26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Senator MURPHY - In addressing a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I refer to the Fill fiasco of ever spiralling costs, now in the area of hundreds of millions of dollars and rising by tens of millions of dollars. Why did the Government fail in the first place to obtain a firm upper limit of price? Has it yet got one or are we still in the position that if we do not pay whatever is demanded we will be left without planes essential to our defence?
Senator HENTY - I should have to get in writing for the Leader of the Opposition details relating to the matter which he raises. However, the position as I know it is that a contract was made with the United Kingdom Government to supply that Government with a certain number of these aircraft at a price at which they will also be available to Australia in whatever quantity wc require. If this is the position, then the honourable senator’s comments as to spiralling prices have no foundation in fact. That his comment has no foundation is borne out by the price submitted to both the United Kingdom and ourselves. However, as this question is one of great importance, I suggest that the honourable senator put it on notice so that I may get for him any further details that may be available.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he has seen statements to the effect that the Senate Republican Policy Committee in the United States of America claims that American forces should not be in Asia. In view of the friendship which exists between the Australian Liberals and the American Republican Party, as was demonstrated by the work of Australian Liberal parliamentarians during recent American election campaigns for Republican candidates, could the Minister advise whether there is likely to be any change in Australia’s policy in connection with the war in Vietnam?
– One thing that is quite obvious is that in the Western democracies there is still room for disagreement. This is something that one does not find in some other countries in the world where there is no longer any disagreement on some policies because those who disagreed are no longer with them. The difference between democracies and the Communist countries of the world is just as I have suggested. The honourable senator endeavours to give the Senate some interpretation of American politics. He is pretty game, I think, because I myself have never seen a satisfactory explanation of the differences between the two parties in the United States. I can assure the honourable senator that no affiliation exists between the Liberal Party of Australia and any party in any foreign country.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I ask: In view of the proposed extension of territorial waters, what advantages will Australia receive from the extension and what will be the position of nationals of other countries who have been engaged in fishing in the new zone?
– The proposed extension of the exclusive fishing zone from three to twelve miles will give Australia a control over the fisheries in that zone which is recognised in international law and to which Australia therefore is entitled. While the zone will not be sufficiently wide to give Australia exclusive jurisdiction over all fisheries resources off her coast, it will facilitate management of the valuable fisheries resources within the zone and, in particular, will give substantial protection to the valuable crayfish fisheries and developing prawn fisheries in the north. In 1965-66, export earnings from these fisheries alone amounted to approximately $22,000,000. It is further hoped that the establishment of this zone will give the Australian fishermen the feeling of security needed to undertake fisheries development beyond this zone. As regards foreign operations, the Minister for Primary Industry announced in the House of Representatives on 15th March 1967 that the zone will be closed to foreign fishing operations but that the Government will examine the position of any foreign nationals of other countries who may have been engaged in fishing in the new zone between three and twelve miles and will consider whether, as a matter of international comity, a short phasing out period might be allowed in any appropriate case.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. As an alternative to adopting the suggestion made by Senator Drury in a question to the Minister yesterday about the standardisation of the railway gauge between Marree and Alice Springs, will the Minister request the Minister for Shipping and Transport to cause a survey to be made of a route for an entirely new standard gauge line branching off the east-west line and running in a northerly direction to Alice Springs, thereby avoiding the present unsatisfactory route between Marree and Alice Springs which suffers from inundation?
– T will refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Indeed, I will relate it to the previous question asked by Senator Drury so that the Minister will have the two questions under his consideration.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Education and Science. 1 refer to the Minister’s inadequate reply to the question asked by me yesterday concerning the functions of the new Department of Education and Science. I ask the Minister: Is he unable to provide a formal statement of the functions of his Department except to give examples of the Department’s work and to leave room for the implication that it has no mandate over and above the functions formerly carried out by other Commonwealth bodies? I remind the Minister that I also asked him to make a statement not only on this matter but also on the structure and organisation of the Department. Is the Minister prepared to do this, or does he intend to leave Parliament and the education-minded public in the dark?
– I would like to refer to what appears to me to be the total inadequacy of a question asked about structure and organisation. Unless the honourable senator defines what he means I am not at all clear as to his meaning. I do not believe that he would want me to say that we will have a secretary and three assistant secretaries and then go through the whole organisational structure in detail. Until the honourable senator can frame his question in a way which enables me to tell him what he wants to know, I can do no more than I have done. I cannot guess what is in his mind. Yesterday the honourable senator asked me about the scope of the Department of Education and Science and the things it is to do. I gave him examples. I replied to his specific questions and gave instances of what the Department is doing.
I thought that I painted a broad picture of assisting and fostering education and in particular - this has some relevance to remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate the other day - planning, as it is, for the improvement of Australia’s technological resources by providing, as it is, for improvements in sub-tertiary technical schools and for the new colleges of advanced education, thereby giving an indication that the requirements of Australia for technological progress are appreciated and that something is being done to meet those requirements. I thought I gave a fair indication, amongst all the other things I said, of the amount of work being done by the Department of Education and Science. Yesterday the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in a question to me raised the matter of committees. The Department is using and will continue to use expert advisory committees in such fields as the planning of colleges of advanced education and as to the allocation of research funds amongst individual researchers in and out of universities. That is the type of work being done. I am not proposing to indicate exactly in which direction new policy proposals will be met. I do not know how I can answer the honourable senator any better than I have done.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral by referring to a requirement of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board notified to commercial television stations on 30th August 1966. The Board required that the Australian content of productions of drama and Australian produced children’s programmes should be increased. The use of Australian productions during peak viewing time and the percentage of Australian productions of all viewing time should progressively be increased by commercial television stations. Knowing that that statement by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board required commercial television stations to have fully complied with its requirements by July 1967, I ask the Minister: Can he give any information as to whether that objective is being achieved?
– I cannot give the information that the honourable senator seeks. I have no doubt that a great deal of research will be required by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to obtain the information he requests. Therefore I ask the honourable senator to place his question on the notice paper.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether he has seen a report of a recent statement by a spokesman for the South Australian branch of the Royal Automobile Association that the marketing or manufacture of motor car seat belts not carrying endorsement markings of the Standards Association of Australia is illegal in South Australia? As this situation probably applies in other States and as the endorsement arose from discussions in which the Minister and his Department were involved, will he take whatever action is possible to advise the travelling public and manufacturers of the position in relation to the endorsement?
– I have not seen the statement. I certainly will refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minis ter for Shipping and Transport. If I can add one contribution in my own right, I would like to say that there is an overwhelming case for the use of safety belts. I hope that the message becomes apparent to everybody. I know that the Department of Shipping and Transport will do everything possible to see that all necessary information is made available.
– My question which is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate also relates to the matter raised by Senator Fitzgerald concerning criticisms made of the United States policy on Vietnam by the United States Senate Republican Policy Committee. Is the Minister aware that one of the matters criticised by the Republican Party was the American Administration’s open ended commitment to the Vietnam war? Is Australia’s commitment to the Vietnam war also open ended? If this is not the case, or even if this is the case, will the Government make a statement as to precisely what is Australia’s commitment to this conflict?
– I can give no further answer to the first part of the question than that which I have already given to Senator Fitzgerald. As to the second part of the question, the Government has never hesitated to make its position quite clear, not only to the Parliament but to the people of Australia as a whole. We fought an election on this issue with very disastrous results for the Opposition. When any further policy announcement is to be made the Prime Minister will make it to the Parliament and to the people of Australia.
– Is the Minister for Education and Science aware that a disease known as ‘dieback’ is causing extensive damage to cocoa plantations in New Guinea, particularly on the island of New Britain? Has the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation been requested to assist the Agriculture Department of New Guinea in carrying out research work to combat this disease? If not, would the CSIRO be prepared to assist if such a request were made?
– I cannot answer the question because I do not know whether the CSIRO has been approached by the Department in New Guinea. If such a request were made then the CSIRO would assess the virtue of doing that work and its priority in relation to all the other work which it has to do. I myself am under the impression that both dieback and elephant beetle, which I think is the other disease which attacks these trees, were the subject of scientific investigation by a United Nations committee. But I do not know whether the CSIRO has been approached specifically.
(Question No. 99)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
In view of the constant bush fire danger which menaces the Aust ra ian continent, can the Minister advise the result of negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and a Canadian aircraft company on the purchase of five CL215 amphibious fire bombers?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answer:
The Minister for Civil Aviation has informed me that he has no knowledge of the alleged negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and a Canadian aircraft company for the purchase of five CL215 amphibious fire bombers. Whilst the Australian agents for these aircraft have drawn the attention of the Director-General of Civil Aviation to the possible use of these aircraft in a fire fighting role, the Department is not aware of any proposal to use such aircraft in this role.
(Question No. 101)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
Will the Minister amplify on his statement ‘Bold New Method’ with particular regard to (a) the target dates for occupancy of migrant selfcontained flats; and (b) whether present residents of Commonwealth hostels will have prior rights of transfer to the flats?
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer: 1 refer the honourable senator to the Press statement issued by my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service and myself on 9th
April. A copy of the statement has been sent to the honourable senator. We first have to secure suitable sites for the flats to be built as an initial experiment. It is too early to say when they are likely to be ready for occupation. Present hostel residents wi.l not have prior transfer rights to flats.
(Question No. 113)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
Having regard to the Minister’s reply of 12th April regarding alternate landing facilities at Meekatharra for Perth interstate aircraft, does not this indicate the urgency of upgrading Kalgoorlie airport to make it an acceptable alternate to Perth?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answer:
It is not thought that the circumstances of the unavailability of Meekatharra as an alternate to Perth on 7th and 8th April are significantly concerned with any priority or urgency for the upgrading of Kalgoorlie airport as an alternate.
Before an airport can be nominated as an a ternate the Department requires that it has both primary and emergency power for its navigational aids and other facilities which are essential for the safety of aircraft operation, lt follows, therefore, that, even if primary and emergency power are installed, there must be some short periods during which the airport is not available as an alternate while periodic maintenance is carried out. In the case of Meekatharra this was planned for 7th and 8th April, at a time when it was not expected that weather conditions at Perth would require the use of any alternate. Unfortunately, as I pointed out in the reply to the question in the House to which you have referred, the possibility of fog became evident on the night of 8th April and, Meekatharra not being avai.able as an alternate, other operational arrangements had to be made.
The infrequency of such an occurrence as happened on the night of 8th April, and the quite minor interference with air traffic which resulted - it was only the replacement of a Boeing 727 by an Electra, by one airline, on one service - would not bring with it any significant reason for increasing the priority of the development of Kalgoorlie.
This does not mean, of course, that Kalgoorlie does not warrant development as an alternate in its own right. You will know that there is a proposal on our airport development programme to carry out such work at Kalgoorlie as will make it suitable as an alternate for use by domestic aircraft and also perhaps as an international alternate. The Department has the planning of the project in hand but I am sure you will appreciate that airport developments required for use by aircraft on a regular schedule basis must normally have priority over those concerned mainly with an alternate status.
(Question No. 128)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer:
The newspaper article concerned a family named Edge and this reply relates to that family. Members of the Edge family were considered for assisted passages from the United Kingdom under a scheme involving the Northcote Children’s Emigration Fund in the United Kingdom, operated in conjunction with the Commonwealth nomination scheme.
The scheme is available to large families in the United Kingdom who, on application to the Northcote organisation, are able to obtain sponsorship for their school-age children to be cared for in the Northcote Children’s Home in Australia. The parents and other children in the family are offered accommodation in a Commonwealth hostel until the family can become united in private accommodation.
The Fairbridge Society operates a similar scheme and children’s homes are conducted by the two organisations in various Stales. The Edge family made application to the Northcote Children’s Emigration Fund in the United Kingdom for five of their children to travel under the sponsorship of the organisation. The application was accepted by the Fund. Approval was given by the Immigration Department for the family to travel under the assisted passage scheme. The family arranged itself so that four of the children would proceed to the Northcote Home at Bacchus Marsh, and that the parents and the other three children would be accommodated in a Commonwealth hostel. On arrival they entered Nunawading Hostel.
When the family sought to have their children reunited with them at Nunawading Hostel, there was insufficient accommodation available to meet the request at the time. However, after the family had brought the children from the Northcote Home a transfer to the Commonwealth hostel at Geelong was arranged so as to enable them to be together. This special arrangement is designed to facilitate the assisted migration of families which might not otherwise qualify for consideration. It is emphasised that no families are compelled to apply under the arrangement and any who do so are fully aware of the conditions under which they will be migrating, including the separation from their school age children which will be involved. Thus the family separation which is involved under the arrangement is not in any way imposed as a requirement on the families concerned after they have migrated here but is one which they seek on their own initiative. The intention is that the family members in the hostel will have a better opportunity to achieve maximum savings while the school age children are in the care of the children’s home, thus advancing prospects of speedy acquisition of private accommodation for the whole family.
(Question No. 137)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer:
The desired information will be found in the personal explanation made by Mr Fox in the House of Representatives on 18th April 1967 and reported in Hansard at pages 1325 and 1326. If there are suggestions of this kind there is nothing which could support them.
(Question No. 15J)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Services has supplied the following answers: 1 and 2. Under the Social Services Act a wife who has been deserted by her husband without just cause for not less than six months and who has taken reasonable action to obtain maintenance from her husband may qualify for the widow’s pension. A wife whose husband is imprisoned and has been imprisoned for not less than six months may also qualify for a widow’s pension. In both instances the six months’ waiting period applies in all States of the Commonwealth, including Victoria. In Victoria, however, the Commonwealth pays special benefit to deserted wives or wives of prisoners during the first six months if hardship is present, and it appears that the wife will be eligible for a widow’s pension at the end of that period. This practice originated in 1947 and was specifically designed to be exclusive to a State where no State assistance was available. Victoria was the only State where State assistance was not provided during the first six months and became, and still remains, the only State where special benefits are paid in these cases.
– by leave - The statement I propose to make was made a short while ago in another place by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Anthony). Honourable senators will understand that when 1 use the first person personal pronoun it refers to the Minister for the Interior. The statement is as follows:
I should like to inform the Parliament about the progress of certain investigations which I have made into the government and administration of the Australian Capital Territory. In view of the current interest of the people of the Australian Capital Territory in the question of self-government, I considered it timely that I should give them some advice on the progress of the investigations. On the other hand, the ultimate responsibility for the seat of government and the National Capital rests with this Parliament, and I consider it my duty to inform the House before releasing the information.
Honourable members will be aware that the Minister for the Interior is responsible for the administration of the Australian Capital Territory. This function is performed in the main through the Department of the Interior, with the Department of Health and the Attorney-General’s Department also playing important parts. Many other Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities are also involved. From time to time the people of the Australian Capital Territory, or at least some of them, have pressed for changes in the present system under which their only elected representatives are a member in this House and eight members on the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council. I have given serious study to the present administrative arrangements, particularly in the light of the views expressed by the elected members on the Advisory Council that self-government is an immediate need and that the present arrangements are unsatisfactory. On the other hand, many residents of the Territory have indicated that they would prefer the present system, with all its faults, to a system which they did not know.
Having referred to the A.C.T. Advisory Council, 1 feel I should tell the House that the Council has a very real role in the current arrangements for the government and administration of the Territory. The elected members of the Council are there as the representatives of the people of this community, and both the members and their electors make full use of their rights to interest themselves in all matters which affect them. My Department and I spend a great deal of time in considering ‘he proposals put forward by the Advisory Council and in supplying answers to questions. Honourable members will get some indication of the activities of the Council when I tell them that the present Council, which took office just two and a half years ago, has submitted well over a hundred resolutions to me. This figure relates only to what I term principle issues, many of which have in fact resulted in Council resubmitting various aspects of an issue to me two or three times by way of further resolutions.
In addition, the Council has asked some 1,200 parliamentary-type questions on notice. The four nominated representatives on the Council have also replied to a host of questions without notice. As well as those motions which are passed as resolutions, there are vast numbers of motions which are not seconded or which are defeated after consideration. Although these do not reach me in the form of motions, they appear on the Council’s agenda and thus involve a vast amount of work by officers in my Department in study and consideration prior to Council meetings. During the life of the present Advisory Council some 6S0 such motions have so far been listed on the notice paper and have received the appropriate consideration due to those matters which are raised by the elected representatives of the people.
As residents in almost any other part of Australia could testily, the existence, of a system of State or municipal government does not, of itself, solve any problems of government and administration; nor does it mean that all persons living under such a system find themselves without grievances or cause for complaint. This being the case, it is important for those who would press for changes in the present system in the Australian Capital Territory to ask themselves whether they are concerned about their lack of representative institutions per se, or whether they honestly believe that greater local control would result in a better system of administration, recognising that such a concept will mean different things to different people.
If the desire of Australian Capital Territory residents is for a more democratic system, based on traditional electoral responsibility, then it must be remembered that there is a wider democracy and a wider electoral responsibility which must also be accommodated. While the Government recognises that the Australian Capital Territory is the home of over 100,000 Australians, it is also an area of territory acquired by the Commonwealth in accordance with the Constitution in order to fulfil a purpose which was specified in that Constitution. Underlying Canberra’s constitutional role as the seat of government - a place where the central organs of the national government are located - is its less legalistic but nonetheless important role as the National Capital, a city whose design and construction must be carried out to such standards as will reflect credit on the nation, lt is these two concepts of the seat of government and the National Capital which have for so long delayed the transition to responsible self-government for the residents of this Territory and which must continue, for many years to come, to influence the decisions of the government and parliament of the day on this important question.
Having said this, however, I must also tell the House that, since becoming Minister for the Interior, I have been concerned about this matter and have resolved to contribute to a solution if 1 could. Given the tradition of self-government at the State and municipal level throughout the rest of Australia, it has not been easy for me to accept with equanimity the situation in which this rapidly growing community is denied all representation, except for its Federal member who, for the first time, has full voting rights in this House, and a Council which may only advise the Minister for the Interior. I therefore initiated a study of the issues underlying the question of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory. Because of constant inquiries about the Department’s study, and because of the interest which it may arouse, I have decided to publish a brief outline of the preliminary findings. Copies will be distributed to all honourable senators and members.
This interim information has not yet been considered by the Government. Thus, I emphasise that it does not have the imprimatur of the Government, and in fact it makes no recommendations which require approval at this stage, lt reports progress of exploratory studies and its main purpose is to highlight those issues which will need to be considered before any firm decisions are taken. It does point up some of the real complexities of the problem and ‘hat a solution can be provided neither by any simple scheme nor quickly. As will be seen, quite a deal of study has been already undertaken, and while various possibilities are lightly touched upon these will need to be developed substantially as a next exercise in order to select the scheme or schemes which should be analysed in mors detail to enable us to assess how they may look in practice. In addition, a vast amount of material in relation to the activities of the seventeen Commonwealth departments and authorities that specifically affect the people of the Territory will need to be collected, collated and assessed.
It would therefore be imprudent for me to suggest what will ultimately appear as the best action in this problem. I have always felt, myself, that the Commonwealth would probably retain control of the central part of Canberra to a greater or lesser degree, and would tend to retain, or hand over at a later stage, some of the State-type functions. I also believe, however, that some municipal functions might be performed by the people, in particular in the new cities of Woden and Belconnen, as they develop to maturity. I emphasise that these are but first thoughts, not necessarily based on any concrete evidence. Conversely, they are also not ruled out, as yet, by the present studies. In any event, as first thoughts they could well be modified by the information and views revealed in the continuing studies.
