20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that the management of a certain colliery in my electorate has applied to the Coal Industry Tribunal to stand down certain members of the miners’ federation because of the shortage of rail trucks? Will the Minister “liaise” with the Joint Coal Board to ensure that the New South Wales Government Railways will be in a position to supply sufficient trucks to prevent the standing down of these men?
– I shall investigate the facts. No such information has’ come to my notice. I do not know whether I can “ liaise. “ with the Joint Coal Board. That is a new one to me; but I shall certainly communicate with the board to see what action can be taken.
– Can the Treasurer inform me of the amount of finance made available by the Commonwealth Bank to the Joint Coal Board in connexion with the costs associated with the stockpiling of coal in New South Wales ? If he has not that information . at hand, will he obtain it and let me have it as soon as possible ?
– Obviously I have not, at hand, accurate and uptodate information on the matter, but I shall obtain it and supply the honorable member with it.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, I address a question to the Treasurer. In view of the fact that the Government has recently instituted a policy of disemployment in order to enable basic industries to secure additional employees, will the Government take action to prevent dismissals from the coal-mining industry?
– As the honorable member’s question is based upon wrong premises, there is no need for me to reply to it.
– Am I to understand from the Treasurer’s answer to my last question that he considered the question was founded upon wrong premises, “ because there is no likelihood of dismissals from the coal-mining industry, or that the statements that have been made by the Government continually that it is seeking to cause disemployment in nonessential industries so that the employees, of those industries would go into basie industries, such as coal-mining, were so much political eye-wash?
– The statements were not political eye-wash, as results have proved. There is.no intention by the Government to encourage unemployment in any sector of the Australian economy.
– Some weeks ago, I asked in this House whether the Government intended to try to find overseas markets for Australian coal, because of the likelihood of men being cavilled out of mines that are producing steam coal, not gas coal. I now ask the Treasurer, in the absence pf the Prime Minister, whether further information on this subject has been obtained, because over 400 miners are now out of employment in the Hunter electorate.
– I am sorry that I have no information on this subject at the moment. I shall inquire into the matter in the hope of being able to provide the information expeditiously.
– I direct to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question that arises from the fact that during his absence abroad the Minister for Defence, who acted in his stead, gave an assurance to a deputation of honorable members from this side of the House that he would have the question of making legislative provision for appeals against the decisions of magistrates in respect of applications for exemption from national military service, placed before the Government for consideration. Is the Minister yet in a position to announce the decision of the Government in respect of the matter and, if not, when does he expect to be able to do so?
– I have not yet had an opportunity to discuss this matter with the Minister for Defence, who acted on my behalf during my absence abroad. I know something of the background of the matter because a good deal of correspondence has passed between me and interested people who have written to the Government from time to time in connexion with it. I shall, however, discuss the latest position with my colleague. If he gave an assurance that the matter would be brought before Cabinet I shall ensure that that shall be done at the first opportunity.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House why appropriate action to deal with alleged gravely irregular and illegal practices of certain companies in evading taxes on the widest scale to which he referred last night in this chamber has been so long delayed ? Will he also inform honorable members of the specific cases that have come to his notice? I consider that this should be done in the interests of companies that have observed the law.
– Obviously neither I nor the Commissioner of Taxation can disclose the private affairs of taxpayers. The commissioner is sworn to secrecy on such matters. Therefore, the information that the honorable member seeks is not publicly available.
– It will be available through the courts ?
– The processes of the law will be pursued.
– How long has the Treasurer known about this matter, and why did he not take action earlier?
– Order ! The Minister will ignore the interjection. All interjections are disorderly.
– I assure the House and the country that the most expeditious action has been taken. Months and months of investigation by investigation officers of the department was essential in order to set down the basis of action that will be followed by the Government.
– If the Treasurer cannot supply the names of the companies concerned in the attempted tax evasions that he mentioned recently in a statement to the House, would he be prepared to say whether the interests concerned have been bound up with newspaper interests, whose attacks on him have been a feature of the daily press recently.
– I am not prepared to answer the question.
– By way of explanation of a question that I address to the Minister for Territories, I state that under the ordinance of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea that deals with compensation for workers in respect of injuries suffered in the course of their employment, it is provided that in the event of such a worker being an Asiatic only twothirds of the amount specified shall be paid. Will the Minister state the reason for that discrimination?
– I am unfamiliar with the details of the ordinance to which the honorable member has referred. It is an ordinance which, I think, existed during the time of the honorable member’s administration of the Department of External Territories.
– I direct to the Treasurer a question relative to the intention of the Government to guarantee a Commonwealth Bank loan to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. In view of the fact that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited is a proprietary company and, therefore, is not obliged to publish its ‘balance-sheet, but would be obliged to publish it if it went on to the market for a public loan, I ask the Treasurer whether the fact that the taxpayers will have to guarantee the Commonwealth Bank loan to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited will oblige the company to publish its balance-sheet ?
– I shall examine that point and supply the honorable member with an answer.
– When the Treasurer is considering the request of the honorable member for Fremantle, will he also take into consideration the desirability of making public a list of shareholders of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited showing the value of the shares held by each shareholder ?
– I shall ascertain whether that is possible, having regard to the necessity to preserve decency in dealing with private affairs.
– Is it a fact that a list of shareholders in any company may be obtained on the payment of ls. to the Registrar-General in New South Wales? If so, will the Treasurer advance to the honorable member for Melbourne the sum of ls. in order to enable him to obtain for himself the information for which he has asked ?
– I understand that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited is a company which is registered in Victoria.
-l. - A private company.
– That is so. I do not know whether a law such as that to which the honorable member for Gwydir has referred is in operation in Victoria. I shall look into the matter.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service inform me whether his department proposes to establish a Commonwealth Employment Service office in the Watson electorate, and, if so, when? In some instances, unemployed persons in my electorate have to travel distances of up to 8 miles in order to register at a Commonwealth Employment Service office.
– I shall take up with the head of my department the subject of the facilities provided in the metropolitan area of Sydney for the purposes mentioned by the honorable member. If it be found that they are inadequate in the honorable gentleman’s electorate, I shall see what can be done to remedy the position.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Members of this House have been endeavouring to obtain current information from the Minister’s department in relation to the number of persons who are registered for employment in various localities. Will the Minister arrange to have up-to-date unemployment figures supplied to honorable members for the particular electorates that they represent ? Can figures be supplied which are not more than a week old instead of when they are a month old?
– I am not sure of the point that the honorable member has in mind when he speaks of figures being a month old. Obviously, figures that are collected for purposes of record are not collected every day. There must be some fixed period to which they relate, and I can imagine that there would be administrative difficulties in the way of collecting these statistics and presenting them publicly more frequently than is done at present. I assured the House some time ago that my department would try to keep the Parliament and the country fully informed of movements in the employment field, and, to the best of my knowledge, that was done during my absence abroad and it is still being done. Whether it would be practicable to dissect employment figures on an electorate basis is a matter that I should have to examine, because the offices of the Commonwealth Employment Service are not distributed on an electorate basis, and the figures that they collect in the areas in which they operate may not be definable in terms of electorates. However, I shall explore the possibility of doing as the honorable member has suggested.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether it is a fact that men who lose their employment are denied payment of the unemployment benefit if their wives are earning £1 or more a week. Will the Minister recommend to the Government, and give his personal support to, a proposal to make the unemployment allowance payable in all cases in which the combined incomes of a husband and wife, including the unemployment benefit, would not exceed the basic wage?
– The answer to the last question is “ No “. In answer to the first question, I point out that the conditions under which we work are precisely the same as those under which the Labour Government worked for eight years, with the exception that we have doubled the benefit.
– I ask the Treasurer whether, subsequent to the Government’s disposal of its interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, contributors to the Commonwealth Oil Re- fineries Limited provident fund were given an opportunity to redeem the balances standing to their credit in the A, B and C accounts of the fund, or whether they have been compelled to accept the new superannuation scheme that the company is now instituting, irrespective of whether or not they desire so to do. Will the right honorable gentleman examine this matter with a view to ascertaining the right of employees in this regard ?
– I shall look into the matter and obtain for the honorable member such information as is available in regard to it.
– Will the Treasurer make available to the House the accountant’s report and valuation of the shares of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, upon which the selling price of the Commonwealth’s share holding has been based. As this House, during the next few weeks, will have either to approve or reject the action of the Government in accepting the price that has been offered for the Government’s shares, honorable members are entitled to that information.
– I shall look into the matter to see what can be done in the direction desired by the honorable member.
– For the guidance of honorable members during the debate that will take place on the bill to authorize the disposal of the Government’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, will the Treasurer lay on the table the report of the Committee on Lubricating Oil under Lend-lease, which inquired into and reported on the activities of certain major oil companies during World War II. ?
– I shall refer the question to the Minister who will be in charge of the bill when it is before the House.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that the claim has been made that the Chifley Government’s hospital benefits scheme gave much better financial assistance to patients in hospitals than does the present Government’s scheme ? Will the right honorable gentleman ascertain whether this claim is justified either in respect of the amount paid or the method of payment?
– The Chifley Government’s hospital benefits scheme at its inception provided for the payment to the State governments of 6s. a bed a day, provided they did not impose a charge on patients in public wards. Subsequently, the amount was increased to 8s. a day. Under the present Government’s hospital benefits scheme, .in respect of patients who are members of a registered organization, the Commonwealth pays 12s. a day for each occupied bed, which is twice the amount originally paid by the Chifley Government, and, in addition, the patient obtains 6s. a day from the organization, making a total of 18s. a day, or two and a quarter times the Chifley Government’s highest payment. Also, the States have had restored to them the right to charge fees if they wish to do so.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the fact that the report of the Royal Commission on Mineral Oils and Petrol and other Products of Mineral Oils, which was presented to the Parliament in 1934, is now out of print? Will the right honorable gentleman arrange to have further copies of this report on the monopolistic activities of petrol companies printed and supplied to members of this House prior to the debate on the legislation to dispose of the Commonwealth assets in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited ?
– Having regard to the length of time that has expired, the amount of water that has passed under the bridge and the volume of oil that has run through the bowsers of Australia since the report to which the honorable member has referred was presented, the answer is “ No “.
– My question is directed to the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General. Where a rural automatic telephone exchange has been installed in country areas, is every subscriber who is closer to that exchange than to his existing exchange automatically re-connected whether he desires to be re-connected or not, or may he retain his existing connexion?
– The usual custom is that subscribers are connected to the nearest telephone exchange, but certain exceptions are made to that rule to meet the convenience of subscribers. If the honorable member will supply me with particulars of the actual cases that he has in mind I shall see what can be done about them.
– Will the Minister for Supply indicate to the House whether the Government has made any progress recently in regard to its policy for the further development of Australian uranium resources, and, in particular, whether it can announce any policy in regard to conditions and prices for the purchase of uranium ores and concentrates from Australian producers ? By way of explanation-
– Order !
