26th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMuIlin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has the Australian Government decided to follow the decision of President Johnson and order a cessation of air and naval attacks by our forces on North Vietnam?
– The Prime Minister is proposing to make a statement in another place at a later hour today. When that statement has been made I will seek leave of the Senate to make it here. Until the statement is made, 1 decline to answer the question. I am sure the honourable senator will appreciate the reason for that.
– My question to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral refers to what I regard as the rather inadequate programme that was presented to Japan by Australia in the television feature ‘Over the Equator’ last Friday night. Has the Minister received any comments on the programme? If so, were they favourable or critical? Who was responsible for the ideas behind the programme and its format? Are any future programmes of this kind envisaged? If so, in view of Australia’s superior scientific contribution will the Minister ensure that other facets of Australian life and character are presented and that there will be room for some graciousness and perhaps a little more good taste?
– 1 do not know what comments the PostmasterGeneral has received concerning this programme. I have received a variety of comments - some very good, some not so good, some rather critical. I did not see the programme. The honourable senator asked me about future programmes of a similar type. I do not know what future programmes may be in mind but I think I should say that the Australian Broadcasting Commission has autonomy under the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act. However, I will bring the honourable senator’s comments and his request con- cerning future programmes to the notice of the Postmaster-General.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry whether his colleague will consider accelerating the payment of future wheat pool proceeds to growers for the purpose of stimulating the economy of many towns in inland New South Wales.
– Having anticipated the question, I obtained some information from the Department of Primary Industry. It indicates that the Government has enabled the Australian Wheat Board to obtain loans from the Reserve Bank for payment to growers of the first advance on all wheat delivered. For 1 1 seasons that first payment has been at the rate of $1.10 per bushel. The overdraft involved is always substantial, in the case of the big crop of 1966-67 - No. 30 Pool - it was more than $500m. The Board can make further payments to growers in respect of wheat of any pool only when it has repaid the overdraft on that pool and has accumulated sufficient credit funds. The timing of second and subsequent payments clearly depends on the rate at which wheat can be sold and shipped, and the terms on which it is sold. This is very much a matter of the marketing situation from year to year, lt is a concern of the Wheat Board and the Wheat Board does what it can to ensure that payments are made to growers as soon as circumstances permit.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Supply. By way of preface 1 should like to express my appreciation of the excellence of the display of recent activities of the Department of Supply in the space technology exhibition mounted by the Weapons Research Establishment at present on view in King’s Hall. Will the Minister consider arranging for this exhibition to be shown in South Australia in Adelaide and the more important country centres?
– I am grateful for the honourable senator’s question. I hope that all honourable senators will take an opportunity to have a good look at the display in King’s Hall. A colour film related to the subject will be shown tonight in the
Senate Opposition Party Room and a lecture will toe given by Mr Brian Rofe who is the scientific officer in charge of the project. I hope that as many as possible will come to that lecture and the showing of the film. I would like to consider the taking of the exhibition to other parts of the Commonwealth in terms of availability and various requirements. I shall certainly try as hard as I can to consider favourably displaying the exhibition in suitable areas.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Will the Minister advise whether there is any possibility of the drawing of birthday ballots for national service being carried out under public scrutiny? Will he also consider publishing the result of such birthday ballots in the daily Press in Australia? Will he consider the pressing need to arrange for the 20-year-olds whose names emerge from the drawing of the birthday ballots to be advised of the approximate time of call-up instead of, as at present, being kept guessing for periods of 12 months or more, thus being unable to plan for their future in civilian life?
– The decision concerning birthday ballots, as the honourable senator will realise, has been made by the Government as a matter of policy in the implementation of the National Service Act. lt has been explained several times that the Government thinks it not wise to publish the birthdays that are revealed by the ballots. With regard to the third part of the question, I would be surprised if there were in the general system a great delay in the date of call-up being made known to the person involved. If there is, that is a matter that is worthy of reference to the Minister and, of course, I will do that at the request of the honourable senator.
– Can the Minister for Customs and Excise confirm whether or not a number of Japanese cars were seized recently in Melbourne and Sydney? If so, will he advise why this action was taken by his Department?
– A number of cars were seized in both Sydney and Melbourne because they contained smuggled goods. As this matter is now before my departmental officers, J do not believe that I can say anything further at this stage.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate anything to say regarding the Fi 1 1 tragedy in Vietnam?
– It is true to say that there have been two accidents involving the Fill and it is equally true to say that the Minister for Defence is seeking information in relation to the matter. The aircraft were on evaluation flights. The Prime Minister has indicated, in answer to a question asked by the Deputy Leader ot the Opposition in another place, that the Minister for Defence will be making a statement on all aspects of Australia’s acquisition of the Fill. It would nol be proper for me to anticipate that statement. In relation to the particular crashes referred to, the Minister for Defence is seeking, through the normal channels, all possible .information.
– ‘Has the attention of the Minister for Housing been drawn to recent statements made by leading building and housing organisations, including the South Australian Master Builders Association, stressing the hopelessness of families on average incomes buying their own homes in existing economic circumstances and calling on the Commonwealth Government to initiate improved home building financial, arrangements and to formulate a national housing policy? I ask the Minister what consideration is being given to these objectives.
– I have seen comments similar to those - if not the exact ones - which the honourable senator has placed before the Senate. I should say that we have evidence of the Commonwealth Government’s housing policy in that money is made available through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement under which the Commonwealth asks the States to make available not less than 30% of its grants through home builders accounts. Also, the Commonwealth Government introduced legislation, recently amended, for home savings grants which assist young people to obtain their own homes. This has been of tremendous assistance. Already over 106,000 yoting couples have received grants under this scheme.
Then in relation to social services we have provided housing for the aged. The Housing Loans Insurance Corporation has played up to date, and is continuing to play, a very important part in this field by promoting high ratio housing loans. These are all factors which assist people to obtain their own homes. Another portion of the honourable senator’s question concerned money made available for housing. I should say that the Australian trading and savings banks will make available over $600m this financial year toy way of housing loans. The Senate should know that commencements in housing at the moment are running at a record level of 1 1 8,000. We have every reason to believe that the present upward trend will continue. It is hoped and expected that for the financial year 1967-68 commencements will rise to 120,000 and in the calendar year 1968 they could rise as high as 123,000 or 125,000. We hope that this upward trend will continue.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry give the Senate any more information on the cargo of meat in the ‘City of Brisbane’ that was refused admission to the United States of America? I have seen reports in the Press that it is unlikely that the meat will be admitted to England. Has the Minister any more information?
– I am informed that the Department of Primary Industry has no further information on the matter and the question of disposal of the beef is a matter for the shippers and the exporters. The Department is doing what it can to assist in the sale of the meat.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, arises from the question asked by Senator Davidson and refers to the satellite programme with which the Australian television audience was presented during the weekend, fs the PostmasterGeneral aware of a Neronian question asked of a Roman citizen as to what constitutes good taste? Will he advise the Senate of what he considers is good taste? Will he inform the Senate whether he considers that the programme was in good taste? will be inform the Senate of the individuals who imposed their ideas of good taste upon the Australian electorate?
– As 1 said earlier, the Australian Broadcasting Commission has autonomy under the Broadcasting and Television Act. I have noted the comments that the honourable senator made. I will ensure that the PostmasterGeneral is informed of them and also that this matter is brought to the attention of the Chairman of the ABC.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. It follows the questions asked of her by Senator Davidson and Senator Cormack. Docs she remember advising me last Thursday, in reply to a question that I had placed on the notice paper, that it was intended to enable Australian artists to display their talents to the rest of the world on the international television hook-up in the programme ‘Over the Equator’ which was televised to 50 million viewers last Friday night? Will she agree that the portrayal of hippies, belly dancers and beatniks playing un-Australian sounds, otherwise described as music, certainly does not represent anything like the Australian way of life or Australian cultural attainments, and that the televised programme certainly did not enable Australian artists to display their great talents to the rest of the world? Having in mind the Minister’s statement that the Australian Broadcasting Commission was responsible for this segment of the programme, will the Minister be prepared to lodge a strong protest to the ABC at this shocking portrayal of the tastes and cultural standards of the younger generation of Australians and to make a request that the next time a programme of this nature is contemplated a committee of professional experts and youth leaders be established to advise the ABC on the proper standards of Australian youth?
– I well recall the reply that I gave to the honourable senator on the last day of sitting last week to his question on the notice paper concerning this very programme. I also recall his point that Austraiian artists be enabled to take part in that programme. I have noted the comments that he has made concerning the programme as it was presented. I personally did not see it; so I. cannot confirm or deny what he has said. I have also noted his strong expressions of criticism. I will bring those to the notice of the Postmaster-General. As I said in my reply to Senator Cormack’s question, I am sure that this matter will be brought to the attention of the Chairman of the ABC.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Supply. When is it expected that the Mirage aircraft production programme will be completed? When is it expected that the associated servicing programme for the Mirage will be completed? What steps, if any, have been taken to ensure that the highly skilled employees in the aircraft industry will be retained in the industry? Are there any plans for development work in the aircraft industry, particularly in relation to small craft that could play a multi-purpose role in meeting defence and commercial needs? Has the Minister yet visited the Government Aircraft Factory at Avalon in Victoria? If he has not, will he undertake to do so as soon as possible and to discuss the future of the industry and the highly skilled employees now employed in it?
– Let me answer the last part of the question first in order to maintain continuity. I have already made arrangements to visit the Melbourne area during the forthcoming break in the parliamentary sittings and 1 propose to dc the very thing that the honourable senator suggests. Speaking from memory, I believe that on 22nd and 23rd April I will be in the Melbourne area looking at the type of problem to which the honourable senator has referred, among other matters. It is anticipated that the Mirage production will be completed by the end of 1968. Servicing work which is not undertaken by the Royal Australian Air Force will be allocated to the industry as it arises. A continuing programme of such service will be of the usual order. In the aircraft industry peaks and lows in productivity are inevitable. These create a difficult problem of which we are not unaware. In answer to the honourable senator’s direct question I can say that we are considering among other possibilities a design for a light aircraft for multi-purpose use. I am very conscious of the situation which has developed at the Government Aircraft. Factory, and everything that can be done will be done to preserve the position there. If 1 am able to gather further information which I think will be of special interest to the Senate I shall take an opportunity to make a statement in relation to it at a later time.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. When she is communicating with the Postmaster-General in relation to the ‘Over the Equator’ telecast last Friday night will she point out that the best part of the session from Australia’s point of view was the Japanese presentation of the songs ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and Click Go the Shears’? The Senate may have misunderstood the situation referred to in an earlier question.
– I have heard this from other sources also. I shall, convey the comment to the Postmaster-General.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. Has he seen a report in today’s Press of the outburst by Air Vice-Marshal Ky over the American presence in Vietnam? In a vicious attack Air Vice-Marshal Ky said, among other things, that America is in Vietnam to defend its own interests. I assume that he means Australian troops are also there to defend Australia’s interests. If the Government does not accept this view, what action can be taken to stop such outbursts? Is the Minister aware that the same person told an Australian delegation in Vietnam less than 2 years ago that he expected the war to last at least another 25 years, and that obviously he expected the help of Australian troops? I ask again: What is the Australian Government’s attitude to Air Vice-Marshal Ky’s remarks?
– It would be very improper for me to attempt to reply to a question couched in those terms. I suggest that if the honourable senator seriously wants a comment on Air Vice-Marshal Ky’s remarks he should put the question on notice.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Last year we had several reports from the then Minister on special measures taken by the Department of Customs and Excise to combat an increase in attempts to smuggle drugs into Australia. What is the present position? Have the measures taken by the Department of Customs and Excise against this nefarious traffic been successful in substantially reducing or eliminating it?
– The Department of Customs and Excise is taking a very active interest in the smuggling of drugs into Australia. It has recently increased the staff engaged on the prevention and detection of smuggling andin some Australian ports has provided them with motor launches which will travel at speed to enable them to arrest smugglers. It is intended to have these vessels available in each of the major ports of Australia. We believe that this will play an important part in decreasing the drug traffic into Australia.
– My question, which I address to the Minister for Customs and Excise, relates to the question asked a few minutes ago by Senator McManus. What is the Department of Customs and
Excise doing to control the distribution of drugs manufactured in Australia? I refer to Indian hemp and to any other such poisonous substances.
– Some drugs are manufactured in Australia for medical purposes. My Department very strictly surveys the manufacture of those drugs. They are not released to the general public.
(Question No. 14)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The Minister for Trade and Industry has supplied the following answers: 1 and 2. Statistics of the quantity and value of exports of rutile and their destination over the past5 years are as follows:
(Question No. 24)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Affairs has provided the following answers:
(Question No. 63)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Affairs has supplied the following answers:
In addition Bolivia, Cameroon, Luxembourg, Morocco and Uruguay are reported to have agreed to contribute and India, Roumania and Tunisia too have promised support in kind.
(Question No. 65)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
How many of our diplomatic staff in each of the following countries are able (a) to read and (b) to speak the local language -
Laos Nationalist China
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply:
The figures set out below relate to officers currently serving in the countries listed, and show the number of officers, excluding Service attaches, who have diplomatic status and who read and speak the local languages with some fluency. Not all of them are officers of the Department of External Affairs. There are also other officers at these posts who are studying or have some knowledge of the local language but would not claim to speak or read with any fluency. These are the figures:
Burma - 2
Malaysia - 1
France- 1 1
Pakistan - nil
Laos - 4 speak French, none speaks Lao
Vietnam - 7 speak French, 1 speaks Vietnamese
Japan - 10
Nepal - There is no resident Mission in Katmandu
Belgium - 6 speak French, 2 speak Flemish
Korea - 1
Ghana - nil, but knowledge of English is sufficient
Greece - 1
Netherlands - 1
Portugal - there is no Australian diplomatic post in Portugal
Denmark - there are no diplomatic staff in Denmark where the post is a Consulate
Israel - nil
Turkey - there is no Australian diplomatic post in Turkey.
(Question No. 66)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers:
(Question No. 72)
asked the Minister for Customs and Excise upon notice:
Would the Minister please inform the Senate as follows:
Was a huge piece of machinery landed at Sydney during the week ending 15th March, from a ship which transported it from the United States of America?
Was duty payable on the machinery? If so, how much?
– I am now in a position to supply the following information:
Such a piece of machinery did arrive in Sydney and the only suitable equipment to land it was at Garden Island. As there was a strike at Garden Island it was not possible to land the machinery immediately and it was transferred to another vessel which had the necessary lifting equipment. The machinery was then landed at Pyrmout on 14th March 1968.
Customs duty of $14,155.14 was paid on the machinery.
(Question No. 75)
SenatorMcCLELLAND asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
Has the Minister seen a report that LieutenantColonel Le Duc Dat, former province chief of Phuoc Tuy province, and Lieutenant-Colonel Ho Nhat Quan, former appointed mayor of the town of Vung Tau, had been dismissed from their positions last year on corruption charges, but had since been quietly placed in desirable Army jobs in South Vietnam?
Is Phuoc Tuy province the area in South Vietnam in which Australian troops are operating?
Has the Minister investigated the allegations referred to in1 above? If so, what is the result of his inquiry?
If the allegations have not been investigated, will the Minister do so as a matter of urgency and report his findings to the Parliament?
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following replies: 1.I have seen this report. The two men concerned were removed from their positions, and are now in military units.
Senator WHEELDON (through Senator
O’Byrne) asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
In view of the fact that the Government claims that Australian forces are in South Vietnam as a result of obligations under the SEATO and ANZUS treaties, will the Government advise Senator McCarthy and Senator Robert Kennedy of the United States of America of the relevant sections of the treaties, so as to avoid a situation which could arise if either of these gentlemen, if elected President of the United Slates, were to withdraw American forces from Vietnam leaving the Australians virtually without support?
– The Minister for External Affairs has supplied the following answer:
The Government conducts its business with the United States with the President and his Administration.
(Question No. 104)
Senator WHEELDON (through Senator
O’Byrne) asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government does not intend to withdraw Australian representation from the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation?
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply:
There has been no change in Australian representation in the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation and there are no plans to change it. However, Australian membership of the Committee has to be kept under review because if the Committee were to act continuously in an irresponsible and unrestrained manner a number of members would feel that there was nothing to be gained for themselves or for the United Nations in continuing to participate. I have authorised the Australian representatives to express concern about past attitudes of the Committee to its reponsibilities and functions, and British and American representatives in New York have this year made it clear that their governments are also dissatisfied with the performance of the Committee.
(Question No. 118)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
As this is the beginning of Human Rights Year, and today is the 20th Anniversary of the acceptance of this principle by the United Nations, will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will ratify the convention to give equal pay for work of equal value and equal opportunities in employment to both men and women?
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
It has been the practice of successive Commonwealth Governments to ratify International Labor Organisation conventions only when the law and practice in the Commonwealth and the States are in accord with their provisions. Australian law and practice are not in accord with certain aspects of the ILO convention concerning equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value. Ratification is therefore not contemplated at this time.
Debate resumed from 26th March (vide page 292), on motion by Senator O’Byrne:
That the amendment of the Telephone Regulations, as contained in Statutory Rules 1967, No. 157, and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1966, be disallowed.
[3.39] - Mr President, I rise to continue the debate on the motion moved by Senator
O’Byrne for the disallowance of the regulation. I oppose the motion. I think that I should clear up a few points which I believe Senator O’Byrne in his speech made because of a misunderstanding of all the facts in this case. Regulation 127 authorises telephone subscribers who make their telephone services available for use by members of the public to charge for a local call. The lessee of the service is debited on his telephone account the normal fee for a local call which, since 1st October 1967, has been 4c. Prior to that date the fee was 3ic. Under the amendment to the regulation the lessee will be able to retain up to 3c per call as an offset against the charges he incurs.
We should put the picture in its correct light. With the full approval of the Post Office - 1 emphasise that because the honourable senator seemed to be under the impression that this was not done with the approval of the Post Office - two organisations, Victa Telecommunications Company Pty Ltd and Elliott-Automation (Pty) Ltd, are permitted to lease to telephone subscribers, for association with telephone lines, instruments known as company coin telephones. We have seen them and recognise them as the red telephones. This permission to lease is in line with the established Post Office policy of introducing a wide range of approved attachments which are suitable for connection to telephone lines provided they comply with the technical standards laid down by the Post Office. They provide a community service - a very important aspect.
The provision of company coin telephones does not conflict with Post Office objectives. Such phones provide a service for the community; they are valuable adjuncts to the services already provided directly by the Post Office. Senator O’Byrne seemed to think that the companies 1 have mentioned are competing with the Post Office, but the Post Office does not so regard their activities. As I have said, the companies are providing an important and necessary service to meet special needs which the Post Office otherwise would not be able to meet.
There are several reasons why the Post Office encourages the installation of company coin telephones. First of all, it conserves Post Office capital which can be used more effectively for the expansion and improvement of other services and the telephone network generally. I think that answers Senator 0’Byrne’s arguments and criticisms on that point. The conservation of Post Office capital surely is of tremendous importance. The honourable senator was also concerned about the charge made for a call; he thought that something was being taken from the Post Office. On the contrary, the company coin telephones bring the Post Office increased revenue from the normal rental and call charges payable by the lessees because of the additional calling points that have been made available. Because additional calling points are available more people than otherwise would be the case are using the telephones. Consequently the Post Office is receiving increased revenue. At present about 8,750 company coin telephones are in use in the Commonwealth. With such a large number of additional calling points available many more people are able to take advantage of the service provided.
– That does not include the. Postal Department telephones?
– These are the company coin telephones. The increased revenue is derived from a relatively small outlay by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, compared with the very high capital outlay and very high maintenance costs for public telephones. Honourable senators will appreciate that public telephones involve high capital and maintenance costs and that the Department makes a relatively small outlay on company coin telephones. The latter also involve the Department in much less effort in the way of maintenance, coin clearance and general upkeep, because these services are performed by the company.
The main point that has been brought forward by Senator O’Byrne related to costs and charges. Let us look .it the costs incurred by the lessee. In addition to the normal rental and installation fee, the lessee incurs the cost of leasing each coin telephone. The provision for the retention of 3c per local call is intended to recoup him for the expenditure associated wilh the lease and general upkeep and the service that he makes available. Taking the figures cited by Senator O’Byrne, the lessee has to recoup $96 for hire, plus the Post Office rental charge. I would remind honourable senators that in the first year he also has the initial installation fee. In addition, there is the normal call fee. Under the proposed 3c arrangement, he will have to attract over 4,500 calls a year to break even on the community service that he provides, which is of benefit to a great number of people. It is a service that these people would not otherwise have. Under the lc arrangement which Senator O’Byrne was discussing, the lessee has to attract over 14,000 calls a year before recovering his outlay. If we recognise the service that is given by these telephones, the service that is given by the companies, and the service that is given by the lessees who install the telephones, I believe that we will want to ensure the continuance of these services which are given for the benefit of people who wish to use them.
The proposed increase will not go to the coin telephone companies as, 1 believe. Senator O’Byrne implied. 1 stress that it will ensure continued availability of this type of community service. It is important. I believe, to overcome the possibility that the leasing of coin telephones will become unattractive. We want those persons who are at present leasing them to retain them and we want more people to lease them in order that the service may be given. I know that the Post Office would not wish the situation to develop whereby the provision of these telephones became so unattractive that there were cancellations by existing lessees, and pressures to provide similar advantages or facilities from the resources of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department itself. This has been a relevant consideration in determining the particular charges and in framing the regulation.
We have to remind ourselves, and it is very important to remember, that members of the community who make use of these telephones are not denied the use of other alternative calling facilities such as public telephones or individual private telephone services. This is a matter for their own personal decision. If it suits them to use these telephones and h is for their own convenience, then this service is of great value to them. I believe that if the Senate disallows the regulation, it will be doing a very great disservice to the community which benefits from the use of these telephones. If the regulation is disallowed, there is little doubt that a number of lessees will discontinue the service that they provide. A number of lessees will feel that they cannot continue providing this particular service for their customers, which will deprive the public of this extra facility. Because of the use being made of the facilities, I believe it is one which the public desires.
I believe that this statement must answer Senator O’Byrne’s expression of concern: If the regulation is disallowed, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department will be deprived of the added revenue, which is obtained with very little capital outlay, from these telephones. This revenue is very important. If it is reduced, it will have the effect of reducing the amount of money available to the Postmaster-General’s Department for other very necessary services in the field of communications. I believe that, to give the best personal service to the community, the facility being provided, which is an important service, should be retained. I do say that the retention of the service means more revenue for the Postmaster-General’s Department and that, having more revenue, the services of the Department can be further extended for the benefit of the people of Australia.
– I find some difficulty in following the reasoning of the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin). For instance the Minister denied the proposition, put forward by Senator O’Byrne, that these facilities were entering into competition with other Postmaster-General’s Department facilities, but then in the latter part of the Minister’s statement she said that the public was not denied the right of using other facilities. It would seem to me. if one takes the second point first, that the public has the right to use whatever it likes, whether it be a public telephone or a red phone. Surely that is competition. Yet the Minister seems to say: ‘This is not competition’. I trust that one speaker opposite, perhaps a Minister, will explain this a little more fully to me. How can one have a choice of two but not at the same time have competition?
The Minister closed on the note that this was added revenue for the Department. But surely a profit is being made by the private companies and therefore more profit would be made by the Department if the Department ran the facility. After all, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is a very efficient organisation with well trained technicians, lt has all the advantages of mass production and masses of people looking at these matters. Yet the Minister tries to make me believe that although it is more profitable to allow somebody else to take the middleman’s profit the Postmaster-General’s Department gains benefit from this in some way. Frankly, I just do not understand the argument that has been put in reply to Senator O’Byrne’s case.
As we see this action, it is a complete abdication of the responsibility of the Postal Department. That Department is charged with certain responsibilities by the Parliament or the government of the day. That has been the position for many years, lt has done a magnificent job, particularly in the telephones field, in outback places. One of the great achievements of the Department is that in such a far flung country as Australia and in a country with so few people it has provided telephone services for the people, although those services may be at all sorts of levels.
