26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Address-in-Reply: Acknowledgment by Her Majesty the Queen
-I desire to inform the House that I have received from His Excellency the Governor-General the following communication in connection with the Address-in-Reply:
I desire (o acquaint you that the substance of the Address-in-Reply which you presented to me on 8 March 1967 has been communicated to Her Majesty the Queen.
It is The Queen’s wish that I convey to you and honourable members of the House of Representatives Her Majesty’s sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your Address gives expression.
Governor-General 13 April 1967
– I wish to inform the House that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) left Australia on Saturday on an official visit to attend a meeting of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation Ministerial Council in Washington and a meeting of Australian heads of missions in Mexico. He expects to return to Australia about 1 May. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) will leave on Thursday to attend the Twentieth Assembly of the World Health Organisation in Geneva and to undertake official visits to the United Kingdom and North America. He will be away until 20th May. During their absence, the Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton) and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) will act as Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Health respectively. Until Mr Hasluck returns questions relating to external affairs should be directed to me. During Mr Forbes’ absence the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) will represent the Minister for Education and Science in this chamber.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. What requirements must be met to enable gifts which are made to worthy organisations to qualify as tax concessions? Are gifts to the present civil aid programme in Vietnam tax deductible? If they are not, will he take up this matter at Cabinet level and urge that such gifts be made tax deductible?
– The general principle on which taxation deductions for aid gifts can be made is that the aid must be for Australia’s internal purposes and to permit the development of Australian activities, for example, in respect of Aborigines, Australian cultural development, conservation of natural resources and the like. , The Government has decided also that special agencies of the United Nations will be permitted to have the benefit of taxation deductions. Although it has been said before in the House, I mention, because I believe it ought to be repeated, that Australia’s participation in aid programmes is a big one. The growth this year has been up to $125m and aid now represents very nearly 0.7% of our gross national product.
If we look at the figures of other countries we see that Australia practically leads the field and that most other countries, far from giving this proportion are giving slowly diminishing percentages of their gross national product for this purpose. As well, we give it on a free basis with no tags or ties attached. Most other countries impose conditions. We do it voluntarily and unconditionally. As to the scheme mentioned by the honourable member, it has not come within the scope of the present policy of the Government but nonetheless, for his purposes, I will have a look at it again and will convey the answer to him.
– I address a question to the Minister for Defence regarding a proposal to use Australia as a rest and recuperation centre for American servicemen from South East Asia. Has any decision been reached between the American survey team and the Australian Government to include Australia with ten capital cities of South East Asia as a rest and recuperation centre for United States forces serving in Vietnam? If satisfactory arrangements are concluded, will the facility be extended to other allied servicemen, including Australians?
– American forces in Vietnam are entitled to six days rest and recreation leave each year, for which purpose the United States provides air transport to a number of centres, including Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and so on. I think it will be appreciated that with the build up of American forces in this theatre the rest and recreation facilities of existing centres are rather overstrained. For that reason the United States authorities approached the Australian Government to see whether it might be possible to make a preliminary survey towards perhaps including Australia in the list of centres to which those entitled to rest and recreation leave could go.
We have readily agreed to the presence in Australia of a four-man survey team, but I should point out that up to this point of time no decision of any kind in connection with the project has been made. We have let it be known that in reasonable circumstances, in acceptable circumstances, Australia, would want to participate in this arrangement, but who is to be included in it, where it is to begin, and the rest of the conditions that will surround it, are at present undecided. When the survey team has looked at the prospects and we have had an opportunity to discuss with the team all of the implications, no doubt some decisions will follow.
– My question is supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Isaacs, but is directed to the Minister for the Army. I ask: Is this socalled survey by American Army officials a mere formality? If it is, will the Minister enlighten the House as to what measures will be taken by Army medical authorities, the Commonwealth Department of Health and the Department of Immigration to screen American servicemen who are suffering or have suffered from venereal disease? Is the Minister aware that official United States Army medical reports state that an average of 18,000 American servicemen-
-Order! The honourable member is now giving information.
– I will be seeking information in another few words, Sir. Is the Minister aware that United States Army medical reports state that an average of 18,000 American servicemen are suffering from venereal disease in Vietnam at any given time, and that 1,000 incurable venereal disease cases are shipped back to the United States from Saigon every month?
-Order! The honourable member will direct his question.
– Will the Minister assure the House that if tens of thousands of American servicemen are allowed to spend their recuperation leave in Australia the same facilities will be given to our own Australian diggers who are now fighting in South Vietnam?
-The Minister for Defence has already said in a public statement and also in answer to a question in the House pretty well all that can be said about this matter. I do not want merely to repeat what he has said. As the Minister has stated, no firm decisions have been made, but a survey team will be coming down here to examine the possibilities. Having a look at this matter is certainly not a formality, lt is a question of these people coming here to examine possibilities, after which there would obviously be further talks on the matter. I would add only one other comment. In his first statement the Minister for Defence said that it could be expected, if arrangements were satisfactorily made, that Australian servicemen would be able to participate in the. scheme.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. It relates to Vietnam. Firstly, is it his assessment, based on information at his disposal, that the advocates of immediate peace at any price are in fact, though with the best intentions, prolonging the agonies of the people of this unhappy land by inspiring the northern Government with the hope that, if it persists long enough, it can win the war at Washington after the next presidential election? Secondly, can the right honourable gentleman say why it is not possible for Australia to give more help, medical or otherwise, to the vast numbers of Vietnamese displaced from the countryside through the mounting fury of the war and languishing in wretched conditions in refugee camps?
– As to the first part of the honourable gentleman’s question I would say yes, I believe that this is a factor. As to the second part, the Government does review from time to time the contribution it is making, both in the military sense and also in the area of civil aid. As my colleague the Treasurer has just pointed out, Australia has not been lagging in the assistance it has been giving to people in other countries for various helpful purposes, and certainly the civil aid requirements of Vietnam would have a very strong claim upon our considerations. The concern which the honourable member expresses on this matter is reflected in the Government and will be borne in mind in any future consideration we give to this question.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Has he been able to reach a decision on a proposal I put to him some time ago that a rebate scheme should apply to payments of land rent due to the Commonwealth by pensioners who are the owners of houses on leased land in Canberra, similar to the rental rebate scheme that applies to tenants of Government cottages? Further, has he been able to reach any decision on the proposal that rates payable by pensioners be reduced or waived?
– I shall deal with the second part of the question first. I said yesterday, when announcing that revaluations would be arrived at, that provision would be made for people to make requests for rebates or concessions in rates. The question of concessions for land rent is being looked at and I .will give the honourable member a reply later.
– Did the Prime Minister state during the election campaign last
November that $50m would be provided over five years to the States for approved water conservation projects? If so, is the money to be provided by way of grants or loans? Has the Commonwealth Government received applications from the States for this assistance? If not, is the Government now prepared to receive and consider such applications?
– The honourable member is correct in suggesting that this was one of the policy undertakings that we made in the course of the last election campaign, and action has already been put in train to implement it. I cannot say just what stage has been reached with each of the State governments, but it is our intention to make this arrangement effective as soon as possible. The proposal was that what we would provide would be by way of grant and would be additional to what the States themselves would be providing for this important purpose.
– I ask the Treasurer: How many educational requisites or items of stationery which are used by school children and other students are subject to sales tax? Are items such as rulers, pencils, exercise books, notebooks and ball point pens subject to sales tax ranging upward from 12%? Does the Treasurer think that the imposition of sales tax on these items is reasonable when they are used exclusively for educational purposes? Finally, has the Treasurer been requested by representative bodies to abolish sales tax on such items?
– As to the last part of the question, I have no recollection of any request having been made since I became the Treasurer in relation to sales tax on the items mentioned. I am sorry that I cannot give an explicit answer to the first part of the question. However, I will treat it as being on the notice paper and will let the honourable member have a reply.
– Has it come to the notice of the Prime Minister that in a political news sheet circulated in Canberra it has recently been asserted that attempts to subject the Australian Broadcasting Commission to political influence and interference have increased since the right honourable gentleman assumed office as Prime Minister, and that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Labour and National Service have been taking part in such attempts?
– I rise to a point of order. I was taken to task last week for giving information even though I had spoken for only twenty seconds. I was wondering whether the time limit had been extended.
-Order! What is the point of order?
– The honourable member is giving information.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– Has it been brought to the notice of the right honourable gentleman that this allegation was repeated in a recent ABC television programme entitled This Day Tonight’? Is there any truth in the allegation? Has there been any attempt by this Government to influence the policy or management of the ABC? Lastly, can the right honourable gentleman assure the House that the allegations concerning himself, the Treasurer and the Minister for Labour and National Service are without foundation?
– This is a matter which, in the light of developments, has caused me a good deal of concern. The existence of these news sheets is well known to members of the Parliament. I do not know how many there are. I am neither a subscriber to nor a regular reader of them, but occasionally one is brought under my notice when some matter which it is felt should occupy my attention is placed before me. This particular item was placed before me. At the time I did not take any action to correct it because, frankly, so frequently do statements of an erroneous kind occur in either these news sheets or the Press that it would be beyond one’s normal range of time or operation to correct every one. Most honourable gentlemen are aware that what the publishers of the news sheets purport to do is to give what they would describe as the news behind the news, or information of a confidential character of which they claim to have knowledge. So we put our own assessment on their accuracy.
As I frequently have a complete knowledge of events which are referred to I do not need to read an erroneous or incomplete account of them in the news sheets concerned. The matter mentioned in this case was a specific allegation which, until further developments occurred and I found it widely reported upon and subsequently made the subject of the ABC broadcast to which the honourable gentleman has referred, I did not take very seriously. The principal of ‘Inside Canberra’ - the news sheet in which these allegations appeared - is well known to us. He is an amiable fellow and my own personal relations with him over very many years have been quite cordial. The fact that often I have read things which I knew to be incorrect has not troubled me unduly. For example, he referred in this particular news sheet to some relationship between Sir Howard Beale and myself which had a bearing on my own election to the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party.
He stated that Sir Howard had been the only New South Wales member to vote for me on that occasion and that I narrowly won the ballot by one vote. As to the first part I have good reason to believe that that was incorrect, and as to the second part I know that it was incorrect. Be that as it may, the specific allegation was made that I as Prime Minister had exercised in some way indirect or improper pressure upon the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I give that an emphatic rejection. I label it as a lie, and I challenge Mr Whitington to produce one tittle of evidence that at any time I have exercised any improper or indirect pressure upon the Commission or any of its officers. That goes also for the Commission. If it can produce any such tittle of evidence it is welcome to do so.
I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues who had been named whether they could give me the same assurance. They both did so unhesitatingly, and I am sure they would repeat the same invitation to Mr Whitington or to the Commission. Of course, as members of the Parliament - and this applies on both sides of the House - we are asked for our views from time to time by ABC reporters. Once in recent times I had occasion myself to contact Mr Duckmanton in order to inquire what time was going to be made available to the Parties and to the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases in the forthcoming referendum. I repeat that at no point can it be alleged with any honesty or accuracy that indirect or improper pressure has been exercised.
The aspect of this matter which really troubles me is that the Commission followed up this uncorroborated item in this news sheet. I am sure Mr Whitington would not reject the statement that his own political views are well known and are in sympathy with those of honourable gentlemen opposite. His own forecast of the outcome of the last election was hardly a reliable indication of the state of public opinion at that time. But when the Commission sought to make some feature of this report on its programme, ‘Tonight and Today’ I think it is called-
– “Night and Day’.
– I would like to be accurate; it is ‘This Day Tonight’, which in itself has a somewhat ambiguous ring about it. It is rather like the Beatles’ ‘Hard Day’s Night’. When this item appeared the two people who were chosen to comment on this statement, uncorroborated in this unofficial news sheet by a known Labor supporter, were Mr Michael Willesee, who is a son of Senator Willesee, a Labor senator, and who as far as I am aware does not disagree” violently with the political views of his father, and Mr Allan Fraser, the recently defeated Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro. There I thought was a very good example of objectivity and impartiality. While honourable gentlemen on this side of the House-
– Give him a drink.
– It might improve the thinking of the interjector if he were to have a drink himself. On this matter honourable gentlemen on this side of the House share the views of those who have offered their criticism. We want to see the Commission conduct itself with an independent mind, with objectivity and with impartiality, and so far as we as a Government are concerned that will be our continuing objective. I hope we can have the support of all honourable members from whatever side of the House they come in achieving that objective which we maintain for ourselves.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to that asked him by the honourable member for Mallee concerning the proposed $50m grant to the States for water conservation projects. I ask the Prime Minister to clarify the position in the light of an answer which he himself gave a fortnight ago to the honourable member for Gwydir, and an answer which the Deputy Prime Minister gave to the honourable member for Dawson on the same day. The right honourable gentleman said:
The Government has not yet completed its consideration of the details of the proposed scheme. However, we expect to do so shortly and will then be in touch with the State governments about it.
The Deputy Prime Minister said:
The initiative rests with the State Governments to make proposals to the Commonwealth.
I ask the right honourable gentleman: Has he made any approaches to the State governments, or have they made any approaches to him, about these grants during the last fourteen days since the time these questions were asked and up to the time of his answer earlier today?
– It is my recollection that there has been correspondence between some of the premiers and the Government on this matter. I shall try to get an authoritative statement for the honourable gentleman as promptly as I can. It is not customary to make public any communications between the heads of State Governments and the Commonwealth Government, but so far as I am capable of satisfying the inquiry of the honourable gentleman, I shall do so.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer to questions I have raised in this place over a considerable period concerning the issue of a $5 note, and the Minister’s last advice which I think was that this note was expected somewhere about the middle of this year. 1 now ask the Treasurer whether he can give the House a more definite date of issue?
– During the last few days I have, on at least two occasions, discussed this matter with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia. He is making all the necessary arrangements for the issue of the bill and he thinks he will be in a position to give me an outline of what has been done so that as soon as the House resumes after next week’s vacation I will be able to inform honourable members not only of the name of the lady whose photograph will appear on the bill but also of other details of the beauty of its presentation.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Army. Are Regular Army personnel with considerable experience in Malaysia being brought back to Australia to reinforce the 2nd and 7th battalions which are shortly to leave for Vietnam? Are some of these Regular Army personnel within a few months of completing their two years period of service in Malaysia? Is it proposed that national service trainees will be replacing these men in Malaysia?
– A number of members from the 4th Battalion at Terendak were brought to Australia to reinforce the 2nd Battalion which is in the relief force going to Vietnam. So far as I know, although these men probably have been out of Australia for up to two years - depending on whether or not they went with the original force or as reinforcements - only those who were willing or wanted to join the 2nd Battalion have done so because obviously this was going to involve them in another year’s absence from Australia. It was done generally on this basis. The reinforcements going to the 4th Battalion will be largely national servicemen plus regulars but the 4th Battalion is due to come back to Australia later this year and in the normal circumstance it would be relieved by another battalion which would be in Malaysia for’ its two year term.
– By way of a short preface to my question, which is addressed to the Treasurer, may I say that recent tragic events in north Queensland and Tasmania have revived the suggestion that Australia should establish a national disaster fund. I ask the right honourable gentleman whether a contemporary survey of the practicality of this suggestion has been made. If so, what was the result?
– As Minister for Primary Industry I had a survey carried out to ascertain whether a national disaster fund on an insurance basis would be effective - in other words, whether there was a genuine actuarial basis on which contributions could be paid and payments could be made in the case of disasters. We were advised by the best technical experts that we could muster that such a scheme was impracticable. Neither I nor the Department of the Treasury has carried out any detailed investigation since I became the Treasurer. Nonetheless I will raise the question asked by the honourable gentleman and will let the House know the answer.
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware of the urgent need for increased Commonwealth office accommodation in Brisbane and of the large annual payment for rentals in that city? If he is, will he inform the House what stage the planning for the new Commonwealth office building in Brisbane has reached and when construction will commence?
– I have announced that new Commonwealth offices will be erected in Brisbane. I should like to be able to tell the honourable member exactly when these offices are to be commenced. I believe it will be early in the next financial year. I shall ascertain the position and let the honourable member know the precise stage that has been reached.
– No doubt the Prime Minister is very conscious of Australia’s achievements over the last twenty-one .years. Has the right honourable gentleman read an article in this morning’s Melbourne ‘Sun’ in which the Leader of the Opposition is reported as having said that Australia was falling behind a number of other countries in the fields of education, housing and urban planning? Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether these assertions are true or false?
– I gather that the statement was made by the Leader of the Opposition at a political gathering in support of Labor candidates and therefore a certain amount of hyperbole-
– It was made at a meeting of Jaycees.
– I apologise. That makes the offence even worse. I was giving the honourable gentleman credit for a little enthusiasm and poetic, or political, licence in support of his own cause; but if he was correctly reported, then I suggest that he should place the authority for his statement before this House. I assert quite categorically that no country can point to a higher general standard of housing for its people than can Australia. No country can point to a higher percentage of home ownership than is to be found in Australia. The records of the United Nations confirm this assertion. I cannot speak with the same authority about education, but I do know that in Victoria - I happened to look at these figures only yesterday - no less than 29% of the total State Budget is devoted to education. I would be surprised if there were many places in the world which could show the devotion of a higher proportion of financial resources to purposes of education. In other words the Australian standard State by State is very high.
– The amount spent in Victoria is less p.er head than in any other State.
– I am giving the Victorian percentage, which on anybody’s calculation is high. In the Australian Capital Territory, Darwin and the Papua and New Guinea area - the areas over which we have special jurisdiction - there is a very considerable degree of urban planning. What is done by the State governments in relation to their cities is, of course, a matter within their province. Looking around the world in my travels I have not felt that Australia need apologise for the standards of its cities and the facilities they provide, nor for the thought, care and devotion which are given to the problem of urban development by those, charged with responsibility for these matters.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport a question. I preface it by saying that in a joint statement issued recently the responsible Government Ministers said that Australia had to be prepared for containerisation on all trade routes and that the Government must have in advance all the answers to the problems which might arise when European, Japanese, American and other major ship owners began running container vessels to Australia. I ask: Does the Government not think that the most effective answer to protect our great Australian community from exploitation by avaricious foreign ship owners, who have been making enormous profits out of Australian exports and imports, would be to begin immediately construction of a Commonwealth owned overseas line of container ships?
– The honourable gentleman’s question was highly coloured by a lot of rather false assumptions. I do not know whether very high profits are made by avaricious ship owners or whether in fact the ship owners are avaricious. The plain truth is that, on the information available to us at the present time, no shipping line registered in Australia and manned by Australian crews would be able to provide a cheaper shipping service for overseas cargoes. With this situation in mind the Government has started inquiries and examinations of the facilities available in Australia, so as to ensure that a reasonably efficient service is provided for all ships which carry containers to Australian shores. I might add that the Government is continuing at all times to investigate the cost of carrying cargoes overseas to see at any time whether it is feasible for Australia to enter into this business. It is quite significant that no Australian ship owner is willing to engage in this kind of operation as a private enterprise venture.
– I ask the Minister for National Development a question. I refer to the need for a full planting programme to provide our forestry requirements for the future. Have the State governments responded to the Commonwealth’s offer of financial assistance in order to increase the planting rate of both softwoods end eucalypts? If the response of the States is not adequate to take up the short fall in production, will the Minister consider making loans available to private firms willing to co-operate in this work and able to do it not only better but also more economically than the States?
– The States have agreed to take up the full amount of the Commonwealth loan which was offered to them. We are now in the final process of reaching agreements. There have been one or two alterations to the draft agreement, for example because in New South Wales an incorrect base year figure was used. This is being adjusted. There are various aspects of forestry plantings. At the present time, as the honourable member no doubt knows, the bulk of planting undertaken in Australia is by State forestry services, which this year, out of a total planting of about 40,000 acres, undertook to plant 30,000 acres. Approximately 10,000 acres were planted by, in the main, the pulp and paper mills. It is now intended that this will be stepped up to 75,000 acres per annum by doubling the State plantations, but the Forestry and Timber Bureau is looking at other means of increasing and improving forestry turnoff in Australia. Some of the States already offer loans to individual farmers on very good interest and repayment conditions and for long terms. We are looking at other methods of encouraging the planting of more forests, especially by adopting some of the overseas methods, such as taxation concessions. However, these methods are only under investigation at the moment. The honourable member asked about companies obtaining finance. I think this would fall more withing the province of my colleague, the Treasurer, but I do not doubt that there are ways by which they could seek finance if they did not have sufficient available.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. In answer to his Government’s suggestion to the Premiers that they should nominate tasks that could be undertaken by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, the Premier of Victoria has stated that he has nominated the Buffalo Dam and the Melbourne underground railway. I ask the right honourable gentleman when the Premier made these nominations to him and when he expects to be in a position to give a decision on these requests.
– I shall regard the honourable member’s question as being on notice and give him a reply.
– I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. It relates to the Woodward report on waterfront employment. How extensive is the area of agreement between the interested parties? Is the report that a margin for skill of $16.70 has been recommended correct? Does this place the margin for skill in a very high category? Does the Minister accept this assessment as being in line with the principles of arbitration?
– I should perhaps explain the present status of the Woodward discussion. The document was drawn up and agreed upon by the parties to these discussions under the chairmanship of Mr Woodward and is now being referred back to the principals concerned for their views and agreement or otherwise. All the terms, including the wages and what might be in one sense interpreted as margins, are part of a package deal. They are not really severable from all the other provisions. I am arranging for copies of the Woodward report to be supplied to those honourable members who are interested and I hope that the copies will be available shortly in my office. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission does not really enter the picture at this stage. There will still be a lot of negotiation and much detail to be worked out before the provisions become effective. In the meantime, no doubt all those concerned will look at them carefully. However, it is really too early at this stage to go into details of any relationship.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Navy. When will the Navy’s new patrol boats be ready for launching? What is the maximum speed of the new patrol boats? How does this compare with the maximum speeds of similar craft in the navies of other countries? Does (he Minister consider the armament of the patrol boats to be adequate in terms of modern requirements? Does he consider the patrol boats to be sufficiently fast and mobile to be effective in the context of modern warfare?
– The answer to the last part of the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is: Yes, we do consider the speed and capability of the patrol boats to be more than adequate for our purposes in the strategic concept in which Australia finds itself. In his first question the honourable member asked when the vessels would be launched. The first one was launched two weeks ago from Queensland and we were pleased that the wife of the Lord Mayor of Darwin launched it. The second one, which will be launched by Mrs Paliau, the wife of the member for Manus Island in the House of Assembly for Papua and New Guinea, will be launched within the next few weeks. The remaining eighteen vessels will be launched as they come off the assembly line. The honourable gentleman’s other question regarding the speed of the patrol boats relative to speeds of vessels operated by other navies is one that I shall have to examine. To the extent that 1 can give an answer which is not classified I shall certainly do so.
– I wish to make a personal explanation regarding misrepresentation in some Australian newspapers.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The matter arises from a question which I asked during a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee last Friday morning relating to the different types of character checks of people entering Australia as visitors and people who come here to reside permanently. I stated that I was prompted to ask the question because of rumours which I had heard among the Italian community in Melbourne that some crimes attributed to them were not in fact committed by Italian residents but by people who had come to Australia on short term permits. Outside the Committee I was asked whether f knew of any specific instances or whether I had any proof that this was in fact happening. I stated that I knew of no specific instances and that I had merely heard rumours, but I felt that if there were any substance in the rumours we ought to be looking for ways in which to make it more difficult for people with known criminal records to enter Australia.
Asked to elaborate further I said that it might be possible for Australia to refer to a list of known criminals which could be kept at police headquarters in the capital cities of the major countries. I was asked whether I had in mind Italy only. I said no, that it was something which could be worked out on an international basis. I told the reporters I wished to make it clear that I was not criticising either the Government or the Department of Immigration because Australia could not afford to make it more difficult for visitors to enter Australia than it would be for them to enter other countries. Otherwise we would annoy business people and tourists and lose valuable revenue. I said that a business man might require to come to Australia at twentyfour hours notice and in fact could come here in about that time or a little more and that it would not be reasonable to hold him up for days or weeks while a comprehensive character check was made. The way the story was written up in some newspapers made it appear that I said that known criminals were in fact coming here at twenty-four hours’ notice to ‘bump people off’ - an expression which I did not use at any time - and then returning to the countries from which they came. At least one report includes these words in inverted commas:
It is said that if you want to get someone bumped off there are professionals back in Italy who will do the job. They are available on twenty-four hours’ notice. They do the job, get paid and then get out of the country smartly.
This is a gross distortion and is putting into my mouth words which I did not use. At no time did I say that I was aware that there was substance in the rumours.
The newspaper reports were very unfair to the Italian community, which I know to be one of the most law abiding and hard-working sections of the Australian population. I know that two or three official inquiries into the rate of crime in Australia have shown that the rate of crime in the Italian community is one of the lowest in Australia. If my question has resulted in any embarrassment to members of the Italian community I wish to apologise to them. I hope the Press will give as much prominence to this statement as it gave to my alleged statement.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Statute Law Revision (Decimal Currency) Bill 1967.
Stevedoring Industry Charge Bill 1967.
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Bill 1967.
Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1967.
Customs Tariff Bill 1967.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member, for Reid (Mr Uren) proposing that a matter of definite public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The need, in view of the increasing overseas control of commercial undertakings and key industries and the overseas takeover of natural resources, to appoint an all-party Parliamentary Committee to inquire into all aspects of overseas investment in Australia and how best it can be planned.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
– On 2nd April 1963 the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr McEwen) in addressing a Country Party conference in Victoria said:
We in this room are mostly established farmers. If we earn enough annual income we live comfortably. If we do not we could still live comfortably by selling a bit of the farm every year, and that is pretty much the Australian situation - we are not earning enough and we are selling a bit of our heritage every year.