– Answering the last part of the honorable member’s question first, that is with regard to the Government’s policy on the price of uranium to be purchased, I can tell him that I have before me at the moment some proposals for re-assessing the prices of uranium both in the concentrate form and in the ore form, because we believe that the prices published some time ago may now need revision. I hope that it will be possible, for the benefit of the public, to publish the new prices in the near future if the prices are changed. It is more difficult to be specific about the progress of general development, but it is not unknown that a committee of Cabinet had before it only a few days ago many aspects of this matter. It is possible that within a few days we shall be able to announce some specific decisions. So far, as the House knows, decisions have been made about the immediate development of the Rum Jungle area by a large mining corporation, and heads of agreement have been entered into between the Government and the corporation. As the House also knows from published statements, we have gone a long way towards agreement with the Joint British-American Combined Development Agency, for the purchase of Australian uranium and for financial assistance for Australia. Those matters are well under way. There also remain decisions to be made about the over-all control of the whole matter of uranium and atomic energy, and also about the policy that Australia should adopt so far as research and development are concerned. It is hoped that, before long, an announcement will be made about that matter.
– I ask the Treasurer to give consideration to, and consult the Prime Minister about, the establishment of a cultural grants committee on a national basis for the encouragement of art, culture and music and for the ultimate establishment of a national theatre and opera. Such a committee could have similar functions to those of the Australian Capital Territory cultural grants committee.
– The matter that has been raised by the honorable mem’ber will be brought to the notice of the Prime Minister.
– It has come to my notice that some South Australian manufacturers of ploughs are at least three years behind with their orders, as a result of the extreme shortage of heavy section steel flats, which has greatly limited production. Now that ample supplies of coal are available, will the Minister for Supply state the reason for the shortage? Will he also make the investigations with a view to increasing the supply of steel?
– Matters relating to supplies of steel and steel products come within the jurisdiction of the Minister for National Development, whom I happen to represent in this House at present because of the’ absence of the Minister for External Affairs abroad. I cannot speak with any authority on the cause of the shortage of steel. I think that the honorable member has mentioned to me before the difficulty that is being experienced by some manufacturers in obtaining steel for ploughs. I shall ask the Minister in another place to examine the matter to see what can be done to increase supplies.
– Will the Treasurer inform me whether he is making any progress in connexion with the preparation of his promised statement on the cost of ministerial visits overseas, which he indicated would be retrospective for a number of years? When does the right honorable gentleman expect to be able to make the information available to the Parliament?
– Having regard to the length of time during which the previous Government was in power, and to the amount of work involved, because of the variety and frequency of overseas visits by Ministers of both the previous Government and the present Government, it will take a good deal of time to collate the information.
-Can the Minister for Immigration inform the House of the numbers of assisted and unassisted immigrants who have come to this country since the cessation of World War II and have returned to the countries from which they came?
– I shall see whether I can obtain the information. It would be extremely difficult to analyse the departures from Australia since the war in order to establish how many of the persons involved were assisted and unassisted immigrants. For many years past there has been a permanent movement from Australia each year of between 20,000 and 25,000 persons. Some, of course, have been Australians who have gone overseas to settle permanently. Some have been people either from Great Britain or from Europe who, having come to this country and having failed to settle as happily as they wished, have returned to their homelands. Others, who have been quite happily settled here, have, for family, business, or other reasons found it necessary to return to their former homelands or to go to some other part of the world. If the implication of the honorable member’s question is that a considerable number of people who have tried to settle here have . not succeeded in doing so satisfactorily, I hasten to assure him that such is not the case. I think I can assure him, on the facts as I know them, that a relatively small proportion of the people who come to settle in Australia leave this country to return to the lands that they left to come here.
– Some time ago, Mr. Speaker, I asked you whether it would be possible to avoid the delays in the preparation of Hansard. You will recall that, at the time, you promised to make inquiries and ascertain what could be done. Can you now inform the House whether any progress has been made towards obviating these really intolerable delays in the preparation of Hansard?
– I have in my office a letter from the Government Printer on this subject. I shall be happy to let the honorable member, and other honorable gentlemen who may be interested, examine it.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
The Government has adopted the recommendations made in the report, and legislation to authorize the payment of special grants during the current financial year will be introduced later to-day.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without requests -
Appropriation Bill 1952-53.
Without amendment -
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1952-53.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by SirARTHUR Fadden) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sums for the purposes of financial assistance to the States of South’ Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. Eric J. Harrison do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Abthtur F adden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill is to authorize the payment, during the current financial year, of special grants amounting to £15,934,000 to South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania. The payment of these grants has been recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its nineteenth report, which was tabled to-day. In that report, the commission has adopted the same general principle and methods as it has adopted in recent years. The general principle followed is that of financial need which has been expressed by the commission in the following terms : -
Special grants arc justified when a State through financial stress from any cause is unable efficiently to discharge its functions as a member of the federation and should be determined by the amount of help found necessary to make it possible for that State by reasonable effort to function at a standard not appreciably below that of the other States.
In applying this principle, the commission makes a detailed comparison of the financial position and practices of the claimant and the non-claimant States. When making this comparison, the commission takes account of such factors as the relative efforts of the claimant States in raising revenue, and the levels of expenditure in the claimant States as compared with the non-claimant States. The commission has adopted a balanced budget standard as the starting point for its calculations, as it has done in recent years. It is, of course, impossible for the commission to make precise estimates of the special grants required to preserve due relativity with the non-claimant States in the year in which the grants are to be paid. To meet this difficulty, the grants recommended by the commission are divided into two parts.
One part of the grants represents the commission’s estimate of the current financial needs of the claimant States. This part of the grants is treated by the commission as an advance payment which is subject to adjustment by the commission two years later when it has had the opportunity of examining in detail the audited budgets of the States for that year. The other part of the grants recommended by the commission each year represents a final adjustment of the special grants recommended two years previously. Thus, in its nineteenth report, the commission has made precise calculations of the special grants to which it considers the claimant States were entitled in 1950-51, and has compared those calculations with the advance payments made in 1950-51 in order to arrive at a final adjustment. The special grants recommended for payment in 1952-53 are therefore made up as follows : -
It will be noted that the grants recommended for payment to South Australia and “Western Australia this year were arrived at after deducting amounts of £257,000 and £159,000 respectively. These deductions represent the amounts by which the advance payments made in 1950-51 exceeded the financial needs of those States in that year as finally assessed by the commission. The special grants recommended for payment in 1952-53 are substantially greater than the special grants that were paid last year, the amount of the increase for each State being South Australia £1,785,000, Western Australia £2,953,000 and Tasmania £674,000, making a total increase of £5,412,000. If account is taken of the tax reimbursement and special financial assistance grants, the total increase in revenue grants to the claimant States this year is estimated at £8,712,000.
The commission, in its nineteenth report, has indicated that it has been particularly difficult to forecast with any degree of accuracy the amounts of the special grants which might be justified for 1952-53. In particular, the commission mentions the uncertainty which exists in respect of the future of wages and other costs and the revenues of State enterprises. At the same time, the commission points out that, under its procedures, the advance payments which it recommends for 1952-53 will be subject to adjustment two years hence when all the facts relating to 1952-53 become known. The commission has listed a number of factors that account for the increased financial needs of the claimant States in 1952-53. The more important of these factors include increased expenditure on social services, the effect on the State budgets of wage adjustments, and the effect on Western Australia’s finances of the prolonged rail strike in that State. The special grants recommended by the Com?monwealth Grants Commission each year have invariably been adopted by successive governments, and the present Government considers that the commission’s recommendations should be adopted again this year.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 9th October (vide page 2907), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Speakers who have participated in this debate have dealt with the general operations of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme which is more commonly known as the free medicine scheme. Although this is a short measure that relates to the implementation of pharmaceutical benefits, the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), in his second-reading speech, took the opportunity to deal with the Government’s national health scheme as a whole. He spoke at length about what the Government had done in this sphere since it assumed office. The right honorable gentleman stated -
The amendments which are now to “be placed in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act will be substantive clauses of the new master national health act, which will repeal all the existing health acts and consolidate and coordinate the whole of the Commonwealth health legislation. This bill will be introduced early next year.
I am pleased that this Government has recognized the need for a national health scheme. I recall the opposition that arose in certain quarters to implementation of the principal act when it was passed during the regime of the Chifley Government. Opponents of that legislation advanced the criticism that Labour was too willing to give to the people something for nothing. When that measure was being debated in this chamber, I emphasized that the responsibility that rests upon the National Government, regardless of party political considerations, to provide an effective national health scheme is just as grave as that which devolves upon it to ensure that the people shall be adequately clothed and fed. I am gratified at what has been done for the people under this legislation. However, I am perturbed about certain aspects of this measure. The statement of the Minister shows that the cost of pharmaceutical benefits last year was £6,699,000. ; When the Minister introduced the measure, he stated that the cost in the first year would be £2,500,000.
– That was for only part of a year. The estimate for the second year was £5,000,000.
– I thank the Minister for Health for the information. I thought that the cost had risen sharply from £2,500,000 to nearly £7,000,000, but in any case the figures as corrected by the Minister show that the cost has risen from £5,000,000 to £7,000,000. I am concerned about the cost of the drugs, and I should like the Minister to inform the House whether the Government is certain that the price that it is paying for the drugs is fair and reasonable. I hope that the Government is not paying more than it should do from the taxpayer’s money. Most of the money is being expended on life-saving drugs. They are a comparatively new innovation. Previously, various mixtures were prescribed by doctors for sick people. The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) stated yesterday that in recent years there had been a complete alteration in the treatment methods of the medical profession and that life-saving drugs were now being widely used.
Debate having been interrupted by a brief light and power failure,
– I want to know whether a proper check is being made of the prices charged for those drugs. I know that there is a list of the drugs and that, from time to time, the Department of Health adds new drugs to the list or removes others from it. Recently, the mixture or drug called Hepasol was removed from the list. I understand that it was removed because it had been abused to some degree. It had been prescribed extensively by medical men, although other drugs that were less expensive could have been used in substitution for it, with equally successful results. That proves that some check is being made of the expenditure upon these drugs, but I am concerned about the cost of them generally.
Some of the drugs on the list are manufactured by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, and others by drug houses. A great deal of credit is due to the laboratories of the drug houses for the research work that they have done and the improvements that they have made of certain important drugs, but I want to know whether the drug houses are’ making a fair and reasonable profit on their pro-, ducts, or whether we are being required to pay more for them than we should pay. It must be borne in mind that almost the whole of the lifesaving drugs that are prescribed now are paid for by the Government. There is no means test under the scheme. A doctor prescribes a drug on the appropriate form, the patient- takes the prescription to a chemist, and the Government pays to the chemist the cost of the drug. I am impressed by the expenditure upon these drugs in each of the States, and by the number of prescriptions that are being dealt with. In New South Wales, the cost of 2,433,265 prescriptions was £2,520,246. The average cost of each prescription was a little over £1 in that State. That may be a fair and reasonable figure, but I should like the Minister to inform the House whether a proper check is being made of the cost of production of the drugs. In the case of imported drugs, the Government knows the prices charged by the overseas suppliers, and can ensure that only a reasonable margin of profit will be made by the drug houses in this country, which distribute them. I want to be sure that the taxpayers of this country will not be called upon to pay more for life-saving drugs than is reasonable. Through the years, we have board it said that, when schemes are devised for the provision of certain things to the public free of charge, some people try to take advantage of those schemes, and that, at times, there are rackets in connexion with them. I do not mako. any accusation of over-charging or racketeering in connexion with these drugs but I am concerned about the average cost of each prescription, which, in New South Wales, is, as I have shown, over fi. In the past, prescriptions did not- cost as much as that. I know that, a year or two ago, a doctor told a patient that be could prescribe a drug that would cost about £2 10s., and asked the patient whether he could afford to pay that amount if the drug were prescribed. He went on to say that there was another drug that he could prescribe, which would cost about 12s. 6d. He said it was possible that that drug would be successful, but he was not satisfed that it would be. He explained, that, rather than take any risk, he would, prescribe the £2 10s. drug if the patient could afford to pay for it. The patient elected to have the drug that cost £2 10s. That, of course, was before the introduction of the scheme under which life-saving drugs are supplied free of charge. I am wondering whether a proper check is kept to ensure that, in the supplying of these drugs, Commonwealth money is not being expended unnecessarily. I make those remarks not in a spirit of criticism, but with a view to analysing the work of the committees.