Yet in the densely populated areas these red telephones are moving in. Undoubtedly they are competing against other public telephones. I believe that the experience of anybody who has been in this Parliament for very long is that now, when we make representations to the Postal Department for the provision of public telephones, the departmental officers say: ‘We cannot give you a public telephone box, but we will tell you what you can do. You can get the organisation, shop or whatever it may be, to put in a red telephone.’ That is only half an answer. It is all right to say that a red telephone provides a great service. But the fact is that when the sun goes down that is the end of the service. Public telephone facilities are not particularly important during the day because a person can walk into any of the main shops in our cities and provincial towns, pay a certain sum and then use the shop’s telephone.
In the very densely populated areas in which obviously there will be a pretty good return from public telephones during the busiest parts of the day, the Government hands the public telephones over to private companies. Where will this sort of thing stop? How long will it be before the Government says: ‘We do not want to put money into this area. We will hand the public telephones in this area over to a company, although it will make a lot of money out of it.’ If this idea is carried through to its logical conclusion, all the highly profitable operations of the Postmaster-General’s Department will be run by private enterprise. The next demand that will come from the companies operating the red telephones will be in this form: We can give only a partial service at the moment. What about letting us operate on the subscriber trunk dialling system?’ At the moment Perth is the only capital city that has not STD facilities. When the companies make that request a Minister will stand up and say: ‘We are not allowing these companies to give the full service. Let them hook on to the STD system and charge a little more than the Department does.’
The Minister made the point that the maintenance cost on these red telephones is heavy. That, is not so. The heavy maintenance cost is not in connecting the telephone itself; it is in laying the cables under the ground. That involves a tremendously heavy outlay. The red telephone’ companies pay nothing of that cost. Another large outlay is in the old switch hooks or in the new crossbar section in the telephone exchange itself. What the Government is doing is providing this tremendously sophisticated and very expensive equipment in the telephone exchanges, as well as the lead cables, co-axial cables and so on. Then when it comes to the very simple operation of hooking a telephone on at the other end of the cable, the Government says to the companies: ‘We will look after the cost of all this complicated equipment, but the very simple business of hanging a telephone on the other end of the cable, although it is obviously the profitable part of the operation, is too expensive for us, so we will hand it over to you’.
The Minister also advanced the argument that the Department saves a substantial capital outlay. I point out that the Department is making a tremendous capital outlay because it is installing all the expensive equipment; but then it is not continuing with the cheap part of the operation. Is this not an indictment of the Government? Is it not the very problem that we had when we were discussing other telephone regulations and increased costs? That matter has come up fairly frequently over the last few years. The fact is that the responsibility for planning in this great Department rests squarely on the shoulders of the Government. If the Government says that it has to provide all the basic complicated equipment and then come to a stop because it has not enough capital, that is part of the planning that should be done by the Government and the Treasury. So they should have a look at this matter. If we accept that proposition, why does the Government not give private companies the job of putting up lines, digging ditches and laying cables? If we did that we would finish up like Canada and the United States where the profitable side of these services, which have been socialised enterprises in Australia since the beginning, is in the hands of private companies; the PostmasterGeneral’s Department would be a letter carrier and nothing else. Surely when the Minister says that she is very worried that wc will start to get cancellations she should be reminded that if there are 8,750 red phones in service already - that is her figure - those operating them have had a pretty profitable business so far. The people who install red phones do not look just 5 minutes ahead; they look further ahead than just a day or a year. They know perfectly well what the developments might be. If they are receiving as profit some percentage of the cost of each call on the red phones, as our economy expands and there arc more people in the community they will make more profit.
Quite a deal of poppycock has been talked about the amount that has been invested in this great service which stops at sundown. It has been suggested that the red phone service does not compete with public telephones, but obviously it does. Not only does it compete but also it prevents public telephones from being installed. I come back to my first point - that a telephone service is the direct responsibility of the Postmaster-General’s Department. It has been suggested that because those operating red phones have them available for only part of the day and are not giving a full service they should be allowed to charge more for each call. This is the first step - perhaps only a minor one - towards denationalising the Postmaster-General’s Department. If we allow this regulation the Department will be able to avoid its responsibility of putting in public telephones when they are demanded. When we ask now that a public telephone be installed the Department replies: ‘We must be assured of a certain amount of revenue. This condition is imposed on us by the Treasury’. But will we get enough revenue if people are using these red phones which are not available after the doors shut at 5.30 p.m.? While they continue, obviously there will not be enough revenue to justify putting in public telephones. This is a complete reversal of what ought to be done by the Postmaster-General’s Department.
I am not at all impressed by the arguments about the maintenance of public telephones, because the main part of the maintenance of the red phones is still carried out by the Postmaster-General’s Department. Nor am T impressed by the talk about expenditure on capital equipment in installing red phones, because the main part of the equipment is provided by the Postmaster-General’s Department. It is not a bad little business when one can socialise his losses and capitalise his gains. This is what is happening. The Department is installing expensive equipment al the expense of the taxpayer, but immediately we come to a profitable section of the business private organisations want to take over. This is pretty good work if you can get it. but the Senate should not allow it to happen. Having gone as far as we have with the provision of a telephone service, in my view all telephone services in Australia, whether profitable or, as they are in the outback, unprofitable should be run by the central efficient body which has been set up in the federal sphere ever since federation. In this way revenue from the profitable part of the service can be spread over the unprofitable part. If the present trend continues all responsibility will be taken from the Postmaster-General’s Department. I repeat that the proposed regulation will result in a complete abdication of responsibility by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Every honourable senator in this place would be very wise to say ‘So far but no farther’ at this point and should issue a warning that we are alive to what is happening by disallowing this regulation.
– In speaking to this motion I should like first to refer to some points made by Senator Willesee. He seemed concerned about the revenue that the Postmaster-General’s Department would receive from the red phone service. I am unable to understand his argument. Whether a telephone is operated by a private subscriber or as a public telephone, the Department still receives the same revenue. In fact in the case of the red phone the Department receives not only the revenue from each telephone call but also the rental for the telephone.
– If it were a public telephone box the Department would be getting all the revenue.
– The honourable senator has already had an opportunity to speak. If Senator Willesee were to carry his arguments to a logical conclusion he would have the Postmaster-General’s Department operating every part of the telephone service. He would have departmental officials in every hotel and motel and operating all the exchanges in business houses and elsewhere. Probably the two Opposition senators who have spoken so far have on many occasions quite cheerfully paid as much as 10c for local calls from telephones operated by hotels and motels. In some places the charge is even higher than that.
– lt is illegal for them to do that.
– But they do it. Much has been said about maintenance. The Department provides multi-coin boxes in some areas, but if the area happens to be dimly lit or is away from public view somebody will try to extract coins from the box. I have been told by PMG officials that much damage is caused to the boxes in this way and that this is one of their worst problems.
– There are no red telephone services anywhere at night.
– Not all red telephones are out of service when the shops shut. They are installed in places other than in shops and are still available after 5 o’clock or whatever time has been suggested by the Opposition. The public is not obliged to use the red telephones. This service is provided by the shopkeeper to increase his goodwill and to help his business. In many cases he operates the service at a loss. I cannot follow Senator O’Byrne’s line of reasoning when he says that the charge to the telephone user for local calls was 3ic. So far as I am aware the charge has been 4c since 1st October last year.
– It is three calls for 10c.
– That charge was altered on 1st October last year. Perhaps the honourable senator was not in the chamber at the time it was altered to 4c per call. I have been informed that that is the charge today and that the charge of 10c for three calls went out on 1st October last year. The charge for telephone calls can be changed only by regulation. In my view what I have said destroys the argument raised by Senator O’Byrne. The margin of profit for those who operate the red telephones has been reduced, and the extra charge is to bc allowed so that they can recoup a little of their capital outlay.
As I said to Senator O’Byrne earlier by way of interjection, a person using a public telephone does nol pay rental. The person using the ordinary public telephone at 5c a call - even if he were to pay 7c - is getting a cheaper service than the subscriber who is paying telephone rental. But other factors also come into the situation. 1 have referred already to vandalism. I have seen multi-coin boxes which have been wrecked. I. have seen PMG technicians repairing them and, in some cases, having to rebuild them. A very large sum has been invested in red phones. I do not know whether members of the Opposition who are seeking to disallow this regulation realise that because private enterprise is providing some of the capital cost of these phones the Department is able to install more phones in country areas and to give country people an improved service. Many people in country areas still have phones which operate on restricted hours. In Queensland alone 600 telephone exchanges work on restricted hours. Some of the additional revenue available to the Department can be spent in providing a continuous service to country areas, not only where the service is profitable to the Post Office. Where the public is getting a good service, if those providing the service want to charge a little more to maintain the service and to make a little profit they should be permitted to do so.
The Post Office has been engaged in this type of business before but in many cases has gone out of it. I am informed that the
Post Office has largely vacated the field because of altered circumstances and now maintains these types of telephones only in hospitals, schools and public institutions. The Post Office has 7,500 telephones of the same type as the red telephones. Senator O’Byrne has said that this regulation is the thin end of the wedge and will lead to increases in all local telephone call rates. I think he is wrong. I have already pointed out that in motels and hotels and such places a charge of 10c is made for a local telephone call. That is rather standard in respect of sub-switchboards. Probably Senator O’Byrne has paid 10c for a local call without realising it.
– I would bc breaking the law if 1 bad.
– I am told that people with sub-switchboards are entitled to make that charge.
– It is almost a uniform charge.
– It is uniform everywhere. Proprietors have a right to charge for the service provided by their staff. In this case Senator O’Byrne is growling about an increase of 2c a call. The red telephones do not have to be maintained by the Postal Department. I have pointed out what happens with multi-coin systems that I have observed. 1 think the regulation should not be disallowed. I ask honourable senators to vote to defeat the motion of the Opposition.
– 1 support the motion moved by Senator O’Byrne for the disallowance of the regulation we are discussing. If the regulation is disallowed further charges will be imposed on the Australian people. The cost of calls made on red telephones, as they are commonly termed, will be increased from 5c to 7c each. That is roughly an increase of 40%. Senator O’Byrne has rightly asked: ‘What is the purpose of a regulation of this nature?’ I certainly agree with him that it is the thin end of the wedge. Have we any assurance from the Government that once these charges are increased it will not then similarly increase the charge for local calls made on public telephones? Only last week the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) pronounced that Australians in the near future - obviously looking ahead to the next
Budget - would have to meet increased taxation commitments so that the Government could ensure the . nation’s adequate and proper development.
Just prior to the last Budget sessional period the Government tried to get the approval of the Senate for regulations which would impose additional charges on the Australian people for mail and telephone services. Surely Senator O’Byrne has every justification for the view that this is the thin end of the wedge. The Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) who has presented the case for the Government this afternoon, and Senator Lawrie, have had nothing but praise for the red telephones provided by private companies. I rhetorically ask: If the services given are so good and so profitable for the people that this Government seems to represent, why does not the Postal Department itself provide this type of service for the Australian people? As 1 have already said, last year the Post Office was so short of money that it had to increase heavily the postal charges. Now the Post Office wants an increase of about 40% - from 5c to 7c - for the cost of a local telephone call on a red telephone. This seems to be all the more reason why the Government should consider nationalising this section of the activities of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
For the sake of -the record I wish to repeat some of the figures that have already been cited. We are told that the rental for red telephones is about $24 a quarter. According to my arithmetic that is a rental charge of about $96 a year. It would be very interesting indeed to learn the cost of manufacture of a red telephone. Assuming that the annual rental of $96 continues for a period of ten years, no-one can convince me that the cost of manufacture of a red telephone and its installation would be anything like the rental charge of $960 paid over that period.
It is said that the shopkeepers only hire the red telephones and that in addition to the rental charge of $24 a quarter they must pay annually $40 for the cost of the line, making a total annual cost of $136. The lessees keep the money paid into the red telephones and, as I understand it, they pay to the Postmaster-General’s Department the charges imposed by that body for local telephone calls. I think the Minister has said that there are 8,750 red telephones throughout Australia. The information conveyed is that of that number some 7,500 are in New South Wales. A couple of years ago the Post Office was very short of funds for the installation of private and public telephones. The Government decided on the setting up of red telephones as one way out of its difficulties.. Assuming that 8,750 red telephones are operating throughout Australia the total annual rental charge paid to the private companies is $840,000. The Post Office receives, as a charge for the cost of the line, $40 for each phone, making an annual total of $340,000.
Senator Lawrie has said that the lessees are losing money on the red telephones. On the figures available to me, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is gaining very little but the private companies concerned are getting the cream off the cake through their rental charges of $840,000 a year.
– Nine calls a day on each red telephone would pay for that.
– That is so. How can Senator Lawrie fairly suggest that the lessees are losing money? As I understood the Minister, she said that the increased charges will be paid to the lessees of the red phones. What happens where two telephones are competing for business, as the Minister suggested that they could be in her statement - one a red telephone with a charge of 7c a call and one a public telephone with a charge of 5c a call? Right throughout the metropolitan area of Sydney that situation exists. Red telephones are placed in shops adjacent to public telephones. If the Senate allows the regulation we are discussing, shopkeepers will lose much more than they are losing now. It is Senator Lawrie’s suggestion that they are losing money on the red telephones. Obviously where the two types of telephones are available, members of the Australian community will prefer to use a public telephone at a cost of 5c a local call, until the cost of calls made on public telephones is increased to match the increase now proposed by the Government in charges for calls made on red telephones.
Senator Lawrie seemed to suggest that the red telephones installed in the metropolitan areas can be, and indeed are, being used to subsidise the cost of providing, proper telephonic communications in country areas. If the Postmaster-General’s Depart ment installed sufficient public telephones throughout the metropolitan areas of Australia and was obtaining the revenue from the calls involved,” then surely there would be more money available to the Department for the extension, of country telephone services.
Certainly the Government is handing over to private enterprise a profitable section of the postmaster-General’s Department. It is getting, as it were, a commission amounting to $350,000 from the hiring of the line. I certainly do not believe that a case has been put forward by the Minister or any Government spokesman to justify this Parliament’s approving a regulation of this nature, particularly in view of the fact that the Budget session will be commencing in August next. I do not think it is in the interests of the Australian people that we should agree to it. I certainly do not think it is in the interests of the shopkeepers or those who are the lessees of these phones. Because I believe that this is the thin end of the wedge for increasing charges to the Australian people, I suggest that the regulation should be rejected.
Senator SIM (Western Australia) (4.23] - We are debating a motion to disallow regulation 127, which deals with increased charges for red telephones. Perhaps instead of discussing red telephones we should be discussing red herrings. If we are going to debate the matter in a logical manner then at least we should try to be reasonably factual. Senator McClelland stated that he believed that about 7,000 of these red telephones were installed in the State of New South Wales. That figure is just not accurate. Apparently someone has given him this figure and misled him by doing so. I am not suggesting that he deliberately gave us inaccurate figures.
Let me give him the Department’s figures relating to these red telephones. I shall deal first with the Victa coin-operated telephones. Of these there are 3,982 in New South Wales, 1,582 in Victoria, 1,195 in Queensland, 336 in South Australia, 367 in Western Australia and 117 in Tasmania, making a total of 7,579 for the whole of the Commonwealth. Of the Easy phones, there are 530 in New South Wales, 611 in Victoria, 9 in Queensland, 2 in South Australia, 22 in Western Australia and 4 in Tasmania, making a total of 1,178 for the whole of the Commonwealth. These figures disclose that the number installed in New South Wales is far short of the 7,000 mentioned by Senator McClelland.
– What about the other companies?
– 1 have mentioned the two principal companies. I understand that one company operates in Victoria or some other State only and that the Victa organisation and the Easy phones organisation are the two principal companies involved in this business.
These red telephones have been established with the approval of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I believe that it is quite wrong to say that the Department is losing money because of this. Senator Willesee referred to the fact that the Postmaster-General has installed expensive equipment which must be used if it is to operate economically. This is quite true; but the red phones do increase the use of this equipment. This being so, then of course they do make for economical use of the expensive equipment to which he refers and the economical functioning of the telephone services of the Postmaster-General’s Department. lt seems to me that this debate has hinged around somewhat of a hatred of private enterprise. Someone has seen that private enterprise might be making a profit out of this business. We on this side do not mind if private enterprise makes a profit. We believe that is good for the community. Some very fanciful arguments have been adduced to support the suggestion that the Postmaster-General’s Department either is losing now or will lose in the long term. Senator Willesee has argued that this is a step towards denationalising the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I am bound to say that I think that is a ridiculous argument. It has also been suggested that this is the first step towards increasing charges for public telephone calls to 7c and that this is being done because the operators of the red telephones claim that when they charge 7c their business will fall off. It has been suggested that the Government will increase the charges for calls made on public telephones to offset this loss and to give some advantage to the companies involved. I do not think that the slightest evidence has been produced to support this suggestion. It is merely an argument that has been plucked out of the air. It is this type of argument which has led me to suggest that instead of discussing red telephones we should be discussing red herrings. In moving for the disallowance of this regulation, the Opposition has been more inclined to produce red herrings than to adduce facts in support of its argument.
I do not want to misrepresent Senator O’Byrne, but I believe he said it required only ten calls a day on these phones to break even. My information is that it required twenty calls a day when the margin was lie. Therefore, today, with a margin of only lc. it would require something like thirty-five calls a day to break even.
It is true that many of the businesses which install these phones are not unduly worried if they make a reasonable loss on them. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that if a person comes in to use the phone he is likely to be attracted by something in the shop and to buy it. It is not true to say that these people are making a profit out of the telephones. In fact, the records show that many businesses are losing quite substantial sums on the operation of these phones and hope to make up the loss by way of increased business brought about in the way I have described. Therefore, even if we hate the profit motive, the argument that there is profit involved in this matter is not an accurate one.
I do not believe that we should criticise the companies involved. The two principal organisations concerned are the Victa Telecommunication Co. Pty Ltd and ElliottAutomation (Pty) Ltd. As we have seen from the figures that I have submitted, the Victa organisation supplies the great majority of these phones. That company has quite openly made available to the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Government full details of its financial position. If I briefly set out that financial position it will indicate quite clearly to honourable senators that this company is not operating at a rate of profit to which anyone could take exception. In fact, the figures disclose that it is making only a meagre profit.
This company commenced trading in 1963. In the first 4 years, it acquired capital assets worth $615,000, 93% of which is represented by telephones. Over that period, the net profit has been only $42,000. Not even the most: ardent Socialist could argue that this profit is anything but meagre. Nor could he argue that the company was profiteering at the expense of the community. When the charges were increased from 3ic to 4c and there was a margin of only lc to cover all the operations of the business connected with these telephones, the company became concerned that if business fell off and the lessees suffered losses they would discard the telephones. The companies approached the Postmaster-General’s Department and put a proposition to it. After reviewing their financial position, and particularly having regard to the community service which these telephones provide, it was agreed that the companies should increase their charges to 7c to allow a margin of 3c to meet all their commitments involved in the operation of the telephones. Even wilh the additional 3c it is not expected that there will be any substantial increase in the margin of profit. But the increase will allow these two Australian companies to continue to operate and to provide employment - a matter with which the Australian Labor Party should be concerned. These companies will be able to continue the renting of telephones provided this is economical, and there is nothing to suggest that it will not be economical. lt is true that the Postmaster-General’s Department considered increasing the charge for a call to 6c, but this figure was discarded in favour of 7c. The Department believes that it is in the interests of the Post Ofl ice to foster the retention of company coin telephones already in use and to encourage further installation of these telephones. Surely no-one will seriously suggest that the Post Office in encouraging these coin operated telephones is acting against its own interest. We have heard the argument concerning the installation of public telephones as against company coin telephones. It has been suggested that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department could meet the need for telephones by providing more public telephones. But it costs $1,766 to install a public telephone in a metropolitan area, and the annual cost of operating and maintaining that telephone is $317. 1 think that Senator Lawrie or Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin referred to vandalism. Although no exact figures are available, the Victorian branch of the Post master-General’s Department estimates that about 75% of the maintenance cost of public telephones is due to vandalism. The average annual revenue from each public telephone is $420. As I have already said, the annual operating and maintenance cost is $317 per public telephone. From a recent sample investigation it has been ascertained that 35% of public telephones installed in the metropolitan areas are returning less than $317 annually. Therefore, they are operating at a loss.
It seems to me to be extremely odd to argue that the Post Office is suffering because of the installation of company coin telephones. If the Post Office, by the installation of these telephones, is increasing the number of calls made - undoubtedly this is so - I suggest that it is gaining from providing these telephones at convenient points. If any one of us wanted to make a telephone call and there was a telephone handy, we would make the call. But if we had to walk 200 yards to find a public telephone the odds are that we would wait until we got home to make the call or we would not make it al all. The Postmaster-General’s Department believes that these company coin telephones are good business. The Opposition has advanced no argument lo prove that they are not. Instead it has advanced some fanciful sort of an argument to try to bolster up a pitifully weak case.
There, is a great deal more that 1 could say, but in conclusion I shall make only two further points: First, company coin telephones are only one of the many types of approved attachments that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department allows to people who want them. 1 have a list of these attachments, which covers many pages. The second point is that if the PostmasterGeneral’s Department had to provide out of its own resources all the public- telephones that are required to meet community needs, of course, some areas would suffer. The Department encourages the installation of company coin telephones for a number of reasons. One is that they conserve Post Office capital expenditure which can be used effectively for the expansion and improvement of: other services in the network generally. So somebody else gains from the operation of these telephones. No doubt people in the outback areas or people who are awaiting tha installation of telephones gain an advantage from the saving of capital expenditure resulting from the installation of company coin telephones.
Also, these telephones mean increased revenue from normal rental and call charges. The Post Office receives $40 a year in line rental for each of these telephones and there are some 8,700 in use throughout the Commonwealth. Therefore the Post Office is gaining considerable revenue from their use. This increased revenue is gained from a relatively small outlay by the Post Office as compared with the outlay for public telephones which have very high capital and maintenance costs. Again, this is good business. Company coin telephones involve much less effort to the Post Office in the way of maintenance, coin clearance and general upkeep. In addition to the normal Post Office line rental charge of $40, the lessee incurs the cost of leasing each coin telephone. Provision for the retention of 3c per local call is intended only to recoup the lessee for the expenditure associated with the lease, the general upkeep of the telephone and the service that he makes available. So there is no profiteering in this matter. The revenue from the proposed increased charges will not go to the company coin telephone companies. It will go to the businesses which are concerned with the maintenance and upkeep of these telephones.
It is important to remember that the people who use these telephones are not denied the use of public telephones or their own private telephone. It is a matter of choice. If they wish to pay 7c for the privilege of making a call from a company coin telephone, that is their business. No one is denying them the right to go to a public telephone to pay 5c for a call or to make a call from their own home for 4c. They have complete freedom of choice. These company coin telephones are providing a community service which the public wants. On these counts I strongly oppose and urge the Senate to reject the motion for the disallowance of this regulation.
– We on this side of the chamber oppose, on principle, the installation of red telephones and what I would call the sellout to big business of a very lucrative part of the business conducted by the Post
Office. 1 think I express the view of the Australian Labor Party when 1 say that it is not a good policy to sell out to private enterprise a public institution like the Post Office, which every speaker on the Government side has said is a profitable business. The Post Office is the biggest business institution in this country. It is probably the biggest institution of its type in the world.
Two private companies are trying to horn their way into this business. T want, to know - and it has not been explained yet - why these major commercial organisations are being allowed to do this. I shall refer to the Victa company. Victa comes info this business of providing telephones at a time when it goes out of the aircraft manufacturing business. Is it a coincidence? Perhaps the company got so much money from the monopolies to get out of the aircraft manufacturing business that it was induced to enter the monopoly held by the Post Office. On principle we are opposed to handing over public property to private enterprise. It has happened in other fields of government almost too numerous to mention. I never thought any government would sell out any part of the Post Office. It. is one of our proudest institutions.
Honourable senators on the Government side have said that the companies have been given permission to install the red telephones to provide a public service. Is that the reason? I can name a big hotel in Sydney - it is one of three such hotels - which has a row of perhaps 20 Post Office telephones in one spot and within cooee has 2 red telephones. It is obvious therefore that the companies are not providing a public service. How long will it be before there are 20 red telephones and the clientele of the hotel has only the red telephones to use? This is a deliberate invasion of the rights of the Post Office.
