all possible haste. The present situation encourages the professional men concerned and patients to break the law. If the law is not broken, patients are deprived of benefits to which they are rightly entitled. Discussions with optometrists in South Australia have made it clear to me that there is among them a growing feeling that the Government and the Minister are influenced by the British Medical Association, which is opposed to any alteration in the existing arrangements. As a consequence, the Minister continues to refuse to correct an anomaly in this important aspect of health services which urgently requires correction.
I turn now to the estimates for the Department of Social Services. I have no complaint about the administration of that department, but I think its staff ought to be expanded. The field of social services is constantly extending, and I doubt very much whether the staffs of this department and others which are involved are expanding in the same measure. I believe that many of the existing staff members are overworked and that the pressure on them could be eased if there were more personnel to deal with the matters involved. In addition, the public could be given better service. Members of this Parliament who come from South Australia are inundated with requests for assistance from people who want to find out whether they are entitled to social service benefits, and from many people who seek assistance in applying for benefits. We do not mind helping them. Indeed, we are glad to be able to help. But I suggest that an assistance bureau, with wide scope, could relieve members of the Parliament of much of this work and, at the same time, provide a more direct link between the public and the Department of Social Services.
I think that the department should provide its own valuators to make valuations of property and assets when required. In many instances, finality is reached only after months of delay when property has to be valued. I understand that the reason is that the department has to rely on the services of valuators provided by the Taxation Branch of the Treasury for the necessary valuations. This causes not only many months of delay but also suspense and anxiety to the applicants who are waiting for pensions. In many instances, the valuations do not cause the full rate of pension to be reduced, although, in others, the rate of pension payable can be determined only after a valuation has been made. I believe that applications could be brought to finality much more quickly if the Department of Social Services employed its own valuators.
In sub-division 3 - Other Services - in Division No. 364, there is an item under which provision is made for the expenditure of £110,080 on compassionate allowances. I believe that this provision ought to be broadened in order to assist all cases of special need. At the present time, the only supplementary assistance provided, apart from this rather narrow provision for compassionate allowances, is the 10s. a week allowance for rent. I believe that this provision for compassionate allowances could be broadened greatly in order to assist in cases of extraordinary need, such as we come across from time to time, which are not provided for in any of the general categories of pensions.
In item 03, under the sub-division that I mentioned earlier, £13,920 is provided for a housekeeper-service grant. This allocation is similar to that made last financial year, and this fact indicates that there is to be no broadening of assistance in respect of housekeeper services. This provision could well be extended and patterned on the domestic allowance paid to war widows under the Repatriation Act. I consider that the provision for domestic allowances under the Social Services Act could well imitate that made under the Repatriation Act. I am sure that from time to time all honorable members come across cases of particular hardship. There are many such cases. Frequently, when the person who was the breadwinner in a family has had to go on the pension, the available funds are insufficient to provide adequately for housekeeping by the wife or to pay for the services of a housekeeper.
Another matter is the provision of homes for the aged. The allocation made this financial year is almost identical with that made last financial year. In this field, there is great scope for extending the assistance provided by the Government. A much wider field of organizations than the present somewhat narrow one ought to be recognized by the Government and assisted in providing accommodation for aged people. Many community bodies, including local government organizations, could take advantage of such assistance if they were authorized by the Government to do so. If more organizations participated in the aged persons’ homes scheme, the Government would be involved in greater expenditure on assistance to such bodies, but, on the other hand, it would be relieved of the cost of government homes and institutions to a considerable degree. Much voluntary community effort is put into the care of aged people by many organizations, and the Government should encourage more of them than at present. This financial year, there is hardly any increase over the allocation made last financial year.
I consider that the most severe criticism with respect to social services can be directed, not at the amounts allocated for specific purposes, but at the absence of allocations in many fields of social services in which the Government ought to assist people who need help. Furthermore, we should like to see additional provision made in many fields in order to make up for the decline in the value of money. Child endowment is an illustration of this. It has remained static for twelve or thirteen years. Since this Government came to power in 1949 the value of money has decreased by more than one-half, consequently the 10s. child endowment now is worth less than 5s. I am amazed that the Government has refused consistently to recognize the need for increasing this social service. Child endowment must have been recognized as a justifiable social service when it was introduced in the ‘forties. At that time the money value of the 10s. child endowment was 10s. but to-day, as a result of the creeping inflation which has occurred in the intervening years, the value of the child, endowment is now less than one-half of what it was when it was introduced and when this Government first assumed office in 1949. If we regard the payment in the light of the Government’s promise to put value back into the £1, then the Government has failed dismally.
I should like to see an amendment to our social service scheme to show that the Government recognizes the plight of many of our new Australians. I refer to the migrants who are now reaching the age at which a pension is payable in normal circumstances. They find the only bar totheir receipt of this social service benefit is that they have not resided in Australia for twenty years. The application of this bar does an injustice to them. We should recognize that our new Australian citizens aTe playing a signal part in our national development. We should recognize also that it is most desirable for new Australian families to be united, as far as possible, with their ageing parents. To make that a financial possibility, we should recognize also that the residential qualification of twenty years as applied to these ageing people is far too long.
The period should be reduced to ten years. If this were done, many of the migrants who now are deprived of the pension simply because they cannot fulfil the residential qualification would become eligible for the benefit. This would create happiness and contentment both among their children and in their own minds because we all know that most elderly people have a sense of independence and do not like to feel that they are dependent upon their children for their subsistence.
If the Government in its wisdom agreed, to amend the legislation in the way that I have suggested many of our migrants would receive the pension much sooner than otherwise would be the case.
Of course, the children of new Australians are prepared to look after their parents, but they in turn have to meet their own commitments. Most of them have to start from scratch in trying to obtain a home of their own. They work long and arduously to achieve this objective. They then find that this one restriction in the social service set-up in Australia deprives them of what could be a much better financial position for themselves and for their ageing parents.
The Government has omitted to do many things which would give justice to the recipients of social service benefits. There has been practically no alteration in the maternity allowance and funeral benefit for a number of years. Civilian widows are also at a grave disadvantage. In addition, the allowance which is paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner is completely inadequate. The Opposition has pleaded constantly with the Government to increase the wife’s allowance. In the Budget the Government has made only a token gesture in this direction which will not be of much benefit for the majority of wives of invalid pensioners. In most cases the wife has to make many sacrifices. She is deprived of the opportunity to work for a living because her invalid husband needs nursing attention. Even if she can work, the income which she may receive is restricted. Invalids have to meet medical expenses and other commitments which do not confront the ordinary citizens. We are entitled to criticize the Government for not doing the job that it should have done.
.- I was interested in the speech of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton) which was devoted mainly to the proposed vote for the Department of Social Services. T was a little surprised at the reference which he made early in his remarks to the need for the department to assist to a greater degree than has been the case in the past those people who approach it with their queries seeking information as to their rights. I have never found any department more helpful and willing to assist pensioners and other recipients of social service benefits than is this department. The service which has been rendered in Victoria has been absolutely first-rate.
– Within the limits of the department’s capacity, yes.
– I am surprised that the honorable member for Adelaide has not found a similar position in his own State. Possibly he has not found his way around yet.
– I did not criticize the existing staff.
– 1 think the honorable member did say that more staff was needed. In Victoria the department is well staffed and well able to cope with the demands which are made upon it.
I wish to direct my remarks now to the proposed vote for the Department ot Health. I should like to echo the wise remarks of the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth), who addressed the committee a short time ago. All honorable members on this side of the chamber agree that we have in Australia the best health service in the world. The work which has been done by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) in developing this health service during the past few years is something of which every one in this Commonwealth can be proud. Our health service has been developed on the basis of helping those people who are prepared to help themselves. Those in the greatest need receive the greatest assistance. In addition, the department has brought modern methods of healing within the reach of every one. This is well illustrated by the remarks of the Director-General of Health in his interim report for 1960-61. He stated that there is still a large increase in the number of people joining hospital and medical benefits schemes, so much so that now at least 72 per cent, of the population is covered by one scheme or the other. In addition, there are those people who receive benefits either as pensioners or through repatriation services. As the years go by this percentage continues to increase, and this year is no different from the ones which have preceded it.
It is also interesting to note the way in which medical care has been changing the whole field of hospital services. Figures which have been provided by the chairman of the Hospitals and Charities Commission in Victoria indicate that over the last twenty years the average bed stay of patients in acute general hospitals has fallen from approximately twenty days to ten days. The effect of this has been to reduce the need for the number of acute general hospital beds per 1,000 of population. Whereas this was estimated in 1947 to be a need of seven and a half beds per thousand of population in Victoria, to-day the need has been estimated at something under four beds per thousand of population for acute medical, surgical, midwifery and pediatric care. So the whole field of hospital finance has been changed as a result of the use of new drugs and new methods of treatment which have come into operation during the last twenty years. Because a great deal of this change has been brought about by the use of new drugs the change is reflected in the cost to the Commonwealth of the provision of pharmaceutical benefits, and this explains to a great extent the increase this year, compared with last year, in the vote for this purpose. At least we know that the increased amount of money we spend on pharmaceuticals and drugs nowadays is offset by the saving of costs to the public hospitals in the provision of surgery and other medical care.
I disagree with some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) in this chamber about a fortnight ago, when he spoke about the position of public hospitals, particularly in Victoria. He said that the cost of maintenance of public hospitals was reaching a critical stage. I should like to say, speaking from my experience as president of one of the larger hospitals in Melbourne, that that is very far from the truth, because actually the hospital of which I am president, and many others, have been able, due to the money provided by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments to balance their maintenance costs from year to year with little difficulty. The result is that generally there is not a great deal of pressure in regard to maintenance costs in the public hospitals in Victoria at present. What I think is interesting, however, is the change in the way that the finance comes to the hospitals. Five years ago, for instance, at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital 75 per cent, of the maintenance cost was being provided by the State Government directly through grants; now, as a result of the operation of the hospital and medical benefits scheme for which this Government legislated, the provision by the State Government by way of direct grants for maintenance has fallen to 64 per cent. So to-day, instead of fees paid by patients and fees paid for other services providing about a quarter of the total maintenance costs, as was the case five years ago, they provide about one-third of the total. The State governments have therefore been able to have more money available for the provision of other services, as well as more money provided by the Commonwealth for hospital finance.
I think that, having seen the way in which the general needs and finances of hospitals have been taken care of to a great extent by the work of this Government we should realize that there are still problems for the future. I should like the committee to turn its attention to some of them. The first concerns the teaching hospitals. 1 was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) refer to those while he was speaking to the vote for education about two weeks ago. He said that he was expecting to receive a report shortly from the universities committee which was examining, among other things, the need for capital funds for the teaching hospitals of Australia. He said that the first time he looked at this report the size of the vote required filled him with horror. I think that this serves to indicate to honorable members that the needs of the teaching hospitals are very real. They are providing a service not only in the States in which they are severally located, but also to other States. This is particularly the case in Victoria. It will not be possible for the number of medical practitioners in Australia to be increased unless the work of the teaching hospitals can be facilitated by capital grants - and that at an early date.
Secondly, I should like to refer to the vote for medical research, which I have mentioned on more than one occasion in this chamber. I am sorry to see that on this occasion the amount to be provided to the Medical Research Endowment Fund is less than £300,000. Considering that the vote for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, a large part of which is spent on research into the diseases of animals, is more than £8,000,000, it is surprising that the Parliament is prepared to vote less than £300,000 for research into the diseases of men and women. I believe that we should press for an increase in the vote for medical research, and I hope that the Minister will listen to my remarks on this occasion as, I know, he has done on previous occasions.
Thirdly, I should like to refer to the position regarding mental hygiene in the States. I support the statements of the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) this afternoon. I was very pleased to hear from the Minister, in answer to a question that I asked him yesterday, that plans are now being formulated for further capital moneys for the States, particularly Victoria, in which I am especially interested. This will enable Victoria to carry on the good work that it has done in the capital development of mental hospitals in the past ten years. It is time we had a look at the maintenance costs of these mental hospitals, and also at the legal provisions regarding the receipt of social service benefits by inmates of such hospitals. To-day we are surely coming into a new era of mental healing. I understand that in Victoria the number of mental patients per 1,000 of population is now 3.5, whereas in some other States the rate may be as high as 7 or 8 per 1,000. Certainly in parts of the United States of America and other places overseas the number of patients will be as high as 7 or 8 per 1,000 of population. This means that in Victoria patients in mental hospitals now have a very much better chance of being cured than they had in the past. I understand that possibly up to 80 per cent, of patients going into mental hospitals nowadays have a chance of being cured and of being able to resume normal life in outside society. Surely that means that we should have a new look at, and a new attitude towards, the payment of social service benefits to mental hospital patients. We could also possibly have a scheme whereby people would be able to insure themselves against the cost of mental illness in the same way as they can insure themselves against the cost of physical illness. In view of the revolution that has taken place in mental hygiene it is time we examined our attitude towards mental health insurance and social service benefits for patients in mental hospitals.
Finally, I should like to refer to the need that has developed for geriatric hospitals.
Such hospitals are finding it very much more difficult to make ends meet than the ordinary general hospitals do, because as medical science progresses the average age in the community increases. This means that the services that we have to provide for old people will continue to increase. Although I think that the special account provisions in relation to hospital and medical benefits have done a great deal for the older people who incur acute diseases, we still have to consider the position of patients who are not suffering from acute ill-health but are still in need of a certain amount of treatment from time to time as they reach old age.
These, Mr. Chairman, are the needs of the future so as to make what is already an extremely good health service an even better service more able to cope with the new problems that arise in our society.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the honorable member for Isaacs regarding this year’s vote for the Department of Health.
– I warmly support the remarks of the honorable members for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) and Adelaide (Mr. Sexton). I associate myself particularly with the remarks relating to the injustice with which the Government is treating optometrists and their patients. As long ago as 1953, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) intervened in this matter, after meeting a deputation from the optometrists association. The Prime Minister then made it clear that it was not the intention of the Government to provide a national health benefit for the prescription of spectacles, whether the spectacles were provided by an ophthalmologist or by an optometrist.
At his personal directive, an amendment was inserted in the National Health Act, designed to put the position beyond doubt. Actually, because of the wording of the amendment, the purpose which the Prime Minister thought was proper and the measure of justice which he proposed to render to the optometrists, failed. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), 1 am very sorry to say, has been most obdurate and obstinate in his refusal to rectify the very apparent anomaly that exists in the act in this respect. Indeed, the Minister appears happily to believe thai whatever is good for the British Medical Association is good for the people of Australia.
– You know that is not fair, as a statement of the Minister’s attitude.
-The honorable member knows me well enough to know that, if I knew it was not fair, I would never dream of saying it.
The optometrists have two claims, both of which in logic and in fairness seem to me to be incontestable. The first is that the patient of an optometrist should have the right to claim a Commonwealth health benefit when referred direct to an ophthalmologist by an optometrist. Such a benefit is now granted when the referral is made by a private general practitioner; but in these matters affecting the eye, the private general practitioner has none of the knowledge, training and expert ability possessed by the optometrist, a fully trained professional man in these matters.
The second request of the optometrists, which appears entirely reasonable, is that optometrical treatment should be brought into the scope of the health service. At present, benefit is being paid for spectacles when the prescription is written by an ophthalmologist, but not, of course, when it is written by an optometrist. A referral by a general practitioner to an ophthalmologist attracts Commonwealth benefit, but a referral by an optometrist does not attract Commonwealth benefit. Because the ophthalmologist is under no obligation whatever to state on his account the nature of the service for which he is requesting payment, the accounts are passed. Although the Minister claims that there is in his department an adequate method of checking whether these consultations have resulted h a prescription of glasses or have been for the purpose of the prescription of glasses, I utterly fail to see how this can be so. Indeed, all the evidence available is that it is not so. If the Minister cared to have an examination made of the records of the societies, he would see that an adequate check cannot be made by the methods that are now employed and that the proper remedy to adopt is to give to the optometrist, first, the right that the general practitioner has to refer a patient to an ophthalmologist without the patient losing benefit and, secondly, to place both on an equal basis with respect to the prescription of spectacles by making such optometrical treatment a part of the national health service.
I hope to deal with this perhaps in more detail at a later stage, because I trust that the discussion on these very important estimates for the Department of Health and the Department of Social Services will not be curtailed in the lighthearted way in which the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) last night gagged the very important estimates for the Department of Trade and the Department of Primary Industry. He did so simply because he had no personal interest in these matters and wished to go home at 10.30 p.m.
– He said he was tired.
– Yes. Matters affecting the Department of Trade and the Department of Primary Industry were of no importance to him and apparently were of so little importance to members of the Australian Country Party-
– Order! The honorable member should come back to the proposed votes under consideration.
– I make only a passing reference to this. They made no attempt to prevent him from doing so.
I wish to deal this afternoon with the matter of the residential qualification for the age pension. This matter was raised by the Opposition during the debate on the Social Services Bill. Because the Government would not agree to some clause of this kind appearing in the bill, we were ruled out of order when we sought to move an amendment. When we pressed the matter to a division, I am sorry to say that very many Government supporters, who privately professed to believe in the reduction of the residential qualification for the age pension, voted to support-
– That is completely wrong. There was no division and you know it!
– Yes, there were, divisions.
– There was no division. Yon are completely wrong.
– The honorable member is quite forgetful. There were two divisions, both in objection to the Chairman’s ruling and in an endeavour to bring this matter before the committee.
– There was no division on the matter of residential qualification. It was ruled out of order.
– Yes, I am trying to point out to you-
Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– Yes, Sir. I am trying to point out to you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that a motion designed to enable this matter to be discussed was defeated because every Government supporter voted to prevent an opportunity being given to discuss the reduction of the residential qualification from twenty years to ten years. I know Government supporters are unhappy about this, because they have come from the party room to weep on my shoulder at the way in which they have been steamrollered when they have put to the Government parties their recommendation that the period of residential qualification should be reduced. I know equally well that members of the Government’s health committee went into their party room in an endeavour to obtain justice for the optometrists. Once again they rushed to me to seek my pity and sorrow for them, because once again they were steam-rollered. I am sorry for them. I regret the disunity that exists in the Government party room. It must be very unpleasant indeed to have to live with such an attitude or to take part in meetings in which such discord and such factionalism are features. I am very glad we have nothing like that on our side.
Order! I suggest the honorable member get back to the proposed votes we are now considering.
– Yes, Sir, 1 must do so because I have not very much time. I want to refer to a very splendid case which has been prepared by the Canberra Latvian Society. I think the arguments will impress all honorable members and that they will then favour an altera tion to section 21 (b) of the Social Services Act to reduce the period of the residential qualification from twenty years to ten years. The society points out that the residential requirement severely restricts the ability of many immigrants to receive the age pension upon reaching the retirement age. A significant group of immigrants is thus affected. Due to the immigration policy of the Commonwealth Government after the Second World War, many immigrants have been admitted to Australia, either as individuals or as members of family units, who at the date of their arrival were considerably older than 43 years in the case of men and 40 years in the case of women. In the intervening years, these immigrants have worked and contributed towards the development of Australia. Unfortunately, upon reaching the age of retirement they are unable to satisfy the residential requirement prescribed by the Social Services Act, and thus are denied the age pension.
In the meantime, until the completion of their twenty years residence their position is very desperate, unless they are fortunate enough to be able to continue in their work or to receive the special benefit which honorable members know is not sufficient to keep body and soul together. There are many instances where elderly immigrants, devoid of any private fortunes and unable to accumulate sufficient savings owing to the brevity of their working period in Australia, are forced to live in shocking conditions. It is argued against this reform that elderly migrants, being more a burden than a benefit to Australia, are admitted to this country on sufferance and purely on humanitarian grounds, and that therefore they should be grateful for the opportunity to settle here peacefully. It is said that for them to seek the age pension is not only ridiculous but also impertinent. Against that argument, the Latvian Society has made a point excellently when it states -
Our organizations maintain that, giving due consideration to the present immigration policy, and the admirable record of the migrants is Australia, their achievements and contributions to the development of Australia and the overall economic and social conditions of Australia, make that argument fallacious and untenable.
Secondly, it is argued that the residential requirement for the age pension applies equally to those persons who are born or have lived longer than twenty years in Australia, as well as those who have only recently arrived here. I have heard the Minister argue that point. But that is a ridiculous form of argument. Persons who are born here are not affected by the residential requirements. Even when such persons leave Australia from time to time, they do not lose their residential qualifications.
– I do not think that is so.
– The Social Services Act provides that the proof of the permanent home remaining in Australia during a person’s absence abroad, or the proof of a composite period of residence in Australia for more than twenty years will suffice to entitle such person to the age pension. I advise honorable members opposite to have another look at the act, because I am afraid they are not quite clear on it.
– The fact that they are born here does not qualify them as of right.
– For all practical purposes, the residential requirement of twenty years affects solely the immigrants of certain age groups. It does not affect, of course, immigrants from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, or any country with which we have a reciprocal agreement. It particularly injures immigrants who come here from continental Europe. When they are naturalized, immigrants are continually told that they now have the same rights and are accorded the same treatment as the indigenous population of Australia. In fact, the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) said at the Australian Citizenship Convention in 1959 -
There is now virtually no distinction between those of us born here and those who assume Australian citizenship.
To naturalized immigrants who are waiting for the opportunity to obtain the age pension, these statements appear to be entirely incorrect because they are singled out. The traditional argument that has been used by the Minister for Social Services for the retention of the present residential requirement is completely out of date. Traditional Australian immigration policy was completely different before World War II. from that which we introduced after World War II. Traditionally, the Australian economy was also different from that of to-day; but tradition did not prevent the present radical developments in the economy and the immigration policy of Australia. While tradition is necessary and precious, it remains so only so long as it is not used to support injustice and unfairness. The immigrants feel that the present law inflicts both upon them.
Take the argument of fairness and justice. It has been stated on a number of occasions by persons entrusted with the administration and supervision of the social service legislation that this legislation is based on equity, fairness and justice. It might be argued that while it is not equitable or fair to the migrants, it is equitable and fair to the whole Australian community, but the answer to that contention is that we are a part of a community.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I think that supporters of the Government were amused when the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) said that any of us would weep on his shoulder. He does not strike us as being a man full of the milk of human kindness. Any milk in his veins is in dried or powdered form.
I should like to address my remarks first to the subject of social services. Since the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) assumed office, he has made the social service provisions more liberal each year and has introduced new and original ideas. The Government has to decide how much it can afford for social services. Then it has to spread the money available in the best way it can so that it confers the greatest benefit on the greatest number of people. One benefit that has proved very helpful has been the supplementary allowance to single pensioners, but I still believe that there is too great a differentiation between single and married pensioners. I hope that when this Government brings down the Budget next year, the provision for single pensioners will be improved.
Mental patients in New South Wales have come under close scrutiny recently, and on this subject I listened to a very good speech by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). I should like the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is at the table, to confer with the Minister for Social Services with a view to seeing whether the Queensland system could be adopted throughout Australia. Under the Queensland system, money is made available to the hospitals when they build auxiliaries in which senile and aged mental cases are treated. When they go into the auxiliaries, they become beneficiaries and can become eligible for the age and invalid pensions. The extension of that provision would overcome part of the problem of the mental patients who are denied social service benefits. I think it is quite wrong that those benefits should be denied to them.
I have had brought to my attention many cases of mental patients who are allowed out at times in my electorate. They do not get any benefit when they enter an institution. I believe the institutions should be treated in the same way as benevolent homes and’ that a proportion of the pension should go to the institution and the balance to the patient.
– You do not think that it is just another hand-out!
– No. As I said yesterday, with the general elections approaching, many promises will be made on the hustings. What a nation can afford to pay for social services depends on the money that can be raised by taxation. Ultimately, all the money comes from the taxpayers. It is quite easy to make wild promises, but it is an established fact that if taxation becomes too high, the taxpayers will not continue to increase their earnings and so you kill the goose that laid the golden egg-
I should like to refer now to the Repatriation Department. This Government has a fine record in relation to repatriation, and I believe the new Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) will maintain the record of the previous Minister, Senator Sir Walter Cooper. However, there are one or two criticisms that I should like to make. Honorable members will recall that originally it was intended that wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners would be entitled to medical services, but a date was struck, and those who failed to register before that date were denied this privilege. It does not seem right to me that one group of persons should be divided into two, and I hope that something in that connexion will be done when the next Budget is introduced.