There is one other matter with which I am rather concerned. It was mentioned in the Minister’s second-reading speech. I refer to the danger of the indiscriminate use of drugs. Are we running any risk that, after a number of years, resistance to certain drags will develop in patients, so that we shall be worse off than we were before the discovery of those drugs ? I hope that sufficient care will be taken to avoid that danger. I realize that it is largely a matter of trial and error.
– The basis is much firmer than one of mere trial and error.
– The basis is probably firmer now, but at the beginning it was a matter of trial and error. Some time ago, the Minister told us that, during his visit to the United States of America he was informed that certain drugs had been, administered too freely and without adequate knowledge of their effects with the result that some most undesirable consequences had followed. I was gratified at. the Minister’s assurance that great care was being taken in this country to ensure that these drugs shall be administered only by persons who understand their reactions and their probable results. It is clear that some form of control must be exercised. According to the Minister, the committee administering this matter consists’ entirely of medical men with the exception of the secretary, who is a public servant. Such, a committee may be competent to decide which drugs shall be put on the free list and how they shall be prescribed and administered, but I do not think that a disciplinary committee charged with the duty of keeping check on the activities of doctors should be composed entirely of medical men, or that a committee appointed to supervise the pharmaceutical side of the scheme should consist entirely of pharmaceutical chemists. That is a matter to which the Minister could well give further consideration. These committees should include other qualified persons who are not members of the professions that are involved. Some time ago, in South Australia, a doctor was charged with having adopted undesirable practices. I shall not discuss how serious the charges were or the merits or demerits of his action.’, but. according to information that I received, the British Medical Association brought pressure to bear to ensure that no publicity would be given to the charges I consider that if the committee is finally constituted in the manner proposed, colour wil’l be lent to a suspicion that it will ‘husk up matters not creditable to the medical profession. I do not say that there are grounds for such ,a suspicion. It 13 also possible that, were the committee formed of doctors only, it could .discriminate against other doctors. There are a number of people who will believe, rightly or wrongly - I think mostly wrongly - that the doctors on the committee will look after the members of their association and, as I have said, hush up anything that might be detrimental to those members,
– The only other objection is that doctors will be too hard o.n their fellows.
– That objection might exist. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) referred last night to the fact that if a doctor or a chemist were treated harshly by the respective committee, he might be unable to continue to operate his practice successfully. X. agree that that could occur, although I think that doctors generally are well able to fend for themselves. Without wishing to level an indictment against any individual I say that there is a great deal of jealousy in the medical profession generally, also in the .British Medical Association as far as the admission of certain doctors to membership of the association is concerned. I know personally of cases in which doctor? have been refused membership of the British Medical Association, I know of one practising medical man who is regarded as a highly qualified doctor and whose surgical work, some years ago in respect of an important operation, was commended by the leading surgeons of Adelaide -
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is getting outside the subject of pharmaceutical benefits, with which the bill deals.
– I am merely referring to—
– Order! The medical profession is not under discussion in this debate, except insofar as members of it are to form the proposed committee.
– I am referring to the committee, and dealing with its pos sible attitude to medical men. I merely wish to stress the danger inherent in .the proposed composition of the committee. I know of certain medical men who were not permitted to enjoy the advantages of membership of the British Medical Association, and I am wondering whether there is .a possibility of the committee taking action of any kind that would he to the disadvantage of such people. Wages boards, for instance, are composed of representatives of the trade unions and the employers, but the chairman is an independent person. It is not customary to have as chairman of such a board a person who has not the kind of ability required or whose interest leans towards either of the parties represented on the hoard. It is usual to have a capable, disinterested individual as chairman. I suggest to the Minister that the membership of the boards proposed under this measure should .not be confined to doctors and chemists, but should include some responsible and highly qualified person with an independent outlook, who would act for the welfare of the community generally. That is the one criticism that I desire to make of the bill.
I am pleased with the success of the scheme for the provision of free drugs to pensioners. The fact that drugs are available free to pensioners has lifted from many pensioners a source of worry that itself could have caused illness requiring extensive medical treatment. The Minister and the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) have both spoken about the disadvantages of the formulary that was provided under the Chifley Government’s scheme. I shall not say much about either formularies or formulae, because those matters are beyond the comprehension of the layman, but I say that everything necessary for the treatment of sick people should be made available free. I have not heard much complaint about the operation of the scheme” under which free drugs are provided to pensioners. Generally speaking, the scheme is working well, and members of the medical profession have told me that it is satisfactory to them. I asked a prominent medical officer in my electorate how the scheme compared with schemes elsewhere, and how the list of the drugs supplied under it compared with the list contained in the British Pharmacopoeia. He told me thatthey compared favorably. I havelittle criticism to make of the measure,although in some respects it doesnotgosofaras the Labour party would go were itin office. Our objective in respect of health and medical services is well Known. It is to increase the list of free life-saving drugs’ until all drugs are provided free.
– Including “ Cure-‘em- Quick”.
– I do not want “Cure-‘em-Quick “ on the list Some people try to “ cure-‘em-quick-“ and succeed in doing so because; after their ministrations are over, no further drugs are necessary. That statement does not apply only to amateurs. The Labour party wants all medicine to be free I was glad to hear the Minister say that practically half the prescriptions that are now made up for the public are being provided under this scheme.
SirEardenPage.- No, I said that halfthetotalcostofprescriptions filled waspaidunderthescheme.
– Then the Government and the Minister have gone 50 per cent. of the distancethattheLabourGovernment wanted to go, although it was not able to implement its schemeto the full owing to the refusal of co-operation by the medical professions The honorable member for Oxley said thatthe medicalprofession’s main objection to theChifley scheme arose in connexion withtheformulary. Four out of about 24 medical men in my electorate cooperated in that scheme. They were prepared to continue to practise under the scheme,usetheformsthatweresupplied tothem andprescribeinthemannerlaid down under thescheme. Theywere all goodmedicalmen,andiftheMinisteror anybody tries to gain an advantage by comparing the number of prescriptions filledunderthepresentschemewiththe number filled under theChifley scheme, I can only say that there are many doctors who would Have co-operated” in theChifley scheme had their loyalty to the British Medical Association not prevented them from so doings.I admit that the Ministerhasbeenabletomake approachesto;andestablishcontactswith; the British Medical Association that the MinisterforHealthintheChifleyLabour Government,SenatorMcKenna; wasnot able to make.ThechifleyGovernment was not able to obtain the co-operation of the medical profession in order to enable the pharmaceutical benefits scheme to function smoothly and efficiently. The success that has been achieved by the presentMinisterisdue,ina large measure;tothecooperationofthemedical profession. Had theChifley Government operation from medical practitioners, the Ministerwouldnot be able to point to the big difference between the expenditure on the two schemes.
– Co-operation must be two-way traffic.
– I recognize that fact. I do not claim that all the blame in connexion with the operation of the Chifley Government’s health scheme should be borne by one side. Perhaps some blame was attachable to both’ sides. However, I am concerned at the present time, not with the apportionment of blame but with the introduction of a practical scheme that will best serve the interests of the people. The Minister, with his scheme, is giving expression, to some degree, to the Labour party’s idea of the welfare state. Of course, he has not gone so far as we should like. I suppose that he has gone about 50 per cent. of the way.
– Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- It appears to methatthe stage has been reached in this debate when little of a useful nature is now being contributed to it. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has been at least reasonable in some ofhis statements. He admitted that the schemewhich has been put into operation by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has been a great success. He claimed that his only concernwas for the introduction of a satisfactory nationalhealth and medical service. If anyperson takes that view, he mu st admit quite frankly that the present scheme has been an overwhelming success in the short timethatit has been in existence. Yesterday, we were treated to two particularly good speeches on this bill. One of them was made by the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is a medical practitioner of great ability, and the other was by the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth), who is a pharmaceutical chemist. Those two speeches were an edification to this House, and must have been of great interest to the people who were listening to the broadcast of the proceedings, because both honorable members dealt with the technical aspects of a pharmaceutical benefits scheme, and indicated the far-reaching ramifications of it.
I do not pretend - and I have not heard any other person, who was not qualified, pretend - to understand precisely the impact of a health scheme of this kind upon the people. I listened with great interest to the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who was the spokesman for the Opposition on this bill, and his painful struggles with the subject were pitiful in comparison with the clear, concise expositions given by the technical men on this side of the House, who understand the position. I believe that the stage has now been reached when, except for generalizations, there is little to be said on this bill. The amazing thing about the whole free medicine scheme is the wonderful success that has been achieved by the co-operative approach of the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). The people of Australia have not forgotten the difficulties, ill feeling, and bad blood that resulted from the efforts of the Chifley Government to introduce a free medicine scheme. Its attempt was so completely unsuccessful that the figures relating to it are almost staggering. The Chifley Government struggled with the problem for years, yet its expenditure on its pharmaceutical benefits scheme in 194S-49 amounted to only £149,000. The present Government expended on its free medicine scheme in the last financial year an amount of £6,600,000. Those figures will give the people an indication of the difference between the two schemes.
Opposition members attempt to defend the failure of the Chifley Government’s scheme by saying that the previous Minister for Health, Senator McKenna. could not get the co-operation of the medical fraternity and the pharmaceutical chemists. However, the Labour Government could not expect co-operation from those important sections, because the whole basis of its legislation was coercion. ‘ The Chifley Government attempted to dictate to the medical profession and pharmaceutical chemists, who were the only sections that could effectively operate the free medicine scheme. The Labour Government endeavoured to lay its heavy socialist hand upon the professional men, and to dictate to them what they should do and how they should do it. Indeed, the policy of the Chifley Government in that respect was so foolish that it is, difficult to understand. One has only to read the various acts placed on the statute-book by the Chifley Government in an attempt to give effect to its health scheme to realize how pathetic were its efforts to provide free medicine for the people. The Chifley Government was more concerned with bringing about the complete nationalization of the medical profession, pharmaceutical chemists and hospitals than with establishing a satisfactory health scheme in the interests of the people. Some of those acts will remain on the statute-book until the Minister introduces a comprehensive bill to provide a national health and medical service.
I am glad to learn that the Minister is not giving effect to certain provisions in those acts, although I realize that his omission has not the approval of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. To me, it is a grand thing that members of the medical profession stood out against the dictatorial policy of the Chifley Labour Government. The stage was reached when doctors were virtually told what they were to prescribe for their patients. That was utter nonsense. The Chifley Government adopted a ridiculous approach to the establishment of a health service. It can be fairly said that no other profession in the world can be relied upon to observe the high ethical standard that lias been set by the medical fraternity in this country. The people of Australia should be mighty proud of the great men whom it has produced in this field. It is always possible to have a few black sheep in any flock, but I believe - and 1 am tie father of two young doctors - that the medical profession is one of the most wonderful professions in which man can engage. However, the Chifley Government decided to challenge the doctors in their own field of healing, and brought them into the hurly-burly and scrum of political machinations. It is a good thing for the people of Australia that the doctors stood out against the efforts of the Chifley Government to impose its so-called free medicine scheme upon the community.