Even assuming that we might eventually be able to separate national and local interests and pass over to the people of the Australian Capital Territory appropriate political and administrative responsibility, the assigning of appropriate financial responsibility, without which any other responsibility would be meaningless, will pose special problems of its own. In short, we will have to see whether the community of the Australian Capital Territory can assume that financial responsibility without which political responsibility and selfgovernment would not be possible.
I emphasise that I have not yet come to any firm conclusions about which of the many alternatives I should see as the most appropriate. Nevertheless, 1 am conscious of Canberra’s principal roles as the National Capital and the seat of government, and I should not recommend any proposals which might place these roles in any jeopardy or derogate from the standards that we have managed to achieve. It is my hope that this progress report will stimulate further interest in the question of self-government for the people of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory, and that public discussion of the substance of the report will contribute towards finding the best solution to a most complex problem.
I present the following papers:
Self-government for the Australian Capital Territory - Ministerial Statement.
Self-government for the Australian Capital Territory - A Preliminary Assessment, May 1967. and move:
That the Senate take note of the papers.
Debate (on motion by Senator Murphy) adjourned.
– I present the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works relating to the following proposed work:
Construction of Beef Roads, western Barkly Tableland, Northern Territory.
I ask for leave to make a short statement.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The summary of recommendations and conclusions of the Committee is as follows:
Consideration resumed from 13 April (vide page 809), on motion by Senator Gorton:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills together read a second time.
– I want to make several comments about developments that have taken place since I spoke briefly at the second reading stage. First, I thank the Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton) for supplying, as I requested, a list of countries having diplomatic missions in Australia. I notice that there are forty-five of these. Up to 13th April, only twenty of these countries were parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Obviously, the number of countries that are parties to that Convention is being increased. Australia is not yet named as one of them and will not be named until the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Bill becomes law. However, I hope that it will be possible without a great deal of delay for countries which are not yet signatories and which are represented in Australia to become signatories. The second aspect that I want to mention is that, according to the Minister, fifty-seven countries in all have now become signatories to the Convention. I think this is interesting, but the real reason for my referring to it was to express my appreciation to the Minister for giving me that list.
There are one or two other comments that I should like to make. Firstly, I should like to repeat a little of what I said during the second reading debate. At that time I spoke about the question of civil claims and the immunity of diplomatic legations in Australia and of Australian diplomatic legations overseas. I referred to the disadvantages that could accrue to citizens of Australia, or of other countries for that matter, in the circumstances that were covered by the various sections of the agreement. 1 said:
The next point to which i wish to refer is the question of civil claims. The Minister dealt with the settlement of claims in his second reading speech where he said:
Moreover, the Vienna Conference passed an important resolution which recommends-
J emphasise the word ‘recommends’ - that governments waive the immunity of members of diplomatic missions in respect of civil claims when this can be done without impeding the performance of the functions of the missions. The resolution also recommends that, should a mission not waive immunity, the sending state should use its best endeavours to bring about a just settlement of the claim.
I then went on to point out that it is possible, in accordance with these recommendations, that residents in Australia who are injured by diplomatic cars - I think I used the words ‘people with diplomatic immunity’ - were merely dependent on the benevolence of the sending country, or, failing that, our own country. I felt that this was scarcely in accordance with our own domestic laws. Here, anyone who is injured has a complete coverage in law.
I want to make it quite clear that 1 know it is not possible to amend the Bill, but I have thought of this matter since the second reading debate and I would hope that injured people might be placed in a better position than merely receiving consideration. I feel that we in Australia should take two courses. 1 suggest, firstly, that where any of our diplomatic cars do inflict injury on people in a receiving country it should not be just a matter of chance whether the injured person is helped. I suggest secondly that we should consider going a little further ourselves and ensuring that in all cases, people injured in Australia by a diplomatic car, if they are not assisted by the sending country should be helped by our own Government. I repeat that the sending country is under no direct obligation. We know that other factors enter into the matter.
I recognise that there are problems connected with this matter. I also appreciate that there are difficulties so far as the Government is concerned. For example, let us suppose that we introduced some type of legislation under which we spelled out that if a sending state did not look after the interests of our own nationals when they were injured, we would do it. This would provide a loophole. I am not suggesting that any government would take advantage of such a loophole, but a government could take advantage of it. This would be disadvantageous. Therefore, the only solution I can see is that this matter will be looked on always by our Government not just as a possibility but as a certainty. I say that because the Minister said in his second reading speech:
I do not want to leave the impression that I am of the opinion that claims to diplomatic immunity may never cause inconvenience or hardship, but 1 have sought to show that the Government will do all it can to overcome any problems which individuals might face in this regard. 1 have not the sligh’est doubt that our Government will approach this matter sympathetically. But I feel that we also should consider it sympathetically where our cars do damage in other countries.
Subsequent to my remarks at the second reading stage Senator Wright made somewhat similar comments. At page 804 of Hansard of 13th April 1967, he is reported as follows:
Suppose a diplomatic car speeds through the north of Brisbane tonight and injures XY and, normally, XY would be entitled to $20,000 compensation for negligence. By this Bill, XY is rendered without remedy. 1 interjected:
Senator Wright, in his kindly, friendly and helpful way - 1 do not question the motive of his reply - said:
I suggest that my learned and esteemed friend consider the matter before interrupting.
There was another interjection to which 1 will refer in a moment. Senator Wright proceeded to develop his argument. He said that in each case in law there is no recovery. Of course, this is right, lt is because in law there is no recovery and because I feel that this is such an important matter to our own citizens and indeed to citizens elsewhere, that I have emphasised the point. This was my principal purpose in rising to speak at the Committee stage.
There is one other aspect to which I wish to refer. As I indicated quite briefly in my second reading speech, for some years these matters came within my responsibility while I was Deputy Premier of Queensland and I had quite a deal of experience of them. I felt justified in making my comments because I believed that I was experienced to some degree. But of course I am not experienced in the legal niceties of expression. I made my comments from a humane point of view. I have been deeply offended by an interjection that was made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). As I have said, after an interjection by me, Senator Wright said:
I suggest that my learned and esteemed friend consider the matter before interrupting.
Senator Murphy then interjected:
If he sticks to the brigalow and keeps off international law it will be better for him.
I would not have taken exception to this comment if it had been the first of its kind made by the Leader of the Opposition since he assumed that office. But 1 feel that it is degrading that a person who holds such a high office should make comments such as I have heard him make about other people and, on this occasion, about myself. This is one of the most glaring examples of legal snobbery that 1 have seen. Apparently Senator Murphy, because he happens to have the letters Q.C. after his name - and no doubt earned them - feels that people who are not in the legal profession have no right whatsoever to make any comments on matters that are of a legal nature. I deeply resent his attitude. If his argument is taken to its logical conclusion, with as much justification I could say to him when he spoke on repatriation matters - unless a legal point was involved - that he had no right to speak on that subject. If he were to discuss a subject such as northern development, I might believe, wilh the experience I have had in that field, that 1 know more about it than he does; but I am too courteous to attempt to make such derogatory comments. 1 will leave the matter at that point in the hope that this gentle chiding - and that is all it is at the moment - will help the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in his new role to follow the courteous example set by his predecessor. Because he has particular qualifications in the field of law he should not feel that people who speak on matters of which law is a component are being presumptuous. Every honourable senator has a perfect right to speak on any subject, irrespective of whether it is a matter of law. However, I add that I believe it is most desirable that we take a great deal of care to note the comments of legally qualified honourable senators. But they differ so often in their views - and I am not referring only to this forum - that it is sometimes hard to know whether they are right or wrong. I hope that in future the Leader of the Opposition will conduct himself with a little more decorum.
– It is unfortunate that an aside which was made in the course of a debate got into the record. As honourable senators are well aware, very often comments are made in this chamber in jest and are not intended to give offence. Senator Morris has waited an extraordinarily long time to raise this matter. If he were offended by the remark his proper course was then and there to ask for a withdrawal. He certainly would have got it.
– I did not hear it.
– He has waited for about three weeks. The remark in question was made during a debate which was not even on the last sitting day of the week, if I remember correctly. I think my remark was made because a complaint was being made by Senator Wright - by facial expression and gesture if not otherwise - along the lines of my interjection. I am sorry that Senator Morris is apparently so offended. I did not want to give him grave offence or to make him feel terribly hurt. It was nothing more than a passing jest in the course of the debate. Had he spoken to me in the intervening period I would have withdrawn the remark or would have said something to clarify it.
It is unfortunate that the honourable senator should choose the Committee stage of the debate to drag out so lengthily his reaction to a remark which apparently he did not hear and which unfortunately got into the record. Since I have apparently given him offence I say to him that I regret that the remark was made by me and that it got into the record.
– 1 would like to say that I accept unreservedly what has been said by Senator Murphy. In justification may I say that I did not hear the comment. I only became aware of it when I was preparing for the comments that I wanted to make regarding traffic incidents. I picked up the comment then and took the first opportunity of mentioning it in this chamber.
– I would like to refer to the matters that have been raised by Senator Morris. The Bill which is now before us does reduce - not expand - the area of diplomatic immunity. It gives fewer people than before the diplomatic immunities which are necessary for them in order to carry on their work. Senator Morris was disturbed because he felt - and legally he felt correctly - that it would be possible for a diplomatic car driven by a diplomat who had immunity from civil action to be engaged in an accident to the detriment of an Australian and that the Australian would have no legal redress. Strictly speaking, in the manner of the law that would be true and I think it would need to remain true both here and in other countries.
But having said that I mention three points: Firstly, this new Geneva Convention has made it quite clear that diplomats are not expected to use their diplomatic immunity in this way in those circumstances. That is to say, where it is clearly not something which is arranged for the purpose of harassing a diplomat but is quite clearly an accident which has taken place, under the terms of the agreement the diplomat is specially required not to use his immunity. Secondly, I would point out that if he did use it then it would be the function of the receiving government to object and if necessary to require that the diplomat be withdrawn. I agree that that does not help an injured person, but it is a sanction against irresponsible use of this type of immunity. Thirdly, I would point out that before diplomatic plates are issued to the driver of a diplomatic car in Australia it is required that a third party insurance policy be lodged in the Australian Capital Territory. There have been no instances in which those third party insurance policies have not been renewed.
While this action would not provide full protection to an injured person, it would remove, I suggest, the incentive for a diplomat to claim civil immunity against a suit, because he would be covered by third party insurance. It is true that if he did claim immunity he could not be sued and therefore the insurance company would not have to pay the amount which it would otherwise have to pay. But I suggest that in this circumstance there would be little incentive for a diplomat to act in that way. So there is, perhaps, more protection than might first appear on the surface, although it is true that in a strict construction of the law it would be possible for our diplomats abroad or for diplomats of another country here to claim the immunity to which the honourable senator has referred.
Bills agreed to.
Bills reported without amendments or requests; report adopted.
Bills (on motion by Senator Gorton) together read a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 April (vide page 921), on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Bill before the Senate is designed to provide for assistance by the Commonwealth towards the provision of sheltered employment and accommodation for certain disabled persons. The Bill is welcomed by honourable senators on this side of the chamber. It opens up, in my view, a new era, somewhat overdue, for those people in our community who have been very much in need of what this Bill attempts to provide. I can assure the Government that had we on this side of the chamber occupied the Treasury benches we would have produced legislation similar to this at a much earlier stage and with much wider provisions.
The Bill is designed to assist disabled persons who are permanently incapacitated for work or whose physical or mental condition is such that they would become permanently incapacitated if they were not provided with sheltered employment. It also applies to those people who have the great misfortune of being permanently blind. During the course of the second reading speech of the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) reference was made to the valuable work of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. I would personally like to pay a tribute to the Director of Rehabilitation in New South Wales, Mr Cox, and the Senior Medical Officer, Dr Graham Shepherd of Mount Wilga, in making it possible for me personally to visit the Mount Wilga Rehabilitation Centre. It made me appreciate to a degree that I had not realised the humanitarianism and the deep human feelings that are being applied in the work at the Mount Wilga Rehabilitation Centre.
I had hoped to visit other centres throughout the Commonwealth. However, the opportunity was afforded me to visit this centre. I can recommend that any honourable senator should visit this centre in order to get an idea of the work that has been carried out there in the rehabilitation of disabled persons. Humanitarianism is absolutely essential for anyone associated with this work. The work requires dedication, lt requires team work by dedicated people in order to restore the morale and dignity of disabled persons who in other times in the past would have been enveloped in the ranks of what have come to be known as the ‘hidden people’.
In passing from giving praise to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, I do not want to under-rate in any way whatever the splendid and devoted work which has been done, which is being done and which I feel certain will be expanded on a wider scale by the hospitals and voluntary organisations throughout the Commonwealth which are engaged in this field of rehabilitation and what is known as the third phase’ of medicine. Much emphasis has been placed upon diagnosis and cure and perhaps not sufficient emphasis has been placed upon the ultimate objective of returning people to the position of normal citizens, despite their handicaps. Legislation such as that which we have before us allows the people of Australia generally, through their Parliament, to play a more active part, both physically and financially, in what is known now as the ‘sheltered workshop’ or ‘sheltered employment’ movement.
The Minister directed attention to the omission from the Bill of the term ‘sheltered workshops’, explaining that the word workshops’ suggested an industrial form of enterprise and that certain types of sheltered employment that the Government might wish to encourage might be excluded if the word ‘workshop’ were specifically used. Be that as it may, the idea of a workshop is fully maintained in the context of this legislation and a bridge is being built that will lead to a more promising future and greater hope for these people who form a considerable proportion of our community. Research work into this field to determine the extent of the problem has been rather limited. I commend the Department of Social Services for having issued a rather comprehensive report on the problem. Although its approach has been limited it has at least put on record that the Department is fully aware of the problem. Provided we in this Parliament do our part in recognising the various aspects of the problem, the Department is capable of doing the job. We now have a nucleus which can be expanded so that we may grapple with this problem thoroughly.
It is estimated that at present there are 106,000 invalid pensioners in Australia. A survey made in 1965 showed that 58% of the invalid pensioners in New South Wales had an additional income of less than $5.20 per annum and owned property worth less than 55200. These figures show that many of these people are just existing. The social service allowances are such that, in view of rising costs and their disabilities, the outlook must be very poor for this large number of people. Under the social services legislation that was passed by the Senate during the week before the recess provision was made for a special allowance for employees in sheltered workshops. The Bill having received the Governor-General’s assent, this allowance is payable now to a disabled person employed in a sheltered workshop who would be qualified to receive an invalid pension if he were not employed in that way. The special allowance is paid really in lieu of an invalid pension. The legislation provides that half of the earnings over $10 a week of an unmarried invalid person will be disregarded in calculating the amount of allowance payable, and that half of the earnings between $17 and $25 a week of a married invalid person employed in a sheltered workshop will be disregarded in calculating the allowance payable. In effect, this means that some sheltered employment allowance is payable until earnings reach $36 a week for a single person or $47 a week for a married person whose spouse is not in receipt of a pension. Blind persons will be eligible for the allowance free of any means test.
I should like to sound this note: the means test imposed on invalid pensions is unjust. It is bad enough for a means test to be imposed on “ persons who have contributed to superannuation funds throughout their lifetime and find that on reaching the age of sixty-five years in the case of men or sixty years in the case of women they are deprived of an age pension because of the means test Ameliorations are made periodically, but the very principle of the means test should be continually reviewed. The Labor Party’s policy is to ameliorate it at the first opportunity after we get onto the treasury bench, particularly as it relates to invalid persons who are prepared to make their contribution towards rehabilitating themselves by contributing to the gross national product and helping themselves to take their place as normal citizens in the community.
I should like to refer to the splendid work that the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales has been doing in relation to sheltered employment. It has eight workshops employing 280 severely handicapped persons and it has been able to place 120 handicapped persons in full lime jobs in normal industry. Even on a limited scale, this association which has depended in the past on charitable contributions and minor concessions in one way or another has been able to give a full life, a feeling of confidence, uplifted morale and the dignity of which I spoke before to 120 persons who have been placed in full time employment. This reflects great credit on the Association and on the other private organisations that have interested themselves in this work. Provided this approach is expanded and the right spirit prevails in the interpretation of this legislation, there may be tremendous gain in the potential productivity of the country as a result of the work that these people can be trained to do. Figures made available by the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association show that there are in Australia 150,000 unemployed persons who are neither registered nor recognised as unemployed. These are physically and mentally handicapped people who are languishing at home or in institutions but are capable of working if placed selectively or employed in sheltered conditions. This is not the number of handicapped persons in the community but the number capable of working, and it really shows the nature of the problem with which we are dealing here.
I again pay tribute to the Government for attempting to grapple with this great problem in this legislation. The Bill provides for a subsidy of $2 for $1 in the form of assistance to eligible organisations towards the capital cost of purchasing, erecting or extending premises for use is sheltered workshops. Eligible private institutions and organisations and local governing bodies will have available to them this assistance in the form of a 2:1 subsidy. It could mean that there will be a rapid expansion in the number of workshops which are operating. It is to be hoped that that will be the result of the passage of this legislation in the very near future. The Bill provides further for assistance at the rate of S2 for $1 towards the cost of equipment required for the operation of a workshop, lt provides also for assistance in the payment of an annual rental for a period of up to three years on premises used as a sheltered workshop. Finally, the legislation repeals the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, the provisions of that Act being incorporated in this measure. The Bill fixes the administrative responsibilities which previously applied under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act. Problems still face prescribed or eligible organisations, despite the breakthrough in this field which is now evident. As was pointed out by the Minister when introducing this legislation, there are many and varied problems still to be faced. Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, there is still not enough basic research to enable us to have a full appreciation of the great challenge which confronts our society. We speak of our prosperity and of our affluent society, yet the great problem of disabled persons in the community has not attracted enough attention to enable us to understand the whole situation.
With the breakthrough represented by the legislation, whether we like it or not we will have to understand the basic nature of the problem. This need will become evident as applications are received from organisations for assistance in the construction and maintenance of sheltered workshops. I believe that a first requirement will be the expansion of the public relations section of the Department of Social Services. That section will have to begin selling the idea to the general public, professional people, industrialists and others in the community that disabled persons can be employed. There is not enough appreciation of the work that can be done by handicapped people who are properly supervised and properly tutored. Public relations is a very important aspect of the whole scheme. The selection and training of personnel who can provide the supervision will also be of importance. They must be chosen not only for their ability to impart knowledge but also for their understanding, tolerance and kindness which are needed to make this project work. The personnel who are trained must understand what motivates an individual. Instead of being treated as numbers or as groups, disabled persons must have respect paid to their personality, capacity and other factors which will be involved.
Those who will supervise the sheltered workshops and those who will be responsible for the eventual placement of the handicapped persons will need to be selected and trained, having in mind the specialised needs that the job will entail. I believe that this training is a responsibility which should fall on the Commonwealth. In the same way as we train people in technical schools and in other institutions, we must train the personnel who will be associated with the disabled who are mentally afflicted. As I mentioned, the public relations section should direct its attention to educating many of our public bodies so that they will be aware of the need to provide facilities for disabled persons, particularly those who will need transport from their place of residence to their place of employment. At the moment our public transport, particularly buses, is suitable only for the agile. Yet one of the great problems facing private organisations associated with the care and rehabilitation of the disabled is to provide transport. The cost of providing cars is very great. The vehicles must be driven by selected drivers who will receive a salary of $40 or more per week. They must be men who have the patience to be able to assist invalided or disabled persons into and out of cars and they must be able to converse with them. They will have an important function in the whole scheme. The costs of these facilities are borne by the private organisations that operate the workshops and their costs .will increase as a result of this legislation. This is another matter to which the Department of Social Services must direct its attention.