Last year, this Government approved the inclusion of ex-servicemen in receipt of service pensions in the classes entitled to treatment for disabilities not due to war service. I think that was an excellent measure and it covers a great number of pensioners of the First World War. I have always leaned towards the soldiers of the First World War because I believe it was a much tougher proposition than the Second World War. In the Second World War there were periods of great strain and stress, but in the First World War a much larger proportion of the forces was in constant combat service, and so my sympathies have always leaned towards the men from that war. I believe the graph shows that pensioners of the 1914-18 war are starting to drop in numbers, whereas the 1939-45 war pensioners are rising in numbers. Therefore, the Government should look at the possibility of giving all veterans of the First World War medical treatment irrespective of the means test.
I am happy to see that, no doubt because the spotlight has been cast recently on mental cases in New South Wales, a complete review of psychiatric services is to be undertaken during the coming year by the Repatriation Commission. The commission’s consultant has just returned from a tour overseas. I believe that public opinion not only in New South Wales but over the whole of Australia demands now that greater attention should be directed to those unfortunate people who are suffering from mental illness.
It is unusual for me to be in agreement with the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), but there is one point on which I agree with him in respect to medical services: I believe that when an optometrist refers a patient direct to an ophthalmologist, medical benefits should be payable in respect of the specialist’s fee. It is a question of economy, quite apart from the question of justice, because at present if an optometrist refers a patient direct to the ophthalmologist the patient can claim only the benefit applicable to a general practitioner’s fees. But if the patient goes to the general practitioner and is referred then to the specialist, he is entitled to claim benefit for the specialist fee. He has to go through the general practitioner.
The argument may be adduced that many diseases of the eye do not arise in the eye but are due to ailments elsewhere in the body. The optometrist spends four years studying eyes, whereas the average doctor cannot spend that time on one organ of the body. Optometrists are fully qualified and if a patient comes along with an eye trouble that is due to some cause other than the actual eye, the optometrist invariably sends him to a general practitioner for a complete physical examination. So 1 say the optometrist is quite qualified to send the patient direct to the specialist and I think this is a grievance which should b~ rectified.
One other repatriation matter that I wish to raise has reference to war widows. The Government is giving war widows special attention. It is my view that the general public always feels more sympathetic towards war widows than towards others, and that in any assessment of what a government can afford in its budgets, special attention should always be given to this deserving group in the community.
.- I have listened with some interest to the twitting of the Labour Party by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) about its social services proposals. He suggested that as we are approaching an election many promises will be made, the fulfilment of which would increase substantially the amount of money required to be provided by the Commonwealth for social services. The Labour Party is not hesitant in this matter. There is no doubt whatever that the total funds being allocated under these estimates to social services could be considerably increased. We firmly hold the opinion that the amount should be increased by anything from £70,000,000 to £100,000,000 and that that money could be obtained comfortably, within the scope of our economy, by taxation and other means.
There cannot be any suggestion that we have reached the zenith in respect of social services. Not even the most reactionary speaker on the Government side of the chamber would cold-bloodedly stake his political future on such an assertion. He would realize that we have yet to go some distance in looking after people who are unable properly to look after themselves. In Australia we have the background of a gross national product of about £7,000,000,000 and a national income of about £6,000,000,000. With such a background, the allocation of some £250,000,000 to £300,000,000 for social services, dispersed as it is in purchasing power throughout the community to people who need it, is nothing more or less than a common-sense contribution to the welfare of our people and the good of the nation as a whole. If that sum were increased by £100,000,000 - to take a hypothetical figure for the moment - this would do nothing but good in a humane way as well as in an economic way. There is nothing alarming or contradictory in the proposals made by members of the Labour Party who have taken part in this debate to-day, or in the proposals that will be made by those who will follow. The subjects of social services and health are far too comprehensive and diversified for any one speaker on this side of the chamber to cover fully in a debate on the Estimates. However, we can do it by sections and if the situation depicted by members of the Opposition as a whole is looked at in perspective the committee will see a tapestry of Labour thinking in respect of social services.
The cost of social services in Australia has reached something like 10s. a head a week, based on the report of the DirectorGeneral on last year’s functioning of the department. An increase in the total cost this year is forecast by the Government; but it is not going far enough. We must expect criticisms to be directed to the Government on many points under the various headings. There have already been some criticisms and there will be more as the debate continues.
Before touching on the Aged Persons Homes Act, let me pay tribute to the officers of the Department of Social Services with whom, as a Federal member, I come into almost daily contact. I speak particularly of the officers of the department at Wollongong whom I commend for the courteous and efficient manner in which they administer the act and for the kind personal relations they have with people of my electorate.
The Aged Persons Homes Act is beneficial legislation. One would not attempt to take from the Government any degree of the credit that is due to it for its inauguration of this scheme. But it was purely a development of the needs of the people. While giving credit for what is being done, the fact is that this scheme is becoming bogged down. Since its inception in 19S4 accommodation has been provided for only 10,621 people throughout Australia. In order to qualify for admission to one of these homes a person must be an age pensioner, 65 years of age if a man, 60 years in the case of a woman. There are 562,000 pensioners in this country, and 10,000, therefore, does not represent a very large proportion. I do not suggest that every pensioner needs a home of this kind, but I do say that a much larger proportion of them need the comfort, security and decent living conditions which are available in the homes built under the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act.
In my electorate there are several of these homes. I have been intimately associated with them and have followed their development, and I firmly believe that there is a widespread need for more such homes. Under the provisions of the existing legislation various organizations are precluded from applying for assistance to build homes. Local government authorities are expressly excluded. A local council may wish to engage in this kind of humanitarian, charitable and Christian activity, because it can see a real need for such provision, but it finds itself expressly excluded. A State government may wish to take advantage of the Commonwealth grant of £2 for £1 of capital expenditure on the building of a home for aged persons, but State governments are also excluded. Trade unions organizations are similarly excluded, as are various other bodies. This widespread exclusion is bogging the scheme down. First, there is a definite need; that is admitted. Secondly, the scope of the legislation should be widened, as it will be when a Labour government is formed, to permit organizations of the kind I have mentioned to participate in the benefits available.
Another provision of the legislation that is having an adverse effect on the scheme is that which allows only expenditure on land and buildings to be shown under the heading of capital costs. Money spent on furnishing a home cannot be so included. Sheets, cooking utensils and everything else needed to make a comfortable and useful home cannot be obtained under the provisions of this legislation. Heating and cooling apparatus and all other such items have to be provided with money raised in some other way. This is a serious weakness. Most of the organizations involved have to raise such money from public charity. It takes a long time to amass £3,000 or £4,000 in this way. There is one such institution in my electorate, which, although it is providing accommodation for only 48 women, is probably one of the most magnificent homes of this kind in Australia. A capital investment of about £70,000 was needed in the case ot this home. That is not chicken feed. Amounts of this magnitude are not easy to obtain, and the difficulty of raising such sums of money is retarding the operation of the scheme.
Let me suggest that the time is fast approaching when the Government will realize the need to amend this legislation so that the Commonwealth may make capital grants to organizations which are now excluded from participation in the benefits available. We should not allow this magnificent form of social activity to be restricted simply because a particular organization, which is able, competent and willing to establish an institution, has not the required amount of money in its coffers to provide all necessary equipment. We should reverse the position and be only too willing to provide the necessary capital, both for the building of new institutions and expansion of existing ones, as well as for the provision of utensils, fittings and furniture.
The existing legislation has resulted, in many instances, in an absurd situation. I had some interest in a particular institution where it was decided to instal a number of wardrobes. They were ordinary standard wardrobes, and because they were movable articles they could not attract the Commonwealth grant of £2 for £1. The backs of the wardrobes had to be pulled off and the bodies of the wardrobes screwed to the walls, so that the grant could be claimed. This kind of practice reduces the position to absurdity. It is absolutely intolerable. Honorable members who have not had any association with these homes should ponder on the statements I have made. I suggest they check the position with homes in or near their electorates. They will find that these are the conditions that exist.
There is a terrific need for the granting of further finance by the Commonwealth to stimulate this activity. At one time I lived in the slum area of Surrey Hills, in Sydney. In the tenement areas in various parts of Sydney and large country towns one finds great hardship being experienced by aged persons who have not been able to enter homes of the kind I have mentioned. These homes are so far above the previously held conceptions of governmental homes and institutions that a revolution has occurred in people’s thinking. Many persons at some stage of their lives become separated from their families. Others are of independent natures and wish to end their days providing for themselves. For all these people the homes built under this legislation provide excellent opportunities. Every one of us, whether we care to admit it or not, must come to the end of the road at some time or another, and when we reach the age of 65 we may not be self-supporting. I admit quite freely that I would like to be sure of security when I attain the age of 65 and later. I would like to be sure that I could enter one of these homes. However, Mr. Temporary Chairman, I do not want to spend all my time on this subject. I have simply scattered a few seeds for thought, and I merely hope that they will effectively germinate.
I now wish to refer to the funeral benefit. This was introduced years ago by the Labour Government, which provided that an amount of up to £10 could be granted to the person responsible for meeting the funeral expenses of a pensioner. This amount has never been increased. I made a check in my electorate recently, and I found that the minimum cost of a funeral is about £47 for pensioners. Surely there is something wrong with the thinking of a government that has failed to increase the amount of the funeral benefit above the amount of £10 that was provided when it was first introduced. The failure of the Government to increase this benefit is morally wrong. It is indecent. No one in the community is more concerned about being decently buried than the age pensioner. Aged persons make every effort to provide a nest egg from which their funeral expenses can be paid. It would be a very consoling thought if they could be assured that the payment of their funeral expenses, up to an adequate stipulated amount, would be guaranteed by the Government. In the year ended 30th June, 1961, 38,956 people had to take advantage of the funeral benefit. In 1960 the number was 37,000 and in 1959 it was 38,000. As time goes on these numbers will increase.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I want to refer to something that the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) had to say when he commenced his remarks about the Aged Persons Homes Act. He may unwittingly have given the committee a wrong impression. It is quite true that if a State government or a municipal authority establishes one of these homes it does not become eligible for Commonwealth subsidy under the act, but if any other organization approved under the act establishes such an institution there is nothing to prevent a State or municipal government from making grants to such a body. In fact, State governments frequently do provide subsidies of this kind.
– That was not my point.
– I know. The honorable member might not have meant to give a wrong impression, but it is quite possible that some honorable members of the committee may have gained a wrong impression.
.- I wish to speak almost entirely about the relationships of the chemists to our national health scheme and their responsibilities under the National Health Act. The chemists have been partners with the Commonwealth ever since the national health scheme was initiated, and on many occasions have had to accept Department of Health rulings with which they did not agree. 1 think the chemists have played a very helpful part indeed in the operation of this very large and complicated health programme. They have certainly acted very differently from the way in which they acted when the Labour Government brought down its scheme in the late 1940’s. Their attitude has improved greatly since then, and I have had representations from them in connexion with many ways in which the National Health Act affects them. Amongst other things, they object to the application of the method of pricing large and standard packs and the recent determination on professional fees. Although there have been discussions with the chemists’ guild the submissions by the guild and its objections to Government proposals were overruled by the Minister for Health on the advice of his departmental officials. While the chemists do not seek to interfere with the Minister’s power of determination under the National Health Act, they would like the opportunity to be able to present their case to a more impartial referee before a ministerial decision is made. In other words, they would like to superimpose another authority between the Minister and the guild. To this end, the chemists propose that the Minister’s Standing Committee on Pricing be increased from the present equal representation of government and guild members by the addition of an impartial chairman or adviser to the Government. It would be the chairman’s task to sift the evidence presented by both sides and convey his views to the Minister.
– Are you quoting from the statement by the chemists of which we all have a copy?
– Yes, I am reading parts of the statement, and I shall have something more to say later as a result of further information given to me by a deputation. The chemists believe that this addition to the Standing Committee on Pricing would enable them to present their case to the Minister in a more impartial manner. After having discussed it with the chemists, I think the proposal is a good one.
Another problem the chemists have arises out of the provisions of section 99 of the National Health Act which provide that the Minister for Health may make a determination after consultation with the guild. I have a copy of that section of the act before me, but I shall not read it. The chemists say that they feel that in the past the Minister has made determinations without what they consider to be true consultations with the guild, and they are seeking a definition of the word “ consultation “ that is acceptable to both the guild and the Government. I understand that this matter is before the Minister at the present time. They feel that in some cases the alleged consultation could not by any stretch of the imagination be defined as proper consultation between the Minister and the guild. They feel that in some cases what is called consultation has been very perfunctory, very swift and very different from what was intended when section 99 was included in the act. 1 have several points that I should like to put before the Minister in connexion with the proposals submitted by a deputation of chemists, and I only hope that I am able to present them to the committee in an understandable form. This is a very complicated matter and I hope that I shall not do the chemists an injustice by the way I present certain points on their behalf. The first matter about which they complain is the filling in of prescriptions. The act states that the pension number of a pensioner must be filled in by the doctor on the form which is brought to the chemist. The law does not allow the chemist to fill in this number. The chemists claim that the doctors should show more care and responsibility in filling in these prescriptions. If the pension number is not on the prescription, the chemist has to take it back to the doctor, when he finds the time, to have the number entered by the doctor. This causes delay, extra work and inconvenience.
Their next complaint is that doctors sometimes forget to indicate on the prescription the strength of a tablet or an ampoule. This also causes the chemist a great deal of extra fiddling work. I remind the committee that the chemists are not paid by the Government for these pensioner prescriptions unless these technical details are included. They recommend that the department should take up with the doctors the question of these technical omissions and urge them to take more care. The chemists also claim that they should be paid in spite of such technical errors as these.
Another complaint they have is that they are not always paid the amount for which they claim. For instance, a chemist might claim £200 from the Government and be paid only £190. The department might reject six prescriptions because of some slight anomaly or error. These rejected prescriptions are not returned to the chemists, and the chemists are not told why they are retained by the department.
Their fourth complaint is that chemists are paid on the cheapest brand of prescription that is available, and this point is important. Some small backyard men who are manufacturing chemists’ lines now often undercut prices, and once these undercut prices are included in the price book issued to all chemists, they become the basic prices upon which the chemists are paid. Often, these particular brands are not available to chemists in some States and the chemist is then forced to dispense a dearer brand. But he is paid only on the basis of the lower price of the brand that is included in the price list contained in the schedule of benefits section. The chemists claim that where a doctor does not specify the brand at all they should be paid for the brand that they have in stock nearest in price to the basic price. They say they cannot afford to duplicate their stocks to the extent necessary to cover every conceivable brand.
The fifth complaint of the chemists relates to dispensing fees which I understand were to be varied proportionately to the rise or fall of the weighted average wage paid to assistants in all States. This was agreed to at a conference, but the Government used the situation of galloping inflation to reject any rise or fall in dispensing fees when a freakish variation occurs. The chemists told me that the Government repudiated this agreement in about March of this year, the Minister claiming as the excuse for not changing dispensing fees the freakish movement in the Australian economy. For instance, he mentioned a large rise in Victoria where assistants are paid at above the award rate. An award was recently made and appealed against by the assistants. I understand they won their appeal and received an increase of almost 50 per cent. - from £15 to £22 a week - to bring them in line with the professional award now operating, but the department would not recognize this new wage in assessing dispensing fees even though the assistants won their appeal. The chemists were given a 10 per cent, rise in dispensing fees to compensate for a rise of about 20 per cent, in the weighted average wage. In order to gain an increase in the dispensing fee, the chemists did forgo 4d. per repeat authorization, but there has been a great increase in repeat prescriptions since the widening of the national health scheme, and their clerical work has greatly increased as a consequence. They feel that the Government should again review the matter of dispensing fees.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
- Mr. Chairman, one of the many committees of Opposition members in this Parliament is the social services committee, which decided that the Opposition would debate the estimates for the Department of Health and the Department of Social Services in an organized fashion and, for that purpose, that committee allocated particular aspects of social services and health matters to specific Opposition members for discussion in this debate. I have undertaken to discuss chemists and their place in the national health scheme. Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I had outlined a number of complaints by the chemists about the present administration of the health scheme as it applies to them. I now proceed to complaint No. 7, which relates to the special benefits mix-up which has occurred. Special benefit forms must be endorsed by doctors with the initials “ S.B.”, which, of course, stand for “ special benefits “. Sometimes a doctor forgets this endorsement, and the chemist has then to chase him in order to get it. The chemist cither cannot obtain payment or else has temporarily to charge the patient the full amount if he cannot get the endorsement from the doctor before he send his returns to the Department of Health.
I turn now to another matter, Mr. Chairman. The deputation of chemists that I interviewed a few weeks ago at my office in Launceston made a suggestion about the detailed tally sheets that chemists have to send to the department. The chemists are not notified by the department of any mistakes made in these tally sheets or any corrections that are necessary. This means that similar mistakes can be repeated many times by a chemist, since he does not know that an error has been made. The suggestion that I put to the Minister for Health and to the departmental officers this evening is that the tally sheets be prepared with carbon backs and that two copies be sent to the department by the chemist. One of these copies ought to be kept by the department and the other corrected, if necessary, and returned to the chemist from whom it was received, thereby notifying him of any mistakes that he may have made. The chemists suggest that, in order to save postage, the corrected tally sheets be returned to them with the form giving advice of payment which is regularly sent to chemists. In the long run, this would greatly assist the department, because fewer corrections would be required as chemists would be notified fairly promptly, through the medium of the returned tally sheets, of any mistakes that they had made, and therefore would be less likely to repeat errors.
The complaints that I have enumerated are the principal ones that I wish to bring before the Minister for his earnest consideration. I hope that he will reply to what I have said and assure me and the chemists that these matters will be looked into.
I have a suggestion to make now to the Department of Social Services, respecting a matter that has been discussed with me by married pensioners receiving incomes, who have made a suggestion that, so far as I know, has now been made for the first time. We know that married couples, although they have £400 in the bank, may still receive the full pension. However, pensioners feel that this amount is not high enough to be commensurate with economic reality. They want the limit to be increased at least to £600. They suggest, also, that the present limit of £400 under the means test forces people to spend, often needlessly, and thereby add to inflation, in order to qualify for the pension eventually, because every £1 of savings over £400 means a reduction in the rate of pension. As we know, too, this low limit of £400 on permissible savings in the bank even forces some people into dishonesty. Furthermore, it prevents pensioners from saving adequately to provide against illness in old age. The pensioners suggest that they be allowed to invest any money that they have in excess of £400 in Commonwealth bonds or Commonwealth loans, or that they be allowed just to deposit it in the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia without their pension being affected. They believe that the investment of the surplus over £400 would provide finance for national development. This is a very interesting suggestion, which I hope the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is absent from the chamber, will consider, should he happen to read “ Hansard “ and learn of it.
I suggest that the Minister has treated us with very scant respect to-day. He has not been present in the chamber since the consideration of the estimates for the Department of Social Services began.
– That is not true.
– I have been present all the time, and the Minister has not been in the chamber while the estimates for the department have been under discussion. ] think it is an insult to honorable members for him to absent himself from this chamber while we are considering the estimates for the Department of Social Services.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I commend to the nation Labour’s promise, as part of its policy for the election, to reduce from twenty years to ten the residential qualification for pensions required of non-British migrants. Government supporters interject when they hear that. They just do not like our suggestions.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Chairman, we are now considering the estimates for the Department of Health and the Department of Social Services. I have only one comment to make about matters relating to the Department of Health: I support the representations made by my colleagues of the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Country Party who have requested the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) to consider amending the National Health Act in order to permit people who are members of medical benefit funds to receive medical benefits when they are referred to an eye specialist by an optometrist. I feel that the existing situation is extremely wasteful. At present, if an optometrist notices that a person has an eye disease, the optometrist has to refer that person to a general practitioner who, in turn, will refer the patient to an eye specialist. I submit that the arguments that have been advanced by many honorable members on this side of the chamber warrant the earnest consideration of the Minister and the Government.
I now pass on to the estimates for the Department of Social Services. This Government has an extremely proud record in the field of social services. Every year since it took office, it has either increased pensions or liberalized the means test, or done both. In addition, it has removed a tremendous number of anomalies which existed when it took office in 1949. However, as so often happens, when some anomalies are removed others appear. An anomaly that comes immediately to one’s mind is the inequity and injustice of the present provision in the Social Services Act which requires a person to reside in Australia for twenty years before becoming qualified for a pension. This provision has been in the act ever since 1909. Until the last few years, it had not caused any difficulty, but, as has now become apparent, it results in considerable injustice to many of the 1,700,000 migrants who have come to this country since World War II. This Government, as part of its policy of removing injustices, entered into a reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom under which residence in that country would be counted as residence in Australia and residence in Australia would be counted as residence in the United Kingdom for these purposes. That having been done, substantially all the migrants from the United Kingdom became entitled to age pensions on reaching the retiring age.
That left out on a limb the non-British migrants. It has made them feel that they are, if I may put it in this way, second-class citizens. Australian-born persons, in 99 cases out of 100 have had twenty years* residence on reaching the retiring age; migrants from the United Kingdom in almost all cases, can show that they have had twenty years’ residence either in the United Kingdom or in Australia, but the migrants from Europe who obviously have not been in Australia for twenty years find that on reaching the age of 60, in the case of a woman, and 65, in the case of a man, even though they may have paid taxes for ten years or more, are not entitled’ to an age pension.
I ask the Government to consider very seriously what I believe has become, during the last few years, a very burning question and a very necessary reform. I realize that it is not easy to estimate the cost to the Treasury of such a reform. We do not know, for example, the assets that these new migrants may have. We do not know whether they will apply for a pension. The Minister, during discussion in the House, estimated the present cost at something like £2,500,000. I have endeavoured to ascertain the cost using such information as is available to me. Statistics from the Department of Immigration indicate that in 1960 there were 6,200 males and 16,640 females - non-British migrants - who are of pensionable age. That total of 22,840 will increase to 31,680 toy 1966.
Amongst the Australian-born community only 50 per cent, of those who are of pensionable age receive pensions. The remainder either do not apply or, what is more likely, are not eligible because they still are working and have an income which disqualifies them, because they have assets which disqualify them under the means test, or because they have part income and part assets which render them ineligible. Working on the assumption that the same number of migrants as Australian-born persons would qualify, this would mean that we could reduce the figure of 22,840 to approximately 11,500.
The base rate pension at present is £5 5s. a week, but the average rate of pension is £4 15s. a week. Some people receive less than the full pension because they have either income or assets. Therefore, if we multiply the 11,500 non-British migrants whom we may expect to apply for a pension, if this reform were made, by the average cost of the age pension of £4 15s. a week, we arrive at a total cost of £2,700,000. But if we look into the social service legislation we find that aliens are not entitled to a pension. Again, if we look at the figures relating to naturalizations, we find that only 50 per cent. of those who are entitled to be naturalized actually apply for naturalization. Therefore, in making this estimate of the cost we can further reduce the number who would be eligible by 50 per cent., taking it to 5,750 and the cost per year to £1,350,000.
If, instead of abolishing the residential qualification, we provide that it shall be reduced from twenty years to ten years, and if we consider the immigration figures, we will find that only 50 per cent. of those who now are of pensionable age have been in Australia for more than ten years. So, once again, the actual cost of this reform would be one-half of the £1,350,000 which I have mentioned. In other words, the cost of this reform for the next year, based on the figures as I have estimated them, would be about £670,000. By 1966, the cost would rise to £1,000,000. It is unjust that migrants who have worked in Australia for ten years and have paid their taxes should find that they are not entitled to an age pension when they reach the retiring age. Although I congratulate the Government on the magnificent reforms that it has made in social services over the last ten years, I ask it to continue the good work and to remove the inequity which exists at present. I know that Government members have considered this important problem, and I feel confident that in the years to come the Government will continue to make reforms in social services in line with the reforms that have been made in the past.
.- I shall endeavour again to obtain some infor mation concerning the workings of the Department of Health. It is very difficult to obtain information from the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron). From his replies to questions which have been addressed to him, everything turns out to be either a matter for a State department or a matter for a committee he himself has appointed. I have asked him what matters have been discussed between himself and the State Ministers for Health. Last April he replied -
I have not been supplied with a record of the proceedings at meetings of the State Health Ministers since I last attended.
The honorable gentleman, first and last, attended the meetings of the State Health Ministers, in January, 1957. In each of the following four Januaries they passed resolutions which later, certainly in two cases, were discussed by the State Ministers at deputations to the honorable gentleman, and in all cases were notified to him by correspondence. It is difficult to go any further with him when he does not acknowledge, or will not admit, the resolutions which have been passed unanimously by the six State Health Ministers in January each year and about which he evades questions in the way and in the words which I have cited. I shall therefore pass to matters admittedly concerning his own department.