– Does the honorable member believe in defiance of the law?
– That matter does not arise. The honorable member for EdenMonaro knows perfectly well that when the Chifley Government attempted unfairly to impose its dictatorial policy upon members of the medical profession, the matter was taken to the High Court of Australia, and the legislation was declared unconstitutional. There was no question of defiance of the law. I invite honorable members to compare the achievements of the present Minister for Health with the abortive efforts of the Chifley Government in this field. The efforts of the present Minister have been crowned with success. In the short period that has elpased since he first announced the scheme in 1950, he has conferred incalculable benefits upon the people of Australia in the provision of free medicine, pharmaceutical benefits, hospital benefits, tuberculosis allowances, free milk for school children and free medical and hospital treatment for pensioners. All of us are proud of his achievements, which will be written into the history of Australia. In the last twelve months no fewer than 6,512,826 prescriptions have been dispensed under this scheme. When these are added to the number of prescriptions freely dispensed for pensioners, it will be seen that the total represents a large percentage of the total number of prescriptions written by the members of the medical profession in that period. No fewer than 7,000 doctors are cooperating with the Government in this scheme, compared with the paltry 150 who were prepared to enter the scheme instituted by the Chifley Government.
Almost every member of the medical profession in Australia is prepared to cooperate with this Government in implementing its health and medical services. It is true that the cost of social services of this kind is extremely high, but it must not be forgotten that this is a preventive scheme, the lasting results of which may not be immediately apparent. The drugs included in the list have been very carefully selected by eminent medical men, and people now receive medical treatment which they would never be able to afford to pay for themselves. It is impossible to number the lives that have been saved and the amount of suffering that has been alleviated.
– It is a terrible insult to the medical profession to suggest that those lives would not have been saved and that suffering would not have been alleviated but for the money provided to finance the scheme.
– Very many people cannot afford to pay for the newer drugs that are included in the list.
The plight of the pensioners in the community is the subject of many debates in this chamber. Some honorable members opposite seem to imagine that they are the sole custodians of the health and well-being of the pensioners.
– That is perfectly true.
– Apart from purely mundane considerations ,of money and pension rates, this scheme has brought to pensioners in the community benefits that they would otherwise not have enjoyed. The old people know that this Government has done more to ensure their health and happiness than has any other government in the history of Australia. It is watching the interests of the people and doing everything possible to ensure that in their declining years they will be saved as much pain and suffering as possible.
The purpose of the bill is to establish professional advisory committees nominated by executives of the professional organizations engaged in implementing the scheme. An impartial observer who listened to a debate on the measure yesterday must have been struck by the need to appoint to these committees men of the highest eminence in the medical and pharmaceutical professions.
Honorable’ members opposite object to the proposal that these committees shall consist of persons who know all’ about the matters with which they will be called upon to deal’. Objection to it was meekly voiced by the honorable’ member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), but it was most vehemently expressed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser)’. There is no substance in these objections. I am at a loss to understand why the Opposition should object to this measure unless it is for opposition’s sake. The scheme is based on the closest co-operation and’ liaison between the inedical and pharmaceutical professions of the Government. That has been the keynote of the health- policy applied by the Minister since the- inception of the scheme-. The principle of co-operation is continued fir the establishment of these committees’. How, then, can it be contended that these committees will not be established on a proper basis? Cooperation and- goodwill are necessary to enable them to function perfectly.
The people realize the benefits that : accrue to them from this scheme and its great value to the nation. It is expensive,but all these trends towards the establishment of the welfare state are inevitably expensive In recent years the people have been encouraged to believe that if they elect to office the representatives of a political party which promises them the earth their lives will thereafter be rosy. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we establish a welfare state, we must be prepared to pay for it. Do not let us run away with the idea that we are going to get something for nothing. This concession is free only in the sense that the individual who needs medical assistance can go to a doctor, get a prescription, and then have his prescriptionfilled by a chemist for nothing. However, that person ultimately does not get his medicine for nothing, because he has to pay for it by way of taxation. If we want these very desirable amenities we must be prepared to pay for them. The people should clearlyunderstand that, and it must be impressed strongly upon them that if we are to carry out the idea of the welfare statewhich in many respects seems to be the modern doctrine of go vernment, then the people must pay for it. The greatest tiling in life is a propter evaluation of human welfare and of the needs of the people. Flesh and blood are more important than anything else in the world, and we must always bear that in mind in our economic thinking; I consider that the belief of many people that the amenities that they enjoy are free should be dissipated. They arenot free, they are all paid for By the people. Those who may not need the assistance of a free medicine scheme should thank. God that they are so well that they do not need medicine, and they should be willing to pay, through their taxes’, for. a. scheme that will benefit so many people. However, our social services continue to increase in number and cost. I believe that the scheme under consideration, will cost about £7,000,000 a year, and the people should understand that if all these services are to be maintained the people themselves will have to pay for them and they must not quibble at having to pay for them through their taxes..
Let us ensure that there shall be no waste in our administration of social services. Let the people remember that when they are receiving these social services they should not waste them, because ultimately they will pay, in some form or other, for whatever they use and what ever services are given to them To waste the goods and services supplied free by the Government is a criminal sin. The scheme that the House is considering is a brilliant scheme, and should get the unanimous endorsement of honorable members: This country should be’ proud of the efforts of its Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), and I believe that his scheme will do a great amount of good in saving lives throughout Australia.I also believe that this Government is on the right track with regard to the management of the scheme, and the setting up of the committees that it proposes to set up. I am looking forward to the time when the Minister will introduce a bill to consolidate and bring together into the one measure all the benefits that he has been putting into effect. When that is completed the Minister will have performed one of the greatest tasks in the history of Australia in the interests of those who cannot help themselves.
.- I join with honorable members on this side of the House in a general criticism of the measure now before us. All the fine phrases and flowing oratory of the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) about the beneficial results that will flow from this measure will neither convince the Opposition nor a majority of the people that it is anything like the success that he would have u3 believe. The Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has been responsible for the most muddled administration of health that has ever occurred in our history. His statements about the free medicine scheme and about, the general administration of the Department of Health have been made in the main at Australian Country party conferences or at meetings of the British Medical Association. He has made his statements everywhere but here, where they should have been made. Even now we find that the bill states one thing and the Minister states, in his second-reading speech, something else. It is impossible for people to understand the implications of the scheme, and in those circumstances I am not surprised that the honorable member for Bennelong showed a deplorable ignorance of the general administration of health in this country. I shall mention only a few of the matters that he dealt with. He said that the Minister for Health was a great Minister and was responsible for co-ordinating the medical profession and the people in order to produce the scheme that is now before the House. He said that doctors were freely co-operating, through the British Medical Association, with this most competent measure.
I do not understand why the British Medical Association should not cooperate with the Minister because the Minister has practically given them control of the scheme. To-day, the British Medical Association is accepting proposals that it refused to accept, because of so-called high principles, when they were made by the Chifley Government. I do not criticize individual doctors ; I criticize the British
Medical Association for its approach to this matter. To-day, the British Medical Association has accepted the forms and methods suggested by the Chifley Government, which it previously refused because of its high principles. Honorable members can work out for themselves why the British Medical Association has changed its attitude. The honorable member for Bennelong, said that the Chifley Government restricted the formulary. Any one who has studied the records of the Parliament and the newspaper criticisms of the Chifley scheme knows full well that the formulary of the Chifley Government embraced over 600 items and over 99 per cent, of the requirements of the people. Indeed, diseases from the most casual to the most serious were covered by this very extensive formulary. Moreover, the formulary was prepared by skilled persons who were associated with medicine in this country. All that has been thrown overboard by this Government, and to-day, under the present scheme, we find that life-saving drugs are to be almost as dear as radium.
The honorable member for Bennelong and the Minister for Health said that the Chifley Government tried to coerce the medical profession into acceptance of its scheme. That is not so. Every possible approach was made to the British Medical Association by the Chifley Government because that Government believed that all the people, irrespective of their incomes or means, should have all possible benefits from the medical knowledge that we now have. If the rich want legal or medical advice they can well afford to pay for it, but throughout the length and breadth of the community there are thousands of people who cannot afford to buy medicine and must have it given to them by the Government. That was the Chifley Government’s approach to this matter. It did not desire to .give a public benefit in the field of medicine to all people, whether they were able to pay for it or not. “We submitted our proposals to the British Medical Association in all good faith, but they were rejected for reasons of high principle - or so we were told. Perhaps I, and other honorable members on this side of the House, may be excused for believing that the high principles of the British Medical Association have been thrown overboard and that a change of government has given it a change of heart. There must have been some general opposition to the scheme merely because a Labour government proposed it. I do not believe that the medical profession, as individuals, was opposed to the Chifley scheme, but I believe that their opposition was stirred up by influential sections of the British Medical Association.
As was said by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) by way of interjection while the honorable member for Bennelong was speaking, the British Medical Association at that time defied the law of the land. Doctors are entitled to go on strike if they want to. I believe in the right of men to strike when all other means of redressing their just grievances have failed, but it was surprising to me to see at that time honorable members, now on the Government side, who had criticized trade unionists for striking, openly supporting a strike against the interests of the people. I am not going into the pros and cons of those things other than to say that I am pleased that the broad basis of the Chifley Government’s scheme of free medicine is to-day winning the commendation of many honorable members opposite, although the Minister for Health continues to condemn it in no uncertain terms. That the British Medical Association realizes that its criticism of the Chifley Government’s scheme was unfair is proved by the fact that many of the provisions of that scheme have been incorporated in the present scheme. It cannot be claimed that this scheme is the ideal, because it makes provision for the supply of only a very limited number of drugs, which were referred to by the honorable member for Reid (Mr.- Morgan), during an excellent speech last night, as wonder drugs. I subscribe to the view that has been expressed by the honorable member for Reid and other honorable members on this side of the House that the scheme that is now being sponsored by the Minister for Health is really a public benefit for the drug houses of this country. The provision of wonder drugs at over. £1 a time has become the accepted basis of the scheme.
I cannot agree with the honorable member for Bennelong that excellentspeeches have been delivered on this subject by the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr Haworth). The only excellent speeches that I have heard during this debate have been delivered by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), the honorable member for Reid and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), which at least showed a practical appreciation of this problem without regard to technicalities. Although the honorable member for Oxley is a member of the medical profession, and the honorable member for Isaacs is a member of the Pharmaceutical Guild, their speeches showed no practical appreciation of the real requirements of a. pharmaceutical benefits scheme for the people of this country. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro made a constructive approach to the subject by revealing the shortcomings of the present scheme. He showed that it is open to the widest possible criticism, as a result of bad administration, and because it does not provide for supply to sick people of all the drugs that they may require.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) has referred to the colossal cost of the scheme. The expenditure on pharmaceutical benefits during the last financial year was £6,699,002, excluding amounts totalling £598,279 that were paid to public hospitals and other instrumentalities. The average cost of the 6,512,826 prescriptions that were issued in that year was a shade more than £1. During the operation of the Chifley Government’s scheme £294,446 was expended on 903,027 prescriptions, which was an average cost of 6s. 6d. While admitting that inflation has run riot since- the present Government has been in office, 1 cannot see why the cost of prescriptions should be now almost three times the cost of prescriptions that were issued under the Chifley Government’s scheme.