I believe also that the scope of the legislation should be extended to give consideration to the plight of epileptics in the community. I know of epileptics who are just drifting. No provision is made to enable them to undertake special employment. I do not know whether this affliction is inherited or contracted, but a person who has the misfortune to be an epileptic is not allowed to work near machinery. If he is unlucky enough to fall down in the street he is given no recognition. Right throughout the community the epileptic has been neglected. They are worthy of assistance and provision should be made for them. The points I have stated have been covered very well in a report on a survey of social aspects of rehabilitation in Australia by Lila Hendry, A.C.P.E., who has a diploma of social studies and who is a senior social worker in the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children. In her report she spoke of the availability of professional staff and said:
For the proper functioning of any rehabilitation scheme the first essential is the provision of adequate trained staff, the proper team work approach, and adequate follow-up facilities.
I agree that all these things are necessary, but they will cost money and somewhere or other provision must be made for them. In this matter we cannot rely only on button days and charity drives; the problem must be treated as a national social responsibility. We must bear in mind also that this is not entirely a one way traffic. Not only do we assist these people from the rut of disability but also they, in their turn, repay what has been expended in retraining them so that they can take their place in industry. We must consider also that this is work of Christian mercy and that in performing this work we are honouring some of the obligations and responsibilities that we profess to have in a society such as ours.
I have already mentioned the necessity for these people to be given vocational training and to be placed in employment, as well as the importance of providing transport for them. That leads me to the matter of the provision of accommodation, a subject which now comes within the scope of this legislation following the repeal of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act 1963. The problem of the provision of suitable houses and flats for the disabled has been touched only on the fringe. It must be reviewed now particularly as these people will come out of the shadows and the isolation of back rooms and institutions and will be more in the public eye as they travel to and from their places of employment. They will also meet in a fraternal atmosphere other disabled people who are pursuing the same objectives as they are of complete rehabilitation and integration into the community.
Then there is the matter of the provision of hostels for those who do not have a home and the provision of daily help for those who cannot look after themselves. An aspect which must not be overlooked is the necessity to provide facilities in public buildings for disabled people. I noticed something of that kind for the first time in the design of the new airport terminal at Launceston in Tasmania where special toilet facilities have been provided for handicapped people. That is the first indication that our planners, architects, designers and engineers associated with a planned society are recognising the needs of this section of the community.
The subject before us is of supreme importance to an advanced, enlightened and affluent community. I compliment the Government on having taken the initiative and attempted to grapple with the problem. The time has come when all matters associated with handicapped and disabled people should be co-ordinated, integrated and enlarged upon so that not only those directly associated with these people will know all there is to know about them but also the Australian people will be able to share in the project knowing that we are at least applying ourselves to solving a problem affecting a very important sector of our community life. All these things are implicit in the legislation. They are being recognised.
As I have stated already, I would have preferred the legislation to cover a wider scale. Of course any further extension will cost money but we must evaluate our view of the important things of life. In this context we must not lose sight of the fact that the handicapped people are important, that they are our responsibility and that the national Parliament, interpreting the wishes of the people of Australia, should set its mind to solving this great problem.
– I rise to support this Bill because I consider that it will bring great benefit to certain people in our community with whom we all have deep sympathy. I was glad to hear Senator O’Bryrne express sentiments along those lines. I refer of course to the disabled and handicapped. I am aware of the growing interest in and understanding of the needs of these people. Undoubtedly we have gained a deeper knowledge of how to meet those needs.
At the outset I should like to quote from an article in the ‘Newsletter’ published in March 1967 by the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults. The subheading of the article - ‘It’s High Hope Year’ - was written because the Society had learned from the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) during the last election campaign of the proposal to introduce the legislation which is now before us. The article is in these terms:
The Australian Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled and its member organisations such as this Society, were delighted by the promises of Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt … It was good to sec the prompt action taken by the Department of Social Services as soon as the election results were known to prepare for the necessary legislation. This Federal aid comes as a result of three years campaigning by the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled for assistance to the voluntary organisations which undertake heavy financial responsibility in the establishment and the continuing maintenance and equipment of workshops.
It then goes on to list the nature of Government assistance in this way:
The second item I have just mentioned was covered by the social services legislation which has just been passed and to which I will refer a little later. It is good to see that the high hopes of these people who are working so enthusiastically for the disabled will be realised as a result of the passage of this Bill. I have since heard from the Society that it is extremely interested in the legislation.
In spite of some of the criticisms voiced by Senator O’Byrne, there is a very great contrast between the present state of affairs and the state of affairs which existed twenty years ago when the only hope these people had was to obtain the invalid pension. With the introduction by the Commonwealth Government of its rehabilitation service, over 20,000 invalid pensioners and other people who might otherwise have become invalid pensioners have been able to obtain gainful employment and to resume a normal life in the community. Working in close co-operation with the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service have been hospitals and other rehabilitation agencies of a voluntary nature. In the period of about twenty years to whichI have referred, they have been doing most valuable work. In the last five years they have made a great step forward.
Each year more than 1,000 people who have been disabled by accident or disease receive attention. At this point let me mention the most unhappy fact that a large number of people disabled by accidents have been involved in road accidents. We must all deeply regret the loss of life, especially of young people, as a result of road accidents. But not all road accidents result in loss of life. I know of the work that is being done in the only State rehabilitation hospital in Australia. That hospital is in my own State of Victoria. It is very sad to see there people who will be disabled for life but who, through the hospital, are being helped by means of rehabilitation and are being taught to use artificial limbs. These people are being helped, when possible, to return to normal employment. But, unhappily, every year several hundred disabled people are unable to respond sufficiently to the help and treatment that they are given. So they, together with other handicapped people, must be fitted into our society and given the opportunity to work and to earn money under conditions which give them the training, the encouragement and above all the sense of security that they need.
I have read a United Nations document that sets out very clearly a statement that was endorsed by the late President Kennedy, namely the needs of disabled people throughout the world and the need for us to do our utmost to assist them to become normal citizens. Voluntary organisations and State authorities have set up sheltered workshops. We should be most grateful to the Department of Social Services which in March 1966 undertook a survey of sheltered workshops. It was primarily interested in establishing the contribution that they were making to the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners and other physically and mentally handicapped persons. The Department sent out questionnaires. It received replies from eighty-seven workshops catering mainly for physically and mentally handicapped persons. It was estimated that no more than three or four workshops of the type under consideration were omitted from the survey. Of course, workshops for the blind were omitted because the blind are not subject to the invalid pension means test.
In company with some of my colleagues on the Government Members Social Services Committee, 1 took the opportunity fairly recently to visit sheltered workshops. I am indebted to the New South Wales Association of Sheltered Workshops for the interesting facts that it gave in its 1966-67 annual report. It stated that there are now 100 workshops throughout Australia and that approximately 3,500 handicapped persons are employed in them. We should recognise the benefit that is being conferred upon these people in that they are being given a way of life that has meaning for them. We should also recognise the contribution that they are making to the gross national product. It is estimated that they earn in the vicinity of $lm per annum. So not only are they adding to the economic prosperity of the country but they are adding greatly to their own sense of dignity. The worthwhile effect on them can be judged when one sees them at work in the various workshops.
I propose now to refer to some of the workshops that we visited in Victoria. Firstly, I refer briefly to the work of the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults. Many children as well as older people are being helped by the Society. At its workshop we saw examples of wonderful courage. Very severely handicapped people, by means of modern machinery and appliances, are able to carry out daily jobs such as secretarial and typing jobs. About 75% of the people we saw there were in valid pensioners. There, as in all the other centres that we visited, there was obviously a need for greater financial assistance. All the centres will be grateful for the monetary assistance that will come to them by means of this Bill. In some centres there was obviously need for more accommodation. Some of the buildings were certainly in need of renovation. Some of the equipment was outmoded. In some centres a great deal more equipment was needed. Senator O’Byrne mentioned the question of transport. Free transport is provided by the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults. When an employee is able to come to the workshop in his own car or to be driven to the workshop, the Society pays for the petrol. The Society is supported very strongly by very active auxiliaries that exist throughout Victoria.
We went to another centre where a great number of quite elderly people were doing what I would consider very monotonous work. Yet they found pleasure in doing it because it gave them an objective day by day. To us, going to this workshop and doing this work would lack interest; but to them it gives meaning to their lives. Some of these people were displaced persons who were unable to speak English. It was very touching to learn that people who came from the same country and were able to understand each other were grouped together to do one particular piece of work. We must be very grateful to the people who conduct such workshops, not only in Victoria but also in other States, for giving these people the love, care and sympathy that they so urgently need.
Senator O’Byrne also mentioned the need to give employment to epileptics. One of the centres that we visited was the Royal Talbot Centre. There we were able to see epileptics at work. We were able to gain a great deal of information from the people in charge. They were finding that month by month they were able to give these epileptics more assistance and more training and to enable them to take on more and more work which was rewarding to them and was enabling them to earn some pocket money in addition to the pensions to which they were entitled.
Another centre to which I wish to refer is one in which mentally retarded persons are employed. There we found that the efficiency that could be displayed by the employees was about 30%. Most of them were between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five years. One or two were under sixteen years of age and were receiving special training and special help. Not only are voluntary organisations doing much valuable work. A great deal is being done in Victoria and also in other States, I know, by the State governments and by various official authorities. In Victoria, various State services are provided, particularly by the Education Department for the educable group. Day special schools are located within the Department and also in State institutions such as the Children’s Cottages at Kew, the Travancore Developmental School, the Pleasant Creek Training Centre, and the lanefield Training Centre at Bundoora.
The Mental Health Authority in Victoria provides three kinds of facilities - residential training centres for adults, residential training centres and hostels for young adults and residential centres for children. As well, there are day training centres. These have been established by voluntary bodies and are subsidised by the Authority. There are at present thirty-five such day training centres where more than 1,500 children are being trained. Many of these centres are associated with sheltered workshops. Besides the sheltered workshops at the day training centres, the Authority conducts sheltered workshops at several clinics and at St Nicholas Hospital. Within the Department some 1,500 children and 1,500 adults are under care. More than 1,500 children and adolescents are accommodated in the day training centres. I have here a list of the various organisations that provide help, including authorities within State departments. lt indicates the help that is available also in hospitals concerned with the training and rehabilitation of these very unfortunate people in our community. However, the time at my disposal will not permit me to go through the list in detail.
I should now like to turn to other aspects of the Bill. The $2 for $1 subsidy will greatly assist the organisations concerned in meeting the demands that I have tried to illustrate, particularly with respect to the construction of buildings and the provision of equipment and the like. We have already dealt with the Social Services Bill, which provides for a special employment allowance for handicapped people. 1 can assure you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that this allowance will greatly encourage these people to exercise their abilities to a much greater degree. Previously, they were aware that they could earn only up to a certain amount without jeopardising their pension. The special employment allowance will give them an added incentive and will enhance their lives day by day. The Bill provides not only for assistance in meeting the capital cost of purchasing, constructing or extending premises for use as sheltered workshops, and of items of equipment, but also for a $2 for $1 subsidy for up to three years towards meeting the rent of a workshop conducted in rented premises.
As you know, Sir, the organisations eligible for assistance under the terms of this measure include religious organisations, charitable and benevolent groups, exservicemen’s organisations and local government bodies. This is in line with the provisions for eligibility under the terms of the Aged Persons Homes Act and also of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, which is now to be repealed and the provisions of which are embodied in this Bill. Trustees under a trust established for charitable or benevolent purposes also may be approved for a grant. To qualify for a grant, an organisation must not be conducted to gain profits for the body concerned. As one can readily understand, it must be controlled by people equipped with sufficient knowledge to meet with the approval of the Minister for Social Services. He must approve a particular organisation and the project for which it is responsible if it is to become eligible for a grant. Also there is a stipulation that the organisation concerned must employ a substantial number of persons who are classified as disabled.
Another point that I would like to make is that the capital subsidy for organisations that provide shelter will be applied to buildings purchased or constructed, including any necessary fixtures or alterations, and the value of land may be included in the capital cost. The Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), in her second reading speech, pointed out that the Bill does not specifically refer to a sheltered workshop as such. Rather, the term sheltered employment’ is used. It is interesting to note that the nature of the work provided in sheltered workshops varies considerably. In rural areas farming activities are undertaken. So, obviously, an attempt is being made to meet the needs of people according to the conditions under which they live and the places where they are situated. One would hope that sheltered workshops will be provided not only in the capital cities but also in country areas.
As I have said, the Director-General of Social Services must be satisfied of certain matters before a grant is made. It is laid down that the funds of the particular organisation have to be sufficient for the purpose envisaged. Moneys borrowed from the Commonwealth or from a State government to meet the cost of a project do not qualify for subsidy. Nevertheless, borrowed funds received from a State government may be used to meet part of the cost. This means that in part the required funds must be raised by an organisation by means of public appeals. Donations may be received from local government bodies and a grant may be received from a State government, but only the sums obtained by way of public appeal or from a local government body may attract subsidy under the terms of this measure.
I hope that succeeding speakers will touch on other aspects of the Bill, Mr Acting Deputy President. I have spoken of the people who receive tremendous help from the employment provided in sheltered workshops and from the care extended to them by splendid organisations of the kind that I have described, whether those bodies be voluntary or whether they be statutory bodies administered by the Hospitals and Charities Commission in Victoria and by comparable authorities, whatever may be their names, in the other States. We are grateful for the introduction of this measure which will extend the assistance that has already been given under the terms of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act. We are now exercising more understanding and sympathy and giving even greater encouragement to people who sorely need it.
May I conclude by making another quotation. Senator O’Byrne mentioned the great need for research. I point out that much research is being conducted at the national level. Dr Alan Stoller, who is the Chief Clinical Research Officer of the Mental Health Authority of Victoria, in
August 1964 attended a conference organised by the World Federation for Mental Health, which resulted in the publication of a report entitled ‘Industrialisation and Mental Health’. This report contains the speeches that were made there and I should like to quote from the final paragraph of the speech made by Dr Stoller, where he says:
A man, to obtain personal satisfaction, must learn to live with himself and with others, and satisfy his creative needs. The fact that he has’ less potential capacity than average does not alter this fundamental fact.
So it is indeed with great pleasure that I speak of this work that is being carried out in the training of children so that they will lead happier lives as they grow and in helping adults and elderly people to gain greater enjoyment from life. I support the Bill.
– My remarks will be very brief. I feel that I should begin by congratulating Senator Breen upon the very interesting survey which she has given the Senate on this matter of sheltered workshops, in which she obviously has taken a very keen interest. I also want to congratulate the Government upon what it is doing in this Bill. The Bill represents one more stage in the advance to improved social services which has been such a feature of the last twenty or thirty years.
I have heard and read with a good deal of satisfaction of the advances which the Government proposes. Anyone who has examined the work being done by these organisations must indeed admire them for what they are doing. Some years ago I was privileged to inspect a newly organised sheltered workshop near the town of Orange in New South Wales and I was most favourably impressed. Similarly, within recent weeks, I have seen the work that is being done in one associated with the Montefiore Homes for the Aged in Melbourne.
The value of these sheltered workshops, in some respects, is twofold. First of all, they have a great effect for good on the health and wellbeing of those concerned. Because they have occupation, because they have something that takes away the feeling of helplessness which is often the greatest threat to their health, these people become improved in both mind and body. In addition to that, they are heartened by the economic advantage they are able to gain from this partial employment.
Of course, one of the problems of the good people who have set out to establish these workshops has been finance. I am pleased to see that the Government has realised that this is a quite serious problem and is now advancing a good deal in the direction of helping to solve it. These economic problems, of course, at times entail for those running sheltered workshops some difficult decisions. We have had an example of that in Melbourne within recent weeks where it became necessary, in the view of those associated with the management of a workshop conducted for the blind to dismiss two employees on the ground that they were economically not employable. That gave great distress to the fellow workers of those two people who were associated with them in the blind workers trade. union. I think there was also a feeling of regret generally in the community that those who were associated with the management of the workshop should have had to take that action.
Their defence, of course, was that it was economically necessary, and although they regretted having to take the action, they said there was no other course open. The blind employees contested that view and said that it ought to have been possible to retain these people in employment. 1 think that the members of the community in general were sympathetic with them in their stand. But if those conducting these sheltered workshops have to have regard for finance - and obviously they do - then any measure such as this which is going to ease the financial burden will make it easier for them, perhaps, to be lenient in some of these borderline cases where the question arises whether they can economically employ disabled people.
So I believe that this measure is a very strong advance in the right direction. I hope that the Government will be able to do even more for these underprivileged people, these people who are not able to look after themselves fully, these people who do not want to adopt an attitude that they are totally dependent on others and who want to do something for themselves. I am glad to see that the Government is prepared to assist them. I congratulate the Government on the Bill, and I support it.
– I agree with Senator McManus that we should be appreciative of the contribution by Senator Breen. She did give an excellent coverage of the provisions of the Bill and her contribution has made it possible for people to appreciate the progress that is being made in this field. Senator O’Byrne also said many complimentary things about the work the Government is doing in this regard. I shall not traverse the field that has been covered by other speakers. Instead, I shall refer to other facts. However, I would briefly recapitulate that the Federal Government has been in this field for nearly twenty years and has already done great work in the rehabilitation of the handicapped and the invalid people. When we realise that approximately 20,000 people have already been helped by this type of work I think we get some assessment of the value of what the Government is doing.
Now we see the Commonwealth Government moving out into a new field of assistance. It is a new field because the proposal is to help what we broadly term sheltered workshops’. I have had the opportunity in the past few years of seeing some of these sheltered workshops because, seven or eight years ago, the Queensland Government decided that it should give aid to these voluntary organisations as far as it was able to give it. I have taken the trouble to find out the amount of money that has been made available by the Queensland Government to those organisations which are broadly termed ‘sheltered workshops’. The latest figure I have relates to the financial year 1965-66.
In Queensland, most of the work ot sheltered workshops is being done by the Queensland Sub-normal Children’s Welfare Association and the Queensland Government subsidises that association on a $1 for $1 basis up to a maximum of $100,000 a year. This money has been made available through the Health Department of the Queensland Government. The Queensland Spastic Welfare League has also been helped to a similar degree. Not only has the Queensland Government helped with capital works by the payment of a subsidy on a $1 for $1 basis, but also it has filled another need. That is by assisting with the payment of teachers. The Queensland Government gives assistance in the case of male teachers up to $1,800 per year and in the case of female teachers up to $1,300 per year. I would add that the Wattle Club in Queensland has developed a sheltered workshop also, as has the Lions Club in that State. Having mentioned that coverage, I think it will be pretty obvious to every honourable senator that not only will the sheltered workshops be benefiting from this Bill, but also the State Government will feel that it has an ally in this field in the Commonwealth Government.
Local government bodies are covered by the provisions of the Bill. This, I think, is all to the good. I made a comment on this point during the discussion of another Bill a few days ago. I think it is necessary to try to bring our local authorities into this type of work because they are so much closer to the people than are the various governments. I commend that inclusion. At page 919 of Hansard of 19th April 1967, the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) is reported as follows:
As the intention of the Government is to encourage voluntary endeavour two basic conditions of 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. 1 assume that the fact that the Queensland Government, for instance, is assisting in the payment of the salaries of teachers and in other fashions will have no detrimental effect in relation to the subsidy. I hope that is so. I raise the matter because I would like to have it clarified. I think it was Victoria that first started the operation of what we know now as sheltered workshops. It is interesting to know that other States also have moved into the field.