First, Sir, it is over three years ago since Sir Macfarlane Burnet, O.M., the most distinguished director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, suggested that the time had come for the Federal Government to reexamine the status of fundamental medical and biological research. He suggested that the Government should appoint a small commission for this purpose, similar to the Murray committee which it appointed to inquire into the position of universities. At its meeting in May last year the National Health and Medical Research Council passed a resolution on this subject in the following terms: -
That the scope and future policy of medical research in Australia should be examined by an expert Committee consisting of Australian representatives nominated by the Medical Research Advisory Committee and that the assistance of one or two overseas experts be enlisted to enable impartial opinion to be put forward during the Committee’s deliberations. This committee to comprise of representation from -
Australian National University,
Commonwealth Department of Health,
Clinical medicine, with power to make other recommendations. Arrangements had in fact been made with Sir Harold Himsworth, secretary of the Medical Research Council of Great Britain, to act as head of the proposed commission. The Minister rejected this recommendation by the council, as he had previously rejected the suggestion made by Sir Macfarlane Burnet. Sir Macfarlane made a public statement last November deploring the fact that the Commonwealth would not carry out his suggestion and the council’s suggestion. The Minister apparently took the attitude that the council itself was the best instrument to carry out or promote such research. The council therefore, last October, when the Minister had rejected its suggestion, asked that a full-time executive officer be appointed for the council. So far the Minister has not complied with that request either.
Then, Sir, one finds a recent instance where research has already been carried out in Australia and has shown signs of good results. Last week it was announced that the Australian National University had developed some new antibiotic compound which would overcome the recalcitrant golden staph. It has now been decided that the development of these new drugs should be handed to a drug company - presumably a foreign drug company because, as we all know, all drug companies in Australia are now affiliates or subsidiaries of American or, in some few cases, British, or in some very few cases, German principals. They are all, of course, the greatest beneficiaries of the present Government’s national health scheme. One would have thought that the proper body to develop these new drugs was the Minister’s own instrumentality, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.
– There is no reason why they should not have. After all, Australia pays a very great deal for drugs. There is no reason why the money for drugs should be paid for foreign production mislead of local production. Surely nobody is going to suggest that Australia’s own medical scientists are not adequate to develop the discoveries which they have made. We have an instrument ready to our hands. One would have thought that the proper way to prevent exploitation of our national health system by foreign companies - following the exploitation of the British national health scheme by the drug companies - would be to have some local concern which would give the companies genuine competition. We learned in the debate a few months ago in this place that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories are carrying out research and development projects into staphylococci, including staphylococcus aureus. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories were engaged in the work. The Australian National University has made new discoveries. We have the scientists. There is no reason why we should not have the facilities to carry out in Australia the development of this very valuable new discovery.
– What is the drug to which you are referring?
– Is there more than one antibiotic to beat staphylococcus aureus which has been found by Professor Dwyer and his colleagues at the Australian National University? If there is more than one, you can persist with your question. Even so, there is all the more reason why both or all of them should be developed in this country. There is at least one.
– What is the drug?
– Are you trying to cover up this one also?
– I am asking a simple question.
– The Minister’s attitude towards the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories is well enough known. It was revealed six months ago in this chamber, and his attitude to its director was also disclosed suddenly after the House had adjourned. I shall quote the answer the Minister gave on the large drop in production of insulin and penicillin in the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories last year. He said, on 31st August -
It is rather interesting to notice that since the abandonment of import licensing, although not as a consequence of it, imports of both insulin and penicillin into Austraila have fallen.
It would be charitable to say that the Minister misinformed the House. The business manager of Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, in evidence to the Public Accounts Committee at the end of last month, said that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories had abandoned production of penicillin and greatly reduced production of insulin because of import competition. The level of operations of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories had dropped by more than £1,000,000 following a decision last financial year to restrict activity. In a reply which he gave to me on 5 th September, 1961, the Minister indicated that the production of penicillin at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the year ended June, 1961, was only about onequarter of what it was in the year ended June, 1960. The production of insulin had halved over the same period. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories say that there has been increased import competition. The production figures of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories suggest it, yet the Minister says that the imports of both insulin and penicillin have fallen. In fact, if one looks at the import figures published by the Commonwealth Statistician one finds that the Minister’s assertions are incorrect. In respect of phenoxymethyl penicillin there was a reduction in imports in 1960-61. However, this was in part due to stockpiling in 1959-60. In respect of all other penicillins there was a 20 per cent, increase in the quantity of imports in 1960-61 compared with 1959-60. It is clear that the increase in imports of penicillin was due to dumping, for although the quantity of imports increased by 20 per cent, the value fell by 50 per cent. Perhaps the Minister in his reply was referring to the value of imports when he should have been referring to the quantity. He has no such excuse in respect of insulin. In 1960-61, the quantity of insulin imported increased by 20 per cent., whereas the value fell by 1 3 per cent.
In respect of insulin, therefore, the Minister’s reply can be justified neither on the basis of quantity nor on the basis of value. Now one comes to the prescription of insulin, penicillin and other pharmaceu tical benefits. These cannot be provided as pharmaceutical benefits until they are recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee or, since the 1959 amendment to the National Health Act, unless they are in the British Pharmacopoeia. In either case they do not become available until the Minister gazettes them. The committee last met on 4th November last year. The only drugs which have become available as pharmaceutical benefits since that time became available on 1st May this year - only six months delay. Since the 1959 amending bill there have been 49 additions and 42 amendments to the British Pharmacopoeia. They were published in the 1960 addendum to it. They have not yet, however, been gazetted in Australia. The speed with which a pharmaceutical benefit comes on or goes off the free list appears to be determined by budgetary rather than medical needs.
This committee, like all the committees, is secret. The identities of its members are secret. On 3rd May last year the Minister told the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) that it has never been policy to publish the names of the gentlemen who serve on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, who are all eminent practitioners in their respective spheres. Publication of their names, the Minister said, might well result in their being subjected to unfair and unwelcome pressure from various sources, and it is therefore considered inadvisable to publish them. On the 28th of last month, the Minister told me that he had not announced to the public or revealed to the drug companies the names of members of any committees he has appointed.
In these circumstances, it is all the more deplorable that the recently retired DirectorGeneral of Health should have become a consultant to one of the largest firms whose drugs are approved by the department as pharmaceutical benefits. The Minister admitted to me on 12th September that, when the Director-General retired, he did not seek or receive the Minister’s approval to become a consultant to this drug company. One cannot assert that the DirectorGeneral disclosed the membership of any of the committees to the company or that the company asked him to do so. It is obvious, however, that the former Director-General is in a position to give this information. When senior public servants now retire, they receive handsomely subsidized superannuation. They, therefore, should be scrupulous to avoid any impression that they could be receiving any advantage from information that came to them in their former official capacity. They should not appear to compromise the service or their profession.
The Australian Government should now consider adopting the British practice, whereby a senior public servant cannot within two years of retirement accept a post with a company that deals with his former department unless he obtains the permission of his former Minister and of the Treasury. The former Director-General has broken no statute or contract, however unethically and improperly he may have acted in accepting such a position. His is only the latest of many cases where senior public servants and officers of the armed forces have resigned or retired and have forthwith accepted positions in which their confidential knowledge would seem to be of material interest to their new employers or principals.
I shall conclude with a reference to hospital and medical benefits funds. In the financial year 1959-60, which is the last year for which one can gain all the comparable figures, it appears that the hospital benefits funds received contributions of £14,258,181 and made payments of £12,049,796, and that the medical benefits funds received contributions of £14,388,964 and made payments of £11,893,354. From 1953-54, the first year for which both types of funds were operating, until 30th June of last year, Australians had paid £32,000,000 more to hospital and medical benefits funds than they had received from the funds.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Before I make any specific answers to the various questions that honorable members have raised during this debate, I should like to say something about the nature of the national health service. It will be obvious to the committee that the estimates for the Department of Health cover many matters besides the national health service. In the national health service I refer to payments for medical benefits, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, pensioner medical benefits and similar matters.
I want to say something about the principles on which the national health service works. But first let me point out to the committee something about the provision of medical services in Australia. By this I mean how the services of the doctor are made available to the public. Medical practice in Australia is based on the general practitioner and not on the hospital, as it is in many countries. This is a very important and significant aspect of the Australian medical service. It is important for several reasons. The first is that it suits Australian conditions. This is very important, and I will come back to this point and say something more about it a little later. It is important, too, because it preserves, though it is not the only factor to do this, in a way that nothing else can the standards of general medical practice. The standard of general medical practice in Australia is, I believe, very high, and it is very important to the Australian community that it should be kept at this high standard.
It does this by providing, amongst other things, a professional incentive - I am not talking about a financial incentive - to the medical profession. Then it preserves a free and independent practice of medicine, which suits the Australian character, habits and conditions, and that is very important. The national character means something and national characteristics mean something; and this method of providing medical service fits into both. Finally and perhaps most importantly of all, it preserves a continuing relationship between the doctor and the patient which is in itself a very important health factor and is the basis of much that is effective in medical practice.
I point out these matters because they are in a sense basic to our understanding of the way the national health service works. But let me say this before I go on to the next topic that I want to raise in this connexion: The national health service came into operation not de novo as a new principle but to supplement methods of health insurance already operating in Australia. These were enabled to be immensely expanded and made very much more effective because of Government assistance. What we now have operating as the national health service in Australia is a governmentassisted voluntary health insurance system.
Under this system, very many benefits were provided last year. I want to give the committee the figures because what I have to say depends a great deal for its importance on what the figures were. Last financial year, £20,600,000 was paid out for hospital benefits and the estimate for the coming year is £23,180,000. Expenditure for pharmaceutical benefits last year was £20,500,000 and the estimate for this year is £25,300,000. Pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners last year cost £7,300,000 and the estimate for this year is £9,200,000. Last year, £5,000,000 was expended for tuberculosis benefits - that is, maintenance, services and allowances - and the estimate for this year is £5,500,000. Last year, expenditure on medical benefits was £9,900,000 and this year is estimated to be £11,200,000. Medical benefits for pensioners last year involved an expenditure of £4,200,000 and this year are expected to cost £4,700,000. Nutrition for children, which is free milk for children, last year cost £3,500,000 and this year is estimated to cost £3,700,000. Miscellaneous items, which include biological substances such as poliomyelitis vaccine, cost £1,000,000 last year and the estimate for this year is £1,175,000. Last year, expenditure on these items from the National Welfare Fund was £72,400,000 and the estimate for this year is £84,200,000. Total departmental expenditure last year was £81,600,000 and the estimate for this year is £92,200,000.
I have given the committee these figures to show the magnitude of the annual expenditure made by the Government, and of course found by the taxpayers, for the national health service. Last year then, we had a total vote for the national health service alone of £84,000,000. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) this afternoon, this is a selfhelp scheme; and I will say more about that later. What I want to put to the committee is that the scheme is founded on the right principles for Australia. I say that because of the situation we have in this country.
All the money found for the national health scheme, and, indeed, all that found for the Department of Health, has to come out of the resources of 10,000,000 people. That is a great deal of money to take from such a population. Not only that; it has to fit into the overall pattern of national expenditure. We have tremendous tasks to complete in Australia. We have expenditure for irrigation and for great schemes like the Snowy Mountains scheme. We have enormous expenditure on housing which must be met every year. We have great expenditure on education and a huge vote for defence. No one can say that expenditure of £200,000,000 on our defence is unnecessary. We have to find enormous sums for transport by air, land and sea. These are only examples of the tremendous demands that are made on the resources of 10,000,000 people. I hope that honorable members who say that the expenditure on the Department of Health and the national health service is inadequate will realize that the taxpayers of Australia have to find the money for all the things that I have mentioned out of the resources of 10,000,000 people.
Some honorable members have compared our national health service with similar services provided in other countries. AH I want to say on that point is that I do not think it is very profitable to say that because there is a particular type of national health service in one country we should have one like it in Australia. The important thing is that we should have a national health service which suits Australian conditions and can be paid for by the efforts of the Australian people. That is just about what we have.
It is true that our national health scheme is not completely comprehensive. Honorable gentlemen have spoken to-day about optometry and some other services which they think should be included in the national health scheme. I shall refer to those matters in detail later; but I hope that honorable gentlemen will realize that every time you put something more into the national health scheme to make it more comprehensive, you have to find the money to pay for it.
– Is it not economical to find money to make sick people well?
– It is all very well to say that you have to find money to make sick people well. We have found it, and have perhaps the best record in the world; but if you make comparisons with the United Kingdom system of providing health benefits - and we had some comparisons this afternoon - and if you say that we should make our scheme comprehensive, let me put it plainly to the committee that there is only one way to make a national health service completely comprehensive and that is by making it compulsory. Honorable members might say, “ What about making it compulsory? “ Let me point out what happens if you make a national health service compulsory.
In the first place, if a government does that, it must take power over all the elements of a national health service. It must settle the price of everything that is purchased, take control of all the hospitals and regulate the expenditure of hospitals; it must take control of all the doctors and regulate doctors’ fees; it must take control of pharmacists and regulate their fees. In fact, in plain words it needs to have a nationally controlled socialized health service. There is no other way to make a service comprehensive, because if a government is to provide a comprehensive service, ipso facto it must take control of all the elements of expenditure in the service. We are a long way from that, I hope, in Australia.
Not only that but to operate such a service we would be spending on a national health service not £84,000,000 a year but at least £200,000,000, and it would be going up every year. In a country of 10,000,000 people with enormous tasks of development to be undertaken, it is just not realistic to talk about a national health service of that nature. Inevitably, it would detract from all the other activities we have to maintain.
Do not let us mislead ourselves. Welfare may be very desirable but it is immensely expensive and we must be able to pay for it. It is not really provided by governments; it is only directed, and the finance is only allocated by governments. Welfare is provided by everybody in the country and everybody pays for it. You do not just get the funds out of taxes on the higher incomes. Every one in the country has to find money for it and pay his share for it.
There is one other aspect of our national health service to which I want to direct attention. In almost every aspect of it except where the recipient of a benefit is indigent in the medical sense, the recipient must make some direct contribution to the cost of the service. That is why he has to pay 5s. for a prescription. That is why he has to insure himself. I am perfectly certain that this is a proper basis for a national health service in Australia. It is the only way in which any restraint at all can be kept on the mounting social welfare expenditure. If we are to have responsibility and restraint, this is a very proper principle to have embodied in the national health service, and it is embodied in ours. lt is quite unrealistic to imagine that welfare, no matter how desirable, can be provided quite regardless of cost.
I think, too, it is unrealistic to talk about any welfare scheme as the best. With great respect, I say to some honorable gentlemen who may consider this is one of the best schemes in the world: It is one of the best and it is certainly the best for Australian conditions, and that is what concerns us. It concerns not only those of us in this Parliament but every one in the country. This is the best for Australian conditions. It is no good talking about what is best under British conditions or Swedish conditions or what is best for Germany, America or some other country. We must be practical and realize what we can have in Australia. We have something that is very good.
I want to say just two more things about the national health service and then I want to speak specifically on some of the matters that honorable gentlemen have raised in this debate. First, I want to say that whatever differences we may have with other bodies in this country like the pharmacists or the optometrists or the physiotherapists, they are all of a very minor nature. I often see the representatives of those professions and have many conferences and discussions with them. On the whole, any differences we have are minor in character in the whole context of the national health service.
Secondly, we live in a federation. It is not just passing the buck to say this: There are numerous State rights and responsibilities just as there are federal responsibilities. When people talk about having a comprehensive health service and say that the Commonwealth Government should provide this and that, do not forget that there are six sovereign States and not one of them is willing to hand over its powers to the Commonwealth. So that as long as we live in the federation of course we have to operate within our own sphere and the things which we do in conjunction with the States must be done by agreement. It is unrealistic to talk as though the Commonwealth could take over this or that and deal with it as though it had all the power in the world.
Having made those brief remarks about the National Health Service I will speak in more detail about points raised here by honorable members this afternoon. I wish first to refer to the very constructive and useful speech made by the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth). I thought he spoke with great restraint and with very good sense. Among other things, he inquired about the arrangements for a review of costs and suggested that a comprehensive review of costs might be undertaken. I can assure him that, in fact, costs are constantly reviewed from year to year, and indeed from week to week, and that all the undertakings of the Health Department are always subject to a searching review with regard to costs. But that does not prevent us from expanding the National Health Service and the other activities of the department in the way in which they should be expanded.
I have just given the committee details of the financial expansion which has taken place in the National Health Service during the last twelve months. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) suggested that perhaps not enough was being spent on medical research and mentioned that the figure was a little short of £300,000. I think he made the mistake of imagining that this was all that was being spent on medical research. In fact a great deal more is spent - not necessarily all by the Health Department. This figure is only the amount of money directed to research by the National Health and Medical Research Council. A great deal of research goes on at the Australian National University, at the
Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. There are other avenues, also, so that the Commonwealth Government’s spending on research is much higher than that figure. Indeed, in Australia as a whole a great deal of research goes on in other institutions not directly financed at all by the Commonwealth Government.
One or two honorable members referred to optometrists. I have already said that none of the differences that we have with the various bodies is of a serious nature. Nothing that the Government does in any way disparages the work of the optometrists, as I thought was suggested by some honorable members. Of course not! Every one realizes the worth of the work they do, but medical benefits are paid for items in the schedule. With one single exception they are related to medical services and that exception is where a general practitioner refers a case for consultation to a specialist - not necessarily an ophthalmologist, but any specialist. In that case, because the consultant specialist has a special status he charges a higher fee and, because the patient has already been to one doctor who required more advice and sent him to another who charged the higher fee, he gets a higher Commonwealth benefit. The suggestion that has been made is that the optometrist has to send the patient to a general practitioner so that he can refer him to a specialist. He does not have to send the patient to any one at all. He can do what he likes. There is nothing in the National Health Act to say that only a doctor can refer a case to a specialist, but if a doctor does refer a case a higher Commonwealth benefit is payable. The optometrist is really not discriminated against at all. The only reason why the consultant gets a higher fee is that he is a consultant. But he is a consultant to a doctor and this is his proper status in the profession.
Two suggestions were made in relation to optical prescriptions. One was that when a patient has spectacles prescribed for him by a doctor he is not entitled to the Commonwealth benefit and the other was that somehow, in collusion with the doctor, the patient could defeat the purpose of the act and get the benefit.
– Would that not be worth investigating?
– I do not think it likely to occur except perhaps in very rare instances. The reason for the provision that no benefit is payable for the prescription of spectacles by a medical practitioner is that the optometrists themselves wanted it included and it was done at their request. If an eye specialist prescribes spectacles for a patient he is not entitled to a Commonwealth benefit, but if the fund with which he is insured wishes to pay him a benefit, that is its business. But the mere fact that the fund handles the payment of both benefits ensures that it does not pay the wrong benefit, because it must assure itself that it is paying only its own benefit and not that of the Commonwealth. If the fund pays its own benefit it knows, ipso facto, that it must not pay the Commonwealth benefit.
It is suggested that there are instances where the provisions of the act can be circumvented and where the specialist, in collusion with the patient, pretends that he has had the case referred to him. All I can say is that if instances of that practice are brought to my notice I will have them investigated. In fact, I had the whole question investigated by my department after conferring with the optometrists, and we did not find any cases of the kind that are vaguely described to us without specific instances being given.
I will now deal with some of the matters raised by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie). He raised a series of rather minor objections about procedure, which he had received from some pharmacists. These are all questions which have been discussed from time to time between officers of my department or myself and the pharmacists. One question the honorable member raised was that of the standing committee and whether the recommendations of that committee were the result of proper consultation between the guild and the committee or between the guild and myself. If the honorable member knew the hours that I have spent discussing matters with the guild he would not have used the word “ perfunctory “ as he did. On numerous occasions when the guild has felt that it would be more satis factory to discuss matters directly with the Minister than through the standing committee, there has been no difficulty in doing that. All the matters mentioned by the honorable member have been raised from time to time. If the federal executive of the guild likes to put these matters to me it will, of course, get a hearing. But it is no use individual pharmacists writing letters to individual members of Parliament. I negotiate with the federal executive of the guild and if it has anything to negotiate with me about, it has no hesitation in doing so.
I just want to refer to one other statement that the honorable member made. He said that in a certain matter the Government had repudiated an agreement with the guild. I want to give the honorable member a categorical assurance that the Government never repudiated any agreement.
I think I have covered most of the matters that were raised, except, perhaps, for certain remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). The honorable member based his statements on a series of questions that he has asked over a period of perhaps twelve months, perhaps longer. He said, first, that a new drug was being developed to combat staphylococcus aureus. When I asked him the name of the drug he could not tell me. The reason why I asked the name was that at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories we have not only the facilities but the knowledge to develop some of the latest drugs, and we are in the process of doing so. Whether the drug that the honorable member had in mind is one of them or not I cannot say, because the honorable member was not able to tell me the name of the drug.
– Perhaps he could not spell it.
– Perhaps so, but I do not know. In any case, the honorable member’s chief complaints were fairly insubstantial. What did they amount to? I suggest they amounted to very little. He said, for instance, that more penicillin was coming into this country than I had told him was coming in. Well, I do not know whether, in the answer I gave him, I cited the value or the amount of penicillin coming into Australia.
However, I do want to say something about one part of the honorable member’s speech. He attacked a very distinguished ex-public servant. He did it, I know, in order to attack the Government.
– That is fair enough.
– Well, is it fair enough? Is it fair enough to do something, in making an attack on this Government, which damages the reputation of a distinguished ex-public servant? If the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) thinks it is fair enough, let me tell him that I take a pretty poor view of it. Let me say, further, that there is nothing in Australian law or custom that has in any way been violated by the gentleman referred to by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– But there is in British law and custom.
– There may be in British law, but the honorable member should not launch an attack on the Government if in doing so he damages the reputation of a perfectly honest person.
– He damaged his own reputation.
– No, he did not. You did that for him.
So much for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I hope I have said enough about the national health service to make it plain that we ; have here something of immense value and something entirely suited to Australian conditions. It is something that gives a vast amount of assistance to Australians in the health field, and it is something that the people of this country have the capacity to pay for. One cannot ask for a great deal more.
– I propose to direct my attention to two matters with which the Department of Social Services is concerned. The first is one that was mentioned by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) earlier in the debate. The honorable member suggested that age pensions should be payable to naturalized new Australians after ten years’ residence in this country. We had hoped to have had a full-dress debate on this matter when the social service legislation went through the House last week, but we were prevented from doing so by the Standing Orders. Let me say now that the policy of the Australian Labour Party from now on will be that naturalized new Australians who reside in this country for ten years will be eligible to qualify for the age pension.
We make no apology for this statement of policy. As a matter of fact, I was very surprised, even amazed, to find that the Government does not recognize the justice of this suggested change. I do not know what backbenchers on the Government side think about it, but it seems to me that the time is long overdue when the Government should recognize that circumstances in Australia to-day are totally different from the circumstances of ten or fifteen years ago. When the social service legislation was first passed in this House there was no such thing as a large influx of new Australians. We certainly had a lot of British people coming here but they were covered by the reciprocity agreement. When the original social service legislation was passed, and even when amending legislation was passed, it was not envisaged that we would at some future time have large numbers of persons living here who would be debarred from receiving the age pension because they had not lived here for twenty years.
I am quite safe, I believe, in saying that naturalized new Australians feel very strongly about this unfair discrimination - for discrimination it certainly is. I have interviewed quite a number of them during the last twelve months, and they seem to find it difficult to understand the position. They come to me, as I know they come to other honorable members, and they point out that they are making their contributions to the national revenue in a host of ways. They point out that they have made positive contributions to Australia’s development, and I think we all agree that they have done so, because it would have been impossible to embark on many large-scale national developmental schemes had it not been for the assistance given by the large numbers of new Australians.
I suggest that even now the Government should do the right thing and make this change in the legislation. If it does not do so now it will not have another chance, because there will be a Labour Government here next year. I suggest that any government which provides for naturalized new Australians to qualify for the age pension after ten years’ residence will be responsible for creating a very good impression in the countries whence these people come. After all, we hope to have a continued flow of immigrants. We do not want the flow turned off like a tap. If we made it known in other countries that after ten years’ residence a naturalized new Australian could get the age pension, I feel certain that our immigration programme would receive a much-needed impetus.
As at present framed, our social service legislation provides for two sets of citizens. This is, of course, an absurd position. I hope the Government will recognize the value of this suggestion - or, at least, I had hoped; I now believe that we can expect little justice from this Government. I had hoped that the Government would have realized that for the sake of national harmony we cannot afford to have two sets of citizens.