The Deputy Prime Minister made his statement four years ago. For the previous twelve years of the Menzies administration there had been a deficit on our current account of some $3,500m. That was bad enough, but during the last four years - since the Deputy Prime Minister’s first outburst - we have had a further deficit of $2, 100m. or an average annual deficit of over$500m in the last four years. In fact, during the last two years there has been a yearly deficit of over $800m. This compares with an average yearly deficit of $290m during the twelve years from 1950. Our total deficit with all countries since 1950 has been $5,500m. During this period our trading position has deteriorated alarmingly with the United States of America and the United Kingdom. We have had a combined deficit in current account with those two countries of over $8,700m. This has been made up of $4,500m with the United Kingdom and $4,200m with the United States. The deficit has been paid by the inflow of over $5,000m unplanned private foreign investment during this period - earning in some cases, up to 600% on original investment - comprising $3,500m private new investment and $ 1,500m unremitted profits. We have been selling more than a bit of our farm each year. We have been selling our iron ore, our bauxite, our copper, our coal, our land, our commercial buildings and industries - our heritage.
The cost of servicing the private capital inflow during this period has been in excess of $3,200m -$1, 700m repatriated overseas by way of dividends and $1,500 unremitted profits retained in Australia by foreign companies. Concern with the growth of and reliance on foreign investment has been shown by Government members and their supporters, business leaders from all sections of the Australian community, the Australian Labor Party, trade union leaders and the editorial writers of the ‘Australian Financial Review’, the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, the ‘Australian’, the Melbourne Herald’ and the ‘Age’. The latest outburst appeared in the ‘Bulletin’. In an editorial on 4th March 1967 about foreign investments the writer stated:
One of the most explosive issues of the future is embedded in this very question.
He went on to say:
Beyond question of political expediency, it is also surely in our general interest that the exploitation of our natural resources should be a matter over which we ourselves have the main control. Otherwise, international companies can use Australian mineral development as part of their own international politics, stopping or starting in accord with their own interests instead of ours, or even perhaps fiddling prices to their own advantage.
Rarely have I joined in common cause with the ‘Bulletin’, but I commend this editorial to all honourable members. We on this side will join any honourable member, any newspaper, any section of the Australian community in attempts to reduce and control our reliance on unplanned and uncontrolled foreign investment in Australia. We propose an all-party Parliamentary committee to inquire into all aspects of foreign investment in Australia. The Australian people have very limited knowledge of how much of Australia’s industries and natural resources are owned or controlled by foreign investors. A survey was made in 1963 by the Stanford Research Institute of the USA, but it merely skimmed the surface of the subject. The Vernon Committee made certain observations in 196S but it dealt superficially with the question.
Mr J. G. Wilson of Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd said in 1965 that Australian secondary industries overall were then already controlled by foreign investors to the extent of between 25% and 30%. This statement was contained in a report in the Melbourne ‘Age’ of 18th February 1965 which dealt with a paper delivered by Mr Wilson at a Stock Exchange symposium on the subject ‘Foreign Ownership in Australia’, in which he listed the proportion of control by foreign investment of various Australian industries. According to Mr Wilson’s figures, the pharmaceutical industry had a foreign controlled equity of 97%, petroleum refining and distribution 96%, motor vehicle manufacture 95%, oil exploration and production 85%, telecommunications 83%, soap and detergents 80%, bauxite and aluminium 75%, chemicals 60%, food 50%, lead, zinc and copper 45% to 50%, and heavy engineering 30%. Imagine Australia’s food industry controlled by foreign investment to the extent of 50%. There are other examples but my time is limited. I have, however, managed to give a brief outline of the extent of control of Australian key industries by foreign investment.
In the few minutes left to me I would like to tell the House of some of the takeovers by foreign investment that occurred in 1966 alone. In January W. R. Grace (Aust.) Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of a United States company, acquired an 83% interest in Cresco Fertilisers Ltd. In March Continental Oil Co. of Aust. Ltd acquired a controlling interest in Amalgamated Chemicals Ltd for S5m. In November Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. of Ohio acquired a 70% interest in Hardie Rubber Co. Pty Ltd. This was a $4. 8m deal. Also in November Parsons General Foods Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Generals Foods Corporation of the United States of America, took over Cottee’s Ltd for SI 2.8m. Why was it thought necessary to sell Cottee’s, a producer of foodstuffs? Of course this Government had provided no controls to prevent such a takeover. All in all, 1966 was not a bad year for the American investors.
Another field which is being exploited by foreign investment is that of our natural resources. Sir Harold Raggatt, a former Secretary of the Department of National Development, was reported in the ‘Australian’ of 25th June 1965 as having stated:
We must not be in pawn to foreign capital. Australia needed a national mineral development policy and companies should be encouraged u> process minerals before they are exported. Too great a foreign ownership of Australian mineral resources could mean a conflict of interests between Australia and the owners. The owners could take the understandable view that Australia was primarily a source of raw materials.
The Government has had seventeen years in which to plan, lt has had available to it the historical experiences of other countries. Yet the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) said in an off the cuff statement to the Press, as reported in the Canberra ‘Times’ of 28th March 1967, when giving details of the proposed bankers development refinance corporation:
I wept with anguish at what happened with Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited. If we had had a corporation like this earlier we would have been in on the ground floor in both Hamersley and the aluminium complex at Gladstone.
One would think that the Treasurer had not been a member or supporter of the Government for the last seventeen years. It is not my function, Mr Speaker, merely to criticise. I wish to make suggestions. One might ask: What can we do? What can we do to prevent the takeover of our industries and natural resources? What can we do to rectify the present position in which we are relying on the uncontrolled and unplanned flow of foreign investment into Australia? The Government should sponsor a major public information drive to explain the policies we intend to adopt to curb the erosion of our national heritage. We should seek the co-operation of Australian business interests, for they are mainly responsible for the day to day decisions necessary to solve this great problem. We should set out to control our balance of payments by adopting a positive policy to expand exports and seek new markets. We should set up an expert banking and insurance corporation to finance exports, as this would enable us to sell on credit. We should establish an Australian overseas shipping line to assist in transporting our goods to new and old markets. At present, our primary producers are being exploited by overseas shipping monopolies. In the last financial year shipping freights on imports alone cost more than $300m. We should be selective in our imports; we should discriminate against non-essential goods and should determine on a planned basis what we need.
We should seek the co-operation of all government and semi-government concerns to develop an Australian source of supply wherever possible. A planning authority should be set up so that Australia’s future rate of growth and application of industrial priorities may be planned. If we have not a credit balance of payments sufficient to pay for necessary capital equipment or urgently needed know-how, we should seek government loans overseas. There should be a complete review of all double taxation* agreements. If it is necessary to bring in additional foreign companies, I would prefer that we enter into agreements directly with the companies concerned.
The planning authority I have suggested should examine foreign owned companies already established in Australia. If we find that the companies’ policies and products are in the interests of the Australian economy, we should enter into long term agreements and give favourable direct and indirect taxation concessions. In return, the companies should agree to assist in building our export trade. Agreements may be necessary so that we can have some say in the products which they produce. If their production is not in Australia’s interests, a tougher policy should be contemplated. Foreign companies should be encouraged to allow Australian shareholders to participate. Where Australian participation is greater than 30%, a more liberal taxation policy could be implemented. There should be strict control on all foreign capital inflow. Portfolio investment should not be accepted except where the investor is prepared to invest at low fixed interest rates and to guarantee long term investment. Each foreign investment should be dealt with on its merits. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation should be encouraged to develop its scientific research into industry.
We should also, through taxation encouragement, enable private firms - local and foreign - to develop research and scientific experimentation. At present, we rely far too much on know-how and patent rights from foreign sources. We should encourage the Bureau of Mineral Resources to extend its exploration and retain its discoveries for public purposes. Agreements should be entered into with all State governments to co-operate under the planning authority so that the States will not be competing against each other for foreign capital. A Commonwealth development authority should be set up to develop natural resources in the Northern Territory and to enter into agreements or to cooperate with the States to exploit their resources. The Commonwealth Banking Corporation, together with the Reserve Bank, should be utilised as part of government policy to develop Australia in the interests of Australians.
We on this side of the House are not being dogmatic on the solution. I repeat that I will join with any member, be he a Government supporter or otherwise, if he is prepared to curb, control or limit the selling out of our national heritage. For far too long this country has sold out its heritage day by day. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) has mooted the establishment of a bankers development refinance corporation. He said he would raise the money from hire purchase companies, but when challenged he was not prepared to give to this House details of how he would get it. If this is a progressive step, we on this side of the House will support it. But the Treasurer and Government members know that foreign overseas investment is a growing cancer which has been eating into our heritage for seventeen years. It is about time that some progressive action was taken to deal with the situation. We on this side of the House will support any positive action that is taken to curb and control foreign investment in this country.
– The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), who initiated the debate on behalf of the Opposition, read the first nine-tenths of his speech at such a rapid rate and produced so many figures that it was literally impossible to follow him or to understand what he was talking about. May I let the House know exactly why Australia needs overseas capital investment. Funds from overseas are no more and no less than a demand on overseas countries for resources. In other words, if overseas countries make money available to Australia, we can obtain resources from those countries by way of capital investment, machinery, raw materials, industrial know-how, scientific information and all the other factors which are necessary if a country is to become great and is to develop.
If we had not had these facilities and if finance had not been made available to us from overseas, the clear alternative would be that we could not have continued our immigration programme in the way we have nor could we have produced the necessary raw materials and equipment to expand Australian industry at the rate we have. Indeed, we would have been an industrial backwater with a lower standard of living, a lower standard of education and all the other things which the enlightened Australian community demands. What does the Australian Labor Party want? Does it want us to take an immense step backward instead of the immense step forward we are now taking under a Liberal and Country Party Government led by the Prime Minister (Mr Holt)?
Having explained our need, let me put this problem in perspective. This must be. done. The fact that the honourable gentleman has not done so clearly indicates that he does not understand the nature of the problem. Australia invests a great percentage of its gross national product - that is, everything it produces - into development for the future. If we look at the figures in the ‘Monthly Bulletin of Statistics’ of the United Nations for the month of February and make international comparisons we see that in making this country great, in producing the commodities we need and in carrying out our education programme, a great percentage of everything we produce is invested in future development. We are second only to Japan in what we do and in what we are attempting to achieve. The figures show the percentage of gross national wealth that is invested in the future. The proportion in Japan, which was the highest, is 32%; we follow with 27.4%. Down at the other end of the scale of the developed countries are the United Kingdom, for which the figure is 17.6% , and the United States, with 16.5%. In other words, these statistics show that Opposition members as well as Government supporters, producers, workers - indeed, all in the community - are making a magnificent contribution to what is being ploughed back into the development of this country. In this very statement we find the answer to this problem - we are in fact investing in ourselves. The next thing I want to point out, because it is critically important to an understanding of the problem, is that not only do we provide these amounts but between 85% and 90% - I ask the House to remember these figures because they are immense - of investment in this country is from Australian sources. In other words, the smaller part of between 10% and 15% and only between 10% and 15% comes from overseas. I put it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that puts in true perspective the nature of this problem. I believe it illustrates in very emphatic terms that, firstly, we could not have done without capital investment from overseas and, secondly, that most of our development takes place from the efforts of Australians, from their savings and from the decisions that they voluntarily make.
This debate divides itself into two sections, the first of those sections being whether or not there is an increasing overseas control of our industries. Incidentally, I would like to add to that: Are they exploiting this country and, if so, what is to be done? Secondly, I wish to answer the question, which is a purely political one, of whether or not we should permit another committee to be established to try to create political capital for the benefit of the Labor Party and not for the benefit of the Australian community. As to whether there is growing control, I think the House can take it from the figures I have just quoted that in fact there could not be growing control because of the high degree of Australian investment in ourselves. I will make two facts available to the House; the first indicates the increase in growth in overseas capital investment related to the total increase in investment in Australia. Over the period of the last three years there has been a growth in overesas investment compared with the three previous years - I say thank heavens for it - of from $404m to $548m. That, Sir, is a growth of about 36% between the years I have mentioned. However, when we look at the gross increase in capital investment of this country we find that it has gone from $2,404m to $3,285m between the same two periods. In other words, looking at it in a percentage fashion there has been an increase of 37% as compared with the increase in overseas investment of 36%. Therefore, the argument that the Government and I want to put is that far from control moving into the hands of overseas investors it is steadily increasing in favour of Australians.
I also want to mention the question of exploitation, because I think it fits nicely into the picture. The figures that I have had extracted for me by the Treasury show that the profit made on overseas investment over the last four years has not increased but steadily decreased. In 1962-63 the company income payable abroad as a percentage of accumulated overseas investment was 6.8% whereas last year it was 5%. In other words, there was a drop in the rate of company income payable overseas of 1.8% over a period of three to four years.
Against this background, can any sane person, any person who has reliability or who has a wish to be true to the facts of life, possibly say that there is growing control by overseas representatives of Australian interests? Could any such person possibly say that there has been exploitation? These are the facts I wanted to put before the House. We need international private investment, and in the days- to come we will need it to complement our own activities in an unequalled way.
Let me come to the next aspect. Here the honourable member for Reid clearly has the problem right out of perspective. If he had known what he was talking about he would have directed attention to the fact that the two countries from which hitherto we have drawn 90% of our total overseas funds have placed restrictions on the movement of capital to this country. In the case of the United States of America, the Department of Commerce announced - a couple of days ago - that there would be a reduction of $US400m or 20% in private capital investment in the developed countries. We thought only a few weeks ago that the figures for 1966 would be repeated, but we now find that there is to be reduction in comparison with what has happened in recent years.
We all know that in recent days the United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that the restrictions, so-called voluntarily imposed last year, will be continued this year. What is the effect of this on us, and what is likely to be the effect on our future? Here again the Labor Party must face up to the facts of life. I will draw attention later to its political activities. Last year we had private capital inflow of $900m, and this year we will be very lucky if there is a private capital inflow of $500m. This must have one effect on us against the fact that we are a country hungry for capital and hungry for development and with immense opportunities that are available to few other countries in the world. However, if the Labor Party wants to take action to drive it out and to stop these overseas countries from investing here, the responsibility for unemployment and for a slowing up in our opportunities to benefit the people and to give them better living standards rests heavily upon the shoulders of the members of that Party, and they must take some responsibility for the consequences.
These are the figures I wanted to point out to the House because they are eloquent. They indicate the fact that we must continue to induce private capital to come here and to supplement Australian resources. I want to point to one other fact to indicate how foolish and how illinformed were the statements made by the honourable member. He said that we ought to borrow more money from overseas. The simple fact is that it is extremely difficult to borrow overseas. This year, far from borrowing, we are repaying at least $90m of money we previously had received. It is well nigh impossible, unless we go to rates of interest in excess of 7%, to borrow overseas. The honourable gentleman would have to tell me whether he thinks 7% is an injurious rate as against 5% on private capital investment here. I do not know whether he wants it to be 7% or 7i%, but I assure him that as Treasurer I do not wish to borrow on those terms.
We come back to the last question raised by the honourable gentleman. Do we in fact want to have an ad hoc or a standing committee to look into this question of private capital investment here and its direction? I think that when we look at the list of speakers put up by the Opposition we will see that with one possible exception every one of them is a left winger and an isolationist. Every one of them, in terms of the defence of this country and in terms of its economic development, wants to stand aloof from the rest of the world and to get back into a little shell that might have been Australia in 1770 but certainly is not Australia today. These left wingers are gradually being left behind by the main strand of thinking of what is called the renovated Labor Party under Mr Whitlam. That honourable gentleman has not come into this debate and he has not put up any of his leaders - none of the people in the so-called middle of the Party or the right wing. His attitude here is: Let the left wingers stew in their own juice and take the responsibility for their actions.
I come to one other point which I want to put with a great degree of emphasis. This concerns the bankers development refinance corporation. I was surprised, when I mentioned this corporation in the House on previous occasions, that not one member of the Opposition expressed enthusiasm for it. I have distributed the documents setting out the Government’s decision and what this will enable us to do. It will enable the Australian community to mobilise finance in order to carry out large scale development by Australian interests of Australian resources. This is what the Labor Party says it wants. But it has never, by word or by deed, offered one sensible con tribution to this or given its applause to the development of the scheme.
If we want to see, in practical terms, what can be done we can look at the Mount Newman project, the biggest effort we have made at the development of Australian national resources in our history, involving more than $200m. Over 60% of this sum will be contributed from Australian sources including a consortium of banks and a consortium of life insurance companies. This is the kind of contribution we want to make to the greatness of this country. On the opposite side we see the left wingers and isolationists - the only ones who will speak in this debate - determined that we shall go back to where we were in the days of the Eureka Stockade. That is the age of their thinking.
– Order! The Treasurer’s time has expired.
– I have not time at this stage to criticise a bank that has not yet been established. What the Opposition wants to draw attention to in this debate this afternoon - and the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) is to be commended for raising the matter - are some of the problems that are evident in the Australian economy so far as foreign investment is concerned. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) seemed to be very complacent about progress in Australia and implied that there is no evidence of increasing domination by foreign interests.
I would like firstly to draw attention to some figures that are contained in a paper delivered at the 39th Congress of ANZUS held in Melbourne over the Christmas recess. The paper was delivered by two economists from Newcastle, Mr Johns and Mr Hogan. At page 8 of their paper they gave an estimate - based primarily on Treasury figures - of the direct investment in Australia over a period of years. They said that in 1955-56 the estimated value of direct investment was $l,417m. Ten years later, in 1965-66, the figure had risen to $4,204m. In other words the figure had trebled in ten years. Does the Treasurer argue that Australian investment in industry has trebled in ten years? It has done nothing of the kind.
To indicate the disparity between foreign investment and internal investment, I will quote from a publication of the Australian Industries Development Association. Surely that organisation is not regarded as being sympathetic to the aims of the Labor Party. The May 1966 issue of ‘Director Reports’, published by the Association, shows the source of figures that the Treasurer has been talking about. The publication reveals that gross private investment in Australia rose from $ 1,732m in 1960-61 to $2,3 86m in 1964-65 - the last year for which figures are available. The author broke down the figures for new capital expenditure by private businesses and showed that whereas the rate of increase for local industry in 1964-65 was 20%, for foreign industry it was 39.5%, or almost double.
Time is limited this afternoon but I want to say one or two things about what is happening concerning investment from the United States of America. I draw attention to a very interesting book. I hope that the Treasurer will read it if he has not done so and will give some consideration to it. The book is called ‘American Investment in Australian Industry’ and was written by Dr Donald T. Brash. On pages 6 and 7 he lists a number of questions that he considers require answering in Australia. We in the Australian Labor Party have never said that in no circumstances should there be foreign investment. What we have said is that we should scrutinise where that investment goes. We should integrate it into the kind of economic development that we would like to take place. Dr Brash agrees. He said also that in Australia there was:
A combination of strongly-held opinions and little factual information on which to base them . . .
He described this as an ‘explosive situation’ and said:
The honourable member for Reid did not propose the discussion of this subject in order to present cut and dried remedies, although he suggested a number of things which he would alter. He indicated that this subject was so important that it ought to be referred to an all-party parliamentary committee for inquiry.
I would like to refer to some figures appearing at page 22 of Mr Brash’s book and to bring them up to date. In the five minutes or so that I have left I can cover only a couple of aspects. At page 22 there is a table showing the amount of direct American investment in Australia. In 1956 the total amount was $US545m. By 1962, seven years later, the figure had doubled to $US1,097m. Between 1962 and 1963 the figure rose - and I take this information from the September issue of ‘Survey of Current Business’ published by the Department of Commerce in the United States of America - from $US1,097m to $US1,274m There was an increase of SUS 197m in that year. From 1963 to 1964 it rose from $US1,274m to $US 1,475m, an increase of $US201m. Between 1964 and 1965 it rose by another $US202m from $US 1,475m to $US 1,677m. On the basis of those figures there will be a doubling of the total from 1962 to 1967. Going back to 1951- as we can in Dr Brash’s book - we find the level was $US255m. Every five years since 1951 the figure has doubled. By that I mean that there has been not just a doubling of the initial figure but a cumulative doubling. Australian investment in industry has not. doubled itself every five years. Therefore it is absurd to suggest, as the Treasurer has, that there is no evidence of increased relative foreign investment. Of course there is.
The other figures I would like to take from the September 1966 issue of ‘Survey of Current Business’ show expenditure on plant and equipment by United States firms in Australia, by major industries. They show that in the fields of mining and smelting, petroleum, and manufacturing, in 1964 there was investment of $306m. In 1965 the figure was $440. In 1966 it was S538. The projected figure for 1967 is $470m. There are two interesting things about those figures. One is the fluctuation. In one year investment rose by $136m and in another year it fell by $68m. Surely this indicates the difficulty that foreign investment casts upon the smooth economic development of Australia. What we do not know - this is why I suggest that this kind of inquiry would be valuable - is the relationship of that amount of investment to the total fixed private investment in Australia. We are deficient in adequate statistics showing fixed capital investment. If we take 1967 and a projected figure of $470m, I should say that the American investment will probably be near to onequarter or 30% of the total amount that will be needed to make Australian industry as a whole grow in the next twelve months. I suggest that this is an unhealthy symptom.
The Government does not know the rate at which foreign investment is expanding; this is the sort of information we can no longer afford not to know. This is the sort of information which any intelligent government that knows where it is going ought to have in its possession. We get in American publications better information about what America is doing in Australia than we get from Australian publications. We have to go to the American publications to find out what the position is. I suggest that it is time an adequate directory of foreign investments in Australia was kept.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has tried to show that overseas investment is going ahead at what he calls an explosive rate and that Australian investment is not keeping pace with it. The figures he has quoted just do not add up, because when one takes Treasury figures - I should think that Treasury figures are much more competently produced than are the figures taken by the honourable member from a newspaper or a book - the picture is quite different. I shall refer to two sets of figures only, because I know it is very easy to prove anything by quoting figures. These figures will show that the honourable member is on wrong premises when he says that our overseas investment is going ahead at an explosive rate and that Australian investment is not keeping up with it.
The first set of figures I bring before the House deals with the percentage of company income payable abroad in relation to total company income in Australia. It is noticeable that over the whole of this decade the percentage has consistently dropped. It is true that the figure has fluctuated a little; it started at 25.6% and finished up at 21.3%. There was quite the reverse of an explosive increase in overseas investment. Starting at 1959-60, the relevant figures for the ensuing years are 25.6%, 26.8%, 22.6%, 24.8%, 24.1%, 22.8% and 21.3%. There has been a gradual drop in company income payable abroad compared with total company income payable throughout Australia.
The same is true of the actual rate of increase in investment. In the three most recent financial years private overseas investment in companies in Australia averaged $548m annually compared with an average inflow of $408m annually in the preceding three years. This is an increase of 36%. On the other hand, the total investment in fixed capital equipment in Australia averaged $2,404m in the three years to 1962-63 and $3,285m in the three years to 1965-66, an increase of 37%. The increases in both cases are almost identical.
What does the Labor Party want? My colleague the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) posed this question. It is a question which we all ought to ask ourselves. Does the Labor Party want an industrial backwater here? We have seen the action that has been taken against the investment of foreign capital in a number of other countries. Those countries became industrial backwaters. The Labor Party itself never knows where it stands. As my colleague said, when it is in opposition the more radical people, the left wing people, are constantly seeking political advantage by attacking the investment of foreign money in Australia. But when the Labor Party is in government it could not act more quickly in going overseas to attract overseas investment. We have only to consider the case of General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd. Was it not Mr Chifley who persuaded the organisation to come to Australia? Let us consider the number of men who went overseas when Labor was in office in New South Wales. Mr Cahill, Mr Heffron and Mr Renshaw all went abroad. Does anyone tell me that they went overseas merely for a holiday? Of course they did not. They went overseas to try to persuade people to invest in New South Wales. They knew that Victoria was going ahead at a faster rate and that they had to step up their rate of investment or be kicked out of office.
What is the position in Tasmania where there is a Labor Government? I admire
Mr Reece very much for what he did. He put to me very strongly that the development of the Savage River project should be allowed to proceed although it was very largely financed by overseas investment. When Labor is in office and has the responsibility it realises the advantages of foreign investment, but when it is not in office it becomes irresponsible and its back benchers then bring out all these horrible skeletons.
The proposal brought forward by the Opposition is based on wrong premises. Overseas investment in Australia is not increasing; it is declining and is being restricted and will be reduced even more. This is particularly so in relation to the United Kingdom and the United States of America, both of which are restricting the flow of capital overseas. Australia’s own rate of investment is particularly high. As the Treasurer has told us, capital formation in relation to our gross national product is higher in Australia than in any other country, with the exception of Japan. Income payable abroad is declining; as we have seen, it is down to nearly 5% of the total investment. There are advantages and disadvantages to be derived from overseas investment in Australia, but as far as I can see the advantages very considerably outweigh the disadvantages. The only disadvantages relate to repayments of interest, dividends and royalties. As I have said, these amount to about 5% of the total sum invested in Australia. If one could borrow money at 5% one would be very happy indeed. As the Treasurer has said we have to pay 7% or more. Not only are we getting money for which we are paying 5%, but we ere getting all the advantages which I am about to point out.
One of the great advantages of overseas investment is that we can go ahead at a rate which otherwise would be quite impossible. We can increase our resources and have a quicker growth rate. The greatest advantage of all - it is probably far more important than most of us appreciate - is that foreign investment brings increased knowhow into Australia. It brings in technology, efficiency, production, sales methods, patents, management, skilled personnel and fresh ideas. All these things flow in with the capital. Yesterday I read in a magazine that the greatest mining company in Australia, Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, stated that it did not have the specialised and highly technical knowledge or resources necessary to undertake the programme necessary for drilling for oil off Victoria. If that company needs assistance, surely other companies would need it. These are the things that matter. Foreign investment means increased government returns. It is all very well for somebody to say, in relation to an overseas owned company, that the profits flow overseas. What are the true facts? First of all, such a company has to pay taxation in Australia and purchase equipment in Australia before it reaches the stage of being able to make a profit. If a wholly owned overseas company makes a profit of $lm it immediately has to pay 42i% in company taxation. It must then pay a withholding tax of 15% or 30% where there is an overseas agreement in existence. It must retain a proportion of its profit in Australia because it must expand. It finishes up sending 5% of its total profit overseas. This is an advantageous situation. Let me turn to mining, because it has been claimed that we are not getting sufficient equity in mining. In iron ore nine companies have contracts overseas. Of those, five are Australian controlled and nearly all are completely owned by Australia, including the great company to which the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) referred - the Mount Newman project, which is by far the biggest.