When I visited one sheltered workshop not very long ago T was saddened to see the difficulties under which some of these people are working. Unhappily, what impressed me in that workshop was the number of people who were incapacitated, not as the result of illness - they were not spastics and they were not subnormal - but as the result of accidents on the roads. Paraplegics come within this category, as I think we all know. Thinking about the work that is being done by sheltered work shops, and this type of operation generally, I cannot help recalling some comments that I made a few weeks ago - I think it was on 1st March during the AddressinReply debate. I will not quote my remarks but I will reiterate the points I made.
In 1962 some 1,600 people were being injured every week on Australian roads. Referring to this fact in the ‘Medical Journal of Australia’ of July of that year, Dr Johnson stated that one-third of the surgical beds in Australia at our large general hospitals were filled with victims of road accidents. This means that in a year some 100,000 people are injured on our roads. I am leaving aside the number of people - more than sixty a week - who are killed on our roads. Many of the injured people will never be able to take a fully active part in the life of the community again. The figure of 100,000 is frightening. I will not dwell on this aspect. I would like to be able to do so but I think that I would be somewhat out of order. I have given quite a deal of thought to the background reasons for these accidents and to certain sources from which most of these accidents flow, but this would not bc an appropriate time to deal with that subject.
The point that I do make is that this is a rapidly growing problem in Australia. Tens of thousands of people - I repeat, 100,000 a year - are being injured on our roads. A large proportion of these people will never be able to do full work again. I see an enormous need for them at least to have the opportunity in a sheltered workshop of doing as much as they can to rehabilitate themselves if their injuries are temporary or to lead a fuller life if their injuries are permanent. Whilst 1 recognise that the need for expenditure in almost all fields of Government activity is rising and that the overall annual increase of expenditure is about 10%, I fear that handicapped people will need much more financial assistance in the future than has ever been given to them before. To what degree these people are being helped today by rehabilitation services and to what degree their problems will be overcome by the great assistance that is being given by the Federal Government to sheltered workshops, 1 do not know, but this is a field which should be causing concern to every person in the community. I cannot see how any normal annual increase in general expenditure will cope with this problem.
This is a new problem. It was scarcely a problem at all twenty years ago when the Commonwealth Government first entered the field of rehabilitation. But today it is a great problem, lt is growing so rapidly that I felt under an obligation to mention it. The Minister might care to make some comment on the subject, even if she feels that it is not altogether relevant to this Bill. I hope that my remarks have struck a responsive note in the minds of some honourable senators. The problem has grown with almost frightening speed. We must influence our State governments - this is where the primary responsibility for tackling the problem really lies - to try to do something to reduce the tragic increase in the road toll. Mr Acting Deputy President, again I say that I think this is a splendid Bill. I commend the Government most warmly for its introduction. I congratulate those honourable senators who have spoken so thoroughly on the detailed provisions of the Bill. Also, I congratulate the Minister for Housing for her introduction and handling of the Bill.
[5.20] - in reply - I thank honourable senators for the speedy passage they have given this Bill and for their sincere interest not only in the Bill but in the work being done to rehabilitate people in Australia. I think this Bill shows once more that the Government appreciates the work done by voluntary organisations in this sphere. Now of course it is a joint effort by the Government and voluntary bodies to provide the assistance that this legislation will make available to voluntary organisations. This legislation must be of great benefit to the people working in this excellent cause. I also thank honourable senators who have participated in this debate for the information they have given - it has been of tremendous value - and for their very real appreciation of the rehabilitation work that has been done in Australia.
Senator O’Byrne and other honourable senators referred to the work of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. Senator Breen, Senator McManus and Senator Morris referred to the Service and to the work of voluntary bodies. Senator O’Byrne also referred to the need for public rela tions work by the Department of Social Services. He said that he believed the community is not sufficiently acquainted with the work that has been done and is being done for disabled people. The rehabilitation branches of the Department in all States pursue a very active public relations campaign. Articles are provided to the Press, radio and television stations; groups of employers, professional people and leading citizens are regularly invited to the Department’s rehabilitation centres. I speak from my own experience of having visited the Queensland centre at which there is always a very representative group of people. Departmental officers visit and address service organisations such as Rotary, Lions, Apex and Jaycees. I think we all recognise the great work done by these organisations in the field of rehabilitation. Much remains to be done to bring this work to the full understanding of all sections of the community. I can assure honourable senators that this will be a continuing function of the Department.
Senator O’Byrne also drew my attention to his desire that great publicity should be given to the new provisions of this legislation. Currently the Department is preparing a general information pamphlet concerning the programme of Commonwealth assistance for sheltered employment. As soon as it is available it will be given wide distribution to all organisations and persons likely to be interested. The new provisions of this legislation will thus be brought to their attention. Senator Breen’s speech was most informative on the work being done in rehabilitation. She said that sheltered workshops for blind persons were not included in the departmental survey. So that there will not be any misunderstanding by people who might believe that blind persons are not included in this legislation, I draw the attention of honourable senators to paragraph (b) of the definition of ‘disabled person’ in clause 5, which shows that the definition of disabled persons clearly includes people who are permanently blind.
Senator Morris referred to his interest as a State Minister in rehabilitation work. He referred particularly to the subsidy paid by the Queensland Government for teachers of mentally retarded persons. He was concerned about the effect on organisations seeking assistance through this legislation.
I am informed that it is most likely that the teachers to whom he referred are employed in schools or special classes for mentally retarded persons. The assistance provided by this legislation will be available to organisations which offer sheltered employment of a productive nature, and not towards the cost of providing education. Probably that clears the point that was rightly concerning the honourable senator. I know of his interest in this matter.
Senator Morris also referred to the inclusion of local governing bodies in this legislation. He and other honourable senators may be interested to hear that in a number of overseas countries with considerable experience in this field, for example, England, Holland and Sweden, many workshops are run by local governing bodies. They have shown how successfully this work can be carried out. I wish to pay a personal tribute to all the organisations which are doing such excellent rehabilitation work. Over the years 1 have been closely associated with many of them. I have seen a great deal of the work they have done. As honourable senators are aware, one of the greatest assets of rehabilitation work is the restoration of confidence to people who have lost it through injury or handicaps. They are given the feeling of belonging and of taking part once more in the community. It is made possible for them to undertake tasks that they could not perform without the assistance of sheltered workshops and without the assistance provided through this legislation. Without such assistance I believe that for them life would be lonely, empty and unrewarding.
I believe that honourable senators will be interested in the results of a survey of sheltered workshops conducted by the Department in 1966. Approximately 103 sheltered workshops are operated by voluntary organisations in Australia. Of that number 87 workshops surveyed provided employment for 3,397 disabled people - 2,083 males and 1,314 females. Invalid pensions were being paid to 2,585, or 76%, of the employees. Of the remaining 812 employees, some were receiving award wages while others were on age, widow or war pensions, or had small incomes from other sources. An estimated 10% were married.
The range of work being undertaken by sheltered workshops is interesting. It includes art printing and bookbinding, metal work such as fitting and turning and welding, spray painting, production of wire coat hangers, the assembly of plastic toys, pens and switches, renovation of household furniture, woodwork such as the construction of pre-school equipment, industrial sewing, separation and packaging of plastic mouldings, the packaging of nails, cosmetics and showbags, and the manufacture of telecommunication equipment and upholstery panels for motor vehicles. These are very important occupations in the rehabilitation field. The workshops claimed that during the previous two years 882 invalid pensioner employees had left for jobs in outside industry, and that others had increased their earnings in sheltered employment to the point where they were independent of pensions or benefits.
We recognise and pay tribute to the work that has been done. 1 believe that a new era has arrived in this legislation which will make it possible to extend the scope of the assistance given to many people who are injured or handicapped. 1 thank honourable senators for the speedy passage of the Bill and the sincere and real interest they have shown in the handicapped people of the community.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 19 April (vide page 922), on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Here we have this same old story of that devilishly pernicious practice of the Government in limiting the title of a Bill simply in an endeavour to frustrate members of the Opposition and to curtail the desires of its own supporters who may wish to criticise the legislation. This is being done in an endeavour to limit criticism of the Government. The Bill is designed to amend a principal Act. Why cannot the Government say that it is amending a principal Act and not set out with this predetermined nefarious purpose of limiting criticism of itself. People must be getting sick and tired of this approach by the Government in order to cover up its sins of omission and commission. In this country we have medical, hospital, dental, pharmaceutical and ancillary services which cost the Australian people in the vicinity of $900m a year, lt is probably the most expensive system in the world, and for the great majority of people it is not at all satisfactory.
The Government comes along and says: You can discuss this little aspect of the Act’. The Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) has been good enough to tell us what the Government intends to do under this particular Bill. But no mention has been made of what the Government is not doing. I shall outline briefly what I believe to be some of the deficiencies of the Bill. J shall adopt an attitude of helpfulness. If the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) sees fit in the course of time to adopt my suggestions I will not begrudge the Government any credit that comes to it for adopting these worthwhile suggestions in the interests of the Australian people. No mention has been made of what will happen to the ordinary people under this National Health Bill. We see the threat now that medical fees will be increased in July. In one State this has already been proposed but the Australian Medical Association called it to task and said: ‘Do not let this news out yet. We will tell you when to increase charges.’
The Minister has stated that this Bill will benefit for the first time those people who will become eligible for various kinds of pensions as a result of the relaxation of the means test. The benefit of such relaxation, of course, has been limited by the Government’s approach which discriminates between single and married pensioners. However, as a result of this Bill, people who have just become eligible to receive repatriation pensions, tuberculosis allowances, age pensions, invalid pensions and widows pensions will be provided with free medical and hospital services.
What is the total amount involved in this particular Bill? It is estimated that it will cost approximately $1,400,000. An amount of $550,000 will be paid to hospitals at the rate of 50s per day per patient; an amount of $380,000 will be paid in respect of pharmaceutical benefits; and an amount of $450,000 will be paid under the free general practitioner medical service if at the end of this month the Australian Medical Association agrees to the proposal. The Government has no right of determining this matter. The Australian Medical Association has to agree to render medical service to those pensioners who are now coming within the ambit of the social services legislation of this country if the free medical service is to be extended.
As regards hospitals, from figures which are published in the various States we know that ordinary hospitals charge $10 to $12 per patient per day, and in the teaching hospitals the charge is in the vicinity of $20 per day. The Government is making the magnificent contribution of $5 per day. Is it not time that the Government made up its mind as to who is responsible for looking after these various groups of people, such as age pensioners, widowed pensioners, invalid pensioners and others? The Government says: ‘We accepted, early, responsibility for pensioners’. Subsequently it has accepted in a small measure responsibility for hospitalisation. It has also accepted responsibility for the provision of medical services of a general practitioner type. But the Government does not accept any responsibility for those who enter mental hospitals. I cannot understand why it makes a differentiation. There are differences in the types of disease to which individuals are subject. There are physical, organic and mental diseases. But they are all in the field of disease.
I believe that the Government has a responsibility to pay regard to those who suffer from a mental disease, just as it accepts the responsibility to pay due regard in the case of those who suffer from physical and organic diseases. The Government has never been able to say why it will not pay a contribution of 8s, 12s or £1 a day in respect of those who enter mental hospitals. The Government discriminates between hospitals as it does between individuals. If the Government says that it has a responsibility to look after these various types of patients who come under the social service legislation, then it should accept the responsibility absolutely. If such people enter hospitals the Government should accept the full financial responsibility for the cost. The Government should not say that it is the States’ responsibility. In my view it would be just as logical for the Government to say that as the States’ provided part hospitalisation they should provide part of the medical care for these people. The Commonwealth Government accepts 100% responsibility in relation to the general practitioner medical service, but it accepts only 50% or 25% financial responsibility in the case of hospital care.
I just cannot follow the basis of the Government’s reasoning at all. The Government is adopting a cheese-paring attitude. If it can save a threepenny bit at the expense of someone else it will do so. In order to win their votes when the election comes around, as long as the Government can convince the people that it is giving them something that is all right with the Government. If this nation has to face the situation of paying higher taxation in order to provide health services, hospital care and educational facilities and amenities, let us face up to it. Australia is a developing nation and we are all proud of it. I do not think that anyone would begrudge paying higher taxation in order to achieve these worthwhile objectives. People who have served the community over the years are entitled to adequate care and protection. Those who will serve the community and provide for economic rehabilitation in the coming years will be entitled to the provision of these facilities. Those who will benefit from these things should provide the financial sinews in order to provide the amenities and facilities so necessary and desirable in the various activities that are under the control of the Commonwealth Government.
Why does the Government say: ‘We will pay $5 per day towards hospital care.’? It knows that the States are battling financially and finding conditions hard. In my own State I gave credit to the then Premier, now Senator Gair, for the preservation of the free hospital system in Queensland. Since 1957 the Government of the day, which has been the Liberal-Country Party Government, has not. been game to abolish the free hospital system, although it dislikes the system and there have been various moves, particularly by the Liberal Party section of that coalition Government, to abolish the system. The other States, which make a hospital charge, are struggling. They are finding it difficult to carry on. This provision of $5 a day in relation to a patient whose care may cost from $10 to more than $20 a day only increases the burden on those States. If the Government is to accept the responsibility to care for persons who are the subject of social services legislation, it should make a reasonable contribution commensurate with the cost of caring for the patients, but it does not make any such endeavour. Last year it increased the provision from 36s to 50s a day, which is a comparatively small increase when one considers how rapidly the costs of hospital care are increasing, how much more complicated it is, and how much more expensive are the apparatus and the instruments used in association with it. But the Government makes only this paltry contribution in relation to the care of these patients.
In the field of general practitioner services, the Government has made arrangements with the Australian Medical Association which has, comparatively recently, consented to accept all pensioners - those in receipt of a full pension and those in receipt of a part pension - and their dependants. We just do not know what is to happen at the end of this month when, 1 understand, there will be a meeting of the executive of the Australian Medical Association, which will consider new members now being brought into the scheme. If the Association says: ‘No, we have called a halt and we will not accept these pensioners or their dependants’, what is to be the Government’s attitude? Will it deny these persons the benefits of general practitioner services; or will it meet the fees which the doctors charge? The Minister has not given us an answer to that question. I hope that when she rises in reply she will tell us just what will happen if the Australian Medical Association says: No’. Has the Government had preliminary discussions with persons who it believes are the key figures controlling the Australian Medical Association? Has it had an assurance that the answer will be in the affirmative and that these increased numbers now embraced by the legislation as a result of the paltry liberalisation of the means test associated with the gross, unfair, and totally unwarranted discriminatory approach as between single and married pensioners which cannot be justified in any way, are to be covered? It is totally unworthy of the Government to approach the matter in this way at all.
Has the Government approached those who it considers are the controlling authorities of the Australian Medical Association and had an assurance in relation to those people who now come in as a result of the liberalisation of the means test - invalid pensioners, age pensioners, recipients of war service pensions under the Repatriation Act, recipients of the tuberculosis allowance, and widows? If the Government has not made that approach, what is to be the position? Will the Minister tell us or will we have to wait until we come back to the Parliament in August to find out what the position is if the doctors flatly say: ‘A halt has been called. We agreed previously to accept pensioners who were not receiving a full pension’. Surely the Government was slow enough in that respect. From November 1955, I think, until comparatively recently a pensioner could earn only $4 a week. If he earned lc more he was denied the benefits of general practitioner service. The medical profession has now agreed to accept all of those persons who are in receipt of a pension in full or in part. What is to be the position in relation to the new group Of persons on whom the Government will definitely spend $930,000 by way of part payment of hospital expenses and pharmaceutical benefits and for whom it has provided a tentative $450,000 for general practitioner services? Has the Government had the OK from the doctors, an assurance that these persons will be accepted?
Sitting suspended from 5.48 to 8 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended I was speaking of this malevolent, reprehensible practice of the Government, the devilishly cunning device of limiting the title of the Bill, a practice which disgusts all decent, fair-minded people because it limits criticism of the measure. It confines the debate to the narrowest ambit in relation to the principal Act. If this measure had been introduced, as it should have been, as a Bill to amend the National Health Act, we would have found that a number on both sides of the chamber would have put suggestions to the Govern ment to improve the national health policy which is administered by the Commonwealth. We have in Australia a scheme for medical, hospital, pharmaceutical, dental and ancillary services which costs approximately $900m. It is probably the most expensive health scheme in the world and, to the great majority of people, it is a most unsatisfactory one.
The Minister has mentioned just what it is that the Government proposes to do and how much it ultimately proposes to spend. But that is dependent upon the Australian Medical Association this month, through its Council, accepting the obligation to treat the additional numbers who are covered by the social services legislation as widowed or invalid pensioners, those under the Repatriation Act in receipt of war service pensions and those in receipt of tuberculosis benefits. I asked the Minister what would be the position if the pensioners now included under the social services legislation were not acceptable to the Australian Medical Association for the provision of a general medical practitioner service. We know that at long last, after repeated agitation, the Government has come to an arrangement with the Australian Medical Association and that the Association will now accept pensioners of various types and their dependents, whether they are in receipt of a full pension or a part pension. This agitation continued from November 1955 until comparatively recently. During that time the legislation provided that a pensioner earning more than £2 per week was denied what might be termed fringe benefits, which are of inestimable value.
No-one will quarrel with the suggestion that the Government has done something for pensioners, but there is argument as to whether it has done enough. I do not want any honourable senator on the Government side of the chamber telling us about what happened under the Curtin regime or what happened when the late Ben Chifley was Prime Minister.
– There is no need to; the honourable senator is telling us.
– I am merely answering in advance and telling the Senate these things so that honourable senators opposite will understand the matter and have it in correct perspective. Let us be quite clear about this.
– But that does not destroy (he argument.
– The honourable senator can argue for as long as he likes, but there is no solid foundation for his statements. 1 am telling the Senate in advance so that it will know. There is no need for honourable senators opposite to try to persuade people about this because from the time when the late John Curtin became Prime Minister in October 1941 until after his death in August 1945 we were at war. There were the one million people, men and women, to be transferred from wartime occupations to peacetime callings. Surely that was a big enough task for the Prime Minister of the day. So it is no use any Government supporter telling the Senate, after I have resumed my seat, what the late John Curtin did or the late Ben Chifley did. If honourable senators opposite want to tell the story we do not mind if they attack those former Prime Ministers, their regimes or the Governments of that time, but they should tell the whole story and not conceal half of it. They should tell the people of the really good work that was done at that time and explain that it was impossible at that stage to enlarge the provisions relating to benefits for pensioners of various types.
– They tried to nationalise the medical profession and failed.
– This is doing the same thing very slowly, by degrees.
– The trouble is that the title of the Bill has been limited so that we cannot say what the Government is doing to the medical profession and to the people. For what the Government is providing the public is paying a mint of money and is receiving a minimum of benefits. If the Government faced the issue of a complete national health service, accepted ils responsibility and did not run for cover as it so often does by saying that that is the responsibility of the States, we might achieve something. But having evaded its responsibility the Government usually comes in all of a sudden to tell us about what it is doing for the pensioners, or doing in relation to some facet of education or in health. For some peculiar reason the Government will move into a new field on some issae, do a little, but not do enough.