I am not saying that there should not be additional telephones, but if there are to be additional telephones why should not the Post Office own them? If telephones were needed in the streets, why did not the Post Office put them in the streets? That is a logical question to ask and I should like the Minister to answer it. The red telephone and the telephone on the street corner can be very handy. I suppose this much can be said - the red telephones will not be damaged as much as the public telephones in the streets have been damaged, because the red telephones are not being installed in places where public telephones are needed.
The companies concerned will not serve the people of north Parramatta or north Narrabeen. Oh no. Red telephones must be installed where crowds are passing. One stipulation to the installation of red telephones is that there must be sufficient turnover to warrant them. It is not a bad kind of setup to be provided with your customers before you commence business. The companies are providing no service for people in the outer surburan areas who must still take the risk of walking some distance to a public telephone only to find it out of order, ft is well known that very many public telephones are out of order. If the companies take business from the Post Office, only the Post Office is to blame for not doing a better job with its own telephone services. This important point calls for an explanation. The companies are being given the privilege of installing their telephones in areas where the population is heavy. That is an instance of big business getting from the Government an advantage that other people cannot get.
Telephone availability, as I shall call it, is another point. The provision of a large number of red telephones must interfere with the wish of people to install a telephone in their own home. If enough red telephones are installed on street corners, and the company keeps them in working order, many people will hesitate about installing a telephone in their home. Many people have a telephone because the local public telephone is generally out of order. One has only to see the crowd of people looking for a public telephone in working order on race day to find support for my statement.
Here is another interesting point. In Kings Cross there are twenty red telephones in close proximity to the Totallisator Agency Board office. Why not? The punter takes advantage of the service provided by one government department in the TAB office and then goes outside and uses the red telephones provided by a private company to ring his SP bookmaker.
– The private companies get the cream of the business.
– They get the lot. There is something to be said for getting the cream of the business but it is not good management on the part of the Post Office. That is the only point 1 am making. Much has to be done to bring the Post Office up to date. We know that the Minister soon will introduce in this chamber a Bill designed to re-organise the Post Office. Both Senator Gair and members of the Opposition have advocated that for a long time and now the Minister has come to realise that something must be done to bring the Post Office up to date.
– The Government is allowing certain aspects of the Post Office to remain under the control of the Public Service Board.
– I do not want to discuss what the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) will do. All I say is that the Post Office is concerned to keep up with public demand. The Minister said earlier that the high capital cost of installation and maintenance had influenced the Government to hand over this side of its business to the private companies. If the cost is high for the Post Office, how can the private institutions manage to provide telephones and make a profit out of them?
– There is no vandalism inside buildings; it occurs only in public telephone booths.
– Not all red telephones are inside buildings. Some are well outside buildings.
– The red telephones?
– I am speaking about the red telephones. I admit that they are less likely to be damaged than are public telephones in suburban areas. There is less likelihood of poets writing on the walls of the telephone booths because there are no telephone booths. That is the major form of damage to public telephone booths. It has always been a problem. If one makes representations to the Postmaster-General to have a telephone installed on a particular street corner he is told that there is one within 200 or 300 years and that it costs too much to install a new telephone. I sympathise with that point of view but I cannot understand why the two companies that control the red telephones get all the cream. Why are they given the chosen parts of the city for their telephones? I have mentioned hotels. The same remarks apply to big department stores. For many years they provided additional telephones as a service to the public but now someone else has horned in. If that is not a case of the Post Office providing unnecessary competition for itself, I do not know what it is.
Is the Post Office considering handing over some of its technical sections to private enterprise? We would have reason for grave concern if it were. Is the Government considering winding up the Post Office? I hope it is not. The Government could quite easily hand over other sections of the Post Office to private enterprise. What about postage stamps? If the Post Office can get away with handing over its telephone services, what is to stop it handing over its stamps?
– One can buy stamps from private enterprise.
– I know, lt is still the major service provided by the Post Office and I am sure the Labor Party, and I think most honourable senators, would not want the Post Office to lose the major part of its trade, lt might easily do that. If we do not protest about what, is happening now it might be thought that the Australian Labor Party does not object. The Government might say: ‘Why should we not go further? We might gel a bit more.’
– ls the honourable senator opposed to red telephones or to the 2c increase in cost?
– 1 am getting to the second part of the matter now.
– The motion is in relation to extra charges.
– If charges are increased in this respect it will not be long before they are increased for the general telephone service. The Department will raise charges, justifying this by saying that as we pay higher prices for the use of red telephones we should pay them in respect of ordinary telephones. If we are now prepared to pay increased charges for red telephones some government - perhaps a Labor Government - may say in the future: ‘We are entitled to charge you the same price for a telephone that is not red.’ We are generally opposed to the increase in costs.
There is another matter to which I would like to refer before I conclude. The Post Office is a great institution and it has great problems to face. The biggest problem that it has to face is the turnover in staff which is nearly 70% a year. Is it any wonder that the Department wants to introduce red telephones, which represent aid from outside in the running of its telephone services, because it has not the staff to do the job itself? The Department has not the staff because of conditions in the Post Office. How can one get efficiency in an industry where the turnover in labour is about 70% every 1 2 months? The Department does not retain an employee long enough to train him.
I dare say that would be one of the reasons why the telephone services are not measuring up as they should and why the Department is introducing outside aid in the form of the red telephone service, which has certain significant advantages. First and foremost, usually one has not to line up to use a red telephone. There are enough of them around - one here and one there - and people have not to wait in queues. This service has certain advantages but these advantages will finally hurt the Post Office, because the telephone service must be one of its biggest revenue earners. The Department, instead of calling in outside aid for the running of its service, as in this case, ought to do something about training men, maintaining continuity of employment, and all of those things which are needed to make good public servants. If the Post Office does that it will not have to call in private companies to help it to run the telephone service.
– One wonders what all of this excitement is about when one looks at the papers that are available for study on this matter, even though we have not very much time to do this. When I began to listen to the debate I thought I had better read (his material and see what we are getting worked up about. I find it very hard indeed to understand why we are occupying this time on a debate which seems to me to be not really necessary, I suppose it arises as much from a difference in philosophy as from anything else. I cannot see why we would not: accept this system as a normal commercial enterprise in which a service is available and if people do not want it they do nol pay for it. We should let it operate on that basis. Why we involve ourselves in a debate on a motion to disallow a regulation, so tying up the time of the Post Office and our own time, rather eludes me. Never mind. Wc shall try to cope with what appear to bc the arguments coming forward from the other side which I must say, with respect to Senator Ormonde, are strange arguments. At one stage I thought he was suggesting that we should go back to using pigeons, but I do not really think he meant that.
Regulation 127 authorises telephone subscribers who make telephone services available for use by members of the public - not all of whom can afford telephones, and some of whom want telephones when they are away from home - to charge for this service. This seems quite reasonable to me. The account of the lessee of the service is debited with the normal fee for a local cull which is 4c. Under the amendment to the regulation he will be allowed to retain 3c. He can still opt, if he wants to do so, to put his machine to work on a 7c basis or a 5c basis. I am trying to make this as simple as 1 can for people like myself who feci that there are other things that we could be doing at the present time. There are two organisations which, with the approval of the Post Office, are allowed to operate these hire phones which provide a public service and which tend to be found in shops where people naturally gather in numbers. By reason of this service more telephone calls are likely to be made by people who want a telephone in a hurry. These two companies, as far as I can judge, have done a useful job to relieve some of the burden on the Post Office in providing telephone services. Why this should be objectionable I find hard to understand.
Provision for leasing is quite in line with Post Office policy, which allows a fairly wide range of approved contractors to provide a fairly wide range of approved attachments. There is nothing strange about this. It is quite normal. This sort of thing happens in many other ways. If the Post Office is approached, and the attachments are approved from a technical point of view, they may be used. Nobody enjoys a monopoly of these things. We can get machines that take down conversations when we are out of the house. In due course, I hope, we shall get machines that will give studied replies to people who call. A person might say: ‘Can I speak to Senator Cotton?’ and he will be given the reply: He is out at the TAB with Senator Ormonde. He will not be available for an hour and a half.’ This would be ideal for all of us. This is the sort of thing that the Post Office does and it does not conflict in any way with its objectives.
Nobody on this side of the chamber believes that red telephones compete with the Post Office service. We believe that they have the advantage of giving something extra to the public which the Post Office, with all of the demands upon it, which are considerable, would not find easy to do. The Post Office has reasons for supporting the installation of these telephones. As a great public instrumentality, responsible for a tremendous use of public funds and trying very hard to meet an increasing demand for services at really great capital cost, its reasoning ought to be listened to with some respect. In defence of the continuation of the use of these phones, making it possible for those who provide them to do so at a reasonable kind of income to themselves and not subsidise the rest of us, the first argument is that the system results in conserving Post Office capital expenditure, allowing the available amount to be used for the expansion and improvement of other services and the general telephone network. That is a pretty sound reason. Why would we not support a proposition which makes it possible to generate the maximum use of funds for more essential services, provided somebody else picks up part of the burden? This is the sort of thing in which we on this side believe - a mixed economy. If people are prepared to do for themselves something which leads to increased public service, let them do it. Why stop it? Why put a block on it and say: ‘You must not touch that. That is not fair to us. Fair go. Let the public wait for telephones for 4 or 5 years.’ Why should not anybody put in a shop a telephone which might help some poor woman ring up her neighbour to ask whether her children are home from school?
The second point is that these telephones bring in increased revenue. In the past we have debated the problems of the Post Office, its capital needs, and the fact that it tended to lose money and needed improvement. This is a proposition for increased revenue. Why would we not support the Post Office in this respect if we feel that this proposition would generate increased revenue? Senator Ormonde made the point that something ought to be done to make the Post Office provide these services. The argument that somebody else will do it for us and provide a service that is equally as good is a valid argument. The installation of public telephones is associated with high capital and maintenance costs. Enough has been said about so-called vandalism and people writing their names or writing remarks such as ‘Vote Liberal’ or ‘Don’t vote for Senator Cotton’ on the walls of telephone booths. These things have been known to happen. But that is irrelevant. The important thing is that capital and maintenance costs of public telephones are extremely high. If the costs could be relieved in some way, then good would result. The point was made that red telephones involve less problems in coin clearance and less general upkeep for the Post Office. All these seem to me to be quite worthy of supporting as general propositions to make Post Office revenue and services go further.
We have the position in which the proposed increase ought to ensure the availability of this type of service and to allow it to be expanded. We would not want to see this increased public service become so unattractive to the person who operates it, as an agent on behalf of the Post Office, that he would not want to continue to operate it, saying: ‘It is just a waste of time. I cannot do any good with this. I am simply losing money. Why should I, a surburban shopkeeper, continue with it? I have installed this phone for the benefit of my customers. lt is part of the particular attraction that my shop has to offer, but I do not make a lot of money in the shop. Things are not all that easy. How can I afford to continue to lose money on that telephone? I cannot subsidise the Post Office. Some other people may be able to, but I am not able to do so.’ If one looks around one finds that many of these red telephones are in places where the people concerned are not able to put their hands into their pockets to find money to keep the service going. The service is a service to us all. In fairness we ought to look at this and say to ourselves: “There it is. The service is quite optional. The people who want to charge 7c can do so and take the normal market risk that their particular volume of traffic might diminish. The people who want to still charge Se can do so. People who want to go to a public telephone and people who want to use their own individual telephones can do so still.’ What we have here is an alternative for telephones, an increased opportunity and a better service and all we are being asked to do is to give the person who operates these the opportunity to make a reasonable but not excessive profit out of them.
The point has been made also that the lessee has a key to the red phone, which converts it to normal use for trunk line telephone calls or subscriber trunk dialled telephone calls, if he so desires. The instrument is extremely flexible. It must be borne in mind that the fact that there is a margin between the cost of the telephone to the person who leases the red phone and what he receives out of it does not necessarily mean that the whole operation is paying him a profit because this is the sort of business in which one has to have a certain number of calls made, a certain volume, to be able to make any money out of it. at all. I understand the calling rate has to be about twenty calls a day to cover the hiring charges. It has been said that quite a number of red phones do not get that number of calls per day, so that there would be people with red phones available for the general public to use who would not be making any money from them. They would be losing money; they would have to be prepared to say something along these lines: If I cannot make a profit on the telephone maybe I will have to sell so many more eggs and maybe get it back that way.’
These are marginal decisions. In a small business - and many of these phones are installed in small businesses - people have to be prepared to add something to keep it going. One then starts to look at. the situation as if it may not be worthwhile. If we do not agree with this regulation we will be facing a situation where many people will say: ‘This red telephone concession that we have here in our shop or business is not worth going on with. Let us get out of it.’ If this happens - and there was a tendency for this to be so - the Post Office and the taxpayers would have to provide more public telephones at a cost which is far in excess, I understand, of the cost of the alternative benefit being used, the red phone.
The loss to hirers of a red telephone, in quite a number of cases, is of the order of $50 a year under the old margin. Now that does not seem much, but to some people who are trying to run the service that is something that they would have to consider quite seriously.
People might say: That is what always happens. People take on these things. They make some money. When they do not do any good they decide to give the whole thing away. They are not fair dinkum. Their figures are not right. This is not a fair case.’
Victa Telecommunications Co. Pty Ltd, who are the largest operators in this particular sphere, have made available all their figures and these have been examined. Their financial position has been disclosed. This is an extremely proper way for somebody to behave. They have said: ‘We are prepared to make available our financial position. We have furnished our operating accounts. Here is our balance sheet. This is where we stand on this job.’ When that is done, it is very hard to fault the probity and the approach of the people concerned. If one looks at that statement one sees that they are not doing any good and obviously they arc not going to expand. We ought to give them a fair go, as it was proposed. The alternative is that they will go out the back door or give up and noone else will take the job. Then we will have it back on the plate of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as an instrumentality of the Public Service and the Australian people.
– What figures does the honourable senator have for Victa?
– The information that I have for Victa, in general terms, is that their balance sheet and financial position have been examined and can be readily supplied, lt is quite clear that they are not able to offer any realistic improvement. Hie question of setting out a 6c operation of the units has been examined carefully. The Post Office is satisfied. After all, honourable senators are here to debate great issues. If the Post Office is satisfied that the 7c margin is satisfactory, I will find it rather hard to take enough time off from my normal work to run the Post Office as well. So 1 am quite content to accept the technical and financial judgments of the people who have the responsibility of running the operations of the Post Office. I am prepared to have the operations checked, if possible, and I am prepared to debate the problem of how the Post Office should run its own accounts, whether as a statutory cooperation, public service or some other method. But I am not prepared to state that the Post Office is wrong in deciding that this increased charge should be allowed. After all, this involves a technical judgment. The main issue is whether or not the Post Office can run its own business efficiently. lt is in the interests of the Post Office to try to retain the coin system and to try to expand it and it is in our interests as well. It reduces the pressure on departmental public telephones, particularly in the shopping areas where the traffic concentration is high. The expenditure thus saved can be used for other purposes. The capital costs, the expenses, the cleaning and the coin collecting are all borne by somebody else. This relieves a strain on a very large organisation. lt has been said that the Post Office carries practically no commercial risk in a service which provides essentially the facilities of a departmental local public call telephone. We know the position. Anyone running one of these services can opt to charge 7c or 5c and a member of the public still can go to a public telephone or use his own telephone. The public does not have to use the service but it is available to them. All that the Government is saying is: Let us make the return reasonable enough for people to continue to provide this service.’ I believe that this service is complementing the public service, not flying in the face of the public service, aiding the Post Office to do the work that it wants to do on behalf of us all and providing it with an opportunity to use its resources in other directions for what might be regarded as more essential activities, considering some of the delays and time lags that we all know exist in telephone services in parts of Australia. It seems to me, without wishing to be argumentative or hard to get on with, that what we ought to do here is to stop arguing about this and support the Post Office for a change. Give it a bit of a go. It seems to me that this is a completely irrelevant motion which I do not propose to support at all.
Senator WILKINSON (Western Australia) L5.9] - I believe that had the Opposition not moved the motion for disallowance of the regulation, red telephones would not have been connected with the operation of these regulations in the mind of the public or in the mind of members of Parliament. Senator Cotton has rendered us a service in pointing out what the regulation aimed to do. I wish to stress that point a little more because this is the basis of the charge that a private subscriber makes for calls made by other people on his telephone. For many years a subscriber has had the right to charge for the use of his telephone hy anybody who comes and knocks on his front door; that is, if he wishes his telephone to be used. When the charges were increased a few years ago it became obvious to people wilh an eye for working these things out that by hiring a line from the Post Office and providing a telephone to put on the end of it. they could use the facilities of the Post Office, pay the normal call charge and show a profit; that by hiring out a telephone it would be possible to make a good profit and it would also be possible for the hirer to make enough money to cover his expenses and to provide a service to people coming to his premises. That is what happened.
We should look very carefully at what the companies concerned are doing. According to Senator Sim, in Australia at present 8,757 telephones are rented from the companies at an average annual rental of S96. That means that these companies have an income of $800,000 each year. That does not seem to me to indicate that the two companies are on the verge of collapse. I cannot see that their maintenance costs would be anywhere near the amount that they receive. A telephone - particularly one of this sort and of the sort that is installed now - has quite a long life. The initial cost is the main cost. These companies will make a very good profit each year. I doubt very much whether the Postmaster-General’s Department does encourage the use of these telephones. It does not object to them. There is a big difference between encouraging and not objecting. It seems to me that the Department is saying: ‘Here is a facility that we cannot see any way of getting out of providing. We are not able to install these telephones because we have not the finance to obtain them and to install them’.
Therefore, if a company wants to install them, that is all right with the Department. But it is not encouraging their installation.
Estimates have been made of the number of calls that would have to be made on one of these red telephones to enable it to break even. We have heard three estimates so far. The correct position is that forty-five calls are needed each day to cover expenses including the Post Office charge for calls. If the red telephone charge is increased to 7c this will mean that any subscriber may charge 7c for a call made on his telephone by any member of the public who comes in and asks for permission to use it. This 3c will not go to the Victa Telecommunication Co. Ply Ltd; it will go to the person who is hiring the telephone. So the encouragement to people to hire these telephones will be increased considerably. It will mean that the Victa company and the Elliott-Automation company will do more business. Their rental receipts will get up into the $lm per annum range. lt is interesting to realise that when the Post Office installs a telephone for a private subscriber everything is worked out on a known basis. The average cost of installing a telephone is $1,146. That covers all the equipment that is involved - cables, exchanges, trunk line services and so on. The Victa and Elliott-Automation companies pay S30 to have a telephone connected to the Postmaster-General’s Department’s lines. I believe that we can get carried away with the idea that the Department allows all sorts of other facilities to be connected to its lines. Those are different sorts of facilities. They are not facilities that use the equipment and attract call charges. For instance, as Senator Cotton pointed out. a person can install a recording instrument that will record a caller’s message; he can install an instrument that will give a message; he can install a burglar alarm or a number of other facilities. Those are not facilities that involve an extra call and an extra charge to the person using them. They are quite different. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department does not attempt to provide such facilities. It will put on a deaf-aid amplifier at an extra rental. T do not hear of other people doing that because the Department does it. ft seems to me that there is a number of reasons why we should not be allowing this sort of increase. What we should be doing, as Senator Ormonde suggested earlier, is seeing whether it is possible to reorganise the Post Office so that it can handle its own finance - that was envisaged last year - and be given an opportunity to do this sort of work. I agree that a public telephone is a very expensive piece of equipment to have on a public street. The vandalism that occurs in those circumstances is very costly to the Department. But it has not had the opportunity to put telephones inside business houses. Certainly it puts telephones in hotels. That is one way in which it protects them. We do not find vandals damaging the telephones in hotels as they do on the dark streets. If the Post Office had the opportunity to install this type of telephone there would not be any need for the Victa company or any other company to be in this business. These companies are coming into a very lucrative business. They will not gain anything directly from this increase from 5c to 7c. What it means is that more people will want these telephones and more of them will be installed.
We should look at what is happening. Let us put. it in a private enterprise situation. Assume that a man has a corner grocery shop and has the place stocked with all the normal groceries that one finds in a grocery shop. Assume that someone comes into his shop and says to him: ‘I will hire a corner of your counter for so many dollars a year. T will use your stock which you have the trouble of carting here. I will buy it at wholesale prices and sell it to people who come to the shop. I will glamorise the shop. I will put in attractive girls to run my part of the show. The other part of the business will go out of existence’. Do not let us think that that is not a threat.
What is happening in the Post Office at the present time? Exchanges are being installed by private enterprise. I am referring to the big exchanges that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This work had never been done by anybody but the Post Office until the last 7 years. In addition, all the private automatic branch exchanges and the penta-conta switchboards that are being installed in government and other offices in places such as Canberra are being installed not by the Post Office but by private enterprise. The Department is looking at the possibility of getting private enterprise to lay the cables. What will be left for the Post Office to run? It will be left with all the rubbish out of which it will not make any money at all. That is what I see coming. Senator Willesee mentioned very’ early in the piece that this was a threat to our Post Office service.
I am opposed to this increase. I do not think it is warranted because the ordinary person who has a telephone does not want to charge more than 5c for the use of his telephone at home. I was opposed to the introduction of the red telephones because I believe that this service should be provided by the Post Office. We should help the Post Office to do its job properly. A reorganisation would enable it to do that.
– 1 want to put one brief word on this matter. Honourable senators who have introduced the motion for the disallowance of the regulation would convey the idea that the regulation proposes an innovation which is worthy of consideration, that what is proposed is novel. J have been reliably informed that the regulation has been in force since 1901 and that ever since the Postmaster-General’s Department was established it has been part of the system to encourage facilities of this sort being made available to the public. Under this regulation there has been an adjustment of charges. In 1916 the charge was increased from Id to 2d; in 1949 it was increased to 3d; in 1951 it became 4d; in 1959 it was increased to 5d; in 1963 it became 6d: and in 1967 it was increased to 7c.
I come next to the question of cost. T hose who fear that the Postmaster-General’s Department will be pushed out of business seem to have no idea of the demand for finance which is imposed upon the Department by an urgent need to supply the public with telephones and other postal facilities. For years we have not been able to overtake the demand for finance to enable the Post Office to provide its services. Therefore, when anybody will establish a coin receptacle near a public telephone and will make that terminal available te the public as a public telephone, in all sorts of places where the public have occasion to go such as a big store, an arcade or a public library to which people must have resort-
– A TAB or a lawyer’s office.
– The honourable senator has mentioned the Totalisator Agency Board. It is of interest to note that these facilities are not to be placed, as I read the regulations, in hotels, public houses or places licensed for the sale of intoxicating beverages. Perhaps the regulations have not been brought up to date since the proliferation of TAB facilities throughout Australia and perhaps that situation will be corrected. What a blessing it is to a housekeeper who is shopping to be able to pick up a telephone in Myers and ring through rather than have to go down the street and wait in a queue until a public telephone becomes available. On the question of cost, my colleague Senator Marriott has passed to me a piece of news published today in the Hobart Mercury’. The report states:
Vandals went on a rampage wrecking thirteen public telephones, mainly in Sandy Bay. Battery Point and Lenah Valley areas on Saturday night. They tore out cords, shattered ear-pieces and generally wrecked anything that was wreckable, the Post Office said.
All honourable senators are aware of the cost that vandalism imposes upon the Post Office. I remind them that the cost of maintaining the red telephones is borne by the lessee or licensee. I have heard some argument addressed to the idea that the two companies which operate the red telephone system may be making an undue profit from this facility. I submit that the Senate is a responsible chamber and that unless if has figures available to it-
– I gave some - $96 a year for 8,000 telephones. The Minister can multiply (hat for himself.