I also point out that with the passage of years this division will become accentuated. Each year the position will become worse. But what does this Government do? It does nothing but fiddle as Nero did while Rome burned. It does not seem to care about this problem. I cannot understand why a suitable amendment to the legislation was not introduced this year.
We have been given two widely different estimates of the cost of this suggested change. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) said last week that it would cost about £2,500,000 a year. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) spoke in the debate to-night, and he kept on bringing the estimated amount down, until finally he gave the figure of £750,000. If he had gone much further we would have found the adoption of this suggestion costing the Government nothing. But whether it would cost £750,000 or £2,500,000, it would represent money wisely and well spent, and fairly spent. These people are entitled to the same set of conditions, when they become naturalized, as natural-born Australians. We all attend the naturaliza tion ceremonies, and we tell the newlynaturalized persons that they have now become Australian citizens and are entitled to receive the benefits flowing from Australian citizenship in the same way as all other Australians. Yet when they apply for the age pension they are told that they must live here for twenty years before they can get it. I cannot understand why Government back-benchers did not assert themselves in this matter. They must be prepared to accept every dictate of the Government, as the honorable member for Sturt is.
The present position is not conducive to the maintenance of national harmony. We all contend, at naturalization ceremonies and elsewhere, that we have to assimilate immigrants. They have become part and parcel of Australian life, but when they go along to the Department of Social Services, after ten or fifteen or eighteen years’ residence in Australia, and they make a claim for the age pension, they are told that they cannot get it until they have lived here for twenty years. It appears to me that the present position is indefensible and incomprehensible, but it is, after all, what one would expect under a conservative government. I hope that next year a Labour government will have an opportunity of bringing justice to these people at the earliest possible moment. They are experiencing to-day a sense of grave injustice.
This is a most appropriate time to speak about the other matter to which I wish to refer because Australia is observing mental health week this week. At the present time, addresses are being given by eminent scientists, and newspaper articles are being written by inspectors of mental institutions pointing out how at long last the community has recognized its obligation to this unfortunate group of people. On all sides we are being told that the community outlook towards mental diseases has changed considerably in recent years; how, in other words, a new deal is being given to the unfortunate victims of mental diseases. Yet these people do not receive the age pension while they are inmates of mental institutions. When inmates of benevolent institutions who are receiving the age pension while they are physically sick become mentally sick and are transferred from the benevolent institution to a mental institution, their age pension immediately ceases; they do not receive one penny piece by way of pension, not even a couple of shillings a week to buy a tube of toothpaste. They get exactly nothing! It is estimated that at the present time about 80 per cent, of the people who go into mental homes recover. That is a very good sign. It is an indication that medical science has done much by way of successful research into the incidence and treatment of mental disorders. About 25 per cent, of the people who enter mental institutions to-day are over 65 years of age; thus, many of the elderly patients in mental institutions to-day are not suffering from mental illness at all. Frequently, because the benevolent institutions and rest homes are full, they are compelled to go into mental institutions, and immediately they become inmates of the mental institutions, they lose their age pension.
A peculiar set of circumstances exists in connexion with this question. Queensland has been criticized many times in this place over the last week for not spending the whole of its Commonwealth grant on mental institutions, but I understand from the information I have received from a good authority that those responsible are no longer building mental institutions in that State; they are buliding annexes to the general hospitals so that the general hospitals may take care of the mentally ill. Because mentally ill patients are being treated as inmates in annexes of an ordinary general hospital they continue to receive their age pension. They are given 35s. a week out of their pension and the balance is paid to the institution. Not only do they receive 35s. a week, but I understand from the information given to me that they also enjoy the benefits of the national health scheme. I understand that the charge made against each patient in a hospital annexe in Queensland is £10 7s. 6d. a week, made up of £3 7s. 6d. a week from the patient’s available funds - that is, the pension - £2 16s. a week from the Commonwealth hospitals benefit scheme, which is paid to Department of Health and Home Affairs, the department administering hospitals in Queensland, and £4 4s. additional Commonwealth benefit which is payable in respect of persons insured under a registered hospital benefit organization. In the particular cases mentioned to me, the patients are insured with the Manchester Unity assurance organization which pays to the hospital board 12s. a day in respect of each insured patient.
How silly can we get! In one State, because mentally ill patients are cared for in an annexe to an ordinary general hospital, they receive 35s. a week spending money, while in Victoria and New South Wales, where the mental institutions are separate buildings in separate grounds, the inmates get exactly nothing! If anything can be said to support this as the action of intelligent people, I should like to hear it. The parties on both sides of this National Parliament stand condemned for the fact that this state of affairs should obtain. It is absolutely absurd that in one State, mentally ill patients should receive payment merely because they happen to be boarded in the grounds of a general hospital, while in another State, where mental institutions are administered entirely separately from general hospitals, the inmates do not get one penny piece. The Minister seeks to dodge the issue on every occasion. Last week, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) asked a question on this subject somewhat similar to the questions I have asked on many occasions over the past two or three years. The Minister’s reply was -
I would like to remind the honorable member for Banks that the care and hospitalization of the mentally sick is exclusively the responsibility of the State governments.
I point out to the Minister that the care and hospitalization of people who are in benevolent institutions is also exclusively the responsibility of the State governments, yet the inmates of benevolent institutions do receive 35s. a week. The argument that they should not be paid anything because they are inmates of mental institutions does not hold good at all. The Minister also said that the whole question had been examined carefully from time to time, but, because the lunacy laws vary from State to State, it is most difficult to solve this problem. I have pointed out how it has been solved in Queensland, and compared what is being done in that State with what is being done in Victoria. I suggest that the problem is not difficult of solution at all. If the Commonwealth Government is prepared to pay out the money, the problem presents no difficulty whatever. All the Commonwealth Government needs to do is to call a conference of the various State Ministers for Health and emphasize that it desires to do the right thing by the mentally ill patients, by granting them a pension which would do much to lift them out of their present state of mind, which would relieve them of the feeling that they are inferior beings because they are suffering from a mental illness and not a physical illness. It would be the easiest problem to solve. Only recently I read in the press that the State health officers are asking that a pension be paid to the inmates of mental institutions, but the Minister dodges the issue all the time. In answer to a question I asked some time ago, the Minister stated that no government has ever done this. I admit that no Labour government has done it in the past, but I can assure honorable members that a Labour government will do it in the future, because we recognize that a new look must be given to this matter. We recognize that the outlook of the community towards the inmates of mental institutions has changed entirely over the years. This Government, which is wasting money in every direction, is not prepared to pay £1,500,000 by way of pensions to persons who, because of circumstances outside their control, are forced to live in mental institutions.
Mental patients are placed in a most humiliating position in having to depend upon the charity of others for such small items as sweets, tobacco or toilet requisites. Why, even if they want to go home for the week-end somebody has to pay their fares; they have not got a feather to fly with; not a single penny do they get! It is most humiliating. Think of the hardships suffered by a married couple, one of whom is unfortunate enough to have to go into a mental institution. Before one of the partners goes into the mental institution the couple enjoys an income of £10 10s. a week. When one becomes mentally afflicted and taken into a mental home, hey presto, the remaining partner is forced to keep the home going on £5 5s. a week. In addition to keeping the home going, that remaining partner has to pay rates, taxes and the cost of his or her maintenance. Further, the partner who is not afflicted is required to buy toilet requisites and little luxuries for the partner who is in the mental home. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this state of affairs to exist.
When I mentioned this matter two or three years ago, my representations did not meet with one ripple of response from honorable members opposite. I have been very glad indeed to notice during the debate over the past two or three weeks that honorable members on the Government side have at last come to support my point of view. I was very happy this afternoon when I heard the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), of all people, an honorable member who is generally very conservative, supporting my case. I am satisfied that if the honorable member for Hume and I can agree in espousing a cause, that cause must be the right one.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I do not propose to traverse the remarks of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) to any great extent. It does seem to me that he made an excellent case against what he calls the defaulting States for not playing their part in properly caring for mentally ill patients. Recently, there has been much controversy in the New South Wales press after certain disclosures were made by a royal commission as to conditions in mental institutions despite the fact that, following the Stoller report, the Commonwealth Government made substantial amounts of money available for the improvement of conditions in mental hospitals.
I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but my recollection is that in New South Wales, immediately a person is committed to a mental hospital, the Master in Lunacy takes complete charge of the whole of the patient’s assets. It is not simply a matter of a few shillings a week; it is a matter of taking control of the whole of the patient’s assets. However, I am not anxious to develop an argument on that subject.
I listened with great respect to the remarks made by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) about the working of the national health scheme, and I find myself in substantial agreement with everything that he said about the quality of the scheme. I think it reflects the wisdom, courage and planning capacity and vision of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was the architect of the modern National Health Act. The Australian national health scheme has probably worked better than has that of any other country, and it is regarded by other countries with considerable envy. But that does not necessarily mean, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the scheme will not have to be modified from time to time. It is quite true, as the Minister for Health pointed out, that national welfare will cost us something like £330,000,000 this financial year. A substantial portion of that expenditure, of course, will be undetraken by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is now at the table. I shall discuss one aspect of that matter in more detail later.
I want to turn now to the problems of optometrists. I think it was something like 30 years ago that, as a minister in a nonLabour State government, I was responsible for bringing in a bill to provide for the recognition of optometrists and the regulation of their affairs and standards. That measure met with considerable opposition from the medical profession, but it resulted in the establishment in the technological and diploma division of the Sydney Technical College of a special section for the training of optometrists. I could at least see considerable grounds for the dim view of the proposal taken by the medical profession at the time, because the optometrists were then a newly emerging group of people. Although they were rendering a very useful service, their standards were considerably lower than are the present-day standards of optometrists. In New South Wales to-day, an optometrist has to go through a lengthy course of study at the University of New South Wales, which has taken over the diploma and technological work of the Sydney Technical College. This course is a stiff one which occupies four years, and I believe that a person who completes it receives something in the nature of a degree qualification.
As I understand the claims of the optometrists, they seek the right to refer patients to eye specialists. Optometrists, of their own volition and by the wish of their governing body, are now subjected to intensive higher training, and they consider that, as a consequence, they ought to have the same right to refer patients to eye specialists as has a general medical practitioner. The optometrists are not asking for any increase in fees. They do not ask even for payment for spectacles in respect of persons whom they refer. The optometrists merely wish to prevent a substantial portion of their clients from being divorced from them. If a person goes to a general medical practitioner to be referred to an eye specialist, he can obtain medical benefit, whereas, if he goes to an optometrist for the same purpose, he cannot obtain benefit. In these circumstances, naturally, the optometrists suffer.
I know that professions differ very greatly. Nobody has a warmer appreciation than I have of the generally high standards which have been observed by the medical profession in New South Wales, many members of which are my personal friends. However, I think that this matter needs further looking into by the Minister for Health in the light of the high standards now maintained by optometrists in New South Wales. If similar standards obtain elsewhere, a system of licensing or something of the kind could perhaps be adopted.
I pass on now to a matter which, I think, needs a little more thought by this Parliament and the people of Australia than is given to it at present. When one looks at the national health scheme carefully, one realizes that it is, more than anything, a scheme for the curing of disease, and for that purpose it is remarkably good. It is not basically a health scheme; it is basically a curative scheme. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has told us that pharmaceutical benefits will cost us this financial year £20,500,000, hospital benefits £20,700,000, medical benefits £4,200,000, pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners £7,300,000 and medical benefits for pensioners £9,900,000. As far as I can ascertain from the figures supplied by the Treasurer, this represents an increase over the comparable figures for last financial year of approximately £13,750,000.
I think that, in the circumstances, those figures reflect great credit on this country and on the way in which this Parliament provides for people who are ill or aged. Incidentally, the figures that I have just cited do not include sickness and unemployment benefits, which, I think, will cost the Government £2,800,000 or more in this finanical year. These figures highlight the first point that I want to make: The overwhelming bulk of the expenditure on the national health scheme is directed to the curing of disease. In view of the increasing size of the total medical and hospital bill, I feel that far more research should now be directed to what I describe as the prevention of disease rather than its cure.
Let us look at the expenditure allocated for purposes related to the prevention of disease. High on the list of measures in this category I put the provision of free milk for school children, which will cost £3,600,000 this financial year. Children are like any other form of animal life: If they have sufficient nutritious food to begin with, they develop good constitutions. What is the increase in this expenditure compared with last financial year? It is only about £500,000, compared with the increases of millions of pounds on the other aspects of the national health scheme that I listed earlier. One may say, “The expenditure budgeted for will provide all the milk that our school children need “, but, in my opinion, more than one-third of one pint of milk a day is needed to build healthy children, and the amount should be increased. I am sure that the average child would benefit if it received more milk.
Let us now consider another important aspect of health. Year after year, £72,500 has been allocated to the national fitness movement. The work done by the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness in building up health and correcting health defects is of immense importance. Yet a miserable £72,500 is considered to be enough for this Government to allocate to the national fitness movement. Admittedly, the previous Government did not allocate as much. The present allocation is a miserable one in view of the tremendous value of the work that the movement does - work which ought to be backed to the limit of the available resources. Those who undertake this work are fine people who give their time and interest to national fitness, and they deserve more encouragement than they get. Let us take a borderline item - the proposed expenditure of £5,100,000 on tuberculosis benefits. Whether that expenditure falls on the preventive or on the curative side is a matter for debate. I think it falls on both sides. When the right honorable member for Cowper decided that it was necessary to provide a pension scheme if we were to tackle tuberculosis effectively, he played an important part in preventing the spread of this disease and in combating its incidence. The Government deserves the heartiest congratulations for putting the scheme into operation.
Prior to the war what was called the Peckham experiment was conducted in England by four public-spirited doctors in different divisions of the profession. They tackled the whole question of human health in a local area with a moderate working-class group to learn how to build up national health. They achieved remarkable results, but then the war broke out and presumably blew the whole experiment to smithereens.
The time is overdue when we should cease appealing for great sums of money to cure people, and commence devoting far more to finding out why people become ill, why their resistance is low, why their constitution is weak and what can be done to prevent these conditions arising. I commend to honorable members the sage words of the heart specialist who came to Australia to give us very valuable information about how to attack heart disease. He said that the two worst factors in heart disease are under-work and over-feeding. A similar common-sense approach should be made to the matter of reducing the everincreasing sums of money which we pay to cure disease in this country.
– I had no wish to interrupt this debate but I do so because of the impression created by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and, I have no doubt, other honorable members who addressed themselves to the residential qualifications laid down in the social service legislation. I want to say here and now that it is entirely false for any person to suggest that there is discrimination in any way against migrants or any other person in the community with respect to the payment of social service benefits for which they apply.
Traditionally, age pensions have been paid to people who have been resident within the Commonwealth for twenty years. The invalid pension has been paid to those who have a residential qualification of five years, and the widows’ pension has been paid to those who have a residential qualification of five years or who have become widowed during their permanent residence in this country. Let me take this opportunity to recite the residential qualifications if for no other reason than to emphasize that there is absolutely no discrimination against the migrant, there never has been discrimination against the migrant and there never will be discrimination against the migrant.
Let me deal in precise terms with the residential qualification as it applies to age pensions. In order to qualify, a person must have lived in Australia continuously for twenty years. That applies to the Australian citizen in precisely the same way as it applies to any one else. This period need not be immediately prior to claiming the pension. Continuity of residence is not regarded as broken by absence in a Territory of the Commonwealth. Periods of absence from Australia, in certain circumstances, count as residence. These are absences due to war, absences during which the claimant was regarded as a resident of Australia for income tax purposes and, in the case of a person who has had at least eighteen years’ residence, absences up to a total of two years, plus six months for every year of residence in excess of eighteen years. A person is also considered to have been resident in Australia during any temporary absence during which his home remained in Australia.
With a married man, this concession applies only if he maintained his wife and any children under sixteen years of age during his absence. Residence in New
Zealand or the United Kingdom counts as residence in Australia. An age pension may not be granted to an alien. Those are the residential qualifications which apply in precisely the same way to every Australian citizen and to every migrant. An Australian must have residence of twenty years in this country, and a migrant must have residence of twenty years in this country. Among reasonable people, that should dispose of the senseless allegation of discrimination. But the suggestion comes now that there should be preferential treatment for migrants in that the residential qualification should be reduced to ten years. Is it to be presumed that the residential qualification for Australian citizens shall remain at twenty years? If that is the intention, then the suggestion proposes preferential treatment for migrants.
Let me turn now to the residential qualification for an invalid pension. Five years’ continuous residence in Australia is required by migrants and Australians alike. This need not be immediately prior to claiming a pension. However, if a person becomes permanently incapacitated or permanently blind outside Australia except during a temporary absence, a total of twenty years’ residence is necessary. Continuity of residence is not regarded as broken by absence in a Territory of the Commonwealth. Certain absences count as residence. These are absences due to war, absences during which the claimant was regarded as a resident of Australia for income tax purposes, and occasional absences not exceeding in the aggregate one-tenth of the total period of residence and absence. A claimant is also considered to have been resident in Australia during any temporary absence during which his home remained in Australia. With a married man, this applies only if he maintained his wife and any children under sixteen during his absence. Residence in New Zealand or the United Kingdom counts as residence in Australia. These conditions are precisely the same for migrants and Australian citizens alike.
Perhaps I should give some special emphasis to the fact that we have entered into reciprocal agreements on social services with both the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Those countries have exactly the same twenty years’ residential qualification as we have. To arrive at the length of residence we accept, in the application of these reciprocal agreements, residence in either of those two countries as residence in Australia, and they treat Australian citizens in precisely the same way. The residential qualification for widows is slightly different. Five years’ continuous residence in Australia immediately prior to claiming pension is required. This period is reduced to one year if the woman and her husband were living permanently in Australia when he died. Continuity of residence is not regarded as broken by absence in a Territory of the Commonwealth. Certain absences count as residence. Those are absences due to war, absences during which the claimant was regarded as a resident of Australia for income tax purposes, and occasional absences not exceeding, in the aggregate, one-tenth of the total period of residence and absences. The claimant is also considered to have been resident in Australia during a temporary absence in which her home remained in Australia if she was a widow at the time and if she then maintained any of her children under sixteen years of age who were dependent on her before she left Australia. Again, residence in New Zealand or the United Kingdom counts as residence in Australia.
Those are the three residential qualifications applicable to claimants for age pensions, invalid pensions and widows’ pensions, and they are exactly the same for all the people of our country no matter whence they came, so long as they are naturalized Australians or Australian-born. I must resist - as I resent - the suggestion that there is discrimination against the migrant.
– Of course there is.
– Commonwealth social services have been effective throughout the Commonwealth for more than 50 years, and for the whole of that period these residential qualifications have remained. If they are to be altered they must be altered for Australians, I suggest, first of all; having altered them for Australians it might then be just and equitable to alter them in the same way for migrants. But so long as the qualification remains at twenty years they apply to all people in the same way. Nor could they be altered without consultation with the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of New Zealand because of those very excellent reciprocal agreements which have been entered into and which have now reached a state of comparative perfection insofar as people travelling from this country to either New Zealand or the United Kingdom are concerned.
Finally, Mr. Temporary Chairman, may I take this opportunity to deal with the complaints that are constantly being made that when persons who have qualified for social service benefits enter a mental hospital the social service benefit ceases. That provision is written into the Social Services Act, and its presence there is entirely due to the fact that the care, custody and hospitalization of the mentally sick have been, and still are, the exclusive responsibility of State health authorities. The Commonwealth Government makes millions of pounds available to the State governments for the purpose of assisting them to provide adequate accommodation for the mentally sick. Apart from that, Mr. Temporary Chairman, the Commonwealth Government has no responsibility in the matter whatsoever.
Allow me, Sir, to develop my reply to the allegations which have been made. The lunacy laws - and one does not use those words lightly - of the States vary from State to State, and the physical difficulty, apart altogether from the legal difficulty of paying social service benefits to inmates of mental hospitals is insuperable under present conditions. It is not possible for a certified lunatic, for example, to stand possessed of payments of the kind at all. The Commonwealth Government gets over the difficulty, to some degree, by paying a widow’s pension to the wife of a person admitted to a mental hospital whether or not he is a pensioner, subject, of course, to the means test. Again, if it were possible to pay social service benefits to a pensioner who had entered a mental hospital it could be done only to the prejudice of his wife, who now receives a widow’s pension so long as the husband remains in the care and custody of the mental hospital.
I have told honorable members on a number of occasions that during the last six years I have explored all sorts of ways out of this difficulty. There is no suggestion of saving money. There is no suggestion of any government, regardless of its political character, escaping from its responsibilities in the payment of social services. If it could be done to the advantage of the person concerned it would -be done, I can assure honorable members of that.
An allegation has been made that in certain States annexes are built in the grounds of public hospitals in order to accommodate the mentally sick, and that by that device these people remain qualified to receive social service benefits. It is not by that device, Mr. Temporary Chairman. It is as a result of the legal fact and process that these people who are occupants of these annexes are not in the care and custody of the Master-in-Lunacy or whatever the appropriate State authority might be called. That is the complete explanation, and to suggest that there is any other explanation is to forget the nine years that the socialist government was in office and, every day during those nine years, had the opportunity to correct this alleged anomaly.
.- After listening to the explanations tendered by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) one can fully realize why there are so many unfair and harsh anomalies in the Social Services Act and the National Health Act. In reply to genuine criticism by members of the Opposition the Minister for Social Services talks about what happened twelve years ago, or fourteen years ago, and one can fully understand why certain newspapers refer to the Minister as “ Mr. Humbug “.
Before proceeding to the matters with which I want to deal in the limited time available to me I wish first to express my opposition to the grouping for the purposes of debate, of so many important items in the Estimates. We are considering together the proposed votes for the Department of Health, the Department of Social Services, War and Repatriation Services and Payments to or for the States - Department of Health. More time should be available to honorable members to discuss the various anomalies in the working of the various departments concerned. The limitation of time means that honorable members must restrict their criticisms and therefore are unable to bring to the attention of the people many of the anomalies that exist, for instance in this Government’s national health scheme.
To-night I want to deal with the provision of a dental benefits scheme and generally with the dental health of the community. I want to refer in particular to the dental health of children under the age of sixteen years. Most dental trouble starts in this age group and bad teeth cause many other disorders in the formative years. I wish to refer to a report presented in February of this year by Mr. W. B. Haymet, who is the Director of Dental Services of the New South Wales Department of Health. In a survey of children attending 128 New South Wales primary schools, 23,698 school children were examined by dentists and 19,594 oi 82.7 per cent, were found to have decayed teeth or to be suffering from some dental trouble. In the age group of children from six to nine years, 22,184 children were examined and 93.32 per cent, were found to need treatment.
But this Government, with all its talk about its national health scheme, has failed to make any provision for a dental benefits scheme which would permit children of the ages I have mentioned to receive the dental treatment that is now denied them because their parents have not the resources to meet the costs. Mr. Haymet went on in his report to say that the two major causes of teeth troubles in children are incorrect diet and an acute shortage of dentists. But we find that this Government has very little interest in keeping dentists in this country or attracting them. Approximately a third of the dentists trained in Australia to-day go to England where they assist in the provision of satisfactory and adequate treatment for the people of the United Kingdom. I have here an open letter sent to a dentist friend of mine by Commonwealth Dental Supplies Limited of South Kensington, London. I should like honorable members to note some of the condi- tions offered by this company to Australian dentists. The letter reads -
Re Dentistry in England.
Ours is a Friendly and Personal service extended to Australian Dental Surgeons coming to the United Kingdom.
Should you be contemplating a visit to England our experienced “ All Australian “ staff will be happy to assist you with the problems which will arise such as: -
Accommodation - ready on arrival by request.
An Assistantship- or - Locum - to commence as soon as you like after arrival.
Your own Practice - We have a large selection.
Premises to Squat - it may be cheaper.
Finance - 100% for Practice Purchase and 100% for House Purchase in most cases.
If you are considering a visit don’t hesitate to write for information, or ring or call-in when you arrive.
I do not intend to give a free commercial to these people, but I do suggest that we could well consider the last condition relating to finance - 100 per cent. for practice purchase and 100 per cent. for house purchase. What is the position in Australia? It costs a dentist several thousand pounds to set up practice here. He must provide at least 50 per cent. of the money and, if he is able to negotiate a loan through one of the lending institutions, he may be able to obtain the remainder with interest at 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. The company in England, on the other hand, is willing to make 100 per cent. of the money available for the purchase of a practice and a home, and the interest rate would be a reasonable 4 per cent. This is one reason why many dental students leave for the United Kingdom as soon as they have completed their training. They become part of a free dental scheme which was originally introduced by the British Labour Party. We should consider introducing such a scheme here so that we may be able to retain dentists in Australia to provide a free service to our people, particularly to children under the age of sixteen years.