But then when it is attacked because it has not done enough it claims that the matter is a responsibility of the States. This is the excuse behind which the Government has sheltered in relation to mental hospital accommodation. Even the maintenance allowance of lOd per day which was paid years ago was taken away by the Government. Further, the Government contributes nothing for hospitalisation, not only in respect of pensioners but for anyone. Yet Government supporters talk about what the Government is doing for hospitals and the care that it takes of people.
In Queensland the Commonwealth ‘An.tributes 8s per day for each hospital patient where he is a member of a hospital benefit fund, and it contributes more in other States where the patient is charged for hospitalisation. This is an attempt to influence the Queensland Government to introduce hospital charges. I paid a tribute to a former Premier of Queensland, Senator Gair, who resisted the Commonwealth when the late Sir Earle Page was Minister for Health. The Commonwealth stood over the Queensland Government for six weeks and withheld more than £lm in an endeavour to drive the Queensland Government to its knees. But the State Government resisted and today in Queensland there is still a free hospital service, notwithstanding that the present Government would like to deprive the people of this benefit and would do so if it were politically game. However, it would not dare take the free hospital service from the people of Queensland.
The Minister has told us that it has been estimated that the measures contained in the Bill will cost annually $550,000 as a quarterly contribution for hospital care and $380,000 for pharmaceutical benefits. He said that the estimated cost of extending the free general practitioner medical service would be $450,000. But that is dependent upon the AMA accepting this additional number of people into the pensioner medical service. I know that the Minister has probably thought over these matters. She is a reasonable person and is anxious to do the right thing within the limits of the policy of the party to which she belongs, a party which hamstrings her somewhat in relation to her natural charity and the goodwill she constantly desires to show to people. She can tell us just what is going to happen if the Australian Medical Association at the end of this month does not accept these people into the scheme. I ask also whether the Government has a certain assurance from some key figures in the medical profession that the Council will accept the scheme.
I cannot possibly deal wilh the threat of increased doctors’ fees and the great disparity between the contributions made by people to the various medical benefit funds and the amounts that they receive as benefit. The Government has contributed one-third of the benefit in the past, but now it will contribute a smaller proportion. There is no suggestion of any increase in the Government contribution - at least I have not heard any mention of it. I think there is no such intention. The Government has emphasised what it is doing for these people, but very cleverly, or unknowingly, the Minister has not mentioned what the Government is not doing. I have said that the Government proposes to continue the payment of $5 per day to hospitals where in many cases the hospital care costs at least SIO or $12 per day, and in the case of teaching hospitals at least $20 per day. Yet the Government tells us about what it is doing. The general practitioner service accepted the former scheme and came to an arrangement with the Government. But there is no suggestion that the general practitioners will accept this scheme. What is it that the Government is not doing for these people? Sometimes I have heard of cases which should be carefully considered in relation to the pensioner medical service.
While I can sympathise with the doctors we must remember that pensioners, in their declining years, know that if they catch a cold or get some minor complaint it could be the forerunner of a more serious ailment which could lead to death. They go to the doctor or they ring for the doctor to come and see them. Then he may be charged with over-visiting. There may be some over-visiting but the general practitioner who attends pensioners is in an almost intolerable position. If he says to a pensioner: T saw you four times last month so I had better not see you this month’, people may say that he is neglectful. If he makes four visits to a pensioner in one month and four visits in the following month he may be carpeted and charged with over-visiting. As I have said, the general practitioner is placed in an extremely difficult position.
The Government, through its spokesmen, the Minister for Health and his representative in this chamber, states that pensioners are entitled to general practitioner services. Are pensioners in a category different from the rest of the community? Arc they to be denied specialist services? Are they required, irrespective of their state of health, to attend an outpatient department at a public hospital to avail themselves of the benefit of specialist attention? The Government’s acceptance, in part at least, of responsibility for providing hospital care for pensioners and ils acceptance of responsibility for providing general practitioner attention for them surely indicates a realisation of a need to provide adequate health services for these people. Why then does it deny them the benefit of specialist services? People do not go to a specialist unless such a course becomes necessary. Surely the Government could devise a scheme whereby specialist services would be available upon reference by a general practitioner.
– Will specialists see unreferred patients?
– Yes, it is done all over the place.
– In Brisbane?
– All over Australia.
– By agreement with the AMA?
– Yes; the practice is acceptable and completely ethical. I trust I have provided the honourable senator with the necessary information and that he is now a wiser man. The Government has made no real endeavour to provide specialist services for pensioners so I pose this question: Are pensioners regarded as a class of inferior beings? Are they in a category different from the rest of the population? If they are sick at home, are they to struggle out of bed and go to the outpatient department of a public hospital to see a specialist and, perhaps, wait for hours when they are not in a fit condition to do so? It would be so simple for the Government to devise a scheme to provide specialist services for pensioners. I believe that many specialists, like many general practitioners, would be prepared to make themselves available on panels in the capital cities and in the larger towns and cities in rural areas.
Although pensioners are in their declining years not many of them need specialist attention. They need more general practitioner attention than they do specialist attention, but the pensioners who need specialist attention should be able to obtain it on reference from the general practitioner. The Government should make specialist services available to them but we have never heard of the Government even thinking of doing this.
When we realise that the aged and the infirm have been denied something in life, surely we must come to the conclusion that it is the responsibility of the able bodied section of this wealthy country of ours to make provision for them. The days have gone when the community accepted the idea that people deficient in bodily or mental health should be allowed to go to the wall and die. The humanitarian approach is to accept responsibility for them. Surely Australia, as one of the twelve great trading nations of the world, has such a responsibility. As people grow older they become more susceptible to sickness and infirmity, but the Government has made no real endeavour to safeguard the health of the aged. Let me refer (o hearing aids as a case in point. Not a tremendous percentage of old people need a hearing aid but those who do could have to pay anything from $200 upwards for one. In one overseas country a certain hearing aid retails for $50. Here the same hearing aid is sold for $180, and pensioners are buying it. The Commonwealth Accoustic Laboratories can make the best hearing aids for $30 or even less but the Government will not face up to its responsibilities, so unfortunate pensioners are required to pay anything from $160 to $200 for hearing aids, many of which are unsatisfactory. 1 know pensioners who are struggling to pay off artificial limbs, wheel chairs and so on. Let me cite a concrete example. A pensioner with an artificial leg came to see me on one occasion and showed it to me. I was shocked to see that he had repaired it himself with a 3-inch bolt and a nut half an inch in diameter. I was instrumental in getting for him, through the State Labor Government, a new artificial limb free of charge. Why does the Commonwealth Government not make known to such people that artificial limbs will be made available to them free of charge? Let me direct my next remarks to each honourable senator individually. In the street in which he lives how many people have a wheel chair? Possibly none. As for artificial limbs, he would have to go probably to three or four streets before he would find one. He may find a person with a hearing aid in his street. The number of people concerned is small but the Government does nothing to help them. People receiving a repatriation pension can obtain these things but no provision is made for the great majority of pensioners and no information is conveyed to them as to how they can avail themselves of State services.
When we realise the completely callous disregard with which the Government views the basic needs of these people, surely we all agree that it is time we had a Minister, in the Senate if not in another place, who will take a sympathetic attitude to these matters. Let me mention spectacles. We all know that as people grow older they become long sighted because the elasticity of the eye decreases. Exceptional is the man or woman who does not need glasses in old age. Yet pensioners are not provided with spectacles free of charge. I know that they can go to State public hospitals where a limited range of spectacles is available to them. But you know what happens, Mr President. A limited number of types of frames is available to them, and when they go out wearing these spectacles everyone knows that they are pensioners. So what they do is make a financial compromise with an optometrist who has a contract to provide spectacles at a comparatively paltry rate. The optometrist says that for an additional amount of between £3 and £10 he will provide modern frames. So the pensioner sacrifices again in order to preserve his dignity which he is entitled to preserve and which this Government does nothing to preserve. The Government says that this is a State responsibility. Yet it will provide 100% general practitioner services to pensioners. It is only gulling the public. It is not providing for pensioners a service commensurate with their needs.
As regards dental treatment, some States are reasonable and do not expect a great contribution, or any contribution in some cases, from pensioners. 1 speak more particularly of age pensioners. How many sets of dentures would the average age pensioner need between when he fi rs receives a pension and when he is carted away in his coffin? Most age pensioners would probably need only one set. Others would need a maximum of two sets. But at no stage does the Federal Government attempt to meet the dental needs of pensioners, let alone of their dependants. The Minister would have us believe that this Bill represents something of tremendous value and that we are meeting the medical and hospital needs of pensioners. The Government’s approach to the whole problem is miserly and parsimonious. It is an endeavour to gull or beguile the people into voting for the Government every three years. That is the only way one can look at it. One is charitable to look at it even in that way, because the Government has made no real endeavour to be of real assistance to pensioners.
Quite a bit has been said about the provision of free drugs for pensioners. I do not suggest that the range of drugs available is not wide or that in the ordinary case it does not meet the needs of the pensioner. But, as everyone knows, individuals exhibit idiosyncracies as regards particular drugs. I know that the Minister for Health has a committee - the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee - to advise him on what drugs shall be included in the formulae. The members of that Committee are all estimable and well qualified men. Some drugs which are as effective and as pure as others are cheaper than the others. It is the responsibility of the Government to include those drugs in the formulae.
Surely it would not be unreasonable foi the Minister to have discretionary power outside the ambit of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee which serves a particular purpose. If a doctor says that a drug that is included in the formulae is not suitable for a particular pensioner, the Minister should have the power to authorise the purchase of a drug that is more suitable for that pensioner. There would not be many thousands of such cases. It just happens that some pensioners cannot tolerate particular drugs that are included in the formulae and have to have other drugs for the treatment of arthritis and other diseases. It would not be unreasonable for the Minister to have discretionary power that he could exercise in favour of such pensioners.
The Minister, through his staff, should have no difficulty in ascertaining the likely cost of meeting such a demand. 1 say that it would not be a large amount. The adoption of my suggestion would meet the needs of these people. It would be justifiable. It would be a responsible action on the part of the Minister. But all that he does when there is any argument about a drug, whether in respect of pensioners or otherwise, is say: ‘My Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has not included this drug in the formulae’ - that is, either the pharmaceutical benefits scheme formulae or the pensioner medical service formulae. Surely in regard to pensioners the Minister should have this discretionary power. There is no reason why he should not have it.
A measure of authority is entrusted to every Minister by way of regulations or ordinances. The Minister for Health has certain powers; but for some reason - no reasonable being knows why - he denies himself responsibility in regard to drugs. Is the reason that he just does not want to help these people? Surely that could not be so. Is it that he does not want the worry of the responsibility? Is it that he is so stupid that he does not know the need for it? He must know that. Someone must have told him. Even his ministerial counterpart in this chamber could tell him of this need. Any doctor would tell him of it. Any doctor would tell him of individuals’ reactions to drugs. 1 know that the drugs included on the list are worthy ones. Many of them are acceptable for a time. Some of them are acceptable more or less for all time. Some of them are thrown out and replaced by others. But some of them just do not suit particular individuals. So I make my appeal to the Minister.
I realise that this Bill represents a measure of help for a few thousand pensioners and their dependants as a result of the so called liberalisation of the means test in accordance with the promise made before the last election by the then Prime
Minister, who unfortunately is the present Prime Minister. Unfortunately, when the liberalisation came about it was a paltry 30s a week in income and a comparable amount in property and there was gross, unfair, unjust and totally unwarranted discrimination as between married and single pensioners. As a result of the liberalisation, certain age, invalid and widow pensioners, service pensioners under the Repatriation Act and recipients of the tuberculosis allowance will now come within the ambit of the National Health Act. The Government proposes to spend $1,400,000. That is what will be done.
But let us recall briefly what is not being done. There is no provision for specialist services. There is no assurance that the people to whom I have referred will be covered as regards general practitioner services at the end of this month. I hope they will be. 1 believe that the doctors will be reasonable enough to accept the proposal. But this will not happen through any foresight of the Government. There was no predetermined approach or arrangement to ensure that these people would be covered. There is no assurance that if they are not covered they will not have to pay full fees to the general practitioners. There is no real provision for hearing aids which could be manufactured at comparatively small cost by means of an extension of the activities of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. There is no real spreading of knowledge in regard to the provision of artificial limbs and appliances, wheel chairs and so on. There is no suggestion of providing dental care even for pensioners, let alone their dependants. There is no suggestion of discretionary power being vested in the Minister to enable him to make drugs available to pensioners who may be sensitive or allergic to drugs that are included in the formulae.
This Government, which is so proud of its legislation, has held office over a long time during which it has had the advantage of a lengthy succession of good seasons. We have heard it squealing through one drought. The Government has dissipated our overseas credits and it should be grateful for the virility of the Australian people who are able to develop this country, not because of the Government, but in spite of it.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - Order! The honourable senator is now ranging very far from the Bill.
– I am just summing up in conclusion. The Government merits condemnation on this issue as it does on all others. I am just tying all these matters together to show how inefficient and how dreadful this Government and its predecessors since 1949 have been. In the field of national health the Government stands completely condemned. It has put up a facade. It gives the people the minimum health service while it tries to make them believe that they are receiving the maximum benefits to which they are entitled. Surely the Government stands condemned for this, Mr President. I know that the Minister for Housing, in her own way, will think over the suggestions that have been made in this debate and will convey them to the Minister for Health. If the Government in its wisdom adopts the suggestions that we have made and wins votes as a consequence, I do not begrudge it that. We on this side make these helpful suggestions, as it is the responsibility of every member on this side of the Parliament to do, so that the Government may provide the best possible service in this field, as it should do in any field in which it is charged with responsibility. I again plead with any Government supporters who dare to rise and state what the Government is doing to mention also what it is not doing. Let them not just talk about what was not done in the times of the late John Curtin and the late Ben Chifley. Those times were completely different from the present. The demands of those days were different. Finance was not available then as it has been over the last eighteen years. The present Government has not done what it should have done. It has saddled Australia with a health service which is probably the most expensive in the world and which is almost completely unsatisfactory to the great majority of Australians.
- Mr President, I support the Bill, which embodies amendments to the National Health Act that are necessary as a result of the provisions of the Social Services Bill 1967 which has recently been passed by this House. The Bill now before us will extend benefits that are available to pensioners under the existing provisions of the National Health Act to persons who will become eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the recently announced relaxations of the social services means test. The persons affected are those who will qualify for age, invalid and widows pensions because of the relaxations of the means test, persons in receipt of service pensions authorised by the Repatriation Act, persons who receive the sheltered employment allowance authorised by the recent amendments to the Social Services Act, and persons who receive allowances authorised by the Tuberculosis Act. In spite of Senator Dittmer’s criticism of the Government’s social services programme, I contend that it provides very great benefits under the National Health Act and that these services have been extended more and more through the years as the Government has found this economically possible.
The recently passed Social Services Bill provided for further liberalisation of the means test. A pensioner or a person now applying for a pension will now have a better opportunity to obtain pension at the full rate. For the purpose of deciding whether pension shall be paid at the full rate, the permissible amount of the individual’s means as assessed has been extended by $156. I believe that it is necessary to recapitulate the provisions of the Social Services Bill 1967 so that we may fully understand the measure now before us. The raising of the permissible amount of means will allow a single age or invalid pensioner whose property, apart from home, furniture and personal effects, is less than $420 in value to have an income of up to $10 a week and still receive pension at the maximum rate of $13 a week. A proportion of the pension will be received until the income reaches $23 a week. If a person has no income but owns assets to the value of $5,600 he will still receive pension at the maximum rate. A proportion of the pension will be received until the assets reach $12,360. A pensioner married couple who have property worth up to $840 may have a total income of $17 a week and still receive the full rate of pension. A proportion of the pension will be payable until the income reaches $40.50 a week. If a married couple have no income they may have property to the total value of up to $21,880 and still receive a proportion of the pension. As you know, Sir, all income from property is exempt for means test purposes. I am sure that I speak for all honourable senators on both sides of the chamber when I say that they are genuinely and keenly interested in the wellbeing of people who are in less fortunate circumstances and who are dependent on the pension, whether they are aged, invalid or widowed.
Under the terms of the recently passed Social Services Bill, a widow with one child will receive widow’s pension at the full rate, and with mother’s allowance and child’s allowance, both of which have been introduced by the present Government in recent years, will receive a total of $18.50 a week. She may have income other than the pension totalling $13 a week, giving her a total weekly income of $31.50. She may in addition have assets apart from her home to the value of $4,500. So much for the pensioners who are already receiving pension at the full rate. There are, we are told, about 100,000 persons who are receiving pensions at less than the full rate. The recent liberalisation of the means test will enable many of these to receive pension at the full rate and others to receive pension at a higher rate than that which they receive now.
The second category of persons who will benefit under the terms of this Bill now before us comprises those who receive service pensions payable under the terms of the Repatriation Act. As you know, Sir, that Act provides for service pension at the same rate as the age, invalid or widow’s pension payable under the terms of the Social Services Act. Service pensioners also will receive the benefit of the liberalisation of the means test.
The third category of persons affected embraces those who receive the sheltered employment allowance. 1 remind honourable senators that this allowance, which was authorised for the first time by the Social Services Bill 1967, represents a further step forward in caring for those in our community who are disabled physically or mentally or by total blindness.
The sheltered employment allowance will be payable to a disabled person employed in a sheltered workshop who would be qualified to receive an invalid pension if he were not employed in a sheltered workshop.
Any person or benefit being paid under the Social Services Act will, in general, be suspended and the allowance will be paid in lieu of that pension or allowance. The rate of this allowance will be the same as the invalid pension plus allowances and will be subject to the same means test with the important exception that special treatment will be afforded earnings derived from employment in the sheltered workshop.
For an unmarried person, half the amount of any earnings above SIO a week will bc disregarded in calculating the rate of allowance payable. For a married person, half the amount of earnings between $17 and $25 will be disregarded. Prior to the introduction of this Bill, the maximum amount that a disabled person could earn and still receive full pension was only $7 a week. The practical effect of the new provision will be that some sheltered employment allowance will be payable until earnings reach $36 a week in the case of an unmarried person or $47 a week for a married person whose wife or husband is not in receipt of a pension. The proposed new rate will confer great benefit indeed upon those working in sheltered workshops. Honourable senators will recall that the matter of sheltered workshops and the provision of capital grants for buildings and for equipment was before the Senate this afternoon.
Let me remind the Senate of the nature of the benefits that are now to be available for these various categories of people. They will be entitled to the benefits of the pensioner medical service. These benefits will also be available to the dependants of persons in receipt of the pensions and allowances provided under this legislation Therefore, those married people who come under one or other of the various headings mentioned in the Bill will receive very great assistance indeed by reason of the fact that their dependants will be able to enjoy these additional benefits of the pensioner medical service. These benefits will include general practitioner medical attention free of charge from a doctor of the pensioner’s own choice, hospital treatment free of charge in the public wards of public hospitals and pharmaceutical benefits free of charge.
Senator Dittmer expressed the opinion that specialist services were not available to pensioners. In public wards of public hospitals, 1 suggest specialists give their services in an honorary capacity to all patients. I submit, therefore, that the pensioner who is admitted to a public hospital would receive the best possible attention from either a general medical practitioner or the specialist appropriate for his particular case. It is good to know that these benefits will be available to those persons who will now become eligible for benefits resulting from the extension of the means test as soon as they are accepted for payment of the pension.