– I suggest that this scanty and fragmentary accountancy on which the honourable senator asks me to rely is not the sort of material on which the Senate should base judgment. If there is any quarrel with the amount of profit made a submission should be put to the Post Office to show that there is an undue profit. We have been assured by Senator Cotton that the lessees have given their accounts to the Post Office. Nobody would expect the private accounts of these companies to be bandied about this chamber unless it were necessary to the debate on some substantive motion. I suggest that the proposed regulation is not an innovation. This system has been in vogue since 1901. It has been developed as a business since 1963 by the companies operating the red telephone services to provide facilities to the public. I suggest also that this system is of advantage to the Post Office, which already has more work to finance than can be completed with the finance available. The system is of great convenience to the public and the suggestion that the charge is unduly high has not been supported.
– in reply - The motion that we are debating seeks to disallow the Telephone Regulations as contained in Statutory Rules 1967 No. 157 and made under the Posts and Telegraph Act 1901-1966. This relates to a proposed increase from 5c to 7c in the charge that would be permitted by people operating a public telephone. In the course of her remarks Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin said that the red telephones were fulfilling a public service. We have no argument with the suggestion that any telephone anywhere fulfils a public service, but where we do come to grips with the Government’s policy - Senator Cotton has quite rightly mentioned that it is a matter of policy or philosophy - is in our submission that the Postmaster-General’s Department is being deprived of a very lucrative area of revenue by having private telephone companies coming into direct competition with the Post Office in the most lucrative field. The reason why this extra charge is to be allowed by the Government is to encourage more shopkeepers, clubs and other organisations to connect with this service. I was under the impression that three companies were operating the red telephone service and that they were Victa Telecommunication Co. Pty Ltd, Horrocks Roxburgh Pty Ltd and Elliott-Automation (Pty) Ltd. No mention was made by Senator Sim of the third company.
– There are only two companies.
– I was given the names of three companies, but if the Minister says that only two are operating I am prepared to accept that. I am quite sure that these companies have permission from the Postmaster-General’s Department to negotiate with shopkeepers and to supply them with one of their own telephones, which are known as red telephones.
– There is a red phone on the Senate table.
– That is a departmental phone. The Post Office has contracts with various manufacturers for the supply of coloured phones and is able to obtain them at a cost of, I should imagine, about $20. The two companies which are operating the red telephone service are able to go along to a shopkeeper and say: ‘I will provide you with this telephone and a coin collection box for $96 per year.’ A shopkeeper who asked one of the private companies whether he could buy a red phone would be told that he could not. The private companies say: ‘We do not sell these telephones. We only lease them.’
The red telephones are leased for .1.2 months, or whatever is the period agreed upon. The Opposition contends that the Post Office should say: ‘This gives us more business. We want more points of outlet. It costs us $20 to make a telephone. We will get the small margin of profit - 5% or 10% - and install it for you on lease, under a similar arrangement to that of the private company. We will sell you this telephone if you wish, and we will be over and done with the responsibility.’ We submit that the private companies are horning in on the business of the Post Office. That most descriptive phrase was used by Senator Ormonde. The private companies are horning into the very good revenue producing sections of the Post Office’s activity. lt is said that these private companies are performing a public service. I suppose if an enterprising chap were to start a letter delivery service for some of the leading firms “ in Melbourne or Sydney - providing the Postal Department was generous enough to allot him the big central city blocks - he could gain a most lucrative income from delivering letters in that area. He would leave it to the Postal Department to let out contracts for mail deliveries to Cooper’s Creek, Coolgardie and other such places. He would leave it to the Postal Department to do all the work of delivering letters by pack horse, ship or aircraft and would start his own private company to provide a letter delivery service in the centre of the ‘city. He would probably find that a charge of 5c a letter would be sufficient for him to run a very lucrative enterprise.
– That has started already in New South Wales.
– 1 was not aware that it had. It is the type of activity that springs from the principle that a private entrepeneur will provide a public service only if he gets a profit out of it. Profit is his only motive. He does not want to give a public service, he wants money.
– ls the honourable senator criticising that?
– 1 am criticising a particular section of activity. I could be critical in lots of ways. One reason why we are in such a muddle in every direction - financially and internationally - is because the profit motive is not good enough to sustain a modern society. I am getting away from my main point. The Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) has said that there are about 8,750 red telephones throughout the Commonwealth. After paying an annual rental of $96 each the lessees of the red telephones are not making anything at all, it is said. We are told that if an increase of 2c a call is allowed an incentive will be provided to shopkeepers to install more telephones, lt will also increase the gross revenue of the two organisations supplying red telephones from the present total of about $800,000 to a much greater figure.
Senator Sim referred to the locations of the red telephones. I think he said that the biggest density is in Sydney, and that they are also installed in great numbers in Victoria. I think he said that Victa Telecommunication Co. Pty Ltd had installed 3.982 red telephones in New South Wales and 1,582 in Victoria, out of the total number in Australia of about 8,750. That company has installed 117 in Tasmania, 367 in Western Australia, 336 in South Australia and 1,195 in Queensland. If an extra incentive of 2c a call is provided, those figures will be increased considerably. From every red telephone that is installed one of the private companies is assured of an annual income of $96 for rental charges. It is a rather good margin of profit on a $20 telephone which will last for at least 10 years. Some of the old wall telephones installed by the Post Office 40 or 50 years ago have only recently been replaced by modern table telephones. At the time of their replacement they were still working efficiently. Over the life of a red telephone one of the private companies will receive from it each year rental of $96. lt seems to me to be a bigger racket than hire purchase finance. Borrowers in hire purchase transactions pay interest of only 20% flat on the money advanced to them. Here the opportunity is available to companies to charge rental of $96 a year for a telephone costing $20, plus the cost of the coin mechanism, for as long as they wish to do so. On that point alone we oppose the regulation.
The Minister for Housing has put forward the argument that only a small outlay is required by the Postal Department. Senatot Wilkinson has said that it cost $1,146 to install a telephone line to a connecting point. This is a responsibility of the Postmaster-General’s Department. After all that outlay by the Post Office, access to the connecting point is handed over to the private companies who charge rentals for the red telephones to the persons supplying the space for their installation. The lessees ai present receive lc a call. If the increased charges are approved, they will receive 3c a call in return for the rental charges plus a charge of S40 a year by the Post Office for the telephone line. That is all that the Post Office gets for its investment. Because of the Government’s policy, the Post Office is becoming a milch cow.
Last year when we discussed the economics of the Post Office we learned of a new fangled way of valuing the assets of the Post Office so that each year it would have to pay higher interest charges to the Treasury. We were told that as the Post Office was not a paying proposition postal charges would have to be increased. The same argument is being put up again now. It is said that more capital is made available to the Post Office to devote to works other than the installation of public telephones. However, it has been pointed out several times during this debate that the more lucrative areas of activity of the Post Office are being handed over to private entrepeneurs, The Post. Office is expected to operate in the backblocks, where Senator Lawrie would wish to see it operate, and to do all the unprofitable jobs. My brother, who has a property in Queensland, wished to have the telephone connected to it. He had seen some of his neighbours using the top wires of their fences as telephone wires, but after rain there were problems of induction and so on. The Post Office decided that it was necessary to install copper line. My brother has spent years in building up his property to a point where it is financial. He is 60 miles from a town. He was told by the Post Office that he would have to install copper telephone lines at a cost to himself and two of his neighbours of $9,000. I am simply giving an illustration of the costs of getting a telephone in country areas. There is no doubt that it is a very expensive item for these people.
The point I am making is that the Post Office could undertake this type of development in rural areas. It could lease or sell telephones to shopkeepers and eliminate the private companies who are receiving about $800,000 a year from rental charges for 8,750 red telephones. The Postmaster-General’s Department could move into that field of revenue.
– Is Ansett in on this?
– This reminds one of Ansett, because this regulation seeks to rationalise the activties of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department has done wonderful work over the years and just when it gets to the point where it is about to reap a dividend or bonus from the use being made of its facilities the Government decides that it is something which is too good for the Department and that some entrepreneur should he given the opportunity to skim off the cream. That is exactly what this regulation will do. I repeat my assertion that it is in effect the thin end of the wedge.
Senator Wright went back to 1900 when quoting figures. He mentioned the charge being Id, then 2d, then 3d and so on. Each time the charge went up the cost of public phone charges went up correspondingly.
– And this charge went up became the cost of the public phone went up.
– Now the Government proposes to increase the charge on the red telephones to 7c. I suggest that the Postmaster-General’s Department will virtually automatically increase its charges to 7c also.
– It has happened in the past.
– It has happened in the past and if this regulation is allowed there is no reason to believe that there will not be an immediate increase of 2c in the cost of telephone calls generally. Senator Rankin tried to convince us that these people would need 4,500 calls a year to break even. If that is so, then the 4,500 calls are required to break even on the rental of $96 a year which is being charged by the companies, not by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Today the position is that at one end of the line the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is required to provide facilities and service while at the other end the shopkeeper provides a service and in between the two the red telephone company, the intermediary, enjoys the most lucrative portion of the whole scheme. If that is the policy of the Government, then it is most unfair not onlyto the taxpayer but also to one of the Government’s important instrumentalities.
No-one will ever convince me that the Postmaster-General’s Department does not do a good job. It must feel indeed frustrated, because of the odds stacked against it, in trying to balance its budget. The officers of the finance section of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department must feel frustrated when they are denied the right to take advantage of the opportunities that they, with their undoubted ability, see to increase the revenue from the telephone services. I suggest that if the Department were permitted even to lease phones for the same rental as that charged by the companies in question, it would have opened up for it an avenue through which it would have a potential revenue of $lm or more each year. It should not be denied that opportunity.
We were asked earlier whether we were opposed to this type of private enterprise. I do not think that the Postmaster-General’s Department should be rationalised in the way in which Trans-Australia Airlines has been rationalised. If the Department has the ability and the initiative - and it has - to extend itsbusiness into other fields within its realm of activities it should be encouraged to do so and should not be deprived of the opportunity to expand. This tendency to restrict the Department’s activities will grow more and more. Altogether, I feel that we of the Opposition have established a case for disallowance of the regulation in question and we ask the Senate to support our motion.
That the motion (Senator O’Byrne’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 5.49 to 8 p.m.
– I move:
Mr President, my interest in this problem was first aroused in a very simple way. I was in the city of Sydney. My Commonwealth driver at that time always had the shiniest black car. On one occasion I had to make a call at a building. When we pulled up I asked the driver to wait for me and I told himI would be about 40 minutes. When I came out of the building he pointed out to me what had happened to this shiny black car in the 40 minutes that it had been standing in a street in Sydney. There was a thick layer of grime lying over the top of it. That was my introduction to this problem of air pollution. It aroused my interest and eventually brought me to the point of raising this matter in the Senate. Very often it is the simple things that arouse one’s interest.
The second occasion on which I experienced this problem was when I was in the United States. I was fortunate enough to be able to contact some very eminent engineers who had given some considerable study to air pollution, particularly in the city of Los Angeles where it is a real and growing problem. They convinced me that the time for us to tackle this problem is now whilst our cities in Australia are reasonably young and small. They pointed out that if we were to wait 20 or 30 years remedial measures would cost a great deal more money and probably at that stage much of the damage would be done. So these two experiences aroused my interest in this matter and led me to move for the setting up of a select committee to inquire into air pollution in Australia.
Investigation has led me to pay a tribute to New South Wales because that State has done more than any other State in Australia in attempting to overcome the problem in this field. The Victorian Government has been alert to the danger, as have the universities, particularly those in Sydney and Melbourne. They all have done a great deal of research. Some great contributions have also been made by individual men and women. I have just finished reading a book by an Australian which makes a most balanced approach to this problem of air pollution and other problems associated with it. After seeing some evidence of air pollution and reading this book I came to the conclusion that we in the Senate, which, after all. is a States house, should take steps to see what can be done to coordinate all the research that has taken place and to make recommendations which would bring the Commonwealth into the field. As yet the Commonwealth has not done anything in this regard in its own territories. We should take steps to collate and co-ordinate all the research that has been conducted in the States in order to eliminate duplication and to see that the money is made to go further. I felt that this was a task which a Senate select committee could undertake.
Many things cause air pollution. I think the popular belief has been that exhaust fumes from cars are one of the main contributing factors to air pollution in cities, but the engineers in the United States told me that air pollution is caused mainly when cars are idling. At idling speed combustion is incomplete and petrol fumes find their way into the atmosphere. A similar process occurs when cars are being filled at service stations. If a car’s tank, which has a capacity of 20 gallons, has 5 gallons in it, the space for the other15 gallons contains gas. When the cap of the tank is taken off and the tank filled that gas goes up into the air. This adds seriously to air pollution. It was something which had never occurred to me and which had never been brought to my attention previously. We need some system whereby gases which are present when car petrol tanks or petrol pump storages are being filled can be contained or drained off and used instead of going up into the atmosphere. This has been one of the major causes of smog in the cities. One can well understand the increasing degree of air pollution when one sees the great traffic jams that are taking place now, and the numbers of cars that are standing idling and discharging unburned gases.
I should like to refer briefly to an article in the ‘Encyclopaedia Year Book’ for 1965, which deals with the legislation which has already been introduced in Australia in regard to air pollution. It is interesting to note that Australia’s first Clear Air Act was introduced in Victoria in 1957. The Act is still in force and its main provisions are:
In New South Wales a Smoke Abatement Committee was formed in 1955, but it was not until 1961 that the Clean Air Act was finally passed. The interim period was occupied by investigations of the nature of pollution and of the forms of legislation in use in other parts of the world. Further investigations of a similar nature and discussions concerning the proposals took place during the drafting of the Bill.
The first draft was left open for public comment for more than a year before its ultimate presentation. The main provisions of the New South Wales Clean Air Act can be summarised as follows: (a) limits of emission of air impurities can be prescribed by regulation; (b) where such limits are not prescribed the Act requires the use of the ‘best practicable means’ of preventing air pollution; (c) certain industries known to present air pollution problems or where special control difficulties exist are required to be licensed as scheduled premises; (d) implementation of the legislation with respect to the scheduled premises is the responsibility of a central agency, the Air Pollution Control Branch of the New South Wales Department of Public Health;(e) other industries are subjected to control administered by local councils with assistance, where required, by the Department; and (f) an Air Pollution Advisory Committee to make recommendations on regulations and matters relating to the administration of the Act is provided for by the legislation.
As I mentioned earlier, those two States have done something to solve this problem and their work has been well recognised. I have no wish to deprecate that work in any way in presenting to the Senate my proposal to set up a select committee. I believe it is well to recommend methods of collation of information to avoid duplication.
Air pollution is a vast world problem and one which I believe is deserving of a priority in research. A great deal more research needs to be done by all governments. Air pollution can be defined as the presence, through the actions of man, of substances in the natural air - smoke, grit, dust and gases. Pollutants include oxides of sulphur, carbon and nitrogen and also hydrocarbons which are known to have carcinogenic properties. I think there is sufficient evidence internationally for the belief that there is a reduction in the incidence of respiratory disease in countries which do not suffer severely from air pollution.
Apart from perhaps two or three cities, I. do not think that in Australia we have yet reached the danger mark. We should profit from the advice of the Americans to act now because it will be too late once the damage has been done. The cost of overcoming pollution in the larger cities then will be almost prohibitive.
At a conference on air pollution convened by the World Health Organisation in Milan in November 1957 one of the conclusions reached was in these terms:
Countries that do not yet have some form of national advisory body on air pollution should set one up. Public health workers should bear the following principles in mind:
I shall say something about that later.It continues -
The control of air pollution in Australia is a matter for the State governments. Legislative measures have been introduced in all States except Tasmania. To give some idea of the cost of controlling air pollution in New South Wales 130 firms had, by 1965, planned a total expenditure of $24. 5m and no doubt by now that amount will have increased. That is a great contribution by industry towards the solution of this problem. lt is interesting to note that air pollution is one of the agenda items for the next meeting of the Public Health Advisory Committee, an agency of the National Health and Medical Research Council. Control of air pollution is highly technical. Briefly it consists of endeavouring to burn off completely the offending fumes. It is largely a human problem, an education and an administrative problem as well as a technical and engineering problem. The varied and complex nature of air pollution legislation was authoritatively surveyed by the World Health Organisation in 1963.
The motor industry in Australia is interested in this subject and has suggested that devices should be applied to modern vehicles in an effort to cause a greater combustion of exhaust and crankcase gases. It is unfortunate that vehicle emissions increased by 30% in the stop-go conditions of city driving. Although it is felt that emissions from both diesel and petrol operated motor vehicles will be reduced progressively by law - that is, by the fitting of the suggested devices - there will be so many cars operating at the reduced levels in cities that the overall content of pollution in the atmosphere may not be reduced. Therefore, thoughts are turning now to electrically operated vehicles in the future as a method of eliminating fumes. The aviation industry also contributes considerably to this problem and 1 shall refer to it later.
Air pollution causes great damage to health and even greater damage to property. If the proposed select committee is set up it will find tremendous interest in this subject which has been neglected at the Commonwealth level and in some States. The committee’s findings can only be of great importance to the people of Australia. I trust that it will encourage State governments and local government bodies to continue to expand their work in this field by setting up a small co-ordinating body to assist them. 1 trust that full consideration will be given to the question of conducting further research into the problems associated with more cars, more aircraft and more industry congregating in the cities. A greater degree of decentralisation could be one of the answers to this problem. Of one thing I am sure - any select committee set up by this Senate will undertake its task in a responsible and non-party atmosphere which will bring credit to the Senate and great and lasting benefit to the people.
Let me deal with pollution from internal combustion engines. In Los Angeles a severe type of pollution is caused by automotive exhausts. It is estimated that when 1,000 gallons of petrol are consumed 2,500 lb of carbon monoxide, 250 lb of hydrocarbons, 83 lb of nitrogen oxides, 6.3 lb of sulphur compounds, 4.2 lb of aldehydes, 1.7 lb of organic acids, 1.7 lb of ammonia and .25 Jb of solids are discharged. Of particular note among the hydrocarbons formed are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as pyrene, benzopyrene and anthathrene
When idling, a car produces about 5 cubic feet of exhaust a minute. This increases to 100 cubic feet a minute under acceleration. Only 60% to 65% of this emission is produced at the tailpipe. More seriously, 30% of the emission is unburnt petrol which escapes past the piston rings as crankcase or blow-by emissions. Direct evaporation losses from the fuel tank make up 2% and hot soak evaporation from the carburettor after the vehicle has stopped makes up the remaining 5%.
I said earlier that I would refer to aircraft. Aircraft make significant local contributions to air pollution. The Department of Civil Aviation has estimated that a four-engined airliner produces 88 lb of pollutant at each take-off, producing a total of some 6 to 7 tons a day at Sydney and Melbourne which is deposited within a few square miles.
– Is this piston engined aircraft or jet aircraft.
– Piston engined.
– Is the motion seconded?
– Yes. I second the motion.
– Notice of this motion was given on 12th March of this year. When the matter was placed on the notice paper in the first instance the Opposition indicated that it was prepared to treat it as formal and would agree to the setting up of a committee. That was our attitude and it remains our attitude. No doubt such a committee would be an important committee. There is no question here about setting it up. The Government has put the proposal forward and we support it. The matters that Senator Henty has referred to are really matters for investigation by the committee. We recognise the seriousness of the problem, but the existence of the problem and the causes, effects, methods of prevention and control, and matters incidental thereto, become matters appropriate for the committee to investigate. lt is hardly useful for the Senate to be making contributions about matters which would be the subject of investigation by the committee and the hearing of evidence from expert witnesses. So we do not propose to waste the time of the Senate by putting forward our own views on the matters which are to be the subject of inquiry and wc would respectfully suggest that others do not do so.
The importance of the matter being recognised and support forthcoming for it, we would like to see the proposal put to a decision as early as possible. Frankly, Mr Deputy President, we have a proposal to put forward. 1 do not want to dwell on it. Everyone knows the history of the matter and we would like the opportunity as soon as possible to come to our proposal and to have a determination upon it. I do not want to detract from the importance of what Senator Henty has advanced. By so readily agreeing to it, we recognise that this matter and the other matter of water pollution are extremely important. We have indicated that we will support the proposal on water pollution. We regard both of these as essentially political problems, in the sense of the will being needed to cope with each and the determination being needed to set up a committee which will advance means whereby both might be coped with. We have in mind when it comes to the second matter - assuming that the first committee is set up - to propose that the terms of reference of the first committee be extended to cover the second matter. However, this is something with which we will not deal now. We indicate that we will suggest that when we come to consider the third motion of which notice has been given.
– I listened with approval and interest o the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) in relation to the urgency of this matter and the setting up of a select committee at the earliest possible opportunity. Nevertheless, I think it is pertinent to observe in support of the motion that Senator Henty has brought forward tonight that before a select committee is set up and before the motion is put to the Senate there should be on the record some reasons for the establishment of the committee, some support of the terms of the motion that Senator Henty has brought forward, and some support for the reasons that he has submitted for the consideration of the Senate. 1 suppose we all have our particular experiences in relation to impure air - call it what you like. Senator Henty, a former Minister, has related his own personal experience in connection with his car, the attention that his driver lavished upon it, and the fact that in a given situation it was found to be covered with a considerable amount of ash and other materials such as come out of air which is distinctly unclean. My own car is a small one and it is white but even when standing in North Terrace, Adelaide, at the end of several hours I find it discoloured as a result of whatever material of pollution is in the air. Therefore, I submit that air pollution is a matter that applies, not only to big cities, but also in varying degrees to smaller communities.
It is very fitting that we take this matter up and discuss our points of view tonight so that in the consideration of General Business it may receive attention. I suppose against an Australian background this may be described as a rather unusual proposal. It is unusual that in a parliament in a country which, above all things, prides itself on having a reputation for open, clean air and space, with a large land mass and a comparatively small population, we should be debating the necessity - if there is a necessity - to set up a select committee on such a thing as the subject of air pollution. If there were amongst us writers of satirical verse 1 suppose they could make devastating comment on the fact that senators are debating a motion connected with air - and air pollution at that.
It is also unusual that in the midst of matters of international significance we pause to deal with air pollution. But as Senator Henty has pointed out, although the matter may be unusual it is also very important. He has referred to his own experience in Los Angeles. I recall nearly 20 years ago on my first visit to the city of Los Angeles becoming consciously aware, probably for the first time in my life, of the existence of smog, what it did to a city and what it meant to a community. I comprehended then in my own way its influence on the life of a city and a nation.
Since then, both in Los Angeles and in all other major cities of the world there has been intense industrial growth. Senator Henty has referred to the fact that our cities are young and small. But in our own country there has been unequalled development in the form of industrial growth. There has been a greater range in the use of fuel and propellants. There has been an intensification of our suburban and provincial population and of our housing complexes. All these things have intensified many problems, not the least of which is that of air pollution. There has been an increase in our output of power and manufactured goods and an intensification of our transport. I have seen one figure that indicates that the number of cars in Australia will increase by at least 50% in the next 10 yeaTs. All of these developments add to air pollution. The concentration of population in cities and the movement from rural to metropolitan areas have given added importance to this matter. Indeed, I go so far as to say that they have given an urgency to it. Senator Henty takes this point well in moving for the establishment of a select committee.
Australia’s climate tempts us to believe that smog and air pollution belong to the cities of other countries, other places and other generations - the older cities. Our open-air philosophy sometimes encourages us to forget about air pollution. But indeed I sound a note of warning that this open air philosophy should encourage us vo take an even greater precaution to ensure that our skies remain clear and our air pure.
Australia and New Zealand, in this part of the world, are probably the only countries at this time that are affected in this way, especially in the South Pacific arena. We have no neighbouring countries, neighbouring areas or neighbouring cities to set an example, like our American friends. Our lessons are to be learned from experience in other parts of the world. I suggest that we could well take the warning expressed by Dr Graham Cleary, who is an authority on this matter. He has said that within some 30 years a city like Sydney could be like Los Angeles with its air pollution, irritation of the eyes, reduction of visibility and damage to plant life. That warning is very telling and very pertinent. The proposed committee - and I do hope it will be set up - may well save Australia millions of dollars as well as millions of lives.
Air pollution is not as new as some people maintain. As far back as 1300 it was an offence to burn coal on some domestic hearths in London, but the greater degree of concern, as we understand concern, took place in Victorian England when that country became aware of the menace caused by the industrial revolution. I want to place on record here that we in Australia might give credit to no less a person than Banjo Patterson for drawing attention to air pollution. All honourable senators will recall his words when he wrote about the fetid air and gritty of the dusty dirty city.