On 19th September last, the Australian Dental Association, through the president, Dr. L. E. McDermott, published a minimumfee guidance table for dentists. I will not refer to all the charges, because they are too numerous. Some of them are -
These are some of the charges which must be paid by people using the private dental service provided in this country. The Government has provided a medical scheme, certainly with many anomalies in it; a pharmaceutical scheme, also with many anomalies; and a hospital scheme, with many anomalies. But despite the anomalies, these schemes are better than nothing. I believe the Government should as early as possible move into the dental field and devise some scheme that would permit people, particularly young children, to obtain dental treatment. It must be obvious to honorable members that no parents dependent on wages alone could afford to pay the charges that will now be made. I ask the Minister for Social Services, who is now at the table, to show more sympathy than he has shown on previous occasions and to introduce such a scheme. We as a party, when elected at the end of this year, will assuredly introduce a dental benefits scheme so that the people will be able to obtain the service they need.
We should consider what is involved in a dental benefits scheme. If we do not provide such a scheme, what will be the result? I have discussed this matter with members of the medical profession. I am told that children with decayed teeth are unable to eat their food correctly. They gulp it down because eating on a decayed tooth hurts them. They do not chew their food properly. If this practice extends over a lengthy period, a number of conditions could arise. Some members of the medical profession say that bad teeth are a basic cause of ulcers. Certainly they bring about digestive problems and all the troubles that are associated with indigestion, such as nervous irritability. From this, other complaints arise, two of which are asthma and dyspepsia. One could talk for a long time about the effects of bad teeth, and after all, bad teeth are a direct result of the inability of parents to meet the cost of dental treatment to-day.
This matter is of vital concern because the health of the people is involved. If children suffer from the complaints I have mentioned, in later life they are unable to carry their responsibilities in industry, commerce and the like, because of ill health. The new and higher dental charges will place an additional burden on the people.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) referred to the need for preventive medicine rather than corrective medicine. We should do what we can to prevent people from contracting various complaints and ascertain why they become subject to these complaints so that we can correct the causes and not have to worry about remedies. If we were able to do this, we would effect a tremendous saving because we would not need pharmaceutical benefits, hospital benefits and the like. But the same argument applies to dental treatment. Dentists know what causes decayed teeth. They know that children eat many sweets and do not attend properly to their teeth. They know, too, that if various councils and local authorities can be induced to introduce a fluoridation scheme that in itself will prevent tooth decay to a great extent. If we cannot persuade the children to stop eating sweets and lollies - and that is difficult - we have to take some preventive action by the establishment of a freely available dental scheme so that dentists will go through the schools attending to the children’s teeth free of cost to the parents.
I do not say that the dentists should examine the children’s teeth and say, “ This tooth should come out “ and extract it straight away, or decide that certain fillings should be done immediately. This care and attention should be given in consultation with the parents. The service should be provided free of cost because it would be impossible for the average working-class person to pay the charges of the dentists.
I remind honorable members also of the problem of persons with badly formed teeth. There are many of them. I know that a psychiatrist ordered that a youth’s teeth be extracted and artificial teeth provided because the patient was developing an inferiority complex over the condition of his teeth. This child was becoming a delinquent because of the inferiority complex set up by the condition of his teeth. It was something beyond his control. His teeth had been neglected when he was a small child, and he was sixteen or 17 years of age when the psychiatrist ordered the extractions. If there had been a free dental scheme and the child had been attended to in his schooldays, that trouble would probably have been corrected. We know that it can be done by proper treatment over a long period.
I should have mentioned earlier the bad effects which result when the system absorbs the poisons from bad teeth over a long time. This sets up rheumatics, arthritis and various other complaints. So I believe there is ample reason why the Government should introduce a free dental scheme for the children of Australia at least until they are sixteen years of age and 1 hope that free dental treatment will be provided for all the people eventually and not on the basis of the contributory schemes that we have now. We all know that there are many anomalies in those schemes.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In the first place, in my contribution to the debate, I wish to direct attention to the estimates for the Department of Social Services and I want to add my words of encouragement to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the Government regarding the reduction in the residential qualification for social service benefits from twenty years to ten years for those people who come from overseas to take up residence in Australia. I know that other speakers have made their contribution on this same subject. I have listened to them from the Opposition and also from my own colleagues. I think there is room still for further recommendation and comment.
My honorable friend from Sturt (Mr. Wilson) earlier this evening devoted his speech almost entirely to this subject. His figures and general estimate of cost are impressive. I suggest to the committee that it should take note of his claim that the particular amendment we suggest would cost only about £700,000 whereas the Minister for Social Services has in mind a figure in the region of £2,000,000 to £2,500,000. These figures are of immense importance to the Government and the committee as it considers this matter. Because of the factual proposition put forward by my friend from Sturt, I trust that the figures mentioned by the Minister can be re-checked and that all of us can give them further consideration.
From my own association over a number of years now with our migrant families, I believe I am on sound ground when I say these people do not expect social service benefits without becoming naturalized. I certainly would not be one who would advocate that these benefits should be freely provided without naturalization. I am convinced, however, that our new-found settlers coming from overseas and giving their best in the earlier years of settling in this country are perfectly happy to face the necessary move - a voluntary move on their part as we all know - to become Australian citizens. However, they then expect that after ten years’ residence and work they should obtain the benefits we are speaking about.
I think that all of us in this chamber are well aware that the European migrant, in particular, is a man who likes to complete the family unit. Having settled here with his wife and children, it is not long before his application to work, his determination to succeed and the sacrifices he makes willingly to save result in him being able to nominate his parents to come to Australia. When this is accomplished and the family unit is complete, there is that natural satisfaction within the new Australian family that is typical of their home life in their old country. But if then problems arise, if the health of the father deteriorates and if his work becomes difficult because of advancing age, what a disappointment it is to the migrant family to be reminded again when the need is urgent that the twenty years’ residential qualification prevents the father from receiving any benefits.
– What is the use of talking about it when you will not do anything about it?
– The honorable member knows very well the views of some of us and the action we are taking. He has had an opportunity to make his speech. In this connexion, I simply raise my voice as others have done.
– That is all you do.
– It is good to raise one’s voice and the honorable member for Yarra raises his but not with so much effect. I trust that this recommendation will be constantly borne in mind until it can be put into effect.
There is another aspect of social services legislation in which I am vitally interested. I refer to Division No. 364, item 04, under which £2,000,000 is to be provided for homes for the aged. In committee on previous occasions, we have had many opportunities to praise the introduction of this provision to build homes for the aged. Under the act which makes it possible, it is pleasing to remind the committee, well in excess of £10,000,000 has been provided to give our senior citizens throughout Australia modern, good quality flats or small cottages in which they can find accommodation at least for a number of years. This provision is made for them in a period when perhaps they have no relations or friends to help them and some organization finds it possible to do something practical and helpful.
I want to express my personal gratification as a member of the National Parlia ment at this provision. I want to refer also to the splendid progress that has been made. I also take this opportunity of expressing my personal appreciation and that of many organizations throughout Australia to the officers of the department who handle the administration of the Aged Persons Homes Act. I refer to their courtesy when one seeks information about the steps to be taken to obtain subsidy moneys, and 1 speak with some personal knowledge of the speed with which applications for subsidies are handled. Efficiency is reflected in the replies that come from officers of the department. I happened to be privileged to have an association with an organization which in the past twelve months has built flats, to a considerable value, for elderly people. In every inquiry which we have made as an organization to officers of the department we have received nothing but outstanding co-operation and efficiency. While saying that, let me remind the Minister and the Government that this provision does not embrace recreation centres for senior citizens in the various communities.
It is interesting to note that if a recreational centre is built in an aged persons homes community, the application for subsidy is invariably approved because the amenity will be taken as part of the overall scheme. I suggest that it would not be a very big move to provide the same sort of subsidy - or even a lower subsidy - for a recreational centre which is not situated in an aged persons homes community. Most of us, as members of Parliament, have had the pleasure of commending public-minded people who have set up recreational centres in various suburbs of the cities in our electorates. It would be a splendid thing if, on top of the outstanding move which the Government made when it initiated the Aged Persons Homes Act, it would now extend the provisions of that legislation to provide that the subsidy shall cover recreational centres of this kind.
I want to direct my remarks in the time remaining to me to the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness, which appears as item 291/04 in the Estimates for the Department of Health. I suggest that my persistence and that of other honorable members is gradually being rewarded. I think we all know that the private member in this place soon learns that years of advocacy may be necessary before his convictions are translated into action by departments or governments. But it appears that the constant dripping does wear away the stone. I think that if one honorable member who at present is travelling overseas were here he would be quick to endorse my comment that it is still worth while battling in the sphere of national fitness for the youth of Australia. A new DirectorGeneral of Health has recently been appointed, and I want to congratulate him, because it would appear that in taking up his duties he has brought a new emphasis and interest to the field of national fitness. I have learned that a report is being prepared, because a review of national fitness in each State was instituted some months ago. Furthermore I am pleased to announce to the committee that the National Fitness Council, which, as I have reminded honorable members on a number of occasions, has not met for many years, is to meet late this year. If that council meets regularly to review this work on a national basis, as it should, we will at long last have achieved something. I suggest that this is a recognition of an omission about which we have been speaking for the last four or five years.
The report which is being prepared or has been prepared should surely be soundly based. Too much is involved to permit a hasty summary of national fitness work, for if the imperfections in one State are drawn out in the report with the suggestion that there is no uniformity and that this excellent provision for the youth of Australia should be excised or further modified, I firmly believe that that sort of quick condemnation would rob the nation of a precious piece of legislation. From time to time there has been the suggestion that national fitness activities could be taken over by the various State governments. I suggest to the committee once again that the National Fitness Act provides a national lead and that the participation of the national Parliament in the all-important fla of inspiring youth is invaluable.
It is here, in national fitness activities, that sporting and club activities combine to give the country young leaders, trained and stable, to handle Australia’s destiny when to-day’s national leaders have become only names in history. The Government may be inclined to leave this work entirely to the States, but I say it has a rightful place in the Commonwealth statutes and that the partnership which exists between the Commonwealth and the State governments is desirable and should be retained. More and more is being written about youth and its problems and also about the responsiblity of parents, for it is not always the children who are at fault.
I am pleased to point out to the committee that the third issue of a little booklet called “The Gap”, a book to bridge the dangerous years, has, within the last few days, been released in the form of the Western Australian edition. The publication of this book has been made possible by Australian citizens, companies and other organizations who have underwritten it on a non-profit basis. It is issued to help protect the dignity and the integrity of the Australian home and family. The Western Australian edition, which I commend to any one interested in the problems of youth, contains a pungent contribution from the general secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association in my State. In the seconds that remain to me I will quote from this article which the general secretary submits. He says -
Positive forces such as church youth departments, social welfare associations, tie Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and those other groups affiliated with the Associated Youth Committee of the National Fitness Council, are trying in a positive way to counter bad influences on young people. But these agencies have to scratch and scrounge for money to finance their activities.
They have no real status in the nation’s economy. While they supplement the work of worthwhile parents and substitute for worthless parents they have no role in the national framework except that of the suppliant.
We need to reassess and rebuild our standards. It is later than we think.
So I make the plea, as I have in similar debates on other occasions, that the paltry and inadequate vote of £72,500 for national fitness be substantially increased.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to debate the much disputed onus-of-proof clause in the Repatriation Act, because it affects one of my constituents. It will be remembered that, in 1943, the Repatriation Act was amended to make provision that in all matters of dispute between an ex-serviceman or his dependants and the department the onus of proof should be on the Repatriation Department. I think the experience of a lot of members is that the onus of proof very often appears to be on the applicant. The onus of proof should be on the department from beginning to end, and never on the ex-serviceman. It was the point of view held by most people that the principle involved had always been a matter of dispute between the returned servicemen’s organizations and those administering the Repatriation Act in earlier days. Section 47 of the Repatriation Act is very clear and should not be misinterpreted as it has been from time to time. It reads - (1.) The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal, shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, shall not be bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence and shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt -
Those provisions seem quite clear. It appears to me that the various tribunals are too closely associated with the Repatriation Department to be able to give completely impartial decisions on either entitlements or appeals. I believe that they develop unconsciously a certain attitude of mind which results in their putting the onus of proof on the applicant. I contend that there should be a body available to decide whether the onus-of-proof provisions have been properly applied, and the benefit of any doubt given to the ex-serviceman or his dependant. A close legal scrutiny should be made of any doubtful cases. The body in question should be able to define the legal principle, and it should therefore consist of men with experience of analogous cases, many of which can be found in legal precedents.
Many honorable members on both sides of the committee have endeavoured, time after time, to have a provision introduced which will ensure that the benefit of any doubt will be given to the ex-serviceman or his dependant, and that if the tribunal or the departmental official involved is in any way unsure, then the provisions of the legislation must be followed to the letter. This is not easy for the tribunals to do, and they are not used to doing it. They refer various questions to various people. One doctor will take a certain view and another doctor an opposing view. If a particular doctor takes a view favorable to the applicant, the department will frequently produce another doctor to give a different view. As a rule this simply means that there is some doubt about the matter, and the legislation provides that if there is any such doubt the exserviceman or his dependant must get the benefit of it.
There is no dispute as to what section 47 means. That is my opinion, and I can refer to other opinions to fortify mine. Mr. Justice Spicer gave an opinion on this matter in 1955, when he was Attorney-General. He said -
Section 47 means that in all matters of dispute between the ex-serviceman or his dependant and the department the onus of proof should be on the department from beginning to end, and never on the ex-serviceman.
I have no doubt that many injustices have occurred because of failure to follow this ruling.
The responsibility for inserting section 47 in the legislation was not that of the Labour Party alone, although I admit that Dr. Evatt, who was then Attorney-General, was responsible for its introduction. It was placed on the statute-book on the advice of a joint committee representing all parties. We want to ensure that the spirit of the provision is observed. If this were done it is possible that a great many of the disputes on repatriation matters, which do not help the community, would disappear.
I wish to refer to two specific cases as examples of the way in which the onusofproof provisions are being wrongly applied. The first case is that of Lieutenant Paine, an ex-serviceman of the First World War. The other concerns a constituent of mine, a Mr. W. A. Bailey, who received for twelve years a special rate pension as a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, but who was then deprived of this pension and given a 60 per cent, pension.
The case of Lieutenant Paine was brought up by a Senator Grant many years ago. As a result of his representations a select committee was appointed to inquire into the matter. The resolution which resulted in the appointment of the committee was to this effect -
That a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the case of First Lieutenant W. A. Paine - such committee to consist of Senators Gardiner, McDougall, Foll, Greene, Cox, Elliott and Grant, and to have power to send for persons, papers and records and to move from place to place.
The evidence adduced showed that Lieutenant Paine was wounded five times by shrapnel pellets at Gallipoli in April, 1915. The wounds set up a septic condition. He was sent home to Australia, and admitted to the Randwick Military Hospital, and the records show that he was operated on nineteen times during 1916. Evidence was given by Matron Veeman and Sister Powell to the effect that Lieutenant Paine’s wounds were septic to an extraordinary degree. The nineteen operations involved opening of abscesses on the neck, hands and one leg. These operations were considered minor at the time, and these minor wounds healed. Early in 1917, however, an ischio rectal abscess appeared, and the patient was operated upon in the ward by Dr. Curtis Elliott, the necessity for such an operation being urgent. Dr. Alexander gave evidence concerning the operation. It appears from the evidence, however, that an entry of this operation, which was vital to Lieutenant Paine’s claim, was not made in his medical history. Probably this was a simple error of omission, but it was the key to the claim. Had it not been for the perseverance of Senator Grant in insisting on the setting up of the select committee, Lieutenant Paine would have been deprived of his just deserts. I mention this case as being a parallel to many present-day claims that are in dispute.
The other case I want to mention concerns one of my constituents, a Mr. Bailey, who received a special rate pension as a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman for twelve years, and then had the pension reduced. This man was an inmate of the Concord Repatriation Hospital on and off for seventeen and a half years. He had two operations. Because of his disabilities the Repatriation Department gave him an attendant’s allowance because he was unable to dress himself, a motor car allowance because he was unable to walk, supplied him with calipers and crutches because of the inability of his legs, and gave him special boots. He was also supplied with an infra-red lamp to treat his disability, and the repatriation doctor ordered for him special therapy treatment three times a week for eight weeks. The Repatriation Department, on the one hand, provided all the mechanical and other aids to counteract his disabilities, but in 1957 it reduced his pension to the 60 per cent, rate.
Evidence clearly shows that dispute, uncertainty and contradiction surround Mr. Bailey’s case. Various doctors differ to a substantial degree from the repatriation doctors on the question whether Mr. Bailey’s back injury was war-caused. Mr. Bailey says that it was and that the injury occurred while he was on war service. It appears to me that this is one case in which the benefit of the doubt should apply in favour of the applicant.
I was amazed to learn from Mr. Bailey that after receiving the full T.P.I, pension for twelve years he was suddenly given a reduced pension. I was also amazed to find that he was 65 years of age when the decision was made to reduce the pension rate. Surely his disabilities had not improved with age. I think the Minister should use his discretionary powers in this case. It is not easy to adjust one’s living standard after twelve years. Surely a man of 67 years, with not much of life’s span left, should not be treated so harshly. I have quoted two analogous cases about which there is a dispute. Lieutenant Paine would not have obtained his just rights if a special committee independent of the jurisdiction of the Repatriation Department had not been set up. I feel that Mr. Bailey’s case should be looked into by a similar committee because it is possible that some prejudicial influence could be operating against him. Other honorable members have had similar disputed cases referred to them. So many cases are in dispute that I feel that an entirely independent committee, preferably presided over by a judge, should be appointed to examine a number of them as test cases. I suggest that the Minister should appoint such a committee even if only to satisfy himself that no ex-serviceman suffers an injustice because of possible victimization or possible misinterpretation of section 47, and I appeal to him to take notice of what I have said with respect to this matter.
– I have listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) concerning the onus of proof, and I hope the committee will bear with me if I do not go into this matter at great length again. I remind the committee that it was the subject of a full debate on a motion proposed by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) not very many weeks ago. I hope I am not exaggerating, but my recollection is that we had about eleven hours of debate - certainly it was a very long debate - on certain amendments to the Repatriation Act quite recently. This matter of onus of proof was gone into in detail then and I do not want to take up the time of private members by going over the whole question again.
First, I should like to answer the charge by the honorable member for Banks that the members of the tribunal are too close to the Repatriation Department, that they absorb and reflect a departmental attitude. I am able to tell the honorable member in all sincerity that that is wrong. The tribunals are independent statutory bodies whose members are appointed by the Minister from panels of names which the law requires shall contain a certain proportion of persons nominated by ex-servicemen’s organizations. The members of these tribunals are jealous of their independence. Even in important administrative matters they do not deal with the Repatriation Department; they deal with me personally. For example, they refer questions relating to their itineraries to me directly and independently of the Repatriation Department. That is done at their wish in order to ensure that their independence of the Public Service is preserved, and they are jealous of that independence. I think their attitude is right, and I certainly would do nothing to impede it.
– There is a chance that they could be wrong.
– That is a different matter. They are human beings, and, unfortunately, human judgment is fallible. Does anybody suggest that a court of law is incapable of making mistakes? Does anybody suggest that because a court of law is capable of making a mistake there should be an indefinite number of appeals? I do not think, and I doubt very much if members of the Opposition, looking at this problem quietly and sincerely really think that it is in the interests of the exserviceman himself to provide an additional level of appeal to a court of law. Such a proposal is not supported by the major exservicemen’s organizations. Already there are three levels of hearings of these claims. The application goes first to a repatriation board in the State in which it is made. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the board’s decision, he can appeal to the commission. If he is dissatisfied with the commission’s decision, he can appeal to an entitlement appeal tribunal. If it is a question of the degree of assessment, he can appeal to an assessment appeal tribunal. Is it in the interests of the body of ex-servicemen to extend this procedure indefinitely? I doubt very much whether it is.
I come now to section 47, the onusofproof section. There is no dispute on either side of the committee as to what the section means. An earlier version of it was examined by the High Court of Australia and a judgment was pronounced upon it. The section has been amended since, but not in essence, and that judgment still throws a good deal of light upon it. It has been the subject of advice by a former Attorney-General, now Mr. Justice Spicer. That advice has been widely circulated. Certainly it has been circulated to all responsible officers in the department. That advice itself has been reconsidered, reaffirmed and explained by our present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick). There is no dispute whatever about its meaning. I have no doubt that, by and large, in the vast majority of cases, the section is correctly applied.
It certainly gives the applicant great advantages in establishing his claim. If it were not for the existence of section 47, claims which are still being made by exservicemen from World War I. would be quite incapable of being established at this distance of time. It is over 40 years now since the end of World War I. It would also be extremely difficult for ex-servicemen from World War II., sixteen years after the end of the war, to establish new claims if they did not have the benefit of section 47, which says that the onus of proof is on the Repatriation Commission, that before a claim is rejected any doubt which is in the mind of the tribunal must be resolved in favour of the ex-serviceman, and that any reasonable presumption that can be drawn in favour of the ex-serviceman must be so drawn. These are very great advantages for an ex-serviceman in making his claim.
It is quite clear that, in enacting section 47, which developed from an earlier version, Parliament was prepared to accept the principle that some people who were not really entitled to repatriation benefits should get them, rather than that any one should be rejected. That is why this quite extraordinary legal position exists under the act, and it is why not merely a handful but considerable numbers of ex-servicemen to-day are able to establish new claims related in some cases back to World War I, and in many cases to World War II.
Does any honorable member really believe that section 47 is not applied by these tribunals? After all, the criticism offered by the honorable member for Banks is criticism not of me, nor of my departmental officers, but of the members of the boards, the commission and the tribunals who have independent statutory status and responsibility, and who are appointed, generally speaking, from panels of names submitted by recognized bodies of ex-servicemen.
The honorable member for Banks raised two cases and named the applicants. I do not recall the case of Lieutenant Paine. It is quite possible that I have seen the papers, but I deal with so many cases that I do not remember his. Let me tell the honorable member for Banks and every other honorable member of the committee that I am prepared to look personally into any case in which the honorable member believed that a mistake might have occurred. Honorable members know that, because I have done so on dozens of occasions for them. In some cases, I have been able to suggest a means whereby the applicant has been able to have his case re-examined. It is not for me to try to interfere with the judgments of independent tribunals. I have no statutory authority to do that, and it would be wrong for me to do it. Where it is suggested that a case has been wrongly treated, I regard it as my duty to look into that case to see first of all that all the relevant facts have been put to the authorities and, secondly, that the applicant has been given the full assistance of the department, to which he is entitled, in presenting his case. On a few occasions, I have had a doubt in my mind about whether a right decision has been made, and I have been able to suggest to the person who approached me on behalf of the exserviceman concerned means whereby the exserviceman could have his case looked into again.
– The previous Minister used to do that.
– Perhaps, then, the honorable member agrees that I am following a sound practice.
As I was saying to the honorable member for Banks, I do not recall the case of Lieutenant Paine. I am very familiar indeed with the other case mentioned - that of Mr. Bailey. The honorable member has not seen fit to discuss this case with me personally. Perhaps, if he were to do so, I would be able to convince him that I know a good deal more about it than he does. The question is not whether the benefit of the terms of section 47 of the Repatriation Act has been applied. The question is the degree of incapacity involved. If the honorable member for Banks cares to see me about this case, I shall be very glad to enlighten him on it. I do not intend to say any more than that about these two cases, because I do not think it is proper to examine the details of individual applications for repatriation benefits in public in this chamber.
I conclude my observations on the remarks made by the honorable member by repeating something that I have said here before: I am quite convinced that members of Parliament, by the very nature of their office as members of Parliament, see only the specially difficult cases of disappointed applicants. Honorable members do not hear the comments of the satisfied applicants who know that they have received justice. Only these special, hard-core cases are brought to honorable members, who are so situated as to get a jaundiced and mistaken view of the general run of cases.
– We are the last line of defence in such cases.
– In a sense, that statement is true. If the honorable member will only realize it, in very few of the cases which reach the last line of defence, as he chooses to call it, having passed through the rest of the repatriation system, is there any real substance of complaint left. At any rate, that has been my experience.