Honourable senators will be aware that the free general practitioner medical service for pensioners is provided under an agreement authorised by section 32 of the National Health Act between the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Medical Association. Under this agreement, doctors throughout Australia have undertaken to provide medical attention for pensioners and their dependants for concessional fees which are paid by the Commonwealth. We were told by the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who is in charge of this Bill in the Senate, that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) had approached the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association, informing it of the proposals contained in this Bill consequent upon the liberalising of the social services means test and has sought the concurrence of the Association. We are told that the Federal Council is meeting in May when it will consider this particular proposition, and we have no doubt at all that a new agreement with the Australian Medical Association will be made under section 32 of the Act to include all those persons in receipt of an age, invalid, widow’s or service pension or a tuberculosis allowance, or a sheltered employment allowance. These will include all persons newly eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxation of the means test. Clause 4 of the Bill makes provision for the continuation of the existing agreement for all those currently receiving these benefits.
Let me point out again that this National Health Bill is a further instance of the care evinced by this Government for the welfare of those who are in need in that it ensures to them hospital treatment in public wards, the provision of drugs and medicines and free general medical practitioner services. I repeat that these measures can be introduced only when the economy of the nation makes it possible for the Government to extend benefits under either the Social Services Act or the National Health Act. We must always bear in mind that the result of all these increases is greater expenditure from the national income. I should like to point out here that the cost of all the benefits proposed under this Bill will be $1,380,000 in a full year. It is estimated that the cost of the additional hospital benefits will be $550,000, and of pharmaceutical benefits, $380,000. It is also estimated that the cost of extending the free general practitioner medical service will be $450,000 in a full year. I support the Bill and congratulate the Minister for Health upon its introduction.
– As I had occasion to say when we were dealing with the Sheltered Employment Assistance Bill we are very indebted to Senator Breen because she has gone to the trouble of itemising in very great detail all the benefits that are available under the legislation which was introduced by this Government and which has been liberalised by this Government in this sessional period. As we know, certain promises were made late last year to liberalise the means test and to do quite a number of other things in relation to the social service benefits that are provided by the Commonwealth Government. I think that it is a matter of some considerable pride that although this is only 3rd May, a few months after the election itself and just a few weeks since the beginning of the session, the legislation relating to these social service benefits has been introduced. Most of the Bills have been passed by the Parliament and some of the benefits are already available to the people. I am very glad that Senator Breen gave details of many of these services. I shall not attempt to trace their history.
Having expressed my appreciation of Senator Breen’s speech I now go on to refer to the way in which I would describe this Bill. I think it is a correct description. I would say that this Bill is purely and simply an enabling Bill to extend certain health services to the 40,000-odd additional people who have now become eligible to receive them as a result of the liberalisation of the means test provided for in earlier legislation That is the total area covered by this Bill. Quite frankly, Mr Acting Deputy President, I was amazed that this BA1 should have been used by Senator Dittmer as a vehicle to traverse the whole field of existing health services and proposed health services. He commenced his speech by saying that the title of the Bill was a cunning device by the Government to restrict debate on health services generally on which some $900m is being spent annually. But having himself acknowledged that the purpose of the Bill is merely to enable the Government to make certain additional payments, he then proceeded for some three-quarters of an hour to debate health services in general.
I do not think that that is the type of approach that should be made in this forum. We have ample opportunity in other debates to cover broad subjects. This is a restricted Bill. 1 repeat that all it does is give authority to the Government to pay an additional 40,000-odd people certain benefits that have been received by many thousands of people up to this stage. As an enabling Bill, this measure will require the expenditure of another $l.38m. Because this is so, I believe that we can say justly that although it is an important Bill it is a very simple Bill. I took some note of the debate that took place on the measure in another place. The very thing that I am saying now - that is, that this Bill does not permit a wide debate - was said by members, both Government and Opposition, in the other place and to a reasonable degree they kept within the limits of the Bill. I am deeply sorry that that example has not been followed here. I suppose that is sufficient for me to say in relation to that point.
Every government has reason to be proud if it is giving a good service to the sections of the people most in need. Every supporter of every government would be delighted if money were available to give a lot more to these people. But every government is required to look at its total income and to make its decision on how that total income will be spent. This Government is no exception. There seems to be a fallacious idea abroad that all that a government need do to increase its assistance to people -who admittedly need more assistance is to write a different figure in a Bill. This misconception is held far and wide and it creates considerable difficulties. Budgeting by a government is no different to budgeting by an individual householder, except in degree. If an individual household is to keep solvent its expenses must be kept within its income. This is what the Government is doing. Within the limits of the money that is available to it, the Government is constantly improving and increasing the services that it is giving to the people and, I believe, especially to the needy people of this country.
– The Government once took medical benefits away from the pensioners, did it not?
– I repeat that this is merely an enabling Bill. It is no more. It does nol provide scope for a broad examination of the health services of the nation. Because it permits the payment of health benefits to an extra 40,000-odd people, I strongly support it and commend the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) for its introduction. I am sorry, but I did not hear Senator Cohen’s interjection.
– I said that the Government that the honourable senator supports once took medical benefits away from pensioners who were not receiving a full pension. For many years they were without it. It was only restored last year or the year before.
– Perhaps on some other occasion - a more correct occasion when we are not discussing an enabling Bill - we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter in detail. I look forward to that occasion. Indeed, T would be delighted if this Bill were as wide as the world so that we could again tell those who do not know - people in this chamber or those among the general public - of the magnificent service that is being rendered by this Government. Many things have been mentioned by Senator Dittmer as being required. 1 would dearly love to reply to his remarks on those matters. But at least I am Hying to keep within the forms of the Senate. Therefore, I have no intention of going outside the ambit of the Bill itself.
– Mr Acting Deputy President, having listened to one honourable senator read out the second reading speech of tha Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) and another honourable senator praise the Government for doing what it should automatically do, might I just bring a sort of new light to this BilL
– And throw a spanner in the works.
– No. I am solidly behind this Bill.
– What about doctors’ fees.
– 1 am quite happy to take criticism of doctors too. But I would like to point out to Senator Cohen, who interjected at the end of Senator Morris’s speech, that the Government actually did not take medical benefits away from pensioners. What happened was the result of an agreement with the Australian Medical Association that certain pensioners were not entitled to medical benefits. Tire benefits were never taken away from them.
– ‘Before last year they did nol receive the benefits.
– For a long period - about seven to ten years - many pensioners were not eligible for the pensioner medical service. I *as on the committee of the Australian College of General Practitioners which suggested that the pensioner medical service should be extended to all pensioners. Happily that was done last year. I heard another interjection about the nationalisation of medicine. The Australian Medical Association fails to realise that with the extra number of doctors going onto the government payroll, so to speak, slowly the nationalisation of medicine is evolving. I am not objecting to the extension of medical benefits to pensioners. 1 believe that the benefits should be extended automatically and that it should not be necessary for this Bil! to be brought in as an enabling Bill. Every pensioner, irrespective of the amount he receives, should be entitled to the same medical treatment.
Honourable senators should realise that doctors provide a concessional service and I think some credit is due to general practitioners who carry out this service for the Government. 1 do not want to praise doctors unduly. We have our faults like everyone else.
– But you bury them.
– We certainly bury them, but we give a service to pensioners for house visits and surgery visits at a concession of 50% in one case and just over 50% in the other case.
– And you avoid a lot of bad debts.
– Yes, but on the other hand many doctors would not have gone to a pensioner but for the pensioner medical service. Provision is made for pensioners to be treated at public hospitals. I am glad to say that they do not have to be treated there. Even though doctors arc paid for their services, the pensioners are benefiting at the same time as the doctors. I think the public should realise that doctors supply their services to pensioners at a concession of 50% .
I wish to refer to some of the benefits obtained by pensioners through the pensioner medical service. In respect of night calls the last annual report of the DirectorGeneral of Health states that the number of visits to pensioners is about six rimes as great as the number of visits to private patients. It seems unfortunate to me that many pensioners - not all but quite a considerable number - take it as a right to call out a doctor at any hour of the night. If pensioners had to pay for the service they would not make so many night calls to doctors. Of course, some calls are justified because medical attention is needed, but a considerable number of calls are unnecessary. It is my experience that when on duty at weekends the number of calls by pensioners greatly exceeds the number of calls by private patients.
– Did the honourable senator say that that is so particularly at night?
– Not particularly at night. Let me put it this way: Out of hours.
– Would not pensioners be more likely to need medical attention at night?
– There is a different pattern in the daytime when the ratio of private patients to pensioners ls about eight or nine to one. At the weekends and at night the ratio is completely reversed.
– Would not the average age of pensioners be higher than that of private patients?
– Yes, but that average holds good for daily services too, so that point does not enter into the argument. I do not like the system of charging extra for night calls and very few doctors I know use it. We are entitled to charge an extra 50c at night. The doctors I have spoken to about it do not demand the extra fee and usually I do not. But I have charged an extra 50c in anger when I have been called out at 2 a.m. by somebody with indigestion. In those circumstances a doctor may get annoyed and say to a pensioner: You have to pay 50c.’ I think this practice is humiliating to both doctor and patient. I ask the Minister for Health to look into this question. I suggest that for calls made after a certain hour at night - say 1 1 p.m. - a higher payment should be allowed than is allowed at present for house visits.
Each year an increasing number of pensioners will be entitled to the pensioner medical service. I do not object to that development but I believe that the Government should adopt a realistic attitude in respect of the service fee it pays to doctors. Every two or three years members of this Parliament have no hesitation in increasing parliamentary salaries, by huge sums. It took about five years for doctors to obtain an increase from, I think, 80c to $1.30 and finally to $1.60 for a surgery visit. A nexus - if I may use that word in this context - should be established between the fee paid by the Government to doctors for services given to pensioners, and the basic wage. I do not like the argument that goes on every time that doctors fees are increased.
I wish now to refer to the treatment of pensioners with psychiatric drugs. These are expensive drugs, I admit, but they are not half as expensive as some of the drugs already on the list for general services and for the pensioner medical service. At present a doctor wishing to prescribe psychotrophic drugs for a pensioner has a choice of two drugs - the original two drugs. Some patients do not respond to those drugs and then must” be referred to a general hospital for attention by a psychiatrist. Honourable senators probably are aware of the rigmarole that is involved. A pensioner may then be prescribed a certain drug. The psychiatrist sends a note to the general practitioner concerned, who then applies for authority to give that drug to the pensioner. This is a most bureaucratic way of trying to save money, especially in view of the disregard of cost in respect of the other life-saving drugs which appear on the free list. I think the Minister should take a good look at this matter to see whether a greater number of drugs can be made available for pensioners who need psychiatric drugs for minor mental illness. 1 am not talking about serious mental illness. I am referring mainly to anxiety neuroses and that type of illness. In those cases the present terribly tedious method of obtaining the drug should be eliminated.
The order supplied to a general practitioner in the circumstances I have described lasts for only three months and then the routine has to be repeated. It is nonsensical that such things should happen. One safeguard I suggest is that a doctor should be entitled to prescribe a drug for only a month at a time. If a patient was not improving he could then be referred to a psychiatrist. I think general practitioners should be given an opportunity to prescribe for pensioners some of the newer drugs. They are not as expensive as the original two drugs - Largactil, and another drug the name of which I cannot remember at present.
Shortly the Director-General of Health will be submitting another annual report. Again he will wail bitterly about the cost of the pensioner medical service, pharmaceutical benefits and so on. But it should be remembered that it is the fault of the Government and of this Parliament that the costs of these services continue to increase. I do not oppose those increases. I simply say that if benefits are to be provided for pensioners, the costs should be accepted. Do not moan about it. Every year the Director-General of Health in his annual report attacks the drug companies because general practitioners utilise the drugs that the Commonwealth Government puts on the free drug list. They are included there for doctors to prescribe, but when they are prescribed the Government says: *Do not use them because they are expensive.’ It is fantastic.
I want to point out - because it will happen - that this legislation will cause the drugs bill to rise by about $380,000. That additional cost is almost as much as the cost of providing medical services - $450,000 - to the increased number of pensioners eligible for the pensioner medical service. I ask honourable senators to remember that the additional cost for drugs is nearly as much as the additional cost for medical services to pensioners. Hospital service costs will increase, too, because these people require more hospitalisation than others. I only raise this matter as a point of warning because invariably we hear this sort of comment. I have not known anyone who dislikes the pharmaceutical trade as much as our present Director-General of Health. I will bet anything that in his next annual report he will condemn the cost of pharmaceutical benefits and the Government will forget all about the $380,000 that it is adding to the cost of this scheme by increasing the number of pensioners who are eligible to participate in it.
I commend the Government. I think that this is a necessary Bill. I think it should be an automatic Bill. I do not think that this is a matter that should have to come before Parliament because everyone who is on a pension is surely entitled to free pensioner medical service.
– I rise to support the Bill. I would first like to refer to an interjection that was made by Senator Cohen and which was corrected by Senator Turnbull. Senator Cohen said that the Government took away the health service from pensioners. As Senator Turnbull pointed out, that is not correct. From 1951 to 1955 all pensioners were eligible for health services. From 1955 to 1966 the services were not extended to all new pensioners. But from 1966 onwards they have been available to all pensioners. Like Senator Turnbull, I agree that health services should be available to all people who are eligible for pensions. I would like to congratulate Senator Turnbull on his speech. When he confines his remarks to matters connected with health they are always of great interest to those who listen to him.
– Only on health?
– I meant what I said. He is a specialist in this field and from him we can always expect to gain some real information. I should like to deal with several statements that were made by Senator Dittmer because I think they were most unfair, and what is more, they were completely untrue. Senator Dittmer said that the Government had shown a completely callous disregard for the needs of people. This is not true. During the term of office of the Liberal-Country Party Government, social services and health services have been expanded enormously. Senator Dittmer asked us not to refer to the time of the Chifley Government. I do not think any Government supporter needs to dwell on the weaknesses of a Labor government that was unable to establish a national health scheme. We have a record of which we can be justly proud. Therefore we do not have to go back beyond the term of office of our own Government.
No-one suggests that every need has been satisfied, but I believe that every endeavour has been made by this Government to develop a health scheme that will provide maximum assistance to those who unfortunately fall into ill health. Over the years ) the Government has’ consistently adopted policies of providing assistance to those whose need is the greatest. 1 believe that it will continue to do so. At this point I should like to refer to the specialists and to the general practitioners who participate in this scheme. No-one anywhere could express the debt that the community owes to the men and women who specialise and who at the very peak of their profession give their services to the sick in the community. In the same way, the general practitioner, the doctor who is close to the needs of the family, is a person to whom the community owes a great debt of gratitude and for whom I am sure we all have the greatest respect.
To appreciate fully the purposes of this Bill it is necessary for us to go back to the early days of the Liberal-Country Party Government, when on 2 1 st February 1951 the pensioner medical service was commenced under the provisions of the National Health Act. As has been stated by my colleagues, the service provides to eligible pensioners free of charge medicine and medical service of a general practitioner nature, such as that ordinarily rendered by a general medical practitioner in his surgery or at a patient’s home. The service also provides hospital treatment free of charge in public wards of public hospitals. Persons eligible to receive the benefits of the service are those who satisfy the means test and who are receiving the age, invalid or widows pension under the Social Services Act or a service pension under the Repatriation Act. Also, persons receiving a tuberculosis allowance under the Tuberculosis Act and their dependants are eligible for the service. So as Senator Morris pointed out, consequent upon a further relaxation of the social services means test the Government now proposes to make these benefits available to persons who will become eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxation of the means test.
It is proposed - and I think that this is important - that the provisions of the Bill will take effect from the same date as the Social Services Bill which was recently passed by both Houses pf the Parliament. So new pensioners and persons newly in receipt of allowances and their dependants will be eligible for the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits from the date on which they are accepted for pension purposes by the Department of Social Services or the. Repatriation Department or from the date on which a sheltered employment allowance or a tuberculosis allowance is granted.
Like Senator Morris, I regret that the Bill does not permit me to deal at length with the national health scheme which has been developed by this Government. I am sorry that Senator Dittmer was no! similarly inhibited. However, I feel that in reply to what he said I must point out that this Government has provided a health scheme that gives a benefit to every section of the community. It provides pharmaceutical benefits, medical benefits, hospital benefits and home nursing benefits. These services are available free of charge to pensioners. To the rest of the community, some services are available free of charge and others are available through Commonwealth support of voluntary insurance towards meeting the cost of medical attention. This support is provided by the Commonwealth either through payment of a fee for the service on the basis of the items set out in the schedule to the National Health Act or in the form of a subsidy paid to doctors by registered organisations under contract arrangements.
Senator Dittmer referred to the position of mental hospitals. As many pensioners unfortunately find their way into mental hospitals, I would like to say something about them. We all are aware of the circumstances that led to the survey which was conducted by Dr Alan Stoller in 1955 and of the report produced by him which shocked the community and governments alike. As a result of that report the Commonwealth Government made an offer of £IOm to the States as part of a capital expenditure programme of £30m to increase and to improve patient accommodation. All States accepted the offer and by 1963 more than three-quarters of the money had been spent. Here I should like to pay a tribute to the late Senator the Honourable Harrie Wade, because he was the man who was instrumental in persuading the Commonwealth Government in 1964 to announce the continuation of Commonwealth aid of £1 for every £2 of capital expended by the States on mental health facilities, and there was no limit on the size of the grant. That was a great breakthrough for mental hospitals. I trust that when this agreement expires on 30th June of this year the Commonwealth Government will continue its assistance to mental hospitals. 1 have spoken in the Senate on many occasions on the question of mental health and I am glad to say that almost each day we see an awakening of the public conscience or consciousness to the fact that mental health is part of general health and should be treated accordingly. 1 should now like to deal, if I may, with another item of expenditure by the Government in the field of health which is of particular importance to pensioners. I refer to home nursing services or, as some people call them, domiciliary nursing services. The home nursing subsidy paid by the Commonwealth Government provides funds to assist the expansion of home nursing activities and in my opinion is one of the best means available of taking nursing care to people in their own homes at the lowest possible cost. To be eligible for a subsidy an organisation must be non-profit- making and must receive assistance from a State government, local government body or other authority established by or under the State. It must employ registered nurses. It is also provided that the Commonwealth subsidy must not ^exceed the amount of State assistance received by the organisations concerned. Eligible organisations established prior to November 1956 now receive $2,000 a year in respect of each additional qualified nurse employed. New organisations established since November 1956 receive $1,000 a year in respect of each qualified nurse.
Unfortunately - or perhaps I should say fortunately - Victoria suffered at the time when this subsidy was granted because of the fact that in our State the service which was formerly known as the Melbourne District Nursing Service and is now known as the Royal District Nursing Service was established in 1885. It has been functioning ever since. Therefore, at the introduction of the subsidy scheme it probably was employing more nurses than were most other services, lt is one in which I have a particular interest. At the present lime we are attempting to raise a quarter of a million dollars in what is known as the Thanks a Million Appeal’ to extend the work of the Royal District Nursing Service. Last year the service employed 130 fully qualified sisters. They made 350,000 visits and attended 13,000 patients in their own homes. They travelled over 1,000,000 miles and they covered an area of 1,800 square miles.
This service has been referred to by Dr John Lindell, Chairman of the Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission as a hospital without walls, and 1 do not think that any description is more adequate than that one. When I tell the Senate that 1,200 of the 2.300 patients in the care of the Service at any one time would need hospital beds if the service did not exist, this will give some idea of the work that is done by the nurses of the Royal District Nursing Service in the homes of patients. It also is an indication of the enormous capital saving to governments in the provision of services of this kind. I believe that district nursing serves the pensioner and the aged person possibly more effectively if that is possible than it does any other age group. In Melbourne the Royal District Nursing Service nurses are attending to many, many thousands of patients in all age groups. 1 said earlier that last year they had over 13,000 patients. Considerably more than 50% of those patients are in the over sixtyfive age group and consequently a great number of them are pensioners.