This is all said in passing. Let us move on to the various Acts that have been passed by State governments during the years and compare the research measures of the early days with the post-war work so related to air pollution. I suppose it would be true to say that the matter that focussed the attention of Australia and the world on air pollution was the tragic events in London in 1952 when there was a freak accumulation of dust and smoke and the record has it that some 4,000 people died in 3 or 4 days. It was the suddenness of the London tragedy that alerted the world to the danger of air pollution. Although many years have passed and many thousands of miles separate the two situations of London in 1952 and Australia today,’ nevertheless there are many aspects into which the Committee might look and take its time to examine, investigate and ultimately report upon.
The London tragedy produced a number of lessons, not the least of which was that 90% of the deaths were in the age area over 45 years, although a number of them were in the area well over 65 years. It is important and pertinent to mention that between 80% and 90% of the people who died were people with a disorder or a history of a disorder of the heart or with a history of a respiratory complaint. Healthy people who survived may have suffered only passing discomfort. Nevertheless the whole event, with its tragic results, emphasises the danger to public health of air pollution and unless some increasing attention is drawn to this there will be an increasing danger.
So 1 say that a select committee will have plenty to do. It will require to hear plenty of evidence related to air pollution - and air pollution alone - in the cause and effects and, as Senator Henty’s motion says, matters incidental thereto. It will need to take into account that something like 10 tons of fallout per square mile falls on Melbourne per month. When one says that quickly it does not seem very much and it does nol seem very much compared with the figure for New York of about 200 tons. But there is a vast difference between the city of New York and the city of Melbourne. That figure serves to show that in the fullness of time and in the development of Australian life, as our cities get bigger so we run the risk of an increasing fallout per square mile per month unless there is some control of the situation. For example every month, some 50 tons of noxious dust and chemicals fall on parts of the city of Geelong. Every day Melbourne traffic discharges something over 900 tons of harmful gases into the air. These are some of many things that a select committee will have to look at. lt will have to examine the effect that the effusion into the air of this kind of thing has on the people who may be adjacent, and the effect that the subsequent air pollution will have in the residential and industrial areas, on foliage and on other aspects of society as we know it today.
The Committee will have to examine such matters as have been put forward by Mr Colin Willman of the Victorian Clean Air Committee. In speaking on this subject not so long ago Mr Willman pointed out that not only was contamination caused by domestic fires and the exhaust fumes from cars, buses, ships, trains and planes but that an oil refinery can pour out 450 tons of sulphur dioxide each day; a ton of coal burned can produce 200 lb of solids such as grit and ash, 40 lb of sulphur oxides and 8 lb of nitrogen oxides. This is flying around in the air. Each ton of fuel oil burned gives off 600 lbs of sulphur oxides, 27 lb of nitrogen oxides and 5 lb of solids such as grit and ash. When one adds to this the effect of all the other complexes and plants in our industrial areas one gets a very real idea of the situation that is developing, especially as the great majority of Australian people live within the metropolitan areas. Therefore a select committee will have to examine the effect of this development on people as well as on many facets of our community life. Look at some of the latest developments that have taken place in our nation today in connection with the finds of oil and gas. I refer again to Mr Willman who warned that the Bass Strait natural gas and oil fields would bring in their wake, as we are all aware, petrochemical industries which, if not strictly controlled, could create new air pollution problems. Mr Will,nan also emphasised that by 1972, which is not a great deal of time away, large passenger jet planes - and we are all familiar with these - taking off and landing in cities like Melbourne, Adelaide or Sydney would be discharging in the vicinity of some 36 tons of unburned fuel a day. This is about 5 times more than the/ are discharging at the present time and this, moreover, would be spread in a widening path of up to 2 miles from the takeoff point.
I refer next to a reference that I made at the beginning. Mr Willman pointed out that cars, trucks and buses would be pouring a considerable amount of carbon monoxide out each day. He estimates that it would be some 5,000 tons of carbon monoxide a day by the year 2,000. This is 6 times more than it is now. All this highlights the importance of the proposed committee, and the intense amount of study and the extensive detail to which it will have to apply itself.
If honourable senators think that this problem is confined to the big cities, 1 remind them of a remark that was made b> the Administration of the Northern Territory recently, drawing attention to the effect of dust which had been released from gravel roads. The dust is a major irritant to plant life in the vicinity. Gravel on unsealed roads has an effect on transported stock as well as on the surrounding vegetation that is used for grazing in long transport operations. That is a different context altogether and involves a completely different approach. It relates this matter to transport - the kinds of vehicles used and the kinds of roads. They are completely different factors from those which were mentioned by Senator Henty and to which 1 referred earlier. So this is a complicated study and is well worthy of attention by the Senate tonight so that in debate we may bring forward facts that will lead to evidence being put before the proposed select committee in regard to industries, the Northern Territory, transport and communications.
Another common fact of life that influences this matter is the building of multistorey home units. Already warnings have been sounded in cities such as Sydney of the dangers of building multi-storey home units near industrial areas. An authority, in dealing with this matter, said that multistorey residential development near major industrial areas could cause air pollution problems which could be almost insoluble. For example, Sydney is expected to double its population by the year 2000. That would mean more industry, more power generation and more cars as well as more intense residential areas such as the home units that we know today. This is another aspect of our social life that will need to receive attention from the proposed committee.
We have talked about matter that has been injected into the air, about transport and about home units. Let us look quickly at the matter of health. Mr Willman. to whom I referred a few minutes ago, has said:
A glance at Commonwealth statistics for the cause of death for males between 1930 and 1965 shows our most spectacular increase is in respiratory ills.
The bronchitis death rate, fourth major killer of Australians, was up 203% and lung cancer, third major killer, up 244%.
By contrast heart disease, the major cause of death, rose by 168%, while the second major cause, motor vehicle accidents, rose by 113%.
That relates to the local level. The World Health Organisation has warned the industrialised countries that health hazards from poisons in the air parallel the increase of uncontrolled air-borne pollutants, which could be a serious factor in the death rate of any particular country. There are very many factors of this kind. The committee will have to do more than examine the details of harmful materials.
One of the things that I am sure the committee will consider is the work which has been done already and to which Senator Henty has referred. I am sure that the committee will take evidence from business organisations and industries that have been very busy in this regard. If we study industrial advertisements we will see that there is a wide range of industrial organisations that have plant and equipment that is constantly being reviewed and refined with the object of clearing the air. Many plant owners are aware that there is value in trapping and treating exhaust fumes. Many plants have special chimney stacks. Many plant owners have become aware of the value of precipitators and fibre glass filters. The switch from coal to diesel oil as an industrial fuel has had its effect on the work that has been done already. As Senator Henty has said, the use of electric cars in metropolitan areas has been forecast. That is another matter at which this committee might well have a look.
Before I conclude let me say that in my opinion the committee will have to look at the economics of this matter. The Electricity Commission of New South Wales has made the point that there is a limit to how far we can go in the prevention of pollution. In one of its recent reports it points out that it has done a tremendous amount of work on this matter of clean air. lt has spent a great deal of money and has conducted wide researches. There is a point at which an industry may feel that it cannot go any further in the establishment of plant and equipment and in research on this matter of clean air. The proposed committee will have to investigate the factors that cause air pollution, the economics of making air clean and how soon it :an be made clean.
The fitting of devices to automobiles to reduce air pollution is already under study. A meeting of the Australian Automobile Association in Adelaide a few months ago urged the Federal and State governments to make compulsory the fitting of anti- pollution devices to all petrol engine vehicles, lt claimed that the quantity of gas thai the petrol engine emits in its present state contributes greatly to air pollution, lt foresaw the day when it might be compulsory for anti-pollution devices to be fitted to motor vehicles. American manufacturers have already taken this step. The reasons for air pollution and what has been done already to reduce it are matters on which the proposed select committee will have to spend its time and energy, lt will need to spend time and energy because this is a big subject. Much time and detailed attention will have to be given to it. A lot of evidence will have to be taken. A lot of preparation will have to go into the work of the committee. The detail will have to be recounted in the committee’s report. Recommendations will have to be presented to the Senate.
In spite of our wide open spaces, our blue skies and the great quantity of what we believe to be clean, free air, the whole population of this country will have to be alerted to the fact that we are moving into an era when air pollution will have to be everybody’s business. So I am glad to support Senator Henty’s motion. 1 hope that it will result in the formation of a committee to deal with air pollution - and air pollution alone - and that in due course the committee will present a report that will be useful not only to the Australian industrial sphere but to the Australian population as a whole.
– Mr Acting Deputy President, I wish to congratulate-
– As a responsible Minister, you would not stoop to stonewalling, would you?
– Does the honourable senator say that I am stonewalling?
– What else are you doing?
– I have not started yet. Senator Cavanagh is a little premature. On as important an item as this, I did not think he would interject before I started to speak; but, he having interjected, I now ask him to keep quiet until I have finished, and then he can speak if he so desires. I assure him that I will not interject during his speech.
– The Minister is polluting a good subject.
– I want to continue with my speech. I have not time to reply to interjections. First of all I congratulate Senator Henty, our new backbencher, on bringing forward this very important motion which asks that a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon air pollution in Australia, including (a) causes and effects, (b) methods of prevention and control, and (c) matters incidental thereto.
In my opinion this is a matter of health, which I believe is very important to the people of this nation. Therefore I am surprised that members of the Opposition, who are anxious to talk on some other matters in the interests of health, are not prepared to talk on the health matter of air pollution. Senator Davidson mentioned that in 1952, during which there were 4 successive days of fog and smog, the number of deaths in London was 4,000 more than the normal number.
– Where did the Minister read that?
– In the report, and if the honourable senator had read the report he also would have seen it. If the Senate would like to hear more of the report I am prepared to read it. However, although it is exceedingly interesting, I shall not read the whole document. It states specifically that in December 1952 during a fog in London which lasted 5 days 4,000 more people died than would have died at the normal mortality rate. In the succeeding 3 months 8.000 additional deaths occurred. During this time deaths from bronchitis ran at nine times the normal level. Similar but less severe incidents occurred in a number of other areas. In Donora, Pennsylvania, a 4-day fog in October 1948 resulted in the deaths of 20 people and caused illness for 6,000 of the town’s population of 13,000. A large number of incidents such as these have occurred, but these two serve to illustrate the possible effects of high pollution levels in conditions of atmospheric equilibrium.
Senator Davidson, who has just resumed his seat, mentioned that the death rate from bronchitis caused by fog and smog has increased by substantially more than the death rate from the greatest killer, heart disease. People who are not aware of the real situation have claimed that deaths from heart disease have increased at the greatest rate, yet we find from the illuminating address by Senator Davidson of South Australia that this is not so. The greatest increase in the death rate is from respiratory diseases caused by smog and fog in highly industrialised areas where a great quantity of fumes is exhausted from machines which are producing goods for the benefit of our people.
– It took the Government 19 years to find out that the air was dirty.
– It may have taken the Government 19 years to find out that the air was dirty, but Opposition senators still have not enough courage to stand up and talk about it. They want to discuss other matters. This matter is very important to Australia.
– We want to do something rather than just pollute the air even more.
– We all want to do something and that it why this motion was brought forward by Senator Henty. I want to participate in this debate.
– Because I believe, that the matter is of sufficient importance for a select committee to be set up to see whether a solution to the problem can be found. A select committee could bring down recommendations which could be followed by the States, which have as much responsibility as the Commonwealth in this matter. I sincerely believe that the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the States, could act on those recommendations and probably could save many of the lives that are now lost. This is a matter which affects everyone in Australia. It is a social problem which has no political party boundaries. At least I thought that was the situation. However, there seems to be a dividing line down the centre of the chamber, because nobody from the Opposition side, with the exception of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy), appears to be able or willing to debate the subject. I have no doubt that other Opposition senators, having heard the argument adduced by the Leader of the Opposition, will come forward to support him after I have sat down.
With the increasing industrialisation and growth in the cities of the world we have a greater debasement of the very air that we are obliged to breathe. This causes inconvenience, discomfort, damage, disease and death. There is air pollution in all cities. I ask honourable senators to consider how often as they drive their motor vehicles through the thickly populated parts of their cities they find that the windscreen becomes so blurred by fumes that they cannot see through it properly. Those are diesel fumes which are emitted by diesel powered vehicles. They leave a deposit which makes it almost impossible to see through the windscreen. There is only one way to overcome this problem.
– That is, use windscreen washers.
– Windscreen washers will not remove the deposit and neither will windscreen wipers, lt is necessary to use a detergent to clean the windscreen so that windscreen washers and wipers can be used. I state this merely as an illustration. Honourable senators are aware of the deposit which forms on the windscreen as they drive through the main streets of the capital cities and metropolitan areas, but do they consider also that the person driving the car must be inhaling these fumes? We have been informed by leading doctors throughout the world that not only does smoking cause lung cancer - I think that this has been proved beyond doubt by experiments - but also that the taking, of these injurious fumes into the lungs is a cause of bronchitis which can result in cancer. A Senate committee could also inquire into this aspect. There are other considerations to be borne in mind. We find from a study of the report referred to earlier that a motor vehicle uses through the motor and exhausts through the exhaust system only from 60% to 66% of the motor spirit in its tanks; about 30% of the motor spirit goes down past the cylinder rings, mixes with the oil and is expelled through the breathing chamber of the engine. Consequently, that also can be breathed in by anybody travelling on the roads. We find also that between 2% and 3% of the fuel put into a petrol tank evaporates and goes into the atmosphere.
The proposed committee could examine the inconvenience and damage caused by fumes from motor cars to people in the cities. It could suggest remedies to overcome the problem. Senator Davidson mentioned that one solution to the problem of air pollution caused by motor cars would be to use motor cars powered by electric batteries. In this way the effects of fumes from motor cars and trucks operating on petrol or diesel fuel could be lessened. That is only one aspect of the inquiries which could bc conducted by the proposed select committee. Many hundreds of thousands of people throughout Australia could be spared inconvenience and damage to their health. It could be necessary for the committee to conduct inquiries for a period of not less than 12 months.
Smoke is an obvious form of air pollution. It is one form of air pollution which can be seen. However, smoke and dust together account for only 10% of air pollution; the remaining 90% is composed of invisible and harmful gases. The combined effects of smoke and fog have been seen in the major cities of the world. When I was a resident of the Perth suburb of Nedlands one of my neighbours was very much opposed to the use of incinerators by householders to burn their rubbish. He believed that the practice caused air pollution, tfe suggested that instead of using incinerators to burn their rubbish, residents should place it in containers which could be left at the front of the house for collection by council employees and transported to a rubbish tip. My neighbour of that time may have had a point. When 200 or 300 incinerators are burning rubbish in a suburb a terrific amount of smoke is spread amongst the people who live in that area.
– In some houses where they do not have gas or electric stoves, fuel stoves are used for the cooking.
– That is one of the points that has to be considered by the proposed committee.
– Should that method of cooking be eliminated?
– The committee should determine which method of cooking will cause the least quantity of smoke to be spread about. It may be that electric stoves are best in that respect, and electric grillers Electric grillers are particularly efficient for grilling steak, providing of course that the steak is not allowed to burn. Honourable senators opposite by their interjections are causing me to digress. I have taken a lot of time to prepare this speech and. I would like to get on with it. Pollution by smoke and dust is a problem that can be overcome. Most smoke in a city comes from the exhausts of motor cars and from the chimney stacks of factories. The more efficient motor cars do not emit much smoke but great amounts of smoke come from factory chimneys. One way of dealing with this problem is to regulate the height of chimney stacks. It is generally recognised throughout the world, and particularly by people who have studied the problem, that the higher a smoke stack is, die less air pollution it causes. A formula has been calculated to show the relationship of the height of a chimney stack to the amount of fallout it causes.
– The owners of factories do not always co-operate.
– I have stated one way in which action can be taken to improve the health of the nation.
– The Southern Portland Cement Ltd at Berrima is one organisation which causes great difficulties.
– That is another problem. [Quorum formed.] Senator Mulvihills interjection is of great interest because one of the items mentioned in the report is the damage caused to health by the dust from cement factories. That is another matter into which the proposed select committee could inquire. I have mentioned several important aspects of the matter which could be investigated by this committee. I understand that at the moment there is no federal legislation relating to air pollution. I understand also that cooperation between technical experts of the various States is only informal. For all these reasons I believe that the report of a committee such as the one proposed would be of tremendous importance in solving this problem of air pollution. It would seem that the States have become aware of this problem far more quickly than we have.
– They are miles ahead of the Commonwealth Government.
– I do not know that they are miles ahead of us. lt might be of interest to honourable senators to note that the New South Wales legislation relating to air pollution dates back to 1961. The Victorian legislation was first introduced in 1957, the Queensland legislation in 1963, the South Australian legislation in 1.963 and, in that all-important State of Western Australia the relevant legislation dates back to 1963. Britain’s legislation dates back to 1906. To date, the Commonwealth Government has no legislation relating to this matter. 1 believe that a committee of the kind proposed would be capable of submitting a report that would so impress the Commonwealth Government as to induce it to introduce Commonwealth legislation relating to this most important matter.
[9.13] - I should like to take up a little of the time of the Senate to discuss this matter. Air pollution is a matter of very great importance. As has been pointed out so clearly by the proposer of the motion and subsequent speakers, air pollution is causing great concern in those areas where its effect is being felt. It has been responsible for causing illness and even death, lt has cost certain areas much in the way of working time lost through ill health. It has given rise to a wide range of problems and anything that can be done to ensure that: the air is kept pure must be of benefit to all.
– 1 rise to order. 1 draw attention to standing order 421. I suggest that the Minister is engaging in tedious repetition and I ask you, Mr President, to direct that it bc discontinued.
– Order! The point raised by the honourable senator is not upheld.
– The points which have been raised here tonight are of very great importance to the people of Australia and 1 am sure that we ali will await with interest the report of the proposed committee. I trust that its investigations will create such interest as to promote a realisation of the importance of doing everything possible in all avenues of employment and industry to ensure that our air is kept clean. We owe a great deal to those who have so clearly put before the Senate the danger with which we can be confronted if nothing is done to guard against air pollution.
– in reply - 1 thank the Senate for its support of this motion. In particular I thank honourable senators on this side for their interesting contributions. At the same time I am surprised that the Opposition has been so silent on this all-important matter. Honourable senators opposite have had virtually nothing to contribute to the debate.
– That is not fair. I indicated our support on behalf of the Opposition.
– The honourable senator indicated support, but the Opposition did not advance any reason as to why it was supporting the proposal.
– We supported it from the moment the honourable senator suggested it.
– 1 have drawn attention to the silence of the Opposition. Anyone who has read Rachel Carson’s book The Silent Spring’ will appreciate that there are some aspects of this problem which this Senate has not even begun to look at yet. The Silent Spring’ is well worth studying, and there is a touch of the silent spring amongst the Opposition. If one wants to read a really good book on the subject I recommend one that I have been reading during the last week. It is ‘Pesticides and Pollution’ by Kenneth Mellamby. It deals with some aspects of the problem of air pollution which have not yet been touched upon.
– Read it to us. You have time.
– I had not intended to read it but as the honourable senator has invited me to do so, 1 shall draw attention to one passage.
– On what page is that?
– It is on page 31. I shall return the book to the Library when I am finished with it. If the honourable senator cares to get it then and turn to page 31, he will see this passage:
As soon as man discovered fire he made smoke and so polluted the atmosphere.
I do not propose to delay the Senate for much longer. Again I recommend Rachel Carson’s ‘The Silent Spring’ and Mellamby’s Pesticides and Pollution’. I mention the latter particularly because the effect of the use of pesticides on our flora and fauna has not yet been given by any means the study that it deserves. Indeed, when we look into the matter we see that there is a very wide scope for the proposed committee.
During the few remarks he made, Senator Murphy referred to Notice of Motion No. 3 which relates to the setting up of a committee to inquire into water pollution. He suggested that one committee might deal wilh both air pollution and water pollution. I would be opposed to combining the two subjects. In the early stages I did consider the wisdom of appointing only one committee but as there is such a wide difference between the two fields I decided that the appointment of separate committees would be the far wiser course. I was advised that it would be better to have two committees, and the more I studied the matter, the more I agreed with that advice. Water pollution, for example, could cover such matters as salinity, storage and a whole range of other things which I. believe should properly be investigated by a separate select committee.
I do not think I need to remind honourable senators that I have great confidence in the system of select committees of the Senate. For the sake of the record, I point out that I was the first Minister to propose the appointment of a Senate select committee after having obtained Government support for it. lt is in the field of select committees that the Senate can do a great deal of good. I did say recently, however, that I am a little perturbed about the number of committees which the Opposition is endeavouring to have appointed. With the appointment of too many such committees there is a danger of destroying the effectiveness of the system. Because of the number of senators engaged on standing committees and other committees and because Ministers and Whips cannot serve on these committees, there are not enough senators left to deal with the select committees which the Opposition proposes to establish. The number of select committees and standing committees proposed by the Opposition seems to indicate some hidden attempt to destroy the system of select committees. I hope that this is not the case. It will take us a good deal of time to deal with motions for the appointment of select committees which appear on the notice paper. We have three Senate select committees operating at the present time. The Select Committee on the Container Method of Handling Cargoes and the Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures are still working and are doing a very good job. Their reports have not yet been presented to the Senate. The Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources has just commenced its work.
As there will not be many more occasions on which I can speak in the Senate, I think that I should take this opportunity to point out that I believe that a tremendous amount of good to Australia can come out of these select committees. But this can happen only if all sides in this chamber are prepared to co-operate to see that, the select committees which are set up work and produce reports of a standard that is worthy of this great chamber. Mr President, I thank the Senate for the good reception of this proposal. I trust that we will shortly be able to set up the committee so that it can get on with the job.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
The notice of motion to set up a select committee in these terms was first given by me on 9th March 1967. It was debated extensively on 24th August last, but owing to the debate being talked out a decision was not given by the Senate. In order that the Senate may decide the matter tonight and to discourage any further attempt to talk it out, I shall not repeat at length the arguments put forward on the last occasion. I shall be quite brief. Spokesmen for hospitals, labour councils and the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Press editorials have emphasised that the sick, especially the under-privileged sick, are unable to cope with the costs of medical and hospital care. The wrangles between the Government, the health schemes and the Australian Medical Association over the justice of increased medical fees illustrate the necessity for an inquiry.
The national health scheme as set up by the National Health Act of 1953 no longer operates as was envisaged by Sir Earle Page. As I outlined last time, the medical benefits scheme was designed to provide that the total value of the insurance benefit plus the Government’s contribution would be slightly less than the actual fee. Sir Earle Page stated:
Thus, for a very modes) contribution a contributor and his dependants will receive very substantial benefits which will cover the major portion of his medical expenses in the event of sickness leaving him with only a nominal sum to pay.
In regard to hospital costs he said:
We desire to increase hospital revenues not only by direct assistance to the States but by the scheme of hospital insurance which we are convinced can extricate hospitals from their financial difficulties in the long term.
It is obvious that that scheme has failed to carry out the concept and the design of its proponent and of those who passed it through this Parliament. With increases in medical costs the contributor is required to pay more than the nominal amount envisaged by Sir Earle Page. His share has grown from about 10% to 30% or 40% and sometimes more. The Senate is entitled to know why the scheme is unable to operate as envisaged and to suggest ways in which increasing costs can be met.
The difficulties in meeting medical and hospital costs are not confined to the problem of the insurance funds. Obviously they extend far beyond this. We are dealing with one of the greatest social issues of our time. The Government has failed to take the measures necessary to make the scheme operate properly - if it is capable of operating properly. It is for the legislature now to inquire into this acute problem. The medical profession has its problems. Endeavours to increase fees are meeting with objections from the insurance funds. Also we have an outcry from the people because they realise that the cost will fall upon them as the result of the failure of this scheme to operate as was originally envisaged.