– What about the Hamersley project?
– I will come to that. Here you have a case of Australian management, an increase in Australian equity and an agreement with the State which has led the company to go into the processing of these ores. In fact, the company has entered upon the processing of the ores quicker than its agreement with the State required and it has a commitment to enter upon the vast project of steel making. Surely all this is of tremendous advantage to Australia. It is not just a case of mining and exporting; Australia is getting a much bigger share of the income derived from the new deposits, partly because Australian business has reached the stage where it is able to undertake these big projects. At an earlier stage Australian firms did not have the finance to undertake these projects, but now we see completely under Australian control such projects as those at Groote Eylandt, the phosphate deposits at Duchess, the nickel deposits at Kambalda, and deposits at Gove, Cobar and Tennant Creek. There is no doubt that we are reaching a stage where we are able to undertake more of these projects. As a result the percentage of overseas investment in these projects is lower than it has been in the past. Accordingly I see no point in setting up a committee to look into this matter.
– The Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) said that he sees no reason why there should be an investigation into overseas investment in Australia and its affects on the Australian economy. It was his Government which in 1963, following agitation from honourable members on this side of the House, decided to set up the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry to report on, among other things, overseas investment in Australia, including . likely sources and trends and an assessment of its significance to the Australian economy. As recently as 1963 the Government decided that there should be an investigation into these matters. I admit that the Government was forced into its decision by Opposition members. Not one Labor member of the right or the left was on that Committee. In its report the Committee recommended that an up to date catalogue should be kept of capital flowing into this country from overseas and the purpose for which it was being used. The Committee recommended also that the amount entering the country should be limited to $300m a year. Since then the Government has allowed more than twice as much capital to come into the country each year from overseas.
The Committee’s report was very voluminous and costly. It cost the people of Australia more than $500,000. In one of its more important comments about overseas investment in Australia the big businessmen and economists who made up the Committee pointed out that insufficient data is available upon which to make a proper assessment of foreign capital entering Australia and its effects on the community and the economy. I have revealed to the people of Australia who read Hansard that the Government does not know very much about the amount of capital flowing into Australia or its effects. In a question on notice to the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) I asked:
The reply was, in effect: T do not have the slightest idea.’ In another question on notice I asked the Treasurer:
I gave the figure for each year up to 1964-65, when it was £258m. The Treasurer replied:
In the absence of established market values it is not practicable to calculate the ‘present value’ . . .
In other words, he did not have the slightest idea. In another question on notice I asked the Treasurer.
I asked for information as to the effect of such agreements and the advantages that they may give to investors overseas. In his reply the Treasurer said that we have double taxation agreements with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and New Zealand. He also said that statistics are not available to show what advantages would accrue to people in countries with which Australia has double taxation agreements. Not satisfied with that answer I asked the Treasurer:
What amount of tax would be payable on dividends of (a) 85,000, (b) $10,000, (c) $20,000 and (d) $50,000 (without any deductions being allowed) received by (i) an Australian resident in Australia, (ii) a United States resident who is an investor in an Australian company. . . .
I received a lengthy reply which, summarised, means that if you are an Australian and you receive $5,000 in dividends, you pay $1,140 in tax. But if you are an American living in New York, you pay only $750. If you have a taxable income of $10,000 and you are in Australia you pay $3,487, but if you are in New York you pay only $1,500. If you have an income of $50,000 and you live in Australia you pay in tax $29,557 but if you are in NewYork you pay only $7,500. In another question to the Treasurer I asked:
I was told that at 30th June 1950 our public debt stood at $l,099m. I was told that in 1966 the figure had reached $ 1,443m. That is an increase of almost $400m between 1950 and 1966. Australia’s international reserves in 1950 amounted to $ 1,259m. In 1966 they amounted to $l,286m, being an increase since 1950 of only a few million dollars. The point is that in 1966 Australia was $3 17m worse off than it was in 1950. I also asked the Treasurer to reveal the amount of overseas investment in Australia in 1966. He replied that it was $4,484m. Our indebtedness during the period increased by millions of dollars. How did those millions of dollars come into the country? The Treasurer said they come in know-how, in labour and in franchises, which give people in this country the right to manufacture an article similar to that manufactured in, say, America and put an American label on it. Of course, money is paid for this. But capital also comes in the form of goods, and the Treasurer also said this. We import hundreds of millions of dollars worth of manufactured clothing from Italy, chicken legs in cans from America and canned fruit from California. We also obtain furniture and other requisites from other parts of the world.
These goods are not only not essential to the development of Australia but retard the development of the nation, destroy our industries and make Australia less able in the future to meet its responsibilities. That is what the Government has done to Australia by permitting these importations. This is an inflow of capital that is not essential to the development of our country or the welfare of our people. We are in the same position as a business that is not producing sufficient goods to meet its obligations and each year is selling a bit of its capital items to pay dividends to shareholders. We are a parlous company.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock>Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to express a view on this important subject. I want to say at the outset that the claims ade by the Opposition are undoubtedly destructive. They are not actuated by an intention to think of Australia’s future development or the economic climate that we find in the world today. The question that has been posed is one of the efficiency of Government policy in this vital area. The Australian Country Party has made its convictions clear from time to time. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), who opened this debate, referred to a statement made by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen). I want to say right away that the honourable member distorted the facts. He has no regard at all for the fundamentals of statements made in the past and statements that will be made again by responsible members of the Government parties, especially members of the Australian Country Party.
– How did I distort the facts?
– I will quickly tell the honourable member. The statement was a very concise one. It said that Australia welcomes funds coming in because they bring gains to industry, create employment and build overseas reserves; but we do not welcome takeovers of our industries. What could be clearer than that? The statement quoted by the honourable member for Reid went on to say that the takeover of existing industry amounts to selling a bit of the farm every year. Who is afraid of this kind of conviction? I want to be very positive about this. The Australian Labor Party, as an exponent of controls of socialisation and of a rigid system of finance, would not attract capital to Australia for development purposes and for the indispensable expansion that this nation so badly needs.
On the other hand, when responsible supporters of the Government speak of the need for vigilance and the need, whilst encouraging overseas investments, to channel them into desirable directions, we should heed the warning. We should try to mould a financial policy and a development policy for a young nation. Can we do this by adopting the rigid form of control that is advocated by the honourable member for Reid and other Opposition members? Let me try to reduce this to a form that may be clear enough for Opposition members to understand. If someone advocates better driving on our roads for road safety, does this mean that people should not be allowed to drive motor cars at all? If we advocate some better approach to education, are we suggesting that we should not have any youngsters at all? In finance, if we speak of ways and means of encouraging a better programme and a better method of dealing with the intricacies of overseas finance, is this to say that we oppose the introduction of overseas capital? Certainly it is not.
Having made that view clear, I want to say right away that we cannot support the proposition put by the Opposition. A committee composed of members of all parties would undoubtedly be inhibited right from the start by the philosophy and the thinking of the Australian Labor Party. The people of Australia have endorsed the Government’s policy time and time again, despite the efforts of the Opposition to foster the belief that Australia’s financial affairs are not capably handled. Of course, the people are wide awake on this subject and it is fair to say that, when we face an election from time to time, as we are bound to do, one of the fundamental activities is to express views that will become the policy of the government that is then elected. The people have endorsed the policy of the Government, but they also quite clearly have a conviction that, if the Australian Labor Party were in charge of Australia’s financial affairs, we would again experience the kind of disaster that we have seen in the past following the control of overseas investment. No-one wants to have this experience again.
I do not need to recount the Government’s record or its economic policy. This has been well done by the Ministers who have spoken in this debate. But I want to answer one or two of the challenges that were made this afternoon. I think it was the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) who said that there is little or no knowledge of overseas investment in Australia. I would not believe for one moment that he would have failed to have seen the Directory of Overseas Investment in Australia, which was published in 1966. It is a voluminous document in which is set out the details of the 872 Australian manufacturing companies that have some degree of overseas ownership. He would also have full knowledge of the analysis given in this report. It gives a very clear picture of overseas investment in Australia.
He would also know that a responsible Minister, the Minister for Trade and Industry, made a statement at the time of the issue of the report. He sard at that time that the total assets of these 872 companies amounted to some $6,086,697,200. He then went on to refer to the proportion of ownership in the interests mentioned in the report. This gives a very concise picture of the position. A proper approach is accordingly made by the Government and those concerned with the management of overseas investments.
The position today is one of concern to every Australian. There is concern that we should find enough capital and enough finance to enable us to see development within the ambit of a policy which does not cause undue inflation, which brings full employment and which has regard for the fundamental fact that Australia is primarily, and will for a long time to come be essentially, a primary producing nation which must find outlets for its bulk commodities on the world market. In this context we must raise loan funds, we must find the capital necessary for expansion and we must do so without seeing an undue strain on the economic status of Australia in relation to other nations. Yet this has been achieved in a remarkable way, despite the problems. In a comparison Australia stands head and shoulders above other nations. New Zealand is one example. If we think of the position in the United Kingdom under Labor or if we think of the problems in the United States, Australia’s record is a commendable one indeed. I conclude by repeating that the members of the Government at executive level have shown a tremendous responsibility in this matter and have disclosed an awareness of the fundamental needs of our economy and for our long range future. I cannot support (he proposition before the House.
– I support the proposition introduced by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) that there should be a joint committee of all parties of this House to investigate the effects of foreign investment in Australia. I do so because not only is there ample evidence of concern from this side of the House with this problem but also there is ample evidence of concern from the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen), from the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, and from the present Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt). As was pointed out by the honourable member for Scullin (Mr Peters), the Government saw fit some years ago to instruct the Committee of Economic Inquiry, known as the Vernon Committee - a top level committee - to investigate this very question, but little has been done as a result of the Committee’s report. There is ample evidence that many people, including members of the Government, other distinguished government supporters and newspapers in many parts of Australia share the Opposition’s concern on this matter. What has been the answer to this from spokesmen on the other side of the House?
Let us consider firstly the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) who preceded me in the debate. He began by saying that the case put by the Australian Labor Party was destructive and actuated not in the interests of Australia. I suggest that when a member of a political party in this place or anywhere else begins a debate in an aspect like that it is quite impossible to continue it with him. If he will not give the Opposition any more credit than to describe its activities as destructive and not actuated in the best interests of Australia there is very little that can be carried on in the form of a debate in this national Parliament. The honourable member for Cowper followed the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in this attitude. He described what had been said by the honourable member for Reid as foolish, uninformed and irresponsible. He said that he did not know what he was talking about. I believe that a pretty sorry state of affairs has been reached in a national Parliament when its leaders, or some of them, are prepared in this way to dismiss serious submissions put by the Opposition. If anyone listened carefully to what the Treasurer said in the debate he would have realised that he said nothing to justify that form of attack.
I remind the House that the honourable member for Cowper, from his heights of impeccable superiority, condescended to say: T shall reduce what I am about to say to something clear enough for the Opposition to understand.’ Honourable members can imagine the honourable gentleman com ing down from his great heights of superiority and condescending to put a proposition that he felt would be simple enough for the Opposition to understand. What was that proposition? He said: ‘We in the Country Party may say that there should be better driving on the roads, but this does not mean that there should be no driving on the roads; we may say that there should be better education, but this does not mean that there should be no education at all.’ Having reduced the proposition to these simple terms, the honourable member failed to realise that this was precisely the way the Opposition was putting its propositions in the debate. We are saying that there should be better foreign investment in Australia; we are not saying that there should be no foreign investment. Apparently the honourable member has become so simple that he cannot understand his own simplification which he put forward for the edification of the Opposition. This is the atmosphere in which so many Government supporters, with their massive superiority, condescend to debate great questions in the Parliament. If that attitude is missed by a number of honourable members, it certainly will not be missed by a number of people outside the Parliament.
The Opposition has put forward a very careful case. We say that we recognise the value of foreign investment in some cases. We recognise that there has been a contribution to overseas funds and that we have had more overseas funds available as a result. We recognise that probably this has accelerated the rate of increase of gross national product, that we have had made available processes, techniques and management skills which might not otherwise have come to us. But what we are emphasising, and what we have made clear that we are emphasising in this debate, is that there is too much and too easy reliance upon the capital inflow into this country, that the cost involved in the capital that we have obtained has been too high, that the investment is uncontrolled and unplanned, that there are fluctuations in it and that it is unwise to rely, as the Government is relying, so much on things that fluctuate as much as foreign investment does. We say that it has resulted in the control of resources and, importantly, the control of a significant part of Australia’s exports. Apparently any criticism is distorted by the Government.
The Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) said that if we take notice of the Labor Party’s case we would have an industrial backwater and we do not want an industrial backwater. He said that in a different situation Labor Party State premiers go overseas and try to obtain foreign investment. I agree that they do, but what the Labor Party Opposition has said about that was that it would be a very good thing if we had an Australian authority to go overseas seeking investment so that the premiers of the States were not competing one against the other. To use the honourable member for Cowper’s simplification, we said there were some bad methods of getting foreign investment and we wanted good methods. So when we say that there ought to be better driving on the roads, we do not mean that there should be no driving on the roads; and when we say there should be better methods of getting foreign capital into Australia, we do not mean that there should be no methods of getting foreign capital into this country. However, we do say that the cost has been extremely high.
It is ridiculous to talk about the cost of foreign investment in Australia being 5%, 6%, 7%, 8% or 10%. In many cases the cost is 600% or 700%, depending upon how it is measured. It is valid to measure the return on the amount of money invested by comparing the return to that amount - not to the watered capital, not to the issue of bonus shares or ploughed back funds, all of which are added together and then the returns compared to those highly inflated funds. In many ways the funds held in Australian companies by overseas investors are ten or twenty times the amount that they have put in. So when the returns are said to be 5%, 8% or 10%, the truth of the matter is that those returns in some cases are 10, 20 or 100 times as mush as the reported figures which have been artificially reduced. The fact that returns are high is shown by the figures cited by the Minister for National Development. He said that he would quote Treasury figures to show that overseas investment was not increasing at an explosive rate. Then he went on to say that company income pay able overseas as a percentage of company income payable in Australia was about 25.6% in one year and 21.3% in another. But he did not tell us that the actual amount of overseas capital invested in Australia, in contrast with the total capital invested in Australia, meant that foreign capital represented only about 12% or 14%. In other words, 12% or 14% of invested capital is getting something like 25% or 21% of the total returns on capital. This indicates that the returns on foreign capital are far higher than the returns on local capital.
The Minister for National Development said that recently there had been an increase of 36% in foreign investment in Australia as against 37% in investment from local sources. This means, he said, that there has not been an explosive rate of overseas investment in Australia. However, let us look at the significant areas. We are not thinking about investment in areas in which there would be little or no foreign investment at all; we are thinking about the key areas where control not only of investment but also of exports has fallen completely into overseas hands. In the pharmaceutical industry it is 97% overseas control; in petroleum receiving and distribution, 96%; in motor vehicle manufacturing, 95%; in oil exploration, 85%; in telecommunications, 83%, and so on. In significant sectors of the economy, as the honourable member for Reid pointed out, foreign capital has control not only of the whole industry but also of the policy of that industry. This control has increased rapidly. There is no doubt that there has been an explosive increase in these fields, and there is n’o doubt that concern has been expressed not only by members on this side of the House, but also by newspapers and by leaders of the Government including the Prime Minister himself and his predecessor, Sir Robert Menzies, as well as the Minister for Trade and Industry who has proved the case to the hilt more thoroughly th;n has anyone else. The time has certainly arrived when there should be a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the consequences of foreign investment in Australia.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I can readily understand the injury which the pride of the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) has suffered this afternoon. His arguments concerning overseas capital investment in Australia revolved around two essential points which are worth examining in some detail. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), who has considerable expertise in these matters, also touched upon them. They referred to overseas control. Whether one speaks of real capital or watered capital - whatever capital is referred to - in various ways the servicing charges lay on Australia as a result of these investments. It is my intention to look at the rate of return in some detail so as to elicit what, in fact, is our policy and what, in fact, is the policy of some members of the Party opposite.
But before I deal with this in detail I should like to refer to the general argument of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. He spent some time praising Dr Brash for his excellent survey of American investment in Australia and while he quoted from the preface and initial chapters, if he had read the book completely it should have dawned on him quickly that Dr Brash confessed to a change of attitude towards American investment as his survey conveyed to him greater knowledge. In other words his initial suspicions of investment were largely allayed by the time he concluded his inquiry. He made this very clear. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports also spent some time referring to a paper read at a recent congress in Melbourne of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. The paper was entitled ‘Some Applied Problems in Overseas Investment in Australia’ and was by Professor Johns and W. P. Hogan. I happened to be there when this paper was delivered, and I happen to have that paper in my possession. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports referred to Table 2 of the paper, which is concerned with the earning rate on overseas private direct investments in companies in Australia. Let us examine his arguments in relation to what are supposed to be increasing burdens of overseas investment on the Australian economy. The honourable member for
Melbourne Ports read the first and last figure in the first column in the table.
– I quoted only the first column.
– I agree that the honourable member did this: He quoted the estimated value of direct investment at the beginning of the year 1955-56 and 1965-66. He mentioned two figures - $l,417m and $420m. He failed to indicate to the House4 the income payable overseas on this investment. This information is contained in the second column to Table 2. He failed to indicate the apparent profitability of this investment and the apparent profitability by the Treasury method of evaluation.
Let me refer to these matters quickly. The essential feature of these later columns is that the apparent profitability of overseas investment has declined from about 11.2% to about 7% and lower, varying slightly with the method of calculation. The overall judgment that is made upon this table to which the honourable member for Melbourne Ports referred was as follows:
The tables confirm that there has been a noticeable decline in the profitability of overseas direct investment since the mid 1950’s and that this decline has been particularly pronounced in the case of American affiliated companies.
The essential feature then is that, as a country with the capacity to attract overseas investment, Australia has declined in attractiveness. Our problem is to retain adequate overseas investment in Australia. It is certainly a problem we have to face since the British Chancellor of the Exchequor, Mr Callaghan, brought in his reforms last year and since he has confirmed them this year. While we are concerned with the rate of profitability of overseas investment - and it was the central feature of the contribution by the honourable member for Yarra - we should have a look at what some Labor authorities in Australia have had to say to see whether they are concerned with the rate of profitability.
I will draw attention to authorities which honourable members know well. I direct their attention to what has been done by the Labor Brisbane City Council. It wanted sewerage works and it negotiated with a company which, in turn, negotiated with Swiss lenders. So, the Brisbane City Council has Swiss money, and in return for this overseas backing of an Australian company it is willing to pay up to 20% on a loan of about $9m.
– That is recklessness on the part of the Lord Mayor.
– I do not want to play politics on this, but it is a matter of some concern because while they have been rowing this boat on the tide of growing Australian ownership and less payments overseas - and while it might satisfy their aspirations of a kind of nationalism - the Labor Party’s own people have been recklessly agreeing to pay rates of interest up to 20% on money borrowed directly and indirectly from overseas. If there are increases in wages or service costs in the intervening years there are clauses in the agreement by which the rate of payment can be increased. This is the boat that the Opposition has been rowing for some time. I would suggest that while the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, the honourable member for Yarra, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) have been rowing the boat they should look at some of their passengers, because there has been a significant mutiny in their ranks. They may have to go to another stream or another tide to progress. I have called them political sunflowers in the past - they retain these qualities.
The Opposition has a responsibility, but Labor Premiers of States and Labor local authorities are not applying to their judgments the principles that the Opposition suggests should be applied. They would lot be able to apply them. The attitude of the Tasmanian Premier to the Savage River project gives an illustration of this. The attitude of the former Labor Premiers of New South Wales also illustrates this. They offered inducements - indirect, but real inducements - to overseas investors because it was worth a great deal to them.
The facts of the situation that we are faced with in Australia today are quite simple. We live in a world in which there is a shortage of capital. It is our obligation, if we want a high rate of economic growth, to attract a fair proportion of this capital to our country. We know also that in this field economic nationalism, as the Opposition would apparently like to practice it, does not work. If we look at Canada, which has been cited so often by the Oppotion, we will find that Quebec, the one province which would not practice economic nationalism, has enjoyed a much higher rate of growth than the other provinces. Economic nationalism does not pay.
The proposition put forward by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) was quite a simple one. He wanted a committee set up. He wanted a committee to investigate overseas investment in Australia. He wanted some members of the Opposition, presumably, to be on this committee. From our examination of the attitude of honourable members opposite it would seem that they would like to be on such a committee to develop a policy of their own or, if they were not able to do so, to try to learn something about the significance of overseas investment to the economic growth of this country.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The time allotted for the discussion has concluded.
– I move:
That in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1966 it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the Committee has duly reported to this House:
Erection of a new telephone exchange building in Pitt Street, Sydney.
The proposal involves the erection at an estimated cost of $7. 2m of a building comprising two basements, ground and fifteen upper floors on vacant land adjacent to the existing City North Telephone Exchange building.
The building, which will be of steel and concrete construction, will be faced externally with precast concrete panels and stone. It will accommodate automatic telephone equipment to meet the growing demand for telephone facilities in the city.
In reporting favourably on the proposal, the Committee has recommended that the possibility of segregating tea-making facilities for female shift staff should be further explored. This recommendation is under consideration by the Postmaster-General’s Department.
The Committee has also drawn attention to the urgency of the project, and as indicated in evidence to the Committee, action has already been taken to proceed with contract documents.
Upon the concurrence of this House in this resolution, detailed planning can continue in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
I would like to say a few words about this project. I do not want to delay the House, but I do want to remind honourable members that this work is of very great importance to the growth of the city of Sydney. My main regret is that so much delay has already taken place in having this work carried out. I am not blaming the Minister for Works (Mr Kelly) or anyone else for this; apparently there has been a lack of understanding or a lack of appreciation of how fast this area of Sydney is developing, and I believe that for this reason a great deal of valuable time has already been lost.
The Minister has said that this project will be made a matter of urgency. There is present in the House at the moment, besides the Minister for Works, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme). I think this is quite appropriate because what we are considering is not merely the construction of a building but also the technical equipment which will have to be provided to make up the exchange itself. In my experience of matters such as this, in which there are two or more major requirements, I have found that generally speaking there is considerable delay in completing the project. I appeal very sincerely and earnestly to both Ministers to make this a matter not merely of urgency but of extreme urgency. If this is not done I believe we will find ourselves in great bother and cause inestimable damage to industry and commercial undertakings in the city of Sydney.
In the area that will be covered by this new exchange there are most of the recently constructed multi-storied buildings in the city, buildings which are actually the greatest to be found anywhere in Australia. There is the big new building for the large banking institution, new buildings for insurance organisations, the very large building for State Government offices, and now the Australia Square tower which is of record height and is just nearing completion. In other words there are many thousands of new offices which will need telephones.
It is a wonderful thing to see Sydney growing into a great city. Years ago citizens of Sydney who visited other cities of the world, such as New York, were amazed at the appearance of those cities. Now they see their own city growing into a great national city. This exchange is the one that will service the area, and it is for this reason that I rise and appeal to both Ministers to make sure that this is made a matter of great urgency. I feel certain that the Government, realising the gravity of the situation, will make the necessary funds available to carry out this project as a matter of great urgency. If this is not done great losses will be sustained by the commercial community because it cannot carry on business without the necessary facilities which can be provided by this telephone exchange. It is implicit in what I have said that I approve of all that the Minister has said about urgency, but, I repeat: make this matter not merely urgent but extremely urgent.
– I support what the Minister for Works (Mr Kelly) has said and what the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) has said. I want to refer to some passages in the report of the Public Works Committee, which is before the House. It seems to me regrettable that the report does not give us the detailed figures on which demand is estimated. It tells us that in the city north area, which is the main developing area of Sydney, there are only 5,000 lines which can be obtained from the normal accommodation available to the Post Office before the new work is completed. Then on page 2 it lists the existing exchanges and the number of lines in each. It does not say more than that it believes these 5,000 lines will all be absorbed by early 1970. Then on page 18 the report says:
The 5,000 telephone lines available from existing resources to meet demands in the area ‘for new subscribers’ services will have been used by 1970 and costly expedient installations in other buildings will be necessary before that time if new services are to continue to be available.
It is unthinkable that in this central area of Sydney new services would not be available as required. It would seem that the Government is already committed to a costly programme of expedients. This subgests to me that the Post Office has not allocated its priority programme with sufficient foresight.
On the material available in this report - I do not want to go outside the report - it would seem that quite a serious situation has already arisen. From 1970 forward the Post Office will be involved in very costly expedients in order to maintain normal telephone services in the middle of Sydney. The fact that it will be so involved shows, I think, that not sufficient foresight has been exhibited by the Post Office in regard to its programme for the middle of Sydney. I am inclined to think that the Committee’s estimates may be under the mark and that even before April 1970 these 5,000 lines will be absorbed and the Post Office will be driven to spend its funds in an uneconomic way - to waste money, as it were - because it has not had the foresight and has to put in these costly expedients.