I shall now address myself to the subject of profiteering on drugs. According to the Wild Cat Monthly, which publishes the balance-sheets of public companies, Drug Houses of Australia Limited, which was registered in Victoria in September, 1929, made a net profit in 1950 of £357,690.
– Just a struggling company J
– Yes. In 1951 its net profit was £443,629. Its reserves were increased from £2,049,666 in 1950 to £2,201,588 in 1951. Those figures reflect the benefits to the company of the cost of £1 a prescription under the scheme that this Government is sponsoring. That is why the Minister has avoided giving information about the scheme to honorable members. He knows that there is something wrong, and that only a limited number of drugs is being supplied to the people. It would have been preferable for the Government to have implemented the Chifley Government’s scheme, under which approximately 99 per cent, of the requirements of the people were supplied. The cost of that scheme was only a fraction of the cost of the present scheme. It is time that the Minister for Health woke up to himself, because criticism of the scheme, particularly in relation to the cost of prescriptions, has come from all sections of the community. For instance, in a leading article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald the following statement appeared : -
When Sir Earle Page introduced his freedrug scheme in August, 3 950”, he estimated that it would cost the Commonwealth about £2,500,000 a year. On Tuesday he revealed that, in the twelve months ended on June 30, it in fact cost £6,699,000. As he said, it is impossible to calculate the lives saved by the scheme and the amount of human suffering alleviated; but the rise in cost is alarming. . . The Government is appointing committees with statutory powers to investigate cases of extravagance and malpractice. These committees will not have the power, as in Britain, to make erring doctors pay the cost of unnecessary drugs, but they should at least serve as some check on extravagance.
That statement pinpoints my remarks about the excessive cost of prescriptions. It is almost time that the Minister woke up to the fact that this scheme is a public benefit for the drug houses of this country and a number of other people in the category of backyard manufacturers, because, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has pointed out, a large per centage of prescriptions are for proprietary lines.
The Minister has stated that the committees proposed to be appointed to supervise the activities of people carrying out the scheme will take certain action in certain cases. As a result of the muddled and complicated speeches that the Minister has made in this House from time to time we do not know, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has stated, whether the committees will be only advisory bodies, or whether they will have plenary powers. Except for the secretary, who will probably be a member of the staff of the Public Service Board, they will comprise medical practitioners and chemists. The scheme applies to all sections of the community. What is wrong with appointing representatives of the consumers to the committees in order to give practical advice?
– I cannot imagine that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar) would sit idly by if the Government proposed to establish committees to deal with primary industries without making provision for the appointment to those committees of representatives of the primary producer?. Obviously, doctors and chemists must be appointed to the proposed committees, but the consumers, who are vitally interested, should be represented also. The suggestion is not intended to be humorous. Perhaps the Housewives Association would be a suitable body from which to choose lay members of the committees. No doubt the Minister will oppose my suggestion, because he is entirely dominated by the British Medical Association and, when that organization puts a gun to his ribs, he jumps to obey its directions. The association may often be right, but it makes many mistakes. Therefore, I suggest that practical laymen be appointed to the committees in order to add their wisdom to that of th». medical experts who, although they may be highly skilled in their profession, may not be efficient administrators. “Why did the Minister decide to abolish certain provisions of the Chifley legislation of 1947, which provided for the effective supervision and administration of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme? “We must have the co-operation of doctors if the scheme is to work efficiently, but we must ensure that they observe the ethical standards of their profession and that the scheme is implemented with justice to all. There is always room in organizations of this character for representatives of the ordinary men and women in the street. I should like to know whether the proposed committees are intended to be a front behind which the Minister proposes to conceal his incompetence in relation to health matters. Will the committees be solely advisory, or will they be authorized to take effective action again malpractices? Why does not the right honorable gentleman adopt the suggestion that was made by the Sydney Morning Herald and provide that doctors or chemists who abuse the scheme shall pay for drugs that they make available to patients unnecessarily?
The Minister apparently proposes to yield to all the representations made to him by those whom he wishes to appease, whether their proposals be good or bad. We may expect from him nothing but muddled planning of the kind that this bill represents. The Minister, notwithstanding his good intentions, was aptly named in the past “the tragic Treasurer “, and he now deserves to be known as the tragic Minister for Health. The right honorable gentleman should be made to realize that the people are not satisfied with the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Only a few drugs are made available, at excessive cost to the Treasury, to a small section of the community. I am glad that pensioners are now able to obtain free medicines. Of all members of the community, they have the strongest claim to assistance of that kind. The benefits to which they are now entitled would have been made available to them much earlier if the British Medical Association had been prepared to accept the free medicine scheme on the terms laid down by the Chifley Government. They rejected that Government’s proposals for various obscure reasons that they referred to as matters of highprinciple.
I do not wish to delay the passage of the bill. I am in general agreement with its provisions, but I hope that the Minister for Health will give earnest consideration to the constructive criticism* that I have expressed and not allow himself to be deluded by the applause of Government supporters. Medicine at. present is an expensive item in every family budget, and it should be made available free of charge to all sections of the community. Pharmaceutical benefits should not be confined to persons who are at death’s door. Under the present scheme, patients are unable to obtain free medicine unless they are in desperate need of life-saving drugs. Has the Minister any idea of the number of patients who have been saved by the use of wonder drugs? Apparently a patient must have one foot in the graveand one foot in the hospital before he can obtain free medicine under the present scheme. Special life-saving drugsoften have not been available in emergencies, and stocks have had to beflown from the United States of America. Dollars should be made available for the importation of such important medicines. The Minister, apparently, has done nothing about these shortages.
The present scheme is limited in scope, is far too costly, and only a small section of the community benefits from it. Asthe honorable member for EdenMonarohas said, the scheme is not operating satisfactorily, and antibiotic drugs are being issued recklessly without regard for the public benefit. As I have demonstrated, the Chifley Government provided free drugs for patients at an average cost of 6s. 6d. for each prescription, whereasthis Government provides only a few drugs at an average cost of £1. I have referred to the increasing costs and swollen reserves of drug companies, and other honorable members have pointed out the profiteering in drugs that is being practised. All these faults should becarefully examined with a view to their elimination. I commend the principle of the bill, but I point out that there is plenty of scope for the improvement of the scheme. The Minister should not be complacent about it. I ask him to give more information about bis plans to this -Parliament instead of making all sorts of optimistic declarations to conferences of the Australian Country party and other outside organizations-. He should bring down a bill that will give effect to thePromises that he has made, in place of this measure, the provisions of which conflict with the statements that he made in his secondreading speech. Even Government supporters have beenconfused by his vague statements. Sub ject-tothe constructive criticisms that I Ihaveexpressed, I give my blessing to the bill, but I hope that the Minister will heedour proposals and improve upon his present seheme.
Mir.LESLIE (Moore) [12.28].- I could not fail to gain the impression, when the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) was speaking, that the honorable gentleman was afflicted by a facial bulge which indicated that he was speaking with his tongue in his cheek. I cannot believe that he is unmindful of the fact that Australia now has an effective pharmaceutical benefits scheme, whereas, before this Government came to power, we had a scheme that did not work. It is all very well to say that the British. Medical Association refused to co-operate. Thesuggestion that it was a strike against legislation is ridiculous. The position is thatthemembers of the British Medical Association refused to be conscripted, as would other self-respecting individuals in a free democracy. They merely exercised a right. Naturally, they objected ito having their professional judgment circumscribed asthe Chifiey Government free medicine scheme proposed to do. Fundamentally,that was the most objec- tionable featurein the eyes of the professional men.I suggest that the same consideration would apply if artisans, with whom honorable members opposite claim- to havea special friendship, were told bySome one with no special skill or technical training how they should do their job. The medical profession must live up to a veryhigh code. Naturally it wouldobject tothe limitations which the
Chifley Government health scheme pro- posed.
The honorable member for Grayndler voiced the old political philosophy of the Anstralian Labour party - that the people should be told that they are to be given something for nothing. At election time, the idea is to tell them that they are to receive a little more than was previously suggested. As all honorable members know, the people cannot be given something for nothing. Somebody must pay, either directly or indirectly. It is the people who pay in the long run,- usually through the nose. There is an essential difference between the scheme proposed by theChifley Government and that which is now operating under the present Government. The Chifley Government proposed nationalization of medicine, whereas the present Government has provided a really workable national health scheme.
It cannot be denied that the welfare state has come to stay, nor will anybody deny the need for the welfare state. Its creationcannot be claimed by any particular political party; it has come about through the exercise of christian principles by the people. It should be understood, of course, that socialism and nationalization do not make for the establishment of a welfare state. The ideal welfare state can be attained only whilst christian principles are allowed to operate and to influence our minds. Socialism and nationalization, which do not recognize christian principles, involve the application of compulsion. They take no account of human nature or of the fact that, instilled into every man and woman by a greater Being, is something finer than mere animal instincts. An essential precept of the. welfare state is that every individual should bear his personal share of responsibility for his own welfare. That is inherent in the system. Those responsible for the administration of the true welfare state say to the people, in effect, We shall ensure that a fair share of the benefits of science and the amenities of civilization are made available to you “. No one will deny that that is inherent in the present national health’ scheme. In a true welfare state, those who are prepared to assume a share ofresponsibility for the maintenance of their own health are assured that they will not be denied those things which are essential to’ their wellbeing in time of need. That is the idea behind the national health scheme which has been introduced by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page).
It should be appreciated that in the history of Australia many monuments stand to the achievements of the present Minister for Health. They are monuments for which any honest person will give the right honorable gentleman credit. In my opinion, the health scheme which is now in operation is the greatest achievement of his long period of public life, because it is a workable scheme which, no doubt, will be with us forever, and it deals with human lives. The right honorable gentleman is making a success of the scheme. That success will continue because the scheme has been built on sound foundations. I cannot help feeling that when members of the Opposition, such as the honorable member for Grayndler, who have the capacity to reason and to think logically, review this scheme, they would really prefer to pay tribute to the achievements of the Minister and the Government rather than to indulge in uncharitable criticism for purely political reasons. As I have already stated, their condemnatory and unwarranted comments are often made with tongue in cheek.
The criticism has been made that the f free medicine scheme denies to individuals the right to obtain other kinds of medicine. That, of course, is an excellent thing. If the purpose of a scheme such as this were merely to fill the stomachs of the people with medicines of all kinds for the relief of small or imaginary aches and pains, goodness knows what it would cost. As I see this scheme, the Minister is endeavouring to eliminate serious illness which causes loss and suffering, and, perhap, early death, to many people. The free milk scheme is part of the health scheme, although very few people associate the two. The provision of free milk for school children is as important as the provision of expensive drugs for adults. The idea behind the free milk scheme is to promote healthy bodies which are capable of resisting disease. If that objective is achieved, the ultimate, annual cost of the national health scheme will be very much lower, because there will be less need to dispense something for nothing. The cost will decrease as a healthy com- munity is established. The free milk scheme is therefore an economical one from the national point of view.
It has been suggested that the committees, which it is proposed to set up under this bill, should include what the honorable member for Grayndler has referred to facetiously as a “ consumers’ representative “. I do not believe that it is advisable to establish committees of a limited nature. There is a danger in setting up a professional committee such as that which is proposed in this bill. Because of a sort of freemasonery that exists among professional men, such a committee could become an instrument of protection for the medical profession. However, the honorable member for Grayndler has overlooked the fact that the bill provides for one representative on the committee to be a member of the Public Service. That man will be able to police the activities of the committee. He will watch the interests both of the Government and the consumer. I have had misgivings about restricted committees but I consider that the public interest will be safeguarded by the constitution of this committee.