I should like to turn now to some interesting remarks made by my friend, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson). He reminded us that in his view, war widows have special claims on the Australian community. I share that view in full measure, and it has been held consistently by this Government during its years of office. The Government has always had special regard for war widows and for totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. This has been amply demonstrated again by the recent amendments to the Repatriation Act and the new scale of pensions which has just been brought into force as a result of the last Budget. Within the limits of what is practicable in preparing a budget, and bearing in mind the innumerable and pressing demands on this generation of Australians for development and defence of which we were reminded by my friend and colleague, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), when he dealt with analogous problems affecting his administration, we try most earnestly to give special and preferred treatment to war widows. We listen to their views. Indeed, this discussion reminds me that I shall have an opportunity later this week to meet members of the federal council of the War Widows Guild of Australia in quiet and private discussion of their particular problems.
The honorable member for Hume made some observations about medical treatment for the wives of T.P.I, pensioners. There are some misunderstandings about this. It appears that there is a fairly widespread belief that the wives of these pensioners were once entitled to repatriation medical treatment but have now been deprived of such a right. That is incorrect. The general principle of the Repatriation Act is that it provides pensions and treatment for war-caused disabilities of ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, and to their dependants. With respect to medical treatment, the only exceptions to this general principle are that T.P.I, pensioners, war widows and their children, 100 per cent, pensioners and nurses from World War I are treated in repatriation institutions for all their disabilities, whether or not due to war service. As a result of the amendment to the act made last year, service pensioners can be treated in repatriation hospitals for nonwarcaused disabilities. Apart from these special exceptions, there has at no time been any provision for treatment in repatriation hospitals except for ex-servicemen or exservicewomen for war-caused disabilities.
What happened in relation to the wives of T.P.I, pensioners is this: Many of the wives of such pensioners are themselves entitled to social service pensions, being qualified, let us say, by age, and by the fact that the joint incomes of husband and wife do not exceed the upper limit of the means test of social service pensions. Prior to 1955, the wife of a T.P.I, pensioner who was herself receiving a social service pension was entitled in her own right, like any other social service pensioner, to the benefit of the pensioner medical service. As honorable members will recall, in 1955 it became necessary to peg the means test for the pensioner medical service at the level then applicable to social service pensions. Since 1955, pensions have been increased several times and the social service means test has been raised several times. But the means test applicable to the pensioner medical service has remained at the same level of income, and this applies to the wives of T.P.I, repatriation pensioners where the wife is herself entitled to a social service pension.
Some wives of T.P.I, ex-servicemen were entitled to the benefits of the pensioner medical service in 1955 and they have not been deprived of it since, but any others who have since become social service pensioners are not entitled to the benefits of the pensioner medical service unless the joint income of husband and wife meets the requirements of the more restrictive means test for the pensioner medical service which has prevailed since 1955. The fact is that the sum of the total and permanent incapacity rate of repatriation pension and the social service pension payable to the wife, if she is qualified, is now such as to exceed the permissible limit of income applicable to the pensioner medical service. Therefore, a wife who has become a pensioner since 1955 is no longer entitled to the benefits of the pensioner medical service.
I have given this somewhat lengthy explanation of the situation because it is important that this matter be not misunderstood. No amendment of the Repatriation Act could affect the entitlement of the wife of a T.P.I, repatriation pensioner to the benefits of the pensioner medical service. That entitlement is governed by the National Health Act. I do not think that honorable members would argue that we can make special provision under the National Health Act for the wives of T.P.I, repatriation pensioners different in character from that provided for from the wives of social service pensioners. I believe that the way to give special and preferred treatment to totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen and their families is by means of proper adjustments of the rate of pension. The Government has done this consistently. Honorable members will recall that the rate was increased by 10s. a week quite recently. This pension, too, is not the only benefit that T.P.I, ex-servicemen receive. A wide range of other benefits is available to some of them. I do not suggest that these things are any more than they are entitled to. I just remind honorable members of the situation.
– Does the Minister intend to talk out time?
The honorable member for Hume also expressed his belief that medical treatment should be made available in repatriation hospitals for ex-servicemen from the First World War irrespective of their means and whether they can meet the requirements of the means test. Let me say quite clearly that this claim, like many others for extending repatriation benefits, examined in vacuuo - standing alone - compels my sympathy, and is the sort of claim that I would like to grant. In the office which I now hold I regard myself as the trustee of the Government’s responsibility to ex-servicemen and their dependants, and I am the member of the Government whose responsibility it is to bring their needs before the Government. This I do consistently.
If this claim for treatment of exservicemen from the First World War for all disabilities, whether due to war service or not, irrespective of the means test, could be viewed and dealt with on its own, there is no doubt that one would want to grant it. But we have to look at all these claims from two angles; first, that they all cost a great deal of public money, and secondly, that they must be weighed against the needs of the other sections of the community and other national purposes in this period of Australian history. Let me pose this question to honorable members on both sides of the chamber: Do they think that to offer repatriation medical treatment to those exservicemen from the First World War who have substantial means, for disabilities not due to war service, is putting the social needs of the community in their correct order of priority? In other words, do honorable members feel obliged to spend public money on that avenue or do they prefer to spend it on the other pressing demands which we all know exist in the community?
When the Government last year amended the law to make .possible the treatment of service pensioners in repatriation hospitals for non war-caused disabilities, it took a wise step. I think it was wise also, in the present state of Australian affairs, to limit that treatment to the service pensioner who, as we all know, is the ex-servicemen who served in a theatre of war, is over 60 years years of age and can meet the requirements of the same means test as is applied to social service pensions.
The honorable member for Hume referred finally to investigations now being conducted by my department into possible improvements in our methods of treating the mentally ill. He suggested that no doubt the study upon which we are now engaged is the result of the publicity which has been given to the treatment of the mentally ill in New South Wales. I am pleased to be able to tell the honorable member that there is no association between the two. This is a period in which great advances are being made in the treatment of the mentally ill. My department is aware of the possibilities and is investigating them, with the intention that the treatment of the mentally ill ex-servicemen shall be of no lower standard than that provided for their physical illnesses.
.- In the time that remains to me before the gag is applied I desire to address my remarks to the proposed vote for the Repatriation Department. I regret that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) has occupied twenty minutes talking around things, thus denying private members an opportunity to participate in the debate.
I do not agree with the Minister that the onus-of-proof provisions of the act have been interpreted and applied correctly by the various tribunals. Last year they rejected 5,500 applications for pensions. Over the last twenty years 100,000 pensions which ex-servicemen should have been receiving have been wiped out. If the repatriation records are studied carefully they will show that many ex-servicemen have been cheated out of their pensions, while thousands of others have lost their pensions by order of the Repatriation Commission for reasons known only to the commission because the commission, the boards and the appeal tribunals never disclose their hand.
I should like to mention just a few cases because I have not the time to develop my theme as fully as I wanted to do. I know one ex-serviceman who contracted trench fever in France in 1917. Later he contracted chronic nephritis and then a heart condition. He died without ever having been granted a pension, although I know at least three doctors who claim that the condition from which he died was caused by the trench fever which he contracted in France in April, 1917.
I know of at least two cases of exservicemen who were unfortunate enough to have contracted venereal disease while on active service. Both died of heart disease, one of them having gone blind. Every one knows that heart disease can be and is caused by certain types of venereal disease, especially secondary syphilis, yet because the families of these ex-servicemen could not be told of the condition which their respective husbands and fathers had incurred, the repatriation tribunals have not had the decency to grant the widows a war pension. They have been told to eke out an existence on the civilian widows’ pension. The Repatriation Commission knows the facts of these cases.
In a more recent case an ex-serviceman took his own life within a few weeks of being discharged from Concord Repatriation Hospital where he had undergone an operation on his eyes for a war-accepted disability. The hospital staff knew that the ex-serviceman was somewhat mentally affected by his condition; it knew that the patient had tried to jump over the hospital balcony; it knew that he had threatened to do away with himself. Yet the hospital staff discharged him and let him get to his home, which was more than 150 miles away, the best way he could. He was subsequently found in Sydney by his wife. I believe that certain evidence has been withheld by the hospital authorities in this instance which perhaps could have influenced even the hard-heads of the repatriation tribunals. Instead of the widow being granted a war pension, she is now struggling against poverty and trying to live on the ordinary widows’ pension, while at the same time doing her best to educate her children. Just how long the country will put up with that kind of thing, I do not know. It is a disgrace to the nation and to the Repatriation Department alike. I challenge the Minister to set up a committee to examine some of the cases to which I have referred. We will then see just where he gets off.
Nearly twelve years ago, one of the tribunals rejected an application for a pension by a man named Hughie Knight. He asked that his condition of mustard gas keratitis be accepted as war-caused. Some years later on appeal he was granted a 10 per cent, pension, and it took from 1957 to 1961 for him to be accepted as a blind pensioner. He now receives all the benefits to which he is entitled. But what of the years when Knight struggled to live on a service pension? All through those years the repatriation tribunals said that he was not a war casualty, even though the records showed that he had been blinded by mustard gas in France. If the repatriation tribunals were correct in dismissing Knight’s claim in 1950, they were wrong in 1957 and later when they accepted it.
I have cited to the committee only a couple of examples of the way in which the tribunals operate, but let me mention the particular case of a man whose totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman’s pension was reduced to a 100 per cent, pension by the repatriation tribunal.
I have a doctor’s report on this case. He ridicules the department for its action. If the Minister or any honorable member on the Government side claims that this doctor does not know what he is talking about, I want to know who does. He is Dr. Idris Morgan of Newcastle who is well known to hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen for the work that he has done on their behalf. His report states -
This man has been suffering from bronchitis for 18 years. He was treated for it on service.
He was a cabinet maker and worked for himself and sometimes for wages. Height 5 ft. 8 in. Weight 8.10. Normal weight 10.11.
Increasing dyspnoea and debility forced him to give up employment - nobody would employ him, he could not do enough work. Then he commenced to do what work he could for himself. His ability to work was so poor that, although he could get the work he could not do enough in a week to earn sufficient to live on.
Asthma and cor pulmonale are of long standing. He was classified T.T.I. Chronic bronchitis is a slowly progressive disease. Now he has been reduced to 100 per cent. This is a most rare curiosity in medicine - a chronic bronchitis and cor pulmonale causing total incapacity has improved so much that this man is now fit to earn again!! ? I
The doctor put two exclamation marks, a question mark, and another exclamation mark at this point in the report.
The report proceeds -
Clinically the evidence is unmistakeable. He is not a medical curiosity. He is still and always has been T.P.I.
In my opinion this reduction in pension cannot possibly be justified clinically.
The report concludes -
This man’s dyspnoea is worse now than it has ever been. He is, without doubt, totally incapacitated. He was reduced from T.T.I, to 100 per cent, recently. This decision is, to put it mildly, incomprehensible.
I ask: In the light of what Dr. Morgan has said in this report what were the facts which impelled the tribunal to knock that appeal out? Is it not time for the Government to have a look at the set-up of the repatriation authorities? In another case which I have before the Minister at present the tribunal and the commission appear to have been playing chess or something of that type. This ex-serviceman was discharged in 1919 and granted a 60 per cent, war pension. He put up with that for as long as possible and when he could no longer stand the disability he saw a doctor and was promptly placed in Concord hos pital. That happened more than seven years ago. On discharge he was granted a T.P.I. pension - I repeat, a T.P.I, pension. Three years later the T.P.I, classification was taken away and the ex-serviceman was given a T.T.I, classification. That went on for another four years. There was no reduction in his rate of pension, but the classification was altered from T.P.I, to T.T.I. On 26th May, 1960, at the age of 65 this man’s pension was reduced to 80 per cent., still in respect of the same complaint - gunshot wound in the right leg, which had caused a one and a half inch shortness in the leg, with the wound continually weeping. On appeal his pension was raised to 100 per cent., and osteoarthritis of the right knee was accepted as a disability. On 1st July this year the Repatriation Commission accepted osteoarthritis of both hips as war-caused, but an appeal to an assessment tribunal for increased pension was rejected out of hand. I challenge any honorable member to move for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the claims I have made, then the Parliament will be able to measure the extent to which justice has been applied.
The last case to which I wish to refer is that of Thomas Arthur Ford. I say to the committee that this ex-serviceman has been defamed and maligned. He was discharged in 1917 with a partial permanent condition of paralysis of the right side. He was granted a substantial pension, which he kept for sixteen years. It was then taken from him on the report of a doctor who had never seen him. It was alleged that the ex-serviceman was a cripple on enlistment, yet he had been a permanent soldier when he enlisted. He played football the day before he was hurt. At the time the pension was cancelled thousands of other exservicemen also lost their pensions, but evidently they are all dead now. It is true that this ex-serviceman appealed and lost his appeal, but he has not ceased saying that his condition is due to war service. On every occasion since 1935 that he has lodged an appeal he has been told that the appeal has been disallowed and that the new evidence was not material to or substantial to the case. Some years ago I perused Mr. Ford’s file and I am as sure as I am that I stand in this Parliament that some of the statements contained in that file are figments of somebody’s imagination.I have unearthed material which I know can, and does, refute some of the contents of the file. I say that the statement in the file attributed to Colonel H. C. Maudsley could be a fake, because it is written on a piece of paper in pencil. For six years I have asked the Repatriation Commission to reopen the case, and each time I have met with a curt refusal.
As I see it, Mr. Chairman, the Repatriation Commission, the boards and the tribunals have set themselves up as authorities whose knowledge is above that of trained medical practitioners. They are the judges, the prosecutors and the juries, and they never reveal the ground on which they discharge the onus of proof. Ex-servicemen whose cases are rejected are at a complete loss to understand why their cases have been thrown out.
In the case of Ford I went to the trouble to obtain original documents dating back to the time when Ford was a soldier in the permanent Army. I have certificates from the Department of the Army which he obtained for gun-laying and similar types of work in 1913 and 1914 before he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces. Signed attestation papers show that he was clear when he went into the Army, yet the Repatriation Department has taken away his pension for more than twenty years now and refuses to allow him to go before the boards. I say that I have a photograph which shows this man with his right arm an inch and a half, at least, shorter than the left arm before he left England to return to Australia, but the Repatriation Commission will not look at it. The Commissioner for Repatriation refuses to see me at all times. Why? Because I have the evidence which I can show to any member here to prove that this man has been framed and has been done out of his pension after all those years, although he was discharged from the forces as being incapacitated through the war. I hope that the Minister will look at this file, since he has already indicated that he is prepared to do something. Last week the commission told me that the new evidence that I had submitted was not material to the case and refused to allow the case to go on. The commission says that the appeals tribunal may now deal with it. It is no good that tribunal dealing with it if I cannot get to it to show it the material that I have.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman-Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 27
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Osborne) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- The matter I wish to raise has many unsavoury features, but I shall refer to the most important. This matter concerns the dismissal or the forced resignation of Mr. Ray Roberts from the Postmaster-General’s Department in Queensland. Mr. Roberts was employed as a driver in the car pool and was alleged to have given information about the misuse of postal cars to a newspaper. After a report appeared in the Brisbane Sunday “ Truth “, Mr. Roberts -was interviewed by an officer of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in Queensland and apparently was threatened with a charge under section 70, 71 or 72 of the Crimes Act. These sections deal with offences by and against public officers.
Mr. Roberts, being but a minor employee in the department, was compelled to resign. Apparently he wrote out a resignation saying that he was resigning of his own free will. But the allegation has been made that before he wrote out his resignation he had been told that he had committed an offence under the Crimes Act and that if he remained in the department disciplinary action would be taken against him. The sections of the Crimes Act dealing with offences by and against public officers provide for two years’ gaol, seven years’ gaol and seven years’ gaol. There is no doubt that Mr. Roberts was frightened by the threat that had been made to him. He had no option but to resign from the department and he has now been unemployed since 7th August, except for one week.
The important detail of the case is that the offences which Mr. Roberts apparently disclosed to the newspaper have now been admitted by the officer concerned. I make no comment about the offences or about the punishment that should or may be inflicted by the Public Service Board. I do not know Mr. Roberts and I do not know the senior public servant involved. My concern and the concern of the Australian Labour Party is the apparent victimization of a minor employee by superior officers. On 15th August last, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) in this House answered a question asked by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight). The question did not relate so much to misuse of Commonwealth vehicles as to the misuse of registration number plates on Commonwealth vehicles. Whether this was a deliberate attempt to cover the situation, the disclosures of which had been made in the Brisbane newspaper, I am unable to say. However, the Postmaster-General in answering the question made two particularly strong statements. One was -
I am glad to have the opportunity to say that there is no basis whatsoever for the rather scurrilous charges which were made.
The final part of his answer was -
The newspaper comment in question has performed a very great disservice to the instrumentality that I administer and to others which seek to protect the public interest and public property.
If the Minister’s answer had been true in effect, if the charges had been scurrilous and if the newspaper had done a public disservice to the instrumentality he administers, there might have been some justification for taking disciplinary action against the officer who disclosed the alleged offences to the newspaper. But as the offences have now been admitted and as the man who gave the information to the newspaper has been forced to resign from the department, I think that the PostmasterGeneral should do something to correct the position.
Let us for a moment place ourselves in the position of Mr. Roberts, a minor employee in the Postmaster-General’s Department. He knew certain misuse of Commonwealth vehicles was taking place and he was worried and anxious about that fact. What action could he take to rectify the situation? He could not go to his most senior officer because he was one of the persons concerned in the misuse of Commonwealth vehicles. He could not go to the officers underneath his top senior officer because they naturally would have had to report it to the senior officer. He could hardly go to ‘the Minister because the
Minister is in close liaison with most of his departmental officers and the Minister’s statement of 15th August undoubtedly shows that the Minister was prepared to accept statements made to him by his departmental officers as gospel. So the employee concerned had no redress whatever. He had no opportunity to remedy the situation except to air the matter publicly by going to a newspaper.
The disclosures in the Brisbane Sunday “ Truth “ were denied by the PostmasterGeneral on 15th August. They were denied in one aspect only - the misuse of registration number plates on Commonwealth vehicles. No statement was made by the Minister on that occasion or by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) about misuse of vehicles but only about the misuse of Commonwealth plates. The Minister has given a categorical denial. Is there any collusion between the Minister and his departmental officers or with the honorable member for Lilley in an attempt to cover the situation that had been uncovered by the Brisbane newspaper?
What caused Mr. Roberts to resign? If there is a glimmer of truth in the statement Mr. Roberts has made that he was threatened with charges under the Crimes Act, then this is a most deplorable situation. It is a situation that has developed since the Crimes Act was passed. We are getting to a stage where gestapo activity is developing. The Crimes Act is being used by petty officers in the department to cover up illegal and dishonest practices. Surely this man who was upset by the misuse of Commonwealth vehicles had a right to disclose the misuse of those vehicles to somebody! Surely he possessed the freedom to rectify the wrongs he saw developing in any department. He was endeavouring to prevent illegal and dishonest practices.
The Minister’s statement on the 15th August appeared to close the case because it was a categorical statement - a denial that there was any misuse of motor vehicles or motor vehicle plates. But I ask you, Mr. Speaker, why is it that six weeks after that statement was made the Minister can make a statement in the House saying that these offences have been admitted and that a certain officer has been charged? What caused these investigations to be continued when, so far as the Minister was concerned, the whole matter was closed? Was there a concerted attempt within the department and within the Public Service itself to cover up the details of this case?
Another feature of the case which I believe deserves a fuller explanation is this: One of the offences alleged against the officer, and admitted, is that a subordinate officer was involved in providing false explanations. Has this officer been charged or punished in any way? Is the Minister prepared to apologize to the Brisbane Sunday “ Truth “ for the statements he made regarding the so-called scurrilous charges by that newspaper and the grave disservice that they had done when it has been disclosed that the statments published by the newspaper have been proved to be correct?
But the most unsavoury feature of the situation is the forced resignation of Mr. Roberts. He was performing a public service in endeavouring to rectify the illegal misuse of Commonwealth vehicles. He was threatened and is now being victimized. He is unemployed. He has a wife and family to keep. He deserves the commendation of the Minister, of this House and of the public for the action .that he has taken. It was the only action he could take in the circumstances since senior officers were involved in the illegal use of these vehicles and he had to go outside the department to remedy the situation. The only action the Minister can take now in justice and fairness to Mr. Roberts is to see that he is reinstated.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) has introduced the subject of the resignation of one Mr. Roberts from the Postal Department.
– The forced resignation.
– I said “ resignation “! I am using my terms; you can use yours. In the first place, the honorable member for Lang referred to a statement that I made in this House some little time ago regarding a charge that the Postal Department was using faked number plates improperly on its cars. My reply - and it was a perfectly proper reply - still stands, and in reply to the honorable member’s remarks on that matter I state again categorically that the number plates used for security purposes on departmental cars were properly issued by the car registration branch of the Queensland Administration. We still have - and I have seen it - the registration card issued for that number plate on which also appears the C. number of the car to which it was attached. I want to make that comment to assure the House that the reply I gave was a perfectly proper reply and is in no way withdrawn or affected by further developments.
The honorable member for Lang referred to Mr. Roberts. I made it plain in my statement to this House yesterday that the investigations which had been carried out over several weeks into this rather deplorable matter were carried out by the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs and have not come under my direct attention. This is normal procedure in the Public Service. As a matter of fact, it is a tradition of the service that the head of a department is responsible not only for the administration but also for the discipline of his department, and is responsible for carrying out any such investigations. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I had no personal knowledge of this matter, except for what I saw in the press, until quite recently; but as a result of certain statements that have appeared in the press, I have made certain inquiries in the last day or two from the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs.
As a result I can say that Mr. Roberts was an officer on probation in the Transport Section of the department. He was on six months’ probation. When that probationary period finished a little while ago, because of certain factors, partly medical and partly otherwise into which it is not necessary to go in detail, the probationary period was extended. That was the situation when this matter developed. The information 1 have - and I am not relying simply on press statements for this but on something more reliable - is still to the effect that the resignation was made voluntarily. A statement to that effect has been given and is held by certain sections of the press.
Alongside that, statements have been appearing in the press that in the investigations that took place into the use of the car, certain threats and intimidation were used in questioning Roberts, and that even some suggestion was made that action might be taken under the Crimes Act against him. 1 still think that there is considerable press exaggeration in those statements, and I am not prepared to accept those press statements simply at their face value. However, I make this point: I consider it necessary to ensure that justice is preserved completely in all matters such as this. So important is it that justice should be done that I will not tolerate in the administration of my department any suggestion that there has been improper conduct by investigators into a matter such as this. I say, therefore, that although I do not accept the statements, nevertheless, I am not prepared to allow the matter to pass without some proper investigation by competent authorities which, I might say, do not include the press.
In reply to what the honorable member for Lang has said, I say that I am quite prepared to give Mr. Roberts an opportunity to present to appropriate authorities any case that he may consider he has, or any claim that he may consider he has, for reinstatement. I am prepared, if Mr. Roberts desires it, to arrange for him to meet the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs and a representative of the Public Service Board who, it should not be forgotten, are competent authorities under the act, so that he may state his case and put any charge that he may have in regard to intimidation, and so that he may ask that his claim for re-instatement or the withdrawal of his resignation be considered. In making that offer, I assure him publicly that he may go before those gentlemen and speak perfectly freely and frankly without any fear that there will be intimidation, repercussions or anything of the kind in the matter.
If, in such an investigation, he sustains his claim, the board will be in a position to consider his application for the withdrawal of his resignation. That is a fair offer and it is put forward in an atmosphere quite divorced from the statements that have appeared in the press during the last week or so. I know, Mr. Speaker, that the Director-General who has just retired and who was responsible for most of the handling of this case, and also the present Director-General and the officers of the
Public Service Board who have been involved, have handled the case with scrupulous propriety right throughout and will continue to do so. That is an attitude which they have taken because of their determination to preserve at all times the prestige which has been established in the service over a number of years. It is an example which, I suggest, could well be followed by some of those who have intruded into this matter for devious reasons of their own.
– The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has side-stepped the charges made by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) concerning the enforced resignation of Mr. Roberts. Like the Bourbons of old, the Postmaster-General learns nothing from experience and forgets nothing. The procedure which he now proposes to the House is one which could give no opportunity whatever for justice to be done to this man who allegedly has been forced out of the Public Service. Certainly, there is no obligation on the man to justify himself and to prove his innocence; the obligation is on those who accuse him to prove the evidence against him. Yet, the Minister comes in here and makes the statements we have heard from him, after all he ought to have learned in the last few weeks and after all the incorrect statements he has made and which he now knows were incorrect when he made them. Nevertheless, he declares that everything has been done with the utmost propriety and that he accepts nothing of the statements that have been made.