As honourable members know very well, the cost of exchange equipment is far greater than the cost of the building which houses it. In this case we are talking about a building which will cost between $7m and $8m, but the equipment which will go into it will be worth very much more than that sum. It does not seem reasonable that a programme involving very expensive equipment should be messed up because we have been unable to provide this small sum of money to construct the exchange building in time. The site was purchased some years ago and has been lying virtually vacant. I do not know what was paid for the site, but it was a very good site and would have cost a considerable amount of money. To have this money outlaid and idle is not good planning. It would have been far better if the building had been put in hand some time earlier. However, this is crying over spilt milk, and I would rather turn to something more constructive.
I rum now to page 18 of the report where, under the heading ‘Programme’, the Committee says: the preparation of working drawings and tender documents was commenced in November 1966 . . . this phase of the work is expected to be completed early in 1968.
This is not efficiency. This is a fairly standard building which will cost a mere sum of S7m. It is not a major work like the Sydney Opera House, yet it will take from November 1966 until early 1968 for working drawings to be completed and tender documents to be prepared. This is not a reasonable length of time. Surely it is possible to shorten it in this emergency. I suggest to the Minister that, if he cannot get his departmental architects to complete their drawings and plans more expeditiously than this, then he should perhaps look outside and find somebody who can do it, because the job can be done. I say from practical experience that there is no valid reason for this lengthy delay.
Secondly, occupation of the building is not expected to commence before April 1971, which will be three years from the completion of the tender documents. It should not take three years to complete a building like this once the plans have been prepared. It is simply stupid when an emergency exists for the Government to say that it will take three years to complete a building costing $7m on a site in the middle of Sydney. The Minister for Works (Mr Kelly) might think about this. I put it to the Minister that he had better think again and get the building finished within a reasonable time, because it can be done.
The building is needed urgently for the reasons I have given. Unless it is completed before the target date, to provide a telephone service for the main area of Sydney the Government will be driven into costly expedients which will waste money. If this matter is looked at from the point of view of efficiency, the thing to do is to get this building completed as soon as possible so that telephone services can be provided without money being wasted in costly expedients. I have the greatest sympathy with the telephone technicians who are called upon to cope with these costly expedients. We have seen little exchanges wired in specially. I understand that one is proposed for the basement of the Commonwealth building and another for the basement of the old General Post Office. These expedients are costly in terms of both money and skilled labour. One can see telephone technicians battling manfully with complicated connections which could be simple and which would be simple if only the space were provided. The cost of space is only a small part of the total expenditure. Cheeseparing on space means extravagant expenditure on equipment, because these little expedients have to be relocated. This involves all sorts of expenditure and frustration. As I have said, I sympathise very much with the telephone technicians who are battling against time with complicated wiring diagrams. This would be unnecessary if only a building were provided in time.
I turn now to page 1 9 of the report, where the Committee says that there will be a crisis - the Committee calls it a period of extreme emergency - in the provision of telephone services for “both subscribers and subscriber trunk dialling in the northern Sydney area between 1970 and some time late in 1971. This will probably be a period of two years, and temporary expedient exchanges for 6,000 or 7,000 subscribers will probably be involved. This delay will mean a wastage of money and real resources the extent of which I do not know. These things could have been avoided by the exercise of a little more foresight. Even now they can be avoided by putting the heat on the building and making certain that this tedious and ridiculously lengthy programme is shortened to something reasonable.
This is not a big building by city standards. It is a sizeable building but there is nothing tremendous or complicated in it. lt is being built on a fairly level site accessible from two roads. Why is there this tremendous time lag in a case where there is an emergency and a critical shortage of time, and where delay is going to involve the Postal Department in unnecessary expenditure which may well run into millions of dollars? Why do the postal authorities throw this money down the drain because they will not look forward and do the thing properly and sensibly? I put it to the Minister that he had better look again at the timetable and at the programme. If he wants some help, I am ready to give it to him.
– If I may say so, it is very easy with hindsight to look at these things and to offer all sorts of criticism, as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has done. However, it is not as easy as he attempts to make out. It is not that the Post Office under-estimated the requirements. Each year there is submitted to this Parliament an indication of the money which is made available and which is appropriated by the Parliament for the purposes of the Post Office capital works programme. I believe there are few indices within the Australian community at the present time which show a developing rate such as that which applies in relation to our telecommunications. Year by year the rate of installation of new telephones in the area increases by some 10% to 12%. This is higher than the gross national product increase, and it is higher, as I have said, than most of the indices in Australia. The trunk calling rate is 16% higher than in the previous year.
I want to say to the honourable member for Mackellar and to members of this House that on this basis it is impossible for the Post Office, with the money available to it; to meet the demands which are being made in relation to telecommunications. I go a little further. Not only is there a problem in relation to telecommunications but we are also required to meet the obligations in relation to the postal services. I would say that at the present time 95% of the capital funds available to us are being used in relation to telecommunications and some 5% in relation to the provision of postal service buildings. When I remind members that there are thousands of post office buildings, many of which were erected prior to federation and which should be replaced, I think they will have some sympathy with me in my endeavour to make the $202m which was available to us this year spread over the obligations that we have to meet.
In relation to the Pitt Exchange it is so easy for an honourable member to rise in his place on receipt of a report, after the project has received the consideration of the Post Office, the Department of Public Works, the Cabinet, and the Public Works Committee of the Parliament; but what the honourable member has not mentioned and probably what he does not even know is that the building heights which applied in this area of Sydney would have resulted .in a building with less than 50% of the space which will be provided with the building as it is now presented. When we became aware, after discussions with the State authorities in New South Wales, that we could raise the ceiling height, and obtain additional area, we had to redesign the building.
Is the honourable member going to suggest to me that that was wrong, that in fact we should have gone ahead with the building as it had been planned and that we should then have tried to find another expensive piece of land in the city of Sydney to do the other things which in fact can be done in this particular area? I think it is as well to remind honourable members that we are providing facilities for 50,000 subscribers, not for the next five years but for very many years into the future. It is now possible to provide an automatic trunk exchange and associated trunk amplifying and carrier equipment, an enlarged manual assistance centre and a new international trunk exchange. These things within the telecommunications area are all tremendously important and necessary.
I believe that while some delay occurred because of this reorganisation it was completely justified. Perhaps it was not completely justified in terms of the provision of facilities for this particular area of Sydney, but Sir, we do not always get the co-operation of those who are going to put up these substantial buildings. If anyone in 1960 or 1961 had suggested that all the buildings that have gone up in Sydney in the last two or three years had at that point of time been envisaged for the future we would have said: ‘No. Sydney in fact will not be able to use them if they are built.’ I still suggest that Sydney will have a good deal of vacant accommodation as a result of the building programme that has been undertaken.
However, when people go ahead with their plans without giving us appropriate advice or sufficient notice, as it were, it is impossible for us to meet the requirements which they may seek to demand virtually at a moment’s notice. So, Sir, I reject substantially what has been said by the honourable member for Mackellar in relation to this matter. Of course I respond, as the Minister for Works would respond, to the request of the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) that this matter be regarded with extreme urgency. However, I am sure that he knows it is necessary for us to spread our money over a con siderable period and that it is therefore necessary for us to have a programme. If we are to spend in 1968 the money allocated for 1970 somebody will have to go without in 1970. I suppose if I were a Sydneysider I would not mind if the rest of Australia went without so long as I did not go without in Sydney, but that cannot be the approach of an organisation which has the responsibility-
– It has been the approach.
– The honourable member may interject that this has been the approach. I reject the suggestion entirely. A long while ago I made a submission to Cabinet in relation to this particular matter recognising Sydney’s requirements, and I have indicated to the honourable member why it was necessary to have some changes in regard to the matter. I suppose these things would not be understood unless we indicated them in the House. I reject out of hand any suggestion that on the part of the Post Office or the Department of Works there has been any unnecessary delay or inefficiency. I use those words advisedly in relation to this particular matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 6 April (vide page 1005), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, the Opposition does not oppose this Bill and has no desire to impede its progress through this House. It is, so we are told, the fulfilment of a Liberal Party election promise and, in contrast to the means test proposal, appears to be reasonably in accordance with the pledge. We welcome any legislation which assists sheltered workshops to make, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said, an effective contribution to the welfare of the disabled’. We also join the Minister in paying tribute to the initiative, enterprise and generosity of the people and organisations engaged in the humane task of rehabilitating a section of society for so long forgotten by many more fortunately placed.
The Minister for Social Services, in his second reading speech, said:
The forms of assistance provided in the Bill are those that have been sought by voluntary organisations.
Naturally, everything has not been granted but at least it is a step forward in the approach to this most deserving section of the community. In a conflict of politics, Mr Speaker, differences of opinion are inevitable. This applies also to legislation of this nature. I would not like it to be thought, however, that any criticisms or constructive suggestions put forward by myself or by members of the Opposition on this subject would be misinterpreted as reflecting on the sincerity of the Minister or of any other member of the House in their desire to assist this needy section of the community. It would also be true to say that none of us feel that we are going fast enough with these social reforms which cover so many yet cater for so few. I hope that, whatever our views, we will all be united in our efforts to achieve the perfect system whereby those coming within the scope of this legislation will be given the opportunity to take a prominent place in society and, within their limitations, enjoy to the full what this country has to offer in this age of affluence and progress.
I want to deal briefly with the provisions of the Bill. The Minister mentioned them in detail. I will summarise them at this stage to remind honourable members. Firstly, it provides assistance on a $2 for £1 basis to eligible organisations towards the capital cost of purchasing, erecting or extending premises for use as sheltered workshops. It also provides assistance on that basis towards the cost of items of equipment required for the operation of a workshop or to increase its efficiency or productivity, and towards annual rental of premises for use as a sheltered workshop for up to three years. Finally, it incorporates, continues, and expands the assistance previously available under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act.
The Minister mentioned the eligible organisations. They are churches, charitable and benevolent groups, ex-servicemen’s organisations and local governing bodies. Other voluntary organisations may be approved by the Governor-General. Trustees under a trust established for charitable or benevolent purposes may also be approved. The organisations are of the same type, with the addition of local governing bodies, that are now eligible under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act and the Aged Persons Homes Act. It is very important that honourable members note that local governing bodies are now eligible and J will say why it is important at a later stage.
The Minister dealt with the requirements for eligibility. It is unnecessary for me to repeat them because they are fully covered in the Bill. The Minister mentioned that the capital subsidy will apply to buildings purchased or erected, including any necessary fixtures for their use, and that the land value will be included in the capital cost. On the question of funds, it is interesting to note that organisations cannot attract subsidy for funds borrowed or received from the Commonwealth Government or a State government or an authority other than a local governing body established under a Commonwealth or State Act. At a later stage in my speech I intend to devote a little attention to that provision. Concerning accommodation, the Minister stated that local governing bodies will be eligible for assistance on the same basis as that relating to the capital cost of the premises which provide sheltered employment.
The subsidy provided under this Bill will be payable for buildings, land purchased or buildings commenced or in course of construction on or after 26th November 1966. That is very desirable and it is a pity that the rest of the provisions do not apply also from that date, which was the date of the election. The rental subsidy will be payable from the date of commencement of this Bill. The subsidy will not be granted for equipment purchased prior to that date.
The Minister also made this clarification, and it is worth repeating:
Capital subsidies will not, however, be limited to projects where employees are receiving the proposed sheltered employment allowance.
This is a very desirable move. The records will show that the Labor Party suggested something along those lines during previous debates in this Parliament. Sheltered employment is a new term in legislation and it can be so declared, according to the Minister, ‘if a substantial number of the persons employed or to be employed on the premises are disabled persons and they are paid for the work they perform’. A project is not necessarily disqualified if some persons who do not come within the definition of a disabled person are on the premises.
– Those people do not get an allowance.
– That is right. The Minister said that the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act is repealed by and incorporated in this legislation. This is a matter I will come back to. The Minister stated:
There is however one important addition in that local governing bodies become eligible for assistance.
The inclusion of local government bodies as being eligible for assistance - and I say this with great charity, Mr Minister - is another plank plundered from the policy of the Labor Party. The eligibility of local governing bodies extends not only to sheltered workshops but also to accommodation formerly provided for under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act which is now incorporated in this legislation. If I may stir the embers of the past I will remind honourable members that on 10th October 1963 - I do not know whether the present Minister for Social Services was a member of this House then - during the debate on the Disabled Persons Accommodation Bill 1963, I said:
During the committee stage the Opposition will move the amendments circulated in my name, which are designed to give effect, to the proposal to permit the Commonwealth Government to subsidise State government instrumentalities and local government on all moneys spent in building homes and infirmeries for the disabled. The Opposition will also indicate the need to include other bodies such as trade unions in the programme for providing homes for the disabled.
– It is good to know that the honourable member is right sometimes.
– Yes. It is interesting to note what the then Minister for Social Services had to say when we moved the amendment to include those bodies. This is recorded in Hansard of 10th October 1963. Mr Makin, the honourable member for Bonython at that time, gave effect to my words by moving the following:
In sub-clause (3.), omit ‘or of a State; or (b) a local governing body established under the law of a State,’.
I appeal to the Government to recognise the merits of the proposal that local government organisations and State instrumentalities be brought within the scope of the bill in order that we may extend all possible help to those handicapped people who urgently require housing or hostel accommodation convenient to sheltered workshops.
This appeal was not considered urgent by the present Minister’s predecessor, because this was his answer:
Mr Chairman, the amendment is unacceptable to the Government.
Let us go a little further. Sir Keith Wilson who, according to the newspapers and other media, was recognised in this Parliament as one who was constantly fighting for the rights of pensioners, had this to say:
There is one of the amendments proposed by the Opposition which I hope will not be carried either now or in the future. The whole basis of the Aged Persons Homes Act and this bill is a partnership between the Government and organisations performing charitable work. If we made the subsidy payable to State governments or local governing bodies we would immediately dry up all the charitable money that comes into this field.
Then Sir Keith Wilson went on to say:
That would be the position whether it was a State government or a local governing body that was called upon to provide the remaining onethird.
The very eminent honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) was outspoken on this important subject, which the Minister described as one of the great steps forward by the Government. This is what the honourable member for Swan had to say about that amendment as reported at page 1709 of Hansard of 10th October 1963:
State Government and local government moneys do not qualify for the subsidy. This is in line with the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act. Honourable members opposite say that this is not fair. They would like contributions from State governments and local government authorities to attract the £2 for £1 subsidy. Perhaps on some occasions we have had cases in our own electorates in which local authority representatives have said to us, ‘Don’t you think our contribution should also be trebled?’ Basically this is not a sound proposition, and honourable members opposite know it.
Today the Minister brings forward this provision and refers to it as one of the important provisions of the Bill. The amendment that was moved in 1963 to provide this benefit was defeated by one vote after discussion had been gagged. I repeat that this amendment might well have been accepted four years ago; but it was rejected by the Government, which now introduces the proposal as its own. One more vote in 1963 would have ensured that this benefit was given to disabled people.
The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) sponsored a resolution which was somewhat similar to the provision incorporated in this legislation. He voted against the Labor Party at a time when he was a very reticent rebel. He was very outspoken but he did not often vote the way he should have on these things. We also advocated, as I do again today, assistance to State governments in providing homes for the disabled, but that proposal also was rejected. Will the Government have another change of heart on this matter before the next elections? Perhaps it will. Who knows? The Liberals work splendidly when their future is at stake, particularly a month or so before an election. In any case, whatever has prompted the Government to adopt Labor’s policy at this late stage, it is a belated and long overdue recognition that our policies were sound and in the interests of disabled people and should not have been discarded at that time.
I congratulate the Minister, the honourable member for Swan and other supporters of the Government on their brief excursion into the world of Socialism. I hope that when Labor next proposes reforms those reforms will not be discarded so promptly. I hope they will be given the consideration they deserve and not kept as an election gimmick to win votes and in the process people be left to suffer for years. The Government now adopts our proposals; what is more, it claims them as its own. That shows the paucity of thinking on the Government side on matters of social reform.
– The honourable member is being political.
– I would not say that I am being political. I do not think the Minister can object to my reminding him that this proposal came from the people on this side of the House. Let us have a look at the proposal in regard to the means test that applies to sheltered workshops. The Minister said in the course of his speech when dealing with the sheltered employment allowance:
Where there are no other means as assessed the sheltered employment allowance will cease when earnings reach $36 a week in the case of an unmarried person or $47 a week in the case of a married person where the spouse is not in receipt of a pension.
It is proposed that blind pensioners employed in sheltered workshops will bc eligible for the allowance free of the means test but the additional allowances payable for children after the first and any other allowances will, as at present, be subject to the means test.
That is the position under the legislation we are now discussing. 1 say to the Government, whose pledge on the means test was made as far back as 1949, that if ever there was a golden opportunity for the Government to give expression to its sincerity it was when introducing this legislation. It could have abolished the means test for disabled people. The cost would not have been great but the benefits would have been tremendous. The Government is perpetuating discrimination against the disabled. Surely this is a niggardly and mean approach to a very great human problem. 1 shall show the Minister what the abolition of the means test would mean to these people.
I propose to quote from an excellent survey entitled ‘Sheltered Workshops in Australia’, which was carried out by the Department of Social Services. It is one of the few Government surveys that have been made. Although it is only a minor survey, it is still effective to some extent. Referring to the people who come within the scope of the legislation, this is what the survey states:
It was estimated by workshops that were it not for the restriction on earnings resulting from the invalid pension means test, 601 of their pensioner employees would be able to earn between $10 and $20 per week and 148 more than 520 per week.
Some of the employees in this category were reported to produce regularly at a rate which warranted payment of more than S7 or $8 per week which they received, but in mose cases the employees either reduced their output to a level which would ensure that they earned no more than the maximum permissible amount, or adjusted their hours of employment to the limit on earnings.
In days gone by workers have been prosecuted by Liberal governments for applying what has been referred to as a darg to the amount of their production. It was said that this was not in the interests of the nation.
– That was before the introduction of this legislation.
– I will show the honourable member that it still works that way. A very humane approach could have been made to this problem by eliminating the means test. There should be no means test in a sheltered workshop while persons remain eligible for the sheltered employment allowance. The problem is that these people will lose their pensions when their income exceeds the limit prescribed by the means test. In addition to that, I am advised that some of them naturally will have their medical benefits terminated. This is a very important matter to which I will refer later.
– They will not have their medical benefits cut off.
– They will, if they go outside what is allowed. If they earn more than a certain amount they will lose their medical benefits as I shall indicate shortly.
– I do not think that is so.
– It is suggested that while a person is eligible for a sheltered employment allowance and qualifies medically for a pension he should be able to earn full wages without losing medical benefits. That is not the position, because already the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has advised the House that he will have to go to his masters - the Australian Medical Association - and ask that medical benefits be provided for people who will benefit under this legislation.
– This will not apply to persons getting a sheltered employment allowance.
– It is good to know that. But I have before me facts relating to the case of a man with no arms who is working in a certain workshop in Sydney, which I would like to cite. He is married and has three children and an ailing wife. He cannot afford to let the pension go because his family requires medical benefits. He is quite capable of earning a good wage, but were he to do so he would exceed the amount he is allowed to earn and still obtain medical benefits. He has inhibitions about earning additional income because he fears he will lose the pension and sheltered employment allowance and the medical benefits that are so necessary to his wife. This, in effect, is the reverse of what we desire to do today - namely, to make these people independent and able to take their place in society. If what I have said is true - I am inclined to think it is - then this man should be encouraged to go off the pension, and this provision should be eliminated from the scheme.
– Provided the man gets a sheltered employment allowance he will be entitled to the pension.
– But when he earns a certain amount his pension will be cut.
– When he no longer receives the allowance, then he no longer has an entitlement to the benefit.
– That is so. Although this man is capable of earning in excess of the permissible amount he must, as it were, keep to the darg, so as not to lose his medical benefits. Those who work in the sheltered workshops are extremely worried about the manner in which the allowance is to be implemented and checked. I hope the Minister will give an assurance to the Parliament - I am certain he will - that inspectors will not be employed, as in the old days of the dole, to see that people are earning just a certain amount. The implementation of this means test could be very complex to the sheltered workshops and to the Government. I think that a lot of trouble could have been saved at very small cost if the means test had been abolished. Many anomalies would have been avoided.
The change from sheltered workshops to sheltered employment is desirable, and the reasons are understood. One of the problems of establishing sheltered workshops has been that few of them have been established in country districts. There are disabled people in country areas just as there are in the cities. It is gratifying to know that persons who are disabled mentally or physically will be assisted in a rural environment in the growing of grain and vegetables, in raising poultry and livestock, and on orchards and nurseries. The new definition of a sheltered workshop provides for coverage of these people. Any move to develop sheltered employment in these areas is to be commended. I have already expressed concern at the possibility of exploitation under this provision, but my fears have been allayed by the definition and I do not intend to press the matter further. I think there is adequate protection in the legislation to prevent any unfortunate occurrence of that nature.
I want to say a little about the proposals for sheltered workshops. The Commonwealth will make grants to eligible organisations which have purchased land or constructed or commenced to construct buildings on or after 28th November 1966 - that is, immediately after the Government was returned to office. But grants will be made only in respect of rental paid subsequent to the commencement of the Act. A subsidy will not be granted in respect of equipment purchased prior to the commencement of the Act. Why this discrimination? Why not make all benefits retrospective to 28th November 1966, as has been done in relation to the capital cost of sheltered workshops? The same arguments apply in this case as applied in relation to the homes savings grant and our demands with regard to age and invalid pensions. I do not intend to traverse all that I said a few days ago about retrospective payment of pensions, but the Government finds it very difficult to justify retrospectivity in some legislation and a refusal of retrospectivity in legislation which affects one of the most deserving sections of our society - the disabled.
There is a great need to extend the scope of this Bill. As we said in the debate in 1963, State housing authorities should come within the scope of this legislation. The records show that they are doing commendable work in this field. They depend on the Commonwealth for money. If the States had the funds, coupled with their own resources and skilled staff, they would be able to play a most influential part in giving effect to the aims and objectives of the legislation to assist the disabled. I do not want this suggestion to be discarded out of hand in the way that our suggestion that local government bodies be permitted to participate in the scheme of homes for the aged was discarded, but later adopted. If our proposals are worthy of support why not adopt them now without making people suffer by unnecessary delay? What is the Government doing to encourage the trade union movement to participate in this scheme in a big way? Perhaps the trade unions come within the scope of the legislation, but so far as grants are concerned there is little evidence that they do. They are vitally interested in this matter. They have tremendous influence and they have financial resources. Latest figures indicate that there are between 300 and 400 trade unions in Australia with a membership of more than two million. Surely these resources should be tapped. What about the registered clubs? This should be a lucrative field. In New South Wales these clubs are flourishing. They are charitably minded. They have huge financial resources. An approach to them to assist in the provision of sheltered workshops probably would be very fruitful.
What action has been taken to encourage employers to participate in this scheme, in providing both training and employment? This is a field in which they are vitally interested. In fact, their co-operation is basic to the scheme. As the Minister pointed out in a recent speech, some do co-operate. There should be a great personal interest on the part of our huge employing industries to assist in this scheme.
Having made a brief survey of the legislation I now wish to deal with a few of the problems that we face. I ask: Is the Government doing enough at this time in this important field? Let us look at the problems of the disabled in Australia and ask how this Bill meets those problems. Under the Bill expenditure next year will amount to $500,000. To date the Commonwealth has made grants totalling $374,818 under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, enabling 160 beds to be provided. The report for 1965-66 of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services shows that $1,659,720 has been spent throughout Australia on rehabilitation. The report shows that 24,193 cases were referred to the Department for rehabilitation in that year. Of that number 1,434 were accepted. The number placed in training was 377 and 309 completed their courses. The number placed in employment after training was 307 and the number placed in employment without training was 810. The number placed in employment is not very large having regard to the number of disabled persons in the community. In a total budget for social services of S758m, an expenditure of $500,000 on grants for sheltered workshops is a long way from what is needed.
– There is no limitation on expenditure.
– I agree, but nevertheless the expenditure envisaged at this stage for 1967-68 is not high. How many disabled persons in the community require assistance? This question has never been accurately answered by a full inquiry, although the Department of Social Services did make an important survey into sheltered workshops. Its survey was a good one as far as it went. It was fostered, I think, by the Association of Sheltered Workshops. The sheltered workshops found that after three years they were not getting as far as they would like. I believe the Department, having made the survey, offered to assist them. I do not quibble at that. Broadly, the Government granted what was sought. The report by the Department is worth mentioning. Let us look at the problem of sheltered workshops. In 1963 Miss Forsythe, Honorary Secretary-Treasurer of the Association of Sheltered Workshops wrote to me. I was speaking to her again recently. She assured me that although the figures contained in her letter to me in 1963 may now be out of date, proportionately they are valid. She wrote:
This means an estimated 13i% of the State population are handicapped in some major fashion.
She was referring to the situation in New South Wales. The letter continued:
Estimated i’% of State population, i.e 20,837 people would benefit from Sheltered Workshops (this is based on findings in other countries). At present there are facilities for approximately 1,500 people in workshops in this State.
Miss Forsythe pointed out that her figures were for New South Wales only but that the percentages would be similar in other States. It was obvious that the demand was exceeding available services by many thousands of people. The survey conducted by the Department of Social Services is interesting. It states:
There are now more than 100 centres, located in all capital cities and many country towns, which are described by .their sponsoring organisations as sheltered workshops.
The number and types of workshops are shown in a table in the report. The table reveals that there are 87 workshops throughout the Commonwealth. Of that number 47 cater mainly for mentally handicapped persons and 40 cater for physically handicapped persons. The report states:
State Government assistance, where provided, is usually in the form of a contribution towards the capital cost of the workshops. In some cases, however, State governments assist organisations to meet maintenance or operational costs.
In such cases why should the States not be reimbursed by the Commonwealth, because they are accepting a liability that is rightly the Commonwealth’s? The report deals with highly mechanised workshops and their effect on production. To an extent this Bill provides for highly mechanised workshops by making it possible for them to obtain more efficient machinery. The report deals with income derived by workshop production organisations from production and appeals. In 1964-65 income from production throughout the Commonwealth amounted to $998,091. Income from appeals amounted to $127,323. Total income for the year was $1,125,414. That was a rather commendable effort by handicapped people. The report indicates that a major item of expenditure with many workshops was the provision of transport for handicapped employees. It reads:
Fifty-one workshops reported that they either provided free transport or subsidised the cost of fares for public transport.