So, Sir, in supporting this Bill which gives additional health services to a great number of people, some 40,000 I understand, I make a plea to the Government never to lose sight of the fact that nursing in the home is the requirement of nearly every aged person at some time or other. If we, through a Commonwealth subsidy or by helping in any other way, assist in the provision of nursing and care of people who wish to live their lives out in their own homes, I believe we are doing a great deal towards solving the problems of our aged citizens. I support the Bill.
– 1 apologise for entering this debate. I bad no intention of doing so even two minutes ago but I think it is very necessary to set the record straight in relation to pensioner benefits and the medical card. As a result of an interjection by Senator Cohen, Senator Wedgwood indicated something a little different from what is really the fact. From 1952 till 1955 every pensioner - whether part pensioner or full pensioner - carried a medical card and received free medical services. From 1955 till 1966 all new part pensioners were deprived of this medical card and it was not until 1st January 1966 that this medical benefit was again restored to all pensioners. I think it must be regretted that the Government from 1955 until 1966 deprived all part pensioners of this medical benefit. This is the only contribution that I wish to make to the debate. I am now certain that the record has been straightened out and that people will understand the purpose of Senator Cohen’s interjection.
[9.30] - in reply - I should like to thank honourable senators who have taken part in the debate and thank particularly those on this side of the chamber who have answered very adequately much of what has been said by the Opposition. I express my appreciation to them. This Bill extends to about 40,000 new pensioners the benefits which have been available to other pensioners eligible under the Act subject to the agreement of the Australian Medical Association for medical services. When the Bill is passed the new pensioners, who have become eligible because of the social services legislation which was recently before the Senate, will receive the benefits.
Senator Dittmer raised a couple of questions to which I should like to reply. One was in connection with the $5 per day which the Commonwealth pays to State hospitals for pensioners treated in public wards. He said that this amount was inadequate. I should like to remind him that the Commonwealth increased the rate for public ward pensioner patients from $3.60 to $5 per day from 1st January 1967. In the financial year 1965-66 Commonwealth payments to State public hospitals under this heading and at the lower rate of $3.60 per day totalled $14.7m. I remind the honourable senator also that the majority of States, as a matter of policy, have never charged pensioners for treatment in public wards.
– But they have to find the difference.
– I suggest also to the honourable senator that as I listened to him in silence he might at least have the courtesy to listen to me.
– I am listening, but I do not want to be misrepresented.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! The honourable senator will refrain from interjecting.
– I am not copping any abuse.
– J resent the statement by Senator Dittmer when he says that he is not copping any abuse. I have at no time abused Senator Dittmer; I have merely answered his questions. I think we should make that point quite clear. To reply to another point raised by him, he said that the Commonwealth does not pay State mental hospitals anything on behalf of pensioner inmates. My reply to him is that the Commonwealth has chosen to assist the States by way of capital subsidy, rather than by a system of benefits.
– Rubbish. Excuse the Interruption, but I was speaking of daily maintenance.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! If the honourable senator continues to interject I shall have to name him.
– Up to 30th June 1966 the Commonwealth capital subsidies totalled more than $24m. Senator Wedgwood replied very ably to Senator Dittmer’s comment about mental hospitals and advanced some very good points. Senator Dittmer mentioned that the Federal Assembly of the Australian Medical Association would not meet until towards the end of this month. I remind the honourable senator that in my second reading speech on behalf of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) I said:
The Minister for Health has informed the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association of the proposals for amending the social services means test now before Parliament and sought the concurrence of the Association to the extension of the existing agreement for a free general practitioner medical service to the persons becoming eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the proposed amendments.
I think that this is the right and proper way for the Minister to deal with the matter. This is a question which will be discussed by the Assembly when it meets. I remind the Senate that the AMA so far has provided an excellent service for pensioners for concessional fees. That is a service of which all pensioners are appreciative. They know quite well what a splendid service is provided for them by the men of the AMA.
I remind the Senate, as has already been done by some of my colleagues, that the Government has a very real appreciation of its responsibility and that it wishes to accept the responsibility in its desire to serve the people of Australia in the best possible way through national health. It is recognised that the Government is doing very fine work for the people of Australia. The national health scheme in Australia is a workable one and, as we all know, it is recognised by other nations as one of the best schemes of its kind. Many men, women and children in Australia have qualified for assistance, as pensioners or as dependants, and have received benefits under the national health scheme brought into operation by this Government. This Bill is one more step in extending the benefits to those 40,000 new pensioners who are now eligible through the social services legislation which I, representing the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair), had the very great privilege to pilot through this House. I thank those who have supported the legislation and I thank the Senate for the swift passage that has been given to the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee …
– I wish to raise only one point which I forgot to mention when speaking on the second reading of the Bill. I have pleaded before, and I plead again - I hope that this time the Minister will assure me, hand over heart, that she will do something about it - that a specialist service be made available to pensioners. I am not referring to pensioners who are capable of attending a hospital hut to those who are incapable of going to hospital but who need specialist treatment. If they are to receive specialist treatment at present the doctor must send them to hospital, thus cluttering up the hospital and costing the Government far more than is necessary. There is no reason whatever why some scheme cannot be worked out whereby a general practitioner would certify that a patient was too ill to go to the outpatients department of a hospital for consultation with a specialist and the Government would provide treatment by a specialist in the same way as it provides treatment by a general practitioner. I have raised this matter before and I propose to raise it every time the pensioner medical service is discussed, until such time as some action is taken by the Government to resolve this matter.
– The Bill relates to pensioners and the matter that I propose to raise effects pensioners vitally. I have asked questions on this matter in the Senate but have received no information. So, to put the matter on record, I ask a question again to get information from the Minister, if she can supply it for me. About three or four months ago the Government, following receipt of an authoritative opinion, declared that the drug phenacetin was dangerous for the kidneys and removed it from the list of drugs available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The Government took that action in the interests of patients and, in a sense, to control the medical profession by directing it as to the way in which it should handle the drug. However, although the Government sought to control the medical profession in relation to this drug it did nothing to control distribution of the drug by chemists or in workshops, factories and even on the wharves. The drug is available al every factory where females are employed.
– How is it obtained?
– lt is obtained in the form of APC powders which are freely available in factories. When the girls feel run down they can obtain the powders which give them a lift and help them to increase production. As I have said, there is no control on public distribution of the drug but there is control on distribution through the medium of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. In certain American States the law provides that a drug like phenacetin cannot be sold in public places or in shops outside medical control unless the packet containing the drug bears a notice announcing that it could be dangerous-
– Order! To what clause in the Bill is the honourable senator relating his remarks?
– To clause 3, but the Bill is being taken as a whole. I knew that I was riding on the edge of the Standing Orders but that has been going on all day. 1 should like the Minister to take up this matter with the Department of Health firstly, to see whether something can be done to protect the public from the dangers of this drug, and secondly, to have it returned to the list of drugs available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
[9.43] - As Senator Turnbull’s proposal concerning specialist treatment would involve something a little different from the present practice, I think the subject can be classed as a matter of Government policy. However I assure him that his opinions a.* expressed in the chamber tonight, and on other occasions, will be placed before the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes).
Senator Ormonde referred to what he believed to be the danger inherent in the free availability of the drug phenacetin. I gather from the honourable senator that this drug is available in the form of headache powders. I am informed that the use of phenacetin and its effects were considered at length by the National Health and Medical Research Council at its meeting last month. The Council will be advising the Commonwealth and State Governments on the use of the drug and a statement will be made this week by the Acting Minister for Health (Mr Swartz).
– I want to raise another matter which affects pensioners because I know that the Minister has a real and sympathetic interest in them. Some three years ago the bodies known now as the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales and the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia operated conjointly but they decided to part. They now run their businesses separately. However, ever since the separation, the Medical Benefits Fund twice yearly sends to all contributors who were previously on the register of the combined funds notices advising that their subscription for the ensuing six or twelve months is due. I am referring now to people who normally pay their contributions in advance and not weekly or fortnightly through groups. This reprehensible practice could be most confusing to contributors. It is a sharp practice by the medical profession’s organisation which is trying to fool contributors to the Hospitals Contribution Fund.
– It is not the medical profession, it is the Medical Benefits Fund.
– Very well, the Medical Benefits Fund. I have the greatest respect for the medical profession generally and for doctors as individuals, but when they go into business, such as by forming little groups to evade taxation, they seem to become just as mundane as any other section of the community. Tn this case the organisation to which I have referred, which is a doctors’ organisation, is engaging in a sharp practice to try to fool contributors to the Hospitals Contribution Fund into joining the Medical Benefits Fund. I have raised this matter previously but contributors, including pensioners, still receive the notices. The practice should be stopped. The Minister should take up this matter with the Medical Benefits Fund - the doctors’ organisation - to ensure that it does not send out advance notices to people who are not members of the fund. This is a form of salesmanship in which no fund should be engaged. I ask the Minister to put a stop to it.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.49] -Senator Ormonde has spoken with real feeling about this matter but it is, I believe, purely a domestic one and I can do nothing in regard to it.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 2 May (vide page 1036), on motion by Senator McKellar: That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy President, this Bill and the Processed Milk Products Bounty Bill are complementary measures. They are interlocked and have a common purpose. I suggest that they be debated together.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Is it the wish of the Senate that the two Bills be debated together? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
– I believe that the Senate has made a wise decision. The Bills provide that as from 30th June next - the date of expiration of the fourth dairy industry stabilisation plan - there will be an extension of that five-year plan. Over the period that stabilisation plans have operated the industry has experienced a wide variety of conditions ranging from prosperity to insecurity. There is to be a continuation of the annual subsidy of $27jm. That will amount to $135m over the five-year period. There is also provision for the payment of a bounty of $800,000 on the export of processed milk products. That will cost $4m over the five-year period. Those figures are very impressive. They involve a considerable amount of the taxpayers’ money. We should give very close consideration to Che implications of the whole matter of the dairy industry and the bounty at this time when we are discussing the continuation of the bounty as from 1st July of this year.
In the main, the legislation is designed to ensure that the dairy industry not only is maintained and sustained but also holds its position as an employer of labour and an earner of export income. One of the industry’s proud boasts has been that it has acted as a sheet anchor for decentralisation. The industry has had a very important influence on the prosperity of many rural centres in Australia. About 25% of all our primary producers are engaged in dairying. Figures that I have obtained show that 98,000 people are actively employed in dairying; that a further 11,000 are employed in factories connected with dairying; and that a considerable number of people are employed indirectly in connection with dairying, lite side industries make their contribution to the national income and the overall employment situation and have to be taken into consideration when we are discussing the essentials of the dairy industry.
One of the errors that can be made is to generalise about the industry. We should apply ourselves to the variations that have occurred over the years in which dairying has been an activity of Australian primary producers. Many anomalies and errors of judgment have grown up and grown into the industry. They must now be corrected. To illustrate that point, I suggest that the more fertile areas of Tasmania and Victoria lend themselves to dairying much more than do some areas in Queensland and in parts of New South Wales. Although it is quite easy to generalise, we have to face up to the fact that the industry is reaching a stage at which it is no 30od bringing sentiment into the discussion and at which we must face the hard, cold facts.
In the last six or seven years, since the report of the Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry was made, there has been a certain amount of dilly-dallying by the Government in relation to the firm and substantial recommendations made by that Committee. The five-year period that we are considering may be the last that the dairy industry will have to make a radical re-assessment of where it is going. Because of circumstances that are gathering momentum at the present time, the industry may not be able to be sustained in some places even with the payment of the bounty that we are now discussing.
I wish to quote some very interesting statistics on the dairy industry as a background to the remarks that I will make later. They show that in Australia there are 3,200,000 dairy cows that produce 1,500 million gallons of milk per annum. The average production per cow in 1964-65 was 467 gallons. That represented an increase of 49 gallons of milk per cow on the 1960-61 figure. That was the year after the Committee of Inquiry made its report. The report of the Australian Dairy Produce Board for 1965-66 states that 942 million gallons or 62% of the milk produced in Australia was used for the manufacture of butter; that 129 million gallons or 8.6% of the Australian production was used for cheese making; that 98.4 million gallons or 6.2% of the Australian production was used for preserved milk products; that the remainder of 348 million gallons or 23% of the total production was used for other purposes, including direct human consumption; and that in the last ten years the annual production of butter has increased from 190,000 tons to 205,000 tons.
Production of butter is increasing but over the last five years or so consumption in the domestic market has fallen. In 1961 the Australian people consumed 24 lb of butter per capita. The latest report of the Australian Dairy Produce Board shows that domestic consumption has now fallen to 21.8 lb a head per annum. This represents a decline of considerable proportions and importance. Over the years the return available to the producer has been djusted. But here we have seen the influence of the growing inflation that I have mentioned so often to honourable senators. The buck seems to have been passed to the wage and salary earners and also in particular to primary producers, especially those engaged in the dairy industry. So a very brief survey such as this shows that all is not well with the industry.
– How much of that is due to competition from margarine, the production of which is increasing?
– The Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) in his second reading speech, devoted considerable time and space to the competition of margarine with butter. It is not my intention to enter into the argument except to say that the problem in relation to margarine is symptomatic of a dairy industry that needs a lot of reorganisation. 1 do nol want to go into the pros and cons of the quota restrictions imposed on margarine and of the question whether Mrs Jones is right or wrong. 1 only want to say that it is reasonable to suggest that no-one could blame the producers of the commodities that are used in the manufacture of margarine if they put up a case for an assured and profitable market for those products. After all, the reason for producing a commodity is that one expects to find a market for it.
– But the argument is no: coming from the producers of the products that are used in the manufacture of margarine. It is coming from only one section that is engaged in the manufacture of margarine.
– I shall not be tempted into participating in the argument about butter versus margarine. It boils down to a case of dog eat dog or to the exhortation: ‘Don’t eat butter’, or whatever the projections of the future may be. Suffice it to say now that the problem that has arisen with respect to margarine represents a strong indication that things are not going well in the dairy industry. Things are far from well if it fears so much competition from another kind of bread spread. The point is that production per cow is increasing. I am pleased to say that in Tasmania, the State that I have the honour to represent, the Department of Agriculture, through the efforts of its advisers in the extension services and of its keen and intelligent field officers, over a long period of war service land settlement has regularly advised dairy farmers that the way to balance their budget is to breed their cows for the particular product that they wish to produce, whether it be butter fat or whole milk. The farmers have also been advised about the latest methods of pasture improvement and about many other factors. As a result of these efforts the dairy industry in my State has reached a much better level, I believe, than has been reached in other parts of the Commonwealth, particularly those that have marginal dairying areas. We in Tasmania in most years are blessed with a high rainfall, though I acknowledge that at present we are having a disastrous season, especially with the devastation caused by the bush fires in the south of the island. The lack of rainfall since the spring has left the countryside in the northern parts of the State looking nearly as brown and as dry as that in the south, though this does not apply so much to the main dairying areas on the north west coast and to a certain extent on the north east coast. However, looking at the overall picture, one can say that the application of scientific methods to dairying under the conditions operating in Tasmania has put dairy farmers in that State on their feet to a far greater degree than has occurred in other States, particularly those that have marginal dairying areas, as is shown by the returns to the producers.
As I see the overall picture, the dairy industry will face its biggest crisis in the foreseeable future. Mr E. G. Roberts, Chairman of the Australian Dairy Produce Board, in his summary of the forty-first annual report of the Board, which deals with its activities for the financial year ended 30th June 1966, stated:
Australian butter and cheese prices in the United Kingdom eased downward throughout the twelve month period ended 30th June 1966.
He went on to say: the decline in butter prices was the objective of the United Kingdom Government
He also declared: the international dairy products demandsupply position is in a state of ‘uneasy equilibrium’. . . .
Mr Roberts also directed attention to the degree of political influence evident in the current international marketing problems of dairy produce. He stated:
Because of existing politico-marketing problems, confidence cannot be expressed regarding real progress in freeing international trade through the Kennedy Round or through the GATT Dairy Group.
It is my comment that these comments foreshadow departures from the traditional practices of the Australian dairy industry.
Earlier I mentioned the report of the Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry, which was presented in August 1960 and which was made available to the Parliament later in the same year. I believe that the Government has been remiss in allowing so long to elapse since the presentation of this report without acting on it. I point out that we are now approaching the end of the financial year 1966-67. The Minister for Repatriation, in his second reading speech, stated:
In its submission to the Government the industry made certain recommendations seeking measures of assistance specifically to aid marginal producers to build up their properties to profitable working units, or, in some cases, to leave the industry.
He went on to say:
The Government has agreed in principle to assisting the industry with respect to the problem of the marginal dairy farmer but the ways in which this help can most effectively be given have yet to be worked out. Much thought has still to be given to the practicable ways and means to achieve this end and there will of course need to be discussions with the industry and with State Governments. Consequently the Government feels that at this stage it need only Signify to the industry that it is willing to provide assistance to high cost and marginal producers. At the same time the Government will ensure that there will not be any undue delays in getting such an important scheme under way.
The industry’s obligations, of course, are equally as great as if not greater than those of the Commonwealth Government. I believe it is an industry in which the individuals pursue their own particular way of life and adopt their own particular attitudes towards their chosen vocation. My experience has been that they are selfreliant. One might say that the dairy farmers are a pretty capable body of people.
– The honourable senator would not say they are inefficient?
– I would not be in a position to say they are inefficient. But the report to which I have referred does make certain remarks along those lines, and I intend to refer to them.
– It is hard to define inefficiency’ anyway.
– That is true. It is a relative term. It has often been said that what is one man’s fish is another man’s poison. Equally. what in one man’s opinion is efficiency is inefficiency according to another man’s evaluation. Some people may think that because they can make their way with a substantial subsidy from the Government that is all that need be achieved. I believe that, to be viable at all the industry will have to reach the stage where it will not need this subsidy but will be economically self-sufficient, lt will have to reach the stage where the factors that attract men to particular areas for dairy farming will have so many advantages that the dairy farmers will be able to compete with other parts of the world. Of course, the dairy farmer suffers the great disadvantage that he is living through a period of very high cost inflation. As I have mentioned before, he is the recipient at the final end; he has to bear the costs and he finds it very difficult to pass them on.
This, of course, is the Government’s responsibility. I believe the Government will stand condemned as long as the history of this country is written for its policy of allowing Australia not only to inflate its currency as much as other inflated currencies throughout the world but also of allowing the country to get into the position where many of the economists and other observers of the situation believe that we are in for a further vicious cycle of the dog chasing its tail with wages chasing prices and adjustment following adjustment. The report of the Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry reads:
All the proposals for Commonwealth and Stale assistance to the dairy industry, and all the cooperation of Commonwealth and State instrumentalities will be unavailing, unless the industry itself realises that it has an obligation to the community and to itself to put its house in order. For too long the industry has been content to depend upon high domestic prices and external assistance in the form of bounty.
– What paragraph is that?
– lt is paragraph 1177, appearing on page 112. The heading is: Z - The Industry’s Obligations’. The report continues:
For loo long the industry has been content to depend upon high domestic prices and external assistance in the form of bounty, lt has adjusted itself to that assistance instead of making the internut adjustments that would lessen the need for it.