This is a matter which the PostmasterGeneral should investigate personally. He should take responsibility on his own shoulders to see that justice is done to this man. The developments reported from Brisbane in this matter are of the most ugly nature. It is alleged that a postal employee has been forced to resign by a security threat that otherwise he would be prosecuted under a section of the Crimes Act which provides for imprisonment for two years. In reply to that, the PostmasterGeneral has produced the statement that he knows that this man signed a voluntary resignation. No one denies that he signed a voluntary resignation. No one denies that he said he did it of his own free will. The whole question is whether he in fact did it voluntarily or whether he did it under duress, under the threat of imprisonment if he did not do it. The further allegation is that the very man who exercised that duress and held that threat over him was himself involved in the misuse of the motor car.
– Who makes that allegation?
-The allegation is made. The honorable member wants further names so that other people can be victimized and injured. That is not going to be done. Somehow or other justice ought to be done to this minor official of the Postal Department.
Full details of the allegations regarding the alleged security duress imposed on this man have been published in successive issues of the Brisbane “ Truth “. Yet, the Postmaster-General has done nothing whatever about them until to-night; and right up till yesterday he had persisted in the attitude that his department was completely in the right, that the statements made in the Brisbane “ Truth “ were entirely false and that the newspaper was engaged in a scurrilous and wicked calumny of his department. Now, he has been shown to be wrong in all those things. At least it is now admitted that what the newspaper alleged was true, that the offence was committed, that the abuse did take place. Yet, the man who apparently is going to suffer most is the man but for whose action these matters would never have been brought to light.
In those circumstances the PostmasterGeneral has the political audacity to propose the course of action that he proposed to-night. Unless this man was at least given the opportunity to be represented, it would mean that a minor official of the department would be going before the very heads of the Public Service, whose sympathies obviously would lie with their fellow public servants. That is not justice. That is not a proper opportunity for this man to vindicate himself or to try to re-instate himself in the service of the department. It is up to the Minister to see the man personally, to examine him quietly and to question him, to satisfy himself whether the man has been the victim of alleged duress and threat in order to bring about his forced resignation from the department.
Section 70 of the Crimes Act provides that-
Any person who, being a Commonwealth officer, publishes or communicates any fact which comes to his knowledge by virtue of his office . . except to some person to whom he is authorized to publish or communicate it, shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty: Imprisonment for two years.
Does any one on the Government side say that it was his duty not to disclose this gross abuse of departmental practice which had come to his knowledge?
– He was not charged.
– Of course, he was not charged. Whom is the honorable member trying to defend? Has he no desire to see justice done to this minor public servant in the Postal Department in Brisbane? Does not the honorable member realize that ever since his so-called voluntary resignation, made of his own free will, he has been continuously unemployed, except for one week’s work? Does not that give some indication to the honorable member that his resignation was not voluntary but that he was in fact forced out of the service by pressure exercised on him by a security officer who threatened him that unless he resigned he would be faced with a gaol sentence of two years?
In the circumstances, in a British parliament which is concerned with justice for every individual, surely the only correct course for the Postmaster-General to adopt to-night was to rise and tell the House that he himself would investigate this matter, that he would interview the officer and would satisfy himself on the facts; that if the facts were as alleged, he would see that the man was re-instated and did not suffer because he did his duty and brought to light a gross abuse which has been most embarrassing to the PostmasterGeneral, to some of his friends and also to senior officers of the Postal Department.
In the time remaining to me, Mr. Speaker, I turn to the Brenner case. One of the most disquieting features of that case has been the revelation by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) of his absolute reliance on anonymous security reports. He said here the other night that he would not fail to produce the confidential information in his possession to convince any one that Brenner should not be allowed into this country. Apparently, it does not even occur to the Minister that the information supplied to him might be wrong. Yet as he surely knows, security information in similar cases has been proved wrong on a number of occasions.
– Did your leader see the file?
– No. To produce a file confidentially is of no use to any one, because if you are given information confidentially you have no means of testing it. To produce information confidentially is merely to shut somebody’s mouth, because he can no longer talk of information given to him in that way. The only proper course in this matter, now that this man Brenner and his family have been condemned and damned, because he has now no chance of getting a university appointment, is for the Minister to appoint an advisory committee to go into the allegations that have been made and give Brenner opportunity of answering them.
– This is politics.
– I am not concerned with Brenner. My point is not whether he should be admitted to Australia. To the Minister who interjected apparently everything is politics and human rights are nothing. Brenner may be guilty of the worst crime in the calendar. He maybe a human monster who should not be allowed into this country to corrupt its youth. But no member of this House knows the facts. I do not know the facts and the Minister does not know them, because all he has in front of him is a security file and he has not the machinery necessary to test the information contained in it. This applies not only to Brenner but to thousands of public servants in this country who have been and are being chosen for promotions and overseas postings, only to have those promotions and appointments cancelled because of statements contained in secret security reports which they never see. In many cases they never even know that they have been picked for another job, and much less that a black security page has been placed in their record. I know this because cases in every one of these categories have come to me personally and many similar cases have come to my colleagues. Because, we, as members of Parliament, have some opportunity of getting such cases examined and investigated we know, from the results of our investigations, that these charges have been false-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) said he did not know anything about the Brenner case and it is equally true that he knows nothing about the Roberts case, either. But, although he knew nothing and had nothing to say he had to get on to the band wagon in order to get his name in the newspapers to-morrow. I want now to say something about the insinuation by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) when he referred to to a question which I asked the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) in regard to the use of certain number plates on Commonwealth vehicles. The honorable member said it was possible that I was trying to cover something up. On the contrary, I wanted something clarified by the Postmaster-General and that was the purpose of my question. The major problem at that time was not that some officer of the Commonwealth was using a Commonwealth vehicle for purposes for which it was not intended. While that would be wrong, that was not the major problem. The major problem was the possibility that the allegation by the “ Truth “ newspaper that number plates which had been cancelled were being used on Commonwealth vehicles was correct, because if such a vehicle was involved in a collision and somebody was injured there would be difficulty in that person establishing a claim against the user of the vehicle. That was the situation which it was important should be clarified.
When the Minister replied, he indicated clearly to everybody that these number plates had been issued by the State Transport Department and that the issue of these plates was confirmed by cards which the Minister had seen. This indicated that in the event of accident or injury to anybody, a claim against the Commonwealth was open to that person. Therefore the most serious aspect of the allegation was clarified in the public mind. This was of the utmost importance and I thank the
Minister for what he has done in that direction. I think he has acted with the greatest propriety in the handling of this matter.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro said that if he was ever Minister in charge of a Commonwealth department he would concern himself with the disciplining of even the office boys in that department and would take out of the hands of the senior officers of the department not only the right of administration but also the right of disciplining. He would not give the Public Service Board authority to investigate any such incidents. If that is the case I suggest that no public servant would ever dream of voting for an Australian Labour Party candidate, in the fear that the member for Eden-Monaro might be lucky enough to get a Cabinet guernsey.
Let me now go back to the allegation made with regard to the man Roberts. I do not want to say very much about this matter, but I want to emphasize that no allegation or accusation was made by the Minister or anybody else in regard to this man. He tendered his resignation and the Minister did not say whether he knew that it was tendered under duress or not. It is quite clear that at this stage nobody knows, unless it is the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, or the Public Service Board officers who are carrying out the investigation. They are the only people who are competent to interview this man and receive from him the facts of the case. This much I do know: First, Roberts is a very sick man. But whether his resignation was due to illness or was obtained under duress I do not know. Secondly, I know and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) knows, that Frank Waters, the secretary of the Postal Workers Union, was in communication with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on this very matter and told him not to raise it in the House. If Frank Waters, the secretary of this union, who lives in Brisbane and who was fully aware of all the facts of the case, was prepared to telephone to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and say “ Do not raise the matter in the House “, I am prepared to believe that there has been no case put forward by the Opposition. The Opposition knows that it has no case and has raised a specious argument purely in the hope of obtaining some political capital out of the misfortune of some unfortunate public servant.
.- Not only is it a question of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) having to defend himself, and a senior member of his department having to defend himself, but it is now also a question of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) having to defend himself, and he has made a pretty poor job of it. The question of the use of the number plates was first raised on 6th August. On 13th August - the day after the “ Truth “ newspaper raised the question of the improper use of the car - the honorable member for Lilley raised in this House the question of the use of the plates. What was the honorable member for Lilley trying to cover up by diverting attention to the improper use of number plates the day after this newspaper raised the critical question of the improper use of the car? On that date the Minister made no answer in relation to the improper use of the car, but confined his answer to the question of the improper use of number plates, which, in effect, is an endeavour to throw the responsibility on to the Queensland Government department concerned and to hide the responsibility of his own officers. The improper use of the Crimes Act occurred before in the Australian Broadcasting Commission; now it turns up once more in the Postmaster-General’s Department. In this particular incident the motor car was alleged to have been used for a security purpose, and it is alleged that one of the security officers concerned backed up the member of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department involved with supporting statements to that effect. It is obvious that not only do the members of the department concerned have something to hide, but also that there are some people in this House who have something to hide.
Members of this House - so-called Liberals - who continuously attempt to defend victimization and intimidation, who are always on the side of these secret security reports, who back up the Gestapo method which is becoming so prevalent in Australia and who indulge in raucous interjections and raucous behaviour, are falling into line with the Gestapo development against which we fight. They call themselves Liberals and they claim that they are here to defend rights and liberties, but that is the last thing in the world that they are prepared to do. They are on the side of victimization and intimidation.
I want to turn now to the Brenner case. What is particularly objectionable about this case is that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) has been prepared to take up a secret report and to use it in such a way that it does serious injury to a man’s reputation and position in life under circumstances in which he has no answer or redress. The Minister said to the world -
Inquiries made and information given to me showed very clearly that Mr. Brenner was not the kind of man who should come to Australia.
Members of the Liberal Party say “ Hear, hear! “ to this practice of broadcast character assassination. This statement was based on secret, untested and untestable information. That procedure may be justified in some serious cases, but it is the responsibility of the House and of the people of Australia to see that it is not wrongly used. I strongly suspect that it is being wrongly used. Is the secret report, the device of character assassination - because that is what is involved - being used only in serious cases that may involve the security of the country, or is it being used in unimportant cases - in thousands of cases involving public servants and others - that have no bearing whatever on national security? Is it being used by people who have become cold and inhuman inside the nerveless bureaucratic machine of which they are a part, in which all men are conservative while knowing nothing of politics? The Nazi system grew like this, a step at a time, and Government supporters are encouraging a similar system in this country. I feel sure that a majority of cases in which security reports are used are cases which have no relation to security at all.
What is known about Brenner? Is it that he was a member of the Stern gang in his youth? Is it that he once sought to join the Communist Party? Is it that he is a Jew? I wonder how much anti-semitism is behind some of these decisions. It is not long since it was Gluckman. Now it is Brenner. Both are Jewish. Both are academics. Are there men among the faceless officials of the security service who treat that combination as a danger to the security of this country? In the old Gestapo there was a strong element of anti-Semitism, and I suspect that it exists in the new Gestapo. Does the Government know any more about Brenner than we all know - that he was a member of the Stern gang, that he tried to join the Communist Party and that he is Jewish and an academic? Is that enough to justify his getting the treatment?
If this is the full story against Brenner, is it enough? Is it enough that he was prepared to fight against British troops in Israel? If so, it was not enough to keep him out of England. Many thousands of men who fought against British and Australian troops in France and Africa have been welcomed to Australia. Men who not only fought against British and Australian troops but also were closely associated with the atrocious methods of Hitler have been welcomed to important positions in this world by this Government, which has excluded Brenner. There were General Hans Speidel, General von Hahlden, General Gunther Pape, Field Marshal Kesselring, General Hans Meyer and 60 others. There are Dr. Hans Globke, Dr. Becker and General Heusinger. There are Krupps, Thyssen, Abs, Rasch and hundreds more like them who have been welcomed by this Government to important positions. If those men have been able to rehabilitate themselves so that they can pass the security test, why is it that Brenner cannot rehabilitate himself so that he can pass the security test? If the worst that we know about him is that he was once a member of the Stern gang and that he once sought to join the Communist Party years ago, why can he not be given a chance?
Who can say that these charges, which can never be answered, because they are never made, will not soon be treated as unanswerable? Who can say that the Public Service and its Ministers will not soon draw together in a redoubt of self-confident silence, able to brand as a Communist every one who queries them? Is that not what the Minister sought to do in this case? Did not the Minister and his colleagues try to draw the University of Adelaide into this unyielding clique? Did they not try to draw the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.
Calwell) into this clique of silence? What they failed to do may be done by the political boss of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, and his friends. Did not the Minister say quite clearly that the ViceChancellor of the University of Adelaide had been told enough about Brenner to allow him to form a judgment as to whether the decision to keep him out was justified? The Minister said -
But on the same day the Vice-Chancellor of the university said -
I emphasize that all this happened after the appointment was made and the university had no reason to believe that Mr. Brenner was an unsuitable person for appointment.
Was the Minister telling a lie, or had he been misled by his officials when he said that? He said furtherSo far as I know, he-
That is, the Vice-Chancellor - fully agreed that the information which was given to him justified the conclusions reached . . .
In these cases there is an attempt to draw everybody into the same clique of silence in order to back a decision that has been made. The only matter about which I am in some doubt is whether the cover-up comes first or whether the security service comes first. In this case we had first the security service and then the cover-up. In the Brown case in Brisbane we had first the cover-up and then the security service. These matters are running in unfortunate double harness in this country at present. It is time we sought to establish a number of things. I challenge all the professed advocates of liberalism opposite to state their attitude to these things. It is time that we established that the secret security report will not be used in unimportant cases. I know where it has been so used. I have had people come to me and make statements about what has happened to them in the Public Service and elsewhere. I know as certainly as I know that I am here to-night that secret reports are being used in all manner of unimportant cases.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) does himself, his party, and the cause that he represents a great disservice by coming into this chamber and continually making violent attacks on the Australian security service. To-night he used wild and intemperate language. He shouted about the Gestapo, about anti-Semitism and other things of that nature. Speaking about me - this is when he used really strong language - he said that either I was lying to the House in my statement or I had been misled by my officials. Well, Sir, as there has been a good deal of disputation about the Brenner case I propose to-night, in the short time at my disposal, to give the House some further detailed facts and to put this matter straight once and for all.
What I shall say about the events leading up to my refusal to grant Mr. Brenner a vis6 will be said with the full approval of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, Mr. Basten.
Last Wednesday night during the debate on the motion for the adjournment when this matter was brought up by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), I related certain facts following Mr. Brenner’s appointment by the University of Adelaide on 20th June last. Since then, Sir, I have discussed the sequence of events with both Mr. Basten and Mr. Harris, the Assistant Secretary of my department, who spoke to Mr. Basten on this subject. What follows represents Mr. Basten’s account of the conversations of 11th August and 13th September between Mr. Harris and himself.
On 11th August Mr. Harris acting, as honorable members will realize, under departmental instructions, telephoned Mr. Basten in relation to Mr. Brenner’s appointment and at the outset stressed that the conversation between them must be regarded on a very confidential basis. Mr. Harris informed Mr. Basten that from information received by my department - I am sorry to have to say this hut, since the Opposition is pressing the matter, I have no alternative - a strong security risk was involved in Brenner’s appointment. Mr. Harris then asked whether his appointment could be cancelled. Mr. Basten replied that as a contract had been made he would have to consult with the university council on this point. He asked Mr. Harris whether he could do this, in the light of what Mr. Harris had told him. Mr. Harris replies “ No “, because investigations were still proceeding. Mr. Basten then asked Mr. Harris whether he could consult the Chancellor and telephone back to Mr. Harris. But Mr. Harris said that Mr. Basten was not to tell the Chancellor. In answer to Mr. Harris’s inquiry, Mr. Basten told Mr. Harris that the position of lecturer in history was not a very senior one, and that if Mr. Brenner were not approved for admission to Australia no serious problem, in his opinion, would be created for the university. Mr. Basten’s view was that they certainly would not pursue the matter further if the Government were convinced that there was a strong security objection to Brenner’s admission.
Some time later - on 13th September - Mr. Basten telephoned Mr. Harris in Canberra. Mr. Basten began by saying that he was receiving correspondence from Brenner and asked whether a decision as to his admittance to Australia could be reached soon. At this point, Sir, I must interrupt the narrative to say that I had been considering this problem for some time and because of the issues involved had given due deliberation to the various aspects of the case before making a decision. Mr. Basten then went on to tell Mr. Harris that his main concern was to ensure that an early decision was reached but that if the Government decided that Brenner was not a fit and proper person to be admitted to Australia the university, in his opinion, would not desire to press the matter further. On the same day, 13th September, I gave my decision.
The position, therefore, apart from my doubt as to whether Brenner had actually been appointed, is substantially as I have stated it to the House previously. That is to say, the circumstances of this case were explained to Mr. Basten quite six weeks ago. He was told that a strong security objection had been raised against Brenner, and the character of that objection. Mr. Basten also made it clear, as I have stated earlier, that in his opinion the university would not desire to proceed further with the appointment of Mr. Brenner if the Government decided that there was a strong security risk.
Sir, the only other thing I want to say about the affair is this: Recent statements attributed to Mr. Brenner in London, and repeated to-night by the honorable member for Yarra, concerning his previous activities as a member of the Stern gang and his application to join the Communist Party would, for many people, be sufficient cause to deny him admittance to this country. But they were not the reasons which induced me to refuse him a vise. My reasons are of a much graver nature. They are so grave in fact - I say this most deliberately - that any Minister with a sense of responsibility for the interests of his country could not possibly grant Mr. Brenner admittance.
.- I have always been disturbed about the activities of the Australian security service. I have never denied the need for a security service, but the cases that have come up from time to time in this Parliament have disturbed me very deeply. I have always honoured and respected people with unorthodox and non-conformist opinions. I believe that persons of that type, in the main, are the persons to whom society owes its great advancement. When we find that good, decent, non-conformist, even rebellious, people are branded, ostracized, libelled and condemned, the progress of this or any other country is endangered.
I do not know anything about Mr. Brenner, but up to the present the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) has not uttered one word which justifies the exclusion from Australia of that man. The Minister may know something more than he has told us. I feel impelled to refer to the matter I am about to mention; I have kept it bottled up for some time. The Minister for Immigration said a little while ago that no Minister with a sense of responsibility would act other than in a correct manner. I am not sure whether they are his exact words. A certain case was brought to my notice when the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) was Minister for Immigration. This case has disturbed me ever since it came to my notice. A good lady in my electorate told me that her husband, who had come from Europe and who had resided in this country for eleven years, had been refused naturalization and he could not ascertain why.
– And 8,000 others!
– That is all right. Before I have taken up a case I have always been careful to make quite sure that I have been on either safe or reasonably safe ground. Therefore, I visited the home of this lady. It was a nice home. She answered when I knocked at the front door. She was tidy, clean and highly intelligent, and she had two nice little children who had just come home from school. She spoke perfect English and I did not know that she was not an Australian. She looked like an Australian.
She asked me to come inside. I asked her “What is your trouble?” She said, “ It is only this: Repeatedly my husband is refused naturalization “. I then asked “ Do you know why? “ She said “ I don’t “. I said “What does he do?” She told me his occupation. He had an honorable occupation in a very rough trade, the nature of which frequently makes the men who are engaged in it rough of tongue. Nevertheless, they are very good citizens and frequently they are actively associated in political activity, never fearing to express their views.
– Was he a member of Parliament?
– ‘Just a moment. These matters should be aired seriously. Within a few minutes of my arrival the husband came home from work. I sized him up. He was a big man - a sturdy man. He worked not far distant from his home, and in his spare time he worked on a farm. The home was a good one and, as far as I could judge, they were decent people in every respect. Then, Mr. Speaker, I appealed to the present Minister for Defence. After an examination by the security service he refused to grant permission for naturalization.
– What does that prove?
– Just be patient and I will tell you what it proves. This is a serious and non-party matter. The Minister refused to consent to a man who had lived in this country for eleven years being naturalized.
I must say that if any honorable member approaches the present Minister for Immigration at least the Minister will make a thorough investigation of the case presented. You can appeal to him. When he became Minister for Immigration I wrote to him about this case and he promised to investigate it. Subsequently he sent for me. 1 enjoyed his confidence, but there comes a time when confidence should be breached if by breaching the confidence you can perhaps save people from suffering an injustice. The Minister, whom I have always respected, said: “ I have had a look at that case. There is a security report on this man.” I asked “What is it all about?” He will correct me if I am wrong in repeating his reply. He said: “ Candidly, I do not think it is very serious. I feel inclined to grant your request.” I asked again, “What is it all about? “ I thought that the Minister may have known certain things about this man. He replied, “ This man is reported to have marched in a May Day procession “.
That case has disturbed me for a long time. One Minister did an injustice to that man and the person who succeeded him in the position of Minister for Immigration was decent and remedied the injustice. The fact that one man can perpetuate an injustice and that another man can remedy it, shows that the case which was put so well by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) for a panel of at least three men to be set up to examine these matters, is amply justified. Hang it all, I have marched in May Day processions.
– The honorable member for Mackellar is in danger.
– He also has marched in May Day processions. When I interviewed the man to whom I have referred I said: “ Do not put me in bad. If you have done anything of which you are ashamed or if you have done anything that endangers the security of this country, tell me now. Do not have me come back and tell you that you have done something wrong and did not reveal it to me. What have you done? “ He replied: “ We have rows at work and some of the men call me a Communist, and 1 never hesitate to open my mouth and call them fascists “. The obvious implication is that somewhere among his fellow workers - probably people of fanatical tendencies who have been hurt by his gibes as much as he has been hurt by theirs - some pimp, some informer, must have written to the security service stating that this man marches in May Day processions, and is a Communist. I asked him whether he was a member of the Communist Party. I said, “ If you are a member of the Communist Party it is as well that you reveal it “. He did not indicate that he was a member. I think he denied that he was. The Minister probably will back me up on that.
That is the kind of thing the men and women in this country should guard against. They should see that this power, responsibility and obvious embarrassment do not reside in one man. The Minister is all right as an individual. He has extremely conservative views. He has a liberal streak, otherwise I would not have got as far as I did with him. I could not get anywhere with the present Minister for Defence. On one occasion I was at a shire dinner with a very eminent Australian general who is now dead. I shall not mention his name. In the course of conversation, in the presence of the shire secretary, when referring to another prominent Australian - a nonmilitary man - he said, “ He is a Com “. I said: “ On what do you base that statement? I resent it. I know the man. He is not a Com.” He said that it is not a disgrace to be a Com.
– Is it a disgrace to be a Com?
– Is it? It was once a disgrace to be a Christian. In your mousesized mind anybody who differs from you is a Com.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– We have just heard from the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) a most fantastic statement on communism. However, I want to get back to the Brenner case.
There are two problems associated with this matter. The first is the general problem of how vises are granted and refused, and the second is the particular problem associated with the Brenner case.
It is a generally accepted principle that any country has the full right to say whom it will allow to enter and whom it will not allow to enter. Unfortunately, the Labour Party is continuing to try to gain some political kudos by bringing up this case and claiming that Mr. Brenner is being done an injustice and that he is being refused human rights. Honorable members opposite claim that some tribunal should be set up. As I understand the honorable member for Lalor, he said that the Minister alone should not have the power to decide who shall enter Australia. Instead, there should be some tribunal in which this power should be vested. The honorable member for Lalor was a member of the Government which set up the security service, and honorable members opposite know that you cannot have a tribunal before which you would disclose your source of evidence because if you did so you would close up that source for good and, in some cases, this might result in one of your agents behind the iron curtain being sent to gaol or even killed. In any case, your source of information would be of no further use.
I do not think that members of the Labour Party realize that we are at war to-day. We call it a cold war. It is undoubtedly true that many members of the Communist Party and many people who have assisted the Russians have done a tremendous amount of damage because all of them have not been trapped by the security service. We are not the only country which takes action through a security service. Human rights have disappeared completely in Russia, but in the free world, in the United States of America for example, there is no right of appeal to any tribunal if a vise is refused. Any United States consul has complete authority to decide whether a person may enter the United States. In our case - I am glad that the honorable member for Lalor mentioned this - we have had a Minister for Immigration who has been particularly careful to see that on no occasion did he take the word of the security service without looking very thoroughly into the case. This is a state of affairs in which you cannot win. On some occasions when a minor offence has been committed by a migrant, the newspapers and the Labour Party immediately begin screaming that we should scrutinize our migrants more closely than we do. When we do scrutinize some one more closely in the following week - this is not an important case, as the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) would say - and when we exclude some one there is an uproar and a statement that the Government denies people human rights, that we should set up a tribunal to consider these matters and that we should bring some one from Europe to be cross-examined by the tribunal. What a complete farce that would be.