The basis of the Government’s health scheme of which the free medicine scheme forms part, is the saving of life and the prevention of disease. That is the reason why the list of free medicines is limited to life-saving drugs. This is a good provision. I hope that, as a result of this scheme, people will come to have greater confidence in the value of obtaining treatment for disease at an early stage. In this way they will avoid the cost of purchasing drugs which, if they are not; harmful, may at least be worthless. I am very fearful of the quality of patent medicines which are at present on the market. Many of them are taken without any knowledge of their contents and I am satisfied that they do great harm.
– The more you have, themore you want.
– I agree. That is thestate of affairs that we should avoid. Many of the colourful medicines that were included in the free list of the previous Government, whilst they may not have been harmful, did not do any good.
Sitting suspended from 12.Ji5 to 2.15 p,m,..
– I emphasize that the basis of the Government’s national health scheme, of which the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, or free medicine scheme as it is more generally known, is a part, is the provision of life-saving drugs on the principle that prevention is better than cure. It is far better to endeavour to prevent disease than to confine a scheme of this kind to efforts to cure disease. I trust that the operation of this scheme will reduce the degree to which people are now prone to rely upon the use of patent medicines which, in most instances, do more harm than good.
I direct the attention of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) to the need to provide assistance to parents in the provision of curative and general medicinal appliances for physically handicapped children. I suggest that the Government should make provision under this scheme for the supply of such appliances in instances in which they are prescribed by a medical practitioner. In that way, physically handicapped children would be assisted to assume a normal role in life. The cost of such appliances is a heavy burden on the parents of such children, partcularly children who have not reached maturity and who outgrow the appliances from time to time. Thus, in many instances, this cost is recurrent until the affected child reaches physical maturity. Tfe provision of such assistance should be regarded as being inherently a part of a scheme of the kind with which this measure deals. I support the bill and commend the Minister for having introduced it. I also congratulate him upon the wonderful job that he is doing. It is generally acknowledged that this scheme is operating successfully. It will prove of immense value to the nation and will be a fitting monument to the Minister who has devoted so much time and effort to initiating it.
– I was not very impressed by the logic of the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie). He said that it was more important that the Government should attempt to prevent sickness in the community rather than to implement a free medicine scheme. He instanced the im portance of a scheme for the provision of free milk. He went on to say that he was not in favour of a scheme under which medicine would be supplied free of charge in respect of minor aches, pains and ills. He believes that prevention is better than cure. I can only conclude from his remarks that he believes that the Government should not provide assistance to persons who are suffering from minor illnesses, which might ultimately become serious, but should withhold its assistance in respect of such persons until they are practically at death’s door, at which stage it should make provision for the supply of lifesaving drugs to them. That was the theme of the honorable member’s remarks.
I note with pleasure the acceptance, qualified though it may be, by the Government of a free medicine Scheme and also the fact that Government supporters now accept the principle of a free medicine scheme which they strenuously opposed for many years. Previously, those honorable members described free medicine as “ another hand-out “ ; and they attacked the Chifley Government’s scheme from that point of view. At that time, an eminent member of the medical profession said that it would be most undesirable that the Government should institute a free medicine scheme because such a scheme would result in the wholesale consumption of what he called “ placebo cocktails “. He said - “ Placebo “ is a Latin word meaning “ I shall please “. When a doctor prescribes a “ placebo “ he writes down the first. thing that strikes him, for it is the consumer’s faith in the mixture that counts, and not what the doctor thinks about it at all. A “ placebo “ is harmless, and it helps to pass the time.
That authority went on to say that if a free medicine scheme were introduced -
It will be like drinks on the house, when everyone staggers up for his pot, blind to its worth, but “ unco nappy “ at getting it for nothing.
Opponents of the Chifley Government’s scheme protested against the provision of not only some, but all, classes of medicines, or drugs, free of charge. They displayed the conservative attitude that has been adopted by reactionaries down through the years in respect of every radical reform that has been proposed _in this or in any other country. That was the attitude that they adopted when free secular education was proposed. Speaking in the Legislative Council in the Victorian Parliament at that time, Mr. Gavin Duffy said, in effect, “ Free education for the workers ! All they need is a little arithmetic and writing. Educated above that, they will be educated above their stations and there will be difficulty in obtaining workers at all.” Similarly, when the provision of age pensions was first proposed the reactionary predecessors of supporters of the present Government declared that such a scheme would pauperize the community. The attitude of Government supporters is that the ordinary individual in the community is pauperized by the provision of free medicine, age pensions or free secular education but that the wealthy sections of the community can never be pauperized regardless of the generosity of gifts that a benevolent government may make available to them. For instance, in one swoop, this Government, during the current financial year, will remit to wealthy interests over £6,000,000 in land tax.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the bill before the Chair.
– The honorable member for Moore attacked what he referred to as the welfare State of the Chifley Government.
– I did not do that.
– The honorable member attacked the principle of the welfare State and advocated the establishment of the Christian State; but all Christians, Jews and Mussulmen would be horrified at his conception of the Christian State. Some of those who opposed free medicine in the past now accept the qualified view that some types of medicine should be free. They say that the medicines that should be free are the life-saving drugs. “What will happen if a person consults a doctor? In the past, the doctor would have prescribed a placebo. Now he will prescribe life-saving drugs, whether the patient is suffering from a cold, a toothache or a stomach ache. The cost of free, medicine will be increased because the free distribution will be restricted to a narrow group instead of covering the whole scope of the Pharmacopoeia. If only certain drugs are to be free, it will be an incentive to doctors to prescribe life-saving drugs no matter what the ailment may be.
– That is absurd-
– The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Kekwick) has interjected that the suggestion is absurd. I recognize fully the integrity of the members of the medical profession, but I haveno higher belief in their integrity than I have in that of the members of any other profession. Some members of themedical profession adopt practices that are considered to be improper. Price splitting between specialists and general’ practitioners has been known ever since there have been specialists and general practitioners in the profession. Therefore, I agree with the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) when he said that if committees are to be established to supervise or conduct a free medical scheme, the members of the community should be represented. He said that they should represent the consumers or the general public. In my opinion the business community should be represented also. After all, the medical profession has not a monopoly of interest in the provision of free medicine. The person who takes the medicine and the taxpayer who pays for it are as interested as the chemist who sells the medicine or the doctor who prescribes it. Therefore, any committees should be of a more general character. They should not consist only of doctorsThe Minister for Health knows that a big section of the community believes that doctors, because of their training, have not a general aptitude for finance or big business. The honorable member for Grayndler recalled that some ill-advised newspapers oncedescribed the present Minister for Healthy who was then the Treasurer, as “ thetragic Treasurer “. Apparently, thosenewspapers thought that he was one of the members of the medical profession who did not have an aptitude for business or finance or the organizing ability that is so essential in the administration of at big scheme. I suggest that any committee to deal with a health schemeshould include laymen, not merely so- that the community shall have representatives, but also because the Opposition believes that the public should have absolute confidence in the scheme. If confidence is to be established, even the doubting Thomases, including those who write -articles for the newspapers about the present Minister for Health, must be convinced that the scheme is sound and properly administered.
I commend the Government for having :gone so far as it has. It might be apt to say that the Government is taking socialism in little doses. As time goes on, the doses will become bigger and bigger, not because the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) desires it, but because of the inspiration that will come from this side of the House, and the impetus of public opinion. We have free -education to develop the mind, and, eventually, the people will demand free health services, free hospitalization and free medicine. After all, the body is as important as the mind. It is the basis of the mind. A sound mind in a sound body was the inspiration of the ancient Grecians and it should be the inspiration of modern democratic governments. Only when health, and all that pertains to it, is as free as secular education will we have reached the ideal that the Labour party is striving for.
.- At the outset I wish to congratulate the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) upon his speech. In the course of it he passed judgment on the negotiations that took place between the Minister for Health of the day, Senator McKenna, and the British Medical Association. So far as I am aware, the honorable member for Bennelong is the only member of this House, of the last Parliament or the Parliament that preceded it, who’ ever discovered anything about the negotiations that took place between the former Minister for Health and the British Medical Association and was able to pass judgment. Nobody else was able to get any details while the Parliament was in session, and I have found it necessary always to suspend judgment before deciding who was responsible for the deadlock. The honorable member for Bennelong was equally incorrect in his comments on the endeavours of the Chifley Government to nationalize medicine. You, Mr. Speaker, were the sole dissentient in the House on a celebrated occasion when a referendum bill was passed by 58 votes to one. You will remember that when the Chifley Government brought in a measure for a referendum on social services, the Leader of the Opposition of the day rose and asked that the words, “but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription “, be added to the clause of the bill that dealt with medical schemes. The present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who was Attorney-General in the Chifley Government, immediately accepted that amendment and it was written into the Constitution as a guarantee against the civil conscription of the medical profession when it was passed by the Australian nation at a referendum. If the Chifley Government had desired the nationalization of medicine, its action in writing a guarantee against it into the Constitution was plain folly or, alternatively, the statement of the honorable member for Bennelong was plain untruth. I believe that the latter is the case.
In the course of the medical profession’s attack in Western Australia upon the Chifley Government’s medical proposals, it was not suggested, as some would have us believe, that the formulary was too wide or too loose but that it was not wide enough. Many Western Australians remember clearly advertisements that were inserted in the press at the time by the British Medical Association. One of the standard advertisements compared the slim volume of the formulary that was proposed by Senator McKenna with the thick volume of the British Pharmacopoeia. It was completely dishonest to compare the thickness of the books, because there are many hundreds of pages of advertisements in the British Pharmacopoeia, but the medical profession considered an argument of that type to be good enough. At any rate, I can make the point that they were suggesting that not fewer but more medicines should be made available free. At that time, it was not unusual for Labour members of Parliament to be approached by eminent members of the medical profession. The impression that I gained from those who discussed the matter with the honorable member for Perth and me was that they were extremely cynical about the prescription of a great many drugs. I am sure that they approve of the action of the present Minister for Health in confining free medicines to those antibiotics that have been proved actually to destroy germs or to prevent their multiplication, and to drugs, such as insulin, that everybody accepts as being undoubtedly life-saving drugs. In private, the tenor ‘ of the remarks of the medical profession was that way, but in public it suggested that the Chifley Government formulary was very inadequate and should be widened. 1 hope that the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) appreciated the speech that was made by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer). 1 have never heard a mere mortal insultdirected at the profession to which the honorable member for Isaacs belongs than that which was uttered by the honorable member for Bennelong, when he said that until this scheme of the Minister for Health was put into operation, people died because they could not get life-saving drugs free. If the chemists actually refused to give life-saving drugs to people because they could not pay for them, the pharmaceutical profession must be a profession of moral lepers. If it is not - and 1 do not believe it is - the statement of the honorable, member for Bennelong was untrue. It was typical of the exaggeration that has attended statements by the Government about this bill. I know that lots of people, including age pensioners, who could not afford to pay for lifesaving drugs, received them from dispensing chemists in my constituency, not merely on one occasion but on many occasions. The truth is that the chemists had strung around their necks a debt which .worried them. The action of the Minister for Health in putting this scheme into operation has relieved them of that worry. It would be very depressing if it were true that, until the Government agreed to pay for these drugs, many people died because they had not the money with which to buy them. That is not the attitude that the Minister for Health has adopted in relation to the visiting experts to hospitals. He has often drawn our attention to the fact that they give their services free. I am certain that that argument of the honorable member for Bennelong was as untruthful as was the charge that the Chifley Government intended to nationalize medicine.