The appointment of a select committee is not intended as an attack upon the medical profession, and it is not so regarded. Last August Senator Turnbull assured us that the Australian Medical Association knew that the motion was to be moved and was not worried about it. He said that most doctors would be happy to lave medical costs investigated. The medical funds have their problems. There have been many letters to the newspapers in which those associated with the schemes have set out the problems that they are facing. Mr Turner, Director of the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia, has said time and time again that health funds are facing the most serious problems and that many questions need to be scrutinised closely. In his correspondence he has posed the following questions:
Do contributors get sufficient advantages from the existence of a multitude of funds which are not allowed to compete freely?
Should funds be protected by preventing competition amongst themselves based on price or product differentiation?
Why should funds with large reserves be prevented from using their financial strength in the interests of their contributors?
Should funds be required to spread among the general body of the insured community the enormous costs of the very small minority of highincidence claimants, in lieu of these costs being met by the Government as a welfare measure within its social services programme? (Medical chronicity - meaning, presumably, chronic illness - is subsidised through the Commonwealth Government’s Hospital Special Account but not through the Medical Special Account - yet 5% of medical payments take out more than 22% of medical benefits.)
Among the many questions he asked concerning the problems of students and others is this significant question: Should the scope of the Australian voluntary health insurance scheme conducted by open funds be extended beyond the confines of hospital and medical’ benefits? So much for the health funds. Many questions have been asked in the Parliament on this subject. 1 think most honourable senators are aware of the proliferation of funds, the large reserves held by funds, suggestions about administrative- costs being swollen by duplication and, perhaps inevitably, waste, lt is not for me to give the answers to those questions but they have been raised publicly and inquiries have been urged.
The hospitals have their problems. As I indicated on the last occasion, the executive of the Hospitals Association of New South Wales decided unanimously to call for the introduction of a Government approved national health scheme to give the community adequate protection against the cost of hospital and medical services. The representatives of 174 New South Wales hospitals said that the scheme was necessary because of rising doctors’ fees and other medical charges and that it should be based on the schemes now operating in other countries. The executive of that body said that present health benefit schemes did not give the public adequate health protection. The stage had been reached where people could not afford medical attention. The executive decided at its meeting on 7th June last to press for that national health scheme.
The problems of hospitals have been adverted to by Professor Griffith, Professor of Hospital Administration at the University of New South Wales. In August 1967 he said:
To rebuild Australia’s sub-standard hospitals could cost the community more than $ 1,000m. . . But he warned that just to build new hospitals or to build existing ones could lead to an enormous waste of money. Population growth and movement had to be taken into account. Some of the half-empty hospitals of today were busy in the gold-rush days. . . . Major hospitals in the metropolis would be integrated with base hospitals in the country. While some metropolitan hospitals now were overcrowded there were many outside the metropolitan area that were substantially empty for much of the year.
He went on to say that a great deal could be done to cut down the cost of hospital care by a reorganisation in that field. He also pointed out that about $2 8m was wasted annually in Australia in relation to hospitals because of hotch potch financing of medical services, and indicated how that sum was made up. He made those remarks during a discussion at the 13th PostGraduate School of the Australian Institute of Hospital Administration.
Two economists, John Deeble and Richard Scotton, investigated the operation of the health schemes this year. Shortly, Scotton’s conclusion, which was published on 31st January this year, is that Australia’s voluntary health insurance scheme is costing the nation too much for too little. John Deeble, in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Cost and Sources of Finance of Australian Heal:h Services’ had this to say:
Australian expenditure on medicaments, relative to income, was nearly twice as high as in Britain and Sweden, about 11% higher than in Canada and 31% higher than in the United States.
The whole Australian system of medical and hospital insurance is intrinsically expensive, first because it is almost entirely indemnity insurance, and secondly because of the absence of price competition.
The growth of voluntary hospital insurance in recent years was almost entirely in replacement of Government subsidies to public hospitals, involving substantial additional expense.
There may be a case for. retaining private insurance for those individuals who desire special treatment or accommodation unrelated to their medical needs. However, it is difficult to support a system of financing basic care; which is not only regressive in its impact but also absorbs onequarter of all the revenue it receives.
Honourable senators may be aware of the many articles written by Mrs Ruth Tna.Il, who is .an expert on the cost of medical and hospital care. On 22nd February 1 968 she said: -
Increasing public discussion in recent months has focused attention on two major problems - how to keep hospitals solvent, and how to reduce financial hardship to those groups in the community least able to bear it.
Many others have written on these matters. Colin Grant of the School of Hospital Administration at the University of New South Wales has said:
In some ways it is believed that the costs of hospital care are unnecessarily high. I believe that they are. But at the same lime it _ is equally appropriate to ask whether the public is getting a hospital service too cheaply. And again I would say that it is.
He has written a great deal in support of that view. The general impact of increasing costs on the community has drawn the attention of the Bank of New South Wales which, in its June quarterly review, had this to say:
Between 1960 and 1966 hospital and medical charges rose almost three times as. fast as average male earnings.
Over the same period the combined weekly payment providing maximum cover against both expenses rose from 90c to SI. 70.
The Bank pointed out that the health scheme had never provided complete cover against hospital or medical expenses and did not cover dental expenses at all. MiHamilton H. Sleigh, President of the Australian Hospitals Association, said on 28th February 1968:
Hospital managements are concerned at the extent to which the present hospital benefit scheme is proving inadequate to needs. It is creating serious problems for patients and, in turn, for hospital managements themselves.
It is obvious that there are serious problems in the field of hospital and medical care - problems which excite the concern of hospital administrators, those in charge of the medical and hospital funds, those in the universities who study hospital administration and the medical profession. Surely that calls for an inquiry by the legislative branch of government, because the public is certainly bearing the brunt of the Government’s failure to take any action to ensure that the national health scheme operated as it was intended to operate or to substitute for it some satisfactory scheme to meet that which I think is accepted in this community as a postulate.
I think all of us accept the principle that some scheme should be operating by which the sick may receive medical and hospital care on terms which they can afford. Yet it is apparent that they do not. A survey was conducted very recently by the Victorian Branch of the Australian Association of Social Workers and the Joint Committee of the Victorian Council of Social Service on hospital and medical insurance. The summary of their conclusions is in these terms:
That committee recommended that these bodies ask their federal councils to press the Government for a public inquiry into the deficiencies in the national health scheme and to prepare recommendations to e fleet the far reaching changes which appeared to them to be necessary to remedy these deficiencies.
– On what dale was that?
– The report was released on 19th January 1968. It is here if the Minister wishes to see it. Referring to the Government, the Governor-General’s Speech stated:
It will review the operations of the hospital and medical benefits schemes operated under the National Health Act. lt is proposed to arrange for an independent inquiry to be held into the operations of the hospital and medical insurance funds which provide benefits under this scheme. After this inquiry has been held the Government will consider whether any further measures should bc taken to improve the operation of the scheme whilst at the same time preserving the concept of freedom of choice on which it is based.
That proposal was explained in a statement issued to members of the. Press gallery on behalf of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) on 12th March 1968. It reads:
This may be of use to those of you who want qualification of references to health matters in thu Governor-General’s Speech. The full terms of reference of the inquiry will be announced soon. Very broadly the inquiry will be concerned with investigating the overall operating activities of the health insurance funds in relation to the payment of health benefits.
Factors which would naturally come under scrutiny would be contribution rates, management expenses and the general administration of the funds, the number of benefit tables and the number of funds, lt is expected thai recommendations will be made in relation to matters of this kind and in due course the Government will consider these recommendations within a framework of its national health planning.
As has been commented in the Press - rightly so - this is an extremely limited inquiry. It is suggested that it will be concerned with investigating the overall operating activities of the health insurance funds in relation to the payment of health benefits. The inquiry that we propose is of much wider scope. I have referred to the problems of the hospitals. They themselves say that they are completely dissatisfied - this is my rendering of it - with the operations of the national health scheme. The professors of hospital administration say that hospitals are in an extremely difficult position so far as costs are concerned, and that there is waste of money in the way in which hospitals are operated. At the same time, they are operating on the cheap in many respects. The means for adjusting medical fees - that is voluntary adjustment - ought to be much better. There is no proper mechanism for this to be done to the satisfaction of the doctors, the funds or the public.
As 1 indicated from what was said by Senator Turnbull, doctors are not opposed to the setting up of such a committee. There is the problem of what ought to be covered by a proper health scheme, the absence of provision for dental care, and the absence of real provision for those who are chronically ill. There are all of these problems, apart altogether from the overall operating activities of the health insurance funds in relation to the payment of benefits. It was wisely suggested by one newspaper article that, in commonsense, this committee set up by the Senate would concentrate on the other important matters and if the Government does go ahead with its inquiry the committee could well wait before releasing its report till the Government had completed that inquiry and use the results of it in assisting it to come to general conclusions and recommendations. I would think that that would be the wise course. The proposal that has been made by the Government at this late time, tenuous though it is, covers only a small part of the field and I would ask the Senate to agree to set up this inquiry because it would be in the national interest. It would also be in the interests of the Senate. lt is true that the Opposition has proposed a number of committees but the Government has not at any time indicated which, if any, of them it is prepared to support, so there is no option for us but to proceed to put up the proposals and have them dealt with one by one. Perhaps this is the most important social question that concerns the country, certainly in internal affairs, and I would commend it to the Senate. The matter was debated fully on the last occasion. I have endeavoured to be quite brief. I would ask not only that the Opposition be heard but also that the Senate be given the opportunity of a decision on this matter. As a matter of reasonable cooperation, we should be given the opportunity, even if it means some slight delay, of obtaining a decision on this matter. It should not disappear to the bottom of the notice paper. We ask for the support of all honourable senators for this proposal.
[9.48] - Tonight as I rise to speak 1 remind the Senate, as indeed did Senator Murphy, that this matter was debated in the Senate in August last. At that time I placed before the Senate points regarding the proposal which I felt were of importance. Tonight I propose to refer briefly again to those points and also to make it clear that the time is not opportune for a Senate committee of inquiry into medical and hospital costs. The Opposition is very properly concerned with the fact that medical costs are rising in Australia, as indeed they are rising in other countries. We want to look at the whole picture of the tremendous advances in medical and hospital techniques and the development, of specialised and costly equipment such as heart and lung machines and artificial kidney machines. They make health care very much more costly. But the costs of treatment in Australia are not out of step with general economic development. These advances in the wide field of specialised facilities and the high standard of treatment, are available to those who need them. This is very important to the health of the nation.
I would say to the Senate that there is a continually rising tide of expectation in health services, which is contributing also to rising costs. Nowadays people are able to go to their doctors more without being inhibited, as they were previously, by costs In 1954, when the national health service was begun, the average number of medical benefit services per person covered was 1.34. This figure has risen steadily over the years and each person now receives an average of 3.3 services a year. The number of pharmaceutical benefits prescriptions dispensed per head of population in Australia in 1961 was 3. This figure has shown a steady rise also. In 1967 it had risen to 4.61.
I also remind the Senate that there has been a steady rise in the rate of hospital benefit payments by the Commonwealth Government. In the year 1954 the number of claims per 100 members of hospital benefit organisations was 19.9, while in 1967 the comparable figure was 33.4. In 1963-64 hospital benefits paid by the Commonwealth amounted to $56.2m. This sum increased to $63. 6m in 1966-67. In addition, under the hospital benefits insurance scheme sponsored by the Government, the funds paid by hospital benefits organisations to insured patients rose from $21. 6m in 1963-64 to $69m in 1966-67. I believe that we should also note the reference that has been made to the amount of money paid to medical benefits funds. I emphasise that the Government’s share paid to medical benefits organisations is very close to that paid to the patient by the medical benefits organisations themselves. The figures that I want to give show that the amount of Commonwealth benefit paid by the medical benefits funds was $42. 9m in 1966-67, while the amount paid by the medical benefits funds from their own revenue in the same year was $48.9m. This amount included $2m paid by medical benefits funds for ancillary benefits. I believe that these figures which I have given the Senate are important in demonstrating the success of the health services which we have in Australia.
The rising tide of expectation of health benefits could spell danger to any national health scheme which does not have built into it a firm cornerstone of individual responsibility. Here in Australia our hospital and medical benefits schemes are designed to encourage people to insure themselves against hospital and medical costs. The Australian public has demonstrated its opinion of the schemes by voluntarily joining the benefits organisations to what virtually might be called n ‘saturation point’ for our population.
I believe that (here is an additional and very important aspect, which T touched upon last August when I spoke during a very similar discussion. This is that the present schemes of the Government recognise the rights of (he individual and also the importance of the freedom of choice that is necessary to human dignity, particularly when a person is ill. We believe that this freedom should be preserved because we believe that that is a very important factor. This, ] believe, is a concept that can be lost sight of when there is talk of stricter management, particularly economic management, of health services. 1 now want to turn to the developments that have taken place since the matter was debated in the chamber last. I believe that the most important factor that has taken place since then was referred to by the Governor-General in his Speech at the opening of Parliament on 12th March. J quote from the Governor-General’s Speech:
My Government will review the field of social welfare with the object of assisting those in most need while at the same time not discouraging thrift, self-help and self-reliance.
To this end my Government will set up a Standing Cabinet Committee including the Ministers for Health. Social Services, Repatriation and Housing, and the Committee will direct its attention to co-ordinating the approaches and proposals of the various Departments concerned with social welfare.
My Government will introduce proposals to remove from the minds of Australians the fear of the economic consequences of long continued illness.
It will review the operations of the Hospital and Medical Benefit Schemes operated under the National Health Act. It is proposed to arrange for an independent inquiry to be held into the operations of the Hospital and Medical Insurance funds which provide benefits under the scheme. After this inquiry has been held the Government will consider whether any further measures should be taken to improve the operation of the scheme whilst at the same time preserving the concept of freedom of choice on which it is based.
So T say that it must be obvious to all that the Government is alive to the necessity to review continually the schemes that it has introduced with the aim of improving them and removing deficiencies which are within the bounds of the available finance. This, I believe, is a matter of which the Government is well aware. The Government recognises that there is a need to define the main areas requiring its attention and for this purpose it has decided, as was foreshadowed in the Speech by the Governor-General which I read, to conduct an independent and expert inquiry into the funds which provide benefits under the schemes.
Although the specific terms of reference of the inquiry announced by the GovernorGeneral and the members of the expert committee have not been decided upon by the Government yet, T expect the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) to make a statement concerning this in the near future. I know that the Minister is working on it actively. I have no doubt that the terms of reference for the proposed Government committee will permit considerable flexibility in the conduct of its inquiries. Studying the proposed terms of reference for the proposed Senate select committee, it seems clear that there is a considerable area of overlap and that considerable, if not complete, duplication would occur should both inquiries be held. I can ask the Senate only as 1 would ask myself: Is a Senate inquiry desirable in these particular circumstances, following on the statement made by the GovernorGeneral? The Governor-General has made clear the Government’s intention to consider carefully any deficiencies found in the operation of the medical and hospital schemes. Furthermore, the GovernorGeneral has made it clear that the Government will introduce proposals to remove from the minds of Australians the fear of the economic consequences of long, continued illness. 1 repeat that the Government is directing ils attention to the known deficiencies in the schemes. There is no doubt that the report of an expert committee will be invaluable in denning the weaknesses that exist and in suggesting ways in which these can be remedied. The matters to be covered by the Government inquiry will be of a very complex nature and will involve a study of the operations of the medical and hospital insurance organisations and of a wide variety of related matters. The appointment of a Senate select committee to go into these same matters at this time would involve a very considerable duplication of effort, lt is difficult to see how such a duplication of effort would be useful, bearing in mind the problems confronting us in so many other fields. So 1 say that, remembering the message contained in the Governor-General’s Speech, the Government in carrying out its investigation will serve a very useful purpose and a duplication of effort by a Senate select committee could not be of value.
– 1 rise to support the move made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) for the appointment of a select committee of the Senate to inquire into medical and hospital costs in Australia and in particular to examine the operation and administration of the medical and hospital benefits schemes. It was interesting to listen to the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represents the Minister for Health in this chamber, and to hear her say that it was not opportune to have a select committee on this matter at this time. She proceeded to say that the GovernorGeneral - representing the Prime
Minister (Mr Gorton), of course - said when he delivered his Speech that the Government would set up a committee of inquiry. Frankly, 1 believe that even the inquiry suggested by the Leader of the Opposition is not wide enough, bearing in mind the amount of money that is spent on medical, hospital and ancillary services in Australia, namely, more than $900m a year. 1 believe that something in the nature of a royal commission is necessary to inquire into all facets of hospital, medical and ancillary services in this country. The present scheme is one of the most extravagant set-ups that we have in all our mechanisms. I do not believe that real value is provided for the money that is spent.
Last year the Government provided §67m in relation to hospital benefits, $43m in relation to medical benefits, $10lm in relation to pharmaceutical benefits, $14m in relation to the pensioner medical service and $22m for hospital care in nursing homes. In view of the tremendous amount of money involved, how can the Minister say that this is not an opportune time to have an inquiry? These schemes have been going for more than 10 years - in fact, since 1953. At that time the people were almost assured that if they took advantage of voluntary insurance they would have to find only 10% of the cost of medical and hospital services. But over the years they have always had to find more than 10%. Ever since the schemes were inaugurated in most cases they have had to find twothirds of the total cost - one-third in direct payment to the doctor and one-third in their contribution to the benefits fund. The Government has never found more than one-third. So I believe that now is an opportune time to have a thorough inquiry.
Although the suggestion was that these funds would be the salvation of the hospitals, in fact the hospitals are deteriorating year after year. Only a few months ago Professor Griffith, the Professor of Hospital Administration in the University of New South Wales, said that $ 1,000m was needed for the reconditioning of the hospitals of this country. It is all very well for the Commonwealth Government to say that it will provide $18m for the establishment of a new hospital in the Woden Valley in Canberra, but the States have to think for years before they can envisage spending $18m on a new hospital. The money can be provided here in Canberra because it comes out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. But the people living in the various Stales of this Commonwealth cannot receive so readily a modern hospital to meet their immediate needs.
As I said, last year the Government spent S22m on nursing- homes. The standard of many of them is completely hopeless. The people in them ure not properly fed; they arc not properly cared for. Of course, some of these nursing homes are quite well run. Others arc old houses that have been converted, on a temporary basis, into homes to care for aged people and have been registered as nursing homes. It is easy to say (hat these homes have to pass an inspection, but sometimes the inspection is not very rigorous. If an honourable senator went through some of them he would be ashamed (o put anyone in them. So I believe that (his move for an inquiry is completely justified
Let us think of the great increase that has occurred in the weekly payments to medical benefits funds and hospital benefits funds. In order to obtain complete coverage in respect of private hospital accommodation and something towards his medical fees a person now has to pay $1.50 or $1.70 a week. The average worker cannot possibly a (lord that. The person in a reasonably high income bracket can afford to buy the major coverage in respect of hospital accommodation and some coverage in respect of medical fees. In fact he can go very close to covering his hospital costs, but in no case in respect of general practitioner services can be obtain anything like the coverage necessary to pay the general practitioner’s fees.
The gap between the general practitioner’s fees on the one hand and the payments made by the funds and the Commonwealth contribution on the other is increasing. There is no suggestion that the Government intends to increase its contribution. So all that we can visualise is a gap that will increase with each year as doctors increase their fees. Consequently the individual patient will have to find an increasing proportion of his medical fees. In the light of what the Prime Minister announced to the public through the Governor-General, I would have thought that the Government would have readily supported this motion. After all, there is no reason why the proposed committee could not act as an inquiry for the Government, lt would have the imprimatur of the legislature on it. It would have that authority. It could bring down a finding by which the Government could be guided.
When we remember that Australia has 79 medical benefits funds and 109 hospital benefits funds, can we say that that represents efficiency? No-one has maintained that it does. The Government has said that administration charges shall be limited to a maximum of 15%. In Canada the administration cost is something less than 5% - in fact, in the neighbourhood of 4%. For the various funds in New York and throughout the United States the figure is 4% or 5%. But here in Australia we say that the maximum allowable administration charge shall bc 15%. Administration costs are much less for hospital benefits funds - usually they are in the vicinity of 11% - than for medical benefits funds - usually they are in the vicinity of 15%. Because of the large number of funds there must be a measure of inefficiency. Surely the number of them could be reduced.
There are arguments on both sides. On the one hand it is claimed that some of the smaller funds cannot give the benefits that the bigger ones give. But the smaller funds claim that they can be administered more cheaply and that they can maintain a closer association with their contributors. On the other hand the bigger funds claim that they can give more benefits and that they can be administered more cheaply than can the smaller ones. But I certainly suggest that there is no need for 79 medical benefits funds and 109 hospital benefits funds for a little more than 1 1 million people.
– Anyone will tell you that.
– Our funds are allowed 15% for administration costs, whereas the Canadians can administer their funds for less than 5% and the Americans can administer much bigger funds for much less than our figure of 15% .
– The funds are allowed to spend 15% on administration costs, but that is not the actual expenditure.
– That is what they actually spend.
– It is the amount allowable as a taxation deduction.
– lt is not what is allowable for taxation purposes. All investigations have revealed that that has been the actual cost of administration. The honourable senator is a great believer in free enterprise and in takeovers. Does he not think the takeover system should apply in the field of medical benefit funds and hospital insurance funds? Does he not believe that many fewer funds could do the work and that they could do it more cheaply and provide greater benefits without the need to advertise so much? If this scheme had been established properly in the first place in 1953, if the Commonwealth had cooperated with the States so that each State government could have established its own medical benefit fund and hospital insurance fund, then all the funds would have been actuarily sound. But none of them was sound when it started. With the possible exception of those funds which were backed by the friendly societies, not one fund was actuarily sound enough to bear the cost of treating an epidemic. That is the story of the funds since 1953. It was only through good luck that no epidemic occurred, and it was only through the collection of subscriptions that the funds were enabled to build up sufficient resources to see them through such a situation.
– State-owned everything; that is what the honourable senator wants.
– No, but the States could do it and do it very efficiently, in cooperation with the Commonwealth. However, the Government did not see it that way. Had the funds been established on that basis they would have been actuarily sound and could have stood up to any financial burdens placed upon them. That was admitted at that time by all Australian actuaries who were associated with or investigated the various funds. I suggest that in this field the Government has a responsibility. Hospital and medical insurance is at present very costly and the people are not getting the service to which they are entitled. The ones who are suffering most under the existing system are those on low incomes who cannot afford to purchase the highest cover for hospital care and medical benefits. The result is that ultimately these people, because of the income they earn and the cost of contributions, must gamble against ill health. They say that they cannot afford to be in it and decide to take the risk that they will not be sick. Their attitude is: ‘If we do get sick we will pay the doctor and see how we get along.’ But they can ill afford not to be covered. However, as I said, the costs of sickness are so high that they must gamble against ill health. In the light of the suggestion by the Prime Minister that there should be an inquiry of some sort into hospital and medical benefit funds, I appeal to the Government to support the motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition.
– How far does the honourable senator believe that an inquiry in the terms of Senator Murphy’s motion could go? What does he think that motion means?
– I do not think the motion goes far enough. I. would like to see a far wider inquiry into all the ramifications of health. The committee proposed in this motion would not go that far; it would deal only with hospital and medical costs and the functioning of hospital and medical benefit funds.
– Why not amend it?
– It is not my place to do that. I am seeking a little better treatment for the people, but the honourable senator who has interjected would not give much. The former Prime Minister and his predecessor, with honourable senators opposite as their associates, rejected an earlier proposal for an inquiry into hospital and medical benefit funds. They claimed that everything in the garden was lovely and that 7 million people were covered by the various insurance funds. We were told this every time we sought an inquiry. It is only now that the Prime Minister has said that everything in the garden is not lovely.
– Does the honourable senator think that Senator Murphy’s motion relates to the funds?
– Exclusively to the funds?
– No, not exclusively.
– How far does the honourable senator think an inquiry should go?
– The motion provides for an investigation into hospital and medical costs in general in Australia. Does the Minister want to know whether we should conduct a full inquiry in relation to all hospital and medical treatment?
– I am sorry to interrupt, but the honourable senator said at the outset that an inquiry should go a certain distance. I want to know what he means.