Last week the Minister did what I think was a statesman-like thing. He offered to show the relevant file to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition was not as statesman-like. One honorable member opposite said that if the Leader of the Opposition read the file it would close his mouth. The unfortunate thing is that his mouth has never been opened in relation to this case. Had he accepted the statesmanlike proposal to discuss this case with the Minister he would have learned undoubtedly that sufficient reasons exist for refusing the application, and then he would have seen to it that the Labour Party did not continue to play party politics in this case. At the present moment he wants the best of two worlds. He knows that we will not disclose the information and perhaps weaken the security service, and he hopes that his party will gain some political kudos out of this matter.
So much for the broader aspects of the issue of vises. Let me just look at the other side of it - the Brenner case itself. Of course, I have had no access to the file, but I have had access to the newspapers, and I see that this man Brenner claims that he was a member of the Stern gang for five years. I think it is time that honorable members cast their minds back to just what this Stern gang was and what it did. In Palestine before the war there was an organization - the Jewish national army - which was known as the Irgun Zvai Leumi. This organization called a truce at the outbreak of war because the greatest enemy of the Jewish people was, of course, Nazi Germany, and it was decided that during the war nothing would be done that would undermine the British war effort against Germany. But not so the Stern gang. This Mr. Stern, a Polish Jew, immediately set up an organization of some 200 or 300 fanatical - I do not know how to describe them - but “ murderers “ would probably be the correct word. They did things repeatedly that were condemned by the Jewish leaders themselves, particularly Mr. David Ben Gurion and others who repeatedly dissociated themselves completely from this Stern gang. Members of the British Palestine Police Force were singled out and shot down in cold blood by this organization during the period that Mr. Brenner was a member of it. In November, 1944, the British Resident at Cairo, Lord Moyne, was murdered. Lord Casey was unsuccessfully attacked. After the war the number of attacks increased and the campaign of murder, kidnapping, robbery and sabotage went on. In 1946 the gang blew up the King David Hotel, killing 91 people who were in it at the time. Shortly after that they attacked an Arab village and murdered 250 Arabs, of whom about half were women and children. This is the organization of which this man was a member!
– He was a boy of sixteen years of age.
– On the contrary, at the time when he left the organization he was 21 years of age, which is usually regarded as about the ideal fighting age. Whether or not he took part in action is for himself to prove. Then there was the kidnapping of two British soldiers, who were discovered on the following day slung up by ropes in an orchard near Tel Aviv, and when a soldier went to release them he was severely injured by a booby trap on one of them. The men were dead in any case. Honorable members should recall, too, the death of Count Bernadotte, the Swedish Minister to the United Nations who was callously and cold-bloodedly shot. Some people drove a jeep in front of his car in the middle of Jerusalem and, when the car pulled up, they got out with Sten guns, murdered him and the aide who was with him, and then escaped.
For heaven’s sake let us not say, “ Oh, this man was just an innocent member of the Stern gang. He did not have anything to do with it really.” The fact is that he remained a member of the Stern gang right up until 1948. The Minister for Immigration has said - and I agree entirely with him - that this is not the kind of man who should come to Australia either as a member of the staff of the University of Adelaide or in any other capacity.
.- The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) has done a fine piece of arguing by guilt through association out of the dim past. The honorable member based all his argument on arguments which the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) appeared to think were not adequate for his own case. The honorable member makes great play of why he would keep out people who were members of the Stern gang. But the present Government is, after all, the Government that not only welcomed, but feted Krupp, a convicted war criminal associated with some of the most diabolical crimes in history. Why did the Government allow Krupp to come1 to this country? Why did it welcome and fete him, and have security men care for him? Why did Ministers of the Crown dine with him, and so admit him into the brotherhood of the capitalist society which they support? Why do they then keep out people such as Brenner, and why do they inflict humiliation such as they inflicted on Professor Gluckman?
This is why I rise in the House to-night. I am concerned not so much with the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) and his interjections, but with just the simple decencies of a free Australian who thinks that the people on this planet ought to receive some of what free Australians call a fair go. Look at the history of the Government and of its supporters who chatter and yell as they do on occasions such as this, and see whether their judgments on matters such as this inspire confidence that this issue will be determined with objectivity. After all, the Minister has been speaking for the Government of which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is the titular head. The Minister says that it is the Government’s view that this man is a strong security risk and would therefore be a menace to this country. This is the Government the head of which once came to this House an. gave a list of people who, he said, were Communist leaders! Those names were given to him no doubt by the very security service in which the Minister is now placing such faith and trust. Yet only a day or so later the Prime Minister had to admit that some of the names should not have bec. included.
So at no stage in the past has the Government managed to show that we in th’ Parliament, or the people outside, ought to place any trust or reliance whatsoever in the judgment of either the security service or of the Government that relies upon that service. Is it not a fact that Lord Casey, an Australian of great renown, once said in this Parliament that there was a nest of traitors in the Public Service? I have checked through the “ Hansard “ reports of the persistent questioning by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and Dr. Evatt himself in regard to this matter but never once was Lord Casey able to reveal in the Public Service a single Communist traitor. Should we not then evaluate the Government’s judgment in this matter in the light of the fact that the Minister himself has produced no evidence whatsoever, but only his own assertion that this man is a strong security risk?
What is a strong security risk under a Government which has so consistently evaluated things of this nature completely incorrectly and without objectivity? From my own experience of people I cannot put much faith in what the Minister has said to-night. He said the other day in the House that so far as he knew the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide fully agreed that the information given to him justified the conclusions reached. Yet to-night he said that there was no information, in fact, given to the University of Adelaide. The Government simply relies on the judgment of the security service which the Minister accepts as unchallengeable.
– I did not say that. I made it quite plain that the Vice-
Chancellor was given the essence of the objection.
– The essence is that he is stated to be a strong security risk. The Minister may be answerable to the ViceChancellor but he is also answerable to the people of Australia for his judgment in this matter. I for one am not prepared to allow the spirit of this nation to be tampered with freely. Honorable members opposite may bray as loudly as they like, but I have had two concrete instances from friends of mine who live in my own electorate. One concerns an Italian and the other a Portuguese. Both have been refused naturalization because the Minister has accepted the judgment of the security service. It is with regret that I mention this matter in this clear-cut way here to-night. I know these men better than any security service or any Minister of the Crown could possibly know them. I know them well enough to rely on my own judgment in the matter, and I did not come down in the last political shower. I have some experience in evaluating people’s political actions and I will personally guarantee the loyalty and good conduct of these two men. Yet this Minister and his department, basing their judgment upon the judgment of the security service, have placed a ban on these two men, to the humiliation of both of them. They are both potentially good citizens. One of them is married to an Australian woman and one has an Australian child, yet they have been refused naturalization because they are strong security risks! Nobody in their own neighbourhood thinks that - not their neighbours and not the local municipal council, which has even approached the Minister in one case. Oh, no! Only the faceless informers, the Minister’s advisers, think that. This is where this Parliament, I think, has to demand from its Ministers more reliance on their own personal judgments. This is why we feel so strongly about the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson). This is why we feel so keenly about the position that the Minister for Immigration has adopted. We believe that the Government is accepting uncritically judgments and information supplied by departmental officers in cases in which they can perpetrate grave injustices on individual citizens. Honorable members on both sides of the
House are, after all, members of the Parliament and are the final protectors of the liberty of the people. If we do not speak up, no one will. It does no credit to honorable members opposite that they do not see this as a clear-cut case of a person upon whom a grave injustice has been visited. The Minister said that the University of Adelaide authorities were not concerned because this was not a senior position. Would the university authorities then have fought vigorously for this man if he had been appointed to a professorship? And would the Minister, therefore, have permitted him to come here? That point of logic, to my mind, destroys the Minister’s argument.
I am concerned with ordinary, human, individual freedoms. There is too much trespassing on the rights of the people. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has a record as a great Australian that is unchallenged and probably unequalled in this House. He said that it is time we allowed people with unorthodox views to roam more freely around the country. Honorable members opposite are Liberal in name but unfortunately they are not liberal by nature. They might well look at history and see whether it is not a fact that many people who in their time and age have been visited with the wrath of Governments have been people who have led their countries forward. Would the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) keep out of this country such people as Nkrumah and de Valera because of their bad records in the past? After all, they were associated with the same type of activities as the Stern gang was. One point condemns the judgment of this Government in my eyes, and that is the single instance of Krupp.
.- The adjournment debate to-night makes very clear for every Australian exactly where the Opposition and the Government stand on the question of responsibility to the people. In respect of what is now known as the Brenner case, on Wednesday night the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) attacked the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) and the department in what I considered to be a most smug manner. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) said that the official reports in respect of Brenner and in similar cases are made by people whose attitudes are restrictive and conservative, people who are likely to object to any one who has political or social interests which are far from objectionable in any sense of the word. I emphasize “ in any sense of the word “.
May I say now that the Minister - I am sure this is the opinion of honorable members on both sides of the House - is at all times most approachable, most conscientious and one who, without any qualification, is, and always has been, regarded as holding the interests of Australia and its people paramount. We honorable members all have taken cases to him personally. He has investigated them and has been prepared to take the responsibility on himself of giving a doubtful case the benefit of the doubt and reversing a decision.
For me personally, the attitude and indeed the whole question of the Australian Labour Party’s support in this case of Brenner and of other like cases, raise one question: Why? If honorable members on the other side of the House can quote to me one instance where in a speech or an attack on the Government in or out of this House they have raised the question of a Communist or a security risk who has been allowed entry to Australia and who may constitute a risk to the safety of this country, or of a Communist who has been appointed to a university or school where Communist propaganda or influence may have an effect on the minds of Australian children, I will feel more trusting of their motives. Is the interest of the Opposition only in obtaining entry for security risks and the associates of murderers and so on, and does the Opposition indeed regard such people as indispensable to its future and to the future of this country? The answer to this, particularly with respect to certain honorable members opposite, is something the people should know.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, with assumed and dramatic pose, thumping the table, asked the Minister what evidence he had to justify the refusal to issue a vise to Mr. Brenner. I must admit to having a suspicious mind. Indeed, since being in this Parliament and listening to honorable members opposite speak on questions such as this, my mind has become even more suspicious. The thought occurred to me that the Deputy Leader could possibly have obtained, and indeed may have obtained, the reasons for the refusal or the fact of the refusal from the Labour No. 2 Senate candidate for Victoria, Mr. Sam Cohen, who, in June, 1961, was elected a member of the Labour left-wing Victorian Executive. This executive, as we all know, is doing a grand job to retain unity tickets with the Communists, as the Deputy Leader himself by his ineffectual action has highlighted.
Honorable members may ask why I thought it possible that information of the refusal of this vise by the Department of Immigration may have been brought to the notice of the Deputy Leader by Mr. Cohen. Well, first, he was sitting in the visitor’s gallery behind Labour members and was actively in discussion with them during the speeches of the Deputy Leader and the honorable member for Yarra on this matter. Secondly, he is the president of the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and AntiSemitism, which is regarded by all responsible elements in the Jewish community as a Communist-front organization. Some of its leading members, I believe, include Judah Waten, a well-known Communist Party writer; and Sam Goldbloom of the Communist-sponsored International Congress for Peace and Disarmament, of which the organizing secretary is Ernest Platz, a member of the so-called World Federation of Democratic Journalists. Platz has written for East German Communist newspapers attacking West Germany. Indeed, if there is any doubt about the activities of the Jewish Council being pro-Communist; it has been known to the Labour Party for years. In 1951, the then secretary of the Victorian Labour Party, Mr Dinny Lovegrove and A. M. Fraser, now a judge, moved that a ban be placed on the Jewish Council because it was a Communist-front organization. In 1 960, the Jewish Board of Deputies stated that the Jewish Council was known to be Communist controlled. Of course, Mr. Cohen may have been in Canberra by coincidence on Wednesday at the time the great revelation of Australia’s loss in not getting the services of Mr. Brenner was made, or may be he was not.
Now let us consider the case of Mr. Brenner versus the Australian people. When I speak of the Australian people, I mean the ordinary decent men and women who have children or who look forward one day to being married and having children. They are proud to be Australians. They have fought for Australia or have served Australia in other spheres in defending it against ideologies, whether Nazi, fascist or Communist. They want to send their children to schools and to universities to become healthy, normal, happy Australians. Whether they vote for or against this Government, I claim in this matter we represent them.
Let us look at what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honorable members for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). Yarra (Mr. Cairns), Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) represent as suitable to come to this land and, indeed, to teach, let alone to mix with, our children. Let us take some extracts from the articles in the daily newspapers in this matter. They are really worth looking at. One was, “ U.K. lecturer shocked ‘ at visa refusal. A London university lecturer said yesterday ‘ He was shocked, angry and embarrassed at being refused an entry visa to Australia ‘ “. Then the “ Daily Mirror “ said, “ Refusal of visa slow torture ‘ of lecturer. He said, ‘ I know of no valid reason, political or otherwise, why my visa should have been refused. I have been convicted without a trial.’ “ Other statements were, “ Career at stake “, and “ I am demoralized by Canberra’s refusal to tell me why they refused me entry. Canberra has a moral obligation to disclose their reasons.” The honorable member for Eden-Monaro is reported as having asked London University authorities whether they have complete confidence in Brenner. What poppycock!
To continue the comments from the papers, Mr. Brenner is reported as having said that he joined the Stern gang at the age of sixteen in 1943, and remained a member until the State of Israel was founded in 1948. Frankly, the Opposition has endeavoured to make out that this man was sixteen years of age for five years. He joined when he was sixteen, and was a member until he was 21. Many Australian men died before they were 21 as very effective fighters against the things the Stern gang supported in the Middle East. He claimed, “My membership of the Stern gang was nothing more than a Jewish boy caught up in the emotional feelings of freedom and liberation”. He is reported as being a crack shot, able to bring down an Arab marauder in the darkness at 100 yards. It was his ability to grab a rifle and find a target within seconds that made him an arms instructor. He was a sergeant in the Stern gang, the membership of which never exceeded 300 at any time. If a man became a sergeant, he was really operating!
As for his being a boyhood member of the Stern gang, let me point out that the gang was outlawed in 1948 and he did not resign as a gallant soldier laying down his arms. The Israel Government at that time issued the following proclamation: -
The Government calls on the nation to rise as one man against the enemy in our midst. Every citizen of Israel must give active and immediate assistance to the army and police in apprehending these assassins and their accomplices, and in expurging the stain of terrorism from the soil of our country. We are outraged by this appalling crime. The perpetrators of this crime are traitors to the people and enemies of their liberty.
The time at my disposal does not allow me to detail fully the atrocities of the Stern gang. However, the honorable member for Farrer has given Opposition members some examples, and if they cared, they themselves could have done some research into them.
I think that Mr. Brenner should not come to Australia. He should not be allowed to associate with our children and it is to the shame of the Australian Labour Party that it should endeavour to foist such people on Australian children. Further, if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wishes appeal tribunals to be set up, does he wish to appear, like Dr. Evatt, in support of the Communists and to go into the court for 24 days to support a person whom the majority of Australians do not want in this country? If the Opposition can show me where at any stage it has ever acted on behalf of the decent people of Australia in these cases I will apologize. If honorable members opposite can show me one Communist whom they have named or one security risk that has got into this country who should not have entered it, I will apologize again.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) admitted - and is the only one to admit - where he stands in respect of his feelings on communism. Unfortunately, the honorable member for Yarra does not have to admit it because it is known to all the Australian people.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) has delivered one of the most peculiar speeches we have ever heard. It was obviously written before this debate began. It was written by a fascist, an anti-Semitist and an un-Australian smearer, and by one who is prepared to ascribe to persons who have not yet spoken on this matter views that he suggests they might hold. To prove just how insincere and untruthful the general tenor of his remarks was, I remind the House that the honorable gentleman said that the honorable member for Hindmarsh was among those who had spoken up for Mr. Brenner. The fact is that I have not yet uttered a single word on this matter publicly or privately.
The honorable member has chosen to repeat what has been a fraudulent attempt by the Australian Democratic Labour Party to smear the character of a gentleman who is highly respected in Victoria and who was recently created a Queen’s Counsel by the Victorian Government on the nomination of the Chief Justice of the State. The honorable member has the audacity to come into this Parliament and publicly stand up and repeat what is a Democratic Labour Party fraud and a piece of lying propaganda. He has the cheek to say that a man whom the Chief Justice of Victoria was prepared to nominate as a Queen’s Counsel only a few weeks ago-
– It is not rubbish. You have cast aspersions on Sam Cohen, Q.C. You have tried to suggest that Mr. Cohen, who was nominated by the Chief Justice of Victoria to be a Q.C. and whose nomination was accepted by the Liberal Government of Victoria, is now a dangerous character - a Communist or something else. How much longer have we to tolerate this character assassination in this country which is supposed to be a free country? This character assassination is used by people in this place when they know that they cannot be prosecuted or dealt with. Every one knows that the security service - the secret police of this country - has been smearing people. It has been putting in reports that cannot be justified by any sensible, balanced person against people who are seeking to be naturalized.
I am glad the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) paid a tribute to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) for the fact that he has not always been prepared to damage people seeking naturalization merely because some member of the secret police, wanting to try to justify his position in the gestapo of this country, has decided to put in a bad report about a person. I give a warning to the Australian people that we are taking the first steps towards Nazi-ism and fascism. We have the first ingredients of Nazi-ism and fascism, which is anti-Semitism.
There are anti-Semitics on the other side of the chamber. We have the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). We have the honorable member for La Trobe who fiercely breathed hatred and bitterness and viciousness towards the Jewish people of Australia. You could see him fairly oozing hatred towards the Jewish people. Hitler in his heyday could not have looked more hateful than the honorable gentleman looked in this Parliament as he made his speech. With anti-Semitism already established, with the secret police and the gestapo established, with telephone tapping and the opening of communications that pass through the Post Office, have we not got all the ingredients which led to the establishment of fascism before the Second World War? Is not that what we all fought against during that war? Did not fascism creep on other countries in exactly the same way as it is creeping on this country?
This is how Nazi-ism started in Germany - by people like the honorable member for La Trobe getting up and making vicious speeches of hatred against the Jewish people, combined with the Gestapo and telephone tapping. Hitler did that. Everybody knows that ever since the honorable member has come into this Parliament he has been prepared occasionally to read out these speeches. I do not know whether he writes them; I hope he does not. But let me remind him of something else about the Jewish people. The first Australian-born Governor-General of Australia, Sir Isaac Isaacs, was a Jew. There was never a greater jurist or Governor-General or a more respected member of the High Court of Australia or of this Parliament than Sir Isaac Isaacs.
Let me remind the honorable member for La Trobe of a great Jewish general of the First World War - Sir John Monash. Will any self-respecting decent Australian allow a person to stand up in this place and cast aspersions against the race from which Sir John Monash sprang? Will any decent self-respecting person allow a man like this to cast aspersions on the race from which Sir Isaac Isaacs sprang? Because Mr. Sam Cohen is of Jewish origin, this Nazi,, fascist-like member of Parliament is prepared to rise in this chamber and make scurrilous attacks on a man who cannot defend himself here and whom he would not be prepared to meet in an open court.
– The honorable member is of German origin himself.
– He might be of German origin, but it does not necessarily mean that he is a fascist. There are many good Germans who are not fascists.
– He might have overcome it.
– You may be right; I do not know. The mere fact that he is of German origin does not mean necessarily that he is a supporter of Hitler. I think you are entirely wrong to make such a suggestion. I believe in being fair. I believe this character assassination, this smear and this willingness to accept without query the reports that are put in by the secret police, have to stop. If it does not stop soon, this country will be on the highway to Nazi-ism and fascism, just as Germany was some 30 years ago.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I have been misrepresented. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) said that I had made an attack on Jewry in Australia. Nowhere in my speech did I make any attack whatever on the Jewish race. What is more, I cited the highest Jewish authorities in Australia and stated what they had said in respect of Mr. Sam Cohen. The honorable member for Hindmarsh also said that I was a fascist. I point out to the honorable member that my father and my brother both fought magnificently in war and did a damned sight more than he did.
.- I have listened with great interest to this debate. I want to say that I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) in his expressed appreciation of the contributions to the community of the Jewish people, but I deplore the attempt of the Opposition to raise antiSemitism in this House. No decent Australian would wipe his boots on any man who deliberately raised that question in this country. We in Australia are proud of our record of tolerance. Intolerance is one of the worst things in the history of the world. It has always bred fear, distrust and such things as anti-Semitism. I am sure that every Australian, regardless of political parties, will agree that the attempt of the Labour Party to-night, originated by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns’) and taken up by other honorable members, such as the honorable member for Hindmarsh, to breed fear and intolerance in the Australian community is to be deeply regretted.
We hear those same people getting up and defending others, and quite rightly so, whether they be black, brown or brindle. and whether they be of one political persuasion or another, or of one religious persuasion or another. Yet, to-night, to suit their purposes in the forthcoming general election, they have raised the question of anti-Semitism. I believe that their action will be to their everlasting shame. I rise to-night as an Australian who is proud of the record of this country and proud, too, of the friendliness that we exhibit to our new Australian friends who are makins such a contribution to the welfare of Australia. I deplore this cheap political action of the Opposition in raising the subjects of anti-Semitism and intolerance. I do not care what Mr. Cohen is, whether he is a Jew or whether he belongs to any other religion.
– What about Sam Einfeld/
– I have known him for nine or ten years. He is a well-respected gentleman. If the honorable member wants to raise his name in association with this intolerance and anti-Semitism, he too is not fit for a good Australian to wipe his boots on.
I do not wish to labour the point at this late hour, but I want to say that we have seen to-night evidence of the difference of opinion that exists between the Labour Party and the Liberal and Country parties. For my part, I am proud to belong to a party and an organization which has the interests of the Australian community at heart. We do not want to have people coming to this country, no matter who they are, or what positions they hold or have held in the past, who are going to be a threat to our security. Like other honorable members in this chamber, I do not know the real reason why Brenner was not admitted, but I am sure - and this is the point I want to make - that it was not because of his religious persuasion. The other point I want to make is that if the Labour Party is trying to make a case out of this man’s religion in relation to security, it is sinking to lower depths than I thought it could possibly reach.
I remind honorable members opposite that for 364 days in the year they preach tolerance. Yet, to-night they have been attempting to breed intolerance. They should know of the evils that intolerance and anti-Semitism could bring to this country. If they pursue the matter they will be condemned not only in the eyes of the people behind whom they are endeavouring to hide for political purposes, but in the eyes of all Australians. We in this country have been particularly free of racial prejudice and intolerance. I hope that the Opposition will learn from to-night’s experience. I deeply regret that the matter has been raised by the honorable members for Hindmarsh and Yarra. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) made the damning confession that it is no disgrace to be a Communist. We have known for years that many supporters of the Labour Party have been inclined to be, and some have in fact been, fellow-travellers of the Communist Party. When you read the “ Tribune “, Mr. Speaker, you find the policies that are to be expounded in this House the following week by members of the Opposition.
We heard the cheap smear to-night that this matter had been brought about by the Australian Democratic Labour Party, whose members had the courage to stand up in this House for what they believed to be right. For doing so, they were ignominiously discharged from the service of the Australian Labour Party. There are still in this chamber on the Opposition side men who, 1 am sure, do not subscribe to the red policy of the Labour Party. They sit here silently, applauding the communistic views on security, telephonetapping and anti-Semitism that we hear from the other side. This state of affairs, Mr. Speaker, demands that every honorable member opposite should search his conscience. For how long are honorable members opposite to continue to support and to vote for policies which, in their own minds, they do not believe in? There are honorable members opposite with whom we have become friendly over the years, men who have deep religious beliefs. I am sure that, like me, they are disgusted because the question of anti-Semitism has been raised to-night, a man’s religious persuasion has been dragged in, and attempts have been made to breed intolerance in this country.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.59 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
What interest has been paid and what repayments have been made by the States in each year under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945-1955 and the Housing Agreement Act 1956?
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following information: -
The following table shows the payments of interest and the repayments of principal made by the States in each year under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945-1955 and the Housing Agreement Act 1956: -
d asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Native Members of the Forces Benefits.
m asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The phrase “ offences endangering national security “ is too vague to form a basis for any precise answer to the honorable member’s question. In this regard I refer the honorable member to an answer which on 17th August last I gave to a question asked by the honorable member for Watson - see “ Hansard “, page 296. It is not desirable that I should select the offences to which I may think the honorable member wishes to refer. If, however, he will inform me as to the particular offences in respect of which he desires information, I shall endeavour to supply it.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 October 1961, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1961/19611004_reps_23_hor33/>.