Some comment has been made upon the fact that the provision of these drugs will cost £7,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Bennelong suggested that that was a large, sum. It is a large sum, but it is very small in comparison with the £162,000,000 that was spent during last financial year in four States with licensed bookmakers; with the £150,S00,000 that was spent last year on beer, wine and spirits; with the £30,000,000 that was invested on totalisators; with the £12,500,000 expended upon lotteries; and with the £4,500,000 sent to Tattersalls. If we make an allowance for starting-price bookmaking in the other two States, we find that the total sum spent in those directions last financial year was over £600,000,000. Surely, it is justifiable to tax the community to pay for a necessary service when it can spend so much money upon totally unnecessary things. That is the relevance of the point that I am making. I am certain that, if the community spent less money in those directions, there would be less need for this expenditure of £7,000,000, but, if it results in a higher level of national efficiency, it will be justified. “We can talk about the cost of these life-saving drugs, but can we estimate the cost of ill-health in terms of hours of production lost? It is almost certain that, if a man quickly recovers from an illness because he has been treated with, say, penicillin, the expense to the community of providing that penicillin is more than offset by his early return to efficiency and productive work. If we adopt a strictly balance-sheet outlook to what is undoubtedly expenditure upon health, that outlook, more than any other, will justify that expenditure. Reference has been made to humane considerations which do not influence a large number of people, but, in terms of the balance-sheet, health expenditure is justified completely.
There are some categories of persons, such as the age pensioners, who are out of production, and who may be restored to health by the use of these life-saving drugs. I think that we have far too many age pensioners, in one sense. We stick, quite illogically, to a chronological retiring age instead of to a health retiring age. Many persons who are compulsorily retired, especially from the Public Service, should remain at work, because they Iia ve reached a high level of efficiency and their efficiency is unimpaired. Yet we adopt the foolish practice of pushing them out of production, thus making them very poor and dependent upon schemes such as this.
– What has this to do with with the bill?
– My reply to the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) is that if we had fewer pensioners, there would be less need for this kind of expenditure upon pensioners. I th ink that we could very well revise our attitude to compulsory retirement.
The bill is an extremely good one. Many honorable members on this side of the House would like to see it go further than it does. Personally, I should not like to see the scheme extended to cover other forms of drugs until there had been n much greater Commonwealth expenditure upon clinics, hospitals and other needs more basic than prescriptions and Cottles of medicine. I should prefer the additional money to be expended in the direction I have indicated rather than for the restoration of the conception of a formulary envisaged by the previous Government. I think that the community as a whole would prefer that too, because hospital and clinic facilities are inadequate. Whether the Commonwealth allotted money to clinics and hospitals itself or gave money to the States to do so, I think that that should take priority of any restoration of the formulary. These life-saving drugs do not constitute a health scheme, but they constitute a part of a health scheme and, as such, they should be welcomed.
– in reply - There is no reason why I should attempt to reply to the criticisms of the bill that have been made by members of the Opposition. Their confused and contradictory arguments, and their extraordinary statements, show that the altitude they adopted to the medical and pharmaceutical professions during the eight years that the Labour party was in power has not changed sufficiently for them to be able to evolve a full national health scheme. The basis of the criticism offered by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) was that the scheme was costing more than £2,500,000 a year. The. honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), on the other hand, wants to add to the list of free drugs and so increase the cost of the scheme. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) put the whole matter in its proper perspective by comparing the cost of this scheme which is saving many lives as well as hospital beds with what the Australian community spends on amusements. I assure honorable members opposite that the existence of this scheme has enabled costly anti-biotic drugs to be used in the most efficient and satisfactory manner. A medical practitioner is something of a father confessor to his patients. He does not want to overload their expenses. In’ order that these lifesaving drugs may do their job properly, the bloodstream has to be filled with them. It is of no use only half doing the job. The drugs must be administered in the right quantities if they are to be effective. That is why they should be used only when absolutely necessary. Since the wonder drugs have come into use, many diseases which were almost invariably fatal in the days when I was a general practitioner may now be cured very quickly. They include, for instance, blood-poisoning after childbirth, which years ago was one of the most fatal diseases in the world. To-day, the death rate from that disease is practically negligible. The value of the drugs cannot be weighed in terms of a few pounds. Thousands of lives are being saved to continue in all sorts of useful activities not the least important of which is the bringing of children into the world. It would be false economy to cut our expenditure on those drugs. I agree however, that the expenditure should not be any more than is absolutely necessary. The Government has endeavoured right from the inception of the scheme to keep the prescribing of free life-saving drugs under control. It is true that there is a tendency innate in human beings not to value things for which they do not have to pay. For that reason waste is likely to occur, and we must take every step to ensure that these drugs, many of which are scarce and very costly, are utilized in the best possible manner. That is why this measure has been introduced. It is not an afterthought. It has been introduced in accordance with the policy that I have always followed throughout my career in this Parliament. It has always been my aim to try to operate controls on a voluntary basis, but ultimately to give them statutory or constitutional authority if necessary. For four years, as Treasurer of the Commonwealth, I endeavoured to maintain the Australian Loan Council on a voluntary basis. Then, by a majority of four to one, the people of Australia inserted authority for the Australian Loan Council into the Constitution. The various committees which are connected with the pharmaceutical benefits scheme have been working on a voluntary basis for the last eighteen months. It is now my wish and the wish of the medical profession that they should be given statutory authority.
– Could the scheme be extended to include blood transfusions?
– Blood transfusion is a process rather than a lifesaving drug. We are helping the Australian Red Cross Society by facilitating the supply of blood and so ensuring that the blood transfusion service shall be as cheap as possible. I should like to correct a few misstatements that have been made. When I brought the original measure down in 1951, 1 said that its cost for the remaining nine months of the then current financial year would be £2,500,000. That estimate proved correct. However, it was quite obvious that with the addition to the free list of more new and costly drugs, the scheme would cost much more in ensuing years. Last year, the budget estimate was £5,000,000, but actual expenditure was £7,000,000. One reason for that was that from October, 1951, until January, 1952, we had one of the most serious virus epidemics ever known in Australia. During that epidemic new drugs saved the lives of hundreds and probably thousands of people. However, since that time, particularly during the last three or four months, with the assistance of the various committees, we have managed to bring down the cost of the scheme by no less than £100,000 a month. That saving has been due to a careful examination of the whole scheme. I shall refer to one or two items. I have no wish to detain the House at this stage.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) says, “ Hear, hear ! “ Every time this matter is raised, honorable members opposite complain that my explanations are not long enough, yet, when I endeavour to give a full explanation, they do not welcome it. Since the inception of the scheme, various controls have operated to make sure that the expense that would have to be borne by the people of Australia was justified. The first action taken was to establish a committee to advise on what life-saving and diseasepreventing medicines should be included on the free list. The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) emphasized the need for prevention. We have not lost sight of that aspect of the matter. Our immunization services are free. The advisory committee to which I have referred has exercised valuable discrimination and control. I venture to say that the people of Australia have no idea of the debt that they and the medical profession owe to members of the committee. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) himself probably does not know the extent to which his revenues have been safeguarded by the activities of the committee in resisting the immediate inclusion on the free list of new and much publicized drugs which, after a short vogue, have been found to be unsuitable. Very often pressure is brought to bear to have such drugs included on the free list before they have been given an adequate trial or before the medical profession has had an opportunity accurately to gauge their effects. In a further attempt to reduce .costs ian .-endeavour ‘has been made ito encourage ?the manufacture of anti-biotics in this country to .ease .”the strain ..on our .dollar resources .and .to saf feguard supplies should (overseas sources be cut aif. .-As a .result rot :my interviews with drug manuf acturers, including some overseas (organizations, .our supplies .of the sulpha .drugs .are mow .being .made in .Australia. .Certain ingredients .still have to be .imported .but .the actual manufacture is .carried out “by .the Monsanto .organization .which distributes its products -to drug ‘houses throu.gho.ut Australia. That has resulted in an extraordinary cheapening of ihe drugs. The .cost .of penicillin has been considerably reduced .also .by improved manufacturing technique and .by the .use of the total .output .of the manufacturers. The cost of ,5.0Q,0.00 units las been reduced since September, 19.5Q, from 6s. to 4s. 4d. Tn .the same /period the .cost o.f 1,00.0000 units was reduced f.r.om, 11s. 49. to .6s. .&d., .and the .coat of 2,000,000 units from ,2.2s. <4cl. .to 13s. After it had .been found that .there was -a new form .of .administration of procaine penicillin whian .enabled .the .action of that drug to be prolonged in the -body, the drug was ,put into manufacture in this country. “Between September last year and September this year its price fell as follows :- 300;000’ units from 6s. .8d. to 3s. 7oV; -2,.000,’QOO units, 26s. 8d. to 14s. -8d.-; 8;O0’0,-000 units, 40s. 8d. to 23s. 4d. Those were extraordinary reductions that became possible as a result of the /encouragement of the production of these drugs. Chloramphenicol, which Parke Davis and Company started to manufacture in Australia under its American -patents, was reduced in price (mm :80s. in September, 1950, to 4’2s. 8d. im September last, for twelve capsules. So it is not cora-.ect to say that the .drug houses are profiteering .at ‘the expense of the community. As their manufacturing processes ito prove .and their output increases they are able to give the benefit of lower prices to the Australian people. The manufacturers themselves have agreed to the adoption of what is practically a flat rate for their products as they appear in the list under the various schedules.
It is important that we should have these two committees operating. We re quire the .committee of -;doctors to .examine the -whole -.position in relation ..to the (prescription Bind ; use lOt the various dRugs That is .>a purely professional matter which must be ‘dealt -.with by men-mho ;ar>e using the mum itbem.sel.vies sand ;are familiar with sail the if acts. The committee (will :be able ito determine whether :a doctor ds using the drugs to .excess. /A layman would have :no idea >of what -was fright .or wrong. .The same consideration applies to ‘the committee of .chemists which -will :be (composed of !the <only kind of ‘persons :a!ble to ‘say -whether (drugs are being properly .or .improperly -dispensed. What would ;be the good <si ‘having a (consumers’ representative present at am appendix ..operation., for instance.?
– -.Does *he Minister mean to have members of the committee present ;at -operations «of that nature,?
– No, but .the operations with which the .committees will -deal are technical .procedures .which would be beyond the comprehension of a layman. The committee will -inquire into matters of .professional conduct. I say that .not only ‘is this matter being handled in t,he right way, but I am also .satisfied that it would be impracticable to bring laymen into it.
– To ensure .that these committees will t always work most efficiently, will the Minister undertake to provide in the consolidated health legislation that the Director-General of Pharmaceutical Services and his .deputies in the States will .always be qualified chemists, and never laymen?
– That is -really our intention. By the -time the act is consolidated these committees will hare been working for sometime and we shall be -able, as a result of the experience gained, to deal in the act with some of the matters that are at -present dealt with by regulation. ‘The committees -will actually be engaged on matters that, in the -final analysis, will concern professional conduct. A committee -will examine the circumstances of each case, cross-examine the man concerned, allow him to lay all the information at his disposal before it and will then report to me concerning the conduct of the medical practitioner or chemist concerned in relation to the provision of pharmaceutical benefits and the medical service for pensioners, and recommend whether he should be reprimanded or whether there should be more publicity given to the fact that he has been found guilty of some unprofessional act. The committee might suggest that his conduct has been such that he should cease to be eligible to carry out further services in connexion with the scheme. Provision has already been made in the act, and also in the bill, that a man who is charged with such acts and has been up for examination, has the right of appeal to a supreme court before any action is taken.