– I think the time is opportune in Australia for a full inquiry into all medical, hospital and ancillary services. I believe that the motion does not provide for this but goes only part of the way. Nevertheless, it does seek to accomplish something that is worth while and which in my view will be cheaper for the individual people of Australia. I believe as a result of such an inquiry there will be a more efficient functioning of the medical and hospital benefit funds of Australia.
– Will the honourable senator answer the Leader of the Government and tell him what the Government intends to do in its inquiry?
– The Government has said that it will have just a superficial inquiry, a sort of essay in whitewashing, I believe, to substantiate statements made by Government supporters in the past that our system is the best in the world.
– How does the honourable senator know that its purpose will be to whitewash?
– I know that because the Government would not permit an inquiry previously. I am sure that it will not permit a thorough one now. It has just been suggested to me that Government supporters are interjecting to try to get me to take up the time allotted for the debate. I have no intention of doing that. The Opposition intends to throw on the Government the responsibility for conducting an inquiry as asked for by the Leader of the
Opposition. I appeal to. Government supporters to give consideration to this proposal and 1 remind them that their leader has suggested the need for an inquiry of some sort. The Opposition suggests that there should be a select committee. 1 think that the Government could do much worse than support this motion in the same way that the opposition supported the motion proposed tonight by a Government supporter.
– I oppose the motion for the setting up of a select committee to consider hospital and medical expenses. The Minister for ‘ Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represents the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) in this chamber, has stated very good reasons why Government supporters should oppose this resolution. On behalf of the Government she has given an assurance that the matters proposed for inquiry will be considered and that at an appropriate time the Senate will have an opportunity to debate the issue. Therefore I cannot see that a committee would achieve more than would result from a debate in this place. A wide debate as suggested by the Minister would bring out the points raised by the Government and the Opposition. In my view it is quite senseless to set up committees on issues which are highly political and on which we are. due to have a debate in the near future. I believe that neither the Government nor the Opposition should be pressing for committees which are put forward for political gain. I believe that is the principle that we in the Senate should abide by in setting up all committees.
I strongly support the principle of setting up a limited number of committees - I stress the word ‘limited’ - on carefully selected subjects affecting, in most cases, a high percentage of the community - committees which would be in a position, after evidence had been taken, to make an objective report and recommendations to the Senate. Such a committee, in my opinion, should be likened to a group of senators from this chamber or a group of people, rather than two groups, one from the Government side and one from the Opposition, and it should make a particular study of a particular problem on which it is asked to report. I am a member of the Senate Select Committee on the Container Method of Hand- ling Cargoes. 1 believe that honourable senators from the Opposition and the Government with whom I am associated on this committee will agree that we are endeavouring to look at this question in an objective way so that we can bring to the Senate an objective report.
– On no occasion has any member of the Committee introduced party politics.
– I quite agree with Senator Branson. ] believe that this is the way in which we should approach such matters and that, as suggested here tonight, we should debate here those matters which have a more political nature. Therefore I think this is a most important and proper function of the Senate. If it is carried out properly it will lift the prestige of the Senate in the eyes of electors generally.
Senator Henty and other honourable senators have referred to the damaging effect of setting up too many committees. At present three Senate select committees are operating and tonight we have decided to set up another committee. I believe that the Senate cannot have more than four committees operating at the same time. We have only a limited number of senators who are able to take part in the work of select committees. Ministers in the Senate do not take part in select committees. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate would be eligible to serve on select committees but probably would lack the time to do so. Some honourable senators wilt not be interested in a particular subject to be investigated. Some honourable senators for health reasons are unable to serve on select committees.
– The President of the Senate and the Deputy President are not able (o serve on committees.
– That is so. We must not forget that it is necessary to have officers lo assist in the clerical and reporting work associated with select committees. We are limited in this direction. As three Senate select committees are operating at present, a big strain is placed on the officers appointed to assist them. That should not be overlooked. Perhaps many honourable senators who advocate the setting up of numerous committees do not realise the enormous amount of time taken up in work ing on them. I have not kept an accurate record of the hours that the Senate Select Committee on the Container Method of Handling Cargoes of which I am a member has sat to take evidence. I believe that it has sat from 25 to 30 days to take evidence and for most members of the Committee a great deal of travelling time has been involved. I have no doubt that the Senate Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures has encountered much the same problems.
It does not reflect much credit on the Opposition that it has on the notice paper nine notices of motion for the setting up of select committees. It is making a farce of the system and I hope it will not continue. If it does it may be that opportunities will be lost for the setting up of committees that could be necessary to investigate real problems.
– Why does not the honourable senator indicate which select committees he would support, if any? Is he prepared to oppose all of them?
– I do not have to indicate to Senator Murphy or to anybody else whether I intend to support all of them. I am not supporting the proposal we are now debating and 1 have given very good reasons why I take that view. As has been said tonight, other matters are more worthy of investigation than that under discussion. I oppose the motion of the Opposition.
– I oppose the setting up of the select committee proposed by the Opposition. I feel that I have three valid reasons for voicing my opposition to the motion. One of those reasons was covered briefly by my colleague Senator Bull; that is the number of honourable senators available to serve on committees that we decide to set up. lt is obvious that there must be a limit to the number of extra committees that the Senate can set up if they are to be manned by senators who can devote the necessary time to them. If this motion of the Opposition were approved we would be setting up a new committee at a time when one-fifth of the members of the Senate are to be replaced, lt may be preferable to wait to set up the select committee to inquire into air pollution until the new senators have arrived, after 1st July next. The first point. .1 make as sincerely as .1 can is the availability of senators who desire to serve on committees and who have the time to do so.
The second point I wish to make concerns the availability of staff. 1 do not think it is unfair to say that if there were no Senate select committees the staff of the Senate would be fully occupied as public servants doing their allotted work. Each time we set up a committee one or two members of the Senate staff have to do extra work. 1 have had experience as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Metric Weights and Measures and the Government Printing and Publications Committee. 1 have found that the staff make themselves willingly and efficiently available to do all the work involved. Any honourable senator who has served on a committee knows of the great amount of extra work involved for the Senate staff. in all fairness 1 ask honourable senators: ls it not a fact that the setting up of another select committee while the current committees are still operating and while we are members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Public Works Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and other committees would make it very doubtful that there would be enough staff properly to handle the work involved? if another Senate select committee is to be set up we must have Senate trained staff to help in its work. It is of no use to say that we can get a couple of men or women from the Public Service, from outside the Senate, and attach them to committees, lt is necessary that they have a thorough understanding of standing orders and the work of Senate committees. Therefore in my view we are limited in that respect.
I come now to another aspect on which 1 am not armed with precise figures. 1 put it to the Senate that it is necessary to consider the availability of and fairness to the staff of Hansard when setting up extra committees. The general public seem to have an idea that once Parliament rises senators go on holiday. I am aware that one or two honourable senators do that, but most honourable senators are very busy in the parliamentary recesses. I suggest that Senator Turnbull who is trying to interject should remain quiet on this subject. Many honourable senators are fully occupied in political activities in parliamentary recesses. I know for a fact that the staff of Hansard are engaged for long and onerous hours purely and simply on work associated with the Hansard reports of this and another place. In addition they are called in to do the reporting work associated with committees. That is another personal aspect that has to be studied.
The next point 1 wish to make concerns the role of the Senate and its committees. Away back in 1929-30 the members of this place decided to try to improve the role of the Senate and set up a committee of the Senate-
The PRESIDENT (Senator the lion. Sir Alister McMuIiin) - 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 put. The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I suggest that the vote which has just been taken on the occasion of our first effort at co-operating with the Opposition, against our wishes, in dealing with private business on a Tuesday night makes three intentions blatantly clear. One is (hat the Opposition has decided to try to tire out Government senators who are willing to rise and speak in opposition to a motion that has been proposed during private members’ time in (he Senate, which is set up to debate either private or Government business. If the Opposition is not trying to tire us out, then it is trying to beat us into submission or to silence us. Irrespective of what my leader or my colleagues might have to say, the Opposition will not silence me on this subject because I am bitterly opposed to the method it is adopting to get what it wants. I am also very strongly opposed to the Opposition’s objective. Despite any interjections that honourable senators might attempt to make, I will have my views recorded in Hansard. I will not be silenced. I might add that it has been an unwritten law, agreed upon by both sides in both Houses of the Parliament, that except when matters of urgency are before it, the Parliament will adjourn fairly promptly on the first night of the week’s sitting because of the long distances many honourable senators from Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and parts of South Australia have had to travel. Senator Turnbull persists in trying to interject. He has only just come into the chamber attired in a dinner jacket. Evidently Senator Dittmer must have been speaking for too long in defiance of caucus orders, because the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and the newly arrived Senator Turnbull started a conversation. The Deputy President called them to order but they continued with their conversation. Senators on the Government side wanted to hear what Senator Dittmer was saying.
– I rise to order. What are we discussing? Has it to do with whether a senator is allowed to have a conversation in the chamber, or has it something to do with hospital and medical benefits?
– Order! The point raised by the honourable senator is not upheld.
– The honourable senator should cease making inane interjections when 1 rise to speak. He seems to forget that the medical profession in this country performed two very fine operations on me and that T can now hear. He should be silent. He should not interject.
– Order! Interjections are disorderly and must cease.
– I was about to say that it has been traditional for both Houses of this Parliament to adjourn as near as possible to the normal adjournment time on Tuesday nights. When the vote on the adjournment was taken I had gol to the stage where I had said that in my belief the attempt to set up the proposed committee was contrary to what has been accepted over the years as the role of Senate select committees. The change in outlook towards the role of the Senate started away back in 1929-30 when a committee of the Senate was set up to ascertain whether further committees for the good government of this country could be appointed from the Senate and, if so, what committees. As a result of that committee’s work, authority was finally given for the appointment of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, which has lived and flourished as the watchdog and safety valve for this chamber of the Commonwealth Parliament. The other proposed committees in that era were not accepted by the Government then in office. But in more recent years - and I can speak only from personal experience which did not commence until .1953 - we have seen committees set up in this Senate which in my view have assumed and fulfilled the proper role of such committees. There was the Select Committee on Road Safety which was a non-party committee. It was not set up to attack any form of government policy, or to highlight any weaknesses in the Opposition’s policy, or to attack socialism or capitalism or Communism. It did not involve any ism. It: was set up in the interests of the welfare of people in Australia for many years to come. I understand that the findings of that Committee are still pored over and considered by State Governments and other authorities that are trying to cut down on the road toll in Australia.
Then there was the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, lt was known as the Vincent Committee. Although I think it is honest to say that the Government has not taken a great deal of notice of that Committee’s findings, I believe it is fair to say that the Senate did a good job and placed before the Government findings and recommendations which have been quietly embodied in Government policy ever since. I think that if all the recommendations, or most of them, were given effect to, they would still be of benefit to the television industry in Australia today.
Then I come to the committee which was nearer to me and to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) because we were both priviliged to serve on it. I refer to the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary and Government Publications. Here again the subject was not related to any of the isms. We were not in collision with party policy or the Government’s fiscal policy. We were looking at something which we all believed had a completely nonparty basis. It is far to say of that Committee and of the Government, that many of the Committee’s recommendations have been given effect and that benefits to the printing and publishing world are flowing from those recommendations. They will continue to flow as the printing and allied industries realise that the findings of this Committee arc worth while.
I believe that in the committees to which I have referred briefly the Senate chose a Wide range of subjects which enabled it to do tasks of national importance, free from party politics and free from other considerations which if introduced into select committees would ruin the possibility of this desirable evolution continuing in the Senate. I believe most sincerely that Senate committees should be set up only on subjects of national importance which do not bring into play the main planks of party platforms and which do not have a large bearing on the year to year fiscal policy of whatever government is in power.
I come now to the precise reason for the setting up of the proposed committee. I believe that in Senator Murphy the Opposition has a leader who sincerely wants to improve the role of the Senate. He wants to improve the stature of the Senate and the usefulness of senators to the people of Australia. But I do not know whether in his rashness or haste to achieve something he has given real thought to what might happen if he pursues his present choice of subjects for Senate committees. In the previous session we had a debate on the Opposition’s proposal to set up a committee to inquire into repatriation benefits. I was as equally and sincerely opposed to that committee as I am to the one we are discussing tonight. The Opposition’s move on that occasion was an effort to get a most important, part of Government policy which affects its whole financial arrangement brought before a joint party committee of the Senate. That effort failed. The subject of that proposed inquiry appealed to the emotions of the people, as does the subject which we are discussing tonight. This subject appeals to the emotions of people who suffer illness and require hospital and/ or medical attention.
If the proposed committee to inquire into medical and hospital costs is set up it will have, as the Leader of the Opposition has stated, a majority of Government senators and a minority of Opposition senators. It would not surprise me if a member of the Australian Democratic Labor Party were invited to join the committee. I would not oppose that. So we would have a committee set up for the purpose of tearing to pieces this Government’s health and medical policy. If the Opposition members on that committee did their job according to the policy on which they were elected to the Senate they would be calling witnesses and leading evidence in order to bring in a report favouring the socialisation of -medicine and the establishment of a national hospital and medical benefits scheme such as that which is in operation in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. On the other hand, the Government senators, of whom there would be a majority on the committee, would be encouraging witnesses and leading evidence to support their free enterprise policy or philosophy and the present basic system of hospital and medical benefit funds. Therefore 1 believe it would be impossible for the committee to bring in a balanced report. There would have to be a Government majority report and an Opposition minority report. This would achieve nothing, lt would be a waste of time. 1 do not believe that any Government of its own free would agree to set up a committee such as the- one which is envisaged in the motion, which would be so closely allied to the main political planks of the political parties. The Opposition members, because of their philosophy - and I do not criticise them for having a philosophy - would have to differ from the findings of the Government members on the committee. My views differ from those of Opposition senators. Surely the only report they could submit would be one advocating the gradual implementation of the policy they espouse and tried to introduce, but which was knocked on the head when this Government came into power in 1949. The Opposition believes in Socialism in this sphere of national need; the Government believes in free enterprise.
– Monopoly capitalism.
– No, not a monopoly. The Opposition is growling at us because we have too many medical benefit funds. The Government believes in a policy of free enterprise in the field of medical and hospital benefits based on a contributory system with as generous Commonwealth benefits as the Government, acting responsibly, feels that it can permit to be paid from the Treasury. A committee of the Senate inquiring into the aspects of costs and Commonwealth contribution would be able to appeal to the electors only if it recommended major changes in such things as Commonwealth participation in medical benefits, pensions and allowances or if it advocated substantial capital expenditure. If the committee did that it would show that it, like Senator Turnbull, had no idea of the Government’s responsibilities in many other fields of national endeavour which are of great importance to the electors.
There are three ways in which a substantial alteration in the Government’s policy in relation to the medical and hospital benefits scheme can be attempted. They are laid down in the Constitution and in the rules and procedures of this House. Firstly, the Opposition can propose a motion of no confidence in the Government, in doing that, the Opposition and its supporters would need to be alive to the responsibilities they were assuming. That would be one way of registering whether the Senate, as it is now composed, was opposed to the Government’s system. A second way would be a substantive motion recommending that the Government take certain action. The third way which has been available and which has been attempted at, 1 think, seven elections since 1949 is the ballot box.
When supporters of the motion before the Senate claim that the public wants a change, that the public is fed up, that it is not getting a fair deal and that the taxpayers are irate with the Government, they forget that through the ballot box the taxpayers have said: ‘Taking all. things into consideration and having regard to the calibre of the people who represent the Government’s policies, the present Government is the one we want’. According to a gallup poll published late last week more taxpayers today than ever in the history of the Liberal-Country Party Government are saying: ‘This is the Government, with its policies and acknowledgement of its responsibilities, that we want to rule our nation’.
Senator Murphy, in the concluding stages of the speech he made when proposing this motion to the Senate, said: ‘The Government has failed’. He meant to say: ‘Tha Government’s health policy has failed’. Even if he believes that, he must know in his heart that- the Government will not alter its ideology, its philosophy or its main financial interest to any great extent because of any recommendations submitted by a committee of the Senate, irrespective of whether a majority report favoured the Government.
I suppose one could say that it would take even less notice of a minority report submitted by Opposition senators.
The Leader of the Opposition has shown touchiness and excitement in his approach to this question. We had our quarrel last week and today it was obvious that this word had been passed around: “Thou shalt not speak’. There was criticism of Government senators who rose to support the motion proposed by Senator Henty. 1 believe the interjections and implied criticisms that were directed towards us were most unfair. It will be a sorry day for the Senate if an honourable senator proposes that a committee be formed for this, that or the other purpose, however laudable it may be, and those who do not like it or want to enlarge upon it or want to amend it are not given the opportunity to say their piece without being insulted and having it inferred that they are speaking only to delay discussion of another motion. The Leader of the Opposition was most unfair in adopting that attitude and Opposition senators were weak to bow to the silencing command: ‘Thou shalt not speak to this motion’.
The taxpayers of Australia want to know whether honourable senators know what they are talking about and whether they have a case to submit. 1 have not done any research on the financial aspect of Senate select committees but J suppose it is safe to say that any select committee dealing with a major question would cost overall from $10,000 to $15,000. I believe that the money has been well spent on the corn.mittees to which I have referred and that the people are satisfied, but they still require the Parliament to say why it wants a committee, how it thinks the committee should go about its work, what it is likely to achieve and what benefits will flow to the community.
Any criticism of Government senators for allegedly wasting time on the previous motion was uncalled for. It shows Senator Murphy’s immaturity or lack of desire to understand the responsibility of the Senate to the people it represents. The only thing that Opposition senators have advanced in favour of setting up this proposed committee is harsh unsupported criticism of practically every aspect of the Government’s policy relating to the health of the nation - in other words, relating to one of the Government’s major responsibilities to the nation - and of policies which, as I have said, have met with the people’s approval for 18 or 19 years.
I have said elsewhere that I will always be willing to listen to Opposition suggestions relating to select committees of the Senate. I have never believe that all the brains of the Government parties are in the Cabinet or in the second twelve. I have never believed that all the brains in the Senate are on this side of the chamber. There is plenty of ability on the Opposition side in certain honourable senators who have their ears to the ground and who know how the conditions of the people can be improved. There is sufficient latent ability in honourable senators of the Opposition to enable them to come forward with a suggestion for a committee of the Senate which will not bring both ideologies or philosophies into head-on collision but which, like the Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures, the Committee on the Container Method of Handling Cargoes and the others I have mentioned, will bring together the brains, ability and sincerity of those willing to serve on the committee and to work for the welfare of the people instead of trying to weaken the stature of the Government by using the present possible majority purely and simply for the sake of party politics. This is my sincere believe. I believe that nothing but harm will be done to the stature of the Senate and, that no help will come to the Senate let alone to the country if the Senate proceeds to set up the committee that is the subject of the motion.
– There can be no doubt that the defeat of the motion for the adjournment of die Senate caused a rise in blood pressure in certain quarters. For my own part, I make no apology for voting on this occasion against the motion for the adjournment. Normally I am a consistent observer of the sessional orders and, as I stated last week, of the right of the Government to dictate and order the business of the day. but it was evident to me that the Government was engaged in a deliberate attempt to frustrate the Opposition On this particular matter which was on the business sheet of the Senate last year. On each occasion when it was brought before the Senate and adjourned it went to the bottom of the list. If I could have been assured that the resumption of the debate would be guaranteed for the next night on which we considered General Business, I would have voted for the adjournment, but when I learned that if the Senate adjourned tonight at 10.30 p.m. in accordance with sessional orders this matter would again go to the bottom of the list, 1 judged this to be a deliberate attempt to frustrate a vote on this important question. That explains why my colleague and I voted against the motion for the adjournment of the Senate.
Earlier, Senator Bull referred to the great number of motions for select committees. 1 might agree that there is a ridiculously large number of such motions :>n the business sheet but I do not think there is any reason for Senator Bull and me to be alarmed about it, because if it takes as long to get to them as it has taken to deal with this one he and I and many more will not be here. We will have passed on because this motion to deal with health matters has been on the stocks for 12 months and we have not been able to get the Senate to express by vote its opinions on these proposals.
This is a very important matter which deals with the medical and hospital services of the community. I was delighted as 1 listened to the Governor-General’s Speech to learn that the Government intended to set up an inquiry into this phase of community life. I immediately arrived at a decision that in that event and provided the terms of reference were wide enough there would scarcely be any need for Senator Murphy’s motion. I am sure that most senators would agree that it would be very difficult to justify duplication of investigation of any particular matter.
However, 1 was gravely disappointed when I learned from a release from the office of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) to the Press gallery that the inquiry would be concerned only with investigating the overall operating activities of the health insurance funds in relation to payment of health benefits, and that factors which would naturally come under scrutiny would be the contribution rates, management expenses and the general administration of the funds, the number of benefit, tables and the number of funds. If that is the limit of the Government’s independent inquiry, it does not satisfy my needs or my understanding of what an investigation should undertake in the field of hospital and medical services. The proposed Government inquiry is concerned only with the funds and contributions. We should be concerned about more than that. We should be concerned firstly with accommodation. We should then be concerned with the standard of medical nursing services, the housing of nursing staff, the standard of wages and salaries of nurses, and many other aspects. If we are to be concerned only with contributory schemes and benefits, 1 am at a loss to understand why the Government led by Sir Robert Menzies, who was a great advocate of national insurance and who, indeed, walked out of a cabinet because the Prime Minister of the day refused to fulfil a promise in connection with national insurance, did nothing in 16 or 17 years of prime ministership to give effect to his ideas on national insurance. If the Government had been strong enough, courageous enough and wise enough, national insurance would have been an accomplished fact years ago and we would not have the position that we have today.
I agree entirely with the sentiment expressed by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin tonight when she said that it was desired that we should educate people to be responsible and provident enough to provide for the days of sickness and the need for hospitalisation by contributing to an insurance scheme. For years such a service was provided by friendly societies to which people, particularly married contributors with dependent wives and families, contributed on the principle of mutual aid and mutual help. Those who were blessed with good health carried, as it were, those who were not so blessed. One could not get a finer spirit permeating any scheme or any organisation than the spirit of mutual aid and mutual help.
But do not overlook the fact that even in those days some people could not afford a contribution of ls lid a week or some sum such as that, according to their age of entry into the organisation. Today there are people in our community who could not accept the responsibility of paying and contributing to hospital and medical benefits schemes. J refer particularly to that section of the community that is receiving the minimum wage and that has many mouths to feed. They are worse off than if they were living from hand to mouth. They are in debt and they find it difficult to live. Because they find it difficult to live they find it more difficult to be sick. We do not know how many people there are walking about the streets of our cities, towns and country centres who are really sick and who are due for medical attention, hospitalisation and surgery in many cases. But they dare not entertain the idea of being sick because their income would cease and they could not face the expense of going into hospital and having medical attention. Some say: ‘Why can’t they go into a public hospital?’ Even in public hospitals in most States today patients are required to pay something in the vicinity of $40 to $50 a week.
– More than that.
– More than that, Senator Turnbull says. As a doctor, the honourable senator would have a better knowledge than I have. Thank God, in the State that. I was Premier of, the poor can go into public hospitals, get every attention that they need and come out without owing one cent to the hospital board or anybody else. Against the pressure of the then Minister for Health, the late Sir Earle Page, and others, and threats made of .discrimination against Queensland, the Queensland Government fought for the retention of our right to give the people of Queensland free hospitalisation in public hospitals. That has been continued by successive governments.
– Did the LiberalCountry Party try to alter the situation in Queensland?
– No, not substantially. It is much the same.
– It is an important political question in Queensland.
– Indeed it is. That is the position. Yet we are told tonight by some speakers that it is a non-important question. It is an all important question. How frequently do we read in the newspapers of the deplorable state of hospitals in New South Wales and Victoria? Particularly in New South Wales, when the annual reports come out, the Press talks of the lack of. accommodation and the deplorable state of finances. Surely that should be the subject of investigation. This cannot be allowed to continue. This is a field in which the Federal Government has some power, influence and authority. T believe that there is sufficient justification and room for some competent body to inquire into this very important question.