While the average earnings of handicapped employees were shown as being somewhat less than $3.00 per week, the earnings of the physically handicapped were, on average, substantially higher than those of the mentally handicapped.
The report refers to the number of people engaged in sheltered workshops. It reads:
Working on this basis it was disclosed that at the time of the survey there were 3,397 handicapped persons employed in sheltered workshops, 2,083 males and 1,314 females. A considerable majority of these employees, 2,585, were receiving invalid pensions. Of the remaining 812 some were being paid award wages, while others were receiving age, widows’ or war pensions, unemployment or sickness benefits, workers compensation or superannuation payments or had small independent incomes. Reports indicated that approximately 10% of the employees were married.
I dealt earlier with incomes when I was speaking about the application of the means test. I will give the number of employees and the wages paid for 1964-65. There were 3,397 handicapped employees and they received $483,374 in wages. The nonhandicapped employees numbered 272 and they received $448,164. The survey continues - lt was reported that there were 758 disabled persons listed as awaiting sheltered employment. However, that figure does not include persons residing outside the areas serviced by existing workshops, and a number of workshops replied that they did not keep waiting lists.
The survey concluded by saying that there are now eighty-seven workshops in Australia and that the number has grown from twenty-one in 1959. All in all, this is a fair survey of the problem and I quote from it in order to ask this question: are we doing enough at this stage? This is an immense problem. I came across a book the other day, which I think is one of the best that have been written on this important subject. It also deals with social services generally. It is called The Hidden People. Poverty in Australia’ by John Stubbs. I think even the most biased observer would agree that he has written of these problems, of which he evidently has a very close personal knowledge, in a human way. He has quoted the statements of other people who obviously know what they are talking about. I do not read from this book now for any political purpose. I use it to give verification of my contention that we face an immense problem in this field. The book contains a survey of the conditions of disabled persons and I shall read from it for the benefit of the House. One chapter is headed The Disabled’. At page 97 it has this to say:
The organisation that has probably made the greatest contribution to relieving the problems of disabled people in Australia is the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales. It has an inspiring history. Started only in 1955 by a severely disabled couple, Mr and Mrs H. Bedwin-
Unfortunately Mr Bedwin passed on some time ago after giving magnificent service to society. The book continues - it now employs in its eight workshops 325 people, about 280 of whom are severely handicapped. During the last ten years more than 120 handicapped people who have begun work in the association’s workshops have been fully rehabilitated and now have full-time jobs in normal industry. In 1965 the association’s handicapped employees produced $182,000 worth of work and earned $130,000 in wages.
The association has shown that the present policies of our authorities towards the physically and mentally handicapped result in a tremendous loss of potential productivity - as well, of course, as creating great hardship for the handicapped.
To show the immensity of this problem, I shall quote from page 98 a statement by Mr Hayes, who is a leading executive of the Association. I would say that this is a summary, but I know the figures are as accurate as can be obtained in the absence of an inquiry. They were quoted in this Parliament on a previous occasion, but reading the statement from the book is the easiest way to present them now.
– Figures quoted in this Parliament are not necessarily correct.
– These were. Mr Hayes said:
There are no statistics available of handicapped people in Australia, let alone details of those capable of working - but based on findings in countries with living conditions comparable to Australia, and Canada in particular, 150,000 is a conservative estimate of those who could work but are idle at present.
If we apply the findings of a recent Canadian Sickness Survey to Australia, we have 7% of the population - 735,000 people - suffering from permanent disability of some degree, of whom an estimated 124% - 91,875 have an unmet potential for rehabilitation - unmet only because complete services are not available.
These figures exclude the mentally ill, the mentally deficient, and those in institutions. If 91,875 have rehabilitation potential they can certainly work in sheltered workshops. If we deduct 2,000 to cover those actually rehabilitated in a year - the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Branch rehabilitates about 1,000 a year - and 1,000 for those already in sheltered workshops, we still have 89,000 physically handicapped people idle. To be quite safe, let us accept a figure of 50,000 for the physically handicapped. The mentally ill and mentally retarded are generally accepted as being at least twice as numerous.
There are an estimated 300,000 mentally retarded people in Australia, of whom only the severely retarded are incapable of working. A figure of 100,000 for the mentally ill and mentally retarded who could work is a most conservative one, and a total of 150,000 for the physically handicapped, mentally ill and mentally retarded combined is likewise a conservative estimate.
The general concern felt over unemployment by Australians reflects not only regret at the potential production that is being lost, but also sympathy for the individuals who are unemployed. Surely, then, unemployed handicapped people are entitled to equal consideration with the fully fit.
That shows that the problem is immense. As Mr Hayes said in the early part of his statement:
There are no statistics available of handicapped people in Australia.
I do not like to say so in a debate of this nature, but that is a grave reflection on the Government and on this part of its social services programme.
– We do know how many people are in receipt of the invalid pension.
– Yes, but the Government does not know how many of them are capable of some work. I commend the book from which I have read to the Minister. It goes beneath the surface of this problem and reveals facts that probably are not known to a vast number of people. I have no doubt that everyone will agree that this is a huge problem. We can read in this book about the difficulties of the disabled people. We frequently forget some of their little worries, such as getting their wheel chairs up steps. The book brings all those difficulties to light. But what is wanted immediately and what the Australian Labor Party has sought on many occasions is a national inquiry into the problems associated with poverty and the means of helping people such as those who will gain from the Bill now before us. The Minister said that the Bill does not place a limit on the amount that can be expended. However, that is not much good if we deal with only one section and neglect another section of which we know little. We need a planned programme to meet the needs of people in this category and their needs would be brought out in a national inquiry. If such an inquiry were conducted by a widely representative body, it would undoubtedly meet with general support and would have the co-operation of all those people and organisations interested in this problem.
Recently I came across a book entitled Social Benefits in Sweden’. The need for a planned programme is revealed in this book. I will not read all that it has to say about disablement; it covers this problem at page 35. It states:
A person is entitled to vocational training, pension, etc., if he is liable to be disabled, totally oi partially, more or less permanently. (If the person has defective sight, hearing, speech or limbs, or is suffering from chronic tuberculosis, heart disease, rheumatism, nervous disease, etc.)
It lists the help that is available, and this includes:
Allowances for further education, learning a trade or new trade at specially arranged courses, vocational training centres or individual employers.
Allowances (determined by a means test) for travelling, personal (and where necessary family) maintenance, fees for courses, and cost of materials, etc.
Those who cannot obtain employment in the open competitive market can be provided with work, as a rule, at special workshops, in archives and libraries, or arrangements are made for them to work at home.
The book contains two or three pages giving a planned programme of help for this section of society, and I commend it to the Minister and his officers for their consideration. My time is almost exhausted, and I finish with this observation: the legislation, which is not opposed by the Opposition, is in line with the proposals of the voluntary organisations interested in this problem. Their action was prompted, as I said earlier, by the need to find some way in which those engaged in the workshops could earn over and above the amount allowed by the means test - that is, more than the $10 - without an equivalent amount being taken from their pension. In this way, it was felt that those engaged would retain certain pension benefits ali the time but be able to earn more. This was an indication, both in the workshops and outside, that disabled persons were capable of earning more. It was felt that this might encourage employers to engage them as a step towards open employment.
The Bill will make administration of the means test by both the Department and the workshops difficult and will involve a good deal of extra work for both. Ultimately it may prove to be as beneficial as we all hope it will be.
The provisions of the Act, although limited to some extent, are a step forward. Questions arise as to what are the standards for eligibility under the Act, for example, for the subsidy. Only time will show how that provision will be interpreted. Other standards are broadly known, but this one is not quite clear. What equipment will be provided will not really be known until the Act comes into operation. I believe that the concept of the Act should be kept as broad as possible and administered liberally. In this way it will go a long way towards fulfilling the hopes of those who made the submissions. As an experimental piece of legislation I believe that it should be constantly under review and amended without delay, where necessary, to ensure that the spirit of the Act is not impaired and that the disabled shall receive this contribution towards their welfare to which they are so justly entitled.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
– Before dealing with the actual provisions of the Bill itself I want to refer to one matter which was raised by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) who led for the Opposition. He took the Government to task on the question of retrospectivity. He tried to draw a comparison with the retrospectivity which has been granted by the Government with respect to homes savings grants, grants under the Aged Persons Homes Act and grants which are covered in this Bill and the non-retrospectivity in respect of pensions. I put it to him that the grants that are made retrospective affect no more than a few hundred people, whereas we now have about 750,000 pensioners. He has only to consider the work involved and the number of calculations that would be required to appreciate the difference between the two types of assistance.
I am aware that when we change pension rates or ease the means test a fresh set of calculations has to be made, but if pension increases were made retrospective, two sets of calculations would have to be made. Not only would calculations have to be made concerning future rates but separate calculations would also be required for the retrospective period and the work would be increased because not all pensioners get the same rate. Hundreds of thousands of calculations would have to be made, so it is not fair to make a comparison as the honourable member suggests. During a debate last week I pointed out that when his Party was in government about twenty years ago it did not make pension increases retrospective. I am not trying to compare what was done twenty years ago with what is done now. I agree that our methods have improved and that the way these matters were adjusted twenty years ago was different. I appreciate that we have better equipment to make calculations, including automatic data processing, but we have double the number of pensioners nowadays and double the calculations to make. It was difficult for his party’s government to make pension increases retrospective twenty years ago, and it is difficult to do so today. It is not reasonable to draw a comparison and I am sure that on reflection the honourable member will agree with me.
I do not intend to speak on the Bill at length because from discussions I have had with representatives of the Sheltered Workshops Association in Victoria I know that its members are happy with the provisions, lt is fair to assume that organisations that are interested in the provision of sheltered employment in other States are also happy with the Bill. Discussions I have had with my colleagues support this view. No one suggests, nor do I, that this Bill represents the ultimate in what ought to be achieved by way of assisting sheltered workshops, but it is a start. It is the first real breakthrough in securing Federal recognition of sheltered workshops. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to make grants to eligible organisations to help them in establishing and equipping workshops to provide sheltered employment for people who would normally be eligible to receive an invalid pension - people who cannot enter ordinary types of employment but who have the capacity and the desire to contribute to our national production. The Bill is designed to help them in four ways. Firstly, it provides a $2 for $1 subsidy towards the capital cost of purchasing, erecting or extending premises, including the cost of land on which the premises are built. Secondly, it provides a similar subsidy towards the cost of the items that are necessary to enable sheltered workshops to operate or to increase their efficiency and productivity and, at the same time, the earning capacity of the people employed in them.
As the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) pointed out, we are actually referring to sheltered employment. I am using the expression ‘sheltered workshops’ in the broad sense: I realise that the Bill is designed to help those in sheltered employment. Thirdly, the Bill seeks to contribute towards rental costs for a period of up to three years and, finally, it seeks to conntbuite on a $2 for $1 basis towards the cost of providing accommodation for people employed in sheltered workshops. In order for an organisation to be eligible to receive the grant under this legislation it is imperative that the organisation be not conducted for the profit or gain of its individual members. Secondly, it must employ, in the main, persons who would, were it not for their employment in sheltered workshops, ordinarily be eligible to receive an individual pension. The Minister has made it clear that the fact that some people who do not fall into this category are employed in a sheltered workshop would not be sufficient to render that workshop ineligible to receive a subsidy. Thirdly, in order to receive a subsidy it is essential that the workshop be equipped to operate efficiently. Fourthly, it must give the people employed in that workshop a reasonable reward for their labour. AH of these requirements are just and reasonable.
The Minister pointed out that in Australia there are almost 100 sheltered workshops. He said that they were producing goods and services to the value of about Sim a year. He pointed out that more than half of these workshops have been established in the last five years. I have visited several sheltered workshops, not only in Victoria but in other States, and 1 have nothing but admiration for the workers themselves, for the quality of the work they produce and for the voluntary workers and charitable organisations without whose help many of these workshops would not be able to function. I know, from personal experience, that people employed in these sheltered workshops are proud of their accomplishments and of the fact that they are contributing to the Australian economy. In his second reading speech the Minister said that their rate of production is naturally lower than that which we can expect from people who are not handicapped. I know that while the rate of production is low, the quality of the work is of a high standard. I have seen letters from business firms to the management of a sheltered workshop in Melbourne testifying to the quality of the work and, in fact, stating that the quality of the work received from the workshop was of a higher standard than that of a similar type being provided by outside contractors. I am referring to a workshop employing mentally handicapped people. It is equipped with various devices that are designed to ensure that the employees do not make mistakes. There are no errors due to carelessness, and this does not apply to ordinary employees in normal industry.
I should like to refer to a letter I received only yesterday from Mrs H. N. Bedwin of
Sydney. She and her late husband were associated with the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales for a long while. She can speak with the authority of personal experience and personal knowledge of the work performed in this Association’s workshops. She is familiar with the problems confronting such workshops and her views are to be respected. She draws a comparison between the situation in Australia and in Holland. She has chosen these two countries because she says that the populations are similar as are the standards of living. I have no authority other than Mrs Bedwin’s letter, but I have no reason to doubt any of the figures she quotes. She says that in Holland a new sheltered workshop is subsidised to the extent of 90% of the wages paid to the handicapped workers during the first year. This amount reduces each year until at the end of three years the annual subsidy represents 60% of the amount paid to the handicapped workers. Mrs Bedwin tells me that the capital expenditure and the administrative costs must be financed from the production of the workshop, so that instead of providing a capital subsidy the government provides a maintenance subsidy which is 90% of the wages paid in the first year and which reduces over a three year period to 60% of the wages paid, and presumably is maintained thereafter at that rate. Mrs Bedwin says that this encourages the workshop to absorb more workers so that it may make more money to meet its capital costs and costs of administration, and also sets a proper standard for the remuneration of the people employed in the workshop.
Mrs Bedwin has cited figures showing that for the financial year 1960-61 the Australian Government paid out nearly $3 16m in age and invalid pensions but spent less than $1.4m on rehabilitation and nothing at all on sheltered workshops. She contrasts this expenditure with that of Holland, a country which, as I have said, has a similar population and a similar standard of living. During the same period Holland spent $140m on age and invalid pensions, against our expenditure of $3 16m, but spent $36m on rehabilitation and sheltered workshops. I interpret these figures to mean that if we spent more money on rehabilitation and sheltered workshops we would not have to spend so much money on invalid pensions because these people would in fact be employing themselves and supporting themselves.
I think this is a proposition well worthy of thorough investigation because of Mrs Bedwin’s particular knowledge in this field. I know that she hoped that I, after reading her letter, would be able to persuade the Government to alter the Bill in some way. She has suggested that the action proposed by the Government is rather palliative and does not meet the community’s demand for help. As honourable members know, it is not possible at this stage to alter a Bill which has already been drafted, which has been discussed with the sheltered workshop organisations in the various States and with which those organisations are happy. But, as I have pointed out, this is the first real breakthrough and I have no doubt at all that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) is taking particular notice of the figures that have been supplied to me by Mrs Bedwin and which I have quoted, and I know that he will be pleased to investigate the possibility of making some change along the lines suggested when next the legislation is being amended.
Mrs Bedwin pointed out to me that of the pensioners in Australia at the moment there are about 150,000 who are handicapped by either mental or physical infirmity and who could reasonably be expected to find employment in sheltered workshops. She said that her experience with her husband in the sheltered workshop conducted by the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales showed that mentally handicapped and physically handicapped people working together achieve a productivity, on the average, equal to about 40% of normal productivity. She said that this means we have a potential work force equal to 120 million man-hours a year. This is at our present population level. Relating this to the production of Holden cars she said that this would be sufficient for the assembly of 1,950,000 vehicles a year.
The Minister said in his second reading speech that the people in our sheltered workshops today are producing goods and services to the value of about $lm. If Mrs Bedwin’s figures are correct - and again 1 have no reason to doubt them - obviously the potential production of these people who could be employed in sheltered workshops if the workshops were there to employ them is very much greater than the present production of existing sheltered workshops.
Mrs Bedwin concludes by saying:
Even if one should ignore the human happiness and satisfaction involved in taking a course of action to encourage the opportunity for employment of these people, surely economically we cannot afford not to.
I find myself in complete agreement with those sentiments. I wish to congratulate the Minister for Social Services and the officers of the Department of Social Services who worked so hard to produce this Bill. I want to congratulate also the Government for having the good sense and the humanity to introduce legislation of this nature.
– The honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) always impresses me with the sentiments he expresses in this House on social services. He seems to possess a much greater degree of humanity and a deeper human feeling than most honourable members on the Government side who speak on such subjects.
The Bill we are discussing is the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill 1967. As the House is aware, the Labor Party does not oppose this legislation, but it avails itself of the opportunity of stressing the need to provide assistance to the unfortunate members of the community who have, usually from birth, been mentally or physically retarded. Unfortunately it is not until the rising tide of public opinion becomes sufficiently strong that one finds the Government moving in this direction. Apparently, as agitation increases over the years, it finally ‘assumes sufficient strength to force the Government to move, mainly for the purpose of gaining greater electoral support, especially in borderline seats, so many of which are held by the Government today.
Early in his second reading speech the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said:
It is now almost twenty years since the Commonwealth Government established the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to assist severely handicapped persons to live a normal life in the community. Since its establishment in 1948 more than 20,000 invalid pensioners and people who might otherwise have become invalid pensioners have been restored to gainful employment.
Of course the Minister did not say that it was a Labor Government which twenty years ago introduced the Commonwealth rehabilitation legislation. He would not pay the Labor Government the tribute of acknowledging the human feelings which Labor has always had, and which motivated the Labor Government when it established the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service twenty years ago. But we all know that Labor first introduced this legislation and that it has been very little improved in the many years in which the Government has been in office.
The goal of vocational rehabilitation is employment. There are about one hundred sheltered workshops in Australia for a population of 11.5 million people. To my mind the number of these workshops should be doubled. We are all aware of the tragic cases that we see not only in our electorates but also in other places throughout the Commonwealth. If the Government had met its responsibilities in this field as it should have, starting more than five years ago, the burdens of these unfortunates would have been considerably lightened. I refer particularly to the burdens carried by relatives, especially the mothers, on whom the heavy task falls while the fathers are out earning the daily bread. The mentally retarded or physically handicapped person is constantly under the eye of the mother. This must constitute a great mental strain on the woman who brought the handicapped child into the world.
I believe the Government could fairly go a lot further than it has gone. In my own electorate the public spirited people of Cessnock have been successful in raising enough money to establish a sheltered workshop but the difficulty, as in many other scattered areas, is in getting the unfortunates conveyed to the workshop. Yet the Commonwealth from time to time disposes of many mechanically sound motor vehicles which could be made available to the people who spend so much of their time cadging - if I may use the term - to the point of embarrassing themselves and the ones from whom they are seeking assistance for these unfortunates. It should not be necessary. The Government should meet the whole of the cost of caring for these unfortunate sections of the community. I know of a case in my own electorate which involves two handicapped children. The doctors do not think they will live for many .years. On two or three days a week they have to be conveyed by taxi for about five miles to meet the bus that is provided to pick up physically and mentally handicapped children and take them to the centre for daily training. The parents told me that, had it not been for the generosity of Apexians and members of Lions Clubs, they would not be able to send the children to receive the training they need, because the father’s wages are only a little more than the basic wage.
I would like to see the Government as soon as possible make available to sheltered workshop authorities some of the secondhand mini buses which are disposed of at Commonwealth auction sales. The difficulty of getting these unfortunate people transported to the workshop centres is widespread. This is not asking too much, and I believe that the Minister will do all in his power to see that the people who have taken a great interest in raising public funds for these workshops will be able to purchase these vehicles at the minimum of cost.
– They already get a remission of sales tax on the purchase of new vehicles.
– I appreciate that, but they still have to pay between £700 and £800 for a new vehicle, whereas I have seen vehicles like those I have spoken of sold at Commonwealth auctions in Canberra for £200 or £300. Such vehicles are in good mechanical order because, as we all know, the Commonwealth regularly services its cars. The people who organise the sheltered workshop in Cessnock would be very happy if they could get a Commonwealth vehicle for between £100 and £300. Invariably these vehicles are purchased by second-hand car dealers who then exploit the taxpayers, who really own the vehicles, by making a substantial profit on re-sale.
I think the $2 for $1 basis for granting assistance for sheltered workshops is rather niggardly and is deserving of condemnation. The unfortunates who work in those places are not getting the measure of assistance they should be getting. I believe the subsidy should be $3 for $1. Such a subsidy would reflect the true Christian outlook which so many Government members claim to possess. A splendid opportunity existed a few years ago for the Government to move in this direction but, as I have said, it does too little too late. An ideal place to set up a sheltered workshop for these unfortunate people would have been the old Rathmines air base, which already had workshops equipped with lathes. We all know that some handicapped people are able to operate lathes, and these and other items of equipment were available at the base. Before the Government disposed of this base, I mentioned this matter in the hope that it would be used as a sheltered workshop or as a place where the physically or mentally handicapped could be trained, as this would give them independence and remove a great mental burden from the minds of their parents.
– It would have been an ideal place.
– That is so. One has only to read the newspapers to know that. I do not think anyone would say otherwise. Accommodation was available at the base, which had three messes - an officers’ mess, a sergeants’ mess and an airmen’s mess - equipped with modern oil injection stoves. It had big workshops and a wharf which could have been used to enable the physically and mentally handicapped to be taken for cruises on Lake Macquarie. But the Government did nothing about it.
If one reads the newspapers regularly, one sees that the Commonwealth Department of Supply disposes at auction of lathes and equipment for which it has no further use. I believe those who operate sheltered workshops should be able to make representations to the Government and that the Government should consider donating this type of equipment to them. This would relieve public spirited people of the burden of going around cadging from the community. As the Minister knows, charitable appeals for funds are reaching saturation point in our community. Some councils now take action to restrict the number of appeals. The Australian people are charitable but, as we are told, it is the constant drip that wears the stone away. Because of the number of appeals that are made, people find it embarrassing to walk along the street. I will be making representations to the Government for more assistance to be given in providing proper equipment for the Cessnock sheltered workshop. I hope that when representations are made the Government will do all in its power to make available at minimum cost vehicles, lathes and tools which the Government disposes of second-hand at auction sales. I believe the Minister was present at the Newcastle office of the Department of Social Services and met Gary Hooper, of whom departmental officers are very proud. Gary, who has represented Australia overseas at the Olympic Games, now lives in my electorate. I have known him and his parents for many years. He has been rehabilitated because of the aid he has received from the Department. As I said, although he is crippled from the hips down, he represented Australia at the Olympic Games.
– He is a paraplegic.
– Yes. He mows his lawn from his wheelchair and does beneficial work at the Newcastle Municipal Library. I pay a tribute to the Government in his case, but many people have not been rehabilitated. Despite the fact that he is crippled from the hips down, he gets as much enjoyment from life as many normal people in public life do.
Prior to 1958 there was little development of sheltered workshops in Australia. I think it is a disgrace that more was not done along practical lines. New South Wales, which took action in 1955, was one of the first States in the Commonwealth to do something practical for these unfortunate people. I think it was worthy of the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) that they paid a tribute to that wonderful couple, Mr and Mrs Bedwin, a former President and the Secretary respectively of the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of Australia. As the honourable member for Grayndler pointed out, Mr Bedwin has passed on to the great beyond. If there is a hereafter - we all believe there is - I suppose one could say about Mr Bedwin that he is above us tonight. As I have said, the major problem is getting the disabled people to and from the sheltered workshops which are widely scattered. I believe that provision could be made by the Commonwealth for abolition of petrol tax on all petrol used in conveying these unfortunate people from their homes to the workshops. I do not think they get any concessions such as the right to purchase petrol less sales tax.
These are things I believe the Government should do without delay. Indeed it could do a lot more. Mr Allan Fraser, the former member for Eden-Monaro, who was one of the most forthright men of this Parliament, played an important part in agitating and appealing to the Government to acknowledge the importance of this matter and to recognise the unfortunate forgotten people, as they were once described. In 1963 there was a move by Mr Hugh Roberton, the then Minister for Social Services, who is now Ambassador to Ireland. He initiated legislation which indicated a positive move to relieve the burden on these unfortunate people.
There is no limit to what physically and mentally handicapped people can achieve with government assistance and proper training. Many years before I ever thought of becoming a member of this House I had the opportunity of meeting in Sydney that distinguished American woman, Helen Keller, the deaf, dumb and blind authoress. I believe she is still living in America today. She was befriended and given an opportunity to cultivate and improve her talents and display them to the world, and she has become a historical figure. We do not know what can be achieved by these mentally and physically handicapped people if they are given a chance. In one book I read it was written that the day may come when these people, given a chance, could reach a position as high as that of Prime Minister of Australia.
– What about President Roosevelt?
– Yes. He was one of America’s greatest Presidents. I do not want to branch out on another subject, but I say it is a pity that he is not alive today, because the United States of America would be regarded much more highly by the world’s people if the principles of Roosevelt were being pursued today. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was physically handicapped like the young boy Gary Hooper whom I mentioned earlier in my remarks. Gary Hooper, who lives in my electorate, is handicapped from the hips down. These physically and mentally handicapped people - great people like Helen Keller, President Roosevelt and I suppose many more distinguished people of the world - were given the opportunity to attain great heights in society and establish themselves in history. The Minister stated in his second reading speech:
These as well as other handicapped people in the community want to work and play a role in our society. They are unable to enter ordinary employment but have some capacity for work, and it is felt that they should not be condemned to a life of idleness.