The industry has been unnecessarily costly. Professors Downing and Karmel have shown in their report that in the three years to 195*7-58 the protection of the butter and cheese sections of the industry cost consumers and the nation about £100 million.
– Does the honourable senator agree with that?
– I would not contradict it because the present subsidy will involve the payment of $27m a year over the next five year period, a total of $135m for the full period. The report from which I am quoting refers to the fact that in the three year period to 1957-58 the protection of the buller and cheese sections of the industry cost the consumers and the nation the equivalent of $200ni.
– From which page is the honourable senator reading?
– From page 112.
– Docs the honourable senator sec this Bill as support for the industry or as support for keeping retail prices at a reasonable level?
– I am referring to this as a background to a further series of observations that I intend to make. The report continues:
If the Committee’s diagnosis is right, the remedy is self evident - reduce the excess cost by lowering domestic prices or by eliminating bounty or by both methods. Unfortunately the problem is not capable of quick solution by these methods. The industry has been so reliant on these supports over such a long period that their sudden removal would cause great disturbance. Nevertheless the industry must ultimately find, within its own resources, means by which it can conduct its business profitably without the artificial stimulation to which it has become accustomed.
I referred earlier to climatic conditions, the fertility of the soil, and other factors relating to the industry in Tasmania. I would not like to create the impression that the Tasmanian dairy farmers are on velvet. They are very hard working people. Theirs is a seven days a week job, and they have all these high costs to contend with.
– And no long service leave.
– That is quite true. As a matter of fact, one factor in favour of the Tasmanian industry as compared with other parts of the Commonwealth is that even the cows in Tasmania do not seek as long a period of annual leave as the cows in other parts do. In other parts of the Commonwealth, the lactation period of cows is up to eight or nine months. In Tasmania, many dairy farmers find that they have to dry their cows off after ten months of lactation. When you add to that the gestation period in which the cow is usually preparing for her next calf, the annual holidays are few and far between. When the cow is producing by lactation, or is in a period of gestation, she needs the close attention of the farmer. As Senator Wright has said, the farmer does not get long service leave. If he does not make arrangements to take holidays in the short period between the time when he dries his cows off and the time when he starts milking again, he gets no rest at all. Paragraph 1180 of the report reads:
The public of Australia has been conditioned to the belief that the dairy industry is a struggling industry. In the most prosperous sections of the industry land values have reached ridiculously high levels.
We have seen this happening over a period of years. Land values have been increasing everywhere. This has been one of the factors in the cycle of inflation.
It seems that a subsidised industry such as the dairying industry has to carry false land values. There are always people who think that they can do better and who are prepared to offer very high prices for dairying land. Perhaps these people can obtain finance easily or for other reasons are prepared to pay land prices that do not allow a margin for them after they meet interest and redemption costs. Many farmers have made the great mistake of putting a millstone around their necks by paying highly inflated prices for properties. The report goes on to say in this regard:
It is difficult to associate with the concept of struggling’ circumstances that raise the value of dairy land in some areas to £250 and £300 per acre.
– The struggle comes after the farmer pays for his land.
– I have just made that point. The report continues:
An unfortunate result of these high prices is that some properties have changed hands at inflated values and in-coming owners will have to accept a subsidence of values which is inevitable if the industry is to be established on the firm basis of reality.
– Does the report say where these properties at £300 an acre are?
– There are some high priced properties in Victoria but I do not know whether they have reached that level. I would say that in some parts of Tasmania the value of properties, including the homestead, proper subdivisions, adequate watering, irrigation equipment, properly constructed farm buildings and the like would exceed £250 or £300 an acre.
– I venture to suggest that if the honourable senator made that offer to any farmer in Tasmania, the farmer would take him up on the spot and go down and get a job on the waterfront.
– That may be so But undoubtedly much high class dairying land has been grossly over-inflated in value and a millstone is placed around the neck of anyone taking up this land. It is clearly unfair to ask the consumers of dairy products and the taxpayers of Australia in general to subsidise a speculator or someone who is cashing in on the high market value and leaving someone else to carry the burden.
What is being done by the industry in Tasmania could quite well be emulated in other parts of the Commonwealth. In Tasmania, various people are specialising in certain products. Recently, a company has commenced producing milk under a new process called the ultra-heat treatment. I saw some containers of this milk in a tray in an ordinary grocery shop without any refrigeration whatever. It was equal to any that came from one’s own refrigerator, from a deep freeze, or from a refrigerator in a delicatessen. Not only does this open up a most interesting field of export, particularly to sub-tropical and tropical areas of the southern hemisphere, but also it gives very bright prospects to the dairying industry.
Cheese production in Tasmania in 1963 totalled only 643 tons. But by 1966 it had gone up to 2,940 tons. This Increase has taken place mainly in the Burnie and Wynyard areas which are very fertile parts of Tasmania. Another by-product to which the dairying industry has directed its attention is butter oil of which 1,000 tons has been produced at a factory at Deloraine in the northern area of Tasmania. Butter oil has a market in South East Asia and,
I understand, is similar to ghee which is a much sought after delicacy in India. The setting up of factories in countries like Thailand and the Philippines is a new outlet also for the products of the dairying industry.
These new developments are of utmost importance because of the virtual certainty that the United Kingdom, which has been the traditional market for our butter and has sustained the export part of the industry will enter into the European Common Market. Whether the people of Australia, and particularly those concerned with the dairying industry, have been told the whole story of the consequences of Britain’s entry to the European Common Market I do not know. From reports that I have read, it is an absolute, economic, urgent necessity, that the United Kingdom seek membership of the European Economic Community.
The whole trend of events, militarily, politically, and even geographically, has been for Australia, New Zealand and other countries of the former British Empire and now the Commonwealth of Nations to find new areas for the development of their trade. The decision in Australia to go ‘all the way with LBJ’ militarily and socially, will not bear Australia many fruits in the world’s export markets. These are problems that we will have to face up to just as the British people are facing up to the fact that the economic circumstances that are forcing the United Kingdom to withdraw its forces from east of Suez are the same economic circumstances as are forcing the United Kingdom again to seek entry to the European Economic Community. The Australian dairying industry is facing a very critical period. Indeed all our primary industries are facing a very critical period regarding their traditional export markets. However, the governments are grappling with the problem to the best of their ability. Circumstances are a long way out of their control.
The Opposition believes that legislation such as we are now debating is an expediency that is keeping the bulk of the industry afloat. Subsidies are legislated for in five year periods and this method has given people in the industry time to effect improvements in techniques, herds and pastures. In that way it may have done a lot of good. I hope that many of the recommendations of the Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry will be implemented in the near future. Drastic action needs to be taken to persuade inefficient farmers - marginal farmers - to divert their undoubted energies and capabilities to fields other than dairying. No doubt that action will be taken. It may be that this will be the last legislation of its type to provide for the payment of subsidies for a further five years to an industry that in my view, if properly organised, would be able to stand on its own feet.
I hope the industry can reach a properous stage and that it will continue to make great contributions to the welfare of this country. It employs a great amount of labour and I hope that it will continue to assist decentralisation which is so necessary in Australia. The Opposition supports the measure. I think the observations 1 have made can stand up to the light of day. lt is of no use for us to be sentimental about these issues that have to be faced. In facing them we will not only be doing a service to the dairying industry in making it further aware of the urgency of the problem that confronts it, but we will also be doing a service to the consumers and taxpayers of Australia.
– The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Adermann) said in his second reading speech:
The purpose of this Bill is to extend, the provision of the legislation to provide for the continuation of the payment of the bounty on the production of butter, cheese and other related products containing butterfat for a further five years ending 30th June 1972. The Government has decided also that the bounty payable on the export of processed milk products will be continued for each of the five years of the new plan.
The Bills we are discussing simply extend the present scheme for another five years at the present rate of subsidy of approximately $27m a year. The Australian dairying industry has been responsible for much of the rural settlement of this country.
– It was a pioneer industry.
– It was. In many areas it took people out of the cities to establish rural communities and towns that today are prosperous. It was responsible for much rural development and decentralisation. At present the dairying industry is a very good market for the products of our secondary industries. It assists secondary industries by purchasing annually goods including containers and packaging worth about SI 9m. About $236m is spent by the dairying industry on maintenance, operation and production in butter, cheese and milk factories. It spends an estimated $68m each year on machinery and farm equipment. Dairy farmers are regarded as being the biggest spenders per acre in this country.
The dairying industry earns foreign exchange for Australia. Last year it earned approximately S104m. It is the fourth largest primary industry and its gross receipts in the last full year were S504m. Comparative figures are for wool S840m, wheat $5 J 7m and meat S508m. Directly or indirectly the dairying industry supports about 600,000 people - a considerable proportion of our population. Whole regions are dependent on the industry which has spread from Cairns right round the coast and a fair distance inland to the vicinity of Adelaide, taking in Tasmania and some of the south-west region of Western Australia. In the last ten years the Australian consumer price index has risen by about 31%. In that time the price of butter to the Australian consumer has risen by only about 11%. The industry has curried the difference.
Australians pay less for butter than the people in any other country in the world except the United Kingdom and New Zealand. In the United Kingdom support prices and guarantees have been paid to the farmers. Last year support prices and guarantees there amounted to almost $A4.000m. The price of Australian butter on the open market in the United Kingdom is about 300 shillings sterling a hundredweight. Other countries have paid subsidies to their dairy farmers. For instance, in Canada the annual subsidy is about $A120m, but the price of butter a hundredweight in Canada is 436 shillings sterling. In the United States of America the annual subsidy is about $A315m. The price of butter there is 585 shillings sterling a hundredweight. The total subsidy paid annually in the Common Market countries is about $A650m. Prices vary throughout the area, the top level being 706 shillings sterling a hundredweight. Those prices may be compared with our home price of 416 shillings sterling a hundredweight.
– Does the honourable senator have any figures for New Zealand?
– No. The home price of butter in New Zealand is cheaper. The Australian dairying industry exports about 50,000 tons of skimmed milk powder each year and about 22,000 tons of casein. Two States - Victoria and Queensland - produce butter for export; the other States usually consume more than they produce. Today there are about 57,000 dairy farmers in Australia. The dairy industry has been charged with inefficiency. Let us have a look at this matter. Milk production per cow in Australia has increased by 10.7% in the last ten years. Bulk handling methods have been introduced, in line with many other industries. Refrigerated vats have been installed on the farms. Bulk tankers arc used to cart milk products. Much improved pastures have been introduced in the dairy farming districts. Much more fodder is conserved and more mechanisation is used on farms. More artificial insemination and herd testing methods are being used and much more diversification of farming output is taking place in the dairy industry today. In fact, fewer farms have produced considerably more butter.
In addition, the pasteurised milk trade has been greatly increased thus reducing the amount of butter which has to be marketed at home and overseas. There has been considerable expansion of sales of pasteurised milk, particularly to inland areas of Australia. I would like to quote a classic case of what has been developed in the Atherton Tablelands area of my State. Milk from Malanda, which is the centre of a big dairying industry, is taken 250 miles by road to Townsville, and from that distribution centre it goes up to 600 miles inland by rail. In other parts of the State pasteurised milk is taken from the coastal areas to Longreach, Charleville, Cunnamulla and Quilpie. That same story applies throughout the other States. I would like to mention, too, what is being done in Queensland by the State Government to improve pastures for dairy farmers. This scheme provides for a subsidy on the basis of Si for SI up to an expenditure of $14 per acre on pasture improvement. The farmer is limited to a certain number of acres each year, but he can improve so many acres per year for quite a number of years. This scheme will increase the production per farm in Queensland and will make the farms much more efficient.
The Minister in his second reading speech referred to marginal dairy farmers. I would like to quote that section of the speech because it is important to this Bill and to the future programme of the dairy industry. The Minister stated: . . economically viable dairy farmers, in common with other primary producers, have access to finance for soundly based investment to increase farm efficiency and farm profitability. But there is a group of marginal dairy producers whose farms fall into a different category. These are farms which, for a number of reasons, commonly because they are too small, are not able under normal circumstances to become payable propositions with today’s production methods and today’s markets. If such people are to share in the advantages of increased living standards in our country they will need to be helped. For some this may be to enable them, if they so desire, to leave the industry to take up some other occupation. For others it may be in the form of assistance in the reconstruction of farms to the stage where they can be operated on a payable basis whether in dairying or in some other line of production … the ways in which this help can most effectively be given have yet to be worked out.
That shows quite clearly that the Government has plans in mind to help these dairy farmers, as has been mentioned there, either to leave the industry, if they wish, or to increase their areas in order to diversify their production and so become efficient and economic units, whether in dairying or in some other form of farming or agriculture.
In Queensland since World War II roughly one-third of the dairy farmers have gone out of production. They have gone into other industries and have sold out to their neighbours. The number of dairy farmers has decreased from about 22,000 to 14,000 This decline has associated problems. As some farmers drop out it becomes obvious that the cream runs in some districts become less profitable. Factories have problems if their intake falls and they are not working to full economic level. The dairy industry is also confronted with other problems. For some time ice cream sales in this country have comprised almost 100% dairy products, but in recent years this tendency has changed considerably and much ice cream - although it may not be sold under the name of ice cream - is made from substitute products, mainly vegetable oils.
While Australia’s population has increased considerably, sales of dairy product ice cream have not increased at a commensurate rate. In fact, substitutes for ice cream have taken over some of the dairy product markets.
If Great Britain, where most of our surplus butter is sold, joins the European Economic Community, new markets will have to be found for a quite considerable quantity of butter that we sell in that area. Some work has been done on this matter already. New markets have been investigated. Ghee and other forms of butter have been sent to eastern countries. I might mention that the Queensland Butter Board has done a considerable amount of work on this particular subject.
I would like to refer to some of the developments in overseas sales which the dairy industry has achieved in recent years. In the next year it is expected that Australian dairy produce will be sold in about 100 countries. The dairy industry conducts an active promotional programme which is designed to investigate and develop new export markets. As a result of this drive, Japan has become Australia’s second biggest market for cheese, sales having increased from 100 tons a year to 4,900 tons in 1965- 66 and an estimated 9,000 tons in 1966- 67, which is expected to be our biggest export of cheese. Export markets have been opened up in South America, and in Peru alone Australian butter sales have increased 2,000%. About 40% of Australia’s manufactured dairy products is exported. Three milk plants have been established in Asia to provide an outlet for Australia’s dairy raw materials. The Thai plant has recently produced its one millionth case of sweetened condensed milk after only eighteen months of production. Sales of butter oil, ghee and butter concentrates to overseas countries increased by 48% last year over the previous year. Markets have been opened up in the United States of America and Japan for edible casein.
I turn to the margarine position: I believe that margarine quotas must be maintained. The vegetable oil industry will not be affected. Australia’s usage of vegetable oils is about 51,000 tons a year. Australia’s production is only about 17,000 tons. Coconut oil produced in Australia from copra imported from Papua and New Guinea amounts to about 18,000 tons each year. These two amounts are still far short of Australia’s needs in edible oils; therefore the margarine quotas will not, as claimed, have any great effect on the production of edible oils in Australia for a good while to come. I might mention, too, that in New Zealand the dairying industry is completely protected against margarine. The New Zealand Government has completely banned margarine.
The dairying industry is spending considerable sums in research. Last year it spent about §850,000. Considerable achievements have been made, including the development of a butter powder and then development of a spray drier and cooler for its manufacture; the discovery of a relationship between copper content and the keeping quality of butter, which is expected to save the industry at least $500,000 a year, and the discovery that pre-heating of cream by deodorising steam in the factory can make major savings for the industry in fuel costs. In many other ways research has achieved advances in the dairying industry. I believe that too many Australians and too many towns and districts have their livelihoods tied up with the dairying industry for us to do otherwise than give full support to this Bill.
- Senator O’Byrne, who led for the Opposition in this debate, Indicated quite clearly that the Australian Labor Party is supporting this legislation, lt was the Labor Party that in about 1942 initiated a stabilisation plan for the dairying industry. In this industry, as in other industries, we have assisted the primary producer with great benefit not only to people in the industry but also to the country in the form of additional overseas earnings. We have a very proud record and we are again supporting a Bill which will give to the dairying industry a subsidy of about $27m n year over the next five years. We have to examine this matter fairly closely because ‘the situation is that there are many dairy farms in Australia that are not necessarily operated inefficiently but are certainly uneconomic. This position applies not so much in Victoria, perhaps, as in Queensland and the northern part of New South Wales, where it becomes very apparent. People talk of the inefficiency of the industry. I do not believe that this inefficiency is in the main the fault of the farmer. There are many reasons, some of which may be blamed on Governments and some on the size of the properties that farmers are operating. One reason could be that the land is absolutely useless and should not be used for dairying at all.
This is where we as a Parliament face a very real problem and where we as a Parliament have to plan for the rehabilitation of many persons who are now eking out a bare living in the dairying industry, to ensure that they do not suffer as a result of being compensated for the taking of an area to expand the holding of another person or of being assisted to change over to some different type of production on the land. This is feasible and something should be done about it. We must be careful, as Senator Lawrie and Senator O’Byrne indicated, to ensure that this is done progressively over a period. The decentralisation of many parts of the State of Victoria and, indeed, of other States, was commenced by the dairying industry. It is true that today many towns rely entirely on the fact that this industry is providing employment for people living in the area. So we must ensure that in any action that we take to rehabilitate the industry we do not work against the interests of decentralisation or of the persons living in these areas and working in this industry either in the factories or on the farms.
At the present time we have in Victoria the situation that decentralisation is going backwards by virtue not of lack of production in the industry but of the fact that many of the small factories that serviced !he industry have been bought out by a larger company. Many small factories have been closed down in small towns in the western districts. A large company is centralising its operations in larger towns within the area. The people who have benefited by the operations of this company in the western districts are the dairy farmers themselves. Since it went into the western districts and bought out some of the smaller operators dairy farmers have received about 5c more per lb butterfat because of the keener competition and the fact that the prices established by the older existing companies have been upset. This in my view shows quite conclusively that farmers in this area have been robbed of many thousands of dollars over many years, because immediately there is some competition in buying the average price has risen. Further, in two instances at least of which I am aware the additional price of5c per lb has been made retrospective for a period of twelve months. This shows that the companies have been operating very successfully on the prices that they have been giving to the dairy farmers.
We must take very positive steps to ensure that the industry itself does control cost of production, which is the very key to the effectiveness of the stabilisation plan. If the cost of production is not within the limits envisaged by the stabilisation plan I can see our returning to the Parliament time after time to approve stabilisation plans providing not for $27m per annum but for much larger amounts. The cost of production has risen mainly because of the increased cost of land. This matter has been touched on by Senator O’Byrne. While I do not know of many farms that have been sold at the high figures cited, I know of many that have been sold at about $400 or $450 an acre. This is far in excess of the cost at which any dairy farmer, even in the lush dairying areas of Victoria, could expect to operate economically. The situation, of course, is that these prices have been built up over a long period by virtue of the fact that many professional men and rich business men have been buying lush dairy farms within a short range of the metropolitan area of Melbourne and the city of Geelong, where I live, and have been prepared to pay highly inflated prices for them. These men operate as absentee owners and as such they have in many cases initiated a system of sweated labour to operate their farms. I refer to some of the contractors associated with the share farming system within the industry. This is a cost factor that cannot help cost of production to remain at a reasonable level. Many share farmers in the dairying industry are working for less than they would receive if they received the wages provided under the award conditions of the industry for the hours that they work. They are bound to these contracts.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMnllin) - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 May 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19670503_senate_26_s34/>.