We read frequently of the inadequacy of accommodation in hospitals throughout Australia. Again I say, with some measure of pride, that whilst patients were being refused admission to hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne not one patient in Queensland was ever turned away from a hospital. It is true that some of the wards may have been overcrowded periodically, but patients were never rejected or turned away. It they were sick they were brought in, succoured, tended to and everything possible was done to restore them to good health. That is an obligation. That is a responsibility of the people. People who can pay for the service pay - and pay very heavily today - in our private hospitals. They manage. They can get by. They can contribute to medical benefits schemes. But do not overlook the fact that there is a big section of our community that has not reached the stage of being independent to the extent of meeting anything outside their daily requirements for themselves and their families. This is undisputably true, as much as we might want to be like the ostrich and stick our heads in the sand and not see the obvious. It is all very easy to be self-complacent and self-satisfied when the sun is shining brighly for us.
Let us think sometimes df those who are not so well off and those who are making a good, conscientious effort to make ends meet. I am not talking of or pleading for the improvident or the person who will not work or help himself. But with my long political experience and the knowledge gained through having interviewed thousands of people who have passed through my office from time to time, I know something of the great struggle that goes on, particularly with the big family. I know the needs, the trials, and the difficulties facing the man who has no special training, the unskilled worker who receives a minimum wage and who has a cottage in which he rears a big family. Often workers have come to me, said that they have been unfortunate enough to suffer a bereavement in the family and asked me to guarantee the undertaker’s account to avoid having the member of the family buried as a pauper. They were good people. They were not people who sponged on others. This has happened since the days of the depression. Of course, it happened frequently in those days. We must have regard to the standard of hospitalisation. It is one thing to provide a facility; it is another to ensure that our standards are maintained, that the administration of hospitals is improved, that they are run economically and that there is no undue waste of professional services or even of general services in hospital administration.
So I regard this motion as a very important one. 1 repeat that I regret deeply that the Government, when it gave consideration to the matter of health in drawing up the Governor-General’s Speech, did not take a wider view than it did and did not say: While we are about this we will have a look at these other- aspects of the matter’. To confine the inquiry to the mere funds is not sufficient. It would have been much better if the inquiry could have been carried out by the Government, provided it carried it out on a wider basis than it intended.
– The Government intends-
– Something on the other side of the chamber is mumbling. I do not know what it is. lt is really too insignificant for me to recognise.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Order!
– If someone wants to interject while I am speaking I do not mind; but someone lying back in a lazy posture and mumbling something that is unintelligible is exasperating and annoying. Someone suggests that the honourable senator is talking in his sleep. He is lucky to be asleep in the circumstances, with me on my feet.
This motion, for which Senator Murphy is responsible, if given effect to by the setting up of a select committee, could prove invaluable. It could have the effect at least of ascertaining just what is the real state of hospitalisation and medical services in each and every State of the Commonwealth.
If it did that we would know where the weaknesses were and the Commonwealth Government could come to the aid of the States with advice and loan money, with assistance to provide additional or adequate accommodation, with suggestions about the services available to the Commonwealth and with suggestions of ways and means of improving their public hospitals. After all, the public hospitals are our major concern. The private hospitals are able to look after themselves. I hope that the Senate will carry this motion. The matter has been going on for a long time. I do not think that the Government has any cause for the great alarm and fear which it has been displaying in connection with this matter. I do not think that it has any cause at all for alarm.
I agree with Senator Bull in that I do not. think that we should destroy the good effect of Senate select committees by rushing in and appointing too many committees and expecting senators to occupy positions on these committees when it may be beyond their means to serve successfully and with advantage to the committees. I think we should show commonsense and appoint committees in moderation. When I say that, I. am not reflecting on the subject matter of some of these motions, as they are quite good. The motion for the establishment of a select committee on water pollution is very good. The proposed establishment of a Senate select committee on national disasters is very important also, as floods, cyclones and fire are things that we unfortunately come up against from time to time. But let us be realistic and understand that we cannot deal with all of these matters at the one time. Let us begin with the most urgent and important ones and deal with them in a comprehensive and efficient manner. I believe that in this way we will, succeed in doing a service for Australia and its people.
– I. want to speak only briefly on this matter. A number of things have been said which quite obviously need to be examined and in” some instances corrected. I want to say in passing that I am sorry that the Senate chose to negate the motion for the adjournment at 10.30 p.m. It is significant that Senator Murphy started to speak on his motion at 9.22 p.m. If my mathematics are reasonably accurate, that left about 68 minutes between the time he commenced to speak and when the motion was put for the adjournment. Of that 68 minutes, Senator Murphy and Senator Dittmer of the Opposition spoke for 39 minutes, and 29 minutes were used by Government senators. There can be no suggestion that there was any attempt by Government senators to hold the speaking time on Senator Murphy’s motion. As Senator Gair said, it is true that in the normal course of events a motion which was not dealt with would then go to the bottom of the notice paper.
– It should be remembered a standing order is involved.
– I think this is a standing order that needs to be looked at. But 1 want to link that comment with some other points that Senator Gair made which are relevant to this motion. I do not want it to be thought that this motion for a Senate select committee is not an important issue, because it is. 1 do not think that anybody has said that it is unimportant. There may have been some misunderstanding of the terms of the motion somewhere along the line. Before turning to the points that Senator Gair made, I must say that I was disappointed that Senator Cavanagh, who is a great one for preserving the rights of senators, should back away from his previous determination to speak on the adjournment. Senator Cavanagh’s objection that Government supporters spoke less than Opposition senators seems to me to be based on rather odd reasoning. However, every senator is entitled to make his own judgment on the matter.
I want now to come to the substance of the argument raised by Senator Gair who said that when the proposal for an investigation appeared in the Governor-General’s Speech he thought that we would have a situation which would avoid the necessity to have a select committee. He thought that it would be illogical for a senate select committee to be traversing the ground when, according to the Governor-General’s Speech, a committee would be set up by the Government to investigate these matters. He said that it seemed to him to be an unnecessary duplication. If I am not reasonably interpreting Senator Gair’s remarks I am sure that he will correct me. He went on then to say that he could not accept the Government’s proposal for an inquiry because he felt that its terms of reference would not be wide enough to meet his requirements or would not be as wide as those in the motion proposed by Senator Murphy. I suggest to the honourable senator that the only person who could announce the terms of reference would be the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) or the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes).
The Minister for Health has indicated that very shortly he will be announcing the terms of reference of this investigation which was foreshadowed in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. Consequently I believe that it would be quite wrong for Senator Gair to make a judgment on the GovernorGeneral’s Speech or the terms of reference until he knows what they are. I believe also that it would be quite wrong for the Senate to support Senator Murphy’s motion until it is completely satisfied that the terms of reference which will be announced by the Government will or will not meet his requirements. For that reason I suggest that if Senator Gair has any fear that Senator Murphy’s motion will now be put at the foot of the notice paper and that, notwithstanding the terms of reference announced by the Government, that motion still cannot be brought on, he should bear in mind that Senator Murphy has on the notice paper a contingent notice which was given last week and which would enable him, with the support of the Senate, to bring the matter on. But apart from that I can give a personal assurance as Leader of the Government in the Senate that although the motion may go right to the bottom of the notice paper, I would be quite prepared to bring the matter on again as soon as all honourable senators had had an opportunity to consider the Government’s terms of reference.
– Who will be the personnel to conduct the investigation?
– They are yet to be announced. This question is very pertinent. I am glad that the honourable senator interjected because he has raised this very pertinent point: Who will conduct the investigation and what will be the terms of reference? If honourable senators have any fear that by not voting on this motion tonight they will be denied an opportunity to vote on it until we have waded through debates on thirteen other proposals for select committees, I can give them a categorical assurance that this will not happen. 1 suggest to the Senate, and to Senator Gair in particular because he raised this point, that it would be unwise for any honourable senator to make a judgment before the terms of reference have been announced by the Minister for Health and have been considered by the Senate.
– The Minister does not place much value on the Press release?
– I believe that the Press release, which was worded in general terms, stated that the full terms of reference of the inquiry would be announced soon. Perhaps I should remind honourable senators that Senator Murphy’s motion also is in general terms. Indeed, the GovernorGeneral’s Speech refers to the matter in broad terms.
I appeal to Senator Murphy and members of his Party, to Senator Gair and the member of his Party and to the debonair Independent senator not to do themselves an injustice by voting for Senator Murphy’s motion until they have had an opportunity to look at the terms of reference and the personnel involved in the Government’s proposal. If they fear that by adopting this course they will be depriving the Senate of the right to debate this matter again I assure them that I, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, would seek myself to bring the matter before the Senate on the first available Tuesday night so that an intelligent vote might be taken, having regard on the one hand to Senator Murphy’s motion and, on the other hand, to the Government’s proposal, including the terms of reference of the inquiry and the personnel involved.
When Senator Dittmer was speaking I interjected, seeking to know the precise terms of reference of Senator Murphy’s proposed inquiry. If we look at the honourable senator’s motion we find that the terms of reference of the inquiry are not clear. Perhaps Senator Gair or Senator Murphy would like to move that this debate be adjourned on the undertaking that I have given. This would be a more logical course to adopt than to vote blindly tonight. If we wait 3 weeks we will know what we are voting for and we will know what sort of inquiry is to be held.
– For many years I have advocated the holding of an inquiry into hospital and medical benefits. Let me reply to some of the matters dealt with by Senator Anderson. He obviously held out a carrot, but with faint hope of having it accepted. If what he said is true, why were these facts not given to the Senate earlier? When the motion for the adjournment of the Senate was about to be put why did Senator Anderson not give an assurance of the kind he has just given? He waited to see what the numbers would bc.
– On the contrary; it was only after the motion for the adjournment that Senator Gair made his point.
– Senator Anderson could have said that the debate will be continued later or that an opportunity to continue the debate will be given later, but no such assurance was given. We are glad to hear that in future Senator Anderson will give General Business priority once we start discussing it; that he will see that the debate is continued. If he is prepared to adopt that course in respect of the matter now being debated I presume that he will adopt it in respect of every other item of business.
– 1 did not say that.
– Why not? This is an important point. The honourable senator is offering a carrot. He wants to delay taking a vote on this motion, hoping to persuade certain honourable senators to change their minds. He has now admitted that he would not make it a general rule lo resume the debate on a matter of General Business. If resumption of the debate is good in respect of one matter it is good in respect of others. It has been suggested that we might wait for 3 weeks before voting on this motion. 1 do not know why the Government thinks we should wait for 3 weeks to enable it to announce terms of reference for its inquiry. Anybody who has had anything to do with governments knows that the Governor-General’s Speech is written by Ministers and sent to the Prime Minister who submits it to the Governor-General for reading. In other words, weeks prior to the announcement the Minister for Health must have advised the Government that he would seek an inquiry. We all know why he said that he would seek an inquiry. It is because the Opposition had on the notice paper a motion for the appointment of a select committee. The Government wanted to forestall the Opposition.
But forget that. It is weeks since the Government’s proposal was thought of, because the Prime Minister writes to Ministers and says: ‘Please let me have items for the Governor-General’s Speech. The submission for an inquiry into the hospital and medical benefits funds came from the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). Three weeks have elapsed since the Governor-General’s Speech was made and we still do not know what the terms of inquiry are to be, nor do we know by whom the inquiry is to be conducted. We know that the Government has a lot at stake in this matter. I very strongly suspect any governmental inquiry into the conduct of the Government. That is what is proposed.
In my opinion and in the opinion of many medical practitioners the basic fault of the national health scheme is the size of the Government’s contribution. Since the Government instituted the scheme and gave, as it were, a basic deal it has only once raised its contribution, and that was by 30%, whereas the average earnings of Australians have risen by up to 80% in the same period. The salaries of members of Parliament have been increased by over 100%. Vet some honourable senators are prepared to argue about an increase in doctors’ fees. The medical profession is anxious to have conducted an inquiry such as is proposed by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy). Members of the medical profession know that there is justification for an increase in their fees and they would like the facts to be published. The Commonwealth Government does not want doctors’ fees to be increased because it does not want to increase its contribution to members of medical benefits funds. The main issue is that the Commonwealth contribution to members of hospital and medical benefits funds has not been increased proportionately to increases in wages and costs.
– The honourable senator is concerned only with an increase in doctors’ fees.
– Not at all. I am not worried about increasing fees. The fees charged by the firm to which I belong are higher than those charged by other doctors but people still come to us. I a>m not worried one iota about fees. We maintain that we have every right to raise our fees, just as that right is held by lawyers. We have more right to raise our fees than members of Parliament have to raise their salaries.
– What about the workers?
– 1 did not mention the workers. I agree that an inquiry should be conducted into medical fees. The medical profession is happy to have one. However, the main issue is the basic contribution made by the Commonwealth to members of hospital and medical benefits funds. That is why Government supporters are too scared to move for an open inquiry. They want a governmental inquiry so that the facts can be glossed over.
Certain medical and hospital benefits funds could increase many of their benefits but they are told by the Commonwealth Department of Health that they are not allowed to do so. Would any honourable senators on the Government side care to deny that that is so? Of course not. They cannot because they know darned well that if some of the free enterprise societies had a chance they would increase their benefits. They are not allowed to do so because the Government is supporting inefficiency. Some of the smaller funds cannot afford to increase their benefits so the Government is supporting them. I do not hear any interjection to deny the truth of what I am saying. It is the responsibility of the Government that it refuses to allow some hospital and medical benefits funds to increase their payments to their members. Government supporters should be ashamed of that. It is obvious from their silence that they are ashamed.
About half of the honourable senators on the Government side do not know what they are talking about when they discuss hospital and medical matters. They just get up and talk. Not one of them can answer what I have said. The main issue is that the Commonwealth Government has- not increased its basic contribution- proportionately to the cost of living or to any other cost. That is why an inquiry- is needed. We do nol want a governmental inquiry. We need a Senate select committee to get the facts from everyone concerned, and not to gloss over the faults of the Government as honourable senators opposite want.
Another very important factor is that the number of pensioners in this country is increasing. That affects the Government and the medical profession. Honourable senators opposite deride the Opposition for believing that the means test should be abolished. I share the view of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). This raises the question of how many pensioners get free medical attention. The idea has been advanced by some people that pensioners should be insured. 1 do not know whether that is a good idea, but it should be examined. A select committee could determine whether such a scheme is feasible. In Tasmania we lost out at the time when Senator Gair, who was then Premier of Queensland, won his fight against the Commonwealth in establishing free hospitals. We lost out in Tasmania because the Cabinet, with inferioritymindedness, would not allow private and intermediate beds in public hospitals. We had a plan whereby we could have had free hospital beds by doing this in defiance of the Page scheme. Unfortunately, we in Tasmania did not have the courage of the Queensland Government and we did nol do so. I have always regretted that we have been unable to have the free hospital bed system.
It is no use saying that 78% of the Australian people are insured. Honourable senators forget to add that most of that 78% have the minimum insurance and nowadays are getting very little back from the hospital and medical benefit funds. The Senate should not forget also that hospital and medical benefit funds are a matter of interest to the Australian people. The Government derided the VIP aircraft issue and said that it had nothing to do with the people. It did have a lot to do with the people. There was not one Australian who was not interested in the use of VIP aircraft. Let me assure the Senate that there is not one Australian who is not interested in hospital and medical benefits because they effect all the people of Australia. All Australians are interested in this matter and would like to see this inquiry held. The Government tried to do a political rabbitoutofthehat trick by inserting in the Governor-General’s Speech the statement that it proposed having an inquiry when it knew that this motion was to be moved. This shows how much the Government was worried about this matter and it wanted the proposal slanted its way. 1 do noi want to say much more. I know that one honourable senator is tired and should be in bed.
– The honourable senator has gone by this time.
– He has already gone, Mr President. One of the things that has to be sorted out by this Committee is the inter-relation of medical costs. This is a three-fold matter affecting the hospital and medical benefit funds, the doctors and the Commonwealth. It is no use each group blaming another. The only people who suffer are the patients. I maintain that this inquiry can help solve this problem. The Commonwealth has said to the doctors that they cannot increase their fees but the parliamentarians raised their own salaries. The doctors, of course, demand increases from the Commonwealth and also from the benefit funds. The benefit funds say that they cannot do anything because they do not have enough money. Yet they have $50m in reserves. Every time one mentions the reserves they say: ‘But what if we get an epidemic?’ We have been waiting 15 years for an epidemic but if one does occur what is going to happen? The Commonwealth will pay up. The Commonwealth will pay up for drought relief. Is it not going to pay up for human relief? What nonsense it is.
– The honourable senator is proposing that the reserves be used to increase doctors’ fees.
– That is not what I am saying. Do not be so damn stupid.
– If ever a man needed KH3 there goes one.
– Order! The honourable senator will withdraw the remark- that was offensive. I refer to the words ‘damn stupid’.
– I will withdraw the remark but I did not hear the honourable senator say that he objected to it.
– r objected to lt.
– I am sorry, Mr President. J withdraw the remark.
– 1 never take anything said by the honourable senator as offensive. What he says is of no consequence to me at any time.
– lt is to me.
– I am glad that you, Mr President, are worried about the honourable senator’s stupidity although he is noi. I do not care what Tasmanians say because I am elected to this place on my merits, not because I am put first or second on the ballot paper by a political party.
– The honourable senator gets in on our preferences.
– I thank the honourable senator. I do not mind how 1 gol in. 1 got in. I am supporting this motion. 1 do not believe for one moment that we will get any further by adjourning the debate. We have been told that this matter can be postponed for 3 weeks. It could easily be postponed for 3 months. I know myself that if you try to get any information from the Minister for Supply (Senator Anderson) it could be at least 2 months before you get a reply.
– I once gave the honourable senator a reply on the same day that he asked his question.
– I know. That was magnificent, lt should be chalked up. The point is that this motion has been on the notice paper for over a year. The Government knew that it was going to be brought up. lt could have set out its terms of inquiry and had everything ready, lt could have decided who was to be appointed to the board of inquiry in order to get this matter clarified. But the Government did nothing about this. The Government will have noone to blame but itself if the motion is carried. I hope that we will carry it tonight and put an end to the matter because I believe that although Senator Anderson said he would bring the matter on for discussion again he only did so by way of offering us a sort of carrot.
– I intervene at this stage because I think we are drifting into a state of uncertainty and irresponsibility. We heard about the Biblical Ruth last week; we are being much more ruthless this week. I should think that an argument from a senator near midnight for increased medical fees through the appointment of the proposed select committee would not be very availing. We commenced this debate at about 22 minutes past 9 tonight. I have entertained a fairly reasonable outlook towards objective matters in this chamber and I am a little at a loss to understand why the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) should display such impetuosity to have the debate in his motion concluded-
– Twelve months after we gave notice of it.
– Lel us divorce ourselves from what happened to a motion in the last session. We heard the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) say categorically that if this debate does not conclude tonight or tomorrow morning it will be listed as the first item of General Business to be discussed on the next Tuesday that the Senate sits.
– In a month’s time.
– If that is when the Senate is going to sit again, what is wrong with that? Honourable senators have been given the assurance that in the meantime the Government will formulate terms of reference and announce the constitution of its committee of inquiry so that the question can then be voted upon, not necessarily in our favour, but responsibly.
Unless I have an indication that at this stage a motion for the adjournment of the debate will be supported, the only alternative is that honourable senators on this side of the chamber will feel themselves under a duty to put forward viewpoints that will carry the debate on. So far as my constitution and virility are concerned, that is quite all right with me, but I do remind the Senate that over the last 6 or 7 years we have foregone the miserable practice of having past midnight or all night sittings. Is it suggested now that, because there is some indication that the Opposition will have the support of a majority of the Sentae for this motion, we should put it to the vote immediately without both sides having been heard? Let me say quite frankly now what was in my mind when Senator Murphy concluded his speech.
I was quite unimpressed by the general nature of the speech. The Government having already indicated that it is concerned about the need for an inquiry I would have thought that we would have heard from Senator Murphy a fairly strong case supported by facts, figures and experiences, not of an individual but of a general nature. In the absence of such a case tonight, is it right that the debate should be brought to a close now merely because it would appear that the Opposition has the support of the majority of the Senate at the moment. 1 suggest that such a course would be quite out of keeping with the attitude that we have taken over the last 6 or 7 years and that, in all reason, this debate ought to proceed on the next night set down for General Business. Mr President, to test the position I move:
Question resolved in the negative.
– Much has been said tonight about reasonableness of conduct. But Senator Wright suggested only a few moments ago that honourable senators on the Government side may be prepared to speak and to keep the debate going. That was not in keeping with the way in which this chamber should be conducted. It was quite obvious from the names that were taken down that this was the Government’s intention. I rose to close the debate but 1 gave way to Senator Turnbull, who intimated that he wanted to speak, lt was quite obvious at that stage that everyone who had wanted to speak’ had already spoken. It was only when the Leader of the Government in the Senate went across to Senator Wright that he rose to speak. He was entitled to do so but, if he wanted to conform with the dignity of the chamber, he was not entitled to suggest that other honourable senators would get up and apparently waste the time of the Senate by speaking when they had not intended to speak. We have had the feeling throughout this debate that this matter was being delayed. Notice of the motion was given for the first time on 9th March of last year. Perhaps we are fortunate that we are getting to the point where a vote can be taken at this late hour. It is most unfortunate that the Senate has had to sit later than the usual lime of adjournment, but it seems that this is the only way to bring the matter to a conclusion.
The only real defence that seems to be put by the Government is the reference made to this subject in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. I would like, for the information of honourable senators, to refer once again to the passage in the Speech. The Government’s proposed inquiry was extremely limited. It said that it would review hospital and medical benefit schemes operating under the Act. The passage in the Speech reads: lt is proposed to arrange for an independent inquiry to he held into the operations of the hospital and medical insurance funds which provide benefits under the scheme.
That inquiry is extremely limited. It is an inquiry into the operations of the funds. The statement issued on behalf of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) makes clear that this is the Government’s intention. Apparently we are not to take notice now of statements issued ito the Press by the Minister for Health. This statement was issued on the same day as the GovernorGeneral’s Speech was delivered and it dealt with this very subject matter. As Senator Gair said, the inquiry was to be extremely limited. The statement read:
The inquiry will be concerned with investigating the overall operating activities of the health insurance funds in relation to the payment of health benefits.
Obviously the costs of medical and hospital care extend far beyond the operation of the funds.
I do not want to go over again the mutters which were dealt with previously. If Senator Wright had been listening he would have heard me refer to what has been said by hospital benefit fund representatives, professors of hospital administration and other persons throughout the community who have been concerned with this matter. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Press of this country - indeed the whole country - are calling out for an inquiry into this acute social problem. The organisations are not satisfied that we are getting the best deal that we should be getting. Ultimately the cost falls back onto the ordinary member of the community. Let us assume that the taxpayer himself pays roughly one-third of the hospital or medical costs. What the Government pays the taxpayer meets by way of taxation. What the funds pay, of course, the taxpayer meets by contributing to the funds. Ultimately the ordinary member of the community is paying for all these costs and he is not satisfied that this is the best way it should be done. This matter extends beyond the operation of the funds and their efficiency or inefficiency. It affects the conduct of the hospitals - whether they are organised on the most efficient basis. It deals with the question as to whether arrangements for medical fees are reasonable and proper.
As I have stated, in August last Senator Turnbull indicated that the Australian Medical Association was not worried about this motion and that in any event most doctors would welcome such an inquiry. So from every point of view it would be a valuable social inquiry. Honourable senators on the Government side should have no fears about this proposition. We have indicated that we think the Government should have an effective control of such a committee by having a majority of members on the committee. As was suggested, if on the committee there was a majority of Government members as against Opposition members, with perhaps one other senator from the cross benches, the chairman, who would be a Government senator, would have a casting vote. So even if an additional senator from the cross benches were appointed to the committee, the Government should have no fears that the matter was being taken out of its hands. It ought to welcome such a committee. The proposal has been a long time coming to fruition. It is now a few minutes after midnight, so I invite the Senate to vote favourably on the proposal.In doing so I am sure that we will initiate something which, notwithstanding that it emanates from the Opposi tion, will be valuable in the history of the Senate and of great benefit to the Australian people.
That the motion (Senator Murphy’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.9 a.m. (Wednesday)
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 April 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1968/19680402_senate_26_s37/>.