Certainly they have been condemned for too long, and it is time this Government moved much faster and in a more positive way than by means of the provision that it is making in this legislation. The Minister also said:
The development of sheltered workshops, both in Australia and overseas, has been carefully watched for a number of years and has been discussed with many of the people who are operating sheltered workshops.
Since I have been in this Parliament 1 have noticed that one of the most favoured words used by politicians is ‘watched’. Another favourite expression is ‘give attention to’. If members look at Hansard they will find these expressions used frequently in most members’ speeches - we must give attention to this, or we must watch that. I say act, not watch. There is too much watching by politicians; they watch and watch for years and then do a bit of acting just before an election in order to get some votes. I hope the Government will consider the matters I have submitted. I consider that the subsidy is not enough, and I will rejoice when the Government doubles it. I hope that in the not too distant future the number of sheltered workshops throughout this nation will treble, because they are more urgently needed than most members of the public and most members of Parliament realise. I think I said before that the basic principle of all Christian religions is that the better off or the rich should give more to the poor, but I do not believe this Government is going as far as it should. I appreciate what it is doing, although I only wish it was doing more and that these unfortunate people who have been handicapped from an early age or from birth were given much more sympathy and consideration than the Government is giving them.
– As a commencing point, I say that the Bill before the House has two main functions. Firstly, it enables the Government to make grants to eligible organisations to assist them in establishing and equipping sheltered workshops. Secondly, it expands the provisions of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act which, we remember, was introduced in this House by the Menzies Government in 1963. Therefore, we could sum up by saying that in general the whole purpose of the Bill is to foster and encourage the sheltered workshop movement.
I think we should have a look at the background of this work. A previous speaker has already referred to a survey carried out last year by the Department of Social Services. I wish to refer to that again because I think probably 1 can bring out some additional points from it and also from some of the figures already mentioned. I hope by emphasising these figures to bring out a lesson from them. In May J 966 the Department brought forward the results of the survey. We find that there are more than 100 sheltered workshops in the Commonwealth, these being in metropolitan areas and also in country areas.
I was most interested to find from the report of the survey that more than half of these workshops have sprung up in the last five years. This is indicative of the growing interest in this particular work. The figures dealing with employment have already been quoted; at that time there were 3,397 people in 87 of these workshops which answered a questionnaire which was sent out. I want to say a little more about those figures. Of that total, 2,585 were invalid pensioners. Of the remainder, some were on award wages, lt is interesting to note the break-up. Some were receiving age, widows or war pensions, and others were receiving unemployment or sickness benefits, workers’ compensation payments, or superannuation payments.
I shall refer a little later to the question of workers compensation. A few of the people I have mentioned had small independent incomes. The point I want to make is that here we have quite a substantial work force which has not been fully tapped. Also included in this number of people attending these workshops were 272 who were not handicapped in any way. They were employed mainly in a managerial or supervisory capacity. The figure I find of interest is that approximately 750 to 800 people were awaiting employment. This is an optimistic figure, if it is put forward as representing the total in the Commonwealth. It is the figure given by these eighty-seven workshops of people known by them to be living within their areas. There must be many more indeed. As the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) said, nobody knows just what number of people is involved. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said that he anticipates that employment in sheltered workshops can provide opportunities for thousands more people.
The survey also dealt with work capabilities. This is quite interesting. I recommend the report to any honourable members who have not already read .t. One interesting figure is the work output of these people. It averaged from 20% to 50% of the output of workers in industry. Surely that is a very wide range, but I think the report gives us a pretty good idea of the capabilities of these people. We are told that industrial norms are sometimes exceeded. When we couple these factors I have mentioned, two things are apparent. Firstly, there is a very sizable production potential in this group of people, and secondly, this Bill, with its provision for further mechanisation, will result in increased productivity not only from the whole group but from individuals.
The report also deals with finance, which is very relevant in discussing this Bill. In 1964-65 production worth §998,000 came from over eighty-seven workshops. Public subscriptions in all forms, art unions, raffles, direct contributions and so on, all organised by this great band of willing workers, built that figure up to SI, 125,000. Those figures relate to only eighty-seven of the 100-odd workshops. In addition, there has been limited assistance from State governments for capital costs and for maintenance and operating expenses.
Two big things are revealed in this report. The first is that total income falls short of total expenditure. That is the first lesson on finance. The second thing is that only a few of these workshops were able to meet their total commitments from income raised by production. That is the background against which we look at this Bill which is designed to assist voluntary organisations. This assistance of voluntary organisation is the fine point of this Bill. It will accomplish this by increasing the number of workshops and by improving the equipment in them. Grants will be made on a $2 for $1 basis - a basis common to other similar legislation and one that fosters initiative and offers incentive.
This Bill provides four ways by which the Government can assist in establishing and improving sheltered workshops and accommodation. Firstly, the Commonwealth will contribute to the capital cost of purchasing or building workshops; it will assist in the expansion of workshops already in existence and probably of workshops to be built in the future. Secondly, the cost of equipment will be subsidised. This will naturally add to the efficiency and productivity of this group and the idea is commendable. Thirdly, the annual rental of workshops will be subsidised for up to three years. That again is a great encouragement to voluntary workers. Fourthly, the Bill not only continues but will expand the assistance available under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act to which I referred earlier. Whilst doing all these things the Bill will preserve both independence and initiative. I feel very strongly that this is a very good point. The scheme will not interfere with the independence and initiative of the voluntary agencies now doing this work. My mind immediately goes to the workshop I know best, which is in Orange in my electorate. I know the people involved. All honourable members probably can think of similar workshops where people are doing splendid work in a voluntary capacity. They will know of the New South Wales Association of Sheltered Workshops and other bodies.
I pay due commendation to the work that all these people are doing. Without it the system would not carry on. I also would like to compliment the managers of these workshops. They have to be jacks of all trades; they are important and efficient men. They have to give constant attention to business principles. They are engaged in a constant search for work that can be done by handicapped people. I want to pay more attention to this matter a little later in my speech. They have to exercise, even more than other employers, extreme personal care because of the type of people with whom they are dealing. They have to study constantly the aptitude, experience and temperament of those with whom they work. Truly this must be a very rewarding job inwardly for these people.
Honourable members who have had any experience with these sheltered workshops and who have seen partially disabled people working will realise the terrific benefit that work is to them. The lift to their morale and to their self-respect is apparent when one sees them. They are given a great opportunity to discover the dignity of work. That is one of the greatest results of this scheme. These people are able to join with others in the community and become part of the great work force of Australia.
Referring again to the workshop at Orange, the one I know best, there is one point I want to emphasise. I have visited the workshop and have been in touch with the people running it on a number of occasions. I have always come away from the workshop with a couple of phrases ringing in my mind. I remember the words of the manager: ‘We want work’. The workshop wants work from outside sources but it is a lot more difficult in country areas than in city areas to find the type of work that these people can do. Incidentally, it is excellent to see this type of activity being extended to farming operations of various kinds. The other words which ring in my mind are ‘competitive prices’. The managers of these places talk constantly of competitive prices and the ruling commercial rates. I think this is good. It is businesslike. It is good to see this approach. There is no sweated labour in these workshops. There is no abject pity. None is asked for and none is wanted. All they want is work. Luckily, there is a great history of cooperation between the trade union movement and the sheltered workshops, just as there is between business groups and the workshops.
These people are potentially one of the great labour forces of Australia. They are already producing over Sim worth of salable goods a year. Let us do all we can to develop this force and to use it. What can governments do about providing work? We are dealing in this Bill with finance. It occurs to me that the Commonwealth
Government could do more in the way of providing work. I think, for example, of the Department of Supply. I think also of the Services - the Navy, the Army and the Air Force - the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Department of Works and the Government’s stores. It should be possible to bring work from these sources to the sheltered workshops for these people to do at ruling rates and competitive prices. This is probably not a job for the Minister for Social Servces, but because I know of his interest in this matter I am sure that he would be willing to try to work on his colleagues who could probably help. I am approaching the matter from the personal angle. I know that people, particularly those in country areas, are seeking the type of work which will keep everybody employed. There are certain types of articles which these people could make. I have seen them do all sorts of work. I know they can make articles such as seats and tables that are built to last.
In the State sphere possibly the hospitals could provide work for these people. I know that this has nothing to do with this House and I mention it only in passing. I ask the Government to bend its efforts to do all it can to provide additional work for these people. I do not think that it should prove to be an insuperable task. It is just a matter of getting down to business and working something out.
I wish now to deal with the subject of workers compensation. We know that sheltered workshops will receive the $2 for $1 subsidy, providing that the employment, they offer is ‘substantially for disabled persons’. I do not think it is difficult to interpret that definition. However, one group of disabled persons with whom I am concerned, coming as I do from a reasonably highly industrialised area, are those whose injuries are the subject of court action for workers compensation or third party insurance. I have been directing my comments to the Government and have been exhorting it to provide work for disabled people, but now I say to employers that they should help these injured employees. In the first place, before a grant of damages is made employers might contribute to eligible private organisations to provide employment to avoid injuries becoming permanent. We are familiar with the term insurance neurosis’. This relates to a condition which some pepole develop during a long wait for a court case to be heard. The workshop should be assisted to provide employment for these injured people both before and after a grant of damages is made. It is necessary that there be continuity in the working lives of such people. Earlier I threw something into the ring for the consideration of the Government; now I throw this into the ring for the consideration of employers.
I support the Bill. I do so for two reasons. Firstly, it is the fulfilment of another election promise which was endorsed by the majority of the people in this Commonwealth. We are, as it were, wiping the slate clean of the promises we have made. Secondly, I am glad that assistance is being provided in the four phases to which I have referred. There has been assistance of a capital nature. Last week legislation was passed by this House to liberalise the means test. We have further liberalised the mean test for sheltered workshop personnel. Now we are providing additional grants for accommodation for disabled persons. All these factors will encourage voluntary workers in this field. They will boost output; they will tap further potential; and will assist this large work force which, as I have said, is not yet fully harnessed to Australia’s national effort.
– Many aspects of this Bill are unique. They have been introduced for the first time in the Federal Parliament. A Disabled Persons Accommodation Bill was introduced in 1963, but that dealt only with individuals who worked in sheltered workshops. This Bill goes far beyond that and caters for the workshops themselves, their equipment and the land upon which they are built. It represents a definite widening of the principles contained in the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, which it repeals. It is always good to see new legislation coming into this Parliament which creates a new field of assistance.
The Bill is a recognition of a tremendous voluntary effort in the difficult field of giving the disabled people of Australia a place in the sun - a chance to live a useful and normal life. This Bill is humane and constructive; that is why we support it. The voices of representation that have been shouting at the door of this Government for many years have achieved a remarkable breakthrough at the level of the Commonwealth Parliament. At least eleven years ago I was asking questions about Federal help for sheltered workshops. Later, Mr Len Reynolds, who entered the Parliament in 1958 as the honourable member for Barton, joined forces with me and others on this side of the House. He made several splendid contributions to our effort to obtain Federal assistance. Unfortunately Mr Reynolds was defeated in November 1966, but he must feel deep satisfaction today to know that Federal recognition has at last been given and given in the most generous manner. Mr Reynolds made some splendid speeches on this subject and was in direct communication with the workshop movement in Sydney.
I remember, too, that we have had several visits from Mr and Mrs H. Bedwin, who have already been referred to in this debate. They were a remarkable couple. Both of them were crippled, Mr Bedwin being confined to a wheelchair. He came to Canberra by plane and made his way to my office - the Whip’s office - which adjoins this chamber. He also went into the Opposition party room and into the offices of various members to speak to them. Unfortunately Mr Bedwin passed away about eighteen months ago, but his wife is still alive and is carrying on this remarkable fight for the disabled. The honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) referred to a letter he had received from her. This remarkable couple were fully dedicated to increasing the scope of the sheltered workshop movement, being pioneers of the movement in the Sydney area. This legislation is a wonderful recognition of their work and of the work of many others during the past eleven years.
For twenty years the Commonwealth has been involved in the task of rehabilitating disabled pensioners in its rehabilitation centres throughout Australia, as distinct from the efforts of sheltered workshops. Let us remember, and let me stress, that the sheltered workshop movement is a voluntary movement and has nothing to do with governments. Private citizens have banded together to establish these sheltered workshops in which disabled people and others may work. The achievements of these people are remarkable and praiseworthy. Now the Government is to give assistance. It not only is recognising their existence but is providing substantial help.
The Commonwealth is carrying out its own work in the rehabilitation centres, which were introduced in 1948 when Mr Chifley was Prime Minister of Australia. Since that time 20,000 invalid pensioners have been restored to gainful employment in industry. This is truly a thrilling story, a story behind the scenes, for not many people visit rehabilitation centres and many people lose interest in their fellow men once they are disabled. For all some people care, the disabled may as well be buried. Yet behind the scenes for years the rehabilitation centres have been fitting invalid pensioners for the work force. There is no greater story of human regeneration than this.
At the rate of 1,000 a year these disabled persons have ceased to be invalid pensioners because they have been able to go out and work. All of us want to work. Nothing is more soul destroying than being out of work or not wanted. There is nothing worse than to be friendless, a member of a forgotten race. The story of the Commonwealth rehabilitation centres is one of courage on the part of invalid pensioners and dedication and skill on the part of hundreds of physiotherapists, vocational workers, medical men and the like who, with infinite patience, have nursed the invalids back into the stream of the nation’s work force. The Commonwealth’s instrumentality has proved that invalidity need not be permanent. It is a hardship that in so many cases can be removed with the right treatment and the adoption of the right attitudes. I pay a tribute tonight to those leaders of private enterprise who have climaxed this rehabilitation process by giving rehabilitated pensioners a useful job in their firm or industry.
At this point I want to criticise the Commonwealth Public Service for what it has not done for restored invalid pensioners. This is a scandalous story of neglect of all those people who, with not very great disabilities, have tried to get into the Commonwealth Public Service. The Commonwealth should take a leaf out of the book of private enterprise. Fancy a Labor man speaking in these terms about private enterprise, but I do so quite sincerely and quite objectively. Private enterprise is not the only avenue by which to get these people back to work, but the Commonwealth Public Service, which should be doing something in the field, has done practically nothing. I criticise it as vigorously as I can. I have tried to get people with a slight disability accepted into the Public Service but this high and mighty organisation, this holy of holies, will not accept anybody unless he is about 101% fit. The incapacitated do not get the chance they deserve in the Public Service. It is a disgrace that this should be so.
The Public Service treats the disabled as forgotten people. Some of them used to be in the Public Service. They may have been injured in a car accident. Eventually they got back on their feet, but they were not readmitted to the Public Service. But this Bill deals primarily with private voluntary organisations which over the years have tackled the task of providing useful work for the disabled. The story of this facet of aid is truly magnificent.
The debate on such a bill as this gives us an opportunity to speak about these organisations. Today there are 100 sheltered workshops in Australia. I can remember when there was only one, and that was not very long ago. This is a marvellous story of private co-operative effort, of people getting together and helping others who cannot help themselves - catering for the physically and mentally disabled. What a tribute we must pay tonight to that vast number of instructors who over the years have worked so devotedly in the sheltered workshops. I must mention here that these workshops are operated as a business undertaking. This is good. Not only have these voluntary organisations given new hope and life to the disabled but also they have reduced the number of Australians in receipt of the invalid pension. I wonder how much the Commonwealth has saved in its social services expenditure by these people going back to work and ceasing to receive the invalid pension. It is my view that the number of disabled persons in the community will increase in future years because the number of car accidents is increasing at an alarming rate. Each year 3,000 Australians are killed on our roads. This is tragic enough, but do honourable members realise that between 50,000 and 60,000 Australians are injured each year. Far worse than the war in Vietnam or the war in Korea is the war on our roads. With the assistance provided by the Commonwealth for capital expenditure and the provision of equipment, the sheltered workshop movement now will play a more important part than ever in rehabilitating and giving worthwhile work to our disabled.
Mr Deputy Speaker, there seems to be another parliament meeting in the corner on my left. Members of the Country Party have had their say and they should be prepared to listen to somebody else.
– I listened to the honourable member for Calare (Mr England) with respect, and I expect the same courtesy from the honourable member for Gippsland. He has a good record of attendance in this House and normally he listens attentively to speeches. I am sorry if my speech has no interest for him. Each year about 55,000 people are injured on our roads. Many of them, because of permanent incapacity, will probably seek work in our sheltered workshops. So the expenditure now being undertaken by the Commonwealth may do more than we realise in the years ahead. In his second reading speech the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said:
What this measure seeks to achieve is the development of an increased number of well equipped workshops which will enable severely handicapped people to earn up to the limits imposed by their disabilities.
The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) asked the Minister how much these people could earn without losing their pensions. The Minister did not give an adequate reply, although in his second reading speech he made it clear that they may earn up to the limits imposed by their disabilities. He did not say that they may earn up to the limits imposed by the restrictions of the Social Services Act.
I would interpret the Minister’s remarks to mean that these people may earn more than the statutory amount fixed under the Social Services Act and still retain their pensions. We on this side claim that this is the proper interpretation; that they may continue to earn as much as they can, even if their earnings exceed the statutory limit imposed by the Social Services Act. These are special people with a special handicap. They are earning money often at some physical discomfort to themselves. They should not be limited in what they can earn. The Minister continued:
Some will eventually be able to graduate to outside jobs, others will find permanent and rewarding employment within the workshops themselves. . . . Although the average output of the disabled workers may be lower than that of the able bodied, to some extent this can be offset by the use of specially designed or modified equipment and by sympathetic and skilful management.
The Minister went on to say:
Broadly, the Bill before the House does four things. It provides assistance on a $2 for $1 basis to eligible organisations: First, towards the capital cost of purchasing, erecting or extending premises for use as sheltered workshops; secondly, towards the cost of items of equipment required for the operation of a workshop or to increase its efficiency or productivity; in the third place, towards the annual rental of premises for use as a sheltered workshop for up to three years-
This will enable the organisations to save towards building their own premises at the end of three years: and, finally, it incorporates, continues and expands the assistance previously available under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act. Organisations which are eligible for assistance are churches, charitable and benevolent groups. . . .
Local governing bodies are also included, although they were not included in “the 1963 legislation, notwithstanding that the Opposition sought to amend the Bill to have them included. Ex-servicemen’s organisations are also eligible for assistance in the building of sheltered workshops. The assistance that can be given is quite generous. The capital subsidy which will provide sheltered employment will apply to buildings purchased or erected, including anything necessary for their intended use. The value of land may be included in the capital cost. I think the Government is very generous to permit this value to be included, because the price of land is now a very big capital cost. Land within cities has been built on and the boundaries of cities have extended. The result is that the cost of land in recent years has been very high and is continuing to rise.
Grants may also be made towards the cost of renovating, altering or extending existing premises. Land used or to be used for farming activities in which disabled workers are employed may be approved and a grant may be made towards the cost of such land and approved fixed improvements on the land. I think that too is a most generous provision, because it extends the sheltered workshop movement beyond the confines of the cities. The subsidy for approved items of equipment is designed to raise productivity. Subsidies will be available for the initial equipment. This equipment is very expensive now. Subsidies will also be available for the expansion and re-equipment of existing workshops. However, one penalty has been written into the Bill. The Minister said in his second reading speech:
To ensure that the purpose of a grant is fulfilled the agreement may also require the organisation to repay a grant to the Commonwealth in the event of a breach of the undertaking or an adjustment to be made in the event of an organisation being given approval to dispose of an item of equipment.
The Minister also mentioned the way in which the grant will apply. He said:
This does not mean that borrowed funds or funds received from u State Government cannot be used to help meet the cost of a project.
Prior to this he had said funds cannot attract the subsidy if they come from a State or Commonwealth grant. He went on to say:
For example, if an eligible organisation had raised $20,000 from public appeals, “had received a donation of $10,000 from a local governing body, $7,500 from a State Government, and horrowed $7,500, the amount of $30,000 received from the public appeals and the local governing body’s donation would be the amount that could be subsidised. This would attract a grant of 560,000 and by using all available funds the organisation could obtain a sheltered workshop costing up to $105,000.
What the Minister was saying was that, though the amount of $7,500 received from the State Government would not be counted for subsidy purposes, it can be included in the total capital made available to the organisation to build a workshop.
The rental subsidy will be paid for three years while the organisation builds up capital funds with which to purchase suitable buildings! This is a very wise provision. We know that many of the workshops are paying rent. They will be subsidised for three years and this will encourage them to make a public appeal to raise the funds that will attract the subsidy at the end of the three years and thus enable them to build their own workshop. Another very interesting feature of the Bill, as the honourable member for Grayndler said, is that its operation is back dated to 28th November 1966. It is a pity that a provision similar to this is not included in other pieces of legislation that provide benefits for pensioners. However, the back dating of this benefit will mean that any work commenced since 28th November 1966 will be eligible for subsidy.
In Launceston in Tasmania we have a very well conducted sheltered workshop, which was started by a Mrs Terry. The chief instructor is Mr Murray who is performing an outstanding service. It has been operating for only about two years. We have another in Hobart and a third in Devonport. Mrs Terry told me at the weekend that their greatest need is space and equipment. This Bill will assist the workshops to obtain the space and equipment they need. There is room for the Launceston workshop to expand at the site where it is now operating, beside St George’s School in Amy Road near the St Giles Home for crippled children. Tenders have been called for work that will double the size of the workshop. Mr Pendrith, who is a leading person in the organisation and a member of the committee, asked me at the weekend whether the Bill would enable the organisation to obtain the subsidy. I assured him that it would. It is good to know that the Bill will enable this organisation in Launceston, which already has one-third of the cost of this big building programme in hand, to attract the subsidy of $2 for $1 and enable it to finish the project within a short time and to build the workshop to the size that is needed.
At the moment the organisation conducting the workshop in Launceston must use space outside the shop. Some of the people employed there must work outside the shop. It can hold only twenty, but thirty-five young people work there. Some are put outside to work when the weather is fine, but there is a very big crowd in the workshop when the weather is bad. The increase of the size of the building will be of tremendous advantage. Most of the people working there are children from three schools in Launceston that cater for crippled children. They are the St Giles Home, which is one of the best in Australia, the St
George’s School and St Michael’s School. The children are paid 10s a week for their work. Many of them will stay the rest of their lives working in this type of employment, but there are some who could go out into the world and work in normal industry. However, some of them are afraid that they may lose their pension. There is always the thought that if they give up their pension they will have nothing if for any reason they find they are unable to work outside. The fear of losing the pension stops some of them from going out into the world to work. I think the Minister should make quite clear in his reply to this debate how the earnings from this work will affect pensions that these people receive. I think that they should hold their pension and be allowed to earn as much as normal people do for their work.
– They will. The only effect of this is that it gives them a concession if they pass the limit of permissible earnings, provided that under the Social Services Bill they are acceptable as persons receiving a sheltered workshop allowance. This Bill is separate from the Social Services Bill. This Bill provides for the capital benefits. The sheltered workshop allowance is the new type of concessional benefit that permits additional earnings within the concept of the invalid pension for persons who work in these places.
– The Minister naturally has divided the two fields of assistance. I hope it will work out as he intends that it will and that our fears for these people will not materialise. The motto of the workshop in Launceston is: ‘A chance to work, not charity.’ That is an excellent motto for a place of this type. The problem that it faced at the beginning was finding a way to sell the goods that were made in the workshop. This is always a problem for these places. Cardboard containers gave the workshop a start. It was given a contract to make cell packs for fruit. The people in the workshop made fifty cartons a week and they were happy doing this. But then they had trouble with the cartage contractors and the work ceased. Then Kelsall & Kemp (Tas.) Ltd, manufacturers of blankets and other articles in Launceston, helped them and has now been helping them for quite a while.
It has been found also that disabled persons can operate electric drills. This extends the scope of their work even further. They have now started to make pallets for factories. Lately they have been engaged in packing newspapers which go to Malaya where they are used for wrapping food and for pulping. In performing this work disabled persons are contributing to our export trade. To enumerate some of the fields in which these persons are operating gives an interesting sidelight to the sheltered workshop movement. The scope of their work is remarkable and we must congratulate the leaders of the movement on the ingenuity they showed in providing different types of work for disabled people and in providing special equipment. This Bill will cater for the provision of that equipment. So in all I feel sure that the legislation now before us will add a new chapter to the story of these men and women who are placing our disabled people in useful wort, giving them a sense of belonging to the community and rescuing them from the land of the lost.
– This Bill is one of the most important from a social and humane standpoint that the Government has brought before the House. It will enable the Government to assist specified organisations to establish, extend and equip workshops. The Bill extends the provisions now contained in the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act. Although in the legislation the sheltered workshop is referred to, it takes on a broader aspect of sheltered employment. Good progress has been made in training and employing -disabled persons, especially mentally retarded people, in rural activities for work on poultry farms, grazing properties and the like. During the past nineteen years more than 20,000 invalid persons have been rehabilitated and have been able to lead a useful and worthwhile life due to the assistance, help, advice and training that they have received under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. Medical treatment, specialised vocational training and, above all, personal courage have enabled these persons to overcome great personal disabilities and handicaps. When praising these rehabilitees 1 think we should pause and remember the great load that has been lifted from their parents and relatives who stood steadfastly behind them and nursed them until this scheme was formulated.
Before the scheme was implemented the disabled had only the pension to look to and the comfort and attention from near relatives. The Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service through hospitals and other institutions will continue and persons injured or afflicted by disease will be rehabilitated. It is estimated that more than 1,000 of such persons will return to normal life. Unfortunately, many people, because of their disabilities, cannot be fully restored and thus vocational rehabilitation must be limited to those who appear likely to secure jobs in competition with fit persons. There are others who, through no fault of their own, cannot stand up to the normal conditions of employment in commerce and industry. This is where the sheltered workshop plays an important part. Specially designed mechanism is set up to assist the disabled to operate and control machines and to do work that otherwise they would not be able to perform. I pay tribute to those voluntary organisations which initiated the sheltered workshop movement and to those industries which have made annexes available for the disabled. There has been a more pronounced awareness of the need for such workshops within the community over the past five years than hitherto. Of the 100 or more sheltered workshops for both mentally and physically disabled, more than half have been commenced in the past five years.