– Does the Minister say that that provision is in the present bill ?
– No, it is in the act.
– Is the right of appeal for medical practitioners in the act ?
– Yes; section 33 (2.) provides that he may appeal to the supreme court of the State or territory concerned.
– Does not that refer to a practitioner who is acting as a pharmacist?
– I think it can oe read in that way.
– It ought to be stated clearly in the act.
– At any rate, the regulations make it possible for the medical practitioner actually prescribing to be dealt with. Later on that matter will be dealt with as part and parcel of the consolidated act. This bill is to enable us to get on with the job as quickly as we can. I therefore urge the House to accept the measure. It will be of great value in connexion with the handling of these problems, and will alleviate to some degree the fears of the Opposition in relation to the expenditure on it. “We desire to see the money devoted to this scheme used in the wisest manner. We do not wish to cut expenditure on it tn any degree that will interfere with the welfare of the community or with the saving of lives, but we do wish the money to be used to the best possible advantage, not merely to ensure that the lives of patients are saved once, but they will be able to-be saved time and time again by proper administration that will ensure the absence of abuses or over-prescribing.
I turn now to the subject of backyard manufacturers to which some reference has been made. There are no backyard manufacturers of the drugs in the list. The products of every manufacturer which are included in the list of benefits are systematically subjected to a test for purity. Already, certain products have been removed from the list because they did not comply with the standards laid down, and, as a result of recent tests, others also will be removed. As I mentioned in my second-reading speech, I have induced the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) to ensure that imported drugs are admitted to the country only if they are of the highest standard. We are, therefore, controlling the standard of drugs manufactured locally for use under the scheme, and we also have control over the standard of drugs imported.
– Will the Minister provide a list of the suppliers who are actually manufacturers of the original ingredients, and of those engaged in actual research, to distinguish them from the pirates who are engaged in this business ?
– I do not knowthat they are pirates. That matter requires a great deal of discussion. These men are going to do a great job for the community. Everybody cannot be a manufacturer. There must be manufacturers’ agents also. Contrary to the position that obtained under the previous scheme, a medical practitioner now has the right to prescribe the products of reputable manufacturers, so that the scope for less reputable products is strictly limited and, in fact, can be completely eliminated. It is natural that if people can get for nothing the highest class drug instead of a low class of the same drug, they will try to get the higher class although they were satisfied to use the low class when they had to pay for it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 9th October (vide page 2852), on motion by Mr. Hasluck -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not intend to oppose this bill. It recognizes that this is an attempt on the part of the Government to face up to the realities of the day with respect to the exploitation and development of aboriginal reserves. The present policy of the Commonwealth and State Governments regarding aboriginals provides for the assimilation of the natives in the community. That policy has been confirmed by this Government and, as such, places in a peculiar position the policy of maintaining exclusive aboriginal reserves. On the one hand, we have a policy of assimilation, and on the other hand, we have a system that indicates, at any rate, a policy of segregation. I believe that the action of the Government at this time is an endeavour to face up to realities brought about by that state of affairs. “We all agree that the retention of native reserves - that is, the reserves proclaimed from time to time for the exclusive use of the natives - is not now in the interests of the aboriginals themselves. The policy of assimilation has brought about that change. It is also in the national interest that the development of the reserves by persons other than the natives should be allowed. This matter has been brought to a head by the discovery of certain mineral deposits adjacent to the Arnheim Land reserve. At the time of the discovery, those deposits were thought to be outside the reserve, but subsequent developments proved that they were just inside it, and the indications are that the deposits are of such importance as to require development on a national basis.
Another matter with respect to aboriginal reserves concerns not only the natives but also Australia as a whole. I refer to the danger of having vast areas of land uninhabited by whites and natives. At the present time, vast areas of the reserves are uninhabited, or are only sparsely inhabited, by natives. It is not in the national interest that such a condition of affairs should be permitted to continue. I cite the Arnheim Land reserve, where some thousands of square miles of land are now locked for the exclusive use of aboriginals in that part of Australia. Some hundreds cf miles of coast line are exposed to tb.1 east and to the north, and are entirely unprotected. Under existing conditions, that coast line cannot be protected in . an’ way. This vulnerability is a danger to the nation, and a threat to the natives themselves. Another attack on Australia, such as was experienced in World War II., could have disastrous results. Fortunately, we escaped the consequences of that policy in the last war, but it was more by good fortune than by good management that we did so. That state of affairs should be brought to an end.
Population is vitally needed in those areas for the protection of the natives, and Australia as a whole. Therefore, I believe that the time has arrived when we must consider the development of aboriginal reserves from the standpoint of not only the exploitation of mineral resources, but also the broader aspects of settlement and, indeed, the agricultural and pastoral use of those areas. I am aware that the interests of the natives must always be protected and I have no quarrel with that policy. That, I assume, is the view held by the Government in introducing this bill.
A few matters in the second-reading speech of the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) require some clarification. For instance, a trust fund is to be established into which royalties from mineral resources are to be paid for the benefit of the natives. I should like the Minister to explain in greater detail than he has in his second-reading speech how this fund would be used. Is the money to be expended by departments under control of the Commonwealth, or will the missions act as agents on behalf of the Government in the distribution of the money? I should also like some clarification of the conditions under which prospectors will be allowed to go onto the reserves to search for minerals. I am wondering whether the Government proposes to allow the small man, who may not have a great deal of capital at his disposal, to search for minerals on the reserves, or whether the prospecting of those areas will be carried out by larger companies. Because of their financial position, the companies may be assumed to have a greater chance of locating minerals on those areas than have the small prospectors. I believe that, as long as a prospector can satisfy the administration about his character and ability to observe the conditions laid down by the Administration, he should be permitted, and encouraged, to go on to the reserves in an effort to locate minerals that may be hidden in them. The lone prospector is often in a position to do things that large companies are unable to do. The history of Australia reveals that the lone prospector has been more successful, on the whole, in locating minerals than have comparatively big organizations.
The Minister, in his concluding part of his second-reading speech, discussed the matter of allowing natives to prospect for minerals. His words were of such importance that I shall read them to the House. They are as follows: -
In some quarters, the question has been asked why the natives themselves should not work in minerals that may be found on the reserves. In general, mining would he beyond the skill and the resources of most of the natives in the Northern Territory. If it should happen that any natives living in reserves show an interest and capacity for either prospecting or mining on those reserves, they will receive every possible help and opportunity to engage in this activity.
That approach is not sufficiently positive. I consider that certain selected natives in these areas should be given training in the mining of various ores. They should be .taught to identify ores of different types. Natives are able to render very valuable assistance in the exploration of likely areas and in the working of deposits that are known to exist on their reserves. At native settlements in north and central Australia provision should be made for the instruction of natives in the basic elements of mining. In the past they have located minerals in the north of Australia on various occasions but the finds have not always proved to be beneficial to them.. It would be in the interest of the natives themselves to teach them the rudiments of mining and to enlist their aid in initial developmental work. I shall be glad to hear the Minister’s views on the points that I have made. The Opposition supports the bill.
– in reply - I shall reply briefly to the three points that were raised by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). First, the honorable member asked whether the fund which is to be established by the bill will be used only by government departments or instrumentalities or whether it will also, he used through the agency of the missions that are working among the natives. The intention of the Government, which is clearly expressed in the bill, is that the money shall be dispersed through the agency considered to be the most suitable for the purpose at the time of its disbursement. It is intended that the money shall be distributed through either existing institutions or institutions to be formed especially for the purpose, or through government departments, as seems to be appropriate in the circumstances existing at the time the disbursement is made. In an earlier statement on this subject, I made it quite clear that there was a prospect that the missions would also participate in the additional activities that are likely to result from the establishment of this fund.
The second point raised by the honorable member related to my statement that certain conditions would be attached to the permits of prospectors to go into aboriginal reserves, and to mining leases granted in respect of areas on aboriginal reserves. These conditions will not differentiate between a large company and a small prospector. They will be devised with the object of ensuring that the interests of the aborigines shall be conserved. To ‘ give a concrete example, some reserves may contain only limited surface water and this may be required to meet the needs of the natives. One of the conditions that would be attached to the issue of a permit or lease in such an area would be designed to conserve the water for the natives by prohibiting prospectors or miners from permanently camping near water which the natives customarily use. In some instances it may be necessary to restrict within a defined area the movements of prospectors by providing that they may work in one part of a reserve but not in another if by so doing they would disturb the customary tribal life of the natives in the reserve. In other instances, it may be necessary to lay down precise conditions to ensure that those working a lease shall not consort with the natives or establish undesirable contact with them. If we issue a permit to persons to enter native reserves we do not waive in any way restrictions which at present apply in relation to trafficking with natives, consorting with them or interfering with their way of life. If a mining lease is granted on a defined area there will possibly bo a prohibition against those working the lease going beyond the defined limit and intruding in other areas. These are the sort of conditions we have in mind and not ones which will differentiate between large influential mining companies and small prospectors. I emphasize that each case will be dealt with on its merits. In each instance the conditions laid down will be such as shall be warranted by the particular circumstances, the guiding principle always being the conservation of the interests of the natives and their protection from injury.
Finally, the honorable member referred to the possibility that the natives might be able to engage in prospecting and mining. I agree with almost every word that he said on that subject. It is certainly our hope that, as the natives progress in education and training and developinterests more closely in association with our own, they, too, will find in the development ofminerals in the Northern Territory one of the opportunities which they need to live a life more closely associated with the lives of the rest of the community. I was attracted to the honorable member’s suggestion that we should educate the natives by training them in the identification of mineral ores. It will receive the attention of the Northern Territory Administration. I thank the honorable member for the understanding and sympathetic way in which, on behalf of his party, he has received this legislation.
Question resolved in. the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (-Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) agreed to.
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be madefor the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910-1949.
Resolution reported and adopted. .
In committee: Consideration resumed.
Bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Grants Commission Act -
Commonwealth Grants Commission -
Nineteenth Report, 1952.
Public Service Act- -Appointment - Department of the Interior - W. F. Buscombe.
House adjourned at 3.26 p.m.
The ‘ following answers to questions were circulated: -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 At the 3rd October, 1952, the number of assisted Italian migrants in Immigration Reception and Training Centres awaiting initial placement in employment was 818. At the same time there were approximately a further 100 migrants in Department of Labour and National Service hostels. Of these some had previously been employed and were awaiting re-engagement.
All migrants who are accommodated at reception and training centres receive payment of a special benefit whilst awaiting placement in employment, which is equal in amount to unemployment benefit. Whilst this was at the rate of £1 5s. a week, £1 a week was deducted in the case of a single man towards the cost of his upkeep, leaving him with 5s. pocket money. Now that the amount of the benefit has been increased to £2 10s. a week, the migrant’s contribution towards the cost of his upkeep will also be increased, but the amount has not yet been finally determined. Migrants previously employed and awaiting re-engagement receive normal unemployment benefit. From this they are expected to contribute towards current accommodation charges. 3 (a). The number of Italian migrant workers to be introduced under employment obligation during the balance of 1 962, and who have not yet sailed from Italy, will not exceed 300 mainly rural workers.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 October 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19521010_reps_20_220/>.