This measure is designed to bring about more sheltered workshops and to incorporate in this scheme all the experience of dedicated people who have taken a great interest in their management and control. In a tour of these establishments last year I was much impressed by the help that many people who suffered great disabilities were able to give to those being initiated to the sheltered workshop scheme. In endeavouring to encourage more people and organisations to become interested in the scheme the Government has decided to subsidise the organisations - churches, returned soldiers organisations and other charitable bodies - with a desire to do this work, which is one of the greatest contributions we can make to assisting our fellow men. To qualify for the assistance, existing or proposed sheltered workshops will need to comply with certain standards and operate, or plan to operate, at a level which will enable their employees to receive a reasonable reward for their labour. It is not proposed that the qualifying standards should be inflexible. It will, nevertheless, be necessary to differentiate between sheltered workshops and activity centres or similar establishments which are primarily intended to serve a purpose other than that of enabling handicapped persons to achieve some degree of financial independence.
Broadly the Bill does four things. It provides assistance on a $2 to $1 basis to eligible organisations, firstly, towards the capital cost of purchasing, erecting or extending premises for use as sheltered workshops; secondly, towards the cost of items of equipment required for the operation of a workshop or to increase its efficiency or productivity; thirdly, towards the annual rental of premises for use as a sheltered workshop for up to three years; and finally, it incorporates, continues and expands the assistance previously available under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act. Two requirements for eligibility are that an organisation must not be conducted for the profit or gain of its individual members and that it must not be controlled by persons who have been appointed by the Commonwealth or a State government.
As I said in my opening remarks, this is a wonderful scheme which was introduced following a promise by the Government in the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt). I am sure that churches and similar organisations will be attracted to it and that the subsidy of $2 for $1 will enable such organisations to localise activities. This is most necessary because of the inability of disabled people to get from their homes to their places of employment. I here pay a tribute to the Lions Club in the Kogarah district. It did a tremendous job for almost two years in rostering members to go daily to the homes of disabled people, take them to the sheltered workshop and return them to thenhomes after work. When one realises just what this entailed one cannot but admire those self-sacrificing people who rendered this wonderful service to the disabled persons. I commend the Government on its action and I am sure that great good will come from this Bill.
– While my views may be somewhat more critical than those expressed by previous members in this debate, I welcome the introduction of the Sheltered Employees (Assistance) Bill 1967 as a practical measure designed to assist some people who otherwise would be resigned to a life of idleness. It is unfortunate, however, that the Bill has to be studied in association with the Social Services Bill 1967 for I believe that both measures could have been included in the one Bill, as has been done with the repeal of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act which this Bill incorporates. This measure which, when enacted, could well be the vehicle by which a future Labor government will give full effect to its 1948 legislation which established the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. In that regard it is worth noting that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) in his second reading speech did not possess enough chivalry to allow him to mention that it was a Labor government which brought in the initial legislation in 1948 to help the rehabilitation of handicapped people. I am sorry for this, because the Minister has always administered his portfolio in an admirable fashion. However, the Minister did recognise the Labor Government’s objective in bringing down legislation at that time when he said:
It is now almost twenty years since the Commonwealth Government established the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to assist severely handicapped persons to live a normal life in the community. Since its establishment in 1948 more than 20,000 invalid pensioners and people who might otherwise have become invalid pensioners have been restored to gainful employment.
The Minister’s statement that in nearly twenty years more than 20,000 invalids and others have been restored to gainful employment highlights the importance of this Bill, but I feel that the Minister should have been more specific by saying who, or what organisations, were responsible for that great achievement. I am sure it was not achieved by the Government alone, despite the fact that the Minister would have the general public think so.
I want to pay a tribute also to people everywhere who are assisting disabled persons. I pay a tribute especially to the convenors of the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association and, in particular, to Mr and Mrs Bedwin, who originally initiated the sheltered workshop movement, for only they know what a struggle it was to get going, the difficulties of raising finance, of being able to get people interested in the movement and all of the 101 problems associated with the launching of such a project and of keeping it financed in the early years of its existence. This must have been a phenomenal task and I am sure noone will deny them any success they achieve. I doubt very much whether there is one member of this House who has the slightest knowledge of what is entailed in looking after a mentally defective person or, for that matter, a quadriplegic or paraplegic or any of those persons who suffer from numerous other types of mental diseases and deformities, yet by this Bill we pose as having done something outstanding in the field of invalid and mental rehabilitation, whereas the truth of the matter is that at government level little of a practical nature has been done up to the present.
Of course, the Bill will provide, for the first time, practical financial assistance for the sheltered workshop movement in the provision of equipment and capital for buildings, and it will extend the provisions of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act as distinct from what has been done in the Government’s own rehabilitation centres. The Bill, as 1 see it, is very complex. It is possibly the most important piece of welfare legislation ever to have been introduced into this House, but in my view it is to be leg-roped from the outset. It could, I suppose, some time in the future, on the return of a Labor government, form the foundation upon which might be built the superstructure of all problems associated with the rehabilitation of invalids, the mentally defective and the otherwise deformed and retarded people of this country. As it now stands, and as it appears that the Bill will be passed in its present form, I suggest that it is restrictive in the extreme and, as stated by the Minister, is intended to cater only for those persons who qualify for an invalid pension in the first instance, or to those young folk who at the age of sixteen years would qualify for such a pension.
Eligible organisations are restricted, and so are persons who will benefit for they, too, will be selected from the chosen few which the various sheltered workshops can accom modate. But what of the tens of thousands of invalids and others, both young and old, who are unable to meet the educational requirements of sheltered workshop administrations? The definition of a disabled person in clause S of the Bill is restricted. It means a person:
The definition of eligible organisation is equally restrictive and expressly excludes the Commonwealth Government or a State government or an organisation which carries on its business for profitable gain. This means that it is left to church, charitable, benevolent, service and other similar organisations to bear the burden of the administration of sheltered employment. Local government and trustee organisations are also acceptable organisations, apparently because the Government is aware that local government can induce extra taxation, by rating, to provide the funds needed in running sheltered workshops. This, in turn, would relieve the Commonwealth of the need to find extra finance. What I want lo know is why all this finessing by the Government in a matter so important to the welfare of the people. Why is the Government allowed to spend so much money on so few while refusing to allow multitudes of other people the right to live decently, as in the case of married aged couples and widow pensioners?
Only last week 1 pointed out, in the debate on the Social Services Bill, that of 107,000 invalid pensioners only 388 had been rehabilitated during the past four years and of that number 355 had commenced full time employment after their training. Yet the Government had spent in that period more than $6m on the actual rehabilitation of those persons. As I see it, this Bill will provide from time to time most favoured treatment for a few thousands of our incapacitated people while the great majority of invalids will be compelled by law to starve it out on the inadequate pension that they receive each fortnight.
The section of the Social Services Act which covers eligibility for invalid pensions is as unreal as it is possible to be. I urge a reconsideration of the section to allow some elasticity to medical practitioners in their judgments of the state of health of patients. I believe the section should read persons incapacitated to the extent of 75% to 85% of their earning capacity’, for in that way many more people would be able to obtain pensions and peace of mind. Until a year or so ago the attitude of the Department to a person undertaking casual work was, to say the least of it, cruel and unreal. Until about 1953 an invalid pensioner was absolutely prohibited from earning even one cent by way of supplementary income. It stands to the eternal credit of the late Athol Townley, who at that time was Minister for Social Services, that he issued an instruction to his Department that an invalid pensioner was to be allowed to earn upwards of 15% of the basic wage provided the employment was of a sedentary or semi-sedentary type. Even for years after that some officers of the Department were found to be spying on invalids who were endeavouring to supplement their pension by earning a pound or two. I am pleased to see that the present Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) early last year saw the light and somewhat eased the burden on invalids by allowing invalid pensioners to have their earning capacity gauged on medical issues rather than on the ability or desire to work. For record purposes I propose to read to the House a letter I received from the Minister following correspondence between us because I am sure there are many people who are unaware of the altered conditions now applying to invalid pensioners. On 29th June last year the Minister wrote a letter to me in which he said:
On 10th June I promised to write to you again about the employment of invalid pensioners. The question of invalid pensioners undertaking employment was reviewed recently and this has resulted in some modifications insofar as the effect of earnings is concerned.
Broadly, the question of whether or not an invalid pensioner in employment is permanently incapacitated for work will be determined, in future, on the medical evidence alone. The previous policy was that an invalid pensioner who earned more than fifteen per cent of the wage normally payable in the type of employment in which he was engaged (or $4 a week where the basic wage was payable), was, as a general rule, regarded as having ceased to be permanently incapacitated for work to the extent of 85% and therefore ineligible for further pension. This will no longer apply. Except for means test purposes, therefore, earnings in future will not be a disqualifying factor for invalid pension.
Where an invalid pensioner commences employment a medical review will not be carried out unless the earnings exceed $7 a week. If the earnings exceed $7 a week a medical review, involving an examination by the Commonwealth Medical Referee, will be conducted. The Commonwealth Medical Referee will be furnished with details of the employment before commencing the examination and the question of whether the pensioner is still permanently incapacitated for work to the extent of 85% will be determined in the light of the Medical Referee’s report.
The above policy will apply to all invalid pensioners, including those in sheltered workshops, but married pensioners in sheltered workshops will continue to be allowed to receive $8 a week from the workshops before a review of their medical eligibility for pension will be required. Two steps will thus be necessary in future where an invalid pensioner engages in employment:
Firstly. Where the pensioner commences employment at a wage in excess of $7 a week ($8 a week in the case of a married pensioner in a sheltered workshop), a medical review will be carried out to see whether the pensioner remains medically qualified for pension.
Secondly. Where the pensioner remains medically qualified for pension, the rate will be reviewed to take into account the income received by way of earnings.
The changes I have outlined represent a modification to the methods adopted in the Department to determine whether a person is permanently incapacitated for work to the extent required to qualify for invalid pension and does not in any way affect the provisions of the Social Services Act. For this reason I did not see a need to make a public announcement.
I feel sure that the information contained in the Minister’s letter will be of the greatest interest to many people. There must be many who have been unaware of the change that has taken place, and I personally appreciate the Minister letting me know the change of policy.
– Permissible earnings have now been increased, of course, to $10, subject to the means as assessed, as was explained in the debate on the Bill the other day.
– That is very much appreciated. The report of the DirectorGeneral for Social Services for 1966 shows that in the previous four-year period, from 1963-1966, although 85,308 people had been referred to the Department for rehabilitation purposes, only 4,915 of them had been placed in employment. I therefore challenge the Minister to tell the nation what has become of the remaining 80,393, who apparently failed to make the grade in rehabilitation training.
What everyone in this Parliament seems to forget is this - and it is one of the most important aspects of our social service system: for an applicant to obtain an invalid pension he must be incapacitated for work to the extent of not less than 85%. The question of invalidity has always been a frightening one for general medical practitioners. In my experience the great majority of them are afraid to state on paper that a person is permanently incapacitated. In many ways I have a very great sympathy with them in their dilemma, because it is almost impossible for a doctor to say with certainty that a person is 85% or more incapacitated in cases involving carcinoma plus other internal conditions, heart diseases, emphysema, hypertension, nephritis or any of the dozens of kinds of arthritis with their crippling effects. Then, of course, there are patients whose central nervous systems go wrong, and these are really hard to deal with from the doctor’s point of view. Employers will not employ them.
I have no doubt that many doctors would say immediately that patients who were 60%, 70% or 80% incapacitated were permanently incapacitated, but would hesitate to say that these patients were 85% incapacitated. Apparently a person in this category must continue to eke out an existence to the best of his or her ability without any thought ever having been given to employment in a sheltered workshop or the grant of an invalid pension. Is it any wonder that statistics showed that more than 1,250,000 people earned less than £12 10s a week in the 1962-63 income year? The numbers of people earning income around this level are considerably higher today.
I could virtually fill a book with cases that have come to my attention over the years in which the Department has rejected applications for invalid pensions even in the face of medical certificates stating that the patients concerned were not capable of work, and in which the Department relented and approved of an invalid pension only after further medical evidence was presented. I remember a case many years ago of a woman who had had thirteen children and whose application for an invalid pension was rejected and who within six weeks was admitted to a mental hospital and within six months was dead. My own brother-in-law had to die at the age of sixty-two before his doctor found out that he had been sick enough to get an invalid pension. I believe that sheltered employment would have enabled him to enjoy life a little longer, because he was an excellent carpenter and joiner.
About three years ago a neighbour of mine begged me to get her an invalid pension. She was about forty-six years of age and the widow of one of Newcastle’s best known doctors. I asked her to see her step-son, who also was a medical practitioner, and obtain from him a medical certificate indicating the complaint from which she was suffering and with which she was permanently incapacitated. Over a period of about two years, although it was evident to everyone who knew her that her health was deteriorating, the doctor refused to provide a certificate that his step-mother was permanently incapacitated. However, within a few weeks of entering a hospital this woman died at the age of forty-eight years. The doctor later admitted that even medical practitioners err in their judgment at times. That woman virtually starved to death because she had no form of employment, sickness benefit or anything else. She died as a result of the inability of a medico to realise that her condition was so bad. I am sure that she would have been an acquisition to any sheltered workshop or some other place of employment, because many years earlier she had occupied a position as a doctor’s secretary. In Australia today there are literally thousands of this type of case which the Minister and the Government ignore.
The Bill is vague and appears to me to contain only machinery provisions, whereas the Minister in his second reading speech made many significant statements which must have aroused the curiosity of many people. I propose to refer to some of the Minister’s remarks, which I think are important to the future welfare of sheltered workshop employees and those people who administer the sheltered workshop movement. Early in his speech the Minister said:
Notable advances in training and employing disabled persons, particularly the mentally disabled, have been made in a rural environment on various types of farms. I refer to the growing of grain and vegetables, the raising of poultry and livestock, as well as work in orchards and plant nurseries.
The Minister then invited honourable members to think of similar undertakings which could encourage invalids to work but which would not be designated as workshops. It was apparent that the Minister had been thinking in terms of maximum opportunities for the infirm and aged. To my mind, this was a good omen for the success of this venture. Earlier the Minister when speaking on the Social Services Bill said:
For example we would not wish to exclude employment in a rural colony engaged in general fanning, or a poultry farm or a plant nursery.
Later, he said:
Two requirements for eligibility are that an organisation must not be conducted for the profit or gain of its individual members and that it must not be controlled by persons who have been appointed by either the Commonwealth or a State government.
Later in the same speech the Minister said that capital subsidies would not be limited to projects where employees would receive the proposed sheltered employment allowance. What does this mean? Is it proposed that some rural undertakings will be eligible to receive the assistance while others will not be eligible? Does it mean that capital subsidies will be granted to establishments which obtain the Minister’s blessing even though the type of work in which the employee engages is not eligible to receive the sheltered employment allowance? Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to clarify what he really means.
I believe there are numerous opportunities for the mentally retarded or the infirm to work at rural undertakings if only proper arrangements could be worked out. Conditions of employment, hours, wages, holidays and accommodation would all need to be safeguarded, and the same would need to apply to persons who work in sheltered workshops. The Minister referred in particular to the objective of the legislation when, in relation to vocational rehabilitation, he said:
Treatment and training therefore are limited to those who appear likely to be able to secure jobs in competition with those who are ablebodied. Each year, however, several hundred people are provided with assistance by the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service but fail, through no fault of their own, to measure up to the exacting requirements of normal employment in commerce and industry … It was to meet the needs of these people that sheltered workshops were established through the initiative, enterprise and generosity of the many voluntary organisations which have pioneered this field and to which much credit is due. In Australia today, there are more than 100 sheltered workshops of various kinds catering for both the physically disabled and the mentally handicapped. More than half of these workshops have been started within the past five years. Their purpose is to help handicapped people. In doing so they are producing goods and services which last year added about $lm to our national production.
A little later he said:
What this measure seeks to achieve is the development of an increased number of well equipped workshops which will enable severely handicapped people to earn up to the limits imposed by their disabilities. Some will eventually be able to graduate to outside jobs and others will find permanent and rewarding employment within the workshops themselves.
What does all this mean? Is it to be inferred that wherever possible invalids are to be got back to work and that in other cases they will remain permanently in the employ of sheltered workshops? Does it mean that production from these people is continually to be built up? That is as I see it, especially in the light of the Minister’s statement that last year about $lm was added to our national production by about 100 sheltered workshops. Does it mean that by the time there are 1,000 sheltered workshops the contribution to the national production will be $1 Om or more? If that is so and provided it can be achieved without taking toll of the already reduced state of health of the invalid, I would welcome it. However, I am not too sure about what the future holds for many of these people.
The Minister has already told the House that pensioners employed in sheltered workshops would have their pensions suspended but that they would receive an allowance of an equal amount plus earnings. It appears to me that a single pensioner will receive $13 a week plus certain earnings, but what will the earnings amount to? Will the employee be paid by contract, at piecework rates, by the day or by the week? What will be the weekly hours worked? How many hours will constitute a day’s work? What difference will there be between ‘the hours worked in a workshop and the hours worked in a farm or plant nursery? From what I glean from the Minister’s statement, it appears that for many pensioners there will not be very much in it. The fact that the first $10 of earnings will be taken as the permissible earnings, after which one half of the excess will be held against the pensioner’s merged income, will mean that the more the pensioner earns the less will be the value of the pension. If the pensioner should have invested a couple of thousand dollars which he or his parents saved for him, the position would be worsened.
If what I have said is not correct, will the Minister give an assurance that a single pensioner’s allowance, which is to be equal to his invalid pension plus his earnings up to $36 a week, will not be interefered with or reduced? Will he also give a similar assurance in regard to a married sheltered employee? Will he give an unequivocal assurance that the pensioner’s hospital and medical benefits will be held inviolate from interference? Perhaps he will also say whether an invalid pensioner’s wife will continue to receive a wife’s allowance and a children’s allowance under the Bill and that the pensioner’s earnings will not be reduced below $47 a week should he be capable of earning that amount. All these matters are of great importance to an invalid, because his costs of living are frequently much higher than are the costs for pensioners who live normal healthy lives.
I think the matters to which I. have referred reflect the extent of the Government’s interest in the rehabilitation and employment of invalids, the unemployed and the unemployable, without mentioning the need to assist thousands of aged pensioners who receive only the base rate pension - especially aged widow pensioners whose supplementary earnings will be limited to $10 a week. I have long held the view that every person should have the right to work and that in the case of the unemployed every local government authority should be an employment agency of the Commonwealth. A person capable of working should be provided with an opportunity of working and earning at a rate at least commensurate with the basic wage so that he or she may live. It is disgusting to see married unemployed people receiving only $14.50 a week to live on while seeking employment in this day and age when costs are so high. The Government should do something about this situation.
One of the greatest difficulties the Government is up against in being able to convince employers to employ retarded personnel is the fact that the employers have a definite responsibility under State law for the compensation of an employee once he has been engaged. I know that the employment of some people in any circumstances is a colossal responsibility to accept and that some employers will not be in it. However, if the responsibility for compensation in the case of injury or death of an employee who had been certified by a medical panel as being retarded was to be transferred from the employer to a nominal defendant such as the Crown, then I am sure more employers would engage retarded employees. I further believe that the cost would be more than justified in the final analysis.
Many people who in the past had been told by medical practitioners and Commonwealth doctors that they were not permanently incapacitated died within short periods from heart disease. These people virtually were compelled to work, many of them up to the time of their death, simply because medical opinion had erred, and without ever being granted a pension. I appeal to the Minister to give consideration to the proposal of my colleague the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) for the setting up of a joint committee to investigate poverty in Australia and the means of combating it, for I am sure nothing but good would flow from the work of such a committee.
– I rise for a few moments to support this very worthwhile Bill which is designed to provide Commonwealth assistance for the provision of sheltered employment accommodation for certain disabled persons. It is quite obvious that the Minister and his Department have made a thorough investigation of the existing situation and have come up with this Bill which in my opinion is an extremely worthwhile one, and I congratulate them on it.
It has been the lot of a few people in Australia, realising the importance of giving disabled persons an opportunity in life, to see that something was done to assist them. In many cases it has not been easy to set up the workshops that we see throughout Australia today and the various facilities which are provided to give these people an opportunity to enjoy something of life. I feel that over the years they have been neglected by society to a large extent.
This Bill will enable the organisations interested in these people to advance the workshops to a state where disabled persons will have an opportunity to live the fullest life possible, because it will make available occupations which should be available to them. From my own experience in the State of Western Australia I am aware that citizens who have known that such people should have an opportunity have gone to tremendous trouble to get a few dollars here and there to set up workshops and provide facilities that would enable them to enjoy life.
We have found that some parents have almost hidden their children for many years because of their handicap. In some cases the people concerned had not left the confines of their homes because they had not realised that there was an opportunity available to them. I am sure that this Bill will assist in a great many cases throughout the Commonwealth to give these people the opportunity they deserve. It was easy for most of us to go off to school in a normal manner, as people expect to do, and to take our chances to learn as we went through life. That is up to us. We have our full faculties. These other children, right from an early age, were left behind. They stayed at home, without the same opportunities, until such time as the organisations I have mentioned came forward and endeavoured to do something for them, to lift them out of their situation, and to assist their mothers and fathers. The parents of such children must find it almost impossible at times to know what to do to assist their children. Such assistance is beyond the average person, and as I see it this work must be done by the various organisations which are operating in Australia today. They have the technical knowledge, the know-how and the ability to teach these people to use their bands and the abilities they possess.
If we look around we find that many of these people have tremendous talents, and if they are given the opportunity to use them they can live a very useful life. They can be occupied for the full day if given the opportunity. I am pleased to be associated with this Bill. I believe that it will make opportunities available for so many of our citizens, who in the past have been neglected. In the future they will have the opportunity to lead a useful and full life.
– in reply - As I said in my second reading speech to this House, before the Bill was brought down the details were discussed with various representatives of the sheltered workshop movement. Reference has been made during this second reading debate to some of the people who are concerned in the field of sheltered workshops. Very correctly, praise has been given to so many of these worthwhile organisations and individuals who have done so much to help the less fortunate members of our society.
I would like to mention specifically the Australian Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, a body which is now receiving a form of capital assistance from the Commonwealth and which is serving as a co-ordinating group amongst all people working in the field of disability. This body worked closely with the Government in formulating areas of assistance which it felt were most worth while, and as a result this Bill has been submitted to the Parliament as a step towards helping the sheltered workshops which have for so many years endeavoured to provide for people who are physically or mentally disabled. It is hoped that the capital assistance provided in this Bill, linked with the financial assistance provided through the sheltered workshop allowance, legislative provision for which was introduced into this House recently, will provide some additional assistance and will enable these organisations to operate on a viable basis in the future. 1 would like to refer to some of the matters specifically raised during the debate. In particular I want to assure honourable members - this matter was raised by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths) and, I think, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), amongst others - that the benefits which a person would be entitled to receive as an invalid pensioner will be retained by him if he should receive the sheltered employment allowance. This was specifically referred to in the debate on another measure recently, and it is only through your latitude, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the matter has been referred to at all in this Parliament today. All these fringe benefits, such as child’s allowance, wife’s allowance and the pensioner medical entitlement, will be retained by a person changing from an invalid pension to a sheltered employment allowance.
The general range of assistance that is being provided has been adopted on the basis that this seems to be the avenue in which the subsidy assistance will be of the most value to the people working in the field. The specific forms have already been dealt with, but there has been a suggestion before the House tonight that perhaps they should be of a greater amount or cover a wider range. The difficulty that arises is in determining in what way Commonwealth assistance can best be given. 1 hope that the various State governments which have taken unto themselves the responsibility for work in this field will maintain an interest and will continue their present capital assistance. If they are not already giving some form of financial assistance perhaps now they will enter the field and provide additional help. I think there is a continuing area in which not only the Commonwealth Government but the State governments can exercise some responsibility for helping disabled people.
I do not wish to deal in any detail with other matters. Where contributions made to the debate by honourable members have contained specific proposals, I will examine those proposals in detail. If there appears to be something worthy of implementation we will examine it and perhaps consider it in the light of the operation of the considerable advance made by this Bill in Commonwealth participation in assistance for disabled members of our community. The honourable member for Grayndler referred to the date of commencement of these benefits. As I explained in the debate on the Social Services Bill, where there is a provision of capital assistance the benefit is to be back dated to the first business day after the election. But where there is a subsidy provided either on rent or on the equipment in workshops, these benefits will operate as from the date of the Minister’s consent. This is in line with normal practice. The honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) explained in some detail some of the reasons why this has been so in the past and why, in my opinion, it should be so now.
The final matter I would like to refer to is the fact that there is in this Bill no discrimination between the types of disability which persons working in a workshop may have and in respect of which capital assistance may be granted. Irrespective of disabilities sheltered workshop authorities may approach the Commonwealth Government and, subject only to compliance with the terms of the assistance, obtain this capital subsidy. This means, as in the case of farm projects which two or three honourable members referred to tonight, that there may well be people with mental disabilities rather than physical disabilities who will come within the category of sheltered workshop employees and for whom assistance will be available. The concept of farm homes, Mr Speaker, is one which offers particular benefits for many of those people who suffer mental disabilities. One such farm is operating in New South Wales and it could well be a model for other organisations with an interest in this field. They may be able to draw on the experience of this farm and launch into similar projects of their own.
This form of capital assistance, I should also mention, is not necessarily contiguous with the type of workshop within which the sheltered employment allowance is to be payable. In other words, a workshop for which capital assistance is provided need not necessarily be identical with a workshop within which all employees receive a sheltered employment allowance. This is primarily because at the stage of initiating a sheltered workshop it could well be that a body is not sufficiently organised to permit it to comply with the necessary requirements for the payment of a sheltered employment allowance. However, because of the very beneficial nature of a sheltered employment allowance, it is hoped that most sheltered workshops in due course will be able to transfer their employees from the invalid pension to the sheltered employment allowance. This, to my mind, gives disabled people the opportunity to strive to offset their disability and to play a more complete role in the community. This is the objective behind the Bill; to bring back into an active role in society those people with disabilities. If this objective can be realised then the support of the House in the passing of this Bill tonight will be well merited.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Debate resumed from 11 April (vide page 1 110), on motion by Dr Forbes:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
DrJ. F. CAIRNS (Yarra) [10.17]- Mr Speaker, the Bill before the House is a small one which will have no great effect on the provision of health or medical services in Australia. Its short title confines it to the provision of certain health and medical services for pensioners. It is within the scope of that short title that I propose to say a few words on behalf of the Opposition. Before being specifically relevant to the Bill, I should like to point out to the House that it is the purpose of the Australian Labor Party to provide a general, complete and comprehensive health and medical service in Australia, believing without doubt that such a service does not exist today. In debating this Bill it will not be possible for me to show how many gaps there are in the present general health and medical service in Australia.
One of the features of health and medical services today is the existence of very significant gaps which cause a considerable amount of uncertainty, insecurity and worry to many members of the community. It is the purpose of the Australian Labor Party to provide a general, complete and comprehensive health and medical service primarily by the further development of the general or public hospitals in Australia. It is the intention of the Australian Labor Party that such a service should be financed by the community so that the citizen will not have to pay at the time he is ill and will not have to pay in a lump sum. To ensure that full medical services are made available even to the poorest citizen in the community, it is the purpose of the Australian Labor Party to ensure that the quality and adequacy of medical attention shall have no relation to income or capacity to pay. That is very far from realisation today. It is not so in Australia; it must be made to be so. Much needs to be done to achieve this and Labor will seek immediately to reach this objective.
AsI said, the Bill is far narrower than would allow adequate examination of the matters thatI have just mentioned. The Bill concerns pensioners alone. As the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) pointed out in his second reading speech, its purpose is to enable the benefits that are available to pensioners under existing provisions of the National Health Act to be made available to persons who will become eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxation of the means test provided for in recent legislation. The Minister went on to say:
The pensions and allowances that will be affected by the proposed relaxations to the means test are age, invalid or widows’ pensions authorised by the Social Services Act; service pensions authorised by the Repatriation Act; sheltered employment allowances which will be authorised by the proposed amendment to the Social Services Act; and allowances authorised by the Tuberculosis Act.
The benefits authorised by the Bill are, firstly, hospital treatment in public wards of public hospitals without charge in return for which the Commonwealth pays the hospital concerned $5 a day for each pensioner treated; secondly, the range of drugs and medicines that are ordered on the prescriptions of doctors in private practice without charge; and thirdly - provided the Australian Medical Association agrees when it sees fit to have its meeting in May - the provision of free general practitioner medical service for the pensioners who have been brought within the scope of the Acts I have just mentioned. The Minister pointed out that the estimated annual cost to the Commonwealth is $550,000 for hospital benefits and $380,000 for pharmaceutical benefits. The estimated cost of extending the free general practitioner medical service for a full year is $450,000. So the Bill is not a significant one in the development of our medical services.
Before looking at any other matters, I should like to point out that the Opposition receives with some surprise and concern the information that the provision of the general practitioner service for these new and additional pensioners depends on the meeting of the Australian Medical Association which, as I have said, is not scheduled to take place until May. This, of course, is as a result of an agreement that exists between the Government and the Australian Medical Association. One would imagine that it would not be beyond the capacity of the Government or the Association to provide in this agreement for the automatic extension of benefits that might arise as a result of an adjustment of the means test or some similar thing. Surely it is not beyond the capacity of the Government and the AMA to achieve a purpose such as that. Why should it be necessary for a special meeting of the Council of the AMA to be held? Why should it be necessary to have a delay of several months before the agreement is extended to include the few pensioners who are provided for and in respect of whom the Commonwealth as a whole will be involved in the relatively small cost of $450,000? Surely, when an agreement was being worked out between the two authorities, some provision could have been made for the automatic extension of a general practitioner service in the case of an adjustment to the means test or of an extension of the number of pensioners or the types of pensioners involved.
The Opposition believes that age and invalid pensioners and other pensioners in the community today are the responsibility of the nation and not of the States or any private or charitable bodies. There is plenty of scope for the States and private or charitable bodies to carry out their activities; but the Labor Party believes, and always has believed, that age and invalid pensioners are the responsibility primarily of the nation. The amendment to the Constitution providing the Commonwealth with power to provide health and social services that was adopted in, I think, 1946 or 1948 gave effect to the approach that the Labor Party has always made. We believe that the Australian nation is not discharging its responsibility towards age and invalid pensioners. We believe that increasingly the Commonwealth has passed this responsibility partly to the States and partly to voluntary and charitable organisations. This is characteristic of the development of our health services, even in respect of pensioners.
There are at least six serious defects in the provision of medical and health services for pensioners. I am sure that each honourable member has come across a sufficiently large number of cases to cause him to agree with me when I say there is a vast inadequacy of geriatric care in Australia today. Far too much in this field is relegated to charity or is neglected altogether. To begin with, we do not even know the needs of elderly people. The States do not care about, and do not dare even to inquire into, the needs of elderly people today. Mr Les Johnson, the former member for Hughes, asked the Minister for Health a question that had a bearing on this. He received an answer which thoroughly confirms the proposition that I have just put to the House. Mr Johnson asked:
The answer that Mr Johnson received, as I said, confirmed what I have just put to the House. The answer was in two parts. This is what the Minister for Health said:
The Minister said: ‘I have no detailed information’. How can the Commonwealth be exercising its responsibility for age and invalid pensioners if the Minister for Health has no detailed information about the number of beds for acute geriatric cases in public hospitals or day centres or outpatient centres attached to public hospitals to meet the needs of these persons? The Minister went on to say:
The provision of hospital accommodation and services is a State responsibility; the Commonwealth’s responsibilities in this regard are limited to repatriation hospitals and hospitals in Commonwealth Territories.
This vastly and increasingly important field is, according to the Minister, a State responsibility. Well, the Opposition does not look at it that way. We start from the assumption that age and invalid pensioners are the responsibility of the nation. We do not believe in passing that responsibility to State governments or anyone else. The Minister continued:
During the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers for Health held in Canberra last July there was discussion of a proposal for an inquiry into the needs, care and treatment of the aged. This matter has already been the subject of inquiries in some States and the State Ministers decided to study the reports that are already available on the subject before further discussions wilh the Commonwealth are held.
While this is going on elderly people in Australia are dying and others are left neglected in rooms in many different parts of the country, having to rely on friends or neighbours to give them assistance. I do not know whether it is necessary for an inquiry to be conducted in order to ascertain the situation, but if the Minister and his State colleagues take the position that nothing further can be done unless they first find out what has to be done, then the inquiry is urgent and should take place into the position of elderly people these days and the need for geriatric care and attention. Not only is this a very great problem today but clearly it will become a much greater problem as time goes by. In a recent address the Honourable Sir John Barry, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, dealt with the matter. Among other things he said:
I make no claim to familiarity with the mysteries of demography, but the projections of population in Australia during the next twenty years emphasise the urgency of planning for an increasing number of aged people. It is expected that the number of males aged sixty-five and over in Australia will increase from 412,800 in 1966 to 617,000 in 1986.
He stressed, and I quote again: the projections of population in Australia during the next twenty years emphasise the urgency of planning for an increasing number of aged people.
No planning is going on anywhere in Australia today as to what will be needed by an increased number of aged people in the next decade or two. Like everything else that is being done, the future in this respect is unplanned. Our social service and health systems grow like an ugly tree, without system or pattern. A little is added here today as a result of pressures from this group of people; a little is added there because it means a few more votes for the Government from that group of people. But no overall plan or consistency is present in what is being done.
– I can understand my friend’s objection to my statement. I know he would agree that there is no such thing as an ugly tree. But sometimes when I look at a fig tree its distorted limbs and twisted trunk remind me of our social service and health systems. I think the honourable member for Reid knows enough about fig trees to realise the validity of the parallel.
Of course, some inquiries have taken place. They have indicated a pretty unsatisfactory condition. I have time to refer to only one such inquiry. It was a survey conducted by the Old People’s Welfare Council of Victoria of accommodation for elderly people in Australia. I would like to bring the attention of the House to one aspect of the inquiry, namely the limitation on meeting the need of elderly persons. The report of the survey reads:
Organisations were asked, from their own experience, what existing conditions affecting accommodation for the elderly impose the greatest limitation on meeting the need. The following conditions were mentioned:
Insufficient infirmary care - beds limited to residents only.
Lack of finance for building and maintenance.
Limitations of Aged Persons Homes Act to the active elderly.
Limitations of Commonwealth Health Act - infirmary sections do not qualify for Special Account Benefits.
Lack of trained staff for institutions, with understanding of the needs of the elderly.
That is only part of the picture. The limitations include seventeen different items. I do not intend to go through all of them. This is merely an indication of what one survey found regarding the limitations to which I have referred. I know of my own experience that long waiting lists exist for admission to the only homes made available for elderly people in Victoria. Sometimes it is necessary for these people to wait up to eight months to gain admission to one of these homes. The Government provides some financial assistance to elderly people in this regard. It provides a housekeeper grant for those who look after old people in their own homes, but this is quite inadequate for the purpose. The Government provides a home nursing subsidy, but this is completely inadequate for the purpose. Directly and indirectly the Government provides some assistance for nursing homes, but these homes are totally inadequate. There are long waiting lists for admission to these homes. Many of the places that are available are far too expensive for even the averagely situated elderly person. There is an overall problem of increasing need to which Justice Sir John Barry referred and for which there is no long term planning at all.
The Opposition believes that the kind of service to which I am referring can at least possess its main development as a development from the general or public hospital. These hospitals must be subsidised directly by the Commonwealth in order to provide the kind of development to which I am referring. There seems to be general agreement among the medical profession that the service to be found at the hospital in Newcastle is an excellent example of the way geriatric treatment starts in the hospital, with a special ward for the purpose; where convalescent or staging homes or hospitals can be provided; where a home service is provided based upon the general or public hospital concerned. Meals are taken out, nursing is provided and housekeeping is provided. Even the laundering of bed linen and such things is provided by the general hospital. The point about all this is that it is much cheaper to provide for patients in this manner than to provide for the patients in the ward of the hospital concerned. It is cheaper to use the space in the patient’s own home than to use the space in the hospital. In many ways it is better for the patient that space should be utilised in this way. This is the first point I makes - the inadequacy of resources for geriatric treatment in Australia. This is the most glaring deficiency which this Bill leaves still existing in the Commonwealth today.
The second point to which I refer is the inadequacy of the provision for public hospitals themselves. The Commonwealth has recently increased its hospital benefit to $5 a day, but this amount is totally inadequate. The costs of public hospitals today are, at the minimum, $10 a day, and I suggest that they would be $20 a day for each bed in a teaching hospital. When the Commonwealth contribution was first introduced, it was about 45% or near enough in some instances to 50% of the total cost of a bed in a teaching hospital. The contribution of $5 a day made by the Commonwealth now is no more than 20% of the cost of a bed in a general or teaching hospital. That is why I say that there is evidence that the responsibility of the Commonwealth for health and medical services and attention to pensioners is gradually being moved to th; States and to other bodies. Every State Minister of Health today has enormous problems and there is evidence that every State Government must decide whether to sacrifice education or health. This is a pretty sorry state of affairs in a country which is considered to be affluent and which considers itself to’ be one of the most economically advanced countries in the world. But the regional governments are being forced to economise and to choose between two such essential requirements as education and health. The pensioners are not the accepted responsibility of the nation; they are becoming increasingly the responsibility of the States and voluntary bodies.
The third deficiency that is not cured by this Bill is the need to provide specialist medical services for pensioners. Pensioners - when the Australian Medical Association agrees - are provided with a general practitioner service. Is the assumption underlying this that pensioners as distinct from other citizens do not require specialist services? Or is the assumption that pensioners receiving an income that is barely sufficient on any test to provide for the bare minimum of needs are expected to pay for their own specialist services? The Opposition believes that this glaring deficiency must be quickly repaired and that panels of specialists must be made available - I suppose it must be by agreement in the traditions of the association between governments and doctors that prevails in this country - so that specialist services can be provided for pensioners.
The fourth obvious deficiency that comes to mind is to be found in the increasing evidence that pharmaceutical drugs and medicines are not widely enough available. Many complaints come to hand that a pensioner’s doctor has prescribed a drug or medicine as necessary for the patient and it is then found not to be on the list or has been taken off the list and a substitute is said to be available. A substitute is said to be available by whom? By some other doctor who has never seen the patient, who knows little of his needs and who knows little of his reactions to specific drugs. However, the drug that the pensioner’s doctor has said is necessary is not available. What can be done to meet this situation? Sometimes it is said that all pharmaceutical drugs and medicines that are on the market and prescribed by a doctor should be accepted by the Minister’s advisers as necessary for the pensioner. I think there is a strong case to be made out for this suggestion. But at least if the Government is not prepared, because of its economies in this field, to go as far as that, the Minister should have and should be prepared to exercise some discretionary powers to make such pharmaceutical drugs and medicines as are prescribed by the pensioner’s doctor available to him.
Of course, if the Minister used discretionary powers in this respect, he would have to act on advice from someone. I suppose it would be pointless to expect him to act on the advice of the advisers who had already recommended that the drug or medicine should not be made available. Who can be independent in such a matter as this? The need in many fields of health services, as in many fields of social services, for some independent judgment to be exercised is apparent. The problem must be solved in some way or other to give the doctor treating a pensioner a freer, more effective and more appropriate choice.
The fifth deficiency which I think is obvious in the services for aged and invalid pensioners and which is still left by the Bill is the failure to provide dental services and dentures for pensioners. There is hardly another country with a level of development similar to that in Australia that does not provide services such as this. If the Government cannot, with its economies, provide a full dental service and dentures it should surely be able to go .at least part of the way. In some States pensioners can obtain dental treatment free of charge; in others it is subject to a means test; and in some no service at all is provided. Again there are differences between the States. The Commonwealth is supposed to be responsible for the age and invalid pensioners, but the responsibility is being transferred to the States and the States are meeting it in different ways. This should no longer be a characteristic of the pensioner medical service. However, it is a characteristic of the general service and no doubt it will remain for some time. The presence of this situation in the pensioner medical service should not be accepted for a moment by a responsible government. There are at least two other deficiencies in this particular field. They are the need to provide hearing aids and optical treatment. Pensioners today are in need of these services. If pensioners must provide these services for themselves, they face considerable costs. The provision of a hearing aid is a complicated service and I am quite sure that many pensioners accept responsibility for the purchase of hearing aids that they cannot afford to buy and they are very often left in financial difficulties. These are areas of the service that remain almost unexplored and sooner or later a government in a country such as Australia must begin to explore them.
The sixth point that I want to bring to the notice of the House as illustrating serious deficiencies in the service is the relationship of pensioners to benefit funds. This is quite unsatisfactory. The pensioner hardly ever knows whether he should or should not join a fund. If he does join a fund he often has to pay more for the limited amount that he receives from the fund than has the ordinary member. He is uncertain; he does not know what to do and he very often must pay more if he does join than the ordinary person would pay. The pensioner should be covered for all needs without the necessity to join any private fund. This deficiency will remain as significant as ever after the passage of this amending Bill. Apart from these half dozen significant areas of deficiency that the Bill still leaves I want to refer to the development of two general provisions which the Opposition considers it should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth of Australia to accept.
We believe that the Commonwealth should begin without delay to provide funds for a salaried staff at general and public hospitals. One of the main aims of the Australian Labor Party will be to develop the efficiency and adequate nature of hospital services in the general and public hospital wards by the provision of salaried staff. We believe also that another general factor which has very largely been ignored by the Government, which must be taken into account and which the Labor Party will take into account, is the provision of effective competition to the private oligopolistic drug companies by a responsible public corporation or commission which may grow from the development of something like the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. Most of the drug companies in Australia - there are not many of them - are in what the economist calls an oligopolistic situation. They have considerable power because of their size and by agreements between them over the prices they charge. They make large and excessive profits.
The Commonwealth today is spending such an enormous amount of money to buy their products that it can no longer properly be willing to pay whatever prices these companies see fit to charge. The role of public enterprise in this field, as in many others, is to provide effective competition with private enterprise, which is no longer private in any sense of the word and about which, in many cases, there is not much enterprise either. As I said at the beginning of my remarks the Bill provides for a very limited range of services. They are simply those which have arisen because of amendments to the Social Services Act and Repatriation Act resulting mainly from changes in and a relaxation of the means test. This is all that the Government has seen fit to introduce in the way of medical and health services for pensioners. No doubt the Minister will claim that this is the only responsibility the Government has at a time like this, but the Opposition makes the criticism that the Government should and must provide sooner or later for services in at least some of the areas that I have outlined to the House this evening. In addition to this it must plan over a long period to accept fully its responsibility for the adequate provision of a health and medical service for age and invalid pensioners in Australia. The Government shows no readiness to undertake any of these things. The Opposition is not opposed to this measure because it agrees with its provisions, although they are limited. It cannot object to the provisions contained in the Bill, but we point out to the House that the measure is totally inadequate to meet the Government’s responsibilities for health and medical services for our age and invalid pensioners.
– in reply - I have no desire to detain the House at this hour, but I should like to make one broad comment on the remarks made by the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) in criticising the provisions contained in the Bill. He spoke of them as being totally inadequate. I remind him that for a maximum of 4 1 ,000 pensioners they will provide benefits which will cost the Commonwealth Government in the region of $1,300,000 per year. That is in respect of those 41,000 pensioners alone. I do not know what the honourable member’s definition of ‘adequacy’ is, but the amount I. have stated seems to be a very substantial contribution to the welfare of that number of old people. I come now to the general point that I wish to make.
The honourable member for Yarra spoke of the 1946 amendment to the Constitution as though the terms of that amendment were such that from that time forward the Commonwealth accepted full and complete responsibility to provide health and allied social services to the pensioner group in the community. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that the referendum did was to amend the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power to play a part, to share in this field with those governing bodies in Australia which had the traditional responsibility, that is, the State governments. So often when people talk about the national health service and the pensioner medical service they assume that the whole of the national health service is embraced by what the Commonwealth Government does in this field. It is not uncommon for people to compare the national health service in Australia with the national health service in Britain, forgetting completely that the service in Britain comprises virtually the totality of hospital and medical care and allied services in that country, whereas in Australia what is called the national health service is just a part of the totality of medical and hospital care. I believe that this is the answer to the honourable member for Yarra. He referred to the inadequacies in quite a number of respects of the pensioner medical service, but in doing so at all times he either forgot or chose to ignore the traditional and continuing role and responsibility that the State governments have in this field. They must continue to have that responsibility. The Commonwealth Government does not operate hospitals, nor does it operate nursing homes. I have never heard any suggestion that the Commonwealth Government should enter this field, other than in its own territories. The State governments have traditionally operated hospitals and have traditionally taken responsibility for the provision of physical health services.
Confining my remarks only to the pensioner group and other old people in the community, over the years the Commonwealth by successive improvements in the benefits it makes available has lightened the load on the State governments and has enabled them, or should have enabled them, to do more in this field. It is not only the things that are provided in this Bill - the pharmaceutical benefits, the pensioner medical service, general practitioner services and the $5 a day contribution to the hospitalisation of pensioners - but other factors, including nursing home benefits, which cost this Government a large sum and which primarily benefit old people. The honourable member mentioned the home nursing subsidy virtually as though it did not exist. Further, I mention the standard rate benefit in respect of contributors to medical and hospital funds. All these things lighten the burden of State governments and make it easier for them with the resources they have available to fulfil their traditional responsibility for the sort of things the honourable member for Yarra advocated.
He talked of the lack of specialist services being a gap in the pensioner medical service, but specialist services to the aged and indigent group in the community have always been the function of our great public hospitals that are operated by State governments. Let nobody suggest that a pensioner cannot obtain specialist services without paying for them. He can receive these services through the provisions made by the States in the public hospitals. To suggest that this represents a deficiency in the pensioner medical service ignores the point that I am trying to make, namely, that the responsibility for the care of old people and the medical and hospital treatment of old people is shared jointly between the Commonwealth Government and the State governments.
– And so jointly avoided.
– The honourable member says ‘jointly avoided’ but in talking about dental treatment the honourable member pointed out that some States have accepted this as a clear responsibility and have provided free treatment. If some States are capable of providing it and are prepared to shoulder that responsibility, others should be too. This is no reason why the Commonwealth Government should step into the field. At least some States have accepted the responsibility and have the financial capacity to do so. One of the reasons why they have the financial capacity is the continuing and increasing subventions provided by this Government by way of reimbursement grants. The Government accepts the fact that the States do have a responsibility in providing health services, particularly to old people.
– Is the Minister-
– Order! The honourable member has spoken in this debate.
– There would be a radical change in the whole concept of Commonwealth and State relations, and in the amounts made available to the States in reimbursement grants, if we were to accept the proposition of the honourable member for Yarra that the whole responsibility for providing health and medical services for the older section of the population was with the Commonwealth Government. This is all I have to say, except to remind the House that these particular provisions were an obligation accepted by the Government - and the Government gave an undertaking in this regard during the election campaign - as part of its proposals to relax the means test. I remind the House that these obligations are being honoured shortly after the Government has been returned to office.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Dr Forbes) read a third time.
House adjourned at 11.6 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
That imported cheese should be made from pasteurised milk only.’
At that time, the Food Standards Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council was considering Australian Food Standards for cheese. This Committee, in accordance with usual practice, forwarded a draft food standard for cheese to the public health authorities of the various States for detailed examination by the States’ Food Advisory Committees. The draft was also forwarded to the Council of Australian Food Technology Associations for comments and suggestions.
Tn 1964, the National Health and Medical Research Council formally recommended the adoption of a standard for cheese which included the provision that ‘milk and milk products shall be effectively pasteurised. . . .’ This standard was later formally adopted by the Food Advisory Committees of all States.
Legislation to give effect to the new standard was included with other amendments of the Quarantine (Animals) Regulations, which were notified in the Commonwealth Gazette of 14th July 1966.
In September 1966, implementation of the regulations was deferred when cheese importers and exporting countries pointed out difficulties in complying with testing and certification procedures called for in the regulations. Subsequently, the legislation was revoked and the whole matter has been referred back to the National Health and Medical Research Council for further consideration.
I have traced the history of this matter to illustrate that the regulations were the result of a series of recommendations and examinations over a period.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable members questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
My department has never undertaken a survey of persons who are not contributors to medical or hospital benefits funds.
Telephones for the Blind (Question No. 185)
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
Will he consider supplying telephones free of rental to blind persons?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The question of concessional rental has been considered by the Government and the current rate is regarded as the maximum assistance possible at the present time; this of course includes blind persons.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
Is he able to say whether any of the countries from which Australia imports frozen, processed or canned fish aid their fishing industries by subsidising fishing operations or the construction of vessels?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Some of the countries from which Australia imports frozen, processed or canned fish provide assistance to their fishing industries by subsidising the construction of fishing vessels and/or subsidising fishing operations. For example, Britain, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America provide subsidies for the construction of vessels and Britain, Norway and Canada provide payments to vessel operators to meet deficiencies in earnings. For more detailed information on this subject I would refer the honourable member to a report published in 1965 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development entitled ‘Financial Support to the Fishing Industry’. A copy of this report is available in the Parliamentary Library.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 and 2.
The Australian Wheat Board is autonomous in its day to day marketing operations. From time to time it has released information on sales which are of major public interest including sales to Mainland China, India and Pakistan. The information in these statements is closely comparable to that in the Canadian statements referred to above.
Both Boards are commercial selling organisations. Neither makes a practice of disclosing the price at which individual sales are made. The reasons for this are obvious, in line with normal commercial practice and quite clearly justified.
I have the assurance of the Board, however, that in its pricing and sales policy it has not discriminated against India vis-a-vis any other market, including Mainland China.
In other respects it is possible to compare terms of sale and in this connection the attention of the honourable member is invited to three statements made by the Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, viz.,
They revealed that the terms of sale in each case were based on credit extending for twelve months and requiring payment of 10% on shipment, 20% in six months, 20% in nine months and the balance of 50% in twelve months from date of shipment with an interest charge on the deferred payments.
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
On 12th April 1967 I introduced the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill (No. 2) 1967 which provides a specific exemption from sales tax, effective as from that date, for seat belt assemblies designed for the protection of persons in motor vehicles. If this Bill receives the royal assent, therefore, seat belts will be exempt from sales tax, whether sold as accessories or as fittings to new vehicles.
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
Employment in the meat industry in Victoria follows a strong seasonal pattern. From a low point in August each year employment usually rises rapidly to a peak in December, then trends downward until the following July.
Comprehensive statistics of employment in the meat industry are only available from the Commonwealth Statistician; the latest figures from this source relate to the year 1964-65. At the end of February 1967, there were twelve persons registered for employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service in Victoria in food, drink and tobacco occupations. At the same time there were thirty-one unfilled vacancies registered for workers in these occupations in the State. The Commonwealth Employment Service does not relax its efforts to place in employment all persons registered.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
The companies registered under the Life Assurance Act 1945-1965 which also carry on insurance business other than life insurance are indicated in the following table. The second column of the table shows the year from which they became entitled to engage in such business under the Insurance Act 1932-1966. For those companies carrying on such business when the Insurance Act was introduced in 1932, the year 1932 has been inserted: the year in which they first became engaged in such business is not known.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 April 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670418_reps_26_hor55/>.